The Family Dinner

 

Political centrists such as Bill Maher, the television talk show host, firmly believe that in order for Democrats to defeat the current president in the 2020 election they must choose a centrist candidate. In a recent debate on his show with documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, Mr. Maher, among his other claims promoting his view, stated that President Barack Obama ran as a centrist in his 2008 campaign and that is why he won. Mr. Moore disputed this, stating that Mr. Obama ran as a progressive populist and had the courage to list his middle name “Hussein” on the ballot. The two bet the cost of a trip to Hawaii on the resolution of their dispute.

Norman Rockwell Mural (Marion County, Oregon scenic images) (marDA0166)
A mural replica in Silverton, Oregon, of Norman Rockwell’s Freedom From Want painting, one of a series he did in 1943 illustrating the Four Freedoms articulated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Photo from the Oregon State Archives. While Mr. Rockwell was depicting an ideal promulgated by a liberal Democratic president, his choice of models and their placement in a hierarchy at the family dinner table fits in well with the current conservative mythos of how Americans should look and comport themselves.

 

It’s not clear who was right about the middle name issue and therefore who won the bet, but in any event it hardly matters since the important point is that Mr. Obama ran his campaign from the left of center and then governed from the center. In national defense matters, such as expanding his predecessor’s drone attacks around the world and vindictively pursuing whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, Mr. Obama was to the right of center. His stance toward governing should have been clear early on from his appointments of Wall Street insiders like Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers to oversee the economy.

Barack Obama was never a fire-breathing liberal and never claimed to be one, though he did allow a lot of wishful thinking from liberal Democrats who wanted to believe he was more liberal then he was. They projected their wishes and hopes onto him, and being a politician he naturally turned that to his advantage. That wishful thinking can be glimpsed in the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Mr. Obama in 2009 after he had done hardly anything to merit the award other than not being President George W. Bush. Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee do not vote in American elections, of course, but like liberal American voters weary of the belligerence and disregard for human rights of the George W. Bush administration, they were eager to project their hopes onto Mr. Obama.

Bill Maher has similarly profited from the projections of many liberals, who seem to think a person who is for the legalization of marijuana and against the policies and tenure of the current president cannot possibly be as reactionary as he really is in many ways. He is reactionary in his statements about Muslims and about gender politics and about how he believes political correctness is more corrosive to our democratic republic than the rapaciousness of capitalist exploitation. Most of all he is reactionary in his repeated assertions that no one to the left of himself among the Democrats can defeat the current president in 2020 because he believes most Americans are firmly in his, Bill Maher’s, camp on most everything that matters.



From Woody Allen’s 1977 film Annie Hall, a diversity of viewpoints and attitudes, some more subdued than others.

 

Mr. Maher is wrong about the politics of most Americans, as he is wrong about his other more distastefully retrograde beliefs. Michael Moore pointed out in their debate how Mr. Maher’s assessment of where most Americans reside on the political scale was wrong, and that they are more liberal within the Democratic Party than the Party establishment cares to acknowledge. None of Bill Maher’s views would matter if it weren’t for how they are often cited by conservative media and politicians as supporting their agenda and given extra weight by them because they are supposedly expressed by a liberal. It suits their cause to have a “house liberal” of sorts.

The fiction of Mr. Maher’s liberalism is propped up also by uncritical viewers on the left who give his pontifications on Democratic politics more respect than they deserve. Reactionary centrists such as Mr. Maher are uncomfortable with the infighting that always prevails among Democrats, and they see it as giving aid and comfort to the other side while weakening their own. People like Bill Maher may as well decry the spots on a leopard. Dissension is in the nature of liberal Democratic Party politics; it’s what differentiates them from the other side, too many members of which fall obediently into line like good little authoritarians.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald in a December 2016 appearance on The Jimmy Dore Show. Warning: one naughty word.

Bill Maher is like the brother-in-law at a large family dinner where all the members are squabbling in a free wheeling manner, and he sits there with a slight smirk, believing he’s smarter than he really is and eager to toss out a snarky remark to show he’s superior to what’s going on around him at the table. He and people like him, with an authoritarian streak in their character despite the liberality of some of their views, cannot understand how argument and dissension strengthen, not weaken, Democratic Party politics, and ultimately democracy itself. Falling in line without questioning is for autocrats and their followers. The ancient Athenians were not without their fair share of faults, but today most people recognize their society, noisy and argumentative as the scenes at their family dinner tables might have been, as more worth honoring and emulating than the authoritarian society of the Spartans, who fell in line and did as they were told by their “betters”.
— Ed.

