Monday, April 30, 2012

Into the Valley of Defeat...

Into the valley of defeat ride the Numbskullions, or so it seems to me. How can Republicans possibly believe they can win in 2012 if they keep pursuing what appear to be politically suicidal acts? The “War on Women” is the best case in point at the moment but is certainly not the only one. Republicans now say there is no war on women, it’s something just made up by Democrats. How, then, do you explain their plan to reverse Roe vs Wade? They want to defund or eliminate entirely Planned Parenthood. They resist agreeing to a renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, and they do not want to support the Equal Pay Act. They have also gone so far as to attempt to do away with contraception, a practice that has ramifications for women’s health that go beyond merely birth control and has been practiced at one time or another for fully 98% of American women, including Catholic women. I can understand why they might want not to have this described as a war on women, but acts are far more important than their empty words. Women are not ignoring this, having already announced they will definitely turn out to vote, and Obama leads Romney among women by some 20%.

Apparently not content with merely alienating the women’s vote, they have also failed to capture the Hispanic vote. Their opposition to the Dream Act, their attempts at voter suppression, and Romney’s suggestions about self-deportation have not registered well with Hispanic voters. Obama has a massive lead against Romney when it comes to the Hispanic vote.

Then there is their desire to do away with Medicare as we know it and replace it with a voucher system that will increase substantially what seniors will have to pay for medical care. They also wish to either do away with Social Security entirely or at least privatize it, plans so stupid as to make you wonder if they are even sane when it comes to reality. One can only assume this is going to cost them dearly when it comes to the senior sector of the electorate.

Now they have made it clear they would prefer the interest rate for student loans to double, even though they have begrudgingly agreed to let it remain where it is, but only by taking away more money from women’s health. This can only reinforce women’s belief in a war on them but also will alienate young people and keep them firmly on the Democratic side of things.

Of course they have no hope for much of the Black vote, not only because of Obama being our first Black President but also because of their not so subtle racism as exemplified by the so-called “Southern strategy.” They say they want to reach out to Blacks but their attempts are largely pathetic and have had little success.

On top of it all they are running a candidate that is the poster child for all of the above as well as the 1% currently subject to the most criticism of what Republicans stand for, more tax breaks for the obscenely wealthy and corporations absolutely smothered with unprecedented profits who in some cases are not paying taxes at all. It is no secret Republicans want to continue and even increase tax breaks for the wealthy while at the same time reducing as much of the social support system as possible. I do not think this is escaping the attention of the voting public.

They also apparently want to go to war with Iran, or anyone else unwilling to simply agree to whatever the U.S. wishes, embracing even permanent war if possible. This would, of course, be good for business, especially the defense industry where we can go on manufacturing billions of dollars worth of equipment we don’t even need and much of which even the Pentagon doesn’t want. They appear to be oblivious to the fact the world is different than it was in 1950. They are pushing an increase in the defense budget, already larger than the rest of the world combined, and doing it at a time when the American public is fed up with war and want us out of Afghanistan as soon as possible, and certainly do not want a war with Iran, except, I guess, for those who believe the incessant Israeli lies about Iran.

It does seem to me the Republicans are galloping full speed into a terrible disaster (for them), one that might possibly harm them for many years to come. Do I care? In the immortal words of George W. Bush, war criminal extraordinary, “Bring it on.”

'Forward, the Light Brigade!'

Was there a man dismay'd ?

Not tho' the soldier knew

Some one had blunder'd:

Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do & die,

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

From the Charge of the Light Brigade, Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Tawdry, Stupid, Outrageous, and Mean

Would you believe that in that bizzare culture sometimes known as the Nacirema, one of the ways you can become famous and make huge sums of money is by being either tawdry, stupid, outrageous or mean, or all four simultaneously. Because of the growth of technology, in addition to the well-known holy-mouth-men and other medicine men previously described, a new status of “bad-mouthed-person” has been created. It ‘s true. Some of these people are also called “Shock Jocks.” To be a Shock Jock you don’t have to actually know anything, you certainly don’t have to be truthful, and it seems to add to your reputation if you can be both outrageous and mean. I can only wonder why this is so, but it is. I also do not understand the appeal these bad-mouthed hate merchants have, but they do. Week after week they make their completely obscene salaries by saying things that are either tawdry, stupid, outrageous or mean. As near as I can determine they have no other talent (if, indeed, this be considered talent). Their major function seems to be to provide outlets for the hate and envy that festers among the “have-nots.”

Limbaugh, who dropped out of college after two semesters (having, according to his mother) flunked everything, has made his living since age 16 as a radio disc jockey and talk show host. He is a classical example of a stupid, basically no-talent individual with a history of drug addiction and divorce. His latest claim to fame (or at least attention) has to do with his description of Hilary Clinton as “Just a secretary who needs to wear garments to hide her fat,” a description that can easily be described as tawdry, stupid, outrageous and mean, to say nothing of irrelevant, totally unnecessary, and uncalled for. That’s what he does. That’s what he gets paid multiple millions a year for. Previously you might recall his calling Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” because she testified on the importance of contraception for women, again a remark that was unnecessary, irrelevant, outrageous, mean, stupid, tawdry, and even disgusting. His listeners, and apparently there are millions of them, seem to love this, called “ditto heads” they repeat his absurd claims to their friends and apparently revel at rolling around in the gutter with him.

There are, of course, others of the same ilk, but none can match Limbaugh for vile and disgusting. Ann Coulter is another of these no-talents who makes a fortune for herself by saying truly outrageous things about public figures and sometimes even just ordinary people trying to live their lives. Here is a sampler:

“If I'm going to say anything about John Edwards in the future, I'll just wish he had been killed in a terrorist assassination plot."

"I was going to have a few comments about John Edwards but you have to go into rehab if you use the word faggot."

"These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by griefparrazies. I have never seen people enjoying their husband's deaths so much." -on 9/11 widows who have been critical of the Bush administration.

Ha, ha, ha, just good clean fun, Coulter doesn’t seem to concern herself with tawdry and stupid, she just goes directly to the outrageous and mean, and she makes a bundle doing this crap at every opportunity.

There are many others in this tradition of lies, exaggerations, and expressions of stupidity. Glen Beck (although I think he may actually be crazy), Bill O’Reilly, Hannity, and still more, but they don’t even come close to Limbaugh and Coulter when it comes to downright sleaze. Bill Maher, on the left, is similar in some ways, as is Lewis Black and even Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert (but in very minor versions comparably speaking). I like to think there is at least an occasional grain of truth from those on the left (but this is sometimes doubtful, especially when it comes to Maher).

Anyway, I find it strange and disturbing that people can make fortunes by merely saying ridiculous untrue, awful, stupid, and outrageous things, but so it is among the Nacirema. Some people believe that Nacirema culture was at one time on a “higher” level but has badly deteriorated over the years. That is, culture, with the capital “C” (as in what used to be also called “Civilization”) has given way to more lower class behavior as expressed in language, courtesy, manners, and what have you. In other words, ordinary people used to aspire to Culture, but have fallen more and more into the culture of the “masses.” I’m sure this has to do with mass entertainment, the depressing inadequacy of television and movies, ubiquitous anti-intellectualism, and the growing expansion of the “nouvea riche,” complicated topics far beyond the scope of a mere blog.

Television is the first truly democratic culture - the first culture available to everybody and entirely governed by what the people want. The most terrifying thing is what people do want.

Clive Barnes

Saturday, April 28, 2012


When I was growing up my mother always preached moderation. She was concerned that when I wanted to do something I had a tendency to overdo it. She believed moderation was the best policy for everything, eating, playing sports, hiking, dating, reading, anything you might want to do. I cannot say that I have lived my life indulging in moderation. Indeed, it would be more correct to admit that I have been terribly immoderate in most of my interests. I now realize that my mother was right. I should have listened. My life would have been easier and more sensible, I would not have so many mental and physical scars. I have been thinking about this in a broader context lately, partly I must confess, because of a stupid ad that is featured on television. You have no doubt seen it, it reports that we here in the United States use enough plastic bottles every year to encircle the earth many times. Every time I see this ad, in addition to being rather upset by it, it reminds me of the famous line in The Graduate when the friend of the family tells Dustin Hoffman he has only one piece of advice for him…plastics. This leads me to ponder if the invention of plastic was a good idea or an absolutely terribly idea. Then I try to decide whether I think plastic is worse for the world than the internal combustion engine, a question I am unable to answer.

Then I begin to think that perhaps these were both useful inventions, and the problem is merely that we have not used them in moderation. It is clear that plastic has become an environmental disaster with both oceans apparently containing vast islands of plastic that are having a deleterious effect on the health of the oceans as well as the life that exists there. I have reached the point where every time I leave the market with a plastic bag full of whatever it is I purchased I feel guilty about it. Even more than that, I have the ominous sensation that I am actually helping to bring about the eventual destruction of my own species (to say nothing of other species as well). It seems to me this is an obvious example of immoderation. We don’t really need all these plastic bags no matter how convenient and inexpensive they are. Even going back to paper bags would be better in spite of the toll on our forests. But in fact we don’t even need paper bags, we could easily have cloth or other natural bags that could be used over and over (some people actually try to do this but they are obviously few). But it is, of course, not just plastic bags that are the problem, virtually everything nowadays is made of plastic: dishes, bottles, clothing, automobiles, televisions, you name it. There is nothing wrong with wood, metal, and glass, the usage of which has virtually disappeared. This is, when I think about it, insane. Plastic is obviously useful but like everything else my mother cautioned me about, it should have been used in moderation.

