Friday, September 25, 2009
Funny, huh? As opposed to the terrorist "plots" uncovered by our great defender, GW Bush, which involved a couple of incompetent crazies lured into fakery, under our new president -- the one who supposedly is weak on terror and abetting our enemies -- potential terrorists have been arrested who had actual plans and were in possession of the actual means to carry them out.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
I'd love to know Glenn Beck's definition of communism. I'd be most interested to understand how he can call the administration both fascist and communist (which, in case you didn't know, are as mutually exclusive as "Fox" and "fair"). I'd be pleased to hear from those commenters of mine who recoiled in horror about an Obama appointee who said he'd been a member of the Communist party at one time: what, exactly, is the threat?
First of all, as the Communist party of the US says, there's never been a communist society on this planet. Moreover, in this country, whatever else they might be, the Communist party has about as much influence as a crazy guy in the street. What they are is a bunch of idealistic dreamers, with a vision of humankind that is entirely unrealistic. For communism to work, we'd have to be.... Christlike. All of us. Ain't gonna happen. Least of all, among Christians. The ideal of communism is people working together for a common good; no one exploited; all people treating all others fairly and compassionately; helping one another; caring; the need for central government nearly non-existent. (How's that for a conservative ideal!) I'm not sure what's so awful about that other than the fact that it's one hundred percent impossible. Just look around. (In case it needs to be said, those American Communists who supported the Soviet Union back in the day were as wrong-headed then as Beck is now.)
Personally, I'm fine with capitalism. I still plan to buy an HD TV some day, and if I could afford another Beemer (I had one thirty years ago), I'd get one of those, too (if I didn't care about gas mileage). But I don't consider those who have a pie-in-the-sky governing model some sort of existential threat; especially when the model has zero chance of being realized.
I traveled in the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War, on a Russian language study tour. (Time was, I was a pretty fair speaker of Russian: over there, people complimented me on my aksyent, when they weren't asking me about "Dev Brroobek" or trying to buy my Levi's.) No political scientist, I, it was nevertheless obvious to me that nothing about their society was communistic except the one collective farm at which I had the second greatest picnic of my life, and then proceeded to get drunk on the smoothest vodka I'd ever had -- to the consternation of the tour staff, based, as it was, in a "dry" campus back home. (As our large glasses were filled to the brim from pitchers of the stuff for a raucous toast, I was told to dump mine out and hide the fact with my hand. The "clink" gave it away, after which the glass was refilled, the staff lady gave up and drank happily along with the rest of us as songs were sung, accordions played, and people staggered off into the woods.)
What the Soviet government -- and the Chinese, and Cuban, all of them -- was, was totalitarian. They used the concept of communism ("Forward to the victory of communism," was plastered in signs everywhere), I guess, as a sort of ideal by which to get their workers to buy in. That, and the idea that they had a mortal enemy in the US, the defeat of which demanded the sort of sacrifices that their decaying society presented to them. Tiny apartments, crappy products, decaying buildings, while their leaders lived high on the свинья. They were a threat, all right, but it had nothing to do with communism, per se. They were, in fact, the opposite of communism: near complete exploitation of their citizenry for the aggrandizement of government power. The danger was their international aggression, not their not-believed, paper-thin look-the-other-way "communism." If you want to see the closest remaining thing to actual communism in existence, visit a kibbutz.
This is no polemic in favor of communism. True communists, in my view, are hopeless idealists, hippie squared, impossible dreamers. Theirs is a rosy view of humankind that is clearly counterfactual. In the political descent we are witnessing every day since President Obama's election, nothing could be more obvious.
My point is simply this: the cries of "communism" by Beck and his minions are but another example of the dishonesty of the leaders and the stupidity and gullibility of the followers of the right wing as currently constituted. Railing in the certainty that they know what they're talking about. They seen it on the teevee.
There is nothing "communist" about Obama or his policies, even if he appointed one to oversee green energy efforts.
We're more threatened by Tinkerbell.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Although the seeds were sewn in the Reagan era, and nurtured with care during the time of Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey, I think this year -- 2009 -- will be marked by historians (assuming their writings will be found in the rubble by some future sentient beings) as the one in which it became clear that The United States of America was no longer governable. That its form of constitutional government, and, in the largest sense, its democracy, showed itself to have become irreparably dysfunctional. That the gossamer of good will which for over two centuries managed to hold together the elements of this fragile society is gone forever.
It takes more than we have. Had. Too needy, too unable to face reality, too frightened of our own shadows, and of the shadow of death, we are, it's clear, a pathetic species. Capable of so much, individuals having created transcendentally beautiful art, invented amazing things, taken flight, peeled back layer upon layer of ignorance, collectively we are inexplicably easily manipulated, distracted, lied to, compelled to act against our own interest, to fall upon one another in hatred.
