Sunday, August 30, 2015

We Are Offended By The Wrong Things

And nothing illustrates that fact more than the most recent incident indicting our national obsession with arming ourselves to the teeth:  the on-air shooting of a news reporter and a cameraman in Virginia.  Here is yet another example of how nearly unrestricted access to guns enables senseless crimes of violence.  Here is, at the same time, yet another example of our unwillingness to face the problem directly, and instead focus on a distraction that allows us to ignore our own complicity with the latest round of senseless murders.

That distraction involves the New York Daily News, once the undisputed king of tabloid journalism in America and now, like all newspapers, fighting for its journalistic life in an electronic, digital media age.  The Daily News has a rich history of publishing crime photography, much of it not the sort of stuff that's easy to take when you're eating breakfast or riding the subway.  You have only to look at the work of Weegee, the most celebrated photographer of New York's Golden Age of print media, to know what I'm talking about.  (And, if you know nothing about Weegee, you owe it to yourself to get to know his work, starting here.)  Then again, nothing makes the point about the Daily News and edgy photography quite like publishing a photo of an electrocuted woman on the paper's front page.

The Daily News extended that tradition of edginess into the present in its coverage of the Virginia story, by publishing on its cover three photos derived from the video of the crime taken by the murderer and posted on his Facebook account before he committed suicide.  As a consequence, the tabloid came under fire itself for using the photos, as did the New York Post for likewise publishing stills from the video.  Both papers were accused of sensationalizing a tragedy, as compared to seemingly more responsible media outlets that chose not to use the video in any way at all.  You can read a little more about that debate here.

That link, which will take you to a New York Times article, also includes the Daily News' defense of its publication of the photos as "part of the story, however disturbing and horrific."  The paper also, through a spokesperson, expressed the hope of its editors that the images would help to build support for better, more sensible gun regulation that would prevent tragedies like the Virginia shootings.

You know what?

I think the Daily News got it right.

It's easy to take the clean-fingered, prissy approach that the media's job is to protect the public from disturbing news.  It's exactly what one would expect in an era when the news has just become another consumption commodity whose profits matter more than its truth.  It's an indictment of how we view the Fourth Estate:  as an outlet not for what the public needs to know, but for what the public's corporate masters wants the public to believe.

And the NRA, along with the gun manufactures that support it, are among those corporate masters.  You can't possibly expect them to want gun owners and potential buyers to see the actual consequences of gun ownership and use.  It's a lot more fun to twist and distort the meaning of the Second Amendment, so long as doing so helps the bottom line.

As for refusing to show the video, on the grounds that it would be some sort of publicity reward for the murderer?  Sorry, but that's a boundary you cross the minute you decide to make this a leading story.  You can't unring the bell at that point.  You can, however, show the consequences of the real story that you've chosen to ignore--our national obsession with enabling acts of violent rage.

Guns are awful.  Guns kill.  Guns destroy lives in horrible, painful ways, and leave behind the agony of survivors--many of them children--who are left to ask Why?  Maybe it's at least partly because we like to pretend that violence isn't so bad, that's it's just a way of dealing with our anger, like playing a video game.

Maybe it's time we stop pretending.  And maybe, just maybe, the Daily News' decision to publish the video stills is a step in the direction of doing just that.  Maybe seeing the consequences of a nation flooded with guns is what we need to end the flood.

The End Of The Line For The Red Line, And For Baltimore?

Baltimore enjoys many distinctions and, as we know, not all of them are good ones.  Here, however, is one of the worst, one that directly and indirectly feeds many of the city's most persistent problems: Baltimore is the largest city on the Northeastern seaboard without a comprehensive mass rail system for public transportation.  All of the regions' other large cities--Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.--have comprehensive rail systems that are the backbone of their economies, helping to make each of them not only national, but international powerhouses.

But not Charm City.  It pokes along with a single subway line, a single light-rail line, a bus system and a handful of "circulators," none of which connect to each other in the seamless, powerful manner that the various rail lines and bus routes connect in the region's other major cities.  And, with each passing year, its population and tax base shrinks, and the city is more and more an economic basket case, as well as a sociological tinder box.

How did all of this happen?  Well, institutional racism, for one.  The early city fathers of Baltimore found it convenient to use the city planning process to isolate whites and blacks in separate communities.  That use--or misuse--sowed seeds of division and resentment that led to the riots of 1968, as well as the riots of the past year.  And it explains why public transportation has always faced an uphill battle here, as opposed to elsewhere.  After all, why go to all the trouble of engaging in divide-and-conquer city planning, and then create a mass transit system that would effectively undo all of your evil work?

