Thursday, November 22, 2018

Dispatches From Middle Age

It's not uncommon knowledge that middle age is a time of great change, a time for maturity and wisdom, a time in which one transitions from being a young and hungry up-and-comer to a venerated and respected member of the community. It is also known as the time when medical procedures become both more common and more invasive, and when you find yourself wondering what the hell happened to all the good music that it's been replaced by electronic crap1.

We generally gain weight in middle age as we become more sedentary. We have to be more cautious about engaging in risky behaviors ... which, as I am now firmly in my fifties, I have discovered includes such things as "walking" and "getting out of bed." Our dietary needs change -- fast food, while it has always been disgusting, attains a new level of being unappetizing.

In fact, middle age rivals adolescence in the sheer volume of change that takes place. What follows is a list of the things I have experienced in my fifty-plus years strolling around on this ball of mud.

Your Body Changes Shape
As was mentioned above, people tend to gain weight as they approach middle age. In my case, however, this has not been the case ... my weight has remained pretty much in the same place it's been for the past ten years. What has changed is the shape of my body. My shirts have all become too small, while my pants are too large.

I attribute this to the fact that the mass of my ass2 is migrating to my pecs3. So I was forced to get all new clothes, with shirts suitable for Andre the Giant and pants for an Oompa Loompa.

Things Creak
When I was a teenager, I was capable of jumping off of the running board of a '54 Chevy pickup traveling at about 45 MPH, doing a tuck-and-roll on the shoulder, and simply dusting myself off and going on my way without even a second thought. Now, thanks to increased weight, decreased flexibility, and plantar fasciitis, getting up from the dinner table becomes a question of whether it's really worth it.

And if we ever get a TV for the kitchen, that answer would be "no."

Things Hurt
With regard to the aforementioned plantar fasciitis: if you have experienced it, you know just how agonizing those first few steps after getting up can be. And if you haven't, then trust me ... you'll find out eventually4.

It's not just that, though. You'll find that your back hurts simply from standing, or from washing dishes. You get heartburn more easily. Muscle aches become common. You may be one of those lucky souls who develops arthritis so things hurt "just because."

Patience Wears Thin
In my thirties and forties, when confronted with stupid to pretty much any degree, my philosophy was pretty much "Eh, whaddaya gonna do?" Since then I have progressed from this calm, Zen-like acceptance to a state involving eyerolls, heavy sighs, and muttered oaths, with an occasional foray into homicidal rage. I am discovering that everyone else on the road is a complete idiot, people in customer service only have the bare minimum number of functioning brain cells required to maintain bodily functions, and our elected leaders are craven political hacks who are incapable of taking any view beyond the next election5.

Time Takes On A New Meaning
In middle age, "the weekend" is still something we look forward to eagerly. The difference, however, lies in the why.

In my younger days, weekends meant:

  • Sleeping until 1 or 2 in the afternoon.
  • Cartoons and cigarettes for breakfast.
  • Trying to get laid.

Now, weekends take on an entirely different meaning:

  • Getting some goddam peace and quiet for a change, maybe.

One thing that remains unchanged over time is the foolish optimism that the weekend is going to go according to your wishes. Sure, the actual wishes are different, but in the end it all comes down to "real life" intruding. Thirty years ago it meant that I had to spend part of my Sunday doing laundry, and maybe going to the grocery store, but beyond that I could adjust the schedule and still make my fruitless quest for extremely open-minded female companionship work.

What nobody tells, you, though, is how "real life" stacks up over time. First it's just laundry. Then you decide that hey, it might be a good idea to vacuum something, considering that you are growing crops in your carpeting. From there it's a slippery slope: there's no point in vacuuming until you clean off the stuff that's higher up, because something is going to fall on the floor and make you clean it again, and if you're going to go to all the trouble to do all that you might as well do the dishes too, and it would make sense to actually plan some meals out and get what you need now as opposed to settling for ramen every night because it's all you have on hand ...

By the time you get to your fifties, weekends become just a different kind of work: mowing the lawn, getting an oil change, re-caulking the windows, driving your teenager to soccer/baseball/football/dance/music/theater practice, going shopping with your spouse for new sheets because the dog horked up something disgusting and unidentifiable which nonetheless left permanent stains ... and then it's Monday again.

Yep. Peace and quiet.

This article has been pretty tongue-in-cheek up to this point, but I'm going to get serious for a moment here.

At some point in middle age, you are hit with the sudden realization that you no longer have "your whole life ahead of you." For me it was on my fiftieth birthday that I was struck by the knowledge that, at some point, I had passed the halfway point in my life and that I would forever have more behind me than in front of me.

This is a sobering thought, to say the least. Naturally, my thoughts turned to my death: how it would go down, would I suffer, that kind of thing. What surprised me, though, was that the dread thoughts of death had inspired in me in the past was missing. Instead, there was an almost casual acceptance of the fact that death is the one experience shared by every human being, past, present, and future, that it is inevitable, and getting all tweaked up over it is really kind of a waste of effort.

I found my self wondering what happens after death. Sure, I know the clinical details (which are pretty gross, so I'll spare those little nuggets of joy), but my musings were more philosophical. What is nothingness like? When you die, are you aware of the act of dying, or does it just happen? Does your consciousness fade, or is it snapped off like a light switch? Is there anything to this reincarnation business, and do I really want a part of that?

Interestingly, I find myself devoting less effort to self-preservation, and more effort toward avoidance of discomfort. My thinking is that, when it comes time for me to go, I want it to be painless. This could mean anything from being instantly vaporized by an incoming meteorite traveling at 25,000 MPH to a peaceful, uneventful transition from sleep to death due to old age.

And now, back to the snark.

Self Image6
Take pretty much any middle-aged guy that isn't George Clooney or Brad Pitt, put them in front of a mirror, and this is what they will see:

Unfortunately for them, this is what everybody else sees:

'Nuff said.

I gotta lie down.

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1Of course, in my case I am absolutely correct in the assessment that the music I like is far superior. Just sayin'.

2I know you're thinking of a snappy comeback to this, and don't do it.

3That's right. I said pecs. I did not say "man boobs" (even though that's pretty much what they are) because "pecs" sounds much more ... well, beefy.

4Imagine that someone took a red-hot knitting needle soaked in turpentine and angry fire ants and stabbed you in the bottom of your heel. When you have plantar fasciitis, you'll wish that was an option.

5Granted, this one is pretty much a universal constant ...

6At the risk of sounding misogynistic, what follows only applies to the male of the species. Women of this age have a take on things that is 180 degrees away from ours, and I'm not even gonna try to explain why because it will only get me in trouble.

Monday, November 19, 2018

I Haven't Done This In A While ...

So it has been a long time since I have done one of my "ten things" lists, and with Thanksgiving ... well, here ... I thought it appropriate to put another one out there. So, without further ado ... what follows is a list of the ten things I am very grateful for, in nor particular order. It should also be said that these are not the only ten things for which I am grateful; it is simply a list of the first ten things that come to mind.

It should also be mentioned that it may not actually be ten items. So let's dive in, shall we?

