Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ferguson, Misery. Er, Missouri.


I'm shocked at the civil unrest which has broken out in Ferguson, Missouri. That is, I'm shocked that other people are shocked. After everything which has happened leading up to this tragic event, people actually have the nerve to look surprised! Honestly, what did you all expect?

You suburban comfort-dwellers, with your insured vehicles and your cable television, are partly to blame. You first created those slums when you fled to the suburbs when blacks dared to move into your neighborhoods, telling them with actions rather than words that you assumed they would make bad neighbors. Since then, you have been perfectly content to scold those who live in slums and are unable to get out, to chide those in the inner city for daring to ask for enough government aid to just barely have a shot at getting a better life, maybe, someday, and then to assume ghetto blacks are automatically thieves. You have prevented them from getting contraceptive care, then in the same breath accused them of being "welfare moms." You have denied them education and then called them stupid. You have smoked their weed, and then let them be thrown in jail for selling it to you. You have consistently voted for legislators who were committed to corporate welfare rather than real welfare on the misguided notion that socialism for big business was better than just plain socialism. You have pissed on them, your fellow Americans, and then held your nose at their odor. How dare you act surprised when the caged animal finally bites the hand that feeds it mere scraps! Wake up!

You law-enforcement officers, who bravely put on the uniform to protect your citizens, are also partly to blame. You all began as young idealists committed to ending crime and cleaning up the streets, perhaps even to potentially take a bullet to protect the innocent. You were committed to serve and protect. But then you saw the reality of the situation. You saw that the only two ways for young inner city black kids to escape poverty involved either a basketball career or dealing drugs, and that meant that you, the police officer, became the primary thing standing between them and a better life. You were their biggest enemy, and their number one oppressor. You resented that. You wanted to change things so that you were seen as the hero, not the enemy. But eventually, you were worn down, convinced by your captains and your elder officers that there was no real solution, and gave up. You decided at some point to side with the fatalism which has infected every urban police force in this country. And in so doing, you saw a certain wisdom in doing everything you could just to get home safely to your family after every shift. And so, instead of putting your life on the line when it came time to do what was right, you often chose to shoot first instead. You saw the greater good as protecting your fellow officers instead of protecting the people on your patrol - people who, deep down inside, you came to secretly regard as a lost cause. No, people don't understand how you put your lives on the line every day, hoping against hope that somehow, someway, things will get better without you. They never will. But that's no excuse to have allowed the mean streets to have made you jaded, and cause even the least racist among you to be racist in deed if not in word or thought. When your primary mission was to make yourselves be the friends and guardians of the inner city, you instead made it an ancillary concern - secondary or even tertiary to the higher priority of simply arresting and incarcerating those who broke the law because they were too poor to do anything else. "Let the jails fix them," you thought, as if simply shutting them away was somehow a solution. Yes, perhaps Officer Darren Wilson really did have no choice when he opened fire. And no, Michael Brown does not make the ideal martyr. But he was the victim who just happened to be the last straw in a very large bale of hay which finally broke the camel's back. How dare you foster the hatred among those you say you protect, and then try to justify shooting a kid who attacks you with the very hatred you instilled within him? If you can't give a day in court, at least give an apology! Wake up!

And finally, to my inner-city fellow humans, by brother Americans, the ones who are the same race as me but who just happen to have darker skin due to a difference in ancestry, you also are partly to blame. You have internalized the negative racist stereotypes with which you have been wrongly stained, and worn them like a macabre badge of honor. You have built statues to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., named streets after him, lionized him as a hero, and then proceeded to do the exact opposite of everything he stood for. You have shunned education when he would have embraced it. You have abandoned your self-worth when he would have told you to champion it. You have resorted to violence when he told you flat-out to turn the other cheek as Jesus and Gandhi recommended. When racists refused to see you as individuals, saying that you were all the same, you gladly accommodated them by being identity-less, acquiring new names the way some people acquire new shoes. After being wrongly being called stupid for so long, many of you decried education as a "white thing," and dropped out of high school. You have then pretended it was your cultural heritage to speak and write improperly. You have embraced being called criminals by acting and dressing like organized gang members, as if this would somehow make you appear more lawful to the cops you hate, and would rather avoid. You have even stood in solidarity with convicts by pulling down your pants below your hips - just as prison inmates do when their sodomy is spoken for - as a way of saying "I'm a jailbird, too!" You have become your own self-fulfilling prophecy. It's as if, after being pelted with pig-shit for years and years, you have collectively decided to wear your pig-shit coat as the latest fashion trend. But you're not fooling anybody but yourselves. You cannot beat poverty by wallowing in it, nor can you rise above by clipping your own wings. No, you cannot change your skin color, but you can control how you dress, how you talk, and how you live. How dare you complain about racism when you have colluded so well with your racist oppressors by confirming everything negative they've assumed about you! Wake up!

