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Note to “The Base”: Trump Hates You

Jan 06, 2018
On second thought, “hate” is too strong a word. To hate someone you have to know something about them, and Trump knows nothing about you, save that you are as angry as he is (though you have good reason to be and he has none) and you’re as gullible as all get-out. That’s all he needed to know to demagogue his way into the White House and precipitate four anxiety-rich years of chaos and nihilism.

“Contempt” would be a better word to describe Trump’s attitude toward you and the rest of his base, and, in fact, his attitude toward everyone who didn’t have the good fortune to be born Donald Trump. You come in for a larger helping of his contempt than I do, because you don’t know very much and you are ruled by your anger and by your ignorance.

Please don’t get me wrong and think the last sentence in any way expressed contempt on my part for any of you. I feel sorry for you, indeed I do, for more and different reasons than you may imagine. I am angry at you for what you have done to our country, our children, our world, and the future that you and I will not be around to see or, lamentably à la Jacob Marley, to fix. I am appalled that there are enough of you out there to have preferred Trump to just about any other imaginable opponent, although, on that point, the Democrats could not have come up with a weaker candidate than the one they chose.

Feeling contempt for another person is stupid. As some wag said (I thought it was Damon Runyon, but I can’t find it), “Put any two human beings into the ring, and there’s no such thing as 3 to 1.” Feeling contempt for another human being is making the mistake of underestimating them, as well as denying them their humanity. Stupid and hateful at the same time.

And this is where Trump loses out on what it is to be a person in the world. He holds everyone in contempt, not only denying us our humanity, but also, in his solipsistic narcissism, denying our existence. Something is very wrong with our president, as listening with an objective ear to any of his more outrageous pronouncements cannot fail to evidence.

And something is wrong with his followers, those who do know better and those of you in his base who don’t. To fix what is wrong is the first order of business for 2018 and beyond. Can it be done within the current political establishment? Maybe. Maybe not. Whether inside or outside that establishment, there must be a sea change in our polity. For we have strayed so far from what was marginally adequate before the cataclysm of November 2016 that we must now settle for nothing less than what is right.

tags: Governance | Politics

My Four-Star Books in 2017

Dec 31, 2017
I rate the books I read (I finished 74 in 2017, my second-highest number since I started keeping track in 2003). Three stars is Recommended; four stars is Highly Recommended; and five stars is "Drop whatever you are doing and read this book NOW!" Here are my 31 four-star books from 2017 (alas, no five-star books this time around). The ones in boldface were particularly memorable.

The year of the runaways, Sunjeev Sahota (Jan 2) ****
Then we came to the end, Joshua Ferris (Jan 8) ****
The orphan master’s son, Adam Johnson (Feb 19) ****

Nothing to be frightened of, Julian Barnes (Mar 23) ****
The Duke of deception, Geoffrey Wolff (Apr 2) ****
Emma, Jane Austen (Apr 8) ****-1/2
The card catalog, The Library of Congress (Apr 9) ****
Nutshell, Ian McEwan (Apr 30) ****
Prisoners of geography, Tim Marshall (May 14) ****
The enchanted, Rene Denfeld (May 21) ****
Pale fire, Vladimir Nabokov (Jun 1) ****-1/2
Selections from Lincoln’s Addresses, Abraham Lincoln (Jun 18) ****

The north water, Ian McGuire (Jul 6) ****
Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939 (Jul 23) ****
Lessons from the wolverine, Barry Lopez (Jul 27) ****
A horse walks into a bar, David Grossman (Jul 29) ****
Giving up the ghost, Hilary Mantel (Aug 6) ****
The plot against America, Philip Roth (Aug 31) ****
Autumn, Ali Smith (Sep 3) ****
The uncommon reader, Alan Bennett (Sep 9) ****
St. Urbain’s horseman, Mordecai Richler (Sep 23) ****
Exit west, Mohsin Hamid (Sep 29) ****
The unthinkable thoughts of Jacob Green, Joshua Braff (Oct 6) ****
Do no harm, Henry Marsh (Oct 9) ****
Small world: An academic romance, David Lodge (Nov 10) ****
Goodbye, vitamin, Rachel Khong (Nov 24) ****
Home fire, Kamila Shamsie (Nov 30) ****
Dirt road, James Kelman (Dec 7) ****
A pale view of hills, Kazuo Ishiguro (Dec 9) ****
Jesus’s son, Denis Johnson (Dec 21) ****
Outline, Rachel Cusk (Dec 31) ****
tags: Books and Libraries

Adrift

Jun 03, 2017
We have slipped our moorings and are adrift in a sea of uncertainty. We can let matters take their course, or we can acknowledge the extent of the perils we face and begin what may be our last attempt to avoid them.

