GOP: the abandoned party

web106The Republican Party is the shame of the Western world.  Not only have they nominated Donald Trump to be their candidate for President, but they have jettisoned any claim they had to the mantle of fiscal conservatism.

America is somewhere in the neighborhood of $15 trillion in debt.  That’s $43,000 per man, woman, and child in the United States.  We can’t simply grow our way out of such a hole.  There has to be a coherent idea promulgated by a respected political party that will champion a program to help us recover from this nightmare.  The nightmare, of course, is the likelihood that at some point in the future, one of America’s bondholders (such as China) will be pinched for cash, necessitating a call on some of the money we’ve been using to prop up our drunken spree.  When this happens, we will have to quickly come up with the money — which will be politically impossible.  If we do, we’ll be broke, and that won’t bode well for the world economy.  If we don’t, we’ll have the same result.

Only an insane person or a fool would believe that we can continue like this indefinitely.  But the GOP, once the standard-bearer of fiscal rectitude, has, over the years, abandoned any pretense to this lofty crown.  Indeed, post-1945 governance reveals the Democrats to be better stewards of the economy than the Republicans.  Compare the spending and taxing habits of Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushes to the Democrats who preceded them: you’ll find that the only resemblance they have to a Yankee tightwad is purely rhetorical.  Now, it is nobody’s battle.  America, once again, has been side-tracked by nonsense.  And this year, we’re borrowing many billions every month just to keep what we have, such as the big military machine that never knows peace.  We dance to any tune that drowns out the cacophonous noise of reality.  Wait until we have to pay the piper.

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Trumped

Normally, I think Republicans are less honest and less intelligent than Democrats. I know; that’s wrong and prejudicial. Nobody has a monopoly on truth-telling and intelligence.

Ah, but then comes 2016. Trump vs. Clinton.

I say it now, fully cognizant of what I say: If you vote for Trump, you are an idiot. You have either a brain tumor or have been raised poorly by parents who didn’t know how to use birth control.

That’s all.

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Humor has certainly changed.

Imagine listening to this 100 year old humor record, for which someone in 1916 paid the equivalent of $30 in today’s money, and finding it funny.

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Raise taxes on the rich?

taxesThis meme has been making the rounds, in various forms, online.  It’s almost credible.

Yes, taxes were so high in the ’50s and ’60s that many reasonable people thought them to be confiscatory.  Yes, America built the interstate highway system — but used eminent domain to do so.  Would you be crowing about this accomplishment if it was your farm that became a freeway?  If it was your neighborhood that became an afterthought to an on-ramp?  If it was your ancestral home for which you were paid pennies on the dollar by an all-powerful government?

Yes, we built the internet.  The original intent was to link the military with certain universities, to keep a multiply-redundant and macho form of civilization going in the event of thermonuclear war.  That was DARPA.  A lower taxed society actually developed the internet as we know it.  For all intents and purposes, the internet came about in 1993, with the invention of the first graphical web browser.  We’re just lucky we never needed to use the DARPA version.

Yes, we sent men to the Moon.  That was another military mission.  A military that had more money than it knew what to do with.  We did it because it was our way of poking the USSR in the eye: “Ha! You sent Yuri Gagarin up into the stratosphere, but we sent men to the Moon!”  Remember, the Moon voyages stopped because average Americans saw no utility in them.  The military had all its spy satellites deployed by then anyway, so they let it drop.

No, we did not defeat Communism.  Communism was an unsustainable economic system that was self-defeating.  We did not defeat authoritarianism, which is rising again in Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and Kosovo.  It was the authoritarianism that we wanted to defeat.  Nobody would have had a problem with the Soviet Union if the people freely and regularly chose socialism in fair elections.

(One might make a plausible case for Gerald Ford having had a stronger impact on defeating Communism than anyone else, by the way.  When he signed the Helsinki Accords in 1975, he was excoriated by the right for having given away the store.  In fact, all we did was to grant legal and permanent status to the boundaries of post-war Europe, something the Soviet Union dearly wanted.  We got something much more valuable, though: a Soviet signature on a document that specifically mentioned human rights.  Two years later, a Czechoslovak group called Charter ’77 began using the definitions given in the Helsinki Accords to agitate for political freedom.  According to the accords, the Husak regime could no longer simply imprison dissidents; amazingly, the satellite countries stuck to their side of the bargain.  Nobody actually thought they would, and it took a lot of intelligence — or just faith — on the part of President Ford to sign this historic agreement.  After Charter ’77, similar movements began to organize in Poland, Hungary, even East Germany.) 

