Thursday, March 30, 2017

Trump's governing "philosophy" dispenses with the "common good"--or any other "good"

I haven’t posted anything here for a while not because nothing is happening, but because it is so hard to respond to lies and stupidity befitting a child, and so much is happening that angers and frustrates seemingly on a daily basis that one hardly knows where to start. Every day a new example of the inhumanity inherent in an ideology that denies the validity of the social contract in favor of what Hobbes’ called the “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” life which the political and economic “elites” wish to foist on society as a whole in order to “validate” the their own selfish brutality. The social contract, according to Rousseau, recognized that “libertarian” and “natural” philosophies allowed for an “undeveloped” sense of ethics and morality, and that the contract as enforced by civil government instilled in the governed a more developed sense of moral responsibility to their fellow man. Civil society should follow the “general will” for the common good of all, "directed towards their common preservation and general well-being." Locke believed that the populace required government to protect them from those seeking to “injure or enslave” them—not to make it easier for private individuals or orgnizations with the economic, political and judicial power to do so. 

Yet the social contract is under violent assault by Donald Trump and his alt-right henchpersons who seem unable or unwilling to answer for their moral and ethical defects. From healthcare to immigration to taxes to economic regulation to environmental protection to Trump’s evil budget proposal, the greed and inhumanity of the far-right’s assault on the social contract continues unabated. Trump has attempted to usurp the contract that is the underpinning of democratic civil society with the fascist ideology of corporate control by the “elites” of society which he himself is a part of, along with Republican politicians whose worldview is closely aligned with the Antebellum period of this country’s history. Yet millions of voters in this country who are seen merely as “plebes” by the self-entitled “patricians” have willingly allowed themselves to be duped by unsubtle rhetoric that plays on their paranoia, bigotry and search for scapegoats. Instead, the demand for civil and economic rights by the “dark races” must be fended off by expanded military and law enforcement power—to be paid for by abandoning the social contract almost completely.

The working class poor—a term seemingly interchangeable with that of “minorities” in the minds of those who see the world through a racial prism—are not the “problem” and never were. The reality is exposed in even the most commonplace of situations. For example, I’m sitting in a restaurant for whom those who are cost conscious find convenient for their pocketbook. While I am sitting there feasting on the value menu items I observe a man wearing a buttoned-down shirt and tie come into the establishment not as a customer but merely to sit at a table and go to work on a stack of scratch tickets from a nearby lottery ticket vending machine. When he was done with those, he walks out into the lobby and slid some bills into the vending machine, and returned with a new stack of cards, with apparently the same result of failure. I observed this activity repeated a third time, and a fourth time as I was leaving. This time I could see that he was loading a wad of $20 bills into the vending machine; he must have spent at least $500 on scratch tickets in the last hour. 

Observing this, I could not but be overcome with a feeling of disgust over the distribution of wealth in this country. Nobody really needs to be “rich” to be happy. Who really needs a mansion if not to store expensive, useless knickknacks to impress other conceited people. For me, books and a music and video collection more than adequately fills empty time, and writing this blog gives me a small connection to world at large. I don’t need to waste money going out to expensive amusements and eateries in order to “socialize” and confirm one’s vanity—or to waste hundreds of dollars on scratch tickets. Meanwhile, millions of working people in this country barely make ends meet, thanks to the belief that a few people have a right to decide what is a proper distribution of income, which includes one’s expectations of how much money they should “earn” more than mere working people; the vast majority of those who decide are corporate executives who just happened to drop into their positions without ever having to dirty their hands with actually creating the wealth they so easily rob. “Class,” of course, has a great deal to do with it;  people who work in an office believe they are superior to those who work in the warehouse or production facility. They get the free coffee and pastry, while the “working class” have to do with the overpriced items in a vending machine.

Thus the most significant inequality in this country is not what you hear from talking heads on cable news, “pretty people” with “victim” complexes that their own existences is exposed as self-serving indulgence, but is in fact the inequitable distribution of wealth. This inequity doesn’t even have to do with the “top one” percent and everyone else, but from above and below the median income in places like Seattle; half the people in Seattle make almost $100,000 and above a year. It is a white (and Asian) good old boys and girls club where club members and their friends “look out” for each other. Even in “liberal” Seattle, racial tolerance only goes so far as the under-represented minority is useful to be patronized with a few crumbs thrown well down the social ladder to ease any “guilt.” However, that is at least more than what Trump and his gang of racists are willing to do.