  1. Sleeping late. Under normal circumstances I have to get up at 6 AM every day to try to rouse a fourteen year old for school, so a week of not having to do that is a luxury beyond measure.
  2. Cruise control.
  3. Every once in a while conditions are just right and the stars align just so and I can get from my house to the theater forty minutes away without hitting one red light1.
  4. Homemade pasta that is cooked perfectly al dente.
  5. Going an entire day without hearing of one single idiot thing that trump has said or done2.
  6. I am currently the assistant director for Miracle on 34th Street, and one of the elves in the show is being played by a little girl of five who kinda has a crush on me. And every time she sees me she says she has a new joke for me, then giggles and runs away. Of course, she never does ... it's always the same joke3, but because she's, like, a bajillion kinds of adorable, it's all good.
  7. Being able to wrangle all the crazy schedules and preferences in such a way as to allow all six members of my family to sit down to dinner together, and sitting around the table for an hour or so afterward, just talking about whatever comes to mind, and not having to worry about the dishes.
  8. Having the skills, time, and resources at hand to completely demolish my living room and rebuild it even better.
  9. Netflix.
  10. Playing peek-a-boo with a random baby in a restaurant, and being rewarded with a giant smile with only two teeth.
  11. Finding an unexpected five dollar bill in my pocket.
  12. Generous friends who lent my wife a knee scooter when she tore the ligaments in her ankle, and allowed her to mount a bicycle bell on the handlebars.
  13. Paying for the person in line behind me at the Wawa, and seeing them reciprocate by covering the person in line behind them.
  14. My wife who, for some as yet unfathomed reason, agreed to marry me, and continues to put up with my ... uh, stuff ... to this day.
  15. My kids, who continually surprise me with their intelligence and fundamental humanity.

Okay, so the ten things turned into fifteen, and I actually had to stop myself. I guess that means it's been a good year.

Here's hoping that all of you have a wonderful holiday, and that you have a similar list (of whatever length), and that the coming year brings you health, happiness, and prosperity.

I gotta lie down.

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1It is important to note that, to date, this has never happened. But I keep hoping.
2Sadly, in the past two years this has never happened either.
3"Why did the cow cross the road? Because the chicken was on vacation."

Sunday, October 28, 2018

This Is Serious, Folks.

In a little over a week we go to the polls to vote in an election that is definitely the most critical in my lifetime, and possibly in the entire history of this nation. When we pull that lever, push that button, punch that punch card, we are effectively choosing between two things.

On the one hand is donald trump and the Republican Party, and all they stand for -- which, let's face it, can be summed up in the answer to the question "What will benefit trump and the Republicans most?" Under their watch we have seen:

  • A permanent tax cut going to the top 1%, while everyone else gets a token cut that expires in a few years.
  • 70 (yes, 70!) attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
  • A cloud of suspicion over possible collusion with Russia to alter the outcome of the 2016 election.
  • A flurry of convictions of trump's familiars over tax evasion, money laundering, and the like.
  • Continuous violations of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.
  • Seating a possible sexual predator on the Supreme Court.
  • An average of over four blatant lies each day from the freakin' President of the United States, over matters of such import as the size of the crowds at his rallies.

On the other hand we have dozens -- hundreds -- of eminently qualified candidates at both the state and federal levels, ready and willing to take the reins and run things in a manner that benefits all Americans, not just Mitch McConnell, donald trump, and Paul Ryan.

This November 6th, people will go to the polls to elect a new Congress. Thanks to Republican-led gerrymandering, voter disenfranchisement (Brian Kemp in Georgia purging 53,000 names -- the vast majority of whom were African-Americans who were likely to vote for his opponent; the Supreme Court essentially removing the right to vote from anyone with a post office box instead of a street address), this is an uphill climb for Democrats ... the last estimate I have heard is that Democrats have to beat their Republican opponents by a minimum of 7% (as opposed to a simple plurality) in order to win election, thanks to these measures.

Given the energy that I have seen out there, this is eminently doable.

Protests. Rallies. Demands that elected representatives hold town halls to hear their constituents' concerns1. Marches. Sit-ins. In short, everything that could be done to hold Congress accountable or, failing that, shame the crap out of them, has, is, and will continue to be done. This is exactly how it should be. However, it will all be for nought unless people actually get out there and vote.

Vote like your life depends on it. After all, given the brainstems running things now, that may very well be the case.

I gotta lie down.

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1Not surprisingly, most of the Senators and Representatives that refused to meet with constituents (I'm looking at you, Pat Toomey, Brian Fitzpatrick, and Ryan Costello!) are Republicans.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

A Modest Proposal

There has been a lot of noise lately about unequal representation in Congress lately. The basic thrust of it is that the Senate has 30% of the Senators representing 70% of the population, and that it's ridiculous that that a single Representative from Wyoming represents 585,501 people1, while California, with its population of 39,250,017 and 53 Representatives, has each representative acting on behalf of 738,581 residents. These are valid concerns, but the solutions proposed by many are just too simplistic: eliminate the Electoral College, eliminate the Senate, remove the cap on the number of Representatives. None of these ideas will work in the way they are intended.

So let's take a look at a proposal to make it work in the 21st century. First, the House of Representatives.

Current law has the number of Representatives capped at 435. This makes sense, actually; if it was purely population based and the number of residents per Representative outlined in the Constitution (one Representative for every 30,000 residents) had not been updated, then we would currently have 10,893 Representatives. Obviously, this is unworkable, but there is a way to address this: remove state boundaries from consideration entirely. The problem with having Congressional districts drawn within state boundaries is that it does not take into account population density. If, instead of districts within each state, we simply had 450 Congressional districts nationwide, then we would have 450 Representatives accountable to about 725,000 residents each2. This ratio can be reapportioned every decennial census to keep the total number of Representatives at 450.

Districts would be drawn by an independent Federal commission consisting of two representatives of each party that has representation in Congress, as well as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to serve as final arbiter of disputes and tiebreaker.

Because the House is "the People's House," this would actually provide closer alignment between Representatives and their constituents due to state-specific matters being taken out of their purview by virtue of them being national Representatives (more on this division of responsibility between the Houses of Congress in a bit).

Now, let's examine the Senate.

Currently we have two Senators from each state. This proposal does not change that, but it does limit the Senate to matters pertaining to states themselves, as opposed to individual liberties. What this would mean is that, in addition to the House being the source for all revenue-generating bills, it would also be responsible for crafting legislation dealing with taxation (specifically, the personal income tax), education policy (with regard to setting Federal standards, etc.), crime at the individual level (kidnapping, etc.), and so on. The Senate, on the other hand, would be responsible for matters dealing with the states as political, geographic, and economic entities, as well as legislation concerned with international affairs, the military, national travel (the FAA, NHTSA, etc.) and interstate commerce.

Finally, let's take a look at the Electoral College, and consider what would happen if it is abolished (as some are calling for). This would mean the President is elected purely by the popular vote. Because population is centered in the cities and along the coasts, and considering that cities tend to be home to more Democrats than Republicans, that would mean that the chances of ever having another Republican president are pretty slim3. However, the Electoral College as it stands now gives undue weight to rural areas, shutting cities out of the process, and opening up the potential for a President to be elected who, technically, lost the election4.

What we need is to modify how the Electoral College works. What I propose is the following:

  • Eliminate electors entirely. The duty of casting an Electoral College vote should fall to our elected representatives.
  • Eliminate "faithless electors." We can do this by enacting legislation that requires electors to vote according to the popular vote in their district. The idea that an elector could simply ignore the popular vote and cast a ballot according to his or her whims is, quite frankly, anathema and runs counter to the ideals upon which this country was founded. Under this scenario, Senator John Smith would have to cast his Electoral College vote for the candidate that won the popular vote in his state, and Representative Carol Jones would cast her EC ballot for the candidate that won the popular vote in her district -- even if that district crosses state lines.
  • Eliminate "winner take all." Currently there are two states -- Maine and Nebraska -- that split the electoral vote according to Congressional district. All other states will throw all their electors to the candidate with the plurality of the vote. Under this new proposal, each candidate would receive one Electoral College vote for each Congressional district in which they win the popular vote, and two Electoral College votes for each state in which they win the statewide popular vote (see the proposal for modifying how Congressional districts are drawn above).

None of this even touches on campaign finance, which is another topic for another day.

I gotta lie down.

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1Population numbers are estimates from July 1, 2016, retrieved from "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for the United States, Regions, States, and Puerto Rico: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2016" at

2All population counts in this section are based off of 2018 estimates from the Census Bureau.

3Some would say that this is actually the desired state of affairs. Given the current Republican Party, I would agree. However, if the GOP ever comes to its senses and tries to elect another Eisenhower, would that really be a terrible thing?