The internal combustion engine is another case in point. I am not a fan of Tolkien but I have to give him credit for recognizing immediately that the internal combustion engine was a potentially bad idea. And of course, as in the case of plastic, we completely overdid it, switching from trains to trucks and from public transportation to private automobiles, truly stupid ideas from the standpoint of the environment. Not satisfied with the amount of pollution and waste of resources from those two mistakes we now have terribly destructive ATV’s, personal watercraft, and snowmobiles, most of which serve no useful purpose other than entertainment at great cost to the land and water.

We have also been more than immoderate in the use of the earth’s resources, using them as if they are infinite, even though they are obviously not. Oil, coal, timber, minerals, other species, even water have not been used sensibly by our species, the result just now beginning to be felt as the population grows and the demands are ever greater. Imagine what it will be like when a billion plus Chinese each have an automobile just as we do. India, too, and Brazil, Russia, and Japan, and of course they use as much or more plastic as we do. From the standpoint of species survival this is obvious insanity but we seem helpless at the moment to do anything to prevent it. I should have listened and paid attention to my mother. Indeed, the whole world should have listened to her and followed her sage advice.

Never go to excess, but let moderation be your guide.


Friday, April 27, 2012

Comments on Comments and Mitt Romney

When I first started this blog, almost eight years ago now, I used to receive quite a few comments. Then there was a period when for some reason I stopped getting any comments. Apparently, for some reason unknown to me, the possibility for comments changed. When I finally realized this, my wife, who knows far more than I do about computers and the internet, fixed the problem, and then for a time I received comments once again. Then, again, they stopped. Just now the format for blogging was changed and I have learned to my horror and chagrin there are quite a lot of comments I had never seen and were completely unknown to me. Apparently this was because the system had changed so that I was supposed t o review them before deciding to publish them or not. I did not know this, nor did I know how to do this. Thus I find myself in the humiliating situation of having to confess both my ignorance and incompetence, and I must offer my most humble and abject apologies to those who commented and were not published or acknowledged. As I understand it, under this new system, I am supposed to review comments and decide whether to accept them or not. I did not request this service and I am not sure how to do it. As my wife has better and more important things to do than babysit my computer skills, I will have to wait a day or two to learn this new procedure. I apologize for my incompetence, all machinery baffles me. I regard the computer and the internet as a kind of magic I do not really understand, like love or electricity. Please bear with me for a time.

As far as Romney goes, I do not know whether to be sorry or happy to say this, but after today I have concluded the he is not merely a terrible candidate for President, he may well be virtually hopeless. I had the misfortune of tuning in to part of a speech he was making to some college students somewhere or other. First, he completely lacks charisma and it was boring almost beyond belief. Second, it was almost completely composed of outright lies. Third, he says things that are just plain stupid. For example, he was saying things like, “Obama has to realize that people are hurting, he has to realize they are losing their homes, he has to realize they do not have jobs,” or something like that. I gather he was suggesting that Obama, like a child, must be unaware of such things, an incredibly stupid claim that anyone with the brain of a slug would recognize as utter nonsense, to say nothing of being demeaning to the President. And of course his lies are so constant and transparent as to be laughable. I think the Republicans must either have a death wish or some profound strategy for 2016 I cannot fathom.

In addition to my confusion about the internet and complete bewilderment about what in the world Republicans are doing, I now find myself faced with the somewhat frightening possibility of “being the last man standing.” That is, at this moment, as far as I know, virtually all of my former High School and College friends are either dead or seriously incapacitated in one way or another. Miraculously, it seems to me, I have so far escaped the worst of growing old. I find that strangely I only very rarely even think about “the end,” even though I realize I cannot escape it much longer, a year, two, five, ten, more? I just keep on going in spite of aches and pains and the amazing news that at last I am finally going to be a grandfather (if all goes well, something new to worry about). I cannot believe my good fortune and I can only believe that somehow, someway, for some mysterious reason I cannot comprehend, the Great Mystery is being inordinately kind to me.

So life continues here at Sandhill, gardening is being held up by overly wet and cold weather, the rivers are flooding but not here where we are, our little town sees more vacant storefronts and buildings almost weekly, unemployment is a problem along with poverty (that is pretty much hidden here although it clearly exists), I have finally finished repairing my deer fence (that will function only until the clever animals figure out how to breach it), our unpleasant neighbor, “Machine gun Mike,” finally moved away, leaving us happily without the sound of incessant gunfire, the crocus, daffodils, and other early flowers are blooming, trees are budding, the birds and squirrels are courting, life is good. The older I become the more I appreciate it all, but I have the uneasy feeling of having been previously unaware of just how wonderful and mysterious it all is. Be of good cheer, look to the east, the journey to the west can wait a while longer.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Charles Dickens

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Republican Coup d'etat

Usually when we think of a coup d’etat we think of the use of force or a sudden violent act of some kind to bring down a government and replace it with another. In recent years, however, there have been reports of non-violent coups d’etat. Thus I believe it is entirely appropriate to describe what Republicans have been attempting since President Obama was elected as a full-blown, non-violent, slower than most, but clear attempt at a coup d’etat.

What they have in mind is a simple enough two part maneuver to bring down the Obama administration. They have made no secret of this strategy. They decided first to refuse to cooperate with Obama on anything he wished to do and to vote “no” on everything. They have pursued this with an almost religious intensity, successfully crippling his attempts to make virtually any progress. The second part of this strategy is to claim (dishonestly) that Obama has failed. Romney and other Republicans now repeat this accusation constantly. In fact Obama has not failed. The Senate has filibustered and otherwise resisted all of Obama’s attempts to create jobs and make things better for everyone. The House, controlled by the Tea Party extremists, has been even worse about undermining Obama at every opportunity. Thus it is the United States Congress that has failed, and failed dismally to aid in the solutions proposed by Obama and the Democrats. I think if it is possible to be at all objective about this situation, Obama has been remarkably successful in the face of such constant Republican intransigence.

On the one hand you might consider this attempted coup as a diabolically clever political strategy to bring down the Presidency and thus regain it for Republicans. On the other hand (if it were not so serious) you might well consider it a pathetic case of childish pouting over having lost an election. I believe this is a strategy born of desperation. As Republicans have absolutely nothing to offer for solutions themselves their only chance is to attack Obama. You have noticed, I hope, they have put forth no platform that differs substantially from the Bush/Cheney disaster, in brief, lower taxes for the rich, smaller government, and the Bush/Cheney foreign policy of constant war (good for business). Every piece of legislation they have ever suggested involves cutting taxes for the obscenely wealthy and international corporations, while at the same time eliminating the social programs that our citizens, particularly, seniors, women, children, and the handicapped depend upon. They have managed to alienate women, seniors, young people, Latinos, Blacks, Muslims, and virtually everyone else except for the less educated, White blue-collared workers and the Tea Party crowd. They clearly don’t even represent their interests either. The only thing they share in common is their hatred for Obama (read a Black President), whom I think, following the (Symbolic) anthropologist Mary Douglas, they think is little more than “dirt” (matter) out of place:

“In her 1966 book Purity and Danger, anthropologist Mary Douglas famously explains dirt as "matter out of place." Dirt does not index an objective category of pathogens or pollutants she suggests, but rather the designation of "dirt" indexes a contravention to a social order, and by extension, its boundaries. That which transgresses boundaries of a given order is dirt or dirty, thereby reaffirming the validity, naturalness, and purity of that which remains within.”

I should think the only possible way this attempted coup might succeed is if (1) they can “roviate” Obama sufficiently enough, (2) the electorate has not been paying attention, and (3) also has no memory. Unfortunately, they can probably depend on 2 and 3, but you can be sure they will attempt to slime and malign Obama to the fullest extent possible, no lies will be too extreme, no hypocrisy too great, and no criticism overlooked. Karl Rove, one of the architects responsible for turning what used to be a respectable political party into little more than a criminal conspiracy, will attempt to realize his apparent ambition of establishing a full-blown fascist government controlled by a single party in league with the corporations that have bought and paid for it.

Political history is largely an account of mass violence and of the expenditure of vast resources to cope with mythical fears and hopes.

