Saturday, December 31, 2016

My Parting Thought For 2016

This is my last 2016 post.  I started this blog almost eight years ago, in the early months of Barack Obama's presidency, at a time when all things seemed possible and hope was alive in a way that I hadn't experienced in a long time.  As this year ends, however, hope seems to barely register for many people I know, let alone flicker.  On many days, I am one of those people.

It's worth remembering the many good things Obama accomplished, not the least of which was pulling America back from the brink of a second Great Depression.  Most importantly (and with a loud pu! pu! pu! for his final days in office), he will have served two full terms as the first African-American president in our nation's history.  He and his family have carried an incredible historic weight for eight years, and done so with amazing grace and character.  Whether all of us realize it or not, all of us are better off for that fact.

And, ironically, his presidency has exposed the extent to which America is still a very deeply racist nation, and is still unwilling and/or unable to deal with that fact.  One of the most glaring recent examples of this was provided by Bill O'Reilly, who recently offered this "thought" on one of his broadcasts:  "The left wants power taken away from the white establishment ... ".

That is as breathtaking an admission of white privilege as any newscaster on American media has ever presented.  If there was any doubt about the entrenched nature of bigotry in this country, there can't be any now.  We all need to face this fact every day, especially from January 20th onward. Those who will be in power from then on have no respect for Barack Obama, or anything accomplished by any African-American.  They do not stand for America.  They stand for whiteness. Never be ashamed of opposing them, and never be intimidated by them.

The path to a unified, better America runs through the need to stand up to them.  I hope all of you are ready.  I am.  May your 2017 experience help you to find the way to play your part.

And, Speaking Of Renewables ...

... take a look at this.

The question of renewability is not by any means limited to energy.  Until we perfect interplanetary travel, we've only got one planet, and therefore only one source of natural resources.  This has already started to force us to look at alternative methods of producing industrial and consumer goods, using materials that would not have been even considered previously because other, more usable materials were more abundant, and therefore cheaper.  But those materials are rapidly disappearing, and the need for alternative resources, and alternative methods of production, has never been greater.

The advent of 3D printing offers one potential solution.  In a very short time, this new technology has already grown to the point at which, as shown in the CNN story, it's capable of producing over 200 products, including toys, jewelry and home decorations.  It's not at all difficult to imagine that, as 3D printing is refined and improved, it will ultimately begin to dominate manufacturing worldwide, as robotics have already done.

And it's also not difficult to imagine opposition to the growth of this new technology, from potentially displaced workers in existing industries to the potentially displaced owners of those industries. Likewise, there will be debates about how the profits from this and other, similar advances are to be shared, just as those debates are advancing now with respect to other advances in productivity.

I wonder if we will ever be able to find a way to celebrate and promote our inventiveness while doing a better job of sharing the benefits of what that inventiveness produces.  I'm grateful for new technologies like 3D printing.  Along with that gratitude, however, comes the hope that we can find a way to make sure that everyone benefits from it.

And Cheers For The City Of Las Vegas!

It would be hard to think of a city that consumes electricity more conspicuously than does Las Vegas. And yet, in spite of that fact, this past year saw a major milestone in its history, as well as the nation's history.  Las Vegas is now entirely powered by renewable energy.

I came of age in the 1970s, a time during which oil-producing countries had us in the grip of our dependency on their product.  We were, as we are now, a nation that runs on electricity, and fossil fuels were the only way of producing it in mass quantities.  This fact had an unfortunate effect on our foreign policy, forcing us into overseas alliances that made a mockery of our professed values as a nation.  And many of the nations with whom we had these alliances showed no inclination to show us any real respect, or mercy.  9/11 was a particularly horrible example of that tendency.

Despite what those in the fossil fuel industry, and their supporters in the media (George Will, take note) said to the contrary, it has always been within our power to free ourselves from the grip of overseas despots who used their ability to provide oil to manipulate and terrorize us.  All we had to do is remember that this country was meant to belong to the people, and not the fossil fuel industry. All we had to do is rely on the initiative and resourcefulness that made America great in the first place.  All we had to do is take Jimmy Carter seriously when he said that the struggle for energy independence was the moral equivalent of war.

Thankfully, Barack Obama has been a president who took the challenge and opportunity of energy independence seriously.  If this nation ever achieves total reliance on renewable resources, he will have played a large part in making it happen.

And, in the meantime, VIVA LAS VEGAS!

Cheers For The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission!

The Commission entered this year with a backlog of 95 properties that had been proposed as potential New York City landmarks.  Today, the backlog is cleared, and 41 properties (more specifically, 39 individual buildings and 2 historic districts) have been added to the list of amazing structures that do so much to define an amazing city.  Here is a link to the list of 41.

New York, more than ever, is the subject of development pressures, not just from in the city, but from all over the world.  Sometimes, especially in the past year, it seems as if every day brings news of some faceless, charmless megastructure that will do little more than make someone a lot of money from people who can afford to pay it--and, in a decade or so, be torn down and replaced by some even more faceless, charmless megastructure.

Why am I, along with others, so fascinated by older buildings?  Maybe its as simple as the fact that they were built in a time when money wasn't the only reason for putting them up in the first place. They were seen as embodying other virtues--stability, beauty, and designs that allowed them to shine without overwhelming their architectural neighbors.  It's the history of what happened in many of these places, of course, that also makes them special.  And often that history is more significant than the architecture.

Whatever the reason, be it architecture or history, it's important to save as many of these treasures as possible.  They tell us much about where we have been, and can serve as guideposts to the future. Congratulations to the Commission, and also to the citizen advocates who do much to enable their work.  And may all of us look around us, whether we're in New York or anywhere else, and do what we can to save America's past.

And Then, There's The Problem With Higher Education

The next time you hear some conservative blowhard whine about how colleges and universities are turning out one generation of liberals after another, get them to take a look at this.

The sad reality of higher education is that, even at high-prestige schools, there is a constant need to fundraise merely to survive.  This has always been true of privately owned or controlled institutions, but public colleges and universities, thanks to budget and tax cutting, now need to depend upon the kindness of donors who can write large checks.  The increased competition for funding created in the process makes all colleges and university that much more desperate in their fundraising.  And, unfortunately, that much more willing to compromise their principles.

For people like the Koch brothers, this creates an ideal opportunity to buy influcence.  They have seemingly unlimited amounts of money, and no principles beyond promoting their own power and influence.  Put that together with the schools' financial desperation and a fear of being branded "politically correct," and it becomes easy to see how American academia can easily be turned into a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries.

If I was a parent looking for a college or university for one of my children, I'd investigate and evaluate schools very carefully with respect to their willingness to accept money from influence-peddlers like the Kochs.  And, if I weren't satisfied that the school was truly committed to academic and intellectual freedom, I'd take my child, and my money elsewhere.  Hopefully, if you're in that position, you'll feel the same way.  Your child's future, and that of the country, depend on it.

The United States Of Privateers

You may, like me, have become accustomed to looking at the world around you, and thinking in terms of the public and the private sectors, of resources owned by some of us, and those owned by all of us.  Schools, utilities, roads, parks--these and others are things we all own.

That's turning out to be less and less true.  Thanks to the New York Times, recently, I had my eyes opened to the extent to which the whole concept of public ownership has been reduced to obsolescence.  Follow this link, and the Times will be happy to walk you though a typical day in your life.  You will find that much of it is not owned by you, me, or the general population.  It's owned by equity firms--private investment firms with clients now willing to look for and profit off of assets formerly owned and controlled by the public.

The reasons behind this phenomenon are transparently obvious.  State and local governments with shrinking tax bases and rising costs, combined with voters less and less willing to pay taxes to governments they trust less and less, are looking for alternative ways to provide services that people need.  Equity firms are willing to provide those services, either through direct ownership or by management of assets still owned by the public.

Sounds great?  What happens to these assets and services in a financial downtown?  Do they just shut down, and leave everyone desperate for help that's no longer available?  Does the government step back in?  Can they do that quickly, if necessary?  And who pays then?  And how much?  Is the government on the hook for bailing out the investors, as was the case in 2008?  Are the taxpayers?

