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Satellite Distraction

I don’t purport to be an expert on spycraft, or Intelligence issues. Very few are. But the Republicans love to boast, and shake their fists, and yell loudly about all of it, as if somehow saber-rattling means that you are brave and determined and smart.

I happen to remember Vietnam, though perhaps not as well as some. It was a foolish never-declared war, which we could not win, because just as the Russians later found out in Afghanistan, a country whose people want you out, and will fight fiercely against you, cannot be defeated, unless you want to destroy the whole country. That is what the American Far Right wanted to do to Vietnam. One of the generals said something about “destroying the country in order to save it.”

There actually were people, almost all from the Far Right, who wanted us to drop nuclear bombs on Vietnam. President Johnson , who kept escalating the war, refused to get even close to that, as his biography detailed his fear that China would enter the war. China has billions of people.

The United States has to find some way to co-exist with China and Russia. A nuclear war cannot be won, it would end in the destruction of the human race. But the people who kept urging Johnson to “nuke’Vietnam, didn’t know that, or were in love with their own posturing and fist-waving.

So we jump ahead to a few days ago, just when we produced the best Jobs Report ever, or very close to it. That scarcely made headlines. They were all taken up with a large balloon belonging to China, moving across our country. China said that it was a weather balloon blown off course, but our Intelligence Agencies believed that it was a spy satellite which was intended to gather information.

I saw Congressman Jinn Himes, who was named as Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, after Kevin McCarthy removed Adan Schiff from it, interviewed on Friday. Himes is well respected for his knowledge of such matters. He said that while this was obviously not good, that China had its satellite flying over our country, we had our own spy satellites,, as did Russia, and other countries, and they were sent out to gather information, which countries gain from many sources of information. He noted that the United States had now been able to block all information from this satellite.. He hoped that we would not completely destroy it, so that we could glean even more information

As we learned later, President Biden had given the order on Wednesday to destroy the satellite, but as it was very large, they wanted to wait until it was over the ocean, to remove the risk that debris would risk hitting people on the ground. So they disabled its devices, and then yesterday, blew it up. They will try to recover some of the data.

But none of that was good enough for the Republicans, who were excited to be able to get away from the great economic news, and accuse Biden of blundering, or cowardice, or risking the safety of the country; Now, it used to be that there were at least some Republicans, mostly in the Senate. who had some knowledge of these matters, and who would almost always support the President, Democrat or Republican, when it came to military decisions, which they knew were reached after consulting with the highest ranking military people. Cohen, Hegel, Lugar, Burr, as Republican Senators, almost always offered support and intelligent analysis.

But there are none of those left in what is now the insanity if the Republican Party. Congressman Gosar had a picture taken of him pointing a gun upwards. Congressman Biggs said that Biden is allowing foreign countries to invade us, just like he allows the immigrants at the border in. Now the Republicans who took control of the House, are trying to pass a resolution condemning Biden.

And of course Trump, whom Musk let back on Twitter, typed an insane screed which blamed Biden for all sorts of terrible things, saying that if he were president, none of this ever would have happened.Today, the Pentagon said that during Trump’s four years as president, there were three different Chinese spy planes which flow over the United States. Somehow, we did not hear about them from Trump, nor did he do anything about it.

We don’t want China spying on us, but they do it all the time. It is known that they had spies all over Mar-a-Lago, including an attractive young woman who seemed to be given carte blanche to roam all over the grounds. No Republican in office said one word about any of that.

We do not have a “loyal opposition” in the Republicans. We have a group which wants complete power, and which will seize on anything which might allow them to inflame anger, blame Biden, and create a narrative which tries to purvey him as weak, and incapable of defending the country. Actually, Republican have done this from 1946. accusing Democrats of being appeasers of Communists, afraid to fight wars (except the wars that they blamed Democrats for causing).

The damage that Trump did to America’s standing in the world is immense; just look at various international polls among our allies. The Biden Administration is building it back, as newer polls show That doesn’t mean that everything that Biden does, or will do, is perfect. But screaming from the rafters that Biden allowed a Chinese spy plane into the country; and that even if he didn’t, he should have immediately blown it up, and not attempted to gather any of its data, is simply bellicosity without any logic. The same thing that MacArthur did in the Korean War; that Nixon kept doing throughout the 1950’s; that all the Neocons wanted us to do in Iraq. Speak loudly, and blast away, and call it patriotism.

The actual problem raised by the spy satellite is rather small. The desperate attempts by Republicans to reflexively attack Biden and the Democrats for everything; every bit of economic news, any story about spying, or documents, or his son’s laptops, or a young NFL player suffering cardiac arrest which they attributed to him being vaccinated for Covid, are much more dangerous, with one goal only–winning the next election, by creating the next Whitewater or Benghazi or email invented scandal.

The absolutely appalling calls are coming from Republicans to pass a resolution condemning Biden–for what? For apparently handling the situation well; disabling the satellite, blowing it up, recovering data? All they wanted was another chance to dominate the Sunday news shows, and get the narrative away from the economy, or George Santos, or more revelations about Russian interference in the elections in 2016, which now seem even more treasonous on the part of Trump, Stone, and the rogue FBI agents, than could even have been imagined.

The responsibility of the media is to cover all important stories, but to avoid being misdirected by the Republican machine which has only one aim in mind. I am not expecting them to rise to this challenge any better than before, but it would nice to be surprised to the upside by them. But I didn’t watch one second of the Sunday shows, because I doubted that they would.

Republicans Cannot be Allowed to Win Another National Election

I really believe that, and that is what is so unsettling. I do not believe that this country will survive as a democracy if any Republican is elected President, in 2024, 2028, or any year following. That is almost impossible, but it has to happen, somehow.

It is a different country. It was always very upsetting to have a Republican win the presidency, but we thought we would survive. Democrats controlled the Congress for most of the years from 1960 on, so that was some safeguard. And as bad as Reagan and GHW Bush were, there were some constraints and safeguards. But the Republican candidates and presidents got worse and worse.