Murray Edelman

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Mysterious Case of Mitt Romney

The Mysterious Case of Mitt Romney

Until recently I would not have thought it possible that Mitt Romney could have emerged as the Republican candidate for President of the United States. Even now I find it mysterious. I do not understand how the Republican Party can be serious about this. Fully 75% of voters have not supported him, his unpopularity rating is higher than for any Presidential candidate in history. Virtually no one likes him, including members of his own party. They have desperately attempted to find the “not-Romney” but failed. For whatever reason any potentially qualified candidate such as John Huntsman, Buddy Roehmer, and Gary Johnson were not even allowed to compete, and those who were allowed: Trump, Cain, Palin, Bachmann, Paul, Gingrich and Santorum, were so dismal as to be virtually out of the question. So it seems clear that Romney is going to be the Republican candidate.

Romney’s claim to fame has to do with his having been a one term Governor of Massachusetts, a Businessman, and someone who is reputed to have saved the Utah Olympic Games (I think with considerable support from the U.S. Government). As a businessman he is known to have been a venture (vulture) capitalist predator that shipped many jobs overseas as he downsized or eliminated businesses in order to make his remarkable profits. While Governor his state was 47th in creating jobs. He has been running unsuccessfully for President since 1995 (I think that is correct). He is extremely wealthy, the veritable epitome of the 1% currently under siege by the 99%. He is so gauche he probably should not be allowed on the campaign trail where he puts his foot in his mouth at almost every opportunity. Having been extremely wealthy all his life he apparently has no comprehension of what life is like for ordinary working people. He is known to have flip-flopped on every major issue of importance to Americans, is believed to have no core values of any kind, is willing to say and do anything to get his way, and his known to be a consummate and egregious liar. Indeed, has recently been described as a “Professional Liar,” as opposed to just the general run-of-the-mill political liar. It appears to be the case that even those who might be considered viable running mates are declining the honor. So far his campaigns against his opponents, and now against President Obama have been entirely negative. He has yet to offer a platform or any positive plan for his presumed Presidency. There are at the moment few who are enthusiastic about Romney, most say they will not be voting for him but against Obama. But wait, it gets worse.

In order to get the nomination Romney has not only outspent his opponents probably 10 to 1, but has also had to move further and further to the right to attempt to get support from the Tea Party element of the Republican Party, now a strong force for the most extreme ideas. The result of this, without going into details, means he has alienated the women’s vote, the Latino vote, the Black vote, I assume also the Teacher’s vote, the Muslim vote, the Young vote, and the Senior vote. This leaves, as far as I can figure out, the less educated White working man’s vote (although I personally cannot understand even this). Can there possibly be enough votes from that voting block to bring him the Presidency? I wouldn’t think so, but perhaps with the anti-Obama vote (which, I confess, I also cannot understand) it could potentially be enough?

In any case the Republicans seem to be serious about presenting Romney as their candidate, a decision so mysterious I cannot fully comprehend it. There is apparently not enough of the traditional Republican Party left to put a stop to this (to me) Kamikaze attack on Obama. I gather those who might be opposed are so threatened by the Tea Party crowd as to be completely cowed. What I find even more mysterious is the claim on the part of most pundits that the coming election is going to be very close, a “nail-biter.” How, I ask myself, can this possibly be? If this should happen it will prove to me, uncontrovertible evidence that the American electorate simply has not paid attention to the endless campaign and will enter their voting booths with no understanding of anything that has transpired up to that time. Why should we not confine these campaigns to no more than a month and give each candidate no more than a thousand dollars? I doubt it would make much difference and might even be an improvement. Can Romney be elected? I do not see how, but, then, I said Nixon could not be elected, Carter could not, Reagan could not, and certainly the mentality handicapped George W. Bush could not. I for one will not necessarily be voting for Obama, but I will certainly be voting against the lying Romney and the disaster that is the current Republican Party.

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.

H. L. Mencken

Monday, April 23, 2012

Wishful Thinking

Ah, Earth Day, with what I believe is mostly wishful thinking dominating the subject. There are interesting articles or comments by many writers, not the least of which include Representative John D. Dingell, Jennifer Granholm, Edward Norton, and the much maligned but absolutely correct Al Gore on climate change. These articles variously discuss the progress that has been made in recent years, following the brilliant early work of Rachel Carson that gave us her eye-opening book, Silent Spring, the important precursor to the present environmental movement.

There have been improvements to be sure, especially in air and water quality, and people in general are far more aware of environmental problems than ever before. In addition to discussing these improvements most authors make the point that of course we need to do much more, especially in the way of preventing environmental degradation, preserving species, and global warming, noting that what has been done is far from adequate and we should all pitch in and work harder to “Tend to the Planet” and reverse whatever damage we can. Most end on a note of optimism that this is possible if we just have the will to do it and cooperate. Basically, most see this as a matter of increasing regulations, those very same regulations that many (mostly Republicans) see as the problem holding back the economy. In its most extreme form this anti-regulation mania would see no restrictions on what might be done to the environment in the constant need for “growth.” That is, the earth and its resources should be sacrificed for the benefit of humans, jobs, unending growth and“progress,” more and more material comforts, and planned obsolescence, to say nothing, of course, of “profits.”

I think probably the best of the articles I saw today is one by Gar Alperovitz that appeared on Alternet, “Environmental Movement at a Crossroads.” Professor Alperovitz is a Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland. He sums up most of the progress that has been made on improving the environment to date, but then reviews the current situation that is far from satisfactory. He discusses not only the serious problems that still face us, but also the corporate and business communities’ resistance to change. He concludes that further regulations, while desperately needed, cannot by themselves solve the serious long term needs. The economic system itself, he says, must change. Quoting James Gultave Speith, he suggests: “For the most part, we have worked within this current system of political economy, but working within the system will not succeed in the end whens what is needed is transformative change in the system itself.” Although Alperovitz and Speith agree that the system itself must change, they carefully avoid suggesting just what kinds of changes might be necessary. I believe this is because the change requires reference to the term that dare not be uttered in the United States.

I believe it is merely wishful thinking to believe that as long as private and corporate profits motivate and drive our economy any meaningful change can occur. It is the never ending quest for profits, especially completely unlimited profits, that is at the heart of resistance to the desirable and important changes required to preserve the environment and, indeed, the planet itself. Wishful thinking seems to prevail even when the facts are clear and the needed action is urgent. Take the case of nuclear energy, for example. Chernobyl, Three Mile, Fukushima, and other meltdowns that have been covered up should have by now made it as clear as it can be made that nuclear energy is far too dangerous to the planet and the creatures that depend on it to be allowed to continue. I am certain that the true facts of Fukushima have not been made public and are far worse and far more widespread than we have been told. I have been told that the situation at Fukushima is so precarious that if another earthquake struck it would spell a disaster of unimaginable proportions. It is true that Japan, Germany, and Switzerland have announced they will attempt to phase out their nuclear energy, but at the same time those in the nuclear energy are still promoting the construction of further plants, lobbying for more governmental funds, and so on. Such funds were actually allocated after the disaster as if it were merely a minor setback that would soon pass. President Obama apparently still believes nuclear energy is necessary for our “clean energy” demands. I understand these funds are being held up at the moment but until they are denied and the nuclear energy programs around the world are forced to end no one should breath easy.

The same thing is true, perhaps even more true, when it comes to oil and drilling offshore. In spite of the horrible disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, only a few months passed before new permits for the same kind of deep water drilling were awarded. From the standpoint of the environment and the health of the planet this is, plain and simply, insane. Again, it is as if it were must a minor blip in the system and we were led to believe it could be cleaned up and the Gulf restored. This is nonsense, the damage continues, is far worse than they claimed, and probably will leave permanent damage. The oil giants will resist any efforts to curb their excesses.

As long as our political economy is one of free-market capitalism it is simply wishful thinking to believe in meaningful change. In order for any culture to survive and flourish people have to want to do what they have to do in order to bring about that result. As long as our government is in the hands of corporations and the obscenely wealthy, that feed us constant lies and propaganda about the greatness and benefits of capitalism, I fear we will never want to do what we have to do. Regulations help but not much.

We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.
Franklin D. Roosevelt

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Curiosity and Ethnocentrism

I have believed for a long time there is some kind of fatal flaw in the human species. I don’t know what it is but I now believe it may have something to do with ethnocentrism and curiosity. Consider, if you will, that prior to the sixteenth century humans typically attacked, raped, and plundered each other at will. Then, beginning with the so-called Age of Exploration (better described as the age of exploitation), when the Portuguese began what was to be the Colonial Period, the same pattern of violence and exploitation was spread around the world, resulting in the most unbelievable period of terrorism, torture, and brutality probably ever to be known in the history of human affairs. Every European nation involved in colonial expansion was involved in this absolutely horrible period that continued for some 500 years, right up to the present time.

