Sunday, March 31, 2013

No Good Deed goes Unpunished

My experience indicates to me that his adage as often as not proves to be true. I offer here an example which also illustrates how difficult it is to explain and understand even the simplest things. This morning I could barely get out of bed and I am having difficulty walking. To understand this simple story you have to understand many things:
First, I have arthritis in my lower back and hips. Although this is with me daily it only becomes a real problem if I twist improperly or engage in certain physical activities. You must also understand the behavior of cats. They occasionally bring in mice, even live mice they play with (torment, no doubt from the mouse’s perspective). Three or four days ago one of my cats, Kati, with I have a love/hate relationship, brought in a live mouse. The mouse escaped and hid successfully behind a huge, heavy, and virtually impossible to move, antique cabinet my wife once absolutely had to have. As moving this piece of furniture is virtually impossible as it is literally stuffed with heirloom dishes and such, and as there was no place to set a mousetrap that would not be sprung by the cats, I chose to ignore the presence of the tiny rodent, even though I worried it might die a lonely, unfortunate death there and eventually cause a stink. I hoped it might eventually escape when the cats tired of watching for it to emerge. I even left a door open hoping for such an eventuality although it was cold that night. I had no way of monitoring the situation and had almost forgotten about it.
Then last night around midnight I heard a strange sound coming from what we refer to as the “sun room,” a large, very high-ceilinged room we foolishly added on to our house for reasons not entirely clear to me now. It was dark and that room is not well lighted so I approached the potential problem with a flashlight. I determined there seemed to be nothing that would require being armed with either cudgel or gun, so I bravely approached the area where the strange kind of scratching sound seemed to originate. Now understanding this tale gets a bit more complicated. There is in this room a large brass pot, an antique brought from India at the turn of the century, not this century, the 20th century. This pot is quite large as such things go, round, 24 inches in diameter, 16 inches deep, with a 10 inch opening at the top. I believe it was used for a family to store their year’s supply of rice with a wooden cover to protect it. Why I possess this pot is a long story, trust me when I merely say I came by it honestly. Anyway, this pot is constructed in such a way that any small critter that managed to get into it would not be able to get out. And sure enough, the mouse was trapped in it. It would have been impossible for the creature to have actually climbed the outside surface, so how it managed to end up in there is a mystery. It is possible it might have climbed up a wall to a nearby window ledge and jumped in but that seems to me highly unlikely. The pot also sat under a tripod holding a telescope that belongs to my son (my wife was trying to conserve space), but as the tripod legs are small smooth metal that also seems unlikely. I have no idea how the mouse got into the pot.
But, as it was there, and as it had no chance of ever climbing back out, and as I did not want it to die there, I had to take action. The pot is very heavy. I can barely lift it, but I did, and I carried it outside and tilted it so the mouse could escape. However, the mouse may have been so exhausted and weak by then it refused to exit. I eventually had to turn the pot completely over (with considerable difficulty and posturing) to allow the emaciated creature to escape. It obviously was this activity that left me painfully incapacitated today, the reward for my good deed.
You might not think of this as a good deed but, in fact, a stupid thing to do. Why, you might well ask, was I so concerned about the welfare of this lowly rodent in the first place? The answer has something to do with my personality, I always side with the underdog, even if the underdog is a mouse, and a mouse is always an underdog to a cat. Why did I not just kill the little creature as many would have done? Well, I don’t like killing anything unless it is absolutely necessary (I even help spiders out of the bathtub so they won’t drown). You might think I’m crazy, maybe you are right, but that’s the way I am. And yes, I am unfortunately what is often somewhat erroneously described as a “knee-jerk liberal.”
But I’m not as bad as Obama. After observing how he has been treated by Republicans for the past five years I do not believe it is true, as he claims, that “this is not who we are,” or that we are all just similar Americans, or that he is somehow going to get bipartisan support for anything he wants to do, whether it is in the best interest of the people or not. He is so idealistic, so convinced that all people are basically interested in each other’s welfare, he cannot seem to perceive the reality of free-market Republicanism. If I cannot easily understand my own behavior and the behavior of a simple little mouse how will I ever understand Obama or Republicans? I probably will not…ever.


Saturday, March 30, 2013

Outrageously Stupid

I have been trying to decide whether what the Foolish Five (Senators Paul, Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, and James Inhofe) are threatening is outrageously stupid or stupidly outrageous. It is probably most precisely defined as stupidly outrageous but take your pick. One cannot help but wonder “what on earth are they thinking.” That is, they are threatening to block any legislation whatever that will allow Congress to control guns. They will not even allow anything along those lines to come up for a vote. As public sentiment is overwhelmingly in favor of more gun control, especially background checks, but other regulations as well, this would seem to be politically suicidal. I cannot see what it is they believe they can gain by this outrageously stupid act. I guess they are competing to prove who is the most conservative among them and thus hoping to get the Republican nomination to run for President in 2016. This, however, would almost certainly lead to their defeat in the general election as it is basically a slap in the face of the electorate. It would seem, in short, idiotic, but as that pretty much defines the current Republican Party I guess it shouldn’t be surprising. I am mildly surprised that the number one idiot in the Goofy Old Party, Louis Gohmert, is not on board this sinking ship. He’s probably too busy trying to impeach Bo.
We have yet to hear from the fishwife with the voice so shrill your hair stands on end, you shudder, and then realize it is only the quite Un-divine Sarah with the brain of a mackerel. This is another development in our current Keystone Kops political machinations I cannot fathom. What is she up to? Who is giving her all the money? For what purpose are they giving it? As it is highly doubtful she could be elected to any office in the land why is she still around? Not one to be highly conspiratorial, in this case I wouldn’t be entirely surprised to learn that her funding is coming primarily from Democrats who have an interest in keeping her mindless babble alive, along with the divisiveness she breeds.  I suspect every time she opens her mouth she spawns another Democratic vote. So, keep it up Sarah, as long as you keep on talking I rest assured the Republican ship will go down with all hands on board. She is an interesting case, not very bright or well-informed, but clever enough and a decent mouthpiece for whoever it is that bankrolls her, a talent she shares with the late President Bush who made a fairly decent pretense of being a President for eight long nightmarish years.
 Of course for sheer idiocy no one in the Republican Party, not even dear Louie, can outdo Michele Bachmann, who apparently has no understanding of the difference between fact and fiction. Her pronouncements are priceless: “It is going to cost taxpayers 200 million a day for President Obama’s trip to India,” “Sarah Palin and the Statue of Liberty are lit by the same torch,” “There are five chefs aboard Air Force One,” “I don’t know where they are going to get all this money because we are running out of rich people in this country,” and etc. Bachmann is priceless, I hope the good people of Minnesota will keep her forever in office. Just remember Michele, in the words of the immortal Joe Louis, “you can run but you can’t hide.”
I am greatly enjoying watch Republicans trying to rebuild their party by clinging to the basic beliefs that are destroying it while at the same time trying to repackage those beliefs and make them somehow more palatable to the public. While they are trying to rebrand the same old cattle, everyday one or another of them continues to step on the toes of the very people they are trying to convince otherwise. It is a marvel of insanity, like a modern day political Sisyphus trying to roll a deceitful boulder onto the shoulders of an electorate far wiser than himself.
 “Young man, quoth Abdul, has life grown so dull
That you wish to end your career?
Vile infidel, know, you have trod on the toe
Of Abdul Abulbul Amir.”