The Bush Administration left us with an economic catastrophe (maybe not all their fault, but most of it was), and a greatly increased deficit. Trump lied about the pandemic, did everything he could to force people back to work; vastly increased the deficit; did what Russia wanted him to do; tried to turn the government into a totalitarian state; and then planned and incited a violent insurrection which was intended to end our democracy.

And the Supreme Court turned Right under Bush, and became Authoritarian Right under Trump. There hasn’t been a Right-Wing Justice replaced by a more liberal one, in a long time. We gave in, over and over. Maybe we had to. on occasion; maybe not. Maybe we just conceded, with the urging of the Right-Wing-enabling media. We should have fought harder.

Does anyone think that another four years of Trump would not end the democracy completely? We try not to think about it. The odds are that Trump will not be President again. But look at the other possibilities.

I have never seen a Governor creep so close to total fascism in his state, as if wanting to show the country and the world what he plans to do, as Ron DeSantis. The latest is that he has intimidated teachers and administrators all over Florida into removing books from. or closing, their school libraries, to avoid being charged and no doubt imprisoned for committing felonies. He’s gotten the schools to require parents of girls to submit their child’s menstrual chart, undoubtedly to attempt to learn if any of them might be pregnant.

This is not a warning of fascism, it is actual fascism, and just the start. This is America’s worst internal nightmare: a combination of the Puritan witch trials, the McCarthy hearings, and every dystopian book, movie, or television show ever made. Extrapolate from this to four or more years of DeSantis being president, with a totally corrupt and Far Right Supreme Court majority to back him, and it is enough to make everyone want to look for another country to live in.

I am pretty sure that the Republican nominee will be DeSantis or Trump. If somehow not, are the other choices any better? Youngkin? Cruz? Haley? Christie? Only by a very small amount, if at all. Maybe they are not all pure evil, but they are very close; and of course there is Fox News, Breitbart and all the MAGA fanatics to goad them on. And Russia and its agents, including Elon Musk, to corrupt the social media, and control the narratives.

It doesn’t have to happen, if we win. But one win will not be enough. Trump unraveled most of our democracy, including our law enforcement, Intelligence agencies, and courts. Many could not believe that he could to this in four years, but he did, and he was far from done. You can’t get rid of fascism by voting it out, history has shown. Trump and his fascists had no intention of leaving office. And of course they are setting up more barriers to voting, more ways to thwart the will of the voters in the next electtion.

It’s one thing to say, ”This is the most important election in our history.” I thought that 2016 was, and then 2020 became the last stand. But now we have to win the next election, and the ones after that. Will there someday come a time where we really want to win, but do not think that losing will be the end? We used to feel that way. Politics goes up and down in democracies, you win some and lose some. But it isn’t like that anymore. We have to win, and win, and win. Somehow, some way.

Demographics may be on our side, but it has to pay off immediately, we can’t wait for to slowly turn the tide. Wee can’t let them cheat, and say, well, the arc turns toward justice, or something like that. Circles of Hell for the evil people, cosmic justice, karma, those are not going to be enough to imagine or even count on.

I think that the people running the Democratic Party are slowly learning that conciliation; or patience, or goodwill, is not going to work; that every single battle has to be fought with unyielding intensity; no retreat, no surrender. But such slogans and fight songs are of course not sufficient in themselves. I don’t know if we will win, or lose, but we have to realize what we are fighting against, and that the people who say, “Oh, it won’t be so bad,” are either liars or fools.

Ukraine and Obama: it ain’t pretty

Frontline came out with a new episode on Ukraine called The Presidents and Putin. This is the latest in a series that recounts the origins of the war in Ukraine but in this case presents each presidents’ encounters and responses to Valdimir Putin. The short summary is that Bill Clinton and Joe Biden read Putin accurately as a anti-Democratic former KGB agent with ill intent in his heart, assuming he had one. Every other president between those two bookends got it disastrously wrong.

In this Frontline episode, what was previously hinted about Obama finally comes out unsparingly. In fact, the diplomats, military specialists and other experts that worked for or covered Obama finally said what they only danced around in prior episodes: Obama’s response to the annexation of Crimea in 2014 was baffling, infuriating and went against everyone’s advice at the time including Joe Biden’s.

It’s both refreshing and strange to see the facade of the myth of Obama’s greatness finally crack. They didn’t just criticize him on Ukraine but his response to Mubarak in Egypt and Assad in Syria came under scrutiny as well.

Part of the reason for why Putin “rolled” Obama had to do with the years of inaction to every infraction by the Bush Administration. Putin has a knack for sizing his opponents up and using their own identities against them. In Bush’s case, it was his evangelical Christianity. So Putin told Bush a chicken soup story about how his saintly mother survived WWII, starvation and the loss of two children during the war while wearing a little wooden cross. And that little cross was one of a small handful of objects that survived a devastating fire at his family’s dacha. And now he carries that cross with him everywhere to remember his mother and as a symbol of his faith.

Bush ate it up and looked into Putin’s soul. Then Putin started to rebuild his empire.

Julia Ioffe who covered Russia during the Putin years says that Putin evaluated Obama as a young, naive, idealistic and inexperienced black man. Obama fans will zero in on the “black” part of this equation and immediately jump to “racism”. Ioffe acknowledges that Putin is a racist. But what I think she eventually gets to is that Putin thought Obama was a lightweight and easy to manipulate.

The risk America took when we elected Obama is that he would be a president without the confidence to make decisions because he didn’t know what he was doing. Was he smart? I’m assuming that he was. Was he charismatic? Not to me but I’m sure he sized up his competition and audience and knew what buttons to push in his base and his backers.

But he was very new to government and he came with a focus group tested set of ideals and a bankroll of money from his backers whose motives seemed to be focused on saving their asses from the mess on Wall Street that they created. If you don’t believe that, consider who really did well during the Obama years.

I think Obama was smart enough to know he was inexperienced and over his head. That tends to trigger insecurity and indecision. That was probably more important to him than the fact that Putin is a racist. If Putin’s racism did get into Obama’s head, then what was the point, all you civil rights era boomers? Did it feel so good to elect the equivalent of the Huxtables to the White House that you were willing to overlook Obama’s actual record or the lives of not upper middle class black families?

