Monday, July 31, 2017

Mixed Meters Attempts Political Optimism

Progressives could use some good news. It’s pretty bleak out there right now for the far left.  Hard it is to write something even minimally positive.

The best news we might get in the near term - the next three years or so - is that some of the front and center political stories, the ones we can’t escape daily, the ones that scream headlines at us from every media pore, might somehow resolve themselves without turning into utter catastrophes. There’s an awful lot of assuming the worst at the moment.  Doom and gloom is par for the course.

Assuming the worst is not an unrealistic standpoint, it’s just depressing.   And, if we're lucky, maybe the bullets will only graze us, not score direct hits.  Trusting to luck may be the best we can do.

For example, maybe the Republican scrooges won’t be able to replace our bad but functional healthcare bill, the ACA (aka Obamacare).  They got within one vote of pushing exactly that agenda last week.  They failed.  That's lucky.  (Don't be fooled.  They'll be back.)

Politicians are well known for promising things they can’t deliver, but in the case of health care the Republicans have set a whole new standard.  They've promised repeal and replace so many times that even they felt the need to give the impression of having told the truth, to make good on their promise any which way, by hook or by crook.  Their parliamentary antics would be pretty funny to watch, like in a movie, if real-world consequences weren’t so serious.

Try to think of Congress as a Keystone Cops movie.  Just remember, they're trying to do bad things and, as a country, we're better off when they screw up at their jobs.

Another example — it might be that the Russia/Trump campaign story won't amount to anything.   And maybe the United States won’t be racked by another impeachment.  Once the dust settles it’s possible that there’ll be no smoking gun.  This might teach us to go into future elections on high alert to any outside influence, maybe even with a tiny bit of contrition over past U.S. attempts to influence elections in other countries.  (Who am I kidding?  Contrition?)

And we can hope that Russiagate, when it’s finally unwound to the very end, might teach all Americans that someone who brings only his shady business ethics to the office of President is not qualified for that job.  And maybe he'll bumble through his entire term without being removed from office, without giving the other Republicans a do over.

Here's another one - maybe our environment is not completely doomed.  Yes, Trump’s minions are toiling unnoticed underground at the EPA and the Energy Department to unlock extra huge profits for environment-plundering mega-corporations.  Meanwhile, maybe America’s free market system, so touted by Koch-brother-funded think tanks, will allow state governments and enlightened businesses and concerned individuals to protect bits of the environment on their own as best they can.

Like the famous Hebrew National hot dog commercial, Americans can start answering to an authority higher than the government, in this case Mother Earth herself, except the issue is how to dispose of our shit rather than silly rules about what we eat to produce it in the first place.

One thing's for sure, whatever happens on any of these stories (and there are many more equally important topics each with similarly small bits of hidden optimism which can only be revealed by double talk and self delusion), our brazen liar president will find a way to declare himself victorious on all of them.  He’s our own Indiana Jones-ish political anti-hero: he cuts a dashing figure, spins every story to look like a winner, gets help on the hard stuff from shady stunt men and then takes all the credit and all the close-ups.

We left-wingers can only watch as the political right and the radical political right duke it out for control of the ruling Republican party with one hand while attempting to run the country at the same time with the other.  So far mostly they've ended up slugging themselves in the face.  This has resulted in lots of failure - so much failure you're probably getting tired of failure, to paraphrase I forget who.  That failure is pure manure for left-wing optimism.

So - with dumb luck and with the help of Trump-family administration incompetence plus Republican congressional disfunction and then with even more even dumber luck, we as a nation might muddle through.  There'll be one hell of a lot of crap to clean up afterwards.  Piles and piles of it.  The many self-inflicted bruises will take a long time to heal.  And if something big happens on Donald's watch - a North Korean bomb or a stock market crash or a terrorist attack or merely a generic, garden variety national crisis - all optimism will be summarily cancelled.

There you have it.  That's my "positive" message.  Aren't you glad I'm trying to think on the bright side?

Meanwhile - here's the scariest article I read this month: Meet the Group of Right-Wing Christians Who Believe President Trump Was Chosen by God

Here's a quote:
Seven Mountains’ strategic goal is for Christians to seize control of all aspects of civil and political society by whatever means necessary. This includes the media, arts, education, government, religion, business, and family. Once these believers secure all of these “seven mountains,” Christ will return. And for POTUS Shield, Donald Trump is the guy to do it.

Friday, June 30, 2017

First Person Rants

We at Mixed Meters love rants.  By "we" of course I mean me, David Ocker, who single-handedly writes every word of this blog with his two bare hands.  Personally I really hate it when he mixes first person writing with third person.  I'm sure you agree.

Anyway, as I was saying, we adore good rants, especially political rants.   There's an awful lot to rant about nowadays, don't you know, but good clean progressive ranting still seems quite rare.  I guess all the real energy in the Democratic Party is going into normalizing our so-called president or raising wads of money for losing candidates in Congressional by-elections.  Since I don't have the time or energy to write my own rants at the moment, I'd like to share a two good ones I found online.

Rant one is from a comedian named Lee Camp.   Never heard of him.  His bio says he wrote for the Onion so he must have a firm grip on reality.  In this piece his target is the so-called debate on health care.  He strongly emphasizes the "so-called" angle.  The rant title is "Here's why there's no legitimate debate about healthcare in this country."  Go read the whole thing.  Here's a quote.
Sure, there are red-faced politicians screaming about one make-believe side or the other, but that doesn’t mean there’s a legitimate debate.  In order for there to be a debate, there needs to exist two sides that – if argued well – could seem to hold merit.  But that’s nowhere to be found in the current healthcare debate.  Instead there are two sides, both of which are disingenuous, both of which are corrupted by big money, both of which are hardly even SIDES;  instead they’re two separate spots in the center of whatever proverbial thing we’re picturing having sides.  (I’m picturing a duck.  Not sure why.)
As we at Mixed Meters always say, if the U.S. wanted health care for its citizens we'd pass single-payer.   Instead, the politcos are keeping extra busy trying to decide whether to maintain Obamacare as corporate welfare for insurance companies or to just give the richest people in the country a direct tax break.

