As America’s quadrennial campaign circus heats up, pundits are tearing their hair out wondering how Donald Trump could be leading in the Republican primary polls while being such an a$$hole. I have a theory that (in my humble opinion, at least) makes a lot of sense. Read on
This past weekend, we “celebrated” the 40th anniversary of the day Richard Nixon resigned as US president. The iconic image of that event was Nixon smiling and waving the “V-for-victory” sign (some of us knew it as the peace sign) over his head with both hands before ducking into the helicopter to be taken away from Washington for good.
It’s at times like these that I like to read the work of my all-time favorite Nixonologist, who – as Rolling Stone magazine’s representative on the White House press corps – was watching from the Rose Garden as the helicopter flew away.
I felt sorry for him. He hit his head. Right after he did this thing [makes the v-for-victory sign] at the helicopter door, he turned and lashed his head on the top of the rounded door, staggered sideways, and he was so — in some jurisdictions we might have called it “luded out” — he was tranquilized. There’s a civilized word for it: sedated. He was almost led up the stairs. Yeah, I felt sorry for him. Can you imagine that ride west? Jesus Christ, they flew to Andrews Air Force Base, I guess, on the helicopter, and then they had like a six-hour flight to San Clemente. Whew. That must have been a really dark flight.
From interview by Matthew Hahn in The Atlantic
I didn’t watch the resignation speech on TV but I heard it on the radio. I was working that night, making popcorn and pizza and filling sodas at a drive-in theatre near my home town. I brought my radio to work, which was frowned upon but tolerated for this special occasion. I don’t know if I really remember or if I just want to remember that the first song the DJ played after the speech was “Kings”, from Steely Dan’s album Can’t Buy a Thrill. (“We’ve seen the last of good King Richard…”)
So anyway, this weekend I was passed a link to Nixon’s obit, which I found quite entertaining, but I knew there had to be something that was written on the occasion of the resignation. It took some digging to find a full copy of “Fear and Loathing in Limbo: The Scum Also Rises.” That was too much to read, but I did read the introduction, which is mostly a rant of anger and frustration. After having just submitted a 15,000-word piece on Nixon’s resignation, Thompson was informed that “Ford pardoned the bastard.”
Hunter Thompson and Richard Nixon were more than professional adversaries.. the way Thompson tells it, they were mortal enemies. But given a common interest, mortal enemies can become the best of friends, and for Thompson and Nixon that interest was football. Thompson was the only person on the press corps who could talk football, and Nixon knew it; and he would often seek him out when he wanted to talk football instead of politics. Thompson once wrote, “the only thing Nixon was honest about was football.”
The closest I ever came to Nixon was as a hitchhiker in the early 80’s. Running out of energy late one night on a trip from LA to San Diego, I was stuck in San Clemente and rolled out my sleeping bag in the bushes outside the gate to Nixon’s compound, where I slept soundly until the sprinklers woke me up at 5am.
Subversives, fugitives and drug dealers have operated under the assumption that all phones are tapped for as long as there have been phones. This is even more the case with today’s digital communication. The safe assumption is that every line is tapped, so when engaging in any form of electronic communication, it’s good to heed the advice given in The Anarchist Cookbook way back in the 1970’s: “If you can’t say it in front of a cop, keep it to yourself.”
So now we learn that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting and analyzing all the data they can grab. This should come as no surprise. If the data is there, they will mine it. They always have, and they always will. I’m not saying that it’s right. It’s actually contrary to every sacred principle this nation was built upon. But it is what it is.
Most of us knew all along that the emperor was walking around naked. Now that the official media has finally noticed, they’re going bat-crap crazy talking about it. Let me throw a few random thoughts into this cacophony. Read on
When a government acts in a way that some consider scandalous, it’s interesting to compare the reactions of opposing parties.
Ten years ago, the Bush regime engaged in a long litany of violations of civil liberties and international law. Their opponents were alarmed with this blatantly illegal behavior, while their defenders shrugged their shoulders and said, “No big deal.”
