Sunday, September 18, 2016

In Praise Of Eccentricity, And Of An Eccentric Named Gene Wilder

I was sad when I learned of the death of Gene Wilder, of course, as was my wife.  For each of us, he was the star or co-star of a movie that had a major impact on us as children.  For her, it was his performance as Willy Wonka in the original (for some of us, the only) "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."  For me, it was his performance as Leo Bloom, the nebbishy accountant convinced by Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) to become a partner in crime in "The Producers."  They were very different films, of course, and vastly different characters.  But Wilder's performances in each were very recognizably his.

Wilder had a way of seducing you into identifying whatever character he was playing, through a very special combination of manic behavior and utterly sincere personal warmth.  Even more amazingly, he knew how to balance those qualities in a way that you bought the idea that they could comfortably co-exist in a single performance, as well as bring the character to life in a way that unmistakably belonged to him.  And he did this again and again in films, for decades to follow.  You can read all about it here, along with a tribute from his frequent collaborator, Mel Brooks.

We still have, and always will have, his film work, so that our children and grandchild can still appreciate how special he was and always will be.  But I find myself wondering whether, in a world that increasingly rejects any sort of true creative originality, there is room for the next Gene Wilder to emerge--assuming in the first instance, of course, that such a miracle is out there somewhere.

The financial structure of our culture mirrors the structure of everything else in our country, and around the world.  We have a one-percent world of movie and TV studios, theaters, museums, galleries, concert halls, recording companies and so on owned by individuals who expect geometrically-increasing profits, year and and year out.  And to get those profits, they increasing turn to the tried-and-true--to remakes, re-issues, revisicals, reruns, and other forms of retro entertainment.

In such a world, it is harder and harder for newcomers to get the kind of break that would make a difference in their lives--to say nothing of ours.  Ah, but there's the Internet, you say?  Yes, the Internet--the electronic land where anyone can be a producer or a publisher, but very few know how to be a distributor.  Except, of course, for the one-percenters who have learned how to bend the Internet for their purposes, and dominate it at the expense of all the strivers.  And so, we are back to square one with our basic dilemma:  the slow death of cultural creativity.

I hope that we can somehow find a way to ultimately get beyond square one, to give all of the new eccentrics, the Gene Wilders who are yet to be, their chance to bring to life something we could not have imagined for ourselves, but that we will embrace as something that will feel indispensible as soon as it becomes part of our experience.  We can't afford to have a culture of Xeroxes, something that will wear down our hearts, minds and souls to nothing.  If our thoughts, feelings and perceptions aren't being constantly challenged, we lose our own individuality, and ultimately our ability in a democracy to govern ourselves.

It's not quite that bad yet.  I pray that it never will get there.  But we need to find a way to give the 99% of voices without a meaningful platform a way to speak.  We need to give the new eccentrics a chance to dazzle, inform and inspire us with their eccentricity.  I can think of no greater tribute to Gene Wilder than finding a way to do that.

In the meantime, rest in peace, Gene.  Good day, sir!

You Own 9/11, GOP. Deal With It.

Funny what a little tightening in the polls will do.  Hillary Clinton had a phenomenal August in the polls and media, thanks to a highly successful convention and a seemingly boundless willingness by Donald Trump to self-destruct.  But September has not been as kind so far and, as a result, the presidential election appears to be a statistical dead heat.  It's possible to assign the responsibility for Hillary's slide in equal parts to both candidates, but it's getting harder and harder to imagine how either of the two most disliked presidential candidates in modern history could get any kind of credit for anything at this point.

But that has not stopped Trump's party, and its agents in the media, from attempting to take advantage of the current mini-trend in favor of The Donald.  This past week, in an Op-Ed piece in (what a surprise!) the New York Post, someone named Marc Theissen takes Hillary to task for using her husband's anti-terrorist policies as the basis for explaining how she, as President, would continue the anti-terror fight.  And why is that specifically a bad thing, given the lack of terror attacks on U.S. soil during the eight years that Bill Clinton was in office?

Because, according to Theissen, this is why the September 11 attacks occurred:
... during Bill Clinton’s eight years in office, they [the terrorists] had waged a virtually unimpeded offensive against the United States.
You read that correctly, folks.  9/11 had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the Bush Administration ignored the threat of al-Queda for more than seven months, with Bush electing to spend the entire month prior to the attacks on his ranch, clearing brush, convinced that he didn't have to worry about what his family friend, Osama bin Laden, might do to destroy the country upon which he declared war after the Reagan Administration had left bin Laden and his supporters high and dry after the Soviet pull-out from Afghanistan.  Even in spite of the pre-9/11 tragedies that Theissen uses in his failed attempt to play pin-the-attack on Bill (and, by extension, Hillary).

