SO WHO PAYS?

When my partner’s dad was still living, and we would sometimes go out to dinner with him and his wife, there was never any question of who paid.  He would always contrive to grab the check first and plunk down his cash (he didn’t much care for credit cards, as that meant going into debt), no matter how fast we might have tried to get at it before him.  That’s the kind of man he was, a former navy commander, upright, honest, no-nonsense, and the very definition of responsible.   A Republican all his life in that old-fashioned, now almost quaint, fiscally responsible take-care-of-yourself-and-those-you-love sort of way, he was a man I greatly admired. 

So, I’m left to wonder about Republicans these days and how they treat fiscal responsibility.  Yes, I know, they talk a lot about it, but what does it really come down to?  There’s a report in a recent issue of the Los Angeles Times that lists some very interesting facts.  First of all, the way that economists measure debt is, in a sense, not so terribly different from the way you and I might in terms of the family budget.  If you borrow money because you spend more than you take in, you go into debt.  Pretty straight forward stuff. And that’s exactly what happens with the US debt, too.  If we spend more than we “make” – and what we make is measured in a general way by the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – and borrow to cover the shortfall, then we’re in debt.  Another thing to understand is that virtually all nations carry some measure of debt.  That’s just the way the world seems to do business. 

What the big question really comes down to is: how much debt is too much debt?  Another way to put that is: how much debt is sustainable in the long run?   According to the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Budget, about 60% of GDP is what most countries consider a reasonable and sustainable debt load to carry.  OK, I’m willing to accept that, as much as I wouldn’t want that kind of debt for our household budget.  Still, I get it that countries are not the same as families when it comes to economics.  Now, for a simple guy like me, there are only a couple of ways to handle debt.  You can either a) make more money to cover your expenses, or b) you can spend less money, or there’s c), which is some combination of a) and b). 

It appears as though the Republicans pretty much favor b) by a long shot over a).  Spend less, spend less, spend less!  Reduce the amount of money the government pays out, and all will be well.  But that can only go so far, and like all budgeting, it comes down to a matter of priorities, that is, what to cut and what to keep?  On the other side of the equation, and to be fair about things, maybe the Democrats sometimes do lean too heavily on the a) part of our proposition above.  You can’t only take in more.  So, when it comes right down to it, I guess I’m a c) kind of guy.  Why not spend less AND take more in? 

It’s true that this means that we would have to agree on where and what and how much to cut.  That’s not an easy question, I know, since my priorities may not be your priorities, but in the end we have to come to some agreement.  Another contentious question may be the biggest of all: how do we raise GDP?  How do we make ourselves more productive?  The Republican answer is always to get the damn government out of the way and let the market do its thing, while the Democrats advocate for both increased taxes (especially on the wealthy) and for some measure of government oversight and assistance. These are maybe simplistic ways of putting it, but in the aggregate I think it’s not too far from the truth. 

Now, from what I’ve seen, especially in the free-wheeling Bush era of unhappy memory, when the cat was away, the mice just loved to play.  Government got out of the way, fiscally anyway, if not when it came to social, so-called “values” issues, and look what happened.  The rich got richer and richer, and the rest of us got a recession! So it doesn’t look to me as though that worked so well.  And what’s so unfair about asking those who earn a lot more to pay at least the same percentage in taxes as you and I?

Right now, again according to the Committee for a Responsible Budget, the country’s current debt load is at 70% of GDP, which is maybe shaky at best.  And Pres. Obama’s plan would push us to about 80% in the next decade.  That sounds pretty damning, until we look further and find out where the proposals of the current Republican nominees would take us.  With Romney’s, we’d reach between 85% and 96%; with Santorum’s proposals, we’d get to a dizzying 104%, and with Gingrich’s, we’d hit an astronomical 114% of GDP!  The only guy whose economics seem to work is Ron Paul’s, and even with his we’d still be at 76%.  But remember that his proposals mostly use cuts, and he thinks that raising taxes is another word for jihad

So, the question of who pays still remains.  You can’t go on forever borrowing from people.  Sooner or later, in my experience anyway, they want you to pay them back — with interest!  Again, that’s why, for now anyway, the only choice we may have is to make whatever cuts in spending we can agree on, AND to raise taxes, especially on those who can afford to pay them.  Maybe someday the economy will come roaring back so strong that we can actually lower individual and corporate taxes, but for the moment I’m not counting on it.  And the above numbers don’t lie.  What’s happening now in the economy is unsustainable.  Just ask the Greeks, and maybe the Italians and the Spanish, as well.   

The good commander, my partner’s dad, always picked up the tab.  And we were grateful, as much as we wanted to take them out to dinner once in a while, too.  But let’s not wait until there’s nobody left to pay the bill.  Let’s make the hard decisions now that will set us on the road to fiscal solvency.  And let’s not get duped by a bunch of Republican blather about how responsible they are, when their numbers just don’t add up – or to put it another way – when those numbers add up to just way too much.

Paul

THE TYRANNY OF AMERICAN OPTIMISM

Relentless Dogmatic Positivism

vs.

Critical Thinking, Realism, Affirmation and Action

By Kevin

A Personal Rant

The title for this essay is also the name of the illustration – “The Tyranny of American Optimism.” I cannot take credit for the phrase. I don’t know who first said it. I heard it at a time when I was suffering from this peculiarly American drive to suppress rational discrimination and realism in favor of relentless dogmatic positivism. Some family members, friends and work associates were criticizing me for what they saw as my pessimistic views about the world and human behavior – perspectives that I felt were rational and realistic. They were, and still are, uncomfortable when anyone talks about Global Climate Change, or the theft of U.S.elections, or when someone warns of impending economic collapse due to unsustainable financial practices.

