Once there was a young man from a wealthy family. He studied hard at good schools, and when he was old enough, his father let him drive the company limousine so he could learn how rich people talked. So he learned to be very thoughtless towards other people, and even more obnoxious if they complained. And he learned lots of great words. Later, he wanted to be a real estate mogul like his Dad, and so he wore a suit and a colorful tie, and went to work every day, and made deals with people to build great stuff for very little money, like his Dad. The stuff wasn’t that great, but it looked good enough in brochures.
Everyone at work was rude, and he thought that he fit in well and that he really got along well with everyone. He got someone to help him write a book on making deals with the word ‘Art’ in the title, which was a great word. And he just kept showing up and giving orders, and blaming other people for stuff that went wrong, and sometimes his lawyers and accountants declared bankruptcy when there was no one left to blame. Since a lot of businessmen weren’t any smarter, he made a fair amount of money, and claimed he made even more to impress women.
As a joke, one day someone told him he should run for President. He actually tried it, but chose a small party no one had ever heard of, and he soon gave up.
As another joke, some network executives put him in a special reality TV program, where they made him look smart and forceful. He got to make decisions, with a little help, and even thought he was really hiring and firing people. Then a funny thing happened. More and more people started to believe he was really as smart as he seemed on television.
Someone else said he should run for President, but they were serious this time, and so he did, and he chose a bigger party. Now at this time, a lot of businessmen thought they were really smart, too, but they weren’t of course, so things were bad for a lot of people who were trying to follow company orders. Things were so bad that a lot of people hoped that a real businessman could save them from professional politicians, even though the politicians were actually taking orders from all the not very smart businessmen.
A lot of highly-educated people thought he was just kidding, and wasting his money, and would soon go away, but he didn’t. In fact, a lot of desperate people liked that he was rude to politicians and reporters, and he soon had momentum. Once he had momentum, people started asking harder questions, so he got even more obnoxious, just like he had learned. All the reporters tried to act like they were in on the joke, and they would call him up every day, and smile knowingly while they let him talk and talk and talk on the air.
The networks held debates and figured more people would watch to see how obnoxious he would be. So they asked him the most questions, and he obliged by being obnoxious, and all the other candidates thought it was great that someone else was attacking their rivals, and that holding back made them seem more presidential. And everyone thought they were winning.
He lost the first caucus, and all the reporters exhaled at once, and snickered. But then he started winning primaries, not by much, but by enough. At first the reporters called it a fluke, but after a few more they got scared, and tried to make fun of him to make people stop liking him. But the desperate people wouldn’t stop liking him.
Now not all the people were desperate. The not-desperate people wanted to elect not-desperate candidates that would do what they were told and make sure the not-desperate would stay that way.
So they held a debate where all the other candidates were obnoxious to him right away, and he was obnoxious right back. But he liked it, and was better at it, and his supporters still liked him. So they got another guy whose father had been rich, and who had tried to be president, to make fun of him. But all the desperate people still liked him. So they held another debate where even the reporters yelled at him, and helped the other candidates make fun of him.
That last debate made it very obvious to his desperate followers that they were right to not trust reporters and politicians and the not-desperate.
To be continued …
We watched the third debate on PBS, but I know I nodded off at one or two points. I do, however, plan to watch Democracy Now!’s podcast adding in the third party candidates.
My takeaway was that the white guy was essentially copying answers from the black guy sitting next to him. He clearly hadn’t been paying attention in this course, and in fact had been left back several times, but he knew that the guy sitting next to him was an ace on foreign policy. Since the exam was oral, he didn’t even have to sneak looks at the other guy’s paper.
The white guy also played it real cool when the black guy accused him of copying his answers. He knew that his friends at Faux news really wanted to accuse the black guy of being an angry black guy, so he just smiled wanly. He liked this man proctor much better than the woman proctor from last time, who actually corrected him on something. She was mean. He wished he could get the first proctor again. He hardly said anything. He was nice.
As several smart people have pointed out, there isn’t much to debate about America’s foreign policy if both debaters are committed to maintaining the US empire. The black guy stipulated that the US will support Israel before the white guy could accuse him of thinking otherwise. The black guy has tried to defuse Israel’s belligerence towards Iran, but he wasn’t going to admit anything less than a profound love of Israel on national television. The black guy said that educating Islamic women is a real good idea that will make Islamic countries very prosperous. The white guy stole his answer, of course. Neither mentioned Malala Yousafzai, the 14 yo Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban for wanting to go to school. Unless I was asleep.
