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?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Humor and Trump


I just read an article in The Atlantic (How Late-Night Comedy Fueled the Rise of Trump) about how our favorite comedians—Trevor Noah, Samantha Bee, John Oliver and Stephen Colbert-- are possibly fueling the support for the Trump. The author, Caitlan Flanagan, points out, in particular, some of the episodes wherein the comedian includes interviews with Trump supporters and proceeds to make them look like fools, even one where Samantha Bee interviewed a young boy who did not realize that she would be making him look foolish—cruel it seems. Although making a very young boy look foolish is perhaps cruel, I have wondered often how and why the folks who allow themselves to look foolish on these comedy shows, do in fact signal a yes to being interviewed. Could it be that they do not know or understand who Samantha Bee, et al, are and what is their intent for such an interview? Are they perhaps so arrogant themselves that they believe they can outwit Samantha and make her look doltish?

The author has no particular recommendations, except maybe, stop doing what you are doing, because you may be inadvertently strengthening his hand.  Or perhaps, stop what you are doing because you have in fact simply become cruel. There may indeed be no further point to such interviews, since we all, on the right and on the left “know” each other so well that further evidence is no longer necessary.  I do wonder whether the author’s next article will be one in which she examines Fox News, or Alex Jones to discover whether they too are being cruel and fueling the “Resistance” building against the Trump monarchy.  But maybe not.  For apparently it is only the lefty intellectuals who are doing the devil’s work here in this poor benighted land of ours.

And I began thinking, maybe we need to begin thinking about our end as a great republic.  Because, we may now be witnessing the beginning of the end for America.  And our highly vaunted communications systems, including especially television, is bringing us to that end stage a little sooner than we might have wished. Perhaps the end will come when Trump supporters, all of whom are heavily armed, begin showing up at his rallies and shooting people, and then those anti-Trump folks—The Resistance—begin arming themselves and shooting back, leading to the last great Civil War in America, the one that brings down the Republic entirely.  Meanwhile, the Nation’s police forces, and the Nation’s armed forces sit on the sideline and watch it all happen, while President Trump sits in his palace at MaraLago, writing and sending inane Tweets about the glories of Americans fighting to support his honor.

Or perhaps we no longer have room in our society for humor of the political stripe. Maybe we need to return to Archie Bunker style humor, where we were allowed to make rednecks look foolish, or Jack Benny, where we made everyone seem foolish.  Maybe the lower middle classes no longer permit humor into their lives, which have been destroyed by the bankers and industrialists of the world, but who believe their lives have been destroyed by the globalist intellectuals of the land.

Trump, Marine LaPen, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage all play from similar playbooks, although most are not as psychiatrically unhinged as our President.  But that matters not at all apparently, since his troops do not care whether he is an unhinged malenfant.  But their playbook is globalism generally is terrible for you my supporters. The current systems whereby we allow relatively free trade among global economies, and allow unrestricted migration of the world’s desperates is the problem, and I will fix that problem.  That their playbook also includes telling repeated large lies to their adoring public is a matter of record, but again, seems not to matter to the supporters.  Farage repeatedly insisted that the treasured NHS would recover hundreds of millions of pounds back after a successful Brexit, and then said, “Oh, no we really didn’t mean that” seems not to have affected those pro-Brexit voters.  Similarly, Trump’s continual lies and deceptions (see Trump University, see the Trump fake health plan) when revealed, again have no effect on his supporters’ belief in his Presidency.

That he continues doing and saying monumentally stupid things, because he is entirely ignorant of the world around him, is, I assume, irrelevant.  So, what should we the Lefties of the world, do in response? Are we supposed to simply sit back and await World War IV, where we all disappear in a cloud of radioactive dust? And should we, prior to that eventuality, adopt a politically sensitive (politically correct is no longer acceptable apparently) attitude towards his wonderful, America Great supporters? Are we allowed, incidentally, to complain when his supporters eventually kill someone trying to protest one of his stupidities? Or must we now say, “oh, well that person should have known better than to protest at  or about a Trump affair”. And then we will be at peace within our formerly great nation.

