Tuesday, June 20, 2017

America: Governance In Silence

As we watch the Democratic Party establishment and their apologists lick their wounds after yet another “moral victory” that saw two additional Republican Trump supporters join their many friends on Capitol Hill, I had to reflect on just where we are now as a nation. I’ll get to the twisted, terribly out-of-date two-party duopoly in a minute, but for openers I really have to marvel at how an entire major party can be reduced to mere Loveable Losers, the ones who try and try and fundraise and fundraise, but gosh darn it just can’t pull out the win. Hey, we only lost by a few points, right? We’ll get ‘em next time. They have become the Los Angeles Clippers of politics, and that might be amusing in a time when we weren’t facing the sorts of serious, history altering existential problems we are right now. We can revisit this a bit later but keep it in mind as we go along from here.

America was founded on the idea of transparent, efficient and minimal federal government. I will not delve into the Anti-Federalist rhetoric carried forth by the Libertarians and Anarchists among us, because I feel that there are roles for federal power in this nation, and in fact the current complexity of both domestic and international affairs with the expansion of automation and technology makes it absolutely necessary. But leaving size and scope aside for the moment, the entire idea behind this nation’s founding was independence from an unaccountable monarch who did not run any of his policies by any sort of public voting body for scrutiny. Transparency in policy making seemed to be a central tenet of what the framers and founders were after, did it not?

They are all surely rolling in their graves today. We now live in a world where a vast, sweeping and far-reaching healthcare bill is being debated in secret without any hearings, without the usual markup process, and with as little scrutiny as possible. That this heinous and brazen act of opaque governance is being perpetuated by the same party that made political hay about the previous heath care bill’s “rushed” nine months of hearings, testimony and public teeth gnashing is particularly galling. Even when Republican Senators that realize this is wrong and not how things are supposed to work admit publicly that they have concerns, they still play the role of good soldier, do what they’re told, and go along with it. This shameful act is brought to you by a corrupt and out of control two-party system the likes of which George Washington himself expressed fear about upon leaving office in his Farewell Address:

I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in governments of a monarchical cast, patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

How much of what Washington feared still rings true today? Jealousies, false alarms and animosity? Check. Foreign influence and corruption? Check. Alternate domination of one faction over another? Check. A party strongman riding a wave of popular angst directed toward the other party and using that angst to “the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty?” Have you seen who is currently President lately? We live in the very country he feared most.

So now we live in a country where the modern tradition of the daily press briefing is done in silence, with audio and video recordings banned. We live in a country where cabinet members and Congresspeople alike duck, dodge or just flat out ignore questions from the assembled press, that is if they are even allowed in the room, on the plane, or along for the foreign trip. We live in a country where Russian press gets their question in, but not CNN. Where the man currently in the White House made a joke about murdering journalists on the stump during his campaign, garnering cheers from the assembled crowd. We live in scary, scary times.

But the Democrats are just fine running on nothing, and opposing these things in words, but not in deeds. Too often, we see the only realistic opposition party we have shrink from a fight at the federal level. Shut down the Senate? But how will we work with our Republican colleagues on measures of importance? Refuse to vote for Trump’s unqualified wolves to watch over our various federal cabinet henhouses? But they promised me they would do a good job! And sure, we lost those special elections, each and every one of them, but we’re in the right, and Trump is wrong. His supporters will come around and start voting for us soon enough, you’ll see. Any day now.

Well I prefer to live in the world of reality, the world where the 1% tighten their chokehold on the 99% and their wallets. Where mega-rich business criminals occupy every cabinet post, poised and ready to rob us all blind and line their own pockets. Where the Democrats are content to “express concerns” but still seem to value team play over having principles, where being not quite as bad as a party goose-stepping into full on fascism is good enough. Well, count me as being utterly unsurprised at the upcoming drubbing in 2018, the continued rule of Trump and his ilk, and count on this continuing no matter how Russiagate shakes out. Remember: Trump is only one piece of this puzzle, the front man. Even throwing him out does not change what I said above, and in fact it just streamlines things as Pence is a connected, experienced transactional politician in his own right. No, not until we actually wise up, rise up and resist fully and truly, and actually stand for something besides the obviously broken status quo, will anything change. So our hopes are somewhere between slim and none.

But go ahead, America, prove me wrong.


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Rest in Peace, Chris Cornell.