So now the IRS has admitted to selectively targeting organizations for scrutiny based on a political agenda, and the Justice Department has admitted to seizing the phone records of AP reporters. As a progressive, I am disturbed by this news.
After all, if these acts had been committed by the Bush/Cheney regime, they would be disturbing (although they would be lost in the long litany of alarming acts). So to have these acts committed by “our side” is no less disturbing.
And that’s the difference between authoritarians and progressives. For the right-whinge conservatives, selective enforcement or spying on reporters was OK when their side did it, but when the other side does it their heads explode. Progressives get upset no matter who does it.
So when you’re arguing with a conservative and he brings up the latest “Obama scandal,” ask him where his outrage was when Bush was conducting selective politically-motivated audits, or spying on every phone call and reading every email in the country.
Last night, Paul Ryan gave a speech to the Republican National Convention. We didn’t watch the speech, but we heard that he did a lot of lying, even though very few writers used the L-word to describe it.
This observation is not about the lies themselves (follow the links below for the rundown), but it’s about how major media outlets go out of their way to avoid using the word “lie.”
From The Guardian: “… speech includes glaring inaccuracies…”
Another headline in the same paper: “A round-up of Ryan’s most audacious untruths.”
Steve Benen on The Maddow Blog used the term “demonstrable lies” before going on with his own round-up of alternate wording.
The Huffington Post headline originally was “Paul Tales: Ryan Misleads Again & Again,” and was later changed to “Paul Ryan Address: Convention Speech Built On Demonstrably Misleading Assertions.”
The Boston Globe said the speech “strained credibility,” AP’s headline talked of “factual shortcuts,” the Washington Post‘s James Downie called it “breathtakingly dishonest,” and Brian Beutler on Talking Points Memo wrote of “misleading claims.”
Among the most euphemistic was Wolf Blitzer on CNN:
…although I marked at least seven or eight points I’m sure the fact checkers will have some opportunities to dispute if they want to go forward, I’m sure they will.
In other words, “… a lot of that sounded like bullslop, but I’ll wait for someone else to point that out.”
John Nichols was not afraid to say “Lies” in The Nation.
The biggest surprise came from Sally Kohn writing for the official media outlet of the Republican Party. Her “3 words” (actually, 3 D-words) to describe Ryan’s speech were “dazzling”, “deceiving”, and “distracting”. It’s remarkable enough for a Faux Neus piece to call one of their heroes “deceiving,” but Kohn’s elaboration includes stuff like “the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech,” and “the mountain of cow dung that flowed from Ryan’s mouth.”
It’s reassuring to see the journalistic community calling “Bullslop!” on all of this bullslop. I just wish they could use the same language the rest of us use. A lie by any other name is still a lie.
One week before he was elected governor, Scott Walker told the editorial board of the Oshkosh Northwestern that he was willing to work with unions and to listen to any ideas they had to save money. In general, Walker presented himself as a reasonable and collegial manager.
After the election, he told a billionaire donor of his plans to bust public employee unions as part of a “divide and conquer” strategy. This governor turned out to be the polar opposite of what he advertised himself to be. We all have friends, neighbors and family members who were directly hurt by Walker’s divisive and mean-spirited agenda.
For those who say that recalls should be reserved for cases of criminal behavior, I answer with one word: Fraud. Just as a worker would be fired for lying on a resume, the people of Wisconsin must fire Scott Walker for the frauds he committed to get elected.
Walker’s rich out-of-state cronies are dumping planeloads of money into our airwaves, mailboxes, and telephones to deliver their next round of lies. Voters must not be fooled by these expensive packages of deception, but I trust we are smart enough to recognize that gold-plated bullslop is still bullslop.
The people of Wisconsin made a major collective mistake in November 2010. Those who regret voting for Walker (or not voting at all) in that election can redeem themselves on June 5 by electing Tom Barrett as governor and Mahlon Mitchell as lieutenant governor.
