Friday, June 29, 2012

Perplexed, You Bet!

To say that I am perplexed is an gross understatement, I am also confused, mystified, puzzled, befuddled, stupefied, dumbfounded, flabbergasted, stunned, disconcerted, and completely at a loss to explain the behavior of Republicans when it comes to the subject of health care. From the recent Supreme Court decision upholding what has become known as “Obamacare, if you listen to conservatives, you would think the end of the world had come, the skies were falling, Supreme Court Justice Roberts was the devil incarnate, we should embark on armed rebellion, Progressives must have captured his wife and children and threatened to kill them of he did not vote for Obama, the constitution itself has been destroyed, floods and pestilence will destroy the earth, we are all doomed to have to pay another penny for health care, and this is the worst thing to have happened since the Dred Scott decision (excepting, of course, Citizens United, the worst Supreme Court decision ever).

Come on Republicans, get a grip on yourselves, this is health care we are talking about. So what’s wrong with health care? What’s wrong with trying to fix our obviously dysfunctional health care system? What’s wrong with universal health care? What’s wrong with wanting to have a citizen population that enjoys good health? Why would anyone want millions and millions of citizens to not have decent health care? Is it really in the national interest to have a population of sick, obese, and otherwise handicapped citizens? What do you gain by not having health care for all? If it is just saving money Republicans want why not just change the laws and allow emergency care facilities to just refuse to treat anyone, let them die, right there, on the sidewalks?

As Republican objections to Obamacare admittedly offer nothing to replace it, one can only conclude it is not just Obamacare they object to, but health care in general. If not, why are they unconcerned with having a plan of their own? I guess maybe they think our current health care system is sufficient, in that if you can afford it, you can have it. Indeed, at least one of their candidates for President has indicated that if you don’t have it you deserve to die (similar to another candidate who announced that if you don’t work you shouldn’t eat). Their major objection seems to be their fear of socialism, a concept with which they are apparently totally unfamiliar, except to believe it is something worse than death. But why should we not have universal health care? Who cares what kind of “ism” it is, or is not. Universal health care is universal health care wherever found. Universal health care is “good.” All industrialized nations offer their citizens universal care, the U.S. is the lone exception. So Obamacare is not perfect, why not except it and try to make it better? So Canadian or European health care is not perfect, why not adopt it and try to make it better? The answer seems to be obvious, Republicans do not care about health care for others, they have it themselves and they do not think everyone else should have it as it might cost too much. Actually, universal health care under a single payer plan would be far less expensive than what we have now, but this wouldn’t much affect them, and insurance companies would no longer be able to make their obscene profits on misery and death as they presently do.

Trying to comprehend Republican attitudes towards the vital subject of health care has led me to believe that (1) they are basically unconcerned with the terror that ordinary citizens feel about having to lose everything they have and go bankrupt if unfortunate enough to have a serious health problem in the family, (2) much of their objection to Obamacare is precisely because it is Obamacare rather than their own ideas on the subject (the individual mandate was originally a Republican idea and Romneycare was the model for Obamacare {although he dare not admit it}, and (3) Republican ideas about health care are something you would ordinarily associate with ghouls, goblins, ghosts, and other assorted evil spirits rather than with human beings.

Cynics will say Roberts voted the way he did because he was concerned about the reputation of the Court because of too many 5-4 decisions. Doubtful, you note that this was itself a 5-4 decision. Some might say he was trying to make up for Citizens United, a terrible decision he must recognize was an unmitigated disaster. Maybe he just did what he believed was the right thing to do. Who knows, but much to his credit he did do the right thing in this particular case.

Rachel Maddow has brought a wonderful breath of fresh air into what was otherwise a stagnant desert of hot air, I hope she will never let up on the “bullshitery” that threatens to engulf us on a daily basis. And if she had anything to do with bringing us Melissa Harris-Perry, Chris Hayes, and others, I say “good on ya.”

“Old news” has to be an oxymoron.

Morialekafa

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Paradoxes and Chickensh....

There are at least two paradoxical features in the ongoing current election process that would seem to demand explanation, or at least some serious thought.

First, as I have remarked previously, I find it genuinely paradoxical that Governor Romney can be virtually tied in the polls with President Obama. Romney and the Republican Party have managed to alienate almost every voting block that exists: Latinos, Blacks, Women, Seniors, Juniors, Evangelicals, and Muslims. There only real base of support is said to be less educated White males and maybe some fanatic Israel supporters. If this is the case, and it seems to me it must be, how is it possible that Romney could be tied in the polls with President Obama? It is a clear violation of common sense, to say the least. By any standard of reason Obama should be far ahead and one would predict he would win a second term by a landslide. Perhaps it has something to do with the polls, maybe racism, maybe something mysterious I know nothing about, perhaps none of that, but it is indeed a paradox.

Second, and somewhat related to the above, is Romney’s presumed base of less educated White working class males. Romney would appear to be diametrically opposed to their interests in virtually every way. Not only is he the poster boy for the 1%, he is known to be opposed to minimum wages, unions, food stamps, Social Security, Medicare, and virtually everything else that would improve the lives of those who favor him. He is also a notorious outsourcer of American jobs, a vulture capitalist of the first order who has multiple mansions, an elevator in his garage, apparently claimed a $47,000 deduction for his wife’s dressage horse, makes more money in two or three days than his supporters earn in a year, and has demonstrated repeatedly he is completely out of touch with ordinary Americans. You would assume this would not endear him to working class people. And yet, working class White men constitute his major support. If this does not constitute a paradox I do not know what would. I do not know the answer to this strange situation but I suspect at least part of it has to do with racism, and, as this population is less educated than some, it may also have to do with ignorance. Of course, this is the audience bombarded with utter falsehoods on a daily basis by Fox propaganda, Rush Limbaugh, and the other hate merchants who appear to be doing their jobs very well. It is widely known that viewers of Fox are among the least informed, and anyone that would listen to Limbaugh’s cacophony of lies and nonsense more than once is probably mentally handicapped in some way, or at least beyond hope of making reasonable decisions.

And now for more Congressional chickenshittery (thank you Rachel for such a useful term in describing Congressional behavior). It is said to be the case that a number of Democrats are going to vote with Republicans to censure Attorney General Holder, holding him in contempt of Congress. They are going to do this because the NRA has warned they are going to “score” the votes. That is, they will determine who voted for or against the contempt vote and presumably work against the re-election of those who do not vote to suit them. As a few Democrats will be running in areas where the NRA has a great deal of influence these individual will vote for contempt. If you understand the NRA wants us to believe “Fast and Furious” is a conspiracy to allow Obama to attack gun control laws (like maybe re-instating the ban on certain weapons), you can understand this is just another paranoid belief of the gun nuts. If you also understand that no Attorney General in history has ever been held in contempt, and that Holder did not even instigate Fast and Furious, you will also understand this is a purely political hatchet job to damage the Obama administration. Thus to vote against Holder you must believe that Fast and Furious was a conspiracy to take away guns instead of a law enforcement procedure to help catch illegal gun runners (which it apparently was, and hatched by the Bush administration), and/or Holder was personally responsible for it and is now trying to cover it up (he actually stopped it), and/or Obama was also involved and that is why he is invoking Executive Privilege (this is the first time this particular type of records have ever been an issue, let alone turned over). It is also the first time during his Presidency Obama has claimed Executive Privilege (Bush did it several times, as did Clinton and other Presidents). Of course no self respecting Democrat with even half a brain, who is honest and responsible, could possibly believe such nonsense, or that this is not a partisan witch hunt. If they vote with Republicans for contempt they will be voting to keep their jobs rather than doing what is right and proper. This makes sense for their careers but it definitely is not what they were elected to do. What the NRA is doing (and it is the same thing Grover Norquist has been doing for years) is nothing less than a protection racket you might have expected from an Al Capone (vote our way {buy our beer} or else). These kinds of tactics grew and matured during the Clinton administration when the former legitimate Republican Party began its transformation into a criminal conspiracy designed to take over and hold power permanently (that is, to create another “Thousand Year Reich”). This was Karl Rove’s dream. Unfortunately, he has not given it up and he still has his obscenely wealthy donors who want a “share of the action.”

The first sign of corruption in a society that is still alive is that the end justifies the means.

Georges Bernanos

LATE NOTE: There is apparently a new and definitive article in Fortune magazine that shows that what Issa and his committee claim happened is not at all what actually happened. This will probably render the whole investigation moot.





Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Is Democracy Practical?

I am a firm and dedicated believer in the democratic process and democratic government but I do fear that in some ways it is totally impractical. Ignore for the moment that we have not had a genuine democracy for a long time, if ever. Think of democracy in the abstract, as you would imagine it ought to be, one person, one vote, government for the people, of the people, and by the people, and etc.

Let me begin with a personal experience of democracy at work. For two or three years I once belonged to a co-op. We owned collectively a two building apartment complex, two identical buildings facing each other separated by a courtyard. There were 16 apartments and some 20 owners. It was a pretty congenial group, except, that is, when there were occasional actions to be taken. It took us more than three months to decide on what color to paint the exterior of our buildings. Two of the female owners actually had to consult with their psychiatrists before the decision was finally made. It caused a certain amount of animosity between us. It was, in short, a miserable experience. It made me begin to think about democracy.