There is a tendency toward Orwellian mind control in American society, attitudes and business. We are attempting to spread our thought policing methods of relentless dogmatic positivism throughout the world along with McDonald’s and Starbuck’s. Orwell’s “1984” is especially evident in corporate America. Enron was allowed to bankrupt its investors and defraud the business community and the world without anyone questioning its corrupt ways. Wall Street got away with selling disastrous credit default swaps and poisoned derivatives to us, very nearly pushing the world into global depression, and nobody asked how these impossibly complicated financial instruments really worked. Despite our very close call with total financial collapse since the economic house of cards fell down in mid-September, 2008, we are still hearing demands for total deregulation of the financial industry. Many people even now want to blindly trust the greediest among us with our future. Shouldn’t we stop for a minute and rethink our reckless ways?

What’s Positive about Positive Thinking?

There is a lot that is positive about positive thinking. In order to be spiritually and psychologically and physically healthy one must lead an affirmative life. That is to say, we need to envision, affirm, and focus with gratitude upon what is good in life – Spirit, Love, Wisdom, Hope, Creativity, Vitality, Prosperity – all the goodness within and around us. No practical person would ever suggest, however, that positive thinking means closing our eyes to the greedy, destructive and negative forces also arrayed around us. If we did that we would not be able to prepare and defend ourselves against dangerous elements at work in the world. How do we protect our children against predators? We tell them about bad people who might try to lure them away with candy and promises of fun. We describe what can happen and ask our children to confront these unfortunate realities so that they will not fall victim to them. We have to do the same thing for ourselves as adults. We need to face potential negative outcomes, plan for them and then invent strategies to avoid and overcome them. Even while we face our worst fears we must work hard and enthusiastically to achieve our highest hopes. Ignoring potential adversity is like sending a naïve child into the woods unprepared to identify and respond to the wolves lurking there.

The Dangers of Relentless Dogmatic Positivism

Several years ago I had the privilege of serving as an instructor in an international business training seminar. At one point in our discussion I happened to mention to these business women and men from other parts of the world that in their dealings with the USA they would encounter “the tyranny of American optimism.” I explained that it was characterized by zero tolerance for questioning the current strategies, raising concerns about the business climate or practices, any form of skepticism, and any tendency to prefer autonomy and independent thought over team spirit and group activity. They all thanked me warmly for opening up that topic, admitting that they had often spoken to one another about this peculiarly American business psychology which they simply could not comprehend. They questioned me closely about it: How could it be in any way practical to require positive group thinking to the exclusion of sensible empirical analysis? How do you identify and solve problems if you are not permitted to acknowledge them? What has happened to the American spirit of individualism and freedom of expression? Why is critical thinking and evaluation now viewed as negativity in the USA?

Why, indeed? I have thought about their questions for years. Only a few beginning ideas have occurred to me about why Americans seem hell-bent on abandoning individualism, freedom of expression and personal discrimination and critical thought. I suspect it begins with our Puritan roots. We have a founding tendency toward rigid authoritarian religious dogma that shuns questioning, doubt and intellectual rigor. We tend to mistrust open-minded thinkers and intellectuals. In recent decades there has been a return to those tendencies with the powerful resurgence of right wing fundamentalism in the USA. Many Americans will admit that they like to have all their questions about how to live and think answered for them by religion. They do not want to have to struggle with doubt and questions and problem-solving. They want simple formulaic answers and they wholeheartedly embrace philosophical and religious systems that offer clear recipes for living a good life without having to think or analyze the world around them.

Simplistic dogmatic positivism is tragically dangerous in today’s world which is facing the potential extinction of the human race and other life forms as the earth becomes uninhabitable over the next 100 years due to Global Climate Change caused by human folly. There are other very dangerous and serious socio-political conflicts and problems like nuclear proliferation, terrorism, overpopulation, poverty, hunger, and potential pandemics as well. But humanity will not have the luxury of solving those problems if we don’t first save ourselves from extinction due to Global Climate Change. And yet a large portion of our population believes that all the scientists and climatologists sounding the alarm about global warming are just fear-mongers engaged in a conspiracy to destroy our economy. What possible motivation could they have to commit such a crime? All the experts agree that we are in dire trouble and must act urgently now to reverse Global Climate Change, but our attitude of relentless, simplistic dogmatic positivism keeps us in denial. While we pretend not to notice and insist that everything is fine, both polar ice caps are rapidly melting as is theGreenlandand all the glaciers. Eventually frozen methane beds in the sea floor could be released, causing exponentially accelerated warming. The oceanic base of the food chain may be disrupted, and the Gulf Stream could be altered, throwing Europe into a new ice age. Nevertheless, we ignore all the signs. I am writing this on Feb 27 in snow country, but it is 58 degrees outside and my spring flowers are coming up. Meanwhile, mega-storms spawned in warmer oceans have already devastated the gulf coast, and gigantic tornados are terrorizing American towns. And the games have only just begun. How long can humanity remain in “positive denial?” Wouldn’t it be better to face facts and take serious steps to save ourselves now?

Living a Considered Life and Taking Action

Five years ago, just weeks before the real estate bubble burst, Robert and I sold our big beautiful 5-bedroom, 3-bathroom house in the suburbs where we had lived for over nine years. We bought eleven wooded acres in the wilderness with a half-acre stocked pond, a stream and many springs. We paid off our debts with the proceeds, and we have no mortgage now. We are rebuilding a crumbling old trailer house to transform it into our painting and sculpture studios and woodshop, while improving and adding onto the little hunting cabin that has become our new home. We’re halfway off the grid, but some day we’d love to become totally energy independent. We hope to grow and can our own food. We want to learn centuries of living skills from our Amish and Mennonite farmer neighbors. We have much work to do and a lot to learn, and we are more enthused about it every day.