So now that I've called out the errant behaviors, what can we do about the present situation? It's a complex problem with a whole matrix of causes, and it will require a multi-layered solution with at least as many facets. But there is at least one thing we can do which will have an immediate impact: More black cops! Right now, the main problem of the inner city is a lack of good paying jobs for young people who desperately need them, and the main problem of the police force is the perception that they are racist oppressors who are not representative of the people they allegedly serve. We can solve two problems at once by putting young black men (and women) on the fast track to getting trained as police officers and patrolling their own neighborhoods. Oh, yes, these cops will be called Oreos, Uncle Toms, and sell-outs, but the one thing they won't be called is racists. That element will be cut out of the equation. For good.

I say let's give it a try: Let's ignore petty crimes in past behaviors when screening applicants. Let's even ignore jail time for non-violent offenses. If young black men are going to carry a gun in the inner city anyway (and they likely will), then let's do all we can to give them a badge to go along with that gun. After all, a white hillbilly cop patrolling a black inner city neighborhood makes about as much sense as a male gynecologist or a skinny sumo wrestler. And if we want people to feel that cops are connected to their neighborhood, let's recruit cops who are from that neighborhood. Certainly that makes more sense than some ridiculous rule requiring police officers to take up residency inside the borders of a city so ridiculously border-jumbled as Milwaukee. (Or Ferguson.)

Let's Axel Foley the police force! And then see what some suburban-level incomes can do to quell civil unrest!


Eric

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Let's Forgive Matt Taylor.


Have you heard the amazing news lately? The ESA, Europe's answer to NASA, has just landed a robotic probe on a comet! It's a first in history, a first in science, and should be at least as big a news story as the first Viking landing on Mars.

Into the scene stepped Dr. Matt Taylor, the project scientist for the Rosetta mission, who talked to us about the huge impact this amazing feat will have about our understanding of comets and their role in the history of the universe. He wanted us to understand the amazing story about how the Rosetta satellite took ten long years to reach this comet before deploying the Philae lander. It was the culmination of decades of hard work, and was to be Dr. Taylor's crowning achievement.

And all anybody wants to talk about is his damned shirt.

Okay, I'll grant you that the shirt was in poor taste. It was covered with artwork of scantily clad women in sultry poses which ranked one tick short of soft-core pornography. During the interview, the point he was trying to make with his odd shirt became clear, as he framed the scientific achievement as a sexy one, calling comet 67P, "sexy, but not easy." Eccentric? Yes, but still a fair point. It really WAS a sexy scientific achievement!

And all anybody wants to talk about is that damned shirt!

Dr. Taylor later gave a tearful apology. More to the point, he had just been asked a question by a reporter regarding the mission itself, asking him to please detail the scientific potential to the project. Instead, he apologized for his offensive wardrobe, and could barely continue afterward.

He's broken. After nearly two decades of work so intellectually difficult that most engineers can't even relate, the defining pinnacle which was to mark his career has now been marred forever. I don't blame him for breaking down. Meanwhile, some outstanding science is being done... and all anybody wants to talk about is that goddamned shirt!

Okay, look, I'm not insensitive to why the shirt was so offensive. I understand why it was in poor taste. Women have this strange obsession with telling us men that they don't want women objectified while at the same time wanting to be objectified themselves - meaning that what a woman really wants is herself objectified and not some idealized bikini model (which is a subject for another blog post, but I digress). But let's face it, if Matt Taylor is like most scientists, he's the socially off-center type who grew up being awkward around people and bears little sense or common sense when it comes to things like fashion. He probably doesn't have a single conservative thing in his wardrobe. Scientists are supposed to be slightly off, that's why they're so brilliant.

Can't we give the guy a break, already?

When he apologized, he was wearing a dark zip-up hoodie, probably meant to hide whatever least-loud-colored thing he had available, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if that hoodie had been borrowed from a colleague. For the rest of this man's life, he will be living in missed-opportunity hell, marred as "that guy who blew it." I think that amounts to feminists having gotten their revenge upon him, and piling on and on on top of that! It's so completely over. This poor man's already paid more than his due, and will go on paying forever.

Why is it that one male scientist wearing one risque shirt during one media event the thing that gets the most outrage? Why is it that Kim Kardashian and Miley Cyrus are hypocritically spared this kind of vitriol?

And if feminists really wanted to criticize, they should probably have blamed, not Matt, but his wife, Luanne, who somehow managed to let her husband walk out the door dressed like that!

Enough already. I say it's time to forgive him.

Now let's get back to the sexy science part!


Eric

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Being Poor Is Expensive!


I've just finished an amazing book by a woman named Linda Tirado called, Hand to Mouth: Living in bootstrap America. What an incredible read! It illustrates, through Linda's awful personal experiences, just what the real cost of living poor is. And here's a hint: it ain't cheap. This is the important message she has to give us, and it's given me some firepower to write this blog entry. After all, it wasn't all that long ago when I was in Linda's situation, struggling to study for a final exam while surviving on nothing more than a giant bag of pretzels. The sad truth is, it's cheap to be rich, and it's ridiculously expensive to be poor!