One of the problems with a democratic form of government is that it is overly time-consuming. Things do not and cannot happen very quickly when you need a clear majority to get something done. This is quite apparent at the Presidential level and I have no doubt it is related to the Presidential takeover of going to war. Lyndon Johnson, for example, refused to call up the reserves during Viet Nam as he knew it would become too difficult an issue, so he stuck with the draft. Ronald Reagan engaged in subverting Congress with the Contra scandal for much the same reason. Clinton in Bosnia did much the same thing, as did Bush/Cheney. From the Presidential point of view it just takes too long and is too complicated to wait for a majority agreement. In fact, sometimes Presidents just avoid doing something completely because they know it will be virtually impossible to get any agreement. I suspect, for example, that President Obama did not necessarily want to protect Bush/Cheney and our other known war criminals, but realized that to investigate and prosecute them would be unbelievably harmful if not impossible, and would at best keep us from making any progress for several years (at least I hope that may be the reason).

Being too slow and cumbersome is not the only problem with democracy. The “art of compromise” is another serious problem. When you have a system that has to operate on the principle of compromise you never, by definition, get the best possible solution. You get instead some form of compromise. For example, the Obama health care achievement was the result of a compromise, so instead of getting a single payer system, or public option, that would have been far superior to what was achieved we got an unsatisfactory compromise that, while it might have been some improvement, was a far cry from what might have been achieved. Similarly, extending the tax breaks for the obscenely wealthy was a compromise when Obama had to agree to extend them in order to prevent a problem for the middle class. When you are constantly forced to compromise you necessarily get what you can, not what might be the best. This process is of course corrupted when the system itself is corrupted by other factors.

Being too slow and onerous also prevents a democracy from solving even serious problems when they arise. Citizens United is a good case in point. This decision by a corrupt Supreme Court threatens to completely destroy our (imagined) democracy, but it is virtually impossible to correct such an egregious mistake. A constitutional amendment is apparently the most likely solution, but an amendment will take years to accomplish and even were it to happen it would be too late to make much difference, the horse would already be out of the barn, so to speak. Similarly, when you have at least two obvious criminal and partisan Justices who are violating the law and threatening the constitution itself, and doing anything about it is so difficult no one even seriously suggests it, you should assume democracy is not really working as it should.

These problems with a democratic system would be true even if there was a genuine Democratic Republic, and even if all the elected officials were acting in good faith, and even if there were no lobbyists or outside money. In a world inhabited by other forms of government, however unfair and dictatorial they may be, democracy is at a disadvantage because it cannot act quickly and decisively. It is like entering the international arena with one hand tied behind your back. It is, as they say, “no way to run a railroad.”

Ideally, in a vacuum, a true Democratic Republic might well work as one would wish. Elected officials would do what they were supposed to do, following the wishes of the constituents that elected them, without having to review every issue over and over again. They would be free to act decisively and fairly quickly on behalf of those who elected them. But of course we do not live in a vacuum, and we do not have elected officials interested in doing the public’s business. In the real world of international politics, and even in the domestic world of chronic problems, democracy doesn’t work very efficiently. It is, I fear, basically impractical. In a world totally corrupted by special interests and unlimited funds it doesn’t work at all. Dictators make the trains run on time, democratic ones, after endless discussion and consideration tend to render them obsolete.

Democracy means government by discussion, but it is only effective if you can stop people talking.

Clement Atlee







Monday, June 25, 2012

President Obama and the Problem of Evil

President Obama and the Problem of Evil

There are things President Obama has done or is doing of which I do not personally approve: expanding the “war” in Afghanistan, drone warfare, assassinations, defending Wall Street, protecting war criminals like Bush/Cheney, being too eager to compromise on taxes, health care, and so on. It is probably fair to say he has his faults, some of them more important than others. But there is one facet of Obama’s behavior that is difficult to criticize as it may be interpreted as a truly good feature of his personality or one not so good. It has to do with his apparent belief about the problem of evil.

I think the worst single mistake Obama has made as President, at least during the majority of his first term was believing that evil does not, or perhaps even could not exist. I think he truly believed that he could get Republicans to compromise with him. He attempted over and over again to get bipartisan help for important issues like health care, deficit reduction, tax increases, appointments and so on. I don’t believe he thought even for a moment that Republicans would simply oppose everything he tried to do to increase employment, provide health care, improve education, unemployment insurance, minimum wages, or whatever. I think he was (perhaps still is) constitutionally unable to believe that Republicans would oppose such obvious necessities for the well-being of citizens of the United States. I don’t think this was a result merely of naivete as I suspect that many Americans felt the same way. It is, of course, completely unprecedented that one of the two political parties would simply refuse to govern at all, that what has always been considered the loyal opposition would become the disloyal opposition.

In fact, I confess that I, too, cannot believe that Republicans are apparently opposed to virtually anything designed to help ordinary people in their everyday lives: health care, unemployment insurance, food stamps, education, day care, Social Security, Medicare, minimum wages, unions, abortions, contraception, women’s health, any increase in taxes, jobs, you name it and they are against it. I don’t believe this is all simply because they oppose Obama, there has to be a more fundamental reason but I can’t understand what it could be. This opposition to helping others goes against everything I was taught as a child: the golden rule, helping the less fortunate, fair play, honesty, opportunity for all, and etc. And quite frankly, I do not remember in my younger years that even Republicans were opposed to such things. True, they were always considered a party of business and the wealthy, but not to the extremes they now seem to promote. Even Presidents Johnson and Nixon managed to get Republicans to sign on to at least some positive legislation. I’m not sure what happened to change things so drastically, but I believe it started with Ronald Reagan, a basically mindless twit so obsessed with his beliefs about communism and welfare he was willing to go to any lengths to destroy them both. And of course the transition from a bona fide political party into a quasi criminal conspiracy gained traction during the Clinton administration when even common decency was abandoned for political gain. Bush/Cheney went even further with this program of destruction, following Rove’s attempt to create a permanent Republican takeover. No lie was too egregious, too disgusting, too dishonest, to help them attain their all out assault on taxpayers for the benefit of the wealthy and corporations. Conservatives laid the groundwork carefully for what is now paying off for them, bribing Congress, loading the courts with conservative judges, changing an already imperfect Republic into a state of near Fascism.

The effect of their attack on taxpayers and ordinary citizens is now being exposed for the scam it is. The free market capitalism they have touted as the only worthwhile economic system has failed miserably, doom and gloom has come over the land, inequality is slowly destroying the nation, the environment, infrastructure, educational system, and even the climate have been shamefully neglected while intent on empire and the military have become the priorities. The entire world is in the clutches of a small number of international corporations that now control virtually everything. And what a remarkable situation they have achieved. They pay millions, even billions, to attain their goals, but most of that money simply goes out of one of their pockets into another one, the benefactors of all that largesse are mostly television and newspapers owned by the same corporations that provide the funds from other businesses. It’s like renting cars from your own car rental company to your other companies that need them. The money just circulates endlessly within the same parent corporation. It’s almost as good as perpetual motion.

It appears that Obama may be in the process of giving up his childish beliefs in truth and beauty. I hope it won’t be too late.

It is an illusion that youth is happy, an illusion of those who have lost it; but the young know they are wretched for they are full of the truthless ideal which have been instilled into them, and each time they come in contact with the real, they are bruised and wounded.

W. Somerset Maugham



Sunday, June 24, 2012

Drift - book

Drift: the Unmooring of American Military Power, Rachel Maddow (Crown Publishers, New York)

This is an unusually fine book in that Dr. Maddow makes her primary point convincingly, clearly, and with well written simplicity. She traces the evolution, or progression of war-making powers from the Congress, where it has long been constitutionally supposed to reside, to the Executives that have slowly and questionably usurped it. She also makes the case that this has resulted in increasingly “unmooring” our wars from both Congress and the American public. Before she finishes there is a commentary on our obscenely and ridiculously bloated defense budget, another on drone and nuclear warfare, and finally an offering of how we might be able to repair the serious problems that arise from all of the above. She could, of course, have done a great deal more, and there are places where one might cry out for more, but I do not believe it is kosher to criticize authors for things they did not do that one might wish they had done.

This is the kind of book that more often than not would be loaded with footnotes and references. Mercifully, it is not. She often quotes directly from Presidential diaries and speeches and explains in some detail where her information can be found. It might be possible to perhaps challenge her on some points but given her known penchant for fact checking I suspect it would be most probably unrewarding. She writes with the authority of someone who knows the facts, has an awesome command of the relevant literature, and is not afraid to state her position clearly, just as she does regularly on her weekly television show. She goes about this with such apparent ease I think it is possible to overlook the underlying scholarly achievement involved. It is also masked by what many applaud as her disarming sense of humor, but I think some may confuse irony and sarcasm with humor. It is effective, nonetheless.

