Archive for October 2017

Does Democracy Work Anymore?

That’s really at the heart of American malaise about our political system. Let’s face it, on many issues Americans actually do agree and yet Congress (Republicans) ignore those wishes to please a small base that controls their election futures. Here is how the WaPo put it this morning:

Seven in 10 Americans say the nation’s political divisions are at least as big as during the Vietnam War, according to a new poll, which also finds nearly 6 in 10 saying Donald Trump’s presidency is making the U.S. political system more dysfunctional.

The Washington Post-University of Maryland poll — conducted nine months into Trump’s tumultuous presidency — reveals a starkly pessimistic view of U.S. politics, widespread distrust of the nation’s political leaders and their ability to compromise, and an erosion of pride in the way democracy works in America.

Remember that even in the presidential election minority ruled. I have argued before that when you look at gerrymandered districts and the power of Senators in small rural states, the majority is in fact not represented at all. We are a nation badly tilted to representing a minority of conservatives in rural areas. And worse, it would seem that those who are elected serve themselves. Said another way, Republicans are evil.

Hey wait a minute, why single out Republicans? Democrats pander for money too. True, and in that they are both morally and ethical challenged, but there is no equivalency here. Who wants to take away your healthcare? Who wants to gut government so that we can afford tax cuts for the wealthy. Who denies ever worsening climate change? And in that gutting of government we are talking about taking from the disadvantaged. If that is not evil, nothing is. Republicans have justified this with a philosophy of tough love, that giving people handouts simply make them weak and lazy. That might be true if we had a level playing field and those who did not do well truly did not work hard. But facts and data belie that.

The real evilness is on display today in a dumbed down electorate that has been fed propaganda and has a hard time with what is fact and what is opinion. In order to continue their conservative ideas which don’t work, it was necessary to warp reality. They adopted the tactics of the tobacco companies defending cigarettes against the fact that they cause cancer. Lie, repeat the lie, buy off scientists and other experts, and pretend there is doubt in the science. Add in the press echoing these lies without fact checking them and here we are. And that is what they do today about global warming, tax cuts create jobs, immigrants are the problem, or Obamacare is failing (well it will be as the sabotage it). How can democracy work if the electorate is tricked with the real fake news. Oh and note Republicans have joined in with President DFF (Dum Fat F*ck) in trying to now discredit real news and facts.

But the real evilness here is their attempt to discredit Mueller and his investigations, and starting new bogus investigations of Hillary and the Obama Administration to try to distract us. Now the dishonesty here is breathtaking. Here we are with a foreign power for sure manipulating our election with fake news and most likely colluding with the Trump campaign. They don’t care because they have sold their soul to their agenda. Think what would have happened if it was a Democratic Administration with these same allegations. You don’t think we would be up to our eyeballs in investigations and fact finding? Oh, and don’t get distracted with the lie about all campaigns do opposition research. Of course they do, but they don’t collude with a foreign government to get it and as I believe will come out, then collude to release false information targeted to specific voters. This sadly will be lost on most voters where nuance is not their forte. That is the Republicans hope, and that is truly evil.

Just as an aside we know pretty well what happened in that meeting with the DFF’s son, Jared, and Manafort. We know now for a fact that the Russians were there at the behest of the Russian government to get the Magnitsky Act repealed. This law barred the travel and use of our banking system by listed Russians for their complicity in the murder of a lawyer in Russia and other human rights agendas. Putin is frantic to get this repealed because as probably the richest man in the world, his money is in the banking system around the world and he is terrified other countries will follow suit, which may I add, Canada, not one of our “puppets”, just did. What is in question is what did the DFF’s boys agree to and do.  So unless you are a total DFF doofus, there is a real problem here and now Republicans are trying to cravenly hide it.

So what’s the answer.  I used to think it was getting money out of politics and maybe it is.  If our politicians weren’t begging for money about 50% of their time (30 hours/week), maybe they would be less susceptible to lobbyists and big donors.  But what happens if we actually would do that?  Then the big money would just go independent to try to shape public perception to control our government that way.  Try to keep in mind that most news is for profit, and Congress people, terrified of a misinformed public, would vote for them and not country, as they do now.  So we have to think this through.  Since the Supremes gave Corporation the status of individuals with free speech rights, backed by billions making their megaphone truly mega, we have a real problem in how they can control the message.

The only answer is for open government and an informed electorate.  I am not optimistic after seeing the last election and how stupid, and stupid is the kind word here, the electorate really is.  Those that control our agenda are parochial and ignorant and I do not know how you transplant critical thinking.  It is clear to me that arguing with the facts is useless. Maybe our hope is the big crash.  Republican conservative’s ideas simply will not work except for the very rich and many blue states are simply going their own way.  So we travel back to our beginning when we had a confederation of states and need a new constitution.  It took them more than 200 years, but the ignorant and stupid have now undermined that constitution.

