Archive for December 2011

Ron Paul

It is being reported that the young really like Ron Paul.  I can understand that. On many issues I find him appealing.  He, unlike all the other candidates including Obama, has been consistent about his beliefs, although he seems to be walking back his race baiting from back in the 90’s.  I think we all agreed with him on Iraq and has stood firm on getting out.  His stand on drugs is more in line with most young people’s thinking, which I happen to agree with, that we can live and die by our own choices and governments regulation and prohibition has not stemmed the flow of drugs.  He is a staunch supporter of our civil liberties and was opposed to the Patriot Act.  And of course he stands for smaller government, less taxation, and “states rights”.  The devil is in the details.

First on foreign policy consider this:  Say Iran decides to close the Straights of Hormuz to oil shipments because of our embargo due to their nuclear program.  Can you imagine Ron Paul going to the U.N. to form a joint military operation to reopen the straights?  Here is a guy who thinks we should withdraw from the U.N.  So not getting involved with Iraq was a correct policy choice, not getting involved with the world would be a disaster.

Remember states rights?  That was really an excuse to let states discriminate against blacks.  It took federal intervention to both integrate schools and ensure voting rights for blacks.  He would restore the power of the state to violate our Constitution.  His excuse this time is abortion where he believes the states should decide.  Discrimination by any other name…  The same can be said about gay rights.  Leave it to the states and keep the federal government out of it.  Doesn’t leave much room for the protection of our constitutional rights by the federal government does it?  He thinks we should allow prayer in schools (note silent prayers are already allowed), but fails to see the tyranny of the majority on whose prayer is the important one.

Probably what is most troubling about Paul is his view of government and taxes.  He doesn’t believe in either.  Taxes should be cut and government should be drastically reduced.  Think about all the things that you depend on government to do and kiss them goodbye.  In a Ron Paul world, only the rich could afford a first class education.  There would be no Department of Education and we would just leave it up to the states to figure it out.  There would be no Department of Energy:  “Well, the market does the energy policy and not the government. Therefore you’re not involved in trying to figure out who should get the subsidies and who should get the help, because the market would determine it.”  This doesn’t even begin to make sense and as we have seen, money talks, and who is going to stand up to the the most profitable industries in the world if you remove government?

And of course we have to get rid of the EPA and all their burdensome regulations, you know, like clean air and water.  Maybe some of you younger readers forgot about acid rain.  Coal plants with excess sulfur in their emissions were raining down as sulfuric acid in adjoining states.  Who would regulate that?  Maybe we could have interstate war.  Then he wants very low taxes.  Great.  Where do we get the money to rebuild the infrastructure?  Oh, don’t worry, the market place will take care of it.  He wants a strong dollar which makes our exports less cost effective which costs us jobs.  He wants a balanced budget and the end of the Federal Reserve, like the last 100 years of economic history tells us nothing.

So while I can sympathize with his stand on many issues, the devil is in the details.  He seems to be oblivious to the last 150 years of world progress and wants to take us back to a time when discrimination was a “state’s right”, the boom and bust cycles of capitalism could not be controlled, and his view of foreign affairs is isolationism.  I guess what I am trying to say is think it through people.  Most of us take for granted what we have that is really provided for or subsidized by the federal government, and what we have will quickly disappear if Ron Paul had his way.  Then there you would be, a young person who thought only bad things happened to other people, lying in a ditch with a serious injury and because you made a choice to not buy insurance or maybe couldn’t afford it, we will let you die.  Not the United States of America I had in mind but that is how he answered the question when pressed on the reality of his policies in one of the debates.

Eventually all of this will come out and Ron Paul will not be a serious contender for the Presidency.  But I recommend that each young person who thinks this is just the guy read his views and think deeply about how that would impact your life (Positions of Ron Paul).  These are not serious ideas for the complex problems we face today unless you want to be a survivalist and live in the woods.  He is a nice man, I like many of his views on civil liberties, foreign wars, and government intrusion into personal decisions, but that is where my interest in him ends.  The rest of what he thinks is a throw back to the 19th century and would be a giant step back for this country.

