Tuesday, May 24, 2016

To Vote or Not to Vote?

How did we reach this point? The next President of the United States may very well be... Donald Trump?! A blustering, carnival barker with absolutely no political experience? The office held by Washington, Lincoln, FDR? Donald J. Trump? Or, even worse, it may be Hillary Clinton. A corrupt, grasping, transparently phony, self-aggrandizing liar of long standing? This is the best our electoral system can produce?

I feel ashamed as a citizen of the U.S. before the audience of the world. Not that I normally care much what the world thinks of us in general, or of me in particular, but this is really embarrassing. No, it's a disgrace. These are the two worst candidates for president of my lifetime; there really is no choice between them -- a clown and a criminal, a lout and a liar --  and so, for the first time in my adult life, I may not vote at all. That saddens me. I take my right to vote seriously (even though the courts religiously call me for jury duty every two years!), and I don't believe I have ever missed an election on any level. I even vote for members of the local school board. And I do my research. I actually read the candidates' statements, and look them up on the Internet to try to find out who they really are and what they really stand for. Then I mark my sample ballot and take it to the polling place so that I don't make any mistakes. No hanging chads for this voter.

But not this year. In its dysfunctional wisdom, the American electoral system has given me no serious choice. This is a bad joke, played on us, I think, quite deliberately by what is being called every fifteen minutes on cable news "the establishment." Both parties have failed us; the entire lousy, rotten establishment has delivered the nation into the hands of poseurs and phonies; the dreck has floated to the surface, and the flotsam is overwhelming us. And I sit here at my dining-room table gazing at my sample ballot, unable to begin filling it out.

Oh, I suppose I will vote for what they call the down-ballot candidates: senator, congressman, judges, city officials. But my presidential preference will not be proffered. Not this year. Not with these pathetic excuses for a commander-in-chief.

Or, maybe...

Maybe things have gotten so rum-runner rotten that it may be necessary to shake up the establishment -- give it a good dressing down, make it tremble until it collapses under its own putrid weight. Maybe Donald J. Trump is exactly what it needs, and deserves. Maybe I should just roll the dice and hope that we manage to avoid Armageddon while we bring down the whole, filthy, despicable mess that politics in this country has become.

Maybe I will vote, after all...

Monday, April 11, 2016

Run for the Hills

Hillary Clinton has been asked twice recently whether she would quit the race for president if she is indicted. Both times, she laughed and dismissed the possibility out of hand. Now, the FBI, refuting a report that 147 agents were investigating her activities, admitted that somewhere between twenty and forty agents are, in fact, investigating her. Think about that, please: The Democrat front runner is, and has for months been, under intense FBI investigation, yet when asked about the implications of that fact, she laughs. I am quite sure that if two FBI agents were investigating me, I would be near hysterics, unable to eat or sleep, let alone carry on work as usual. We now know that the Hills had over 2000 classified documents on her private email server, over twenty of which were classified at the highest level of secrecy. Yet if, in the course of my writing, I had even one such email on my computer, I would be prosecuted and probably jailed. But the Hills remains unfazed, and continues to run. So what is the difference?

Well, of course, she is the former First Lady, former senator from New York, former Secretary of State, and is now expected to be nominated for president. That alone ought to answer the question, though, to my mind, it does not. We live in a country of laws, and no one, we are solemnly told from childhood, is above the law. Breaking the law is not a question of who you are but of what you did, and what the Hills did clearly broke several laws. And these are only the violations we know about: the FBI has been very successful in concealing their investigative process, so we still do not know how many of the 32,000 deleted emails they were able to recover, nor whether they contained information which she intended to cover up, regarding either the Clinton Foundation or the suggestion that she, in effect, traded favors for donations. So her resume and her connections should make no difference; if she did sell favors for millions of dollars then she broke the law. If she did store secrets on her home computer, then she broke the law. And if she broke the law, she ought to be held accountable.

