Take a Breather

Even as “he who must not be named” deconstructs the America I know and love I accept that I occasionally need to find some lighter moments. A steady diet of jaw-dropping incredulity does not stop any of the barrage of depressing information emanating from the White House Sharpie pen wielder or offer any magical solutions to our current orangy dilemma. So what does one do to take a breather as the world wobbles around us?

I usually read a lot, in fact I am a member of Goodreads.com where I often review about 40 books a year, but I am having trouble settling down to read a book. TV is a great wasteland for the most part. Even if I hadn’t watched every episode of NCIS about 15 times they have replaced the reruns most evenings with Law and Order Special Victims Unit which I cannot watch or the WWF which is also not my cup of tea. I have been reduced, on some evenings to watching Chopped on the Food Channel.

I used to watch news all day, every day, but I can no longer tolerate watching any of the media news people who helped demonize Hillary and left us with DT. So I watch Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell, and Joy Reid and that is all. It is well worth it and not just for the politics.

Rachel offered me a new tidbit to add to one of my favorite news topics, science. She mentioned that two guys may have managed to make metallic hydrogen which is extremely difficult to make, and they made it without cooling hydrogen. They made it by applying pressure in a device they invented, using industrial diamonds. What will we manage to use metallic hydrogen for? As with most discoveries it will probably turn out to be both a blessing and a curse. But it may turn out to be the key to a very efficient space fuel. So I find such speculations come under the category of fun.

There are some great movies out right now but it is cold and I have no one to play with since everyone is at work and wants to spend the weekends wrapped up in blankets at home watching sports, which do not entertain me (except ice skating). Eating out is good for taking the mind off the apocalypse, as is shopping, within reason. Music also is quite helpful.

I hope you are finding ways to stay sane with madness all around. Acting like all is normal for brief periods of time refreshes me enough that I can tune in once again to the parade of poor judgment and the possible demise of our democracy, and to my finances which I am worried will soon take a hit.

Perhaps I should use some of my time to come up with a survival plan, or to learn to fire a gun. It is nice to have more options for future adventures.  What are you doing to decompress?

Women’s March, January 21, 2017

Women have some idea of the challenges that men have historically faced, one of the toughest challenges being to go off to fight in wars. Men are expected to be kind and wise and to be incredibly responsible as citizens, workers, husbands and bread-winners. Women have some empathy for these male roles which many men obviously struggle against sometimes.

But not all men seem as understanding of the imperfect lives of women and the challenges they have faced and the challenges they still face. Almost every culture has traditions or laws or customs that circumscribe the lives of women; that hem them in to their own traditional roles as wives, housewives, child-bearers, child-raisers, household managers.

Often religion has been used to keep women close to home and uneducated. Many churches did not allow women to worship with men, and even primitive cultures that predate religion often had separate rituals for men and women. In modern novels there may be women ostensibly living in early cultures running around hunting with spears or fighting in wars, but in real life, I’m thinking, it was quite rare for a women to get a chance to learn or use these skills.

Women have been bought and sold, used as hostages, kidnapped to be sexual objects, been forced to suffer through clitoral mutilations so that they would find no pleasure from the sexual act, had their feet bound for the sexual pleasure of wealthy men, have been killed in honor killings for breaking any number of cultural rules or taboos and have suffered atrocities too numerous to mention.

Obviously life on earth has not always been, nor is it now, easy, regardless of someone’s sexuality. Since we have access to books and histories that allow us to view the lives of humans over hundreds of centuries we might be expected to learn from the histories and stories that we read. You would think that we would try to take some of the burdens off both men and women, and that we would ease each others’ journey through lives so full of the paradoxes like wealth and poverty, good and evil, health and illness, war and peace, joy and grief, pleasure and pain and more.