Shock. Just pure, heartbreaking shock. That is what I felt this morning when I saw the story gradually trickle in: Chris Cornell was found dead in his hotel room in Detroit, just hours after a somewhat erratic performance. Then the real punch to the gut: it was suicide. Just the absolute worst news possible for any fan of him, any fan of what the 90s “Grunge Era” stood for, just the most twistedly perfect thing for him to do as he now joins the likes of Kurt, Layne, Scott and yes, Andrew (Wood, of Mother Love Bone, his former roommate) who died far too soon. Yes, 52 is too soon. Anytime is too soon when you do it to yourself.

Obviously the rest of this piece will focus on Chris Cornell the musician but I want to take a moment to point out that he was also a man and he leaves behind a family that includes three young children by two different mothers. My thoughts, condolences, sorrows, feelings of horrible solidarity, my empathy, and every good wish I can muster all go out to them. A suicide of a loved one is a literal bomb set off right in the middle of the family unit. It ruins you emotionally for a time, and in many ways you have to tear down and rebuild yourself, and your bond with one another, all over again. I’ve been there, I’ve seen, I’ve felt every agonizing second of it. It’s better now. It will never be the same.  I am thinking of them right now.

That being said, it’s still difficult to process that the somewhat shambolic Soundgarden performance I saw in the summer of 2014 was the last time I would ever see them ever again. I was debating with myself back and forth for weeks as to whether I could muster the time off to see them May 25th or 26th in Dallas or Houston, shows which now are cancelled because they can no longer be played. Soundgarden has hit their final curtain, and it fell May 17th, 2017 in Detroit. These words catch in the back of my throat.

Readers of this blog need only scroll through some of my archives, particularly a long post I made in 2014 to ascertain how much the music Cornell created wove its way into my life, how it is fundamentally a part of my past, and a part on some formative level of who I am not only as a person, but a musician. I’m just an idiot with a drum set who jams with friends but still, what Cornell did was what I always wished I was able to do. Many musicians shared that wish. This death is a big hole in my heart.

Cornell was a titan of music, deservedly etched into the Mt Rushmore of rock history. An ongoing injustice, one now laid bare and made permanent by his sudden departure last night, was how Soundgarden managed to not be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame all this time. Respectfully I need to ask, what in the goddamn hell was the fucking hold up? Nirvana made it in, and of course I have absolutely no argument with that. But with all due respect, how the fuck were Chris Cornell and the rest of Soundgarden not the next band up to be inducted right alongside them the same night? What soulless curmudgeon saw fit to deny a founding member of whatever you consider “the Seattle sound” or “grunge” to be, someone whose talents overflowed in not only the actual singing of songs but the amount of raw talent and creative vision brought to bear in each and every album, his rightful place among the greats? I know, the Rock Hall isn’t supposed to mean anything. But goddamn it, this bothers me, so I’m going to complain about it. Now just like Nirvana, even if the band itself is honored one of these days, the man himself, the captain of the ship from the very beginning, will not be there to accept the award and bring the house down with a performance afterward. It’s a historical injustice, and we as fans have all been robbed today.

I need to talk now about suicide. It is a common thing in our culture, and the 10th leading cause of death in the United States using the most current statistics. Each year, just north of 44,000 people succeed in doing it, and for those 44,000, an estimated 25 times that amount attempt suicide and do not succeed or decide not to go through with it.  Those are amazing and horrifying numbers. My step brother was one of those numbers in 2015. When someone commits suicide, and especially when a famous person does it, the culture sometimes does not know how to feel about it or how to respond. It’s a difficult subject, and one shrouded by taboo so it tends to not be fleshed out as a thing until someone they know or know of goes through with it and there’s an acute reaction that comes from ignorance. I have seen it myself, and felt it too. Two years ago today I would feel differently about what Chris did last night, less understanding of what would compel someone in his shoes to go through with it, more confused by the lack of logical foundation for such an act. Right now, today, I get it. I still do not accept it, I still do not agree with it, but I know pretty damn well what turns light to dark, what can happen to a person when depression, bad brain chemistry, substance abuse or a cocktail of all of these turns the simple act of existing into a torturous, never-ending nightmare that only has one escape. It’s the worst thing imaginable, and it is all too real to so many who have seen it firsthand like I have. Suicide is never really the answer to this though, and if you find yourself in this situation, know that NO you are not alone and YES there is help out there. Or, especially if this sounds like someone you know, HELP THEM. Call them, talk to them, ask them how they’re feeling, ask them the questions you’ll find on suicide prevention sites all over the place, know the signs. Do not take even the seemingly idle musing of suicide lightly. Sometimes people whose friends and family had no idea were struggling make their intentions known in subtle ways: a subtle comment here or there. The only way to know the signs is to read about them. Do it, go read. Here, let me get you started.

