Saturday, February 25, 2012

Weekend Update

Anticipating the loss of their biggest star, Donald Chump, when he threatens to run for prez one time too many, NBC has announced a new series, VAGINA COP, starring the handsome Governor of Virginia Billy Bob McDuck. 

According to the pilot script now under consideration, the clean-cut hero (McDuck) gets himself into a pickle when he believes he's signed up to be a Virginia Cop, but instead finds himself on the special task force tasked with forcing women to get ultrasound exams, and especially to pay for them: the VAGINA COPs.  He "heads" a crack investigation unit to detect when women are really being raped or really not pregnant or really trying to get abortions though they pretend to want mammograms and birth control devices.  Even then, the VAGINIA COPS must enforce the zygote is a person law so they're on the lookout for illegal birth control pills, and the drug offenders who take them, or purchase them, or sell them.  Once the federal laws are passed they can just be sent to Gitmo, but for now, it's all about police work.

Also starring in VAGINA COPS is Richie Richney as the stuffy arrogant Captain who does everything by the book, always says the wrong things when he's trying to be one of the guys, and generally gets everything wrong.  In the first episode he spends all morning deciding which of his cars to drive to work, and then gets angry because the trees he passes "are all the wrong height."

 The cops in his command make fun of him, led by the cheerful bad boy of the VAGINIA COPs, played by Casino Newt Gingles.  He thinks everybody is out to get him, but he doesn't actually care.  Newt's partner is the straight arrow of the outfit, played by Little Ricky Sanctimonious, who believes being a VAGINA COP is a high moral calling.  Watch the fun as Newt plays one practical joke after another on Ricky--who falls for them every time.

McDuck is the new guy in the unit and he must deal with all the old timers, including the most mysterious one--a cop with a past in the organized crime unit and a bad reputation who is trying to salvage his career as a VAGINA COP--that is, if he doesn't eat himself to death first.  The character called Sipowitz is played by the godfather of Jersey Shore, Crisp Crispie.  

The network is unsure whether to bill VAGINA COP as a comedy or a tragedy.  Rumors that Lawrence O'Donnell is producing can't yet be confirmed.  

In other news--and I bookmarked this before Rachel did it--a Georgia Democratic state legislator proposed another form of birth control be outlawed--vasectomies.

And to make this week complete, when asked what segment of the electorate that voted for President Obama the GOPer candidates are trying to take away, journalist Joe Klein deadpanned: "They're doing great with that segment of young voters who are opposed to contraception."

Thursday, February 23, 2012

On It

For the first couple of years of the Obama administration, the complexities of ongoing policy, administrative and legislative efforts to turn this ship of state around from the Bush years and to respond to the Great Recession sometimes meant that issues that arose suddenly didn't get addressed before they mushroomed into bigger problems.  But that's not happening anymore.

President Obama directly and forcefully addressed the question of gasoline prices on Thursday.  This I expect will be just the opening salvo in a spirited counter-offensive to the disingenuous efforts of GOPers to make political hay.  Gas prices are literally where the rubber meets the road for many people, and one of the few topics that gets discussed by people who don't like to talk politics.  Where I think GOPers misread the situation is in regards to alternative energy. My touchstone here is western PA, where a local supermarket chain literally saved itself from possible bankruptcy by offering an incentive of free gas indexed to the grocery bill.  I visited there during the last gas price jump--during the Bush administration--and was surprised to hear people talking about alternative fuels.  People are interested in what works, and despite emotions they are aware of larger problems that don't have simplistic solutions, and are likely caused by international politics, financial manipulations and the agendas of oil companies. 

The McCain campaign made fun of candidate Obama's suggestion that properly inflated tires help gas mileage, yet that's precisely what people want to hear: solutions they can implement.  It can be a delicate dance--it didn't work so well for Jimmy Carter--but especially when U.S. oil production is significantly higher than under Bush (and when the government has approved more drilling than oil companies are willing to do),  the simplistic "bumper sticker" solution of drill more may not wash anymore.  And people are even more suspicious of oil companies than the government.  GOPer politicians lie just as outrageously about Obama administration policies and actions on energy as they do on--well, everything else.  So the pushback has to continue, with the facts.

For a perhaps different constituency, the Obama administration is addressing the hot topic of privacy on the Internet with a privacy Bill of Rights that the major players have signed on to.  This comes as there's more controversy among users, and concern from state attorneys-general.