But there is, I suspect, another dimension to the strange equanimity and dismissive attitude on her part, and that may involve her relationship with Barack Obama. That it has been a contentious one is an open secret; she has been haughty, disrespectful and disloyal to the president, though she feigns a closeness to him in public. But that, of course, is eyewash; from everything I have read, the Hills despises Obama and his wife, and sees her prospective presidency as the finest form of revenge. And so, it seems likely (to me, at least) that she "has something" on Obama, something which she is using to contain leaks of the investigation (which earlier had been rife), and preclude the president from allowing his Attorney General to impanel a grand jury. This suggestion should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the Clintons' careers; blackmail, bullying, smearing and intimidation are well-honed weapons in their political arsenal.

What do I think she has on the president? It is impossible to tell at this juncture, and we may not know for decades, but I think it may be one of three things (or two or perhaps all three). First, Benghazi. I believe she knows that Obama was derelict in his duty during that crisis, which led to the murders of four Americans. We recall that Michael Moore skewered George Bush for delaying his reaction to 911 for ten or fifteen minutes. Obama was absent for eight hours during Benghazi, and then went to a fundraiser in Vegas. And yet, to this day, we do not know where he was or what he was doing. But the Hills knows, and Obama knows that she knows, and that might be her firewall against indictment.

Second, there is the matter of the private server itself. Obama claims that he did not know about it until he read of it in the newspaper -- his standard deflection when he wants to avoid an outright lie. But subsequent reports have made it clear that he did know about it; in fact, could not have failed to know about it since he was sending and receiving emails to and from it. If it turns out that the FBI decides (as it should) that the Hills' server was illegal, then Obama was complicit in the crime.

Third there is the question of the Hills' personal relationship with Obama, and here there is very little if any public evidence, but I offer a speculation based on my knowledge of how the Clintons operate. There have been whiffs, no more than that, of infidelity on the president's part, and it is entirely consistent with Clintonian behavior that the Hills not only knows about such matters, but may even have evidence of them (just as J. Edgar Hoover had and used it against several presidents). Given Obama's pristine image as a husband and father, such evidence would be a powerful inducement for him to say, as he did last week, for example, that the Hills' private server did not jeopardize national security. This extraordinary assertion, based on no compelling evidence and made in the midst of an FBI investigation, can only be explained, I think, as a blackmail payment.

Other explanations have occurred to me, but I offer only these as food for thought. My principal argument lies, not in any public documentation at this point, but in the Clintons' long history of dirty, bare-knuckles politics. This is a power couple who would do, say, or threaten anything to gain and keep power, and whose success not only in securing power but in getting away with their tactics would make Richard Nixon spit in envy.

For my own poor part, I cannot imagine wanting anything so badly that I would stoop to such depths of deviousness, deceit and depravity as the Clintons have done, and, as I suspect, they are doing even as I write this. Perhaps I am wrong -- entirely wrong -- but I doubt that I am just as confidently as I believe that no office is worth trading one's integrity to achieve.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Well and Truly Trumped!

I recall some lines from the wonderful play "Marat/Sade" describing the violence of the French Revolution: "Now it's happening and you can't stop it happening. The people used to suffer everything. Now they are taking their revenge. You are watching that revenge, and you do not remember that it was you who drove them to it?!"

These same words could be said by Republican voters to the leadership of the GOP. The electorate as a whole is fed up with the political establishment, but the Republican base in particular has had more than a belly-full. They are saying: "We have given you plenty of opportunities -- we elected you, we reversed forty years of Democrat control of Congress, and we believed your pledges and promises, only to watch you (with precious few exceptions) go to Washington and sell out. We have seen you steamrolled again and again by Obama, and we still find ourselves saddled with Obamacare, a twenty trillion dollar debt, a war on the cops, the Iran nuclear deal, a lawless administration that rules by executive order, and, now, the prospect of Barack Obama appointing a successor to no one other than Justice Antonin Scalia.

"So we've had it. Had it with your lies, your hypocrisy, your betrayal. Now we are taking our revenge, and you pretend that you don't know that it was you who drove us to it. We're going to vote for Donald Trump, no matter how outrageous, irrational or dangerous he becomes. And every time you attack or malign him, we will only grow more determined to well and truly Trump you, even if it means tearing the Republican Party apart and putting Sanders or Clinton in the White House. Yes, we'd accept even that if it means finally teaching you a lesson, and tearing down the whole rotten, corrupt, treacherous edifice you've built. We'll burn your house down and Trump will be the torch we'll do it with. And you'll have no one to blame but yourselves."