So why are some men still trying to control the lives of women and take away hard won rights and set back the fight to offer greater freedom to women around the globe to lead lives that are as full of opportunities to succeed or fail as are the lives of men? Just watch a TV offering like Dateline and you will see that men (mostly men) kill women for all kinds of reasons, like jealousy, or because they see murder as the only route to freedom, or there is some primitive impulse still in them that makes trying to murder a woman and get away with it attractive.

Men often have complicated feelings about women and women are often victims of emotions that men cover over for long periods of time with manners and a fog of romance perhaps. We see over and over that we may never actually know someone we have lived with for many years. Of course this can also be true of women, although they may not choose murder as a way out.

It is not difficult to see that the wiring in our brains may still resemble the wiring we had as Neanderthals. With 9 billion people due on the planet real soon we may have to give up our primitive imperatives and we may have to “fake it until we make it” to a more evolved wiring system in human brains.

Women in America came to believe that the ideals expressed by our forefathers, when they said all men are created equal, used the term men to stand for mankind and that this freedom did include women. America has offered women opportunities to fight for rights, many of them having to do with matters which have traditionally concerned women but some which have broadened the freedoms women could exercise in our world.

When I look back and see that women in America did not win the right to vote until 1920 it seems impossible that it could have taken so long to gain such a right. We have only had the right to control our own pregnancies since 1973 when Roe v Wade passed the Supreme Court and there has never been a day that someone has not wanted to chastise women for ever wanting to stop a child from being born, even though men have killed women for becoming pregnant inconveniently.

So I went to the Women’s March, January 21, 2017 (although I went locally and not to Washington) because the battle to take these hard won rights away from women has grown more fierce in the past 8 years, so much so that some stern male purists even want to take away our modern methods of contraception.

It makes perfect sense that I would want to go to a demonstration of our resistance to this attempt on the part of some men to take away rights women have won. It makes perfect sense that I would be happy at a rally where someone has a sign which reads “1958 is calling…we’re not answering” or where there is a sign that says “If you don’t have a uterus, then be quiet.”

I appreciate that so many men and boys attended the demonstrations. I appreciate their support of women and I am glad to see that there are men with healthy egos who are not threatened by women who express their skills, talents, and personalities. The presence of men also told the world that this resistance is a movement of the many American people who feel that the authoritarianism we have always tried to expose and overturn around the world is now a real threat to America that must be resisted.

Charles Blow said it really well in his article in the NYT this morning

“And the marches, which included quite a few men and boys as well, also represented more than that. They were a rebuke of bigotry and a call for equality and inclusion. They demonstrated the awesome power of individual outrage joined to collective action. And it was a message to America that the majority did not support this president or his plans and will not simply tuck tail and cower in the face of the threat. This was an uprising; this was a fighting back. This was a resistance.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/23/opinion/we-are-dissidents-we-are-legion.html?

 

Fake News and the Federal Budget

The Tea Party folks have been most shocking for their insistence that citizens should have a sort of line-item veto over the Federal budget. We have usually sent letters, etc. to our representatives in Congress to register our unwillingness to spend tax dollars on certain Federal programs or activities that displeased us. However, the Tea Party went much further. They were so angry, so demanding, so intimidating that the entire party backed them and moved far to the right. Then the party, in order to keep their scary Tea Party constituents at bay did things like shut down the government and vote to repeal the ACA about 60 times, and get the party to threaten to “primary” elected representatives to Congress (including Senators of course) who did not fall in line. The party got the “enforcer”, Grover Norquist to back up these primary attacks.

In particular the Tea Party wanted more control over their taxes – how much they had to pay and how it was spent. They had come to believe that their tax dollars were being handed out to deadbeats, to illegal immigrants, to way too many people in the form of food stamps, and to refugees. They were convinced, in spite of fact checks which disagreed with their analysis, that everyone was getting something for nothing but them. According to urban legend, the government was even handing out cars, free housing, and free “Obama phones” (a program begun in the Bush administration). And there was some truth to what the Tea Partiers believed but the abuses were hardly rampant, or budget-busting. The government does keep numbers on this stuff. Do we still trust numbers or does it now depend on who crunches them?