 We are told that if we remove the incentive that allows the tiny minority to skeletonize the working class in order to gain as much personal wealth as possible, that this “elite” class loses the motivation or ability to create jobs. Trump and his ilk speak out of both mouths here, blaming immigrants for low wages, yet refusing to support adequate minimum wage rates, saying it will “hurt” businesses. Yet this mindset loses sight of the fact that wealth cannot be created in a vacuum; in order to allow the few to push paper, crush data or make phone calls all day from a comfy chair, someone has to do the actual work, and it is those people who have become little more than nameless, faceless numbers on a spread sheet. If they don’t “accept” the way of the world, they are simply replaced; they don’t get a multi-million dollar “golden parachute.” They are not seen as human beings with problems that are largely the result of poor compensation for their labor. 

Trump repeatedly claims that he is for all Americans—although his definition of who is an “American” is not exactly clear; his rhetoric and actions seem to limit that “privilege” to those who share his pallid complexion, if not his bad hair. Yet even that is a con-job: his administration is entirely under the control not of persons who have a working knowledge of their responsibilities to those constituencies under their purview, but of rich and/or powerful elites whose only “responsibility” in their minds is to their own enrichment at the expense of the “plebes.” They feel no responsibility to maintaining civil society in accordance to the social contract; their “answer” to the defects of their ideology is oppression and tyranny, the more the better. This is the evil that underlines the Trump administration—the more so because Trump himself has never felt compelled to play by the rules of the social contract.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Falcons' super meltdown can never be lived down

The Bill Belichick/Tom Brady Patriots are like the Yankees of the Joe Torre era—a team you loved to hate because they were so arrogant and had the titles to back it up. When the Falcons took a 28-3 lead in the third quarter of  Super Bowl 51, one couldn’t but rejoice at the prospect that Donald Trump supporter Brady would be denied the “privilege” of being feted by that bigoted blowhard in a White House ceremony. 

But it was not to be. The Falcons completely collapsed in the most shocking of fashions. After the Patriots cut the lead to 28-9, a botched on-side kick gave the Falcons a chance to answer with points of their own, but failed. The Falcons’ defense, which had been harassing Brady all day, managed to stave off another touchdown deep inside their territory and force a field goal with 8 minutes to play. The Patriots were still theoretically three scores behind, 28-12. But with less than six minutes to play, the Falcons lost their wings. 

The alleged NFL Most Valuable Player, Matt Ryan, demonstrated why raw numbers do not necessarily equate to “value”; after all, the Falcons had lost five games during the regular season, four of which after blowing fourth quarter leads. In a similar situation in the divisional round against the Cowboys, Aaron Rodgers did not wilt under pressure. Rodgers did not fumble the football deep in his own end after being blind-sided by a blitzer after a badly missed blocking assignment. He did not get sacked for a 12-yard loss on a horribly stupid play call when the Falcons were within game-clinching field goal range. And he did possess the required tools to heave a “Half-Mary” pass in the waning seconds to get into game-winning field goal range.

The Falcons’ defense, so dominant for nearly three quarters, suddenly had the consistency of butter in the hot sun as the front line became “gassed” and the secondary acted as if they forgot what their assignments were. The Patriots not only scored on their last four possessions of regulation, but they converted on two two-point conversion attempts to tie the game and force overtime. This would be the first ever overtime game in Super Bowl history, but when the Patriots won the coin toss, the rest of the game was anti-climactic. There was no “drama”; the only “hope” that the Falcons had was if Brady threw an inadvertent pass that was intercepted. It didn’t happen. 