 

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None So Blind

 

“Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not:”
Jeremiah 5:21, from the King James Version of the Bible.

With the release of the redacted Mueller Report last week by the presidential administration’s stooge at the Department of Justice, Attorney General William Barr, Democrats should finally let go of one of the beliefs they have clung to since Hillary Clinton’s defeat in 2016, namely that the other campaign colluded with the Russians in meddling with the election. Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team found it was not through lack of trying on the part of Republican campaign officials that collusion did not occur, but due to their bumbling incompetence.


Ms. Clinton is apparently still in denial about her loss in 2016. As we move further away from 2016 and closer to 2020, she becomes increasingly irrelevant unless – please no! – she throws her hat in the ring again. Mainstream Democrats have to get over the loss by first admitting one undeniable fact: The Republican candidate didn’t win the election as much as Ms. Clinton lost it, largely due to the arrogance and hubris that infected her campaign. The Russians didn’t help him win; she lost. The Democratic National Committee didn’t obstruct her progress; far from it, since the Committee colluded with her to obstruct the progress of her rival in the primaries, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Sexism undoubtedly worked against Ms. Clinton, though possibly only among those who weren’t going to vote for her anyway for other reasons.

Tissot The Pharisee and the publican Brooklyn
The Pharisee and the Publican, a painting from between 1886 and 1894 by James Tissot (1836-1902), based on a parable in the Gospel of Luke.

There are many things that would improve elections in this country, among them reforming the system of primaries and abolishing the Electoral College. Those two major improvements are unlikely to happen before 2020. What can and should happen this year and going into 2020 are impeachment proceedings against the president in the House of Representatives. There is enough even in the redacted version of the Mueller Report, as well as in other ongoing investigations, to start impeachment proceedings against this president. While impeachment is an indictment only, and not the entire procedure to eject a president from office, the public proceedings can lay before the public all the president’s misdeeds. If impeachment succeeds, will he be convicted at trial in the Republican controlled Senate? No.

It is important to proceed with impeachment of the president because it is the right thing to do, because the evidence against him mounts every day and the House is therefore obligated by law to proceed, and because no matter what Old Guard Democrats like California Representative Nancy Pelosi and New York Senator Chuck Schumer advise about waiting the president out until November 2020, they are wrong since they underestimate the value of the impeachment proceedings aside from the futility of achieving conviction. The Oval Office Blowhard wants to always make everything about him? Very well, let him have it, with day after day airing of dirty laundry.

One third of the American people are never going to be dissuaded from following this president no matter what comes out in an impeachment. Those people are lost to reason, as the president acknowledged in his notoriously accurate assessment of them when as a candidate he boasted he could shoot somebody in broad daylight and they would let him get away with it. The people who need to have the case against the president laid before them in a way they can’t ignore are the third of the people between the hard core MAGA brigade and the other third of the population, mainstream Democrats.

“Israelites”, a 1968 song by Desmond Dekker & The Aces.

Then see clearly enough to put before the voters a Democratic candidate who generates more widespread enthusiasm than a neoliberal hack such as Hillary Clinton. Give them someone who genuinely speaks for all of them, not just Wall Street while hypocritically mouthing old platitudes about helping the middle and working classes. People don’t want to be sold down the river again, as they were in the Bankers’ Bailouts of 2008 and 2009, and the only ones who could blame them are mainstream, corporatist Democrats who haven’t learned a thing from that time or from the Debacle of 2016.
— Ed.

 

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The Level Playing Field

 

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

— Barack Obama, speaking at a July 2012 campaign appearance in Virginia. Republicans quickly jumped on his comments, taking them out of context in order to convince business owners he was insulting them and their hard work and initiative.

If anyone needed a reminder there is no such thing as a level playing field, the recent college admissions scandal ought to have brought it home. There was no surprise about wealthy parents greasing the skids to get their children into prestigious universities, and no surprise about the willingness of those institutions to bend their own rules to the breaking point in order get more money in their coffers. The admissions dance between wealthy patrons and their preferred institutions of higher learning has never been particularly secret, either, as can be seen with the admission of Jared Kushner to Harvard in 1999.

