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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Cuba! (Posted for a friend.)

Cuba has been nominated to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for its work in fighting Ebola in Africa along with its outstanding health care solidarity work around the world. 

And with good reason! When most countries including our own stood aside as the epidemic raged in West Africa, Cuba without hesitation rushed to the side of those stricken with Ebola. 

For this reason we want to encourage you to sign and circulate a petition calling on the Nobel Committee to support the nomination of Cuba for the Peace Prize. You can get the petition here:
Last year, the international community became aware of the outstanding effort by Cuban doctors, nurses and other health care professionals to help the West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea deal with a deadly outbreak of Ebola which killed over 6,400 of their citizens. And with good reason! When most countries including our own stood aside as the epidemic raged in West Africa, Cuba without hesitation rushed to the side of those stricken with Ebola. 

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