Tuesday, December 27, 2016

REFLECTIONS ON 2016



As the year ends we all look back a bit and try to see how we got to our current position. I'm not going to review what I have come to think of as the worst year for my nation since the horrible year of 1968. Rather I just have some miscellaneous thoughts to post.


  • Everyone gets exercised over Gerrymandering and now over the Electoral College ignoring the fact that the Electoral College issues can be entirely solved and Gerrymandering made more difficult simply by changing the number of members of the U. S. House of Representatives. We have two senators from each state to equalize the influence of small and large states. The House of Representatives is supposed to have a membership reflective of the population on a state by state basis though each state must have at least one Representative. The first U. S. Congress had 66 Representatives. The membership of the House increased with the admission of new states and increases in the U. S. population regularly until 1927 when the House set it's membership at 435. The population at that time was 119,035,000. For ninety years the membership of the House has remained at 435 while the population has grown to 325,269,040 a 273% increase. We do not need 1188 Representatives. However, a state like Wyoming with a population of under 586,107 has the same representation as the average district in more populous states with a population of about ranging from 710,000 to around 730,000. Constitutionally the people of Wyoming do not deserve to have 123% more of a say in the affairs of the nation than the people who live in New York's 10th Congressional District. If Wyoming's population were the standard we would have a U. S. House of about 555 members. Most of those additional 120 members would come from more urban areas reflecting the shift in population since 1927. They might not all be Liberal or Conservative. They certainly would be a mix of Democrats and Republiscum but they would reflect the current population better than the current make up of the House. It would require about 328 electors to elect a U. S. President instead of the current 270. While 555 Congressional Districts certainly could be Gerrymandered it would be a lot harder to create the bizarre districts we've seen recently when the population of each district must be a bit smaller. Instead of wasting time on a Constitutional Amendment to eliminate the Electoral College or fuming impotently over Gerrymandering that has been practiced ever since Elbridge Gerry invented it in the 1790s we should focus on making the House of Representatives more representative and stop wasting time on other crap solutions that will never make any difference.
  •  Jill Stein has managed to prove that she can siphon off votes desperately needed by a woman who actually had a chance to be president. Stein is otherwise a pointless footnote to the last two presidential elections. It's time for Stein and the Green Party to get the hell out of the way and let us get on with stopping America's slide into fascism.
  • I once had respect for Ralph Nader. He once was an important advocate for consumer's rights against corporate greed and criminality. Now he's just an annoying bug buzzing around that desperately needs swatting. He gave the 2000 election to Dubya and Cheney. That's bad enough but worse yet he's refused to accept any responsibility for the 2000 mess in Florida and insists on lecturing any people dumb enough to listen on how American democracy should work. He's lost the right to give that advice. Nader is the flip side of Donald Trump: all ego, impervious to the harm he's done and simply a prescription for disaster by other means. Nader needs to shut the fuck up and spend his days silently dusting the exhibits at his tort museum in Winstead, Connecticut.
  • Donald Trump has performed one verifiable miracle: turning The Fox News uber-blond bimbo, Megyn Kelly, into a journalist for a hot minute. Kelly has returned to the Trumpite bigot fold with her insistence that "Santa just is white." We all knew it couldn't last. There never was any "there" there. A thug may make one a victim but can't make a jerk a decent human being.
  • Donald Trump is both the apotheosis and the destruction of the Republiscum Party. It's coddling of all forms of hate and bigotry has gone on so long that at last the noisome, seething substance of the party has finally broken through and now appears in all its appalling deformity.
  • As the corollary to the comment immediately above, the Trump voters remind me of the moment in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Belloq, Toht and Colonel Dietrich have just opened the ark. Many, lovely airy spirits stream out of the ark and Toht remarks, "Beautiful!" just before those spirits become furies and melt off everyone's faces. The "drain the swamp" chanters haven't comprehended the bottom dwelling creatures they've got. I await the face meltings.
