Soothsayer Day

 

“A Republic, if you can keep it.”
— Benjamin Franklin, in reply to a question about what sort of government the delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention had settled on.

February 2 is the day some people, primarily in North America, attempt to divine the next six weeks of weather by observing groundhogs who briefly exit from winter hibernation in their burrows. If it’s a sunny day, the groundhog will see his or her shadow and, counter intuitively, those watching the animal will pronounce six more weeks of wintry weather. On a cloudy day, with no shadows in sight, the prediction is for an early start of spring weather. People in some parts of Europe have a similar tradition involving different animals, such as badgers in Germany and hedgehogs in Britain.


Emerged from hibernation in February, groundhog takes leaves to line the burrow nest or toilet chamber DSCN0900
Emerging briefly from hibernation in February 2014, a groundhog takes leaves to line its burrow nest or toilet chamber. Photo by Ladycamera.

This is all silliness, of course, with no proof of accuracy, but it is mostly harmless except for possibly obnoxious intrusions on the lives of peace loving groundhogs. In ancient Rome, prognostication using animals took a more deadly turn. All sorts of animals – chickens, sheep, and goats among them – were confined until the day they were sacrificed for the purpose of having a kind of priest called a haruspex examine the dead animal’s entrails for signs of the future. This was deadly serious business, not only for the sacrificial animals, but for the generals and politicians who often did not make a move unless the signs from the entrails were auspicious.

There is no record proving the consistent accuracy of haruspicy (divination by the inspection of entrails), just as there is no record for the accuracy of groundhogs at predicting the weather based on the presence or absence of cloud cover on a particular day. Nonetheless, people have been wasting their time and efforts on these methods of divination for millennia. The ancient method, haruspicy, was a nasty business all around, while Groundhog Day observations cause little harm and are of no consequence.


The Danish National Symphony Orchestra performs a suite of themes from Ennio Morricone’s music for the 1968 Sergio Leone film Once Upon a Time in the West. Tuva Semmingsen performs the vocals that were sung by Edda Dell’Orso on the original soundtrack recording.

 

What about reading the signs of the times, such as looking at newspapers to follow developments in the republic called the United States of America? What about a Senate majority of Republicans who vote to exclude witnesses in the impeachment trial of a corrupt president? What about a Republican state legislator in Montana who maintains that the Constitution of the United States sanctions the shooting and imprisonment of Socialists, merely for being Socialists? What about the chortling lunatics cheering on Orange Julius as he threatens and demeans his opponents at his demented pep rallies? And what about those same cheering, jeering lunatics threatening violence if their Chosen One is removed from office either by impeachment or by the results of an election?

Those signs and others are easy enough to read for anyone paying attention to developments in order to honor the obligations of an informed citizen. There are those citizens, however, who are too lazy to pay attention. Very well; they should continue in their laziness and stay home on Election Day in nine months, rather than show up and vote for the incumbent president simply because the wolf is not yet at their door. And then there are those voters, more culpable in the decay of the republic than anyone else, who are interested only in the health of their financial portfolio, and who are deaf and blind to the cries and despair of anyone shut out of the bounty and suffering under the oppression of the oligarchy. The signs now point toward a Tyranny by Corporate Oligarchy, and if citizens continue to choose it by doing nothing, then after Election Day in November there will be no going back and we will have gotten the government we deserve.


— Vita


For those who can’t get enough of the sound of the loss of the republic, here it is on the theremin. Katica Illényi performs with the Győr Philharmonic Orchestra in Budapest, Hungary.

 

Boondoggles ad Infinitum

 

The current presidential administration trotted out their front man for ostensibly serious projects on Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence, to make the case for entangling the country in a boondoggle called “Space Force”. At first glance, this seems like a waste of national resources in an attempt to appease one special interest, defense contractors. Deeper scrutiny, however, uncovers Space Force as a waste of national resources on behalf of boosting the reelection campaign coffers of the current administration as well titillating the chickenhawks amongst their donors. The presidential administration is monetizing the creation of this unnecessary new branch of the military as if it were a television show.

