In case you haven’t heard, David Koch “is donating a record $35 million to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History”. The Hall of Dinosaurs will be closed for seven years for renovations.
Here are my predictions for headlines seven years from now:
From the right: “Patriot David Koch Saves Smithsonian Museum From Corrupt and Incompetent Federal Government”
From the left: “Koch Brothers Attempt to Buy Smithsonian Museum; ‘Hall of Dinosaurs’ Renamed ‘Koch Brothers Explain How God Created Oil’ “
There’s a lot of speculation going around lately about what’s the source of all the trouble in the Crimea region of Ukraine. Many are blaming Moscow for stirring up trouble, possibly as a precursor to an invasion. I’m here to reassure you now that the truth is something far, far more sinister:
It’s the people at Rand McNally.
To understand why, you have to go all the way back to the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s. Things were looking good at first for high school students; we had one less Germany to memorize for Geography class, and only one Berlin to worry about, but we still had it pretty easy as far as Eastern Europe and Asia went. Basically all you had to know was “U.S.S.R.” and “China” and you got at least a C.
Then suddenly the U.S.S.R. broke up without any warning, and overnight we’ve got a Georgia that was never on our minds, more –ia’s than a Cthulhu summoning, and so many Stans you’d think it was a callback for “A Streetcar Named Desire”. In short, we got screwed. Oh sure, you might think the concerns of a few high school students pale in comparison to the desperate need to live free of tyranny, but you are overlooking one key element: these were the future mapmakers of the world. And nobody messes with mapmakers with impunity.
They bided their time, waiting decades to get all the pieces in place. They manipulated elections, staged revolutions, and even plotted assassinations where they needed to. Think I’m being paranoid? Think about this: they know where you live. They know where everybody lives. Nobody dares to cross them, not if they know what’s good for them. Do you really believe the Apple Maps roll-out was such a disaster because Apple can’t design an app? They wouldn’t play ball, and they got punished for it. Google pays their dues every month.
And now those poor high school kids who failed Geography because of a bunch of whiners who yearned to be free of a totalitarian regime are finally getting their ultimate revenge. They’ve manipulated the world and Russia in particular to dance to their merciless tune, all for one purpose: to thin out the number of countries they have to print on a map.
Hey, it’s less crazy than anything Vladimir Putin can come up with.
I’ve been surprised lately by some of the vitriol being directed at Jan Brewer following her veto of SB 1062 (that would be the “anti-gay” bill that got through the Arizona Senate, or “screamingly offensive and blatantly homophobic bill” if you want to aim for accuracy). The reason I’ve been surprised by the vitriol has been from the source: it’s come from people I know who are liberals. That’s right, some liberals are angry that Jan Brewer didn’t sign this prejudicial garbage.
The argument, as best as I understand it, is that the politicians who run Arizona now are evil to the core, and having passed this bill would have simply reaffirmed that fact for all the world to see, and (hopefully) would have created a popular uprising (I’m not sure if this would have been at the polls or in the streets) that would depose those same politicians and bring in some sort of proper, upstanding government that would have respect for human rights, common decency, and all right-minded folk. (Such a government would be a historical anomaly, but I digress.)
“Evil” is a strong word. Disagree with someone all you want, but evil puts them in a camp where there is no compromise, there is no common ground, and there is no understanding. That’s the same sort of language used by the people who would have seen this law succeed, and not just the politicians. I’m not trying to suggest that these are wonderful people, or that I would ever want to join them for tea, but unless a bloody armed rebellion IS the goal, heated rhetoric like this serves no purpose except to ensure determined and continued opposition.
Regarding Ms. Brewer specifically, I have heard is said that she came to the right outcome for the wrong reasons, those being politically rather than ideologically motivated ones. I for one believe we should applaud her all the more if that is the case; in today’s charged ideological climate, going “against the grain” of your own (or your party’s) convictions because that’s what the people who elected you want seems to be a virtue in short supply. Actions speak so much louder than words, and reasons don’t matter when outcomes are faulty; they should be equally relevant when the outcome is correct. If she got to the right place, regardless of her reasons, she should be praised, so that she will (hopefully) learn that there can be positive outcomes to taking good actions, just as there are negative outcomes for bad actions. We train politicians in the same way we train animals, even if the animals are smarter and less likely to bite the hand that feeds.
The simple fact is I believe all politicians are guilty until proven innocent, and I have yet to see that proof for any of them. If you plan to sit down to eat with them, bring your longest spoon. But when one of them finally manages to do something right, even by accident, at least reward them a little. They might recognize the “why” that goes with the “what”. It’s even possible others will learn by example.
So we have a solution at last to the latest installment of the ongoing fiscal crisis (#thanksfornothing), which involves yet another passing of the very large buck down the road to some near-term future date when it’s likely something equally ineffectual will be done, mostly because the same teams will be running the same plays (kind of like watching the Jacksonville Jaguars take on the Denver Broncos every Sunday for a year. What? I can be topical.) The real questions at this point should be “how did we get into this mess in the first place?” and more importantly, “how do we prevent these ^(#_*%!$& from doing it again?”
As for how we got here, I’m not going to take a partisan stance. As I’ve said before, a plague on both your houses (of Congress). But there is one answer that applies equally to both parties, one that has been coming for a long time, and it is a word that gets hurled at both equally (usually by the other side): gerrymandering. As long as one party has control of a state when redistricting time comes along, they rig the elections – excuse me, draw the districts so very carefully that there is no way they can lose. This creates a scenario in which the extreme elements of either party are more likely to win out and “compromise” becomes a dirtier word than “moderate”. It’s been more apparent among Republicans than Democrats in the last few years because they’ve been more successful with this strategy in the latest round of redistricting, as well as the fact that the only powerbase they have is in opposition to the sitting President, so of course they push back, but both sides do it.