William Percy French

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Shutting Down a Life (still cont'd)

If you have been following this tale of woe you will have realized by now that it is virtually impossible to inventory all of the possessions accumulated by a person during their lifetime. I am not speaking here of extraordinary persons with great wealth, merely ordinary persons who for sentimental or other reasons found it difficult or impossible to throw things away. And why should they have done so, after all these possessions were part of their life, some more important than others, but all representing their friendships, travels, accomplishments, feelings, milestones and failures. To destroy this record is in a sense to literally shut down their life once and for all. It is a monumental, difficult, seemingly endless, and unpleasant task at best.
When Sir Edward Tylor and Professor Marett were writing their various books and learned papers they were interested primarily in the creation and evolution of religion. Tylor, as I mentioned previously, took a primarily intellectual approach trying to imagine what the people must have been thinking when someone died.  Marett added to the discussion by pointing out the practical consequences involved with a death. Neither of them spent much time or thought to the emotional aspects of death. Given their ideas of what “primitives” were like they may have thought they even lacked emotion.
Death does, of course, bring about both intellectual and practical considerations. Obviously you cannot help but think about what happened and you cannot escape the practical problems of disposing of the “gear.” But neither thought nor action occur independently of the intense emotional factors that arise when someone dies. This is especially true when that someone is a person you have spent the best years of your life with, and it is even more pronounced when the death is completely unexpected, premature, and sudden. When the most important person in your life suddenly vanishes, much faster than they originally appeared in your life the first response is shock, followed quickly by disbelief, and then anger at the unfairness of life. Why is it that some people die so young and others live so much longer? It doesn’t seem fair, and of course it is not fair, at least from our simple perception of life and reality. You mercifully (perhaps) spent the first few days walking and talking as if in a trance and trying to avoid the well-intentioned friends and acquaintances who insist on helping you when you really just  want to be left alone. When you eventually return to the reality of your life things get worse, much worse, the overwhelming sense of loss strikes you like a thunderbolt and your grieving begins, as does your  reflections on the past, the wonderful times, the not so wonderful time, your life together, along with the final realization that it is truly over. There can be an irrational sense of guilt, you wonder if there was not something you could or should have done to prevent the tragedy. Probably there is nothing you could have done but the strange feeling of doubt persists.
The practical consequences exacerbate your feelings of loss. As you sort through the possessions you are constantly reminded of that loss, the rugs you bought in Oaxaca, the pendant from Stuttgart, the Venetian glass, the wooden tray from Sweden, the sketch from Oslo, and the myriad other souvenirs and memorabilia. The photographs are the worst, hundreds of photos from all over, each one marking a moment in your life together as well as a record of how that life evolved and matured. There is an ineffable sadness involved in this process of shutting down a life. I have found it is more pronounced and difficult in the evening.  I have learned to work on it only in the morning.
Finally, at least I guess it may be a final stage, there are the unguarded moments when you wake up and expect her to be there, or you expect her home from the store, and then realize she is no longer there, will never be there again, and your life has become irrevocably changed forever. Your Journey to the West has lost your finest fellow traveler. C’est la vie.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Shutting Down a Life (con't)