Here's one example Linda writes to us about: She once lost an entire pickup truck because of one parking violation. She admits that she committed the parking violation which got her towed, but let's face it, we've all been in situations where we've had no choice on that count, haven't we? But Linda was not so lucky in what happened afterward. Having lost her vehicle, she was told that she could redeem it from the impound by paying $100. She didn't have $100, but told the city workers that she could get it to them by the end of the following week when her next paycheck came in. So she walked the many blocks it took her to get to work every day, sloughing through cold and wet weather, just to finally get the meager funds she could get to get her truck back. But when she came in after her next paycheck, she was told that she now owed over $1000! The city had been charging her a $100 per day storage fee! Now she owed nearly everything she made in an entire month! She couldn't afford that, and was blunt in that she could never afford it! After all, they were charging her more than her daily earnings each day, including the weekends when she didn't work! Well, they told her, if she couldn't afford to reclaim the vehicle, they would eventually have to sell the vehicle off to cover the charges. Thus, Linda lost her entire truck - the one thing she had going for her - all for parking it wrong just once. The injustice of it all!

This is just one of the many mishaps and pitfalls that come naturally from being poor in America. For all the bitching the GOP does about the minimum wage holding the economy back, minimum wage is nearly impossible to live on. There just isn't any margin for error! If you scrimp, save, buy only the barest of necessities and live off nothing but ramen noodles for weeks, you might be able to save $30 or $40, but you can bet something will come along that upsets the apple cart along the way. Something will go wrong with the rust-bucket car, some illness will come along, the last pair of work pants will rip, your shoe's laces will break... something will happen! It always does. And when it does, there goes any ability to save anything at all.

Small wonder that poor people make what appear, at first, to be bad choices. When the time comes along when they finally do get just a little bit of money, they spend it on things that naive suburbanites might judge to be bad. Booze, cigarettes, drugs, lottery tickets, etc. It might seem as if such behavior brings more misfortune upon those who engage in it, and therefore they deserve what they get. But what the affluent don't understand is that the influences work both ways. The behaviors are the reaction to the crappy situation, not necessarily the cause. After all, if your life sucks anyway, and it will go on sucking whether you get drunk or not, whether you buy cigarettes or not, whether you get high or not, why not blow your wad now? At least you get one small glimmer of happiness before you sink back to the bottom again! And as for lottery tickets, it's true that the odds are astronomical that one can win their way out of poverty. But better nearly impossible odds than absolutely impossible ones - which are the odds of not playing at all. It makes sense, really. And cigarettes are cheap therapy. The rich can afford to get prescriptions for antidepressants. The poor choose a pack of Camels, not because it's wise, but because it's the only thing that they can self-medicate with.

Linda Tirado gives us some great definitions. Poor is when getting $1.00 is a miracle. Broke is when $5.00 is a miracle. Working class is being broke but living in a place which might not be run-down. Middle class means being able to live in a nice place, and by nice Linda means nothing fancy, but the furniture is owned rather than leased. Rich is anything above that, and when you're poor, that's certainly how it seems.

For the American poor, life is spent almost entirely on logistics: Up at 6:00 a.m. to get to job #1 on time, work that job doing something mindless like stacking boxes or pricing items in the aisle, then off work at 2:00 to go to second job at 3:00, work that job until 9 or 10, then in bed to do it all again. All the while being stressed out about whether the heat, rent, or electric bills will be able to be paid. If anything goes wrong, anything at all, the whole apple cart gets overturned. Even one night of insomnia will mean that both jobs come into jeopardy. It's not unusual to see one personal or family crisis cost someone both minimum-wage jobs they'd been working at once.

And let's consider how difficult it is to even work two minimum-wage jobs. Jobs which pay that low tend to punish those employees who work at other jobs brutally. Bosses want you to stay late if work is busy, and leave early if its slow. They don't give a damn if staying late puts the other job at risk - the other job that the employee just happens to be depending on just to survive. They care about their bottom line, even though they are fine, financially. Yes, I know that the line between a profitable and an unprofitable business is a precarious one, but you can't blame an employee for being distracted if they're worried about being evicted just because they got sent  home early.

Rent is exorbitant. What many people in the working poor are forced to do about it is move constantly. Landlords, desperate for tenants to pay their ridiculously high rent rates, will sometimes offer the first month or two of rent free if the new tenant pays the third month in advance. The working poor do this, then when they inevitably fall behind, they leave, taking the money they would have used to gain back one month back of the overdue rent at their old apartment in exchange for putting down a payment on the new one. And round and round the cycle continuously goes. It never dawns on landlords that their tenants might stick around if they charged less, or were more understanding about the occasional financial setback.

