Saturday, October 30, 2010

Not Insane

Back in 1972, satirists the Firesign Theatre ran a presidential candidate named George Papoon whose slogan was "Not Insane." On Saturday satirists John Stewart and Steven Colbert filled the Mall in Washington with a rally to Restore Sanity. I'm not quite sure what that says about the march of American history, but Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon had impressions of the day leading to some beautiful and hopeful words, some of which I will now steal:

"What this crazy, not entirely well-thought out, quasi-free-for-all was about, it turns out, was we, the people. The proud, generous, spirited, non-yelling and non-bullying real Americans who know that "If we amplify everything we hear nothing." Having 4Troops perform the national anthem and Tony Bennet belt out "America, the Beautiful" was not irony. Even Father Guido's rambling benediction that ended with a "Thank you, and we really mean it," was sincere. Because the ultimate metaphor for who we are, in the competent words of Stewart, is our nightmarishly daily, eminently Yankee commute. The NRA members and the Obama voters. The soccer moms and the immigrants. And somehow we all generally merge into one harmonious lane. It's true that as Stewart explained, "Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn't the promised land. It's just New Jersey." But when we practice compassion and community, when we remember that the loudmouths are not a true picture of who we are, we can heal a nation, fly to the moon, and even get to work on time.

Was Saturday the beginning of a new dawn in the American character? Did it cure hysteria, paranoia and rampant jerkwaddery? Only time will tell, but don't hold your breath. .. But when Mavis Staples and the entire ensemble gathered for the finale to promise "I'll Take You There," it seemed, at least for a minute, something more. It was a message to the world that we are not the sum of our loudest, angriest parts. That most of our hearts, broken and aching and cynical and flawed though they often are, are in the right place. Oh, mercy. Mercy indeed. And though the rally may be over, the Peace Crazy Love Train is still at the station. The only question left is: Are you on board?"

Not that anybody noticed or cares but...

Bloomburg reported that:

Applications for U.S. unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week to the lowest level in three months, a signal the labor market may be starting to mend.

Initial jobless claims decreased by 21,000 to 434,000 in the week ended Oct. 23, the lowest since early July when fewer auto plants than normal closed for retooling, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The total number of people receiving unemployment insurance dropped to a two-year low, while those getting extended payments also fell.

Consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy, is beginning to gain speed and may give companies reason to increase payrolls heading into the holiday shopping season. Ford Motor Co. is among companies planning to add staff as sales improve. "

But of course such realities can't possibly matter, or even be heard, when Bloomberg can also report:

The Obama administration cut taxes for middle-class Americans, expects to make a profit on the hundreds of billions of dollars spent to rescue Wall Street banks and has overseen an economy that has grown for the past five quarters.

Most voters don’t believe it.

A Bloomberg National Poll conducted Oct. 24-26 finds that by a two-to-one margin, likely voters in the Nov. 2 midterm elections think taxes have gone up, the economy has shrunk, and the billions lent to banks as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program won’t be recovered

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Real Halloween Scare

This 14 minute portion of Keith Olbermann's Special Comment is nothing but a recitation of the on the record statements and activities of various Tea Party candidates for Congress and the Senate. If you want to be truly scared for Halloween, watch it.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Emerson for the Day

"Democracy/Freedom has its root in the sacred truth that every man hath in him the divine Reason...though few men since the creation of the world live according to the dictates of Reason, yet all men are created capable of so doing. That is the equality and the only equality of all men."

painting by Georgia O'Keefe

But It's Getting There

How wise is the conventional wisdom? We're about to find out.

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post had big stories yesterday on the depth and extent of voter anger. The Times conclusions, based on their polling, was the most devastating: parts of the Obama coalition are defecting, especially women:

The poll provides a pre-Election Day glimpse of a nation so politically disquieted and disappointed in its current trajectory that 57 percent of the registered voters surveyed said they were more willing to take a chance this year on a candidate with little previous political experience. More than a quarter of them said they were even willing to back a candidate who holds some views that “seem extreme.”

Individual polls suggested that apparent Democratic gains over last weekend had disappeared. Yet the tenor of coverage today is a little different. Several stories (in Salon, at TPM),
picked up by cable TV say that the expected Democratic losses are in line with recent history for midterm elections in a bad economy, and that Republicans would be even farther ahead if the Tea Party candidates weren't so awful.

Still, the outcome is yet uncertain--despite all the ads and robocalls, the election is still days away, and even if most have made up their minds by now, it all hinges on who goes to vote. Several polls that either make sure to nab cell phone users or include statistics on cell phone v. land line calls show that cell phone users (presumably younger voters) would vote Democratic in larger numbers--enough to make close winners out of the many close races on the boards. The question is whether they will vote.