Today, it’s Trump 24/7, his gaffes, his inarticulate ramblings, his smackdowns (given and received), his thuggery. And nary a thought to what put him there or any acknowledgement that it’s going to take a lot more than universal health care or a $15 per hour minimum wage to find our way out of all this.

Noam Chomsky has called the Republican Party the most dangerous organization in the history of the world, dedicated as it is to policies and practices that clearly threaten the existence of our species.

Bernie, I am sorry to say, is part of the problem. He knows that the Democratic Party is a spent force; he knows our traditional political system is shot through with irredeemable corruption and that even the best of our politicians are captives of big money. He knows this, yet he hasn’t the nerve or the imagination or the independence to break with this moribund system and do what absolutely needs to be done: To lead a broad coalition of Americans out of our Slough of Despond and into a system of government worthy of our beginnings and of our aspirations.

Angela Merkel’s recent pronouncement aside (that Europe can no longer “completely depend on America”), we remain the world’s greatest hope—perhaps its only hope now. What with a renewed cold war, proliferating nuclear powers, the worst economic inequities in modern history, and a crippled atmosphere, hope is running out for every one of us like sand running through an hourglass.

I’m not much of one for leaders. After all, they’ve gotten us where we are. But we need one now. And we need one with a Big Idea. Business as usual won’t bring 63 million disaffected, angry, desperate Americans around to a new way of thinking, because no new way is being presented to them.

And it all comes down to work. Do you buy the MSM’s report that we are nearing full employment at a 4.3 percent unemployment rate? We now know what a joke that number is. Employment in America has never been so precarious. Wages are slipping, hours are slipping, the so-called gig economy has young people sweating blood for a fraction of a decent salary, consumer debt ($12.73 trillion) is higher than it was before the Great Recession, when it was at record levels, the labor force participation rate continues its 20-year decline as more people leave the job market than come back in.

People need to work. And when they don’t, when their opportunities to do so are diminished, when the work they do fails to pay the bills, chaos will follow. Its first manifestation sits today in the White House, clueless, puerile, and spiteful.

tags: Governance | Politics | Aux Barricades!

Is It Game Over?

May 14, 2017
A report recently released by the progressive advocacy group PrioritiesUSA implies that Hillary Clinton, in falling 23,000 votes short of Trump’s tally in Wisconsin, may have lost that state because 200,000 voters were effectively denied the right to vote by its draconian voter ID law. The report, and its implication, remain to be substantiated.

It is a fact, however, that Trump has named an “Advisory Commission on Election Integrity” to look into the essentially nonexistent problem of voter fraud. He has named as vice chair to that body (Pence will be the chair) one of the loudest advocates of the strictest voter ID laws in the country, Kris Kobach.

Trump, who is on a hopeless quest to claim a majority of the popular vote, which Clinton won as handily as he won the Electoral College vote, will apparently stop at nothing in this pursuit.

The past is the past, and let Trump struggle to make of it what he can. I am more concerned about the future, in which the commission could concoct a major brouhaha over the few instances of voter fraud they can document, leading to many more voter suppression laws throughout the states. Federal legislation could also seek to shackle every state with onerous, expensive, unnecessary, but very effective legislation that will discourage from voting primarily those constituencies that favor the liberal, Democratic, and/or progressive view. These are, in the main, young people and minorities.

Just as the anti-abortion lobby has been nipping away at a woman’s right to abortion through hundreds of laws that limit that right, until obtaining an abortion today in some states can be so difficult as to render it effectively impossible, so too can the current klepto-plutocracy nip away at our most cherished right until it simply becomes impossible for large portions of our citizenry to vote. We will then join China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and other admirable nations in one-party rule for the indeterminate future.