So the lights of the world’s musical stage got a bit darker today as a supernova-level talent was snuffed out by his own hand. Right now it’s hard to see the silver lining, but my hope is this can, as Kurt Cobain’s suicide was many years ago, be a wake-up call to those who do not know how bad it can get, even for famous talented people. It reminds us to cherish life, to never take the time we have here for granted, and to do the most we can with what we have. It reminds us to hang onto one another as much as we can, through thick and through thin, because none of us really knows what will come when the next day dawns. I do know that tomorrow, the music Chris Cornell leaves behind will still be a part of me, part of the tapestry of my life, and a source of both comfort and inspiration until my number is called.

Call someone you care about tonight out of the blue and ask how they are. And be good to one another.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Establishment Liberals Are Gonna Screw This Up

Perhaps you heard the big explosion that went off Tuesday night, and reverberated around social media the next morning.  That explosion was the sound of the bombshell on Tuesday night’s episode of The Rachel Maddow Show, or rather the sound of hype and conjecture exploding into a pile of ash, revealing nothing of substance.  Tuesday night was an embarrassment, an affront to all of the folks like me who have taken to political activism and resistance in the face of the Trump administration. This was not just a “nothing burger” as Senator Cruz would say, this was a pure shot of adrenaline into the veins of not only Trump, but all of the heartland American “deplorable” supporters who elected him, in part, to spite the very liberal/major media establishment intelligentsia behind stories like these.  It played right into their hands, basically. And the Trumpster himself was able to take a victory lap Wednesday both in person and on TV, able to crow out to all his supporters that everything is as it always was: the establishment cannot let him succeed, and is only attacking him to score points, nothing more.

The problem with cable news channels is that you are never quite sure when the person speaking is acting as a journalist, or merely a commentator, in other words someone who is merely giving an observation or an analysis of news that was gathered by someone else. To draw a conclusion I will clarify now which must be obvious to you: I am not a journalist. I am not speaking to primary sources, gathering evidence or the like. I am an idiot with a platform from which I can throw eggs at those in power, a blowhard with an opinion, nothing more. Anything I ever do from here in this capacity would be prefaced with that same understanding. I have no intentions of being a journalist. I feel that most people on cable news have intentionally never declared which side they’re on, and that this is by design so they can play on both sides of the fence, depending on the nature of the story. This does the viewer a disservice, and is part of the reason why the notion of “truth” and “facts” has become such a malleable thing in contemporary America.  This is how you get “alternative facts” and “fake news.”

So Maddow got Trumped.  She teased out her own story until her show’s midpoint to make sure the audience all saw one complete batch of commercials before the big reveal, and by the time any substance was shown on camera, two pages of a 1040 filed by Trump in 2005, multiple sources in media and the White House itself had already acknowledged, and responded to, the supposed bombshell.  While watching it with a friend, I myself was so not impacted by the inflated weight of the reveal that I turned to ask my friend if we’d both missed something. Nope, there was just really nothing there to begin with. Trump earned money! He paid millions in taxes! Do we know anything else?  Isn’t this stuff we already basically knew? Where’s the story, reporter?

Presidents revealing their tax returns is not a tradition that goes back a long way in American history.  It goes back to Nixon, who himself had a bit of a tax problem at the beginning of his second term. This of course is overshadowed by Watergate, the real scandal at the heart of his administration and campaign, and maybe this ought to be instructive.  The tax returns issue is a concern, and a valid one, but pumping up what is essentially two pages proving absolutely nothing scandalous or disqualifying on their own merits as something that might possibly be something scandalous or disqualifying is, forgive me for saying this: fake news.  This is part of the problem and it is not helping.

