Archive for June 2016

It’s the Economy Stupid!

ISIS! Muslims! Hordes at the border! They are taking our guns!  Right to life! No, that is not it.  For the umpteenth time, it is the economy, and the economy is not working for the middle class so all the rest comes into playing a blame game.  What I found so interesting is conservatives, no matter what continent they are on, still haven’t got it.  Their economics don’t work for most of us.  David Cameron, Prime Minister of Britain, was taking a beating over Brexit from Parliament yesterday and he fought back by telling them that Brexit had nothing to do with the economy or his austerity politics.  Denial at its pinnacle.

He still sees it as a reaction to the high handedness of the EU and fear of immigration.  In reality, all are simply manifestations of the middle class feeling left out by their government and the EU when it comes to their welfare:

So while defenders of the European Union have evidence to show that the bloc is democratic, this misses the point. Democracy, after all, is about more than elections. It’s also about accountability: whether the government is responsive to the citizenry. 

Certainly what is happening is that while the economy is working very well for the 1% who also have the political power, it is not working at all for the middle class.  Cameron with his austerity politics and failure to see the connection between a degrading standard of living and Brexit is a prime example of this. Let’s take that lesson and see how it applies here where we have the same “take back our government” sentiment which is the overt expression of a lack of satisfaction with the people’s economic state and “I am mad as hell and not going to take it any more.”

I would be the first to tell you that government has not been responsive to any of our demands, left or right.  Had it been, we could then have an honest referendum on economic ideas.  What it has been responsive to is corporations, the wealthy, and the status quo.  The right wing base has some mindless ideas about the economy and many other things, but when they elected their boys and girls to Congress, nothing changed.  The left did the same thing in 2008, they did not do much, nothing changed, and they got shellacked in 2010, and have claimed impotence against a Republican House since then.  Nothing changed.

Had either one really taken charge and implemented their strategies for the future, we could have had a real test of which works.  But instead what we have gotten is finger pointing.  “THEY are to blame obstructing our way forward.”  That is what the Bernie, Donald, and Brexit are all about.  Sadly, the Donald and Brexit used racism, nativism, and xenophobia to stoke anger and irrational policies that cannot possibly be implemented or work.  Bernie offered a vision of where we ought to be going, but got labeled politically impractical given the politics of Congress, when the status quo is no longer politically practical, which is the signal establishment politicians are getting from the electorate these days.

I think it gets very simple.  The Donald, after all the smoke and mirrors, is about conservative economics as usual (not withstanding insane ideas about trade, immigrants, civil rights, religious rights, separation of powers, executive power, international laws).  Tax cuts for the wealthy, benefits for large corporations, and the free market will solve all problems. That is what created a system where all the benefits of a growing economy go to the wealthy.  Most of his supporters maybe understand economic inequality, but have failed to connect the dots between conservative economic ideas and their cry for freedom, and that economic inequality.  They really don’t understand that the economy has grown, but the way it is structured, all the benefits went to a few with no flow down to them.  Trump is more of the same.

What we have in this election is the economy and nothing but the economy.  Anger and irrational politics comes out of the frustration of feeling left out.  See Black Lives Matter*. To win this election, and more importantly change the direction of the country you have to tap into this anger.  It won’t be done by explaining by rational argument against irrational ideas.  It will be done by pointing out the real culprit, austerity politics coupled with economic inequality, and going after real changes to our economic system. Barack Obama can point out an improving economy but that has not flowed down to the 99%.  It is a recognition the old system and way of thinking doesn’t work.  If you are not tapping into that, you are not going to succeed.

*Black Lives Matter members are frustrated for a real reason, systemic racism.  But they are pursuing politics of the 60s that failed then and will fail now.  Remember when they interrupted a Bernie rally?  Who is the enemy again?  Now they plan a sitdown at the Democratic Convention.  Who is the enemy again?  I would argue that in many ways they are looking for someone else to fix their problems by these tactics and that is the definition of failure.  They should be organizing blacks to vote and become a power that way.  Who is it again that stays away from the polls in off-year elections and lets Republicans into office?  How come black voting in black majority areas are low?  See Ferguson that had an all white city council.  Well, it is food for thought.  Meanwhile while Black Lives Matter has a good issue, they keep shooting themselves in the foot with anger politics.

The State of the State

San Diego – If you want the state of the economy, ride in Lyft or Uber.  Since we got here the car has not moved and we take Lyft everywhere.  I took Lyft to the Coastal train station yesterday, rode the Coastal into San Diego, and the Trolley (Light Rail) to the ball park.  Coming home I shared a Lyft with my son and his friend Indro.  The most I have had to wait for a ride is 4 minutes, no parking hassles, and interesting conversation. So help yourself to that third glass of wine.

But what is really interesting is seeing who they were and why they were driving for Lyft.  Note many are Lyft/Uber drivers depending on the volume of calls.  Some were supplementing income from another job.  One was an interior decorator between decorations.   But most were struggling, changing careers, going back to school, and looking for meaningful work. When I asked what that meaningful work would be, they weren’t entirely sure.

