The most successful revolution of the past fifty years has been the "revolt of the haves". Between 1940 and 1970, taxes on the rich were very high. The marginal tax rate on incomes over $1,000,000 was at least 90%. Yet these were the years when the American economy grew steadily, and productivity gains were matched by solid increases in average wages and salaries, and a narrowing gap between the very rich and everyone else. So what happened? The Republican Party convinced millions of ordinary white Americans that black people were prospering off of them, and far too much money and effort was being diverted to the unworthy poor. By 1980, with the Pied Piper from California spinning his fantasies about out "bright, shining city on a hill", and how government was the problem, not the solution, the people were willing to buy the nonsense that massive tax cuts for the rich would translate into prosperity for all, as far as the eye could see. And here we are. The top 0.1% are taking in nearly ALL the additional GDP bring created by the economy. And Trump the simple wants MORE tax cuts, and yet less regulation! Sure, why not?
In the early days of the Trump presidency, we could joke about handshakes. Now that the handshakes are just about done, let's take a brief look back at the best one. This is the one in which Trump met his match. It was his handshake with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
I loved the way Trudeau finessed Trump's handshake at the White House door. Anticipating his grab and pull style, the canny Canadian grabbed Trump's upper arm and squeezed it hard. This not only surprised Trump, it also threw him off balance, and prevented him from dominating the greeting as he loves to do. It looked like a hockey move, and the good people of our friendly neighbor to the north must have smiled in pride.
Now if only Trudeau could never speak or meet Trump ever again. That would be nice. Maybe that's already decided. I hope so.
The above image is a hoax advertisement created by a 4Chan user. It made the Reddit and Facebook rounds the weekend of August 4.
But hey, if it riles the Trump base, go with it. Where would he and his supporters be without conspiracies? And where would they be if they couldn't whine about how they're constantly being victimized?
There's a pattern here. Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi were inspiring when they were trying to free their people. But when they took power, they didn't just disappoint. They failed. Now to be fair, 'The Lady' did not fully take power. Her nation is in turmoil and under military rule. But still, she has failed. This is sad. The lesson here is don't have heroes. Especially people who win Nobel Peace Prizes. They will break your heart.
Five days ago, this blog turned 10. I have several posts getting cold in draft status. So I will just mark 10 years similar to the way I started the blog - with a music video.
I could describe a couple of posts in-progress the way Aesop describes his unfinished paintings:
Then a week goes by and it goes untouched
Then two, then three, then a month
And the rest of your life, you beat yourself up
More posts soon. 2017 will have more than double the number of posts that 2016 had.
30 years ago today, we got The Joshua Tree. A front-heavy rock album. Not as consistently great as The Unforgettable Fire (1984). But it was the commercial peak U2 fans knew they were capable of. Suddenly, I was not alone in choosing U2 on the jukebox in my favorite pizza joints in Brockton, Massachsusetts. I was in my final weeks in junior high, surrounded by kids who loved Bon Jovi and Motley Crue, and they HATED U2. Come September, I was in a high school where if you didn't love U2, you were considered way out of touch. You could love R.E.M. You could secretly listen to New Order or Depeche Mode. Or you could be so far ahead of the curve like me and own three Pixies albums by 1989. But if you didn't express your love of U2, you were an automatic outsider.
Now the album itself does not move me like the next three U2 albums did. I still think Achtung Baby is their best masterpiece. But there are very few rock albums that open as strongly as The Joshua Tree. We're talking Led Zepplin IV or Back In Black-caliber openings. Where The Streets Have No Name is a soaring opening - peak classic U2. I Still haven't Found What I'm Looking For is this emotional gospel rock anthem. And despite its basic four bars, and resemblance to another Eno-produced four-bar classic, Once In A Lifetime, With Or Without You is still, still a great song thanks to the lyrics and Edge's galloping riffs. Then they follow that up with Bullet The Blue Sky, the leftist, violent song about Reagan's proxy wars, among other things. And then, THEN, U2 give us another anthem - the major-keyed song about heroin addiction, Running To Stand Still. Holy shit, this album. 30 years, kids.