That, I have become convinced, is what this election is really about: revenge, pure and simple. At least on the Republican side. On the Democrat side, of course, we have a criminal running against a communist, which has its own contorted logic. But in the GOP primaries, we are watching a spectacle that is nothing short of self-annihilation. It is not a pretty sight, but it may be a necessary one: The Republican Party has repeatedly betrayed its base, and the base is turning on it and will destroy it. And perhaps from its ashes, something resembling true Constitutional conservatism and political integrity may yet arise.

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Collective IQ

It is finally caucus day in Iowa, and I must say that I am heartily glad to see it. I am by now so sick of the entire fatuous, cynical, phony process that I can only hope to have it over as soon as possible. Every election year our national IQ loses fifteen points, and the air is filled with lies, inanities and false promises until the sheer volume of debilitating nonsense becomes unbearable. Every election I tell myself that it can't get any worse than this, and every election I am reminded that it can, because it does. The current election campaign is by far the worst I have ever seen, given both the candidates and the media coverage of them.

Look at the choices we are being given. On the Democrat side, we are asked to choose between a chronic liar, hypocrite and phony who is under FBI investigation for leaking national security secrets and trading the national interest for money, and a septuagenarian socialist who spent his honeymoon in the most romantic place he could think of: post-Stalinist Russia. On the Republican side, the persistent front-runner is a carnival sideshow barker who wants to mass-deport Hispanics and ban Muslims from the country, both of which would be a) unconstitutional, b) impractical if not impossible, and c) immoral. If this is the best that our electoral system can produce, then we need a new electoral system.

The media's coverage of all this idiocy has been beyond idiotic. An inveterate news junkie, I keep hearing the same pointless analysis day after day, month after month. I think if I hear one more "pundit" say that Trump has "tapped into something," without being able to identify what it is, I shall perform an auto-tonsillectomy by screaming. What he has tapped into is no secret to anyone who has been conscious for the past fifty years: We are fed up with politicians who promise one thing and do nothing, with the corruption, lying, hypocrisy and cynicism of elected politicians at every level, with the fact that nothing ever seems to get done about the problems in this country except the blowing of a never-ending gale of hot air. I am reminded of what a famous screenwriter said about Hollywood: Nobody knows anything.

Take taxes, for example. For as long as I have been alive and conscious enough to understand it, people have complained about the inequities of the tax system in this country, its endless complexities, loopholes and its unfair distribution of the burden of paying for the government. And politicians have been promising to fix it, with either radical reforms, or a scrapping of the whole voluminous code which even high-priced tax lawyers and accountants can't understand, let alone explain. We elect tax crusaders generation after generation, and, voila, the tax code becomes more voluminous, complex and unfair. We have now passed the point where more than half of the American people pay no tax at all, while the rest of us find our incomes raided and raped before we even see the paychecks.

So, what do I look forward to this election year? Besides more of the current idiocy, I mean -- more talk about Rubio's boots and Trump's hair and Fiorina's face. Here is what I look forward to:

Above all, to Hillary Clinton being indicted. I can only hope that a perfect storm of accountability will occur, in which the "deleted" emails have been recovered, proving that she both mishandled classified information and traded favors as Secretary of State for contributions to her family foundation.  If the FBI director refers her case to the Attorney General for prosecution, and Obama orders the DOJ not to act on the recommendation, I hope for a firestorm of protest, from resignations by FBI officials to demands by the public that she at least withdraw from the race. Do I think that Obama will try to prevent her indictment? Yes, because from what I know of the Clintons and their past political behavior, I am sure that they have such defamatory material on Obama that they will blackmail him into submission. What sorts of things? Two: that he lied when he said he did not know she was using a private email server while Secretary of State, and that he deliberately absented himself from the Benghazi crisis, telling her and the Defense Secretary to handle it, while he disappeared for a good night's sleep prior a fundraiser in Vegas. There may be, and probably is more, but for that much at least there is some documentation already in the air.

