Tuesday, September 29, 2020
Ike was full of ideas. This is probably just Ike brainstorming, try the Ikettes under a different name, on a different label. I like the production credit, "Ike and Tina Turner." Robbie Montgomery, by the way, isn't singing the lead on the Gong Gong song, below. In that video, Ms. Montgomery is the lady at screen left.
Fans will notice that this song is a remake/ remodel of "A Fool in Love," which was Tina's first record as a featured performer. I'd put that up too, but let's give Robbie Montgomery her moment.
It might be sentimentalism, could be nostalgia, maybe nice memories, or it could be a simple question of good taste. Whatever it is, this 1960s Soul sound still strikes a chord with me. We have access now to music from all eras, everywhere, and everybody that ever recorded. I'm trying to spend more time these days listening to music, in a desperate attempt to block out the horror.
How desperate? Earlier I listened to Ornette Coleman's LP Free Jazz. (1961) Now that's distracting. It'll keep your mind off of practically anything that could be bothering you. I would recommend that you try it when your mood requires a "break glass in case of emergency" warning.
Tuesday, September 22, 2020
We hear occasionally that someone has died, “of nothing.” They had not been sick, they just withered and died. I think that it is more accurate to say that such a person has died, “of everything.” All of their systems aged-out and failed, and they simply expired, like the long-suffering engine in an ancient third-world taxi cab. They just got tired and quit. The person with a death-rattle; the taxi with the characteristic sigh of a dying old motor.
Something like that is happening right now, before our very eyes. It's a twofold problem: it is happening to America's sociopolitical traditions, and it is happening to the earth itself. This does not bode well for anyone who lives on the earth, and it's a double whammy for Americans. The ultimate process of massive systems failure resulting in death has begun in both cases.
So here we are! Where the rock meets the hard place; where Scylla meets Charybdis; where push meets shove; where the irresistible force meets the immovable object. Welcome to hell!
The Eureka Moment!
Why is all of this being allowed to happen to us? It is, after all, avoidable in all of its particulars. It occurs to me that there is a unifying theory for the existential threats currently besetting us. That would be corruption.
Corruption drives our politics away from our best interests. At some point in the mid-Twentieth Century, American politics gave up completely the goal of promoting the security and prosperity of the American people. Everyone in politics decided to “follow the money” instead. Some had the brains and drive to use their political power to accumulate their own profits; others simply found wealthy interests who would trade lucrative favors for votes and legislation.
Corruption has changed the focus of corporate America completely. The big companies, and not long ago, were mostly focused on insuring their continuing market share and profitability. And increasing it, of course, over time. Long term. Top management at the time received top wages for the time, on a par with successful doctors. Happy employees were seen to be an important part of this long term, stable stream of profits. That has all been discarded in favor of short-term profits. Investors now want high returns in this quarter, not consistent returns over time. Top management now lines its own pockets with vast amounts of money and company stock, often to the detriment of the company. Directors may assist them by raising their salaries, and in return management may reward the directors. If the company goes tits-up because of this self-dealing, you can be sure that management and the directors, and the largest stockholders, will mysteriously divest themselves of the company's stock before it collapses. Employees are now seen as a simple budget item, and no good manager wants to waste money on any individual budget item. Politicians assist in this profiteering, for a small percentage of the profits.
Corruption tempts corporations and politicians to work together to create a labor environment in which employees can be deprived of vacations, health insurance, sick days, and overtime. Wages have been kept artificially low for fifty years now, while prices and productivity have skyrocketed, along with corporate profits and donations to politicians. People live paycheck-to-paycheck, and famously most Americans cannot meet a relatively small but unexpected expense without difficulty. Average people no longer matter. I guess there are now so many of us, and so many jobs are semi-automated (like most service jobs), that we have become interchangeable and expendable. I read a great story by Heinrich Boell when I was student, belatedly finishing up a BA. One line has stuck with me. “Sie dienen nur genug Geld, um weiter arbeiten zu koennen.” (They earn only enough money to be able to continue working.) He wrote that in the 1960s, and now it has become true.
It's worth mentioning here, AGAIN, that corporations are an illusion. They have no reality of their own. Any one of them could easily be broken up, with the parts renamed and reassembled elsewhere, with no alteration in their essential reality. Which is their owners, the people whose wealth includes almost all of the stock in almost every corporation. The corporations are the rich, and visa versa. Now all of our rich, our corporations, and our politicians, have been joined into one coherent oligarchy. That oligarchy is now in the process of perpetuating itself in the form of a fascist autocracy.