After the New Year, it will be time to look at Romney, the eventual contender.  He is also totally out of touch with America today, but his out of touchiness is rooted in his 1% status.  Anybody who seriously believes Romney has any real answers to the problems we face probably still can’t admit that George Bush really was a good Republican who lowered taxes and reduced regulation to the ruin of the country.  The sad thing is that Obama is not showing any real alternative with his policies of “too little too late”.  But if we do get a third party candidate who gets into the debates, it could force Obama and Romney to answer some hard questions about whether their plans for our future will really make any difference instead of some argument about whether the stimulus really worked or not or if Romney really was just a corporate raider, not a job creator.

Stupid,Just Stupid

“Four Charlotte-area men, at least two of whom are members of the Occupy Charlotte group, were charged early Friday after they burned two U.S. flags at the organization’s camp site in the uptown area.”  From the McClatchy Washington Bureau Newsletter this afternoon.

The 99% love their country and their flag.  This is the kind of counterproductive protest that will just sour the whole movement.  Flying the flag upside down would have been an appropriate statement, but burning the flag is offensive to all of us.  Remember the words of the pledge and think about what you are doing:  “We pledge allegiance to the flag… and to the Republic for which it stands for…”.  It stands for our Constitution in many of our minds and your actions are offensive to all of us.  Would you burn the Constitution?  Stupid is as Stupid does.  Just when you thought we were making headway, you understand the level of stupidity on both sides.

The Sad State of Football

This goes in the category of old man shouting at neighborhood kids to get off his lawn.  I watched two football games yesterday, Champs Sports Bowl with Notre Dame and FSU, and the Valero Alamo Bowl with Baylor going at it with Washington.  It was like watching two different sports eras and no, I am not talking about offensive or defensive strategy.  I am talking about sportsmanship.  Now, I will couch all this in I can only attest to what I saw on the television and I have no real idea what was going on on the field, but still…

In the Notre Dame/FSU game what I saw repeadily was jawing and taunting between players.  Have we just become just a thug grudge that we call a sport?  Guy catches a pass and then taunts the defender or after a tackle there is an exchange of what appears to be in your face tauting and jawing.  Is it really necessary?  Is this what the sport has come to?  Instead of skill against skill it is intimidation against intimidation.  Once again, I caution myself that this is anecdotal, but it appears more prevalent in southern teams, but it is spreading.

Then there are the extreme celebrations.  I got a sack so I have prepared a special tribal dance for the crowd to celebrate my wonderfulness.  It is the worst form of sportsmanship and probably learned from the pros.  I always wonder if they are oblivious to the fact that the other 10 guys on field did their job that gave you a clear path to the quarterback.  The same can be said for touchdown celebrations.  Sure, you are exuberant, and a high five or a spike is okay, but another stupid end zone dance?  In the pros they still leap into the crowd, which the first time it was done was innovative and spontaneous, but now it is just getting old.  And once again it is taunting, pure and simple.  When did taunting become an important part of the game?.  I was so disgusted by the behavior I quit watching the Notre Dame/FSU game.

So later in the evening on comes the Baylor/Washington game.  This was exciting for several reasons.  First Baylor uses the no-huddle offense and if you haven’t figured this out yet, this is the offense of the future until defenses can think and react on the field with players who are in superb shape.  But second, I did not see the nonsense I saw in the first game.  Maybe it was the pace of the game or maybe they were just better sportsman, but they did not have time for the nonsense.  It was about the game and scoring, not about wagging your….

Maybe it is a sign of the times where winning and flaunting your winning is everything.  We certainly see it in our political life where the ends are more important than the means and then once they win, the means define how they govern.  But in sports I would like to think it is will against will.  That athletes respect each other and there is still joy in the match up, not in the humbling.  Maybe I am just a grouchy old man past his time, but if that is the case, if this is the new world, I would prefer to stay in mine.

The Economy Sucks So Let’s Put the People Who Ruined it Back In Charge

The conventional wisdom out there right now is that the Republicans have an even shot at replacing Obama because the economy has not improved.  In my mind that would be throwing the present bum out so we can get a worse bum to really mess up the works.  Brilliant.  Nowhere in all this noise of the election are we talking about anything remotely resembling a plan to fix the economy or the merits of this plan.  Obama wants a jobs bill that, like his stimulus package, is too small to make a real impact, and the Republicans want more of the same, tax cuts, reduced regulation, small or ineffectual government that got us into this mess.

