Saturday, March 24, 2012

Dead Circus

How does a circus die?  That's easy: when the customers don't come to it anymore.

Little Ricky Sanctimonious won the Louisana primary on Saturday.  Big news right?  Another rejection of the frontrunner, Richie Richney.  Even Casino Newt got 15%.  Keeping the circus going, right?  Well, then where were the special reports on TV, with the animated logo and grand music and your fave anchors and pundits?

Sorry, but the circus is no longer in town.  And it's not exactly because all the votes have been counted, or anybody has won anything.  It's because TV viewers are tuning out, ratings are down.  The circus has been like cancelled.

So now they all say, Richney is the one, why bother?  And so the media declares, and so the self-fulfilling prophesy may be, with some political justification--especially because only Richney can afford to keep spending millions to bury his opponents in negative slog-- but really, the reason is that nobody wants to come to this circus anymore.   

Sporting News

As sports becomes more about obscene amounts of money, my interest wanes.  It's hard to not feel like just another enabling dupe.  But let's say in terms of residual interest...

The biggest ongoing contests are March Madness, the NCAA collegiate tournaments, both men and women.  I've got no favorites (except I like watching the Baylor women with the phenomenal Brittany Griner) but I note with interest that the GOPer attempt to paint President Obama as an out of touch weirdo intellectual alien non-American runs up against his sports acumen.  It's become traditional for fans to "fill out their brackets"--the series of games, the winner of which goes on to the next level in a series of elimination brackets until the last two standing.  The art and/or science of it has lately been called "bracketology."  But since one of the enthusiasts doing so is President Obama, the sports world checks them regularly, for updates on "Barack-etology."  And before today's "Elite Eight" games he was in the top 1% on getting the brackets right.

Meanwhile, NFL football is going through a lot of drama, with New Orleans bounty hunters and a series of moves and trades that includes Tim Tebow becoming the second quarterback for the New York Jets.  Anything to do with New York is endlessly discussed, analyzed, screamed about.  But as this was all going on, Pittsburgh Steeler's wide receiver Hines Ward--who had earlier been cut from the team's roster--decided to retire a Steeler.  This story is about the reception for that decision in Pittsburgh, where he was and will now always remain a hero.  It tells you a little more about the particularities of the unique relationship between Pittsburgh and the Steelers, which in the end has nothing to do with the larger mediasports world.

Lastly, my least favorite team in the NBA is the Miami Heat, and my least favorite player is LeBron James.  But this week, the Heat earned my respect for something they did off the court--getting themselves photographed in hoodies to show their support for the murdered Florida teenager Trayvon Martin--and where they stand in the current controversy.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Climate Crisis Update: If That Was Winter, What Will Summer Be?

Just as spring was about to officially begin, we finally got a bit of winter here on the North Coast, the kind of storms and rain (light and steady with periods of downpour) that we normally get in late December and January.  Elsewhere it has been crazier--snow in Southern California, temperatures in the 80s in Chicago and across the Midwest and into the Mid-Atlantic states, near 90 in the South.  The centennial cherry blossom festival in Washington was supposed to climax with the blooms in a couple of weeks, but the blossoms were already out when the festival started.

Warmer--or hotter--spring weather has already added energy to storms and tornadoes (both the images in this post are from storms earlier in March), and more dangerous and powerful examples of each are likely in the coming months.  And lurking in everybody's mind is the anxiety that if this is winter and spring, what is summer going to be like? 

Climate is the context, the setpoint conditions and processes.  Weather is a manifestation of climate, as well as the result of such phenomena as El Nino and La Nina.  A hotter climate manifests at first in some conditions that are intuitively obvious: it gets hotter.  But it also may manifest in counter-intuitive ways: more snow in the winter, or disturbed patterns of precipitation that makes some places rainier and others dryer, and sometimes even some places are colder, because the physics of a hotter climate favors extremes.

