Saturday, November 14, 2015

Unfortunately, We Have To Return To The Unpleasant Reality ...

... that even conservatives know they can only win with violence, such as this attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic.  Hopefully, time and the better angels in human nature will ensure that not even violence will help them win.

And, Equally More Pleasant Than Politics ...

... some of the best opening shots in film history.

And Now, For Something More Pleasant Than Politics

Take a look at nine of New York's best interior landmarks.  And then, take a moment to weep over the mentality that can't wait to tear so many similiar landmarks down.

Who's Smarter About Immigration Than Republican Candidates?

Republican voters, as it turns out.

Let's Hope This "Never-Wrong" Predictor Is Not Wrong In 2016

Because it's predicting a Democratic landslide.

The Difference Between Crony Capitalism And REAL Capitalism...

... is the difference between what Donald Trump actually did with his money, and what he should have done with it.

You Want To "Enforce The Law"? Then PAY For It!

It takes a fairly strong stomach to watch even one Republican presidential debate.  I must have a stronger stomach that I previously realized, because I've watched all four while successfully resisting the temptation to throw up.  Nevertheless, even I will admit that I came fairly close during the most recent one, as I watch each of the clown-car refugees call on President Obama to "enforce the law," by which of course they meant the immigration laws, by which of course they meant to deport every "illegal" immigrant in existence.  Yep.  All 11 million-plus of them.  Right now.

This conveniently overlooks the fact that Obama, far from the being the radical Kenyan turn-'em-loose radical they so badly want him to be, has effectively become the Deporter-In-Chief, perhaps motivated in part by the view that such toughness, imposed even in cases that might have merited some degree of leniency, would give him the ability to woo Republicans to support comprehensive immigration reform.  And we all know how that turned out.

In any event, if effort was all it took, Obama couldn't have expended more effort than he has to "enforce the law."  Which begs the question; why do we still have 11 million-plus human beings living in the shadows?

For the same reason that many immigrants have to wait years or even decades just to have a decision granted on their ability to live in the U.S.:  we have an immigration system that doesn't match up to the reality of not just a global economy, but a global culture as well.  And even worse, although we insist that the undocumented are the fundamental threat to the American way of life today, our priorities in federal spending don't reflect that point of view.

Consider, for example, the fact that we spend only slightly more than 3 billion dollars on USCIS, the federal agency that oversees immigration, but over 600 billion dollars on defense spending, much of it on redundancies and Cold War-era strategic thinking.  As mentioned in my previous post, we clearly need to redirect at least some of this spending away from conventional military fighting and much more toward intelligence and special-ops, i.e., to fight guerrilla warfare with guerrilla warfare. At the same time, however, we need to re-direct a portion of it toward immigration, which all of us now agree has at least some relationship to the issue of terrorism.

We currently have an immigration system that is almost entirely paid for by the filing fees of petitioners for immigration benefits.  And, if in fact the laws are not being fully enforced, that money clearly isn't enough.  And the answer doesn't lie in jacking up the fees.  Take a look at the fee schedule, which you can find by clicking here, and you'll be amazed by how ridiculously high the current fees are.  One alternative to re-directing defense spending might be, as part of a comprehensive approach to immigration reform, to expand the numbers of visas currently available each fiscal year.  But that may not be a politically viable solution, although it would produce other benefits in addition to paying for the immigration system.

In any case, the money to "enforce the law" has to come from somewhere.  Otherwise, by definition, the law will never be fully enforced.  And presidents like Obama will be forced to exercise some form of prosecutorial discretion--which, ultimately is all that he has offered in his various proposed forms of immigration relief (now stalled in court), and which as as legal as eating a hot dog at the ballgame (thank you, Jack Webb).  And those who complain about a lack of enforcement while failing to explain how to pay for more enforcement should be exposed for what they are: hypocrites.