What I find almost incredible is that throughout this entire period humans apparently had little or no interest in each other, how different people lived, what they believed, how similar they were to each other, or even whether knowing about them was in any way worthwhile. The much touted Age of Discovery, the growth of science and technology, even the growth of the humanities and arts, seemed to have little influence on human curiosity about each other and different ways of life, different cultures, that is. There was curiosity about whether or not the newly discovered people were human or not, but not about the people themselves or their cultures. The explorers and adventurers reported on what to them were repulsive and disgusting customs but they made no attempt to understand them or the people who embraced them. The first anthropological society, the Societe des Observateurs de l’Homme, was not formed in Paris until 1800, after at least 400 years of contact between Europeans and others. This lasted only until 1804 when Napoleon apparently withdrew his support. Joseph Marie de Gerando offered an outline for studying other peoples, Considerations on the Diverse Methods to Follow in the Observations of Savage People, and another by Georges Cuvier, Note on Researches to be Carried Out Relative to the Anatomical Differences Between the Diverse Races of Man. There is little evidence that either of these ambitious programs were carried out. Degerando’s outline was quite sophisticated and advanced for the time but produced nothing in the way of results. Explorers were either not interested or without the means to conduct such investigations.

It was not until well into the 19th century that interest in knowing something about the various strange people that had been encountered began to grow. For example, William Joseph Snelling, who as a young man had spent seven years living and interacting closely with Indians, and who also wanted to “tell the truth about the Indian,” wrote and published Tales of the Northwest (1830), a collection of ten stories about Plains Indians. He argued, “No, a man must live with the Indians, share their food, and their blankets, for years before he can comprehend their ideas, or enter into their feelings. Whether the Author has so lived or not, the reader must judge from the evidence of the following pages.” (William Joseph Snelling, 1830).

Several writers acknowledged about this time how important it was to have actually spent time with, and carefully observed other people. For example:
“We must come down from our heights, and leave our straight paths, for the byways and low places of life, if we would learn truths by strong contrasts; and in hovels, in forecastles, and among our own outcasts in foreign lands, see what has been wrought upon our fellow-creatures by accident, hardship, or vice.” (Richard Henry Dana, Jr., 1840).

Serious “scientific” anthropological fieldwork, involving careful first-hand observations (with the remarkable exception of Lewis Henry Morgan), can probably be said to have only begun in the 1880’s and 90’s with the work of Franz Boas in the United States (The Central Eskimo 1888), and Siberia, where under Boas’s supervision three teams of fieldworkers undertook to determine the relationships of people on both sides of the Bering Strait (The Jesup North Pacific Expedition 1897 – 1902), Baldwin Spencer and Frank Gillen in Australia (The Native Tribes of Central Australia, 1899) and the Torres Straits Expedition of 1898 by Alfred Haddon and W.H.R. Rivers (Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to the Torres Straits). Rivers went on to conduct fieldwork in India almost immediately after the Torres Straits work (The Todas 1906). Albert E. Jenks, the first formally trained American observer (his degree was actually in economics) to work overseas, began fieldwork with the Bontoc Igorot in the Philippines in 1902 (The Bontoc Igorot 1905). A.R. Radcliffe-Brown, a student of Haddon and Rivers, conducted fieldwork in the Andaman Islands in 1904 (The Andaman Islanders 1922). These early efforts ushered in what might be considered the “Romantic Period of Anthropology,” that saw Anthropological fieldworkers spread out over the world to basically “salvage” what was left of these diverse ways of life (this is virtually no longer possible). But human cultures were many and anthropologists were few (and not well funded), so the result of all this is that we have fairly detailed information even now on no more than perhaps 350 of the thousands upon thousands of such small-scale cultures that existed at one time.

I do not know how to explain this incredible lack of interest in others. I suppose ethnocentrism played a major role in this neglect. I note that even now there is a remarkable lack of interest on the part of Americans about other cultures. I know from personal experience that many, if not most Americans don’t even know where most other people are located. Most Americans have no knowledge of other languages. When they travel to visit other places they generally get off the cruise ship only long enough to buy souvenirs. We deplore the fact that we send our young troops into countries knowing nothing about their cultures. Indeed, when George W. Bush ordered our attack on Iraq he was apparently unaware there were both Sunnis and Shiites and that that might make a difference. I guess that when others have something you want you just don’t care who they are, whether they are human or not, or what happens to them. They become just “Japs,” or “Huns,” or “Gooks,” “Towel- heads,” or whatever is required to dehumanize them. When you are intent on killing, raping, and pillaging them it doesn’t matter who or what they are. Hey, it’s the human way!

In answer to the question of why it happened, I offer the modest proposal that our Universe is simply one of those things which happen from time to time.
Edward P. Tryon

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Inept and the Useless

Who can forget the unfortunate election of 2010 that swept hordes of Tea Partiers into office eager to “Take back the country,” from the terrible “Other” and his Muslim friends. How eager they were to solve all our problems and restore fiscal sanity, motherhood and apple pie. For the most part these were individuals with little or no experience in government but who had become very proficient in bitching and moaning. When confronted with the reality of governing they of course proved to be inept, and being so inept made them also useless in terms of actually doing anything that would benefit either the nation or any of its citizens. During their tenure in office they have failed to pass any meaningful legislation, some of them apparently sold out quickly to special interests, and most of them have been almost completely ineffective. They seem to have believed that democracy works through blackmail, a technique they tried more than once to get their way. Although they haven’t always gotten their way they have managed to block most everything President Obama has attempted to do to help our country recover from the terrible blow it suffered at the hands of Bush/Cheney. You might say they have been useful Republicans by being otherwise useless.

More importantly, the whole Republican Party made a conscious decision to render themselves useless. Of course they didn’t announce they were going to be useless, they said they would refuse to cooperate and would vote “no” on everything Obama proposed. They have been more than faithful to this rather treasonous vow, even voting no on bills they had themselves initially proposed. When one party in a two party system refuses to cooperate in the governing of the nation it seems fully justified to conclude they voluntarily made themselves useless. So during the entire tenure of the Obama administration they have blocked virtually every positive move Obama and the Democrats attempted. This is, of course, why they are now being described as the “Do nothing Congress,” and have achieved a positive rating of an historically low 11%. It is quite amazing to me that Obama has been able to accomplish as much as he has in the face of such determined and unprincipled opposition.

Republicans made it clear from the outset they were determined to make Obama a one term President. They have set about this with a single-mindedness I would have thought impossible to maintain for so long as they have had to act in lock-step with many bills I would have thought not worthy on the part of at least some of them. They have agreed virtually unanimously that for them “Party comes first.” This is so important to them they have at times risked outright disaster for the nation. As they have made no secret of this I wonder why it is we have continued to pay them all this time. After all, if you are supposed to be paid to participate in governing, and you refuse to do your job, why should you continue to be paid? I don’t know who would have the authority to insist they either do their job or quit, or at least not be paid, but someone should. As I have said previously, I think what they have done is close to treasonous as it is a blatant attempt to undermine the President of the United States for their own personal gain, and has both endangered our nation and rendered it ineffective as a functioning political system. As near as I can tell, in the more than three years of the Obama Presidency, Republicans have not passed a single positive bill that would help either the nation or its citizenry, and in fact have repeatedly supported further tax breaks for the filthy rich and corporations at the expense of the middle class and the working poor. Their apparent dream of a full-blown Fascist government (a marriage of government and corporations) is dangerously close to fruition. But not to worry, it will no doubt be realized if Mitt Romney (the Gauche) manages somehow to get elected President. I said previously I thought he would pick New Jersey Fats as his running mate. I hope he does. Image a ticket of Romney the Gauche and New Jersey Fats (the Bully), a ticket even a mother couldn’t love.

Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power
Benito Mussolini

Monday, April 16, 2012

Romney's Goal?

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.
Abraham Lincoln, (attributed)

I know that several people have suggested that Willard Mitt Romney seems to have no goal in mind as a Presidential candidate, no clear plan as to why he is running and what he would do as President. I believe I may have figured it out. Romney has two main goals: (1) he wants to be President of the United States, and (2) he intends to achieve that goal by proving that Honest Abe was wrong and it is possible to fool all of the people all of the time. How else could one possibly understand what he is doing?

Do not forget that Romney has taken opposing positions at different times on virtually every issue you can imagine. This means, among other things, he is a chronic, even pathological liar. Either he lied when he was for it, or he is lying now that he is against it. It is impossible to know where he actually stands on any given issue. This rather strange situation has been compounded now because one of his aides admitted the other day that what Romney believes in private is not what he says in public, does that not fill you with confidence? He was for choice, now he is against it. He was for universal health care (at least for Massachusetts), but now he’s against it for the rest of the nation. He was supportive of Roe vs Wade, now he’s opposed to it, and so on and on about most everything. He claimed to have been a hunter all his life, but actually has only hunted twice (until recently, I guess, when he apparently was taken Elk hunting for two days). He previously lied about owning a gun but has subsequently acquired two shotguns (I think). He lies so incessantly that nothing he says has any credibility whatsoever. His latest outrageous claim is that he is a lifetime member of the NRA and supports their position on guns and gun control. As far as I know this does not mean he has been a lifelong member of the NRA, but, rather, he must have recently bought a lifetime membership in that organization. In any case, Romney in the past has taken positions directly opposed to the NRA but now claims to support them.

I find this absolutely fascinating. How do you deal with a person who apparently has no core values of any kind and is willing to say anything at anytime to anyone anywhere, and then change and say the opposite the following day? How could anyone possibly trust such a person? He has apparently managed to fool all the people all the time in order to have now managed to grasp the nomination. There is no point in even having a debate with him as whatever he says cannot be believed. It would be like having a debate with the “Little Man Who isn’t Really There,” completely pointless.

