Sunday, June 11, 2017

Dust in the Wind


I was looking at a review of a book by Thomas E. Ricks, CHURCHILL AND ORWELL, The Fight for Freedom. It is a book, I am reminded, of two people who, even today remain well known, famous even.  And then, I began thinking of all the people not so famous. And I thought of my father, now remembered (even if faintly) by me alone.  No one else on earth has even a slim memory or mind-picture of Rudy—Rudolph (NMN) Schmidt, born in 1901, somewhere in New York City. Did he have any school chums back in, say, 1911-1915 who might remember him, when he might arguably have attended some school?  Likely not, since they are long gone, along with Rudy who disappeared from view in the late 1950s.

Think about that for a moment.  Someone was born, lived for a while, married and produced several children, and now has disappeared from all conscious memory, save one aging soul.  And soon, that limited memory fragment will also be gone and that person, once a Rudy, will be as though he never was.

I know that those of the religious persuasion believe that Rudy is lounging on a cloud somewhere, doubtless playing his violin, which he once played while on earth.  And that, those of us who once knew him will be able to chat with him up there, so as to inquire why he was such an asshole while here on earth.   But the rest of us hold no such thoughts, so for us, he has simply disappeared.

I cherish photographs, especially ancient ones, because, in part, they refresh my aging memory bank. When I want to reconsider my Grandma Inglis, who left while I was standing by her side in 1951, I simply find a photograph, and her image is reconstructed, and then my memory bank kicks into action and she is, for the moment, alive again, and memories flow into my active mind.



I am also drawn, however, to this notion that we are all temporary dalliances with nature. We arrive here, we play for a bit, we forge memory bits with other temporary creatures, some human, and then we disappear.  We are as “dust in the wind”, or as Kansas wrote and sang:

I close my eyes, only for a moment
And the moment's gone
All my dreams pass before my eyes, a curiosity
Dust in the wind
All they are is dust in the wind
Same old song, just a drop of water
In an endless sea
All we do crumbles to the ground
Though we refuse to see
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind”

As children grow into adults and enter through passageways—graduation, marriage, parenthood—I am drawn to the thought that we need to understand the dust that we are. And that Donald Trump will as soon be dust in the wind as everyone else. He will also leave behind a memory legacy—bits in many memory banks. But none will be happy or positive bits, and I wonder . . . does he know that? Does he care? Is he capable of understanding that he too, is dust in the wind?

So, I need to keep thinking and keep remembering. Remember the good thoughts. And there are many such dustlets. While they are now gone, they forged little happy bits in my head. And that’s a good thing.

And then, someday, I too shall be dust in the wind.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Morons Will Out


It is increasingly hard to write a blog about our lives in 21st century America. I mean, how does one shift away from our idiot President?  He is a daily source of corrupt, or just idiotic sayings—“Covfefe” anyone?? I keep wondering, did he do this moronic tweeting at 3:00 AM before he was President, or is this a function of him thinking he is important?

We have issues of great global importance and our President is fixated on his TV ratings.  It is increasingly clear that he tweets because he cannot write. Tweeting requires little beyond a 3-year old’s vocabulary and understanding of the world. One does not need to communicate in complete sentences, or even complete thoughts . . . or indeed any thoughts at all.

Floating around the world are issues such as:

Catastrophic global climate changes

Terrorism run amok

Collapsing American infrastructure

Bipartisanship run amok, wherein nobody is running our ship of state to benefit the people

Russian interference in our democratic system of governance

Collapsing international systems of cooperation

One could go on and on, because our President seems not to understand our system of government at all, so he has no clue how to oversee it, including how to staff the oversight functions. His appointments to run important Federal functions have been uniformly catastrophic. When you have Federal roles in subjects like education, environmental controls, public health, et al, and you appoint people who are fundamentally opposed to any federal role, you are abdicating your responsibility. Whatever their reasons for voting for him, it seems unlikely that people voted to elect Trump because they wanted no public education of their children, or no health care, or smog levels rivaling India or China.  He seems to want to turn over to private interests all functions of government. What could go wrong with that scenario?

I think back to Jimmy Carter, and the end of airline regulation. We had, until then, a relatively healthy and productive airline industry—two international carriers, a half dozen major national carriers, and numerous regional carriers.  I flew then, often, both domestically and internationally.  Flying was, if not fun, at least something you need not agonize over.

Then Jimmy deregulated the industry. Almost immediately, the predators, omnipresent in any private enterprise, began taking over. And the industry began collapsing from within.  Low cost became the sole criterion of interest, and service went to hell in a hand basket.  We stopped flying altogether in 2001 when one carrier, USAIR, dumped us in Baltimore, halfway to our destination, and told the passengers, “sorry ladies and gentlemen, that we could not get you to where you wanted to go.”  FULL STOP. No mention of buying us dinner until they could board us on the next plane to our proper destination.  The plane’s population simply disappeared into the airport to figure out their next course of action.  We decided then that the airline industry had collapsed from within. It has not materially improved since then.

Similarly, we seem to be on course to transfer responsibility for educating our children to private interests.  For reasons I fail to understand,  rather than focusing on figuring out how to improve our system of public education, a decision was made to shift resources to a system of private “charter” schools, some non-profit and some for-profit.  What our ruling geniuses seemed not to understand is that the national systems of public education really produced the middle class in America, and that the middle class produced the powerhouse known as America.

It is not that public education was problem-free. On the contrary, public schooling has been ailing for many years, decades even. Many schools are superb, among the best in the world. But many, especially within low income neighborhoods, have been failing their students for many years.  Part of the problem is attributed to inadequate funding, and part to student inability/unwillingness to learn. Low income children often live within families that were failed by the system. Without a tradition that values education, children would often rather do something else.

Mind you, the systems of public education, while still public, have been financed largely by state and local tax dollars. There is Federal money in the system, but the contributions by state and local governments means that differences in per pupil funding are inevitable.

So, our system was ripe for change. But change requires thought. Abandonment, e.g., let’s shift to private schools, publically financed, so we can stop worrying about all the ugly details, seems attractive to legislators who choose not to think a lot as a vocation.  One would need to commission studies in all districts to look for insights into success and failure, and to tease out the reasons. Then productive solutions might be possible.