For good measures, here's another quote:
We are debating between two horrific, criminal versions of healthcare designed to make people rich off of the pain and suffering of every American.  Yes, Obamacare is better.  Yes, Trumpcare is worse.  Yes, I don’t care.  By acting like this is a legitimate debate, we are subconsciously solidifying cultural hegemony for the idea that healthcare should be something exploited for profit.  It should not.  Stop dignifying that thought process.

The health care debate, of course, is far from over.  It's like the war in Afghanistan or the Arab-Israeli conflict.  None of these will have definitive resolutions during my lifetime.  On-going stalemates have become incredibly prevalent in American politics.  That's why I think it's wise to take the long view.

Few politicians in America are as qualified to give the long-view as Ralph Nader.   Today's Ralph rant is called "Ralph Nader: The Democrats Are Unable To Defend The U.S. From The 'Most Vicious' Republican Party In History".  It's an interview in The Intercept which sets the scene so:
The Democratic Party is at its lowest ebb in the memory of everyone now alive. It’s lost the White House and both houses of Congress.  On the state level it’s weaker than at any time since 1920.  And so far in 2017 Democrats have gone 0 for 4 in special elections to replace Republican members of Congress who joined the Trump administration.
How did it come to this?  One person the Democratic Party is not going to ask, but perhaps should, is legendary consumer advocate and three-time presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

How, according to Nader, did the Dems lose their way?  Here's some excerpts:
I’m going to give you millstones around the Democratic Party neck that are milestones.  The first big one was in 1979.  Tony Coelho, who was a congressman from California, and who ran the House Democratic Campaign treasure chest, convinced the Democrats that they should bid for corporate money, corporate PACs, that they could raise a lot of money.  Why leave it up to Republicans and simply rely on the dwindling labor union base for money, when you had a huge honeypot in the corporate area?
The second millstone is that they didn’t know how to deal with Reagan. And the Republicans took note.  That means a soft tone, smiling … You can say terrible things and do terrible things as long as you have [that] type of presentation. [Democrats] were still thinking Republican conservatives were dull, stupid, and humorless.  They didn’t adjust.
Raising money from Wall Street, from the drug companies, from health insurance companies, the energy companies, kept [Democrats] from their main contrasting advantage over the Republicans, which is, in FDR’s parlance, “The Democratic Party is the party of working families, Republicans are the party of the rich.”  That flipped it completely and left the Democrats extremely vulnerable.

In the course of the interview Nader lists multiple millstones that serve as milestones in the demise of the Democrats.  I can't list them all.  Go read it.
The Democrats began the process of message preceding policy.  No — policy precedes message.  That means they kept saying how bad the Republicans are. They campaigned not by saying, look how good we are, we’re going to bring you full Medicare [for all], we’re going to crack down on corporate crime against workers and consumers and the environment, stealing, lying, cheating you.  We’re going to get you a living wage.  We’re going to get a lean defense, a better defense, and get some of this money and start rebuilding your schools and bridges and water and sewage systems and libraries and clinics.
Instead of saying that, they campaign by saying “Can you believe how bad the Republicans are?”  Now once they say that, they trap their progressive wing, because their progressive wing is the only segment that’s going to change the party to be a more formidable opponent. Because they say to their progressive wing, “You’ve got nowhere to go, get off our back.”

Notice that Nader gives a list of things the Dems should be talking about.  Medicare for all.  Infrastructure.  Living wage.  Consumer protections against corporate malfeasance.  Democratic leaders don't actually talk about such positive things.  Instead they talk about how bad Trump and his cronies are, about Trump's tweets, about Russia's election interference.  Hey, I don't call the Democrats "my second least favorite political party" without a good reason.

A couple last Nader quotes (or read the article here):
Republicans, when they lose they fight over ideas, however horrific they are.  Tea Party ideas, libertarian ideas, staid Republican ideas.  They fight.  But the Democrats want uniformity, they want to shut people up.  So they have the most deficient transition of all.  They have the transition of Nancy Pelosi to Nancy Pelosi, four-time loser against the worst Republican Party in the Republican Party’s history.
There are some people who think the Democratic Party can be reformed from within by changing the personnel.  I say good luck to that.  What’s happened in the last twenty years?  They’ve gotten more entrenched. Get rid of Pelosi, you get Steny Hoyer.  You get rid of Harry Reid, you get [Charles] Schumer. Good luck.
Unfortunately, to put it in one phrase, the Democrats are unable to defend the United States of America from the most vicious, ignorant, corporate-indentured, militaristic, anti-union, anti-consumer, anti-environment, anti-posterity [Republican Party] in history.

Let us close this month with a view of American politics by my favorite political ranter from across the pond, Jonathan Pie.  If you don't want to face the facts about the Democratic party, an anti-Trump rant might help you normalize the Trump administration a little more.

Here's a quick quote just to give you the flavor:

It’s not funny any more.   It’s gone beyond being able to take the piss.  It’s all very well me being able to go Ohhhh, he looks like beer-battered sheep bollock with, instead of hair, a whole damp shredded wheat biscuit on his head.  You know.  He is that.  But also he’s also clearly a tyrant.  A despot.  A tin-pot despot with shredded wheat for hair.

P.S.  If you're one of those trogs who still blames Ralph Nader for George W.'s election in 2000, here's the link for you.  Also, we at Mixed Meters always say "I'd like to thank you for reading to the end."