Putin sized him up pretty well. So when he invaded Crimea and all of Obama’s advisor’s and vice president were running around with their hair on fire, Obama did nothing. As one interviewee says, Ukraine “wasn’t on his agenda”.

Add that to protecting women’s access to abortion, paycheck fairness, protection for homeowners after the crash, protection of millions of Americans who were thrown out of work for extended periods of time and have never recovered their financial stability (moi) because his stimulus package was half of what it should have been.

Why am I so incensed about Obama all these years later? It’s not because he was black. It’s that his blackness was used as a tool by some pretty savvy and cynical backers and campaign people to run a stealth candidate for president. One that was young, naive, idealistic and inexperienced and consequently felt uneasy making decisions that had the power to affect the entire world. He was no threat to Putin or any other ultra wealthy powerbroker.

As Garry Kasparov says, if you don’t get rid of a dictator early, the price of doing so goes up as time goes by. Obama was not the only president who miscalculated or made stupid decisions. Bush and Trump were much worse. But Obama had a chance in 2014 to stop Putin in his tracks with regard to Ukraine and instead of punching the dictator, he did…

nothing.

And here we are.

George Santos and the Other Republican Liars

Daniel Goldman is becoming one of my favorite Congresspeople in just a month. We remember him from his work as lead counsel in the first impeachment of Donald Trump. He is very bright, articulate and forceful. It is early but I think he has the “It Factor,’ in the way that Gretchen Whitmer and a few others have. If we are looking to the future to try to save the country, we need to pick out the people who are best equipped to do it; and those are two of my top “picks to click,” as the sports analysts say.

Putting that aside for now, I heard him say something on Monday night which I have said (not on TV, of course!), and I am sure that others have, as well, but he did it just right. The question was about George Santos, and his and Kevin McCarthy’s fallback position, which is that 142,000 people voted for him, so it would be wrong to cancel those votes and have him leave office. Oh, no, it would be unfair to nullify all those votes!

Goldman analogized it to someone who lies endlessly on a loan application, and then gets the loan, and says, “Well, they gave me the loan, so I get to use the money.” The point which should be obvious is that just as the bank relied on the loan applicant’s statements as to assets, so the voters relied on Santos’ fabricated biography. And of course the bank has much more ability to research someone’s financial status, than the voters have to delve into a candidate’s past. And the bank doesn’t have to approve anybody’s loan, but the voters are compelled to choose one of two candidates put before them.

The person the people in Santos’ district voted for, was a phantasm, a created illusion. That person, the one with the great academic record, the sports achievements, the ancestors who died in the Holocaust, and who were killed on 9//11, does not exist, along with the other attributes and achievements he claimed. Should the voters have done more research on their own? I don’t think they should have been required to. They usually rely on the fact that one of the major parties put him up for election, and presumably vetted him.

And I find it very hard to believe that Republicans, who spend most of their time on these things, did not have operatives who knew about Santos’ fabrications. Maybe not all of them, but many. Of course Democrats did not do a proper job here .All the incredible lies have come to light only two months after the election. What was the media, particularly in New York, doing? Was it one of their infamous “We know the story, but we do not want the Far Right to attack us for trying to affect the election'” waves of the handkerchief?

Somehow, we got to what often seems an inevitable point: that the Republican won; that they cheated and lied to achieve it; and that there is very little that we can do about it. Republicans never concede a game or a hand;,they play what they’ve got for all it’s worth. In this case, it seems like the only way Santos can be removed, is if he is indicted, and maybe not even then.

The overarching themes are that the Republicans will do anything to win elections; and that they are willing to put anybody up for election, if they think he can win; whether a liar or a fraud, or a simulacrum, or a bot. Or put a cipher up, invent a history for him or her, use computers to print his statements and speeches, use bots on social media to amplify and praise them. Actually, how far is that from where we are now?

Republicans just want the power, the money and the votes. All of the rest is malleable. Democrats usually run on heartfelt positions. Of course they do research, and cone up with slogans. But behind that are actual views, and the wish to have the voters validate them. Behind the Republican speeches and slogans is–nothing. A black vacuum, like what was behind the edifices that “The Strangers” built to create the illusion of an actual town with nice beaches, in the movie “Dark City.” What was behind it there, was the blackness of outer space. What is behind the Republican veil is the complete obliteration of democracy, and the darkness at noon of totalitarianism.

The video of Trump’s deposition regarding financial violations was played, and he was shown taking the Fifth Amendment over four hundred times. Some of the media showed him at rallies in 2016 railing against taking the Fifth, implying that Hillary Clinton was doing that. This was wrong, and the media is being irresponsible in implying it.

Hillary never took the Fifth. Her aides who were subpoenaed during the endless Benghazi hearings, took the Fifth, on advice of counsel, who believed that the House Republicans were going to look for any statement which was slightly erroneous regarding their personal facts: addresses, work history, anything; and then charge them with perjury, whether salient fact or not. That was why they took the Fifth, not that they had committed any crimes that they did not want to admit.

That wasn’t the first time that aides have done that in such hearings, but of course Trump was allowed by the media to go unchallenged when he kept blaring, “Took the Fifth! That is terrible!” Again, she never took the Fifth. She did not lie; and for her, taking the Fifth would have been political suicide. Trump can do it; and he is a hypocrite, and far worse, a compete liar in this matter. “Ah, but he never said ‘Hillary,’ he just implied it.” Ahh.

So we continue to search vainly for some moral responsibility on the part of Republicans, any of them, to tell the truth. It is almost like those logic puzzles. “Half the people on the island always tell the truth; the other half always lie. How can you tell which is which?” In this case, just look for the “R” next to their names.

A Few Musical Musings

On Sunday, I went to a fruit market, and heard a man playing an acoustic guitar and a harmonica, and doing a very good version of the Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satiin.” Rare to hear that! Unfortunately, he followed it a few minutes later with “Stairway to Heaven,” one of my least favorite songs of all time.