Oh, and do get rid of those snarky comedians. Let us all get our humor directly from The Donald, and his support troops.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Waiting for the Drumpf to Act Beyond . . .


Maybe it’s just me. I am of a seriously advanced age, don’t you know. That age, beyond which few of my ancestors ventured.  So, maybe too many things now scare me, seeing as how I seem to be facing my own mortality on a daily basis.

But really, would you trust Donald Trump with the nuclear codes, or even with the decision authority to drop a bomb on Afghanistan. Yeah, that big motherf#*#er he dropped the other day. Well, technically he didn’t drop it. Some air force general told some pilot to fly over a specific spot and let loose with that hell.  But the Drumpf? Well, he doubtless told the general to do it.

I guess Trump was getting tired of being criticized all the time about his Russian mafia connections, so he decided to drop some really big bomb on a target someplace—so many targets, so little time.

But see, that’s where I have serious problems with this idea that we gave this idiot the authority to do something like that.  We know he suffers from narcissistic personality disorder as well as sociopathic personality disorder. I’m also pretty sure he suffers from advanced, untreated ADHD, which I connect to the seeming fact that he does not appear able to read, or write (beyond 140 characters).

So, those three things seem to me to be disabling conditions. He is like a really whiny 6-year old with the conditions described above. He doubtless is always on the verge of doing or saying something stupid and even dangerous. Now, were he still 6, you wouldn’t give him a gun and tell him to go play on Second Avenue would you? Yet, we give him nuclear weapons and entire armies of guys and gals who know how to point and shoot real weapons.

See, mainly, I wouldn’t give him the authority to carry out the garbage, because of the likelihood that he would somehow screw it up, and dump the garbage all over the floor, or maybe the street.

I keep thinking. Suppose Theresa May, or maybe Boris Johnson says something snarky about him, like, “oh, yeah, but Trump is not a real conservative. What the hell were the Americans thinking when they put him in charge?” Now, he reads that, or worse, listens to it in a commentary on the Faux News Network. And then he begins whining. “Oh, yeah, well I am too. So, how would you like one of our 12,000 pound bombs dropped right on top of your fancy-schmanzy Parliament building? Hey, General . . .  go drop one on them.” Who would stand up to him and say, “well no, Mister President, that would be illegal. We cannot drop a bomb on our British allies without cause.” Who is there around him who might dare to tell him No?

So, aren’t we just biding our time until he manages to do something so catastrophically awful that one of his kids tells him to knock it off and come back to The Empire?  Ivanka . . . are you prepared for this?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Jackie


Last evening, we watched a film called Jackie. As you might guess, it tells the story of Jackie Kennedy, after the assassination of JFK. The film is wonderful and awful at the same time. We were both painfully aware in November 1963 of what transpired that fateful day in Dallas.

Carol was sitting in our apartment on Nob Hill in San Francisco that morning. We lived right behind Grace Cathedral. Suddenly, the bells at the cathedral began chanting their sad tale, and carol had no idea why they were pronouncing their message to the world of San Francisco. We had no television, only radio. We had given up TV in 1959, hoping our kids would grow up without the banality of TV entertainment. So, Carol tuned into our local FM radio station to learn about the intoning bells. She sat in shock, while listening to the sad tale.

I had just flown into Boston that morning from San Francisco. I had rented a car at the airport and I was driving to our home office HQ in Cambridge. As I neared the office, the news came on the air. JFK had been shot while in a motorcade in Dallas. JFK was dead. JFK was dead. JFK was dead

I sat in the car, in the driveway of our office, in shock. I could not move.  I didn’t know what to do, or say to anyone.  Finally, I left the car and entered our office. Inside, it was quiet, except that a radio had been on. Everyone in the office sat there silent.  We had all been supporters of the Kennedy’s.  We had lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis early in his term.  I was still working at Lockheed Missiles and Space Company, as an engineer working on the Polaris, submarine launched missile system. We would retreat after work, and drink martini’s, while discussing where we would go, should the missiles begin flying to and from Russia and/or Cuba. Should we drive to the ocean, away from the city, or instead, maybe it might be safer to drive to the Sierra’s . . . yeah, the mountains. They would be safer.