Meanwhile, I expect President Obama is having urgent if off the radar meetings on Syria, where the situation is worsening, especially in the area where three journalists were killed, including a Syrian and an American who both pleaded for the outside world to pay attention to what is happening there.  Now the survivors are surrounded, and government tanks and troops are going in for the total kill.  Secretary of State Clinton is currently involved in meetings seeking international action.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Sanctimonium Shadow Show!

The 20th--yes, friends, count'em off, the 20th, and maybe, could it be, the last?--GOPer debate was held in Arizona Wednesday evening,  Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, the day after Mardi Gras.  Yeah, the party's over--but for who?

The cable pundits on MSNBC and CNN were pretty unanimous that Sanctimonious didn't have a good debate, and so may well have clobbered his own momentum.  But the online punditry was less certain--it was a dull draw which favors Richney, and there was even opinion that Sanctimonious won it (HuffPo was particularly outspoken on this.)  Everybody admitted that the audience was stacked with Richney supporters, which made the live debate seem like Richney won.   Jonathan Bernstein cautions  that in a debate with no obvious winner, its effect on the upcoming primaries will depend on how the Rabid Right media spins it, and what excerpts they show. 

Just about everybody agreed on one thing: it was an awful, dismal debate, even "one of the worst."  Several came out and said that the debate winner was President Obama. 

As usual, the Economist crew were the most entertaining live-bloggers.  Two choice tidbits:

Obama's bowing again, this time to the mullahs, according to Romney. Does that man never stand up straight?

I have a theory that Paul would be less popular were he more coherent.

The Economist concluded:

It's strange to think this may be the last debate. We've come so little distance despite the crowded debate schedule. The candidates seem no more polished, poised or assertive than they did at the beginning. It's amazing how bad at debating they've been. I'm sure it's not easy, but it hardly inspires confidence.

To which the American among them added:

I am ashamed of and afraid for my country.

But as far as the clown show goes, the spin on the debate will matter only if it supports the outcome in Michigan.  The polls indeed are showing that Richney is inching up and even ahead, though whether the people polled are representative enough of the people who will actually vote (crossovers are permitted) is open to question.  However, there are some early votes counted, and Richney has a strong lead in those.  (His big lead in Arizona early voting, and the proportion of early voters there to the total, pretty much ensure a victory in that state.)   So at this point it looks like--once again--yes, it's believable, it's incredible, but it could be true--Mr. Inevitable will return!

But if the punditry reaches that conclusion by the weekend, and Sanctimonious actually wins Michigan, then Richney may really be in trouble.  But...Sanctimonious (or him plus Gingles) will have to pile up a lot of Southern wins on Super Tuesday to really derail him.  All Richney has to do is win Super Tuesday and it's over, and he's ....well, you know. Mr.....

Meanwhile, Chuck Todd of NBC is saying that the emphasis on birth control over the past week is really hurting the GOP in national and battleground state polls for the general election.  The proposed Virginia law to force mandatory invasive ultrasound (now perhaps downgraded to semi-invasive) for women seeking abortions has consequently gotten national attention.  But other states have done it and are contemplating it, something that Rachel Maddow and almost noone else has been covering.  Now maybe voters will be paying more and closer attention.   

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Enjoy Your Planet.2

This one stays on the sky.  I haven't seen a sky this starry in many years.  Hard to believe there are places where it can still be seen.  Once again, best seen on a big screen.  And once again, I could do with a little less time lapse and some longer scenes, it goes by too fast.  But beautiful anyway.


Robert Reich makes the case that what the economy needs is good paying middle class jobs, which require strong unions, and not necessarily manufacturing jobs, which aren't "coming back" anyway, at least in the large numbers of yesteryear.  I think he's right, and his points are worth exploring further.

So there are two points: unions and manufacturing.  Unionization in the past couple of decades has been most successful in the public sector, which is largely why GOPers are attacking public sector unionization.  Public sector and civil service jobs have been the backbone of especially the non-white middle class (another reason for the Grand Old White Party to attack them.)  How to successfully unionize people who work in offices etc. is a challenge that should be more widely and deeply discussed.  In my own experience, I was a lonely management supporter of unionizing efforts at the Boston Phoenix a very long time ago (I was a managing editor) but I was doubtful that aligning such a union with the United Electrical Workers would really work.  Newspaper jobs are very different from electrical workers jobs.  I assume those problems have been addressed since, but since few office jobs are actually unionized, maybe not well enough.