I am already seeing the Clinton/Obama establishment set of liberals coming out on Twitter and elsewhere to defend Maddow. “Why are you upset with her, he’s the one obfuscating and lying,” or “hey, at least she forced him to release something,” and the like are common lines of argument.  But that does not disprove what I said: this was a lame ploy for ratings and ad revenue, nothing more.  It was all smoke and no fire, or all hat and no cattle as we say here in Texas.  I mean come on, yes, it’s prime time cable news and that’s the point.  But there was a nakedness about this that concerned many, and I am in this camp.  It just served to embolden the guy you’re trying to thwart.  And it could not have come at a worse time.

That there is a need for Congress and the FBI, and probably others, to investigate what ties, if any, Trump or his staff had with Russians and how involved these folks were with the election itself, this is an agreeable point on both sides of the political aisle.  Fine, investigate.  The tax issue may come up on its own during these investigations, and there are already efforts underway in Congress to force Trump’s hand in this regard too.  Let these efforts continue.  Support them publicly, call out those in Congress or elsewhere that hamper these efforts or slow them down for political reasons, vouch for the institutional processes we have to deal with this problem.  Give voice to those doing the same.  But stop bucking for cheap ratings when all you have is a sparse two page 1040.  Stop just making it all about you, while simultaneously acting like you’re being the virtuous conscience of American democracy.  You cannot do both.  When you try, you just lose credibility and give Trump more red meat for his base.  We need to stay focused, and not grandstand things not worth grandstanding.  With healthcare on the table, as well as the huge cuts to programs dedicated to food, air and water quality/safety, with the intention to wall our country off from another (property owners already got their land grab notices, this is happening right now) and deport those we find undesirable en masse all in front of us as issues, we cannot afford to be knocked off message now.  Stand Indivisible, or sit down and let the rest of us do it.


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Trump: Alternative Facts Are Not A Thing

Boy, it has been some week so far, hasn’t it?  Or first few days?  I seem to be aging in dog years mentally.  The last few days have almost seemed like months.  The Will Ferrell-as-Bush sketch where he thinks he’s been President for a few years and it’s only been a few months comes to mind.  The sketch was accurate, but directed at the wrong person.  The “Miss Me Yet?” billboard remains as relevant as ever, for indeed now we’re looking back fondly at the idyllic days of the Bush administration, where he went out of his way to point out that a war on terror was not a war on religion, and that American ideals were ones that included tolerance and respect for others.  Oh, how things change.

Despite the horror of what the phrase itself means as a thing, it is helpful that the first weekend of Trump provided us with the one simple shorthand for what is to come, and that can now summed up by two simple words: “alternative facts.”  Trump himself, and many of his supporters (but not all of them, to be fair, more on that later) live in a world of alternative facts.  This is how statements like “3 to 5 million people voted illegally” that are made without a microbial shred of proof can even survive as a thing for more than a few moments without being immediately discredited as the “pulled it straight from the bowels of his asshole” bald-headed lie that it is.  But this sets the stage: in the Trump era, anyone on his side of the table treats truth as a malleable thing dependent on the whims of the Dear Leader.  Evidence and objective fact need not apply.

Repeat after me: facts and objective truth are not subject to political disagreement.  Say it again: facts and objective truth are not subject to political disagreement.  One more time: facts and objective truth are not subject to political disagreement.  Also, repeat after me: there are no such things as “alternative facts,” these are known as falsehoods.  One more time: there are no such things as “alternative facts,” these are known as falsehoods.  We will not, and cannot, concede such a thing as simple as object, evidence-based truth to the realms of “agree to disagree.”  If we do this we collapse, not merely as a country but as a culture.  The very bedrock foundation on which this whole insane American experiment has been built will have been ripped out from under everything else.  This sort of thing collapses empires, and anyone interested in a country that continues to exist and function even on the most rudimentary level needs to understand and promote this idea.

Let us focus on the facts: Trump’s purpose in office, or at least the seeming purpose of his administration, is to stop completely all of the arms of the federal government that stand in any way in the path of profit at the expense of American safety or environmental concern.  After only a few days, the Department of the Interior, the USDA, the NIH, the EPA and various others have been admonished to stay out of the press, cease appearing in public, and cancel any public-facing events or publications under a general gag order.  Leaks have indicated that the EPA itself has simply ground to a complete halt, a distressing but completely predictable event seeing as how the guy who dismantled Oklahoma’s environmental protection department will soon be in charge.  Looks like the seeming paranoia of data dumping federal climate research data and other health-related data to private servers was spot on, right?  