If that happens, then it’s game over for the American experiment, irredeemably and ignominiously. This fear has now joined that of nuclear annihilation and apocalyptic climate change—two other reasonable fears that have been brought to us by this administration—as a third existential fear for the continuation of our species. Because as far as I am concerned, if the struggling, imperfect, noble American Dream is dead, then the rest of our species “got no reason to live.”

tags: Governance | Politics

Out on a Limb

Apr 17, 2017
In the wake of last week’s Republican win in Kansas, and in anticipation of this week's special election in Georgia, I'll go out on a limb and make a couple of  predictions.

First, mid-term elections usually see significant gains made by the party not in the White House. I predict the 2018 midterms will see relatively few gains, if any, by the Democrats, and they will regain control of neither the House nor the Senate. They may even lose ground.

Second, twenty-five states currently enjoy Republican "trifectas," which means one party controls the house, senate, and governor's office. There are only six Democratic trifectas. I further predict these numbers will not change significantly (more than plus or minus 10%) in the 2018 midterms, and for the same reasons.

Why? For starters, the nation is so full of angry, poorly educated voters, who are so economically desperate and so easily manipulated by the massive infusions of money into the political process since Citizen's United that they voted a hugely unqualified candidate into the most powerful position in the world. Nothing the Democrats have done or are planning to do (so far as they have let any of us in on their plans to date) will address the anger, the education level, or the economic stressors afflicting those voters between now and November 2018. And billions will be poured into the midterms by the Mercers, the Kochs, and their ilk to retain the advantage of the Republican majority now held in all three federal branches.

So where is the Big Democratic Idea that will address the economic desperation of the 63 million who voted for Trump? Their numbers will only grow in the next two years, under the care and feeding of the Republicans. We may expect the party of Lincoln to dismantle labor and environmental protections; increase economic stressors on the poor and middle class in order to swell the wealth of the one percenters; and in general further diminish our American quality of life (US News currently ranks us #18). Nothing resembling business as usual will appeal to those disaffected voters. They will turn again to anything that looks like it will shake up the status quo in a do-or-die attempt to improve their situations. If they could make the suicidal move of supporting Trump in 2016, they will do it again in 2018—unless they have a clear and persuasive reason not to.

There is no going back to the country we all knew before last November. We don't yet know the extent to which it has changed or will change in the coming years; however, we know those changes will not be favorable to the general populace or to the future of our species. The stranglehold of the corporatocracy and the plutocrats who run it is now complete, and the mischief they may do while the new status quo obtains is incalculable.

Neither is there any going forward via the old business model. We either fix our problems or watch as they metastasize to the point where they engulf us all, and all the world along with us.

tags: Politics | Governance | People

Three Thoughts

Apr 01, 2017
Long-term economic insecurity is physically and mentally debilitating, ultimately infecting the sufferer with a level of resentment that is impossible for reason to reach. The mind seeks out scapegoats to blame for all that pain, and once they have been identified, no matter how erroneously or unfairly, it is almost impossible to dislodge them from the consciousness of the economically insecure.

Humiliating encounters with exploitative employers and social service bureaucrats provoke rage that too often results in violence toward oneself, one’s family, or society.

Constant reminders of how better off are one’s friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and just about everyone outside one’s own family produces a greater degree of resentment and depression than does awareness of the one-percenters and their ill-gotten billions.

Economic insecurity? Nearly 40% of the labor force is unemployed, and over half those who do have jobs do not earn enough to live on.

***

Trump’s dismantling of Obama’s modest environmental protections may be the first truly evil act of his administration.

Boasting about pawing female genitalia is the stuff of lowbrow locker room jabber (and who, after all, has actually come forth to accuse this bozo of following up on his boasts?).

Even the attack on immigrants may be defended by a confirmed xenophobe, who will point to Muslim mischief around the world while ignoring our own long, more lethal history of mischief making.

But Trump knows that climate change threatens our species, and he has gone ahead and advanced its onslaught in spite of that knowledge. Why? To toady to his ignorant base? To express his impotent rage at the world? Who knows?.

For whatever reason, his executive orders signed last week regarding the environment are evil, plain and simple.

***

Wealth is an addiction, as dangerous as heroin or opioids. And just as a heroin addict will knock his crippled grandmother on the head and sell her walker for a fix, so many wealthy individuals are without a moral compass or the capacity for any consideration beyond their drive for more more more.

The super-rich may, like the Mercers, the Koch brothers, and others, profess naïve political beliefs in order to cloak their insatiable greed, but no one is fooled. They are monsters of greed, and are, to a significant extent, now in control of my life, of your life, and of your children’s futures.

tags: Poverty | Politics

What's the Big Idea?