Ed Kemmer Lyn Osborn Space Patrol 1954
A September 1954 promotional photo from the television series Space Patrol. Ed Kemmer as Commander Buzz Corry works the controls of the space ship while Lyn Osborn as Cadet Happy Osborn looks on.

This latest development in the kleptocracy that is the current administration should not be surprising to those who have kept their cynicism up to date. The Space Force hubbub will also serve usefully as a distraction for the next week or two from real problems closing in on the administration, such as the investigation of Independent Counsel Robert Mueller into criminal mischief by the administration’s personnel and, before it, it’s campaign staff. More indictments are coming, and probably a subpoena for Orange Julius himself, who will no doubt waste millions of dollars of the taxpayers’ money fighting to avoid being dragged into court by asserting he is above the law. Meanwhile, in the fantasy land of Space Force, the gravy will be flowing for all the billionaire and millionaire defense contractor executives who profess libertarian ideals while feeding greedily at the government trough filled by their benefactors, Commander Buzz Corry and Cadet Happy Osborn, aka Orange Julius and the Duncy White Knight.
— Techly

Grabbing fistfuls of candy bars will be mere kids’ stuff in the new Space Force marketing.

 

It Ain’t Heavy

 

In the first of two presidential campaign debates in 1988, when Vice President George H.W. Bush referred to his opponent, Democratic Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, as a “card-carrying member of the ACLU” (American Civil Liberties Union), he was actually citing Governor Dukakis’s own words from his speeches during the Democratic primaries, when he wanted to appeal to the left wing of the party. Governor Dukakis’s choice of words were unfortunate for him given the connotations of the phrase “card-carrying member” ever since the red-baiting days of the early 1950s Joseph McCarthy era, and the Bush campaign probably couldn’t believe their luck in that Governor Dukakis handed them such a juicy gift with which to smear him.

 

They knew and counted on the reality that most of the public do not delve deeply into the true meaning of things, and instead are all too eager to fall back lazily on shorthand terms. Conservative independents, to the extent they understood at all what the ACLU was about, had only to hear that the organization had the words “civil liberties” and “union” in it, and that Governor Dukakis was a “card-carrying member” of it, to jump to the conclusion that the man from Massachusetts with the foreign sounding name was practically a Communist, resulting in their bolting toward Vice President Bush. Governor Dukakis spent the rest of the campaign explaining himself regarding that and other blunders, and once he went on the defensive the campaign was over. Ever since then, mainstream Democrats have been careful to define themselves as Republicans Lite, rather than being card-carrying members of any organization other than Corporate America.

YDS-NewLogo
A logo designed in 2010 by Sean Monahan for a wing of the Democratic Socialists of America. Since 2016, about 24,000 people have joined the DSA, most of them under age 35.


A public service announcement from the ACLU in reaction to the use in 1988 by the Bush campaign of the phrase “card-carrying member” as a smear tactic. Interesting to note the mentions of the ACLU defending Oliver North.

In good news for people who would still like to work within the Democratic Party but who see it as hopelessly beholden to corporations while cynically throwing identity politics bones to the left wing in order to appease them, candidates for local and state offices around the country who are endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) are having success in elections since 2016. The DSA is not a political party. It is an activist movement within and sometimes without the Democratic Party, and it endorses candidates who push its policy goals such as a $15 an hour minimum wage and getting the corrupting influence of corporate money out of politics. Michael Harrington founded the DSA in 1982, and the organization had not seen much success until the past two years, when Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders openly avowed socialist principles in his presidential campaign, for many people doing away with the stigma of socialism that Governor Dukakis had tried to wipe off himself in 1988.

Noam Chomsky in a 1989 speech analyzes the 1988 election “card-carrying member” smear.