Professor Marett was right, not only about the practical problem of the corpse, but also about the problems of the “gear.”And I assure you, if you are even a pretty ordinary middle class citizen of the United States, and if you have lived for very long, you will leave plenty of gear when you “pass away” (no one dies in America, they all either pass away, return to their maker, or are called to heaven).
First there is the problem of the “unmentionables,” underwear and other intimate items of clothing. Nothing can be done with them other than to dispose of them as conveniently as possible. But what about the multitude of other items of clothing, blouses, skirts, slacks, sweaters, jackets, hats, scarves, gloves, and on and on, clothing acquired over a lifetime (few people actually throw their outdated clothing away, preferring to keep it for when the fashion returns). Even though much of this gear is in pristine condition and right in style, selling it is not something you really want to do as it just doesn’t seem right. You can offer it to the survivors but they, too, are reluctant to accept or wear it. So you donate it to a thrift store or the Goodwill (or throw it away). Unfortunately, in a small town (with many unemployed people), if you give it away you might well see it appearing on the street or in the supermarket. This can either make you happy, knowing you have helped someone less fortunate, or it can make you sad as a reminder of happier days. At best this is an unpleasant task.
Disposing of clothing is just the beginning. There are, you find, hundreds of personal items tucked away in drawers and obscure places, over-the-counter and prescription drugs, probably dozens of cosmetics, exotic tools and items for personal grooming, even items so strange you never heard of them before and have little idea of what they were used for. And there is kitchen wear, especially if you spouse was a serious cook, and cookbooks, endless cookbooks, cooking magazines, recipes, spoon collections, egg cups, teacups, cans and jars of exotic condiments and spices you have no idea what to do with, and drawers full of tools like rolling pins, spatulas, garlic presses, egg and cheese slicers, whisks, graters, and specialized tools for the cook that has everything. At this point the overwhelming magnitude of the task before you shocks you into depression and a desire to somehow escape it all.
This desire to flee is exacerbated when the unpaid bills appear, sometimes bills you did not know you had. Correspondence appears some of which needs answering, some from people you did not know but might have heard of in some distant past. If your spouse was an academic of some kind you will also find yourself overwhelmed with books, notebooks, tablets, pencils, pens, staples, staplers, rulers, and, of course, nowadays, with videotapes, cassettes, disks, reams of paper, and other supplies you might have thought for an army. What is worse, by far, if your spouse was also a teacher, might be hundreds of term papers, assignments, lecture notes, mimeographed articles, and quite possibly filing cabinets filled with past papers and correspondence that just could not be thrown away. I am not exaggerating. What are you to do with this virtual lifetime accumulation of stuff that has no meaning to anyone other than the deceased? In desperation you begin to just throw it away as even inspecting it carefully for content would require hundreds if not thousands of hours and would most probably not be very rewarding. You cannot throw all this stuff away, no matter how impractical the alternative, without feelings of guilt and remorse. It is as if you are destroying a life, the life that is represented by this collection but cannot be saved. Bits and pieces are saved to be passed on to succeeding generations but you know that with every passing generation the meanings become more faint and the destruction more complete until the person finally perishes completely. We like to think that when a person dies their life comes to an end, but it doesn’t, it lingers on in memory and in whatever artifacts survive for an indeterminate amount of time. Perhaps if one is a Shakespeare or a Michelangelo one never truly dies. But even ordinary people leave a presence at least for a time.
To be continued.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Shutting Down a Life

One of the great early anthropologists, Sir Edward Burnett Tylor, created an evolutionary theory of religion that was, in its day, quite remarkable, and in fact laid the groundwork for much of what was to follow in the never-ending quest for the understanding of the Great Mystery. Tylor’s evolutionary theory of religion was criticized for being too intellectualistic. He was overly concerned with what people must have been thinking when someone died and paid little or no attention to the practical, emotional and social factors that must have necessarily also been involved. R. R. Marett, another of the great early anthropologists,brought up the question of practical considerations:
  “The mourner has to act as undertaker as well. Here is the dead man’s body, what, then, are we to do with it? Here is the dead man’s gear, with the smell of him, as the Australian natives say, still in it—that smell which itself testifies to his change of condition. Will he want this gear any longer, or, in any case, do we dare to use it ourselves?”

This, I have been learning, although insightful in its day, does not even begin to consider the problems of shutting down a life in the present. Taking care of the corpse is a relatively simple matter these days with professionals who specialize in such things. Cremations and burials, although somewhat expensive, are easily arranged. What to do with the “gear,” after someone’s journey to the west is completed, becomes an almost never ending nightmare.
I recall (dimly) reading long ago that when Gandhi died his estate consisted of a couple of loin cloths, a pair of eyeglasses, a pair of sandals, and nothing else. He was, of course, quite a remarkable man who, although he left little in the way of material possessions, left a legacy that has endured for years, but what about those who are not famous or even particularly well known? Everyone is a VIP to someone, perhaps to several, but what of their material possessions? Obviously the problem varies depending upon the particular person. But in the modern world there is likely to be, literally, a mountain of possessions that must be dealt with. If you are unfortunate (or fortunate) enough on your own journey to the west to have to deal with someone else’s demise, especially someone very dear to you, I assure you this is not a matter to be taken lightly, and the question of what to be should be done with all this “gear” is maddening.
First of all there are photographs, hundreds if not thousands of them. Many of these are family photographs and can be saved for the immediate family. But there are also hundreds of pictures of individuals the deceased person knew who are unknown to the survivors. Most of these are not labeled. Although they are obviously part of the person’s life, quite likely very important parts, what are you to do with them? No one seems to want hundreds of unidentified photos, why should they, so what do you do with them other than simply throw them away? Probably there is a collection of postcards that have been saved for years, postcards from all the people who knew the deceased and who sent them postcards for years from all parts of the world. These help to paint a picture of the person’s life and even reconstruct parts of it. But we do not generally try to reconstruct people’s lives unless they are celebrities or otherwise famous. Apparently there are people who collect such cards, perhaps they can be given away to someone who will appreciate them independently of the messages conveyed.
There can also be correspondence. This can be very extensive if the person was concerned to save it. There are letters from former friends that are unknown to the survivors, letters from firms and other people who did business with the deceased, letters from banks, insurance companies, manufacturers, politicians, doctors, lawyers, perhaps even Indian chiefs. Virtually all of these can be discarded if not truly recent, but, again, it is like destroying elements of the person’s life. There can even be letters from former lovers or even husbands, love letters, emotional letters of despair, sadness, parting, joy, gratitude, happiness, longing, loss, and depression. Unless you intend to write the person’s biography you are far better off not reading such correspondence and disposing of it quickly. There can also be diaries, personal diaries, travel diaries, and perhaps other records of daily life, thoughts, emotions, and so on. As I regard personal diaries as highly private I cannot bring myself to read them, and I do not think others should read them either, unless they have some very important reason to do so.
This account so far does not exhaust the complexities of the problem, the execution of the task, or the excruciating emotional experience involved in trying to complete it. Shutting down another person’s life is not for the faint hearted, nor is it easily and quickly done.  
To be continued.