 

There’s enough hypocrisy and corruption in this latest scandal to go around many times, equal in its way to college admissions standards being contorted for the benefit of the athletic program and wealthy and amoral alumni supporters who want top athletes for the school no matter how deficient their academic qualifications. Any sober scrutiny of that boondoggle would cause the implosion of most major athletic programs at schools large and small. Poorly qualified students have always entered the doors of academia, whether the ticket they or their parents proffered was wrapped in large amounts of currency or in the promise of athletic prowess.

The Education System in Britain, 1914-1918 Q30858
Eton schoolboys digging potatoes from an allotment allocated for wartime vegetable production on the school playing fields during the First World War. Photo by Horace Nicholls (1867-1941) archived in the Imperial War Museum. Unfortunately, times of dire emergency and full mobilization are required to get the rich and their progeny to pitch in and work like everyone else.

The interesting aspect to examine after the latest revelations is the idea of meritocracy, which seems to offer a delusion of an open society to the poor and the unlucky. Rich, successful people want everyone to believe they achieved their exalted station entirely through their own merits. Many of them fervently believe this themselves. They take little account of the advantages afforded them by the society at large, and especially by dumb luck. This society’s adherence to the tenets of meritocracy results in rich, successful people giving themselves too much credit for their good fortune and poor, working people accepting too much blame for their abysmal circumstances. Meritocracy serves the purposes of the rich in allowing them to excuse their selfish behavior and to have disdain for the poor.

The way the system really works on behalf of well-off individuals and organizations is that they are made to believe a successful business or investment is all their own doing, and therefore they immodestly grab the larger portion of the profits for themselves, while unsuccessful endeavors are the fault of others, usually the workers, who need to accept blame and financial losses in the form of wage cuts or termination of employment. Privatized profits and socialized losses – that’s the American Way. Top executives sit on the boards of companies to look out for the interests of other top executives, members of what has largely been an Old Boys’ Club for as long as elites have dodged responsibility to the greater society, which is to say forever.

An excerpt from the “Dumb Americans” section of George Carlin’s 2005 Life Is Worth Losing performance. Warning: foul language.

If the minimum wage had kept pace with Wall Street bonuses – not pay, but bonuses only – over the past generation, it would stand at $33 an hour today. The people on Wall Street do provide the necessary economic service of concentrating investment capital, but that service is not as vital nor the work as important as portrayed in the 1980s television advertisements for the investment firm Smith Barney, in which the actor and producer John Houseman pompously announced “They make money the old-fashioned way. They earn it.” Hogwash! And it has only gotten deeper since the 1980s, to the point we’re all drowning in it, and Wall Street investors would have everyone believe they are the driving force of the economy, not the workers who actually produce useful things. Better education is needed, starting with teaching that rich does not necessarily equate with deserving, and that money is not a measure of worth beyond its contribution to the common good.
— Ed.

 

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Buy Low, Rent High

 

“Only one in four households that is income-eligible for federal housing assistance receives any. The annual cost to taxpayers of the federal income tax deductions for home mortgage interest and property taxes, which mainly benefit relatively affluent households, is double what the government spends on all lower-income housing programs combined.”
Stockton Williams, executive director of the Terwilliger Center for Housing at the Urban Land Institute.

On February 28, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed into law a statewide rent control bill, the first of its kind in the nation. The provisions of the bill put a cap on yearly rent price increases at a percentage above inflation, and do not apply to all rental units. Tenants’ rights groups believe the bill is better than nothing and puts an end to price gouging in a tight housing market, and they will continue to push for a more comprehensive bill in the future.


The Condition of Laboring Man at Pullman 1894
Political cartoon from the Chicago Labor newspaper from July 7, 1894, showing the condition of the laboring man at the Pullman Company. The 1894 Pullman Strike was a pivotal event in redressing the imbalance between labor and capital during the first Gilded Age. In the current second Gilded Age, weakened labor unions have had difficulty increasing wages for members, and the ad hoc affiliation Fight for $15 has achieved piecemeal success.