What's that you say? You love freedom? Well, all you're going to get is patriotism, law and order, higher taxes and prices, lower wages, more debt, and probably more of this new “prosperity gospel” style of Christianity. (Mostly to justify the incredible wealth of the super-rich.) Freedom is quite out of the question, and “white privilege” is about to become wildly more important to the white people who already enjoy it.
Corruption drives our brightest minds to concentrate their efforts on the accumulation of wealth. By now our brightest minds are working closely with our elected representatives to figure out ways to drive the money upwards. This COVID mess, for instance, has been a disaster for lower income individuals in America, and a serious challenge for people doing a little bit better than them. The virus has, however, been a bonanza for America's billionaires, adding $850 billion to their already embarrassing wealth so far this year. (As of late September, 2020.) That's a lot of coin, and none of them needed any more, I'm pretty sure we can all agree on that.
Comparing the monthly increase in the wealth of Jeff Bezos, which this year is calculated in billions of dollars per month, to the monthly income of workers in Amazon warehouses, should be enough to shock anyone with a conscience into firm action to make such disparities impossible, but somehow everyone just says, “wow,” and moves on to the next funny cat video. Why is this so? I don't know, but if I had to guess I think it might be a combination of corruption fatigue (people have become accustomed to it and don't even see it anymore) and the false hope that if people are getting so rich, maybe some day they, or their grandchildren, can also get rich. The former reaction is lazy minded; the latter is foolish.
The fact that much of this money that is shooting to the top earners is un-taxed is disgusting, and the fact that an even larger portion of it is taxed at a lower rate than the tax rate paid by average wage earners is insulting. The more you make, the less you pay. The state of our tax laws only proves what I said about out politicians, above. It is corruption and the love of wealth that is driving this move towards fascism that we are seeing now.
And that's just America.
Corruption leads the “undeveloped” and the “developing” world to work with selfish external interests for the personal enrichment of a few families or individuals. That's if they are lucky. If they are unlucky, they are directly controlled and exploited by external interests, today usually governmental and private interests in cooperation. Their resources are stolen, and the profits go somewhere else. Oddly, the profits always go somewhere else, because even if the beneficiary of the theft is a local citizen, the cash is sent overseas and laundered into foreign banks and property investments. In any case, 99% of the population of the target country is left penniless, uneducated, desperate, and hungry.
Countries that are completely given over to corruption and gangsterism have become a commonplace. These are countries with no functioning government at all, just some gangster clique maintaining a semblance of order and stealing all of the money. Some of these countries are large; some are small. Some of the gangs are famous; some are obscure. All in all, these gangster oligarchies are numerous, murderous, and very profitable. I won't start naming them, because I am fearful of reprisals.
There are a few countries in Europe, and elsewhere, that have gotten corruption well under control, and are being run by decent people for the good of all citizens. They are very prosperous, because it's not that hard to do, absent corruption. Taken together, my estimation is that they have no more than 150 million people under their benevolent protection. More likely thirty percent fewer than that. That's out of a world population of almost eight billion people. The rest of the world is a pure sea of corruption.
Corruption Is Likely to Be the End of Us
Corruption is endangering human society as we know it, the entire developed, industrialized world, and everyone else, because the individuals who are driving the corruption all over the world believe that addressing the screaming problem of climate change threatens their precious winnings.
I said in another post recently, “Politics is a venomous creature that drags behind it poisonous tendrils, like the stingers of a man-of-war jellyfish.” The same is true for climate change. High temperatures are moving northward (and southward) into formerly temperate zones. A couple of weeks ago the thermometer rose to 121 degrees Fahrenheit (49 Celsius) in Woodland Hills, California, which is a lovely suburb in the inner rings of Los Angeles. Not out in the desert somewhere, although technically all of Los Angeles is desert. I lived in California for thirty years, and the highest temperatures that I recall were 107 F (41 C) a few times, in the same valley as Woodland Hills, and in Oakland once. By this pattern, vast swaths of the world will routinely see temperatures that are unlivable on more and more days per year. (There will be a new scale! “4” will be, “only for travel in air-conditioned vehicles between air-conditioned locations,” and “5” will be “remain at home under risk of death.”) These new hot zones will bring with them new vermin, new crop pests, vast numbers of climate-migrants, new flesh eating bacteria (see Australia, and the Long Island Sound in New York), crop failures, and new diseases (Lyme disease, anyone?). Rainfall patterns are changing, bringing drought to some formerly fertile areas (sub-Saharan Africa), and crop destroying floods to others (China). This is only “already.” It's going to get much, much worse.