And, of course, cost is always the other weapon aimed at mass transit by its foes.  No one doubts that building rail systems is expensive.  That is why public spending needs to be involved--and, in fact, has been involved, ever since the westward expansion of the United States.  It's very easy for politicians with anti-public agendas to look at the short-term price tag and say "Meh, we can't afford this."  It's easy to engage in short-term thinking generally; it avoids having to think about the long-term consequences of short-term solutions.

For example, if the construction of the Washington, D.C. Metrorail system had been "derailed" (pun intended) by its admittedly enormous cost, Washington, D.C. would not be the city it is today.  For most of its history, and well into the 1960s, the nation's capital was little better off than Baltimore is today.  The building of the Metrorail system changed all of that.  It turned the city into an economic powerhouse, and a world-class center of cosmopolitan culture.  That is not to say that Washington is free of racism.  But it is to say that public transportation has helped to map out an alternative future not only for Washington, but for the entire region as well.  The money spent on Metro has more than repaid itself, and continues to help build a bright future not only for the District, but also for the two states that adjoin it, Virginia and Maryland.  Without the explosive growth of the Washington metropolitan region, thanks to Metro, both states would be economic basket cases.

Which, in an admittedly roundabout way, brings me to the tragedy of Governor Hogan's ill-informed, short-sighted decision to cancel the Red Line rail transportation project.  The Red Line, which would have created an east-west public transportation rail line through Baltimore, and connected the city's eastern and western suburbs.  It had the potential to be connected with the subway and light-rail systems, and form the backbone of a truly metropolitan rail system.  It had the potential to destroy the racism embedded in the city's history, and to have the impact on the local economy that Washington's Metro had on the District's region.  Even while the Red Line was in its planning stages, there has been evidence that the project was already beginning to have an economic impact. Take a look here. And here.

But the governor ignored all of this.  The governor who pledged to be the governor of all the people, who pledged to put Maryland ahead of party identification, the governor who pledged to be the governor of the whole state, has proved by virtue (or vice) to be a carbon copy of his mentor, Chris Christie:  a divide-and-conquer politician willing to strip funding from jurisdictions that won't vote for him and move it to jurisdictions that will.  Never mind that, in the process, he diminishes the long-term economic future of the entire state--including the regions that vote for him.  His short-term thinking is impeccable:  he understands that he stumbled into office on the back of a weak opponent, and the path to re-election depends on buying votes.

The story, however, does not have to end here.

All it would take is a gubernatorial candidate in the next election who embraced the concept of a green economy for the state, someone who could show that what Maryland, and the rest of the nation, desperately needs is an economy based upon renewable resources, such as solar and wind power, as well as a focus on renovation of private property and investment in public works such as mass transportation.  Such an economy could allow Baltimore, and Maryland, to break the cycle of racial division and economic shrinkage, and could actually raise enough revenue to pay for itself. And, ultimately, to not only pay for the Red Line, but to pay for what Baltimore ultimately really needs. Which is something like this:

(Click here for original link).

There's no reason we can't have this.  All we need to do is to reject the politics of fear.  Will we do it? We can hope and pray that we will.  And then, we can get out and work.

And, above all, vote.

Conservatives Embrace The Pope!

Eh, well, not this one, anyway.  What hypocrites.

Andy Griffith On Guns

Or rather, Sheriff Andy Taylor on guns.  Enough said.

Why Conservatives Should Embrace The Climate Change

Here are six reasons.  Here's one more:  the concept of a carbon tax embraces the idea that taxes are punitive--and, in the process, turns taxation into a public good.

And, While The Rest Of The Country Crumbles ...

... California continues to flourish.  Maybe Democrats aren't so bad at government after all.

Soil Wars?

That's what this article predicts, if we don't face how much we are connected to everything around us--and how much we need to change if we're going to preserve that connection, and ourselves.

Our Lives Depend On Bees

And, as they die off, so do we.  Can we save ourselves from ourselves?  Sometimes, I wonder.

The Party Of Hate Versus The Party Of Love

Or, to be more specific, members of the latter helping out a member of the former.

Which one would you rather have watching out for you?

Who Says Today's Liberals Have No Ideas?