Nope.  If it happens on the watch of a Republican, the trick is to find a way to blame it on a Democrat.  When Republicans talk about personal responsibility, they are not talking about their personal responsibility.  That's something they work overtime to avoid.

Especially when it comes to the war of choice in Iraq which they launched, and its disastrous impact on the current state of the Middle East, including the rise of ISIL.  Oh, that's right--if you read Theissen, it turns out that one's on the Clintons as well, not on the fact that the war in Iraq eliminated the common enemy named Saddam Hussein that united rival ethnic and religious factions in a common hate.  Of course, Theissen won't tell you about the Republican role in promoting and funding that common enemy.  That would involve accepting personal responsibility, rather than assigning it.

Oh, but Hillary started the war in Iraq, all by herself, didn't she?  Nope.  That's very much on Bush, Cheney & Co..  Hillary voted for it, and now admits that vote was a mistake.  Nothing wrong with admitting that.  That's called actually accepting personal responsibility

Which leaves America waiting for your move, GOP.  And, if you want to survive as a political force, that means an end to cheesy attempts to blame others for your failures.  9/11 was your failure.  It happened on your watch.  It happened despite foreknowledge that it would happen.  It was a failure followed by more failures--massive, trillion-dollar failures for which generations unborn will pay the price.

And you're denying all of this so that you can give America Donald Trump?

Damn you.  Damn you all to hell.*  And let the rest of us take upon our shoulders the personal responsibility of finally fixing your screw-ups.

*Apologies to "Planet of the Apes," if not to its Republican star, the late Charlton Heston.

The First Amendment Belongs To All Of Us, Including Colin Kaepernick

It's funny how the reputation and perception of a celebrity can change over the course of his or her time in the public eye.  Not that long ago, Colin Kaepernick was merely known as one of the best, if not the best, quarterbacks in the National Football League.  If you're a Baltimore Ravens fan, his name has a more personal meaning:  he was the guy who almost helped the San Francisco 49ers defeat the Ravens a few Super Bowls ago.  Didn't happen, which made everybody in Baltimore happy and everyone in San Francisco not so much.

But now, Kaepernick has people from Baltimore to San Francisco, and lots of places in between, hating him unappeasably because of his recent decision not to stand for the playing of the National Anthem at NFL games.  His reason:  to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement, and to protest the treatment generally of African-Americans generally in what he referred to as "a white world."

I have to start out by stating that, as a broad general rule, I am not a big fan of using either the flag or the Anthem as a prop for a political protest.  By design, they are powerful symbols, which is the thing that attracts their use as protest props.  But, in a way, that's the problem:  they are so powerful to so many people, and invoke such a way array of thoughts and feelings, that their use as props has a tendency to swallow up the protest, and give those who are paying any attention to the protest's message a cheap and undeserved way of branding the protestor as a traitor.  I would wager that most Americans, were you to show them a photo of a flag-burning or some similar protest, could not tell you what the object of the specific protest was.  All they would see is people who are, in their minds, disgracing their country.

I don't think that Kaepernick's protest, in this regard, is any different.  And of course, ultimately, that's not the point.  And that's because of a little thing called the First Amendment, which protects Kaepernick's right to protest and his critics' right to criticize.  Unfortuately, it's hard for me to feel that, in what is threatening to become the age of Trump, the critics' right to criticize is elevated, in the minds of too many people, over Kaepernick's rights.

Maybe it would be just as well to show those critics the photos I mentioned a moment ago, and remind them that, even if they have no interest in Kaepernick's message, this country has survived a lot of disrespect toward both the flag and the Anthem, and the flag and the Anthem still have the same place in our nation that they have for decades.  Nothing has destroyed them, or their meaning, or their importance.  So maybe the critics can afford to get over it, and reflect just a little bit instead on the words of Justice Anthony Kennedy, to the effect that the flag's symbolism of the right to protest it is "poignant but fundamental."  Kennedy is nobody's idea of a knee-jerk liberal, so perhaps his thoughts on the subject can provide the critics with some small degree of comfort.

On the other hand, if those critics are agents of the state, i.e., members of the Santa Clara Police Department union, they may, along with the rest of the critics, want to think specifically about what the First Amendment does forbid:  state action against free speech, among other rights.  To extend the thoughts expressed by Justice Kennedy, to take any form of state action against free speech dishonors one of our most fundamental rights--a right that the flag symbolizes, and that gives the flag much of its power in the first place.