The 99% pointed out the most important fact out there, that there has been a mass transfer of wealth to a small percentage of the population, the “job creators” as the Republicans like to call them, yet there are no jobs.  Christmas spending was up, but people were spending what they had, but that is not growing, and of course they were buying things mostly made in China, and the status quo still doesn’t get that this is not an indication of “recovery’.  Meanwhile in Iowa, the clowns are appealing to far right with hating immigrants, completely overthrowing a woman’s right to choose, racist and homophobic ads, destroying the very government that regulates the air and water, and this goes for rational dialogue?

I think what is most amazing is that I believe there is a consensus forming that the transfer of wealth to the wealthy has hurt our economy.  Most people see the need for infrastructure improvements and are starting to understand that we will have to pay for them with new taxes.  I think they are starting to understand that austerity measures, which might be good for a family budget, are a disaster for a government that must grow out of its deficit problems.  Lower taxes, and we have the lowest in 60 years, has not stimulated business and we have decimated our treasury.  So where is the plan?  Where is the argument about the plan?  Where is any rational discussion about what we should be doing?  It simply does not exist.

Things are changing and this is not your Daddy’s democracy.  We simply cannot go back to simpler times, because there aren’t any.  We are all a twitter about the Iowa Caucasus and they mean nothing.  The real campaigns are being run in the national media.  This means the national media is going to have to step up.  Instead of reporting the horse race (which candidate is ahead, which is behind, what are the latest polls, who said what), they are going to have to start evaluating policies.  No, that does not mean a Democratic flack and a Republican flack arguing with each other, but trying to take a less partisan look at what might work from economic experts and people who really do understand history.  This means challenging untrue statements head on instead of hoping the other party will and you don’t have to worry about ruffling feathers or losing your access.  The future of the country is on the line, and our press better step up and demand a plan, and then tear it apart.  It is what we all need and it is not happening.

For my part, Republicans are brain dead.  They bring nothing new to the table and in fact offer us religious intolerance, homophobia, xenophobia, and economic ideas that have completely failed us.  They are mired in 19th century economic thought and need to be pushed right off the stage.  The Democrats are just a less evil version with no real plan for the future and ties to big money.  But the good news is that the Democrats are not the ideologues the Republican Party has become.  So if we organize, and we vote, these guys and gals can be influenced.  Based on the Republicans behavior in the last two years, they are a faith based bunch who will run the country off a cliff before they re-examine their ideas.

There will be no major policy changes between now and 2012 because of the Republicans control of the House and the use of the filibuster in the Senate.  Expect to be exactly where we are now on election day unless Europe goes south and it well may.  They have eased the borrowing crisis, but with the continuing austerity program, they will continue to need to borrow because they are killing growth, much as the Republicans want to do here.  So wouldn’t you think that one of the parties would step forward with a bold plan?  If elected, then they would have a mandate to enact it.  But what we will most likely see is a play for the middle and we continue going nowhere.  Sad isn’t it?

CNN Breaking News From the Clown Show

A person hired to collect names to get Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich on the ballot for the Virginia primary turned in fraudulent signatures, Gingrich says.

“We hired somebody who turned in false signatures. We turned in 11,100 — we needed 10,000 — 1,500 of them were by one guy who frankly committed fraud,” Gingrich told a woman at a campaign stop in Algona, Iowa.

Gingrich, who lives in Virginia, failed to meet requirements to qualify for the primary, Republican Party of Virginia officials said.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose petition to appear on the ballot was also rejected, is suing the party over the state’s law regulating access to the primary ballot.”

Do Republicans understand they are supporting incompetent and hypocritical candidates?  Let’s see, getting on the ballad is critical to actually winning an election and nobody was awake at the wheel?  For Rick Perry, that coupled with his willingness to “sue” gives a whole new meaning to hypocrisy after you have spent your career bashing lawyers and hating the judiciary.  What a sad display of what goes for leadership in the Republican Party.

Meantime Mitt continues his focus on bashing Obama and failing to mention the Republican’s role in blocking or watering down any real progressive attempt to help working people.  And really Mitt, just what is your plan for creating jobs?  Would that be cutting taxes, transferring more wealth the the wealthy, and eviscerating government oversight?  Worked so well so far.  Please, this is almost to loony for me.