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Normalization Fatigue

Donald Trump has been President of the United States for over four months. I am sick of it.

Please note that I just called him Donald Trump.  I didn't call him Donald Fucking Trump as I always did before the election.  Nor did I refer to him with some third person pseudo-pronoun, like "the new president" or an acronym ("SCROTUS") as I have since.

Calling him by his actual name is a sure sign of normalization.

Normalization is wearing me down.

I know that this fatigue is not unique to me.   Indeed those Americans who are actively and valiantly resisting the evils of the Trump administration (not to mention all the additional evils of the fucking Republicans in Congress) must be suffering from normalization far more than I.  The resisters are the heroes.  I'm just a guy who has a hard time finding enough energy to write one angry blog post per month.

It turns out that normalizing Donald Trump is strenuous work.  Based only on the behavior of every previous president, the man keeps doing completely unpredictable things.  In his few months in office Donald Trump has proven to be personally erratic, egotistical, boorish, bigoted, angry and greedy.

It's hard to understand how his unwavering base can still support him.   Somehow they do.  They evidently are okay living in a country that's becoming more and more erratic, egotistical, boorish, bigoted, angry and greedy.

For someone in office for such a short period of time, President Trump is beset by many problems: extremely low approval ratings, a special prosecutor investigating his ties to Putin and Russia, an otherwise disorganized opposition baying in unison for his impeachment, disorganization in his own Republican party baying for tax cuts for billionaires.

My opinion is that those problems couldn't happen to a nicer guy.  And I mean that quite literally. If Donald Trump were a nicer guy - even just a little bit nicer - many of his problems would disappear.

However, it appears that Donald Trump is a new kind of politician: a jerk incapable of even insincere gestures of reconciliation to his opponents.  There are forty four more months left in his first term. He is raising money for his 2020 re-election campaign.

His re-election slogan is "Keep America Great".  Cart Before Horse.

President Donald J. Trump is going to drag the United States through a lot more mud and shit before the next presidential election.  His supporters, those people in the other bubble, will cheer mindlessly even when the mud and shit splatters on them.  For the rest of us, the fatigue has only just begun.

Meanwhile, here's something out of the Other Bubble: a paragraph from an apparently real White House press release describing President Donald J. Trump, "great leader":
President Trump has a magnetic personality and exudes positive energy, which is infectious to those around him. He has an unparalleled ability to communicate with people, whether he is speaking to a room of three or an arena of 30,000. He has built great relationships throughout his life and treats everyone with respect. He is brilliant with a great sense of humor . . . and an amazing ability to make people feel special and aspire to be more than even they thought possible.

If only.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The New Yorker on the toilet

For years my interest in The New Yorker magazine was limited to the cartoons.  Good cartoons.  I would read the magazine from back to front, stopping only for the comics.

The New Yorker features profiles, extended articles about interesting accomplished people.  I remember reading only two over many years, both of people I actually knew - first Nicolas Slonimsky and then Esa-Pekka Salonen.

Instead of magazines, mostly I read novels or histories, some of which I wrote about on this very blog.  Magazines didn't much interest me.  Magazines were for toilet reading.  I subscribed to gobs of computer magazines, back when computers were new.  Wired Magazine lasted the longest - eventually it got just too silly.

Then I purchased an iPad, a first generation Mini, on the day it was released in November, 2012.  I'm still amazed by how much this little hand-held slab of glass and metal can do.  It truly is the stuff of science fiction.  I expected it to change my life in any number of ways.

It's fair to say that the Mini changed my reading habits.  That's all, not much else.  I stopped reading novels and histories and started reading an endless thrum of online news and feature articles.  I like the iPad Mini because it fit in my pants pocket.  It even made it possible for me to feel bad about myself while scrolling through Facebook at Starbucks instead of only at home.

I devised one essential rule for using the little mini.  I'd promised myself that I'd never read it on the toilet.  So far, more than four years later, the promise remains kept.

Meanwhile, I noticed something important.  The news articles and opinion pieces and badly disguised-as-commentary advertising coming at me through the Internet were an endless rush of awful writing.  It was tiring.  It was often inaccurate as well.  Today, in the era of obvious fake news, it can be downright odious.

Then I discovered The New Yorker online.  I subscribed to a daily newsletter with links to articles, a few subtle ads and a daily cartoon.  I looked forward to the links for a entire week's worth of cartoons.  I "liked" New Yorker Cartoons on Facebook.  I started following the weekly caption contest.  The captions suggested by readers are never, ever as funny as ones provided by the magazine so I stopped following.

And one more thing - the writing was good.

Part and parcel of subscribing to the newsletter was giving them my postal address, so soon enough I was receiving offers to subscribe to The New Yorker.  At first I could resist easily.  Then I started thinking "I really should subscribe."

Finally, at the end of last year I took the bait: ridiculously low price for a subscription of 50 issues, plus a useless tote bag and $10 off on my next Amazon order.  It didn't hurt that the magazine had taken a strong editorial stance against the winner of the last Presidential election.  You know how I feel about him.

I've read that The New Yorker has more subscribers in California than it does in New York.  I just fact-checked that - it's 2004 data.  I wonder if it's still true.  I suppose part of the "allure" of The New Yorker for non-New Yorkers is keeping tabs on what's happening in Gotham.  I wouldn't live there for a billion dollars but it's as close to a center of actual culture you can find this side of Europe.  If there were a magazine that personifies Los Angeles I doubt it would be known for intelligent good writing.

Within a few weeks paper copies began appearing in my mail box.   It wasn't long before they started piling up in the toilet.  I now open them from the front.