So here is the first thing I came away with.  The economy doesn’t offer many really good paying jobs, and many well into their late 20s still are not sure what it is they really want to do, much less find employment in it.  Most were well educated, with college degrees.  One was a kindergarten teacher that wanted to go back to school to become a nurse.  Oh, and she had two kids so that was not going to be an easy choice, much less find the money. One was a ex-Tibetan monk , “can you believe that?”, who was having a blast meeting interesting people driving a luxury car for Uber.

As I sit around the pool at my hotel writing this blog, I see young, well dressed, well educated people rolling their suitcase behind them heading off to the airport to go somewhere else after business here.  Obviously well paid and professional (one I talked to was into biotech), He told me about how his company would rent out PacBell park for events, but a platinum traveler for sure.  The hotel is right across from UC San Diego in La Jolla.  That’s the two worlds I see here and I am not sure either are very happy at what they do (Except for the ex-Tibetan monk who seem very happy).

I guess my point is that, especially from the Lft/Uber drivers I found a class of young people mostly looking for a path in life.  Weren’t we all.  But when I was their age I had a path when I figured out authority and I were not good bedfellows (Air Force), and I was more interested in structural engineering than electrical.  College was affordable, the VA was there to help me, and later in my job with the Corps of Engineers they offered lots of training to advance my skills.  Today, that is so much harder and college is certainly not affordable.  Even the professional class I see at my hotel will be affected by the rapid pace of change and their ability to learn and adapt to it.

That is what I think government is for, or at least one of the things.  In reality our happiness and feeling of security is all about the economy and how we fit into it.  The government is our collective attempt to provide the means and access so we can in fact adapt in an ever rapidly changing economy.  College and advanced training should be available to everyone.  If you are willing to do the work, you can go.  There should be a safety net for people in transition. There was for me. And for god’s sake, health care should be universal.  We are all going to struggle.  We are all searching for our niche.  Some will find it, others won’t.  But there should be a path, if you are willing, to get there.

Just as an aside, Republicans think there is.  If you work hard you will be successful.  Most of us know from just looking around that a lot of people work very hard, and they are not successful.  Government job is to level the playing field so if you can play, and play hard, you could take the jobs of some of those Republicans who are sitting on their fat white asses assuming every one else is lazy.

Brexit, Bernie, Hillary, and the Donald

Well let’s start with the Donald:

Trump seemed particularly annoyed that the United States feels the need to act lawfully. “We have laws; they don’t have laws,” the GOP candidate said last night in Ohio, adding, “Their laws say you can do anything you want and the more vicious you are the better.”

From there, Trump transitioned to emphasizing his support for barbarism. “You have to fight fire with fire,” he declared. “We have to be so strong. We have to fight so viciously. And violently because we’re dealing with violent people viciously.”

Trump added, “Can you imagine [ISIS members] sitting around the table or wherever they’re eating their dinner, talking about the Americans don’t do waterboarding and yet we chop off heads? They probably think we’re weak, we’re stupid, we don’t know what we’re doing, we have no leadership. You know, you have to fight fire with fire.”

In a CNN interview, Trump went on to say he intends to “change our law on, you know, the waterboarding thing” in order to “be able to fight at least on an almost equal basis.”

I think he already uses torture, but on us.  I guess all the people who really know something about the efficacy of torture and brutal tactics, and how it creates more enemies than we can find, the Generals in the Pentagon who actually have fought these wars, are just flat wrong.  Donald, after all, has been quite successful at financially and mentally torturing those who work for him.  Apparently Atilla the Hun is a role model for how to fight wars.  I think Donald has no idea that most of these wars are about ideas not tactics, and it is the ideas where we really haven’t engaged yet.

Okay on to Brexit.  Angela Merkel said what I said yesterday, that there is not going to be a golden parachute for Britain leaving the EU.  “They would not enjoy the benefits of membership — like access to Europe’s single market — while sloughing off its burdens.”  I really wonder if they are going to do it, leave that is.  In reality Parliament must vote and while David Cameron said, “I am sorry we lost the referendum but you have to accept the result of the British people, you have to accept the verdict, I’m a democrat,” in actuality they are a representative democracy. That is supposed to be a firewall to the rampaging masses. Cooler heads in Parliament could do the smart thing, but that would take political courage and I don’t see that happening.

Of course what happens if Scotland’s parliament has to give it’s consent and won’t?  I see all kinds of legal problems here. I believe the morning after their anger binge with no thoughts to the consequences is the worst hangover they have ever had.  Sure there are problems with the EU, but like the Donald in America, this particular cure is worse than the disease.  Oh, and in case you are wondering, immigration while a much bigger issue in Europe than here, was never the issue.  Economic inequality and the results of austerity were the cause of all the malaise.

Hillary and Bernie.  Let’s start with Hillary.  She is having a field day because all she has to do is wait for the Donald (see above) to open his mouth, and she can eat him alive.  The problem is that while there is no question Hillary would be a fine commander-in-chief for foreign affairs, that is not the issue.  The Donald is all over immigration, and ISIS, and Muslims, and Trade Agreements, and that is not the issue.  The issue is economic inequality and austerity, just like in Britain and Europe.  All the rest are reactions or fears, but at their heart is the economic malaise felt by working class people.  All the rest are targets of displacement. (Note even Tom Friedman gets this one).