As I read further and further about the questionable machinations of all our recent presidents, from Johnson, through Nixon, and on up to the present, especially through Reagan, and Bush/Cheney, I was struck by the thought the book could be more appropriately titled “Grift,” and by the time I finished reading I thought perhaps it should even be called “Adrift.” There is no doubt that the process of unmooring Maddow describes has occurred, and also no doubt of the many terrible consequences our nation has endured because of it. Wars that used to be difficult to enter and necessarily involved the entire nation are now much easier to begin and become virtually impossible to end. They are now fought by mercenaries in secret at bankrupting prices, and supervised by increasingly anonymous CIA agents and who knows who else. They are not only unmoored from Congress and the public, but also from common sense and reason, becoming sometimes wars merely for the sake of war (and our military/industrial/political complex).

There might be an element of humor in Maddow’s account of how we have been managing and caring for our nuclear warheads, certainly material to rival the Keystone Kops, if the terrifying potential for disaster were not so serious. I was not comforted to learn that we have admittedly lost eleven nuclear warheads, at least two of which are resting somewhere on the ocean floor. This part of the book is only tangentially related to her major thesis but is well worth reading. Although she is almost certainly our foremost contemporary Liberal, the book is by no means a polemic, basically just stating the facts about where we are and how we arrived there.

As someone who was opposed to a volunteer army from the beginning, I must say her account makes me even more convinced it is a terrible idea, made even more terrible by the growth of a huge, secret, mercenary army whose loyalty may well lie with who pays them rather than national interest or the constitution. This is an exceedingly dangerous situation that should never have been allowed by Congress’s “chickenshittery,” as Maddow colorfully describes it, in the first place. She has a remarkable ability to both perceive a problem and explain it in simple terms even to the less gifted. Too bad so few Americans read these days as this is a book that should be a must for everyone who, whether they like it or not, are in the same rapidly sinking boat with those of us who definitely do not like it.

I do not always agree with Frau Doktor Rachel Maddow, who I believe may be in general too optimistic, but I confess that I now think of her as a national treasure. Republicans no doubt hate her as she speaks truths they fear and do not want to hear. I wonder how much longer she will be allowed to continue? Long enough I hope for several more books.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Beyond Deplorable

Were I to be asked how things are in the United States of America at the present time I would have to reply, “They are quite beyond deplorable.” In fact I would say they are even worse than the synonyms:

CHEAP, CRUDDY, CONTEMPTIBLE, DESPICABLE, DIRTY, GRUBBY, LAME, LOUSY, MEAN, NASTY, PALTRY, PITIABLE, PITIFUL, RATTY, SCABBY, SCUMMY, SCURVY, SNEAKING, SORRY, WRETCHED.

One is hard-pressed at the moment to find anything positive to consider. Unemployment is far too high and shows few signs of improving very soon, if at all. Millions of American citizens are still without health care, and the situation could easily become worse virtually overnight. Our economy is not doing well, except for the few huge corporations reaping unprecedented profits. Congress has a popularity rating somewhere beneath a snake’s belly. Our educational system is a shambles and on a path to get even worse. Global warming, the most serious threat to our lives ever is mostly being ignored. Many, if not most Americans have lost faith in government, and especially in the Supreme Court (and for good reason), Perfectly sensible environmental protections are slowly being eroded by greedy profiteers, partisanship in government is at an all time high, and we appear to be a nation involved in permanent wars. On top of that we have a monumental national debt, there are serious attempts to deny people their right to vote, obesity is a national scandal, women’s health is under attack, as are unions, food stamps, a minimum wage, and respect for the Office of the Presidency is at an all time low (you are apparently not supposed to be President while Black, or Attorney General either, for that matter).

The source of most if not all of these deplorable conditions can be traced in my opinion (that I refuse to describe as humble) to the criminal conspiracy that used to be the Republican Party. To a lesser extent, but also at fault is the Democratic Party. Our most important elected Officials on both sides of the aisle have been and are being bribed to do the bidding of those who are supplying them with the funds to help keep them in office. Rather than serving the public as they should be doing they are merely serving themselves. They are all involved in what is essentially a gigantic conspiracy to convert our supposedly Democratic Republic into a full-blown Fascist government. The Supreme Court decision to allow Citizens United is most probably the last act necessary to bring this about. Remember, Fascism comes about because of a marriage of corporations and government, and that is precisely what has been building here in the U.S. for a long time. I have no doubt any longer that this is true. A few gigantic international corporations now have annual budgets that far exceed those of most nations, and being international basically render the concept of nation states obsolete. Those who accept their money and go along with their demands become part of the elite that is busily exploiting both labor and nature to generate as much profit as possible with little or no regard for the damage being done or the long term consequences of their greed.

These corporations, and their component enterprises have discovered how to make a profit of virtually every necessary human activity. They have privatized our prisons, our schools, health insurance, energy, our food supply, “wars,” and even attempted to privatize water and air. Labor, land, and even money have been turned into commodities that are traded, bought, and used in the same way they trade pork bellies and beans. In this savage, competitive system of social Darwinism there is no place for compassion, fair play, social contracts, or even basic human decency.

For those involved in this massive conspiracy no means are too despicable to attain the ends they seek. The best example of this is the behavior of the Republican Party in the past couple of decades. Unable to get what they want through the ballot box they have engaged in a totally unprecedented program to get their way. As the (supposedly loyal) minority they have simply refused to participate in governing at all, thus bringing government to a standstill where nothing can be achieved. They believe that if they can bring down the Obama Presidency they will be rewarded by being returned to power. No previous political party has ever before just refused to participate in the governing of the nation, to prevent any positive actions to be taken to improve the problems that inevitably face the nation, no losing party have ever previously been the disloyal minority. If Obama falls he will be replaced by a figurehead President who can be depended on to do what he is told to do. Interestingly enough, Obama is not really much of a threat to them as they will load the House and the Senate with enough of their own people to be able to control him, and will be able to exert so much pressure that he will be constrained to act on their behalf whether he wants to or not. As I believe this is true I find it somewhat puzzling that they are willing to spend billions if necessary to keep him from a second term. But, then, I guess billionaires can afford to play what is to them penny ante games to satisfy their desire for power, sort of like pitching pennies for bragging rights. It has all become far beyond deplorable. There may still be a glimmer of hope, but it is a tiny glimmer at best, and may die completely in 2012.

When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it--always.

Mahatma Gandhi

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Just Another Day in the Lives of Republicans

I turned on my computer this morning first thing, as I always do, to peruse the news. This is the gist of what I encountered:

Senators try to kill an EPA attempt to limit mercury and toxic air.

Romney announces no hiring of more Public workers.

McConnell is opposed to any rules for disclosure of names of those who contribute to SuperPacs (as it might inhibit their speech).

1.9 million transportation workers are being held hostage by Republicans.

House of Representatives, several bills opposing clean energy.

Attorney General Eric Holder is found in contempt of Congress by partisan vote by the Issa committee, composed of a majority of Republicans. This was an unprecedented, completely unnecessary vote designed purely for publicity and to harm Holder and, more importantly, Obama. Most everyone knows it is a witch hunt, pure and simple.

The attempt to keep student loans at the current rate instead of doubling them was defeated because they were to be paid for by closing a loophole for the wealthy.

Representative Peter King decides to hold still another (the sixth) completely unnecessary and useless hearing on radical Muslims.

The Iowa Republicans want a bill banning Medicaid payments for victims of rape, incest, or severe fetal anomalies.

Governor Scott Walker persists in purging Florida voters in spite of being sued by the Federal Government and the refusal to cooperate by local officials.

Republican Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina has vetoed an already passed bipartisan bill that would have allowed free HPV vaccines for seventh graders.

An Arizona death row inmate requests his execution be stayed until Governor Jan Brewer is replaced as it is known she loaded the Clemency Board with cronies who understand they are not to grant clemency to anyone.

New York Republicans stop a New York attempt to decriminalize Marijuana.

No doubt there is more but by this point I just gave up. You will note the absence of anything positive on the part of Republicans. They cling to their bizarre idea that the way to win in 2012 is to not be concerned with any positive steps forward on anything but, rather, simply to destroy Obama no matter what it costs the country (or apparently even their party). You will also notice there is nothing much that makes much sense. The attempt to disparage Holder (and through him the President) is so transparently nonsensical and purely political it is doubtful anyone will be taken in by it, in fact, it will most probably harm Republicans. The McConnell opposition to disclosure, while it may make sense in one way, is fundamentally absurd. If money is speech, it has to be spoken by someone. Secret speech is not really speech at all. Speech involves putting your money where your mouth is, not slipping money anonymously to other spokesman to speak for you. Or at least so it would seem to me. If you are not willing to speak yourself you should not be allowed the privilege.