I've read articles I never would have clicked on - just recently a profile of some author I'd never heard of (and whose name I can't remember) and of Jack White (while I have heard of him I've never heard his music.)  (A few other articles I enjoyed are linked below.)

I skip event listings and most reviews - especially restaurant reviews especially on the toilet.  And there's plenty of other reading in the house than I could take into the toilet with me - we get two newspapers every day.  And, once a month we get Funny Times, highly recommended toilet reading if you like cartoons, News of the Weird or old Dave Barry columns.

In the months since I subscribed I've read enough New Yorker articles to notice style quirks.  Why, I wonder, is the drink called a martini always capitalized.  Why do they spell it reĆ«valuate instead of re-evaluate.   A real Californian would not do that.

Mostly, however, I notice the consistency of the writing.  I ask myself whether I could ever write that well.  The answer, before your eyes at this very moment, is obviously no.  Let's face it, even if I had things to say or stories to tell, not in a million years would I reach that level of quality.

I suppose I should thank The New Yorker for how quickly I came to that revelation.  It took me decades to recognize the maddening limits of my musical talent.

A Hundred Days of Trump by David Remnick
America's Most Political Food by Lauren Collins
Learning Arabic from Egypt's Revolution by Peter Hessler
The I.O.U., a previously unpublished story by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Lost City of Z by David Grann
Trial by Fire by David Grann

In 2007 I blogged about the New Yorker profile of Esa-Pekka Salonen.  The post was called The New Yorker and the Hero Composer in Los Angeles.   Here's the final paragraph:
Finally, once Alex Ross finished his New Yorker article he wrote this in his blog: "You L.A. people are lucky." Yeah, probably so. But I'd like to suggest that he withhold judgment until he spends some time here during the months of August and September. That's when the sun burns your skin and the smog burns your eyes and the programming with fireworks at the only live classical music venue in town burns your soul.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Dumb Democrat Emails

Democrats are my second least-favorite political party.

Here's an email I received today - from the DCCC.   It makes me angry.  (Should be easier to read if you click on the picture.)

(Here's the same text written in text to help dumb search engine bots:)
Subject: AUTO-CONFIRM: [Member Status (03/31/2017)]

We hate to bug you again, but this is the FINAL NOTICE OF YOUR DEMOCRATIC MEMBERSHIP before tonights End of Quarter Deadline

(my email address appeared here)
2017 Membership: Pending

This is our first End of Quarter deadline since President T---p took office . . . 
and we're desperately behind our goal.
That's why every top Democrat asked for your help:
Martin Sheen emailed you!
Carole King emailed you!
Donna Brazile emailed you!
Barney Frank emailed you!
James Carville emailed you THREE TIMES!
Keith Ellison emailed you!
Khizr Khan emailed you!
Nancy Pelosi emailed you SIX TIMES!

This is your FINAL NOTICE to answer their calls before the Triple Match expires.
Pitch in $1 before the deadline hits in 11 hours:

Triple match your $1 >>

Triple match your $35 >>

Triple match your $50 >>

Triple match your $100 >>

Triple match your $250 >>
Or triple match another amount >>



Let me just tick off some of the issues I have with this communication:

  1. "We're desperately behind"?  Desperation is not a good image for America's second ranked political party.  Quarterly fund-raising goals are made up things, nothing I can get excited about.  This is fake news.
  2. "2017 Membership: pending"?  My "membership" in what, exactly?  I'm a Democrat only by virtue of my local voter registration.  Giving money to your political action committee doesn't make me a Democrat (or a democrat) - even if that's what I wanted to be.  (What I am call myself now is "progressive".)
  3. FINAL NOTICE?  Believe me, this will not be the last email I get from the DCCC (even if I unsubscribed, which I probably should.)  Threatening me with loss of my membership is just plain silly.
  4. My email?  (I covered it with a red bar.)  I never gave you my email, DCCC.  I gave it to that guy Bernie Sanders - you may have heard of him.  He talks about issues in his emails.  After he lost the primaries, I started getting emails from someone named Hillary.  I don't hear from her anymore.  I suspect you party guys have been trading email lists.  (Also: instead of inserting my email into your form letter, try inserting my name next time.)
  5. "Every top Democrat"?  I believe Martin Sheen and Carole King are entertainers.  James Carville and Donna Brazile are party hacks.  I liked Barney Frank when he was in Congress and I have great hope that your latest runner-up, Keith Ellison, will not become yet another hack.  I feel sorry for Khizr Khan - he lost his son in the fight for . . . what exactly?  There may not be all that many "top Democrats" left - but can't you do better than this list?
  6. Nancy Pelosi  Nancy, how are you still a Democratic leader, a top Democrat?  Why weren't you replaced after the Democrats lost control of the House in 2010?  Or after the elections in 2012, or 2014 or 2016?   Didn't you hear me screaming at you in my car recently as I listened to you being interviewed about health care on NPR.  "Mention single payer!" I shouted repeatedly at you.  You couldn't say the words or even hint at the idea.  Your goal was simply to defend the status quo, Obamacare (which, I like to point out, was originally a Republican idea to give corporate welfare to insurance companies.)
  7. "Pitch in $1"?  Only one?  Don't worry, you're not going to get even a buck from me.  Leslie and I do give money to organizations that protect Americans from the shenanigans of other political party - including ACLU, SPLC, LDF, the Brady Campaign, Planned Parenthood.  These are things we believe in.  I suspect that if I gave my extra buck to a homeless person on the street it would do more to change society that it would if I gave it to you, the DCCC.  If you're going to ask for our money - and you do that repeatedly in a continuing stream of emails - you need to articulate some goals I respect.
  8. "Triple match"?  Really - matched by whom exactly?  A special interest of some sort.  Possibly a big Wall Street bank?   Isn't this just a ploy to make me think my money somehow can become more valuable than it really is?  If you need to show that Americans support the Democratic party by inflating the number of donors, the party needs to give us Americans things to believe in.
Hey DCCC, your emails make you look like losers.   This one in particular does that and all the many others begging me for a spare buck have done the same thing.  You're doing this to yourselves.  You're branding yourselves as also rans.  Meanwhile, the other "team" is busy trying to get its own act together.  All you've done is to make yourselves look foolish and irrelevant.