We've got lots of them.  At least 37 of them, to be exact.  If Americans care about ideas, they'll vote out the party that has nothing except a fear of the future.

Mass Transit IS A Bipartisan Issue!

And here are a mayor from New York and a mayor from Oklahoma City to prove it.

Can It Really Be True ...

... that most Americans are now socialist?  It's about time.

When Conservative Causes Collide

Gun rights versus fetal rights in California.  Maybe conservatives would be OK with abortion if all abortions could be performed with guns.

Republicans Pugnante Populus

And fighting not only the people, but their own philosophy of government, when it comes to issues their well-heeled contributors care deeply about, like fracking.  It turns out that federalism, to conservatives, means that the states should be free to oppress the people, and the federal government created by "We The People" is powerless to help.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Conservatives: Taking Credit Where None Is Deserved

In my previous post,  I discussed the conservative tendency to avoid solving actual problems, because doing so would rob them of issues to exploit for the sake of expanding their power.  A related point, of course, is the fact that doing so would require collaboration with their opponents that would effectively reveal not only weaknesses in their own point of view, but also strengths in their opponents' views.  But life can be funny.  Sometimes, no matter how hard one side try to suppress the solution for the sake of its self-interest, the other side sticks to its guns, its principles, and everything else it has (i.e,, the truth), and the solution emerges whether any one opposes it or not.  Just as life finds a way in "Jurassic Park," truth finds a way in a free society, even a badly compromised one such as ours.

So, when it does, what is a good conservative to do?  Why, take credit, of course.

Remember the end of the Cold War?  It was painfully clear to liberals in the 1980s, even during the eight-year reign of the Great Dissembler, that the Soviet bloc, and the pathetic economic system that supported it, was dying, accelerated in part by the decision to invade Afghanistan (sound familiar)? It was not so clear to American conservatives, who demanded sacrifices (except for their supporters) to stare down the "unstoppable" Kremlin and its geopolitical pawns.  Even after the Berlin Wall came down, American conservatives were deeply suspicious of what was happening.  It contradicted everything that they had convinced themselves was true about the Red Menace.  It was something to be viewed not with joy, and certainly not as an inevitability, but rather as a sinister new twist in the Communist plot.

And then, when that position was clearly no longer sustainable, what did they then do?  Why, give their hero Ronald Reagan all of the credit.  Named an airport after him.  Claimed that it was due to all of the debt Ronnie piled up letting out defense contracts for his friends at General Electric ("We bring good things to life--and other things to death"), and other corporate cronies.  Demanded credit, and unlimited political power, for "ending" history.

But history marched on, and liberals--environmentalists in particular--discovered a Carbon Menace in the form of global warming.  Claimed (correctly) that it threatened the existence of our planet. Demanded that all of our resources and talent be devoted to solving the problem.  And were immediately mocked by the same conservatives who were so wrong about the Soviet bloc.  Became the victims of endless ad hominem arguments that they were simply trying to bring a about a socialist system of "rationing" economic success.  Were routinely told that what they were asking the rest of us to do was impossible.

As Rick Perry, might say, oops.  Or, as Kyle Smith argues in the New York Post, it was never really a problem, because American ingenuity would always rise to face down the problem.

Really, Kyle?  The problem that doesn't exist, according to your employer?  The problem that, if it existed, was too complicated and expensive to solve, according to your fellow-travellers in the VRWC?  The problem that was never more than a cloak for the evil Commie plan to nationalize the world's resources?

You don't devote your time, energy and other resources to raising an alarm if you don't believe in the possibility of a solution.  The people Mr. Smith so smugly castigates have been arguing for the solution--renewable energy--for literally decades, long before you were in a position to discover its "inevitability."  The fact of the matter is that environmental activists have been at the forefront of not only identifying the problem but also the solution.  It's precisely because of that truth that they've been able to convince entrepreneurs to make the solution work.  And it's precisely because of that truth that those entrepreneurs have pushed forward to the point at which the solution is working.

And, like many innovations in American history, government has had a major role to play in backing that innovation, which is why history will praise Barack Obama far more than the Saudi-loving GOP. Mr. Smith and his employer aren't big on big government, so this truth is-how shall we say--inconvenient for them (with apologies to Al Gore, who deserves many apologies from the Kyle Smiths of the world).  His market-forces argument on behalf of the growth of renewables is as honest as his evaluation of the percentage of renewables in world power consumption (in other words, not very).