The critics may also want to reflect on the dubious historical origins of many of our national symbols, such as the National Anthem itself.  The poem on which the Anthem is based contains four stanzas; typically, we only sing the first one.  That is probably just as well, considering the fact that the other three have some rather provocative ideas in them.  Tea Party members have used the fourth stanza's references to God as proof positive that ours was meant to be a Christian nation. And the third stanza's language, sadly, reflects author Francis Scott Key's rancid views on race.

But the thing that all of us should reflect upon, at least a little bit, is the fact that much of the progress of our nation has been instigated by a single act of defiance that was, contemporaneously, deemed to be disrespectful or unpatriotic.  There is very much of a straight line from Rosa Parks to Barack Obama, a fact that the President would be the first to acknowledge.  Kaepernick's protest may have already begun to extend that line even further.

And he may have started a conversation that we can continue without flags or songs.  Consider the case of Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles.  Nobody's idea of a protestor or a traitor, and no disrespector of the flag, yet someone who, in his own quiet but firm way, added painful but needed truth to the discussion.

To sum up, all I am saying is this:  stop labeling people, listen to their ideas, and give freedom a chance.  I cannot say this enough:  freedom is what the flag is meant to symbolize.  And freedom is not something that sits well on a shelf, adored but not used.  It's meant to be used.  Use it.  And respect its use by others.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Hypocrisy And Futility Of Phyllis Schlafly

I'm well aware of the admonition not to speak ill of the dead.  As a rule, I observe it, whether or not the deceased was someone I admired or abhorred.  I've lived through the deaths of enough family members and friends to know well that other people's feelings should be considered.  Nevertheless, when it comes to individuals who chose the political limelight in ways that devastate the lives of others, I'm not going to be a hypocrite for the sake of those feelings.

In the case of Phyllis Schlafly, I'm simply going to say this:  if you were a close friend or family member of hers, stop reading here.  And, even having said that, I'm going to exercise a little restraint, if only to avoid turning her into a martyr.

Schlafly, who passed away this past week, could fairly be called the godmother of modern conservatism, going all the way back to 1964 when she published "A Choice, Not An Echo," supporting the presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater.  Her particular focus, however, was on the role of women in American life.  And she made no bones about what she wanted American women to be:  barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen.  Not surprisingly, most of the obituaries about Schlafly focused on her role in organizing the successful opposition to the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, which she saw as a threat to the supposedly "traditional" and subordinate role of women to men in virtually every aspect of living.

It's precisely that opposition, however, that best illustrates what Schlafly essentially was:  a bald-faced hypocrite whose life illustrates the ultimate futility of American conservatism's efforts, in William F. Buckley's words, to halt the progress of the human race against those who would tyrannize it from within.

Schlafly was anything but a stay-at-home mom.  She was a writer, a candidate for office, a political activist, an attorney, and, ultimately, an anti-feminist lobbyist.  She was, in effect, a liberated woman who used her wealthy husband's money to achieve her liberation, as noted by Gail Sheehy in a quote featured in the New York Times obituary found in the link above.  As Sheehy put it, Schlafly's brand of liberation was "based on marrying a rich professional, climbing the pedestal to lady of leisure and pulling up the rope ladder behind her."

The campaign to thwart the ratification of the ERA was Schlafly's major attempt to pull up that ladder. She claimed at the time that the ERA was unnecessary, and that there were few if any laws directed against women's equality.  At the same time, she invented a parade of "horribles" that would come to pass if the ERA was ratified:  from "homosexual" marriage to same-sex bathrooms to women in combat to state-controlled child care.

But, if the ERA was unnecessary, why had women made so little progress toward equality, despite other efforts at legal reform to promote that end?  Why were so many women who didn't have the option of being liberated by marrying into wealth still being held back in so many ways? Asking Schlafly those questions would have been a waste of time; she would not have provided honest answers to them.  Her anti-ERA activism, like so much conservative activism, was based on one principle alone:  the need for conservatives to feel special based upon the undeserved suffering of others.  It makes a certain perverse sense:  if you can't accomplish anything of value on your own, hold back those who can.  It makes you feel better about yourself.  It sure as hell doesn't make the vast majority of us feel better.

Schlafly's hypocrisy, moreover, wasn't limited to the issue of women's rights.  Like most conservatives, she professed suspicion of any sort of "one-world" or global movement--provided, of course, that the movement in question was progressive in its leanings.  But this did not stop her from doing her own, "one-world" organizing on behalf of conservative ideology.  Here, once again, Schlafly is exposed as someone who believes that freedom and opportunity are the exclusive province of conservatives; liberals, on the other hand (paraphrasing George Orwell's "1984") only deserve to have a conservative boot on their faces--forever.  To grant liberals the same degree of opportunity that conservatives claim for themselves is, in effect, to grant them "special rights."