Bernie wrote an op-ed today in the NYT called Democrats Need to Wake Up .  It spoke directly to the causes of the malaise and anger, but was short on specifics and mechanics of fixes*.  Hillary on the other hand notes the anger, but her specifics don’t really go after a restructuring of the economic system (incrementalism).  Trade is a good example.  Both are now against the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership).  Many think Hillary is pandering since Barack will probably have it in place prior to her taking office.  Bernie and the Donald are just against it.  But as always the devil is in the details.  As Thomas Friedman pointed out about the Brexit, it gets dumbed down to a binary argument, thumbs up or thumbs down.  It is not that simple (TTP Again?).  The test should be are its benefits shared by all our stakeholders or just the 1%?  Then fix it appropriately.

Finally, let me comment on the bombing in Ankara. It’s tragic. Let’s have a moment of silence.  Okay I am being trite, hypocritical, and callous.  But it is like coverage of a car wreck, over and over again.  So I kind of turn it off as I expect most Americans do.  We are all about the mechanics of the wreck (bombing) and the suffering and we little or nothing about the war of ideas.  Sadly, if we took that on, while it might intensify the war in the short term (they would be mad as hell), it is the long term strategy to ending radical islam’s pull on dead enders.

Okay, off to the Padres ball game.  Beer, sun, and the boys of summer.  Everyone should enjoy these moments.

*Both the Roosevelt Institute and the Economic Policy Institute have laid out specific economic plans to deal with economic inequality and restructure our economy to work for all of us.  Hillary argues that it is not politically realistic and her way of incrementalism will get us there.  People in Britain and in America, I believe, aren’t buying that anymore.  That is what Donald, Bernie, and Brexit is telling us.  They are saying stand up and fight for change because we don’t believe in the system anymore.  Hillary needs to not only adjust her message, but really embrace those messages if she wants to be one of the greatest President we have ever had.  She can do it quite frankly, I am just not sure establishment Democrats quite get it yet.

Tuesday Morning

Okay, I am in the land of ocean breezes and beautiful people (San Diego) so that may take the edge off my blog.  Visited some friends last night who are living on a boat down here.  That might work.  As always the drive down was grueling although amazingingly enough going through LA at 10 a.m. (Yes we got up very early) was a breeze with no stop and go.I have already chronicled (Going Crazy on I-5) the major frustration with drivers so I won’t go there again except for this:  Do they not see what is happening ahead of them and act accordingly?  You can say, “This guy is going to panic and swerve over so be ready.” And sure enough, at the last moment they see it.  That, and erratic driving for cellphone/texting is everywhere. If driving on the freeway is any indication of the capabilities of the human race, kiss your ass goodbye.

Oh well.  In the news five out of the eight Supremes got that Texas had no interest in the health of women, but was just trying to outlaw abortions.  Makes you wonder what the other three are smoking.  None of us doubts Clarence Thomas is an ignorant idealogue, but the other two?  Well we see that when it counts, the Republicans were very successful at politicizing the court and making democracy weaker for all of us.  On there decision on the Virginia Governor. I have to go with them on that one.  While there is no question he was a sleeze, the prosecution, kind of like in the O.J. Case, was badly flawed and over the top.  It was power out of control on one side, and the arrogance of the office on the other.  Just another reason to get money out of politics.

I see where the two year Benghazi investigation has released its report and there is no there, there.  Surprise.  Don’t you have to wonder about the people who want to “take back their government” and get rid of waste are the people who put these Republican witch hunters in office.  While we are on smear Hillary, let me just say one more time, there is no there, there with the emails.  It was stupid.  It shows a paranoia developed over thousands of right wing attacks, but it does not reflect an attempt to hurt the country.  I would guess Hillary, like most people her age is not that savy on tech and left it to others to set up.  Were laws broken? Maybe the letter of the law, which is arcane and confusing given the multitude of classification standards, but there was no intent.  Never had an oppsey moment?

On Brexit, I heard Secretary of State John Kerry  yesterday explain how we have to settle markets and work with Britain to make this a calm move and to ease markets.  I understand that, because people, innocent people suffer.  I also, while in his position would say the same thing, would hope it hurts like hell.  There has to be consequences for ignorance and stupidity.   What Britain did, which is what the American people are poised to do with Donald Trump, is ignore facts, data, and history to be implusive, and could and will make the world a much more dangerous place.  Note that the vote was also split between young and old, where the young wanted the freedom to travel and work where they wanted, much more comfortable with diversity, and the old, wanting an England that does not and never did exist.  Again, can we learn nothing here?  See Roger Cohen’s accurrate analysis of what happened and what has been lost in the NYT.

Lastly, I see where Edward Snowden has stood up to a law in Russia that would limit free speech.  Let’s make no mistake, Putin, admired by Trump, is an authoritarian thug.  Fits right in actually.  But I worry because Putin let Edward stay in Russia to stick a finger in Obama’s eye, a finger I did applaud and support.  Edward did the country a favor and those who argue if that is the case he should come back here to make his case had no idea how rigged the system is and how many people Edward embarassed.  At any rate I wonder if there is a Jason Bourne out there somewhere who could smuggle him out of Russia and to a more friendly country?  I can dream can’t I.