Mr. Smith is oh so very desperate to want you to believe that his side are the "doers" and the other side are the "doubters."  He would very much like you to ignore the hand-wringing his side does about Middle Eastern terrorism, in particular weapons of mass destruction in a certain country we invaded.

I'm betting that, as long as there are people like me in the world, who recognize the problems and the solutions, most folks will see Mr. Smith for what he really is:  a professional hand-wringer serving an agenda that doesn't serve the rest of us.  There have been Kyle Smiths before this one, and their will be Kyle Smiths after this one.  History marches on, invariably toward the truth, leaving behind the Kyle Smiths who try to rewrite it.

Immigration Hypocrisy: Donald Trump, America, And The GOP

Trump.  The name that no one can escape.  Not the Republican Party.  Not the American people. And absolutely, positively, not any member of the American immigration community, documented or otherwise.  He launched his publicity stunt of a presidential campaign on the back of anti-immigration sentiment, using in the process the most grotesque stereotypes of Mexicans that even the most depraved mind could conjure.  And now, pressed to come up with policy proposals that fall back on something other than his self-professed genius, His Hugeness The Donald has announced what he will do about immigrants and immigration.

And boy, does it not lack for hugeness, among other things.  A fence along the Rio Grande that Mexico will pay for (don't worry, His Hugeness will convince Mexico to do so).  The mass deportation of every single undocumented alien AND all of their relatives, whether by blood or marriage, or whether or not they are U.S. citizens.  And, to top it all off, the end of birthright citizenship for children born in the U.S. to non-citizen parents.  Oh, and did I mention "sanctuary cities"?  Donald's got plans for them, too.  Huge ones.

Weeeeellllll, there's just one problem with all of this.  His Hugeness is a four-flushing, double-talking hypocrite.  Certainly on this issue, he is.  A hypocrite who uses undocumented workers on his construction sites.  A hypocrite who, when his hypocrisy is faced down by one of his own, undocumented employees, resorts to evasive answers and runs away from the truth.  Hardly the tell-it-like-it is guy his supporters claim him to be.

Donald may be two-faced, but he's no fool.  He knows that immigrant workers, documented or otherwise, are hard-working, tax-paying, decent human beings whose lives and dreams reflect everything that makes the United States special, even in the country's current state.  He prides himself on quality, and he will do whatever it takes to deliver that--including hiring the undocumented.  For that matter, so will the rest of us.

That is why we routinely hire immigrants, documented or not, to clean our bedpans, pick our produce, watch our children, serve our food, manicure our lawns, dust our furniture, build and clean buildings--in short, do all of the things that we as a society are too lazy or delicate or fearful to do. We don't like to admit this, of course because, well, it's embarrassing, and it turns out that, even at this late stage of the game, we have some--some--capacity for embarrassment.  So we deal with our embarrassment about immigrants in the same way that we deal with our shame about racism--we pretend it's the other side's fault, and demand that the other side be punished as harshly as possible. And as long as we engage in this duplicity while shrinking from any work that might dirty our pretty hands even a little bit, guess what?  The immigrant population, documented and otherwise, will just continue to grow.

As it is, the undocumented side of the immigrant population is a massive human rights embarrassment, one that begs for a solution by our federal government.  Would that we had a federal government that could rise to the challenge.  Instead, one-third of our federal government is infested by a political party that seeks to raise issues not in order to solve them, but to manipulate them into leverage for more power.  So that, when a common-sense, bipartisan immigration solution reaches the point at which it's only one-half-of-Congress away from becoming law, that one-half-of-Congress decides to do nothing, in the hope of provoking a mix of anger and apathy that would give them the other half of Congress. Which it did.  Now, both halves of Congress are hoping to pick up the White House next year and spend more time running away from answers and looking for new wedge issues.

Alas for them, politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum.  And when the anti-immigrant portion of the American population figures out that they were being scammed, all they needed was a spokesperson willing to give voice to their rage.  Enter Donald Trump, stage left, walking down the stairway of the obscene Fifth Avenue gilded monstrosity with which he replaced the Bonwit Teller building, his second trophy wife on his arm.

And now, the establishment GOP, or what's left of it, is outraged.  This wasn't why they worked so hard to make buying elections as American as apple pie.  Currently, George Will and Charles Krauthammer are leading the anti-Trump charge in the right-wing media conspiracy, whining about how His Hugeness isn't allowing the unprecedented greatness of the current GOP presidential field to shine through.