We might want to search for answers to those questions before the crisis hits.  It's only a matter of time before it does.  If we the people ultimately end up getting stuck with the bill when it come due, we might want to have a say about how much we want to pay.

"Common Ground" On Pornography?

I saw this article recently published by the Washington Post and, after reflecting on what it had to say, wondered if it didn't have larger lessons for all of us.

The boundaries of what constitutes pornography have always been hard to define.  For that reason, it's always been difficult to address much of the social harm it creates, except indirectly.  For example, the porn industry has often been connected other activities, such as human trafficking and substance abuse, that are by common consensus activities that must be criminalized.  By prosecuting those activities, we effectively put some sort of boundaries around the problem.  We don't, however, get at the problem itself--or, even more importantly, at the root causes of its existence.

Direct bans on pornographic materials and exhibits have always been overturned on First Amendment grounds, for the simple reason that it is impossible to craft language in a ban that would allow mature depictions of sexual activity and relationships while forbidding ones that are designed to do nothing more than arouse our most physical instincts.  (Example:  I had to write that last sentence with extreme care, so that I could be as clear as possible about making a distinction to what are commonly reduced to the words "art" and "smut."  I hope I was successful.)

However, this is where social and psychological research has been helpful, in identifying the personal characteristics that lead people to not only create porn, but consume it as well.  One example, from several decades ago:  Time magazine published an article about a research study conducted by interviewing strippers, attempting to find out whether their were any common characteristics that might have led them into that particular career.  The study found that many of these women came from backgrounds with absent or abusive men as fathers.  This suggests the possibility that a combination of low-self-esteem with a negative perspective on men might be a factor in leading a woman to choose stripping as an occupation.

It's obviously difficult to generalize about human behavior from the results of a single study, or even from many.  But there is enough out there to suggest that porn is a industry largely fed on reduced self-esteem, especially when it comes to sexuality.  A person with a strong sense of sexual self-esteem doesn't need to watch other people having sex; they'd rather be a participant than a spectator. If that's the case, than it makes sense to treat the problem as the gentleman from Virginia suggests--not as a problem to be addressed through the criminal justice system, but as one to be addressed through the public health system.

If his bill is passed and, at some point, it simply becomes a pretext to enact some sort of ban on certain types of media, then those of us on the other side of the partisan divide can and should fight every effort to enact such bans.  If it passes and, instead, it becomes the framework for addressing the social and personal harms connected to porn in a positive, proactive way, and leads to a healthier society, sexually and otherwise, then it deserves to be supported now.  Perhaps, one day, it can lead to the framework for legislation on a national basis (that is, if we can ever get Congress to work on something other than its own re-election).

I hope that Democrats in Virginia will work with Delegate Marshall on his bill.  He seems likely to accept such support, as he has apparently worked across party lines in the past.  If that happens, it could lead to two positive results, besides the passing of the bill.  First, it would illustrate the value of research in helping us all to learn more about ourselves, and therefore more about how to solve our problems.  Second, it would show that, even now, when it comes to a truly hot-button issue, democracy can still find a way to bring people together on a solution.

In any event, when I read this, I felt that perhaps, even in the coming year, when our national government threatens to become a reality show at best and a fascist nightmare at worst, there are still some small glimmers of hope in the darkness.  I root for many more in 2017--for you, for your loved ones, and for all of us.

The Real "War Against Christmas"

Of all the battles fought in the so-called "cultural wars," the most ridiculous one is the so-called war against Christmas.  What exactly is this war, anyway?

It's not a war against religious observances; no laws have been passed to stop these, and they took place this month as they have taken place for literally thousands of years, in the United States and around the world.  Nor is it a war against shopping.  Granted, more of that takes place on the Internet now than it does in bricks-and-mortar stores.  But take place it does, in lean and fat years. And it certainly isn't a war against decorations.  I live in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, yet it takes very little effort to find holiday displays in and outside of many houses nearby.

Ah, "holiday."  There's the real rub, isn't it?  This "war" isn't a war about the holiday, or much of the activity surrounding it.  It is at best a war about words.  It's a war about the modern tendency to say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."  But why should Christians feel threatened by it?

"Happy Holidays" is a phrase of inclusion.  It presumes the inclusion of Christmas; that's why it's frequently used in connection with displays that feature a variety of Christmas symbols, even ones that are specifically religious.  It simply recognizes the fact that America is a nation of many religions, and not just one.  It embraces not only other contemporaneous spiritual celebrations, such as Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, but also a secular holiday, New Year's Day, that everyone celebrates. What is it about inclusion that is so offensive?  Tolerance and diversity are supposedly the foundation of the free society in which we all live, and from which we all benefit.

Well, of course, the problem is that a segment of our society does not see the foundation of our society that way.  They see that foundation in purely tribal terms.  Skin color.  Gender. And, of course, the religion that was the religion of the nation's majority for a long time.  I think the word in this war of words that most deeply offends them is was.  Being white, male and Christian was at one time a badge of power.  That is no longer the case--or, at least, not as true as it used to be. And that's the fact that bothers the "Merry Christmas" people the most.  Force people to say "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays," and white male Christians will be on the comeback trail.  If there's a war that's being fought against Christmas, these are the people who are prosecuting it--the ones obsessed with words.

But winning that war wouldn't put them back in the saddle, even if it were winnable.  Even if it were possible to dictate the words of others, it wouldn't stop the demographic changes that have and will continue to take place in this country.  It would just take us further away from the real meaning of the word "Christmas."

Christmas is a holiday about giving, not taking, in its most fundamental religious elements, and even in its secular ones.  It is not a holiday about building oneself up.  It is a holiday about sharing what we have, and, in the process, reshaping the world in accordance with G-d's wishes.  It is not a holiday about seizing power.  It is a holiday about relinquishing it in accordance to the wishes of a Higher Power.

Pope Francis, who may be presumed to know a thing or two about Christianity, clearly gets this.  But Donald Trump does not, and neither do many of his followers, even among Catholics.  Another person who gets this:  the woman who recently resigned from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir rather than perform at Trump's inauguration.  The supreme irony of this is that evangelical Christians, four out of five of whom voted for Trump, do not regard Mormons as "real" Christians, because of their specific beliefs as outlined in the Book of Mormon.

Evangelical Christianity is not particularly noted for its ability to accept criticism or criticize itself. This is a quality that has gradually undermined whatever spiritual authority it once had (during Abolition, for example), and has reduced it to the point where American evangelicals have replaced Jews as the most reflexive supporters of Israel, even though that support is undermining Christians in Jerusalem.

Regardless of what your faith may be, we need to stop worrying about words, and a great deal more about deeds.  Never in the whole history of the world have wealth and technology been more powerful, and yet human suffering has also never been more widespread.  And words are, more often than not, misused to mask the sources and the extent of this suffering (see, e.g., the subject of "fake news").  If you are a Christian, and care more about what God thinks about that claim than you do, you need to find the power of your faith in action, and not speech.  You need to get over yourself, and get on to serving others--not on your terms, but theirs.  You need to make Christmas a holiday in which the words "Merry Christmas" stand for something other than a claim to secular power.  You need to make those words stand for love made visible.

Oh, and Happy Holidays to you all.

A Tale Of Two "Leaders"

One craves power above all else, while the other craves decency above all else.  They come together in the middle of a heated election season, at which information is disclosed indicating that a foreign power hostile to the United States is attempting to use the Internet in order to hack into databases, e-mail accounts, and other sites that store sensitive political information.  The obvious purpose of this hacking:  to disrupt the election process in a way that benefits the foreign power responsible for it.

This would be concerning for everyone in any election season.  It should be particularly so in this election season, in which one of the two major candidates for the Presidency has not only shown an affinity for the leader of the aforesaid political power, but has even invited that power to hack into the e-mails of his opponent.  This should have been an obvious moment to put aside partisan politics and think about the future of the Republic, and perhaps of democracy itself.

Except that it wasn't.  Because one of the "leaders" is Mitch McCONnell, the current and future majority leader of the U.S. Senate.  And the other is Barack Obama, the outgoing President of the United States.

