Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Political Stew, with a Side of Anxiety

I was really hoping this was all just a dream, but according to the news, the president-elect is still a thin-skinned, silver-spooned Cheeto with horrible impulse control.

As I watched him rise through the primaries and overcome a series of gaffes that would bury any other candidate imaginable, it was clear that he was onto something.

Where many people saw him as the next Hitler, I saw someone who was a master at playing the game.  (Granted, I had considerable help from the Scott Adams blog and his posts about the presidential race in terms of persuasion.)  See, I don’t think that he, himself is a racist fascist.  I think he plays one on TV.

I know that seems like a big difference, but where some see a raging racist, I see someone using the ocean of racism embedded in this country, to further his own agenda.  (Get elected, make the world a better place for the 1%.)  He positioned himself, with his Brooklyn accent and elementary school vocabulary, as the champion of the common man. 

Just wait and see what kind of dry screwing the common man gets in the next four years.  And if he provides a steady stream of “Others” for the common man to crap on, it’ll be another four.  When people get preoccupied with building walls, monitoring bathrooms, and creating more hoops for people to jump through just to keep from starving, it will be a breeze to slide legislation through that opens the trough for the filthy rich.

You’ll see it; there will be a big hoopla about deficit reduction when they cut services that provide a lifeline to the poor, yet amounts to a fraction of a percent of the federal budget.  And then you’ll see tax breaks and loopholes created that quietly add billions back to the deficit.

Under all the xenophobic and homophobic bluster, Trump is still just a big business Republican.  Look at all the big promises he’s already rolled back.  The wall?  Maybe.  Prosecuting Clinton?  Gone.  Deporting millions?  Not as such.

But they’re already licking their chops at the prospect of neutering the EPA, disregarding climate change, closing or defunding the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and tanking all the financial regulations enacted after the Bush Recession.  All of those actions are the result of the same goal: enriching the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us.

And we just greased up and bent over for them, didn’t we?  We made it so easy.

Now some other stray thoughts…

I’m not sure how my theory that Trump is not some rich, racist fuck jibes with his appointment of Steve Bannon to his circle of advisors.  This guy is a cancer on a free America.  He was the leader of the Breitbart website (after Breitbart himself croaked), which is a top purveyor of conservative fake news.  If Breitbart says it’s going to rain, you might as well plan a day at the beach.  Breitbart feeds the alt-right with conspiracy theories and outlandish assertions that they are only too eager to lap up.  Having this guy in the White House is a national embarrassment. 

Maybe Trump keeps him around for his zero sum zeal and take-no-prisoners strategy.  Someone is going to have to wrangle those alt-right, all white yahoos when they find out Trump can’t do all those things he said he was going to do.

Fake News
We’re hearing a lot about fake news now, aren’t we?  Fake news is big business and may have swayed this election.  Why do you think so many people thought Hillary was untrustworthy?  If you believed even a fraction of the Big News about Clinton, coming from Facebook and other sites and aggregators that promote sizzle over substance, it was inevitable.

And while conservatives weren’t the only ones pushing BS stories, they supplied an overwhelming majority.  The Russians had a whole cottage industry behind producing fake stories about Hillary.  Plus, they single-handedly kept Democratic scandals alive by hacking emails and leaking them every day for weeks prior to the election.

I seriously wonder if anyone really thinks we wouldn’t find the same things or worse if the Republicans’ emails had been hacked and released.  You don’t think those guys were steaming mad at Trump down at the RNC?  I guarantee you there were some salty emails flying around.  But those were the guys the Russians wanted in office. 

Doesn’t anyone wonder why?

I think all the college protests were a giant waste of time.  If they’re really so upset, that time would be better spent preparing and organizing for the midterm election in 2018.  That’s the only way to change anything.  Destructive hissy fits don’t help.

Of course, listening to the Republicans tell it, it’s an affront to the presidency and America herself.  I guess you’re only allowed to badmouth the president when he’s a black guy.

The Tea Party was borne of public protests, weren’t they?  Of course, those were middle-aged white guys, so it’s cool, right?

Republicans don’t get to mount their high horses about the protesters; not after they spent eight years obstructing everything our legally and overwhelmingly elected president wanted to do.  I’ve probably said it a dozen times here and I’ll say it again: They spent eight years blocking any bill that could help the country, put people back to work, or repair the infrastructure.  They ensured… they GUARANTEED that nothing would get done.  And then they turned around and ran on the assertion that the Democrats didn’t make anyone’s lives any better.

And this country was dumb enough to fall for it.