We can say that Bill Belichick is a better coach than Dan Quinn, because he didn’t make boneheaded-after-boneheaded decision when the game was slipping away. Not just in allowing an ill-conceived pass play when a field goal would have won you the game, but wasting a time out when a challenge flag was thrown in thoughtless desperation. Losing 34-28 in overtime when you were the underdog would normally be seen as a worthy, valiant effort; instead, no loss could be more maddeningly stomach-churning. There was no comparison to the Oilers blowing a 32-point lead against the Bills in 1993, since the Oilers were already in a tail-spin heading into the fourth quarter. The Broncos’ 55-10 and 43-8 losses in the Super Bowl were “unexpected” at the start but entirely predictable in hindsight. In this game, the Falcons had a 25-point lead that seemed unassailable, and were still leading by 16-points and had the ball with six minutes to play before they simply gave it away. This is the kind of loss no team can live down.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

How about this for an "alternative" fact: The U.S. trade imbalance with Mexico is actually too little

Why are Donald Trump’s attacks on NAFTA hypocritical and out-of-touch with reality? Try to wrap your head around this, if you can: The U.S. has a population of 300+ million, and the average annual personal income of $44,000 in 2015. Mexico has a population of 120 million and an average personal income $13,000. Mexico imported $235 billion worth of products from the U.S. in 2015, and exported $295 billion. What this means is that residents of Mexico purchased on average almost $2,000 worth of U.S. products per person, or 16 percent of their purchases. U.S. residents, on the other hand, purchased about $950 of goods from Mexico, or 3 percent of their purchases, per person. 

Of course, this is an overly simple way of looking at this, since if someone purchases a car made in Mexico, the amount spent by one person can be spread out quite thin (one purchase of a car can account for the purchases of 30 other people who purchase no products at all “made in Mexico,” save for produce. Meanwhile in Mexico, American-made goods generally fall into the hands of the relatively “affluent”: the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development reported in 2015 that Mexico has the worst income disparities among its member nations, with just 2,500 people holding 43 percent of the nation’s wealth (financier Carlos Sims alone holds the equivalent of 6.3 percent of the nation’s GDP), while over half the population lives in poverty; the bottom twenty percent’s average net worth is a scant $80. Obviously most Mexicans have not reaped the benefits that Trump fear-mongers that they have.

Another fact that does not have “alternative” interpretations: China, Japan and Germany all have vastly larger economies and purchasing power than the typical Mexican resident, yet combined they purchase less U.S.-made goods than Mexico; China alone has 5 times the population of the U.S., and its GDP is currently 60 percent that of the U.S.; yet it’s exports are nearly five times that what it imports from the U.S.. China’s exports are certainly more “obvious” than Mexico’s, seemingly most of the apparel we wear and the electronic gadgets we use.  With all three of these countries the U.S. has larger trade deficits than it does with Mexico--by six times in the case of China.

Again, everything is “relative.” Since the U.S. has a larger economy than every other country, it can technically “absorb” more imports than the countries it exports to. Thus it can be said that U.S. trade with Mexico actually benefits the U.S. disproportionately, while trade with Germany is more “proportionate” given that its buying power is only a quarter that of the U.S.’, while China obviously does not absorb anywhere near a proportionate amount of U.S. exports as the U.S. does from China. Trump’s claims about jobs being “lost” to Mexico far pale in comparison to jobs that have simply disappeared because U.S. companies could not compete with low-cost products from Asia.

In order to achieve a trade “balance,” the U.S.—besides somehow forcing a more proportionate trade with China—has had to take advantage of the markets of countries with lesser economies, such as “developing” or “Third World” nations, and force them to take in excess U.S. products, while importing virtually nothing from them. This seems hardly “fair,” although it would come as no surprise that Western “brands” are more popular than the homegrown variety, denoting “social status.”. 

In any case, as former Vermont governor and progressive Howard Dean recently opined before a Canadian audience, attacks on NAFTA are out of proportion with reality, and serve no purpose but to harm relations and the economies of all three nations of NAFTA. There are other, far more pertinent issues that prejudice against Mexico and Mexicans cannot explain, and it is hardly in the U.S. interest to create a “failed” state right on its southern border.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Is Bernhard Langer a better "American" than Serena Williams? Maybe in Trump's anti-matter universe

Don’t you feel “good” about being an “American” these days? This past weekend Serena Williams won the Australian Open tennis tournament, her 23rd grand slam singles title and a new record for titles won either by women or men since professionals were allowed to compete in them in 1968. There were a few former women stars on hand to witness the event, like Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert—players who disparaged Williams in the past for not showing enough “effort” in standing virtually alone against the Eastern European hordes—particularly those who many Americans “fans” gravitated to, mesmerized by those cocktail dresses overlaying pallid complexions and blonde hair. 