Mueller is now making his moves and my guess is we are in for a turbulent time.  President DFF is immoral, ignorant, and unethical.  As the facts come out, we will see if the nation will survive.  It is funny to think that the worst in political system, the Republicans, have the fate of our nation in their hands.

The Disaster that is the NFL which Mirrors the Country Right Now

I watched the World Series game today on replay and then later turned on the Dallas/Washington NFL game. Night and day. Think about what pro football has become and college football is trying to mirror. A bunch of guys strutting around beating their chest and going all testosterone crazy. They celebrate their greatness on any play they might make forgetting it is a team effort. They talk trash and demonstrate the sportsmanship of a spoiled nine year old. They attempt to break the rules on almost every play and it is okay if they don’t get caught. And on the sidelines we objectivize women with pompoms. But it must work because the Romans in the coliseum seem to love the violence. Even the DFF told us the love of the game was the crippling hit. All the while the gladiators are ruining their bodies and quite possibly causing themselves brain damage. The perfect metaphor for our election of the DFF and Republicans in Congress. All in all I guess football really is who we are.

The Democrat’s Never Stop Repeating the Same Mistake Over and Over

There is an insightful article in the NYT about how Senator Jeff Flake’s withdrawal from the Senate race next year has thrown both parties into disarray. Let this set the tone:

Establishment Democrats have high hopes for Representative Kyrsten Sinema, a centrist who recently dined in the Blue Room of the White House with President Trump, teaches a bipartisan spin class in the House gym and has broken ranks with her own party on key votes. She was one of only seven House Democrats, for example, who voted to create a select committee to investigate the 2012 attack on the United States diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.

But those impulses toward bipartisanship have soured Arizona progressives against the candidacy of an openly bisexual woman who would seem to fit the liberal mold.

“There are issues, murmurs within grass-roots groups and the progressive community, the environmental community and others, including immigration advocates,” said Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, Democrat of Arizona and a co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who is withholding his endorsement of her.

Yesterday in a casual discussion with a conservative friend I heard that old foolish refrain that all we need is both sides to work together and both parties are controlled by the extremes. Now nothing could be further from the truth, and this is the false equivalency that has produced our stalemated and stagnant government*, where we fail to assign the blame and government in general suffers. When was the last time the Democrats worked with Republicans (this crazed mob) and it has worked well for them?  Remember the tax cuts under Bush and the ballooning deficti?

In fact, we just the lost the last election (sans the Russians and Comey) because the Democrats have become too much like the Republicans. Who knows what they stand for any more, and the above story is another, let’s cater to bad ideas because it might appeal to moderates who have those bad ideas. That would be the “let’s just all hold hands and work together” fools.

What we have here is, and I know I am beating this to death, a failing economy and a dumbed down electorate, courtesy of the Republicans. What you say! How can the economy be failing when the stock market is at record highs? So who is benefiting? As our current economic system’s structure favors the 1%, the rest of us are not gaining and the numbers show that most people do not believe their kids will be better off than they are. Moderate establishment Democrats are part of this problem and what we see from the above, is more of the same, again not recognizing that conservative economic and social dogma is the problem, but let’s work with them, right? We can get elected and then stand for nothing and change nothing substantial.

Also on the second part of my assertion, that Republicans have dumbed down our electorate, have you seen our president? The “deplorable base”, that is about 38% of the population either does not care that he lies and misstates the facts or they believe them. These are the global warming deniers, believe blaming immigrants or building a wall solves all problems, and believe Trump actually has business acumen is stead of an old fashioned con artist. The real test here is when the truth is exposed, as it is everyday, they don’t care. But they control the Republican Party, hence why Flake is getting out. Conservative as he is, he can’t stomach their ignorance and antisocial behavior.

Now we got Trump because the Republicans went on a dumbing down campaign of noise over the last 30 years that the media magnified as they loved to cover noise instead of substance. Equivalency awarded to science deniers. Equivalency awarded to a shouting contest without interjecting data and facts. Treating facts as opinions. That is how we got here, and like the big tobacco companies denying the cancer link to cigarettes, the Republicans took their cues from them. And conservative who rue the day Trump came on the scene, created the path for him to follow. There are no moderate or principled Republicans that do not have full responsibility for the DFF.

Now we have a Congress controlled and elected by that 38% that the media and the Republicans created. So Democrats should elect someone who will work with them (read capitulate)? There is a basic truth here that no one is talking about yet, except of course for Bernie and Progressives, that the system is broken. That conservatives have had us on the wrong path, even the moderate ones, and establishment Democrats are just culpable. I have argued before what is wrong and what needs to be done. There is a great study from The Roosevelt Institute that lays out the changes we have to make to return our nation to one of rational debate, based upon facts and science, not ideological dogma. It tells us how to change the rules of our economic system to more equitably share the profits and make us all better off, not just the 1%.