These cabinet appointments are scary… not because they’re a bunch of racists, but that they’re Republicans.  Well, future AG Jeff Sessions may be racist, or at least have a dangerous imbalance in his values system.  I mean, he’s been quoted as saying that the Klan was OK, up until he heard they smoked marijuana.  That’s what put them on his shit list.  With this guy in charge, say goodbye to the burgeoning marijuana laws being passed in the states.

Trump’s new Secretary of Education is a billionaire and crusader for private school vouchers.  (Heaven forbid her little angels have to mix with any undesirables at a public school.)  Say goodbye to our system of education and say hello to the reintegration of church and state.  Intelligent Design 101, here we come.

Trump’s domestic policy advisor thinks gay conversion therapy can be used to “reform” gay people.  I say, when it works on turning heterosexuals gay, it will work the other way around.  Oh yeah, and every respected psychological professional in the business says that too.  (Well, they say it doesn’t work and it’s downright cruel.)  But don’t mind the scientific community; we need politicians to tell us what we are.

One might think I’d be eager to see Trump impeached or otherwise thrown out of office immediately.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  I think Trump is a pragmatist and will never do anything that’s bad for business.  (Mostly HIS business, but still.)  I think he uses these other thumpers as cover.  They keep the rabble roused while he can tend to business.

That changes if Mike Pence becomes president.  He’s a True Believer; religious zealot who actually believes all this shit about homosexuality being a sin and birth control is murder and so on. 

He’s crusaded against abortion access, including trying to redefine “rape” as a means to do so, signed laws allowing businesses to discriminate against gays, tried to redefine rape as a way to limit abortion, diverted 3.5 million dollars from Indiana’s Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program into a Pennsylvania anti-abortion organization, and probably most scary, co-sponsored “Personhood” legislation, which provided full human rights to an embryo the moment the two cells intersect.

Putting that guy in charge is the next step in turning this into the United States of Iran. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

One Time I... Wait... Was That Me?

First, let me apologize for the long layoff.  Because I had two posts just days apart, I was going to let the second one count as last Monday’s post, and come back with new material last night.  The flaw in the plan (when I formulated it) was that I forgot I was having an old friend for dinner.

Whoops, maybe I should say “an old friend was passing through town and we were meeting for dinner.” Glad I cleared that up.

I had planned to unload the mélange of political stew that had been simmering in my brain for the last week and a half, but then the dinner changed my mind.  (And there’s always next week.  Trump will still be President-Elect and there will still be unease and discomfort throughout the land.)

I hadn’t seen my friend “Clark” since late in the summer of 1979.  He went away to college and never came back.  Five years later, I also hit the road to seek my destiny (working in record stores for shitty pay).  We never crossed paths again.

I know I’ve mentioned my small group of close friends here many times here over the years, and our little band of neighborhood misfits who hung out in our barn, but Clark was never part of that crowd.  He was a guy in my class who was always friendly enough, but we didn’t really mix with the same people. 

But late in our senior year, he was dating a friend of mine, who was a close friend of the girl I took to prom.  We all went out on a double date to a fancy restaurant shortly after, to celebrate our mutual friend’s birthday and seemed to hit it off nicely.  (I mean he and I… the girls kind of drifted away from the group.)

Director’s DVD Commentary: I’m calling him “Clark,” not as a tribute to the Grizwald family patriarch, but because when my mom wanted to know who I was going to hang out with, I showed her his yearbook picture and she said, “That’s not (his name), that’s Clark Kent.”

Anyway, I realized he was a quality dude and a genuinely good guy, so we hung out a couple more times during the summer before he left for college Down South. 

One night, we went out to see the original “Alien” movie and got hammered up in the second row.  All I could remember about the movie were a couple of brief impressions: “Wow, that spaceship landing is pretty wild,” and “Hmm. This is probably really scary.”  (When I finally saw the movie on VHS, it was literally like seeing it for the first time.)

Another time I had mentioned something about having a harmonica, and he had me come over to his house to play some music.  He spent 20 minutes looking for some piano sheet music in the key my harmonica was in, but I was like, “Dude, it really won’t matter; I can’t play this thing for shit.”  I think I fumbled through one song before we decided to find something else to do.

We hadn’t really gotten The Barn up and running as a miscreant HQ yet, or else I’d have had him come out.  So like I said, once he left town, our paths diverged.

But now there’s Facebook, so we friended up several years ago.  And then a couple weeks back, he said he’d be traveling from North Carolina up to visit his daughter in Massachusetts, and what do you know, Baltimore is right on the way, about halfway there.  It would be a convenient pit stop and a chance to catch up.

So we met last night at my regular sports bar to just sit, have a few beers, some hamburgers and catch up.  (Not ketchup; not for me, anyway.)