Special rights.  This is what conservatives like Schlafly used as their description of the goal of gay-rights activists:  to live their lives openly, yet still be able to live and work where they choose and marry the partners of their choice, just like other Americans.  These were, of course, rights formerly reserved to heterosexual Americans.  And Schlafly was just fine with that, as she saw the LGBT community as hostile to conservatism; this despite the fact that many members of that community self-identified with many conservative positions.  If the LGBT community is largely in the pocket of the Democratic Party today, it is in no small measure because right-wing activists like Schlafly effectively put them there, because the Democrats were and are committed to expanding opportunity and not restricting it.

And that is only one part of the ultimate futility of Schlafly's activism.  All of the things listed above as part of her parade of "horribles" are now everyday part of American lives.  That's because history has shown a rather nasty bias against people who try to hold back opportunity for others.  And so, every time a conservative tries to stand athwart history and cry "Halt!", he or she will get nothing but the tire tracks of history across his or her body.  History is all about opportunities for advancement, and people seizing and then making the most of them.  One might just as easily believe in one's ability to change the course of the sun as to believe in one's ability to stop history.

Phyllis Schlafly, like so many of her ilk, never understood any of this.  That, combined with her rank hypocrisy, is why her political career will ultimately be little more than a footnote in history.  And the best way to minimize that footnote, to reduce it to its proper place of unimportance, would be to at last enshrine in our basic law the principle that equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.  And to ensure that this guaranty covers the LGBT community as well.

Apart from all of that, Phyllis, well, rest in peace.  In your case, it'll be a change of pace.

Monday, August 29, 2016

It Takes Time But, Eventually, They Catch Up

I have long been familiar (and weary) of the old line that "a conservative is a liberal who's been mugged."  I recently found a nice counterpoint to it, however:  "a liberal is a conservative who's been arrested."  Very true.

But, mainly, in my experience, a conservative is someone consistently behind liberals when it comes to catching up to reality.  Whether it's the need for paid family leave, or even their own perfidy in creating an environment in which there is no framework for debate, they catch up and fess up.  It takes time. Sometimes, an unconscionable amount of time.  But, sooner or later, they get there.

The trouble now is, however, that, in a digital age, it may not be possible to be patient with the slowness of their ability to catch up.  Sometimes, they may do it just on time.  Sometimes, not yet, but sometimes in the future, it may be too late.  For some of us.  For all of us.

This may be another way of saying that, in an age in which events and our responses to them move at the speed of light, democracy may just accelerate the pace at which one or more dictatorships spring up.  Or, more optimistically, it may be another justification for having a system of government like ours, where power is divided, and "speed bumps" are built into the pace of change.

What I do know for certain is that there is no excuse for dropping out, and hoping for a better candidate, party or leader.  In a democracy, you are always your own best leader.  And, when you use your voice in combination with others, and without giving up, you do have the power to prevent the devil from taking the hindmost.  You thus bring the hindmost along with you, into a future that you have believed in and one that they could never have envisioned.

So don't give up.  Not in 2016, and not ever.  As Barack Obama once said, you are the change you seek.  Don't sit on it.  Make it.

Cities And Countries Are Built, And Rebuilt, From The Ground Up

The Berlin Wall was not taken down by governments, or ideologies.  It was taken down by people, people who were tired of being separated by hatreds and misunderstandings cooked up by politicians they no longer trusted.  Today, thanks to their courage and resolve, Berlin is one city again.

Something similar needs to happen here in the United States, here in Maryland, here in the city of Baltimore.  Where walls between black and white citizens truly do exist, even if they are not always physical in nature  And where "leaders" in both communities are, in fact satisfied with the status quo, simply because of the way in which it allows them to obtain and remain in positions of "leadership."

Baltimore became a deeply segregated city decades ago, when the then-ruling white power structure zoned the city in such a way so as to keep African-Americans together, but separated from the economic opportunities that might have changed their lives for the better.  The zoning system thus created still rules the city with a heavy economic hand, despite decades of attempts at urban renewal in the Monumental City.

A large part of that stems from the fact that much of the money has gone into maintaining the prosperity of areas that were already in relatively strong shape.  The Inner Harbor is perhaps the most obvious example of that.  But at least part of it stems from the unwillingness of African-American leaders to open up their own communities to outside development, for fear that doing so would rob them of the minimum political power that they maintain from the gerrymandering effects of zoning.

Until Baltimoreans on both sides of the color divide can reach out and see themselves as city residents first, and peoples of differing colors second, there will never be any hope for Baltimore. And, one day, there may not be a Baltimore itself.