Thursday, March 21, 2013


No, the title is not a misprint. I wanted a word that would be a short and convenient way to describe something that is both absurd and an obscenity at the same time. There are many things about American culture that are absurd, and there are also a few genuine obscenities, but these two characteristics present at the same time are not quite so common. Absurdities are so common it would be possible to argue that American culture is nothing short of a culture of absurdity, but that would be a much longer and more complicated topic. Genuine obscenities are far less common but are present none the less.
Consider what I regard as a genuine abscenity, the situation at Guantanamo. There are a large number of prisoners being held there, most of them for several years; they have never been charged with anything and are known to be innocents. Having never been charged they have of course never been tried. They are being held nonetheless, there seems to be no real effort to discharge them, and it appears they will apparently spend the rest of their innocent years incarcerated for no reason. I submit  this is absurd, and it is also certainly an obscenity.
An absurd situation exists with respect to assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. It is doubtful that laws prohibiting them will be passed, indeed, doubtful they might even come up for a vote. As there is no reason why civilians should possess such weapons or magazines, and good reasons why they should not (virtually every massacre has involved such weapons), this is, again, an abcenisty.
Take also the truly absurd situation that prevails in our VA health care. It is apparently the case that our veterans, depending on where they live, have to wait more than 600 days to receive any care at all, let alone the kind of care they need and were promised. I regard this as a true abscenity.
The fact that we now have privately owned and operated prisons is also a candidate for being an abscenity. Private prisons are operated for profit, thus the more inmates they acquire the more profit that can be made, and the fewer amenities the inmates are offered is also a source of profit. This is absurd on the face of it, and when you consider the obvious links to our ridiculous drug and immigration laws, and on the ethnic backgrounds of those more likely to be incarcerated, it also represents an obscenity. The profit motive itself, the main force driving our economy, could itself be considered an abscenity because of the harm it inflicts over time on the citizenry. No vital human needs should be privatized, not health care, energy, water, air, food, shelter, whatever. I suppose you could privatize things like cosmetics, jewelry, art, and such without doing undue harm to anyone but even that might be doubtful.
I guess perhaps the mother of all abscenities is the fact that Bush/Cheney are still free to walk around and boast openly of their blatant war crimes. While this might be understandable from a political perspective it is basically absurd, and given the irreparable and terrible damage and deaths they caused to so many thousands it is clearly obscene.  
There are also potential abscenities, that is, abscenities that may eventuate that are not yet full-blown cases. I suspect President Obama’s surrender to Bibi in Israel could be a case in point. After his rather obsequious speech praising Israel as such a wonderland we would defend no matter what (no matter how many war crimes and crimes against humanity they are responsible for year after year), and after receiving Israel’s highest civilian honor, and after claiming Netanyahu as his dearest pal, is anyone going to believe he can be an honest broker in bringing about a Palestinian state? I don’t believe it, and I doubt that many Palestinians believe it. Speaking of a two state solution with a viable Palestinian state is one thing, seeing it materialize is quite another. I wonder how close he’s going to be with Bibi when it comes to actually trying to get Israel to give up even an inch of their stolen land. This could prove to be a genuine abscenity as Obama’s surrender to the Israelis is absurd and the obscene treatment of the Palestinians will almost surely continue. I sincerely hope I am wrong about this but seeing will be believing and I am quite sure I will never live long enough to see a viable Palestinian state (and you probably won’t either).

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Yes, We Have No Democracy...

Yes, we have no democracy, we have no democracy today. I guess I’m not sure we have ever had a true democracy as everything has always been pretty much rigged for wealthy White men, but it seems to me that what we had when I was younger certainly resembled democracy much more than what we currently have.
I guess the best example of our absence of democracy at the moment has to do with the issue of gun control. There is no doubt that a majority of American citizens are in favor of gun control, in some cases, like background checks, almost unanimously, in other cases like assault weapons and large capacity magazines, not so overwhelmingly in favor, but certainly by a substantial majority. However, it appears at the moment that we are not likely to get much of anything in the way of gun control, so much for democracy. The people speak but Congress does not listen, they are lining their pockets with cash from the gun industry and others who stand to gain from opposing gun control.
If this was only true of the gun control issue perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad, but of course it is true of most everything these days. Our Congresspersons have long since given up working for the common good, or even the good of the nation, they work for whoever it is that is bribing them the most. This is no longer a case of a few bad apples but is now commonplace and even legal, so much for democracy.
Another thing that troubles me deeply and is also related to the lack of democracy has to do with the “war” with Iraq. I put war in quotes because as far as I can remember there was never any declaration of war by Congress, the body that is supposed to be in charge of declaring wars. Just before Bush/Cheney embarked on this completely illegal, unconstitutional war crime I recall there were millions of people all around the world that rallied against such an action. Bush/Cheney and their gang of war criminals paid no attention and on the basis of outrageous lies led us into this disastrous enterprise.
Today, the tenth anniversary of this obscenity, it is being reviewed once again. The consensus seems to be pretty clear it was brought about by lies, was unnecessary, perhaps the worst foreign policy disaster in history, and so on. And it is equally clear who the proponents were, Bush/Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, and a host of others, all clearly guilty of terrible war crimes, not only the worst crime of all, a presumptive attack on a country that was no threat, but also torture, war profiteering, illegal weapons, the killing of innocent civilians, and worse. Interestingly, in all I heard of this on television today, which was considerable, there was hardly a word about accountability. A couple of people, one a veteran of the conflict, mentioned accountability, but it was as if it fell on deaf ears. No one even suggested that Bush/Cheney or any of the others should be arrested and tried for their crimes. They all walk free and engage in whatever activities they choose apparently untroubled either by conscience or law. I don’t know if a majority of Americans want them arrested and tried or not, I suspect not. But if we truly lived in a democracy this outrage would most probably not have happened and if it did those responsible would be held accountable.
I can understand why President Obama and his administration decided against pursuing Bush/Cheney and others for their obvious war crimes. First, it would have been unprecedented for a new administration to bring actions against an outgoing administration. But given the almost 50/50 division of the country it might well have sparked a civil war. Even so, Bush/Cheney and the others should have been shunned and certainly should not have been allowed to walk around boasting of their crimes and making big bucks on the lecture circuit and so on. Practical exigencies may have made it difficult to bring charges but this does not erase the obvious and blatant moral and ethical violations that occurred, moral and ethical violations that are not even being discussed, at least by the MSM. Bush/Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and many others should have been arrested, tried for war crimes, and met whatever fate is provided for such people. Because that was/is not politically feasible does not exonerate them in any way. Decent people should avoid them just as they avoid other kinds of scum.