Reich's point about manufacturing jobs not coming back is based not only on jobs going overseas but a lot of erstwhile manufacturing work now being done by robots and other computerized machinery like CAD-CAM.  This is what used to be called automation, and its effect on manufacturing jobs was forecast back in the 50s and 60s.  Back then, manufacturing work itself was seen as having growing social and psychological problems.  The mindless repetitions of the assembly line was alienating and soul-destroying, besides factory work often being exhausting, dirty, unhealthy and dangerous.  The whole 9-to-5 was routinely portrayed as turning people into self-alienated robots, and self-destructive conformists. 

So while it is true that as President Obama says a healthy American economy and society must include businesses that make things--and there are lots of things to be made, especially in green energy industries--the current glorification of manufacturing does ignore some human and social problems and costs.  But one feared effect of "automation" may be less of a problem, though I don't know enough about it to be sure.  It was feared that with automation, workers would be even more distanced from involvement in their work--they would merely babysit the automation.  Any sort of involvement, even active monitoring, was considered less alienating.  As it turns out, at least some of computer technology enables what workers are left to be more involved in the manufacturing process.  They need to be more skilled, and more aware of the total process.  So they should be more productive and--don't tell any GOPers this--happier. 

But that still means fewer if "better" (and not necessarily better paying) jobs. As far as the effect of automation on employment, that was seen as inevitable, and so income supports such as the guaranteed minimum income were seriously explored, in theory.  That problem is of course much worse when even basic social support like the affordable healthcare act is castigated as some kind of satanic socialism.  We're a long way from seriously addressing this.

All of this can also be seen in the larger socioeconomic context of a much greater divide between the very wealthy and the not wealthy.  This interesting summary in the NY Times as well as other analyses that this has fundamentally changed American capitalism as well as American society makes this seem like a much bigger deal than it might appear.   I mean it's mind-boggling for me, sure.  I can't quite grasp that Casino Newt's biggest donor (of 10 or 11 million bucks) makes 3 million dollars an hour, or maybe it's $3 million a day.  It was a number too astonishing to take in, and I couldn't even figure it out, with my lame math skills.  I do know how all this makes me feel, which is that my current survival is by some sort of timewarp miracle, and that my near future survival is very very chancy indeed, and could be foreshortened pretty quickly. I don't even want to think about the long term (meaning twenty years say.)

This all adds to the more than occasional feeling that at some point--maybe even 1955--I got in my cardboard spaceship and set off on an intergalactic voyage.  Decades later I landed on a planet that looks a good deal like the one I left, but it isn't.  The planet is the same size, but several times as many people live on it, and the atmosphere is different (hotter.)  America is the same size (well, add Alaska and Hawaii) but there are twice as many people, and they appear to be twice the size.  Everything costs very much more but for some reason, I'm paid about the same as the 1970s, and less than the 1980s.  And that's just for starters, but apart from the mundane insight that things have changed, what I see suggests that the things that should have changed to address what has changed haven't changed, and left a lot of people feeling more than ordinarily alien in a familiar-looking landscape on a familiar-looking planet.   

Circus News

The most persuasive chatter I heard Monday about what Little Ricky Sanctimonious is up to suggests that he is pounding on Rabid Christian Right issues not only to assure those voters in Michigan (voting next Tues.) and Ohio that he's authentic but to get the attention of voters in the South who will be voting on Super Tuesday, March 6, outflanking Casino Newt, who has all but disappeared from the news and the polls.  

The problem for him might be that he's overplaying that hand in Michigan.  Richie Richney is closing the gap in the polls there and I wouldn't be surprised if by the weekend he's gone slightly ahead.  The perception game, which last week figured that even a close Richney victory would be spun as a defeat, has changed already, and with Little Ricky opening a bigger lead in the national polls,  right now any Richney margin of victory would be greeted as a big victory.  Of course, that's now, and the election is a week away.

What is perhaps more meaningful than this inside baseball stuff is that Ricky is articulating his version of a fundamentalist Christian line.  When he talked over the weekend about President Obama holding a theology that doesn't come from the Bible,  he was talking about the biblical command that humanity assert dominion over the Earth.  To Rick, any ethics that sees other lifeforms and the Earth itself as having any sort of "rights" or autonomy is anti-Christian.  It so happens that President Obama is not making that argument--his environmental policies have to do with sustainability and human health--the planet as what sustains human life.  Ricky is talking about me, more than about the policies of the Obama administration.