So, if you care about the city, and perhaps about the future of the state and the nation, do yourself and all of us a favor.  Pray for this family.  Pray that there will soon be many more like them.  And pray that, together, they will dismantle Baltimore's Berlin Walls.

Selfishness Is NOT The Solution To Our Problem; It IS The Problem

This is the saddest aspect of reality in America in the early 21st century:  we can no longer agree on what reality is.

There was a time, way back in the 1970s when, despite partisan divides as bad as the current one, that such a state of affairs might be unimaginable.  Even when a President was on the political ropes thanks to a scandal of his own making. and members of Congress were divided among party lines about how to respond to the situation, a piece of reality showed up that was also of the President's making:  his tape-recorded Oval Office conversations  Once the contents of the conversations were revealed, his Congressional support all but vanished.  There was simply no way that House and Senate Republicans could deny Richard Nixon's efforts to obstruct justice when Richard Nixon admitted in his own words that he was doing so.

Unfortunately, confessions of that sort come along very rarely, just as (thankfully) politicians like Nixon come along rarely.  Or, at least, the latter used to be the case.

We now live in a world in which politicians feel free to deny the existence of the weather itself in order to protect the people who buy them their offices.  We live in a world in which the same politicians stubbornly insist that cutting taxes balances budgets and creates jobs, even when it has been shown time and again that cutting taxes merely cuts public services and swells foreign bank accounts.  And we live in a world perhaps worst of all, in which own and using a gun at will is perfectly acceptable, provided that the shooter is white and the victim is black.

How did we get here?

There are those who argue that all of us are the victim of being overwhelmed by data in a digital age. Then again, there are those who blame the problem on sheer ignorance, or stupidity.  I don't think either of these answers solves the problem.  I doubt that stupidity, as a species issue, is any greater or smaller than it has ever been.  And, even allowing for the failures of our educational system in an age of spending cuts and pedagogical ideologues, the fact is that the Internet provides enough material to counterbalance at least some of those weaknesses.  And much of that material is organized in such a way as to make it less overwhelming.  That's why aggregator Web sites have sprung up in the first place; they are the new newspapers and journals of the modern era.

So, why are we here?  Selfishness, that's why.

Some thirty-five years ago, we launched an age that essentially said good-bye to any sense of shared obligations.  It was no longer "cool" to care for others; in fact, it smacked suspiciously of Soviet-style confiscation and control.  It was not only acceptable to sacrifice the needs of others for the same of advancing even one more inch of self-interest; it was positively necessary not only for the sake of the national interest, but even to otherwise justify any standing you might have as a patriot.  We were told that this would be that path to an unimaginable era of peace and prosperity for all Americans.

Well, they were right about one thing.  The unimaginable part.

Thirty-five years later, America is crumbling.  Literally.  Its roads, tracks, bridges, tunnels, wires and drainage systems are falling apart.  Our schools, cities, and housing are beginning to tumble with them.  Most of us can no longer afford to visit a doctor or get an education, much less imagine a future in which they can pay their own bills (and never mind fulfilling any of their dreams).

But, for a tiny handful, it's not so bad.  In fact, for them, it's never been better.  The wealth they've managed to plunder from the rest of us (on the grounds that we didn't deserve it) has allowed them to create a bubble so strong and complete that it no longer depends upon the existence of this nation to maintain it.  Ours is not a tale of two cities.  It is a tale of two nations:  one living on stolen money, the other barely able to live at all.

And when a disaster comes along for the latter nation, one that is essentially predicted by science, you don't have to justify your failure to either prevent it, or even to wait a week to respond it.  Not if you have the gall to spend your time and energy describing the real solution to the problem as a tax. Just ask Larry Hogan, who doesn't give a damn about anyone except the real estate developers who helped him get elected, and who are his professional peers in the first place.

Selfishness is the reason we live in a "post-reality" society.  Selfishness, by a handful of people with no concept of "enough," is why ours is a tale of two nations.  Selfishness, to paraphrase the author of all this misery, Ronald Reagan, is not the solution to our problem; selfishness is the problem.  And, if we don't find a way to disenthrone the problem, the only reason that Americans won't be able to worry about it is because America will no longer exist.

We are closer to that point that most people realize.  Do you care?  Don't tell me.  Show me.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

It Takes A Village Of Women To Break A Glass Ceiling

It's too early to count electoral chickens but, at this point, the possibility of needing to say "Madame President" next year seems very real.  But, as Hillary Clinton would be the first to point out, this potential reality is not (or will not) be a single-handed accomplishment, should it happen.  If Secretary Clinton does end up standing in the Oval Office next January, she will be standing on the shoulders of many, many women whose talent and tenacity broke all of the glass ceilings that stood below the Presidency.