Sunday, March 17, 2013


As near as I can tell Republicans appear to be obsessed with at least four different themes:
(1)    Smaller government.
(2)    Lower taxes
(3)    A balanced budget
(4)    No increase in revenue
At least these are the main four themes they consistently repeat and claim to be important. There is little evidence that government, generally speaking, was much smaller when Republicans held power in government, nor until perhaps George W. Bush, is there much evidence there were lower taxes (Reagan, for example, raised taxes several times, and under the Eisenhower administration taxes were much higher than subsequently).
Their obsession with a balanced budget is particularly obsessive, given the fact that I don’t recall the federal budget has ever been balanced. I wonder if they think Clinton’s surplus represented a balanced budget? Actually, it is probably impossible for the federal government to ever achieve a balanced budget, given the exigencies of weather related disasters, unanticipated tax or other shortfalls, and so on. Of course there is no particular need for a balanced budget in any case. There may well be inevitable deficits from time to time but these are not directly related to balanced budgets. Similarly, they try to draw a parallel between family budgets and the federal budget, failing to understand that family budgets do not themselves reliably balance (indeed, if they did, the credit card industry and banks would probably soon be out of business).
The obsession with no increase in revenue under any circumstances is a recent development. Taxes have always been raised and lowered during all administrations, Republican as well as Democratic. I guess this is a result of the idiocy of Grover Norquist and his slavish followers, mostly Republicans, who seem to believe government is unnecessary. This might have made sense back in the 1600’s, or maybe even the 1700 hundreds, when communities were small and the tasks of government could be performed by local citizens, but it hardly applies to a country of some 300 billion citizens who must have roads, bridges, schools, health care, firemen, police, and so on. The idea that revenue cannot be raised under any circumstances is completely antithetical to the idea of government, which is, I guess the goal of these unutterably stupid people. They seem to visualize a time when everyone roamed around with a six-gun and met at the OK corral to settle their differences. It is an idea so stupid as to only be embraced by Republicans.
You might argue, I suppose, that these are not true obsessions, as obsessions are a form of psychiatric disorder (consult the Diagnostic Manual of the Psychiatric Association), and Republicans are not truly psychiatric cases, but I believe you would be on rather thin ice. On the other hand, as there is little or no evidence Republican administrations have ever produced smaller governments or a balanced budget, to say nothing of always lowering taxes, you might say these are false obsessions, simply talking points they cling to for political purposes. Personally, I believe they are true obsessions held by people who do not actually think and thus believe them passionately. The more recent belief in no increase in revenue under any circumstances is particularly pathological whether classified as a true obsession or not. In less formal terms I think it is fair to say they are simply crazy, if not crazy, anarchists, perhaps both crazy and anarchists. They are certainly not patriotic Americans.
While they might not as yet have succeeded in reducing government to the level where they can drown it in the bathtub, they are certainly succeeding in dragging patriotism and love of country to such a watery grave. Their apparent loyalty to the huge international corporations that make their profits whether there is a USA or not, means they do not fundamentally care about our nation as such. Our nation, along with the concept of nationhood, is slowly disappearing while a few huge international corporations have budgets that already rival those of most other nations and are still growing. As a balanced budget, as Republicans see it, will be balanced on the backs of ordinary taxpayers, it is just another scheme to transfer public wealth to the private sector, where those “in the know” can live ever more happily ever after. Rank and file Republicans may actually be obsessed with a balanced budget, smaller government, and lower taxes, those in the know, know better.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Tomorrow is Canceled...

I don’t remember exactly when “Tomorrow is canceled due to lack of interest” first appeared but I think it was on a bulletin board at a women’s college. In any case it seems to me to be perfectly relevant at the moment, especially when it comes to our current political scene. Tomorrow might as well be canceled as the possibility of anything much happening is about non-existent. With President  Obama and the Democrats taking the position they will not accept anything that does not include an increase in revenue, and the Republicans maintaining the position they will not under any circumstances agree to increased revenue, there would seem to be little point in any further non-negotiations. This seems to be an unprecedented situation.
It has always been the case, as far as I know, that the two parties have disagreed over taxes and spending. Republicans have always claimed to be the party of smaller government and fewer taxes (even though they have not always followed this claim). It is understandable such disagreements have always existed. But there has never before, to my knowledge, been a situation in which one party has completely refused to negotiate at all and taken such an absolutist position as, “no increase in revenue, period.” I fail to understand how this can be tolerated as it is the equivalent of saying “we are not going to participate in governing.” That is to say, government, if it is to exist at all, has to be funded somehow. Raising and lowering revenue is an integral and necessary part of governing. Thus to say we are not going to either raise or lower taxes is the functional equivalent of saying we are not going to govern. This is not simply a disagreement over how much or how little the population should be taxed, it is saying taxation is not something that should even be discussed. I fail to see how this can be tolerated, especially in a large industrialized society that can only exist and function if it has sufficient revenue. I suppose Republicans could argue the current revenue is enough and should not be raised, but as this is clearly not the case it is a facetious argument.
It is true we have a larger than desirable national debt, but the obsession with the debt as the major (if not only) problem is itself the major problem. The debt can only be overcome, paradoxically enough, by adding at the moment a little more debt. That is, we need to borrow a bit more money at the moment (at about the lowest rates in history) in order to put more people to work in order to acquire enough money through taxes to solve the problem. We know this works as it has been successfully done in the past, and we know that austerity does not work as that, too, has been amply demonstrated, both in the past and currently in Europe.
 While I am not at all certain of this I think that perhaps much of the problem lies in the concept of “human costs.” Democrats (and “Liberals”) are interested in the human costs of such and such. This can be seen, for example, in the ad featuring Chris Hayes where he speaks of the human cost of people not having health insurance. I have the sense that “human cost” is not a relevant concept in Republican circles. I do not see how it can be salient for them when you consider their positions on such things as unemployment insurance, food stamps, unions, minimum wages, Planned Parenthood, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and any other forms of aid for the needy. You cannot hold such positions if you have any sense whatsoever of human costs. As President Obama, Democrats in general, and other “liberals” believe in the concept of human costs, and Republicans in general are apparently unconcerned about them, it is unlikely there will ever be a meeting of the minds about such things. I think Obama and others are unable to understand that Republicans, in fact, are simply not concerned about human costs, and thus the attempts to reach out to them will inevitably fail. You can see this failure to be concerned about human costs when it comes to immigration reform, gun control, health care, and so-called “entitlements.” I guess you might say Republicans are not truly monsters who are willingly engaged in savaging the working poor, they are simply ignorant people who have no understanding of the problems of such people. We might hope they may come to such an understanding but that does not seem to be on their agenda. It is a curious situation, to say the least, when half the population seems to have empathy and understanding and the other half has none (and doesn’t seem to want any).