Now tell me, have you ever tried to catch up on 37 years?  It’s not easy.  I mean, how do you summarize that much time, without putting on a 3-hour One Man Show?  If you’ve been with me for very long, you know the circuitous path I’ve taken to get where I am now.

(Luckily, he’s read this blog before so there were some adventures he’d already heard about.)

It came down to describing college, jobs, relocations, relationships, and various story tangents that I hoped proved entertaining.  I mean, how could I talk about my college years without the various pranks we pulled?  How could I talk about my experience working in record stores without talking about some of the bands I got to meet?  Sometimes repeatedly.  How could I talk about getting my first store without mentioning the Legend of the Felonious Lesbian, or talk about the ex-wife without mentioning how she became the Belle of the Firehouse?  There were some serious tangents I had to cover.

And it was in telling The Big Story all at once that I realized how weird some of it sounds to me now.  It’s like someone else did all that stuff in another lifetime.

And the thing was, he had so many of the same experiences I did, with college, jobs, relocations, and relationships.  Of course, my realm was merely national; I rarely left the Midwest, Northeast or Mid-Atlantic.  Clark’s path took him all over the globe.  The man lived in Poland, Indonesia, Switzerland, and a number of other places. 

It was funny; every time I thought I had a really good Facebook post from an Orioles game in Camden Yards, I’d see one of his posts while he was hiking through the freakin’ Swiss Alps.

But wherever we were, we still had the same kind of shit happen to us.  We both majored in disciplines that probably weren’t the most helpful to us.  We both ended up in jobs far from our majors, and kind of Forrest Gumped ourselves through our professional careers. Both of us had the same or similar problems with wives and girlfriends.  Both of us have had generally lousy luck with online dating.  We’ve both been impacted and influenced by lost friends.  We both played sandlot football against the same group of jagoffs and came to the same conclusions (that they were jagoffs).  (Come to think of it, I really need to tell that story here.  I’ll put it on the list.)  Both of us have considered running for elected office but figured we could just stay home and bash our heads against the wall, and save time. 

It was kind of cool, though, looking back on our shared high school experience.  Out of the blue, he brought up an old mutual friend, about whom I once wrote extensively; the auburn-haired beauty from my post about redheads I've known.  They were pretty good friends back then and in fact, she lives near him right now, back in North Carolina. 

When I mentioned my first college girlfriend, who also went to high school with the both of us, he was like, “Man, she was smokin’ hot!” 

It was funny because he saw the potential long before I did.  I didn’t see it until college when she changed her hair.  To me, she went from kind of mousey to “Ka-Boom!” 

It’s interesting to kind of “deconstruct” your high school experience with someone who was there, but not necessarily in your closest circle.  You can get a whole different take on things.

Anyway, we spent more than five hours at the bar, just talking and drinking beer.  And whoever wasn’t telling a story got to eat his dinner. 

It’s a good thing we quit when we did.  I’d cut myself off on beer and my throat was starting to get sore from all the yapping.  So we called it a night… I had to go to work in the morning and he had the rest of his drive.

See?  With thicker frames, he really would look like Clark Kent.  Whereas I look like Donkey from Shrek.  Stupid selfies...

So… Fun night.  Thank you, “Clark” for coming up with the great idea to stop by.

They really ought to market Baltimore this way… as a rest stop on the east coast highways.  “Charm City: A great town to stop temporarily before passing through.”

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Sky is Crying

It is the day after Election Day and even the sky was weeping for what our country has become.

So, it’s done.  November 8th, 2016 will go down in history as the day we stood up and declared that we are a small, fearful people, who would rather literally build walls than solve philosophical and economic problems.  It’s the day we rejected calm, well-reasoned decision-making for a carnival sideshow of bluster and bravado.

Why is it always the people who wrap themselves in the flag and venerate the Constitution are the ones who want to completely undo the very freedoms the Constitution provides?  They “love America,” but want to change her basic nature.

What about religious freedom?” I hear them cry.

Religious freedom has never been a trump card to play when depriving the civil rights others who don’t adhere to your beliefs.  Not in this country.  Until now.

Well, as they say in retail, “You broke it, you bought it.”  Conservatives elected a bloodless tycoon and a religious prig, so it is now up to them to make good on all the things they promised they could do.  After all, there will be a Republican president and a Republican congress.  They should be able to do just about anything.  Now we’ll see who for whom they really work.

Let’s see if they really have a medical plan besides just shit-canning Obamacare and tossing 20 million people off their insurance.  Let’s see if there really is a plan to defeat ISIS, besides just ramping up defense spending on weapon systems and private contractors.  Let’s see if there really is a coherent immigration plan, besides building some ridiculous wall and closing borders to Muslims.