These things have always been part of us. It's a given that politics are messy, dirty, and dishonest. But we've never been tested as we are now. "The Greatest Generation" (the very name being a media construct and an example of our banality [which is not to denigrate people of my parents' time, but simply to point out it was a talking head selling books that came up with it, and the other talking heads, in fealty to their exalted image of themselves, who took it up]) didn't have to think too hard: their war was conventional in thought and carry-out; their economic calamity clear and undeniable. Like a mother grabbing her child out of the path of an oncoming car, the actions were reflexive, the need absolutely clear.*
It's no longer so. Our wars are built on sand, our enemies are like vapor. (One enemy IS vapor!) It's in the future, more than the present, that the dangers lie; the answers aren't obvious, and are likely painful. Which is exactly the problem. Since Ronald Reagan and his voodoo economics, we've fed on the idea that we can have it all, now, with no sacrifice. And the cynics have figured it out. People want easy; they want certain; they need their hates to keep them warm. Politicians, and the corporations that give them succor, put it all together. They figured out how to deceive enough people into looking the other way, for short-term profit and in the name only of greed. Perhaps no one has said it more clearly and unapologetically than the recently departed so-called father of neoconservativism, Irving Kristol:
"There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people. There are truths appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults; and truths that are appropriate for highly educated adults, and the notion that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a modern democratic fallacy. It doesn't work."
(Not mentioned by Bill's dad, but entirely implicit, are the truths meant for the uneducated and frightened. He did say "children," though, which is the assumption behind the way the right treats the populace. The accurate assumption.)
So here we are: 2009, when it all gelled, then gummed to a halt. At the risk of sounding like a crazy liberal, it turns out the ranters against corporate America (like Ralph Nader, who should be strung up for his egotistical turns at presidential politics) have been right all along. Willingly, happily, energetically, we've become tools. How effortless it's been to get people to rage against their own interest! We've been treated as if we're too dumb to notice.
There's a good reason for that: we are. In numbers, at least, to make the difference.
In whose interest is it to convince people we need private health insurance, with their deadly rescissions, their rising fees, their enormous profits? In whose interest is it to convince people that regulating banks is fascism, as they, once again, leverage our future for quick profit? In whose pocket are our politicians: those who chip in a few bucks, or those who contribute hundreds of thousands, who spend tens of millions on lobbying? It should be so obvious that people would stop dead (literally, in a while) in their tracks before being whipped up into self-destructive frenzies. But they don't.
Why are crazy people like Glenn Beck, stupid people like Sean Hannity, damaged people like Bill O'Reilly, nasty people like Rush Limbaugh on the airwaves? Because they sell soap. Because the ideal of honest debate and thoughtful disagreement is no longer important. Soap is. Only soap.
As I said in my previous post, it was amazing to me to hear, pretty much verbatim, Beckisms parroted back to me with no understanding at all. As if the truth were self-evident. Unaccountable czars!! Completely unaware of the origin of the term with Reagan, the equal number under W, the fact that many were, in fact, confirmed by the Senate, that all of them have actual titles. To say it's dispiriting is to understate by a factor of 1.21 gigawatts.
There's much on the table about which to be concerned. Real debate, based on facts and with solutions in mind, is what's needed. Where we need giants in Congress, we have hyperpartisan midgets. Where we need an involved electorate, willing to learn and listen and think, we have sign-waving dittoheads, full of fire and bereft of fact. Where we need media to do their indispensable job, we have corporatized monoliths owned by ideologues who are entirely uninterested in real reporting.
"We want our country back," shriek the Beckians. Me, too. The difference is I want the one that had high-minded politicians and thoughtful and educated citizens, willing to give a little for the common good. They, it seems, want easy answers, leaders who didn't challenge them, and the certainty that they're right about everything. Funny thing, though: if they get theirs back -- and it looks more and more like they will -- they'll lose everything. Were I to get mine -- and it's clear it's gone forever, by design, by the very ones who think they're saving it -- there'd be a sliver of a chance.
[Perfect: as if ordained by god himself, literally as I was finishing the above, I received an email from a friend. "If you forward nothing else...." it said. Following line after line of high dudgeon and patriotic indignation, it screamed "Now President Obama has directed the United States Postal Service to REMEMBER and HONOR the EID MUSLIM holiday season with a new commemorative 42 Cent First Class Holiday Postage Stamp..
REMEMBER to adamantly & vocally BOYCOTT this stamp, when you are purchasing your stamps at the post office...."
It goes on, in the same vein, pulsing with Foxobeckian certainty. My response to my friend included this. I hope he noted the date, and who was president then. He will, I know. But the ones that sent it to him? It is to laugh. Weep. Sigh. Despond. Most literally, I see no hope for us at all. These are the people on whom the future turns and who, I'm certain, think they're absolutely in the right. They have no capacity whatsoever to see how they've been duped, over and over. Played, by the likes of Beck, Limbaugh, and the whole ugly lot, like a two-penny tin whistle. They've been taught not to think, and they never will.]