Christmas Aftermath

Patio, Fire, and Sunset with the Holidays over

Well it is over and I am sad.  Two of my three children were home for the holidays and it was delightful.  I had to laugh when daughter, son, and dad were all in the garage gym working out on Christmas morning to work off those pounds.  Neighborhood gatherings (we had a pub night on the 23rd) and family gatherings are a delight for me.  I have a wonderful extended family and we all enjoy each other, warts and all.  Now they have all scattered back to their lives having  exceeded the maximum four day tolerance limit on visits with the parents, so I would like to spend a little time with some of the things that never cease to amaze me at Christmas in the venue of WTF.

The first thing that comes to mind is Christmas music.  I love Christmas music.  The trouble is the segment I love is this tiny little sliver of the whole genre of what goes as Christmas music now.  Every pop star, and not-so-pop star has put out a Christmas album.  They try to “update” the classics and they miss the whole point of the classic.  Little Drummer Boy sang as a rap song makes me want to take an uzi and commit mayhem.  If you are going to update a classic, first evaluate what makes it work and then enhance it in modern terms, don’t just arrange it in your style.

Then there are the “new” Christmas songs.  Now some of these have really worked and are now classics like Rock Around the Christmas Tree, or All I Want for Christmas is You by Mariah Carey, but for the most part they are drivel.  Write some sappy lyrics and throw in Jesus or Christmas in every other verse, sound soulful, and sing it to a tune that is awful and wallah!  You are now a Christmas song writer. “I love you and miss you, Christmas time.  Snow flakes fall and baby Jesus.  In the hood.” I don’t mean bad, I mean awful.  And the sad part is it is really hard to find good Christmas music on the radio.  On Satellite they break it into traditional, which means large choruses and symphony orchestras, or Holly where you do get more up-to-date music, but mostly the trash.  Best pick this year for Christmas Music on Satellite was XM’s Watercolors for jazz arrangements.

Next comes the Christmas movies.  I love “A Christmas Story“.  Every time I watch it I see something new that is hilarious.  But I think what I love best is when the father, played by Darren McGaven, is having more fun than the kids living Christmas through them.  I am not sure who is having more fun when Ralphie finds the Red Rider BB gun behind the desk.  I love all versions of Scrooge or a Christmas Carol, but little Tiny Tim is a little too cute and special.  My guess is he will grow up to be the guy who starts the Chicago fire and everyone says, “who would have known?  He seemed like such a sweet kid”.

When it comes to It’s A Wonderful Life, I think the King has no cloths and most people are oblivious.  Here is George Bailey doing a job he hates because someone has to do it and finally he comes to the conclusion, accurate I might add, that he hates his life and questions his existence.  So then his moron Uncle Billie loses the deposits for the savings and loan and this sends George off the rail.  But when push comes to shove, the Town shows up to save him and he thinks his life is really fulfilled.  This is the same drivel corporations use to get you to continue your drudgery for them with employee of the month, employee parking space, small promotion, or an incentive bonus.  At the end of the day you still sold yourself and your dreams down the river so other people could have theirs.  My advice to George is to chuck it, go to Paris, have fling, live a little before your 401K is worthless.

Then there is the never ending reporting on how the shopping is going and more importantly if sales are up.  This is really good news? Most of the stuff we are buying is from China and it should help their economy so they can lend us more money so we can buy more things.  And if you get my point, it says nothing about how we are doing and is simply a left over metric from when we actually made things here.   Whether people feel better about going into debt or not is not really a measure of how our economy is doing.  Here at home in the Lightner household we don’t buy many presents and try to focus on helping those who need more junk.

And finally as an added holiday bonus we get never ending news about the horse race in Iowa like anybody cared.  I personally like the special reporting on the attack ads that add so much to the feeling of comfort and joy.  Not to mention that it is somewhat depressing to think that anybody in Iowa is actually excited about this lineup of clowns.  On the other hand, if you are satiated with meaningless bowl games from universities that are demonstrating that they can’t afford a football program, a Romney-ism or Newt-ism is just the thing to get you laughing again, realizing that whoever believes this stuff probably also believe in Santa Claus and hope springs eternal.