 

Connecting the Dots

Fareed Zakaria on CNN was having a panel discussion about Brexit (two against, one for) and he was interviewing Zanny Minton Beddoes who is the Editor-in-Chief of the Economist (and quite British) and this is what followed:

Fareed: Zanny is there a solution to that issue (free movement of people in the European Union) because at the heart of the Common market as you point out is the free movement of people.  There are hundreds of thousands of East Europeans living and working in London and paying taxes.  Is there a way to get the benefits of economic globalization without this free movement of people?

Zanny:  Well I think there is going to be a conversation within this country and Europe about what limits you might put on the free movement of people or how you can have the principle like perhaps to prevent the really extreme surges, but I think it is important to think about this is people, a lot of people as you said in your introduction, who are voting against this.  It is not that they don’t care about economics, they just don’t feel that they benefited from the economic boom.  

They have had a very very tough time in the past few years since the financial crisis.  Their living standards have gone down and I think in many ways this is much as it is in America, a protest of anger against stagnant living standards and the feeling that those metropolitan elites in London, you know, the establishment, don’t understand what life is like in the rest of Britain and I think this begs the question, of what, for those of us who believe in globalization, who believe in the benefits of liberalism and nationalism, what, what can we do to shore up support for that, and I think demands a kind of progressive agenda that ensures that enough of those people see gains that they are willing to retain some openness, and I think it is incumbent on everybody who wants to get those gains to come up with a much better response.  

In this country remember we have had years of austerity, and the reason people were cross, it is not that some people were xenophobic, but a lot of people who voted to leave were not at all xenophobic, but they’re worried about how to get a doctor’s appointment, overcrowded school rooms, rising house prices, very real problems and challenges they face, that are frankly the result of insufficient investment in the UK, and in some sense the result of austerity politics.

Okay let me unpack this because there is a ton in there for us to pay attention to.  While xenophobia was a driving force, the real root cause was economic dissatisfaction throughout the country.  If you were college educated, you were mostly for staying in.  If you weren’t you wanted to leave.  That tells a fairly definitive story about who the economy is working for.  Now there are two things here, income inequality and austerity.  Let’s start with austerity.

The Brits and the conservative government of Prime Minister David Cameron pursued austerity as an answer to their economic woes and as Paul Krugman and the rest of Europe has shown us, austerity does not help the economy in a recession, it just makes it worse.  The data is massive.  Austerity in an already depressed economy simply contracts the economy more. No, it does not create confidence, it bankrupts the little people. Cameron is like many in the Republican Party, believes austerity is a prudent economic step to stay within budget, when facts, data, and history tells us it just further contracts the economy and makes it worse in a recession.

Second, Cameron promised a vote on membership in the EU back in 2013 as a promise to those in his own party who were pushing for Brexit as a ploy to stay in power and get re-elected.  So I guess we have two things going on here,  Not learning the lesson of austerity politics, and unwise political pandering for short-term gains.  See any parallels in this country?

Now comes the second lesson, economic inequality.  None of people outside the metropolitan areas were sharing in the recovery.  Again, sound familiar?  As economic inequality grew, flow down  (rich get richer but invest their new money in jobs and industries that benefit us all) did not exist.  So what Zanny is arguing is very simple.  If economic globalization and its benefits are going to be pursued, we have to find ways to make sure that everyone benefits.  Oh, and dare I say it, she recommends progressive policies to do just that.  The free movement of people, capital, and enterprise has been a boon, but for only a select few, and we have to restructure the system to make sure everyone is included.

The Brits voted to withdraw from the Global Economy.  The less connected we are, the more likely we will come into conflict, fighting for limit resources and gain, and we reinvent pre-WWII Europe.  The Right is on the rise and xenophobia is being stoked.  But immigration is the scape goat.  The British economy has actually benefited from immigration.  It is not the cause of their economic problems, that would be economic inequality and the impacts of austerity on the Middle Class.

Okay to further connect the dots, Andrew Solomon, Professor of Clinical Psychology at Columbia University was also on Fareed talking about his wide ranging observations having traveled and written about the world.  It is a wonderful interview, but here is what he said on the collapse of Libya:

I made the mistake of thinking that if they got rid of that system (the Gadhafi Government in Libya) that was so awful, that something better would have to rise in its place, and what happen instead is that it went into a state of complete chaos, and even the patriotic Libyans I met when I was there have mostly tried to flee it if they possibly can.

Many people make the mistake of thinking that democracy and justice are the natural default states and if you move all the impediments to those qualities, that is what will rise up, and what I learned as a personal lesson in dealing with Libya having argued that we should support the attacks against Gadhafi is that the natural state to which people default is not democracy and is not order, but is a terrifying violate brutal chaos.

What does that say to Liberalism and Conservatives who think government should be emasculated?  Right now, the Brits think they want to withdraw from a European government so they can be more in control of their own fate.  But are they not unleashing the very forces of intolerance and selfishness that is the first sign of the breakdown of society?

Professor Solomon makes us stop and think what makes up democracy and how do we build and maintain it.  It doesn’t grow freely in “free” societies. Conservatives and Libertarians want to tear it down in the belief that the natural state will be full rights and freedom.  Brits want to reject the EU (and with some justification), but their solution is the same as the Libertarians and Conservatives, less government.  You might want to rethink that as your economy crumbles.  There are dots here to be connected as I am sure Fareed intended, but will we?