4In our history we have had five Presidents -- two in the last twenty years -- who have won the election despite losing the popular vote:

  • 1824 - John Quincy Adams: Andrew Jackson, 152,901; Adams, 114,023; Henry Clay, 47,217; William H. Crawford, 46,979. Adams won with a deficit of 38,878 votes, or 10.77%. A big reason for vote totals being so low is that, at the time, the right to vote was extended to white male property owners only.
  • 1876 - Rutherford B. Hayes: Samuel J. Tilden, 4,288,546; Hayes, 4,034,311. Hayes won with a deficit of 254,235 votes, or 3.05%. This election is also interesting in that it is the only time in our history to date that the loser of the Electoral College vote won a majority of the votes, not just a plurality. Vote totals were higher due to African-American participation in elections after passage of the 15th Amendment.
  • 1888 - Benjamin Harrison: Grover Cleveland, 5,534,488; Harrison, 5,443,892; Clinton B. Fisk, 249,819; Alson Streeter, 146,602; Other, 8,519. Harrison won with a deficit of 90,596 votes, or 0.80%.
  • 2000 - George W. Bush: Al Gore, 50,999,897; George W. Bush, 50,456,002; Ralph Nader, 2,882,955; Pat Buchanan, 448,895; Harry Browne, 384,431; Howard Phillips, 98,020; John Hagelin, 83714; Other, 51,186. Bush won with a deficit of 543,895 votes, or 0.52%.
  • 2016 - Donald Trump: Hillary Clinton, 65,853,514; Donald Trump, 62,984,828; Gary Johnson, 4,489,341; Jill Stein, 1,457,218; Evan McMullin, 731,991; Darrell Castle, 203,090; Bernie Sanders, 111,850; Gloria LaRiva, 74,401; John Kasich, 2,684; Ron Paul, 124; Colin Powell, 25. Trump won with a deficit of 2,868,686 votes, or 2.11%.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

The Beginning of the End

Congress in 2018
I have been been giving a lot of thought lately to the current state of our politics. It may not seem like it, seeing as I have been more or less silent for the past month and a half, but it hasn't been for a lack of interest in current events ... only a lack of interest in being abused.

There was a time, in my lifetime, when the American government was composed of what I call "convivial opposites." A Republican and a Democrat could each be on the extreme ends of the political spectrum, but could still -- if not enjoying each other's company -- at least recognize the fundamental humanity of the other. Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill, two men whose political views could not be further apart, could still get together for a friendly drink in the evening, and both recognized the value of compromise.

Also known as "Both sides get something, but neither gets everything."

This started to change in 1994, when Newt Gingrich and his "Contract For America" started pissing in the well. Taking the approach that "liberals are pure evil and compromise is anathema," he embarked on a scorched-earth campaign in which it wasn't sufficient to win a legislative agenda; your opponent must be absolutely destroyed in the process. Nowhere was this evinced more clearly than in the impeachment of Bill Clinton1, a politically motivated hatchet job that was concocted for the sole purpose of destroying a President.

Since then, we have seen intransigence, belligerence, and outright disregard for the will of the people2. Which leads us to today.

Our current state of affairs is such that political opponents are no longer "political opponents," but are instead "blood enemies." Liberals are shrieking at conservatives. Conservatives are bellowing at liberals. Both sides are making an incredible amount of noise about how evil, corrupt, and un-American the other side is, and neither side actually listens to anything outside of their own bubble.

It's not just in the halls of Congress, either. Out in the world, especially on the online arena, our discourse has taken the form of a sort of feeding frenzy ... similar to a pack of wolves bringing down a wounded caribou. Only in this case, the caribou is some random person making some random political statement, and the pack of wolves are the dozens who immediately pounce and do everything (metaphorically, of course) to rip that person to shreds.

I have had plenty examples of this in the past couple of years in my own life. A Facebook group in which I am a member has very vocal members ranging across the political spectrum. Most of them-- both left and right -- are well-spoken, intelligent people, with families, and friends, and occasional car trouble. Some of them have become people I would actually hang out with in real life (even though the prospect of this may give them hives). These are people who, when I am not on the board for a while, will send me a private message asking if everything is okay.

Interestingly, these very same people are the ones who belittle, attack, mock, and shame anyone with whom they disagree.

True story: last year, when the solar eclipse rolled through, I had set up a homemade eclipse-watching stream on Facebook using my phone, a music stand, three layers of exposed 35mm film, and painter's tape. I was getting pretty good footage for a few minutes, until the clouds rolled in, obscuring the view (I also discovered, when using exposed 35mm film as a solar filter, that it made everything purple).

Fast forward to a few months ago. I am getting into a heated argument with one of the people in this Facebook group when he all of a sudden brings up the eclipse stream, claiming that not being able to see the eclipse was proof of my incompetence.

Got that? I was being blamed for clouds. Not only blamed, but held up as an example of how all liberals are essentially useless.

This is the attitude we are seeing these days. Sincere efforts are mocked. Mistakes are weaponized. Any error at all, no matter how trivial, is used as proof that the person making the error is not only stupid, misguided, etc. but also to deny the very humanity of that person. And it's only getting worse, because of some very short-sighted behavior on the part of those in power.

donald trump is not working toward some great legislative agenda, or trying to build a legacy, or anything like that. He is only in it for one person: trump. Everything he does is for his own self-aggrandizement, from claiming that any bad news about him is "fake" to "strongly suggesting" that visiting foreign dignitaries stay in his hotels.

Mitch McConnell is interested only in partisan gain. This is the only explanation for why he would stonewall a Supreme Court nominee for over a year when it came from a Democrat, but when it comes from one of his own then it becomes imperative that the nominee be confirmed ASAP because god forbid we have an empty seat on the bench.

Paul Ryan is that kids in high school who read "Atlas Shrugged" then proceeded to pester everyone he could about it, about how it changed his life, and on and on and on. This is a man who is retiring at age 48 with a full pension while simultaneously trying to increase the retirement age for everyone else to age 70.

All three of these people are only interested in the next election. They are not at all interested in the long term health of the United States, except insofar as it aligns with their short-term agenda3.

And it's not just the Republicans. Democrats are just as guilty of this sort of thing; the only reason we don't hear about it as much these days is because they are not in power at the moment4.

Regardless of who is power, or what the agenda actually is, the fact remains that discourse has completely broken down ... which means that those who are trying to sow division and have us destroy ourselves from within -- the Russians, George Soros, the Koch brothers, the Klingons -- are getting exactly what they wanted. If we continue down this road, within ten years the United States will have torn itself apart and been reduced to nothing more than a handful of squabbling mini-states, incapable of having any real effect on the world stage.

But hey, as long as the donor dollars keep rolling in, it's all good, right?

I gotta lie down.

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1I am in no way commenting on the legitimacy, or lack thereof, of that entire thing. I merely mention it for context.

2This has come more from the Republicans than the Democrats, but I suspect this is more a function of Republicans being more disciplined in their messaging and strategy.

3There is an argument to be made that their partisan goals do not align at all with the long-term good of the United States, but that is a topic for another rant.

4Give it another month, however (I couldn't resist).

Saturday, August 25, 2018

A Hero Remembered

Senator John McCain -- August 29, 1936 -

Every once in a while our nation produces someone who exemplifies the best that the United States has to offer. Someone who, despite any personal failings, demonstrates the true meaning of heroism, sacrifice, and public service.

Such a man was John McCain.

His life story is fairly well known. Born in 1936 in the Canal Zone to a Navy officer. Graduated from the Naval Academy in 1958. Flew missions in Vietnam, receiving the Navy Commendation Medal and the Bronze Star. Shot down on October 26, 1967 and held prisoner -- tortured, beaten, and kept in solitary confinement for two years -- until March 14, 1973. Served in the House from 1982 to 1986, in the Senate ever since.

