Tuesday, October 23, 2018

October 23, 2018--Political Slut

Midterm election day is just two weeks from today. 

Two weeks at the end of a campaign can be a lifetime in voter mood swings. And, if you agree that this is the most consequential election of our lifetime, I hope you will consider how I am viewing it.

More than anything else voters need to restore some check and balance to the current political situation. James Madison was right--our system is designed to have divided government in order to prevent the emergence of a totalitarian leader. We face that prospect today. It is aided and abetted by the fact that the president and both houses of Congress are in the control of just one party.

Since the president is not on the ballot (except as a self-nationalizing surrogate), it is essential to flip at least one House. I think, forget the Senate. If anything, Republicans are likely to increase their majority there by at least two seats. Three or four incumbent Democratic senators are likely to lose and at most two states will switch from red to blue. Thus, the Senate will almost certainly remain in Mitch McConnell's gulag.

The House, though, is another matter. There, I am projecting, that as many as 35 Republicans will be defeated but only two or three Democrats. Enough to return the House to Democratic control.

But with Trump, the unusual often turns out to be the new usual. He has made this election about himself and has demonstrated the capacity to bring about electoral surprises. For example, two years ago by winning the presidency.

So, I say, when considering who to vote for forget totally issues that may be close to your heart. Become the same kind of political slut I am--obsessed about only one thing: winning.  

If you are passionate about gun control (I am) ignore the fact that the Democrat from your district running for the House is against what you consider to be meaningful gun control, hold your nose and vote for him or her anyway. (The Democratic House challenger here in Maine is featured in his TV ads as comfortable at a rifle range.)

If you are committed to single-payer healthcare--Medicare for all--(as I am) and if your Democratic candidate opposes this because he or she sees it as a budget-buster, for the moment forget that and vote for her or him.

And if you feel so strongly about preserving unfettered abortion rights that in all other circumstances it would be a litmus-test issue for you (I generally do feel this way), for the good of the larger cause, take a few deep breaths and pull the lever for the Democrat running in your district who supports some limitations on abortion--say, late term abortions--because unless he or she does take this position, to line up with the will of her or his potential constituents, the Republican will win and this will undermine the larger agenda--the desperate imperative to win back the House.

You get my point.

After we win, we can go back to debating issues. To do so now is a luxury we cannot afford. 

Also, during this final two weeks get involved. 

Make get-out-the-vote calls. Especially to Hispanic voters. Even if you are agoraphobic or have medical issues, you can do this from home in your pajamas. There is no excuse just to vote. Get directly to work. It is that important. 

There is no underestimating how empowered Trump and his people will feel and be if the Republicans retain control of all three branches of government (also, add the Supreme Court with its 5-4 conservative majority to this list). Unless some limitations are imposed on Trump's power by defeating him in at least the House (where serious investigations can take place as soon as January 1st) it will be a dangerous and depressing two or six more years.

Trump needs to be deflated. Right now. In two weeks.

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Monday, October 22, 2018

October 22, 2018--1.5 Degrees Centigrade

Though barely noticed, the climate last week was prominently in the news.

First, there was a landmark report from the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change, "Global Warming of 1.5 Degrees Centigrade," paints a far more disturbing picture of the immediate consequences of climate change than previously thought and says that avoiding the damage requires transforming the world economy at a speed and scale that has “no documented historic precedent.”
The report describes a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040--a period well within the lifetime of much of the world's population.
One good thing about getting to be my age--by then I should be long gone.
This report landed with a thud on Donald Trump's otherwise empty desk where it lay, undoubtedly unread. When he was asked about it, in effect, to his base, he said, "Who knows. We'll see."

Also pandering to his political base was the frontrunner in Brazil's upcoming presidential election, Jan Bolsonaro, a far right congressman who says that Brazil's environmental policy is "suffocating" the country's economy. Thus he plans to unfetter the country's agribusiness sector and allow it to accelerate the massive deforestation of the Amazon Rain Forest, often referred to as the "lungs of the Earth."