Most of the people inspired to become members of the DSA by Senator Sanders’s example, even though he himself had never joined, were not yet born in 1988 when the Bush campaign found it incredibly easy and profitable to brand Governor Dukakis an extreme leftist and make it stick with the public. For these downwardly mobile Millennials, some of them highly educated and many of them underemployed, the myth of capitalism raising all boats is for suckers. These were the people who formed the core of the Occupy movement in 2011, and when the establishment in the Democratic Party pushed everyone to accept their Republican Lite candidate, Hillary Clinton, while using subterfuge to undermine Senator Sanders’s candidacy, leading ultimately to the debacle of the general election, some of these same politically active young Democrats turned to the DSA to work to change the Democratic Party from the grass roots on up.

As the 2018 mid-term elections approach, Cenk Uygur delivers an astute analysis of the Democratic Party establishment from a perspective to the left of the mainstream. As always in keeping a wary eye on politics and politicians, it is good advice to follow the money.

The national Democratic Party establishment is too compromised and seduced by corporate money to listen to what working class and middle class people in places like western Pennsylvania are concerned about, the same people who essentially cast protest votes for Orange Julius in 2016, as ill-advised as that may have been. The Democratic establishment will try to make the 2018 midterm elections a referendum on Orange Julius, and to a certain extent they should, but what they are missing in their tone deafness to the needs of Americans in places like western Pennsylvania and Flint, Michigan, and the dairy farms of Wisconsin, is the desire of citizens there to see Democrats demonstrating real intentions to implement policies once they are in office that will improve the lives of the majority, instead of just big money corporate donors. The national Democratic Party establishment is hopelessly out of touch with those citizens. Card-carrying DSA members, working with local and state candidates, understand positive change will only come by listening to and serving citizens directly, and ignoring the cumbersome Democratic Party establishment, which is interested only in perpetuating itself by offering the easy way out by criticizing the current president’s disastrous administration, and in replacing his corporate water carriers with their own.
— Ed.

 

All We Got Are Thoughts and Prayers

 

Thoughts and prayers, thoughts and prayers, all we got are thoughts and prayers. After the latest mass killing in America, add “warmest condolences” from Supreme Leader, friend of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and hinter at how Gun Nuts could hide behind the Second Amendment to the Constitution in order to take out his political rival in the 2016 presidential election. Nothing will be done to stop the killing. This is who we are, what we have become, a sick society.

A scene from director Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 film Full Metal Jacket with a cool, aloof discussion of two of America’s many killers, at least until the end, when one of the recruits appears to be personally affected.

Gun company stocks are up again in the last two days, after slumping since Big Cheeto took office in January. Obama was great for gun sales, because his presence in the Oval Office fed the paranoia of the Gun Nuts, despite the real power to control their activities with gun control legislation residing with Congress, which has been bought many times over by NRA lobbying. The crazy black man is coming for our guns! But of course they would use a much less genteel appellation.
A butterfly feeding on the tears of a turtle in Ecuador
Two Julia butterflies, Dryas iulia, drinking the tears of turtles, Podocnemis expansa,in Ecuador. Turtles bask on a log as the butterflies sip from their eyes. This “tear-feeding” is a phenomenon known as lachryphagy. Photo by amalavida.tv.

Big Cheeto was bad for business because the Gun Nuts believed he wasn’t about to come for their guns, but now with the latest mass killing there’s still the libruls and their Democratic allies in Congress to worry about. Better stock up! What Would John Wayne Do (WWJWD)? You better believe it. Shoot first, ask questions later, especially when confronted by one of them people, the kind who don’t stand up for the National Anthem. Amurica, love it or leave it, Commie. How did we come this far, only to fall back into the past? We never did advance as far as we supposed, only some of us did, and the rest, now with the backing of Orange Julius, are reacting against those advances – a word with a view they do not share – with massive retaliation. Making America Great Again, with warmest condolences.
― Vita