Banks don't understand. If you don't have enough money, and remember, the system is rigged to make sure you don't, then the bank will charge you for not having enough. Yes, I know the arguments about needing to provide a disincentive for overdrawing funds, but when such overdraws are unavoidable, is the punishment deserved? Let's say that some online subscription you forgot about nearly a year ago helps itself to its renewal fee from your account. Suddenly, the last $40 you had this week is gone, and you are now overdrawn three cents. But the size of that overdraw doesn't matter. Because you thought you had enough for lunch that day.  So you bought a $3.00 latte in the morning and then a $4.00 sandwich that afternoon. You aren't anywhere near an overdraft by your mental math. But you have actually now been charged $35.00 for your original three-cent overdraft, plus another $35.00 for the overdraft on the latte, and another $35.00 for the overdraft on the sandwich. You are now $112.00 in the hole without even realizing it! There went one-third of your paycheck before you even got paid! In a fair world, you would only be -$7.03 and would get a chance to pay that back right away, maybe by emptying out your penny-jar. But the banks don't give a shit about fair. We might as well call this what it is: a poor tax! But it's not even a tax, because tax money gets taken and applied to projects which improve infrastructure, pay soldiers or provide social security retirement. But poor people at the banks who get "feed upon" don't even have that consolation. The money they got charged just went to help the banker buy another Lincoln.

There is one golden thread that one can use to climb out of poverty, and that's education. But tuition rates have increased at more than double the rate of inflation for many decades. Thus the one thing that can legitimize a worker enough to get his/her ticket punched, a degree, is lost as a realistic goal. Politicians are always yammering on about providing money for education. Why do none of them ever talk about the immense need of bringing tuition costs down?

Speaking of which, how merciful is it of us to make it impossible to pay the tuition off? Laws have now changed so that not even bankruptcy can absolve someone of their tuition bills. It's either pay, pay, pay, or watch your credit rating be destroyed.

Ah, yes. Credit rating. Three institutions, elected by no one, accountable to no one, sit in judgment over every future purchase you may ever make. Want a mortgage? A car loan? Then you must get the approval of these self-appointed gods first. But tuition debt makes this impossible. And what's worse, many jobs have the audacity to hire only people of good credit rating. They tell us that it is a judge of character. But come on! So many people have bad credit due to no fault of their own! What kind of a judge of character is that? No, it's a judge of character of the employer, not the potential employee. The employer who demands such a test is an asshole! I can somewhat understand if the job involves the handling of large amounts of money, but why require a credit check for a laundromat worker, seamstress, or janitor?

There's only one realistic way to get out of tuition debt if you are a member of the working poor. You can fucking die! The debt will never get passed on to your family. (Although it wouldn't surprise me in the least if someone tried to pass a law that would get that changed, too!)

This is how M.B.A.'s and Ph.D.'s end up as bums on the street. Think those hobos have it bad in winter? Hey, at least they got off of the fucking hamster wheel!

We often hear talk of raising the minimum wage to $10 per hour. Yes, many of the make-work jobs will be lost this way, and businesses will downsize where they can, but for the employees who stay, this will help. Even then, $10 per hour at a 40 hour week is $400, before taxes.  After taxes, that's more like $330. (And, by the way, why is anyone making less than $25,000 per year paying anything in taxes?) Can you survive on $330 per week? I can't. Neither can you.  Unless maybe if you didn't have kids, or rent, or tuition. But, of course, we all have those. And this is what we are only proposing we increase the minimum wage to. What are people living on now? $7.25.  That's $290 per week.  Maybe $245 after taxes.  Ridiculous! We all have unexpected expenses, we all have medical risks.  One doctors' visit could ruin any of us.

Speaking of minimum wage, I understand it's a good idea. But one form of minimum wage gets overlooked, and that's the minimum wage for waiters and waitresses.  The minimum in Wisconsin is currently $7.25. When I was a kid in high school (25 years ago, already!) minimum wage was $3.25. Minimum wage for tipped employees was $2.10. Minimum wage is  now $7.25. And the minimum wage for tipped employees? It's $2.33!  Essentially remaining unchanged for 25 years! What the fuck! We're talking about raising the minimum up to $10, and we're letting the poor waitress at the mom and pop greasy spoon slave away for that little? If every one of her customers tipped very, very VERY well, she might earn the same amount as the dishwasher! But how realistic is that? It's not fair, especially to the one waitress who has to stay late on those slow nights, knowing full well she can't make ends meet, and can't escape her drudgery to work a job where minimum wage is nearly triple her current earnings! How about raising the minimum for tipped employees too this time?

A massive one-third of Americans live on minimum wage or just a little bit above. The people working at McDonald's aren't just teenagers anymore. The average age of a fast-food worker is 29! And of those people who aren't working at minimum wage, many are working for $7.30, or $7.50. They receive their annual raises in nickels! For such people, their income is essentially minimum wage as well. And after all this, employees have to do things like stand on their feet all day, not take restroom breaks, and still smile at the customers. Seriously, would you smile after all that?

This isn't the American Dream. In fact, the American Dream has become just that - a dream.

Here in America, we are all comparatively rich in the sense that we have certain basic things most people don't. For example, nearly every household has clean water, a flushing toilet, a television and a radio. That's fantastically rich by any worldwide standards. But when you live in a wealthy country, these basic amenities are illusory of one's quality of life. After all, what's the use of having clean water if that's all you have to live on for an entire week?