Our education system has never been the envy of the world.  This is a myth.  Our universities have been, and still are, justifiably the envy of the world: people from all over the planet want to attend Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and the like.  Taxes don’t support them and never did.  But tell me a time when rich princes and princesses were sent to the United States to attend its fabulous tax-supported elementary schools?

Our middle class has never been thriving.  In fact, the middle class can pretty much be defined as “those people who feel caught between the upper class and the lower class, and who constantly feel as if the floor is rising but the ceiling is not.”  In his book, The Big Change, Frederick Lewis Allen described the early 20th Century as being a time of a rapidly growing divide between the very rich and the rest of society. The consolidation of corporate capitalism in the 1920s brought about a further concentration of wealth.  Allen explained how the middle class was disappearing by the 1940s because of the difficulty in creating new businesses: all the corporations had already cornered the market in just about everything.  There just wasn’t a chance for Joe and Jane Average any more.  If that sounds unlikely, or possibly familiar, don’t be surprised: somebody has been saying virtually the same thing in every election since the dawn of the industrial age.  Every statistic you can find to prove the shrinkage of the middle class can be countered by equally verifiable statistics that prove the opposite.

Our economy was unparalleled.  Yes, it was.  Back in the days of American imperialism.  We wanted colonies, so we started a war with Spain and took Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines.  After we established our international credentials in the first World War, our trade increased phenomenally with a broken Europe.  They couldn’t manufacture anything, but they could buy things with money that we lent them.  Then the second World War came around, and we established an empire the likes of which the world had never seen.  The dollar was, and is, the world’s currency.  When the world’s commodity markets are priced in dollars, it is a tremendous advantage for the United States.  When you have an empire, and not only the empire but its enemies have to deal in your currency, you can have an unparalleled advantage in the economies of the world.  Yes, taxes supported that empire.

Do we really want confiscatory taxes again?  It will go, once again, to the military and to the maintenance of empire.

Oh, and one last thing.  The only people who ever really paid the confiscatory taxes were the people who considered themselves middle class.  The rich quickly found ways to exploit deductions, so that while the nominal high rate was 90%, absolutely nobody paid anything close to that amount in taxes.

We don’t need to raise taxes on the rich.  We need to get rid of the American military mindset first.  Otherwise that uniformed leech will syphon off the nation’s wealth, just as they did in the vaunted ’50s and ’60s.  Or don’t you recall VietNam?

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Guess that tune!

Okay folks, let’s see who listened to the radio in the ’70s.  This tune I hadn’t heard in 40 years, but I never forgot it: indeed, I hum it to myself at times and have to wonder why.  Give it a listen here:

Guess this tune!

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Trump and the Republicans

aaaaaDonald Trump is going to be the nominee of the Republican Party in this year, 2016.  This is so beyond belief that I’m sure years later as I read this entry, I will feel an enormous sense of relief that this nonsense is over.

What has it meant, really, that a dimwit like Trump has a shot at being the leader of the most consequential country on Earth?

Essentially, Donald Trump is the embodiment of Republican rhetoric over the past 16 years, minus the religiosity.  Stripped down, the entire Republican effort to thwart President Obama — to put forth their dogma of hatred — was perfectly stated by Joe Wilson in September of 2009: “You lie!” he shouted at the legally elected President of the United States of America.

It is exclamatory.  It is hyperbolic.  It is shouted.  It is irreverent.  It is unprecedented.  It is impolite.  It is also a lie.  But Joe Wilson became a veritable hero to the Republican Party in opposition.

The party has been on an uninterrupted anger spree since then.  The anger was amplified by Fox News and online trash sites like Breitbart, RedState, InfoWars, and others.  The thing is, the party thought the response they got from certain voters was in response to their total message, which included cutting spending on social programs, cutting taxes on the rich and raising taxes on the middle class, gutting environmental laws, you know, the usual Republican menu.  But they were wrong: all the electorate wanted to hear, all they took away from this enormous anger spree, has been anger.  Unreasoning, unforgiving, misdirected anger.

Who better represents this truncated ideology than Donald Trump?

 

 

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The New Arab Wars: a review

This book, by Marc Lynch, is worth reading if you are looking, as I was, for a book that puts the whole post-Arab Spring thing into perspective.
If any part of the world is misunderstood by Americans, surely it is the Middle East. It’s a very complex part of the world, made infinitely more complex by the confluence of religions, cultures, and continents. There is not one single book that puts it all in perspective, but this one by Marc Lynch will go a long way toward giving you a basic literacy of the issues. Here are some things you need to know to understand why Libya failed, why Syria is in constant civil war, why Egypt’s experiment in democracy failed, why Saudi Arabia hates the Muslim Brotherhood, why Qatar hates Saudi Arabia, why Turkey wants its foot back in its old stomping grounds, and why France is universally hated in Syria and Lebanon. And why America’s best shot at improving things there is to stay the hell out.