So, we were tuned into the world, and to the Kennedy’s.  Jackie was like princess.  They brought us . . . Camelot.

And now he was gone, gone because yet another idiot had a gun and decided he needed to kill JFK. Why? Just cuz he could.

When I flew home, I experienced fear of flying for the first time. Why? Because I was a mere mortal. Death was at hand and who knew when/how Death might appear.

Yes, the film brought all that story back into our heads. They recreated a tale of horror from our own past.

Yes, the film was worth watching. Yes we were again saddened, revisiting another episode in our very full lives together.

We have witnessed  a lot of man’s inhumanity to man.

World War II . . . Korean War . . . the JFK assassination, Vietnam, and now the Middle Eastern never ending horror story. Apparently, the main thing mankind has learned from its many gods is, when in doubt throw some bullets at it.

And now we have The Donald to teach us anew.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Stupid as a Generator


With the latest action by the President Stupidhead Administration, visitors to the United States now may be required to turn over their phones to immigration officials and to provide their passwords. One assumes this requirement includes items like Tablet and laptop computers.  So, now visitors (and not only Muslims it is noted) are required to stand by while an ICE official roams through their previously private information in search of . . . hmmm . . . in search of what again? Well, never mind, Trump or President Stupidhead as he known to those closest to him, was never big on logic. He just does stuff cuz . . .

So, I’m thinking, were I a visitor from, say, London, flying into Washington or New York, assuming I could not just change my mind and stay home, or fly to Canada instead, I might be tempted to leave my smartie phone at home, along with my other tekkie gadgetry. I might buy a cheapo dumb phone and bring that with me . . . you know, the ones with no passwords and nothing to find . . . just a phone don’t you know.

And now I’m thinking. Wow, here’s a case wherein a truly stupid decision by that Fountain of Stupid Ideas might trigger a whole new tekkie trend . . . Uber Rent-a-Phone. Yeah, that’s it. Here’s the deal. You arrive at your departure airport and check in. Then you go to the Uber Rent-a-Phone desk where they have waiting for you a brand new Samsung S8 Plus Smartie Phone, or an Apple I-Phone 8 Plus. And it already has on it all the gadgetry you requested in your reservations.  Plus, if need be, you can also pick up your Samsung Tablet which you can use to carry out your business in New York, or wherever. Now there is no data on the devices, so when ICE requests your password, you can say, well, there is no password . . . you just turn it on and there it is.  And they can look to their heart’s content, but they will find nothing, because there is nothing to find.

And then you leave the airport and head into town. Once there, you first go to the nearest Uber Rent-a-Phone store, where they will restore all your data from its Cloud storage and your phone and Tablet are ready to use.

On the way out of town, as you head home, you will stop by that Uber Rent-a-Phone store again and they make all your data vanish back into the Cloud.  They will, of course, provide you with a dumb phone for your trip home, just in case someone wants to call you.

Once home, you will retrieve your Smartie phone and it’s business as usual.

Think of this as a business model.  Uber Rent-a-Phone will make a lot of money, which you get to write off as a business expense, so everyone is happy.

And I keep imagining that more terminally stupid decisions will continue to be made by President Stupidhead and his equally stupid cabinet BFFs. As each decision is made, a new business model will be born. Think of Stupidity as a generator of new technologic solutions.  So, I realize that this is a weird and twisted way of looking at our president, but I’m trying here to be positive. As he makes more decisions to kill jobs and destroy education, the climate, health care, etc., perhaps new solutions will be generated by our more creative business entrepreneurs to cope and to make money.

So think of the White House as the new Fountain of Stupidity, with each stupid idea being a candidate for a whole new business.