Obama, of course, was the one providing the information.  Strictly speaking, he did not have to, because his authority in foreign affairs under Article II of the Constitution is enough to allow him to unilaterally act to stop the hacking.  However, Obama decided to confer with McCONnell before releasing any information about it to the American people, to be able to present a united front in the face of a material threat to the integrity of our government.

Either he forgot who he was dealing with, or underestimated the indecency of his opposite number. Because McCONnell informed him that any public disclosure of this information would be treated as a partisan disclosure on behalf of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party.  So Obama made no disclosure.

Had he done so, voters on both sides of the partisan fence would have had an important piece of information to use in weighing their choices.  Some may still have voted for Donald Trump, under the misguided theory that having a President friendly with Vladimir Putin, the leader of the foreign power in question, would be good for the U.S..  (Obviously, those voters have never seen "The Manchurian Candidate.")  Many others might have decided that it would be best for the country, and the world, not to have a President who might effectively be a foreign agent rather than a patriotic

In any case, the outcome of the election, and the short-term and long-term future of the nation, might now be materially different.  They won't be, because of the bizarrely bipolar nature of our national politics.  McCONnell leads a party motivated by nothing but a craving for personal power, heedless to the dangers of misusing it. That might not be so terrifying if Obama did not lead a party worried more about obeying the rules of Hoyle than they are about winning the game.

I have nothing but the greatest respect for Obama and most of what he has accomplished, while carrying a demographic burden that would have crushed a lesser leader, but he shares with other members of his party an obsession with clean hands that overlooks the occasional need in politics for sharp claws.  This article sums up the predictable result: the other party holds the government in its hands, while the other side has nothing but cleanliness.

If I were Obama, I would give serious consideration to making up for his mistaken confidence in GOP decency, by going through Robert Reich's checklist before he leaves office, and make sure to check off every single item on it.  And if I were leading the Democratic Party, I would give serious consideration to taking the advice of Sean Connery in the movie "The Untouchables," as outlined here.

My fear is that neither Obama nor the Democratic leadership will take Reich's or Connery's advice. Rather, they will continue to try kicking the football the GOP "holds" for them.  And the Russians will not have to bother taking American democracy prisoner, because it will already be dead.

It's up to us, in that case.  Are you prepared to fight back.  If you're not, do yourself and all of us a favor.  And learn.  Because Obama was right about one thing   we are the change we seek.  We always have been.  We always will be.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

And One More Thing ...

It's hard to remember four or five weeks back at this point, but some of you may remember that the winner of the popular vote in the past presidential election got there because she kept saying, over and over again, that we are stronger together.

She didn't win the election, of course, thanks to the Electoral College, and who knows what shenanigans went on in battleground states.  If you don't believe me regarding the latter point, just ask former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who bragged before the election that "we have some tricks up our sleeve."  Too bad for him (but good for the rest of us) that those tricks aren't going to let him become Secretary of State.

But there are others who are happy to prove her point for her.  This past week, a large number of them celebrated a victory that is likely to be fleeting, but nevertheless proves Hillary Clinton's point:  the willingness of the Army Corps of Engineers to consider an alternative route for the Dakota Access pipeline, one that would protect the drinking water of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

It would take a few words from Donald Trump later next month to reverse this victory.  But this still illustrates the key to stopping Trump from getting away with hijacking our democracy.  It takes more than just standing up.  It takes standing shoulder-to-shoulder.  And it takes total indifference to how tough it gets.  There are no easy victories in the history of this country.  But that's part of the reason why every one of those victories was and is worthwhile.

Who knows?  Perhaps something like this is the next step.  Perhaps it may take even stronger steps. But, when a world-class narcissist who can be baited with a tweet can start a nuclear war, all of us have to ask ourselves to find our inner warriors.  All of us have to be prepared to stand as strong and as long as the Standing Rock protests.  All of us have a country to save, before it's too late.

Another Election, Or A Step Back From The Brink?

First Brexit, then Trump.  And everyone was waiting to see if Austria, the birth country of Adolf Hitler, would follow suit.

Only, it didn't.

Who knows?  Austria's history is a litany of failure when it comes to fascism's historic ancestor, empire.  Perhaps there is enough political memory in the population to overrule the kind of madness that has swept first Britain and now the U.S..  Perhaps it's not so much that as it is--or was--the specifics on the ground:  the candidates, the parties, an economy very heavily dependant on tourism and therefore especially sensitive to international opinion.  It's problematic at best to use the results of elections in one country to try to understand the results in other.  Or, for that matter, to try to predict the results of the next one.

This much can be said, apart from the fact that the Austrian results offer a small note of cheer in what is otherwise a bleak landscape in international politics:  nothing is inevitable, especially when it comes to elections.

It's hard to look at Donald Trump and make peace with the fact that, for at least the next four years, this charlatan is going to be responsible for our destiny in an uncertain world.  But that's all the more reason not to give up, especially when you remember that his percentage of the popular note equals that of Michael Dukakis in 1988.  Remember his Administration?  Yeah, me neither.

Trump doesn't represent most of us.  Most of us are better than that.  And the world needs what most of us have to offer.  So take a tip from Austria:  don't follow the crowd.  Follow your head, and your heart.  If all of us do that, we just may get through this, and come out on the other side of this disaster to pick up the thread of our destiny again, and follow it.

It's Not "Intel." It's Lies

"No one was injured during the incident."

The fact contained in that quote, from this story in the New York Daily News. is about the only good thing that can otherwise be said about the overarmed idiot who invaded a Washington, D.C. pizza parlor because of a lie about the parlor serving as a front for a child-hooker ring in which Hillary Clinton was involved (I can't believe I just typed that, but I had no choice; that's actually why this happened).

Two facts, then, based entirely on a lie.  Of course, the overarmed idiot didn't call it a lie.  After all, if he did so, he'd be admitting that he was an overarmed idiot.  Instead, like all gun-toting half-wits, he decided to give a paramilitary gloss to his nearly-tragic misadventure.  You know what he told the press?

"[T]he intel on this wasn't 100 percent."

No kidding, Sherlock.  And here's another fact:  no one with any authority to do so deputized you to investigate or avenge the lie.  You did that entirely on your own, based on rubbing one brain cell against another after reading something on the Internet that tickled your fancy about Clinton being the source of all evil in America.  Without consulting with any law enforcement officials, without making a single credible attempt to verify what you call the "intel on this," you put innocent people in harm's way.  (You also put yourself in harm's way but, frankly, at this point I'm not 100% certain I give a damn about that.)

And this leads us to a third fact:  you came this close to being a public menace and a national tragedy based upon a lie.

Not "intel."  Not "fake news."  A lie.  An easily falsifiable, baldface, libelous lie.

And all of this happened because of the presidential campaign of Donald Trump, which took the concept of relativity as it relates to subjectivity, and pretended that it could be applied to objective reality.  Nothing exists unless Trump says it exists--and he's allowed to change his mind about what exists on a day to day basis.  One day, he's a climate-change denier; the next day, he's rushing to Scotland to save his golf courses from rising tides.  And then, the day after that, when he needs money from the oil industry and votes from coal-mining states, he's a denier again.

And once the white nationalists saw that this could work for them, they joined in, helping Trump to create a "reality" that neither the Democrats nor what's left of the mainstream media had either the will or the wit to successfully contradict.  Even about facts staring people in the faces.  (And climate change is very much one of those facts).

The truth is, this isn't particularly new,  During the second Bush Administration, one of its lesser lights offered a lecture to the effect that the United States was now an "empire" that can "create its own reality."  We all know how that worked out.  An unsustainable war based upon a non-existent threat (oh, I'm sorry, I keep forgetting:  a lie).  A lie that nearly destroyed this country--and, instead, put a short-term dent in the plans of the would-be emperors.

Well, they're back, just in time to try and hijack the fruits of Barack Obama's labors.  And they've acquired enough practical power to pull it off and claim credit for all of it, even as they dismantle it for the benefit of their contributors.  And, when it comes to hiding their dirty work, they've devolved below reality creating.  They're now trying to sell a world without facts.  Any facts. Except the ones they need us to believe in.  Today.  And, maybe tomorrow, something that will be equally true--or false.