Some of our friends think we are insane. What we are doing threatens their commitment to the “American Dream.” We were role models. We had achieved that “dream” even though much of it was a nightmare for us, and now we have turned our backs on it in a fit of negativity some people think. How could we refuse to have credit card debts and a huge mortgage and car payments? How could we walk away from a show home that had been featured in local papers and on pond and garden tours? How could we refuse to pretend that that the world is fine, and face financial and environmental crises unprepared, in panic and horror as many people apparently prefer to do? We will just have to allow people to think us mad, for we choose to face obvious realities now and prepare as best we can, rather than to bury our heads in the sands of relentless dogmatic positivism. Meanwhile, we are very excited about our new woodland life. We love it! We do not agree that it is foolish or pessimistic to read the handwriting on the wall and respond with appropriate life changes aimed at survival for as long as possible with the highest quality of life we can create.

A life anchored in Spirit, positive affirmation and gratitude does NOT require that one must become a dogmatically optimistic automaton with one’s head in the sand. We can all live very positive, creative lives without giving up independent critical thought and analysis leading to creative problem solving and strategic planning. A considered life is still the best life. It is not enough just to decide what one wants, visualize it, think positively and wish for it to come true. Childhood words are “need, wish,” and “want.” Adults say, “I will do this” and “I will not do that,” or “I am willing to do this” and “I am not willing to do that.” It is very natural for children to engage in a great deal of magical thinking. Mature adults observe the world critically, analyze the conditions relative to their own needs and desires, and creatively solve problems and invent strategies for achieving their goals. Yes… that process involves a lot of painful confrontation of inconvenient truths, difficult soul-searching and doubt, and long hours of analyzing potential scenarios and solutions. But the alternative is living by default and blindly suffering the consequences. Living a considered life is often hard work, but the result is a rewarding sense of critical understanding, the guidance of inner conviction, and a sense of profound personal meaning in life.

TAP YOUR TROUBLES AWAY!

Our good friend, Steve Zee, tap dancer and stand up comic extraordinaire, has just put up on line a great new video from his “Steve Zee for President” channel.  It’s funny and satirical and, oh so true!  But don’t just take my word for it.  Go take a look.  You’ll laugh and be entertained, and – if you’re like me – groan a little bit and say, “ain’t that the truth though?”

Take a look at  SteveZeeforPresident’s Channel – YouTube   I think I can promise, you won’t regret it. 

 You can also check out Steve’s website at www.stevezee.com where he’ll be posting a one minute discussion of a “controversial topic” every week until the election in November. He promises that it’ll be “at once hysterical and deadly serious.” 

 Paul

OUR HOUSE IS BURNING!

GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE IS BURNING OUR HOUSE DOWN

While the G.O.P. Candidates Are Only Concerned with SEX!

This morning at 8 am in his shirt sleeves Robert chased our dog Scrappy through the woods. Today is Feb. 23, 2012, in a part of the country that should be under lots of snow and ice right now. At 9 am we sat by the pond and watched our koi and other fish swimming about, as we basked in the warmth of springtime weather. The koi are supposed to be hibernating, buried in the mud, but our pond has not frozen over at all this winter – the first time that has ever happened, as far as we know. On our walk back up to the house, we noticed that our hydrangea bushes have started to leaf out. Yesterday Robert saw a forsythia bush covered with yellow blossoms in someone’s front yard. Both today and tomorrow the weather forecast calls for a high of 58 and a low of 45. For the following week the highs are expected to average 50 degrees. Again… This is February in snow country!

Some people tell us to “Just relax and enjoy the beautiful weather!” And we do… It really IS beautiful… but is it right?! Does this weather seem right to you? Does it worry you that we have not had a real winter this year? The leading character in “Jurassic Park,” responding to the delight of others over seeing dinosaurs, comments, “It’s all fun and games until the screaming starts!” That’s how we feel about the weather. It’s hard to relax when the implications of Climate Change are so dire for the continuation of life on our beloved, beautiful planet.

But Republicans and the G.O.P. candidates never comment about Climate Change if they can avoid it, and then only to scoff at our concern and discredit the science being urgently broadcast by climatologists all around the globe. Instead, what are these radical, extreme right wing Tea Party Republicans and G.O.P. candidates talking about? While our house is burning down, they are obsessed with SEX! SEX! SEX! They are demanding an end to contraception! REALLY?! Are we REALLY questioning citizens’ right to contraception in 2012 – let alone the imperative to curb planetary population explosion?! They have gone far beyond their constant drum beat of war against abortion to demand an end to family planning and to suggest policies and procedures that would actually invade a woman’s body and rape her with legally mandated vaginal probes! Unbelievable! And, of course, they are utterly against gay marriage, but their growing focus on the private lives of GLBT citizens in our society borders on unnatural obsession.

When your house is on fire, you don’t waste time criticizing your neighbor for the way s/he conducts her or his love life or plans a family. In fact, when your house is on fire, you focus all your attention on saving the house and everyone in it before you do ANYTHING else. If American society and the human race as a whole does not immediately turn its attention to stopping and reversing Global Climate Change, we won’t have the luxury of addressing other issues that we think are important, because our house will have burned down, along with everyone in it. Let’s get our priorities right and start focusing on this huge fire!

— Kevin

DARWIN’S DILEMMA, OR HOW DID THERE GET TO BE SO MANY OF US?

Darwin’s theory of evolution posits that natural variation occurs within groups, and that those individuals who turn out in some important manner to be better suited to their environment, that is, more fit in one way or another, are also better able to reproduce, thus ensuring that their genes (and the traits attached) get passed on to future generations. Over the decades, the theory has certainly proven itself in all sorts of ways, with all sorts of populations, including humans. In this manner, for example, homo sapiens won out over several other groups of hominoids, including homo neanderthalensis, an otherwise perfectly well adapted branch of the human tree, at least until their overbearing cousins arrived on the scene. But what of homo sapiens today? Are we still evolving? The answer can only be “yes,” but I wonder if the ways in which we are evolving are ultimately of benefit to us or to the planet on which we live.