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Scurrilous and the Superficial

It appears to me the Republican Party is attempting to get away (and perhaps succeeding) with the most scurrilous attack on a President of the United States ever undertaken. You will notice they constantly complain how it is President Obama has failed to create jobs, has failed to improve the economy, has failed to lead and etc. Obama is to be blamed for everything, bar none. What they fail to acknowledge is the obvious fact that they, themselves, have undermined every attempt he has made to turn the economy around, create jobs, and so forth. The slow growth of jobs and the economy is directly traceable to the deliberate, planned, announced program of doing everything possible to make Obama a failed one term President. Having been reasonably successful in keeping Obama from making much in  the way of progress they have the unmitigated gall to blame him for the failure. As far as failing to lead goes, Obama has tried to lead, has tried to gain bipartisan support, has gone a long way to compromise, only to be snubbed and rebuffed at every turn. How is a President supposed to lead when one of the two political parties announced their intention from the beginning of his tenure they had no intention of cooperating with him in any way and were determined to remove him from office as soon as possible? From the standpoint of our nation what the Republicans have done is absolutely shameful. History is not going  to treat them well, let us hope the next three plus years will do the same.
As far as the superficial goes, one need only look at the famous (or infamous) Ryan budget. It is superficial in more ways than one. First, it is basically nonsensical as it has no chance whatsoever of succeeding. It also neglects to say just what loopholes would be closed as part of the plan. It is said by many to be not even a serious attempt to create a real budget. As a mere copy of his original budget plan that was already defeated in the recent election, perhaps even worse than the original, it ignores the outcome of that election and there is no serious justification for presenting it again. It also calls for eliminating Obamacare, a proposition that has been defeated at least 32 times previously, is now the law of the land, and is thus both superficial and unnecessary.
If this is so, and I guess it pretty much is, one might ask why Ryan even bothered to present it again. Some say it was not meant to be serious as it is really an attempt to maintain the Tea Party base, others, like Ryan himself, are trying to suggest it is merely to stimulate discussion and lead to eventual negotiation. As it is so bad I doubt there will be much negotiation over it, certainly not when it comes to overturning Obamacare or making Medicare a voucher program, to say nothing of the host of other outrageous cuts demanded of popular programs like Pell grants and such.
There is another question that comes at least into my mind. What qualifications does Ryan possess to make him a serious budget guru in the first place? My granted, somewhat superficial research into Herr Ryan does not indicate to me he has any special qualifications to be authoring a definitive budget for the United States of America. His father died when he was 16 and he received Social Security benefits until  18 that helped him go to college. He graduated from a not particularly prestigious college (Miami University in Oxford, Ohio) in 1992 with a dual degree in economics and political science. One of his major influences was the work of Ayn Rand. He was an intern for Wisconsin Senator Bob Kasten as a foreign policy advisor (in the summer he worked as a salesman for Oscar Mayer and once drove the Wienermobile). He was attacked to Kasten’s office as a staff economist for a time but also worked as a waiter, fitness trainer, and even a speechwriter. He also worked for a time as a marketing consultant for a relative’s firm. After being elected to Congress he eventually became the ranking Republican member of the House Budget Committee and became chairman of that body in 2011. In his 13 years in the House he sponsored 71 bills or amendments, only two of which were enacted into law, one renamed a Post Office, the other lowered the excise tax on arrow shafts.
I could of course be quite wrong in my analysis of this record (that came mostly from Wikpedia) but it does not indicate to me any particular expertise on budgeting for the nation. I know, you might think his experience on the Budget Committee would be of great relevance, but he was not appointed there to further study economics but, presumably, because he already had such knowledge (and remember the kinds of people appointed to the science committee). In any case, although I might be unfair, I cannot  see why he has any more expertise for creating a national budget than most anyone else. I suspect that anyone, starting from the assumption a balanced budget was absolutely necessary, could play with figures that would produce that result. But, as in Ryan’s case, they would not necessarily have any connection with reality or with the needs and desires of the citizenry. As there is no compelling need to have a balanced budget (an extremely rare occurrence in U.S. history), and certainly no necessity to have one in ten years, this is the kind of exercise that might be given to University students. You can play around with the figures all you want as long as it is merely an academic exercise with no connection with reality. Ryan is basically a charlatan and his budget superficial. It is a pity that so much time is being wasted on it.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Bait and Switch