Wrong again, guys.  Trump's semi-domination of that field (at the pathetic level of 24 percent) illustrates the fact that it is not the presidential equivalent of the '27 Yankees.  More like the '62 Mets. Or, perhaps, most like the clown car at the circus.  A care in which Donald Trump is the biggest Bozo, teaching the others how to put on their greasepaint and floppy shoes.  And it's working: rather than asserting their own, individualized policy positions on immigration, everyone else in the car with Trump is dancing to the beat of his shuffle.

It's a profoundly sad legacy for a country that used to take pride in its ability to solve problems of any size and complexity.  In a more personal way, it's a profoundly sad legacy for Fred Trump, Donald's father, who started out with a tool box and a pick-up truck and built thousands of middle-class homes for New Yorkers.  It's a blessing for him that he's not alive to see what his son has become:  the most obnoxious reflection of our dereliction of duty to our forebearers who sacrificed for a greatness we no longer deserve.  And all of whom were, or came from, immigrants.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Yes, It Truly IS Time For This!

Artists organizing to advance their political interests, that is.  Artists have more resources to do this than they realize.  All they really need is an understanding of their common interests--and their common opponents.  Who will be brave and determined enough to do this important work?

Someone, I hope.  And someone soon.

The GOP Believes In Making Dogs Hunt By Beating Them

That's why they cut taxes on the rich and raise them on the poor, even if you're John Kasich, the governor of Ohio who, at last week's GOP presidential primary debate, stood by his pro-Obamacare rhetoric that invoked the presence of St. Peter.  I guess Kasich is one of those Christians who think there's room in the temple for the money lenders.

Let's Hope That They Never Do

Close, that is.  Eight special places in New York.

And, Speaking Of The Common Man (Or Woman) ...

... it's always a good idea to call them "arrogantly stupid" and "ignorant," isn't it?  Not really.  I doubt that next year will prove otherwise.

Soaking The Rich Is The Will Of The People!

When a Republican pollster like Gallup says so, you know its true.

The Left Rises In The Oil Patch!

In Alberta, that is.

Just What Is It That Holds The Republican Party Together, Anyway?

A fair question, in light of the fact that last week's debate on Fox provided very little insight that would help answer that question.  For me, at least, watching the debate, which was one of the rare times I watch Fox (apart from when I'm trapped in a reception area with a TV tuned to it), I got a rare but real glimpse into an alternative universe, one in which there is absolutely nothing wrong with America that couldn't be cured by getting rid of the Democrats, and any sign that they had ever existed.

For, as noted here, whatever the 2016 Republican presidential field has in number of bodies, it's balance out by the ideas.  Or lack thereof.  If ideas offer nourishment for our brains and souls, the debate had nothing to offer but the endless prospect of starvation for all of us.  The rhetoric of all of the candidates--even the so-called serious "establishment" candidates--was largely a series of bumper stickers, despite surprisingly tougher questioning than I would have expected from Fox-supplied moderators.  And, when the candidates weren't resorting to bumper stickers, they were resorting to personal attacks--not only against each other, but also between themselves and the moderators.  You need only mention the names "Donald Trump" and "Megyn Kelly" to understand what I mean.

In short, the Republican primary field has, right at the start, devolved into a personality contest, one with only two guideposts:  (a) who has the most compelling personal biography, and (b) who can otherwise sound like the meanest S.O.B. on the planet.  But that is not the same thing as saying that electing one of these losers to the most powerful position on the planet wouldn't have consequences. It would have very serious consequences indeed.

Specifically, WAR.

A Republican President with no policy or programmatic argument for his or her leadership would find, in all probability, that a Republican Congress would be more than happy to fill the vacuum their intellectual flatulence created.  And, while we have seen that the current Republican Congress can agree amongst its members on very little, war is something that, in spite of the Iraqi fiasco, brings them together very powerfully.  For proof of this, one need look no further than the current congressional debate over the Iran nuclear treaty negotiated by the Obama Administration, and currently before both houses for an ultimate vote on final approval.

This is a treaty that allows us to inspect the Iranian nuclear development program, to ensure against the development by Iran of weapons-grade nuclear material.  It been negotiated in conjunction with our allies, to ensure broad international support.  It has been endorsed by military leaders from Israel, the nation whose interests would be most threatened by Iranian possession of a nuclear weapon.  It would open up avenues of trade and other forms of international exchange that would expose the Iranian people to influences other than their thought-controlling theocracy.