On average, charter schools seem to do no better, and might be doing worse than public schools, so this solution seems a non-solution.  Trump and his mistress Betsy Devos, a person who has zero experience with public schools, seem to prefer to ignore reality and embark on a whole system of let’s pretend schools—think Trump University.

Similarly, Trump is now proposing turning our air traffic control system over to private enterprise –oh that should make air travel so much better, and he seems to be toying with the idea of turning the job of infrastructure development over to the private sector.  Ike helped to build the US interstate highway system. Trump may build the Trumpway system—use your own imagination.

So, is the private sector never better than a public sector? Well, no, but private vs. public often depends on the function. The public sector doesn’t do profit-motive real well.  We have some considerable evidence that a wholly public sector approach is less than perfect—the Soviet state comes to mind.

I have worked over many years in and with the for-profit sector, both large and small, with public sector entities, and with several levels of government.  One outcome of that working life is that I came to understand that size often matters more than the public-private designation—as entities grow in size they become more bureaucratic and, therefore less flexible and less responsive. 

One difference between public and private is that private is often less hindered by rules, and therefore, becomes more flexible in pursuing areas of interest developmentally.  And that thing, the profit motive can be either a huge plus, or a significant minus when pursuing operational changes.

My observation caused me to think about and pen a few thoughts on the issue of balance. In connection with a perception of corruption within the public sector, I wrote:

In          "in economic matters, extremes do not work. Under Bush, we shifted dangerously in the direction of a fascist state—that is, a state in which private owners of businesses dictate government policies. The inevitable result is Enron, et al, as well as the collapsed financial system. We have been drifting in that direction for quite some time now, even under Clinton. Everyone has been so concerned with government regulation that they failed to notice that unregulated business is as dangerous as unchecked government. One gives you fascism; the other socialism. Private business interests must always be checked to assure that the public is protected. So too must government overseers. Balance in everything is the answer. But balance requires mental agility. The public has little patience—they want the world to operate on autopilot. They need to be convinced that a world in which competing interests are balanced is both an efficient world, and a world that is worthy.

2.                We need to pay for what we need. The Republican Party has been, almost as a matter of policy, fiscally irresponsible. They practice “charge and spend” politics. We will now have to pay for their profligacy. The public—the thinking public—needs to understand that we cannot continue on the course they charted and followed. Mainly the rest of the world will not allow us to continue on this course. They will simply stop buying our debt and then it will end, badly. Taxes are the way we pay for our policies.  Taxes are neither good nor bad, in the abstract. They represent the price of operating our country, or, perhaps, the glue of a civilized society.

3.                We must pursue policies that are aimed at preserving the Earth. We need to conserve. We need to pursue alternative energy policies. We need to use economic forces to create a demand for energy-efficiency and energy independence. Under Bush and Cheney, we have pursued policies promoting wasteful energy consumption, mainly because he and his advisers represent the extractive industries. We need to tax wasteful energy consumption, so as to encourage wiser use of Earth’s limited resources.

4.            We must pursue a policy of economic independence for all our citizens. During my career, I worked for seven organizations over a 45 year career. For 20 of those years, I worked for several large and small companies that contributed nothing beyond Social Security for my retirement. Bush and his republican allies have attempted on numerous occasions to threaten that reserve. If indeed we wish to get rid of Social Security, we do not need to “privatize” it. We need to pass legislation that forces every economic entity in the country to pay into a portable retirement system. TIAA-CREF comes to mind—the system used by most universities and non-profits. If the private sector would begin to live up to its responsibilities by a mandatory contribution system, we would not need Social Security. Take the system used by universities and non-profits and replicate it throughout the whole of the private sector. Do not allow companies to wriggle out by use of part-time workers. If they employ part-time workers, they still pay full retirement benefits. Otherwise, leave Social security alone.

5.                Republicans, continue in their zeal to scuttle public education. We need to begin working with the states to repair the currently deplorable state of public education. In our area of North Carolina, they seem comfortable with a dropout rate of 35%.  Think of that. We can do better. Indeed, we are losing ground to the rest of the world, and we are at risk of becoming a country of stupid people. Charter schools, especially for-profit charter schools, and worse, fake private schools that are on-line, are not an answer.

6.              We must examine carefully the structure of government. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security was an absurd idea—a solution in search of a problem. Think of it. The CIA and the FBI wouldn’t communicate and were demonstrably inept, so we forced the Coast Guard, FEMA, and the rest to become one entity. An idea only a truly stupid person could embrace.  Structure is not the answer when the problem is an absence of thoughtful consideration of available evidence. 

      What we continue to need is watchful citizens—citizens who are willing to question both private commercial interests and public government interests. Corruption is a problem that will always be with us, so long as we have serious economic imbalances and so long as we have citizens who are basically dishonest—remember both the corrupters and the corruptees are dishonest.  Both need to be exposed and punished. It is why, by the way, that we continue to need whistle-blowers.  Say what you will of the Assange-Manning-Snowden groups, but they have informed us of some very unpleasant things about ourselves. Transparency is key here, and we definitely do not have transparent systems in either the public or private realms (thanks again Supremes).

     We all need to stand up and be counted. And that means we need to vote, regardless of the efforts by the GOP to prevent folks from voting.  If you don’t vote, you will get the government you deserve.”

Indeed, voting seems the only recourse to what we are now viewing almost daily. The parade of Trumpies continues to dazzle and baffle us. Even our battalions of comedians are hard pressed to keep up with his barrage of inanities.  But, in between his 3:00 AM twitterati utterings, he actually does a few things—like appointing a new loser to run something he/she hates in government, or proposes to fix something by shouting out a solution that is 90% lie/exaggeration and then retreating from the scene to leave us yelling or laughing, or shouting obscenities at him.

But voting to eliminate him takes time—he isn’t running again until 2020 remember. And his GOP henchmen, Ryan, McConnell, et al, seem entirely disinclined to muzzle him, even if they could. They keep approving his parade of malenfants to run our government, and they continue not to disavow his efforts to destroy America.  So, impeachment, regardless of probable cause, seems unlikely in the extreme. Burt even if they did impeach him for cause (so many causes, so little time) we are left with his basket of deplorables sitting in line behind him. Does anyone really believe that Pence would make a better President?