No one post could pay tribute to all of those women.  It would take more bits, bytes and bandwidth than I can count to do so.  I can easily cite any number of examples, as I'm sure you can too.  Here, courtesy (sadly) of the obituary page of the New York Times, is one important example.  Well done, Susan M. Baer.

And well done to my wife, Cynthia Rosenberg, an important example in her own way.  Whatever good exists in my life is because of her, and the qualities that enabled her to become the success that she's become.  That's her story; I'll let her tell it in her own way, on her own time.

But all of us, men and women, should be grateful for such women, as well as for the men and women who support them.

Hatred Turns The Hater Into The Object Of The Hate

I am not now, nor have I ever been, an advocate of Richard Nixon, in any sense of what that might mean.  But I am willing to concede that he was a tragic figure in one very important sense:  he learned too late a piece of wisdom that could have averted the tragedy he inflicted not only upon himself, but an entire nation as well.  He shared this wisdom in his departure speech to his White House staff, on the day that his resignation as President became effective:
... those who hate you don't win unless you hate them back.  And then, you destroy yourself.
Republicans in the current House of Representatives could take a lesson from this wisdom, perhaps before they suffer a fate similar to Nixon's.  They have attempted again and again (at your expense, taxpayers), to lay even so much as a glove on Hillary Clinton.  And failed, again and again.

Well, perhaps not completely.  As it turns out, in the course of looking for felonies committed by Secretary Clinton, it appears that House Republicans may have committed a few of their own.

Perhaps, had they spend less time (and again, less of your money) on persecuting Clinton and the rest of the Obama Administration, and more time working with them to actually do their real job, i.e., solving the nation's problems, they wouldn't be in this predicament.  For example, if they hadn't cut funds for embassy security, there would be no Benghazi tragedy to investigate in the first place.

Oh, well, probably too logical.  These are Republicans we are talking about, after all.  Which means that many of them will end up like Nixon, learning about reality far too late for it to do them any good.  Hopefully, that won't take the rest of us down with them.

Should Aid For Louisiana Be Unconditional?

Does that sound like a harsh question to you?  Perhaps it is.  Perhaps that depends upon whether, at this point, there is even a Louisiana to aid.  If you take a look at this, which includes a map of what Louisiana would look like minus the floodplain (or, to be more charitable, "wetlands"), it becomes a little bit harder to say that there is very little to aid.  Then again, as this article points out, there are those on the Republican side of the fence who wouldn't consider any aid at all, not even for a state that has gone in recent elections from being arguably "purple" to deep dark red in its voting patterns. They're happy to see it sink into the Gulf of Mexico, never to return.  (Memo for progressives, especially those who think it's safe to sit out elections:  if this is how Republicans treat their friends, wait until you see what they have in store for you.)

In fact, it is precisely because of the shift in the Pelican State's politics that I raise the question of whether aid in the wake of the most recent flooding crisis should be unconditional.  That, and the existence of the obvious culprit behind that crisis, as well as Hurricane Katrina before it.

Historically, much of Louisiana has always been swamp and marsh land, due to its position in relation to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.  As a consequence, it has always been vulnerable to flooding during and after storms.  The state has, over centuries, learned to cope with this fact through a variety of drainage systems and, in circumstances where damage was extraordinary, been able to rely on the federal government to provide needed aid, as it does for other parts of the country in similar circumstances.

At the risk of putting a fine point on this, I'm forced to point out the obvious:  in the present age, when it comes to storms, the extraordinary has become the rule and not the exception.  And the obvious and unavoidable explanation (for those of us who like the truth untarnished by anyone's self-interest)?  Call it climate change.  Call it global warming.  But do the folks in Baton Rouge a favor and don't call it a "hoax" anymore.  It's not a hoax for them.  It's a disaster.  And there are more of them coming their way.  And ours.

And the disaster can take a variety of forms.  Droughts, that threaten to set the entire Western portion of the country on fire.  Mutating viruses, like the Zika virus, that threaten the entire Eastern seaboard. And other forms that we have not yet seen.  Or perhaps, want to imagine.

That is why, as painful as it is to think what I am about to write (much less write it), I am forced to take and advocate the following position, going forward from Louisiana's current misery:

Any state, or smaller jurisdiction, that receives federal aid on the basis of a natural disaster that can be scientifically linked to climate change must, within 90 days of said disaster, submit to federal authorities a comprehensive plan, including legislative and regulatory changes, that will significantly reduce the impact of climate change on their state, including the likelihood and severity of a similar disaster.  Should they fail to do so, or fail to enact a proposed plan, any aid for a future disaster should be considered a loan, which must be repaid, addressed through a forfeiture proceeding, or subject to other statutorily enumerated conditions.