Would it be too hard to mention a few issues the next time you write to me?  For example, why can't you mention raising the minimum wage?  Why don't you talk about Medicare For All?  Just a hint that you want to help students afford college tuition would be great.   I hope you support those things.   Those are positive things that many Americans can get behind.  There are many more.

Here's my advice - mention at least one of these major, positive  issues in every single email.  You send me a lot of emails and every one is a chance to address an issue.  Also, you should find a way to mention these issues every single time you open your mouths in public.  Do it in every interview on NPR or, for that matter, anywhere else.

Start talking about the issues and eventually I might start to think you're worth an extra buck.

Hey, DCCC - if you're really curious about what you, the Democratic Party, is doing wrong - I suggest you read Don't let establishment opportunists ruin the resistance movement, by Thomas Frank,  in The Guardian.  I'll quote some of it for you:
But opportunism never sleeps, and with the rage and the resistance of recent weeks some far less noble characters have seen a chance to develop a new con. They’re up on the resistance bandwagon right now, rending their garments, shaking their fists and praying that no one holds them responsible for the dead end into which they’ve steered us over the years. Inveighing loudly against Trump has become, for the people I am describing, a means of rescuing an ideology that has proven a disaster.
There is a possibility that the resistance to Trump will turn out the same way – that it will become a vehicle for our Enron Democrats to avoid accountability. “I don’t think people want a new direction,” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said in December. Now is not the moment for infighting, others have insisted, but for unity and togetherness. Unity behind the existing leadership, that is. Changing the personnel in the C-Suites will only weaken us, they will say; hell, we can’t even afford to see our leaders criticized.
And so the thinkers of the “center left” proceed to hold their failed leaders above scrutiny and to redouble their commitment to the shabby ideology that allowed Trump to win.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Articles of Politics

There's been a flood of thoughtful editorial writing analyzing recent political changes in our democracy-based republic.  There was already a lot during the election, but now there's so much more.  I try to keep up as best I can, really I do, yet I'm losing the battle.

To cope, I've started saving links to articles which I think I might want to refer to later.  That list is growing out of hand.

Meanwhile, today is the last day of February and I haven't posted to Mixed Meters yet.  I figured it ought to be easy to link to some of those articles.  Now you can not refer to these articles also.  Don't expect much continuity in this post.  Just go with the flow.

Deep Throat said "Follow the Money".  At least he said that in the movie.  Here's a short article about why the Republicans hate Obamacare so very very very very much.  (Hint, it's about money.)  Here are quotes:
at its most basic level, [Obamacare] raises taxes on the top 1 percent to pay for health insurance for the bottom 40 percent. So undoing Obamacare would undo a lot of taxes at the top, and a lot of subsidies at the bottom.
It's a reverse Robin Hood. It's taking tax subsidies from the poor to give as tax cuts to the rich. The starkest way to think about that is that the bottom 60 percent would get negative 61.1 percent of the total benefits of getting rid of Obamacare, while the top 1 percent would get 117.5 percent. That's right: the wealthiest would gain more than the country as a whole would, because the working class wouldn't be gaining anything at all. They'd be losing tax credits, and the health insurance those bought them.

Deciding who rules the country has come down to convincing a few percent of the people in a few swing states to switch sides.  Apparently these people flip from left to right based on catchphrases and short soundbites.

One author, George Lakoff, is trying to explain to the Democrats that how you say things is as important as what you say.  He's a professor of linguistics and he talks a lot about framing of an argument.

As an example he suggests that governmental regulations should be referred to as "governmental protections".  Here's a quote from an interview called Don’t think of a rampaging elephant:
what are regulations? Why do people have them? They’re there for protection of the public in every [case]. Why do you have environmental regulations? To protect against pollution and global warming and so on. Things that are harmful. Why do you have an SEC regulation? To protect investors, and protect people who have mortgages. Why do you have food and drug regulations? To protect against poisons. This is important. You’re protecting against corporate malfeasance. Corporate harm to the public. When they say, “We’re getting rid of these regulations", no one reports in the media, “They have gotten rid of protections, and they’re going to get rid of more protections!”

I have my own advice for the Democratic party.  I think that every time a Democrat talks in public they should change the subject to one of these issues:
  • protecting the environment, 
  • protecting civil liberties,
  • a living minimum wage, 
  • universal healthcare, 
  • income and wealth inequality, 
  • making college affordable, 
  • protecting the rights of minorities, 
  • women's rights,
  • freedom of the press.
Unfortunately, the Democrats are spending way too much time thinking about that goddamn elephant.  Hey Democrats, the elephant is irrelevant.  These actual issues that will protect and improve people's lives are what you should talk about incessantly.

We are repeatedly told by Republicans that government should be more like business and that successful business people would make good politicians.  This philosophy of course is a lie designed to benefit people who own big businesses.  This pro-business attitude has a name, neoliberalism.