The Democratic base flared up for a couple of weeks after Trump's inauguration. But where is the base now? Any why aren't they consistently mad? Why are the most newsworthy congressional town hall meetings occurring in heavily Republican states?
For quite a long time now, Democrats have behaved as if they didn't have a base of supporters whose views they needed to consider when casting votes in Congress. And even after Trump's first month, I sense a lack of commitment from Democrats to fire-up their base. Believe me, Republicans NEVER forget their base! The one thing they always fear is being challenged, from the right, by an ever more radical, anti-government crank. Democrats, like Obama, often take a perverse view of their political situation. Some are actually PROUD of disappointing the most loyal party members, as if that proved their bipartisan credibility. And when the Democratic base rebels, these people seem genuinely puzzled by the outrage they've provoked.
Democrats have enormous decisions to make this month. They can choose to help or impede the House in raising the Federal debt ceiling. They could fight to delay the Judge Gorsuch confirmation hearings, or let them move forward.
Each week of the Trump presidency has brought bad news, often at night as major newspapers print stories on the administration. The Democrats can't fight every breaking news story. But they lack a messaging machine to tell their base what to fight against. There's no motivation or organization at the top. It's all been from the bottom. When this happens, the top gets overthrown. Time will tell.
And yet, here we are, a nation controlled by white people in landlocked states.
63% of white men voted for Trump
53% of white women voted for Trump
What was Clinton's mantra? Love Trumps hate? Well apparently not. Hate is an immensely powerful motivator. Trump didn't need a sophisticated ground game to get his supporters to vote. All the intensity, and all the enthusiasm was on the Republican side this time. And in politics, intensity matters. As for the Democrats, it's astounding that Hillary, with all her negatives, turned out to be the party's default choice. In any event, we'll all pay for it now.
And Trumps personality and pattern is well established. He will never really work at anything. He is unwilling or unable to work harder to be presidential. He doesn't have to work hard to motivate his supporters. He already has a slogan for the red hat in 2020. And he win again, so long as his presidency doesn't fall apart. His base of 40% appears to be rock solid. But his presidency is showing way too many cracks to last one year, let alone three more.
Yet another new study shows that the US has not seriously taxed its rich people since Reagan signed his tax reform into law in 1986. The great project launched in 1980 by Reagan has reached its apotheosis. We have a government of, for and by the rich. SUCCESS!!!
Record inauguration turnout. 3 Million undocumented immigrants voted. The "Bowling Green Massacre." Bad hombres. Only 109 people inconvenienced. Refugees are illegal immigrants. The Trump administration is a fountain of propaganda. The more the news media points out the lies, the most Trump supporters love the administration.
Nothing can stop that. It's a no-win situation.
When a favorite magazine of wealthy white people publishes a dark cover, you know times are BAD. It's the final chapter of the USA. Of course, this chapter started with Bush v. Gore. But we finally get it now, at the end.
Shortly before Christmas, I received another reminder from my RSS feed that I hadn't written enough posts in 2016. A story boomeranged and got recycled by lesser news outlets 11 months after it first made the rounds. Way way back in January 2016, a teenage hero named Charlotte Heffelmire rescued her dad from a house fire. How did she do it? Well, he was pinned under a car in his garage, so she found superhuman strength and lifted the car off of him. That prompted the editor at Jezebel (then still park of Gawker Media) to use this great headline, containing the F word.
I forwarded the story to my parents, who liked it, but my mom felt some reservations about the use of the word fucking in the headline. She shot an email back:
"...here's my complaint. Since when does the four letter " F " word appear everywhere?? It's a noun, verb, adjective, adverb ( just add an ly or an ing) etc. Serious stories and reviews often descend into vulgarity in the use of this word. It's lost all shock value and bite. The use of the word is supposed to be effective? Or a shock? Or describe something so harrowing that the word adds raw emotion and fierce meaning to the event? The overuse of what used to be a word, though vulgar, had a particular place in our verbal lexicon. The article that complained about the vulgar exchange between the public spectacle of Gervais and Gibson used the "F" word. Need I say more?"