The European Union is writhing under austerity, and just won a Nobel Prize for something, but they don’t have any oil, so most of the questions were about the Middle East. The climate is heating up, but a lot of voters don’t get science, so there were no questions about that either. No, Americans want to know, “What can you do for me now?” so both men promised that they would protect us from the bad guys and make the economy all better. In a few weeks one of them will be elected President.
With the current administration authorizing predator drone strikes, supporting NDAA, enabling megabanks and opposing legalization of marijuana, many left-leaning pundits observe that President Obama is not sufficiently progressive to deserve their votes. Some suggest not voting, voting third party, and some even suggest voting for Romney instead.
Only Nixon can go to China, and in Defeat Romney, Without Illusions about Obama, Daniel Ellsberg explains why he urges liberal progressives to vote to reelect Barack Obama despite their disappointments :
It’s not merely understandable, it’s entirely appropriate to be enraged at Barack Obama. As I am. He has often acted outrageously, not merely timidly or “disappointingly.” If impeachment were politically imaginable on constitutional grounds, he’s earned it (like George W. Bush, and many of his predecessors!) It is entirely human to want to punish him, not to “reward” him with another term or a vote that might be taken to express trust, hope or approval.
But rage is not generally conducive to clear thinking. And it often gets worked out against innocent victims, as would be the case here domestically, if refusals to vote for him resulted in Romney’s taking key battleground states that decide the outcome of this election.
To punish Obama in this particular way, on Election Day — by depriving him of votes in swing states and hence of office in favor of Romney and Ryan — would punish most of all the poor and marginal in society, and workers and middle class as well: not only in the U.S. but worldwide in terms of the economy (I believe the Republicans could still convert this recession to a Great Depression), the environment and climate change. It could well lead to war with Iran (which Obama has been creditably resisting, against pressure from within his own party). And it would spell, via Supreme Court appointments, the end of Roe v. Wade and of the occasional five to four decisions in favor of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Republicans and Democrats alike promise that there is a bright energy future if only we can A – pillage the land for unconventional fossil fuels like tar sands and fracked natural gas or B – invest in clean energy including “clean” coal and nuclear power. The Green Party and Justice Party have made a response to climate change and energy depletion some part of their campaign platforms.
Republicans and Democrats alike predict that their economic policies will stimulate growth, create jobs and return morning to America. The Green Party suggests that measures like their proposed Superfund for Workers will stave off further economic recession. The Justice Party suggests green jobs and infrastructure programs to keep people employed. I don’t believe any of them can deliver growth.
My belief is that austerity is coming, and that who we elect determines how it will be allocated. Much as I liked Dr Jill Stein, common sense tells me that only Obama and Romney have the chance to win and govern. It is very clear that Romney’s mission is to protect the very wealthy from any effects of austerity while Obama’s mission is to prop up as much of the middle class as he can for as long as possible while still satisfying his wealthy donors. From a selfish standpoint, I have to agree with Ellsberg about this election.
As austerity sets in, however, the choices will become less clear.
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I’m down 31 pounds now. LoseIt has lowered my food calorie intake from 1,906 to 1,884, but I’ve been eating less anyway. And I’m exercising five days a week. One of those is a three mile run, and I’m stuck at about 40 minutes. But patient. I’m still too heavy to be fast at running.
I’m swimming 2000 meters twice a week. It’s odd though. Summer members are gone, so I can always get a 50 meter lane now. One lap is 100 meters so it should be easy to keep track of distance. But in my last two swims, I’ve counted 20 laps but my Swimovate lap counter has told me I swam 2200 meters – at a pace I swam in my thirties. Both swims felt fast, but not that fast.
But I’m swimming 45 minutes of exercise in any case, and I have lost any sense of being short of breath in the bilateral stroke I adopted this year. I breathe twice to the right and twice to the left, for distances over 200m, and once to the right and once to the left for 200m and under. In addition, I’ve tried to eliminate a strong sculling action from my righ arm stroke. I think it was a steering action, and with bilateral breathing, it shouldn’t be necessary.
For the last several weeks I’ve been bicycling home — about 50 minutes — about twice a week. Though at first I needed a whole weekend to recover, nine miles has become a routine ride. This week I rode Monday and Wednesday, and plan to ride Friday.
The Swift has only eight speeds,and the gear inches are 36-42-48-56-63-72-84-92. By comparison, a touring bike with 48-36-26 teeth in front and 32 thru 11 in back might range from 21 to 113 gear inches. So it isn’t really a climbing bike. Also I ride upright, so it isn’t really a speed bike. But it gets me there.