Stretching across two million square miles, most of it in Brazil, the forest acts as a giant filter for the carbon dioxide emissions that humankind as a whole generates.

Bolsonaro's proposed deregulatory policy is designed to create more farm and ranch land to capitalize on the increasing global demand for soy beans and beef. Some of this demand the result of Trump's regressive trade policies.

Thus, this presidential contest is by far the most consequential one underway anywhere in the world, including our midterms, as every inhabitant of Earth will be negatively affected.

Bolsonaro's opponent, Fernando Haddad of the Workers Party, is far behind in the polls. In the first round of voting last month, he received just 29 percent of the vote while Bolsonaro received 46 percent.

The Amazon is home to more native people than any other place on Earth and for decades millions of acres of land have been set aside for them. But Bolsonaro has a different plan. He has said that if elected "there won't be a square centimeter demarcated as an indigenous preserve . . . Where there is indigenous land there is wealth underneath."

None of this is good news for the planet.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

October 16, 2018--Death In the Family

Rona's last aunt, Aunt Roz, died yesterday at the very respectable age of 98. As we are driving to NYC today to be at her funeral later in the week I will not be positing anything today or for a few days thereafter. I will return to this on Monday.

From Left to Right: Aunt Erna, Uncle Joe, Aunt Roz. Seated: Grandma Sadie. Together again.

Monday, October 15, 2018

October 15, 2018--Male Privilege

"What was that all about?" We had just had a half dozen homemade donuts and coffee at our favorite local general store.

"I also was a little confused," Rona said, "He seemed to be talking about an incident that he probably heard about on Fox News where some guy stoped a bus and threatened the passengers."

"My hearing isn't good today," I said, "But that's what I think I heard. And then did he say they should have taken him out and shot him?"

'That's what I heard."


"How he's a terrorist and that's how terrorists should be treated."

"That they should be taken out and shot?" Rona shrugged her shoulders and nodded.

This from an otherwise peaceful-feeling 70-year-old who sat next to us, eating his bacon and eggs at the counter.

"He said he's lived here for more than 30 years. That he grew up in upstate New York and moved when things there began to change in ways that upset him."

"Yes," Rona said, "He talked about how the thing he likes most about Maine is that very little changes. That he hates change. Including the smallest things. Like when a new owner bought the store, though he was quick to mention he liked that they kept making donuts every morning."

"I like that too," I said, wanting to move on to lighter subjects.

"He seems to live a version of the good life here and I don't understand why he's so angry about what's going on around him. And from the looks of him, including how he was dressed, he seemed to be OK financially. So I don't think it's that."

"We've been talking recently about why so many middle-aged white guys are so angry and how that's affecting our politics."

"Yes," Rona said, "I've been thinking a lot about how it's not primarily about race, but how these men feel threatened by demographics and the resulting browning of America. With their anti-immigrant views underscoring that. That is a big component of their anger, but the more I think about it the more I am concluding most of the problems these men have comes from gender issues. Their relations with women. How they used to feel empowered just because of their maleness, but in recent decades how that sense of privilege has been eroding."

"We have been talking about that and agree that a lot of the things men depended upon to feel powerful no longer operate so automatically."

"There are many things in the larger culture," Rona said, "that have been delivering the same message--that their days of dominance are over. We've been making a list of some of the things that are undermining men's sense of their place in the world. How losing the war in Vietnam, for example, was a huge blow to men who felt that just being an American, American exceptionalism assured their invulnerability. How up to then we had won every war we entered and then we were defeated by little Asians wearing sandals and black pajamas!"

"These are the guys who are prone to chant 'USA, USA' at Trump rallies. As if that restores their sense of self worth."

"The women's movement didn't help. Calls for equity in the workplace--equal pay for equal work--in family life and the bedroom (there was the pill) deeply threatened so many men."