Now this news story came out the same week as the Golden Globes. And in 2016, I believe Ricky was the first host to drop an F-bomb.
The word is powerful and should be used sparingly. I like the modern journalist standard of using it in a quote, but not in the copy or editorially in a headline. The late Gawker Media used the word liberally, so that's why we see it above in the headline.
The word has been with us since the 1600s. But I feel it went mainstream during the Nixon administration. The Vietnam war popped that bubble, and a Nixon official used the term "ratfucking" in the media.
I always liked Hunter S. Thompson's restraint. He used the word most often in quotes, often quoting himself. Those were his exclamations. But in describing things, he used very eloquent language. I always liked that mix. There was the character writing the story, and there was the story.
Fuck is a tool. Respect it and use it wisely. Like a cymbal crash.
Uncle Tim is a historian. He told me a few times about how Barcelona resisted Franco, the murderous Spanish dictator, from 1939 to 1975. It was a marathon resistance that helped give us generations of artists and actors - from Joan Miró to Javier Bardem. People in Barcelona were able to live in a mild state of panic but they persevered. Now I know New York has a history of being different. It is a safer place to be gay or transgender, for example. But New York also has a history of being a place where resistance is not tolerated. The British were never kicked out of New York. Kids protesting the Vietnam War in 1970 were savagely beaten by cops and construction workers because their march was an insult to real, working men who weren't fighting the war or something.
So let me say right now that I have zero faith that New York will resist Trump. I don't think New York is a safe space from Trump. And I think quite a few New Yorkers are going to find themselves in prison or on no fly lists or under constant government surveillance during the eight years we will have under Trump. Trump is a New Yorker. I live just nine miles from Trump Tower. Aside from occasional protests, there is no resistance here.
Good luck, everyone. These eight years will be hard. And we still have the continued destruction of our planet and our species to look forward to.
I have been sitting on this blog post since May of 2016. I was going to call it, "Paris Dooms Most Cars More Than 20 Years Old To The Crusher." But this story has grown over the months. Paris is trying to get to the point where very few people own cars, and those who do, use it to escape the city, not use them to travel within the giant metropolis. That's how I use my car in Manhattan. It is my get out of town for the weekend ride.
This story really went global when Paris announced it was banning most cars made before 1997 from driving on roads. But then this week, Paris mayor Anne Hildago explained that it wouldn't be enough to meet her vision. And that vision is a capital with nearly no cars driving in it. And so she is accelerating efforts to do just that by banning cars from some major thoroughfares and expanding bicycle lanes. For Paris, the answer is not electricification, as all cars are "archaic," and waste space. If Hildago gets her way, cars will no longer have priority access to the streets of Paris.
I have never been to Paris. I am more of a London kind of guy. But there are two things we need to understand about this push to sharply reduce the number of cars in it.
From our colleague Uncle Tim:
Paris has the mass transit infrastructure to do this, of course. It is already faster and cheaper to get to any of Paris' 20 arrondissements by metro or bus. And Paris has confidence that it can increase capacity to carry more passengers who give up cars. New York couldn't do that. No US city could. London could, and it has encourages a shift to mass transit with its congestion tolls, now going strong in its 13th year. If Paris combined its aggressive car restrictions with London-style congestion tolls, it would see results even sooner. Let's see how Paris is doing in a year (2018).
And look what direction Madrid is now going.
In a groundbreaking study, published in September 2016, The Guardian found that about half the nation's firearns are owned by 3% of the population. In addition, the number of handguns in the US has skyrocketed since Bill Clinton's first term. Our nation is being held hostage by a 3℅ gun crazy minority. The US population has increased, and overall gun ownership has declined since Clinton took office. But we have seen the rise of the "super owners."
A gun crazy three percent, and a craven, virtually worthless Republican party. I knew we were in serious trouble if the Democrats collapsed in November. And they did. And now we are at the mercy of the gun lobby and the GOP.