Progressive are starting to make those arguments. Electing people who go to work in Congress to work with failure will simply bring us failure. It is time for real change based upon a common set of facts and a vision. That is the way forward and I fear the Democrats are becoming superfluous if they continue this pandering to bad ideas and polls instead of making the arguments to change the system. It is ideas that will drive change, not compromise to failed ideas. The young get it, and those in failed economies (manufacturing) get it. Maybe it is time for a little soul searching by establishment Democrats.

*I could go back over how many times the Democrats came to the table and tried to compromise with the Republicans, but instead of boring you to death, let’s just look at recent history.  Most Americans want Obamacare fix, not destroyed.  How did the Republicans proceed?  With a plan no one could see or amend, and while claiming Democrats would not work them, they lined up to work with them, but the plan was never to compromise or fix Obamacare because dogma requires them to return to the old failed market place system.  Tax “reform” is following the same game plan.  Hide the plan, have no way to pay for it and hope a couple of Democrats will like tax cuts for the wealthy if it somehow helps them.  Real tax reform is hard and will take years.  That is not what we are seeing here.  The Republican ideology is small government, unregulated markets, and tax cuts alway stimulate the economy when the evidence is overwhelming this is a disaster except in a few anedotal cases. There is no equilancy here and asserting it is destroying the country because we fail to see the problem.

The New Normal

I have, as many others have, been warning against accepting the DFF and Republicans falling in line behind him as the new normal. I have argued this is not normal and we should not normalize him or them. But it is the new normal. I don’t know about you, but when you don’t think it could get any worse, then you peruse the morning paper, and it is much worse. What are you to do (vote)? Here was a smattering of what is in the news this morning:

Let’s take the last two. Remember the Tea Party and the Tea Party Caucus in Congress. They were going to make the government fiscally sound again, “Debt is the problem!” “Balanced budgets!” Those were the guys and gals who shut down, or threatened to shut down the government over increasing the debt limit (stupid in itself). Now those boys and girls just passed a tax cut (none of them have read) that will add $1.5 trillion to the deficit. Say what? Oh, don’t worry, when they are faced with increasing the debt limit to fund what they approved, as they have to do each year they will balk. Yeah, makes no sense whatsoever.

Meanwhile, what of Democrats? Who cares? And that is about it. From their loss of the House in 2010 on they have been clueless that they are clueless. And the biggest problem is that it is the same old people which is part of the reason that even though they are making sense, no one is listening. Here is from Eugene Robinson cited above:

Both major parties are in crisis, and I believe the reason is that the ground has shifted beneath them in ways they do not understand. Until the contours of the new political landscape become clear and the parties reshape themselves accordingly, I fear that chaos and turmoil will reign as the new normal.

Let me be clear: I am not postulating any sort of false equivalency. It was the Republican Party that nominated Trump for president, and it consequently must be blamed for this horror show of an administration. The party that loves to grandly invoke the name of Abraham Lincoln sent to the White House a crass egomaniac who cynically heightens racial animosities — a man who, by temperament and ability, is patently unfit for high office. You did that, Republicans.

…But the party (Democrats) managed to lose a presidential election to a man who had never been elected to public office, who slandered Mexican immigrants as rapists, who used African Americans and Latinos as foils to help him stoke feelings of grievance among whites, and who bragged about sexually harassing and assaulting random women. You lost to that guy, Democrats.

The party of Franklin Roosevelt allowed the GOP to pretend to champion the interests of the working class. Failure to connect with white voters in the Rust Belt is only part of the story of last year’s defeat, and maybe not the most important part. Democrats failed to sufficiently energize their core constituencies — urbanites, African Americans, Latinos, women, young people.

But what we got was the same old party pushing away the new blood and resurrecting the old establishment. As I noted yesterday, even Donna Brazile is back. So no one cares what they have to say because, let’s face it, they are losers. So that is where we are today. Republicans out of control trying to pass anything without the slightest scintilla of analysis, but a win on the coat strings of a narcissistic pig, and Democrats feckless to understand that the ground is moving under their feet. Just another Friday where it would seem the only news worth watching is sports news. Go Houston/Dodgers. I haven’t decided yet. This is just great baseball. Maybe that is all we have left of America.

Peddling Backwards as Fast as We Can

I see where little Jeffy Sessions is blocking research into marijuana. Can’t know the real facts so we can just believe what we want to. I see where the EPA is loading up their staff with industry shills. I see where climate scientists were told not to attend a conference on climate change. The Senate (Republicans) with Mike Pence’s help got rid of consumer protections from banks and credit cards.  From the NYT:

Donald Trump’s pledges to “drain the swamp” of corruption in Washington attest to his genius for unintentional irony. Nepotism, egregious conflicts of interest, flights on the public dime to see Wimbledon and the eclipse — the Beltway wetlands are now wilder and murkier than ever.