Anyway, the current political scene is so utterly, completely, and ridiculously absurd it is not really worthy of comment. We have long since left any realm of reality. When you are arguing about why the filthy rich should pay fewer taxes, why students should have to go into serious debt to be educated, why health care should be involved with insurance companies, why air and water should not be protected, why global warming and the environment should be ignored, and why women’s health and well-being should be in the hands of a Medieval Church and a bunch of elderly White men, why Iran should be bombed now because they might someday want to make a bomb, and why Obama is going to take away your guns for sure because he has not yet done so, you have long since left the earth’s atmosphere for La La Land somewhere out there in the furthest reaches of outer space.

"He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad."

Rafael Sabatini

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

My Eureka Moment

I think I have had a true Eureka moment, or an epiphany, or some such thing. I have been pondering why it is the mysterious powers that be (or not so mysterious ones) believe that a businessman is best suited to become President of the United States when there is a clear case to be made against that idea. That is, businesses are run to make a profit, nations or governments are not. My breakthrough on this issue came to me quite suddenly when I finally realized the United States government is merely one part of a gigantic international cartel that in effect is now ruling the world for profit. If you first disabuse yourself of the old fashioned idea that the U.S. is a powerful independent sovereign democratic Republic (nation), dedicated to managing the affairs of some 300 plus millions of citizens, and understand that it is now just one more cog in an immense money-making international business, what is happening begins to make a modicum of sense.

Romney would be an ideal person to represent this cartel I shall henceforth refer to for convenience as World Incorporated (WI). This is because WI is the same type of vulture capitalism that Romney has successfully experienced and mastered, only on a much larger scale. Romney, as President, would simply be the corporate officer in charge of one of the many elements (the U.S.) under the control of WI, and as such would carry out whatever was needed to maximize the profit to be squeezed out of that element. Just as companies taken over by Bain Capital were dismembered and the parts sold off for profit, so different agencies standing in the way of corporate profits could be done away with in the U.S., the Departments of Education, Energy, and certainly the EPA. And any regulations that were hindering profits would likewise be eliminated. Of course the environment would be seriously endangered, global warming would be ignored, air and water would be at grave risk, but corporate profits would soar even above the obscene limits they have already reached. Thus, if this is the kind of economy you believe to be desirable, obviously an experienced businessman like Romney, interested solely in profit would be the most suitable and ideal candidate. The enormity of the profits potentially involved might be surmised by simply looking at the billions these corporations are willing to invest in a Romney Presidency. Powerful nation states have become obsolete with even the most powerful among them reduced to little more than banana republics.

The U.S., like all other nations, has become merely one element in World Incorporated. Our vast military power is used to ensure the safety and success of WI, to say nothing of the enormous profits constantly generated by the military/industrial/political complex that has been created. The so-called defense budget, virtually untouchable and bloated beyond belief, functions much more importantly to generate profit for the defense industry than it does for national defense. Would the U.S., if it was truly worried about defense, continue to be the largest purveyor of military arms and hardware to anyone willing to buy them? Control by the WI is the main reason there are now U.S. military bases all around the world, used to maintain control of the Middle East and all that oil, as well as myriad other natural resources required to maintain an advanced technological empire. Africa is now coming more and more into play so WI is expanding there while at the same time guarding against any nations still trying to maintain independence that might threaten to disrupt their growing empire. I suspect that whatever powers that be in other nations are being invited in and guaranteed a share in the profits. China and Iran may be the only remaining nations not completely controlled as yet by WI, but they probably eventually will be.

Mitt Romney, objectively viewed, is perhaps one of the worst candidates for the Presidency in history, given the presently existing conditions. He is a known liar, has no core values, is not very well liked by hardly anyone even in his own party, has refused to offer any substantial information about what his policies might be, is completely out of touch with the 99%, and clearly represents the billionaires that are throwing money into his campaign as if it were chickenfeed. He is literally the posterboy for the 1%. On top of that his feeble, fake presentation of self is so excruciatingly embarrassing it is painful to watch. A man who claims a $47,000 deduction for his wife’s dressage horse trying to pass himself of as just a regular guy elevates absurdity to previously unknown heights. The WI, however, doesn’t care about such things, or even how bad he is as a candidate. They will buy him the Presidency, or certainly try to do so, and he will do whatever they desire, the citizenry and the public good be damned.

You could argue, I suppose, that from the standpoint of world peace this world empire might be a good thing. But from the standpoint of planetary health, and the well-being of the ordinary people that have to live and try to survive on it, it will be an unmitigated disaster, perhaps eventually the last human disaster ever.

Do not seek evil gains; evil gains are the equivalent of disaster.

Hesiod



Monday, June 18, 2012

A Death in the Family

One of our cats is unexpectedly and prematurely dying. I know there are many people who do not like cats and could care less, and I also know there are many who do not want to hear about our pets. But this is a traumatic event for us and I cannot help but discuss it, if only for whatever relief there might be in facing reality. We shall have to take her to the Vet first thing in the morning and have her “put down” as is the phrase used for cats and dogs when the end is imminent. After all, it would not be quite appropriate, I guess, to say as we do in the case of people, “she is passing away,” or “going to meet her maker,” or whatever euphemism is fashionable at the moment. I notice that virtually no human being dies anymore, they all just “pass away.” Anyway, our poor Claire is dying. She has cancer that has already reached her liver. There is no doubt about the outcome. She has no quality of life. She just lays there quietly waiting to die, no whining, complaining, or apparent bitterness. It is an unexpected event as she is only about six years of age. We have come to love her dearly.

As we have five cats I suppose the cynical might say it will be a small loss. But all of our cats have distinct personalities that we have come to understand and learned to live with over the years. First, there is Cece, now the oldest by quite a few years, a Calico that was found abandoned at a local gas station when she was small enough to fit in the palm of my hand. In her dotage she has become rather cranky and does not allow any of the others to approach her. For a long time she slept on our bed but in recent years has been displaced by others, especially Claire. Claire is the sister of Kati, two all gray kittens my wife rescued from the vet against both her and my better judgment. Strangely, Claire has always been virtually twice the size of Kati. She has been something like the Oliver Hardy of cats, overweight, but graceful as any other cat, and the best hunter of all by far. Somewhere she developed some kind of cat ailment that caused her to have something like asthma but she never let it stop her from hunting.

Kati, much smaller than Claire, and smaller also than any of the other three, is the most dominant, even over the two (fixed) males, Midnight and Spencer. Kati is a mischief, always into everything, always underfoot, always curious, and a gourmet. She is the only one of the five that not only eats people food but demands it. She loves salmon, lamb, and beef, but resists any form of cat food. When I work outside in the garden she is so demanding of affection I have to pay her the attention she wants. In the house she has nothing to do with me. Strange, these cats.

Then there is Midnight. He was named by our neighbor who first came across him, “Almost Midnight,” as he has a single white spot on his chest and is otherwise completely black. But we just call him Midnight and ask him when he deigns to come in for food, “How are things in the Garden of Good and Evil?” Actually, he is a bully and tries to intimidate all the others, except Kati of course, who brooks no nonsense from him. Our neighbor did not encourage him and he just showed up one day at our door and has been with us ever since. He did tear a hole in the screen door of another neighbor before they, too, rejected him. He fights often with other cats in the neighborhood and comes home with torn ears, bloody cuts, and so forth with some frequency but seems to successfully defend our turf.

Finally there is Spencer. I recall writing about Spencer previously, “the Trouble with Spencer.” The trouble being that he was a cat, and we did not need nor want another cat. Spencer is all white with blue eyes. He doesn’t see too well but well enough to wander at will, standing out like a sore thumb wherever he is. I worry the coyotes will get him but so far he has survived. This is quite remarkable as he also has the unnerving habit of lying down in the driveway. Spencer is a gentleman. I sometimes think of him as the John Barrymore of cats. He is handsome, keeps himself well groomed, and tries always to mind his own business. He does not like to fight but will, when necessary, defend himself from Midnight and Kati who try to pick on him. He and Midnight seem to have a kind of love/hate relationship in that although Midnight bullies him at times, at other times they spend time together in the “Men’s house” (the downstairs garage) and sometimes even sleep on the same bed. Like Midnight, he just showed up at our door several nights running and, of course, eventually became part of the family.

It is, as you might surmise, a group of characters. But now our eyes are on Claire. We worry she might not even make it through the night. We dread the morning when we will have her mercifully put down. I regret sometimes referring to her as “Arbuckle” and I won’t miss the mice, birds, lizards, snakes, and bats with which she has regularly supplied us. I have also referred to her as “Bunkie” as for years she has slept near me nearly every night. I will truly miss her as we will give her a suitable burial tomorrow. She will join “grey” and “Boo,” our previous feline friends who, like Claire, so enriched our lives, but, alas, like all of us, were not immortal. Tomorrow is going to be a very sad day at Sandhill.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Is "Political" all Bad?

President Obama, using his Executive powers, has given a marvelous gift to some 800,000 young Hispanics, making it possible for them to avoid deportation and even be allowed to legally work and stay in the U.S., at least for a time. As Congress refused to vote for the Dream Act this was the least Obama could do about this unfortunate situation. Remember, these are young Hispanics who were brought to the U.S. illegally, through no fault of their own, by their parents prior to their 16th birthdays. Thus they have lived in the U.S. most of their lives, have attended our schools, developed friendships, and are clearly Americans in every way except legally. If they have lived here for five years or more, graduated from High School, served in the military, and have no criminal record they are eligible to stay and work and need not fear deportation, at least for a time. This is not amnesty, nor does it give them citizenship (possibilities left for another time).