It is long past time for the clowns in the car that masquerades as the Republican presidential field to put up or shut up on this point.  Either that, or get out of the way and let the grown-ups take over. We've all suffered enough with the status quo.  The 11 million-plus have suffered most of all.

This Is War--But We Need To Be Smarter About Fighting It

In the short run, there is nothing that should be said about the murders in Paris of innocent people by religious fanatics, other than to offer the survivors our support in every possible form.  And yet, there is no stopping the same people who exploited the 9/11 murders into two Bush-and-Cheney terms and a ruinous war from attempting to piggyback a political comeback on the most recently-shed blood of innocents.  You need look no further than here to see this happen.

Have these people no shame?  For that matter, have they no souls at all?  Is there nothing inside of them that will allow them to mourn the dead for so much as a single Tweet?  Does clinging onto their rapidly evaporating power mean that much to them?  And do you really want such people to be in charge of your destiny, which is exactly what will happen if we have an all-Republican government on January 20, 2017?

Those aren't rhetorical questions.  I'm hoping that everyone answers them next fall with votes against the GOP and conservatives of every stripe at every level.  But I worry that the right-wing talent for exploiting fear will take us back into another war that we can not afford, financially or otherwise.  So let's take a few moments to connect the dots by taking a walk down memory lane. We invaded Iraq without any understanding of the composition of the country.  We imposed a form of government with which the underlying cultures and peoples had no experience, and no ability to make it work. As a direct result, the country fell apart.  The military supplies we left behind fell into the hands of religious fanatics, who then collaborated with their fellow-travellers in Syria fighting the kleptocratic Assad family.  The result is the destruction of two nations, and a region in the hands of murderers who have no interest in anything except power.

And NONE of this would have happened if we had not invaded Iraq.  We were egged into doing so by fearmongers on the right.  And they are egging us on again.

But this is not to say that we are not in a war.  This is not to say that we should not fight that war. It is, however, to say that we need to understand how to fight that war.

This is not a war against standing armies, or between recognizable governments.  It is a war without front lines.  It is a war in which any spot on the earth can become a battlefield within seconds.  It is a war in which the enemy thrives on anonymity, of operating withing the shadows, on hitting-and-running so they can hit-and-run another day.  It is a war fought by cowards who know how to hide. And it can only be won with brains, not brawn.

We need to stop investing in the front lines of a Cold War yesteryear, and redirect defense spending in ways that prevent us from making the mistake we made in Vietnam:  failing to recognize a guerrilla war when it stares you in the face.  We need to stop acting like the British Army in our own Revolution, and act more like our own Continental Army. That's how we won that war.  We were outnumbered and outgunned.  And we still won.  We didn't outhammer the enemy; we outfoxed them.

Unfortunately, the GOP has failed to learn the lessons that the Iraq disaster and the ISIS catastrophe that followed it should have pounded into their heads.  They see themselves as hammers, and therefor look at all problems as nails.  We will pay a steep price for that tendency for decades to come.  We don't need to add to those decades by giving them more opportunities to pound our way to oblivion.

Fight the fearmongers.  And fight the terrorists.  But be smart enough to resist the fear on which both the fearmongers and terrorists feed.  Let's work together to fight smarter.  Yesterday's victims, and today's, deserve no less.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Haven't Fallen In Love With Costco Yet?

Perhaps this will help.

The Rebirth Of A New York Landmark

Behold, the new/old Rizzoli's Bookstore.

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words ...

... when it comes to rising sea levels.

From The Folks Who Bring You Cheerios ...

... a warning about climate change and the food supply.

Walking On Air?

And sitting on it?  And working within it?  Take a look.

Well, If The Wall Street Journal Says It ...

... who am I to disagree that Republicans are an economic menace?