And, worst of all from the Republican perspective, it would deprived them of their favorite political plaything--Iran as a pariah nation, outwardly hostile to the American public, yet open to covert influence from moneyed sources in the American conservative movement.  The delayed release of our embassy hostages in 1980 and the Iran-Contra scandal in 1985 illustrate the destructive nature of this latter influence.  Let there be no doubt:  our troubled relationship with Iran, born out of our Cold War manipulation of its government beginning in the 1950s, was the launching pad for the so-called "Reagan Revolution," and therefore the single most unifying force within the Republican Party and the larger conservative movement.

Which is why, in all probability, this treaty will become binding only after Obama vetoes its expected rejection by congressional Republican majorities.  This is currently expected to happen, and to withstand any attempt at a veto override.  But, in its own way, it does illustrate the irrationality of the Republican mindset on this issue.  Their supposed rationale for that mindset is a deep-seated concern for the security of Israel--a nation that already possesses between 100 to 250 nuclear weapons and allows NO inspection of its nuclear program.  My apologies for not putting "rationale" in quotes earlier.

In raw political terms, Iran and the prospect of war with it, is the glue that holds the GOP together.  It is its economic policy (guns over butter), its foreign policy (taking out the "bad guys"), and its social policy (war against the "heathens").  Take away the prospect of that war, and the Republican Party ceases to be a meaningful political force.

Which is why I can't wait for that veto, and the beginning of the end of our long national nightmare (thank you, Jerry Ford, a better Republican than any in the current lot).  It can't come soon enough.

The World Should Pay For Us To Be Its Police Force

Is it wise to cut military spending?

That, at any rate, is the headline for these three New York Times letters to the editor, only one of which is smart enough to look at the issue from the perspective of Dwight Eisenhower.  In addition to being our 34th President, Eisenhower was Supreme Allied Commander during World War II--the one war that still unites public sentiment.  As Russ Weiss notes in his brief and very much to-the-point letter, Eisenhower's warning about the influence of the "military-industrial complex" is very relevant in an age when so-called "fiscal conservatives" insist on more defense spending than all other nations combined,  And it's worth comparing Mr. Weiss succinct broadside to the convoluted argument made by Matthew Richard Hipple for "robust basing."  Anytime an adjective popularized by Dick Cheney is used to argue for a blank check to the military, more than a little suspicion is warranted.

But, with or without Lieutenant Hipple's letter, more than a little suspicion is warranted about the trillions of military-related dollars spent by our government in the post-World War II era, and particularly over the last quarter-century since the end of the Cold War.  Initially, this spending was justified by the "Red Menace," which was also successfully used to destroy much of America's creative community, and blaspheme the name of God by putting it in our national slogan and on our money.  Never was it admitted, let alone discussed, that our nuclear arsenal alone gave us, qualitatively and quantitatively, an advantage over both the Soviets and the Chinese that was a more than sufficient deterrent for our national needs.  Instead, we got the "domino theory" defense of this spending--which was destroyed in 1989, when the dominoes started falling in the other direction as the economic weakness of the Soviet empire was exposed.

One would have thought that the spare-no-military-expense age would have ended right there--and, for a time, it seemed like there was a chance of that happening.  Along came the 9/11 tragedy, however, and the war hawks in Congress and the media jumped for joy.  (Don't believe me?  Just go back and look at the press coverage from that time.)  Once again, they felt they had been given an excuse to open the fiscal floodgates--and public sentiment backed them, swallowing such specious arguments that the Iraq war would pay for itself with oil revenue.  Of course, that argument hit just a bit too close to home in exposing the real reason for invading Iraq, but that's a blog post for another day.

You know what happened.  Trillions of dollars in debt, the near-collapse of the American economy, and the rise of ISIS in place of Saddam Hussein.  By any practical metric, the biggest military disaster in American history.  And, in the end, a war that had nothing to do with our strategic needs, because the 9/11 attackers came, not from Iraq, but largely from Saudi Arabia--an ally that supplies us with, yes, oil.