This brings up a closely related question, one that I think is of supreme importance these days, namely, are we as a race reproducing ourselves out of existence? A case could be made that many, if not most, of the major problems we are facing today on a global scale can trace their source to one basic issue: there are too many of us on the planet. We are now at seven billion, and counting. What if each of these people reproduced at a simple ration of one to two? That is, suppose each couple, each pair of two people, were to produce four offspring. Although I am not a specialist in demography, or statistics for that matter, the simple math involved predicts that it will not be long, certainly in geological terms, before our population doubles. Can any of us really imagine a world in which there are fourteen billion people? And yet, it could happen, all the more so as humans find better ways of fighting germs and disease, in times past the killer of large swaths of the population.

Now, in case you may be wondering, I am not advocating for reduced food or medicine for anybody. Indeed, all those who “here,” that is, those of us already born deserve every benefit that human technology and medicine can possibly provide in order to give each person the opportunity for a healthy and productive life. That is because, at their core, no person is intrinsically better than any other person. However, what I AM advocating for is a little bit of common sense when it comes to procreation. There’s no mystery about it. At this time in history we know how NOT to have children. And those who elect to have no children at all, or only one, or at most the strict replacement value of two, are probably doing the world the greatest service. On the other hand, those who preach the value of more and more children are ensuring the depletion of necessary resources, the further degradation of the planet, and the probable future decline of humanity itself. Churches in particular that say that the only legitimate purpose of sex is for procreative purposes are therefore doing us, and the planet on which we live, a tremendous disservice.

So, in one sense, we have to wonder whether Darwin had it right or not, at least when it comes to us humans. There is, of course, no way he could have predicted, even as recently as the mid-nineteenth century, that human reproduction would run so drastically and so dangerously amuck. But let us remember that human beings are not the same as creatures that reproduce with no ability to think about or predict the consequences of their actions. In theory at least, we can and should plan, and calculate, and make reasonable and responsible choices.

Maybe it could even be said that this ability to reason and understand where the results of our actions will take us might in fact be the selected trait among humans that could in the end save us, along with the planet. If that’s the case, it could be that Darwin was right about us after all. Reason and logic, even pity for the planet, could save us by helping us choose not to reproduce, or to limit ourselves to only one or two children, or better still to adopt already born but unwanted children. Wouldn’t this in fact be one of the best possible uses of our human reason? And wouldn’t it make Darwin proud to know that we – his offspring – selected, in this case consciously, not just what is best for ourselves and our children, but ultimately what in the end is needed for our very survival, as well as for that of the earth itself?

Paul

G.O.P. Panic!

REPUBLICANS PANIC OVER THE 2012 GENERAL ELECTION

Backed into deep, dangerous right wing waters by the Tea Party coup, and weighed down with four unelectable candidates left swimming in their presidential primaries, the G.O.P. is descending into an ever more intense state of panic over the 2012 general elections.

The Deep, Dangerous Waters of Extreme Right Wing Positions and Policies:

  1. Foreign Policies and Wars – The G.O.P. exhibits a strange bipolar split between isolationism / withdrawal from the world, and constant threats of military build-up, escalation of hostilities and threats of war. They make fun of their own candidates who are so recklessly international in their interests to learn and speak French (Romney) or Mandarin Chinese (Huntsman.) They threaten to bomb Iran and the current G.O.P. presidential crop makes G. W. Bush look like a global darling.
  2. Birth Control and Women’s Rights – Today’s G.O.P. appears to stand to the extreme right of mainstream Americans with its position against birth control and a woman’s right to choice and control over her own body, health, and reproductive processes. There are even strong indications of Republican opposition to other basic human rights for women in their homes and in society at large. Women vote… right?
  3. Taxing the Poor and Giving the Rich a Big Break – Tea Party manipulated Republicans have clearly demonstrated that they really want to deny tax cuts and a minimum wage to the 99% of us who live in the middle and lower classes and pay 25% to 35% income tax. But they stridently demand tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% of Americans who make over $1 million per year and now pay only 13% to 16% tax. Is this a good strategy for winning votes from financially struggling Americans?
  4. Subsidies for Rich Corporations – Republicans monolithically support subsidies for hedge fund managers and for the richest corporations in human history – oil companies that exacerbate climate change, rape the environment, and gouge consumers and our economy. Meanwhile our infrastructure is disintegrating.
  5. Working against Economic Recovery – Doesn’t it seem crystal clear that Republicans do not want the economy to recover, because they’d rather have a failed economy to use as a bludgeon against President Obama? They have worked against all of his efforts and expressed unified condemnation of all the successful policies started under G. W. Bush and continued in the present administration, to save the U.S. and the world from deep global depression. They demand a return to ruinous deregulatory policies that produce smoke-and-mirrors financial products like the credit default swaps and poisoned derivatives that very nearly brought this nation down and the rest of the world with us. Their four remaining presidential candidates are even unanimous in condemning the completely successful auto industry recovery strategy that saved Michigan and the U.S. economy.
  6. Anti-Labor Efforts – Since their midterm election success (and long before that, of course) the G.O.P. has waged an all-out war on labor unions, collective bargaining rights, fair wages, and pensions, for salt-of-the-earth public servants, like firefighters, police, teachers and other public service workers who are the core of the middle class work force, many of them Republicans. Is this any way to win friends, influence people and get votes? Watch what happens to Gov. Walker in Wisconsin to gauge the wages of this sin. He will be recalled and the workers will win their rights.
  7. Head-in-the-Oil-Sands, All-Out, Suicidal Denial of Global Climate Change – Virtually 100% of the world’s climatologists and other scientists urgently warn us of extremely dire consequences if we do not immediately take major steps to stop and reverse Global Climate Change. But most Republicans spend their time denying that it exists at all, as if they had more data and expertise than climatologists. They instead support a suicidal policy of rapid development and consumption of fossil fuels, while working against investment in alternative clean energy sources and ridiculing hybrid and electric cars. They are unanimous in supporting the Keystone Oil Sands Pipeline – a powerfully destructive endgame plan for Earth’s environment.
  8. Racist Immigration Positions – Tea Party members, Republicans, and extreme right wing conservatives exhibit jingoistic, racist fears and reactionary responses to “the browning of America.” They want to stop and harass people of color, deport them, and prevent them from voting. They refuse to recognize the ways in which immigrants have built our country and serve as a pillar of labor in our economy.
  9. Making Education a Privilege Only the Rich Can Afford – Republicans have long advocated closing down the Department of Education. Now they want to remove all Federal and state money from public education, effectively ending the right of the masses to educate ourselves and climb the ladder to better conditions. Republicans prefer the idea of an America in which education is a privilege that only the rich can afford. They want to deny education to our increasingly brown populace, because they don’t want more people of color like President Obama aspiring to power. Accordingly, they are slashing and burning education budgets.
  10. Gay Civil Rights – The most conservative and right wing elements now in control of the Republican Party oppose gay marriage, GLBT civil rights in general, and the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” But Rick Santorum, the current leader of the pack among their presidential contenders, has pushed the G.O.P. even farther to the right on gay issues, about which he seems to be unnaturally obsessed. Years ago he famously compared gay orientation to incest, bestiality and polygamy. His extreme homophobia is bringing out the worst in Republicans as he urges them toward questioning the goodness and morality of gay citizens who may represent about 10% of the American electorate. Will any GLBT people vote Republican in 2012?
  11. Religion, Dogma and Bigotry – Republicans no longer seem to believe in our Constitutional separation of church and state, as long as it is THEIR Church of Fundamentalist Christian Dogma and Bigotry that controls the state. They clearly believe that Islamic citizens and non-Christian Americans are actually un-American and should not be allowed to vote or hold office… In fact, they shouldn’t be here.
  12. Obstruction of Government – A large part of this problem is due to growing Tea Party and Republican belief that any government and all government activities are bad for America. They seem to be moving dangerously close to proposing anarchy, but it would be a kind of anarchy in which right wing ideologues would run society. Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress have achieved a nadir in popularity ratings by opposing anything and everything that the Democrats and the Obama Administration propose, even if the Republicans had originally proposed and supported it themselves… and even if it is supported by their own Speaker Boehner and Senate Minority Leader McConnell. They have made government so dysfunctional that Congress would be more effective if it closed its doors and went home: anarchy.
  13. Extreme Right Wing Takeover – Ever since the ascendancy of the Tea Party and its ability to hold the Republican establishment hostage, the extreme right wing of the G.O.P. has hijacked their processes and positions and thwarted  the more mainstream agendas of Republican Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell. It has become almost impossible to find a moderate Republican anymore, as mainstream Republicans are forced to parrot Tea Party positions so outrageously and radically right wing that they cannot possibly prevail in the 2012 general election…. Or, if they do, it will be the end of America as we have known and loved it.The 13 deadly sins above are just the short list. There are a lot more. What do all of these positions and policies have in common? They represent a full-out attack on the people – the 99% of Americans – the vast majority of voters. Is it any wonder that the G.O.P. is in a panic about the 2012 election when they can’t stop themselves from alienating a big majority of the electorate? And people are catching on. Many conservatives are worried about guilt by association with the Tea Party extremists.

The Four Remaining G.O.P. Candidates for the Presidential Nomination

Republicans are in a panic about the 2012 general election partly because they have been painted into an extreme right wing corner by the Tea Party. But their panic is even more compellingly fueled by their disenchantment with the four remaining G.O.P. candidates left standing in their presidential primary process, because all of them look like sure losers against the mighty Obama re-election effort:

  • Rick Santorum is now a frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination – a fact that seems so unlikely as to be downright surreal. But he is riding a strong wave of momentum because the G.O.P. is so disenchanted with their other three candidates and they have nowhere else to go. (Tim Pawlenty, you dropped out way too soon. You could have been the frontrunner now.) Senator Santorum may have trouble in Pennsylvania, though, where the voters eventually realized how radically right wing and out of bounds his views are. They voted him out by an 18% margin. However, Nixon proved long ago that anyone can come back from a devastating loss and win the presidency. Nobody thinks Santorum can take the White House, but everyone should be very concerned if he wins the nomination, because such a right wing radical extremist should never be allowed to get that close to the presidency.
  • Mitt Romney seems to have been running for the presidency all his life. He and his family look like they were designed for the White House by central casting in  Hollywood. But the Republican electorate does not like him. “The sins of the father are visited upon the son,” and George Romney was a liberal to moderate Republican – a political animal that does not exist anymore. Mitt’s genuine impulses are a lot like his father’s, and Republicans can smell that. They do not believe his conversion to “severe conservatism.” They don’t like the fact that he is a moderate, but worse than that, he is a super rich Massachusetts elitist intellectual who speaks French!
  • Newt Gingrich is universally hated by the Republican establishment. He rose to the top of the polls briefly and had a second surge a bit later, but recently he has fallen like a stone to the bottom of the pile. To know him is to reject him as a mean, scary little man with megalomaniac aspirations. Republicans do not trust him because he is the ultimate Washington insider. And yet, almost nobody who worked with him will support him. The story of his three marriages does not help him. Moreover his intelligence and sharp, articulate, witty attacks do not serve him well in the long run. Again, American voters do not like intellectuals. Ask Adlai Stevenson and John Kerry.
  • Ron Paul himself publicly admitted that he had no chance of winning the Republican nomination or the presidency. He has a relatively small but ardent cadre of supporters and contributors, but the Republican Party has never taken him seriously. This year they snub him at their peril, because if he were to run as a third party candidate for the presidency, he would surely split off enough conservative votes to insure President Obama’s re-election, just as Ross Perot managed to make the first Bush a one-term president and put Bill Clinton in the White House.