There’s an illogical argument consistently used to support big projects. I hear it in support of projects I’m against, but I’m equally uncomfortable with its use in favor of projects I support. It’s the argument that a project will “create jobs.”
Any endeavor must be evaluated based on whether the result will enhance our lives and improve our world. Once we decide to do something, then we find the workers to complete the project. I’m not denying that many people need more work (I’m one of those people). But at times like these we must ask, “What is the best way to deploy this idle workforce?”
Let’s look at an extreme example of the “create jobs” argument: War creates jobs. There are jobs building tanks, planes, guns, bullets and bombs; and jobs operating the machinery and firing the guns. But the end result is that a lot of the stuff we built gets blown up, and a large part of our population comes home emotionally and physically crippled (if at all). “Creating jobs” is not a reason to start a war.
Before we blindly “create jobs”, we should make sure the product of those jobs will make our world a better place. Then we can offer our citizens work that is worthy of their efforts, and that produces results they can point to with pride and accomplishment and say, “I helped build that.”
Establishing and maintaining an activist encampment – whether to blockade a nuclear power plant or to occupy a state capital or a city park – is a major logistical undertaking. The Wall Street occupiers learned a lot about doing this from the Wisconsin capital occupiers of last winter, who in turn represent a major progression from the anti-nuclear actions of a generation ago.
In the fall of 1981, I participated in a two-week “blockade” of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant on the coast of central California. Nearly 2000 people were arrested during this action, and I was two of them. Occupy Wall Street reminds me of many of the things we did at Diablo that worked, and I also see the OWS crowd improving the things that we didn’t do that well.
The improvement I’m most impressed with relates to communication.
At Diablo, there came a time when money and energy were running out and we had to find a way to end the action and go home. A proposal was floated to declare the beginning of a “Phase 2” of the blockade, and a discussion followed to define what that meant. The consensus process we used gave every individual veto power over any proposal, so we started hearing things like, “We will block any statement that contains the word ‘end’.”
Words that anyone disapproved of were removed and/or replaced. Strong language got weak and ambiguous. A reasonable and well-thought-out statement got watered down into a bland mush that offended nobody and excited nobody. And it burned through hours of our time.
OWS did something right in the way it composed and approved its declaration.* It’s well-written and strongly worded, which can be nearly impossible when writing by committee. I can see the markings of a committee in the list of grievances, but something has improved in the process to keep the well-intentioned saboteurs from muddying the text.
On behalf of the veterans of the Diablo blockade, I will take credit for one innovation in meeting management displayed at OWS: the jiggling of fingers in the air as a substitute for applause. I saw this introduced at the Diablo encampment as the size of the meetings started getting larger. A speaker would say something, and many people would cheer or applaud in agreement. This made it difficult for everyone to hear the rest of what the speaker had to say, and it would disrupt the rhythm and the flow of the meeting.
So someone suggested that instead of cheering, we should wave our hands above our heads to signal our approval and agreement. A “cheer” could erupt without drowning out the speaker we’d be cheering.
It may have been something other activists were doing before. But it shows that at the very least, such actions are networking events. Activists representing a wide range of causes, constituencies and age groups have lots of time to hang out with each other and exchange ideas to solve problems.
Each action gets more organized, and new best practices evolve from this stock pot of activism.
* My favorite declaration came from a blogger at the occupation, which concisely and explicitly covered the most important points. It’s brief enough to quote here in full:
We are the 99 percent. We are getting kicked out of our homes. We are forced to choose between groceries and rent. We are denied quality medical care. We are suffering from environmental pollution. We are working long hours for little pay and no rights, if we’re working at all. We are getting nothing while the other 1 percent is getting everything. We are the 99 percent.
Back when Bill Clinton was running for president, his campaign office famously had a sign on the wall that read, “It’s the Economy, Stupid.” It was how they reminded themselves what issue most concerned the voting public. Smart politicians would recognize that most people see corporate greed as the root of our economic problems, and adjust the sign on their wall accordingly.