*Well, sure, there were cries against joining the war in Europe; and, of course, The New Deal had its detractors. And every era has its bogeymen. But the crazy has never been mainlined as it is now, nor has it found such grateful veins, even as the host dies.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
I'm reminded of a passage from my book:
"After nine months of idyll, my side of our little Beemer pulsated with silent tension, in time with the clenching of my jaw, as we drove over the Bay Bridge into San Francisco. From quiet walks around a lake to blaring horns, overloaded traffic, and the prospect of endless work, I felt the pressure squeeze the minute we made landfall. A couple of weeks later it occurred to me that I no longer noticed; one resets the dial to a different level of normal. No wonder we die young."
A week away from television, internet and, for the most part, newspapers, was therapeutic. Addicted as I'd become, checking email several times daily, visiting an array of political websites at least a couple of times a day, I was worried I'd undergo physical symptoms of withdrawal. Hands shaking, pulse weak and fast, sweat on my upper lip. As I've made fairly clear here, the state of our politics was driving me crazy. Not, I hasten to add, without damn good reason. The inmates have, most surely, taken over the asylum.
Surprisingly, it felt great from the minute I got there, and I didn't miss the information overload one little bit. I relaxed, I hiked, I read three books. Returning home, re-entering the digital world, I found myself recoiling as I scrolled through my favorite (ie, most visited, as opposed to most loved) sites; the physical tightness that had come to be the baseline for the past couple of years rose in my chest, and I stopped the scroll.
It's not as if I was in a complete cocoon. The location, deep into the Sierras, was not unpopulated. In conversations, it became clear I was the only liberal, treated, often, like a sort of oddity worth investigating. The bearded lady, the lobster boy. There were a few strenuous -- if friendly and respectful -- conversations.
I was struck by a couple of things: people spouted the stuff they hear from Glenn Beck as if the truth were self-evident. Confronted with arguments, they were quite amazed. It's as if they had no concept that there were, indeed, other facts. Or should I have just said facts. They'd simply never heard nor thought of some of the things I said. About health care, about the economy. Examples:
Are you on Medicare? "Yes." Do you like it? "Very much." So what's the problem with so-called government run health care? "Well, it's running out of money." Yes it is. Does it seem strange to you that after years of complaining about that, when a President actually tries to address it, the Republican party suddenly screams he's trying to destroy Medicare? "Silence."
"How come Obama never addresses tort reform?" Did you listen to his speech? "No." He mentioned it clearly. "Silence."
"How could we pay for a public option?" Well, there are billions being spent on premiums right now. That money can be captured in several ways: indexed premiums, new taxes, whatever. It'd still be lower than what people pay now, because private insurers take thirty percent in overhead and profits. Tell me what value you think private insurers add to the process that Medicare doesn't? "Silence."
"I worry about all those unaccountable czars." Yeah, you and Glenn Beck. Did you know that several of them were actually approved by the Senate? And that they all have actual titles that don't include the word czar, and that every president has sub-secretaries or whatever you want to call them? It's how efficient government works. "Silence."
So I'm of two minds: on the one hand, it would seem that there's a role -- theoretically at least -- for a voice of reason amongst the madness. On the other hand, it's not as if hearing facts is likely to have had any lasting impact. Stopped them short for a moment. Surely, though, back in their echo chamber it's as gone as the night skies there, high and clear, so filled with stars that words back up and stop entirely, while the soul breathes.
The paragraph from my book describes returning to San Francisco to resume training, after two years in the military the last one of which was spent at comparative leisure, at the edge of a small lake, time on my hands, working undemanding hours at an Air Force clinic; the pressure of training and then of Vietnam as remote as the top of Sierra Buttes, above Sardine Lake.
So I'm asking myself: is it worth my physical health to return to the fray? Re-engaging in the real world, being reminded daily of the insanity of those pissing in their own pool?
Saturday, September 5, 2009
For a week I'll be so far from civilization that I'll have no internet, cell phone, TV, or even a newspaper. Might be therapeutic.
In any case, I'll not be able to respond to any comments, so don't take it personally. On the other hand, it'll be a troll's playground.
(If you click on the above image, you can see the moving version. Can't figure out how to make it work as is.)
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Well, I'll give Republicans credit for this: they're nothing if not brilliant. Okay, not brilliant, in the sense of intelligent. Tactically, more like. Unrepentant and unrelenting in their willingness to manipulate public opinion with no regard to the truth. It's really very impressive. Machiavellian. Disciplined. Deception elevated to high art, if low road.