So… What’s going to happen?

There are a number of interesting potential scenarios both emanating from and exacerbating the Republican panic over the 2012 general election:

  • Open, brokered convention – An increasing number of Republicans and political commentators are talking about the possibility of an open, brokered convention. It is hard to see how a return to the proverbial smoke-filled rooms of yesteryear could happen under the Republican Rules, but then, when it comes to elections, Republicans have never been very big on following the rules anyway. Maybe they’ll just change them and say, “Sorry, all you candidates who invested years of your life running for this nomination, and sorry, all of you billionaires and smaller donors who gave lots of money to them, but we are going to throw open this nomination process and draft Jeb Bush as our winning presidential candidate.”
  • Last-minute, Fifth Candidate – Is there any chance of a Johnny-come-lately, last minute candidate entering the race before the Super Tuesday Primaries? Could Tim Pawlenty somehow be resurrected? Mitch Daniels seems to be issuing “non-denial denials” regarding his interest in becoming a late entry, according to Chuck Todd.
  • Dreaded Third Party Candidacy – “Americans Elect” is already mounting a third party challenge for the presidency. They claim that three million people have expressed interest in their website, and they will narrow their list of candidates in May and choose one to run in June. They promise to put that candidate on all 50 ballots. This year anything could happen. We could see a fourth and fifth party, too. Donald Trump could decide that it would be good for his celebrity status and TV show to run on an independent ticket. So could Sarah Palin. Ron Paul might feel badly enough treated at the Republican Convention to spoil their soup and run as an independent. Many of these scenarios would spell re-election for President Obama.
  • Or… Maybe the G.O.P. Will Just Lose – If they continue on their current path, articulating extreme right wing positions and putting forward losing candidates, they may lose more than the presidency in the general election. They might just lose SO BIG that the Democrats would retake control of the House, bolster their position in the Senate, and replace a lot of Republican governors in the states.

 What’s going to happen?… A lot of rough and roiling water will have to pass under the November Election Bridge, along with a floundering G.O.P. elephant before we will know the answer to that question. But it is clear that the elephant is indeed floundering and in danger of drowning in those deep, dangerous extreme right wing waters. And the poor old pachyderm has fallen prey to a profound state of panic. No swimmer was ever saved from peril by giving in to panic. If the Republicans are going to survive this crisis, they are must analyze the needs of the electorate with a clear head and decide how to serve the vast majority of voters and stop alienating and insulting them. Then they need to nominate a mainstream moderate conservative candidate who can articulate a solid case for genuine service to the nation – in fact, service to the planet, and all its people.

— Kevin

A Poem from Peter

Our friend Peter is never happier than when he is on a road trip. He sent me a poem about that. Here’s his introduction and his poem. Enjoy… (-Kevin)

As one who writes poetry, I tend to seek answers, in my poems, to nebulous questions, thus the answers (the poems themselves, I suppose) are nebulous also, or at least they seem to be. They seem nebulous because they seem complex, even in their simplicity. I like to go on road trips, so road trips also serve as a metaphor for me. They push and pull me, and as much as they free me, they also enslave me, in an odd sort of way. I’m still working on that enigma. So this is a poem that attempts to address that issue.
 
Road Trip

The highway offers coy refuge,

From Neverland to Baton Rouge,

From New Orleans to Myrtle Beach;

The towns are there, just out of reach.

There are places we have been

We think we’d like like to see again.

But like shadows in the sun,

We are blinded on the run.

Never stopping, on the move,

As if we had a point to prove,

We have only one relation

That determines destination:

It’s the mileage on the map.

The GPS is just a trap

That makes us think we’re marking time,

Just like meter, just like rhyme.

Time is measured but it robs,

Space is just between the knobs

Of the dashboard of the car,

Gas we’ve spent and miles so far.

The map of the United States

Resembles what’s served on the plates

Of truck stops cross the great divide:

Lots of chicken, country fried.

There is someplace left to go,

That’s the solace we must know,

As we pull out on the road

With nothing but a laden load.

         — Peter

Winter Wonder

I’ve been thinking a lot about winter lately, and wondering where it went to.  I often check the US, and the world, weather reports in the newspaper, just because I’m interested, but also because of some of the longer-term issues that have to do with climate change. The fact that there has been almost a complete lack of expected cold weather patterns all over the northern and eastern portions of the country cannot be normal, and is very troubling – little or no snow, and temperatures often ten to fifteen degrees, or more, above normal.  Too, although not many people whom I’ve heard have been talking about it, California is in the throes of a major drought coming up.  So far, as I read just recently in the Los Angeles Times, this is shaping up to be the driest winter in the past thirty years.  The Sierra snow pack, which all of us depend so much on for our summer water supply, is at something like one fourth of its normal depth for this time of year. 

 Of course global warming does not mean that all parts of the planet experience actual warming trends.  Quite the opposite can happen, too, and substantial variations in weather conditions in any particular part of the globe have always been quite possible.  But what is not possible to deny is the very fact of the long-term warming of the climate of the planet.  That is what is called “settled science,” in spite of claims on the part of organizations like the Heartland Institute, and other purveyors of bogus science.  Not that individual scientists may not disagree with each other on when, or exactly how much, things will change.  Will the seas, for example, rise by only three to four feet, or by six to seven feet, in the next hundred years or so?  Those are questions that are debated, not WHETHER the seas will rise.  