Generated by IJG JPEG Library

Talk radio has kept the Tea Party angry for the last decade at least and they expanded their reach to even more Americans as the economy lost steam. The anger fed the people’s fears. Then Fox News piled on because this was a ratings bonanza too good to miss. People like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin and Bill O’Reilly and now Sean Hannity have been broadcasting fake news for years. There has always been fake news. It is called propaganda. Fake news did not begin with the 2016 election. But radio and TV outlets that broadcast fake news all the time, any time of the day or night have made fake news a trending phenomenon, allowed to masquerade as main stream media. The popularity of using social media on the internet added a new dimension to the dissemination of news and fake news. And I don’t know that we have previously had to deal with fake news injected into politics in a Presidential election year by a foreign power like Russia who is not generally considered to have American interests at heart.

As a result of the feelings that gave birth to their movement and the overwhelming amount of propaganda that nurtured the hate and anger, the Tea Party is adamant about many things and it is especially adamant about what budget items it will pay taxes for, and which ones it will not. In order to be sure they do not give one dollar to someone who doesn’t deserve it they want to stop giving any tax dollars to anyone. Privatize everything – no food stamps, no welfare, no Medicaid, no Medicare, no Social Security or SS Disability and no public schools. Many Tea Partiers are Evangelical Christians and they do not want their tax dollars to go towards paying for health care in any program that offers abortion, even though the Federal government no longer subsidizes abortions. Some even want to stop helping women get contraception. Send the “illegals” home say these folks and cut off immigration. Don’t take in refugees. But they do want us all to use our tax dollars to build a wall.

Well, if the right has a line item veto over the US budget then the left should also be allowed to say what they don’t want their tax dollars used for. I’m pretty sure that very few people on the left want to pay for a wall along the Mexican border. I’m pretty sure most of us want to see public education remain as a key budget item. Of course, we could put up a web site with various budget items and actually pick what to fund by voting line by line on the budget (recipe for chaos). But there is the matter of laws that were passed or voted down to determine what programs we would fund. Clearly though, some American’s feelings have been exploited by people in the media who know how to use their words to brainwash, to turn their listeners into “pod” people who seem to be convinced that they want to, 1) continue to pay taxes that pay for nothing, and 2) bypass the Congressional system and make decisions according to who does the best bullying. And perhaps the only cure for this is to just decide every single issue in our nation with a popular vote to try to lessen the effectiveness of a media without a soul.

People speak of trends towards fascism, and fake news and nationalism, and racism as if they just popped up in the 2016 election but we have been fed a steady diet of invective over at least the last decade, and it was easy because people had lost so much they were happy that someone was speaking their language of spite and jealousy, fear and despair, and that they were doing it so authoritatively and emotionally too.

I do not want to pay for a wall. I do not want to pay for a deportation force. There are many things the Tea Partiers don’t want to pay for that I feel a society should pay for. Where is my radio talk show to whisper revolution in my ear through the long night? I can’t even stand to watch news at all these days.

The right wing has won and our President elect who could be a unifier obviously is more an easily wounded defender of only himself. If he would show us that he could govern fairly and do that consistently I might not feel so bereft. His cabinet appointments give me little hope. I am thinking that I and other liberals will be left to wander in the wilderness. Any bets about how likely it is that DT can get it together and turn into a real President? Any bets on whether the soulless Republican Party can worry about anything besides owning what was once the government of the people, by the people, and for the people?

Save ACA Now! No Replacement Plan in Place

This is to those Americans who are in favor of repealing Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act. Are you sure? Speak now or forever hold your peace. It took a long time to bring the insurance companies, the doctors, the hospitals, and everyone who might be affected by a new health care plan to the table to hammer out a deal. It took a lot of negotiation to get insurance companies to cover citizens with preexisting conditions. It took much discussion to address the serious problem of the costs that taxpayers had to endure because people with no primary care providers had turned to the emergency rooms in our hospitals to provide care, care they could not afford to pay for. It meant that people most at risk for health problems were unable to seek preventative care and finally came for treatment only when they were seriously ill and needed expensive meds or procedures. We need to save ACA now!