So while people believe less in global heating when it snows and more when it's a warm winter, they are not wrong to see evidence of the Climate Crisis in weather patterns.  Bill McKibben, through his and is organizing an action day for May 5 to "connect the dots" to show the emerging pattern of the Climate Crisis through these extreme manifestations.   That work is already underway with the evidence for you to see at  Climate Change Central.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Liar in Waiting

Politicians stretch the truth.  They omit inconvenient truths.  They imply something they know is not true in the hopes that people will believe it while they can deny they actually said it.  They inflate the importance of something (knowing it is not that important) or minimize the importance of something they know is really serious.

None of this is admirable.  All of it interferes with the public's ability to justly judge the meaning of positions, decisions and actions.  Some of it is more forgiven when done in an election campaign, rather than by an officeholder in the performance of duties.  But out and out lying is still a little scandalous--so scandalous that mainstream media is very trepidatious about calling a lie a lie.  It was this tendency that allowed the "swiftboating" of John Kerry to proceed, when it was all based on vicious lies. 

Now Rachel Maddow has exposed Mitt Romney as a serial and unapologetic liar.  She did one segment on Wednesday, illustrating the proposition "that a man who may well take the oath of office in 10 months is choosing to get to that podium on a foundation of utterly unashamed, unprecedented deceit."

This segment started with the Etch-A-Sketch scandal (responding to a question of whether Romney could move towards the center in the general election campaign after taking such hard right positions in the primary, a Romney strategist said sure, moving from primaries to the general is like shaking an Etch-a-Sketch, you just start over) but moved quickly beyond flip-flopping and pandering to a pattern of outright lying. This ignited something of a media kerfluffle, but she made more of a case of Romney the liar on Thursday.  (Both video segments are here.) 

I've been calling Romney a liar for awhile, so I can add only this further observation to what Rachel and her staff have documented.  Beginning perhaps with the de facto lies promulgated by Lee Atwater for Bush I, but in any case for most of a generation now, using lies has been a growing part of the GOPer political playbook.  As one kind of de facto lying gets by and then becomes standard, a more baldfaced sort of lying becomes possible, and then used, and then accepted.  This has been going on for so long that a generation of GOPers--as old now as their 30s and maybe even 40s--has grown up with lying as a standard political technique. 

They may have to make some false equivalences with what Democrats do to help them justify it, but basically they see it as standard.  The Romney brand of lying is a direct product of the Karl Rove school of politics.  It also happens to have become standard during the rise of the Christian right in the Republican party.  I can't pretend to explain or understand how systematic lying comports with fundamentalist Christianity.  There's some ends versus the means going on that contradicts the Christianity I was indoctrinated with in my youth.  But I do see the effectiveness of putting the two things together, so that people can lie while sounding righteous.  (That's one of Romney's problems--he lies so blandly.)   

We aren't talking about different interpretations.  We're talking about lies, about statements of facts which Romney knows are not true.  About telling lies to audiences and reporters, which Romney routinely does.  We're talking about editing the statements of political opponents in ads or in statements by Romney's campaign or supporters that make President Obama or President Clinton say pretty much the opposite of what they in fact said.  These kinds of lies strike at the foundation of democratic government.  They make authentic dialogue about important issues impossible.  And that's probably the point.  They create a culture of ignorance, and feed it with lies.        

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Getting Away With Murder

The ongoing firestorm over the killing of a black teenager in Florida has once again brightly if briefly (if the past is any indication) illuminated how much this country has regressed as a civilized society.  Begin with the omnipresence of guns--and the legal omnipresence of guns.  The political fact that gun control can no longer even be whispered about, that it seems a settled matter that "Second Amendment rights" state unequivocally that anybody not legally certified as insane can carry as many guns as he or she can physically carry, out of an arsenal that can be built up by buying hundreds of guns a year, with few limitations on how lethal those guns are.  Nearly every state in the union now permits concealed guns to virtually any resident, at minimum (in this map, all the states in shades of blue.)  There is only one state in the union that does not permit concealed weapons.