 As often is the case, one can feel quite helpless when it comes to actually doing much about it.  It is true, of course, that individuals really can make a difference, and that change does take place one person at a time.  As such, it is incumbent on each of us to do our part to the best of our ability.  Still, I rather fear and doubt that, a) many people will make anything like substantial changes, and b) we may already have progressed too far for smaller, incremental change to make much difference anyway.  What is probably needed is BIG CHANGE, on the global stage, which can only happen if governments and organizations such as the UN take action.  And, as we have seen, or rather not seen, all of the current contenders for the presidency, Barack Obama included, sad to say, have talked very little about climate change, or what their plans might be to meet it head on.  Indeed, and incredibly, some of them actually deny it.   

 So, yes, it is true that we cannot posit a one-for-one causal connectivity between any given weather event and the bigger issue of global climate change.  But it is a fact that the planet has warmed up by as much as two degrees Fahrenheit in the last hundred years.  And that has had, and will have, a profound effect on our weather patterns.  So it goes, then.  Numerous respected scientists have been predicting for years that we may soon be reaching the tipping point, the point of no return.  But what I have to wonder is whether that point may be coming sooner than anyone ever dreamed, or dared predict.

 Paul

POLITICS, PEOPLE, AND THE PURPOSE OF LIFE

In the summer of 1971 I was twenty-six years old.  The previous November my mother, whom I was very close to, had just died at the young age of fifty, and I was feeling lost and hopeless.  As a high school teacher at the time, I had summers off, and I decided it would take my mind off things if I learned another language.  I had long been interested  in Russia, its culture, its people, and its literature, so I enrolled in an intensive summer language course at SUNY New Paltz. The first six weeks of it took place on that verdant and inviting campus, but the really exciting part was the second six weeks, when we went to what was then known as the Soviet Union.  We took an Aeroflot flight to Moscow in July of that year, and – believe it or not – when I arrived, I felt like kneeling down and kissing the Russian earth.  Luckily, I refrained, and did not make such a complete ass of myself

 Having grown up in relative poverty, I wanted to visit the Soviet Union because I thought that communism might provide a possible answer to the unequal distribution of wealth that I felt so keenly in this country.  The whole set up, then, seemed to me like a good way to kill several birds with one stone.  I would get to visit Russia, see communism first hand, learn some of the language, and then – well, unfortunately, that’s about where any clarity of thinking on my part ended.  After that, I guess I thought I’d just somehow figure things out later. 

 I should maybe hasten to say that things did not turn out as I had planned.  Not so much in terms of the language.  Although Russian is complex and difficult for foreigners to learn, I worked hard and began to gain a little fluency.  That part was fine, and I was pleased with my progress.  However, once I arrived in the country, along with my professor and the class I was part of, it began to dawn very quickly on me that communism wasn’t what I had hoped it might be.  People seemed depressed and downtrodden, and although I met more ordinary Russians than I had expected, most of them did not seem at all happy with their government.  Anything built at least since the war had a shoddy look too it, and people seemed somehow disappointed.  I remember one person telling me, frankly to my surprise, that he didn’t think much of communism, and he added: “We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us,” 

 I started to question all of the premises I had previously held, and by the time I left the country six weeks later, I was depressing aware that communism was pretty paltry as an economic system.  And what was worse, I had also witnessed enough of its totalitarian governance system to know that I did not at all like what I saw. 

 So, I came back to the United States in late August of that year, a little sadder, maybe a little wiser, and just in time to begin my teaching assignment in a rural high school in upstate New York. The point of all this reminiscence is that I felt adrift, morally and politically.  Communism was clearly not going to be the answer, and capitalism had always seemed cruel and greedy to me. 

 Things eventually changed in my life, and I left upstate New York, heading west, settling after a few years in California.  There I decided that you  can’t stay disappointed with life forever, so I plunged in headlong.  Later still, I ended up working at a large public university.  I ultimately rose to hold a relatively responsible position there, in charge of the university’s international programs. 

 But the question remained in my mind, had I ever figured out what was the best way to live?  In the end, there was no getting around the fact that I had embraced capitalism.  I was not a rich capitalist, mind you, but it’s almost impossible to live in this country without taking on the trappings of the system.  I eventually earned a decent wage, not huge, but enough, with my partner’s salary, to live not too uncomfortably.  Now, I’m a pensioner, and although in my heart I often still feel like the shanty Irish stock I come from, I’d have to say that things are okay.

 But I think a lot about other people, right here in this country, those who have not been as fortunate.  I think about the millions who do not have jobs, young people who haven’t been able to start their careers, people who can’t feed their families, or who have to choose between buying food and buying medicine, of those who are serving long prison terms for minor drug offences, those who are sick but have no insurance, or just so depressed they don’t feel like they can go on much longer.  Has capitalism served them well?  Probably not has to be the answer, I think.  Would communism have been a better choice?  Again, I doubt that very much, especially if Cuba and North Korea are any models from which to learn. 

 Contemplating these questions is, in a way, a lot like facing the issues related to global climate change.  You often feel pretty helpless about doing anything that seems all that meaningful.  I guess what I have ultimately decided is that I can at least write about my concerns, and I can give what’s possible to the charities I believe in, and I can vote for politicians who seem better to me than their opposites.  That pretty much comes down to voting for all the Democrats I can.  Not that Democrats are universally wonderful, but they’re a whole hell of a lot better than most Republicans, who cynically use wedge cultural issues to get the working class poor to vote for them, even though it goes contrary to people’s own economic interests.

 So, I’ll vote for Pres. Obama in the fall, and for as many liberal politicians as I can find.  All the while, knowing that the system is awfully far from perfect, that I in some ways contribute to it by accepting it and living according to its rules, and just by leading as happy a life as I can.  But maybe in the end that’s the answer, if there is one: live as intensely and as fully as you know how to, help others whenever possible, do what you can to find the answers to the Big Questions, however you define them, and leave the rest up to whatever Divine Power is beyond the thrust of your everyday routine.  It’s not a political dogma, that’s for sure, at least not like capitalism or communism, but it’s probably the best we can do.   And that, after all, is maybe all that’s expected of us.