Romney refuses to tell us what he would do as President other than generalities about how he would eliminate some things, merge others, and so on, but will not reveal just what agencies or whatever because he thinks not everyone would be in favor of what he wants to do. Really, he would expect everyone to be in favor of what he wants to do? He wants to deceive everyone because he believes that will help him reach his goals. How does anyone, including his own supporters, know what to believe. I think it is probably the case that Republicans put up with his secrecy partly because they know that if he tells the truth (if there is any) he will surely lose to Obama. I also think they doubt he can win and is thus merely a sacrifice for their plans for 2016. But as he has fooled everyone, how can even his supporters have faith. I assume they think he will probably just follow the Bush/Cheney administration policies, and perhaps he will. But what if once in office he decides that Robamacare makes sense? Or what if he returns to his previous anti-gun positions? His message seems to be, “Trust me, don’t pay any attention to anything I say.” He wants to turn what might well be seen as a serious character flaw into a free ticket on a ride to nowhere, or maybe somewhere, following his business career. With his business experience he could decide to sell off our nation’s assets to private companies, lay off as many people as he can, and raise his income from the paltry $57,000 a day to $100,000. How he can imagine becoming President with his non-platform of trust me, and how anyone could possibly support his unknown plan for the country, is a mystery to me. The banks and his corporate friends seem satisfied to let him run on a simple strategy and plan of roviating Obama as they have nothing of their own to offer. So onward, deeper into the unknown, at least be grateful he’s not Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum.

The government consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me. They have, taking one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office.
H. L. Mencken

Sunday, April 15, 2012

States' Rights

I have never been a fan of States’ Rights. I suspect that if we ever became willing to grant too much authority to the states they would return to many of their past practices that were so egregious they had to be overturned in the first place. Slavery comes to mind, but more importantly for the moment, lynchings. There was a time when lynchings were common in parts of the country, especially in the southern states. Black people were lynched with some regularity and more often than not those responsible were not held accountable for what they did. While lynching may be the best example of states’ rights gone too far it is by no means the only one. Consider what has been going on in some of our states for the past couple of years.

Wisconsin is a good example, what with Governor Walker attempting to ram through anti union laws that were so outrageous it led to massive outpourings of anger and he will most likely be recalled. Ohio, too, is having similar troubles with their Republican Governor. Michigan is even worse, in that unfortunate state it is now possible for the Governor to appoint special authorities with dictatorial powers to completely override democratically elected officials, fire them at will, and literally have absolute power. Florida has attempted to enact laws so distasteful their Governor is the least popular of all Republican Governors.

Many states have now passed laws, or at least attempted to, to disenfranchise voters by the thousands, older voters, younger voters, minority voters, all those who would be likely to vote for democratic candidates. How well they will get away with this remains to be seen but there is no doubt about what it is they are attempting. Similarly, under Republican Governors in different states there have apparently been at least 90 anti-abortion bills of one kind or another, some of them so ridiculous as to make you wonder if the people there are even sane. Arizona perhaps leads the list of such states, having just passed a bill that basically says birth begins even before conception (or some such nonsense). Tennessee is perhaps worse when it comes to stupid bills, having just passed a bill making the teaching of evolution more difficult and legalizing the teaching of creationism in the classroom. They even have a bill that prohibits teachers from demonstrating hand holding as hand holding, they say, is a gateway to sexual activity. Left to their own devices there is no telling how many terrible, harmful, and stupid bills might be passed into law.

Possibly the worst example of all are the bills passed by now in some 26 states that have to do with the “Stand your ground” theme. The case of Trayvon Martin is the classic example. Trayvon Martin, 17 years of age, walking home with a bag of skittles and a soft drink was followed by a self-proclaimed community watchman (vigilante) armed with a 9mm handgun who apparently confronted him and in the altercation that followed shot him to death. There were apparently no very good witnesses, the perpetrator claimed self-defense and was allowed to just go free, no investigation, nothing. If it had not been for a massive outcry from the general public, even from some international sources, nothing whatsoever would have been done about this. Is this not completely reminiscent of days gone by? These stand your ground laws are little more than the functional equivalent of the lynch laws that were in effect and just ignored. If you are allowed to shoot and kill someone because you feel threatened and can plead self-defense and go free, is that not an invitation to take matters into your own hands knowing you will go unpunished? In my opinion these laws are little more than declaring open season on Black people, especially young Black males who in seems are always perceived as threatening. It is not clear if anything will be done to perhaps do away with such laws. They would presumably have to be overridden by the Federal government, as in the case of the laws attempting to disenfranchise voters, and also laws having to do with the restrictions on abortions. In short, the Federal government may have to intervene in some states to protect them from themselves, Tennessee and Arizona probably being by far the best examples. It seems that it is particularly in the area of civil rights that states are the most prone to overact and need to be monitored.

Another issue along these lines that troubles me has to do with Gay marriages. I believe that Gays should have the right to marry if they so choose. There are now several states where Gay marriages are legal, but there are even more states where such marriages are illegal. Does it make sense that Gay marriages should be legal only in some states? I don’t believe this makes sense at all. The same thing might be said of legalizing marijuana, death with dignity, gun ownership, and other things as well. It doesn’t make much sense to me to have American citizens considered criminals in one state but perfectly respectable citizens in the next state when they are engaging in exactly the same acts. I don’t imagine anything can be done about any but the most obvious civil rights violations but I think it would be a better country if there was more agreement on some of these basic issues.

This nation was founded by many men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.
John F. Kennedy

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Yes, You Can't go Home Again

I have just spent the last two days visiting my old home town, the place I spent the first 18 years of my life, and where I went all through elementary, middle, and high schools. I also met with two of my oldest friends from those days, one 85, the other exactly my age, that is alas, now about to be 83. I cannot say it was entirely depressing although in some ways it was. After an hour or so of conversation we agreed that not all change is “progress,” and that what has happened to “Our town” is, in fact, pretty depressing. Our town, when we were children, was a boom town. The mines, especially during WW II ran three shifts, money was flowing, gambling and prostitution flourished, much of the population consisted of unmarried miners and lumberjacks. There were bars and brothels, gambling and good times galore. It was an exciting place.

But it was also a kind of typical small town in that we had several butcher shops, bakeries, small grocery stores, a soda fountain and candy store, men’s and women’s clothing stores, local banks, and even our own brewery. You could walk everywhere, most everyone was known to everyone else, and it was a comfortable and easy place to live. The iceman delivered ice once a week, the milkman delivered milk every day, the news came from radio and from the local newspapers, life was, more or less good, even during the war years. One of my old friends blames the demise of our town on Jimmy Carter who, he says, “Declared war on mining,” the other blames environmentalists for the demise of the timber industry, both horribly gross oversimplifications, but comforting, I guess, to them. It is true, however, that our economy was far too dependent upon those two industries and when they declined the town declined along with them. As the town was built originally on a large cedar swamp, and as it is situated in a narrow canyon, there is no room for agriculture or even much in the way of gardening. The population of our town in its heyday I believe was probably about 3500, augmented on weekends by hundreds of miners and lumberjacks who came in from the hills for the weekend. The population now is fewer than 1000, augmented by no one except a few tourists during the summer months.

It is the physical condition of the town that I found most depressing. Ignoring the downtown area for the moment, what you find is that the better parts of town, where the finest houses were, and remain, is still quite attractive, well kept, nicely painted, tended, and much like always. The further removed you are from this central area the more depressing it becomes, with houses deteriorating, unpainted, unkempt, vacant, and rather forlornly for sale. Most of the houses in our town are of wooden frame construction, fairly large, and by now often close to a hundred years of age. There are a few of the finest ones constructed of brick but they are a minority. I think what has happened is that those hardy souls who elected to remain in spite of the deterioration slowly took over the finest houses they could not previously afford and take good care of them. Houses of lesser value have been abandoned or are maintained by those who cannot afford much more than food. Thus you find this sort of schizophrenic situation with the best parts of town still the best , and quite attractive, and the remainder terribly unattractive and rapidly deteriorating. I saw one fine old very large frame house, large lot, detached garage, in a kind of marginal area, coming up for auction. The starting bid a startling $10,000!

It is, however, the downtown that I found the most depressing. Interesting enough, virtually all of the older buildings are on the historical register, fine old brick buildings (built after the terrible fire of 1910), three or four stories tall (no elevators, of course), and mostly vacant and for sale, On one block, for example, there are three old hotels, all vacant and all for sale. But probably a third or more of all other buildings and storefronts are either for sale or for rent. In this relatively small downtown area there are at least six antique stores, perhaps more, and not much else besides a couple of banks, and a few not very good restaurants. Part of the problem is the town has little to offer anyone other than its lurid history. There is a very fine Mining Museum, a so-called Bordello Museum, and little else other than a pretty nondescript grocery store, a couple of remaining bars, and memories.