Americans have a choice: to take out their anger and confusion on all incumbents or the majority party, or to avoid making things worse. Americans never seem to foresee just how much worse their impulsive choices can make things. Bush v. Gore remains the most vivid example.

It's worth remembering that Republican anger isn't new. Rabid right GOPers were angry when Bush was in the White House. (One poll shows that 96% of Tea Partiers voted for McCain.) What is new is the primitive extremism of many of the candidates, from muddled theocrats like Sharron Angle to the out and out thugs supporting Rand Paul.

It may be our normal politics of two-steps-forward, one-and-a-half steps back (or two-and-a-half), but even that's not good enough. As it is, we're probably not making enough progress towards what we need to give us a fighting chance for an intact future. But this kind of an outcome, and the ensuing cacophony of idiocy we're in for, makes that possibility even more remote.

Well, it's not dark yet...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"The man who cannot wonder is but a pair of spectacles behind which there is no eye."

Thomas Carlyle

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Election 2010: Guard the Change

The following is a bit of encouragement I'm posting on various political blogs today. I don't post there very often anymore, but I thought I'd add my voice now and hope that it helps.

It's the last week before the elections. It's the moment when potential voters are most focused. It's the time to nail down organizing for GOTV and get it started, especially in early voting states.

It's the time for action. And if you need a few words to keep you going, I suggest these: Guard the Change.

Because when you strip away the side issues, that's what this election is about.

President Obama said it in September: "The last election was a changing of the guard. Now we need to guard the change."

Part of the electorate is discouraged that the change isn't faster. Part of the electorate is going to scapegoat the President and blame the party in power for bad economic times. But the energy on the GOPer side is coming primarily from those who are afraid of change.

They are mostly white people who are feeling overrun by demographic change. They are afraid of Mexican immigrants and Muslims. They see President Obama as the leader who is taking away everything from whites and giving it to blacks and browns. They want their country back.

These voters are being managed with complete cyncism by corporate interests and their millions, who must hide themselves to retain credibility. They really want their country back.

This energy is coming also from people who see liberals as lording over their lives, anxious to take away the last of what they have--their SUVs, their big screen TVs--with the excuse of global warming.

The importance of the change underway can be measured by the extremism of the opposition. Many of the GOPer candidates don't even pretend to know very much, or base their actions on anything more than discredited ideologies and narrow religious faiths.

We know the political change that has begun will benefit everyone in this time of inevitable stresses, and especially that it is crucial to a decent future.

It's time to guard the change.

Some voters can still be persuaded, because many extremist zealots running for the House haven't been sufficiently exposed for what they are. I suspect most voters would prefer that the people they elect to be the government are competent.

But the most important task is to get Obama voters of 2008 to vote in 2010. This message is particularly potent for them: Guard the change.

What GOPers fear most is that black voters, Latino voters and young voters who believed in Obama will rally to his defense, to guard the change he began. That's why they are busily engaged in the voter intimidation tactics for which they are so justly infamous.

Change is hard. Political change is messy and often ugly. President Obama at USC:

"But I told you this was going to be hard. Power concedes nothing without a fight.

Inch by inch, day by day, week by week, we’ve been grinding it out. That’s the nature of change in a big complex democracy. And it seem so distant from those wonderful times [of 2008 and the Inaugural.] We haven’t gotten everything that we hoped for. Maybe a neighbor is out of a job, but don’t let anyone tell you that our fight hasn’t been worth it, or that we’re not making a difference.

Because of you, there are people right here in CA who don’t have to choose between cancer treatment or going bankrupt. There are women who can look their children in the eye and say, yes you are going to college. Businesses able to keep their doors open during a recession. 100,000 brave men and women home from Iraq. We will continue to fight to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. We will have an energy policy for the future of America.

So don’t let them tell you that change isn’t possible. Here’s what I know. Change is always hard. And if your parents, if our gradparents, if our great-grandparents had listened to the cynics, we wouldn’t be here today."

This election is important, if only for this one reason:

Guard the change.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"I believe in original sin. I also believe in original virtue. Look around!"
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Election 2010: Fearing Forecasts

It's the home stretch for the 2010 elections, with a flood of final polls and forecasts ahead. One veteran forecaster at Kos writes of this election, "I don't have a freaking clue." Neither apparently does the superstar of evaluating polls, Nate Silver (now working for the New York Times.)

One fascinating reason is this (according to the above cited post): early polling was largely coming from Republican or Republican-leaning sources. Even now nearly half comes from such sources, while less than 10% comes from Democratic sources.

This could be why the polls haven't made much sense. There simply aren't that many Republicans--or Tea Partiers--to account for the percentages. But the outcome will depend on what it always was going to depend on: Obama Democrats showing up to vote, and enough Independents who aren't convinced by extremist zealots with nothing but push-mouth slogans and fantasy ideology to guide them in the important, complex and difficult tasks of governing.