I’m sure you remember that health coverage once came with jobs, and only with jobs that had a fair number of employees? People who did not have a job or who were self-employed, hourly employees, employees who worked at a small business often had limited or no health care coverage. As employers jumped ship and left our shores for nations with cheaper labor and no unions and no environmental standards the employees they left behind lost their health insurance, at least until they found another job.

I know there are flaws in the Affordable Care Act. Some people are dealing with rates that are too high and copays that are too high. But Republicans deliberately set out to undermine this plan. They knew that the rates would rise if healthy people didn’t buy insurance to offset those who had preexisting conditions. The designers knew that unless there was a mandate that required healthy people to join or pay a fine the numbers would not be favorable enough to the insurance industry and they would want to walk away from the agreement. Yet many red states refused to give their poorest citizens access to expanded Medicaid funds so they could be insured and they got the Supremes to nix the mandate aspect of the plan. In other words, they sabotaged the plan and then insisted that it was broken.

Right now in Congress Democrats are holding a Vote-a-Rama to try to save the Affordable Care Act from repeal. And we should all be hoping that they succeed because we have no inkling of what the Republicans plan to offer us for our health care. Isn’t the enemy you know (if the ACA can be considered an enemy) preferable to the enemy you don’t know (whatever privatized, non-inclusive plan the Conservatives whip up). I am proud of the Democrats for trying, but their odds of succeeding are long. There have been 60 votes in Congress to repeal Obamacare (the ACA) but now the Republicans most likely have the votes to pass a repeal.

If this plan is repealed there is no plan right now to replace it. We have not seen even an outline of what we might expect instead of the current plan. Don’t let repeal happen; at least not right now, not until we know the alternative and it is ready to be put into action. Call or write or email your people in Congress and take some pressure off of them by letting them know that you don’t mind if they come up with a plan before they fulfill your most adamantly expressed wish that Obamacare be repealed. Tell them to do their due diligence and come up with a workable plan. Otherwise expect chaos to reign in medical matters.

Good luck out there. I am happy to stick with Obamacare and have our reps try to fix it, but obviously many of you are not. I hope you are not just being stubborn. I hope you can still respond to logic. Google what is happening to health care in England since the Brexit. I hope that you will save the ACA now.

Ripe for Revolution

 

Looking back through forms of governance devised by humans throughout history the problem of wealth distribution has been a consistently destructive dilemma in terms of governmental longevity. When too much wealth concentrates among too few conditions become ripe for revolution; for those at the bottom of the heap to protest, often violently, and to get rid of those with all the wealth and power.

I learn most of my history these days from literature. The intersection between literature and politics, or literature and history, is expansive. If you want to read about monarchs in England and France the choices are so abundant that it is difficult to pick where to start. Investigate the reputations of the authors. Choose those who do in-depth research.

Read the most well-known Russian authors and you will get a pretty fair historical picture of life under the Czars or life during and after the revolution, depending on the title you chose.

To immerse yourself in Rome read the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, or, on a much less academic level, read the Colleen McCullough Rome books. You can pick almost any time in history and find great fiction that will give you a great feel for the culture and how it affected those who lived in that society and time frame. Today you can just ask Amazon or Google for a list of books, for example, that describe Russia before and after the Russian Revolution where once you would have taken a trip to the library to consult the card catalog.

 

Monarchs, according to accounts, were not always wealthy but their people (except for the religious leaders) were even poorer and monarchs had to appear wealthy in order to look powerful to other monarchs, so they often had to take money or services or land from even their poorest subjects. Monarchs had quite a good run but eventually the emergence of the new democracy/republic in America turned monarchs into ceremonial figures and some form of a parliament or congress actually ran the government. In France it took a violent revolution to end the monarchy but in other nations it was accomplished in an almost evolutionary process, or by political coup.