So, there seems no plausible solution short of continued resistance—manning the barriers of protest until it is time to vote all the rascals out of office—including Ryan and McConnell.  Some folks will get hurt in the process, but resistance is not free.

So, welcome to our world of hurt folks. Stand up and keep trying to shout him down. He is a menace. He must be resisted. Or we will become a banana republic sans bananas.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Depression


I was born in 1934, the middle of the Great Depression. The bankers and stockbrokers had had their way with America and the world at large. Everyone but the bankers were suffering.  Depression-suicides were common. We had not yet even begun to foresee the coming trauma of WW II and the Hitler era of world-wide murder. Of late, because of that creature known as Trump, I have begun recounting the presidents I have known. It is an impressive list, filled with the Greats and the not-so-greats.

1933-1945 – Franklin Delano Roosevelt – he had taken over from that wastrel Hoover and led us successfully out of that depression and through the catastrophic war begun by Hitler. When one thinks of great presidents, his name springs to mind. Although I was very young, I actually remember him speaking to us over the radio (remember radios??) in his fireside chats. In addition to overseeing our successful war effort, FDR actually brought us out of the depression by creating the Works Progress Administration which put folks to work on public works projects. He also, remember, created the Social Security system, which our republicans hate mainly because it is successful, people love it and it was created by a democrat.

1945-1953 – Harry S. Truman – from a haberdasher in Missouri to the senate and thence to the vice presidency until FDR passed on, when he became president.  Harry seemed a true man of the people. He helped bring WW II to an end and then saw that Cold War begin. I well remember the Berlin Blockade when the Soviets walled off Berlin, laying claim to the whole of East Germany. My brother-in-law Niels served briefly as a flight surgeon on the Berlin airlift flights traveling from London to berlin to relieve the blockade.

1953-1961 – Dwight D. Eisenhower – The first election in which I participated as a voter (and I have voted in every election since, including that four-year period when we lived abroad in India).  How could you not love Ike? He was a major factor in our winning the war.  I wasn’t yet a committed democrat or republican. Ike ran against Adlai Stevenson, an intellectual who was a handsome candidate, but had no chance overcoming the Ike leadership-glam. Ike created the interstate highway system, which created many jobs but also linked the nation together via a national road system.

1961-1963 – John F. Kennedy – the first election where I really loved the candidate. JFK was so remarkable, and his wife so glamorous and gracious. It was like they were created explicitly to become president and first lady. He was of course also the first president in my lifetime to be assassinated by one of our numerous armed right wing crazies (thank you NRA).  I think I never fully recovered from his assassination.

1963 – 1969 – LB Johnson – Ahhh Lyndon . . . you had a tough job and you committed yourself more than admirably.  Succeeding the killing of JFK, Johnson found himself in a difficult place. JFK was well liked and Johnson was a Texan, better known there than elsewhere. But he actually was a skilled politician, where JFK was an amateur at the game.  In addition to that nasty war in Vietnam, LBJ gave us The Great Society. The Great Society was a set of domestic programs in the United States launched by LBJ in 1964–65. The main goal was the elimination of poverty and racial injustice. President Johnson first used the term "Great Society" during a speech at Ohio University, then unveiled the program in greater detail at an appearance at University of Michigan. New major spending programs that addressed education, medical care, urban problems, rural poverty, and transportation were launched during this period. The program and its initiatives were subsequently promoted by him and fellow Democrats in Congress in the 1960s and years following. The Great Society in scope and sweep resembled the New Deal domestic agenda of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Some Great Society proposals were stalled initiatives from John F. Kennedy's New Frontier. Johnson's success depended on his skills of persuasion, coupled with the Democratic landslide in the 1964 election that brought in many new liberals to Congress, making the House of Representatives in 1965 the most liberal House since 1938. While some of the programs have been eliminated or had their funding reduced, many of them, including Medicare, Medicaid, the Older Americans Act and federal education funding, continue to the present. The Great Society's programs expanded under the administrations of Republican presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, although republicans later began to hate these programs, again because they were successful, well liked and begun by a Democrat. Republicans do so hate successful programs begun by Democrats. Why don’t they start their own successful programs you might ask? Well, they do. They’re called tax reductions for the wealthy.

1969-1974 -- Richard Milhous Nixon—Tricky Dick. He was the first in a now long line of presidents I voted against.  Nixon was smart, and skilled at the game of international intrigue. He won the election in part by promising to end the war in Vietnam. His plan was simple—bomb the hell out of a formerly neutral nation-Cambodia. Actually his plan was a now classic republican strategy—cut and run when you are tired of the mess you created.  So, we finally cut and ran out of Vietnam with our collective tails between our legs—the first war we actually lost.  Happily Tricky Dick was run out of town on a rail.

1974 – 1977 – Gerald Ford – Ford took over when Dicky fled the scene. His task was hopeless, and he did the best he could under the circumstances.

1977 – 1981 – Jimmy Carter – The best I can say about Jimmy is, he is far and away the best ex-president we have ever had (I expect Barack Obama to challenge that title).  I actually left the worlds of private non-profit research at The Urban Institute to join the government to run an evaluation office in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.  I enjoyed that change of scenery and loved working with my colleagues there.  I discovered there that the government bureaucrats so despised by republicans are actually, largely a bright and committed group of folks who try to do their best for the people of America.

1981-1989 – St. Ronald of Reagan – Ronnie is a funny dude. He began life as an actor of mediocre standing.  Then he became, of all things, California’s governor. And in almost his first act in that capacity, he began destroying the California school system by reducing the funding allocated to that system. California went from having one of the nation’s finest systems to having one of its most troubled.  Building on that grand republican success story (republicans do so hate an educated public), he ran for and won the Presidency. At the time, I was a member of the government bureaucracy, running an evaluation office in Health and Human Services (Carter had run the Ed unit out of town on a rail). But I had a nice office and great people to work with. Then came Ronnie. He chose as a secretary, Mr.  Richard Schweiker, a failed senator from Pennsylvania.  And then life changed at DHHS. He brought in a new boss for me, who turned out to be the stupidest man I ever worked for or with in my then 25 year working career.  He was supposed to be running evaluation, but knew nothing about the subject and had difficulty carrying on an intelligent conversation on almost any subject. And Secretary Schweiker was best known for falling asleep in his own large meetings. And the Prez? Well what can you say?. He sold arms to a terrorist organization, and then brought chaos into Central America. Oh and he also bombed Lebanon from afar.  Yeah, he was less than great, but repubs loved him then and love him still (well look at his competition). He actually caused me to leave government and rejoin the private sector in my own business, because I was afraid I would go brain-dead working under Reagan.