Well, you have to read some of Salim Yaqub’s work; Margaret McMillan’s 1919 would be good; a history of the Ottoman Empire would also contribute to this background.

Yes, it takes that much reading to make sense of it all. The value of this book is that it ties all the loose threads together and makes the whole shebang finally comprehensible, in an eminently readable style.

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The future of elections

We have the extraordinary good fortune of living in the greatest period in human history.

Most Americans would blithely dismiss that statement even without seeing it as untrue.  It’s like being healthy: you just wake up and do your thing.  Nobody but a survivor of a near-death experience thinks about waking up and thanking the universe for having done so.  It’s first base in the game of taking things for granted.

Alternate or just linear?

Alternate or just linear?

But look at our political landscape in the America of May, 2016.  The two politicians who attract the most attention and the biggest crowds are Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.  Both of them are nasty, coarse, and shrill — and wildly popular with their fans.  Why?  Is it because they have a populist platform?  Is it because they are seen as “not being afraid to tell it like it is,” because they are disdained by the political establishment?  No, I think it is more than this.  Something much more mundane.

Think about this: Americans simply don’t have much trust any more.  We don’t trust the government.  According to the Pew Research Center’s 2016 study of voter sentiment, only 19% of Americans today say they can trust the government in Washington to do what is right “just about always” (3%) or “most of the time”.  We don’t trust sports figures — and think of how we used to!  Christy Mathewson, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Brooks Robinson, Sandy Koufax: would any mother really worry about leaving her baby with any of these men?  The magic is gone from politics, from sports, from schools.  There is only one place that Americans now can place their trust.

Entertainment.  Movies and music.  People don’t want to be lied to by a politician, but they aren’t surprised when their worst fears are confirmed.  We don’t want to find out that our favorite team won the Series because all their pitchers were using performance enhancing drugs, but we’re not surprised to find out that that is precisely what has been happening.  But we expect entertainment stars to lie to us: that is what they do professionally.  If we find out that our favorite actor is a philandering drug addict, it only makes that person more multi-dimensional.  We won’t stop seeing his movies because of it: in fact, a morbid curiosity may well drive more of us to a sort of dismal admiration, a funereal fandom.

In the future, then, the people who stand the best chance of being elected to high office are entertainers.  The Ronald Reagans, the Donald Trumps.  What Reagan did was to explode deficits to unsustainable heights, pay off the Iranian government, funnel illegal weapons to a band of drunken murderers in El Salvador and Nicaragua, and addict Americans to the fiction that we could cut taxes on the rich while increasing overall tax revenue.  But this is not what most Americans saw.  We saw Reagan the movie actor, the unflappable smile, the idiot who won’t let a rainy day get him down.

What do Americans see in Donald Trump?  The short answer is, anything they want to see in him.  This is what we do with entertainers: we pour ourselves in to them, we identify with them, because it makes us feel important by association.  I’ve heard people tell me that he tells it like it is; that he talks like us; that he is the consummate negotiator because he knows you start off your negotiations with an extreme position, then moderate it; that he is a highly successful businessman, which qualifies him to be President.  Of course, all of these assessments are a direct outgrowth of what we already knew about Trump from his frequent encounters with the press over the past 40 years.  We think we know who he is because of what we’ve seen on television.

We’re in for some real trouble.  We’ve finally morphed into a nation not of dreamers, but of hallucinators.

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Why Sanders Is Nonsense.

Okay, allow me a little hyperbole. He’s not an abstraction. Bernie Sanders probably has a higher IQ than my cat, or me, for that matter. It’s just that he is gifted by nature withbernie the appearance of a crazy professor, but he’s not been given a concomitant dose of professorial sense.  Here is his stance on the “issues”:

Create decent paying jobs.

Oh really.  As if Americans want to pay for decent paying jobs.  We have met the enemy and he is us, us with the pockets full of extra cash that we saved because we spent 25% less on a pair of pants made in Mexico than we would have if we bought a pair made in New Mexico.  The fact is, we do not want our neighbors to have good paying jobs: we deny those jobs to them every time we go shopping.  You want to spend $200 on a pair of New Balance sneakers made in the USA or $40 on a pair that looks the same but is made in Macao?

Combating climate change to save the planet.

Oh really.  That’s a laudable goal, but Americans won’t pay for it unless you force them to, and then you’ll get voted out of office.  Don’t forget, Americans left Great Britain in 1776 because we didn’t like paying taxes — taxes that the British levied to help pay for the enormous cost of protecting American colonists from the ravages of Native Americans who were pretty unpredictable.  You have to start by getting Americans to respect the United Nations again.  That won’t be easy.