Liberalism gets a lot of negative coverage from the right-wingnut press, but liberalism is very different than neo-liberalism.  Neoliberals never call themselves neoliberals.  It's a well-deserved term of derision.  This article entitled Neoliberalism - the ideology at the root of all our problems, by the excellent journalist George Monbiot, is a good intro to the subject.  Here are some quotes:
So pervasive has neoliberalism become that we seldom even recognise it as an ideology. We appear to accept the proposition that this utopian, millenarian faith describes a neutral force; a kind of biological law, like Darwin’s theory of evolution. But the philosophy arose as a conscious attempt to reshape human life and shift the locus of power. Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.
The freedom that neoliberalism offers, which sounds so beguiling when expressed in general terms, turns out to mean freedom for the pike, not for the minnows. Freedom from trade unions and collective bargaining means the freedom to suppress wages. Freedom from regulation means the freedom to poison rivers, endanger workers, charge iniquitous rates of interest and design exotic financial instruments. Freedom from tax means freedom from the distribution of wealth that lifts people out of poverty.

I think this Toy Story meme refers only to Democratic neoliberals.  The Republican ones want you to have lots of guns but not women's health care or marriage freedom.

Like it or not (and I don't much like it although there's nothing I can do about it), the United States has only two political parties.  This is not going to change.  The Republican party insists on being wrong about everything, so that leaves the Democrats as our only hope.  Sadly, some Democrats aren't much better.

Robert Reich, an estimable if somewhat lonely liberal voice in today's Democratic party, wrote this article The life of the party - 7 truths for Democrats, in which he speaks directly to what the Democratic party needs to do in the future if it wants to survive.  Here are his seven points (mostly as paraphrased by me):
  • The party is on life support.
  • We are now in a populist era.
  • The economy is not working for most Americans
  • The party's moneyed establishment are part of the problem.
  • Democrats have to fight like hell against regressive policies.
  • The excitement of the Sanders campaign is the future of the party.
  • The party must become a movement.

As long as we're into lists, this one about how to deal with the Republican administration appeared on the Internet.  It's unattributed.

Rules of Engagement
  1. Don't use his name (he who shall remain nameless)
  2. Remember this is a regime and he's not acting alone;
  3. Do not argue with those who support him--it doesn't work;
  4. Focus on his policies, not his orange-ness and mental state;
  5. Keep your message positive; they want the country to be angry and fearful because this is the soil from which their darkest policies will grow.
  6. No more helpless/hopeless talk
  7. Support artists and the arts
  8. Be careful not to spread fake news. Check it.
  9. Take care of yourselves
  10. Resist!

It's very possible that the Republican presidential candidate was a con-artist.  This article How I Accidentally Helped Elect [The Republican Candidate] was written by a man who produced infomercials for a living.  He lists five ways in which the Republican campaign was like an infomercial.  These are:
  • Use gaudy, fake wealth to lure people.
  • Build credibility via conspiracy theories.
  • Create a problem we didn't know we had.
  • Establish a mantra.
  • Repetition.
The article goes into a bit of detail on how the Republican candidate used these techniques in the last election.

Here's another article about [his] salesmanship techniques.  It's called [He] Sold America A Miracle Cure and the reference is to huckster traveling snake-oil salesmen.  The article addresses the question of what will happen when his supporters figure out that he sold them a bill of goods.  Answer - not much.  Quotes:
When people make big bets on miracle cures that fail to work, they rarely turn against the treatments or their merchants. Instead, they rationalize their misplaced faith, in order to save face, remain hopeful, and preserve an identity that’s defined by their courageous ability to reject the status quo.
Many who trust Trump to heal our body politic do so for the same reasons that people like my friend—normal, reasonable people—trust quacks to heal their bodies. They have been swayed by a powerful confluence of factors—specifically, epistemic uncertainty, existential panic, and anti-elitism. These factors ensure that even when reality hits, when insurance rates go up but the wall does not, the marks will place the blame somewhere else.
Those fancy terms get explained in the article.

It's my belief that SCROTUS wouldn't have won the presidency without his appeals to the very real racism in America today.  This article from Vox details a statistical study which shows a stronger correlation between racist and sexist attitudes and voting Republican than between economic concerns and voting Republican.  Here's a quote:
voters’ measures of sexism and racism correlated much more closely with support for [the Republican candidate] than economic dissatisfaction after controlling for factors like partisanship and political ideology:

What if statistics just isn't your thing??  What happens if words like correlation send you running for the aspirin?  Here's another article, this one written by a musician, albeit a very smart accomplished musician who just happens to be a college president.  His name is Leon Botstein.  In the article he says this:
What [...] white America has expressed by endorsing [the] campaign to “Make America Great Again” is not merely anger against elites in general but targeted resentment against the recent history of success by Americans of color. The racism in this year’s election was not about an older stereotype of the Willie Horton-type, but directed against Barack Obama. It is precisely the parity in the achievements of black Americans, those who have become CEOs, scholars, scientists, artists, doctors, lawyers and politicians—and now even president—that has fueled the resurgence of intolerance and anti-immigrant sentiment.

This article Debunked: The Myth That Ralph Nader Cost Al Gore the 2000 Election is the link I have needed to refer back to most often.  It is about the presidential election sixteen years ago.  This usually happens in Facebook discussions with Democrats who haven't admitted to their defeat in the 2000 election yet, let alone the one last November.

Yep, people misapply blame for Al Gore's loss to George II in Florida to Ralph Nader, rather than to Gore himself who surely deserves the blame.  Nader is still around and still saying things which most Democrats don't want to hear but should listen to.  One can hope that Bernie Sanders, who is not responsible for Hillary Clinton's loss (she is), will still be around in sixteen years saying whatever needs to be said.

Here is an excellent recent interview that Nader did with Tavis Smiley.  A couple quotes:
While the media is distracted with Trump’s braggadocios, falsifications, personal accusations, etc., the playbook is clear. He has invited big business to completely take over the U.S. government. So it’s a government of big business by big business for big business like never before in American history.
you can’t beat the entrenched Republicans with people who sound like Republicans
Finally, here's a Republican who's starting to sound like a reasonable person, even though he made a really lousy governor.  This is his most important movie ever.  It's called "Why Herpes is More Popular Than Congress".  It's about gerrymandering.