"How many people do we know, how many men do we know, including some in our families who found themselves with women supervisors and how they hated that. How some even quit their jobs to get away from female bosses. And how in a couple of instances doing so ruined their careers."

"Affirmative action also contributed, especially as many men believed it primarily benefitting women. Again in the workplace they saw women they felt to be less credentialed and less experienced getting promoted to positions they felt entitled to."

"And when the Great Recession hit in 2008," I said, "men became aware that women were able to ride it out better than they were. Ironically, partly because women were still not receiving equal pay for equal work they were more likely than their husbands or partners not to be laid off."

Rona said, "This came decades after tens of millions of women who had been housewives entered the work force, often not just in search of career opportunities but because their husbands' incomes were not enough to sustain the household. We know, again from our own families, that a lot of men felt inadequate because on their own they couldn't make enough money for the families' expenses. My father, your father had to send our mothers to work in order to maintain their lifestyles. Or just pay the bills. How did that make them feel?"

"Not good. Diminished," I said, "In quite a few cases the women wound up making more that their husbands and this alone disrupted the emotional balance within many marriages. And now there is the MeToo movement, which has some men thinking that their or their sons' lives can be destroyed by a false accusation of sexual misconduct."

"And so, here we are," Rona said, "Even in this peaceful place there are men so angry that they want to kill people who they consider to be terrorists."

"All that seems so far away from here and yet . . ."

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Friday, October 12, 2018

October 12, 2018--Colonoscopies

First published June 16, 2017--

It used to take at least a half hour before any of us would mention colonoscopes. Now we get to it right away. Even before we are served our first cup of coffee.

Just yesterday we not only talked about them but also bladder infections, melanoma, detached retinas, atrial fibrillation, shingles, abscessed molars, Hashimoto's Disease, and kidney stones.

And of course we share stories about health insurance, doctors, and hospital stays. Few of them good.

My colonoscopy story was about my recent visit to a new internist. After taking my medical history and giving me a thorough examination, including a cardiogram, when he was done, he told me things look pretty good except for a heart murmur and my right hand tremors.

Ignoring that for a moment, I asked him about a colonoscopy. "I haven't had one in a few years," I said, "So maybe it's time . . ."

Before I could complete my thought, he said, "At your age we no longer recommend colonoscopies (he's a gastroenterologist no less) because no matter what we might find, at your age, you'll die of something else."

In a way that sounded good, but in truth, on reflection, not really.

I said, "I guess that gives me something to look forward to. Dying soon."

He doesn't have much of a sense of humor, or maybe his waiting room was full of patients and he didn't have time to schmooze, and so he barely smiled.

The cardiologist and neurologist he referred me too said pretty much the same thing--about the murmur, something else will get me before it becomes a problem; and the same for the tremor--"I'll write you a prescription for L-Dopa," he said, "And we'll hope for the best." He hardly needed to add, "That you'll die before . . ."

I stopped listening.

When I told the story to friends at the Bristol Diner yesterday, one said, "This reminds me of a joke." We all groaned. Lou is not known to be a good joke teller. Undeterred though, he began--"Morty goes to his doctor who gives him his annual physical. When he's done, Morty asks, 'So how did I do?'

"The doctor says, 'Ten.'

 Confused, Morty asks, "'Ten what?' Years? Months? Days?'

"The doctor says, 'Nine, eight, seven, six . . .'"

Not that bad a joke from Lou.

And of course everyone either has a new set of hearing aids or is about to get them. So there's a lot of breakfast talk about that.

"Why do we always seem to be talking about medical issues?" Rona wondered. We were driving to the pharmacy to get my L-Dopa prescription refilled.

"Isn't it obvious?" I said. "We're all getting on in years and stuff happens."

"Wouldn't you think . . ." she began.

"And don't forget that Maine has the oldest population of all the 50 states. And our county, Lincoln, demographically, has the nation's oldest residents."

The next time we were at the diner, when even before the waitress arrived to take our order, Jim began to talk about his diabetes numbers, I said, "Not to sound unsympathetic, but maybe we should try to talk about something not medical."