As for Bernie Sanders, who has managed to woo young people and poor people with fabulous promises of more free stuff and divine retribution on the capitalist system that has oppressed them, I can only hope that his 74 years finally catch up with him, and he becomes too enfeebled to carry on. Or that his supporters wake up to the fact that the United States is not a socialist nation, was never intended to be a socialist nation, and must never become a socialist nation, since socialism, that eighteenth century European pipe-dream, has oppressed, enslaved and murdered more human beings that any other ideology in history. As Charles Krauthammer recently pointed out, it is a poignant irony that socialism seems to be gaining currency in America a full generation after it has been intellectually debunked everywhere else in the world.

Trump, I hope, will just go away. I cannot believe that the American people would elect to the presidency a vapid, self-promoting showman who has as little idea what he would do with the ultimate power as he does with all his money. Governing the United States is not a deal-making enterprise; it is a moral, political, social and cultural responsibility which requires integrity, pragmatism and a visionary quality such as Lincoln had, and which the current occupant of the presidency so painfully lacks. We do not need another amateur in office, no matter how much business experience he has. The results of doing that, as we learned with Obama, are far too plain to see: the economy creeps by in its petty pace from day to day, the federal system has ground to a standstill, to be replaced with executive orders the like of which would have made Madison's skin crawl, and our society is more divided, self-loathing and dysfunctional culturally and racially than at any time since the fifties.

If you were to press me for what I hope happens... Well, I think that if I woke up the morning after election day in November to find that Christie or Kasich had become president, I would feel relieved. Beyond that, I cannot see my way clear to comfort. I admire Ben Carson, but he has proved himself to be too unqualified for the job. Rubio is simply too young and inexperienced, and we know what happens when we elect a 43 year old first-term senator. I suppose Jeb Bush is a decent fellow, but the idea of a third member of that family in the White House is simply repugnant -- surely we can find someone else to govern the nation. Carly Fiorina does a very good job of laying out her policy positions, but her business record will doom her just as Romney's did. Rand Paul remains interesting, but only that -- not inspiring or visionary, but rather prosaic and slightly melancholy, and at times as much out of touch with reality as Obama is.

In the end I can say only this: What matters is that we finally rid ourselves of Obama, and that we not inflict on ourselves the (probably) fatal wounds of Clinton, Sanders and Trump. If we can just manage that, perhaps all will yet be well. Except, perhaps, for Ted Cruz...

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Great Expectations

It is now 9:45 PM, and my eighth grader has just gone to bed, having finally finished his homework. He started at 3:30, took an hour for dinner and a bit of relaxing, and finished fifteen minutes ago. Which is to say that he had five hours of  homework tonight, including practicing his musical instrument (music is one of his classes). This is a fairly typical night's work for him. If there are tests or assignments due, it may be more; rarely is it less.

The reason I mention this is that last week I watched a discussion on a cable news show about public school parents who complain of the amount of homework their children are given. How much homework? Thirty to forty-five minutes a night.


(Those who have followed my blog will know that the ellipsis represents my reaction of stunned silence.)

Forty-five minutes of homework a night?! My son has forty-five minutes in each subject. How do these indignant parents expect their children to compete in the real world on such a minimal diet of self-improvement? Forty-five minutes a night?!

Are the public schools' expectations of the children so low, and the demands made on them so scant, are the parents so utterly clueless, that they think these children can compete for places at the best universities -- or at any universities -- on forty-five minutes of homework a night? Do they expect that they will go out into the wide world armed with the knowledge necessary to secure good jobs and fashion fulfilling careers?

What planet are these people living on? Certainly not the one on which bright, well educated, ambitious students live, and on which Japanese and Chinese students live, who will gobble up the few places at the best schools, while your little underachiever struggles to get into the local community college.

On the rare night when my child has a mere three and a half or four hours of homework, we fairly celebrate. We make cookies and watch an old movie or classic TV show, or he enjoys the luxury of getting an extra hour's sleep. Unless you feel that your child is stupid and condemned to a life of underemployment, or to the pickings of academia after the choice spots have been taken, you should not be complaining about less than an hour's homework; you should be demanding more.