Last Friday, I took off work early. It was windy, so I was only pedaling fifth gear (63 gi) on Clipper Mill Road when a fellow in white spandex and white helmet on a full size road bike suddenly shot past on my left and coasted for effect. Some cyclists like to rub it in, but I can’t imagine that passing a guy wearing business attire on a folding bike did that much for his ego.
On Monday, I was climbing the last hill in fourth gear (56 gear gi) when a fellow in red spandex on a mountain bike passed me on the left. As the hill got steeper he slowed down a lot, I dropped to third gear (48 gi) and passed him back. I’m guessing he worked pretty hard to catch me, then had nothing left for the hill. I’ve stopped trying to push big gears to fly through the flat sections because I know I’m going to need my legs for the hills. I suspect I’m faster overall if I can keep it in fifth gear uphill rather than huffing and puffing in third.
I can usually hear cars, but I can’t hear other cyclists. So I bought a tiny mirror, the CycleAware ViewPoint. It attaches to the inside of your left lens. There is no panoramic view, but with a quick glance I can see if anything is moving behind me.
On Wednesday, it was foggy, but the afternoon was supposed to be clear. I have lights, and I rode the brake downhill, but mist was collecting on my bike glasses. I rolled very carefully into the light rail lot. My train was already there. “Missed that one, I thought,” but it sat there, and one door was open, and light was pouring out. “You can make it,” the train said to me. I aimed for that door, and went ass over teakettle. I had forgotten about the precast concrete wheelstops between the parking area and the train platform, and with misted glasses, I couldn’t see them. Satisfied, the train pulled away.
I can see all so clearly — now — that I should have stopped and wiped my glasses. Or waited for a dry day. I had a sore shoulder, and some slightly sore rib cage muscles, but a colleague gave me some ibuprofen. I managed to ride home that day. I felt better on the bike than home watching the debates.
For the first hour I watched Democracy Now!’s coverage which inserted the Green Party’s Jill Stein and the Justice Party’s Rocky Anderson into the presidential debates. Their livestream started breaking up so I switched to the Young Turks coverage, but Expanding the Debate is still available to watch. And there’s a transcript, too.
Stein and Anderson provided an interesting counterpoint to the unreality of Obama and Romney basing economic and tax policy on a return to the American Dream growth economy.
We clearly are in a crisis now. People are losing their jobs, their homes, decent wages, affordable health care and higher education. Our civil liberties are under attack in the climate is in meltdown. Yet, the wealthy few are making out better than ever, making out like bandits. Richer than ever. While the political establishment that got us into this mess to start with actually is making it worse.
Both Democrats and Republicans are making it worse and posing austerity on the everyday people of this country while they continue to squander trillions on wars for oil, Wall Street bailouts and tax breaks for the wealthy.
This race is about our most fundamental values, about who the American people are and who we are becoming. It is about whether we will work together for equality of opportunity, equality under the law, liberty and justice — economic justice, social justice, environmental justice for all. Or whether we will, in the face of gross inequalities of opportunity, simply leave everybody to fend for themselves as in a bad Ayn Rand novel or Mitt Romney speech.
This race is also about whether our nation will continue down the road toward totalitarianism with an imperial presidency that has been made so much worse under both the Bush and the Obama administrations, which have shown utter contempt for the rule of law, due process, and the restrictions under the War Powers Clause of the United State Constitution.
There has been a lot written about how Romney won the debate. On Facebook, I posted “Obama seemed prepared for a serious policy debate. Romney however, shook the Etch-a-Sketch and told them what they wanted to hear.” Obama was stuck debating a chameleon that was trying to look like a compassionate moderate. Obama was stuck debating himself. And even without Stein and Anderson in the room, neither looked that good. Romney and Ryan of course, are not to be trusted, but while Obama is a damn sight preferable to their Randian platform, when you wipe the mist off your lenses, he has trouble differentiating himself from a moderate Republican.
You probably don’t have to have grown up in an Irish-American family to have heard of the Irish Potato Famine, or as the Irish themselves called it, The Great Hunger. One million Irish died and a million more left Ireland. At least one of my ancestors emigrated around that time — to fight as a mercenary in the US Civil War.
After the blight destroyed much of the potato crop that many Irish grew in their tenant farms, Irish officials asked the UK government for assistance. Not for charity, mind you, but for public work projects, such as railways. The government responded with repeal of the Corn Law tariffs, the Gregory Clause of the Poor Laws, and the Cheap Ejectment Act — exploiting rather than helping the poor. Eventually a few men were put to unproductive work digging holes and breaking up roads, but farms continued to export beef and produce to England while the Irish starved.