These items are nothing new, nothing that rare. What is rare, though, is something not often seen in American politics: true conviction. Granted, there were times when his official actions could be perceived as opportunistic or craven -- is is Washington, after all, where the official religion is the Cult of Gimme -- but more often than not Senator McCain was a conservative Republican who actually walked the walk, and he was not the least bit shy about telling party leaders to shove it when he felt it was called for.

It is pretty obvious that we at the Blowhard Pundit disagreed with the Senator on many issues. There were times that we felt he was on the wrong side of history, or that he was misinformed about a particular subject. A few times (very few) we actually agreed with his stances on policy issues. Regardless of whether or not we agreed with him, we never felt compelled to accuse him of being blindly partisan, and we always suspected, if not knew, his positions were principled.

John McCain represented the ideals for which all of us have striven at one point or another. Integrity. Courage. Determination. Sheer endurance. Patriotism. He was a giant among men, and will go down in history as one of the good ones.

Senator, you cast a long shadow. You will be missed, but the United States is a better place thanks to your service.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Trumpeters Get Something Right

Y'all may wanna sit down for this.

The apocalypse is here. I know this because I find myself actually agreeing with the right about something to do with trump.

I know. I had hard time with it myself.

Anyway, it all has to do with Omarosa and her new "book" (used ironically, since I doubt the woman actually wrote anything at all and this is instead the work of a ghostwriter) and her claims that trump is a racist.

First off, DUH. He is. Everybody knows he is. He has been quite open about it. And I know that various and sundry trumpeters are going to come out of the woodwork to shriek about how he's not a racist because he once said something nice about Kanye West, and Obama was the REAL racist, and what about Hillary Clinton killing Seth Rich before deleting the emails about it from her private server in Benghazi?

Second, let's face facts. She is a female, African-American version of trump himself. A towering ego bordering on megalomania? Check. An inability to see -- or give a hot damn about -- how her words and actions affect others? Check. A firm belief in her own superiority over the gaggle of idiots surrounding her? Check. A cavalier willingness to mistreat others for her own gain? Check. Blatant, naked opportunism? Check. Constantly playing the victim card instead of accepting responsibility for her own actions? Check, check, check, check, check.

Basically, she is donald trump with blackface and fake boobs. This is why, when she got shitcanned (for the fourth time, by the same guy!) for being incompetent, her response was not "Well, time to dust off the ol' resume," or "Maybe I should focus on improving some of these problem areas." Instead, she decided to put her paranoia and vindictiveness on full display by announcing that a) she had written a book detailing what a shitty person trump is (and let's face it, the line of people wanting to write that book extends from here to Saturn) and b) she had been taping everything that had been said by anyone to her or about her or in her presence or that might have had some tangential relationship to something in which she was marginally interested.

It's ludicrous.

To be fair, trump has been very, very good for the economy in the "books about trump that depict him as a raging asshole but you know everybody already knew that" sector. "Fire and Fury" went gangbusters, even though it was pretty much a gossip column writ large. "A Higher Loyalty" has been selling well, although not as well as "Fire and Fury" (I haven't read it but it's safe to assume that this is due to James Comey not being a gossip columnist and therefore unable to convey things in the salacious manner of Michael Wolff). Omarosa's book, which is probably chock-full of wild claims -- about trump's racism, his boorishness, his hair, his family, the way he smells1, the way he lumbers aimlessly from room to room like a heavily medicated bear, the fact that I just now made up about how he uses his ridiculous oversized tie as a bib -- will undoubtedly have the same visceral "gotta get to the next page" quality of Wolff's book, but will also be similarly light on corroborating information and facts.

After all, fact-free content is kinda the hallmark of the trump administration.

So my thinking is that this book is going to be another nothingburger, yet another attempt at shaming a man who has no shame, embarrassing someone who simply can't be embarrassed because of his rampant narcissism, and demanding accountability from someone who has never been held accountable for anything in his entire life.

I gotta lie down.

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1I'm guessing it's a piquant combination of horrible breath from all the Diet Cokes and Drakkar Noir.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

The Right Is Running Scared

As many are aware, social media is exploding with people yelling at each other, pushing agendas, etc. What is not often mentioned, however, is the apparent air of desperation coming from the right. Allow me to elaborate ...

Today I logged on to Facebook, and was immediately greeted by the following items on my timeline:
  • A video from the Daily Caller News Foundation (DCNF) explaining why Planned Parenthood's efforts to halt legislation that would remove their funding is actually good for doctors.
  • Another video from DCNF saying that LeBron James needs to stay in his lane, and that the interview with Don lemon was nothing more than a blatant, naked attempt to discredit all the good trump has done.
  • A video from Fox News' Stuart Varney explaining why kicking people off of food stamps, etc. is a good thing.
  • A video from Laura Ingraham saying that the time is coming when all rational people will realize what good things trump has done.
  • Videos from the Daily Caller and CRTV that imply that Obama is at the root of Chicago's gang violence, and that the city is bypassing its mayor to ask trump fro help with the problem.
  • A number of postings from right-wingers demanding that liberals list "what rights they have lost under trump," apparently knowing that it is virtually impossible to answer such a question at all, much less in the current fact-free environment that is the White House.
  • A video from DCNF mocking "trump anxiety disorder" with the implication that liberals are just plain weak-minded.
  • A video from CRTV making a point that the Russian hacking was actually Obama's fault because he chose not to launch an investigation during the campaign for fear of being accused of trying to sway the election.
So I have a couple of points I want to raise about this.

First, are the inherent contradictions in their own arguments. Let's look at the Russia investigation, for example. The position of the left is that Russian interference in our election happened, and the investigation is there to determine the scope of the invasion (and that's exactly what it was), who was involved, and how to prevent it from happening again.
The position of the right can best be summed up by what would appear to be a drunken stream on consciousness by a pathological liar: "Russia? There was no Russian involvement in the election, so we don't need an investigation by the FBI, which you would know if the FBI had been allowed to examine the DNC servers for Russian hacking that didn't happen, and it's Obama's fault anyway for not launching the investigation sooner into this Russian meddling that we don't believe ever happened in the first place, and what about Hillary's emails? Huh? What about Benghazi? What about Obama not being an American citizen because he was born in Kenya or Hawaii before it was a state or the planet Weebo or something? MAGA."

Second, and far more telling in my opinion, is that the sheer volume of material being put out there by the right seems to hint at an air of desperation, almost as if they know they are full of it and trying to hide it under a mountain of accusations, false allegations, and outright bullshit. To paraphrase the Bard, "Methinks they doth protest too much."

Every time trump does something stupid (which, let's face it, happens at least every fifteen minutes or so, on average), we see the following activity:
  1. A news story comes out reporting on trump's latest Twitter spat with someone -- Lebron James, Rosie O'Donnell, the New York Times, whatever -- or his latest idiotic policy proposal (such as selling planes that don't exist to Norway).
  2. The Right Wing Shriek Factory spins up into full production mode and unleashes a torrent of roughly 18,000 social media posts explaining why what trump did wasn't so stupid after all, if only those stupid, brainless liberals would get their heads out of their asses and stop filling the blogosphere with so much hate and just accept trump as their president, and if they don't then we should be able to hunt them for sport, which we can't do because they are too busy crying about Hillary losing the election and taking our guns away and they're all stupid and anti-American and Hillary is a pedophile running a child porn ring out of the basement of a pizza place in DC that has no basement and MAGA, MAGA, MAGA.
It's just sad, really. Pathetic. Stuart Varney, Laura Ingraham, Jeanine Piriro, and -- the ultimate connoisseur of trumpian anal vintage -- Sean Hannity, along with the myriad other lesser players in the Right Wing Shriek Factory, all need to stop peddling the lies, as it is becoming endemic. Fox News, which a few years back was considered to be a "right leaning source of news," is now classified as "nonsense damaging to public discourse" and is rapidly moving in to fill the role of "sanctioned state media" -- much like the role Russia Today plays for Vladimir Putin.