That is probably partly, though certainly not wholly, because that song was continually chosen by listeners on rock stations as the best song ever, for what seemed like twenty years in a row. They used to have these Top 100 countdowns, and they were fun, though my tastes do not often coincide with popular taste; but with ’60’s music, they did.

So I would listen to when the countdown would get down to 15 or so, and then by process of elimination I knew what was coming next. Stairway to Heaven was of course #1 again. Free Bird was usually #2. Layla high up there. Whole Lotta Love by “Zep,” an awful song in my view, was in the top ten. Hey Jude, a good song, usually was. probably because of the singalong chorus. A Day in the Life, a much better Beatles song, was often in the top fifteen.

Hotel California, usually in there. I was not an Eagles fan, but that is undeniably a good song, with a great lyric. Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones was in there years ago, but I don’t think it is now; similarly for House of the Rising Sun. Dream On by Aerosmith always was high up. The same ones, very often, though I have not listened to a top 100 countdown for quite a while.

I wonder, are any of the songs of today going to be on top twenty lists in ten years? Which ones? I know that it is usually the case that people prefer the music they grew up with. But though I grew up in the ’60’s, I liked a lot of ’70’s music, mostly on Independent labels: the “New Wave,” from New York, “Postpunk” from England, The “L.A. Underground, from…L.A. And a few ’80’s groups, of the indiepop variety.

And I like some ’50’s music ,at least the big hits. Doris Day, “Secret Love.? Bobby Darin, “Mack the Knife”. Andy Williams, “Moon River’ songs like that. I like early ’60’s surf, too. And while I would not want to listen to hours of it, there are many songs of the Big Band era, of Swing or lilting melodies, which I like. And for a while I was buying many albums of 1920’a music, quite listenable

So I am not locked into my growing-up period. But can one really argue that the ’60’s did not have more great pop and rock songs than any other era? Beatles, Dylan, Mamas and Papas, Animals, Stones, Kinks. Donovan Johnny Rivers, Four Tops, Doors, Cream, Jefferson Airplane, Lovin’ Spoonful, Moody Blues, Love, Association, Hollies, Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Neil Diamond, Petula Clark, and more. You could listen to the radio for two hours, and hear so many great songs, particularly in the period of 1965-1967.

But what do we have now? Oh, I know that there are some stars out there. Taylor Swift sells billions of records, and she has talent, but I cannot really like her songs The rest of it, at least to me, fluctuates between decent, mediocre, tiresome, oppressive, and awful. Anything with autotune is awful. Soon, which may actually be now, computers are going to make the songs, as they make almost everything.

Do you know the cartoon show ‘”Phineas amd Ferb”? A very clever and charming show. Phineas, who is about eleven or so, wrote a song, “Gitchy Gitchy Goo Means I Love You,” Somewhat in a doo-wop style; and as virtually all the songs written by series creators Dan Povenmire and Jeff (Swampy) Marsh, it was catchy. In the storyline, if became a big hit A record label producer wanted to sign Phineas to a big contract, but he told him that he didn’t wan to write any more songs he was satisfied with the one.

The producer said, that’s okay, he could take even one line of the song,. sample or dub with it , and make many records. A funny but actually unsettling concept, of course, because that is about what is being done now.

I love music that sounds like it is being played live.. I know that there have been “production values” for decades, but it wasn’t always that way. The incredibly great musician Artie Shaw said that the goal in ’30’s and ’40’s recording, was to do it in one take. So that if his band was doing an instrumental, and it was going well, the musicians would start playing more conservatively so as to not risk ruining the take. I have a copy of a radio show that Shaw’s band did for a couple of years, and there is a version of “Shine On Harvest Moon,” where they did just go for broke; and it is incredible, just to show how great they were.

I don’r listen to the radio now, because there is nothing good on it–for me,. Other people may well find music they like there. And I know about Sirius, where you can get dozens of stations, but the odds of finding a new song that I like, are very small. That is a shame. The last radio-friendly song I heard and liked was “The Dog Days Are Over” by Florence and the Machine, and that was quite a while ago.

I do have a six-disc CD player in the car, and that is what I listen to–but it somehow broke. So I will have to take it in, but do I want to spend for a new one? If, not, I guess I could buy a portable, battery powered CD player. Otherwise, I will be forced to listen to the car radio, and I know that Stairway to Heaven will be on there somewhere.

The author Stephen King posed a question, about if one were going down the elevator to Hell, which song would one want to hear? He said, “Seasons in the Sun.” but I don’t know if he was thinking about it in terms of what song he would consider fitting as he gave up all the pleasant things he had known; or what was the song he thought he would be tormented by there? I think he meant the former, but many of his readers seemed to look at it in the second way. My thought was that if it were the first question, what would it matter?, whereas with regard to the second, :”Stairway to Heaven” would probably be it, though there are several others, “My Sharona,”De Doo Doo Doo, Da Daa Daa Daa,” or any rap song, which would be just about as tormenting.

Imagining a Fifteen-Minute Chat with a Republican

I know that you’re a Republican, and you have no intention of listening to anything a Democrat has to say. I know that watching Fox News has got you convinced that Democrats are going to take away your gas stoves, and make you buy homosexual M&Ms, and have your children forced to read pornography in first grade. None of that is true, but I couldn’t convince you of that, and even if I could, Fox would just come up with other things to keep you angry and scared.

All I want to do is to take fifteen minutes to tell you about what the Republicans are going to do to your pocketbook and savings account. After that, you can ignore it, or maybe at least think about it, before you actually support and vote for it.

You do remember how last year, inflation was the major news story? Average prices had gone up about 9% from the year before. That’ is not good. There were reasons for it: the pandemic shutting down supply chains from other countries, and large corporations simply taking advantage of this, to raise prices far beyond costs, and rake in record profits. If you don’t believe me about the record profits they made, you could look it up briefly. But I don’t want to focus on that right now.

So let’s say that you and your family would spend $100 a week on groceries, and maybe another $100 on take-out or restaurant foods. That may be low, but it is an easy number to focus on. So with the 9% inflation, you had to pay $109 on the groceries and $109 on the takeout, so that instead of $200 a week, it was $218.