Mar 18, 2017
The American political landscape is in ruins.

Our federal government and most of our states are controlled by forces determined to reverse the political, economic, social, and environmental gains achieved since the end of the Civil War.

A klepto-plutocracy is primed to destroy the remains of the middle class through fiscal policies and anti-worker legislation that will have us looking back fondly on the economic inequality of today.

Mindless abuse of the environment in this hypercritical period may well tip us past the point of no return in our struggle to maintain a climate that will support our species.

Our geopolitical affiliations are in tatters, with the repudiation of long-standing commitments to cooperation among the world’s democracies; with unwinnable wars raging across the globe and on into a second and third generation; and with a turning of our back on a world more in peril and in need of our example and our help than at any time since the end of the second world war.

And where is the opposition? Nowhere. There is no voice, outside those in the marginalized alternative media, that come near to expressing the perilous state in which we find ourselves. The Democratic party pursues a business-as-usual course (yes, even Bernie) that is positively zombie-like in its mindlessness. The mainstream media has been bullied into acquiescence with the false equivalency absurdities that have discombobulated our moral compass.

And even among the voices of loudest protest, where is the Big Idea? Where is the bold proposal—the tectonic shift in our national conscience and consciousness—that will bring us back into a decent comity to assuage the desperation of those millions whose extreme economic insecurity put this fraud in the White House and their sworn enemies in control of Congress and, soon, the Supreme Court? And where will they turn when their hopes are dashed? When their paychecks, if they are lucky enough to have one, shrink even further from provision of a decent living. Them? Rather, I should say us, as we are all threatened.

Only a Big Idea will save us—and the world—from even further dissolution of the grand American experiment. Only a new social contract, that puts people first—their jobs and their educations—will reverse the desperation that has brought us to this point. And where is that Big Idea? Amidst the carping, the protesting, and all our impotent handwringing, where is the Big Idea?

tags: Politics | Governance

Other Voices

Feb 12, 2017
I have run across a couple of essays I admire recently and want to pass along. They are both written by men described as “conservative,” which I do not consider myself to be; however, I expect labels such as these are not of much use any longer. We are bereft of any but self-serving leaders who are bankrupt of ideas of a scope and daring to bring us together; and our two political parties have deteriorated into a grotesque set of identical twins.

First some outtakes from “How to Build an Autocracy, by David Frum, March 2017 Atlantic. You can read the full piece HERE.

“[T]he proper functioning of the law depends upon the competence and integrity of those charged with executing it. A president determined to thwart the law in order to protect himself and those in his circle has many means to do so.

“. . .A culture that has accepted that graft is the norm, that rules don’t matter as much as relationships with those in power, and that people can be punished for speech and acts that remain theoretically legal—such a culture is not easily reoriented back to constitutionalism, freedom, and public integrity.

“. . .[E]xactly how much damage is allowed to be done is an open question—the most important near-term question in American politics. It is also an intensely personal one, for its answer will be determined by the answer to another question: What will you do? And you? And you?

“. . .If the story ends without too much harm to the republic, it won’t be because the dangers were imagined, but because citizens resisted.

“. . .And the way that liberty must be defended is not with amateur firearms, but with an unwearying insistence upon the honesty, integrity, and professionalism of American institutions and those who lead them. We are living through the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered. What happens next is up to you and me. Don’t be afraid. This moment of danger can also be your finest hour as a citizen and an American.”


Next is Andrew Sullivan, “The Madness of King Donald,” New York Magazine, dated February 10, 2017. You can read the full piece HERE.

“With someone like this barging into your consciousness every hour of every day, you begin to get a glimpse of what it must be like to live in an autocracy of some kind. Every day in countries unfortunate enough to be ruled by a lone dictator, people are constantly subjected to the Supreme Leader’s presence, in their homes, in their workplaces, as they walk down the street. Big Brother never leaves you alone. His face bears down on you on every flickering screen. He begins to permeate your psyche and soul; he dominates every news cycle and issues pronouncements—each one shocking and destabilizing—round the clock. He delights in constantly provoking and surprising you, so that his monstrous ego can be perennially fed. And because he is also mentally unstable, forever lashing out in manic spasms of pain and anger, you live each day with some measure of trepidation. What will he come out with next? Somehow, he is never in control of himself and yet he is always in control of you.”