Paul

David Hockney and the Scientistic Vision of Artists

Dear Paul,
 
Thank you so much for sending me the clipping from The Times Literary Supplement, Feb 3, 2012, about David Hockney’s show, “A Bigger Picture,” at London’s Royal Academy of Arts. Hockney continues to thrill me with his brilliant mix of scientistic vision and ravishing aesthetic appeal, as he has done throughout his career. Even the TLS color reproductions on newsprint of Master Hockney’s recent work knocked my eyes out of my head and into my heart and stomach and cerebral cortex. But the TLS article by Clare Griffiths, “Yorkshire’s Prodigal Son — David Hockney’s Awakening from the California Dream” — made me realize once again how influential Hockney’s scientistic aesthetics have been for all 20th and 21st Century artists, including me.
 
When I first became aware of Hockney way back in the ’70s and ’80s, I was a gay man living in Southern California, and so was he. I understood his swimming pool paintings on a visceral and experiential level — the light, the heat, the beautiful young swimmers. But what grabbed me by the throat was the immediate realization that he was seeing the world — my world — with a radically fresh new vision, and an aesthetic built upon all of art history — especially starting about 1800 with the English landscape painters, then the impressionists, the fauves, the colorists and eventually the cubists. Hockney’s unabashedly sensual, fruit juice and candy application of color as if it were a sexual lubricant, was captivating in and of itself to say the least. But his deconstruction of visual viewpoint through reverse perspective, multiple viewer and vanishing points, and fractured visual planes also tickled my aesthetic intellect.
 
Hockney as never stopped demonstrating that while we artists are certainly motivated by our passion for sensuality, light, color, line, mass and form, we are also given to a scientistic way of seeing the world which would surprise many laymen, if they could step into our heads for even a minute. The essential elements of an artist’s vision are analytical. We dissect any scene like a biologist exploring a cadaver, but then we put it back together again in a new way. We seek to understand the mechanics of positive and negative space, perspective and light. We examine the crucial balances and tensions between contours and masses. We study every nuance of the interactions among colors. Yes, artists also create from emotion and passion, but that is largely about content. The process of seeing analytically in order to create art is as scientistic and disciplined as is the mastering of materials, tools and techniques. David Hockney is the artist who best articulates and demonstrates or reveals the reality about the analytic artistic process.
 
Beyond his lifelong dissertation about aesthetic vision and analytic process, Hockney has also pulled back the curtain on the artist’s obsession and constant search for new tools and technologies that will serve our desire to produce a new aesthetic to dazzle the world. This, too, is scientistic — this deep interest in technologies and tools. As it happens, while cleaning house two days before receiving your TLS clipping, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a 90-minute David Hockney documentary on the Ovation TV Network, entitled “A Beginning,” if I remember correctly. In this fascinating film, Hockney is an aesthetic detective, seeking to prove by scientific methodology that the renaissance artists achieved their shockingly natural new images through technology. He proves convincingly that as early as the 1400s artists were projecting images of their subjects onto their canvases by using curved mirrors and tracing the optically accurate forms. In the 1500s the camera obscura was invented, or more appropriately, “discovered,” since it is little more than a hole in a surface, capable of projecting a completely detailed photographic image of the artist’s subject, albeit upside-down, on a small canvas. It turns out that we artists have been “cheating” by using optical technology for at least six centuries. Not to leave us disenchanted with art, in his documentary Hockney points out that it is not the optical accuracy of an image that makes it art, but its brilliant aesthetic execution.
 
What woke me up at 3:00 am this morning was Hockney’s use of the iPad to create large prints for his current show at The Royal Academy. He is also creating images with his iPhone, and creating landscape films using 18 cameras and projecting images on multiple screens. Again, I identify thoroughly with Hockney, because I have been creating digital images with my scanner, computer and Wacom drawing tablet for many years. Several years ago I began printing them on large canvases with the help of my friend sign-maker Dave who lives and works in these woods down near the river. He helped me print a 3 x 4 foot image of my digital composition “I Miss Smokin’ SOooo Much…” (see below.) One of those just sold to some good friends in New York.
 
Lately I have become increasingly worried about the competition for time between the income requirements and demands of daily life versus the imperative to create art. Let’s face it, at our age you and I are hearing the clock ticking louder and louder and thinking more carefully about how to spend each moment and get the most out of our time. I thought life would slow down as I got older — especially living like a hermit in the woods — but it is speeding up instead, and I find myself analyzing periods of time that I used to waste and thinking about how they can become productive moments. So I awoke at 3:00 am this morning with the realization that I have to buy an iPad! I have frequently carried sketchbooks for the last 50 years, and created some pretty interesting images in them, too, if I do say so myself, but almost nobody ever sees those drawings. It’s time to take the hint from Hockney and my own years of stationary desktop computer digital art, and trade in my sketchbook for a portable iPad so that I can continue to make sketches as I have done for five decades, but then develop the best ones and email them to sign-maker Dave to create large prints. Thank you for waking me up David Hockney!

 And thanks again for sending me the TLS clipping, Paul! Love, -Kevin
 
P.S. See more about Hockney’s exhibit at www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibitions/hockney

Below: “I Miss Smokin’ SOooo Much…” 2009 digital print — line art drawn by hand by Kevin who then scanned it into his computer and colored, shaded and detailed it with his Wacom digital drawing tablet. Sign-maker Dave in the woods then printed the image on a 3 x 4 foot canvas which Kevin stretched on a homemade pine frame and varnished before displaying. 

I Miss Smokin' SOooo much -- digital art by Kevin