Oh, and one other thought:  I wonder if the writers of Mr. Robot have considered Professor Solomon’s observations as the hackers free us from our financial tyranny.  It is one thing to bring the system down, it is another to establish order and justice.

Maybe Getting the Message

There was a story in the NYT this morning (‘Brexit’ Revolt Cast a Shadow Over Hillary Clinton’s Cautious Path) about how the Hillary campaign might be seeing the real problem in the Brexit vote that I have been raving about for months in this blog:

Mrs. Clinton shares more with the defeated “Remain” [Brexit] campaign than just their common slogan, “Stronger Together.” Her fundamental argument, much akin to Prime Minister David Cameron’s against British withdrawal from the European Union, is that Americans should value stability and incremental change over the risks entailed in radical change and the possibility of chaos if Donald J. Trump wins the presidency… But prudence is cold comfort to people fed up with more-of-the-same.

According to their friends and advisers, Mrs. Clinton and former President Bill Clinton have worried for months that she was out of sync with the mood of the electorate, and that her politically safe messages — like “I’m a progressive who gets results” — were far less compelling to frustrated voters than the “political revolution” of Senator Bernie Sanders or Mr. Trump’s grievance-driven promise to “Make America Great Again.”

And while many of Mr. Sanders’s supporters are expected to support her in November, she has not recalibrated her message to try to tap into the anger that he and Mr. Trump channeled.

It is a recognition of what Bernie is campaigning on, sans the xenophobia, racism, and nativism; money in politics and economic inequality makes the system only represent the rich. And that anger is not irrational, but quite rational. The system and incrementalism are not working to deal with this problem.  The lesson of the Brexit is two fold:  First, people are truly angry with the existing system, and second that the supposed cure (the Donald anyway) may be worse than the disease, but people don’t care.  The fact that the anger may not be rational is beside the point.

While Mrs. Clinton is counting on Mr. Trump’s history of racist and sexist remarks to doom his candidacy, Thursday’s Brexit referendum was an unnerving reminder that voter anger is deeper and broader than many elite politicians and veteran pollsters realize. In swing states like Ohio, many Democrats and Republicans yearn for an economic comeback and are not confident that Mrs. Clinton understands their frustrations or has the ideas and wherewithal to deliver the sort of change that could satisfy them.

The article also sees the establishment Democratic Party at work, underestimating both the anger and the malaise in the country that experienced leadership won’t sooth.

Several Democrats cautioned against drawing too many lessons from the Brexit vote, saying mass immigration and economic malaise were bigger problems in Britain and the European Union than in the United States. They also said many British voters were revolting against a bureaucracy in Brussels that they regarded as bloated, overpaid and prone to interfering in the affairs of sovereign countries.

First, there was no “mass immigration” into Britain, just a trumped (pun intended) up immigration, the same as in the United States.  On the bureaucracy in Brussels, you don’t think Trump supporters, Libertarians, and many Independents (See George Will, newly independent) who are reacting to “stupid” government don’t think Washington is “bloated, overpaid and prone to interfering in the affairs of sovereign countries (read states)?”

It is exactly the same phenomenon and we have been fed an endless stream of this nonsense for years by the Republican noise machine, unchecked by our media in a he said/she said failure of journalism.  Establishment Democrats think this is just a temper tantrum and we can go back to business as usual and the clear message is that will not suffice.  Here is what scares me:

But she was not surprised that the “Leave” campaign won, her advisers said Friday, because she understands the extent of voter anger. Her advisers said they were confident the referendum in Britain did not mirror the presidential election in the United States.

Yes they do exactly.  Sadly in both Britain and the United States, the voters have been fed noxious lies by politicians and the media who loves to repeat them without fact checking.  Now they are demanding change and sadly reason has little impact on them.  The strength of Bernie’s campaign was that he recognized that anger (and his own) and provided a rational way forward.  Hillary has never recognized the real anger which is why she has proposed incrementalism and Bill in charge of the economy.

If Hillary wants to win this campaign, and really change the way things work (and she may not (establishment)), recognizing “political realities” and working within them is the wrong message (incrementalism).  The message from the Trump nomination and Brexit is the rejection of political realities.  They are sick of them.

She wants Bernie to endorse her, but that is not going to happen until she recognizes what Bernie was fighting for.  She has to co-opt his message of economic inequality and a rigged system, and we are not going to take it anymore.  Take a lesson from House Democrats who did that (rigged House) on the House floor.  It is what the country is yearning for.  Bring back intellectualism, rational thought, and data driven solutions, and of course tolerance, with a message of real change.*

Oh, and to Hillary supporters who argue that is what she is doing, you are blinded by the light.

*Update-The voters are angry and their real problem is the austerity forced on them by Republican politics, and economic inequality.  Xenophobia, racism, nativism, and discrimination are just scapegoats used on the conservative side to off load the blame.  But thinking rational arguments will win the day is this environment is foolish.  But instead of the xenophobia, racism, nativism, and discrimination used by the other side, get angry about the economic inequality.  That is what Bernie did.  Pundits like to say his solutions were impractical in this political world.  Angry voters don’t care, they want to know you are fighting their fight.  So get angry Hillary about economic inequality and show you mean it.  Then Bernie will be trotting right behind you.  