 

Arguments over whether rent control laws really work in favor of tenants go back and forth between the usual advocates for the free market on one side and advocates for at least limited government intervention on the other. “Supply and demand” is the linchpin for argument. Points less noted are low wages and income inequality, as in too many people have too little money while the rich continue accumulating more for themselves. And with more money comes more power in equal measure.

Free market arguments ignore how over time the rich, with help from their friends in government, put their thumbs on the scales of capitalism, creating an ever more favorable environment for themselves. To conceal from the lower classes how they are being preyed upon, the rich and their enablers in academia and government concoct formulas such as “a rising tide lifts all boats”, and “trickle down economics”. The Earth is not an infinite place with infinite resources, however, and even if it were, the rich in their greed would still grab for themselves with one hand while swatting the lower orders with the other hand. In their pathology, it’s just as important that others haven’t enough as it is that they have too much.

 

The same Wall Street financiers and speculators who created the housing bubble and consequent financial crisis in 2008 are responsible for skyrocketing rental prices around the country. None of them went to jail or were even indicted and prosecuted, and they were free to take advantage of the mess they had created by using their wealth to buy up property at rock bottom prices, helping themselves to favorable government regulations they themselves had largely written. That is more than just putting a thumb on the scale, it is sitting on it like a fat cat. It’s not unusual for the rich to profit off an economic downturn because they have the money to buy when everyone else needs to sell to have any money at all. This latest example of the rich getting richer has simply been more blatant and egregious than in previous financial crises.


A World War II era sign declaring rent control rules in some localities, a program administered nationwide by the Office for Emergency Management during the war and for several years afterward to prevent price gouging.

Conservative pundits are likely to denigrate rent control laws as socialism, while praising the free market ideal of supply and demand in the housing market for setting rental prices. The problem they choose to ignore, or are possibly even ignorant of, is that the free market ideal has been a dead letter for a long time in America, if it ever actually existed outside of economics text books in the first place. What we have now is a crony capitalist system run by corporate and financial oligarchs who bend government regulations in their favor. They write the rules to benefit themselves. They ran the housing market into the ground, and then scooped up everything at bargain prices and started charging sky high rents. If renters balked at the high prices, it didn’t matter, because they had no other options. Meanwhile, the building industry limped along, maintaining the housing shortage that keeps rents high. Supply and demand economics of, by, and for the fat cats.
— Ed.

 

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Her Name Is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

 

The headlines in the corporate media after the Democratic primary victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York’s 14th congressional district on June 26 often omitted her name in favor of touting the loss by her opponent, establishment Democrat Joseph Crowley, whom the corporate media did name. Brushing aside the intentional or unintentional slight of the old boys’ club in the corporate media and Democratic party establishment, the victory of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez in the 14th district in New York, a district encompassing the eastern Bronx and part of the Queens boroughs of New York City, was a major step forward for the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), of which she is a member.

ALMA and a Starry Night
A panoramic view of the antennas of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) on the Chajnantor Plateau in the Chilean Andes against a starry night sky. The Moon and the Milky Way are visible across the center of the sky. Photo by Babak Tafreshi. The Democratic Party establishment keeps looking for new stars to lead it, ignoring the new leaders emerging from the grass roots and pushing them aside.

 

Fox News blowhard Sean Hannity posted the following list on his television show of the points in Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s platform, no doubt with the idea of horrifying his viewers with her plan for destroying America, if not all of western civilization:

  • Medicare for all
  • Housing as a human right
  • A federal jobs guarantee
  • Gun control / Assault weapons ban
  • Criminal justice reform / End private prisons
  • Immigration justice / Abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
  • Solidarity with Puerto Rico
  • Mobilizing against climate change
  • Clean campaign finance
  • Higher education for all
  • Women’s rights
  • Support LGBTQIA+
  • Support seniors
  • Curb Wall Street gambling / Restore Glass Steagall

Actually, that all sounds pretty good! Thanks, Mr. Hannity! With that agenda, it’s no wonder Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the DSA are worrying not only the retrograde part of the electorate represented by Sean Hannity, but the Democratic Party establishment lately represented by Joseph Crowley. Let’s look forward to that agenda catching on with voters and being pushed by them across the country in areas beyond the Democratic Party stronghold of New York’s 14th congressional district.
— Ed.



The ending of Ron Fricke’s 1992 film Baraka, with music by Michael Stearns.