  • Every president creates a winning coalition by lying to people. He wants to bring them into that coalition long enough to win the presidency. I would argue that Barack Obama lied significantly less than most of his predecessors. Trump, on the other hand, has been nothing but lies. Most of the things he's promised to do are manifestly impossible and those that he seems likely to do are going to offend significant portions of his voters. We get to watch as the Trumpites' faces melt off but we also get to watch the disappointment of the white supremacist lunatic fringe (styled as the alt-right so that people won't immediately notice that this turd stinks) which is armed, ready for the immanent attack of all of the groups they hate and maybe a danger to Trump himself. I hope the Secret Service is training agents to duck.
  • Those people who were chanting "lock her up" about "corrupt" Hillary, they don't know what corruption is...yet.
  • Mike Pence has stated that he's "a Christian, a Conservative and a Republican, in that order." You will note that American, believer in democracy or supporter of the Constitution are not part of Pence's list. 
  • Republiscum think that patriotism means a flag lapel pin, democracy is a nice word but something to be avoided and the Constitution is something to be quoted if necessary but ignored, except for the Second Amendment as edited by the NRA.
  • In case you haven't noticed Trump has nominated ultra-right wing military men to control the two departments, Defense and Homeland Security, that control all the armed services of the Federal government. Note to all of you "Constitutional originalists" - all of the founding fathers thought that was a very bad idea. How bad, we're about to find out.
  • Glenn Beck has suddenly seen that his extremist lunacy has (mirabile dictu!) contributed to the rise of the out-right fascist Donald Trump and is now expressing his sorrow at his behavior. Perhaps I'm unkind but it all sounds to me a lot like the boy who's just murdered both his parents suddenly realizing that he's an orphan. Oh! Poor widdle Glenny! His fascists got too Nazi for him. Pardon my inability to shed a commiserating tear.
  • Trevor Noah's insight that Trump is simply the white-supremacist version of an African dictator is spot on and something that only he could bring to the conversation. Yay, Trevor!
  •  My admiration for Trevor Noah does not stop me from believing that both John Oliver and Samantha Bee are Jon Stewart's true successors. Both are better at the depth and breadth of political insight that Stewart displayed than Noah. That is not to say that Noah hasn't a place in the conversation or that in a few years Noah won't be up at their level.
  • Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyer are the best of Late Night television.
  • I miss Larry Wilmore. Sometimes his shows descended into silliness particularly when his guest for the discussion was some rapper more interested in promoting himself than anything else. Still Wilmore presented a perspective unavailable elsewhere that I now miss. 
  • It's about damned time that the United States allowed a U. N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement building to pass. It's not an anti-Israeli or pro-Palestinian resolution. It's a pro-reason, pro-justice and pro-peace resolution.
  • If the Netanyahu government decides to shun the United Nations then the United Nations might want to revisit General Assembly Resolution 181 and subsequent affirmations of Israeli sovereignty not because Jews do not deserve a homeland but because they deserve to share a homeland with the indiginous Palestinian population.
  • If my Democratic Party can't field a group of candidates larger than 3 or 4 and younger than 55 for 2020 we deserve to lose the presidency again.
  •  Watch what happens in the U. S. Senate over the coming months. John McCain and his shadow, Lindsay Graham, are no friends of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz is all primed up for 2020. There are enough offended egos and counter-Trump ambitions to sink his presidency before it even gets out of the harbor and do so in common cause with Democrats though for different reasons.
  • While a lot of people will continue to obsess about Prince, and though I acknowledge that he was a great talent, I'm going to miss David Bowie more. The man was a class act all the way from The Man Who Fell to Earth to Labyrinth to The Hunger and The Prestige along with many more performances quite apart from his musical talents.
  • Deciding that Black Lives Matter is racist reveals that those claiming that it is are the true racists.
  • Some thirty years ago the very savvy politician and wonderful man, Barney Frank, quipped that, "Republicans believe that life begins at conception and ends at birth." I would add that Republiscum are opposed to abortion and birth control for women potentially affected by the Zica virus because without micro-cephalics where will the next generation of Republiscum voters come from?
  • If Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri and Kentucky all had strict laws governing gun purchases the murder rate in Chicago would drop significantly.
  • I don't expect anything but roller coaster action sequences from J. J. Abrams' Star Wars movies. Abrams is to directorial storytelling what Hayden Christiansen was to acting. Still I had hopes for a rich development of Leia Organa's role in the coming sequels. Now those hopes are dashed. Peace, Carrie Fisher, peace! As a fitting memorial don't watch a Star Wars movie. Instead watch the 1980 The Blues Brothers and enjoy her performance.