I'm much older these days. I turn 44 this next Friday. I've experienced a lot of setbacks. I haven't been able to accomplish most of what I set out to do. Still, the lot I have in live has been slowly improving. In spite of Governor Walker opposing my educational aspirations at every turn, I have been fortunate enough to land in a manufacturing job with a tremendous upside. It pays me more than I made as a junior accountant, and gives me overtime pay on top of that. It also gives me $5,000 per year for schooling, which is a benefit I've begun to take full advantage of. But even with all this, I still struggle. I have to work all the time, with only a brief respite at a karaoke bar on the weekends, and often not even that. I know I've been very lucky. I've been in good health, and although I am now supporting my father, I've at least had a parents' home to go back to. But what if I lived in a region of the country where manufacturing wasn't available? (That's most of the country, by the way.) What if I didn't have the means to a vehicle? What if I'd been a parent? I can't even begin to imagine the riptides I would have to overcome if I'd been born black, or had come from poorer parents.  Would I even have what little hope I now do? If I had relatives who cared less, or died younger, would I be living on the street right now? For that matter, could something still go awry that will take away what little I have?

I'm not sure. I only know that, as fortunate as I've been, the situations of most people are much, much worse. I feel as though I'm climbing a ladder, but the foundations of that ladder on fire beneath me, and that's because the whole building is burning. The permanence of my improving station in life depends upon those economic fires getting put out, I know it, and that means that I feel an obligation to make sure others do well also.

But good luck with that when travesties like our recent election take place.


Eric

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Assessing the Republican Victory


Two years ago, I bragged about Obama's win. I called it the last high-water mark for Republicans.

I was wrong. There was one more high point to achieve.

In my defense, I did say that the only thing the Republicans would win from now on is a mid-term election or two. That's exactly what this was. Still, it was a solid loss for Democrats, no doubt about it.

But before the neo-cons get too braggadocious, before the liberals wallow away their sorrow by drinking loads of Irish coffee and binging on gluten-free pop-tarts, let's all take a deep breath and really assess what's been won by Republicans and lost by Democrats, because neither is all that substantial in the long run. And by the long run, I mean two years from now.

Here's what the Republicans have won: Control of the Senate. This means controlling which bills come up for a vote in the other congressional house. That means that the gridlock we had in Congress now extends to the Senate as well. Why? Because they still don't have the Presidency. As long as that remains the case, the veto pen will be the only thing that will rule. There will be no end to the gridlock. It's now been made even griddier-lockier.

Some victory.

What else have they won? Well, a bunch of governors races, none of which really make much difference with Democrat-controlled representatives. They've gained more seats in the House, which also changes nothing. In the final analysis, this is not the "tidal wave" that pundits pretend it to be.

They've certainly won the center stage, though. Which sets things up splendidly for infighting and internal squabbles. No clear Republican front-runner is apparent in the prospective 2016 presidential race, and that means that there's going to be as much grandstanding as there will be backstabbing. Had Democrats retained control of the Senate, Republicans could have put on a fresh-face by 2016 and made an appeal to the center. But that option is now gone. Republicans will not be able to say that Democrats have been running the show for eight years and that it's time for a change. No, they will have been running the entire congress for two years, and will have demonstrated the comedy of errors we all know they are prone to when they get this many of their own number together in one place.

Here's a prediction: Under the Democrats, the Senate very nearly exercised a nuclear option to change Senate rules to prevent the absurd number of filibusters from taking place. They came to the brink of this option, and then, when their opponents were solidly under-foot, they let them go! That decision will now come back to haunt Democrats as they will, undoubtedly, be the ones filibustering everything. And you can bet your ass that Republicans will not hesitate to curtail the filibustering they so frequently resorted to! I say, that's just as well. The rule should have been changed in the first place. And lack of filibustering will simply make the Republicans look worse.

This was not a victory. This was the opposition running up the score in 4th quarter "garbage time." Which is an apt analogy, seeing as how the Dems played a prevent-defense during the entire campaign.

Which brings me to my next point: If Democrats lost for any one reason, it was because they abandoned their biggest asset: Our Trophy President, Barack Obama. I mean, unemployment is low, the stock market is high, 200,000 or more jobs have been added every month over the last six years, and Obamacare is working. And Obama has done all this in spite of relentless and hateful opposition! This was not a president to run away from! But every Democratic candidate did, to the point of not even speaking Obama's name on the campaign trail, or refusing to acknowledge that they even voted for him in the last election!

Yes, Barack's approval rating was only 42%. But you know what? The reason that number was so low was largely due to the Democratic strategy of running away from Obama in the first place! When voters see candidates refusing to have anything to do with Our Trophy President, they simply assume that he's been that abysmal a failure. 'I mean, his own people are abandoning him, so he must be a screw-up, right?' Wrong! The poor numbers were a reflection of the mistaken Democratic strategy, which then became a self-fulfilling prophecy! After all, treat a man like a skunk, and people will assume he smells bad, even if he smells like a rose. What madness! No, we still have the greatest president I can remember having in my lifetime. And I would like to be the first to call for the head of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and every other Democratic Party "strategist" who ran this campaign. Fire them all!