Sound harsh?  Such are the consequences of pretending that partisan politics can make science go away.  It can't.  I don't care if climate change is ultimately solved by Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Greens, Know-Nothings, Whigs or whomever.  I care about it being solved.

Because it's real.  Ask the folks in Baton Rouge.  Ask your grandchildren or great-grandchildren, if you can find a way to time-travel to the version of the future in which you did nothing.  They'll want to know why you did nothing.

And G-d help you if you don't have good answers.  I won't.  And neither will they.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

A Few Words Of Political Advice For Millennials

I've said what I'm going to say here before, but I'll say it again, since it bears repeating.  Especially after I read an article like this one, and believe me, I've read plenty of them.

OK, millennials.  You don't like Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.  Well, I'm not a millennial.  I'm a Boomer.  My generation was and is, deservedly, famous for being the then-most demanding generation when it comes to EVERYTHING in life, including politics.  We didn't like our choices any more than you like yours.  My first Presidential campaign (technically, the second one I worked in, but the first one I followed from start to finish) was in 1972.  McGovern versus Nixon.  People back then felt the same way about those candidates that you feel now about yours.  I remember my high school newspaper printing a cartoon showing both candidates saying to each other "You stink!"  That was 44 years ago.  Somehow, we made it through Nixon, Watergate, Reagan, Iran-Contra, Bush, Gulf War I, Bush II, 9/11 and Gulf War II, and got to where we are today.  Where we're lucky enough to have all of you as our children and grandchildren.

So you and the country will survive this election.  That's the first piece of good news.  The second is this:  we made our country a better one by getting involved in the political process, whatever our other faults may be.  And now, it's your turn to return the favor.

Keep on doing what you did with Obama in 2008 and 2012, and did with Sanders this year.  And keep on doing it, despite the setbacks and disappointments.  It's the only way anything ever gets better. And it's the only way anything will get better.

Believe me, everybody noticed you this year.  The political establishment noticed you.  Bernie Sanders clearly noticed you, and he clearly hasn't given up on your potential, and neither have the candidates who have followed his lead.  You should keep on following it.  Yes, all the way into the mouth of the beast itself.  It's always been, and still is, the only way the beast is going to get any tamer, and starts responding to you instead of working against you.

The Other 1%

It's become fashionable to use the phrase "the 1%," and variations thereof, in discussions about income inequality.  And it makes sense; by one estimate, the financial assets of the top 1% have nearly doubled in the past 40 years.  In the process, the finances of the entire nation have been effectively immobilized by people who would rather hoard money than invest or spend it.

But there's another 1% we need to worry about, especially given the power of the financial 1%.  We can perhaps refer to it as the cyber-1%; the folks whose knowledge of the Internet gives them the power to use it for their own political ends.

I'm not talking about politicians like Howard Dean, Barack Obama, and Bernie Sanders, who have learned how to use the Web as a supplementary tool to organize otherwise conventional political campaigns.  I'm talking about groups like Anonymous and WikiLeaks, who have shown themselves capable of tearing down the few walls of privacy the Internet permits for their own unilateral ends.

You may sometimes like the results.  You may, in the case of Hillary Clinton and Congressional Democrats, may not.  But you cannot argue with this:  their technical sophistication makes them, in many ways, even harder to successfully oppose them if it is your wish to do so.  And they possess the ultimate resource:  knowledge.  If we look at the tools of political power--votes, money, and knowledge--as a kind of rock-paper-scissors triad--knowledge is the ultimate winner.  Knowledge can outwit both money and votes.

Which is why it matters who has the knowledge, and how it is used.  In the case of someone like Julian Assange, knowledge is not necessarily something that will be used in our best interests.  It's time to wake up to that fact, and find ways to fight back against the other 1%

No, Clint Eastwood, YOU'RE The One Who Needs To "Get Over It."

I couldn't help reading Clint Eastwood's recent pro-Donald Trump diatribe, in which he lectured the victims of political incorrectness, to "get over it," without flashing back in my mind to a different period in Eastwood's life and career.  One in which he expressed profoundly different sentiments.

While Eastwood has always been right of center, although a libertarian more than anything else, he was at one point a very strong advocate for greater participation by African-Americans in the film industry.  And his advocacy wasn't just rhetoric; he put meat on the bones of his words in his hiring practices on his film projects, including one project that celebrated the life of a major African-American artist, Charlie Parker ("Bird").  The NACCP honored Eastwood in 1989 with a special Image Award for his efforts and, in accepting it, he expressed his hope that, one day, the Image Awards would be "obsolete," because it would be "commonplace in the motion picture industry and other industries to never use minorities in stereotypical fashion, and to branch out."  You can read more about this here.