It's easy to blame this state of affairs on the Internet, a medium that allows everyone to publish and consume the information they want without ever being upset by aspects of reality that offend them. Except that those aspects exist.  And sometimes, they can be lethal.  Especially when a man who thinks we don't believe to need in facts is about to control the nuclear codes.

Reality isn't relative.  Not after a certain point that matters to all of us.  Reality exists, whether we want it to or not.  All we need to do is not be afraid to face it, and know how to do it, and help others learn how to do it.  Before it's too late.  Before the next person who decides to act on the "intel" isn't lucky enough, and the rest of us aren't lucky enough, to be stopped in time.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

In Praise Of Florence Henderson

Acting is a funny profession, in a lot of ways.  Unless you get into the producing end of show business, you don't get to pick your jobs.  Your jobs, on the other hand, get to pick you.  And, in the process, they define and limit your ability to perform every bit as much as they may make you both rich and famous.  Sometimes, it's not even about talent.  It's just about finding a role in which you resonate for audiences more than you do in anything else.  The history of acting is filled with examples of this; Eugene O'Neill build an entire play, "Long Day's Journey Into Night," around his father's financial success in one role, and how that success crippled him as an artist.

Of Florence Henderson, it could almost be said that she was born too late.  She began her career on Broadway, which offered her roles that maximized her singing ability, but did so at a time when Broadway was beginning a slow and painful decline in audiences and artistic merit.  Like a lot of performers in the same position, she ended up in Hollywood and on television.  And, as a result, she found the role in which she resonated for a large audience:  Carol Brady, the matriarch of a blended family in "The Brady Bunch."

If you've ever watched the show, you know that no one would mistake it for Great Ideas of Western Thought.  At the same time, if you watched it, and were yourself part of a blended family, you found solace in seeing on TV a family that was just like yours, but also treated blended families as "real" families.  Since the show was on the air, I became part of a blended family, and have come to appreciate what "The Brady Bunch" did for a lot of children in my generation.

Florence Henderson did a lot to make the Brady family real, while still finding opportunities to sing. Her talent wasn't thwarted, but re-directed in an unexpected way.  And, as a result (and thanks to reruns), that talent is still making a difference.  She was one of the lucky ones in finding that type of success as an actor, but she worked hard to deserve it, too.

RIP, Florence.  Carol will continue to to a good job of showcasing who you were, and who you always will be to the Brady families around the world.

A Modest Proposal For Ross Douthat

Good old Ross Douthat, conservative columnist for the New York Times, one of the very few legacy media outlets that actually still practices journalism, instead of the never-ending search for click-bait. Bad enough that he joined the hoards of his colleagues in going from Never Trump to hey-a-win-for-my-side-is-always-good-and-maybe-the-office-will-change-him.  (Note:  The office does not change the office holder; in fact, history shows that the reverse is almost always true.)  Now, he joins almost everyone else in political media by saying, as he does here, that the Republican Party is so great that America needs two of them.  Freedom of choice!  As long as I get my way!

To be fair, he mostly offers some mushy thoughts about "moving toward the center"--wherever that is these days.  We've moved so far to the right that democracy is about to fall off the edge.  We've got an incoming Administration that, from the looks of its appointees, are prepared to make the same mistakes of yesterday, confident that the results will look different (Paging the definition of insanity: the Trump transition people are spitting at you.)  We've got young people in the streets, scared to death about their futures, and all they get are lectures to calm down from the I've-got-mine crowd. And, of course, we've got the Washington give-him-a-chance-this-screaming-through-Twitter-thing-might-be-just-what-democracy-needs crowd (if you overlook his armed-to-the-teeth supporters, that is).

Truth to tell, Ross, a party that won the popular vote in both the presidential and Senate races actually shouldn't need all that much policy retooling.  But I'll ask you for a favor.

If we agree to take a look at your suggestions, can you do something about the gerrymandering, dark fundraising, and voter suppression on your side?  You see, I don't think we need two of the same party.  I think we just need a level playing field for the parties we've got.

Manufacturing, Wages, And Welfare: How To Flip Red States

I saved this article from the New York Times a while ago, because I disagreed with its premise, and wanted to explain why at what I sensed would be the right time.  In the post-election climate, the time seems to be now.

My point was going to be (and still is) that manufacturing is an essential component of national security.  A country that can't rely on its own factories to build its defense structure is not a safe country.  We import key components of that structure from outside the U.S., including not-so-friendly nations like China.  From a military perspective, this is a clear conflict of interest, because (as recent events have shown) history is far from over.  It's easy to visualize today's military suppliers as tomorrow's enemy combatants.  In such a situation, we may be defeated before we have even begun to fight.

That's reason enough to have a national policy promoting manufacturing.  The 35-year economic and social tragedy of the Rust Belt is another.  Hillary Clinton was unjustly accused of ignoring the needs of workers in this region; this proves otherwise. Had the corporate press spent a little less time on her e-mail server, and a little more time on the substance of her approach to this issue versus Donald Trump's (which amounts to little more than grandstanding), we might not be agonizing about the awful choices Trump is making in filling out his Administration.

What people in the Rust Belt need is not a self-promotional loudmouth, but practical ideas to get back on their feet.  Telling millennials to move there is not the answer--they'll just join the ranks of the underemployed.  Better they should organize via the Internet to work with people and promote good public policy, like the $15-per-hour minimum wage.  This idea found success on election night and, in fact, it looks like they are already taking me up on this suggestion.  Good for them!

And, while we're at it, and waiting for good policy to produce good jobs, can we please reform welfare reform, so that the money goes to people and not to tax breaks for GOP donors?  Is that too much to ask?

Manufacturing, wages, and welfare:  these can be the three keys to unlock the door to a very different Election Night than the one through which we just suffered.

An Unsurprising Headline About Guns

Calvin Coolidge has been quoted for saying that, when more and more people are out of work, unemployment results.  By somewhat similar reasoning, when more and more people own guns, gun violence results.  Which is why this headline should be about as surprising as the news that, today, the sun rose in the east and will sink in the west.

Over the past three weeks, I have often found myself thinking that what bothers me most about the presidential election's outcome is not as much the idea of Donald Trump as president as the empowerment of white nationalists in our larger culture as a consequence of his victory.  People on the left are rightly expressing their fear on line and in the streets--and, in unbelievable blame-the-victim style, are being lectured on the need to chill out and wait for bad things to actually happen before they get up.

The expressions of fear are, in part, a form of mourning, and, to borrow a phrase, telling people how to mourn is tantamount to telling them how to pray.  But, beyond that, the fear is far from imaginary. In the past few decades, conservative victories have been followed by spikes in violence. People in Oklahoma City can tell you all about it.  So can Gabby Giffords.  And when incidents like this, this, and this--and the creation of this--occur, they have every reason to fear that the dumpster fire for our democracy has already been started.

We cannot let the rise of white nationalism become normalized.  That's why I will not use the phrase "alt-right"; I will look the phenomenon in the eye and call it what it actually is.  And all of us need to be vigilant, even hyper-vigilant, when it comes to preventing acts of assault (and worse) and/or stopping them when they occur.  And, regardless of the election's outcome, we all need to work, and fight, for common-sense gun regulation that faces a harsh reality  easy access to guns is easy access to murder.

All Politics Is Identity Politics

A great deal has been said, and no doubt will continue to be said, about "identity politics" as the source of the Democratic disaster in this year's election.  In fact, it has been expanded from an explanation for the election's outcome into a general critique of the Democratic Party, and especially the so-called corporate wing of the party:  that it's big on promoting the individual rights of its demographic components (e.g., marriage equality, immigration reform, equal opportunity for women in the workplace), and willing to neglect components that might threaten the pockets of its corporate donors (principally, unions).

As a critique, it's not entirely unfair.  The problem with the fact that both of the country's major political parties depending heavily on corporate money (in the GOP's case, almost entirely on it) is that, effectively, you end up with two economic Republican Parties.  That's why both parties had to deal with major populist revolts this year:  decades of neglecting the needs of what we used to call blue-collar workers finally caught up with the political system.  And the only reason this is surprising at all is the fact that, by and large, our major sources of news are every bit as corporate in their vision and thinking as are the donor and political classes.