So as I sit here on my patio in the late afternoon chill with a fire in my outdoor fireplace, sipping a wine, I bid adieu to another Christmas holiday.  I skip New Years because I can’t stay up that late and the last thing I want to be doing at the hour is driving home.  All I can say is that Christmas is over and let’s get on with spring which is a long way off.  At least in New Orleans they have Mardi Gras to get them through the dreary winter.  I do miss the King Cakes, parades, block parties, and the chanting, “Show us your…..”.   They know how to keep the party going down there and ward off the winter blues.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Feliz Navidad, Seasons Greetings, Does it Really Make a Difference?

MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM LIGHTNER VINEYARDS, HAPPY HOLIDAYS, AND PEACE ON EARTH (pick your poison). In the interest of full disclosure this picture was taken last spring. We have seen no moisture since late October.

Many people  just wish Christmas would just go away.  It is a high stress time where meeting the financial burden and expectations can get out of hand.  Get the tree, send presents to all the “right” people, hope not to offend, madhouse shopping, crass commercialism, religious tyranny, all can be part of the experience.  You know it is funny, but as a secular person I don’t care about presents anymore, but I love all the gatherings.  I do resent those who try to own Christmas and tell us that we should celebrate it under the guise of their religion.  The reality is, and what makes Christmas an important and meaningful time, is that it has many meanings to many people, but running through all the narratives is that it is a time for family, friends, and kindness, something we don’t take enough time for during the rest of the year.

Christmas has always been a time of joy for me.  I think back to elementary school and the break from tedious studies to put up Christmas decorations.  I think my first love was a 4th or 5th grader with a cute button nose who could paint and was was doing a lovely water color on our windows of Santa and his sleigh.  The best I could do with my art challenged abilities was make red and green paper chains to hang around the room.  The spell of the paste always transports me back there.  In my house, it certainly wasn’t a religious time, although to many around us it was.  But it was a time of wonder and hope.  Yes, probably (no certainly) present giving has gotten out of hand, but my family always just gave a few, but they were thoughtful.  It was the anticipation and the hope that this year you would get that Red Ryder BB gun that made Christmas a time of renewal and faith in that maybe good things could happen, that the world for a moment was good and kind.

But I think most important was that while we are all rushing through life trying to get to some distant goal or a time when we think things will be better, it is about stopping and looking and listening and appreciating just what we have.  It is about seeing the love around you and also those less fortunate and knowing we are all in this together.  Remember in the famous Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol,  when the two gentlemen are trying to get a few pounds or even a shilling out of Scrooge for the poor and reminding him that this is the time of year we should do a little something for them?  It is the time of year we set aside to think about something besides ourselves and has been for hundreds of years.

So yes there is crass commercialism, there are rude people (with pepper spray), and all the pushing and shoving that goes along with it to get the “right” gift before it is sold out.  But there are also many kind acts.  Just recognizing the existence of our fellow man with a simple “Merry Christmas” is a nice change.  It is a moment in time where we spend a few precious hours with our love ones and share a little love and charity with others, even if it is nothing more than really seeing them for a change instead of looking past them. For just a day or two we reconnect and just enjoy the moment before we jump back into the rat race trying to get somewhere instead of enjoying where we are.

And there is that light in that little someone’s eye when you fulfill a small dream for them and they hold on to that moment as an inspiration that anything just might be possible.  That in all this chaos, maybe there is a Santa Claus if only in our hearts.  Christmas at its best is a time of anonymous gifts of kindness with no obvious return, the true meaning of charity.  Whether you are religious and hold this as a sacred religious moment or you just take the time to be really human for a few short days, isn’t that enough to make this a meaningful time for all mankind and that no one really owns it?

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the Lightners

Nicholas Nickleby

One of our Christmas traditions is to watch Nicholas Nickleby (The life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby), Charles Dickens wonderful story of poverty, greed, and goodness, kind of like today.  The production that I love was filmed in 1982 at the Old Nick Theater in London and performed by the  Royal Shakespeare Company.  It is almost nine hours long and was a sold out production when they performed it over four nights.  The cast, lead by Roger Reeves as Nicholas, Emily Richard as Kate, David Threlfall as Smike, John Woodvine as Ralph Nickleby, Edward Petherbridge as Newman Noggs, and who could forget Ben Kingsley as Squeers, is superb.  If you want to see great acting and theater, this is it at its absolute best.