Monday, December 5, 2016

MY COUNTRY 'TIS...MY CRAZY AUNT HELEN


Let us start with a couple of trenchant observations from the Sage of Baltimore, Henry Louis Mencken:

Giving every man the vote has no more made men wise and free than Christianity has made them good.

Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.

We all have a Crazy Aunt Helen. She might be your Aunt Sadie or Uncle Harry or Cousin Mike or your mother, Corinne. The name doesn't matter. The gender and precise relationship doesn't matter much either. He or she is the crazy relative who just has a bunch of loopy shit in his or her head which no amount of sanitizing can remove.

My Crazy Aunt Helen was born in March, 1911. She grew up in a semi-privileged home in Cheshire, Connecticut and, as she would do throughout her life, adopted wholeheartedly the image of the 1920s "modern girl" that we now call a "flapper". She went off to Crosby High School in Waterbury in 1922 and at some point got shipped off to Southern Seminary in Bowling Green, Virginia "because she was too interested in boys". That's the sole bit of information about her change of schools that ever escaped anyone's lips during the lifetimes of those who knew more. She came back north about the time that Lindbergh landed in Paris prepared with good manners, social skills and some secretarial training. What no finishing school or any amount of education could infuse into my Crazy Aunt Helen was taste. She had some but all of it was bad and not just red wine with Dover sole bad taste but day-glow orange and black fake leopard skin with plaid bad taste. That last skill, secretarial training, was probably her entree to the widower executive of a Waterbury manufacturing firm. My Uncle George was almost exactly the same age as Helen's father. He was a late-Victorian gentleman who's done well for himself, owned a fine home in a neighborhood that included public officials as neighbors and had enough good taste to, in most things, restrain the excesses of my Crazy Aunt Helen. His main failing of taste appears to have been in marrying my aunt.

When my Uncle George died in 1956 the restraints on my Crazy Aunt Helen's bad taste disappeared at just the point at which she came into a modest fortune left by my Uncle George.

I don't need to enumerate all the horrors into which a woman with no taste and substantial money can descend. Suffice it to say that she could never see the beauty in anything old other than husbands or potential husbands. The only things that attracted her were the new, the shiny, the hyped. Old things were trash to be thrown away. New things were treasures no matter how shoddy or misrepresented they were. She frittered away what money there was on an alcoholic second husband and, when he died in a fire he set when he passed out while smoking, a con man former contractor boyfriend who fleeced her on kickbacks on the new home he convinced her to build.

So let me suggest that a majority of American's eligible voters are millions and millions of my Crazy Aunt Helens. I include in that group even those who failed to get off their asses and actually vote in November, 2016. I would suggest that we should have seen this outcome coming in 1998 when the utterly unqualified Jesse Ventura became governor of Minnesota.

Earlier this year I ran into a woman who was an ardent Bernie Sanders supporter largely because he was "not part of the establishment". She was confident that either Bernie or Trump would make the change that the nation needed just like Jesse Ventura had done fifteen years earlier when she was a resident of Minnesota. At the time the linking of Bernie and Trump was a commonplace but a mystery to me. Tossing Jesse Ventura into the mix seemed even more deranged. Yet the more I thought about it the more it seemed in keeping with the ambient stupidity of most people.

More recently I bought a book from a used book dealer in Kentucky. A bit of right-wing propaganda he included with the book. I sent an e-mail that sparked several days of relatively pleasant exchanges in which he revealed himself increasingly insane. He was able to enumerate every real or imagined Hillary conspiracy but confessed to having little or no knowledge of Donald Trump's multiple verified frauds and criminality.

There had to be some point on the Venn Diagram of Bernie, Trump, Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwartzenegger supporters that included that woman and the bookseller. I think that the catalyst was Dubya Bush.

Look back at the last seven presidential elections, please. After twelve years of Reagan-Bush, voters threw out the old and moved in the new Clintons. After eight years of the Clintons voters almost rejected their vice-president, Al Gore, for the new Bush Administration. And, yes, the voters did not reject Al Gore but the vote was close enough that a right-wing Supreme Court could make a semi-plausible decision in favor of Dubya. In 2008, preaching Hope and Change, voters threw out the Republiscum and brought in Barack Obama and now many of those same voters have brought in Donald Trump who's claimed that he's going to "drain the swamp" even as he populates the swamp with more poisonous reptiles than we've seen in many a year.

Just as my Crazy Aunt Helen would throw out a gorgeous 1930s modern bedroom set in bird's-eye maple as "old and ugly" to replace it with a cheap bit of pseudo-colonial crap in painted pine, American voters, angry and stupid, keep throwing out perfectly good politicians and policies in favor of people who provide a nebulous promise of change. There's no thought or study. No facts penetrate the desire to throw out the old and replace it with the new and shiny despite the fact that the glitz covers rot and criminal behavior.

So I would suggest that a corollary to Mencken's dictum about American's intelligence is that no one ever lost a presidential election by underestimating the intelligence of the American public. Though she's been dead these twenty year, my Crazy Aunt Helen's spirit  bad taste, bad decisions and all, is alive and well circulating throughout the land in search of something new and shiny regardless of whether it's good for the nation or not.