 

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Slowed to a Trickle

 

There’s a story of how in eastern Siberia in past centuries, where the people often partook of the fly agaric mushroom, Amanita muscaria, for its mind and mood altering properties, the rich often hoarded the supply and the poor had to do without until the rich threw a party such as a wedding, at which event they could be counted on to ingest some mushrooms and, when they ventured out to urinate, the poor would somehow capture the rich people’s urine, which was still loaded with the psychoactive ingredient, and the poor would drink it for their own trippy experience. The difference between that old story and modern trickle down economics is that in the story, if true at least to some extent, the peasants actually did reap some kind of reward finally. No such evidence exists for the modern economic theory.

Gary Cohn at Regional Media Day (cropped)
Gary “Hands Up” Cohn, Director of the National Economic Council.

 

It’s a good line to trot out as cover for tax cuts for the rich, apparently, and that’s why to sell the latest tax cut package it’s been used again by current presidential administration flacks like Gary Cohn, Director of the National Economic Council and former Goldman Sachs executive. The package passed the U.S. Senate on December 2, and now it awaits reconciliation with a similar package already passed by the House of Representatives. Republican leaders in Congress hope to have the bill ready for the president to sign by Christmas. Happy Holidays! Or Merry Christmas, if you prefer that with your egg nog.

Besides selling the bald-faced lie that the tax package is somehow supposed to benefit any other economic group but the wealthy, through the voodoo of trickling down, Republicans are cramming in several other things before they tie up the package with a nice bow. One is the repeal of the individual mandate from the Affordable Care Act, which will leave 13 million people uninsured. Another is the authorization of oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. And a third is the destruction of the Johnson Amendment, which will be like a Citizens United watershed moment for right wing churches, allowing them to flood political campaigns with money from their congregations without endangering their tax exempt status. Of course, other churches, left wing or neutral, will be able to do the same, but it is the religious right that has long scorned the Johnson Amendment as an impediment to its agenda. Indeed, all three of these additions to the tax package will scratch itches conservatives have been worrying over for years or decades.

 

There are other items added to the basic tax package that will satisfy many conservatives, though surprisingly not all, and not because the tax cuts don’t go far enough, but because they go too far or are misplaced. At a presentation before an auditorium full of CEOs in November, Gary Cohn stressed that the corporate tax cuts in the new package should spur investment, and to prove his point he asked for a show of hands from those present who would increase their company’s investments. A few raised their hands, but not the majority, and certainly not as many as Mr. Cohn apparently expected, because he asked “Why aren’t the other hands up?” before quickly moving on to other business. CEOs elsewhere have also questioned the necessity of the corporate tax cuts, which is to their credit considering how greedily corporate America generally behaves.

Steven Mnuchin official portrait (cropped)
Steven “Mr. Cruella De Vil” Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury.

No, the corporate tax cuts in the latest bill are intended to benefit the financial sector, Wall Street. That’s why people like Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Gary Cohn, creatures of Wall Street, like the bill and defend it. They understand it. It means more money for themselves and their colleagues. They talk about how it will help producers of things produce more and better things, and how it will improve life for the lower orders. They believe none of that, nor do they understand it. They never produced anything. They have no interest in producing anything. They can barely conceal their contempt for people who produce things, and particularly the ones who get their hands dirty doing it.

From the 1940 Disney film Fantasia, the Chinese dancers of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker ballet envisioned as mushrooms very much like the fly agaric kind.

People like Mnuchin and Cohn and the Supreme Leader who appointed them understand only money, meaning the more of it for themselves the better, especially if it means less for everyone else. To move economic metaphors from the latrine to the marina, from trickle down to a rising tide lifts all boats, the Wall Street Greed Heads could follow a better model than trickle down by investing in the bottom, the rising tide. They don’t understand that, however, nor can they spare what little empathy they have for it, and that leaves 99 percent of the country coping with the trickled down policies the Greed Heads do understand, which is all for the few, the one percent.
― Ed.

 

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Neither Here nor There

 

The crudity and vindictiveness of Supreme Leader’s response to criticisms of his lackadaisical leadership in disaster recovery efforts for Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria has been startling even for him, a crude and vindictive man. Certainly racism and sexism play a part, as they do in much of his behavior, but in this case there is the disquieting sense there is something more at work, and as is often the case, it helps to follow the money.