I first saw it around 1983 when we were living in New Orleans.  I was working days for the Army Corps of Engineers and my wife was working nights (so we could pay our bills) in a local hospital.  At that time my son was about two and I would have the evening chores that would include dinner, a bath, and then watch PBS before bed.  When Nicholas Nickleby came on I was hooked and one of my fondest memories is of my son shouting “Nickleby! Nickleby!” as he heard the overture played before each segment. He also used to shout “K-9!” when he saw a dog which would confuse my wife as she had never seen Doctor Who (another PBS standard) and was wondering just what I was doing to this poor child at night.

This time of the season is more known, of course, for Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol, but Nicholas Nickleby is by far a more in depth and complex story with the same basic theme.   Dickens lived in a time when England was experiencing the industrial revolution and for some there was great wealth.  But for most of the population it was day to day existence and for some great poverty and suffering.   Dickens was trying to awaken his fellow citizen’s empathy to those left behind and asking basic questions about the inequality of life.  One of the great things about watching or reading Dickens is that the moral argument he was making is echoing our own struggles today with competing political arguments on what should be our social safety net.  Needless to say Republicans have structured their economic theories more around Scourge and Ralph Nickleby (Get a job, let poor children clean the toilets in their schools, we can’t afford Medicare and Social Security), than Nicholas who sees the injustice.

But what makes this production so wonderful are the actors themselves.  This is a stage production and I can not imagine it produced any other way.  Their use of the stage, lighting, and minimalist props is stunning.  Creativity abounds in this production.  There are 39 actors who play over 100 parts and unless you pay close attention, you think there are 100 different actors.  The focus is on the character and all else just seems to fade away.  There was even an art in selecting the multiple roles for each character as one would be the polar opposite of the other.  It is just fun trying to identify the different actors in their different roles.  Their range is just amazing.  Ralph Nickleby (played by Robert Woodvine) is the antagonist and you love to hate him, but in one scene the actor plays a performer in an opera and his voice is just amazing.  There are so many role reversals from people you hate to people you love played by the same actor that you are just stunned by their talent.  But more important, it lends the feeling of complexity to the human experience Dickens is laying out for us.

I have watched it many times and I cannot help smiling, laughing out loud, and crying every time I see it.  It is not just the magnificent story, but it is the play within a play, the over the top characters, the sutble jibes at society and its vanity that still rings true today.  Dickens’ word play with each character’s name is hilarious.  But what always sticks with me is Smike.   Gentle Smike is the metaphor for all the helpless and needy in the world and getting past his deformities to his heart of gold is a journey worth making.  In the very end of the play, as in all Dickens’ stories, there is a happy ending.  But in the main character’s celebration of their hard won wealth and happiness is the image of a poor child, downtrodden and broken.  When Nicholas sweeps him up in his arms he symbolizes the best in all of us in caring for our fellow man. Nichols is my Christmas gift to you if you have never had the pleasure, and even if you have. Actually Dickens’ and these wonderful actor’s gifts to all of us. Happy Holidays.

Partisanship Again

One last political comment before Christmas:  This morning on my computer was a CNN Breaking News email that read:  “President Barack Obama is expected to sign the bill (payroll tax cut extension) shortly, handing a defeat to House Republicans and wrapping up a legislative year marked by repeated partisan brinksmanship and declining public approval of a seemingly dysfunctional Congress.”

IT WASN’T PARTISAN BRINKMANSHIP!  IT WAS REPUBLICAN BRINKMANSHIP!  Is it no wonder people vote these people back into office when the press refuses to name the guilty party in an attempt to be fair and balanced?

Better Watch, Better not Cry, Better not Pout, I am Telling You Why…

I see the Republicans in the House have finally got the message and are going to vote on the original payroll tax cut extension, which of course will pass. The biggie in my mind is not the pay tax cut, although important, but the extension of unemployment benefits that could have left many unemployed without any source of income. Their “face saving” measure is that they will appoint conferees who will negotiate the final 12 month extension when the Senate gets back in session. My guess is that to appease these loonies, there was an agreement among the TP (TEA Party) members to extract some real concessions (read damage to the economy). So look out. The war has just begun. Hope Democrats understand this.