But what exactly do we really mean, in the first instance, when we talk about identity politics?  We are accustomed to using the term in connection with every major (and a few minor) demographic classification of our society.  Except one.

White male Christians.

Historically, our culture does not specifically identify white male Christians as an "interest group." They are not identified as a subsegment of society needing special attention; by the value system that has prevailed in America (and around the world) for hundreds of years, they are society.  They are at the top of the hierarchical pyramid, organizing political and economic activity and, through culture and religion, defining our most fundamental believes.  And always doing so by the subjugation of anyone who isn't a white male Christian; not accidentally, but purposefully, without actually admitting the nature of what they are doing (tyranny), or the means by which it is accomplished (force).

As this author in the New York Times explains, in American society, white has always defined itself in opposition to people of color, thereby making "white" the unconscious default assumption for what constitutes a human being in America.  But that process isn't limited by skin color, as I am pointing out here, it is also defined by gender and religion (and, as a component of the latter, sexual orientation).

It is only because whites in general are becoming an American minority that they are finally beginning to appreciate what should have been obvious all along: that we have been practicing identity politics from the very beginning.  We have pretended that only white people are "people," and that, within that framework, white male Christians are a higher order of people simply for possessing those demographic characteristics.  It's actually written into our Constitution (Article I, section 2, clause 3); no one with any intellectual or personal integrity can pretend that we have not been practicing identity politics all along.  The faces of our Presidents, all by themselves, tell this story as well.  Forty-two white men.  One black man.  All of them Christian.

It's probably impossible to escape the reality that all politics is identity politics.  Politics is ultimately about the affairs of the people, however it may be practiced.  But what we desperately need, especially now, is to view identity in terms of issues, and not in terms of so-called "immutable" personal characteristics, such as demographic categories.  As time passes, demographic majorities become minorities, and vice versa.  Even property ownership is hardly immutable; land becomes exhausted, factories close as technologies become outdated, and people's needs change, thereby putting whole industries out of business.

If today's problem is joblessness, or low incomes, or college affordability, or the availability to access health care, then let's work across and outside of are demographic zones to solve them.  All of these are problems whose impact respects no particular set of demographics.  All of these are problems big enough, and complicated enough, to require the resources and ingenuity of all of us. Like it or not, all of us are stuck with each other, and all of us have an impact on one another.  We might as well acknowledge that fact, and start to make it work for us.

And, given the truth that climate change effects not only the entire human race, but the planet itself, I suggest that our new "identity politics" be defined by a single term:  life.  All of us share it. And all of us will be dead without it.  And, if we truly care about it enough, we'd better get our ourselves, and our traditional prejudices, and fight as hard as we can to preserve it.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

End The Meddling, And End The Embargo (Or, What We Really Need To Understand About Post-Castro Cuba)

It's annoying to have to make a point regarding the obvious, but I'll start this post by doing so anyway, in part to ward off the simple-minded attacks from the simple-minded.  And, of course, because it needs to be said any way.

Fidel Castro was a brutal dictator.  You could write that statement on the world's biggest blackboard, thousands and thousands of times, a la Bart Simpson, and it wouldn't even begin to capture the brutality of life under the Maximum Leader.  And his death neither undoes nor forgives any of that; it does not, in all probability, even begin to bring closure to the friends and families of his many victims.  One can only hope and pray that whatever government that follows Castro will, at the very least, refrain from perpetuating the violence and death that characterized much of his time in power.

And make no mistake:  there will be changes.  Castro's government was always more of a personality cult than an ideological crusade.  He alternated between using Communism and capitalism as means of keeping the support of the Cuban people and staying in power for decades. The personality is now gone; his brother, Raoul, does not have even the smallest fraction of what it takes to replicate that personality's impact.  And, thanks to the increase in commerce and tourism between Cuba and other Western countries (including the United States, Cubans have already begun to expect, and will continue to expect, better lives for themselves than they got out of the central-planning economics that remains the Soviet Union's main legacy to Cuba.

But what about the United States' legacy to Cuba, especially as Donald Trump prepares to take over from Barack Obama?

Without support from a Republican Congress, Obama did what he could within the limits of his existing authority to re-open relations between the U.S. and Cuba, which ended when Castro took power.  He re-established diplomatic relations between the two countries, and expanded opportunities to travel between the two countries.  But he could not end the economic embargo against trade with Cuba without congressional approval.  And, if there is one thing Republicans in Congress have made clear over the past eight years, it is that their raison d'etre during that time is to deny any victories to the first African-American president in our history.

That's a pity.  But not for Barack Obama.  He leaves office with his popularity on the way up; had he been able to run for a third term, there is little if any reason to doubt that he would have won it. (You can blame the Republicans for that one, too, of course.)  It is, however, an epic tragedy for the Cuban people--and the most recent example of American meddling in their lives.

You can read about that history of meddling here.  What you should learn from reviewing it is the fact that, from the administration of Thomas Jefferson onward, American governments have treated Cuba as a plaything, a toy to be used to advance our nation's military and financial interests at the expense of the interests of Cubans.  Right-wingers have, by and large, done an effective job of suppressing that history.  Unfortunately for them, Cubans have long memories beyond the reach of Breitbart and Fox News.

Ever wondered why someone as brutal as Castro stayed in power, decade after decade, through 11 different Presidencies?  Was it the advancements in literacy and medical care?  Was it the presence of Soviet military support and trade?  Those things made a difference, but what really made a difference is the fact that Castro, at every possible opportunity, told the Cuban people that he and his government was the only thing standing in the way of Yankee meddling.  Castro was the enemy of average Cubans, but he made sure they knew that America thought of him as its enemy.  And so, the enemy of the greater enemy was their friend.

And that is why a return to Cold War levels of relations with Cuba will only keep in power either the current government, or one equally committed to anti-Americanism.  Whatever shape that government ultimately takes, it will not be friendly to the U.S., no matter who occupies the Oval Office.

Which is why, instead of making such a return, we need to go in the opposite direction.  We need to not only maintain the current level of relations, but build upon it, by ending the embargo.

Ending the embargo, without otherwise attempting to influence the political decisions that Cubans need to make about their future government, is the only way to end decades of meddling while still maintaining a voice in the process, via cultural and economic exchanges.  It was the same basic process of detente that began the end of the Cold War.  If that process could re-ignite democracy an entire hemisphere away, think of how much more powerful it can be when the distance is reduced to 90 miles.

The embargo, as a policy, is and has been a miserable failure for decades.  It has done nothing to dent Castro's popularity; if anything, he turned it into a propaganda tool.  The fools who have supported the maintenance of the embargo are the same right-wing fools who brought you the Cuban Missile Crisis, and damn nearly the end of the world, through the Bay of Pigs invasion, the continued deployment of outdated anti-Soviet missiles in Cuba, and the push during the crisis to bomb the Soviet missiles with B-52s.  Yes, Kennedy went along with the first two mistakes, but the lessons he learned from doing so stopped him from listening any further to bad right-wing advice.

It's time to follow Kennedy's example.  Maybe Trump will do this, since he has announced his intention to be a President and a real-estate developer at the same time.  Cuba is ripe for more tourist-related development.  Perhaps his hotel-and-casino instincts will override the need for Republicans to keep the Cuban vote in South Florida.  Perhaps not.  He has flip-flopped on so much between the election and now that, just on that basis, he belongs on a beach.  G-d knows I'd rather see him on a beach than in the White House.

But, since he's going to be in the White House, we should all hope and pray that he does what is right for both America and Cuba.  End the embargo, and give Cuba a chance to chart her own destiny, while still allowing us to have a place on board her.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Never Trump? Not When There's Power To Be Had!

I recognize that it may be hard to remember the world before Election Day; I can assure you that it feels like an eternity ago to me.  But I do remember, more than vaguely, that a number of opinion writers in both the Republican Party and the conservative movement were openly and loudly a part of what was called the "Never Trump" movement, a movement that objected to Trump's campaign on the ground that, in both form and substance, it offended conservative principles and brought shame on a party attempting to reach out to the broadest possible number of Americans.

Well, that was then and, for the Republicans, this is victoriously now.  Jeepers creepers, but it's amazing how stumbling into control of the federal government can make you say, well, principles and outreach be damned.