I guess we don’t usually associate the bait and switch technique with the news, but it happens there all the time. Headlines do not always reflect what you will find in the article that follows. An interesting example of this is a headline that appeared today on the internet (I forget exactly where), “Why is President Obama taking orders from a Billionaire?” The article goes on to describe billionaire Peter Peterson’s attempt to do away with Social Security and his willingness to spend millions to try to bring this about . There is nothing in the article that suggests President Obama is “taking orders” from him. It seems to be true that Peterson and/or his operatives have some kind of access to the White House, but this is a far cry from the claim he is giving orders to our President.
Similarly, there is another headline that reads, “Why do Boxer and Wyden want to bomb Iran?” If you read the article carefully it does not suggest that either of these individuals “want to bomb Iran,” although it is true they are supporting some measure that would allow such a thing if the circumstances were to warrant it, a far cry from the claim they actually want to bomb Iran. Headlines often suggest things that do not appear in what follows. I guess this is a kind of bait and switch technique that is commonplace in the news as it occurs with regularity both in print and on the internet. This is a rather insidious means to lead people to believe things that are just not true, to bias their information in ways to their advantage whichever way they desire. You cannot, I have learned over time, depend upon the headlines to tell you the actual content of the article or essay or whatever.
I suppose most readers are aware of this problem and are not always duped by the duplicity involved. There is another somewhat similar problem that also seems to occur with regularity although it cannot be termed bait and switch. Maybe it should be called something like “Stuff and Nonsense.” The most recent case in point is Paul Ryan’s budget proposal that is to be released tomorrow. This proposal involves doing away with the Affordable Care Act and converting Medicare to a voucher system. It is common knowledge that these proposals, which Ryan already proposed before, have absolutely no chance of happening. They are not only dead on arrival they have already been decisively declared dead previously (doing away with Obamacare has already been defeated some 32 or more times). So why does Ryan propose them once more when there is no chance whatsoever they will ever fly? I suggest there are at least two main reasons: (l) Ryan wants to appeal to the Tea Party base because he might  want to run for President in 2016 (an absurd pipe dream), and (2) he is an absolute phony when it comes to having any serious understanding of national budgets. His much touted budget proposals are far more for the sake of publicity than serious attempts at budgeting.
It is far too common for individuals to utter completely ridiculous ideas and proposals for the sake of publicity, but for reasons I do not completely understand the news people seem always eager and willing to announce and promote them as if they are worthy of attention. Thus it is we are bombarded with comments from people like Palin, Trump, Cain, and others of that ilk who should rightly not even be acknowledged. It is as if editors are a thing of the past so that anything goes whether it has merit or not. I can see no reason whatsoever why we should ever have to pay any attention to the obviously absurd rantings of someone like Donald Trump or Herman Cain. Not only that, not everything that comes out  of the mouths of even more respectable spokespersons is necessarily worthy of being “news” and would often be better off ignored. Comments by Santorum, Robertson, Huckabee, and others come readily to mind.
And then, of course, there are the disgusting hate merchants like Limbaugh and Coulter with nothing to say but whatever will shock and make them money. O’Reilly, Hannity, Malkin, and others are not much better. It seems that “news” nowadays consists of anything with shock value or anything said by someone who is a celebrity or aspires to become one by “shooting off their mouth” about  anything and everything whether they know anything about  it or not. What used to be the Fourth Estate has become  Skid row, and what was once champagne and caviar has now become pig tails and beans (with a few rare exceptions). We have now reached a point where you literally cannot believe anything you read or hear. This does not bode well for the future.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

The Fate of the Poor

I cannot help but wonder what the fate of the poor would be if Republicans actually managed to win and govern our country for a time. As far as I can tell, in general they seem to be:
Opposed to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (universal health care in any form), unemployment insurance, food stamps, a minimum wage, unions, taxes, socialism, communism, big government (much government  at all), abortion, contraception, immigrants, any form of welfare, environmental protection, sustainable energy, evolution, science, and government jobs.
They seem to be for, only no taxes, smaller (or no) government, privatization of all things, oil, gas, and nuclear energy, global warming, massive corporations, millionaires and billionaires, capitalism, and creationism. I cannot help but wonder what the fate of the poor would be if they were ever to have their way.
Under our current capitalistic system, and as there is at the current time, there would be a huge unemployment problem. As there would be a huge surplus supply of labor wages would continue to be very low, businesses would not hire for the sake of hiring but only for profit, and as they would not  condone government creating jobs, unemployment  would continue, poverty wages would be the rule, there would be no safety nets, no health care, no food stamps, etc. Under such conditions the poor would, of course, suffer and die. London and Manchester in Dicken’s time would look like a form of paradise unless some kind of welfare existed. As far as I know, Republicans have not suggested how they would deal with the conditions they would have created. Their solution, I guess, would be simply, let ‘em suffer and die. Have they ever suggested any solution to the problem of poverty and the poor? What might they propose to do about it? They might, I suppose, argue that the market would take care of the problem, but as long as labor remained merely a commodity that would never happen.
You might think that decent people, in a decent society, would not allow such a thing to happen, but it is happening right now with some 50% of the population living at or below the poverty level. So far, under the past few administrations, little or nothing has been done to improve things. Republicans have blocked all of President Obama’s attempts to alleviate unemployment or anything thing else that might have improved the lives of ordinary citizens. The enormous gap between the wealthy and he poor has been widening for years until we now have a situation in which one or two percent of the population own and controls more wealth than the vast majority, the “99%.”
I think one of the reasons this situation has been allowed to continue and fester as it has is due to what I would call the “Progressives’ fallacy,” their disbelief in the venality of the wealthy. This has been especially true of President Obama who seriously underestimated how greedy and selfish some could be. He kept insisting he could accomplish “bipartisanship” only to learn the hard way that was not to be. This attitude prevails among “Progressives” in general. Think, for example, of Chris Hayes who wrings his hands and says we need health insurance because our fellow citizens are suffering, unable, I guess, to understand that not all people are concerned about the suffering of their fellow creatures. It can also be seen in the fact that  Republicans are unwilling  to increase taxes on the obscenely wealthy even by a measly two or three percent even though their current taxes are about at an all-time low. A few billionaires have indicated they would be willing to pay a bit more but obviously the majority have not and, in fact, use their fantastic wealth to ensure they will not have to pay more.
I am not sanguine about the possibilities for any major change in the way things are. Change will only come about by dragging Republicans kicking and screaming at every modest step that might occur. American capitalism, following Dylan Thomas’s advice to his father, will not go gentle into that good night, but will rage, rage against the dying of the light.

"Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinct feature: it has simplified class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other — bourgeoisie and proletariat.” 

Karl Marx

 Karl Marx    

Monday, March 04, 2013

It's so Confusing!