Move along.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Expect the Unexpected

You may have heard: a new U.S. president is being inaugurated.  You know who I'm talking about.

Many confused people and a lot of confusing pundits have been pouring out endless verbiage trying to predict the future under this new guy.  We all have a burning desire to know what he's going to do before he does it.  We need predictions NOW!

What, we ask over and over again, can we expect from the next four (or, more likely, eight) years?

The easy answer is, of course: "expect the unexpected."  That's exactly what we should have done during the election and history repeats itself, don'tchaknow?

Except, I hear you reply, that answer is unsatisfying and unhelpful.  Douglas Adams, in his Mixed Meters-approved The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, agreed with you. "This advice has annoyed many Hitch-Hikers in that it is ‘A’ - glib, and ‘B’ - a contradiction in terms." he wrote.

Okay, try this instead: "expect the worst".

We liberals know that things are not going to be pretty under the new administration.  And the good guys, by which I mean the Democrats (who are the best good guys we can expect these days, such as they are), have been left nearly powerless to fight back.

What's the best way to oppose the new president?  Sorry, I have no clue.  If you're reading this hoping for suggestions on how to persevere during the coming dark times, I apologize in advance.  Nothing useful will be found below.

Also, a word to the wise, don't expect this essay to end on a hopeful note.

There are some things I confidently expect will happen in the U.S. during the next four (or, more likely, eight) years.  For example, we need to expect that racism will be come much more obvious.  And hatred.  There you go . . . expect racism and hatred.

Also discrimination.  Expect racism and hatred and discrimination.  And bigotry.  Racism and hatred and discrimination and bigotry will become conspicuous throughout America under the new administration.  Just like it was, for opposite reasons, in the previous administration.  Bigotry, I sadly predict, will seep from America's pores.  It will ooze from orifices we forgot existed.

Expect that the new president and his administration will in large part be responsible for this reemergence of American racism, through sins of either commission or ommision.  Expect the new federal government to fight racism with half a heart (or less) and one hand tied behind its back (or more).

Expect that his racist supporters will respond to being called racist by calling their accusers racist.  Expect schoolyard name calling.  Expect that pretty soon everyone will have been called racist by somebody.  Expect Barack Obama to be blamed for everything.

Expect dog whistles, a lot of racist dog whistles.  Expect all their deplorable dogs to howl on cue when they hear the whistles.  When accused directly of whistling for his dogs (i.e. saying stuff that invites intolerance), or when actual blatantly hateful stuff comes directly out of his mouth, expect the new president to feign offense.  Expect him to tell us, over the sounds of baying hounds, that he never intended the thing he said to be interpreted that way.  "I never meant it like that" will be the new presidential plan for promoting equality and tolerance.

That's one thing to expect.  There are others . . .

Expect wealth transfer.

We need to expect that the rich, and only the rich, will get richer.  Expect to hear constant repetitions of the Republican dogma that tax cuts for the wealthy will trickle down in the form of jobs for average Americans.  (This dogma is pure bull shit of course.  It will not be seriously challenged while Republicans rule the roost.)

Expect billionaires to run the government for the benefit of their friends.  Expect kleptocracy.   And nepotism.  Expect tariffs.  Expect trade wars.  Expect deficits.  Expect cutbacks at the SEC.  Expect Wall Street and big banks to make out like bandits.  Expect another market crash.

Expect earnest sermons explaining that the free market will solve every problem.  Expect government rules designed to protect average people from rapacious capitalists to become a mere historical curiosity.

Expect the economy to get much worse for most people.  Expect that 99% of Americans will get screwed and half of those people will have no idea who is doing the screwing.  Expect increased inflation, unemployment, homelessness and hunger.  Do not, under any circumstances, expect to see his tax returns.

Expect Republicans to continue being wrong on every single issue facing America today.

Expect the Republicans to screw up.  

Expect kakistocracy.  Expect incompetence.  Expect infighting and confusion.  Expect mistakes.  Expect a long period of on-the-job training.  Expect lots of turnover in the cabinet.  Expect royal fuck ups.  When these fuck-ups finally get corrected (or, more likely, are papered over) expect the president to take full credit for fixing problems he himself caused.

Expect lots of Republican men to get caught in troglodyte-style sexual scandals.  Expect lots of grabbing of things which shouldn't be grabbed.  Expect decreasing moral standards.  Expect their ends to justify their means.  Expect those caught red-handed to chant hosannas of "I have sinned but now I'm saved.".

Expect heads in the sand.  Expect many cans to be kicked down the road.

Expect tweets.

Expect a growth industry in explaining his tweets.  And doctoral dissertations on his tweets.  And university courses.  And scholarly books and articles.  Finally, expect "The Collected Tweets", hardbound and softcover, self-published.  Also, expect Twitter to crash and burn as a company.

Expect double talk, shitloads of double talk.  Expect explanations that make no sense.  Expect pre-formed, think-tank-tested rote talking points.  Expect misleading answers to complex questions repeated over and over again.  Expect to hear the President of the United States talk at a fifth-grade level.

Expect narcissism.  Expect him to take offense.  Expect revenge.  Expect an enemies list.  Expect the IRS and FBI to harass his enemies for him.  Expect him to gloat when he wins.  Expect him to testify in civil lawsuits.  Expect many presidential vacations.

Expect incomprehensible shifts in foreign policy.  Expect him to favor those foreign countries where lots of blonde people live.  Expect to hear an awful lot about Vladimir Putin.  Expect that our president will be easy to provoke.  Expect some wannabe Osama bin Laden to attack unexpectedly.  Expect innocent people to die.  Expect knee-jerk reactions.