Rome lasted for so long because the wealthier citizens, who were landowners in Rome and therefore members of the government, were constantly at war adding land and resources to alleviate the frequent famines and economic downturns that plagued Roman life. However, eventually power corrupted the rich and influential men of Rome who decided that they were so superior (the Caesars) that they should govern for life as emperors. Roman government just declined until it lost its preeminent place on the world stage and other nations took over. There was chaos, however, for Roman citizens who were unlucky enough to live during the declining years of the empire

Communism was certainly a response to the consolidation of money and power among a few aristocrats who lived lives of privilege while their serfs eked out brutally deprived lives. We saw communist revolutions in Russia and in China, Vietnam, and other less dramatic transformations. But a century later we find that there is a new wealthy, privileged class that has taken power even in places that experienced serious class upheaval. There are billionaires from every continent on this year’s Forbes list.

All history is somewhat skewed but it is even more difficult to get history from China that you can be sure is free of propaganda. The Chinese Revolution happened through what was basically a political coup by Mao. The Cultural Revolution is full of horror stories. The redistribution of wealth by authoritarian decree did not go smoothly. I read an account by Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China (who now live in France). There are also a number of other good fiction books by authors who left China to live elsewhere.

 

Socialism has been practiced in many places but rarely in a pure form. Capitalism is usually mixed into so-called socialist nations making it difficult to know if inequalities occur in societies where socialism is undiluted. I’m not sure we have ever even seen such a society although we have seen smaller scale experiments with socialism and social elements that have been socialized and that still seem to function. Does pure socialism sidestep corruption? I doubt it, because corruption is not inherent in a system of government; it is inherent in the people who run governments (all of us).

However many inaccuracies there are in my very brief trip through history, it seems that we can at least see a precautionary tendency that could save us a lot of grief. It is clear that when wealth gets concentrated among too few people events will conspire to dispossess them of their privilege and reboot the whole process.

Perhaps for a while there will be a more equitable distribution of whatever constitutes wealth in a society, but eventually corruption or skill or luck will recreate a gap between wealthy and poor. For a long time a “middle class” has filled the gap between the very rich and those who live in poverty. If the middle class essentially disappears or feels poor by comparison with the affluent class then they stop acting as a buffer between the two groups and we are back to inviting a coup or a revolution or decline or an evolutionary governmental change.

[I did not look at the patterns in anarchies (do we have any examples that are not science fiction) or tribal societies but there are some accounts of these which still seem to suggest that a class structure still evolved and wars were fought to regain balance (or out of jealousy). In pure dictatorships it is easy to guess that when a moment of weakness appears upheaval will occur.]

Since it is our nature to be corrupt or to hoard or to feel that winning endows us with some sort of divine favor, will it ever be possible to design a culture that values economic balance and truly equal opportunities for all citizens, that acknowledges when people excel but doesn’t allow them to gloat or abuse their success to the deprivation of others. We could. We have really big brains, but it will require us to constantly root out our worst selves. (OK, I should not have gone to see Arrival because it gave the impression that there is hope for humanity yet.) Things are certainly not looking very hopeful right now back here in reality.

What we are seeing right now in America flies in the face of conventional practice? We have overwhelmingly wealthy people staging a coup to take over the government from the people. This is revolution in reverse. It feels bizarre because it is bizarre. These greedy folks feel they don’t have enough money so they want to take their money out of central government and put it back in their states which means that it will eventually find its way back into their own pockets.

Is this a pre-emptive strike? Did Republicans think America was ripe for revolution (even just a progressive one) and decide to take matters into their own hands first. It may work for a while but if the people’s losses are too great it will end up where all societies that are top heavy end up, in chaos until a new order is reestablished (and all you conspiracy cranks, I am not threatening you with your “New World Order,” that fabled Liberal hell that you fear). Assuming we live through the DT years, how will balance be achieved? Will balance ever be achieved? What do you think?