What I find the most depressing in all this is that my home town isn’t really basically much different than hundreds of other small towns. It is almost always the case that any old building with a second and/or third or fourth story, will find those stories completely vacant, useless. It appears that no one wants to locate their office or business above the ground level. The owners I have spoken with all agree that customers will just not walk up to do business. This means there are millions and millions of square feet of usable space being completely wasted. At the same time we are building millions and millions of storage facilities as, I gather, storing anything above ground level must be far too difficult. I don’t know what the answer is to this strange problem, but those who keep insisting Americans are the most innovative people on earth, should work their innovative magic on this unusual situation. One idea, that would no doubt be considered ridiculous, would be, how about subsidies for installing elevators in all these old buildings? I mean, if you can insist on remodeling curbs and entrances for the handicapped, why not remodeling these hundreds of thousands of old buildings for their convenience as well? All those people now too lazy or unable to get to the second floor would have easy access, millions of dollars could be saved, along with many marvelous old buildings. In Europe you do not see this same neglect. But who would want to be like Europe? Certainly not any American Congresspersons who knows we should never learn anything from Europe.

Now that most of the mining waste has been cleaned up, and the “Lead creek” now runs clear for the first time in memory, my home town is presently an unusually pretty place, but there is no apparent reason to live there unless, perhaps, you are retired and just want peace and quiet (and no amenities like even a decent bookstore or other than the most basic of foodstuffs). I thought of retiring there, but I learned that in their desperation for attention they have decided to become the snowmobile capital of the world. I absolutely detest snowmobiles. Sigh!

The great secret that all old people share is that you really haven't changed in 70 or 80 years. Your body changes, but you don't change at all.
Doris Lessing

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Being President while Black

We hear now phrases like “Driving while Black,” and more recently, “Walking while Black,” so imagine what it is to be “President while Black.” President Obama is, of course, only half Black, but according to American tradition that makes him Black (even 1% makes you Black if it is known, ridiculous but true). I said when Obama was elected, and thus shattered the basic paradigm of Western-European culture that had White superiority at its apex, it would create a serious problem for many that would take years to overcome (Morialekafa, 11/5/08), and so it has been and continues to be.

Curiously enough, at least to me, for the most part the racial prejudice that exists seems to exist more under the surface than I would have expected, at least for most Americans. There are some on the right that are blatantly racist and express their racism openly in vicious caricatures, cartoons, and disgusting jokes, or belong to obviously racist militia movements, but we do not hear much about this activity in the mainstream press unless a particularly egregious example slips out now and then. Such slips occur often enough to remind us of the prejudice still exists, particularly if it is a judge or politician caught making a racial slur. When caught such people usually excuse theirselves by denying their remark was racist, they just thought it was funny, or they claim it was taken out of context, or some other usually feeble explanation. Few are willing to come right out and say they are prejudiced. Even the “Birthers” and others of that ilk, avoid their racism by not mentioning Obama is Black at all, and pretending their objections have to do with where he was born, or that he is a Muslim, or a socialist or communist, or some kind of unknown “Other.” In what might be considered the mainstream of American culture it is no longer permissible to be overtly racially prejudiced, even if you are, you must pretend not to be. There are, to be sure, many Americans who are probably genuinely not prejudiced, but there are a great many more that are probably unaware of their prejudices, having slowly acquired them unconsciously through acculturation and socialization. It is my understanding that there have been and are far more threats against Obama than against any other President in history which, if true, tells you a great deal about the prejudice that still exists over having a Black President.

Being a Black President presents an extremely unusual situation when it comes to the issue of racial prejudice, as it is virtually impossible to tell whether criticism is merely directed at Presidential acts as such, or has a racial element. Chuck Grassley, whom I cannot but help considering a kind of political Buster Keaton, recently referred to President Obama as stupid. There are some who have been rather upset about anyone referring to Obama as stupid, some going so far as to say this is insulting to the President and even the Presidency. But as far as I know accusing a President of being stupid is pretty much par for the course. Certainly people did not hesitate to describe George W. Bush in such terms (I myself often said I thought he was probably marginally retarded). So did Grassley say Obama was stupid because he was Black (and Blacks are supposed to be less intelligent) or was he merely objecting to an Obama act he didn’t like? No one can come right out and claim Obama is stupid because he is Black, not with a Harvard degree and a sterling academic record (except perhaps for questionable affirmative action suspicions). Being President Obama is fair game for criticism and unless there is some overt mention of race you cannot know how much is racism and how much is just normal Presidential criticism. Racism, in the case of Obama, is a far more subtle phenomenon and not always obvious. No one could possibly have the temerity to address the President of the United States as “Boy,” but it seems to me that impulse lingers under the surface sometimes, at least for some.

For example, would the White female Governor of Arizona (a kind of “failed State”) ever have wagged her finger at a White President in public as though she were scolding him? I doubt it; would a Congressman (basically unfit to even carry Obama’s briefcase) have ever yelled out “You lie” in the middle of his State of the Union address? I think unlikely. There have been other examples that escape my memory for the moment but were clearly believed to have been disrespectful not only of Obama, but of the Office of the President as well. This has been more of a concern during the Obama Presidency than ever before, or so it seems.

Personally, I believe the entire Republican approach to the Obama Presidency has been predicates on racism from the beginning. Mitch McConnell announced almost immediately that making Obama a one term President was the Republican number one goal. He said this before Obama had done anything at all, in effect announcing that no matter what Obama did, Republicans would reject it. Has there ever been a precedent for an opposition party to announce that no matter what a President did it would be rejected? On what conceivable basis could such a claim be justified? What rationale could be used to explain such an unprecedented act? It seems clear to me that the answer is clear, the belief before the fact that the President would be not up to the job. In Obama’s case he could not be considered not up to the job on the basis of his personal achievements, his academic record, his previous accomplishments, so what is left? The answer I think is his race, he’s Black, he must be out of his depth, he cannot possibly be either trusted or expected to be able to handle the job, he doesn’t belong there, he’s out of his place. Tell me if you can what other President would have been so cavalierly dismissed out of hand, before he was even given a chance, and what explanation could have been offered?

I believe that whoever tries to think things through honestly will soon recognize how unworthy and even fatal is the traditional bias against Negroes. What can the man of good will do to combat this deeply rooted prejudice? He must have the courage to set an example by words and deed, and must watch lest his children become influenced by racial bias.
Albert Einstein

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Be Thankful for Small Favors

Be thankful for small favors…because whoever becomes the next President that is all you can expect. If Willard Mitt Romney somehow were to win you would probably get no favors at all, and might, in fact, lose some ground. If Obama is re-elected you might expect some small favors. In either case don’t expect much as there is little to gain either way, as both of them are part of the existing problem. The banks, insurance, and pharmaceutical companies, along with big oil and agriculture, are not going to allow much change in the status quo. And basically there is little difference between Obama and Romney. Romney, it is true, is the poster boy for the 1% and will certainly continue the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and neglect the 99%. Obama will perhaps win some concessions for the 99% but they will only be within the margins of what our powers that be regard as acceptable and will not substantially change anything. They may agree to some cosmetic changes but nothing substantial as there will be no profit in it. There will not be legalized drugs, there is no profit in it. The oil companies will not give up their enormous profits, and will not have to do so, big agriculture will not give up their subsidies, again, there is no profit in it. And of course the insurance companies will continue to grow fat holding us up for outrageous increases for our health care, and gloating over the new millions of mandated victims they acquired through “Obamacare.”

There is no reason to expect any serious or basic changes in the way our economic system operates. Free market capitalism will continue pretty much as is, the rich will continue to thrive and grow richer, the Middle Class and the Working Poor will continue to suffer. Newt Gingrich, with all the honesty of an Al Capone, wants us to believe President Obama is “the most radical President ever,” or some such claim. In fact, Obama is about as radical as apple pie. If this were not true he would have promoted a single payer health care system in the first place and not given a trillion dollar gift to the insurance industry. Similarly, he would have taken some serious action against the banks rather than defending them for their reckless behavior. He seems unconcerned with big agriculture, and although he is trying to do away with oil and other subsidies, even if he succeeds it will be little more than peanuts to corporations making unprecedented and exorbitant profits.

Similarly, even if he manages to do away with the Bush tax giveaways to the filthy rich they will remain filthy rich. They don’t need the tax breaks, there is no compelling reason for them, and doing away with them might well help us spend that money elsewhere where it will do some good, but it will not change the basic system in which the rich get richer and the poor, poorer. We hear now all about how it is the wealthy should pay their “fair share,” and the Buffet rule should be adopted. Even if it were adopted it would not even approximate a fair share. Having the wealthy pay the same percentage of tax as everyone else is not even remotely fair when you consider where their wealth comes from. For the truly wealthy the percentage their secretaries pay is a real bargain. That is why so many of them are behind this incredibly generous (to them) proposal. Think of it as I, in my sophisticated economic thinking cap, do. There are only two ways to make a profit, either through the exploitation of labor or the exploitation of the environment. This profit can be expressed in money. Thus the more money you acquire the more you must have exploited others and/or the environment. If this is so, and I believe in general it is, why should you not have to pay taxes on what you have exploited rather than some arbitrary figure that your secretary pays? A fair tax would probably be much closer to the 90% it was during the Eisenhower years than the percentage your secretary pays. The really wealthy understand the truth of this, which is why some of them are begging us to make them pay more (like their secretaries). Marx, of course, understood this, which is why he said that capital is merely dead labor. I’m not sure he mentioned dead forests, dead mineral deposits, dead oil wells, dead fisheries, and so on.