There are laws proposed and enacted that allow people to carry their guns into malls, office buildings and bars.  We've seen rifles carried to political events.  There are serious proposals to allow people to carry concealed guns on college campuses and into high schools.  Guns are legally allowed in places and circumstances that have no precedent in my lifetime.  I would guess that guns are legally more a part of ordinary so-called civilized life than at any time since the 19th century or very early 20th.  But the guns of today are far more lethal.  Their ability to kill people is greater.  They can kill more people quicker, and kill and maim people farther from the point of origin--so far that you can be killed by a bullet fired a block away.

Then you add to this ease of acquiring and carrying lethal weapons, easy to fire and to fire repeatedly, to the declining legal jeopardy that might restrain their use.  For a cooler head to prevail, or even for a momentary hesitation that leads to a second thought before entering upon a violent nightmare of consequences, there needs to be the thought of a penalty because killing somebody in a bar fight (and possibly any number of other people, near and far) or a political dispute, or at a parking space, or a sporting event (at a school perhaps) will likely lead to arrest for a felony and many years in prison,  and all that this implies.

But the expectation of such penalties are disappearing, especially in (but not limited to) the states that have enacted some form of "stand-your-ground" law, which basically says that anyone who feels themselves threatened can justifiably shoot the person they believe is threatening them, dead.  They have no "duty to retreat" before using deadly force.  In fact, it is much better for the shooter if the person shot dies, because if there are no witnesses, the stand-your-ground defense could well mean they aren't even arrested, let alone charged.  This is the case in Florida (where it is also legal to shoot somebody who you think may be trying to rob you), where justifiable homicide rates have tripled.  (This map of stand-your-ground states is from Lawrence O'Donnell at MSNBC.  I've seen another such map with a few different states.)

Add to these two elements the very potent source of ongoing rage called racism, whether it is in the form of direct racial hatred or racial profiling--either official or just the expectation that a black person is threatening.  A subjective racist judgment becomes an objective new crime: living while black.  That's at the center of the controversy over the deadly shooting of  17 year old Trayvon Martin, walking home from a convenience store and apparently pursued by a suspicious self-appointed neighborhood watchman, with a gun.  It involves not just the murder itself, since murder it most likely was, but the response of the police in refusing to arrest the shooter.

This is where we are in the 21st century.  Official racism has never gone away--the prisons are full of that evidence.  Racism as a clear byproduct of Washington policymaking, of congressional calls for more tax breaks for the obscenely wealthy over providing just opportunity for people trapped in what we decorously no longer call ghettos,  let alone official and semi-official racial profiling, and in some places the license to kill that some elements of police are happy to let citizens take care of--they are all out in the open again. Overt and violent racism that is bound to accelerate as this presidential election draws nearer, inflamed by the Rabid Right, including the GOPer presidential candidates who deride President Obama in terms that no Democratic candidate ever has, and quite probably, no white candidate has used against another white candidate in living memory.

And we have an entire political culture that bows to the power of the National Rifle Association, so that there is no longer any effective political limit on the spread of ever greater numbers of ever more deadly guns throughout this society, not so far away from shredding its hard-won civilization, and falling apart in violence, ruled by the gun, one way or another.  And if and when that happens, people will lie to themselves and say it happened suddenly.   

Update 3/23: Rachel Maddow fleshes out some of the horrifying changes in gun laws of the past few years in this video segment.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Circus Update: Move Along

Today all indications are that Richie Richney will win the Illinois primary, but it changes very little.  Richney has outspent Little Ricky Sanctimonious by 7-1 in the state, and in the huge Chicago media market, by 21-1.  He's buying the state, like he hopes to buy the country.

Late news update: Richney declared winner of the popular vote in Illinois, which is apparently only partially related to the delegate count.  Next up is Louisiana, where Sanctimonious currently has a double digit lead in a poll.

Richney is still is unlikely to win enough delegates to win the nomination by the end of the primaries in June. And despite 80 degree temps in Chicago, June is several months away. So the circus will move on, with several Sanctimonious states to come.