And you and everyone else who is not rich, were upset at that. There were endless news stories about how people had no idea how to make ends meet. Well, now the inflation rate is down to about 6%, so it’s $212 or so per month, in my example. And of course you hope that inflation will go down more, and it will, but you don’t have to take my word for it now.

So the Republicans ran literally billions of dollars of ads blaming the inflation on President Biden and Democrats. I don’t think that this was at all accurate, but I will not try to convince you otherwise. Republicans told you that if you voted for them, this would somehow be fixed. They never expressed one idea as to how they would combat inflation, except that they would reduce Social Security payments and Medicare. That may not matter to you right now depending on your age, but it should, and it will.

So the Republicans gained enough seats in the House of Representatives to take control. And what is their first, economic bill? They are going to get rid of all the income taxes, and all the corporate taxes, and the capital gains taxes which very rich people pay on the money they make on stocks and other investments. No more tax forms, no more I.R.S!

Except that to try to make up the loss in government revenue, the bill would slap a 30% sales tax on everything you buy. I am not making this up, it is in the bill. Every grocery you buy, every gallon of gas, every bottle of water, kitchen implement, gas, heat, a car, a house, a stick of furniture. All 30% more than the listed price would cost.

So back to the example of the family and groceries and meals that cost them $200 a year ago. They would now have to spend $260. Any item you buy at a store would cost 30% more. Your water and power bill, gas bill, trash collection bill, all would cost 30% more.

And if you had to buy a new car, which people have to do from time to time, it would cost 30% more.. Actually, more than that, because car dealers, and indeed any company which provides items or services to buy, regularly raises its prices. Let’s say 5% for cars, it could be slightly less or even more. So a car which cost $20,000 last year, would be raised by the car dealer to $21,000. The sales tax would be $6,300, so you would have to pay $27,300. Now, at this point one pays state sales tax on a car purchase; in California, where I live, it is high at 10%, but the state does do some good things with the sales tax money they take in. But even if you don’t think so, a car which cost $20,000 plus $2000 sales tax last year, for $22,000, now would cost $21,000 (at least), plus $6,300 national sales tax, plus $2,100 state sales tax, for $29,400. Just like that. And every state has a sales tax,

And if you think that maybe you could write off some of the car cost, as a business expense, you cannot, because there would be no income tax and no tax deductions under this Republican bill. Every single thing that you had been able to deduct from your taxes would be gone. You would simply have to pay 30% sales tax on everything you bought, with no way out.

This Republican bill, which has been passed out of Committee, and will be voted on by the entire House, would almost certainly mean the end of Social Security and Medicare, because they are paid for by income taxes. The funds would quickly go bankrupt, and that would be that. So when you finally had to leave working because of age or infirmity, there would be no safety net for you, the things that were put in under Democratic Administrations, and were immensely popular, except among the very rich, who hate any of their money going to anyone else. You would be like the Americans of the 1880’s or so, who when they lost their job or had to stop working, had no government support, no safety net, nothing but misery, unless their children could work, and support them.

That was the way that the very rich wanted America to be. And it was that way, until enough people thought it was so awful that they wanted to protect the citizens from this cruelty But the very rich never wanted to, and they are now able, with the aid of Fox News and their other outlets owned by them, to convince people to vote for Republican economic policies, which they do not really understand until it is too late.

Well, this bill will not become law, because Democrats barely control the Senate, and will never vote for it. But in 2025 if is almost certain that they will nor control the Senate. And then, if a Republican, Trump or DeSantis. or any of them, becomes President such a bill will pass.

And the result will be that you and your family will be back to where families like yours were in the 19th century. Making a small wage, paying more and more for goods and services, and always within the threat of one greedy employer firing you and sending you out into the street. It won’t happen immediately, but it will happen. It won’t be much different than in the Middle Ages, where the aristocrats owned all the land, and the peasants or serfs had to work on it every single day, with a little bread and ale being their sustenance, until they either died in their 30’s, or were killed in one of the wars the aristocrats sent them off to fight in.

It took 500 years for humankind to crawl out of that pit, and now the Republicans you support want to throw you back in. They’ll never tell you that, of course, they will divert you with cultural issues, or hate of Democrats. But that is where you will be, where we all will be, if the billionaires who run the Republican Party get their way, and make the laws they intend to make.

Okay, I could say much more, but I said only fifteen minutes of your listening time. Maybe you will spend some time thinking about it, or researching it, if you choose. I am telling you that the people who control the Republican Party have no interest in you, other than as a way that they can gain and keep power. Democrats have their flaws, of course, but they mostly care about the working class. They were the ones who passed the graduated income tax, where the people who earn more pay a higher rate. They passed the 40-hour work week, and the Safety and Health Act. They provided Workers Compensation, and the right to unionize. They passed Social Security and Medicare, and the Affordable Care Act

They did what they could, and the Republicans hated all of it, and have wanted to take all of it away And they will, if you keep voting for them. Thy are already poised to wreck the United States economy by not raising the debt limit, as Congress had done over and over, until the Tea Party and then MAGA Republicans got power. I won’t go into what will happen to the economy if the debt limit is not raised, but we will see soon enough, unless they are stopped in this madness and greed.

Thanks for listening.

The Year of the Scapegoat: Free Jinger

We continue discovering how toxic families work this year so that everyone who is involved in one can understand their role and why their family does what it does. Today, we’re taking on the Duggars, near to my heart because there are some aspects of the Duggar experience that are going to be familiar to anyone who grew up in a religious cult.

My aunt used to say, “Someday, one of those Duggar kids is going to write a book.”

It turned out to be Jinger, now Jinger Vuolo. Like her older sisters Jessa and Jill, Jinger married early. But she married a guy who has a different approach to married life, ie, one that prioritizes respect for his partner. According to the Duggar girls, who court instead of date, their prospective husbands had to fill out an application that was something like 40 pages long so that Jim Bob Duggar, the family patriarch, knew that it was ok to hand over control of his daughter to her husband. That’s right, you control your daughter until she’s ready to breed. Then you hand over control to her husband. Their weddings are bizarre and icky but that’s part of the sex focused marriage rite for them.