The smart thing to do was to shift tactics when they saw that Obamacare was working. They could have rallied around Our Trophy President, driven up his approval rating dramatically, and cruised to the finish line. If they didn't achieve outright victory, at least they could have avoided total defeat! But when Obamacare's initial rollout resulted in numerous website difficulties and initial sign-ups for the program appeared low, the strategy was drawn up to avoid the President and Obamacare. And damn it all if they didn't stick to that game plan even when the playing field dramatically shifted, and it was obvious that it was harming their campaigns! They lost because they hitched their wagons to a falling star.

And yet, even though it would have been a good move not to abandon Obama and campaign on economic issues stemming from his resounding success in that field, let's face it: it's difficult for Democrats to make the economy a central point of their campaigns, because doing so means championing the things we know will work, such as combating income inequality and making sure that those at the top pay their fair share. But that's almost impossible to discuss in a post-Citizens' United political world. Nearly all the money comes from big corporations now, and any candidate who speaks up about getting more money away from those who need it least and into the hands of those who need it most will find themselves losing out on getting any money themselves. The need for funds gags the message. This is yet one more reason why this absurd ruling must be overturned as quickly as possible!

Still, there is hope. America IS changing! The majority of states now recognize same-sex marriage. Progressives are now smoking the marijuana they have managed to legalize in two more states and the District of Columbia. One of those two states is, surprisingly, hyper-conservative Alaska! And one more thing: The average age of the typical Republican is 69, meaning that the decrepit and rusty ball and chain will soon fall off of the nation's ankle.

So the old farts had one more blast left in their colons. So what? We still have the White House, and they're still a Clown College. The stage is now set for a Republican collapse the likes of which hasn't been seen in quite a while. I'm not sure if it means that Democrats gain back a super-majority in the Senate, but it will certainly be enough to turn things around.

I predict so, anyway.


Eric

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Early Voting. And Dump The Ads!


I voted yesterday. What's your excuse?

It took two minutes. No exaggeration. If you count drive-time, it took five minutes. I did it while being nervous that it would make me late for class. I ended up getting to class ten minutes early for once.

Not registered to vote? You can register right there. Then it will take you three minutes.

In fact, early voting is such a breeze that I'm rather disappointed that I can only do so here in the suburb of Greenfield. Just for contrast, I want to purposely change my address to Milwaukee just so that I can experience what early voting is like when I have to fight downtown traffic to get to city hall and vote there. (Not that I'm advocating stuffing the ballot, or anything.)

So, if this wonderful new mechanism for getting out the vote works so beautifully, why are we still forced to hit the 'mute' button every time the local news breaks for commercials to keep us from being assaulted by whopper-lie-telling political advertisements?

Isn't that money better spent on buses and car pools?

Hey, here's an idea! Vote taxi! It could be free and available to all! All candidates have to contribute to it, then voters without transportation can book a time, get to the polls and vote!

I'm going to have to blog about that again!

Anyway, my ultimate point is simply this: The demographic in Wisconsin has not changed in the four years we've managed to survive Scott Walker. 45% of the state is infatuated with him. Another 45% can't stand the bastard. And it's no secret that I'm in the latter camp. Here on this blog I've insulted Walker with any number of creative nicknames. I've called him Little Boy Blue (because he's a former employee of IBM). I've called him the drop-out kid because he IS a college drop out. (Left Marquette, never even thought of completing his degree since. Dumbass.) I've called him slash-and-burn Walker, based on his track record of slashing and burning as County Executive of Milwaukee and his first (unbelievably disastrous) month in office as governor. I suppose the 10% of people in the middle would like to see Walker gone, but aren't too sure what to make of Mary Burke, either. 51% of Wisconsinites wanted Walker gone during the recall election of two years ago, but voted for him because they hated the politics behind the recall itself. I can only think that the disgruntled middle will swing the other way this time.

Current polls show that Walker and Burke are tied. But poll projections are based on two things: registered voters and likely voters. In both polls, it's still close, with Walker having a slim edge. Both registered voter numbers and likely voter numbers can swing dramatically democratic with a large voter turnout, because let's face it, Wisconsin is blue-purple. When people actually bother show up, Obama wins, Obamacare is approved of, and Planned Parenthood is fully funded. When people don't show up, the loud minority shoves right-wing crap down the throats of an unwilling constituency.

And we'll have deserved it, because we stayed home.

Back to my original point, not staying home and voting early is easy.

So don't stay home! Go vote, Wisconsin!

Quick, before they figure out a way to gerrymander the governorship as well.


Eric

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Referendums!