Republicans, of course, immediately cried “foul,” or at least have accused Obama of having made an (implied) cynical “political” decision designed to capture the ever-growing Hispanic vote. Ignore for the moment the obvious fact that Obama already has the overwhelming majority of the Hispanic vote and need not have done this at all. Yes, it is political, at least insofar as it will no doubt increase his popularity with this important voting block, and yes, that may even have been an important part of his motive, but it is also a decision that is perfectly sensible, fair, compassionate, realistic, logical, practical, moral and ethical. From the way our two parties accuse each other of playing “politics” you might well think that everything political is necessarily and inevitably always ”bad.” I guess you might excuse Republicans for such an attitude as they are certainly not noted for compassion, fairness, morality, ethics, or any other of what might well be considered ordinary American values. Of course if you subscribe to an economic system in which labor is considered merely a commodity to be used and sacrificed in the holy quest of ever-increased profit, you need not even bother about such questions.

I have been increasingly convinced that not only does Romney lack compassion, fairness, morality and ethics, he is completely unable to think outside of the belief system of the one percent. He has no comprehension whatsoever of what life is like for those who lack the wealth and power of his peers. Nor does he have even a rudimentary knowledge of foreign affairs and how it is the U.S. must interact and cooperate with others. He seems to believe that war is completely justified and should be employed in any situation that stands in the way of American or Israeli desires (or profits). I think he is unaware the Cold War is over and that world affairs at the moment are far different than they were when he was busy proselytizing in Paris. This might well be seen in his claim that Russia is still our number one “enemy” and that Obama is more interested in defending Iran than in protecting Israel. If Obama can resist the pressure to attack Iran at Israel’s request, and thus avoid another war in the Middle East, it will be one of the greatest accomplishments of the last fifty or more years. Indeed, if Obama could somehow maneuver Israel into making a just peace with the Palestinians it would easily be the greatest feat of the last seventy years. Romney, of course, seems perfectly willing to bomb Iran with no regard for the consequences, consequences, I fear, he is even incapable of understanding. After all, he and his five sons will never have to be involved. It seems the same hawks that aided George W. Bush in starting a completely unjustified, unconstitutional, illegal, and devastating “war” in Iraq are now advising Romney to make a similar terrible mistake in Iran.

I believe it is quite true, as Obama has said, that a Romney Presidency would simply be a repeat of Bush/Cheney except on steroids. The same lies and mistakes that brought about our recession and national debt would be repeated in an even more devastating form, the world situation Bush/Cheney brought about making us into a pariah nation would continue in an even more unhealthy way, corporations, as people, would rule, and ordinary people would suffer more poverty and poor health. I concede that President Obama has been in important ways a disappointment (I’m not certain all the disappointments are entirely his fault), and he has followed policies I do not at all approve of, drone warfare, nuclear energy, continued hostilities in Afghanistan, protecting Bush/Cheney, for example, but I do believe Romney and the Republicans would bring new meaning to the concept of disaster.

I have given two cousins to war and I stand ready to sacrifice my wife's brother.

Artemus Ward



Thursday, June 14, 2012

The End of the Republic

I guess we should congratulate the Supreme Court for their success in doing what even the Civil War could not accomplish – successfully bringing down our democratic Republic, and not with a bang but a whimper. If anyone believes what the founding fathers had in mind was anything like what we currently have, you should lead them by the hand to the nearest Insane Asylum and sign them in. The apparently na├»ve idea of one person one vote has essentially vanished, and certainly the concept of by the people, of the people, and for the people no longer applies. We now have what is essentially a fascist plutocracy that is controlled by a few billionaires and other obscenely wealthy people, along with a few huge international corporations who are inseparable from them. They now have the means to control our government as well as the organization to make it possible.

I am speaking, of course, of Citizens United, virtually without question the worst decision by a Supreme Court ever (rivaled only, I think, by the Dred Scott decision). This abomination makes it possible for individuals and corporations to provide absolutely unlimited funds to candidates of their choice making it a virtual certainty they will be elected. Not only will they be elected they will be obliged to do whatever it is they are asked to do. Obviously those who can donate millions upon millions to certain individuals and causes do not do so out of the goodness of their hearts, and certainly not because they are interested in protecting our democracy. They have special interests and unlimited funds to see to it they will be achieved. In most cases these interests are clear and meant to increase the profits of whatever it is they are doing. They tend to want fewer regulations on industry, especially those that might protect the environment and thus impede their capacity to rape and pillage resources, but also those regulations designed to keep them relatively honest and fair. Others have particular issues in mind and are willing to spend more than merely liberally to get their way.

Perhaps the best example of this at the moment is the case of Sheldon Adelson, the casino mogul who is one of the richest men in the world, worth several billions of dollars. Adelson gave something like ten million dollars to more or less single-handedly finance the doomed Presidential campaign of Newt Gingrich. He was willing, according to reports, to spend up to one hundred million. Now he has contributed ten million to a Superpac supporting Mitt Romney and, again, said he is willing to spend virtually unlimited sums to see him elected. Put one way, he definitely does not want to see President Obama re-elected. I doubt this has anything to do with racial prejudice and I don’t believe it has much of anything to do with Obama’s anti-business practices (which, in fact, do not even exist). It could be, I suppose, just because he has so much money this is little more than a form of play for him. What I assume it has to do with is Israel. Adelson is a fervent supporter of Israel. He is a personal friend of Bibi’s (Netanyahu). I suspect he believes that Obama is not as dedicated a supporter of Israel as Adelson would like him to be, and no doubt believes that any Republican would be more likely to be an ardent supporter of that criminal state. I cannot say I know this to be true but I think that it probably is. Other billionaires have other fish to fry but prefer to keep a bit quieter about it.

Anyway, could there possibly be a more obvious example as to why Citizens United is becoming the complete disaster it is? If money represents speech, and corporations, people, it is obvious our traditional beliefs about democracy, fair play, honesty, upward mobility, one person one vote, and so on no longer apply. We have now entered upon a completely new (for us) form of government in which the vast majority of the population simply surrender to those with the dough, moolah, sheckels, green, simoleons, bucks, cabbage, or whatever you want to call it. This is not an absolutely done deal as yet but without some pretty immediate action it will be inevitable. Unfortunately, democracy is not noted for immediate actions. Of course Citizens United can be undone, but only after probably several years of trying when it will be too late to matter. So cheers, better get prepared for your black bread and gruel.

No one should be allowed to personally acquire that much money, corporations are not people, at least some members of the Supreme Court should be required to revisit this absolutely mindless travesty, and then impeached. Never before in our history have so few managed to steal so much from so many.

All the big corporations depreciate their possessions, and you can, too, provided you use them for business purposes. For example, if you subscribe to the Wall Street Journal, a business-related newspaper, you can deduct the cost of your house, because, in the words of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger in a landmark 1979 tax decision: "Where else are you going to read the paper? Outside? What if it rains?"

Dave Barry



Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Appealing to the "Base"

It is commonly reported that President Obama has to appeal to his “base.” Similarly, Romney must not only appeal to his base but also apparently appease those who constitute it. We all know more or less what is meant by a base: the foundation of a building, the lower part of a wall, the bottom or support of something, the starting point, and so on. In politics the base is that group of loyal followers that can be pretty much depended upon to support and vote for a candidate. The term “base,” however, also has a meaning as an adjective as well as a noun. As an adjective it can be seen to mean something like, without morals, mean, or the lowest point of immorality. At the very least it seems to imply something inferior, something somehow lower down on the scale of worth, something of which one might be scornful. This is the meaning reflected in this passage from Shakespeare:


“Tis a common proof,

That lowliness is young ambitions ladder,

Whereto the climber-upward turns his face;

But when he once attains the upmost round,

He then unto the ladder turns his back,

Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees

By which he did ascend.”

Julius Caesar, Act II Scene I

This raises an interesting question because it would seem to be possible (both theoretically and actually) for a political base to be both “the base” and “base” at one and the same time. While it is obviously difficult to define precisely what any given base is like, and it may have more than one component, I think it might well be said that at the moment the Republican base is both noun and adjective. I don’t know if the current base is entirely without morals or the lowest point of immorality, but it most certainly is “mean.” This would seem to be pretty clear when you consider their “war on women”, their apparent willingness to abandon large portions of the population to increased poverty and ill health by doing away with Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, education, infrastructure, environmental quality, and so on. Insofar as Romney has to appease this base he is, of course, appealing to the most “base” elements of his base. While he might well not keep his promises to them after his election this can be difficult and at least some damage will be unavoidable. You might observe this has been the pattern of the Republican Party in recent years. There is no doubt they have encouraged Evangelicals and even racists to vote for them even though later scorning them afterward (until they needed them again). It is apparent that the big money and the corporations are not truly concerned about abortion, Gay marriage, contraception, and such things, except insofar as they can use such issues to their advantage during elections. They clearly are not much interested in the well-being of the 99%.