For two generations, we have watched a handful of rich people hoard the wealth while the rest of us struggle more and more to get by. There’s a limit to how much the monarchs of our world can impoverish the rest of us before angry mobs with torches and pitchforks appear at the castle gates, and Occupy Wall Street is the modern equivalent of that angry mob.
Corporate funded media pundits feign mystification as to the grievances or demands of the 99-percenters. The truth is that these shills can’t say “corporate greed” (grievance) or “economic justice” (demand) out loud. After all, they’re employed by some of the largest corporations in the world, so they wouldn’t dare say anything favorable about the demonstrators. So all they have to offer are insults, ridicule and shoulder-shrugging.
Let me illustrate how greedy the banks have become during my lifetime. My first savings account had an interest rate that fluctuated between 4% and 5%. So if I had $10 in the bank for a year, I had $10.50 at the end of the year. That’s right, I made 5% interest on $10. My student loans had a 7% interest rate, and consumer loans typically were at 9%. Credit card interest rates of 12% were considered an outrage.
So if the bank charged 8% interest on a loan, their “cost” was the 5% they paid the depositors, so they made a 3% profit on the loan. (This sets aside their ability to loan out $5-10 for every dollar in deposits.) Bankers had no problem making a decent living under these conditions.
But now a savings account yields 0.5%, and that’s only if you have thousands of dollars in the bank. Meanwhile, consumer loans below 10% are rare, and credit card interest rates that low are little more than a dream. So the entire (typical) 12% interest rate the bank makes on a loan is gravy, since the depositors get next to nothing. Yet the banksters cry for more, and every time their price gouging is restrained, they find another fee to raise to make up for it.
This is one example among hundreds of how the rich are ripping off the rest of us, and of how the American dream has been crushed. As we were growing up, we were told this was a great country because if you played by the rules, worked hard, and got educated, then you would be taken care of and there was no limit to what you could achieve. But now millions of people who played along find their jobs shipped off to China, and those lucky enough to still have jobs work at poverty wages with no benefits.
So what was once the most prosperous country in the world has become a feudal society, where the money monarchs steal, swindle and hoard the wealth while leaving the rest of us with nothing. And then they wonder what the Occupy Wall Street movement is complaining about.
The great success of the Occupy movement (as of now) is that a national conversation has been started. We are aware that the system is broken, and we know why it’s broken. Now we must develop and enact a series of solutions to bring fairness, equality and opportunity back into our society.
I have a list of ideas that I intend to throw out into the ether for discussion in a series of posts over the coming days and weeks (as time permits). The money monarchs now own every square of the metaphorical Monopoly board we live on, and they’ve also seized all of the money. Now we need to change the rules so that the rest of us can find a way to survive and thrive.
Proposals (updated Nov 9, 2011):
How Much is Enough? The Case for a Maximum Wage
I often participate in a discussion group where someone recently asked, “Is America center-right or center-left?” It got me to thinking about labels, and how they’ve been twisted, distorted and co-opted. Many respondents criticized the use of such labels, arguing that human character is far too complex to divide into black and white categories.
I felt compelled to weigh in, and I’ll share my answer with the rest of the class:
As I can see from previous answers, trying to use labels like “left,” “right,” “liberal,” “conservative,” etc. is too simplistic, and each label carries a certain amount of baggage that it doesn’t deserve.
I abhor environmental waste, the way that our culture frivolously destroys resources that may take millions of years to replace. By the same token, I don’t think we should be frivolous with money either. I would think that those are both “conservative” positions.
I also feel that we should treat one another with respect and dignity, that we have a duty as responsible community members to look out for each other and help each other out in times of need, and that if someone else’s lifestyle choices are no harm to me then they’re none of my business. When did any of this stop being a “conservative” position?
I think much of the American public falls in line with my “conservative” positions, but the politicians and pundits who talk this way are labelled “liberal” or “radical.” Many authors have pointed out studies and polls indicating that if politicians pursued policies that the public wants, the USA would be much more like Sweden.