Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Different Kind of Storm

Everyone is taking a break from the usual pre-election programming to concentrate on Hurricane Sandy, which just blew through Manhattan and is probably soaking my home state of Pennsylvania right now.  The news media went into full-blown apocalypse mode for this, with the kind of breathless whirlpool of coverage usually reserved for assassinations or major earthquakes.  Even days before, they were sounding the warning claxons about "Frankenstorm" making its way up the east coast and putting a real damper on everyone's Halloween.  And is "claxon" an awesome word or what?

Some people are already saying that the unusual trajectory this storm has taken is related to global warming and the huge, unprecedented reduction in the Arctic ice sheet, which alters ocean currents and air temperatures in such a way that big, weird storms which move in new, unexpected pathways will start becoming more frequent.  While it's still probably premature to link the two events, I think there is a great deal of truth in the idea that human-caused climate change will alter the planetary weather engine in ways we can't even yet imagine, and more unpleasant things like these loose-cannon superstorms are in our future.

The other big storm of late has taken a temporary back seat to the march of Hurricane Sandy, and that is the presidential election, now just one week away.  It seems like this election has been going on for years, and this last week will no doubt be the most intense week ever, with everybody pulling out all the stops when it comes to trying to sway the last two or three undecided voters out there.  It's beyond me how anyone could be undecided about who to vote for.

I've heard people on the radio say that there's "not much difference" between Obama and Romney, and that statement completely blows my mind.  In my opinion the two candidates could not be more different, both in style and substance.  Obama seems so intellectual, so measured, controlled and sincere; Romney so aloof, privileged, entitled and hypocritical.  There is little question that given their backgrounds, Obama truly understands what the middle class people, who are in many ways the backbone of this country, have greatly suffered due to the economic collapse of 2008-2009.  He really "gets" what they're going through and empathizes with them.  Romney, on the other hand, has had every single thing in his life handed to him, coming from a family of privilege and power, and is completely and utterly clueless about what average people have to go through to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.

Likewise, the vice presidential candidates are quite different.  Biden is loud, gregarious, sometimes prone to embarrassing gaffes and misstatements, but given his background you have no doubt he understands what it is like to go through very rough periods in your life and still manage to triumph over adversity using little more than sheer strength of character.  Paul "Lyin" Ryan is an uber-nerd, someone who's obviously much more comfortable around masses of fiscal data and reports than around people, and comes up with a witches-brew of spending cuts to government programs which aid the poor, the elderly and students (to name a few) in order to fund massive, unnecessary defense spending and more tax breaks to the ultra-wealthy one-percenters, who already have so very much but still want to take more and more.

The differences even extend to the candidates' wives.  Michelle Obama is beautiful, sleek, intelligent, articulate and very easy for anyone to relate to.  She has such great poise and presence, and in my opinion has been one of the most notable and successful First Ladies in recent history.  Ann Romney, on the other hand, is brittle, imperious, condescending, sharp-tongued, elitist and thoroughly unsympathetic to anyone outside of her own socio-economic class.  With her fake, painted-on country-club smirk and mannerisms, you just know she sits around drinking appletinis with her wealthy cronies, cackling about how pathetic poor people are and complaining about how hard it is to find qualified domestic help these days who won't expect to be paid more than $5 an hour and won't steal you blind behind your back.

There is so very much riding on what happens next Tuesday, but to me one of the most important is the future of the Supreme Court.  Latest prediction is that the President-elect will get to choose at least one and possibly two new Justices, and that will directly affect each and every one of us for decades to come.   Right now the Court is split 5-4 in favor of upholding Roe v. Wade, but it would only take one Court appointment to reverse that to 5-4 in favor of overturning it.  Then you can absolutely certain that anti-abortion zealots would push a test case through the lower courts and into the Supreme Court, and Roe v. Wade would be scrapped, sending the abortion question back into the states, where many if not all of the red states would outlaw it completely.  That would be an astonishing tragedy and catastrophe for anyone who holds dear the concepts of freedom and government not making decisions in such an incredibly personal thing such as family planning.