There may be similar forms of hypocrisy with respect to Democrats and their base, but what constitutes the base of the Democratic Party is not as clear cut as in the case of Republicans, nor would there be a similar level of meanness involved. Indeed, this may well be the most importance difference between the two parties at the present time, with Democrats at least trying to at least somewhat defend the 909% against the obvious attacks by the “right.” You might say that whatever the Democratic base is, it is not as “base” as the Republican base. What is the most upsetting about our political system at the moment is the lack of interest in the public well-being. Both parties are motivated mostly by their greed for power and control. If the public good falls by the wayside, well, politicians need lots of money to stay in office, money that can only be obtained by serving the interests of those who have it, and their interests are definitely not in public well-being. By appealing and appeasing the base, politicians are guided by the lowest common denominator of public input rather than attempting to move both the base and the nation forward and upward as they should. Put in the most stark terms, our political/economic system now operates primarily by greed and the quest for profit, the public good be damned. That may be proper way to run a railroad but it is not the way to good government (if anyone can remember such a thing).

In the beginning there was nothing. God said, 'Let there be light!' And there was light. There was still nothing, but you could see it a whole lot better.

Ellen DeGeneres

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"Success," the Supreme Court, and the Blame Game

Three things have been occupying my thoughts: (1) what does it mean to be successful, (2) where is the Supreme Court now that it is desperately needed, and (3) who is to blame when things go wrong.

I note that lately it is commonly stated that Mitt Romney was a successful businessman. The implication is, I guess, that if he was a successful businessman that must have something to do with his potential to be a successful President. Similarly, some might argue he was a successful Governor. But what does being successful mean? After all one might well argue that Al Capone was successful (actually quite successful until he was finally brought down because of income tax problems). I can’t see why being successful, in and of itself, proves much of anything. What you are successful at doing would seem to me to be the crucial factor. Romney was successful at making a profit for himself, Bain Capital, and his friends, remarkably successful. But does success at making a profit (especially given the means employed) have anything to do with whether or not he would be a good President? I don’t think so, and the argument that he was successful seems to me useless. Success is one of those words that obviously requires a context as well as a time limit. Hitler was remarkably successful, for a time, as was Stalin. Also, success is a relative term, success as compared with what? I suggest that President Obama has been a successful President, but of course Republicans think otherwise. Besides, someone can be successful at one thing and terrible at others. In short, being successful is not a good description of anyone and can mean nothing at all.

And where is the Supreme Court now that it is desperately needed? Are they remorseful over having made one of the worst decisions ever handed down by the Court? It has become very quickly perfectly obvious that this decision about corporate personhood, money as speech, has had absolutely disastrous results (just as President Obama predicted and Justice Alito shook his head “no.”) It is so disastrous, and so obviously so, you might think they would voluntarily decide to revisit it, admit they made a terrible mistake, and either reverse or seriously modify it. They have a chance now because of a case brought to the Court by the State of Montana. But don’t bet any money they will change things. Remember, this is the same Court that awarded the Presidency to George W. Bush in a decision so unconstitutional, illegal, and illogical that even they announced it should never be used as a precedent (but this didn’t keep them from doing it). And it would seem that virtually every decision they have rendered since then has favored business interests. It would seem obvious by now that an institution that is supposed to be non-partisan, objective, and supposed to serve the interest s of the people, has morphed into something quite different. They obviously have the interests of the one percent much more in mind than those interests of the 99%. So far they have indicated neither shame nor guilt over what they have done, nor, I think, will they be willing to admit they made an egregious mistake. Two or three of them are so shameless they should be impeached forthwith, but of course they won’t be.

There is nothing new about blaming the President for the woes of the country, but realistically, does this make much sense? President Obama, for example, is now being blamed for most everything, especially for not creating jobs fast enough. But it is obvious he is not truly to blame for this as Congress has blocked his every attempt to create them. Similarly, he is blamed for not closing Guantanamo, but, again, he was prevented from doing so by Congress. Presidents are always blamed for what goes on simply because they presumably have the power to do otherwise, but in reality they don’t. In the current situation blaming Obama goes beyond the usual practice if for no other reason than Republicans claimed from the beginning they would make it their number one priority to make him a one term President, and with that in mind they not only block his every effort to improve things but, hypocritically, then blame him for their own shortcomings. It is possible they might even get away with this ridiculous scam. If they don’t it will be because Romney is such an awful candidate even independent voters can’t stomach him (along with some members of his own party). Interestingly enough I doubt that Romney will be blamed for the apparent death wish of the Republican Party.

“He believed in his own astuteness. Though he had both esteem and admiration for the sensibility of the human race, he had little respect for their intelligence: man has always found it easier to sacrifice his life than to learn the multiplication tables.”

The character Ashenden in the short story “Mr. Harrington’s Washing,” by W. Somerset Maugham.



Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Brief Museum Tale

Sundays are long and boring, especially when the weather is so unreasonable. The current political scene is even more boring, what with the endless stream of lies and utter nonsense that keeps us from doing anything positive to solve the truly serious problems that confront us. So to bide some time here is another short story for my unfinished, unwanted, unedited, unread, and uncollected volume, "Encounters."

I have found quite remarkable what people will reveal in relaxed or unguarded moments: confessions, stories, admissions, embarrassing moments, pleasant or unpleasant truths, whether meaningful or trivial, shocking or mundane, even criminal. This is especially true, I have found, in the wee hours of morning after all night conversations. Such is this incident related to me when my friend and I shared a motel room because of an unexpected unseasonal blizzard. We had been graduate students together for several years and were now about to complete our degrees. On our way to a convention where we hoped to find employment, we found ourselves temporarily delayed by this unfriendly act of nature. Happily we also shared a bottle of inexpensive but decent Scotch whiskey. I repeat this tale exactly as it was told to me.

“Remember that decrepit old Museum building that housed the Department of Anthropology when we first started graduate school?” my friend began. “It was originally built for the centennial celebration and was never meant to become a permanent part of the campus.”

“Of course I remember it,” I replied. “I remember it very well. It was a terrible old two- story building, flimsy, freezing cold in the winter and unbearably hot in summer. Thank God they finally tore it down.”

“Do you remember the second floor? There was that one huge room where artifacts were displayed, including that gigantic old war canoe.” He poured himself another scotch and water and continued without waiting for me to reply. “A really strange thing happened to me there one day. Something I’ve never told anyone before. You may not believe me, but I swear this is a true story, every word.” He paused for a moment. “I was there by myself studying for an exam one afternoon. You remember there was a table with some chairs where you could sit and read near the window. It was quiet and hardly anyone else was ever there. I remember I was reading Kroeber’s Anthroplogy, a book so boring I sometimes used it as a soporific.” He added, “But that has nothing to do with what happened. Anyway, a girl I had never seen before came in with her books and sat at the table. She wasn’t terribly pretty but kind of cute, more attractive than not. She had a nice body and long blond hair. She opened a book, looked at me, smiled, and said ‘hello.’ I smiled and said hello. We both began to read. I couldn’t resist looking at her from time to time, and I soon noticed she was doing the same. After a short time she came and sat closer to me. She asked if I was a grad student and I allowed as to how I was. It was a warm day. She was wearing one of those flimsy cotton summer dresses and sandals. She leaned over closer to me as if to see what I was reading. It was obvious she wasn’t wearing a bra, and equally obvious she wasn’t interested in Kroeber.” He paused again and smiled. “Well…to make a long story short, one thing led to another. Before I knew it, believe it or not, I was making love with her! In the canoe! It was insane! The doors were not locked, anyone could have come in and found us. It would have been excruciatingly embarrassing, to say the least, probably even the end of my career. But it happened just as I am telling you. Somehow, at the time, it seemed a perfectly natural thing to do. I didn’t know her name and I never saw her again. It was by far the strangest thing that ever happened to me.”

He looked at me expectantly. I said nothing, studying him carefully with newfound interest. He wasn’t very tall, not even of average height. He was slender, slightly round-shouldered, near-sighted, with dark horn-rimmed glasses, and a decidedly asymmetrical face. He had short wavy dark hair and widely spaced bluish-gray eyes. Although far from handsome, yet with a nice complexion and a pleasant smile he was not unattractive. The only word that came to mind as I examined him was “bookish.” He was so obviously an academic, I hesitate to say it, almost a classic “nerd,” he could not have been mistaken for anything else. He was certainly not someone you would expect to have had such an adventure. As he recounted this tale, I am certain it was true, he was not being boastful. He appeared to be both amused and somewhat perplexed by it, with perhaps the slightest hint of pride. We resumed our journey in the morning.





Friday, June 08, 2012

Bank Notes

I am aware that “Bank Notes” is probably misleading and the title of this little tale should more properly be “Notes on the Bank.” I’m sure I must have mentioned at least some of these “adventures” previously, but the latest change in the rules has inspired me to review my experiences with the bank. THE Bank here will remain nameless but I can tell you that it is one of those banks considered “Too Big to Fail.” I doubt if it is much different from any of the other large banks.