At the rate we're going, it's only a matter of time before all media, social or otherwise, is nothing more than a gigantic trump rally.

I gotta lie down.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Where Liberals Actually Stand

It's no secret that we are living in unusually polarized times. The fact that public discourse is being dictated by the extremes on both sides pretty much guarantees that no compromise on any issue will be reached. Information has been replaced with propaganda. Discussion has been superseded by accusation. Reasoned debate has been replaced with blind, partisan shrieking1.

For example, the right is eager to pounce on any transgression, no matter how minor, and try to use that as proof of liberal lawlessness and hatred. An Antifa protester turns over a trash can, and all of a sudden "Antifa is running amok!" Maxine Waters calls for people to confront Republicans peacefully whenever possible, and this becomes "Crazy Maxine is calling for violence against Republicans!" One guy starts a fight at a protest, and out of nowhere it morphs into "All liberals are filled with violent hatred!"

On the other side, there are accusations that the trump administration is being purposefully cruel on immigration, that it is intentionally poisoning waterways and the air, etc.

The problem with this is that, when there are so many people screaming at each other, nobody can hear what the other side is even saying. As a result, the divide between the two widens, and political discourse becomes less a question of finding solutions and more a question of scoring points. So I am going to lay out the liberal case, once and for all, so there is no ambiguity2 ... and I invite a representative from the other side to do likewise with conservative positions. I am not going to get into the justifications for these positions -- that is a whole series of articles on its own -- I am simply going to lay out the policy positions for your edification.

So let's dive in, shall we?

Health Care/The ACA
The liberal position on health care in the United States is simple. Health care is a fundamental right, part of the "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness" triumvirate defined in the Declaration of Independence. The fact that it has been turned into a profit center automatically disenfranchises the poor, people without insurance, etc. Our position is that we should be moving toward single-payer, aka "Medicare for all." We hold that this approach will not only bring costs down because it would essentially do away with "defensive medicine3" by removing the fear that claims would be denied and by employing existing limitations on Medicare's exposure to civil actions. It will also improve outcomes based on the fact that there will be far fewer people not being treated for their conditions.

Our immigration process is broken. While we do agree that there is a need for border security, we disagree on the level and scope of that security. The apparent conservative approach of "assume everybody is a bad guy until they prove otherwise" runs counter to the entire concept of "innocent until proven guilty," in our view. Further, the immigration process itself is needlessly slow, complicated, and arduous. In addition, the vast majority of people in this country illegally are here because they entered legally and overstayed their visas. Finally, there are a large number of people who have been living in this country for years, sometimes decades, as undocumented immigrants. They have been paying taxes and maintaining steady employment to support their families while accepting no government services (they do not qualify due to a lack of legal status).

We need to provide real, effective security at the border. Building a wall along our entire southern border is not an effective method of controlling immigration, since the vast majority arrive legally (and usually by plane ... and unless this wall is 75,000 feet tall, or the FAA institutes a regulation that all planes crossing our border must do so at an altitude of 15 feet, the wall is useless). We should incentivize legal immigration by making the process easier and more streamlined. We also need to provide a path to citizenship for those who are here illegally but have demonstrated their willingness and ability to be functioning, contributing members of American society.

Liberals believe that supply-side economics is a flawed supposition and relies on nonexistent largess from the top earners in this country. We have seen evidence of this in Kansas, in which Republican governor Sam Brownback and a Republican legislature instituted a fairly "pure" implementation of supply-side policies ... which ended up chasing employers from the state, exploding deficits, and busting the budget to the point of having to shut down the school year a month early due to a lack of funding. We have also seen evidence of it in the latest Republican tax plan which had huge giveaways for large companies and the top 1% ... the Republican line was that these tax breaks would result in further R & D dollars being spent as well as pay hikes for employees. And while some companies did give their employees a token one-time bonus, the vast majority used these breaks to fund massive stock buybacks4" -- with the intent of making shareholders even more wealthy.

Durng the 1992 Presidential campaign, then-candidate Bill Clinton said that the goal was to make abortion "safe, legal, and rare." He was widely derided on the right for this statement, but taken at face value it sums up fairly accurate the liberal position. Yes, women should have the freedom to choose. However, just because someone has a choice available to them does not mean they are automatically going to make that particular choice. We believe that a woman's right to choose is paramount, and is a decision that should only be made by her, her doctor, and anyone else she feels should be involved.

We also believe that the best way to end abortion is to eliminate the need for it, i. e. unwanted pregnancies. Now, we have no illusions that there is any measure that will stop unwanted pregnancies from occurring altogether -- after all, the process is too much fun, and we have millions of years of evolution reinforcing this -- but we can make a serious dent in things by promoting sex education, birth control, and monogamous relationships.

Gun Control
Liberals believe that the Second Amendment is an outdated construct, dating form a time when state-of-the-art military weaponry was also available to the private citizen. Since then, the technology of armaments has progressed far beyond the scope of the Second Amendment, and it has become nothing more than a tool of obstructionists wishing to block any meaningful form of gun control.

Liberals do not advocate for the confiscation of all firearms. This is a falsehood perpetrated -- repeatedly -- by extremist nutjobs like Alex Jones, and it has somehow managed to ooze into the general discussion. So let me be perfectly clear when I say again that liberals do not advocate for the confiscation of all -- or even some -- firearms. There are very specific instances where confiscation is appropriate -- if a firearm is used in the commission of a crime and is being held as evidence, for example -- all of which are already covered under current legislation.

We do believe in sensible gun control legislation -- and in order to make that process smooth, we should repeal the Second Amendment. It is no longer relevant, and it has become nothing more than a Constitutional stumbling block preventing any meaningful legislation from getting through.

We hold that climate change is real, that it is largely a result of human activity, and that it is vitally important that we address it now. Our outlook is simple: if we're wrong about climate change, then there may some economic repercussions ... but if deniers are wrong, we may be facing an extinction-level event in the next one or two hundred years.

That's a lot to wrap your head around, but we take the view that if there is even a small chance of all of humanity being wiped out then we have to take steps to mitigate that risk.

Voting Rights
A fairly common tactic in recent years has been for Republican state legislatures to institute more restrictive requirements to vote. These measures have been surgically targeted against minorities and the poor -- which, not coincidentally, are also fairly significant Democratic voter blocs. By using a combination of restrictive voter ID laws, gerrymandering, and outright misinformation, the GOP has managed to artificially suppress the vote against them and maintain majorities despite there being more registered Democrats than registered Republicans.

Liberals believe that voting is a sacred right enshrined in our Constitution and should be protected as such. We will hold up this right even when it works to the advantage of our opponents, simply because to do otherwise calls into question the integrity of our elections and the very foundations of our government.

This is not a complete list, by any stretch of the imagination; just a brief summary of some of the highlights. As I said, I more than welcome someone from the conservative side to lay out, in a similar fashion, the conservative viewpoint. I suspect there will be much more common ground than people might think.

I gotta lie down.