Another very important thing, related to the Supreme Court, is their horrific and spectacularly awful Citizens' United ruling, which unleashed a torrent of untraceable, unaccountable money into a political system already mortally choked and corrupted with cash.  One of the most wrong-headed and destructive rulings ever, a top priority should be to overturn it, with a constitutional amendment if necessary.  The choice of President could not be more important to this vital legislative task.  One candidate will fully support reversing the ruling, and other candidate will do everything he can to keep it in place, because as he famously stated, "Corporations are people, too."  I will leave it up to my discerning readers to figure out which candidate is which.

Funny thing about these neoconservatives, they will scream unmercifully about how the evil, incompetent and corrupt government is blatantly interfering in everyone's lives and making choices for them, but they are perfectly fine as long as this interference is with the right to abortion, or marriage equality, or any number of personal-freedom issues they personally oppose.  They seem to think that government is evil and satanic if it messes with something they believe in, but perfectly fine and proper if it goes after things they don't.  According to them, it's okay if government restricts the freedoms of people they don't like, but it is a horrendous abomination if it seeks to restrict their own freedoms and choices.

Thus is the ultimate contraction in the conservative point of view - as long as government is doing what I like (or conversely, attacking things I don't like), it can have free rein and untrammeled authority to do whatever it pleases.  But just let the government try to do something to curtail something in which they fervently believe, for instance, gun control - outlawing the sale of semi-automatic assault weapons comes to mind - then people scream that government is a vile, cancerous conspiracy hell-bent on destroying the very fabric of this nation.  Government-provided farm subsidies could not be more "American", but affordable health care is "socialist."  It is this cultural and political schizophrenia, this infinitely subjective cherry-picking of what is right and what is wrong, that ultimately dooms neoconservative thinking to the intellectual trash-heap.

One week to election day, and is Hurricane Sandy a metaphor for the shitstorm that may be released on this country as a result - one that will last not a couple of days, but for four long years.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Four Weeks

It's now four weeks until the 2012 elections, and things are going just about as expected; that is, chaotic, mind-blowing and depressing all at the same time.

The presidential race is tighter than ever, and while it's pretty normal for the race to get really tight in the last couple of weeks, there is an uncomfortable trend going on.  Every time an obscure poll shows a one-point shift in the highly fluid preferences of some media-created segment of voters, it creates a seismic jolt through the news media which is analyzed and re-analyzed to death.  The polls are watched with the same intensity and anxiety as the Cuban missile crisis created in the early 60s.  For those of you too young to remember that (unfortunately that does not include me) I can tell you those were pretty scary times.  There was a palpable fear and terror in the air, obvious even to my ten-year-old self, and a real foreboding of what the future might bring.  While a Romney presidency wouldn't quite be the same as a nuclear missile crisis, in many ways it would be every bit as destructive.  More on that later.

There was the first of three presidential debates last Wednesday, and President Obama sent some clone of himself in his place who really wasn't up to the task.  Romney was there in full creepy-mannequin mode, looking and acting like Satan's ventriloquist dummy and spewing lies and bullshit like some kind of demented lawn sprinkler set on high.  All of a sudden, Romney professed to have found his love and support for 100% of the American electorate, even though back in May of this year he wrote off 47% of those very same people as lazy, useless leeches.  Let me just say once and for all that Romney will never EVER know the financial pressures middle-class people have to face in their lives.  He was born into a life of wealth and privilege, and anyone who even thinks about installing a CAR ELEVATOR in their home or taking a tax write-off of $77,000 (about 50% more than the $51,914 the average American household earns, according to the Census Bureau) for his wife's DANCING HORSE - categorizing it as a "business expense" (????) - has no idea what it's like to stretch a food budget to the point of breaking or dressing their children in hand-me-downs.

It is painfully obvious that Romney and his imperious, elitist, over-Botoxed trollop of a wife care only for the ultra-wealthy people in their own socio-economic class and will never do anything for the lower classes other than disdainfully look down their noses at them.  And there is always the unresolved problem of Romney's refusal to make a full disclosure of his federal income taxes even though the American people have demanded he do so.  For someone who proclaims so loudly to be "pro-business" and "pro-American" his propensity for employing offshore tax shelters for his enormous wealth tells a different story.  His arrogance is truly monumental, and his contempt for the American people and the values upon which this country was founded is staggering and appalling.