Cancer, Mine

Well, I thought I would write this because I know many of you are curious and, well, it is no secret.  So I thought I would fill that void so we can move on to other things.  I think I know how I will end my days.  We spend our whole life denying our mortality and pretending we will live forever.  But we won’t and there will be an end.  There will be a day when things won’t get better.  I got my cancer call a couple of months ago.  I have one of the most common, prostate cancer, but it has metastasized (advanced prostate cancer) so I could live a year or less, or 20.  It depends, well, on stuff.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

I am 70 years old and am in good shape for somebody 70.  I still lift weights and watch my weight.  I have had no symptoms but the usual old man’s plague, an enlarged prostate resulting in endless trips to the bathroom.  So I decided to do something about it and had my doctor perform a prostrate exam and he prescribed Flomax (Tamulosin).

We also did a PSA and it was well within normal ranges. But it did not help and we decided to check my bladder for an infection (urine sample) and they found some blood in my urine.  I will spare you the rest (sonogram for kidney stones, a cystoscopy, and then a prostate biopsy).  My idea of a bad day is when they are sticking tubes into both orifices below your belly button. “Just try to relax.” Right.

So I am waiting for my biopsy results and my doctor is out-of-town so I send an email saying “let’s end the suspense”.  On the following Friday morning just as I am  parking in Home Depot my cellphone rings.  I see it is from my health plan ( I have Kaiser) and I suddenly wish I could put this off, but you can’t. Reality will be what it will be. Yep, I have an aggressive form of prostate cancer.

They will schedule a Radionuclide bone scan and a CAT Scan to determine the extent of its spread.  That will happen next week and they will contact me and coordinate times.  Then we will discuss treatment options. Needless to say my shopping in Home Depot was, well, distracted.  Here it was, the dreaded C word. Of course somewhere in the back of my male brain was this raging question:  Was there a tool in Home Depot I did not have and should go ahead and get it right now, you know, considering…?

I guess I am not surprised.  My Dad died of it. But he fought it for years and the science is advancing. Every time you have an ache or a pain at my age you wonder if this is it.  Is this the Big C.  Well now it’s here.  Now you know pretty much that the road to your final destination is just up ahead.  Just one or two more turns.  One can always say we are all dying, each day we are closer to our deaths, and that is true.  When I was flying out of Thailand  (Vietnam War) we used to just call the end of another action packed day as one more day off the tour and the war.  And now that gets a whole other meaning, with each sunset one more day off your tour of life. But now it is real.  Damn real.

It was determined that my cancer had metastasized into my lymph nodes, but not yet in my bones.   I still have no symptoms really. Once it’s out of the prostate, there is no real reason to remove the prostate. There is no cure.  There are lots of options, all with rather horrendous side effects, but it is out and there is no curing it.  My best option for now is hormone therapy.  Prostate cancer cells feed on testosterone so get rid of the testosterone and maybe they will shrink. It works for some people. For some people it works really well.

There is a down side to getting out of all that invasive stuff and just having hormone therapy, hot flashes are a bitch.  Women of the world, you now have my profound respect. Basically, they are trying to slow the cancer down so you die of something else before the cancer finally gets you. Ain’t that a bitch? A race to see which disease wins. Go heart disease! The CDC says if you live to 65 you have about 20 more years on the average.  As a normal male I would now have about 15 years on average left in my journey.  I would like to beat that.

So for now it is wait and see if the hormones are helping.  I feel fine except for the hot flashes, and sometimes a little tired.  I worry about gaining weight so I still exercise and watch what I eat.  Weight lifting is a little tougher these days.  If it works, I could make that 85.  If it doesn’t, well we will face that when we get there.  Maybe some more focused treatment like radiation or chemo, but once again one has to weigh the benefits (it is not going away) with the quality of life that treatment represents.

In case you are wondering, I still can’t do yoga very well, and I still shout at bad drivers.  It seems the female side of me is just as aggressive as the male side.  But I do have good hair.  I do try to be a little kinder.  I wonder how many other souls like me are walking around with that kind of bad news or some other, and just trying to get through their day. Time to show a little kindness.

I found that the hardest part is not my own emotions, but managing the emotions of others.  I have lived one hell of a good life and when I see a little kid with cancer or some other debilitating disease, I know I was and am blessed. They are the brave ones who are getting robbed.  I did many dangerous things and survived.  To put it mildly, “I have slipped the surly bonds of earth and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings*”.  I have a wonderful loving wife and grown children who actually think I am special, that I contributed to their life, which is something many never get to experience. I am a very lucky man.  Well, sort of a man.

As my doctor, who himself is facing a terminal illness said, you just live each day and enjoy it.  Basically it is what it is so enjoy the rest of ride as best you can.  I try not to pass up a good wine or a good sunset.  I did buy a standup paddle board and am waiting expectantly for my new golf club I recently ordered to arrive.  He who has the most toys when he dies…

But the hardest part is helping others to just enjoy the moment with me and not think too far ahead.  It’s just part of life. I am sure part of it is that I remind them of their own mortality and the finality of death.  Denial is not the answer, any of us could get hit by a truck at any time so this is just part of the journey and in reality, now is all we have. As my good friend Mike Ward used to toast with a glass of wine as he traveled this journey, “It is a good day to be alive.”Ask me in six months how that is working for me.