There is no way our current economic and social problems can be overcome as long as we cling to the idea that capitalism is the only viable economic system available to us. Continuing along these lines will insure that massive unemployment will continue, our schools and prisons will suffer, our food will be contaminated and expensive, our health care will be prohibitively expensive for most people, the price of energy will remain far too expensive, the absurd drug war will continue, and, of course, we will remain permanently at war with someone. The current system works only for short term obscene corporate profits and the 1%, and not at all for the people. The idea of government of the people, for the people, and by the people has always been more a dream than a reality, now it has become simply a dimly perceived once upon a time ancestral myth. When it comes time to vote disregard that inner murmur that suggests you are wasting your time, vote like you always do, for the probably least bad choice.

Elections are won by men and women chiefly because most people vote against somebody rather than for somebody.
Franklin P. Adams

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Strange Ideas

It seems to me there are some truly strange ideas floating around in American culture these days. The “Student loan crisis” is a good case in point. On the one hand we presumably want our nation to be among the best educated and competitive in the world, but at the same time we have turned our Colleges and Universities into institutions so expensive they are increasingly harder for most students to attend, and those that do attend emerge significantly in debt. It is said that student loans now exceed one trillion dollars and the interest rates are about to double. Does this not strike you as strange? It seems to me if the goal is to have a wonderfully educated population that is clearly in the national interest, education should be free, or at least minimally expensive, as it is in many countries. What is worse is there are some who now want to privatize our schools, that is, run them for a profit. This is an absolutely terrible idea. In fact, it is profit that has turned our educational system into the totally dysfunctional mess it is now. That is, when the banks discovered they could make a profit by giving loans to students, essentially making a profit from education, we were lulled into the current system whereby in order to attend the increasingly expensive institutions students and their parents were forced to borrow more and more. The universities and colleges, aware of funds available for students did not hesitate to raise their tuitions and other costs accordingly. Publishers too, did not hesitate to increase the price of textbooks that have now become so exorbitantly expensive many professors no longer use them. So instead of having an efficient and cost-effective educational system to produce the kinds of workers we profess to need, we now have a system that exploits students and parents exorbitantly. Education is a vital requirement for any modern society to flourish, to exploit it for profit is scandalous.

Prisons, too, have been increasingly privatized, an idea so ludicrous one would have to laugh were the implications not so serious. If you have prisons run for profit rather than for the protection and good of society at large, what would you expect to happen? In order to insure a profit you first of all have to have a large enough population to keep them filled, thus promoting potential collusion between police, judges, and local authorities of all kinds to insure there will be enough wrongdoers to fill them. They then fill up with non-violent offenders, pot smokers, and others who really do not belong there in the first place. It also means cutting costs for food, amenities, professional counseling, education, and so on, which in turn increases recidivism.

Also, it seems to me in my economic ignorance, that if you want to insure something like “full employment,” that is never truly full but at least an approximation of it, you cannot expect to have it if you depend upon a profit driven capitalistic economy. Businesses and corporations are only going t o hire the people they need to insure their maximum profits. They are not going to hire people out of the goodness of their hearts. It is in their best interest to have an overabundant labor force as that keeps wages and perquisite costs as low as possible. Similarly, if the government itself creates employment, that interferes with the labor market and can drive the costs of labor up. Unions, too, are a threat for the same reason. Thus a capitalistic system is antithetical to a society with full employment. When labor is merely a commodity like any other commodity, as it must be in a capitalistic economy, you cannot expect either full employment or human welfare to flourish. Market capitalism is basically in opposition to the professed needs of a true democracy. To believe otherwise seems to me, again, a truly strange idea.

Private enterprise is poisonous to anything that is essential to the smooth functioning of a society dedicated to the well-being of its citizenry. This is true of energy costs, the management of water, the health of the environment, and all of the most basic requirements. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the matter of health care, if, that is, you believe all citizens should be entitled to such care without having to declare bankruptcy due to illness. To leave health care in the hands of the private insurance industry is basically insane. Insurance adds nothing to health care and, in fact, drives up the costs incessantly. The profits of the insurance industry, that are, of course, considerable, come primarily through the misery and death of the clientele. If you have a pre-existing condition you cannot even get insured, if your costs exceed some arbitrary limit on your benefits you can be dropped and just left to die, if you are a woman you pay more, and so on and on. It is perfectly obvious virtually to everyone, including I am sure even the insurance industry itself, that by far the most efficient, inexpensive, thorough, and best system of health care possible would be a single payer system that most industrialized nations have. But with banks and insurance companies basically in charge of our Congress with respect to health care, and with the ridiculous promotion of the idea of the superiority of private enterprise over government, we seem to be helpless to change to an obviously better system.

Color me naïve, even uniformed, perhaps stupid, but I do not understand how a true democracy can possibly flourish over time under a system of unfettered market capitalism. Money is not the root of all evil. Money itself is merely a medium of exchange. Profit, and certainly excess profit, is the obvious culprit. Social democracy is the only available realistic solution.

Many people consider the things which government does for them as social progress, but they consider the things government does for others as socialism.
Earl Warren

Friday, April 06, 2012

The Ordinary and the Stupid

This is an election year. During an election year you expect to hear a great many things that you would ordinarily hear during an election year. You know, lies and exaggerations, things taken out of context, things like that. Such things are ordinary and expected. You hear them and you might think they contain a grain of truth or at least have some chance of being believed by someone, somewhere. This year, for reasons that are not entirely clear to me, there has been a rash of statements that transcend the usual electioneering garbage and are just flat out stupid. It is difficult to define precisely how it is that something goes beyond the usual to become truly stupid, the dividing line may not be very precise, but it seems to have something to do with how close any given claim comes to reality, or whether or not it contains within itself a clue to its intrinsic absurdity.

For example, when Mitt Romney says President Obama’s limitations or deficiencies or whatever, stem from his spending too much time at Harvard, and you are aware that Romney himself spent even more time at Harvard, you realize you are hearing something truly stupid. Similarly, when Romney claims that Obama is engaging in some sort of “hide and seek” behavior having to do with his plans for his second term, and you are aware that Romney has actually said he will not disclose his plans because if he did “he might be defeated,” you realize genuine stupidity once again. Even more stupid is Romney’s attempt to convince us that Obama has a (apparently secret) plan to do away with Medicare, when it is his own party that has such a (not at all) secret plan. Romney, I think, may be the worst offender when it comes to stupid claims, but he is not alone.

Consider the Vice-President of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, who claims that President Obama has a secret plan to take away our guns during his second term. There is not a shred of evidence for this claim, but LaPierre insists we must believe it for the sole reason that Obama has not already done it! This is stupid with a capital “S.” Or consider Nikki Haley’s recent claim that “Women are not interested in contraception.” As it is known that fully 98% of all American women have used contraception at some point during their lifetime, including even Catholic women, and as it is also known that Obama leads Romney by a huge margin because of Republican efforts to do away with contraception, one can only conclude this was a stupid claim, in fact, unbelievably stupid. Of course there are also the recent claims by Orin Hatch that Obama is going to attack Romney on the issue of his Mormonism, and Newt Gingrich’s claim that Obama will go after the Catholic Church after he is re-elected. There is no reason to believe either of these claims, no evidence to support them, and they therefore can easily be categorized as irresponsibly stupid.

None of the above even comes close to the stupidity of Reince Priebus’s claim the Republicans are not engaged in a “War on Women,” and the whole idea has just been manufactured by Democrats and the media. This remark is so distant from the reality right in front of us all you are forced to wonder if Priebus is even paying attention to his job. Sarah Palin’s suggestion that Romney might consider Allen West for VP, I guess might come close (I believe Nikki Haley also thinks West would be suitable). I will not even bother to mention things like the claims that Obama was not born in the U.S., that he is a Muslim, a socialist, communist, anti-Christ, or whatever. It would be easy to fill up barrels and barrels with stupid quotes that have emanated from Republican lips in the last three years, but strangely enough this barrage of virtually endless stupidity doesn’t seem to make much difference when it comes to the coming election, at least if you listen to the pundits who claim it will be a close election. How can this be?