So, what happened?

I don't think Eastwood's earlier advocacy was insincere.  Whatever else I can say about him, I don't think insincerity is one of his liabilities.  And, in more recent years, he's added to his past words of tolerance by extending them to those who support marriage eqaulity.  And his praise for Trump was hardly unadulterated; he critized Putin's poodle for his comments about the "Mexican" judge he might be facing.

No, Eastwood's comments seemed to be less an endorsement of Trump and more of a screed against "political correctness," or what Eastwood sees as "political correctness."

But why is political correctness a bad thing?  What others call political correctness is simply good manners, with the goal of not offening people for aspects of their lives beyond their control.  And let's be real  there was a time in our history in which a different sort of political correctness ruled the land, one in which the stereotyping Eastwood mentioned in 1989 at the Image Awards was an accepted part of our national culture.  This does not constitute an endorsement on my part of every scenario in which someone claims offense.  But, even in those cases, it's still worth having the discussion, if only becuase it ultimately leads to a better understanding of one another, and to a more perfect union. (And, if this is a democracy, we need to talk to each other more often in any case).

If, as a comedian, you're going to offend someone, do it the way Groucho Marx did it; be offensive about what people say and do, not about who they are.  That takes a little more intelligence and effort, but it's why people still laugh at Groucho, long after they've forgotten the children's books of the early 20th century with their stereotypical black and Jewish characters.

I'd like to think that Clint made his comments when he was having a bad day.  Maybe, however, part of where he was coming from was being in a world in which white male power is, in fact, becoming obsolete.  Maybe seeing that is harder for him than he could have imagined back in 1989.  Clearly, for most of Trump's supporters, that seems to be the case.  I've always liked Eastwood, even when I have disagreed with his politics.  I would hate to see him descent to the level of racial animosity that can be found at any of The Donald's rallies.

Perhaps this really is a job for Meryl Streep, after all.  Give it a try, Meryl; I'll be rooting for you.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

At The End Of The Anti-Government Road Lies Bigotry--And Death

And there's something else that I've said for years about conservatives:  that their anti-government rhetoric is merely a proxy for their bigotry.

In theory, there is no more basic government responsibility than public safety.  And public safety requires not just a commitment to maintaining military forces, but also a commitment to protecting the public health of the nation as well.  There was a time in the not-too-distant past when liberals and conservatives could come together on this, without hesitation or partisan division.

Unfortunately, we no longer live in that time.  Now we have a Congress led by Republicans, that wants to use the deadly threat of the Zika virus to promote the flag of a vanquished, racist nation. Without regard to the ugly history of that nation.  And without regard to any lives that may be lost as a consequence of that promotion.

And people wonder why, despite the President's popularity, a majority of the people think that the country is on the wrong track?

Look at it this way.

The Republicans not only control Congress, but also a majority of governorships and state legislatures, as well as half of the current, down-to-eight-Justices Supreme Court.  And, thanks to Mitch McConnell, they are willing to suspend Constitutional government in order to ensure their control of the judiciary.  In the words of a currently-popular Internet meme, if you don't like the direction of the country, look at whose hands are all over the steering wheel.

Can anyone honestly doubt that the Republican Party cares about nothing but short-term power? Believe me, if they aren't removed from that position of power, the short term may be the only term any of us have.

Thank You, Jennifer Rubin

Thank you, that is, for once again proving that a conservative is someone who just hasn't caught up to the liberals yet.

More specifically, I'm referring to this column by Ms. Rubin.

Along with a lot of other media observers, I've been saying for years that decades of bullying by conservatives against the so-called "liberal press" (most of which was owned by conservatives) has turned the former Fourth Estate into a timid shadow of its former self, constantly manufacturing false equivalencies for the sake of trying to get the bullies off of its back.  And, in the process, only encouraging the bullies to bully harder--by manufacturing their own media outlets that have no interests in equivalencies at all.  Only in propaganda.

And, in the process by which all of the foregoing has unfolded, something very important was lost. We used to refer to it as "the truth."  Something which does not have a left-wing or right-wing bias, but something that cannot be escaped.  Not by denial, not by false equivalencies, not by propaganda, and no, not even by bullying.  The truth simply doesn't care.  It simply exists.  And you let your biases, right or left, ignore it at your peril.

Jennifer Rubin concedes this, more or less, but doesn't seem to have a clue as to what to do about it.

I have a suggestion.  One that we can all embrace.

Let's all agree that there are two things more important that being a conservative or a liberal.  One is being an American.  And, beyond that, being a member of the human race.

If we can focus on both of those things, maybe, just maybe, we can all find a way to stumble back to the truth.