You could list here a hundred things we have learned not to do, and are now doing it under the DFF (Dumb Fat F*ck). We are all watching as the normal conservatives, the few left raise the white flag, say the truth about the DFF, but it changes nothing. Most Republicans lack the bravery to denounce their party and move on. Many, as the NYT points out, sold their soul to Trump for an agenda, an agenda I might add that will wreck America in its own right. The NYT goes on to tell us:

You can’t make sense of his [DFF] shocking victory last year without reference to the downward spiral of public faith in governing elites and established institutions. Years of stagnating incomes, combined with dimming prospects for the future, have primed voters for the message that the system is “rigged” and that only an outsider not beholden to the corrupt establishment can clean it up.

In other words, one key to this populist moment in American politics is the link in the public mind between dysfunction in Washington and the economic malaise of the 21st century. An effective political response to this perilous moment begins with the recognition that this link is real — and that key changes in the policymaking process, supported by a major push from organized philanthropy, will be needed to turn things around.

The image of the swamp conveys a profound truth about the American economy. Our predicament of slow growth and sky-high inequality has many causes, but one important factor is the capture of the American political system by powerful insiders — big businesses, elite professionals, wealthy homeowners — that use it to entrench their own economic power. In so doing, they protect themselves from competition, fatten their bank accounts with diverted wealth and slow the creative destruction that drives economic growth.

Now there are several places I could go with this blog from here. Clearly as I have argued, economic inequality is the root of all evil. One might argue that climate change deniers are simply a subset of those who want the present economic order to stay in place. I think at this point one should read history, Teddy Roosevelt or the wonderful speeches of FDR attacking the bankers and the financial world. It is not like we have not been here before. Or I could point out the fracturing of the Republican Party and the end to the idea that there is still a moderate Republican economic conservative represented by this party. Or I could launch on the fact that the Democratic Party is back to its old ways, more establishment thinking and pushing down Progressives, which was the problem in Hillary’s election. They learned nothing and as the NYT quote above points out, they are going back to representing the establishment. They are part of the establishment. That is what Bernie was trying to tell them.

But where I want to go today is to look at Jeff Flake’s speech attacking the DFF, not to admire a conservative, but to point out that his philosophy really is one of the establishment and increasing economic inequality. It’s still part of the problem. In a follow-on editorial in the Washington Post, Senator Flake said the following:

I have been so worried about the state of our disunion that I recently wrote a book called “Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle.” I meant for the book to be a defense of principle at a time when principle is in a state of collapse. In it, I traced the transformation of my party from a party of ideas to a party in thrall to a charismatic figure peddling empty populist slogans. I tried to make the case for the sometimes excruciating work of arguing and compromise.

He also said this:

“It is clear at this moment that a traditional conservative who believes in limited government and free markets, who is devoted to free trade, who is pro-immigration, has a narrower and narrower path to nomination in the Republican Party,”

Okay let’s take the first statement, especially the part about “Returning to Principle“.  The Party before Trump had become dogmatic* in principle with whole think tanks focused on reinventing reality to support their dogma.  In the second statement, “believes in limited government and free markets,” became the dogma that did not recognize reality.  Now for sure it is true that they have no principles now with Trump other than selling their souls for an agenda.  But if you look at that agenda, it is establishment big business and everything that continues the growth of economic inequality. Look at Flakes voting record.

Senator Flake, of course, could be reasoned with on some topics, but his basic agenda, small government and the market place** above all else is the very thing that favors the wealthy over the rest of us.  Who is it that will take on the large corporations and tech companies as the gain more and more power, and as we have seen, can control the news narrative?  Would that be small government?  As Teddy Roosevelt proved, only government has the clout to rein them in.

The market place has served us terribly in that it is focused on short-term gains and basically for their stockholders, not the American people.  It is the market place and vested interests who lied to us about global warming, and the efficacy of market place solutions in health care.  The experience of the rest of the world tells us differently. Sure there are tons of places where the market place is the best place to let them innovate for our future.  But it is also the worst place, and long term planning and protection of consumers comes from our government.

What conservative Republicans (the normal ones) believe is still part of the problem, they represent Wall Street and large corporations.  So does the establishment Democrats with softening at margins.  But if you finally understand that economic inequality is the problem and we need a fairer system to distribute the spoils of profits and invest appropriately, it is government that only has that power.  So in the end, it would be a better world if there were more Jeff Flakes and John McCains, but also in the end, we got to this point when they allowed the twisting of data and facts, and pandering to a base that have been sold their snake oil.

We don’t need big government, we need smart government.  We need to recognize that government is the solution in many areas especially if we stop operating on dogma and deal with actual outcomes, and adjust accordingly.  Wall Street*** does not reflect America, only the wealthy, yet that is the god both parties kneel to and bow heads to the market place.  The evidence is overwhelming that continued increases in economic inequality will hamper and possibly finally destroy our economy for most of us.  Time to look for new ways and both parties, it would appear, are dinosaurs.