Stupid me! I think I have finally understood how this can happen. When you realize, as I have neglected to do, that a majority of the electorate have not even been paying attention to all this nonsense, and quite likely won’t until maybe a month or even a week before they are to vote, and some will even make up their mind when they enter the voting booth, you understand they are blissfully unaware of anything that happened up until that moment. They will be faced with the choice of two candidates, President Obama and Mitt Romney, the differences between them will hinge on such things as the relative pleasure of having a beer with them, the immediate price of a gallon of gasoline, how comfortable they are domestically at that moment, what they have most recently heard about them, and yes, for some, even the color of their skin or their professed religious beliefs. The endless and intolerable months that have preceded the voting moment, and all of the lies and stupidity will be largely unknown to them and basically irrelevant. If the economy is doing well at the moment they will almost certainly favor the incumbent, if it’s not, they will vote for the challenger. A billion or more dollars will have been wasted on all the lies, distortions, and outright stupidity, the media will have made a truly big bundle, and the greatest show on earth will begin all over again. It’s the American way!

The great thing about democracy is that it gives every voter a chance to do something stupid.
Art Spander

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Self Defense

The Trayvon Martin case shows little signs of disappearing soon, nor should it until there is an arrest and a fair trial. I suspect this may be coming soon as I rather doubt the new Prosecuting Attorney is going to wait for a Grand Jury, nor should she, in my opinion.

The more I hear about and learn about this case the more I become convinced that it truly is about self defense. But I don’t think it is the self defense of Zimmerman that we should be concerned with, but, rather, the self defense of Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman’s story has smelled bad in my opinion from the very beginning. The latest version has him abandoning his following of Trayvon and returning to his vehicle. At this point, according to him, Trayvon attacked him from behind, broke his nose and knocked him to the ground and began beating his head against the concrete. This account would have us believe than a frightened 17 year-old boy that weighed 140 pounds, and who was obviously concerned by having been followed by a strange man, decided to attack an adult male who outweighed him by apparently more than 100 pounds (Zimmerman is said to weigh 250 pounds) and was at that point retreating. I confess to finding this less than credible. Zimmerman’s claim that he acted in self defense, when he was pursuing Trayvon in spite of being told not to, and was also carrying a loaded automatic handgun (that he was not supposed to be carrying), just doesn’t ring true. Nor does the description of Trayvon being on top of Zimmerman and banging his head against the concrete, especially when witnessed say that Zimmerman was on top and Trayvon was crying for help.

What I find rather incredible is that no one so far, as far as I know, has suggested that Trayvon Martin may well have been the one acting in self defense. This is a scenario that makes much more sense to me than Zimmerman’s claim of self defense. Let’s say you are a 17 year-old boy, armed with tea and skittles, on your way home in the dark. You are being followed for no apparent reason by a large adult male who is not in uniform. And let’s say that for no apparent reason you are attacked by this man who is trying to apprehend you (or something), perhaps he thinks you are one of those “assholes” who always get away. What would you do? I suggest you would probably resist with all your might. You might very well hit him in the nose and beat his head against the concrete (if you could). Some are now claiming that the gashes on Zimmerman’s head are proof he was attacked and acting in self defense. All they prove to me is that Trayvon quite likely fought back viciously against his attacker. What would have been wrong had Zimmerman said, “Young man, what are you doing here walking around at night?” And Trayvon replying, “I’m on my way home.” Something this obvious did not seem to have happened.

Of course I have no proof this is what happened. I also confess that I am so biased against Zimmerman’s claim that I could never in good faith serve on a jury debating his guilt. But if there was a (fair) trial and he was found innocent I would embrace that decision. But try as I might I simply cannot believe that Zimmerman was attacked by Trayvon and so seriously at risk he was forced to draw his handgun and kill him. His account makes no sense to me whatsoever. I think I understand the caution being exercised by the new Prosecuting Attorney, this is no longer merely a case of the killing of this unarmed boy, but, rather, a case against the Sanford Police Department, the then Prosecuting Attorney, and the entire Justice system. Obviously she has to get it right. I suggest that if Trayvon had survived this experience the story we have would be entirely different from the one we are being told now, but, of course, the dead can’t testify or defend themselves. But of course we will never know until there is a trial, and there will never be a trial until there is an arrest, and there will never be an arrest until the Fat Lady sings. The wheels of justice turn slowly, if at all, especially when it involves young Black people. Want to bet how different it would be if Trayvon Martin were White and the killer was Black? It’s the American way!

At the very least the “Stand Your Ground and Kill Blacks at Will, Bill,” has to go. The absurdly irresponsible leadership of the NRA should also go. I mean, really, do we need to carry our handguns to school, to church, into bars, and even to the Republican convention in Tampa? Whatever happened to reason and common sense? Alas, they disappeared some time ago into the mélange of insanity that constitutes the current Republican (Tea) Party and the NRA.

Guns don’t kill people, people (with guns) do.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Sow's Ear

I’m sure you have all heard that “A watched pot never boils.” I want you to know that is just not true. I have proven it now many times over. I have proven it in different kitchens, with different stoves, at different elevations and during many different weather conditions. You might say I have proven it scientifically beyond doubt. It is perhaps my only claim to fame. But my remarkable achievement is about to be completely upstaged by another. So brace yourselves, be alert, and pay attention, you are about to witness the most mysterious, even magical, metamorphosis imaginable.

You are about to be privileged to watch the metamorphosis of Willard Mitt Romney from a sows’s ear to a silk purse. I know you have always subscribed to the old saying, “You can’t make a silk purse our of a sow’s ear,” but you are about to see that accomplished before your very eyes and ears. If ever there was a sow’s ear of a candidate for the Presidency Mitt Romney would have to be the classic case. Virtually no one wants him to be the candidate. In fact, the Republicans have been so desperate to have someone else they have even considered candidates so unworthy as to ordinarily be laughable: Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, even Donald Trump, to say nothing of Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry, Ron Paul, and the latest absurdity, Rick Santorum. Even now when it appears that Romney will definitely be the candidate his endorsements are so equivocal as to give away their displeasure.

But not to worry, now that Romney is virtually certain to be the candidate, and the contest between him and President Obama is beginning in earnest, you are going to witness one of the most remarkable makeovers in all of recorded history. The MSM is going to convert this sow’s ear of a candidate into the most beautiful silk purse you have ever seen. The many gaffes will be glossed over and ignored, his most absurd pronouncements will be reinterpreted or denied, his accomplishment s will be exaggerated and his faults will disappear. He is going to appear from now on as the greatest thing since the invention of fire. This will be the whitewashing of whitewashings, the most remarkable transformation imaginable. And, of course, the voting public will buy it, and Romney will go from being far behind in the polls to neck-and-neck with the current President of the United States. An election t hat should rightfully be a landslide for the incumbent will be shaped by the media into a contest between two equally qualified candidates, reality will be ignored, and Romney’s pathetic move to the far right will become a thing of the past. He either won’t have said it, or won’t have meant it, and what he says now is how he really believes.

Make no mistake, the corporate media has the power to do this makeover. They have the power to virtually destroy a candidate if they wish. Remember what they did to Al Gore, Howard Dean, John Kerry, Dennis Kucinich, and others. They can both deny them air time and turn them into the most unworthy of candidates. They can also feature them endlessly even after they have proven to be nonentities, no longer truly even relevant. Someone the other day (I forget who but it was someone who should have known better than to suggest something so stupid) said he thought that now Gingrich was no longer a serious candidate the media should cut him off so we wouldn’t have to listen to him anymore. What a marvelous, but extraordinarily stupid idea. That would be a form of censorship (actually practiced by the media but not acknowledged as such). But would it not be wonderful? Just think of it, no more pontificating, no more outrageous claims, no more utter BS. But wait, if they could do that to Newt, why not Sarah Palin, she’s even more irrelevant than Newt, and certainly there is no reason we should have to listen to Herman Cain any longer, and what about that windbag of complete crap, Donald Trump. But then, extending the idea further, why should we have to listen to Rush, a fat jerk with nothing worthwhile to say at all other than hate speech. Or Bill O’Reilly, or Hannity, Beck, Malkin, or the rest of the hate merchants with nothing positive to contribute other than their obvious lies and distortions. Oh, what a happy day it would be if they would all disappear from the airwaves and television! But, of course, that could never happen, not in the good ol’ US of A, where free speech is protected not matter how stupid, hateful, and destructive. You see, we allow and defend freedom of speech, but we do not insist on decency, relevance, accountability, or even intelligence. We allow people with no particular expertise, knowledge, or talent to become wealthy beyond belief just by blurting out whatever they wish as long as it has shock value. Indeed, we even have a name for such unworthy and basically useless jerks, “shock jocks,” and some follow them with the passion of the mindlessly insane, passing on their hateful, stupid, divisive, ridiculous, and utterly false verbal garbage as if it is some form of gospel. These people for the most part are what are known as Republicans. Having failed to find a White Hope to fight off the Black Knight in the White House they will resort to their usual criminal tactics, lies, racism, exaggerations, and what I previously defined as “Roviation:”

roviate v. to smear, slime, malign, denigrate, and attempt to destroy an opponent through the use of innuendo, rumor, slander, outright lies and any other despicable means available. Roviation works more effectively when done in collusion with major media. (Morialekafa, September 18, 2005).

So fasten your seat belts, gird your loins, secure the hatches, sharpen your wits, study the enemy, and prepare for battle, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man's sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.
Martin Luther King Jr.