But that's par for the GOPer course.  They are all running against a fictional character, created largely by FOX News and Rabid Right institutions, who they cleverly named "Barack Obama."  Or rather, Barack Hussein Obama.

Arthur Schlesinger used to talk about the Party of Hope as the Party of the Future versus the Party of the Past.  That's never been more true.  GOPers as represented by Ricky are old wealthy white men who want to wring the last possible billions out of fossil fuels, the planet and the future be damned. They are culturally old white men losing control, trying to get back at women and people of color.  We maybe forget the racism that has often been uglier in urban areas like Detroit and  elsewhere in Michigan (where state appointed white dictators right now reign over black communities without elected representation) than in the deep South, where it is also alive and well, if camouflaged.

But women are already more than half the electorate, and the population.  They are the present.  People of color are moving towards a numerical majority, first in a few states, and then generally.  They are the future. The views of younger people of all races and genders are vastly different on these issues than the GOPer standard view.  As a rapidly aging white man, I've felt unfair assertions made, prejudiced analysis and other forms of prejudice towards Dead and Soon-to-be Dead White Males,  as well as the unpleasant intimations of obsolescence.  I hope some of us have more to say and do that's helpful, and one of those observations might be from the memories of more overt racism, and the signs that it is still alive and motivating.  It may not be the rationale, but it is providing a good deal of the energy.

Anyway, to get back to the circus itself, there's a debate in Arizona on Wednesday in advance of the Michigan and Arizona primaries next week.  It may be a very important one for these candidates.

Update later in the day: A story confirming the doctrinal reading of Sanctimonious on "dominion," and beginning evidence of Richney moving even in Michigan polls.

Monday, February 20, 2012


It was Tuesday morning, February 20, 1962 when John Glenn went into orbit and took America with him.  The launch was televised live, a matter of pride for the U.S. space program.  So I remember it all in black and white, what few real images there were. (The only camera in the spacecraft was the one Glenn brought with him.)  I remember the launch, and the film of the the aircraft carrier waiting for reentry, and the helicopter carrying Glenn.

Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth--he did it three times that day, in a trip that lasted just under 5 hours from start to finish.  Space was a new place then.  Psychologists worried that once someone went up they wouldn't want to come back.  Glenn's descriptions of sunsets--he saw four--suggested this could be true.  "As the sun goes down it's very white, brilliant light, and as it goes below the horizon you get a very bright orange color.  Down close to the surface it pales out into a sort of blue, a darker blue, and then off into black."

He reported on his physical status.  Doctors were worried about the effect of zero gravity on eyesight--a fear borne out just recently with astronauts returning from long missions on the international space station.  Then there were mechanical problems, and Glenn had to fly the capsule himself.  There was that suspense of the reentry and the seven and a half minutes of radio blackout, as Walter Cronkite explained that without its heat shield, Friendship 7 (named by Glenn's children) could burn up in the atmosphere.  We didn't know it then but that was a real worry--a faulty light on the capsule indicated the heat shield was loose.

John Glenn returned to earth the most lauded American hero since Lindbergh.  But he was also a global hero.  On his flight, everyone in the Australian city of Perth turned on all their lights because Glenn was sailing over them in darkness.  He reported seeing the lights.  Glenn's success and the enormous response to it gave NASA a major boost, and it was in the following fall that President Kennedy set the goal of sending a man to the moon and bringing him back by the end of the 1960s.

President Kennedy believed John Glenn himself was a national asset, and eventually Glenn became good friends with Robert Kennedy.  Glenn's first run for the Senate was cut short by an absurd bathroom injury, but eventually he won a seat from Ohio and remained in the Senate from the 70s through the 90s.  Glenn--who was called an old man when he orbited the Earth at the age of 40--got interested in issues of aging, and early on became a member of a special Senate committee on the subject.  In the late 90s he became curious about the effects of age and their relationship to the effects of being in space.  NASA was interested in the topic, too, and so John Glenn went back into space in 1998, on the Space Shuttle Discovery, at the age of 77.

The old man of the Mercury astronauts is now 90, and 50 years after the Friendship 7 orbits, one of only two of the original seven astronauts now alive.  There's a website here that has a great bio of him, detailed and fascinating, with video inserts.  There are stories today about the decline of the U.S. space program, NASA's nostalgia for better days, and the lack of new heroes.  But for me and those of us who remember this day--especially if you were young, as I was--there's something timeless about the excitement and wonder of this amazing adventure.