*One of my favorites is the balance budget nonsense.  Certainly we need to keep our debt in control, but a balanced budget would be a disaster to the economy and our country.  This where the conservatives went off the deep end.  We can’t seem to have a rational discussion about what is a reasonable debt so we can invest when need to if you belief is no debt. See The Economy.

**There is interesting data out there that shipping jobs overseas is not the bogey man, automation is.
“The US did indeed lose about 5.6m manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2010. But according to a study by the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University, 85 per cent of these jobs losses are actually attributable to technological change — largely automation — rather than international trade.” Financial Times.  Who looks out for the long-term interests of workers?  The Market Place?  Their job is to maximize profits for their stockholders.  Very simply, reduce costs to maximize profits.  Again, the market place is going to protect workers or do long-term planning for their welfare?  There is a side issue that we are not even focused on this problem.  Oh well.

***Free Markets is a big lie.  Said more succinctly, unregulated markets.  Markets have rules and they operate by them.  Laws of contracts, taxes, regulatory frameworks, rules, all are part of what makes a market function and stable.  The problem is that all those rules have been set up by those who benefit from those rules.  So we are not talking about unregulated markets, we are really taking about changing the rules to change who they benefit.  Now you see the problem.

 

 

 

Each Day the Name Changes to Reflect the New Reality

Those that read this blog know I have kind of morphed through acronyms for Trump. I started out with Cheeto-head, and I kind of settled on Dotard-in-Charge (DIC) after the North Korean leader anointed him dotard. But as you watch his actions, he is not senile, he is ignorant and mean. So I changed it to Fat F*ck (FF). Kind of described his me, me, me  personality, sucking up all the air in the room and becoming obese on his self image. But after the latest exchanges with the  Myeshia Johnson, the fallen service man’s widow this morning, I believe I am going to go with Dumb Fat F*ck (DFF). To refresh. the DFF against advice, decided to call the widow, Myeshia Johnson, and according to both the widow and the Congresswoman in the car and close personal friend, he could not remember Sgt. La David Johnson’s name (Johnson is one of those catchy hard names to Remember, right?) and then of course was the callous, “he knew what he signed up for”.

Now both things have now been verified by the widow herself. so the DFF tweeted out,  “I had a very respectful conversation with the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, and spoke his name from beginning, without hesitation!”  Can the DFF just shut up.  Answer no, and that is why we are now at DFF. But there is more here.  Forgetting the name is because he doesn’t care.  But more importantly, listen to how Kelly (who later disgraced himself in a lie) told the DFF what to say.  Explaining how a military official told him that his son “was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed,” Mr. Kelly recalled. “He knew what he was getting into by joining that 1 percent. He knew what the possibilities were because we were at war.”

Now think about that.  First he was speaking to a military officer, and second he prefaced it with “was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed.” That is an entirely different context that the DFF’s just “he knew what he was getting into” (like it was his fault).  He was making it easier on himself, not Mrs. Johnson.  And that is all you need to understand the DFF.  It is alway about him, and he does not understand the context of anything.  Not only is he ignorant, but he is dumb making his ignorance permanent and uncorrectable.

One last word to leave you with.  When you hear a Republican or a pundit say they wish he would just shut up and get on with his agenda, you know they just missed the biggest lesson of their lives about this man.  He can’t and he is a disaster waiting to happen.  There is no PR paper overing of him.  Try to remember Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in Afghanistan and she would demonstrate outside the White House calling George Bush a murder.  George never ever responded in kind.  Even George, as inept as he was, was not a dumb fat fuck.  Now we have one as president. Thank you again Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.  May you secede from the Union.  Oh, and take the South with you.

Traveling with Stephen (pronounce Stefan)

The View from our table at Scotts Seafood in Jack London Square.

Not really, but sounds more sophisticated and better than travels with Steve (isn’t there already one? Last name anyway). Anyway, the news is just a repeating cycle of lies out of the Republicans and the White House, interspersed with bad news from overseas so I thought you might enjoy a diversion. This weekend was Van Morrison weekend. I have always loved Van the Man. His amazing voice and his ability to change tempo and do various rhythms in the same song has truly amazed me. His music makes me move and moves me. Well, my beautiful and amazing daughter got with my beautiful and amazing, not to be ever mentioned here, and they planned a surprise for me. Serena (my daughter) procured tickets for the Van Morrison Concert on Saturday night, row 8. I knew something was up because we were going to spend the weekend in Oakland, but it was a surprise, and I kind of figured it was a family thing, but why Oakland?