The corrupt bastards who are about to seize autocratic control of our world have taken the position that climate change is a myth, or a hoax, or simply an expression of the normal cycles of the earth itself. In other words, the same people that are driving the corruption in the world are also driving the climate change. They say “myth” and “hoax” because to fight against climate change in a meaningful way would be very expensive, and would cause disruptions in lucrative businesses that are important to the new autocrats. It would interrupt money streams that the super-rich have become quite fond of. So fuck it.
The biggest business in the world right now is providing safe havens for the multi-billionaire class. Bunkers, and other heavily fortified havens. You can look that up. Some of these underground paradises have swimming pools or bowling alleys. The billionaires gather for seminars in how to address the inevitable problems with living in islands of luxury amid a world of suffering, hunger, and death. Like, “how do we maintain loyalty among our armed security staffs?” Imagine the fun when the staff realizes that they outnumber their bosses and possess most of the weapons! Some kind of deadly shock collars are postulated as a solution to this knotty problem.
The rich don't care what happens to the billions of plain-Joes in the world, and their experience as billionaires has convinced them that they and their families will be fine, whatever happens. They know that the end is coming, and that is the reason that no amount of money satisfies them. When they reach one hundred billion dollars, the goal is immediately re-set for two hundred billion. That extra hundred billion dollars will improve their odds for cheerful survival. None of that strikes me as a workable scheme, but as my ex-wife used to say, “why should anybody listen to you? If you were a good lawyer, you would have made more money.”
The BRIC countries, Brazil, Russia, India, and China, are all heavy polluters and major drivers of global warming. They resist corrective measures, claiming that the major industrialized countries have been polluting the earth for centuries! This does not make any sense, unless you read it as, “now it's our turn.” Countries further down the development ladder are taking similar positions. They build new coal plants, suggesting that it is acceptable for them to do so, because America still sends out twenty times the pollution per capita compared to their little country. I am not suggesting that those countries are corrupt in their politics and in their business practices, although I might be tempted to do so if the world were not so given over to frivolous lawsuits. Read that sentence again. It unravels easily.
It's unfortunate in the extreme, but I think that this climate-change road also leads to doom. On the one hand, I am very concerned about the future of my grandchildren. But on the other hand, extinction is all that we deserve.
The very atmosphere itself is vibrating with widespread horror at the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. My own shrieking is part of that chorus, naturally. And the earth itself trembles with the frisson of Mitch McConnell and his Under-the-Bridge Gang of almost human followers in politics and the media. Finally! That sixth Supreme Court seat! Old Mitch has defeated the guardian dragon that was decorous politics, and the Golden Fleece is now his.
No one, however, can suggest that the event was in any way surprising. This wonderful woman had lived a long life, and she had not been entirely well for some time. Now we will all be treated to the spectacle of the Republicans winning another political battle using their favorite tactic: always defining the rules, but never following them. This last battle will win the war for them. With Justice Ginsburg's passing, we can dig two graves. One for her, and one for the Supreme Court itself. Oh, three graves. Dig one for American democracy.
I've always said that Trump was just the distraction, and the real threat is, and has been for over one hundred years, the Republican party. With six justices in the conservative voting block, the Republicans will move forward with an insurmountable advantage in all matters political. I trust that no one is hoping to be saved by either Justice Gorsuch, Justice Kavanaugh, or Chief Justice Roberts. I hate to break this to you, but the instances over the last few years when one or the other of those gentlemen voted with the liberal wing of the court was only a successful kompromat operation, intended to plant the false hope that one of these honorable gentlemen may actually have a conscience, and that the Supreme Court is still an honorable institution. They do not, and it is not. You may all disabuse yourselves of that false hope. With six, they will no longer have to hide in the shallows. They will be able to sail the deep blue seas at will, doing whatever they wish. Three noble justices will be forced to watch from the sidelines, writing frequent, angry dissenting opinions that will remain in the books forever as proof that America remains a democracy.
Speaking of false hopes, is anyone still expecting the election to save us from encroaching fascist oligarchy? Alas, no. Even if those worthless Democrats manage to win the presidency and both houses of congress, the Republicans and the oligarchy will proceed with their plans of conquest unimpeded. They will do this through the miracle of NOT FOLLOWING THE RULES, reinventing America on the fly into whatever suits them, with the full backing of the Constitution of the United States of America, as interpreted by the Supreme Court. Just watch. It's going to be easy.