Jeremy Vuolo passed the interview and background check but turned out to be decidedly more liberated than his father in law. Jinger has changed her views about her religion with her husband’s help (he’s in seminary for a conservative but not tyrannical church). These days, she’s ok with other people drinking alcohol, using birth control for her own family, and wearing whatever the f{}% she wants. She’s shed her dowdy below the knee skirts for ripped jeans, shorts and pants.

Well, the Duggar parents are having the vapors.

Sisters Jill and Joy Anna have also taken to wearing jeans on occasion but Jinger turns out to really be enjoying fashion. Jim Bob and Michelle strongly disapprove to the point where they have started excluding Jill and Jinger from the fold. They might negatively influence their other siblings, especially the younger girls. They have been admonished. But their husbands say it’s ok. Nevertheless, the pressure on Jinger and Jill has been so intense and negative that they’ve in had to seek professional counseling. Court testimony from two husbands show that the shunning and disapproval has had a negative effect on their wives’ emotional well being.

The Duggar parents are harsher in judgement towards their jeans wearing daughters than their convicted child pornography buying son. Let’s think about that for a moment. Josh Duggar used the site Ashley Madison to cheat on his long suffering Griselda wife Anna, had SEVEN children with her, and was caught with a ton of child pornography on the Linux partition of his hard drive. He has blamed others for putting it there and swears he’s completely innocent. The judge and jury weren’t buying it and he’s serving 11 years in a segregated unit for sex offenders in a prison in Texas. He’s been fined a hefty sum. His wife has had to sell most of his property to pay for his transgressions. She’s going to have to raise SEVEN kids by herself and even when he’s released, he’ll have to stay far away from children, including his own, for most of the rest of his life.

Did I mention that Anna can’t divorce her husband? I mean, I guess she technically can. He’s broken the only rules that would allow it according to the Institute for Basic Life Principles (IBLP) that the Duggars have been spokespeople for since they burst into the scene almost 20 years ago. Adultery should work, Child pornography should be a no brainer. But Josh and Anna have a covenant marriage, meaning they need to try extra hard to stay together. And, get this, Josh is still Anna’s spiritual head of the house. She looks to him for leadership and guidance.

Where am I going with this? Oh yeah, Jinger. So, while Jinger is getting a lot of flak for her clothes, lack of desire for 45 children and tolerance for her husband having an occasional cocktail, Josh has been walking through his trial, sentencing and appeal with daddy Jim Bob firmly at his side. Josh spent his time after his indictment living with a family friend. He went to weddings where children were present, presumably with the court’s approval that someone would be responsible for him.

While Josh’s infractions are extremely serious to US, to the Duggars, it’s Jinger and Jill who have stepped out of line and who can’t be trusted around their younger children.

For the last 20 years, the Duggars were held up as paragons of virtue. The children were so obedient. They were homeschooled. They were modest to the point of asexuality. They wore uniforms. They were so biblical. They believed in strict gender roles. They court. Kissing before marriage is strictly forbidden and monitoring is rigorously enforced. If you have ever been around a fan of the Duggars, as I have, it’s hard to understand how anyone could admire this lifestyle because those kids have been deliberately excluded from The World and have been likely punished for having any independent thoughts or personal aspirations. Weirdly, the Duggar fan never stops to consider how hard this must be on the children.

That’s because the Duggars and their admiring wannabes who join high control religious cults have a lot in common with the toxic family bullies. They crave power, control, absolute obedience and praise. They want attention for what they have accomplished, which is usually a family structured around fear and a formal control hierarchy. How else can you get those kids to march in step, hand in hand, mandatory smiles plastered on their faces and playing their instruments like little orchestras that any North Korean dictator would envy?

Come to think of it, have you ever noticed that high control religious groups iconography looks a LOT like North Korean propaganda posters? Yep. Check it out:

I’d add more but I don’t want to turn this post into a propaganda pamphlet for those of you craving a worry free world where residents wander around in native dress with baskets of produce. It gets to be boring. And anyway, who wants to spend eternity rigidly adhering to a bunch of arbitrary rules devised by a jealous and capricious god?

Well, the answer is, not Jinger Duggar. Her new book, Becoming Free Indeed, My Story of Disentangling Faith from Fear, releasing next Tuesday, threatens to erode the mighty facade of the Duggar family and its unholy alliance with the IBLP even further. It’s going to be a roadmap for surviving cult mind control and the toxic family bullies that force their children into it.

I’ve heard that the Duggars enablers have already commenced a campaign tut-tutting Jinger for airing her grievances. (We don’t even know what’s in it yet and they’re already speculating. Hmmm…) It’s going to get worse. The guilt for what she’s putting her parents through, how ungrateful she is instead of a dutiful daughter. The remaining children under the Duggar’s control will be given a choice. Stick with the family or stay friends with your sister. Whatever limited bounty you’re getting from Jim Bob will be cut off if you choose to dance with the devil. It’s the way of the toxic family bully. To maintain control, they need to insert themselves into the middle of the family access to social status and any wealth. All they have to do is smear the scapegoat and the rest of the family falls in line. It’s what they’re used to if they haven’t been able to break free themselves.

The thing is, not all family heads who join high control religious groups are bullies. And let’s not put all the blame on the IBLP. It wouldn’t be a cult if some people didn’t find it appealing. Let’s put the blame where it belongs. There is a certain subtype of these bullies for which wrapping themselves in the image of religiosity is ferociously important and a convenient cover for their darker dictatorial impulses. They demand compliance from their children. They do not tolerate deviation from their concept of normality. And any violators will be prosecuted by isolation, exclusion, family mobbing (a topic that deserves its own post) and financial withholding. Jill has had to set strict boundaries with her parents. She has described her father as very controlling and verbally abusive. I can relate.

Withholding money has already affected the Duggar children since Jim Bob Duggar signed all the contracts for the TV series he roped his kids into. He controlled the purse strings. Step out of line and you get nothing, including the money you might have used to have your own life. His daughter Jill ended up having to take him to court to get a lifetime of earnings he was sitting on. It made him millions. She ended up with a lump sum that has been described as barely minimum wage for all the hours she spent in front of the camera giving glory to her saintly parents.