Read them and weep.

tags: Politics | Governance

An Open Letter to My Reps

Jan 31, 2017
To Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, and Representative Peter Welch:

We are in the hands of a rogue government led by a mentally ill narcissist with the emotional maturity of a seven year old. He has his hands on the Big Button and could end civilization in twenty minutes. Any act of cooperation, collaboration, or collusion with this administration on the part of any of you will destroy your credibility, as it has Elizabeth Warren’s. I know re-election is at least as important to you as the maintenance of civilization, so I ask you to take what I am saying very seriously.

You should oppose, without comment, all legislation proposed by the White House or the Republican congressional majority, even in the unlikely event you agree with it.

You should, also without comment, vote against all nominees at all levels of the Executive Branch, even in the unlikely event you think they may be qualified, and you should not confess, as at least one of you did in the case of Sessions, that you have given any of them even a moment’s thought.

You should stop posting your outrage on Twitter. I know you think it sounds like reasoned and reasonable discourse, and perhaps it would be under different circumstances, but the fact that you aren’t simply answering this madness with a horse laugh or an obscenity plays into the hands of this pugnacious and dangerously out-of-touch individual and his power-drunk minions.

And you should let the country know that you are opting out of any involvement in a dysfunctional government led by a man who probably shouldn’t be allowed to roam the streets unattended. You should identify the naked emperor for what he is and then get on with the real business which history has suddenly conferred upon you.

You should (and here comes the hard part) fashion a New Deal for the American people, one which will convince the economically desperate sixty million who voted for Trump that you have heard them, and that real help is on the way. No half measures will do. The status quo is dead. What is called for now is Drama with a capital D. See alltogethernow.org if you would like one idea of what to do; however, whatever you propose must be a game changer on the same level as that which is proposed there.

And then get on the phone. Bring together, as loud vocal proponents of your New Deal, the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Sierra Club, Glenn Greenwald, Amy Goodman, Black Lives Matter, Jerry Brown, Greenpeace, the SCLC, Warren Buffet, Hollywood, the AFT and the NEA, your family, my family, all those nurses in California, Cornel West, Noam Chomsky, Matt Taibbi, Naomi Klein, ThinkProgress, Edward Snowden, TalkPoverty, The Intercept. Keith Olbermann, Jon Stewart, the Onion—well, you get the idea: EVERYONE of a like mind, because we can ONLY take this on together. Then get back on the phone to the VFW, the American Legion, the other 24 veterans' organizations listed on Google, the Boy Scouts of America, and any other not-so-like-minded organizations that nonetheless would like to think the best of the U.S. and bring them on board as well. Remember above all else, we can only do this with a plan that will fix the economic train wreck we have been hurtling toward for the past 40 years.

That wreck is here, it has happened, it isn’t going away, our country hastens toward ruin, and there is no going back to November 7.
tags: Politics | Governance | New Political Party

What Happened?

Jan 24, 2017
In case you’ve been asleep since last August, when the mainstream media were predicting Hillary would be a shoo-in against the Donald: Good Morning!

Here’s what happened: Sixty million people, in desperation over their economic plight (37.4 percent of the labor force have no work and over half who do don’t earn enough to live on) voted their despair and put a scoundrel and buffoon in the White House rather than continue to support the status quo. Those of us who didn’t vote for him are just as responsible as those who did, having silently acquiesced in the hijacking of our nation over the past 35 years by the forces of unregulated capitalism and overweening greed.

Racism, abortion, immigration—these are all smokescreens for what is really going on—the emptying of your pockets by the super-super-rich, who are simultaneously killing the American Dream and threatening all human life with nuclear or climatic disaster.

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. But don’t look for a second coming to save you. This one’s up to you, Charley, and you and you and you. Ralph won’t save us; Bernie won’t save us; Elizabeth won’t save us: the status quo and all its traditional players are finished.

What will save us, if we’re lucky, is a daring New Economic Policy that will credibly revive for all Americans the ideals of equal opportunity and self-reliance upon which this brave new world was originally founded. And to my mind, this means jobs for all at wages that support a decent living. Promise the American people this and make them believe you can deliver, and in 2018 we can elect a veto-proof Congress that can set about making it happen.

Anything less, anything smacking of “business as usual,” is doomed to failure. And failure today carries a cost none of us wants to think about.

tags: Politics | Governance | New Political Party

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