Anything that the constitution has given over the last 240 years can be taken away in a heartbeat by the sitting Supreme Court. That's Marbury vs. Madison, baby! Due Process is whatever the Supreme Court says it is. It's a “living document,” and we're liable to find out just what the other side of that coin looks like.
You might say that none of this really matters anymore, since the vast majority of the world's countries have taken a “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” approach to our ongoing destruction of the earth's climate. Another fifty years, and no one will give one good Goddamn about politics. All of their time will be occupied with finding some food for their families. Bear in mind, however, that the Republicans are also the ones who say things like, “it'll get cooler,” suggesting that they know more about it than the scientists, who, by the way, display “lots of disagreement about the weather.”
Politics is a venomous creature that drags behind it poisonous tendrils, like the stingers of a man-of-war jellyfish. Fascism swings the pendulum back towards draconian measures to insure “order,” which is interpreted to mean the absence of oversight, complaints, or any restraints on government power. That's where we're going. In fact, we're coming into the station now.
I hate to think what horrors will overtake my granddaughters in their lifetimes. Under normal conditions, they would have plenty of wind left in their sails in fifty years. But for 2070, I think that normal conditions are out of the question.
Monday, September 14, 2020
The thought of having my own talk show terrifies me. Just to try to imagine a world in which I would have to fill a space of time being personable, erudite, civil, and even, heaven forfend, funny, more or less every night, on camera, well that gives me the heebie-jeebies. But the medium does have its possibilities.
The election on November 3rd is what is really giving me the heebie-jeebies. Here's what I would suggest if I were asked to come up with a script for an election night talk show.
I would start the show as early as the network would allow me to, and I would make sure that I knew exactly what time was the earliest that anyone was allowed to report election results. At the first minute of that time window, perhaps separately in every time zone, I would announce that Joe Biden had won the election in a landslide. I would do this with great enthusiasm, relief, and conviction, with more bells and whistles that had previously been seen on an election night broadcast.
The entire show would be scripted. Actual events would no impact on the contents of the show.
Of course I would need all of the video-boards, and the remote reporters, and the pundits, and the man-in-the-street interviews, but all of that would be dummied up to suit the real concept of the show. That would be that the entire country, as one voice, had spoken, and everyone had agreed that we love good old Joe, and we were driven to tears of abject gratitude that fortune had allowed us to vote him into office as our beloved president. That our prayers to the various merciful Gods had been lavishly answered, and in an outpouring of democratic lust and civic good will we had virtually unanimously voted to bring our old familiar friend Joe back from semi-retirement to save us from the terrible mess that we had gotten ourselves into last time.
The rhythm of it would be very much like a telethon, but rather than begging for money to go looking for a cure for muscular dystrophy, we would be announcing to the world that a cure had been found. Thanks to the miracle of our constitutional right to vote, all of Jerry's Kids, metaphorically, would presently be skipping across that vast field of flowers, while all of those damn wheelchairs would be melted down as scrap. In fact, the cures to all diseases had been found! That would be the quality of our joy.
That's what I would do, in a desperate effort to drown out the chaos that is more likely to happen. The desperate wailing and crying, the rivers of tears! The hands raised to God in anger at being abandoned. The terrible knowledge that the floodgates had been opened by unseen hands, the tombs had been opened, and that horrors undreamed of were focused on destroying our happiness in all of its aspects, and that there was nothing left to stop them.
Do you think that that was dramatic? The reality of it will almost certainly exceed in horror anything that I can imagine.
Saturday, September 12, 2020
You don't have to take my word for it. See what the academics have to say. The experts have a much better perspective on things that fall within their expertise.
You can start, or finish, by revisiting the above cited post, which describes America's place on the Democracy Index, which is managed by the Economist Intelligence Unit. They list the US as a “flawed democracy.” We didn't even make the “full democracy” section on their list. The Economist's website contains shocking details about America's ranking in various subcategories, such as “free elections.” I got the link from Forbes magazine. Neither of those publications is in any way liberal or progressive.
Now here's some news from this week. Social Progress dot org keeps a Social Progress Index. Here they are more concerned with social issues. That would be things like nutrition, personal safety, upward mobility, personal freedom, the environment, general health, access to a good education, etc.
America is currently at number twenty-eight among the nations of the world, and it has been falling in the rankings for the last ten years.