Those with an anti-government or libertarian bent look at this and say “Good, we could stand to use a bit less government” but the fact is this is an unprecedented act.  The EPA, for one, was created by a Republican, and no one who has served as President since completely stopped it from doing its basic business since then.  We as Americans are about to see what folks in the late 1800s did: the ability of corporations to function in a manner completely unencumbered by government oversight.  I’m not sure the people that currently think this will be a good thing will like what they see.  It’s not been done for generations.  The fact that agencies charged with ensuring our food is safe, that our medicines are safe, that do research into diseases and the effects of pesticides on our food and ensuring our drinking water is safe can no longer do their work is distressing.  Do these agencies have problems?  Yes.  But the lesson from an incident like Flint is not less oversight, and more importantly I’m curious is a majority of registered and likely voters would agree with this.  My hunch is their goal is not less oversight, and I wonder how this will reflect in the approval polls and the elections in 2018 and 2020. 

Without a doubt, Trump is the most immature, thin skinned man to ever be elected to high office.  On top of that, he has assembled a cabinet that is self-interested, tied in deep with corporate interest, and as loose with the facts as he is.  This is a cadre of corrupt capitalists supervised by the hands-down most childish man to ever occupy the White House.  We officially have a president that gets his information from the same fact-free sources (television news), as his supporters, not his own classified briefings.  We have a president that is still more concerned with how many people voted for him or saw his inauguration than his critics are, and it is already getting in the way of the business of running the country.  I need to ask sincere Trump supporters the following: is this what you voted for?  This question is not meant to criticize, but to understand.  There are people in my immediate inner circle that voted for him, and with some reservation, so I’m not trying to trade barbs or score cheap points.  I didn’t vote for Hillary.  But I really need to know: is he, one week in, the President you hoped you cast a vote for?  Or does the shattering of the idea that he’d have some sudden cathartic change upon taking the oath of office give you serious concern about his ability to even do the job on a day to day basis?  

I, for one, am not merely concerned politically.  I am concerned as a citizen who wants my country to function.  And right now is a relatively calm time, the heated rhetoric being traded back and forth in the media aside.  The Gallup poll of important issues according to Americans released on inauguration day show no clear mandated “crisis” issue for the new president to handle first.  Instead of large majorities saying jobs or the economy were big issues like they were at the start of previous administrations (Obama’s in 2009 was dominated by such issues), the polls show a scattershot of issues including race issues, terrorism, jobs, economy, immigration and the like.  Most poll in single digits.  All are below 15%.  The simple fact, also, is Trump was not elected (by headcount) by a majority of human beings in this country, so his aim should be to win us over with his agenda.  He beat Democrats at their own game by appealing to blue collar voters.  What is he doing to further that win, to build on it and enact policies appealing to them?  These are the questions his inner circle should be asking to set the agenda.  Instead we’re still re-hashing the election and debating crowd size.  It’s pathetic, and the greater media and culture at large needs to stop engaging in such pointless battles and focus instead on the mass opposition and dissatisfaction displayed in the marches over the weekend.  Do not feed into the ridiculous lies that will flow from the new press secretary Sean Spicer.  Simply report the facts: that a thing was said, and that the thing in question is not based on any verifiable evidence.  Then move on.

The Indivisible Guide, which encourages folks to confront their own elected officials directly at their offices, is a good start.  For too long our representatives in Washington have disregarded our voice as citizens and enriched themselves.  While Trump correctly points this out, his aim is not to change anything, but merely to become part of the elite political class that is enriched by the taxpayers, and bringing his already-enriched business criminal friends along for the ride.  The only defense the citizens have against this is doing what the Indivisible Guide encourages: learn from the Tea Party, work locally, be loud, visible and constant, call and send letters, focus on your own elected representatives, and nullify federal corruption and overreach any way you can.  Stay informed.  This now is an era unforgiving to those not in the loop, and complacency right now is not an option.  Simply jamming the gears of government to keep Trump’s damage to a minimum is our only play, and we need to be relentless.  Keep your eye on the ball, and never normalize what we all know is unacceptable: the presidency ought to go to those worthy of the office.  It should not be for sale, and it should always be accountable to we the American people.  Insist on this, and do not stop doing so.  Casting a light into darkness is the only way to reveal what might be going on there.

And don’t believe anything  Donald Trump tweets.