Bill Kristol?  John Podhoretz?  Ross Douthat?  George F. briefing-book-thief Will?  Check, check, check, and check.  All of them formerly ready to spew Trump out of their mouths, and now all too anxious to suck up to him.  Will, in particular, has been especially two-faced about it, still-half heartedly talking the President-elect down but very eager to give him advice about what this nation needs most--like reviving the Keystone XL pipeline project.  George, for real?  This was yesterday's battle, and the rest of the nation has moved on from it.  What's next?  Impeaching Earl Warren? Unleashing Chiang Kai-shek?  On the other hand, if you want to see a seriously brazen 180-degree turn on The Donald, take a look at Charles Krauthammer's latest.

This is why I appreciate Jennifer Rubin's willingness to stick to her guns and still call out Trump with the vehemence she expressed before the election.  And, even now, she may not be alone.

Let's hope that there are more conservatives like them, who are truly prepared to put America first. And, as liberals but even more as Americans, let's be prepared to join them.

Senator McCONnell Enables The Con Artist

In my previous, post-election summary post, I described Donald Trump as a trust-funded con artist. Among his many marks are Rust Belt voters who, rather than adapting to the 21st century, keep electing Republicans while praying that the economy of the nineteenth century will make a comeback.

Those voters are especially numerous among the coal miners of Kentucky, and the members of the families that depend on them.  And one of the best enablers of Trump's con-act campaign was someone who, appropriately, has the word "con" in his name:  Senate Majority Leader (from Kentucky) Mitch McCONnell.

For months prior to the election, McCONnell took advantage of every opportunity he had to publicly pretend that President Obama's environmental policies were systematically destroying the coal industry, including jobs in Kentucky.  Trump, for his part, piggybacked on McCONnell's lies by promising to undo those policies and unleash coal mine owners so that money would start coming out of the miners' ears.

But now, of course, the election is over, so it's safe to tell the truth:  that the coal industry's decline is all about automation and competition from alternative energy sources.  You can read about the end of the dissembling here, while reading at the same time about McCONnell's comfort with more or less admitting that he dissembled.  You can also read here and here about how the decline in coal has nothing to do with Obama or the Democrats.

Sorry, coal miners.  You've been played by the man who's going to "Make America Great Again," and by his fellow con artist, the senior senator from Kentucky.  Time to start changing your voting habits, and elect progressives who will invest in the jobs of the future.  Coal isn't coming back.  And we can all breath easier as a result.

Cursing The Darkness, While Lighting A Candle

Well, when I spent the past several months praying for a Democratic blowout, this was definitely not what I had in mind.

Where to begin?

I have spent the past 12 days since the unthinkable became a reality, sorting through every aspect of it.  I have worked through a variety of emotions--disbelief, anger, despair--trying to figure out the best way to respond.  If I were inclined to make a totally selfish decision, I think that I would just pack up my most cherished possessions and head for the hills, getting myself as far away as possible from the Republican police state likely to be terrorizing us all after January 20.

I can't do that.  I have a family--a wife, two children, two children-in-law, and two grandchildren. One of those grandchildren may very well have her life (I repeat:  her life) threatened by the repeal of Obamacare that may now become a reality.  I have clients, some of whom will be facing a future far more uncertain than mine; after all, I am not in danger of being removed to a country I have never lived in.  I have a number of charitable interests I am happy to help support, especially with regard to historic preservation.  Most of all, I am a citizen of a great nation whose greatness is currently being threatened by people with a misbegotten concept of what makes it great.

For a few fleeting moments, I even gave some thought to giving up on this blog, not being certain of whether or not continuing it is the best way I can respond to the present emergency we face. Frankly, I'm still not certain.  But, until circumstances dictate that I shift my sails in another direction, TRH will keep going.  And, no matter how circumstances do or do not change, so will I.

So, with that as prologue, let's try to unpack what happened on November 8, and during the days that have followed.

Actually, I want to go back before that for a moment.

From the moment Donald Trump descended the escalator at Trump Tower to announce his candidacy, to the improbable and nauseating events of Election Night, I was convinced beyond any doubt that his candidacy, like everything else he does, was simply a promotional stunt to promote his "brand," i.e., himself.  He's not a businessperson.  He's a trust-funded con-artist.  And con artists are always on the lookout for new "marks."  What better con than a presidential campaign, to go after all of the "marks" in this country at once.

We need not doubt the truth of this any longer.  Thanks, New York Daily News.   So, there we have it: a President-elect who never intended to become President, trapped by a combination of his arrogant miscalculation and the need that all conservatives have to never, ever admit to a mistake or a miscalculation.

Of course, that's not the only thing that landed Trump in the White House (assuming that he moves there, which is not a guaranteed proposition).

He was voted into office by white voters who equate the loss of industrial jobs with the rise of a more multicultural society, and mistakenly blame the former for the latter because believing a seductive lie is easier than facing hard truths and working to overcome them.  In the old days, when jobs disappeared in one part of the country, people moved to places where jobs could be found. Now, they sit around in states that receive more from the federal government than they give, moaning about how things used to be.  And when politicians with money equates job losses with diversity, and voters reward them with votes, they expose what motivates them more than economic necessity: racism.  Take a look.  Then, take another.  And yet another.  And still one more.

Perhaps more devastatingly, take a look at this.  The bigots are openly celebrating their victory.  As well as this.  The Germans know what a Third Reich looks like.

And what about the voters on the other side of the ideological fence?

Turnout was lower than many had expected and I had hoped, which goes a long way toward explaining why Democrats did so badly across the board.  Some have blamed a failure on the part of Obama-loving millennials to turn out on behalf of his Secretary of State, and party nominees generally. Personally, I don't believe they "failed."  I think that many of them, and other pro-Democratic constituencies, were blocked by the epidemic of voting restrictions enacted by local Republican officials across the county.  And that wasn't the only way by which the vote was manipulated.  Paul Krugman does a very effective job of unpacking the manipulation here.  The Russians, the FBI, and the media all collaborated to produce the second Presidential election in the past 16 years in which the winner of the popular vote (by a margin of 1.5 million votes and counting).

And when Krugman mentions the media, note that he includes the so-called "mainstream" legacy media of print and broadcast outlets.  As someone who grew up respecting the role of what we used to call "the Fourth Estate" in producing the Pentagon Papers and exposing the Watergate scandal, the legacy media's role in this election is disgraceful beyond belief.  These outlets no longer see themselves as acting in the public interest.  Since the days of Reagan, they have functioned more and more as profit centers, which goes a long way toward explaining why the line between "news" and entertainment is as blurred as it is now.  And they are always denounced as being "liberal," meaning that they actually sometimes tell the truth about both liberals and conservatives.

As a consequence of all of this, the legacy media totally rolled over for Trump.  Nothing Trump could do would make its coverage anything but constant and uncritical.  Hidden tax returns?  Sexual assault?  Defrauded contractors?  Not even the abuse of one of their own by Trump, based on a disability, could make print and broadcast sycophants do anything but follow his every move. Every time I see this, I feel like I need to take a long hot disinfecting shower.  It should have knocked him out of the race on the spot.  Instead, it became a TV staple, as well as an Internet one.

So, here we are, weeks away from seeing a trust-funded con artist get sworn in as the 45th President of the United States.  What to do?

This much is certain.  I will resist, and encourage you to resist, the legacy media's siren call to "move on," to "give him a chance," to "put the campaign behind us."  This is not a campaign you can bury under any rug.  It was far too filled with dirt for that.  Trump went out of his way to run the ugliest campaign in the history of the Republic for an office he neither wanted nor expected to win. He owns that ugliness, and the fear that it has engendered among many for whose lives he will now be responsible.  Then too, there's that little nagging voice in the back of my head, the one that reminds me of what happened the last time we gave a President the blind faith that the media told us to give him.  We ended up in Iraq based on a lie, and Americans are still suffering as a consequence of that lie.