This business about Social Security is so confusing. Someone is lying. But who is lying? I know, that is a dumb question as we know by now that everyone is lying.  I guess the more pertinent question is who is lying the more egregiously. I have heard for weeks, months, even years that Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit. It is not funded by taxes, is solvent, at least for quite a while, can presumably be easily adjusted to survive for a very long time, and has been said repeatedly to be “off the table.” So why are we now hearing about possibly reducing it, or eliminating it, or privatizing it, or who know what with it?
I can understand why Republicans keep bringing it up, dragging it into deficit reduction, “entitlements,” and so forth, even though as an independently funded program it is not an entitlement. They have been opposed to it, and attempting to do away with it since FDR established it in the first place. Presumably they miss the enjoyment of seeing old people living in poverty and slowly suffering. But why on earth would President Obama even consider tampering with it, reducing it, using it as a negotiating tool?  It is supposed to be off the table, so why isn’t it? I cannot answer this question unless, perhaps, maybe, possibly, President Obama is not really serious about using it as a negotiating tool, or is basically just a “Fink,” which I do not like to think about.

 Another thing I find terribly confusing is the deficit. That is, is the deficit a problem or is it not? Most everyone, including Obama, seems to think it is a serious problem. But others seem to think it is not such a problem. One claim now is that whereas when Obama took office the deficit was 10% of something-or-other it is now only 5% of something-or-other. So what is it? Damned if I know. I wonder if anyone else really knows or if this is all just more hot air. Some say the deficit is the most serious problem and can only be solved by less spending, others say jobs are the most serious problem and increasing spending for jobs is the solution. So what is a mental midget supposed to believe? I tend to go with the more spending, more jobs view, not because I know that is necessarily the best solution (I mean, after all, what do I know?), but because I know from experience that while Democrats lie sometimes, Republicans lie all the time.

Gun and ammunition sales are apparently soaring. I take this to mean, following the logic of LaPierre, that eventually gun violence will disappear, as the answer to gun violence, according to him, is more guns. The good guys with guns will win in the end, just like they always did in the “B” westerns I grew up with, and just as LaPierre says they will. I guess we should take comfort in knowing there are apparently more guns now in the U.S. than people. Whee! It’s so exciting!

On another front, run, run, run for your life, the Iranians are coming, the Iranians are coming! They may someday, perhaps, possibly, if we don’t bomb them quickly, have the capacity to sometime in the future make a bomb, and if they do, watch out world, they will use it to not only attack Israel and the United States, but presumably the entire world (they are said to be a danger to the world). This Iranian scare is the most nonsensical bullshit I have ever heard, leave it to Netanyahu, the world’s number one Yahoo, to keep fanning the flames for another war, and leave it to Lindsey Graham, the world’s second greatest Yahoo, to keep egging him on. There is no doubt a diplomatic solution for the (basically non-existant) Iranian “problem” could easily be found if the ridiculous mass hysteria would subside. I commend President Obama for keeping us out of another unnecessary criminal “war” so far, but it looks now that we might still be maneuvered by Netanyahu and the hawks into another terrible and stupid war crime just as we were in the case of Iraq. I am hoping (not against hope I hope) Obama and Hagel will be able to resist the pressure for another senseless premature attack on still another innocent Middle East country to try to prevent something that is ultimately militarily unpreventable and will cost thousands of innocent lives.  But stupid is as stupid does (I hate that phrase).

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Explanation, Please

Consider the definition of treason from an online dictionary:
: the betrayal of a trust : treachery
: the offense of attempting by overt acts to overthrow the government of the state to which the offender owes allegiance or to kill or personally injure the sovereign or the sovereign's family.

Now consider the following:
  • “I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."
“This goal of a radically reduced government is not simply the dream of small-state ideologues within the Beltway in Washington D.C. Consider the 2008 platform of the Republican Party in Texas. It called for the elimination of every federal agency not mentioned in the original constitution – including the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Departments of Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Education, Commerce and Labor. Programs like Social Security and policies like the minimum wage would also be abolished. And Texas Republicans believe that not only should taxes never be increased, but that most current taxes should be abolished, including income taxes, inheritance taxes, capital gains, corporate income taxes, payroll taxes, and property taxes. In short, this GOP platform is a blueprint for how to cripple the federal government.”

“… the President should let the public see the Tea Partiers for who they are — a small, radical minority intent on dismantling the government of the United States. As long as they are allowed to dictate the terms of public debate they will continue to hold the rest of us hostage to their extremism.”

“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

I suppose one could accept the goal of making the President of the United States a “one-term President” as a reasonable goal from a political standpoint. In a general way that is perhaps the common goal of most minority parties. However, when the means to bring about such a goal involves an absolute refusal to allow a President to do anything at all, to effectively refuse to participate in governing, and therefore harms the government by not allowing any positive changes to come about, it seems to me that is close enough to treason to warrant an explanation of why it should not be so considered.

When Grover Norquist said “I don’t want to abolish government, …” that (perhaps questionable) disclaimer is in my opinion the only thing that keeps the goal of “drowning it…” from being treasonous, or certainly borderline treasonous.

It is becoming more and more obvious that the goal of the current Republican Party, apparently now controlled by the Tea Party, is to essentially dismantle or cripple the government, to “eviscerate” it if possible (to take out the entrails of : disembowel).

At least a few of these anti-government nutcases have even suggested “second amendment remedies” if they don’t get their way, and even more extreme ones have   suggested less euphemistic violent means, “we have come unarmed this time,” or worse. These could be dismissed as the outrageous rantings of a few, which of course they are, but it does seem to me that this type of behavior is close enough to treason to be almost indistinguishable from that unpleasant possibility. In our “democracy,” with its emphasis on free speech, there is nothing that can be done about this (unless it were to actually happen), except to wait for the next election, which may or may not make a difference (depending upon the whims of voters). While I am not advocating a more serious solution to this problem, I cannot help but observe that in some other nations these kinds of people would already be incarcerated in jails or mental institutions, if not shot or hanged.
Harold Macmillan