So what’s the answer? I would suggest a third party organization that is not directly connected to the process gets to make the districts, perhaps the folks behind the United States Elections Project. Or maybe a panel composed of a representative from each party currently eligible to produce a candidate for that state, with ties being broken by the current governor. The current “winner takes all” strategy masquerading as “politics neutral” is clearly broken and needs to be done away with to be replaced by something that more accurately represents the needs of the constituency; perhaps actually injecting some real politik into the process at the beginning rather than the end will help to break down the borders and create détente, if not civility.
Another option (and one that I favor even more) is to get the money out of the hands of politicians. Now I know I have argued before that money equals speech, and I’m not backing away from that. But note what I said: get the money out of the hands of politicians. They have chosen to be public officials (even the candidates), which means different (and stricter) rules should apply to them. Also they pander to the most extreme causes because those are the people most likely to donate to them, not just to vote. If we capped the amount of money they can spend in an election, suddenly the incentive isn’t there for them to be so fast on the trigger with the votes. There’s also a world of other organizations and individuals who are free to spend all the money they want (or should be) in support of the candidates they like, so long as they don’t coordinate directly with those candidates. The more moderate candidates will have a broader base of support, both from individuals and organizations, and are at least more likely to have a better chance of getting some second-hand support.
This would also free the current office-holders up from the constant “campaign treadmill” where they win an election and then start the donor circuit just to pay for the next campaign. Maybe then they’ll have enough time to sort out all the problems that still plague us. Or maybe they’ll just spend more time arguing with each other. Either way, it’s something new, which is one step up from the current broken system.
The NSA Knows
(Sung to the tune of “Anything Goes” by Cole Porter)
Times have changed,
As I’m sure we can all agree,
Since the Americans rebelled
And they created a country.
They should list several Rights of Man,
Instead of answering the call,
They would be tossed into the can!
In olden days the Fourth Amendment
Was looked on as something sacred,
But Snowden showed,
The NSA knows.
You thought your email, text and Facebook
Were safe from some spook taking a look.
Under your nose,
The NSA knows.
The world has gone mad today
And good’s bad today,
And black’s white today,
And day’s night today,
When warrants today
Are issued today
By secret courts today
And though I’m not a philosopher
I know that it’s unpopular
When you propose,
The NSA knows.
When grandmama whose age is eighty
In night clubs is getting matey with gigolo’s,
The NSA knows.
When something’s done in South America
Particularly Brazil and Mexico,
The NSA knows.
If driving fast cars you like,
If low bars you like,
If old hymns you like,
If bare limbs you like,
If Mae West you like
Or me undressed you like,
Watch for agents in plainclothes!
Your Google drive
Has tax returns
Or your Flickr account shows your friends in nude photos?
The NSA knows.
If saying your prayers you like,
If green pears you like,
If old chairs you like,
If back stairs you like,
If love affairs you like
With young bears you like,
Watch out for privacy’s foes!
And though I’m not a philosopher
I know that it’s unpopular
And I propose -
The NSA goes!
Back when I was in my late teens, I was about average for a teenage boy. Which is to say I was a dumbass. Strike that: I was a pig-headed, obstinate, willful, ignorant dumbass. (And that’s being somewhat charitable.) I had all the hallmarks of your typical teenage male: I was always sure I was right, I wouldn’t listen to others, I had to have things my way… you know the drill. Finally things got to the point where my parents were just about done with me, and a good family friend sat me down for a talk.
He approached me with advice that I remember to this day: “Don’t bet the farm on a pair of twos.”
He didn’t tell me I was wrong, he didn’t tell me to shut up and listen to my elders, any of the usual approaches that do no good with someone like that. He simply explained to me in excruciating detail how I was basically powerless to affect any real change, and if I kept pushing things I was going to end up alienating everyone who cared about me and anyone who might agree with me. He also answered my usual outraged protests about how I was in the right by pointing out this had nothing to do with right and wrong, this was about who was in charge. There are those who have power, and those who don’t. I could keep going the way I was and lose every friend I had, or I could back off and wait for a time when I had some influence or things might go my way.
It was good advice, and I bring it up because I see the House Republicans doing the same thing today. Whether or not I agree with their politics is irrelevant. The majority of the Senate does not, and President Obama most certainly does not. By continuing to press forward with bills that they know will never be accepted, not only daring but de facto demanding a government shutdown, the Republicans are betting the farm on a pair of twos. The farm in this case is the U.S. economy and the pair of twos is any possibility that the Democrats and Pres. Obama will take more flak from the American public over the shutdown than the Republicans will. After the spanking that the economy took after the last debt limit crisis, in what universe does it seem like a good idea to hold the economy hostage in an effort to “stand by your principles”? Do they really believe that the majority of Americans won’t notice, or even better, will thank them for it?
I understand that on all the news shows the Republican (and especially Tea Party) leadership is repeating ad nauseum that Americans don’t want the Affordable Care Act. For all I know they’re right, although as usual I am mighty suspicious when someone is so insistent about something that benefits them so completely and costs them nothing. That having been said, I would expect a party so concerned with fiscal responsibility to understand the concept of “costs and benefits”. The cost to waging this particular battle when there is, quite literally, no hope of winning is astronomically high; the benefits are extraordinarily low, unless they are still listening to the same pollsters who told them right up to the eleventh hour that Mitt Romney would win the White House.
The real problem is that in this particular poker game, the guys deciding to stay in to the last card aren’t putting up the blind, and they don’t have to pay up when the showdown is over. That falls on the rest of us, and that time is coming fast.