1989 – 1993 – George H.W. Bush – Poppy Bush. He seems a bit of a cipher. He is perhaps best known for giving us Shrub, arguably one of our worst presidents.

1993 – 2001 – William Jefferson Clinton – Well, Bill was a bit of wild one. But, at bottom, he was very smart. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa, and was a Rhodes Scholar. As Prez, he stood somewhere in the middle. He opposed Sadaam Hussein, put NAFTA into existence, passed a Child health Insurance Act, and tried but failed to enact health care reform legislation. He also put Charter schools into play, for which we should award him black marks, since he may have paved the way for that catastrophic disaster Betsy DeVos.  His impeachment for multitasking in the White House came as no surprise, since he was by all counts a successful president, overseeing one of the longest economic booms in our history, and leaving the country with a budget surplus.

2001 – 2009 – Shrub – Ahhhh, dear Shrub, one of our less well-endowed presidents.  He was a draft dodger as a young man, taking advantage of daddy’s stature to escape Vietnam as a pseudo-pilot in the National Guard.  Oddly, he won the race for Texas gubernatorship, but it is Texas, isn’t it?  He ran sort of against Clinton, since republicans spent much time and money decrying Bill. But our nation had changed, and the rowdies of our world wanted a republican, regardless of his intellectual capacity.  He was a true republican, taking Clinton’s budget surplus and creating one of the largest deficits we had known, rivaling St. Ronald’s deficits (but Reagan believed in the Laffer curve, by which it was theorized, if you reduced the tax rates, you would increase the tax revenues. Unfortunately, like all such doofus-theories, it was a fake and produced very, very large deficits).  But Shrub, like most republicans, loved wars. So he concocted a fake story about Iraq and WMDs and invaded without actual cause, thereby helping to create chaos throughout the Middle East, and at least inspiring the creation of ISIS. Thanks Shrub.

2009 -- 2017 -- Barack Obama – Ahh, how we miss Barack. He actually ran a clean presidency, pretty free of scandal, seemed to have a model marriage and family and was super-bright. And, he was Black, well, he was African-American born in Hawaii, although according to his republican opponents, he was a Muslim terrorist born in Africa and should not have assumed the presidency. But republicans have never been big on facts.  In response to his presidency, a “Birther” movement began, and the Tea Party began (the Tea Party seems to be the KKK wing of the republican party). Movement Birthers kept arguing that Obama was not a natural born citizen, despite all evidence to the contrary—again republicans are not big on those fact things. By all accounts, Obama remained a successful president, and actually succeeded in enacting a health care reform act that provided health care to millions of American formerly uninsured.  Republicans do so hate that kind of thing.  They spent years trying to destroy that system.

2017 -- ??? The Drumpf – and now we come to the reason for my depression. Donald J. Trump, arguably the most potentially catastrophic president in my lifetime.  His buds apparently colluded with both our extreme right wing and the Russians (an odd partnership, since the right wing used to be opposed to most things Russian, especially where Vlad the Impaler Putin is involved) to create a viable opponent to Hillary Clinton.  However much Hillary ran a flawed campaign, she did not deserve (nor did we the American public) such an awful and fact-free opposition. Trump won by, a) lying about almost everything (how can you tell Trump is lying? Well, when his opens his mouth and words come tumbling out, he is lying), and b) by the simple act by many, millions of people not voting.    “Oh, we don’t want to vote for Hillary, because she forgave her flawed husband, oh and she had a private e-mail server.” So, by the simple act of staying at home instead of voting, the Drumpf won the race (not the popular vote, but that’s another subject).

So, now we have a serial liar, a sexual predator, a serial womanizer, a compleat narcissist, a sociopath, and a deeply flawed and unsuccessful business person to be president.  He apparently cannot read, perhaps because of his serious ADHD, so he seems not to know much of anything.  His big book, The Art of the Deal was written by someone else, because he also cannot write beyond those 140 characters he gurgles out at 3:00 AM.

And yet, his loyal troops continue to love and support him. It has been pointed out that all of his many flaws were well known months before the election, so his supporters knew about them but did not care. They voted for him because he gave the country the middle finger almost every time he opened his mouth.  So, facts do not and will not ever enter any conversation with Trump supporters. Their support is based on hatred and anger at the power elites. Arguing facts with them would be akin to arguing facts with a squirrel.

So, all of his many promises about making America great again were patently just lies. He promised to protect Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and to create a new health care system that would cover everyone and cost less money. All were lies, as we now know by his first budget proposal.

He continues to cozy with his Russian friends, even to passing on State secrets, yet we sit around sucking our thumbs. The journalists who report his flaws are declared to be fake journalists out to get him. He actually had the nerve to declare that, "Look at the way I've been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly," he said in his commencement address in New London, Connecticut. Really, you bozo? Worse than, say Kennedy, or maybe Lincoln? Worse than Nelson Mandela?? But that is the compleat narcissist speaking. He knows of nothing beyond himself.

But what are we to make of all this? He has even exhausted the comedians who have trouble keeping up with his latest stupidity.   A recent article written by Ken Levy in AlterNet comes closest to informing us about Trump and Trump supporters.

Levy states:

“. . .  even though all the economic data indicate both that the unemployment rate is consistently below 5 percent and that immigrants help to improve the economy, Trumpists are determined to believe just the opposite. Their resistance to the economic facts, then, must be motivated by some deeper, non-economic concern.

The left insists that this deeper concern is cultural: Trumpists love Trump because they share his racism, Islamophobia, anti-semitism, and misogyny. There is much to be said for this hypothesis. Neither Trump nor Trumpists seem to take equality very seriously, even though it is a cardinal principle of the Declaration of Independence and 14th Amendment. Even in 2017, they harbor toxic, hierarchical views of race, ethnicity, nationality, and religion and a pathological need to feel superior to other groups of people. Their worst nightmare was the country almost replacing the first black president with the first female president.