Anyway a few days before we left for the trip they told me and I was thrilled. VAN MORRISON! UP FRONT! HOLLY SHIT! So the plan was to drive in after she who must not be mentioned here got off substituting (teaching), drive in to Jack London Square, eat at Scotts Seafood overlooking the water, and get a good nights sleep. Driving into Oakland and getting off I-880 is kind of a shock because it dumps you off in one of the worst industrial areas, full of tents and homeless, and all the stories of Oakland and violence stream through your head. But then you drive into Jack London Square and all of a sudden you are uptown. Note to the City Council in Oakland: Clean that up because it scares the bejesus out of us white people.

Jack London Square, Rosenblums cellar is out of the picture to the left and that is the Waterfront Hotel in the Distance. We are on the pier boarding the ferry to SF.

We checked into the Z Hotel which was about two blocks from the waterfront. The people there were super nice, but the hotel was very dated, and had the air of old tobacco about it. Knowing what I know now I would have stayed at the Waterfront Hotel, more expensive, but you only live once. Of course she who must not be mentioned here was ecstatic because there was a soul Vegan place across the street (Souley Vegan). The whole area was very safe and becoming a place to hang out. Okay Scotts Seafood. We went over there early to have a glass of wine and sat in the bar. The hostess noted that while we had a reservation, they did not reserve specific tables. After I had a glass of wine, my brain kicked in and what she was telling me was get seated early and get a table looking over the bay, which we did.

Blackened Catfish. Sorry I took a couple of bites before I snapped the picture. I lost control.

Food was outstanding, except for my oysters. I should know better. Once you have had the fresh crisp oysters from Tomales Bay (Hog Island), almost anything else will be a disappointment and they were. I could tell they were not as fresh as they should be. I had Caesar Salad which was good (but not Christian’s), and blackened catfish that was to die for. She who must not be mentioned here had some Vegan stuff. Wine is Vegan you know. Then on a trip to the bathroom, I noticed the bar had a wonderful blues singer and we relocated there to listen. Now here is the thing that just slays me. The people were so friendly there. We even got to know the singer and some of her family who had come to listen to her. She was black, the electric piano was played by an Asian gentleman, and the drummer look like a white college kid. We were back in the land of diversity and it was wonderful. Walking home I tried to put she who must not be mentioned here’s mind to rest pointing out that any mugger who took on a guy with terminal cancer was asking for trouble. It was perfectly safe.

Bay Bridge from the Ferry

Okay, Saturday we planned to take the ferry (there is a ferry service from Jack London to the City) in to San Francisco. So about 10 am we ambled over to the ferry and caught the 10:15. I love Clipper Cards. They work on Muni, Bart, and the Ferries. It makes life so simple. Taking the ferry in is like getting a water tour of the Bay and it only takes about 25 minutes. There is one returning every hour in the afternoon to get home, so we could chill. After some shopping, we met my nephew at the WayFare Tavern for a late lunch. I will let you peruse the menu and guess what I ordered. Here is a tip. If you want to really have a relaxed meal in the City, do late lunch. It is never crowded and you are comfortable turning it into a couple of hour affair. It is always good to see my nephew and get caught up and we won’t be having a traditional Christmas feast at Hog Island (Hawaii at Christmas) so we tried to change it up. I won’t give you a detailed menu, but it was all good. Then it was ferry back to Jack London and get some Zs before the concert. Note: When you get off the Ferry, Rosenblum Cellars is right there for wine and snacks sitting outside in the sun.

The Concert. When the time came, we got Lyft to the theater. Again I love technology. Driver arrived in a minute or two and the Theater was only about 15 blocks up Broadway to Telegraph. This whole area of Oakland is alive and beautiful. Lots of bars, restaurants and the streets were alive. The Fox Theater is a beautiful theater and people were streaming in. I think it seats on about 2800 people (Van gets terrible stage fright and likes small menus (if you are a groupie)). Bar/lounge part of the theater, and once again, everyone was super nice. We got in our seats around 7:30, yep right up front and on the end of an aisle which is good for those of us who need a restroom break from time to time (old men). Good thing too, because Van’s daughter Shana opened with her group and it was just fun. At 8:00 sharp, the lights dimmed and out came Van the Man. I think my heart went thump.

VAN THE MAN

For the next hour and a half, Van sang and played (Sax, Guitar, Harmonica) non-stop, and I mean non-stop. He would transition from one song directly into the next. Needless to say his band and backup singers were amazing, playing trumpet, electronic keyboard, drums, guitar, bass, slide guitar, sax, you name it. He had old and new songs and in the old ones, he had new arrangements that were great. It was the fastest 1 1/2 hour of my life. He even did a duet with his daughter. It was sold out of course, and yes, I got the t-shirt. I was like drained when it was over. My fondest memory is when he did Gloria, and the crowd did the backup. It was amazing.