But I digress a bit.  True, the Iraqi war exposed the extent to which public policy in the post-Reagan era is controlled by the needs of corporate America.  Nevertheless, the concept of America as the world's police force is a popular one--even in countries where the citizens vehemently express anti-American sentiments.  And, sadly, that phenomenon is driven by money as well.  When a nation does not need to pay for its own defense, it can channel its spending into other areas.  Some of this benefits the peoples of those nations, while some of this merely benefits their governments, and the elites that control them.

The fundamental problem with all of this, fiscally and otherwise, is this:  we live in an international age where conflict exists not among a handful of nations, but from literally dozens of them.  It is simply not possible for one nation to play the role of the world's police force.  If the richest nation of the planet cannot afford to do it--and it can't--no one else should bother to try.  The truth of the matter is that international cooperation, as embodied in organizations such as the United Nations,is not some pie-in-the-sky dream, to be dismissed by what war hawks and profiteers see as "harsh realities."  The real harsh reality is that we are ignoring the need for that cooperation--and paying the price for it, fiscally and otherwise.

From an ideological and technical standpoint, it probably makes sense for us to be the world's police force.  Better Obama than Putin in the role of Commissioner Gordon, if you want to put it that way. But, if the rest of the world wants us to play that role, it is past due time for the rest of the world to pay its fair share for us to perform that job.

And, if it can't or won't do it, then it should learn to do it for itself.  And let the people's government do a better job of taking care of its people.  Perhaps that's the kick in the pants that the world needs to work together.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Something's Right With Nebraska

At least when it comes to capital punishment, that is.

It's About Time!

Apparently, it's possible for white people to discover that racism exists, after all.

Lives Are The Most Important Thing Jeopardized By War

But not the only thing; war jeopardizes our history as well.  Take a look.

An Unexpected Reason To Worry About Guns On Campus

Guns as a source of grade inflation?  Makes sense.  Of course, the gun-lobby rebuttal then becomes "No problem; everyone on campus should buy a gun."  A statement which exposes the issue of choice, when it comes to gun rights, for the sham that it is.

The Best Advice ANYONE Can Give You About Happiness ...

... can be found right here.  I know.  I've tried it, and it's the only thing that works.

Uh-Oh, Mr. Chief Justice

Better be careful about saying things like this, or you'll undermine your own Citizens United ruling.

Why I Still Love Baseball

I was born in Baltimore, and have followed the Orioles ever since I was about eight years old.  I moved to New York in January of 1979, and adopted the Mets as well (then as well as now, they looked like they could use all of the support they could get).  By the time I was a grown-up, free-agency had begun to radically transform the game I had fallen in love with.  What had once been working-class entertainment for the masses was, as a consequence of the astronomical contracts being handed out to players, slowly turning into an amusement largely for the expense-account crowd and other well-heeled types.  Tickets were more expensive.  Concessions were more expensive.  And even the notion of enjoying the game for free on TV was dying a slow death; today, that death is complete.

And it wasn't just the price tag for enjoying the game.  What was once almost exclusively a sport had begun its slow-motion devolution into stories of a different sort.  Players using drugs, either recreational or performance enhancing.  Players ending up on the police blotter for various misdemeanors and occasional felonies (spousal abuse and drinking while driving being frequent examples).  Owners gambling away their team's finances (here's looking at you, Mr. and Mr. Wilpon of the Mets).  Owners threatening to move from one city to another unless hundreds of millions of state and municipal dollars were given to them.  Players AND owners both being guilty of the worst sorts of bigotry, blotting the history of a game that has done so much to fight bigotry (here's looking at you, Mr. Robinson and Mr. Reese).

Who in their right mind would or could love a sport like that?  In this century in particular, all of these trends seem, if anything, to have accelerated.  After a while, it becomes easy to find recreation in less vexing ways, and limit one's exposure to the sport to books about the "good old days."  That can be a trap as well; not all of those days were good.  But at least, for the most part, the game was about the game.

And then, there comes a week like this past week.

A week in which the Mets "almost" made a trade that sent Wilmer Flores, a young shortstop, and Zach Wheeler, a young pitcher currently recovering from Tommy John surgery, to the Minnesota Twins for a former Mets prospect, Carlos Gomez, in an effort to jump-start the Mets' offense.  Ordinarily, players involved in a trade under discussion are pulled from the lineup and the dugout, to protect them against injury and media scrutiny. 