Trumpists feels as though the country “broke up” with them during the Obama era. They felt, and still feel, alienated by the left’s identity politics (“political correctness”), disparaged by the left’s opposition to traditional values (anti-gay rights, anti-abortion, anti-feminism, and religious faith), and weirdly threatened by the left’s view of government as an institution designed to solve problems that capitalism either creates or fails to solve.

All of this, plus the anger and hurt of feeling dumped, explains why Trumpists love Trump: he shares their bitterness and resentment. As long as he keeps giving all those self-righteous, contemptuous “elitists” the finger, a gesture that started with his birtherism, it doesn’t matter what else he says or does, how many lies he tells, how many mistakes he makes, or how many detrimental policies he advocates or enacts. All that matters is that he keep disrupting and subverting the arrogant, oppressive establishment—or “deconstruct[ing] the administrative state,” as Trump’s white nationalist advisor Steve Bannon put it.

Trumpists’ politics are ultimately rooted in raw emotion, not principles or thoughtful ideology. Much credit goes to such macho, anti-intellectual, grievance-stoking propagandists as Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and—until his recent termination by Fox News—Bill O’Reilly. Female commentators like Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter and Sarah Palin have also won their hearts (not minds) by routinely bashing the whiny, controlling, effeminate liberals.

It is not clear whether Democrats can win over these narrow-minded, cultish voters in 2018. They are just not amenable to rational debate about the merits of Obama-era regulations or the dangers of autocratic populism. So Frank Rich is right: Democrats should leave them alone. They should stop feigning empathy or trying to shape their policies around Trumpists’ bigoted worldview. It is a complete waste of candidates’ valuable time and resources.

Yes, Democrats should still advocate progressive policies in all 50 states. But they should also keep in mind that these efforts don’t satisfy Trumpists, don’t alleviate their self-inflicted wounds or quench their thirst for retribution, nearly as effectively as childish insults and petty name-calling. Because Trump will always beat his competitors at these primal diversions, Democrats should concentrate entirely on uniting and motivating the other 65 percent who are already in their camp. That’s more than enough to win most state and federal elections.

One thing is certain: given recent events, Republicans don’t get to yell and scream about national security—or emails, private servers, or Benghazi—ever again. Nor do they get to yell and scream about pretty much anything else. Their ignorant, narcissistic, unprincipled, and unpatriotic standard-bearer has cost them whatever moral high ground they pretended to have for at least a generation.”


So, we really cannot expect to engage the Trumpies in debate, because they seem uninterested in facts, and prefer screaming or middle-fingering to debate.

And what about the republican politicians, the Paul Ryan’s and Mitch McConnell’s of this world?  Since they seem to have no ethical or moral dimension, it will be difficult to debate with them either. They can only be defeated at the polls. They will try to rig the elections by gerrymandering if they can. It’s what they do, given their absence of an ethical dimension. So, we must watch, we must challenge in the courts, and we must, above all else, VOTE.  It is how democracies actually remain democracies. Trump is the alternative.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Wariness is Good


We all know about Fox News, the original Fake News Channel, so fake it is now known widely as the Faux News Channel. Lying, or inventing untrue stories are the hallmark of Fox and its retinue of actors pretending to be journalists.  But in thinking about Brexit in the UK, The US election and the recent French election in which the far right lePen was defeated by a moderate Macron, I am tempted to ask about connections. The similarities were just too striking.  What are the similarities you might ask?

1.      Russia played a role in at least the American and French elections, with the role being to hack and distribute e-mails theoretically damaging to the campaign of a moderate/left wing candidate, Macron, and Clinton. The release of the e-mails, some real and many fake, were intended to embarrass or portray the candidates as flawed, even criminal.  We are uncertain about the British election, simply because nothing has been released about a possible Russian influence, although it seems clear that Vlad the Impaler would certainly have wanted Brexit to occur. He is interested in the destruction of a unified Europe, so Brexit would suit his purposes nicely.

2.       Lying. In each case, the right wing has engaged in such flagrant lying, and inventing tales of horror about the opposition that many potential voters were eventually worn down and they either switched their votes from the left to the right, or they simply did not vote.  Many of course would argue that the Left is as guilty as the right of invention. But in most cases, it seems not to be true.  Whatever hyperbole existed on the left, they largely refrained from making up stuff about the opposition that was pure fabrication.  Now, the lying worked in two directions. First, they invent lies about the opposition--the left candidate/position—or they invent lies about the right wing candidate’s positions on issues, or accomplishments, such that the lies played into the mindset of the voters. In all cases, the voters were worried, even frantic with worry about the economy and its effects on their personal economic well-being. So, the right wing cast the economy is being in the toilet, blamed Obama and Hillary, or Macron in France, and also then blamed immigrants for trashing the economy.

3.       That “vast right wing conspiracy” brought to our attention early on by Hillary and then described in many other publications, including a book by Paul Krugman, The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century. W. W. Norton & Company. . . . In his book, Krugman used the phrase ("Yes, Virginia, there is a vast right-wing conspiracy"[19]) to refer not to a conservative Republican-leaning campaign against Clinton (or Obama), but more generally to "an interlocking set of institutions ultimately answering to a small group of people that collectively reward loyalists and punish dissenters" in the service of "movement conservatism." The network of institutions provide obedient politicians with the resources to win elections, safe havens in the event of defeat, and lucrative career opportunities after they leave office. They guarantee favorable news coverage to politicians who follow the party line, while harassing and undermining opponents. And they support a large standing army of party intellectuals and activists. In Krugman's view, the network of foundations that fund conservative scholarship, the national and regional think tanks and advocacy groups, talk radio media outlets, and conservative law firms through which they pushed their agenda to move the Republican Party to the right, far surpass in funding, size, inter-connectedness or influence anything the democratic party or the American liberal movement have at their disposal. Steve Bannon and his Breitbart “News” may take much of the public’s attention, but they are but the tiny tip of an iceberg of such right wing “think tanks” and pseudo-research institutions.