Have you voted yet? Early voting is on, you know. If you haven't, do so. And here's a little added incentive in the form of my informing you what little tidbits are on this year's ballot which you might not have known about. Did you know there are some interesting referendums on the ballot this year? None of the referendums are binding, but at least the government will get some real feedback from its electorate for once. I will detail them for you, and give a little bit of my own input at the same time. But before I do, let me point out that I found these via my local municipality's website. The City of Greenfield, where I live, details everything which is on its ballot in .pdf format, allowing me to read up on who's who on the ballot itself. I can then research any names I don't know about and vote accordingly. It's a fast and easy way to stay informed. One quick internet search and your done. You don't even need to bother putting the news on your radio dial. (Although I recommend everyone stays informed.) And now, on to the good stuff:

First, the State of Wisconsin would like to know if you wish to create a transportation fund.  "Shall section (blah, blah) of article (blah, blah, blah) of the constitution be created to require that revenues generated by use of the state transportation system be deposited into a transportation fund administered by a department of transportation for the exclusive purpose of funding Wisconsin's transportation systems and to prohibit any transfers or lapses from this fund?"

Interesting. (Yawn!) Personally, I think that the odds of public transportation fees actually generating a profit are about as likely as aliens landing on top of the state capital.  But in the unlikely event that I'm wrong, I don't think those excess funds should be barred from being used to pay other debts. Money should be flexible, or it's not really useful. But that's just me.

Now things get more interesting. You get to vote on whether corporations are people! "Shall the United States Constitution be amended to establish the following? 1. Only human beings, not corporations, are entitled to constitutional rights, and 2. Money is not speech, and therefore, regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting political speech."

Well, DUH! Obviously, this is in retaliation for our generation's Dredd Scott case in the Supreme Court. What a shame this one isn't binding.

Here's another interesting one: "Shall the next State Legislature accept all available federal funds for BadgerCare to ensure that thousands of Wisconsin citizens have access to affordable health coverage?"

Translation: Will you Republicans stop fucking with Obamacare and let us have the damn money already? Hey, since it seems to finally be working, you might as well not kick the sick while they're down in order to play politics. That one should go without saying.

Next question: "Should the State of Wisconsin increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour?"

Yes, some make-work jobs will be lost by this move. But those who are forced to depend on minimum wage jobs will get their chance to improve their lives, and possibly even be able to invest in better education to better their lot in life. This will ultimately mean more real-wage jobs for everyone, long-term.  Don't worry, 2% inflation will restore even this wage hike to a non-living wage in about five years. Do nothing, and minimum wage goes from near-slavery to outright slavery.

And finally: "Should Wisconsin Statutes be amended to allow Milwaukee County to transition its management and administrative functions from an elected County Executive to a professional County Administrator?"

Fucking what? I'll admit, I had no idea what this question was meant to be about, either. But I did a little bit of digging, and here's what this referendum item seems to pertain to. Apparently, Chris Abele proposed a new law which would limit the governing powers of the County Board and turn some of those powers over to hired professionals instead. The board is bristling over this move, and is basically asking us to side with them in saying, 'Well, Abele, how would YOU like it?'

Personally, I'm voting 'no' on this one. Too many cooks spoiling the broth is disgusting enough at the national level. But when I see it at the local level, it makes me want to puke. We should have  no more than five county board members (like Los Angeles does!), and yet we are burdened with a whopping seventeen of them. Just shut up and collect your over-bloated paychecks already!

So that's it! Five referendum questions. Your government wants to hear from you for a change.

Now GO VOTE!


Eric

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Taking On ISIS.


Well, here we go again.

Yes, once again we're involved in a conflict with what's left of Persia. And, once again, we have shitty reasons for going in. The terrorists who comprise the Islamic so-called State (notice that I don't say, 'so-called Islamic State') are continually trying to provoke us into overreacting, and we are, of course, trying to avoid being appeasers by giving them exactly what they want. How very logical. These terrorists want an all-out fight with the West, and we are more than willing to oblige them.

It's almost as if they've forgotten we have nukes. Even worse, it appears as though we've forgotten we have them.

No, don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating we drop a nuke or two on thousands of innocent women and children just to kill millions of evil, religious assholes. But I must admit, it is tempting.

In spite of our nuclear advantage, ISIS is somehow seen as a threat to us. But why? Do they have ICBM's? No. Do they have long-range aircraft? No. Do they have any operatives working in the US or its neighbors? So far, we know of none. So how are they a threat when they're stranded on the other side of the fucking planet?

I guess they're seen as a threat because that makes for good television. It's worth dropping a nuke on them just to eliminate that nonsense. Or we could just nuke Newscorp's corporate offices. Again, I'm not serious, just tempted.

What I want to discuss, however, is not the ethical "dilemma" of whether or not to render the territory of Islamic State a radioactive wasteland. Rather, I want to discuss Our Trophy President, and what on earth he could be thinking about as he goes ahead and does precisely what Dick Cheney would do in his place.

