June 2014
This issue's contents Current issue Index Search

Rags and Bones

by Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net

Marco Rubio

Whigs or Tories, Democrats or Republicans, the best senator, governor or president is the one who can most clearly analyze the real world and propose solutions to emergent problems. Politics then takes place on the level of a debate over the best solution. The real differences between liberals and conservatives are typically fought out on the level of whether government or market initiatives are better. Denying that a problem exists at all is a time-dishonored tactic and is usually found in civilizations which haven’t long to live. (“Our entire army is now made up of barbarian mercenaries with no loyalty to Rome? Not a problem!”)

Marco Rubio is the senator from a state in which certain neighborhoods, of Miami for example, are now regularly underwater. Much of the state will be flooded and destroyed if the minimum sea level rise predicted to occur by the year 2100 happens. Rubio a) wants to be our President and b) insists that the evidence for climate change is not consistent or compelling. That is sad.

The midterm elections

I am very afraid. There hasn’t been a lot of discussion in the press of the consequences of the Republicans taking the Senate. If the Affordable Health Care Act is repealed, I will be without insurance, along with millions of Americans, and have no idea if I will be able to find a replacement policy or what it will cost. Unlike many of my friends, I have never been without insurance in my life and desperately don’t want to be--but the Republicans, in their blindness or malice, are certainly willing to throw me (and much of the rest of America) overboard.

I also think we may see the impeachment of President Obama, for the high crime and misdemeanor of Being a Centrist Democrat. If I am right about this, the Republican use of the Constitution’s impeachment provisions to charge every Democratic president (because that is what it will be) becomes a sort of legalized coup. The Constitution, like every law or contract, assumes the good faith of its adherents. The impeachment clause was not written to say that, whenever the President is of the opposite party from the two houses of Congress, an impeachment shall occur.

Self inflicted wounds

On a related note, it is highly disturbing that in this kind of environment, President Obama keeps inflicting unnecessary wounds on himself which may help throw the midterm elections to the Republicans. The foul-up with the Affordable Health Act website was completely avoidable, but may be largely forgotten by November. The worst may be the Bowe Bergdahl thing, which I discuss in the next paragraph.

I feel a lot of compassion for the President. I myself have struggled to function in bad faith environments in which everything you do is wilfully misconstrued and, in the absence of any information which can be twisted, lies are told. As executive of a family of companies, I once tried to get a software development subsidiary to adopt a software methodology, only to meet accusations at every turn that my intervention was wrong-headed and unnecessary. (The entity later closed its doors.) I am working on a pro bono case now in an environment where there are people accusing me of taking money (the liars don’t even explain how I could be, when nobody has any money, except someone who would need a court order to pay me).

Yet there are things you avoid, or manage better, in hostile environments, and there is evidence the President isn’t good enough at that.

Bergdahl

I am struggling with the existence of a moral imperative in the Bergdahl case. I am a big fan of doing the Right Thing even when it is unpopular, and also know that realpolitik is too often an excuse for torture and murder.

Hostage exchanges however are inherently murky. The Israelis have freed hundreds of murderers to obtain the release of soldiers, and I understand the emotion, but share the doubts about the real world impact (aren’t you just confirming the efficacy of capturing another Israeli hostage as soon as possible?). In the Bergdahl case, I would like to know what the conversation was in the President’s inner circle: “We must do this now, no matter what”? Or was there a self-congratulatory delusion that it would be a popular move, no blow-back? The President’s failure to consult the relevant Senate committee confidentially, on the theory that hostile Republicans would leak his intentions, is understandable but takes its place in a long line of “imperial presidency” initiatives which I have always opposed since the Nixon administration: wars declared without Congress’ participation, “signing statements” upending legislation, the Bush administration’s decision to engage in torture. I don’t believe Congress should have meddled in the President’s discretion to release people from Guantanamo, but once they did, believe the President (absent a Supreme Court ruling invalidating the restriction) should comply.

The fact that Bergdahl, on all the evidence, deserted his post, arguably shouldn’t have any relevance (we shouldn’t countenance the torture or murder by the enemy even of deserters), but it does in the real world. The saddest part of it is that even worse political consequences will be avoided only if the Taliban keeps its promises. Think about that.