 

Pg 196 - The Buccaneer was a Picturesque Fellow (tone)
The Buccaneer Was a Picturesque Fellow, a 1905 painting by Howard Pyle (1853-1911) used as an illustration in Howard Pyle’s Book of Pirates: Fiction, Fact & Fancy Concerning the Buccaneers & Marooners of the Spanish Main.

Supreme Leader dropped the clue himself when he referred to Puerto Rico’s high debt load, adding that the Puerto Ricans must nonetheless continue to repay their debts despite their currently dire situation. What an odd thing to mention in discussion of relief efforts for a population struggling for survival! Did he mean those words to be taken to heart by the Puerto Ricans, who now have more pressing worries? No, not as much as he meant his words to reassure the holders of Puerto Rico’s over 70 billion dollars’ worth of promissory notes on Wall Street.

Trump playing golf
At the 18th hole of the AT&T National Pro-Am Tournament in 2006, Supreme Leader (not his title then) leans on his golf club. The pirates have exchanged their muskets for golf clubs. Photo by Steve Jurvetson.

Puerto Rico has no representatives in Congress and no votes in the Electoral College. It is a territory, and while its people are citizens of the United States, they have no say in federal matters relating to their island. On June 11, 2017, Puerto Ricans voted overwhelmingly in favor of statehood, but the decision to make Puerto Rico a state still resides with Congress. Most Puerto Ricans identify as Democrats, and since both house of Congress currently are controlled by Republicans, it is unlikely Puerto Rico will see a change in its political status anytime soon. The island’s people are effectively second-class citizens; to become first-class citizens, they must either make their island one of the United States, or entirely independent.

Mainland political interests are against Puerto Rico statehood, and there are also economic interests against it, such as large corporations and Wall Street banks that seek to continue plundering the island, an activity made easier by Puerto Rico existing politically between the devil and the deep blue sea. Who cares if the Puerto Ricans are suffering in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which have piled on to an economic recession which started for them over ten years ago and has continued to worsen? Certainly not sociopaths like Supreme Leader and his economic advisors Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, both formerly of Wall Street.

The damage caused by Supreme Leader, Steven Mnuchin, Gary Cohn, and other members of our ruling class is far more deplorable than what Monty Python depicted in this TV sketch, but still it helps to ridicule them.

It’s not as if Puerto Rico has 38 electoral votes like Texas, where Hurricane Harvey landed, or 29 like Florida, where Hurricane Irma continued its devastation after leaving the Caribbean islands, or even 3 votes like the District of Columbia, with its population otherwise shut out of federal representation but for those 3 measly electoral college votes. Puerto Ricans have zero votes. Not one vote in the electoral college, in the House of Representatives, or in the Senate. No one speaks for them. Thanks to its colonial relationship to the United States, however, there is money to be pillaged from its poor and working class people, and what’s left of its dwindling middle class. That’s why Supreme Leader acted the way he did, and tweeted what he tweeted, because he was looking out for himself and his cronies, and that’s his real constituency. Why would he care one way or the other about the Puerto Ricans?
― Ed.

 

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An Ounce of Prevention

 

The American system, and perhaps the American character as well, has always favored coping with the damage from disasters as they come over doing all that can be done beforehand to mitigate the severity of damage. The insurance industry is aligned toward dealing with the aftermath rather than encouraging preventive measures, as is the government, which tends to label regulations designed for prevention as socialist intrusions. It’s the same philosophy that guides the economic system, which is all for free market capitalism on the front end when businesses are making profits for the few, but resorts to socialism on the back end when things go sour and losses are then spread out among the many. “Heads I win, tails you lose,” says the Wall Street tycoon, and friends in government chime in “Yea, verily.”

 

Unrestricted urban and suburban development covers acreage that drained itself adequately with concrete and asphalt that does not absorb water. That seems obvious, and the necessity for a drainage system capable of handling all the runoff also seems obvious. Certainly there are some events, such as the unprecedented rainfall in Houston from Hurricane Harvey, that would stretch any drainage system to the breaking point. Extraordinary events require extraordinary preparation, a methodology well known among engineers, who are trained to design and build structures and systems to withstand the extraordinary. Engineers’ best efforts can be hamstrung, however, by ideologically and greed driven government leaders and business executives, the effect of which can be seen when disaster strikes and destruction of life and property is greater than it needed to be.