Personally, I doubt it.  But I suspect you’ll see the elimination of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau almost immediately, along with the roll-back of all the regulations enacted in the wake of the 2008 recession.  First priority is to get Big Business back to the business of raking in as much profit as possible, while the consumers bear the risk.  You’ll see this along with giant tax cuts aimed at the richest among us, while the rest of us are expected to be thankful for the leftover scraps.

You’ll see the appointment of hard-right Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v Wade at the earliest opportunity, strengthen the right of corporations to pour anonymous money into politics and bolster the claims of religious liberty in refusing service to those whose very existence is found to be an affront to their version of God.

I hope to hell that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is healthier than she looks.

I also think that if the Democrats try any of the obstruction tactics the Republicans have used for the last eight years, Republicans will institute the full “nuclear option” and eliminate the filibuster.

They don’t care about senatorial tradition, they care only about wielding and retaining their own power.

So how did we get here?  I see two main causes.

Cause #1: Over 20 years of loud, yet fruitless investigations.

The Clintons have been the victims of hyped-up witch hunts since the Big Dog was president.  What these investigations did or didn’t find wasn’t nearly as important as the volume at which they were conducted.  Every time an investigation closed without finding anything actionable, another one began. 

The entire Benghazi farce was created and propagated for the sole purpose of smearing potential and then actual candidate, Hillary Clinton.  None of the 11 investigations found jack shit that they could use, yet each investigation begat a new one.  And all this was despite the 60 or so lives lost in Embassy attacks during Republican administrations, which yielded zero outrage and zero investigations.

Just once I’d like to hear someone explain why this attack was so much more important than any of the others.  But no one can because the only difference is political.  The Benghazi investigations were nothing but a prolonged smear campaign, designed to alter America’s perception of a political figure.

Basically, the Republicans spent years claiming that Hillary Clinton was a lying, crooked, scandal machine and then ran a campaign against the image they created.  Is she a choirgirl?  Hell no, she’s a politician.  But for some reason, she’s the one who has to be perfect while the other guy’s considerable scandals barely register.

In the land of the rational, some improper emailing is a hill of beans compared to running a fraudulent education scam, going on trial for raping a 13-year old, sucking up to a Communist dictator and encouraging his people to hack his opposition’s email accounts and use them to influence an election, spending one’s life stiffing people he hired, running out on debts, avoiding taxes and refusing to provide his tax returns, and generally acting like a rich, entitled, boorish person of privilege.

Yet he went out there and accused her of doing everything that he, himself has been documented as doing.  And because of the giant cloud of suspicion the GOP created over the years, people believed him.

It’s the classic case of saying something enough times that people eventually believe it to be true, especially if they want to believe it.

Cause #2: The systematic institution of voter suppression tactics in GOP-controlled states.

What the red states have done to the voting process is nothing short of criminal.  They specifically engineered a series of moves that made it harder, more inconvenient and more expensive for minorities (and any likely Democrats) to vote, all under the guise of protecting against “voter fraud.”

This “voter fraud” from which they were “protecting us” was found through extensive research, to have happened 31 times among over a billion votes.  So they pushed for particular IDs to be presented to vote, which were designed not to be convenient for minorities, students and the elderly.  They raised fees to acquire these IDs, and closed or restricted hours at the document-issuing locations where these minorities, students and the elderly were likely to go.

They reduced the number of polling places where their perceived opponents traditionally voted.  They reduced the number of early voting days and stations.  They interfered with organizations that attempted to get people registered.

And then they sat back and congratulated themselves on how well the whole charade worked.

That is how you rig an election.  The Russians couldn’t have done it any better themselves.

Of course, there is a myriad of other sub-causes and subplots which contributed to this toxic political and social environment.  And as a result, this was the night Americans stood up and proclaimed they would rather vote for charismatic stupidity than icy competence. 

Gods help us all.  We’re gonna need it.

Director’s DVD Commentary: I wrote this first thing this morning and I was going to hold it for Monday, but I feel like it needs to go out now.  Consider this my Monday post, 5 days early.

Monday, November 7, 2016

V-Minus One

Well, tomorrow is it… all the craziness of the last four years comes down to what happens tomorrow in voting booths all across America.  And yes, I mean four years.  It was almost immediately after Obama won his second term that politicians and the media began hyping the 2016 election.  And it’s sad.

Stuck with a Republican congress who was determined to run out the clock, Obama never really had a chance to do anything domestically.  Every proposed bill was blocked, regardless of how it could benefit America.  If Obama wanted it, Congress prevented it from happening.