I will tell you this:  There is a commercial on TV showing an older couple on a golf course and they are talking about their health and retirement planning.  He says he is a good golfer and his wife replies that he is a terrible golfer.  Then he says, “And I plan to be a terrible golfer for a long, long time.”  Me too.  I already got the terrible part down pat. Maybe if I get new clubs or hit better balls…

In the meantime there will still be annoying blog posts by me about just about everything.  Just hope I can straighten you all out while there is still time.

*High Flight by John Gillespie Magee Jr.:

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, –and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of –Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Except I don’t believe in God, but I have touched the wonder of our universe and the gift of life. Maybe that is what he meant by God. That’s what it is for me.

The Colossally Stupid British

I just don’t where to start.  The world economy lost trillions.  The pound nose dived off the charts.  Our own Dow-Jones dropped 610 points.  The world could be thrown into a recession, and the right wing  wing nuts in Europe are hoping for more.  The Brits just enpowered them.  Let hate and isolation rule the day!

And it is ignorance on a colossal level that drove the vote. As Vox.com documented tonight:

  • Firstly, it was the working classes who voted for us to leave because they were economically disregarded and it is they who will suffer the most in the short term from the dearth of jobs and investment. They have merely swapped one distant and unreachable elite for another one. 
  • Secondly, the younger generation has lost the right to live and work in 27 other countries. We will never know the full extent of the lost opportunities, friendships, marriages and experiences we will be denied. Freedom of movement was taken away by our parents, uncles, and grandparents in a parting blow to a generation that was already drowning in the debts of our predecessors. 
  • Thirdly and perhaps most significantly, we now live in a post-factual democracy. When the facts met the myths they were as useless as bullets bouncing off the bodies of aliens in a HG Wells novel. When Michael Gove said ‘the British people are sick of experts’ he was right. But can anybody tell me the last time a prevailing culture of anti-intellectualism has lead to anything other than bigotry. 
  • Oh, and one other thing. It looks as if the UK will now lose Northern Ireland and Scotland, both of which voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU. When the Financial Times endorsed the Conservative party in the 2015 election the headline was “The compelling case for continuity in Britain”.
  • Awakening to a stock market plunge and a precipitous decline in the value of the pound that Britain hasn’t seen in more than 30 years, voters now face a series of economic shocks that analysts say will only worsen before they improve. The consequences of the leave vote will be felt worldwide, even here in the United States, and some British voters say they now regret casting a ballot in favor of Brexit. “Even though I voted to leave, this morning I woke up and I just — the reality did actually hit me,” one woman told the news channel ITV News. “If I’d had the opportunity to vote again, it would be to stay.”
  • That confusion over what Brexit might mean for the country’s economy appears to have been reflected across the United Kingdom on Thursday. Google reported sharp upticks in searches not only related to the ballot measure but also about basic questions concerning the implications of the vote. At about 1 a.m. Eastern time, about eight hours after the polls closed, Google reported that searches for “what happens if we leave the EU” had more than tripled. But despite the all-out attempts by either side to court voters, Britons were not only mystified by what would happen if they left the E.U.— many seemed not to even know what the European Union is.
  • In the West Midlands village of Meriden, some of the 17 million voters who had willed Britain’s departure from the EU into being were not so much celebrating Freedom Friday as enduring terrors of self-doubt.A few seemed like kids who had disobeyed instructions, pressed the eject button in the pilot’s cockpit, and were starting to wonder what the hell was happening.

Oh, and here is the best part of all.  Our colossally stupid and ignorant Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump said this while promoting his new golfing property in Scotland:  “Just arrived in Scotland. Place is going wild over the vote. They took their country back, just like we will take America back. No games!”  Um?  Scotland as well as Ireland voted to stay in and will probably leave the United Kingdom (united no more).  He also opined that this was a great money making opportunity”.  “I said this was going to happen, and I think that it’s a great thing…Look, if the pound goes down, they’re going to do more business,” Mr. Trump said, when asked during a news conference about the referendum’s market ramifications. “When the pound goes down, more people are coming to Turnberry, frankly.”

So make no mistake.  The British were colossally stupid and showed an ignorance that knows no bounds.  It will cripple their country in ways they cannot even imagine.  And we in America have our own Brexit in Donald Trump and the level of stupidity and ignorance even among mainstream Republicans that supports this move rightward and downward.  Can we see the parallels before it is too late?

Oh and on a personal note, I wonder where they think they are going to get good wine at reasonable prices now?  The inmates are running the world. Enjoy what your ignorance has wrought.  All I can hope for is that your colossal stupidity teaches the rest of us to stay clear of ignorance, stupidity, anti-intellectualism and the reflection of that in our country, Donald Trump.