Religious and non-religious groups provided some assistance, the Queen donated one thousand pounds and foreigners including the Ottoman Sultan and Native American Chocktaws sent charitable donations. But they weren’t close to enough. Local and absentee landlords found it profitable to evict their starving tenant farmers. English literature began to dehumanize the Irish. English Lion and Irish Monkey cartoons in Punch Magazine depicted them as work-shy apes.
After a brutal winter, the spring of 1847 brought a peak of starvation and desperation. That year is now remembered in Ireland as Black ’47.
Under a new Treason Act, John Mitchel was transported to Bermuda, but not before writing:
“The Almighty, indeed, sent the potato blight, but the English created the Famine.”
With Mitt Romney’s revealed quote, we have a new black 47, the percentage of Americans that don’t pay income taxes. The fact that this percentage mostly includes the retired, the unemployed and even injured veterans doesn’t matter to the still prosperous Republican supporters. The fact that many Obama supporters pay higher tax rates than Romney himself (as far as we know) doesn’t matter.
The name of the game is dehumanization. A factoid like 47% allows them to believe that almost half the country is simply dead weight. Given power, they will undoubtedly create even more poverty — all the while congratulating themselves for their superior moral character.
Like many pundits this week, David Frum notes the obvious problem with Romney’s 47% statistic. While technically accurate, it doesn’t explain that most of the non-taxpayers he dismisses as useless are retired elderly on Social Security — not non-white freeloaders:
Only about one-fifth of taxpayers are non-elderly people who pay no tax at all, and they are paying no tax mostly because they are unemployed in the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, a crisis that candidate Romney blames on the president and promises to correct. It seems a hard saying to call these promised beneficiaries of a Romney recovery people who don’t take responsibility for their lives.
Frum gets the image exactly right:
So when a politician or a broadcaster talks about 47% in “dependency,” the image that swims into many white voters’ minds is not their mother in Florida, her Social Security untaxed, receiving Medicare benefits vastly greater than her lifetime tax contributions; it is not their uncle, laid off after 30 years and now too old to start over. No, the image that comes into mind is minorities on welfare.
As a percentage of their population, minorities are more likely to be on welfare but 3 out of 10 recipients of Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) are white. In 2012, Whites made up 72% of the population, Blacks made up about 12%, and Hispanics made up 16%. In 2000, Whites represented 31.2%, Blacks 38.6% and Hispanics 25.0% of TANF recipients. By 2010, Whites increased only slightly to 31.8%, Blacks dropped to 31.9% and Hispanics increased to 30.0% of TANF recipients. Of course, Black unemployment is approximately twice that of white, and even higher among the younger workers.
Even though I live in Baltimore, which is about two-thirds black, my anecdotal image of Romney’s people-who-don’t-pay-taxes skews white.
I ride light rail to work, so I see a lot of black people going to and from work. At the Hamburg station I am frequently the only white face on the platform. Last week, in the PM, I saw a young white couple waiting there ahead of me. The woman was initially attractive in a high school cheerleader way, with long blonde hair, but as I glanced at her, I was puzzled at how she looked back at me and seemed interested in what she saw. On light rail, it is more common for young women to studiously ignore a man’s gaze.
I turned towards the track in my usual waiting and looking down the track posture. A minute or two later she left her friend and came towards me, and I suddenly realized. She asked if I had any money for the light rail ticket. Mystery solved. I looked prosperous enough to be a target. I’ve been asked for money a lot, and it is usually a young white man, although there was one persistent old black wino that used to hang around Federal Hill a few years ago.
I have family back in Altoona, which is one of the top ten whitest cities according to a recent list. Many of them have friends addicted to meth, or oxycontin, or even good old alcohol. My wife used to donate her grandson’s old clothing to one young mother she knew from a job. I met her once, and though I found her pretty, I thought it odd that her face looked older than her body. Meth. She was clean while she was working, but I don’t know what happened after she was laid off. She has kids from two or three fathers, and the latest one is in and out of jail due to his substance abuse problems. Once he was nabbed grabbing drugs off the shelves of a drugstore.
We also know a young mother who has lost her job due to alcoholism. It is heartbreaking to hear and watch her child try to grow up in that situation, turning to junk food and so desperate for attention that she breaks household items.
I think back to reading The Working Poor. As Shipler noted, many of these dependent people do make bad decisions that contribute to their situations. Nevertheless we do still care about them.