4.       Even the menu of “things to worry about” if you are a prospective voter is the same, whether you live in France, Britain or Kentucky.  First and foremost, of course, is those nasty immigrants, taking all your jobs, creating Muslim Caliphates in your neighborhood, and threatening to blow up your most sacred institutions.  So, close all the doors, lock up the Muslims in your neighborhood and throw away the keys.  Your world should include only good white Christians born within your borders to families born within your borders.

5.       Government is not the solution, government is the problem, to paraphrase St. Ronald of Reagan. Remember Ronnie? Yeah, he was so cute. He actually believed in that infamous “Laffer Curve”, under which the republican proponents argued that reducing tax rates would always increase tax revenues. Instead, Reagan’s budgets produced the largest deficits in the nation’s history. Republicans who now try to push the issue in the real world might be characterized as “Charge and Spend” proponents, as distinct from their democratic colleagues whom they characterize as “Tax and Spend” Dems.

So, with all these similarities we need to be perhaps more aware that whenever right wing politicians get on one of their hobby horses, we are likely to be enroute to yet another dumpster load of trash talk that will result in even more authoritarian control over our every movement. 

I am not sure whether the United States is unique in regard to right wing takeovers of religion, education and health care. In this country, the republicans, now in charge of everything, seem headed for the elimination of public education, public health care (meaning publically funded and managed) and the imposition of organized (Christian) religion into our everyday affairs.  Thus, education will be privatized, Medicaid, and, if they can manage it, Medicare, will be privatized, Social Security will be turned over to Goldman Sachs, and Christian institutions will be permitted to discriminate against any and all members of the non-church-going public, whenever they feel like it.

Now, if you remain vigilant and call your Congresspersons on issues of importance, you might at least make them aware of the consequences of imposing authoritarian rule. So, stay awake, stop watching Fox News, and do plan to vote in the next election, assuming there are any.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The End of Communications


I am wondering whether most folks have the same kinds of experiences with “communications” as we are.

1.       I am fairly certain we are not unique regarding postal mail. We now receive a few bills, the odd renewal notice, maybe a magazine, and quite a few commercial pieces. Oh, and lest I forget, we are among the few left on the planet who receive actual Netflix DVDs in the mail.  I know, I know, but we are old, so just chill. Note the complete absence of personal mail.  I am not sure when personal mail stopped, but it has now become a thing of comment. “You received an actual personal letter . . . in the mail? Wow” But that is rare, even for us.

2.       Now, on to the telephone. Remember the telephone?  When I was little, we actually had a “party line” . . . remember those? Yeah, 4-5 other people, not resident in your home, also occupied your telephone line. So, if you picked up the phone to make a call, someone else might be chatting away, and you were expected to hang up . . . after listening discreetly for interesting tidbits of course. Then gradually we enjoyed a private line, all to ourselves.  But folks actually talked to one another on the telephone, especially folks who might not reside in your town—relatives or friends.  I imagine that we would make or receive a dozen or so calls each day.  If you wanted to communicate with someone and it was more urgent than a 2-3 day postal service, you used the telephone. Now, oddly, we still have a telephone, several actually. But now, we virtually never receive an actual personal telephone call.  I am guessing that we receive maybe 1 or 2 personal calls per month on our “landline” service.  That’s generally from people who are as old as we are and don’t understand that we have cellular phones.  Oh, we still get a few calls every day, perhaps 5 or 6. But they are always from someone who wants money from us. So, our landline telephone has virtually ceased being a useful communications device.

3.      Then there is that cellular thingie. Everyone has at least one cell (now known as “smart”) phone.  And they were really hot stuff when they first came out.  I originally had what was called a “bag-phone”.  Remember them? They came out in the 1980s sometime, and you could actually take it in your car, so as to be totally distracted by an in-motion phone call.

Gradually, the bag phone gave way to just a cellular phone, which then proceeded to shrink in size (aren’t we clever?) as the engineers discovered how to miniaturize the electronics.  And we then used these devices to communicate with one another.  For a while, these cell phones battled with landline phones for primacy. The cell phones were used “on the road”, that is, when we were away from our landlines.  Then little by little, the cell phone became the main telephone. But throughout this phase, real people still largely communicated by one or the other of these communications devices.

4.       Then, also during the mid 1980s, that personal computer came on the market. I still remember my first in 1985—an IBM PCXT with a 10 megabyte hard drive. Wow, what ever would you do with that amount of storage? And a firm called Compuserve offered a communications service – CIS-- that allowed chat forums and a form of e-mail.  Slowly, but surely, that e-mail approach, using PCs, began to dominate our communications. We still used telephones, both landlines and cell phones, but it seemed clear that this e-mail type of communication would begin to dominate.  Slowly, most folks began acquiring PCs and began using some form of e-mail for personal communication.  And the telephone became last year’s device, which is a phone in which you actually spoke with a real person using this device known as a phone.  People communicated by e-mail.  Now, we still receive personal calls on our cell phones. But out of perhaps 10 calls per day, maybe 3-4 are personal, i.e., calls from a colleague, friend or relative. The remaining are now from people who want to sell you something, or want you to give them money. These latter have become so frequent that I have now stopped answering any call on either our landline or our cell phone unless the call is identified by a person’s name and that name is known to us. Otherwise, we let the call go until it stops. And it almost always stops short of our voicemail service.  This has become so frequent and so annoying that I now check each call with a “reverse lookup” service. I type in the number and the service tells me whether it is a real person’s phone, or it is a “scam” or marketing caller. When I discover that is what it is, I then use an app in my phone to block all calls from that number. I now have perhaps 75 blocked numbers on my phone.  And that e-mail replacement system? Well, I still receive between 75 and 100 e-mails per day. But I think I receive 1 or 2 personal e-mails per week, that is, e-mails from real people I know as friends or relatives.  All of the rest of my e-mails are either news outlets (the New York Times, or the Manchester Guardian, for example) or commercial messages.  So, however useful is e-mail, it no longer serves as a personal communications system among friends and family.

5.       So, as my telephone and my e-mail slowly fade away as communications devices, and they are fading away, what is taking their place? Well, apparently social media is replacing the phone and e-mail.  Now, the phone may still be used for that purpose because cell phones are now just tiny personal computers, but it is no longer an actual person-to-person communication. Oh, I should note that a thing called “texting”, or “messaging” is one of those media, but texting is not a broadcast medium, but rather a personal communications approach.  To Text, or Message, one types a message into a keyboard on the “smart phone” and sends that message to one or more real people.  It’s a sort of personal teletype system. I guess texting is still personal, but no voices are involved.  Still, it’s faster than the US postal Service can manage.