Eric Shinseki

Fitzgerald’s comment that “there are no second acts in American lives” now has another illustration. President Bush fired General Eric Shinseki from the Joint Chiefs of Staff for his correct prediction that we couldn’t possibly win the Iraq war with the small number of troops we originally sent. President Obama honorably brought him back into government to head the Veteran’s Administration, and now he has resigned in disgrace due to dishonest and bad things happening on his watch. Life sometimes seems random and mean and not at all like the idealistic Whig Narrative.

Populists in Europe

History does seem to repeat endlessly, and the triumph of some quite racist right wing populists in the European elections, surfing on public economic suffering and panic by blaming the immigrant “other” (and of course the Jews) is disturbing. We ought to know better, do better, by now. The question of whether humans can really manage their own affairs, which has sometimes depressed the hell out of optimists like Karl Marx and Bernard Shaw, will be answered provisionally when a Martian visits Earth a thousand years from now. If we are still here, in some quasi-civilized form, the answer will be “maybe”. If we are not, then “no”.

Benghazi

I barely want to talk about the Benghazi flap, but I remember being surprised that President Reagan got a completely free pass for sending troops into Lebanon with no visible success criteria or exit strategy, then pulling them out abruptly after 241 Marines died in one suicide bombing incident. But, hey, if you’re Republican, shit just happens; it has nothing to do with you.

Sugar

I threw together a pasta sauce one night from available ingredients: onion, garlic, canned corn and tomato sauce from a jar. The result was good but suspiciously sweet. Upon reading labels, I was not that surprised that Prego sauce has sugar in it, but I was rather startled to find sugar as an ingredient in canned corn. At my next visit to the supermarket, I read the labels of every brand, and discovered that all canned corn kernels list “Corn, sugar, water, salt” as ingredients. Really? Corn needs sugar?

Banks

Almost everyone in power in America at this late date (and I include the pundits), purports to love capitalism, but Whigs and Tories have very different ideas of what that is. The Whig Narrative is based on the shopkeeper capitalism that obtained in 1776. That’s a neighbor who owns a store, knows you personally, gives you credit to keep you as a customer for life (you reciprocate by paying on time), and always charges a fair price. The Tory view of capitalism is far more realistic today, and is tolerant of the bank which sold you an adjustable rate mortgage you didn’t understand and couldn’t afford, in order to issue crappy mortgage backed securities to trusting clients, and then created derivatives betting its own securities would fail. Once you start thinking about the inequality, the predation, inherent in Tory (Republican) “big” capitalism, you only need to look around you to find examples. Charging $3 for an ATM transaction, even if its $20? I suspect the banks would make a wild profit even if the charge was twenty-five cents. Overdraft policy: banks can legally, if you have multiple checks pending, bounce the largest one first, so they can then charge additional $35 charges on other items that could have cleared.

I just discovered a new one: convenient on-line check generation. Someone paid me by using that feature on her account: she filled in my name and address and the bank sent me a check in the mail. Convenient! But the money was debited from her account immediately, and I got the check two weeks later. Then, when I deposited it, my credit union held it another two weeks before clearing it. The reason: it was written not on the New York mega-bank which offered the service, but on an unknown North Carolina bank which fulfills the check-generation service for mega-banks. Fun with float!

Georgia Courthouse attack

The other day, a man appeared for his arraignment at a Georgia courthouse with semi-automatic weapons and in place of entering a plea, shot up the place until he was killed by court officers. He happened also to be a dealer of Glocks at gun shows. Regardless, he is a citizen of the world the NRA made, in which anyone can get guns and use them in any context, and order is then to be preserved by the presence of others with guns, who shoot the shooter. Anyway, the Second Amendment Narrative is based on the cornerstone concept that we need our guns precisely in order to be able to shoot government officials under certain undefined circumstances. It doesn’t surprise me that certain people, like the guy who shot Congresswoman Giffords or the courthouse shooter, are confused about exactly where to draw that line.

Billionaires

Isn’t it interesting that there is so much similarity between the billionaires created by Communist and capitalist systems? They have so much in common: sociopathic selfishness, massive predation, fundamental lawlessness. As a result, they socialize with each other, and with gangsters, with complete mutual understanding.