Not in the case of Flores and his crackerjack bosses, who sometimes have run their team with less care than they would give a box of Cracker Jacks.  They left him on the field in a game, while news about the trade was available to fans in the stands via their smart phones.  And to Flores as well, who burst into tears.  As well he should.  His employer should have protected him, and didn't.  Flores' experience in the majors with the Mets has been up-and-down, literally and figuratively, and this must have felt like this humiliation was the proverbial last straw.

But then, the trade fell apart, for reasons that are still not clear.  And Flores, to his immense credit, pulled himself together.  And merely did this.

And that's why I still love baseball.  Because all it takes is a moment like this to forget all of the garbage that has attached itself to the game, and make you realize that it's a game in which anything can still happen.  Even magic.  I've watched this video over and over again; somehow, it makes me feel like I'm watching baseball for the first time.

Which, if you're not watching it, for any reason, I agree with Whitey Herzog:  you're missing a great game.

It's The Vacations (Or Lack Thereof), Stupid!

Thanks to the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, and the raw financial power of corporate media, we drown daily in a sea of conservative Op-Ed pieces by authors of varying levels of accomplishment.  Accomplishment, that is, when it comes to dishonesty or stupidity.

I mean, sometimes--hell, most of the time--it's hard to tell which of those two weaknesses are responsible for some of the "views" these pieces express.  Is it one or the other?  Is it both?  Either way, they do little more than illustrate the inability of modern conservative thinking to articulate an honest, defensible approach to solving the nation's problems.  And, at the same time, they crowd out of the marketplace voices that could offer such an approach.

Take Jonah Goldberg's recent syndicated lament for the death of the summer job.  After spending several narcissistic paragraphs about how summer jobs built his character as he, admittedly, worked for "beer money," he launches into a tirade about the alleged immorality of making the minimum wage a "living wage."  He follows this up with an extended ad hominem argument that internships, immigrants and unions form an unholy trio whose support for the minimum wage is, ipso facto, proof that the concept should be rejected without discussion.

Let's tackle the question of the alleged "immorality" first.  Goldberg's argument here depends on the idea that employers hiring inexperienced workers are burdened by the risk that inexperience poses to their work.  That statement, alone, makes me wonder about the veracity of his own alleged "experiences."  I worked a number of summer jobs in my high school and college years, and none of them offered any kind of guarantee of employment.  If someone working a summer job for one of these employers screwed up, guess what?  He or she was out the door, and someone else took their place, just like that.  Tell me, Mr. Goldberg:  in that scenario, who's really bearing the risk?  Hint:  not the employer.

As for the vision of all those entrepreneurial, Reaganesque, morning-in-America employers desperate to hire inexperience workers who just might be the next great Horatio Alger story--well, good luck finding those employers, then or now.  All of the employers I applied to were looking for experienced employers.  Two intriguing exceptions:  the Baltimore County Public Library system (oh horrors!  A government employer gave me my first work experience); and two concessions companies within the National Park Service, which only hired me because I was sponsored by A Christian Ministry In The National Parks to lead worship services for park visitors.  Employers hiring the inexperienced?  Might as well believe that tax cuts balance budgets.  Oh, that's right, Mr. Goldberg; you believe that too.

When it comes to wages, the only immorality is asking people to work for a living at a level that forces them to depend on government handouts to get by.  Ever heard of Wal-Mart, Mr. Goldberg?  And it's not the only offender.  On the other hand, Henry Ford, no one's idea of a knee-jerk liberal, took this view.  And consider this quote:
I pity the man who wants a coat so cheap that the man or woman who produces the cloth or shapes it into a garment will starve in the process.
That was said by Benjamin Harrison, Mr. Goldberg.  A Republican President.  Would that we had more Republicans like that nowadays.

But the real culprit in the decline of the summer job?  Fewer workers going on vacations.  The death of the summer job is inextricably linked to the death of the summer vacation.  With fewer workers going away in the summer, there is less need for summertime help--and hence, fewer opportunities to earn "beer money."   And why are fewer workers going on vacation?  Thirty-five years of union-busting, worker-crusting, employer-loving public policy, that's way.  All delivered to all of us with the help of apparatchiks like Mr. Goldberg, to whom I offer two parting thoughts.

You claim to have been a mail room "flunky."  Don't insult people who work in mail rooms; their work is sometimes more valuable and more crucial that the work of some so-called executives.  You also claim to have been worried about men from the Stonewall Inn flirting with you.  Don't worry, your a Republican.  None of them would have wanted a good piece of elephant.