It brings no joy to my heart to report these failures of my own beloved country. These failures to live up to its great advances in social justice. Those advances, most within the last one hundred years and many within living memory, were all opposed at the time. From the small advances of the unions bringing more equitable labor laws in the early Twentieth Century, to the New Deal under FDR, to the civil rights victories, the Great Society, and advances in rights for women and other minorities, the political opposition was always strong.
Let's be honest, it was mostly Republican opposition. More people should read history; it really is fascinating. It was the Republicans and the wealthy who despised the whole idea of a fair deal for the working people. The wealthy owned most of the big newspapers in a situation that is analogous to today's “Fox Entertainment,” often erroneously called Fox News. The wealthy owned everything, as they still do. Let's face that too. As usual; as always. The Republicans and the wealthy are still fighting tooth and nail against every single advance in social justice ever made, and the unfortunate truth is that they are winning.
Their victory shows in all of the relevant statistics, whether the subject is democracy or social progress. America's scores are falling as many countries around the world achieve and surpass our much bragged about standard of living and our much taken for granted freedoms. While those countries are progressing, the American standard of living is falling, and the freedoms that were taken for granted when I was a young man are now in serious danger of disappearing altogether.
Oh? You think that I'm exaggerating? Well, can you imagine that we had the freedom to talk on the phone without being subject to surveillance? Even for gangsters, the police needed probable cause and a warrant from a judge, and if the boys were talking about what store makes the best capicola, or the Yankees' game, the police had to shut off the machine. For regular folks, they couldn't listen to anything, whether you were on your home phone or talking on a pay phone. We had a right to privacy.
That even applied to our garbage. We had the sacred right to the privacy of our garbage, at least until we took the can out to the curb. If the cans were at the side of your house, it was “hands off” for the police. If you waited until the truck came, and took the can out and turned it over to the sanitation guy, the police were welcome to search the entire contents of the truck if they felt like it. Even if they found something, they couldn't prove that it was yours. (Through the miracle of commingling.)
Of course, criminals abused these privacy rights. That was part of the price that we paid for freedom. Smuggling was rampant. Contraband traveled by road up and down the east coast willy-nilly. You could buy any damn thing south of North Carolina. Tax free cigarettes; guns; boxes of cherry-bombs; starter chemicals for methamphetamine. As long as you didn't do something stupid, like put your spare tire in the back seat to make more room in the trunk, you weren't going to get searched. Not without a warrant, anyway. Hell, you could fly between New York and Phoenix safely with suitcases full of kilo bricks of weed! We had rights.
Not important, you say? You don't break the law? I don't break the law either. Nor, however, do I appreciate being treated like a terrorist every time I fly, enter a Federal building or a courthouse of any kind, drive on an Interstate Highway, or feel like asking a policeman a simple question.
I'm hoping that social justice makes a comeback, although the odds don't look great. I long for an America, and an entire world, full of fair wages, fair and just taxation, strong labor laws, strong privacy laws for anyone who's just minding their own business, strong universal health care and access to a good education. I'd like someone in government to worry about why every time we go on the Internet everyone is stealing our data and selling it, as though it were theirs instead of ours. And why are our in-boxes full of horrible, illegal scams every day? I'd like strong environmental protection, and a return to the days when government regulated business for the benefit of all citizens and funded projects that benefited our entire society. (Like what? Like the TVA, the Hoover Dam, and the interstate highway system. Oh, and some new medicines besides boner pills and anti-anxiety drugs would be nice. Would anyone join me in a desire for some new antibiotics? Some drugs that worked on real medical problems? Even if they're not profitable?)
I'd prefer to live in a world where our governments did not squander all of the money in existence on military spending and further inflating the bank accounts of people who already have much more money than they could ever benefit from in any way, much less spend. I'd prefer to see our governments work together to tackle real-world problems, rather than waste time, effort, and money on creating new generations of nuclear weapons and selling shiny new military hardware to countries that will only misuse it.
I'm sorry to be a cranky old man, howling at the moon from a bunker in an undisclosed location, but I am also sick and tired of waking up every day to some new horror that everyone can see clearly, while no one seems to actually care. As countries fail one after the other, and democracies around the world carelessly piss away their hard won freedoms, we are watching the world as we know it grind to a screeching halt. Anyone born after the year 2000 will definitely have their lives at least made miserable, and perhaps cut short, by these horrors that we are now “learning to live with.” New Normal my bony old white ass. Born after 2000? How many people that you love are in that group? I'll be dead, but they will suffer. Count on it.
I give up. I write this only because I was raised in New York, and we New Yorkers love to complain. It doesn't do any good, but we find it soothing.