Ignore the voices that tell you that there's a great big beautiful tomorrow to be had in trying to find common ground with a banana Republican, like this one.  There is no common ground to be had; even Trump's infrastructure proposals are little more than glorified privatization of existing assets. And don't spend any time hand-wringing about Democratic mistakes, as far too many are doing (here, for example, or here.  Nothing in the polls provided any evidence of these "mistakes" in advance.  And Hillary won the damn popular vote!  There is nothing that proves how much the legacy media is in the pockets of corporations than post-election lectures about how America needs two Republican parties.  America doesn't need less of what Democrats advocate; it needs more of it.

So, take a look at Harry Reid's advice.  Better yet, take a look at Michael Moore's advice.  Or Mark Joseph Stern's, for that matter.  Or the words of The Daily Kos.  Perhaps, above all, hear the words of the President with regard to the man who's about to replace him, and understand that this was no ordinary election, with no ordinary outcome.  There are no Kum ba yah moments to be had here, folks.  If you are troubled at all by what Donald Trump is and the potential damage he could cause to the rule of law in greatest nation on earth, if you can see that he has already emboldened our enemies and troubled our friends, if you can appreciate the harm he could do to some of the most vulnerable members of our society, then you and I have only one option:


It's the only way to light a candle in the darkness that is now enveloping us.  And to thereby make sure that this guy isn't right.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Wait A Minute, New York Post!

I just read this article.  And, frankly, I'm confused.

The article in question describes, in some detail, the impact that the soon-to-be-opened Second Avenue subway line in New York is having on the surrounding real estate.

To be more precise, the positive impact.  In new tenants.  And new projects.

But here's why I'm confused.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but the Second Avenue subway project is, of course, an example of big-government spending.  Really, really. really big-government spending. 

And it seems to be having a positive effect.  Yes, even in expensive, over-taxed, over-unionized New York.

Don't you see the irony in all of this?

Conservatives are supposed to hate all government spending (except on defense projects). Government spending supposedly reduces private investment, raises taxes, promotes indolence, and otherwise leads to all sorts of deadly sins.  Yet here is an article, in a conservative newspaper, that promotes the ability of government spending to give a major economic boost to an underutilized portion of the City.

And it's a mass transit project, no less.  Conservatives hate these kinds of projects.  Maryland's newly-minted Republican Governor, Larry Hogan, took great pains to kill off a $2 billion public transit project for the city of Baltimore.  He's with the program:  tell people that government projects don't work, even when they do.  (Hogan's mentor, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, adopted the same approach when he took office; it hasn't worked out so well for him since then).

Get back on the ball, Posties.  Go back to suppressing the truth.  It may yet help you hold on to power.  For a little while, anyway.

Speaking Of Destruction From Within ...

... let's take a look at the state of Israel.  It was founded in its contemporary form in 1948, with the partition of what had been the British-controlled territory of Palestine.  The vision of its founders was this:  the modern Israeli state, in the wake of the Holocaust, would become a homeland for everyone of the Jewish faith, with all degrees of observance to be respected and permitted.  That vision is what has given Israel its strength as a nation, both internally and externally.  In particular, that vision is what has motivated American Jews to give Israel their unwavering support for decades. And that vision is what has enabled Israel to survive crisis after crisis for decades.

But, almost on cue, that vision began to die with the end of the Cold War.  Enter, stage right (extremely right) an influx of largely ultra-Orthodox refugees from the former Soviet Republics and Warsaw Pact nations.  Subsequently entering from extreme stage right, Benjamin Netanyahu, the current Prime Minister of Israel.

Like his conservative counterparts in this country, Netanyahu cares only about power, and is willing to wrap his inherently anti-democratic approach to governance in fate-of-the-nation-is-at-stake rhetoric in order to appeal to fear.  And it works to keep him in power, in part because the Israelis are surrounded by nations who would be happy to see it and its people destroyed.  But it mainly works because Israel's population is now dominated by people who are not accustomed to true democratic rule.  They have never had a chance to see the pre-Netanyahu Israel, where both liberal and conservative leaders, as well as secular and religious ones, built their triumphs on the strength of hope, and not fear.

And like his conservative counterparts in this country, Netanyahu practices divide-and-conquer politics, rewarding his supporters and punishing his opponents.  Take a look (note:  may require a subscription).

It's time to revisit the terms under which U.S. aid to Israel is provided.  We need to make it clear that Americans want the original vision of Israel honored, not Netanyahu's.  Only then will Israel have real reason to replace fear with hope.

"No Great Nation Is Ever Conquered Until It Has Destroyed Itself"

The words in that headline were written by historians Will and Ariel Durant in "The Life of Greece," the second volume of their multi-volume series "The Story of Civilization."  History is replete with examples that testify to the truth of that observation--for example, the Roman Empire, which had itself swallowed up the ancient Greek states and the culture they created, adapting Greek architecture and mythology for its own purposes.  Then Rome, too, collapsed, a victim of such self-inflicted wounds as imperial overstretch and corrupt leadership, but also a victim of the rise of new cultural influences such as the Christian religion, and Germanic and Slavic tribes from the East.

Sound vaguely familiar?

We are very much in the position that the late Roman Empire found itself in.  Our military escapades have quadrupled our public debt.  Our ability to absorb the ideas and energy of new peoples and cultures seems tapped out, with such people being viewed as mortal enemies that must be walled out or removed, perhaps by "any means necessary."

And then, there are the corrupt leaders.  Boy, have we learned a lot about that as a result of the last-minute attempt to stop a potential Democratic blowout on Election Day by flogging the so-called Hillary e-mail "scandal" back to life.

Just look at what we've been witness to:

A corrupt FBI director, who may be something of a Manchurian figure himself, called out by an official of the previous Administration;

A corrupt House committee chair, who abused his position for partisan purposes;

And the former "America's Mayor," who unintentionally (perhaps) revealed this week how little he cares about anything except power.

But nothing, and I mean ABSOLUTELY nothing, sums it up best than the headline below from the Washington Post, as well as the accompanying article:
Republicans are now vowing Total War. And the consequences could be immense.

A corrupt FBI.  A corrupt Republican Presidential campaign.  A corrupt Republican Congress. Corrupt Republican leadership at the state level.  And actual threats of violence against the Democratic Presidential nominee, a woman.  The words "worse than Watergate" don't even begin to capture the badness of all of this.

We may not be collapsing from within; we may, in fact, have already collapsed.  Say hello to the next President of the United States--Vladimir Putin.  He gets Alaska back for Russia, and 49 other states in the bargain.

But maybe not.

If even a conservative Republican like Jim Sensenbrenner can co-sponsor legislation to strengthen the Voting Rights Act, there may be some hope.

If a poll is correct in suggesting that the majority of the American people are sick and tired of GOP manipulation, there may be some hope.

Ultimately, however, the truth is this.

There is no hope without you.  And your willingness to show up at the polls.

To those of you who have already done so, congratulations and thanks.  To the rest of you, well, you have a country to save.  You have an opportunity this week to prove that we are not the next Greece or Rome.  At least, not yet.

I shouldn't even have to say it, but I'll do so anyway:


Monday, October 31, 2016

Tom Hayden: A Life Well Lived

His name may not be familiar to you, unless you're my age or older.  He was a product of an earlier time in this country, a time when patriotism was something that was not only authentic, but a little dangerous.  He and the generation of which he was part believed that the only thing better than the America of today was the America of tomorrow--but that, to get there, we needed to come face-to-face with our weaknesses as a country and address them head on.  He was not afraid to do so, whether than meant working within the system or working outside of it.

He was not motivated by a love of power.  He did not lose his soul in the rough-and-tumble of the times and the politics through which he lived.  He was not afraid to be controversial.  He was not afraid to take on the system, even at personal cost.  And he did so much to make all of our lives better.  And all of us, no matter where we are politically, are better off for it.

His name was Tom Hayden.  You can, if you wish to either learn or reminisce, read here.

In reflecting on Hayden's life and death, I find myself wishing that my only concern was for his family and close friends, who will certainly miss him in a way that those of us who did not know him personally can never do.  Instead, I find myself concerned with much more than that.

We live in phenomenally narcissistic times.  We live primarily for ourselves.  We talk far too much about the issues of the day, but do to little to make a difference with respect to any of them. Truthfully, many of us don't give enough of a damn, not at least in the way that Hayden did.  You care about an issue?  Fine.  Are you willing to go on trial for it?  He did.  Still interested in making a difference?  Well, guess what?  Sometimes, to do that, going to jail is exactly what you need to do.