When it was over, we walked down about 3 blocks away from the theater and immediately got a Lyft back to the hotel. At big events if you will walk to put some distance from it, it is much easier to get a ride. We were psyched. She who must not be mentioned here pointed out the Vegan Place was still open so we went in to just get a little something. Now I am not going to describe the food, but as hard as it is for me to admit, everything I had was delicious. I say everything I had, because we struck up a conversation with two black women at the next table and then we started sharing dishes. Like I said, everywhere we went, we found super friendly people. Then we went to bed, got up early to get home before Apple Mania (we live in Apple Hill and traffic backs up for miles as people drive at parade speed looking for their next sugar high with pie/cobbler/donut/scone/cookie hit (all made of apples)) took over and got safely home by 10 am.

What a wonderful trip and another experience I shall deeply cherish. Spent the day shooting arrows and lifting weights with Van playing in the background. Oh and least I forget, paying attention to my cat, MK, who was pissed about us being gone. Sophie goes to dog heaven when we travel so she was fine. Could life be any better? When is the next adventure?

The Tribalism B.S.

I listened to another pundit yesterday on TV use the tribalism excuse to explain why we are so divided. I just don’t buy it. There can not be two sets of facts. Sure some people are more conservative by nature than others, but when we know the facts, shouldn’t that only modulate how quickly we institute change? Instead, the two sets of facts stops all change in its tracks. I got to thinking about this when I read an article about how a survey showed that while the majority of Americans think our response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico has been too small and slow, when you break it down by party, you get three quarters of Republicans who think things are just right, and just the opposite in the Democratic Party.

Why would party affiliation have anything to do with the fact that 78% of Puerto Ricans still do not have power and 28% are still without water one month after the Hurricane? I would bet if you were one of the 78% you would not think Trump and Company were doing such a swell job. If those are the the facts, and they are, how is that acceptable to most Republicans? I think I know the answer to that actually voiced by the FF himself. They are to blame for their own plight because of the sorry state of their electrical grid and their debt. They are lazy. So what we have going here is not tribalism, but a total lack of empathy, blaming the victim, and ignoring reality. What else could it be?

But facts should clear the air, and yet they don’t. Take the latest dust up in the FF’s White House where General Kelly came out and smeared Congresswoman Federica Wilson claiming he had been at an event where she grandstanded taking all credit for funding of a new FBI building being dedicated. He called her an empty barrel. Roll the tape. Did not happen. And now the White House Press Obfuscator (Sarah Huckabee Sanders) says how dare we question the integrity of a four star general. Roll the tape again. Either she did or she did not, and the video of her remarks shows the General was full of shit. Yet, the White House is still denying it. I think we know who is the empty barrel in this episode.

So why can’t they just apologize and get the facts straight? Because the whole existence of the Republican Party today is based upon an alternate reality that does not exist. From tax cuts solve all problems with the economy, to immigrants hurt our economy, all the way to health care is best provided by unregulated markets. It is all provenly false. But that is their dogma so they can’t let it go or see the grayness of the world where these ideas need to be expanded to reality. But since this acceptance of reality would upset their whole ideological apple cart, denial is their modus operandi.

But what is new here is the leader of the nation is now liar in chief. The White House has become the center of the real fake news. That is the end of democracy as we know it if you understand that democracy depends upon a debate of facts to arrive at the proper course of action. We no longer have that. So tribes my ass. One party is delusional and denies facts and the other actually has a grip on them. It would be nice if we quit trying to equate both sides as equal in this, two tribes not listening. There is only one set of real facts. Why oh why would you listen to lies and alternate reality when the future of your country is at stake? The media might want to think about that.

Have a nice Saturday. I am headed for the Van Morrison concert in Oakland as a nice treat from my daughter. If nothing else, we still have our families in all this madness.

General Kelly and Seeing the Real Problem

After the FF (Fat F*ck, aka President Trump) turned the killed servicemen into a political issue, and then totally botched  the call after the Press had asked if he had made any calls (where he lied about other presidents), Generally Kelly came out and made an impassioned plea to depoliticize the whole issue, explaining what happened.  Now this should have both been pointed at his boss and ended the issue, but then he turned around and made a partisan political attack on the Congresswoman in the car where call was made (at the request of the grieving parents).  Trump of course lied about all this instead of saying, I botched and I am truly sorry, to which Kelly did not deny the conversation, but attack the Congresswoman for making a “private” call public.

Well, bull shit.  First she was asked to be there and it was put on speakerphone.  Was the President alone when the call (No)?  Secondly he offended them with his lack of empathy, which is just another instance of why he should not be president.  But then Kelly made a partisan attack on the Congresswoman, racial in undertones, showing he is not the steady hand that some were hoping for.  Kelly even made references to “other” gold star families who have spoken out and he had no right to tell them they cannot use their First Amendment rights. Then there was what was sacred discussion that let you know this man is so far removed from reality that he too is dangerous. I think Lawrence O’Donnell took his attack apart better than anyone because he had the guts to.

I want you to note one other thing.  What General Kelly heard and told the FF to say is not the same thing he said.  It is a classic example of how little understand the FF has of the human condition.