So where the President could change some things with executive orders, he did.  (And, of course, got called a dictator by butt-stung Republicans.)  He also went about fighting ISIS.  Notice how their leaders keep getting themselves blown up.  Not bad for a closet Muslim.

Now we’re about to elect a new president and we’re pretty much in the same predicament as we were four years ago.  Republicans continually tell you how bad things are, all the while the facts say otherwise.

(And this is old data.)

Who knows how well our economy would be doing if we could have passed some jobs or infrastructure bills?  Such is the GOP hypocrisy… step on the brake and then complain that we’re not there yet.  I’ve been saying it since the early days of this blog: You can’t hold up every bill and then complain that nothing is getting done.
Well, they really can, and they did, but they can’t pretend that no one notices.  I just have doubts about how many others actually do.

I’m not optimistic about tomorrow.  I think there is too much room for dirty tricks, like voter disinformation coming from GOP-run state governments, the closing of voting stations, self-appointed poll watchers intimidating minorities from voting… and that’s just the stuff we’ve already seen happening.  Electronic voting systems are not hard to hack at all.

I read an article, last week, about a “white-hat” hacker who along with some graduate students at a major university, took less than 48 hours to hack into a proposed internet voting system during a mock election.  They were able to alter the votes without anyone the wiser.  Officials would have never known about it if it weren't for some voters complaining about the weird music they heard at the Thank You For Voting screen, where the hackers inserted their college fight song.

It can be done and probably will.  It’s not like the Russians have any disincentive to stop after hacking Democratic Party emails.

Another thing that worries me is how often you see nation-wide polling, like when you see a poll that says Hillary is favored throughout the country, any percent to any percent.  It doesn’t matter because the total of votes on the national level doesn’t matter.  Just ask Al Gore.

What matters is state by state polling.  That’s what’s going to win states and electoral votes, and that’s all that matters. 

After all the time, money and effort spent on this campaign, it’s sad to think about how little of it really matters.  Every ad out there is playing to your emotions and providing one red herring after another. 

No politician operates in a vacuum.  They all need advisors and a cabinet, and that’s where the party apparatus comes in.  And once the parties are involved, you have predictability because we have seen the history of what they stand for. That’s why it’s so easy to decide in an election like this.

The Republicans want to:

  • use red tape, legal technicalities, and disinformation to continue limiting access to abortion (and birth control) and ultimately overturn Roe v Wade.

  • ensure Citizens United remains in place, so wealthy donors (their bosses, in effect) can continue to put politicians on their payroll to do their bidding. (Like delay Supreme Court nominations indefinitely.)

  • defund, delegitimize or just eliminate the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, whose only job is to prevent banks from screwing its customers.

  • prohibit any regulation on guns whatsoever, despite the carnage throughout the nation.

  • keep wages low, so not to cut into business profits.  Raising the minimum wage is out of the question.  North Carolina went so far as to prohibit municipalities from instituting their own minimum wage.

  • privatize Social Security, putting our money in the hands of Wall Street, who brought about the financial collapse of 2008 via their own greed and mismanagement.

  • eliminate Obamacare, or any other breaks on medical coverage, tossing 20 million people off insurance rolls without a plan for what to do next.

  • continue the war on drugs (and marijuana) to make sure for-profit prisons are full (of minorities).

  • increase military spending, despite the fact that our current spending totals more than the military spending of the next 10 ranked countries.  And I’m not talking about giving raises to the troops or taking care of veterans: I mean funneling the dough to defense contractors and weapon production.

  • continue their illicit campaigns of voter suppression under the guise of preventing voter fraud.  And I’ll include aggressive gerrymandering as a part of it, just to eliminate another bullet.
If you are for all of these things, then vote Republican.  I won’t agree with you, but you certainly have the right to vote your values. 

But if you don’t, then you have no choice but to vote Democratic, up and down the board, if possible.  And if there are some things on this list you agree with, and some you don’t, then you have to make a decision on which items are the most important to you.

The Republicans have already shown what happens when they get what they want.
Massive tax cuts for the rich only benefit the rich.  Our history from 1984 through 2008 demonstrates that clearly.  Instead of creating jobs, as promised, they created more bonuses for their executives and more earnings for major shareholders.

It’s about time we start voting for our actual self-interest and not illusions we’re so desperately being sold by the Right.  Or even better, vote to make the lives of others a little better, like those who can’t afford their own lobbyists.

The emails don’t matter.  The recordings don’t matter.  Benghazi doesn’t matter.  Trump University doesn’t matter.

The direction we pick for this country is what matters and this is a black and white choice. 

We move forward, or we go back.