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1For the purposes of this article, I am going to try to ignore the blatant hypocrisy and "party before country" attitude of people like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, who have shown themselves to be shameless hacks of the lowest sort, and instead focus on the general tone of discourse these days.
2I am not going to leveling baseless accusations against trump, McConnell, Ryan, or any other conservative ... any accusations I make are going to be cited and sourced.
3Just in case anyone is not familiar with the term, "defensive medicine" refers to the practice of using excessive medical testing as a backstop against getting sued for malpractice, or as a preventative measure against having claims denied. For example, from my own experience, in 1988 I had to undergo emergency surgery to address a life-threatening blockage in my large intestine. During this process, however, the hospital also tested me for stomach cancer, intestinal cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, drug use, alcohol abuse, heart disease, high cholesterol, traumatic injury ... the list goes on. Most of these tests were medically unnecessary, since it was fairly obvious what was happening (intense pain, high fever, elevated white counts, and a very clear X-ray showing the obstruction), but were performed so a) the insurance company wouldn't deny the claim based on the hospital not doing its "due diligence," and b) so there would be absolutely no room anywhere for any sort of malpractice claim.
4You may ask how stock buybacks work to enrich shareholders. I did. It works like this:

  1. Joe Executive is hired as a CEO, and receives 1 million shares of stock in the company as part of his compensation package.
  2. The company issues a stock buyback. This is a transaction in which they buy up large blocks of their own stock. This removes these shares of stock from the market, artificially inflating the price.
  3. Joe sells off his stock at the inflated price.
  4. The company releases the stock they just bought back into the market, artificially deflating the stock price.
  5. Joe buys back his stock at the deflated price.
  6. Repeat from step 2.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

We're Doomed ... But Not Permanently

We're are so screwed.

Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement form the Supreme Court, effective July 31st. This means that the orange idiot is going to have another SCOTUS nominee, Mitch McConnell is going to rig the rules of the Senate to ensure a swift confirmation and prevent any dissent (and pretty much guarantee that the American public is left out of the conversation entirely), and we, the American people, are going to suffer. A lot.

I'm not going to go into all the details about just how we are going to be violated by this development; I'm sure everybody is well aware of the ramifications for LGBTQ rights, abortion rights, etc. Instead, I am going to focus on what we can do about this.


At least, not within the framework built by the founding fathers. The Supreme Court is separated from the general public by a pretty sturdy firewall. This was by design, in that it prevents the public sentiment du jour from playing a role in SCOTUS nominations. Unfortunately, it also means that -- well, public sentiment is prevented from playing a role in Supreme Court nominations (one need only look at Mitch McConnell's shenanigans over Merrick Garland in 2016 as proof of this).

So what can we do?

Unfortunately, the only option at this point is to change the Constitution ... and if we use the avenues provided by the Constitution itself, our options are really limited, bordering on impossible. To begin with, there really is no legal avenue for the population -- even a majority, if it exists -- to change the Constitution. The only ways are the amendment process or a Constitutional convention -- both of which must originate in the House of Representatives. In addition, even if there was some way to make one of these happen, the fact that it has to be ratified by two-thirds of the states -- you know, those things that have 33 out of 50 governors that are Republican --is a massive roadblock. Add to this the prospect of having all this done in time to stall the nomination of Yosemite Sam or Lex Luthor or whatever demented, lame-ass pick trump comes up with, and the odds of this happening become infinitesimal. Not zero, but it is more likely that Iron Maiden is going to release an album of 12th century Danish folk songs in the original Teuton dialect. So if those avenues aren't open to us, then what can we do?

Unfortunately, the time has come for revolution.

This government is no longer legitimate. It has gone from a constitutional republic employing representative democracy to, basically, a marketplace in which policy is for sale, with trump as the Huckster-in-Chief. Consider that he won a presidency despite getting nearly three million fewer votes, or that registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans nationwide (the lousy turnout is on us, and holy crap are we paying for it now), or that the 49 Democrats in the Senate represent nearly 50 million more people than the 51 Republicans.

This is no longer a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. This has become a government of the privileged, by the large donors, and for the lobbyists and corporations.

It is time to let these people who are in power, who have spent their days lining their pockets at our expense, who have refused to listen to the American people when they speak, who have proven to be craven, and corrupt, and unprincipled, and dishonest, it is time to let them know exactly how we feel about their actions.

They have to earn the right to represent us, and for too long they have taken that duty for granted and have tried to turn it around as us having to earn the right to have them as representatives ... with some success.

And it's not just Republicans. Democrats are just as complicit in this. All the chest-beating, wailing, rending of garments, etc. we see on the campaign trail is just so much theater, designed to convince us that there are differences between the two parties when the reality is that they are all -- without exception -- greedy, self-serving, and selfish.

It is time for them to go. But how?

There are several different ways.

We can blockade them in their offices, forcing them to stay put until they start working for us. We can withhold revenue -- campaign donations, taxes, anything to put a dent in their coffers. We can be vigilant and aggressive in calling them out for bullshit practices such as Mitch McConnell holding up Merrick Garland's nomination for purely partisan gain, or Maxine Waters trying to out-douchebag trump, or the constant drumbeat I hear from several progressives that we should be as obstructionist as the Republicans were during Obama's term, or trumpeters insisting that Russian interference wasn't a thing when there is enough physical evidence that it was to choke every horse on the planet.

This is not our government. This is not what was agreed upon. The government that Abraham Lincoln described as being "of the people, by the people, and for the people" no longer exists, and hasn't for over thirty years.

This is not our country. The promise enshrined in the original Declaration of Independence -- guaranteed rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness -- has been replaced by a guaranteed right to misery, slavery, and the pursuit of escape.

This is not our America. The America for which we all strive, a land of peace, prosperity, and equal opportunity for all, never came to be and instead became a land of constant war (both internationally and domestically, in the form of increased militarization of the police), and widening class inequality.

This is a moment in history, a moment when each of us is called to take a stand on one side or the other. There is no more neutrality. The days of standing on the sidelines, waiting for others to figure it out, are long gone. We all have skin in this game, whether we wanted to or not. So the question becomes this:

Are you going to be on the side that wants to keep us in the dark, that wants to use us for cannon fodder for illegitimate wars, that views us only as an ATM during campaign season? Do you want to side with the forces that would keep us apart, sniping and bickering at each other, because it is easier to distract us from their real doings that way? Are you going to support a government that is willing to lie, cheat, steal, and kill for partisan gain (and yes, this applies to both sides)?

Or are you going to stand up and demand that we -- all of us -- be treated equally, and with respect? Will you put your foot down and refuse to be shuffled around, lied to, cheated, conned, stolen from, and possibly killed simply because you disagree with policy? Are you willing to put the rule of law above personal or partisan loyalty?

There are 535 members of Congress. One president. Nine Supreme Court justices. They don't like to advertise the fact that we outnumber them, but we do. On the order of over 600,000 to 1. This is the one area in which the odds are in our favor.

We can do this. #OurRevolution

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Let's Slow It Down A Bit, Folks

I have heard from a lot of trump supporters crowing about the economic news. Stock market at record highs. Repatriation of funds. Tax cuts. And so on. And while my first instinct as a rational, thinking being was to start picking these apart as lies and propaganda, I decided to look a little deeper. So I did.

It's all lies and propaganda. However, it's not a trump thing.

Here's the thing. Almost without exception, previous administrations have made economic policy based on how it's going to affect the next election. Economic security is high on the list of to-dos during a president's first term, and going into the midterms on the second term, but that last election ... well, they're term-limited, and they have a sweet pension, so what do they care?

In this way, President Obama was an outlier (or, if he wasn't, he made it look like he was). Following the crash of 2008 (for which some of the more ridiculous trumpeters try to blame Obama, even though it happened four months before he took office), Obama instituted measures that turned the economy from negative to positive in a controlled, measured fashion. Using a combination of stimulus packages and close collaboration with the Federal Reserve, we ended up with a recovery that was slow, steady, and thoroughly unexciting.

Contrast this with the 90s. We were coming out of a recession at the beginning of President Clinton's first term, and he presided over an unprecedented period of expansion in our economy -- which lasted until early 2001. Then it all started to crumble, with some causes being internal (the internet bubble bursting, for example) and others being external (9/11, which shut down Wall Street entirely for a week). Bush administration efforts to shore it up largely failed, primarily due to a fundamental lack of understanding of what they were doing.

Quite frankly, I want a boring economy. Boring economies are stable economies. Exciting economies are inherently unstable, and we are seeing this now, with wild swings in the stock market on a day-to-day basis being only the most visible indicator.