I wonder and worry whether we have enough of those people left.  I wonder and worry whether we will have enough of them for the battles that lie ahead.  I hope and pray that Tom Hayden's memory is enough to inspire all of us, or at least many of us, to rise to the challenge his life and memory give to the rest of us.

The Coming Millennial Wave

I have written more than once that, contrary to Tip O'Neill's wisdom that all politics is local (partly true), all politics is really generational, especially on a national level.  When you think about it that way, in fact, the yin and the yang between liberal and conservative waves makes a great deal more sense when viewed with that fact in mind.  Each generation chooses the type and amount of government it thinks that it needs for their specific circumstances.  The Greatest Generation, facing both the Depression and the Axis, felt that it needed "big government" to help get it past both obstacles.  The Boomers (my generation) took prosperity for granted and saw "big government" as an obstacle on its own, to the individuality that Boomers craved (and still do).  As a consequence, it has tended to elect Republican Presidents and Congresses.

Well, the Millennials are poised to take over as the major cohort among the American voting public. And guess which direction it's leaning in?  Take a look.  That's right.  If only Millennials voted, Hillary would be the beneficiary of a nearly 45-state blowout. To say nothing about the kind of Congress she would get to work with.

Does this surprise you?  Millennials have come of age in the world of limited government and unlimited capitalism that sprung up as a consequence of Boomer self-centeredness and searching for individual fulfillment.  Why shouldn't they view the government as a potential helping hand?  Who else is going to extend that hand to them?  To paraphrase the late Senator Paul Laxalt of Nevada, when was the last time any of them got a hug and a kiss from Wall Street.

I don't know if we'll get to where we need to be in next week's election.  But I know it doesn't matter. Having graphically seen the voting inclinations of millennials, I feel that I can join the late Rev. Martin Luther King at the mountaintop, and see the promised land.  Our eyes hath seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!

Kansas Gets The Government It Deserves

Thomas Frank famously wrote a book entitled "What's The Matter With Kansas?"  The title quickly became a phrase for describing the phenomenon of red-state voters who vote for economic policies that are against their interests, promoted by politicians who use values-voting to pick the pockets of these voters.  Those voters keep on voting to have their pockets picked, either out of sheer stupidity or out of embarrassment for having been so sheerly stupid.

Well, based on recent events, we can still wonder what the matter with Kansas is.  The real question is whether, at this rate, there'll be a Kansas in a few years.

Sunflower State voters elected former Senator Sam Brownback, a Republican, as their Governor in 2010, on a promise to take Reagan Miracle-Gro economics down to the state level and make Kansas a paradise to be envied by the other 49 states.  With the aid of a supple and not highly critical legislature, he made his policies a reality.  Result?  Reality kicked back--hard.  The state's revenues tanked, followed by its economy, followed by massive cuts to some of its most basic services.

Were Kansas voters deterred by any of this?  Uh-uh.  They apparently view seriously the old Bolshevik joke:  "Proof of the farsightedness of Comrade Trotsky's predictions is that none of them have come true yet."  Brownback took it seriously enough to tell Kansas voters as he ran for re-election in 2014 that his wisdom just needed more time to take root.  Incredibly, the voters gave him four more years of that time.

Their most recent reward for this?  Brownback's recent announcement that he would end quarterly reporting of the state's economic performance, on the grounds that the reports were too complicated to understand.  Frankly, it's hard to escape the feeling that, were that performance worth reporting, Brownback would decide that Kansans could put up with the complications.

As it is, sadly, Kansas, like other democracies, has the government its voters deserve.  May they, for their sakes and everyone else's, find a way to deserve something better soon.

Fear Is Not As Powerful As Love

The recent death of Jack T. Chick, the founder of Chick Publications, set off a wave of reflection in my mind and heart.

As I have written previously, in my college years and for some time afterword, I because part of the evangelical community.  I did so in large part because the college I went to, Oberlin, did not have much in the way of a social life, and the student Christian fellowship was willing to provide me with one.  But I also did it in no small part because I was adrift at that point when it came to thinking about life after college.  Doubts about my abilities led to fear.

And fear, as anyone who has ever looked at a Chick track knows, is an emotion that evangelical Christians are only too happy to exploit.  Fear of going to hell, fear of displeasing G-d even if you don't go to hell, fear of being an outcast in the community--you name it, and they have a way of wrapping fear around it.  Chick tracks are notorious for using fear of hell as a motivator for preaching the Gospel.  They are described in the Times article as religious pornography; frankly, I'm not in a position to disagree with that assessment.

In my case, fear only led me to feeling more and more adrift in life.  It was only when I found the love of my life, and build both a family and a career around her, that the drifting ended, and I began to find the real Stephen Rourke.

So that's my message to all of you for right now, when it comes to spiritual things.  Fear of whatever it is you're supposed to be afraid of is highly overrated.  Fear simply produces more fear.  Fear is not a path to a better life; fear is a path away from it.

I know it's a cliche, but love really is the answer.  Too bad Jack T. Chick never found an effective way to put that into a tract.

Let The Government Create Competition

This article from the New York Times states the case for adding a public option to Obamacare as well as anything else I've ever read.  It forces us to face the fact that the private sector doesn't have the resources--or, for that matter, the will--to provide coverage for everything through market forces alone.  It accepts and outlines the need for the government to create competition in order to bring more people into the marketplace and help to drive costs down.  It points out that conservatives in the previous Administration under George W. Bush effectively did exactly that, by adding the prescription-drug benefit to Medicare.  And finally, it notes that Medicare is already a single-payer system that is highly popular and government-sponsored.  Why not effectively make it the public option by allowing people to buy into it?  Among other things, it would help to ensure the fiscal solvency of Medicare.

The only thing I would want to add are a few observations about the role of government in the marketplace generally.

Conservatives like to pretend that there should be no such thing.  But the harsh reality is that, even to do the very limited things that they think government should do (e.g., public health, the criminal justice system and national security) requires the government to go into the marketplace and compete with private interests for resources, natural and human.  By definition, this activity has an economic impact all by itself.  I've often thought that the solution to poverty should be giving Defense Department jobs to the poor.  They'd be working, and conservatives would fight like hell on their behalf.

It is time--it is, in fact, long overdue--for the United States to stop being the only developed country in the world that doesn't guarantee health care as a basic right.  If conservatives looked at the health care systems in the countries that we compare ourselves too, they would discover that those systems pass a basic conservative test:  they work.  It's high time ours did as well.

So let the government create health care competition.  And, in the process, guarantee health care for all.

The Earth Has Lost More Than Half Its Animals Since 1970

That's what this story is all about.  And it probably will not surprise you to know that we are the culprits.  Nor will it surprise you that our resource consumption is currently proceeding at an unsustainable rate.

What may or may not surprise you is that the doomsday effectively prophesied by all of this is not at all inevitable.  There are things we can do to stop this and, in fact, some of them are already being done, although not yet on a scale that would make a significant difference.  So, as always, the question of our survival is squarely in our hands.

But it's always been easier to pretend that problems don't exist, especially when the problem is planetary in scale.  It's just too big.  What if I do something, and no one else does?  And why should I suffer in the process?  Maybe the experts are wrong; they're not always right.  And, before you know it, we've exhausted all of the rationalizations, and imposed a death sentence on ourselves and everyone else.

It's easy for liberals like myself to look at the skeptics and decide that all we can do is use government to force people to make distasteful choices.  What if there were a better way to get people to take short-term action in our long-term interests?  One that didn't feel like sacrifice.  One that, if it didn't feel like fun, at least felt like it was a choice, one that people could make willingly.

We could take a lesson from Tom Sawyer and his ability to convince his friends to whitewash the fence.  There's nothing wrong with a little old-fashioned salespersonship, if its the case that you've got something worth selling.  We do; can we humble ourselves to adopt new ways of thinking that might save ourselves and others?

I don't know.  But we have to try.  If you point a gun at people and tell them to act in their own best interests, all they can see is the gun.  We need to put down the sticks, and find some carrots fast.