Expect that it will become increasingly difficult to distinguish real news from fake.  Expect that you won't be certain what the real facts are on countless important issues.  Expect half the population to use Snopes as a swear word.  Expect his press conferences to be a joke.  Try not to think about his State of the Union address.  Expect him to redecorate the White House.

Expect the polls to be less and less accurate.  Expect him to pay careful attention to his ratings.  Expect him to take credit he doesn't deserve and to announce imaginary accomplishments.  Expect reality television to become reality.

Expect him to be all over the map, literally (as in being the globe-trotting pomp and circumstance world leader of the world's most militant super power) and figuratively (as in saying whatever contradictory shit pops into his head the moment he thinks of it).   Expect his speeches to make early-symptoms-of-Alzheimer's Ronald Reagan look like a university physics professor cogently explaining string theory so well that even you can understand it.

Meanwhile . . .

Expect the Democrats to screw up too. 

Expect permanent outrage from the Dems.  Expect futile gestures.  Expect a circus of ineffectual protest.  Expect them to say pretty much anything to disparage those damn Republicans.   Expect them to tell us that everything his government does is dangerous and threatening.  Expect irrational expectations.  Expect bubbles.  Expect to hear predictions that he won't finish out his term until nearly the end of his second term.  Expect great disappointment.

Don't, under any circumstances expect the Democratic party to come together over issues.  Or at least be very surprised and relieved if they manage that trick.  Instead, expect them to waffle on the issues while they play petty politics.  Expect contradictions.  Expect double talk, shitloads of double talk.

Which issues will the opposition party ignore? Here are a few: protecting the environment, a living minimum wage, universal healthcare, income and wealth inequality, making college affordable, protecting the rights of minorities, women's rights.  I'm sure there are many more.  Expect that promoting positive issues aimed at improving the lives of average Americans will be the only way to defeat him, you know who I mean.

Instead, expect to actually hear the Democrats talk a lot about how Russia stole the election.  Expect to hear about how the new president is a really bad dude.  Expect to be reminded endlessly that he lost the popular vote.  Expect that all that may actually be true, if irrelevant.

Don't expect anyone to mention that we live in a republic not a true democracy.  Expect that negative talk will not change anything.  Sadly, expect that you have not heard the last of Hillary Clinton.  Expect neo-liberalism to retain full control over the Democratic party.  Expect Wall Street and big banks to make out like bandits.

Expect eventually to face facts.

Expect that realism will be a late-comer.  Like it or not, if you're a U.S. citizen, he is going to be president and that means he'll be your president.  We only get one president at a time and you're going to get used to him somehow.  Expect normalization.  Expect massive normalization.

I know you're saying "Nope.  Not me.  No normalization for me."  Good luck with that.  Expect your hopes to die.  Expect to be unhappy all the time.

Expect that the liberal hatred of the new president will not last as long nor be as intense as the conservative hatred of President Obama.  This is because the right wing confirmation bias is better funded by billions of American dollars spent by the evil Koch brothers and their ilk.

Expect bad news every day.  Expect a steady stream of new, gob-smacking, face-slapping, out-of-left-field news items about him and his sycophants and the stupid things they say and do.  Expect shocking, disgraceful, scandalous, dreadful, appalling leaks about his personal life.

Expect him not to care that he's a laughing stock who makes no sense to a majority of Americans. This is because his fans, the Deplorables, will always forgive the stupid things he says and does.  Expect them to ignore the most bizarre presidential behavior as long as the high court gives them freedom of public hate speech.  They mostly care about Supreme Court justices who are younger, handsomer and more conservative than Antonin Scalia.  They want a justice system which allows open expression of intolerance, racism, sexism, hatred, discrimination and bigotry to be an American right.  Expect them to get it.

Expect to hear the most horrific awful things about gay wedding cakes and transgender people who need to pee.

Expect a cult of personality.  Expect all the news will be about him - every news item, story, cartoon, movie or television show will remind you of the guy with orange hair and tanning salon skin.  Expect everything, every fuckin' thing on the planet, eventually, will turn to trump.  Yes, I'm using the phrase "turn to trump" as a euphemism for "turn to shit".

Expect all predictions will be wrong, including these.  Expect that there will be no comforting way to predict the future.  Expect that you won't know what to expect next.

In other words . . . expect the unexpected - which, as glib and contradictory as Douglas Adams said, is still the safest prediction.

Finally - - expect him to be lucky.

Reflect on the fact that this man, the one who will be the leader of the free-market world, has had a lifetime of lucky breaks.  He was lucky to be born blond and wealthy.  He was lucky to became a billionaire despite six bankruptcies.  And he nurtured his uncanny, almost supernatural talent for hucksterism and publicity all the way into the Oval Office, a place where, by any reasonable standards which I can fathom, he simply doesn't belong.  To me that story seems really really lucky -- fantasy-story lucky.

And here's a surprising suggestion:

I suggest that you pray for his luck - although I have no clue who or what you should pray to.

Yes, you read that right.  Pray that his epic personal luck holds.  Believing in prayer is no more or less irrational than believing in luck.  What have you got to lose?

He's never going to be a qualified president.  You might as well at least pray that he'll be a lucky president.  His election to the presidency turned his luck into our luck.  And we, as a nation, will need lots of luck while he's the president.  The less real harm he does, the luckier we will be.  If he screws up, everyone will suffer, so we'll all be lucky if he doesn't screw up.

Meanwhile, expect him to screw up.  When that happens, expect the worst.


One more (I can't resist):  Expect lots of baby boomer pop stars will die of old age.

Douglas Adams suggestion "Don't Panic" was good advice.  Douglas Adams was a smart guy.