The media have already labeled last weeks' debate as a "game changer," and it's a little hard to believe that after a month or more of Romney being a world-class fuck-up and saying and doing completely preposterous, absurd things, all that could be changed in a 90-minute debate.  This just illustrates the short attention span of the American voter, as aggravated and dictated by the 30-minute news cycle.

As if to emphasize the perversity of politics (as if it needed emphasized), none other than Big Bird, a long-running character on the PBS children's series "Sesame Street," was dragged kicking and screaming into the debate when Romney gleefully announced he would "fire" Big Bird as part of his defunding of public television. I won't even mention what a miniscule part of the national budget public television comprises, but it only further illustrates the ignorant, small-minded hatred Republican supporters have for education and the arts. The National Endowment for the Arts is another favorite target, because god forbid we should spend a little bit of money enriching the cultural and intellectual life of this country instead of wasting it on another civilian-killing drone in Afghanistan.

On the state level, elections are no less contested but a lot more tawdry.  One of Arizona's senate seats is up for grabs, and slimy scumbag Republican Jeff Flake is up against former Surgeon General Richard Carmona.  Flake thought he would have an easy coast right into the Senate, but he's finding it a lot more difficult than he thought, even in a very conservative state like this one.  What is really alarming are all the media ads paid for by super-PACs, those heinous abominations the dipshits on the Supreme Court created.  But I found out recently that super-PACs are only one facet of this hot mess.

Rich people seeking to sway the outcome of an election can dump a bunch of their money into a super-PAC but they will be identified.  But if they choose, they can create a 501(c)(4) "social welfare" entity to dump money into with complete anonymity.  These organizations can basically do whatever the hell they please with all this money and lobby for any candidate or legislative agenda.  The law says that in May of next year these entities will have to report their funding and donors to the IRS, but the entities can be disbanded at any time (such as right after the election), and will not have to reveal one damned thing about their finances or activities.  This is a truly frightening perversion of the American democracy that will go a very long way in completely poisoning and corrupting our system of government.  It's like a get-out-of-jail-free card for anyone with a lot of money seeking to buy an election.  Once again in this country, money speaks louder than anything or anybody.

Locally, it's even worse and sleazier, with Republican candidates invoking the name and image of President Obama every chance they get as some kind of damning mantra against their opponent.  Again funded mostly by super-PACs, these ads seek to link a candidate with Obama in hopes of generating a knee-jerk reaction in the dimwitted, low-information voters that pollute this state.  And ancient, pathetic asshole Joe Arpaio is running for Maricopa county sheriff for the 100th time, and despite the fact that he's an 80-year-old jerk and a buffoon, he will most likely get re-elected by the stupid voters in this county.

A Romney presidency would be such an unmitigated disaster for this country on every conceivable level.  I honestly don't know which would be worse - the two or possibly three Supreme Court vacancies a President Romney would most likely have an opportunity to fill (leading to an unbreakable conservative majority on the Court for several decades which would overturn Roe v. Wade and prohibit gay marriage, among many other horrible things) or the fact that the US would be a big step closer to a theocracy, in which the Christian religion would have a much bigger say in the lives and liberty of ALL Americans, Christian or not.  For a country that was ostensibly founded on religious freedom, government and religion have developed an extremely toxic relationship and a deadly embrace, and the more religion tightens its grip on government, the less freedom and liberty we have.

Americans are so ridiculously obsessed with religion and a lot of them see it as a simple-minded one-size-fits-all cure for the myriad of problems we face.  But that is putting your faith in a fairy tale, like relying on Santa Claus to save the world from destruction, and the easiest solutions are rarely the best.  Any "solution" to a set of problems which require free-thinking people to conform to a set of rigid, dogmatic and unscientific delusions and corrupted prehistoric claptrap will spell the end of this country faster than any terrorist attack or environmental disaster.