And you should be helping the child with that extra work, both to improve your own mind, and to keep abreast of what he or she is learning, and how well he or she is doing. That is part of the responsibility of being the parent of a school-aged child. And it is, surprisingly, fun.

Those extra hours you spend helping your child with homework are not only a bonding experience for you, they will pay big dividends later in life. And meanwhile, they will ensure that your young student has a good grounding in the fundamentals of education, and learns mental discipline, time management skills, and the self-esteem that comes from not only knowing, but knowing that you know.

Put in the time now, those extra hours in the evenings, and you will open doors for your child's future which otherwise will be closed. As Shakespeare said: Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross. And if your child doesn't know who Shakespeare is, I rest my case.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Browning of SoCal

All of my liquid amber trees are dying. Beset by drought and beetles, they are literally falling apart from the tops down. Just yesterday, another shed its upper branches all over the cactus in my driveway, the few desultory pinpoints of green I have left. An ambitious tree surgeon, a sort of arbor ambulance chaser, appeared at my door to ask if I needed any work done. When I pointed out the carcass of the grey-trunked maple in front of my garage, he nodded sagely and said "$200." For what? To take it down, to rub it out as if it had never been.  It was as if he were making a bid on a funeral service. But when I showed him the trees in my back yard, his eyes glowed darkly. Thousands of dollars in removal fees glimmered in them, as if this drought were a personal boon to his otherwise seasonal service.

The fact is that we in Southern California are in the throes of one of the worst droughts in our history. I have already suffered the governor, that octogenarian hipster, instructing me on how many times I can flush my toilet and how long a shower I can take. The fact is that, having lived in this metropolitan brush-land for thirty-some years, I already knew all that, and I was saving water as assiduously as anybody. Anybody, that is, except for the "civil rights activist" who lives up the street from me in a gated mansion, by far the most valuable real estate in the neighborhood, and who consumes water as if nothing has happened. His lawns, unlike everyone else's, are liberally sprinkled night and day, in keeping with steadfast and time-honored left-wing hypocrisy. "The rules are for the rest of you; not for righteous folks like me."

But all of that pales in the face of the growing crisis of dehydration in which we find ourselves. For the first few years it was a warning, which became requests, and then regulations, which are becoming strictures. Though I run only full loads of laundry in my washing machine, and that only after dark, and though I am down to watering my lawns and plants twice a week (as per), take five-minute showers, flush in a timely fashion (as my son says: If it's yellow let it mellow; if it's brown flush it down), not letting the tap run while brushing teeth, and waiting till the dishwasher is brimming before I use it, I expect that any day there will be a knock at my door. Then a uniformed representative of the DWP (if not the police) will put me on formal notice that, if I do not curb my usage, I will incur a $500 fine, or worse.

Meanwhile, I could not help but notice that, earlier this year, the City of Pasadena, in its bureaucratic wisdom, decided to re-sod the medians on Sierra Madre Boulevard, near my house, and then allowed the new grass, so carefully and expensively installed, to die when they shut off the municipal sprinkler system. If you wonder why I distrust, even despise, government bureaucracy, the answer is in those dung brown medians. Apparently no one in the city government asked: Is it a good idea to re-sod the medians in the middle of a historic drought? No, they just went ahead as planned and spent other people's money, and the result is a stretch of wasteland that would have made Okie Dustbowlers feel at home.

The other day, my son asked me how much longer this drought would last. I reminded him that the drought which destroyed the Anasazi (ancient Navajo) civilization is thought to have lasted over 100 years. Then, the dearth of rainfall virtually wiped out one of the most advanced and ingenious societies that ever existed on the North American continent; a culture that invented the flying buttress 300 years before the French, devised a far-flung and almost instantaneous communication system, and had a water conservation scheme which, it was thought, could defeat the scourge of drought. It did not, and all that remains of that sophisticated culture is the breathtaking ruins of the Four Corners.

How long we can survive this episode remains to be seen. For my own part, I feel guilty every time I wash clothes or do the dishes, and I find myself more often scanning the sky for rain clouds, which never seem to appear over the parchment shoulders of the San Gabriel Mountains above my house. Mark Twain said that everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it. That has never been truer than of we who live in this artificial urban sprawl which was destined to be a desert. All we can do, I am afraid, is ask the rest of you to pray for rain for us who, as T. S. Eliot said, are dry brains in a dry season.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Business of America is...