1927 Mississipppi Flood Blowing Levee
Dynamiting through a levee during the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 to create an artificial crevasse at Caernarvon, St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, 14 miles below New Orleans. The crevasse was created to take pressure off levees at New Orleans. Archival photography by Steve Nicklas.

The acknowledged masters of hydro engineering, the Dutch, have recently changed their philosophy about coping with excess water from staving it off to flexing with it. Bend, to keep from breaking. That has always been the way with nature, of course, where coastal wetlands have served to absorb the brunt of ocean surges, and where floodplains served as safety valves for swollen rivers. Holding water back with fortifications has always been expensive and unreliable. Water is relentless, and it will find a way.

 

Aerial photograph of flood, unidentified stretch of lower Mississippi River. - NARA - 285960
A flooded town on the lower stretch of the Mississippi River in 1927. Photo from the National Archives and Records Administration.

Creating concrete and asphalt jungles willy nilly without regard to anything other than the almighty dollar is foolishness, and ultimately a price will be paid. In the American system, unfortunately, that price is often borne by the society as a whole, and especially by the poor, but certainly not by the wealthy or by the government leaders who created the mess. Breaking up the concrete and asphalt jungle with permeable pavement, a construction practice that has been around for over fifty years and needs to be used more widely, is one way to forestall some urban flooding. Installation costs for permeable pavement are higher than the traditional kind, but it has other benefits and cost savings that offset the higher up front price tag. It’s not a perfect solution, but nothing can be. It’s a step in the right direction.

One of the arguments some business people and their mouthpieces in government often advance against green methods applied to development are that they create too much red tape, leading to a bad environment for business and a net loss of jobs, besides being downright socialist, which of course is an accusation that is supposed to make all the Greens (environmentalists, tree huggers – choose your own epithet) run away and hide themselves in shame. Too bad. If the true costs of bad environmental practices were borne by the businesses and governments that engage in them, they would change their tune.

A 1974 song written and sung by Randy Newman about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, and about American society.

If businesses paid their workers a living wage, fewer of those workers would need to rely on government assistance to make ends meet. If businesses that made money here and took advantage of the national infrastructure were required to have corporate offices here, and therefore required to pay their fair share of taxes to help support infrastructure improvements, then maybe the country wouldn’t be falling apart while a select few get obscenely rich at the expense of everyone else. If, in other words, we stopped allowing some businesses and their allies in government to slough off hidden expenses on society at large, we could make progress toward a less dangerous future. But it’s going to take a change of heart, of character, to turn this backwards system around and look at green development as the only sensible way forward for everyone, instead of being led by the nose by those whose view of development looks backwards and serves only themselves.
― Izzy

 

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Mnuchin in Love Nest with “Actress”

 

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and his new bride, “actress” Louise Linton are the very latest models of a Washington power couple. The two gaga lovers tied the knot in June in a ceremony attended by Washington, Wall Street, and Hollywood elite. You were not invited. Mr. Mnuchin, fresh off his stint foreclosing on old ladies for his company, OneWest bank, was sworn in to his new gig as Treasury Secretary in February in an exclusive Oval Office ceremony attended by only a select few. Ms. Linton was there, because even though she and Steve hadn’t gotten hitched yet, she was still his very significant other.
Steve Mnuchin swearing in
Steve Mnuchin swearing in, with P. and V.P. in attendance, and the fabulous Louise Linton looking on soulfully. Now that’s acting! Wish you could’ve been there – not!

The two lovebirds have been caught up in controversy lately – oh, that liberal media! – which really amounts to nothing to people who know what’s really important, like shopping! First, the Mnuchster had to fend off a plea from his Yale (only the best schools) classmates asking him to consider resigning from his post in the administration due to some unfortunate remarks made by his boss – again, it’s the liberal media stirring up trouble! No way, he replied, I’m in this for the long haul and there’s plenty of draconian fiscal measures I have yet to implement with the boss’s blessing. Besides, all that brouhaha was stirred up by the liberal media mischaracterizing the words which spilled out of El Supremo’s mouth. The words (only the best words) would seem to indicate he is a white supremacist and a neo-Nazi sympathizer, but that’s only if you slant things by listening to the words in the order he said them.