Brexit – Two More Lessons for America

It was interesting to note that some Brits were having buyers remorse this morning about their vote for leaving the EU.  They are the “protest votes”.  There is a lesson here for Americans besides getting out the vote that I noted in my last blog, and especially for the Bernie voters who might vote 3rd Party or not at all in protest.  Unless a 3rd Party has more than a third of the polls, you are making a selection between the two likely candidates, albeit implicitly, in this case for Hillary or the Donald.  We only have two choices here and that is what the system that we all believe in delivered.  So make it.  But to throw away your vote, if it is a protest vote, on a 3rd party is, well, stupid, and you will, like the Nader voters, quite possibly elect the worst choice. See Third Parties.

The other critical lesson has to do with Bernie Sanders staying in the race.  What we are seeing in Britain I think is anger at the EU not being responsible and flexible to change.  The result is that the economy in Britain is lagging (mostly due to austerity economics).  This is partly the fault of the EU and their ham handed policies, but also demagoguing by the right-wing to be afraid of immigrants who will take your job.

Sound familiar?  There has been a revolt on both the Republican and Democratic side with establishment politics.  The Republicans went the way of Brexit and right-wing politics.  The Democrats got Bernie and more explicit social democracy (we already live in a social democracy (Medicare, Social Security, aid to education, Medicaid, etc.) which the Republicans want to kill).

The point here is that there is also unrest in our own country about the lagging economy whether you blame it on banks, economic inequality, or immigrants.  Hillary has won the Democratic nomination and the fear among many Democrats is that Bernie and his followers could just be that bump in the road that gets Donald Trump over the hump to the presidency.  So they want him to withdraw, endorse Hillary, and become fawning to persuade his followers to get behind her.  Here is an example this morning from Andrew Rosenthal in the NYT:

But it’s really past time for Sanders to put an end to his candidacy. In Santa Monica, he said, “the American people, in my view, will never support a candidate whose major theme is bigotry.”

One way for him to help make sure that doesn’t happen is to put his abundant skills as a candidate behind a presumptive Democratic nominee who is less adept at campaigning.

It’s not enough for Sanders to point out that voting for Trump is voting for bigotry. He needs to make it clear to his voters that they need to show up on Election Day, because staying home is like voting for Trump

That would be a tragic mistake because it ignores what voters in both parties are telling elected establishment officials.  You are failing us.  If he were to do that, it says Bernie caved and now it is back to establishment Democratic leadership* that they were revolting from.  Bernie’s slow move to Hillary is calculated to make Hillary slowly move to Bernie so that his voters still have something to believe in and move Hillary off of establishment economics and understand the real battle is economic inequality that can only be addressed by reinventing our economic system. Bernie put it this way:

“It doesn’t appear that I’m going to be the nominee, so I’m not going to be determining the scope of the convention,” Mr. Sanders said, adding that he has reached no agreement to endorse Mrs. Clinton but has been negotiating with her campaign. “What our job is now is to have her listen to what millions of people in this country who supported me want to see happen. We’ll see how that evolves.

She has clearly had to fight her way through a lot of sexism and unfair attacks over the years,” he said. “But there are areas where we have strong disagreements. She is more or less an establishment Democrat. It’s kind of hard to deny that. And I think we’ve got to move beyond that.”

There is no question she is a great candidate and is highly qualified to do the job, and leans to Progressive ideas.  There is no question that Bernie supports her as he said he would vote for her. But that is not enough any more and that is what Brexit, Bernie, and the Donald should be telling establishment politicians.  Government as we have it does not work for the Middle Class.  Hillary is going to have to show she understands this before Bernie can stand with her and raise her hand.  Otherwise it just looks like another cave in and many will just despair of the whole system.  That is why the Bernie loves Hillary nonsense from Hillary supporters and  those terrified of Trump is, well, nonsense.  There has to be some there, there.  Young people loved Bernie because he was authentic.  You really think they are going to go dashing after Hillary if they sense a total capitulation?

 

Stupidity Across the Board 

Or is that across the pond?  You know when you think we have advanced as a nation and as a world, there is always something to point out how fragile knowledge and rationality are.  Here in America we have Donald Trump and in Britain they have Brexit.  Both are reactions to stupidity and the resulting bad policy making of governments, both are flat wrong.

The Brits have decided to leave the EU. The EU has not been the shinning beacon of enlightened policy making from their austerity policies to their slow bureaucratic responses to the immigration crisis.  In a flight of nationalistic fantasy, the Brits have decided to leave the EU.  Sadly, the cure is worse than the disease and they should have instead focused on fighting the disease.  Scotland will probably now leave the United Kingdom, and who could blame them.  Right wing nationalist have stirred up an irrational response to real problems, and their response is like cutting off your leg because you have a blister on your heel.

As we watch the impact we might draw our own analogies, the Donald Trump phenomenon.  Again we have an irrational response to real problems, and the cure will be worse than the disease.  In the Trump phenomenon we have a badly informed and ignorant bully, who uses racism, nativism, and xenophobia to propose policies that haven’t one iota of a chance to succeed, and the angry masses go for it.  Rationality and intellectualism just went out the window with these folks and like the Brexit, this could cause major damage to our country.

I think there is a big lesson for us here.  Voting numbers were down and as we know, the angry always vote.  Second, it could happen here if we get complacent about this year’s elections.  Besides white people, all those minorities (soon to be majorities) and the young better get off their asses and vote.  As we watch Britain do something unthinkable, let’s consider that we could too.  Oh, and I wonder if the EU just got a wakeup call?