When I was a teenager, a skateboard was my main mode of transportation (stick with me here; this analogy will make sense in a minute). One day I was riding down a long, steep hill, getting up a pretty good head of steam, when I started to experience the Wobble of Death (anyone who has been on a skateboard knows what I'm talking about). I tried locking my ankles, but it had gotten too severe. I ended up eating pavement and breaking my left wrist. The next time, though, I tightened up the trucks (the axles that also contained rubber bushings allowing me to steer) on the skateboard, and everything went just fine.

Our economy is like that skateboard, and regulations on the banks are us tightening the trucks. Prior to 2008, we had loosened the trucks. This made the economy more maneuverable and able to respond quickly, but with the added risk of a loss of control in extreme conditions. After the crash, Obama tightened the trucks and, while the economy was not quite as agile, it was steady, and safe, and cruising along nicely.

In the past year and a half, the trump administration has rolled back some banking regulations and loosened others. This has the effect of making the economy as a whole more agile, but now we are starting to see indicators that maybe we are starting the Wobble of Death -- the Dow up by 500 one day only to fall by 350 the next and climb by 250 the day after that -- and if so, a crash is not too far behind. If this administration holds true to the behavior of almost all of the previous ones, what we will see is an economy that goes gangbusters until shortly after the 2022 midterms, at which point it will start to unravel and it will be incumbent on the next person to hold the office to clean up the mess.

What I would like to see is economic policy that takes a longer view, beyond the next election. I would like to see someone adopt the same approach as Obama: keep growth under control so it doesn't run away from us. To achieve this, we need to take the following steps:
Restore full employment
This can be accomplished by the Federal Reserve adjusting interest rates to curb inflationary pressure until wage growth has stabilized and grown stronger. Congress and the Executive Branch can contribute to this by making public investments (infrastructure, for example) that can both create jobs and spur future productivity growth.

Enhance and enforce labor standards
Low and moderate wage workers are seeing the lowest level of collective bargaining power since the creation of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1935. By decimating unions and implementing "Right to Work" laws (which are actually "Right to be completely screwed over and get no benefits" laws), conservative lawmakers over the past few decades have almost completely erased gains in the lower ends of the economic spectrum that led to the booming economy of the postwar years (1946-1957), one of the most prosperous periods in our nation's history.

Policy actions such as a higher minimum wage, expanding rights to overtime pay, paid sick leave, protecting the labor rights of undocumented workers (you know, to do those jobs that nobody else is willing to do), and restoring collective bargaining rights will help in this effort, as well as renegotiation of trade treaties that provide incentive to offshore jobs.
We can maintain a healthy economy. All it takes is a willingness to take a longer view.

I gotta lie down.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Time Is Now -- #OurRevolution

A common refrain heard among non-trump circles is that a blue wave is coming, and that Democrats are going to keep the cheeto-colored snot-gobbler in check. I had my doubts, but I was willing to wait to see what happens this November.

However, the latest imbroglio over the separation of families at the southern border was the last straw.

See, here's the thing. The Democrats may very well win in November and regain the majority in both houses. They may even put forth token measures to hold trump in check.

Big deal.

Big, fat, hairy deal.

The problem isn't trump, or the Republicans, or Obama, or the Democrats.

The problem is that elected representatives have absolutely zero incentive to work in the best interests of their constituents.

Back in 1776, Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, a document that was a bold statement of our desire to separate from England, of our need for self-governance. It included a list of grievances against King George, among which were things like "He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good," and "He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation: ... For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world: ... For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury: ..."

Is any of this sounding familiar? It should. Our current president "refuses Assent to Laws" in that he has violated the Emoluments Clause, and he maintains that he can pardon himself for any crime. His trade war is isolating the United States economically, and his general buffoonish behavior is isolating us diplomatically. And along the southern border, he is imprisoning people -- children -- without due process (granted, the lack of due process is the least of these offenses ...). And every member of the Legislative Branch -- at least, the ones seeking re-election -- are beholden to big money donors ... to the point that each Representative and Senator has to spend six out of ten working hours on the phone, begging for campaign domnations.

Given all this, and the fact that even if the Democrats regain the majority their first obligation will be to the major donors, it is my opinion that the United States, in its current configuration, is beyond repair.

When your car is totaled, you don't waste time trying to polish the paint. You toss it and get a new one. Which is precisely what I am proposing. To quote the Declaration of Independence again, "... when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce [the People] under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."

Our country has been totaled. Smashed beyond repair, or even recognition. We have an official policy that calls for immigrant children to be taken from their families, with no information given as to when (if ever) they will be returned. Our Attorney General -- the most senior law enforcement official in the country -- has gone on record as stating that this policy will continue until trump gets the money for his border wall.

This is, not to put too fine a point on it, extortion. It is also using thousands of human beings as nothing more than bargaining chips.

The time has come to dismantle the current government and replace it with one that is actually responsive to the people -- all the people, not just rich white guys.

In the coming days I will be publishing various strategies and tactics to achieve this goal. My first choice is that this be nonviolent -- the last thing we need is a civil war; that would give these assholes everything they need to suspend fundamental rights and complete the transformation of the United States from a shining example of self-governance into just another banana republic run by a greedy moron whose sole concern is lining his own pockets.

The first action I am calling for is a nationwide, universal strike on Monday, July 9. In order to make this effective, we need to get as many people on board as possible.

Tell everyone you know that they need to take part. After all, it's their country as well, and the only way these chuckleheads in Washington will listen is to make it extremely uncomfortable fro them to conduct "business as usual."

I gotta lie down.


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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Gone Fishin'

I'm tired, folks.

For the past two years or so I have been putting my opinions out there, with the intent of generating thoughtful, civil debate. Instead, what I get is a bunch of right-wing lunatics shrieking that I am a gay Muslim atheist communist deep state operative who likes nothing better than urging Democrats to kick puppies, or something.

It's ridiculous, and I'm done with it for now.

It's also ridiculous the way both sides are trying to weaponize anything coming from the other side. For example, when covering the G-7 summit CNN reported that the summit was in Charlevoix, France, instead of Charlevoix, Quebec. The Right Wing Shriek Factory immediately jumped on this as proof positive that CNN is in the tank for liberals and are only trying to make trump look bad, even though it was clearly an honest mistake, probably made by an intern who didn't bother to find out where it was and just assumed that, because the word looked French, it was a place in France.

I am taking a break. I may comment here and there on some political post, but for the most part I will be focusing on other pursuits. Writing plays. Working on a book I started last year. Recording tracks for an album of cover tunes. That kind of stuff.

I just need a break, and a summer vacation from politics seems like exactly what the doctor ordered and that I will be focusing on other areas. I've got a great interest in astronomy and cosmology, for example, or I may blather on about developments in medicine, or the arts, or cuisine ... the sky's the limit.

However, for the sake of my own sanity, I am stepping away from trying to make any sense out of the trump administration. It's too depressing. It's too much negativity. Our country is being marginalized and shredded, and trumpeters seem to view this as a positive development for some reason, and quite frankly I don't have enough gas in the tank to cover that much stupid, so I am calling a temporary retreat.

It also happens that this is a period of major transition for my family. Our youngest is starting high school. Our middle child starts driving this year, and the car we have needs a LOT of work. We're selling a house. There's a lot going on.

I recently read an article about "news exhaustion" ... that people are simply shutting down because of the endless stream of crises, scandals, missteps, gaffes, insanity, bigotry, hate, and general unpleasantness spewing from Washington these days. And I totally get it. It's exhausting trying to keep up. Every time I think I've gotten my head above water -- BOOM! The orange idiot bleats about how we're getting screwed by Canada (that's right. Canada), or how the non-binding, completely voluntary Paris Accord was unfair because "we're footing the bill for everything" (we weren't), or that Russia should be brought back into the G-7 even though they were kicked out for illegally annexing Crimea ... it just never stops.