Somewhere, sometime, in an epiphany of evil, Republican planners had an insight of such depravity that one must stand in a sort of awe. Give credit. Admire the surpassing cynicism and the lack of morality; the willingness to play on the weakness of the system they profess to honor and defend. It's complicated, and simple. And if my words are a little hyperbolic, I'm completely convinced of what I say.
The Republican insight, in its satanic simplicity, is this: in America, you don't need a majority to win the debate. Beautiful, huh? It distills two important truths: 1) The media have become indifferent to careful and thoughtful reporting. It's too hard, it requires intelligent reporters, and it has no effect on ratings, which are, of course, all they really care about. 2) It's incredibly easy to manipulate people of strong religious conviction: the more fundamentalist, the better.
It doesn't take genii (which is lucky, because there are none that I can see, on the right) to develop a long-term plan. First, cozy up, flatter, nurture, and stroke the religious right. Pander to them. Take up their causes. Who cares? It's not about actually believing the stuff. It's about creating a devoted stable of the credulous and gullible. And what are religious fundamentalists if not that? Give me a young-earth creationist, and I'll give you someone who has no use for -- has a profound and proud distrust of -- fact. Someone to whom facts and reason are, very literally, anathema. Someone who considers intelligence "elitist," and who not only hates thoughtfulness in others but takes existential comfort in their own lack of it. Good. Exactly what's needed.
Next, reinforce and expand this group as much as possible (knowing, of course, that it doesn't require taking over the whole country with credulity: a handful of states is quite enough.) Get them on school boards, run them in small time offices. Do everything possible to turn public schools into hothouses of fundamentalism: because the more kids are allowed to think for themselves, the less likely is the plan to work. (Thus the current mind-blowing -- except in the context of this post -- response to the President's plan to address school kids with the message to work hard in school, have goals, listen to their teachers. What greater threat to creating credulous crowds of captured and cowering combatants than a president inspiring kids to rise above themselves? Can you imagine any other place on earth where a message of setting personal goals [not goals set for you by others] would be considered evil? Oh yeah. In the sort of fascist societies they seem to see happening here! Or theocracies. How telling it is that the reaction is not just from a few crazy people, but from actual state party leadership. Not to mention the usual RWS™. It's beyond my comprehension that people say, and others believe this crap.)
There's a certain irony, of course: you'd think the natural tendencies of followers of Jesus would be to care for the poor and the needy and the sick, to help one's fellow man, to want peace and love in the world. You'd think they'd be Democrats. (And, once upon a time, they were. Until Republicans hatched their plan.) You'd think, in particular, they'd want to reform health care so it serves the needs of everyone. So in currying these folks you have to recognize their more fundamental need: easy answers. Clarity, not charity. In the heads of religious fundamentalists is soil most fertile for felonious fooling. Fear and paranoia are part and parcel of fundamentalism, no matter the religion. It doesn't take much to use it for other purposes. Claim the the other party is godless, is against their much-needed and fact-free answers to life's most disturbing questions.
Although it was evident in the recent presidential campaign, where Sarah Palin stoked people's fears and paranoia, rallying the "us versus them" inclinations of the religiously rabid, it wasn't until this summer that it came fully into focus.
With military precision, the hoards were marched into so-called town hall meetings, outrage fanned like a Southern lady's face in August. And, predictable as Rush Limbaugh's need for oxycontin, the media put the most fact-free lunatics front and center. For a few weeks, if you wanted to get some air time -- and not just on Fox "News" but on the actual news outlets (what passes for them nowadays) as well -- all you had to do was hold up the most hate-filled sign, pack the hottest heat, weep the wettest tears for the loss of "your" country. Your views would be treated with the same seriousness, given the same credence and weight as someone who actually knew what he or she was talking about.
Better still: by following the strategy you can get elected to national office some truly insane people. Or, if not insane, people willing to say anything. (Whether they believe it, is something I have a hard time deciding. Growing up, as I did, and remaining, mostly, among people to whom fact and honesty were of actual importance, I have a hard time understanding, as a good example, when a United States Senator claims "President Obama is obsessed with turning terrorists loose in America." The statement is so far off the rails that any of the possible explanations are hard to accept: he actually believes it; he's willing to lie outrageously. He is, of course, exactly the desired result of the long-term plan; as are those who elected him. He's not the only one.
And they're the ones the media loves. ALL the media.
The result of all this is a perfect substrate for brewing paranoid discontent. Credulous and naturally frightened people, and a press wholly unconcerned for and, now, incapable of seeking and saying the truth. So the looniest and most frightened, the least accountable and the least connected to reality are given enormously disproportionate coverage, creating the illusion that they represent the wishes of "the people." And it takes hold, enough to result in our genetically cowardly and self-interested congressional "leaders" backing away from what's patently right. Needed. Indisputably.
In America, you don't need a majority to win the debate.