Jinger may have learned from this experience. Put it all in a book that our aunts have been waiting for, describing all the tyranny in the most loving terms while she sticks a pin in the balloon that is the Duggar’s image of godly paradise. Write a check to Jinger Duggar Vuolo.

Amen.

Do “The Motivations” Really Matter?

Another horrible mass shooting in America on Saturday night. A 72-year-old Asian man went into two clubs and killed at least ten people. He used a Cobray M11 9mm semi-automatic, which allows a killer to fire 30-round magazines in rapid succession. The weapon is illegal in nearly every developed country except the United States.

How did he get it? Probably in one of the ways that people get such weapons, almost always because they want to kill people. That aspect is important. Why he did this awful act is less important, I think, though the human mind always seeks for answers. He apparently had been a dance instructor in one of these clubs, at some point. Was that part of the motive, or was it just that he knew the surroundings?

The man was eventually cornered, and killed himself. So no one can ask him why. Many of these people end up killing themselves. Supposed experts in psychology might come up with theories based on what is known about his life, things he said or wrote. Does it really matter? Again, the human mind wants to know, or try to know. And the people trying to figure it out might think that by unearthing the reasons, if indeed anyone can do that, particularly with a twisted and murderous psyche, this will help prevent more such mass shootings. But I see no sign of it.

Something snaps. Or the mind was warped long ago, and then ultimately it led to this. And then after some articles are written about motives, the story recedes, as we wait with dread for the next one, which will have a different immediate motive , although there are probably some common threads in these. But the obvious similarity is the weapon of mass destruction.

Philip K. Dick wrote the great short story “Minority Report.” It was expanded to a movie, which had some of the story’s elements, and then added other aspects. The essence of Dick’s story was the imagining of a future society where people who were called “precogs,” and had some ability at foresight, could predict which people would later commit murder, though they were not always correct; hence the ” minority report” which might say that there was a chance that the person would not kill.

A society which was overrun with crime decided to lock up anyone whom the precogs listed as a person who would later commit murder, and keep them in some kind of suspended animation cubicle forever/ The murder rate was significantly reduced. But there were two questions: Was this moral for society to punish someone for something he had not done? And what if the minority report were right, in that case, and he would not have committed the act? Where should society morally stand?

Well, we do not have that ability now, but it may well happen. Now, we seemingly have no ability to predict these events; or even if there were warning signs, no legal system to keep the person from committing the mass murders. So the studies about ‘”motivations” do not seem to do us any crucial good.

There have always been bad, twisted, and dangerous persons in the world. But the vast majority oft them didn’t have access tot weapons which could kill hundreds of people. The gun culture in America is the most important problem we face.

And in some ways,though probably not purposely, the search for individual motivations may actually be a distraction and a detour, taking us away from what has to be the real focus, if we wan t to be able to reduce or even stop such horrific events which do not happen at all in many other countries which do not fetishize guns, do not have an organization which spends all of its time trying to sell guns to adults, teenagers, and now children; and do not have a political parry which is obsessed with allowing anyone to buy as many weapons as they want to,.

And which has installed a High Court which continues to insist that the term ” a well-regulated militia” was intended to protect and allow deranged and murderous individuals who want to kill as many people as they can with their guns. And which does not react, when such an event happens, by greatly strengthening the gun laws so that it will not happen again, but which is so afraid of the gun lobby, or so deluded, as to think that it is worse to try to keep these mass-killing weapons out of the hands of anyone who is not a soldier in military combat, than to allow anyone to buy the weapons, and potentially use them to kill people who happened o be in the club or arena or school or movie theatre where the murderer decided to carry out his mission of death.

Is Alec Baldwin Being Singled Out?

I am somewhat rushing this off, and not researching the facts of the matter, if indeed anyone exactly knows them, but we are going to have a trial on them, so we will hear much more. Alec Baldwin was charged with involuntary manslaughter in the tragic death of Halyna Hutchins, Director of Photography on the set of the movie “Rust.” This is essentially charging him with criminal negligence, somewhat akin to driving a car at 100 mph. and hitting someone, or shooting a loaded gun into the air in celebration, and the bullet hits someone.

I think that most people did not expect the D.A. in this New Mexico town to charge Baldwin with anything. But she said that from the outset, her office was considering such a charge. They even let one of the other people who she said could have avoided this terrible tragedy, plead to a lesser charge in exchange for testifying against Baldwin.

My first thought, fair or not, was that Baldwin was being gone after because of his well known liberal politics, or simply because he is a big name, and thus a trophy for the D.A. But I try not to jump to such conclusions, because I do not know all the facts. It does seem very unusual, though. SAG and AFTRA issued a statement condemning it; the headline saying that they called it “wrong and uninformed.”

Clearly, a precedent here would put every actor in any film which has guns in it, which unfortunately seems to be most of them, at risk. Someone said on TV yesterday that because Baldwin was listed as an Executive Producer, he had more responsibility than an actor. But apparently these responsibilities were limited to having some influence over which actors might be chosen for roles, or with regard to script issues. Not matters involving the set, or safety issues.

Supposedly, Baldwin was told by the person on set who was responsible for such things, that the ‘gun was ?cold,” not loaded. That would seem to be common practice when dealing with guns on set. Was Baldwin supposed to fire it into some bushes to see? Obviously, it is absolutely necessary to make one hundred percent sure that no weapon on set is loaded. But what was Baldwin supposed to do, more than any other one of a thousand actors in movies is supposed to do?

Danny Cevallos, a respected defense counsel, said today that Baldwin saying in an interview that he would never fire a gun, was a mistake, because he did probably pull the trigger in this incident, albeit thinking that there were no bullets in the gun. The idea is that if you say something which can be contradicted, then that is used by the prosecutors to throw all of your credibility into doubt. Fair enough, but again, what was Baldwin legally required to do to make sure that what he was told about the gun not being loaded, was correct?