It. Never. Freaking. Stops.

So I'm taking a break. I have plenty to keep me busy, but this ain't gonna be part of it.

I gotta lie down.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2018

That's It. I've Had Enough.

With thanks to Chuck Jones and Warner bros.
I'm done.

I'm done arguing with trump supporters who are not interested in debate, only in bending and torturing reality in an attempt to make liberals look bad. I'm done participating in discussions in atheist groups only to have it devolve into "religious people are stupid" (televangelists aside, this is, for the most part, untrue). I'm done bringing a topic to a debate only to immediately be inundated by personal attacks, accusations that I'm a libtard, a snowflake, obsessed with Twinkies1 etc.

Our modern discourse has degenerated to a point that it may be beyond repair. In the online world, both conservatives and liberals spend more time posting things intended to denigrate the opposition than to make a valid point. Fox News is the propaganda arm of the current administration. CNN, while a little better in the objectivity department, is becoming the propaganda vehicle for the resistance.

I'm tired of entering into a debate only to have some conservative brainstem immediately start hectoring me about the 2016 election, about "Hillary lost, get over it" and demanding to know why I'm not calling for further inquisitions into her emails.

It's ridiculous. It's absurd. And it has to stop.

Sure, it can be somewhat amusing to poke the bear form time to time, especially when that bear is a complete moron, but is it productive? Does it move anything forward ? I say no.

Pundits are saying that the Blue Wave is in trouble, that trump has sort of found his footing in terms of driving is popularity up (hint: it involves voicing a sentiment to Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan that, if spoken directly, rhymes with "luck goo"). While Democrats have had surprising victories in special elections lately, the general election is going to be a tougher slog ... and they absolutely will not regain a majority if they continue down the current path of:
  • Pointing out that trump voters are morons, incapable of rational thought.
  • Keeping the old guard in place and trying to get back to "business as usual."
  • Refusing to add a spine to their platform.

So here's where we have to go if we are going to make any progress whatsoever.

Stop being assholes
Every time I go on Facebook I see posts that have, as their central point, the premise that anyone who voted for trump is irredeemable, unreachable, and not worthy of concern. They are painted as backwoods rednecks, or angry old white guys who just want to shoot things at random, or conservative culture warriors who view anything that deviates from their views -- even slightly -- as an existential threat. This is not how you Make Friends and Influence People.

I mean, think about it. Let's say someone spends a year and a half telling you how stupid you are, that your decisions were going to destroy the country, and that everything you did was wrong -- then they show up at your door, asking them to vote for their guy. How likely are you to listen thoughtfully (or at all) to their pitch?

What we, as progressives, need to do is to acknowledge that most of these folks had very real, quite legitimate reasons for voting for trump. We need to listen -- really listen, not just "waiting for them to stop talking so we can say something" -- to their concerns and, without being judgemental or smug, explain how our agenda will address those concerns.

Yes, there are going to be people who will not be swayed, no matter how hard they get bitch-slapped by the consequences of their decisions. That's just part of the price of admission when dealing with people. But I'll bet we can get quite a few over to our side.

Maybe not be so condescending and superior.
Even in a "civilized" debate with a trump supporter, any given liberal will eventually try to "help" the conservative by pointing out where they went wrong. This is a failure from the get-go, as a) nobody likes to be told they were wrong about anything, and 2) especially not by someone they view as an opponent.

Progressives need to avoid this kind of "helpfulness" the way they would a guy in a bunny suit on the subway who is cradling a shotgun and humming "I Feel Pretty" off-key. Basically, we need to employ this flowchart:

Out with the old, in with the new
Despite the fact that people like Nancy Pelosi are incredibly polarizing (she is to the right what trump is to the left), and that the words "corporatist Democrat" are being thrown around more and more frequently as insults, the Democratic Party appears to be doubling down on its current infrastructure. Nancy Pelosi, Bill Clinton, Chuck Schumer ... all of the moderates from the 90s are still running the show, even while the population as a whole moves further and further to the left.

Now, an argument could be made that this leftward surge is not necessarily a good thing -- I'll get into that in a moment -- but it is indicative of where the mindset of the general population is at. What it comes down to is that attitudes -- on gay rights, drugs, guns, foreign policy, immigration, et al -- are continually evolving, and the trend over the past couple of hundred years has been that these trends tend to move toward the liberal end of the spectrum.

Consider voting rights, for example. When the country was first founded and the Articles of Confederation were adopted, the only people who were allowed to vote were white male landowners (actually, the only people who had any legal rights at all were white male landowners). The next step was to remove "landowners" from the list of criteria, As a result, the original Constitution held that voting was the exclusive province of white males.

Eventually the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments extended voting rights to all males of voting age (then 21), regardless of race. In 1920 it was also extended to women by the 19th Amendment. The 26th Amendment, ratified in 1971, reduced the voting age to 18. This puts us where we are now, in that the only requirements to have the right to vote are:
  • U. S. citizenship2.
  • 18 years of age.
  • No felony convictions3.

Given all this, it makes sense that centrist and right-leaning Democrats should be playing a smaller role. Which leads us to ...

Just grow a pair, already.

Appeasement has, for some odd reason, been a central part of Democratic strategery (thanks, Will Ferrell!) since the Reagan era. This is understandable in historical context ... during the 1984 election, Reagan won votes from pretty much everybody except Walter Mondale's immediate family4, and this complete and thorough drubbing left Democrats feeling rightly chastened. However, that was 35 years ago, Reagan is dead, and the era of pastels, popped collars, and overproduced synthesizers in pop music is over, people. Yet, for some reason, Democrats still try to placate the right.

This has to stop.

Democrats have tried the "I'm a big tough guy with guns and camo and a pickup truck and a dog and I like blowing the hell out of furriners" approach, and they have always ended up looking ridiculous5. They need to embrace their inner hippies and accept that the whole "gun-totin' he-man with a truck" persona just doesn't work, and they need to lean in to the idea that they are the kind of people that prefer, for example, diplomacy over military intervention.

Not only that, but they need to do so proudly. It' not enough to meekly accept that they aren't as militaristic as Republicans. They need to celebrate this fact by pointing out the benefits of this new approach in any given situation. In addition, they need to be able to defend their positions when challenged instead of folding. All too often I see liberals being outgunned by conservatives armed with more attitude than they ... regardless of who has the facts on their side.

Don't go completely off the reservation
There is a growing faction within the Democratic Party of ultra-liberal democratic socialists -- Berniecrats. Their basic message is that the country is turning into an oligarchy, that the rich are controlling everything and manipulating the media to keep the lower classes compliant. While there is some merit to some of their arguments (free in-sate tuition for college, for example, or a minimum wage that will allow someone to exist without needing government benefits), others are a bit out there. What the Democratic party as a whole needs to do is to welcome these far lefties into the fold, incorporating some of the more reasonable ideas, without alienating them by dismissing out of hand others (such as the legalization of all drugs).

The Blue Wave of 2018 will dwindle to a small puddle unless we start reaching out, welcoming trump supporters who might be becoming disillusioned with the outcome of their 2016 choice. If liberals and progressives continue down the road of constantly berating conservatives, all we will be doing at that point is energizing trump's base. As we have seen, that never works out well for anyone.

Except trump, of course.

I gotta lie down.

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1This actually happened. A woman in one Facebook group -- someone who had never met me, knew nothing about me, and had never even heard of me up until that point -- said I was a "triggered snowflake who spends all your time crying into your Twinkies. Go eat your Twinkies, little liberal piggy." This was accompanied by a gif of a pig eating.

2This is in the context of Federal elections. There are some state and local elections in which noncitizens are legally allowed to vote.

3There is a movement to allow convicted felons to have their voting rights restored upon successful completion of their sentence. As of this writing, these efforts have not yet yielded fruit.

4That we know of, anyway.

5Conservatives also look ridiculous when they do this, but for entirely different reasons.

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