Lionel Barrymore as the greedy, unscrupulous Mr. Potter tempts James Stewart’s George Bailey in the 1946 Frank Capra film It’s a Wonderful Life.

Shortly after that kerfuffle, the newly minted Mrs. Mnuchin, “actress” Louise Linton wrote some things on Instagram that the plebeians expressed indignation about, and Louise had to set them straight. To paraphrase, she told them to eat Little Debbie snack cakes, or whatever horrid stuff you working class dullards stuff in your mouths with your pudgy fingers. Louise and her figure are too fabulous to touch that kind of ick! Anyway, it all started with a plane trip to Fort Knox in Kentucky that Louise and hubby made – coincidentally! – on Monday, the day of the solar eclipse, in a place where the eclipse was near total. Fabulous! but a total coincidence, mind you! So there was a government plane involved, the shopping and eclipse viewing were fantastic! Eat your Little Debbie fudge fingers, or whatever they’re called, and shut up!

The talented and charming Eva Gabor sings the praises of luxury while Eddie Albert sings of integrity and honest toil. It’s not so much that they were giants in those days of the late 1960s, as that we have sunk to the bottom of the barrel since then.

That’s the news from the upper crust, your fabulous betters. You may return to your hog slopping or whatever it is you do, you pathetic prole. And pay up on that mortgage, slacker! Now go away.
― Ed.

 

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Help for the Needy

 

Hikers in the nation’s parks and wilderness areas can find themselves in trouble due to accident or an unforeseen change in the weather for the worse, but all too often some of them find themselves in trouble due to their own carelessness and poor judgment. When search and rescue teams are called in to help reckless hikers, who should bear the cost?

Looking at the demographics of hikers, the majority are middle class or higher, and compared to the population as a whole they are wealthier and better educated than the average. Most hiking expeditions require expenses in travel and gear over $1,000, and available leisure time that doesn’t take away from the basic costs of living. Poor and working class people don’t have the wherewithal or the time for trips like that to the great outdoors. Since many of them are involved in physically demanding jobs, they are also probably less inclined to see the appeal in hiking around the backwoods during their free time.


Recreation spots in the nation’s Southwest are the busiest year after year for search and rescue operations, and with record setting heat there this summer, the need for search and rescue is greater than ever this year. If it’s hotter than ever, why are there not fewer search and rescue operations necessary? Considering the dangers, are there not fewer hikers out on the trails? Are not ill-prepared hikers, in particular, heeding the warnings and staying off the trails? Apparently not.

Caspar David Friedrich - Wanderer above the sea of fog
Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, an 1817 painting by Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840).
When well-heeled people set off on an adventure they have the resources and time for, no one should interfere or try to stop them. The National Park Service (NPS), to name one organization administering hiking areas, has no desire to get caught up in the liability nightmare of being responsible for the well-being of every person visiting the areas under their jurisdiction. Visitors are on their own for the most part, and signs and literature to that effect are evident everywhere. The NPS and other organizations regularly post warnings on the premises about various hazards, including excessive heat. Still, they are loathe to close down trails on very bad days because of the inevitable outcry from visitors. Visitors are using up vacation time, and they want the park’s services and areas to be open and accessible during the time they have available.

From the 1983 movie National Lampoon’s Vacation, starring Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo, a scene set in the locale made famous by the director John Ford in his westerns, Monument Valley, on the border of Utah and Arizona. Warning: foul language.

 

It seems, however, that some hikers take a libertarian attitude into the park when they set off from the trail head, but adopt a socialist attitude later, when they are lost, dehydrated, and woefully unprepared for the worst case scenario. Oddly enough, in Europe, where socialist policies are more prevalent than in the United States, making unprepared or reckless hikers pay for their own search and rescue operation is the norm. In this country, New Hampshire has struck a balance between taxpayer-funded search and rescue and reimbursement from rescued hikers. Other states and federal organizations could follow the New Hampshire model. It is entirely better than the Wall Street model much in use now, in which people of decent means or better embark on an endeavor of their own choosing, outside of the course of merely obtaining a living in order to accrue benefits beyond that, and when things go well for them they say it was all their own doing and they are entitled to all the benefits, but when things sour they seek to shed the blame and share the losses.
― Ed.

 

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