If you're interested in little tremors however, there is a really tawdry feeling about this circus.  Once ebullient in its ridiculousness, its best clowns are gone.  All that are left are two angry clowns, and the awkward one.  And the midget clown Ron St. Paul.  Sanctimonious seems to have lost his mojo, Richney is an increasingly grim robot, who panders and lies with that creepy grin and a voice that sounds like a desperate used car salesman.

And it turns out, his lying may be his greatest advantage, at least in Illinois, and perhaps in the general election.  Not all of his specific lies, but the fact that he is a liar.  This is a theory I heard someone advance on TV Monday.  Illinois for example is split: the city and suburbs of Chicago, locating rich GOPers in the suburbs, which extend for many miles.  They are more numerous than the still substantial numbers of downstate GOPers who are more Sanctimoniously Rabid Right.  But in northern Ill, GOPers are more moderate.  And they are apt to vote for Richney not only because they are horrified by Sanctimonious, but because (this theory goes) Richney is a pandering flipflopper who mouths conservative positions but doesn't really believe them, as they contradict his previous record and statements.  And this is why they like him--or at least,they are likely to vote for him.  Because they can't believe he's as Rabid Right as he says he is.  Because, in other words, he's a liar.  And this is what moderates will believe in the general: that he isn't what he says he is.

Right now he is an increasingly desperate and primitive liar.  Lately he's out-Newting Newt by claiming that President Obama wants gas prices to be high, that he designed them to be high. But  GOPers can't help topping each other in extremism, and so now there's a Rabider claiming that President Obama actually controls gas prices.  In details, the news media does a really lousy job explaining the factors.  A little explanation of what's going on in the Sudan, where 11% of China's oil has been stopped, might alone suggest some reality.  And there's this--that U.S. gas price fluctuations directly parallel gas price fluctuations in Europe and elsewhere--pretty far outside the control of the U.S. President.

As for the actual political effect of gas prices, Binyamin Applebaum in the NY Times writes: "Gas prices influence voters indirectly, because rising prices can slow the pace of growth. But the influence is modest, because spending on oil and its derivatives makes up only a small part of the nation’s economic activity. Gas purchases account for less than 4 percent of household spending."

Meanwhile, Richney has refined his dog whistle mantra that President Obama is too dumb for the job by calling his an "economic lightweight."  "And I'm an economic heavyweight," he claims.  Though he doesn't bother saying a coherent sentence on economic matters.

Richney is very likely to end up the GOPer nominee--as Chuck Todd persuasively argues, unless GOPers suspend their own rules, the only candidates eligible are those who have won five or more state nominating contests, and that's most likely to be Richney and Sanctimonious. (On the other hand, Jeff Greenfield notes that the way these convention fights happen is by changing the rules.)

For now, every time Little Rickey seems like he's moving up, he veers off the road and has to scramble back on. Richney is pouring on money that we could all retire on.   Still, this is also likely to not be resolved for months.  So if you are enjoying this circus of the increasingly exhausted, there's going to be plenty more.  

Two more matters from this past week that bear on the show.  The first is the continuing life of the shameful story of Richney's dog--Seamus, the dog he strapped in a sealed kennel to the top of his car for 2,000 miles, hosed him down in the kennel when the dog got the runs, and left him up there. Not  surprisingly, the dog soon after ran away.  It happened some 20 years ago but it says so much about who Richney really is that even if anybody actually believes his desperate lies, it's still going to be hard to vote for him. 

The second is the bubbling up of racism from whispers to open public notice.  It's there in the Justice Department preventing states from limiting voting participation that discriminates racially, it's front and center in the just announced federal investigation into the race-based killing of a teenager in Florida, and the Florida law that helps racial killers get away with it.  And it's showing up in increasingly obvious ways in the presidential campaign.

So if you're not enjoying this circus maybe it's best to treat it like a crime scene where the police tell you to move along, nothing to see here.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Emerson for the Day

"What you seek in vain for, half your life, one day you come full upon, all the family at dinner.  You seek it like a dream, and as soon as you find it you become its prey."