Gun-related news is part of the background noise in the US. Just this week, Smith and Wesson released the long-awaited second version of their M&P pistol. And in Fort Lauderdale, a possibly schizophrenic young man emptied his magazine in an airport's baggage claim area, killing 5 and wounding 8. Just a normal, acceptable mass shooting. In almost any other nation, there would be a quick reexamination of flight rules and gun policy. Not here. Rampages are perfectly normal and acceptable. New guns need to be sold.
In 2014, President Obama announced that the US war in Afghanistan would wind down in 2015. But announcing it did not make it so. It is nearly 2017, and historians still consider the war to be ongoing. And just over a year ago, the US committed one of its biggest atrocities, the deliberate, 60 minute airstrike on the Kunduz hospital in northern Afghanistan.
The story has disappeared from the news, but history will not forget. And it will be a major mark on Obama's record. President Obama issued a very rare apology to Doctor's Without Borders (MSF) for killing its providers and patients. But a war crime is a war crime. Hospitals cannot be attacked for treating wounded enemies. Demands for an independent investigation were ignored.
There was no advance warning of the airstrike. When it was time to report on the incident, as the Pentagon does, there was simply a whitewashing of all responsibility and accountability. Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept correctly called out major US news outlets in avoiding acknowledging which military attacked the hospital for the first 48 hours of coverage.
The US is still in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The US is a country that can't fix the problems in Detroit, or Cleveland, or guarantee the descendants of slaves their right to vote, but it has the temerity to imagine we can reshape the Middle East to our liking.
More to the point, our political class, led by Trump, and soon Mike Pence and Donald Trump, is a pack of craven cowards, and their policies have made virtually everything they touch worse.
There's a new list of college professors that RIght WIng has deemed progressive bullys and fascists. Just remember, It's Always Projection.
This really is back to the future. We haven't seen a true enemies' list since good old Dick Nixon. I suppose it's a matter of some pride to have made this list. We have a lot to look forward to in the next three years. Imagine, a real, honest to God, right wing government in our dear old land, with a lying demagogue in charge.
Mister Sterling's biggest influence at U Mass was Sut Jhally. He made the list.
Professors in western Massachusetts, home to five great colleges in Pioneer Valley, have responded the best way possible, by requesting to be added to the list.
Every president has had a list of adversaries or people to avoid. Trump already has an well-known enemies list, and it will only grow.
UPDATE December 26 2016: The Wingnuts have fired up the Liberal Fascism narrative once again.
Back in the early twentieth century, Labor organizers would say, don't complain, organize. Robert Reich still uses that phrase. Often I see it as "Don't agonize. Organize." But it's the same message.
And it seems that Democratic politicians and prominent Democrats are not heeding that call. Now is not the time to be silent. Now is the time to resist Trump, as he is already acting as our de facto President.
A few weeks ago, I thought that some Democrats would walk out or now show up to Trump's first State of the Union address. But today, I expect all of them to sit there and applaud.
It's December 2016! This year has flown by. Probably my fastest ever (makes sense, as I am just getting older). But here's the first post I will post before the year ends. It's quite simple. Canada, you need to take care of Justin Trudeau, because he has your nation on the right track.
In his first year, Trudeau and the Liberal Party have brought some swift, progressive changes, They've helped working families, stressed gender equality, and have put a new emphasis on human rights at home and abroad.
But Sterling came around. Yes, Trudeau is he son of a Canadian Prime Minister. Putting him in charge is no better than putting a Clinton in charge of the Democratic party. As a general rule, a party should not use nepotism to remain popular. But that analogy doesn't flow perfectly to Canada's Parliamentary system. People vote for the party as much as the person in charge of it. And Canada sure as hell need the Liberal party in charge.
And let's face it, even Johnny Depp would be an improvement over Trudeau's predecessor, Stephen Harper. How that Canadian version of Richard Nixon got to be Prime Minister for nine minutes, let alone for nine years, is a mystery worthy of Sherlock Holmes. Good riddance to the Canadian Torries, and here's hoping young Trudeau can turn our friendly northern neighbor back to the right path. With Trump and a particularly irrational and evil GOP in charge to the south, we need progressive leadership in this continent anywhere we can find it.