As A Boomer, I Plead Guilty--For All Of Us

I came across this column by Jim Tankersley in the Washington Post, while I was doing a little research for my previous post about last week's election results.  It is a complete and merciless indictment of the Boomer Generation and its me-first attitude in all things--especially economic things.  It chronicles in detail the material, social, and cultural advantages than those born between 1946 and 1964 grew up taking for granted.  From there, it proceeds to document how Boomers developed, in the process of benefiting from those advantages, a sense of entitlement to the good life that excluded any consideration of sharing those goodies with the less fortunate.  The idealism of their youth gave way to an all-consuming (pun intended) desire to "have it all," regardless of the cost to anyone.  The price tag for satisfying that desire is being borne not only by those that came after them, but generations as yet unborn and unnamed.

It is an absolutely scathing indictment that pulls no punches.  And it's 100% correct.

As a Boomer, I plead guilty to Tankersley's catalogue of sins by my generation.  From the earliest time in my life that I can remember, in school and elsewhere, a vision of unlimited future prosperity was painted for us, one that would extend far beyond this world and even reach into outer space. We were routinely told that, by the turn of the subsequent century, we would live in a world of glass-enclosed cities, flying cars, moving sidewalks, synthetic food and clothes, and computers everywhere.  Of course, some of that came true, especially the part about computers; everyone now carries one around in their purse or pocket.

By the middle of the 1970s, however, it was becoming painfully clear that the resources to fulfill these visions were far more limited than we wanted to admit.  And, as a consequence, a generation that had known nothing but prosperity suddenly had to deal with the idea of limits.  No aspect of American life in this period made that clearer than the oil shocks created by OPEC. Suddenly, we were no longer masters of a destiny with no boundaries.  Suddenly, we had to face a world in which everything we wanted might not be possible.  A world that was rapidly moving from dominance by two major superpowers to one in which newly liberated colonial nations were suddenly flexing their newly-found economic muscles in ways designed to benefit them, and not us.  In short, we needed to adjust our thinking by facing our problems.

And instead, we ran away from them.  It is not an accident that the ascendency of Republican politics and policies started right about the time that Boomers reached voting age and entered the electorate en masse.  And the GOP spinmeisters very cleverly took advantage of that fact.  Supply-side economics was the perfect political pitch to Boomers.  What self-respecting Boomer (is there any other kind?) could resist the not-too-subtle allure of self-financing tax cuts that paid for a great, big, beautiful tomorrow (to borrow Ronald Reagan's erstwhile employer, General Electric)? Suddenly, it seemed possible to "have it all" again.

Only, of course, it wasn't.  And Boomers pursued the Reagan illusion at the expense of Gen Xers and Millenials, as Tankersley rightly points out.  Money that could have gone into a better world for all of us, Boomers included, instead went into servicing the debt that grew as the price that needed to be paid for unsustainable tax policies.  Without the damage wrought by those policies, no one would need to talk about making sacrifices to pay for Social Security and Medicare.  Hell, maybe there actually would be a Howard Johnson's in space.

As it turns out, except for hotels, there isn't even a Howard Johnson's on Earth.  It, along with many business built from scratch were suddenly merged and acquired out of business, as wealth that was supposed to trickle down instead relentlessly shot up and investment bankers foolishly financed vulture capitalism.  Instead of patiently building wealth one dollar at a time, businesses went out and bought it at inflated prices with borrowed money that could never be paid off.  And Boomers not only tolerated this, they even participated eagerly in it.

And there is no way out of this mess except the old fashioned way:  sharing.  Sharing involves recognizing that complete self-sufficiency is impossible.  None of us is an island; all of us need each other in a multitude of different ways.  And sharing also involves recognizing limits.  We live in a world--in a universe, for that matter--of finite resources.  Each one of us has a finite life; no one can be indispensible, because everyone has an expiration date.  Like it or not, that's reality.  And, like it or not, our politics have to change, or we won't be able to face it.

On behalf of all of us, I apologize to all of the post-Boomer generations.  And I call on all of us to do the thing we Boomers said we wanted to do when we were young:  make a difference.  Even if there's a price we have to pay to do it.  It is not fair to ask others to pay that price by themselves. Their dreams deserve to take flight as well.