First, just a couple of relatively insignificant matters I might mention. I have had an account with this particular bank for more than 20 years. It is a branch of a mighty bank that happens to be in a small town where most everyone knows everyone else and the tellers are more than merely familiar with their customers. I was surprised one day to learn that I could no longer cash a third party check without the endorsement of the author of the check (even if it was my own wife), as I had been doing just that for years. But okay, a change in the rules, perhaps justified. Then a couple of years later I learned that I could no longer cash my own check made out to cash without also endorsing it on the back. Again, okay, a new rule, didn’t cost anything and perhaps there was a valid reason that I just did not understand.

But other things happened over the years that I found truly questionable. For example, I discovered one day there was a twelve dollar charge on my checking account every month that I did not understand. When I finally inquired about it I was told it was a charge for paying a couple of bills directly out of my account so I did not have to write and mail a check. This involved two payments only. I confronted the teller about this charge and was told it was for paying these bills automatically each month, a convenient service the bank was offering its customers. In fact, I was being charged twelve dollars for saving the price of two postage stamps! I no longer avail myself of this convenient service and the unfortunate teller that explained it to me was most apologetic and agreed immediately to waive the charge.

Then I received a mailer from the bank informing me that I could refinance an auto loan I had and get a lower interest rate. I inquired about this offer and learned that yes, I could do this, but there was a fee. It turned out that the fee amounted to more than the difference in interest that was involved. Angrily, I confronted the poor personally innocent clerk with the accusation that this was nothing but a scam. The embarrassed woman admitted that yes, it was.

Not long after this experience the bank attempted to institute a five dollar charge for the priviledge of using the ATM. I never use the ATM as I would never, under any circumstances, put a card or money into a slot on a building and expect the transaction to go smoothly. In any case the bank had to back down on this charge in the face of overwhelming outrage.

My next enlightening experience came when I discovered that if you had overdraft protection on your account, and if you appeared to be about to be overdraw, the bank would immediately and as a customer service, advance you three hundred dollars. They would do this even before you were actually overdrawn and/or even if you were overdrawn by one dollar. Of course their charge for this convenience was 21% for the full $300! Clever, these bankers.

The latest attempt at some kind of chicanery happened just this month when I discovered a new fifteen dollar charge for a “maintenance fee.” This charge had never appeared previously nor had I been in any way forewarned that it was coming. Once again I girded my loins (or whatever you do when preparing for battle) and confronted the teller (who happened to be also a good friend of many years standing). Embarrassed, and with no hesitation, she immediately dismissed it as something of no consequence that she would immediately have removed from my statement. She told me I would have to consult one of the other employees to take care of it. They were all busy so I had to wait. The Bank Manager, who was also a long standing friend saw me waiting and inquired as to why I was there. I told her and she immediately dismissed the problem as totally unimportant and assured me she would personally take care of it. I greatly appreciated this attention and their immediate willingness to eliminate the charge. But it is obvious to me they knew they would be confronted by angry customers, and they also knew the charge was little more than an attempt to take advantage of the unwary. I truly wonder how many of their customers are now unknowingly paying this completely unnecessary fee. I am sure if you did not complain you would be so charged.

I do not know what their next attempt will be, I fully expect one day to be charged for “wear and tear on the waiting area,” or perhaps a parking fee, or maybe a charge for being improperly dressed when approaching a teller, maybe even a fine for failing to genuflect. Banks are not only too big to fail, they are too big to be allowed to exist.

“Patience. Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward, but misfortune cannot last forever. The time is ripe and soon we shall strike our blow.”

W. Somerset Maugham

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Let the "Roviating" Begin

You may remember some time ago when I suggested a new verb might well be added to our language, “roviate.” I thought that if a word like “Quisling,” after a Norwegian traitor during WW II could be added why not roviate. I defined it as follows:

“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.”

I still believe this would be a perfectly justifiable addition to our language. What made me return to this now was something I heard from a trusted friend today. He said he had heard on the news that Rove and his merry band of vicious cutthroats had formed study groups, committees, or focus groups (or whatever they might be called) for the express purpose of considering what kinds of coded words or phrases they can best use against President Obama. As this sounds to me like vintage Rove I have no doubt it is true. In other words, they know they cannot publicly refer to Obama by the word they most probably apply to him in private so they will find the best way to call him the “n” word by innuendo and coded language. The roviating of Obama has already begun, but I’m sure we “ain’t seen nuthin yet.” We should be prepared for the filthiest, slimiest, most falsified and disgusting ads yet created. This is precisely what Rove does, what he has always done, where he “made his bones,” so to speak, and how he will attempt to defeat Obama in the coming election. Of course those billionaires who are giving him virtually unlimited funds are just as guilty as he is, but as they can remain anonymous they don’t care.

We can thank our dreadful partisan Supreme Court for allowing this to happen. Citizens United is certainly one of the worst decisions ever by that (used to be) respected body, and having done it, it will be virtually impossible to change it quickly enough to save us from the obvious Fascist state they wish to impose on us. The odious effects of this terrible decision are already quite apparent, as in Wisconsin and increasingly in the Presidential race. I wonder that now this is so obvious if they experience any shame or guilt, they certainly should, but probably don’t. Once you have become part of the ruling class you are not likely to give it up or feel any remorse. Personally, I believe Justice Roberts, if not some of the others, should be impeached forthwith, but as members of Congress are also “on the take” it won’t happen. They, too, have made it obvious they have no shame.

I don’t know if you watch Rachel Maddow or not, but you should, everyone should. Tonight she exposed at least 3 of the most outrageous lies Romney has said and never made any attempt to either correct them or apologize for them. Apparently blatant and repeated lying is considered fair by Mormons as well as Republicans. “Lying in pursuit of office is no vice,” I guess. I suppose after eight years of Bush/Cheney, who as far as I know never once opened their mouths without lying, set a precedent for Republicans because they certainly have continued the practice. In fact, their lying is so predictable and ubiquitous I no longer even bother to listen when they speak. I know politicians are supposed to lie but I didn’t think they were supposed to always lie about everything. Lying has become so commonplace among Republicans I suspect that by now they no longer distinguish lying from anything else.

With five months to go before the election there is nothing to look forward to but more of the same, just lying, distortion, innuendo, and false claims constantly. It is as if there are no serious problems confronting us, other than Obama’s birthplace, Romney’s vulture capitalism, which toady he will find for his Vice President, what really important figures like Palin and Trump will have to say, along with the usual loony suspects, Limbaugh, Hannity, O’Reilly, Malkin, and etc. Not much of a near future is it?

Politics is the art of preventing people from taking part in affairs which properly concern them.

Paul Valery





Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Democratic Dreamin'

DDMaybe things in Wisconsin last night are not as bad as they appear, but maybe they are worse. On the positive side Democrats did pick up a seat in the Senate thereby gaining control so they may be able to help curb the worst of Walker’s excesses. It is also encouraging to learn that in spite of the local victory President Obama still enjoys a substantial lead in the Presidential race. But it seems to me the positives stop right there.

Democrats, some of them at least, seem to want to play down the importance of the enormous advantage of money enjoyed by the Republicans. They cite the fact that in spite of all the money spent on Walker’s behalf it did not seem to change the polls as Walker’s numbers stayed essentially unchanged. This is, I think, just dreaming. Obviously the money made a difference. First, Walker spent so much money on ads even in advance of the election that his opponent was rendered virtually unknown. This was especially true because Barrett did not even become the known candidate until relatively late in the process. Second, Democrats thought they could get more people to the voting booths, but with so much money the Republicans could easily match that effort. Third, with his enormous financial advantage Walker was able to produce ads to enable his divide and conquer strategy, generating resentment on even the part of private union members about their perceived disadvantage with public sector union members (some 35% of union members voted for Walker). Fourth, it is entirely possible that although the money spent did not boost Walker in the polls it may well have protected him from falling further in them. Who knows where he might have been without so many ads in his favor? Similarly, although he did not receive a higher percentage of votes than he did in his first election, he may have received many less without his massive advertising effort.

There were other factors as well that may or may not have been directly related to the money. Apparently many people voted against the recall simply because they were against the idea of recalls in general. Also, by virtually smothering the contest with ads, the fact that he may actually soon be indicted for illegalities went more or less unreported and unknown. Also, Walker’s previous dishonesty about attacking the unions, as well as his questionable means about getting his way, seem to have been forgotten. He somehow, through the ads I guess, managed to emerge as a more or less reasonable guy who just had a difference of opinion about things, in fact he emerged somehow as a kind of hero rather than the schmuck he seems to be.