I am no expert in movie-making, but I think I have seen all sorts of guns, presumably not loaded, being fired in films.I think that Bruce Lee, and then later his son Brandon Lee,, were killed in dreadful on-set accidents. In the movie “Twilight Zone,” the then-hotshot director John Landis staged a scene involving a plane in which actor Vic Morrow was killed. In the chariot race in “Ben-Hur,” two people were killed, I think. I even heard something on TCM about how legendary director Michael Curtiz was so determined to have a particular historic film look realistic, that he put real spikes in the ground for the battle charge scene, and at least two people were killed, and maybe horses, too, by running over the spikes.

I don’t think that anyone was charged in any of these tragedies, but one could look it up. And if not, that does not mean that a more enlightened era could not have charges result from such incidents, though we have not, until yesterday. But unless we hear something astounding in this trial, I just do not see how Baldwin was guilty of a homicide through criminal negligence. The penalty is over five years in prison.

It is not that I am a major Alec Baldwin fan, though he had a great scene in “Glengarry Glen Ross,” and more significantly, I respect him caring about the country, and speaking out against Trump, which was never without risk. I cannot shake the suspicion that there is politics maybe beyond bagging a celebrity, involved here. If the facts show otherwise. I will accept that. But in a country where it seems that certain people can say, or incite, or threaten anything, and nothing happens to them, I do wonder.

Frock!! Chard! The Decline of Western Civilization?

On Monday, the Wordle word was “frock.” It is a word I like, because I grew up with stories which used language like that. It actually took me six guesses to get it, as I again chose not to look for letters, but make guesses too early. But I got it, and I thought that frock was very likely the word before I made my last guess. But I was pretty sure that with the state of non-reading in this era, the word would baffle some people. And I was right.

From an internet article, “Wordle 576 angers American players with a word that ‘is too British for an American game.'” “A certain word has infuriated a number of Wordle players who struggled to solve a particularly uncommon five-letter word…”

“This isn’t the first time players have been thrown a curveball, as words such as leery, coyly, quart and agape have caused a lot of frustration for fans in the past.” It appears that some Americans complained that the word favored British players. One said “I should have gotten it on row three, but I thought it was too British for an American game.” “That’s not even a word, shut up, I hate you Wordle, added one very furious player.” “I’ve always thought it was a strange word, I’m going to check it’s (sic) origins,” wrote another.

Okay, I am glad that people are playing the word game, and trying. But to not know the word frock? Anyone who reads novels would have easily known the word. Or even if one read about a priest’s frock, or a religious official being defrocked. I was stunned to see that many people did not know this word. And frock is a word which gives some color to the language; not just saying dress, or outfit. Frock to me connotes prettiness, perhaps a nice party dress, something that a younger woman might wear. Language is not just for trying to be erudite or even pretentious, it is descriptive and sometimes charming. Usually a story with the word “frock” in it, is a nice one, with romance in it.

But the fact is that many people simply do not read books, particularly older ones. Nancy Drew and her friends wore frocks. The girls in Rosemary Desjardins novels did. I never read those, but I knew about them. I think they did in the Dumas novels, of course translated from French to English. It is a word which should not be lost, as so many are apparently being.

I wasn’t going to rant about that, but then on Wednesday, the word was “chard.” That is a word which I first encountered in a “Mad Magazine.” I didn’t usually read them, maybe a friend gave me a copy of one. It was a spoof of “Popeye,” where he was trying to get a can of spinach, and people kept handing him other leafy green vegetables, such as broccoli, parsley, and chard. I reasonably assumed that chard was another one; and I then occasionally ran into it at a grocery store or on a menu.

When I had the letters a, c, r, d, h after three guesses, I knew that the word had to be chard. Many other people apparently did not, according to this article, “Wordle 578 angers players with strange word, ‘ – – – ing hell, that’s just not reasonable.'” One comment was, “I really didn’t think that would be the word. I’ve never heard of it before.” “Thought that last guess was a word, now I have to look it up,” someone else wrote.,

Chard is not a word that one needs to know. Frock is not either, actually. There are a few words that we need to communicate, and it looks like we are reducing to that. The opposite of the way language began and developed. It is good to know many words, not to show off (well, yes, there is that, too), but to express nuance, and to actually name different things. Chard is not lettuce, or arugula, so one should call it chard, to differentiate. Is a frock the same as s dress? Maybe, as I have rarely tried to buy them (not for me!), but if I were to see a sign on a store window advertising “summer frocks,” I would know what they meant, and what they probably looked like. Plus, if I wanted to write or read something, it is valuable to know many words.

Remember Orwell making up words like “plus good,” and “double plus good,” to both mock and horrify, with a language which substituted simpleness and common usage for color and depth? He thought that a totalitarian state would do that. But people can do it to themselves, if they don’t read, and learn words.

I did it, and probably everybody reading here, did that, when they were children, and even beyond. Learning a new word is exhilarating. Being able to come up with “le mot juste” (the brilliant editor Robert Gottlieb used that term in a movie I just saw, “Turn Every Page” about the collaboration between him and the highly esteemed writer Robert Caro), is very satisfying. It’s probably like knowing what key to hit on a piano to achieve the perfect line of music; or which color to use or mix to create the artistic effect you are trying to obtain. You can get along without that ability and knowledge, but your work and your life are diminished without it.

Not that I know all the words! But almost all of the non-scientific ones, and I have not seen a word on Wordle that I have not known. I think that is likely true for Beata and Jmac here, who play Wordle regularly, though if any of Jmac’s Welsh words actually come up, I will not know them. Words like flwrwhwr, or something. But good old English or American words, I know. And it is fun to read an author who has a good vocabulary, and to silently share a complex word with him or her. Is it as good as having a great meal, or listening to a beautiful piece of music? I don’t know, but it is good, and that is all ye need to know.

So pick up some books, everyone! Read them! If you see a word you don’t know, look it up! (what my mother always said when I lazily asked her to tell me). Try to use it in a sentence! Brush up your Shakespeare! (Who wrote that, and in what musical?, for a bonus point).