6.       But other forms of “communication” are also operating, Facebook, SnapChat, Linkdin, and a dozen or so other similar group forums allow one to send messages to our “friends”, i.e., people we know who are listed as ok to receive our messages.  But these forums are increasingly confused by both commercial messages, and by newsie messages—indeed social media is now one of the dominant forums by which people receive actual (and also fake) news.  And as more people use these social media systems, fewer people use the telephone for either actual voice calls, or even texting/messaging.  So, even though our list of “friends” has grown substantially, the number of actual in-person communications has shrunk dramatically. I note also that these various social media systems are also self-segregating by age I think. Our kids still sometimes use Facebook for example, but our grandkids rarely. They use other forums.

7.       So, I now find myself wondering how/whether we will continue to communicate with one another. Maybe personal communication is a thing of a past generation. We may remember fondly those days when we used to actually talk with one another, but it may pass from memory, as the use of actual letters has passed.

8.       So what comes next? If we stop talking with one another, will conflict cease, or is it likely to increase?  I think perhaps the latter. I see our nation and perhaps all nations, as slowly fracturing along lines created by big business, big money, and big religion. I see racism increasing, rather than disappearing. I see groups now beginning to act with violence toward other groups. And, without actual communication among and between the groups and the individuals, I see no way to reduce the disparities.

9.       Maybe we need to move away from corporate sponsored communications and return somehow to personal systems. And if you figure out how to do that, you may well replace Apple, et al as the future owners of the universe.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Losing It


Lately, I have been seeing a variety of vaguely catastrophic titles or subjects popping up in books, articles, and Facebook.  Chomsky’s latest book, Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power” is but one example. In an interview with EcoWatch, Chomsky noted that “On Nov. 8, the most powerful country in world history, which will set its stamp on what comes next, had an election. The outcome placed total control of the government—executive, Congress, the Supreme Court—in the hands of the Republican Party, which has become the most dangerous organization in world history.”

Hyperbole? Maybe, but if we simply look at the list of plans and executive orders being issued almost daily by Trump, none of which are challenged by his GOP Congressional cheerleaders, the assessment begins to look reasonable . . . awful but reasonable.  His latest assault on sensibility is his executive order directing his Federal staff to examine the country’s National Monuments, to see whether and how they might be, in his words, returned to the people.  My interpretation suggested the picture below:


Yes, yes, I know, it is silly to consider a Trump Tower being built atop one of the grand structures of that grand canyon, but is it really silly?  We have now become inured to stupid ideas flowing from his mouth or twitter feed. So many stupidities, so little time.

And his behavior would have provoked shrieks of outrage, had it been Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama. Can you imagine the outrage that would have occurred among the GOP Illuminati had Obama appointed his wife, or an uncle, or even one of his kids to a top secret job in the White House.  What if Hillary were President, and she appointed Chelsea to oversee the reorganization of the entire Federal government?  Can you imagine Paul Ryan, or the billygoat Mitch McConnell?

And then we have the media silos, beginning with Fox, and others of that ilk. O’Reilly would be having such fun were all this happening under President Hillary Clinton. Even his multiple sexual predations would have been ignored by the Murdochians had they Hillary in their sights.

And that leads me to consider what is happening here in the formerly great America, now just a collection of silos, filled with angry people.

I think back to the 1940s, when I was a little kid, growing up in Brooklyn and Manhattan. We were a nation of immigrants. My grandfolks on one side came over in the 1890s from Scotland. From the other side, they hailed from Austria and Germany. Italians, Irish, Jews from many countries fleeing to escape poverty or the Third Reich.  They landed on Ellis Island and then scattered, some fled south into the Appalachians, some to Brooklyn, or Manhattan. Little Italy, Yorkville where East European and German immigrants lived. They arrived, scattered and then fled into enclaves in New York and in many other places in this vast country.  Initially, they stayed in their ethnic groups, speaking their original languages, but slowly their ethnic groups began dispersing, and gradually English became the language of choice.

Some were Catholic, some Protestant, some nothing or something else.  Then they just disappeared and became Americans.

Then came the War, the second war to end all wars (since WW I failed miserably at that grand idea). And some folks joined up or were drafted and went off to fight Hitler and Mussolini, or to fight in the Pacific. My mom and my teenage sister joined all the others who went to work to support their sons and daughters who had gone to fight.  There was something approximating a unity of purpose. Even people who disagreed politically, or spiritually, came together to support this grand effort.

This same spirit prevailed in the 1950s. We went to war in Korea, and it was the Nation that went to war.

Then we rested for a while, not long but a while. Few noticed but Ike, the man who oversaw the powerful forces that finally won the second Great War was now President.  The hot war had been replaced by the Cold War. And both the Soviets and the Chinese were moving to establish their regions of control.   Left and right wings within the country became captured by movements, such as “McCarthyism” during the 1950s, when Communists were seen behind every bush in America.  Pointing fingers and yelling labels at folks became commonplace, a substitute for intellectual thought. McCarthy was among the worst, but was far from being alone in these pursuits of inanity.

Enter that formerly unknown place called Vietnam. Vietnam became one of those contested regions. Initially, Ike remained outside, decrying even the possibility of committing troops to Vietnam, in which the French were busily trying to reestablish their days of Empire there. But he relented and committed support, but not troops. Then in 1954, the French army was beaten (as usual) and left their former colony in defeat. Only then did Ike decide that, well maybe we could support Ngo Dinh Diem in the South, so as to prevent the North, supported by China, from overtaking the whole country. So, there we were . . . on course for a new war. Enter LBJ and the invented tale of an attack on our warship and we were off to the races.