A fair and humane immigration policy.

You don’t say.  Sanders says this will be done by dismantling deportation and detention centers; issuing ‘whistleblower visas’ to immigrants working illegally but who report workplace irregularities; ‘ensuring our border remains secure’ — oh boy.  Everything in his plan sounds okay, but upon examination, can you just imagine for a minute how many lawsuits there will be if we allow — even encourage — immigrants who can get visas by reporting their employers?  And what does a “secure” border mean to Sanders?  Nice words.  But policy?

Racial justice.

If a black President can’t change what happened in Missouri, neither can Sanders.

Fighting for affordable housing.

Hold on while I get up off the floor…I’m sorry, but this one had me laughing.  Housing is affordable when one of two conditions exist: a.) the government goes on a massive housing program; or 2.) the private sector goes on a massive home-building program.  The former won’t happen; the latter will only happen if zoning regulations are rethought and if we make it worthwhile to the private sector.   Oh, and we could see about restricting the purchase of second homes, which is driving up the cost of housing considerably.  But a second home is part of the American dream, so this will never have the support it needs to become law.

Fighting for women’s rights.

I’m with him on this one, for sure, but we first have to ask ourselves why pornography is the #1 activity on the Internet worldwide.  It is really a form of rape, and needs to be seen as such.  Then we can start talking about “rights.”  Let’s first let them be women and not objects.

Working to create an AIDS and HIV-free generation.

So are we all, Bernie.  This is not too original, but it strikes the right bells.

Caring for our veterans.

Well, here you hit the fly in the ointment.  We have so many veterans that our military’s share of the budget will continue to crush us and stifle new social programs.  The best way to care for veterans in the long run is to stop making new ones.  But sure we should care for the ones we have; the VA clinics are synonymous with poor care.  Some even think the VA system is as bad as Canada’s health scheme.

General Electric must pay to restore the Hudson River.

Why?  I agree that PCBs are nasty and that the Hudson needs to be dealt with responsibly, but why GE?  They applied for and received permits for every drop of crap they poured into the Hudson.  New York State and the Federal Government both okayed everything they did.  So we’re supposed to punish GE for that?  If that’s the case, then we should retroactively charge every municipality that gets its water from rivers for cleaning up the municipal water supply, poisoned by legal sewage dumping over the years.

Supporting historically black colleges and universities.

Would you also support historically white ones?  And does this not clash with your earlier focus point of racial justice?

Ending the Race to the Bottom.

This is from Sanders’ own web site…I’m not making this up:  “We must increase the minimum wage not only in the United States, but in Haiti and throughout the world. That’s exactly what Senator Sanders will fight to achieve as president.”

Medicare for all / Strengthen and expand Social Security.

Universal health care in this country would be incredibly expensive.  Our taxes, already high because we continue to borrow money to fund our stupid wars (and so we have to pay interest on all that borrowed money, which limits the effectiveness of every tax dollar) would be unbearably high if we all had to pay for universal Medicare — and a stronger Social Security.  Something has to give.

You can’t compare the United States to any other country.  I’m no exceptionalist, but think about it.  We are the world’s police force, and have been since 1900.  We have to fund hundreds of military bases all over the world; we have to pay millions of military pensions, fund hundreds of clinics, and prop up scores of countries financially because they wouldn’t tow the line for us if we didn’t bribe their governments.  Germany doesn’t have the defense costs we have, nor does England, nor does Russia, nor does China: in fact, our defense costs are larger than the next six big defense spenders on the planet put together.  Do you really think we can afford to act like Europeans with our social programs if we continue to be the world’s police officer?

Sanders is simply an idealist who stands not a snowball’s chance in Hell of getting any of his agenda enacted into law.  Worse, should he be elected, he will be the source of a tremendous disenchantment among the idealists in the electorate.  They may become so turned off from politics that we are bereft of anything but cynics.  We need the enthusiasm and the love of politics that the Sanders fans so passionately show: but we need to temper idealism with realism.  We can be idealistic about incremental change, too.

 

April 20, 2016

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Ben Carson is one of the scariest people in America.

Yep, you probably didn’t hear it here first: Ben Carson is nuts.  But this isn’t your web site, it’s MINE, and I can say what I want.  So there.  Ben Carson is nuts.

He scares the shit out of me.  That slow delivery.  That oh-so-sure cadence.  You hear it and think, “Where have I heard that before?  Oh yeah…that horror movie.  The guy who says to his kids, ‘I’m going to kill you now because I love you.'”

Yes, that’s it exactly.

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