You see, this proves (yet again) a point I've been making for years, which is that Barack Obama is a Republican in all but name. Of course Bush II would have done exactly this. So would McCain. Mitt Romney would undoubtedly be trying to garner federal funds to send Mormon missionaries off to do their two-year stint in ISIS-held territory only to have their young heads chopped off. (A thought which, in spite of my better judgement, I find rather funny.) Over and over again, Obama does exactly what Reagan would have done, and the reaction by the dittohead caucus is to brand all these conservative actions as rabid socialism. Barack should simply change his party affiliation so that Republicans can fall all over themselves converting to the Democratic party and declare that institution the new safe-haven for True Conservatism. (Another thought which, in spite of my better judgement, I find rather funny.)

The truth is deeper than this, however. True, Our Trophy President pledged that we would not get involved in this sort of warfare again. He campaigned over and over again about leaving the region for good. And yet, here we are, marching right back in to try to glue back together an area of the world which has been repeatedly broken.

It ought to be enough to make us regret breaking it in the first place.

So what is making this self-professed peacenik go back on his vows? What could turn this purported dove into such a hawk? I think I know why.

You see, Our Trophy President is a man of conscience. He really is. He honestly tries to do the right thing every day, which puts him far and away above most politicians. But this means that he must look at the situation regarding ISIS in a somewhat moralistic light. As president, he could act militarily and prevent ISIS from committing mass genocide. On the other hand, he could stick to his pledge, keep his promises, and sit by as millions of innocents are slaughtered. The former saves lives. The latter saves his political cohesiveness.

For a man of conscience, the answer is clear: He has chosen to save lives rather than preserve his stature in political history - even during a midterm election season.

Honestly, I'm so proud of the man that I'm moved to tears. It's amazing! What a magnanimous creature our president is! I was quite right to label him as Our Trophy President. He is precisely that, and more!

And I disagree emphatically with what he's doing.

Yes, I understand it. But I still disagree with it. ISIS (or ISIL, or whatever this doomed-to-be-short-lived state calls itself) is a direct consequence of our bungling the process of helping to set up a new Iraqi government. The Sunnis were shut out of the political process, and now they have come back with religiously extremist allies bearing guns and spouting Koranic scripture. Honestly, what did we expect would happen? But as much as this is true, it doesn't change the fact that Islam has a terrifying problem within its own ranks. Right-thinking and tolerant Muslims who believe in true religious freedom are in the minority, and the vast majority (ISIS-minded people, all of them) are bent upon forcing others to the Law of Allah. No, they cannot force men to their religion, as the Koran forbids that. But then again, they are not forcing people to accept their religion. All they are doing is forcing people into accepting the Laws of Allah. (See the subtle difference, there?) This is not dissimilar to the situation facing Christianity during the Dark Ages, an era which gave rise to endless religious oppression, the Spanish Inquisition, and (thanks largely to religious condemnations against cats) the Bubonic Plague and the Black Death. But the Inquisition did one beneficial thing - it paved the way for an intellectual backlash, one which we still refer to as The Enlightenment. It gave rise to Secularism, and with it, freedom of religion and democracy.

So, am I arguing that ISIS is necessary for there to be a true Arab-world Renaissance? You bet your ass I am! For liberal Islam to emerge, it is absolutely necessary for fundamentalist Islam to burn itself out. Without a Torquemada to condemn, an Enlightenment movement does not take place. Without a Hitler, no memorials go up saying, "never again." Yes, the road is hard, but it is necessary. We need the Evil Empire to rise to prominence if the Just and Righteous are to defeat it. And furthermore, we need the Evil Empire to be fully and completely Islamic, just as we need the people who defeat it to be.

You see, the Inquisition was not a perversion of Christianity. It was the perfect expression of it! It is logically better for someone to be tortured a little bit in this life so that they may avoid eternal torture in the hereafter. Christians themselves tore this down. But ever since this notion was defeated, Christianity has struggled to regain both its lost status and its moral certainty. Democracy had its chance to flourish only because liberal Christians held the fundamentalists in check. Islam, too, must undergo this transformation from fervent belief to milquetoast moderation. But for that to take place, the Perfect Evil version of itself must be allowed to fester. The boils must come to the surface before they can be lanced.

I know full well what I am arguing. I am arguing for the deaths of mothers and their babes in arms, of fathers who are just trying desperately to protect them, of children who are too young to understand any of it. And I know that their deaths will come by the thousands. In the eyes of our president, this is too high a price to pay, and he feels compelled to do something about it. I don't blame him. But while he sees the thousands who will be massacred today, I see the tens of hundreds of thousands who will be massacred later on if we don't stay the hell out of it. The better (but harder!) course of action is to not get involved, and it is easiest to achieve with a lame-duck president sticking to his original principles. Too bad he isn't, noble though his motives might be.

Put simply, my argument is that evil must feed upon evil until it consumes itself, like a snake eating its own tail. But it will never have time to feast if we keep dropping bombs on it with airstrikes.

And wouldn't the terrorists just love it if we get goaded into spending ourselves to death militarily just like the Soviet Union once did?


Eric

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