 

Skyscrapers and Billionaires

 

At some point in my past I found an artistically-sized book of Skyscrapers (still in print). It started me on a journey that described the race in America and eventually around the world to build the tallest building. Since skyscrapers were impossible before steel girders and reliable elevators they are a 20th century phenomenon. Furthermore since the first skyscraper was built on an island of only 24 square miles with perhaps the densest population in the world, the footprint on the ground tends to be small, but the sky is, seemingly, the limit where height is concerned.

As soon as the first skyscraper was built, or perhaps even before it was finished, the race was on to build one that was higher. The race eventually moved to other American cities and then the involvement reached out to the entire globe. Architects and builders design skyscrapers, but rich people, usually men, finance them and get to adorn them with the name of their choice (sometimes with their own name). It is so predictable, this competitive desire to be first, to be the best, the tallest, the biggest. You show me yours and I’ll show you mine, and mine will be bigger. Given the phallic nature inherent in the design of this particular class of buildings it is tough to read them as feminine structures. I am always being sexist I guess, but I just can’t help myself since men are having such difficulty sharing almost everything. It seems natural to compare skyscrapers and billionaires.

Anyway I started to connect this race to build the tallest building with the race to be the biggest billionaire which seems to be the newest prize to grasp in the 21st century. Not all billionaires are hoarders. We can name a number of billionaires who have philanthropic goals and who spend their money in useful ways that benefit man and woman kind. Look at the top ten names on the latest Forbes list of billionaires and you will recognize some of those who feel that they have enough money that they can give back.

#1 Bill Gates $75 B 61 Microsoft United States
#2 Amancio Ortega $67 B 80 Zara Spain
#3 Warren Buffett $60.8 B 86 Berkshire Hathaway United States
#4 Carlos Slim Helu $50 B 76 telecom Mexico
#5 Jeff Bezos $45.2 B 52 Amazon.com United States
#6 Mark Zuckerberg $44.6 B 32 Facebook United States
#7 Larry Ellison $43.6 B 72 Oracle United States
#8 Michael Bloomberg $40 B 74 Bloomberg LP United States
#9 Charles Koch $39.6 B 81 diversified United States
#9 David Koch $39.6 B 76 diversified United States

http://www.forbes.com/billionaires/

The article goes on to give us this information:

By Kerry A. Dolan and Luisa Kroll

“Volatile stock markets, cratering oil prices and a stronger dollar led to a dynamic reshuffling of wealth around the globe and a drop in ten-figure fortunes for the first time since 2009. For our 30th annual guide to the world’s richest, we found 1,810 billionaires, down from a record 1,826 a year ago. Their aggregate net worth was $6.48 trillion, $570 billion less than last year.  It was also the first time since 2010 that the average net worth of a billionaire dropped – it is now $3.6 billion, $300 million less than last year.”

The article lists all 1,810 billionaires if you are interested. Are billionaires feeling nervous that they lost some ground last year? Do powerful people race to climb the billionaire ladder in ways that are similar to the race to build taller skyscrapers? I’m guessing that some do and some don’t. But what does it mean for us that these people, by virtue of their wealth can yank our world around and get it to serve the purposes of the wealthy? What does it mean that 1,810 people have lives so much more expansive that most of the 7+ billion people on the planet? How much money would each of us have if the distribution was more equal? Will wealth always accrue to the few in any cultural model? Are there laws and regulations that insure that those who are already wealthy will get wealthier? Are there ways to pass laws which make sure that money will be distributed more evenly? These people want us to believe that they deserve to be wealthy because they are the smartest, the hardest working, the most creative and they would always rise to the top like cream on milk that has not been homogenized. Homogenized milk tastes good. Wouldn’t earth’s societies work well if the money was spread around a bit more? Even cogitating on these matter is likely to raise an injured outcry, but I am going to see what answers I can find. It is my New Year’s Resolution.