In spite of what happened in Wisconsin many Democrats want to believe that money is not going to be that important even in the national elections, believing, again, that they can counter with a large grassroots turnout, the idea that we have the votes while they have the money. This seems to assume the money does not affect turnout. But more importantly it seems to also assume that the massive ad campaigns and all the propaganda will have no affect on those voters who will be going to the voting booths. There is little else Democrats can do except try to turn out their voters as there is no way they will ever be able to match the finances being spent by the few billionaires and their corporations who seek to rule the world, backed, of course, by the partisan Supreme Court that has made this possible. It is technically possible to pass a constitutional amendment against Citizens United but that will be so difficult and time consuming it will probably be too late, the Fascists will have already won. I suspect it might be easier, and even quicker, to impeach some of the members of the Supreme Court, but that will not be possible insofar as they already control Congress.

I see little hope for the future unless something can be done fairly soon. It is possible there could be a massive backlash against what is happening. Those who are predicting the end of unions may find out the unions will actually gain members and become more and more powerful. It is also possible that ordinary citizens will be so enraged (if they ever actually can cut through the endless lies and propaganda to find out what is going on) they will take to the streets and demand genuine parity. At the moment, realistically, the only hope is that President Obama will be re-elected. I suspect he is the only thing standing between hope and disaster. The possibility of a Romney presidency I find absolutely unthinkable, a true kiss of death. No individual person, or small group of such persons, should be allowed to control so much wealth they can literally buy an election. This is little more than medievalism revisited.

More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.

Woody Allen (1935 - )

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Stunned!

I confess to being absolutely stunned by the results of the Wisconsin recall attempt. I shall have to wait further information but it appears at the moment that not only did Walker survive, but so did his Lieutenant Governor and all of the four Senators that were up for recall as well. I don’t understand it, Wisconsin is a Blue state, there was a massive turnout that should have favored the Democrats, and, according to the exit polls Obama is still favored to win over Romney. This makes no sense to me.

I guess one must conclude that the Fascists won. The corporate money, in collaboration with the Wisconsin government, just overwhelmed the opposition. It is said that Walker managed to outspend his opponent by a ratio of 7 or more to 1. This does not bode well for the 2012 election or, more importantly, for the future of the United States. In place of the democracy we like to believe we have we will now have a kind of Fascist Plutocracy where a small number of billionaires will be in control, tailoring things to their liking.

I find this terribly depressing as it seems to indicate that our individual votes will be increasingly more meaningless, a single billionaire will have potentially a billion votes compared to anyone’s single vote, as that is what seems to be implied by the idea that money represents speech. With this success the billionaires and their obviously sympathetic Supreme Court will have no incentive to change the ridiculous Citizens United ruling, and those with the obscene fortunes will continue to shower money on those willing to do their bidding. It worked in Wisconsin. There is no reason to suppose it will not work elsewhere, including the Presidential race.

Perhaps further analysis will reveal just what factors were in play to bring about this (to me) unexpected and mysterious result.

Monday, June 04, 2012

It's Simple, Stupid

It’s simple, or so it seems to my apparently still child-like mind. Republicans have for the past three plus years deliberately, and even admittedly, sabotaged our economy, and now they want to be rewarded for having done so by being returned to power. They said they would not cooperate and have not. They have blocked every attempt by President Obama to improve employment and the economy, and having done so they are now blaming him for having failed, accusations so hypocritical as to be unprecedented in the annals of hypocrisy.

What is worse, it appears they may even be getting away with this fantastic scam, or so it would appear from the polls. How the race between Obama and Romney could be considered to be so close, even a “nail-biter” according to some, is beyond my ability to comprehend. If the facts of Republican intransigence are not enough, they are running as their candidate a Mormon who is quite obviously one of the most blatant liars on the planet earth, a candidate that even they did not wish to have. Yes, it is true unemployment is far worse than it should be, and it is also true the economy is worse than sluggish (at least for everyone but Wall Street), but the reasons for this are quite clear – Republicans, Republicans, Republicans. Their solution to our more than merely serious problems is to destroy Obama by forcing him to fail and then replacing him with people that will return us to the disastrous Bush/Cheney policies that got us into this horrible mess in the first place. It all seems so obvious and simple to me I cannot understand how it possibly cannot be obvious to others although it is apparently not.

The vote tomorrow in Wisconsin is probably the most important vote ever for several reasons. First, it will determine if unions have much of a future. Second, it will test whether money is sufficient to buy the outcome of elections, third, and I think most important, it will determine whether we will have a fascist state or a democracy. Remember, fascism is a situation in which government and corporations blend together to take over power. Is that not what is in the offing in the present circumstances? Corporate money has been flowing into Wisconsin in unprecedented amounts allowing Governor Walker to outspend the people by at least probably seven to one. If he is ousted in spite of this financial support it will indicate that the people still have a chance when it comes to running their government. Perhaps it might even persuade those with unlimited funds there is more to politics than money.

I would have thought it impossible for anyone to lie as frequently and consistently as Bush/Cheney. After all, when you lie all the time it’s hard to see how such a record can be beaten. Romney is thus apparently trying to do the impossible. He’s making a brave attempt but it is impossible to break a perfect record. It appears now that lying is no longer considered important when it comes to American politics. Everyone knows that politicians lie, but always before they only lied part of the time. Bush/Cheney managed to change that, thus setting a precedent for Romney. I would have thought Mormonism, like most religions, would abhor lying, but apparently not as they apparently wholeheartedly support him. “Do not bear false witness” has been suspended, at least when it comes to President Obama (he’s Black, you know).

Do not be surprised as the waters rise, the hurricanes and tornadoes multiply, drought becomes worse, wildfires become commonplace, and polar bears disappear. It’s merely God’s punishment for our sins: allowing Gays and Lesbians to marry, separating church from state, letting children eat healthy meals, going to decent schools, feeding the poor and homeless, looking after our seniors, wanting to pay living wages, and worse of all, wanting to vote. Not to worry, Republicans will fix things after they get rid of that Black socialist/Muslim/Kenyan/communist/anti-American/anti-Christ imposter who has no business in the White House presiding while Black. Vote for Romney, all your troubles will disappear in a cloud of dust and a hearty, Hi-ho Silver. Who will he pick for his Tonto? Stay tuned.

“Nothing is as dead as the day before yesterday.”

W. Somerset Maugham

Saturday, June 02, 2012

It's Bleak

the future that is. Actually most everything looks bleak today, the weather is overcast, cold and windy as it has been for days, the garden goes undeveloped because it’s constantly wet, unemployment has risen again, the next five months will continue to be entirely wasted because our “leaders” are not interested in leading or in solving any of the serious problems that confront us, preferring instead to continue their negative attacks on each other, Europe is in even more trouble than we are, killing and torture continue, along with seemingly endless “wars,” and most everything looks pretty grim. It’s a pity as what needs to be done is fairly obvious but those that would rather see Obama defeated than help the country recover appear to be perhaps getting their way. They just go on hoping unemployment will continue, and from their point of view, even get worse, and also continue to block all positive attempts to improve things, knowing their only possibility of regaining power is to destroy Obama, as they are themselves destitute of any new or positive plan of action.

And so it is once again we are confronted with another Morton’s Fork, having to pick between two almost equally terrible choices. It seems to me there is only one possibility that holds out any hope at all for our immediate future, the re-election of President Obama. I do not say this because I think Obama necessarily deserves to be re-elected, or because I believe he is a great choice, but because he is the only realistic choice we have available to us under the circumstances.

I take it as given that if Mitt (The Lying Mormon) Romney should somehow manage to get elected the “little people” (to use Leona Helmsley’s unpleasant phrase) can certainly kiss their hope for the future goodby. There is no doubt where Romney and his supporters stand when it comes for more tax breaks for the wealthy and the corporations, as well as where they stand on anything and everything else that might benefit anyone but themselves. As someone (Bill Clinton, I think) said, it would be a continuation of the Bush approach, but on steroids.

If, however, Obama is re-elected, there may be some hope for improvements going forward. First, being in his second term and not having to worry about re-election he would have more freedom to act, more power and influence to do something for the middle class and the poor (probably not enough but at least something, possibly even a lot). Similarly, and perhaps just as important, the Republicans, having failed in their attempt to cripple him and his administration, would have not so much incentive to continue their completely negative tactics. They might well find it to their advantage to begin to cooperate and help turn around the damage they have done. It seems to me doubtful their continuing to refuse to help govern would gain them any advantage for the 2016 election. I could of course be wrong about this, I often am, but I cannot see any other scenario that seems possible at all. Of course it would be helpful indeed if Democrats could keep control of the Senate and win back the House, but it seems unlikely the billionaires in charge, if confronted with the inevitability of four more years of Obama, would allow that to happen (Obama himself would probably be tolerable as he has not done badly by them).

I cannot say I look forward to the next five months. The differences between the two parties are by now very clear, as are the personalities of the main contenders, I do not need to hear them presented over and over and over from now until the election, nor do I need to hear any more negative ads. If we are to have any future at all it lies for the moment in the hands of Obama, requires a reversal of Citizens United, and ultimately is in the hands of the people, forcing them to acknowledge they have to become serious about the governing of their nation. President Obama should address the Republicans as Lincoln addressed the South prior to the Civil War:

“You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect and defend it."

Abraham Lincoln