Jim who is not the sensitive type, without attitude, said, "What would you recommend?"

"Maybe a book or gardening or maybe Donald Trump."

He said, "I rather have a colonoscopy."

Thursday, October 11, 2018

October 11, 2018--October Surprises

In election cosmology an October Surprise is a news event deliberately created, timed, or occurring spontaneously that influences the outcome of an election, particularly for the presidency.

With the upcoming midterm elections, since Donald Trump has kidnapped them and made the hundreds of congressional contests all about him--in effect, a referendum on his presidency--by nationalizing these individual races, it would not be unexpected for him to come up with a whopper of an October Surprise. One that would underscore what he claims to be his achievements (tax cuts, renegotiating NAFTA, withdrawing from the Iran deal, a strong job market) a surprise designed to motivate his base to vote for candidates he supports. Essentially, any and all Republicans running for office.

Recent examples of October Surprises include leaking the news in 2000, when George W. Bush was locked in a tight contest with Al Gore, that some years earlier Bush had been cited in Maine for driving while under the influence.

Four years later, to undermine Bush's reelection chances, Osama bin Laden released a videotape in which he took credit for the 9/11 terrorist attack in the hope that this would remind voters of Bush's failures.

The 2008 stock market crash weakened John McCain's chances in his race against Barack Obama. Republicans in general were blamed and the onset of the Great Recession boosted the chances of all Democrats, especially Obama's. So much so that the Democrats took control of both houses of Congress.

And then most recently, in 2016, it is generally agreed that FBI director James Comey ruined Hillary Clinton's candidacy when in late October he summarily released thousands of emails of hers that, even though they contained nothing disqualifying, reminded the voting public that she was not trustworthy.

What then might Trump have in mind for us during the next few weeks? We know he shapes a daily political drama to dominate the news cycle and thus I suspect there will be at least two surprises of magnitude that will suck up all the media oxygen. I predict there will, unprecedented, be at least two such surprises since for Trump more is never enough.

One will involve foreign affairs, the other will focus on domestic theatrics.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently spent a week in Asia. In China but more interesting in North Korea. After his Korea visit he said little progress was made in denuclearization talks. I wonder.

My guess is that he brought with him for Kim Jong-un one of those love letters Trump mentioned the other day. Letters so steamy that even the exhibitionist president said they were too amorous to disclose.

Trump's to Kim likely included a plea--

"Help me out please! I'm about to get shellacked in the midterm elections and need your help. Maybe you could blow up a big missile or two on live TV. I could then say you're on track to getting rid of all your nukes. Of course that's really unnecessary. I just need a good show one of these mornings. Maybe you could time it so it could be shown on Fox & Friends. My favorite."

Then domestically, a couple of days ago, without a formal announcement, Trump launched the Month of the Woman. It began with UN ambassador Nikki Haley announcing on live TV in the Oval Office that she is resigning. 

There they were, Trump and Haley together shamelessly flirting with each other. 

The Month of the Woman will culminate with Trump appointing Dina Powell, a woman, to replace Haley. Unless Trump can convince daughter Ivanka to allow him to appoint her. One advantage for her--it would get her out of Washington (which she hates) and back to New York City.

Recognizing that the so-called "gender gap" is hovering at about 30 points, some are saying it's not a gap but a chasm, realizing that, Trump will do all sorts of things between now and November 6th to focus on how good his presidency has been for women and then will hope that at least a few will show up at the polls in November and vote for him.

If women come out in a wave of votes for Democrats, he'll need more than a couple of surprises to keep him from being impeached in January. There aren't enough angry old white guys to keep him politically safe. We'll see, then, if he can bamboozle enough women to vote for Republicans as he did in 2016.

I'm saying, more than anything else, Kim has to come through for him.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2018

October 10, 2018--Predictions

With a little less than four weeks until the midterm elections, I will return here tomorrow with predictions about upcoming October surprises (note, plural, surprises).