Now, here, for the first time perhaps since the Civil War, the US began to separate. It was not a regional thing as had been the case during the 1860s. Partly, it was young v. old. Many young people objected viscerally to a war in Vietnam. Partly, students and others of draft age simply did not wish to get drafted to fight in a war for which they had no stomach. See, they did not believe a hot war in Vietnam was the way out of the Cold War with Russia and China. Protests sprang up all around the country, and the great divide began. People suddenly became “lefties” or right wing fascists, or pinkos, or, later Libtards.  Protest movements against the war began and became a serious divide all around this nation.  In part, Nixon and the GOP won the election in 1968 because of the war, and because Nixon had a “plan” to end the war.  Turned out his “plan” to end the war included expansion of the bombing, including bombing Cambodia, a formerly neutral country.  And the war dragged on, until even Nixon gave up and we finally left in disgrace in 1973.

That war left scars and a divided nation.

The divide began to differentiate. It was no longer anti-war and pro-war. Rather it became anti-war and anti-antiwar.  The people began to point fingers at one another, instead of at politicians.   Enter Ronald Reagan.  Reagan’s rhetoric, perhaps because of his training as a mediocre actor of some note, was fairly inflammatory.  While running to run the government, Reagan declared that government was not the solution but the problem.  He ran against Jimmy Carter, and ran behind the scenes to “resolve” the Iranian hostage crisis—remember Iran and the takeover of the American Embassy, when the grand Ayatollah overthrew the Shah (our former buddy)?  So, while Jimmy was trying to resolve that mess and at least get our people returned, Ronnie was negotiating behind his back with the Iranians. So, Ronnie won the election, and voila, the hostages came home, in exchange for a large arms deal.

Then Ronnie began his new GOP approach to government, which solidified his base of folks who love talking tough and dropping bombs.  The Democrats were a shattered bunch, as Ronnie charmed the Nation, while invading Grenada, so as to rescue some medical students from the awful regime there.  His supporters loved the toughness.

It may be that the Reagan administration really began the final process of dividing America into multiple camps of people, who didn’t simply disagree with one another, but who seemed viscerally to despise the other side.  But it was really after Ronnie left the scene to the Clinton’s that the separation began to become hardened. Enter Fox News.

In the old days, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, our news came to us via things called newspapers, then the radio. I still remember the radio, from my earliest kid days, when Fiorella LaGuardia read the Sunday funnies (1945), and FDR broadcast his chats with the American people. But that was when we were still one people.  Walter Cronkite and the Huntley-Brinkley news hours competed with one another for accuracy and timely reporting of actual facts.

Slowly, but surely, in order to gain audience, first radio stations and then television stations began to cater to particular audiences. Then during Clinton’s terms in office, Murdoch and company began Fox News, and serious catering (some might say slanting) began.  Surely, Murdoch, a very rich man who made his money in Australia, England and then here in the US, was a man of the rightest of the right wing folks.  He tuned his audiences to his message.

Murdoch entered the “news” scene at the same time as people in the US were beginning to acquire and use computers in business and at home.  Murdoch tailored his messages to the right wing folks among us, with one result being that that message was treated by his growing following as Truth. Many, perhaps most people assumed that if they saw/heard something on a TV or radio news outlet, it must be true—that they were not allowed to broadcast things that were not true.

Slowly, the silos began to acquire hard walls, as folks separated themselves by their choice of news outlets.

Enter George Bush and his wrecking crew. George and his colleagues were a singularly hard-nosed group, apparently prepared to act at any and all opportunities.  Enter Osama and his gang of thugs. 9/11, numbers that will forever live in infamy.  Where were you when that first plane hit the World Trade Center? You know, I’m almost certain of it.   That attack galvanized the American people like nothing since the Pearl Harbor attack.  The silos crumbled as Americans united again against a common foe . . . but who was the foe again? Osama Bin Laden? Who the hell is he? Oh, he’s a Saudi Arabian who managed to escape the wrath of his king and took up residence in that forlorn place called Afghanistan—best known by that book, The Places In Between.

So, George and his buddies took up arms against, not Saudi Arabia, but Afghanistan, and our people cheered.  But many nations had taken this course to their regret. The Brits had been there during their Great British Empire days in India, and tried and failed during the mid-19th century.  Then the Soviets tried to move in and finally retreated, after we armed the opposition. George’s invasion was perhaps inevitable, if ultimately pointless.

George, unsatisfied with his successes (and failures?) in Afghanistan decided to rally the troops (and the public) behind yet another war. At that stage, war was the way to rally the public.  So Georgie launched his own war against Sadaam Hussein in Iraq, yeah the same Sadaam that George’s cabinet guys had been friends with in earlier and simpler times.  Now, the official dissembling began in earnest, with Bush and company lying through their teeth to justify a war in Iraq that eventually created chaos throughout the whole of the Middle East.  That war continues to this day, as does the disaster in Afghanistan.

Now, Americans do seem to love a good war, and will cheer on our troops whenever presented with a good opportunity.  But the Middle East is not now, nor has it ever been such an opportunity.  It is instead a place of barely controlled chaos at the best of times.

So, the silos re-emerged, with folks on different sides of the debates about the Middle East. With Fox News in charge of one side, the silos hardened even more.

Enter Facebook.

Well, to be fair, enter Facebook, then the myriad of other social networks that came into existence to make money by catering to audiences young and old as places to “chat” publically.

You could decide who would be your “friends” on these social information networks.  Curiously, our definition of “friends” began to shift, as we discovered what our friends actually believed, or were willing to support.  So, we began filtering our friends.  Happily, one can filter out one’s “friends” without offending any of the people we know. So, we built our own silos and hardened the walls. In this grand adventure, we were able to gain support via the “news” outlets to which we tuned.  Increasingly folks tuned to Fox, or to one of the remaining network news outlets for their news, with Fox on one side, and all the others on the other.

Now we could define our friends by which news pundits we admired and tuned in.  And so, little by little our nation began to separate into little bias groups. And so we now define ourselves. It is not a stretch to say that many folks actually hate the others, i.e., those folks who see the world differently than we do.

And as we all now have to come to grips with this apparent narcissistic moron whom the Nation “elected” to its highest office, our silos remain intact, filtering our thoughts daily, and hardening our views of the world and, mainly each other.

Since our politicians seem intent on gaining/maintaining power without regard to the effects of their decisions and actions on the body politic, our silos thicken.  So, who will see the light? Who will examine what God hath not wrought and say, “this shall not stand”. Who will say, “ we can, we must come together once again, or we are finished as a nation”.

Anyone?