Meanwhile the Republicans passed a budget bill on all Republican votes that most of them do not know what is in it.  It was to get a win.  So far the reasonable experts tell us a couple of things.  It busts the budget and like Kansas, may create a fiscal disaster. Tax cuts don’t necessarily equal growth.  Meanwhile Wall Street is doing great and the FF is taking credit when what is really driving the economy right now is low interest rates, set up in the Obama Administration.  If as most of us think, giant deficit spending that the budget bill and the follow on tax cut will create become a reality, the interest rate will go up, and kiss the economy goodbye.

The other part of this is that less than 52% of Americans own stocks, and the majority of the FF’s supporters do not.  How Wall Street does has little with working Americans, and let’s just review, Bank of America just downgraded Chipotle stocks because they think they pay their employees too much.  Bring back slavery!  That is the mentality we are dealing with.

Meanwhile, ex-Presidents Bush and Obam took on the FF finally.  Of course there is some real hypocrisy here, but at least major figures are starting to stand up.  I am off to Oakland for a Van Morrison concert and will try to ignore the madness that is our government these days.  Happy Friday.

Being An Atheist

Americans have a hard time with this concept.  If you announce you are one, kiss public life goodbye.  I mean what happens to you if you don’t end every speech with God Bless America*? People expect a religious basis for your fundamental principles and if you don’t have a religious one, my God, you are rudderless. “Cry havoc and release the dogs of war!”  Nothing could be further from the truth, but that is the conventional wisdom.  One might ask, what or who was Jesus, except for his philosophy for living our lives?  One might also ask, do you need a heaven or hell so you hold to those ideas when it gets hard?  History has shown us all kinds of beliefs very similar to Christian beliefs or basic philosophy (without the God figure) that came out of reason and thinking about the human condition.

I can be just as principled and founded as the most religious person, but my basic principles are not based on faith or dogma from a book, but observation of the world around us.  And my observation is that there is no God.  Better writers than I have documented the observable problems with religion (Dawkins, Harris). That doesn’t make it true and my beliefs are not like a faith-based belief, it can be changed by observation, data, and science.  However, my experience is that my observations and science reinforce  my view that most people’s beliefs in some all-powerful being involved in their lives is not supported by everything I see around us.

Now here is another thing most Americans can’t get:  I don’t need you to be an atheist.  I don’t care what you are or what you believe, especially if it works for you.  Atheism, at least for me, is not a religion, just an observation.  It is true that once in a while when someone says something religious and remarkably stupid, I do respond, like the hurricane survivor who thanks God for their survival, forgets about the first responders who deployed to pull them out of the flood, and do not hold that same God accountable for the destruction and death all around them.  Sometimes that kind of thinking when it leaks into political thinking gets dangerous to our democracy. See my last blog.  The Constitution was trying to make us free from religious persecution, not free religion to dominate our lives.

One other thing that most Americans do not get is the difference between spirituality and religious belief.  I think we are all connected, not by a supreme being, but by nature itself and the processes that created us.  In a way, one with the force.  Now other than the fact that the very important elements that make up our bodies were created in exploding stars, I have no proof for this, except maybe we all evolved from the same genetic material, which we also have proof for.  I feel a connection to the universe, the sun, the planet, and life on this planet (sadly that includes the FF).  That is my spirituality.  We are in this together and the human condition is universal. And I observe nothing that tells me otherwise.  On the other hand, I see no God anywhere unless you define God as nature itself which is quite different from a guy who wrote a book of rules, and is checking if you were naughty or nice.

Last, let me say that a philosophy about life and the human condition is so much more efficacious than a religion.  See the problem Evangelicals are having when they find a gay person a loved son or dauther.  Reality does not match their faith. Faith makes coming to grips with reality almost impossible.  Watch the Catholic Church try to modernize to reality today about women, love, marriage, and childbirth.  Philosophy, on the other hand, is based upon logic and can be adjusted when we find it no longer reflects reality as we now know it.  It makes our belief and ideas about right and wrong, morality, and justice based upon rational analysis not a book written before the birth of Christ, and rewritten (New Testament) to be more palatable to a changing world.

So there you have it.  Atheism, at least mine, is not a religion, it is just an observation, but one based on science and data.  Your belief is just as valid as mine in the sense that we own it and have a right to it.  The problem I have is when I recognize that right, and most religions do not.  And that is what the Founders were trying to prevent in our Constituion, our intolerance that makes debate and governing impossible.  And it would appear we are losing our grip on that.

*One might also wonder what happens to you if you don’t wear you flag pin everyday.  It would appear that the flag (and flag pin) have become a religious symbol that is required in public life.  Once again we have lost our way.  It is the principles embodied in the Constitution that we can debate that are what we owe our allegience to, not some symblol or flag that has no defined meaning other than a loyalty test to something.