But Williams’ story turned out to be less newsworthy than that concerning German golfer Bernhard Langer, who like Russian tennis player Maria Sharapova enjoys the tropical climes of southern Florida, and while avoiding paying taxes by retaining the citizenship of their native countries. Langer, it seems, was the “source” of a story put out by the Trump administration about “voter fraud” being witnessed in Florida. Langer, it was reported, merely did his duty as an avid Trump supporter (does that make him a “secret” sympathizer of neo-Nazis, a growing problem in Germany as here). Upon reading the embarrassing news reports about himself, Langer attacked the media for disseminating this “misinformation.” Of course, the real “fraud” being perpetrated here is by Langer and the Trump administration, since the media only reported what it was told by the Trump people, supposedly based on what the “witness” Langer told them. 

Unfortunately for Langer, the Trump report was quickly converting him into a liar and a fool as well as a bigot, which the “media” had the bad manners of exposing. Langer now admits that he couldn’t have seen any voter fraud himself since, well, him even being at a polling place might be “misconstrued” as voter fraud since he isn’t a U.S. citizen.  He now claims that he was merely passing on information given to him by a “friend” who supposedly witnessed voter “fraud,” the nature of which remains unclear, although one suspects that to some people voting while dark-skinned constitutes voter fraud. Furthermore, contrary to what the Trump administration told the media, Langer says he never even spoke to anyone there, but does claim that he told this story to another “friend” who had connections with someone in the administration, and that was the person who passed on the bogus claim, and from there we received another alternative “fact” from Trump’s anti-matter universe. 

This is the “America” we live in now. Serena Williams may be an American, but she is also black and is thus less worthy in Trump’s new White World Order—orchestrated by racist Steve Bannon—than, say, some Arian-Nordic foreign type who is just here to soak-up the sun, and winning senior tour golf tournaments using anchored putters, which the PGA is now banning because the use of it by players like Langer is deemed “cheating.” Langer has won $22 million on the Senior Tour, after having won only 3 events on the regular PGA Tour

Monday, January 23, 2017

Week 20 NFL Notes

What is worse—getting blown-out, or losing a close game? I suppose for Packer fans it is disappointing that this season wasn’t a repeat of the 2010 season, when the Packers blew-out the favored Falcons 48-21 along the way to a Super Bowl victory. The outcome of this season’s NFC Championship game was never in doubt, thanks to a Packer defense that carried on as it had in the fourth quarter last week—practically non-existent in a 44-21 rout, so that Packer fans at least had lots of time to absorb the result. No sacks and no interceptions is no way to keep Matt Ryan and Julio Jones in check, especially with Aaron Rodgers supposedly suffering from some illness. Although the Packers entered the game “full strength” with Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison playing, that might not have been as helpful to the cause if their injuries limited their effectiveness, much like Robert Griffin III hurt the Redskins’ chances by staying in the game after injuring his knee in the first quarter of an eventual loss to the Seahawks in the 2012 Wild Card round. 

Nevertheless, the Packers did advance farther than anyone believed after a four-game losing streak mid-way in the season. The Packers did silence those annoying Cowboys/Dak Prescott bandwagon fanatics for at least a couple more weeks, and for me that victory was satisfying in the way the Wisconsin Badgers upset the “experts” by beating a 38-0 Kentucky team (that supposedly could compete against the lower-rung NBA teams) in the NCAA Final Four a few years ago; they might not have won the finals against Duke, but at least they insured that they would be more than a mere footnote because of that victory. 

The AFC Championship game was no more competitive. Antonio Brown was supposedly suspended for live streaming a locker room speech by his coach, but with things quickly going south for the Steelers that was just a forgotten detail. Not that it mattered at that much, with Le’Veon Bell out of commission most of the game and Tom Brady slicing-and-dicing the Steeler secondary, completing 32 of 42 passes for 382 yards on the way to a 36-17 victory for the Patriots. 

This Super Bowl will at least have historical significance in the fact that Bill Belichick will have an opportunity to match Vince Lombardi’s five titles, although it took Lombardi just seven years, and Belichick 16 years. Needless-to-say, I’m rooting for the Falcons.