I have seen many things in my lifetime that have caused me to worry and to wonder about the state of our society, and its future. I am old enough to remember little black children being refused schooling at gunpoint, and protesters being pummeled along the pavement by high pressure hoses. I lived through the JFK assassination and the elaborate cover-up that followed, and through Watergate, and the elaborate cover-up that followed. The Vietnam War was a horrid carbuncle on the national flesh, perhaps our greatest crime in the Twentieth Century, and I recall clearly the climate of lies, chaos, and corruption, political, fiscal and moral which it engendered. All of these events touched, and helped shape, my consciousness, and provoked in me mixed feelings of anger, sorrow, and protest.

But nothing has so shaken me -- shaken me to my core -- and caused me to question, calmly and profoundly, the spiritual condition of American society as the recent Planned Parenthood videos. These undercover interviews have made it clear that that organization, which claims to be the spearhead of women's health care, is actively involved, at the highest levels, in the sale of fetal body parts.

Let me repeat that: A taxpayer-funded organization is harvesting and selling the body parts of unborn babies. And now, it appears, is selling entire baby corpses themselves.

Let us put aside for the moment the near-hysterical debate which these revelations have generated, and focus on the simple, cold fact that in America the harvesting and sale of babies' bodies is not only being carried on, it is being defended. I watch in wonder and dismay as intelligent and informed spokespersons for Planned Parenthood and its political supporters, go before the TV cameras and try to rationalize and even to justify this practice. It is a practice worthy of the worst Nazi nightmares; indeed, such experiments were carried out on the bodies of mothers and babies in the extermination camps during World War II.

I am sorry, but there is no finessing the matter: Harvesting and selling babies' body parts is a crime of monstrous proportions. Yet we see the Planned Parenthood executives and doctors discussing the matter casually over cocktails at lunch. Laughing, making jokes, and haggling over prices. In America. At taxpayer expense.

Organs and tissue and brains and entire little corpses, for sale in the United States of America. And those whose political affiliations demand that they defend it, go before the public and try to explain the necessity of it, even the benefits of it, and to excuse it in the name of science and women's reproductive freedom. I have noted before that, in order to rationalize their position, the advocates of abortion on demand must argue that unborn babies are not human beings, but merely "viable tissue masses." And now we see where that leads. If the babies are not babies but merely tissue then we can do anything we want with them: discard them, or, given that they have monetary value in the marketplace, harvest them, dissect them, and sell their organs.

Now, if, for any reason, you find yourself inclined to support this practice, you ought to do what Catholics call an examination of conscience. You need to counsel with yourself and take a dispassionate look at the position you are embracing. And if you feel instinctively that it is wrong (and in the case of selling baby body parts, you cannot help but feel this way), then you must ask yourself why you are taking this position, and what you ought to do to bring your behavior in line with the voice of your conscience. That much, at least, you owe it to yourself to do if you are to consider yourself a moral person.

If nothing else makes us think about God, sin does. And the greater and more hideous the sin, the more focused our minds become on the possibility, even the inevitability, of divine retribution. Well, there is scarcely a more hideous sin imaginable than removing living human babies from their mothers' wombs, cutting them up into pieces, and selling the parts to those willing to pay for them. Unless, of course, it is chatting about it over white wine and cheese.

I have written here before that I reject the conventional concept of God, though I do believe fervently in the spiritual nature and destiny of humankind. I also reject the idea of eternal punishment and reward as being a primitive fancy founded on an intuitive need for some final form of justice. But this business -- and make no mistake, it is a business -- stirs up in me precisely an instinctual sensation that in some way, at some time in this life or another, the people who do this must be repaid, and the innocents who suffer it must be consoled.

As for America... How much farther from truth and justice, from compassion and humanity, can our society get? Especially when there are so many who will clamor forward, not to condemn, but to justify the rape and murder of pure souls who ought to represent the best in us, and our hope for the future.