The Way I See It!
Musings of an iconoclast.
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“Making America Great Again”
and the Meaning of January 6
by Lorin Robinson
(January 6, 2022) How many presidential campaign slogans can you remember? (If you couldn't care less, stick with me. I do have a point.)
My all-time favorite: James Blaine, “Ma, ma, where’s Pa gone? To the White House. Ha, ha, ha!” (1884). Actually, he didn’t. He was defeated by Glover Cleveland who was the only president to date to serve two discontinuous terms.
If you want more, check them all out here.
The most recent slogans, of course, are the easiest to remember. Biden’s “Build Back Better” is not only memorable, helped no doubt by slightly heavy-handed alliteration, but meaningful as well—something that cannot be said about many slogans. (e.g., “Nixon’s the One.” We all know how that turned out.)
Biden’s slogan states his goal to repair the massive damage to the country done by his predecessor, the Criminal-in-Chief. It also expresses plans, not only to rebuild, but to make life significantly better for all Americans—working class families in particular.
But it’s Trump’s “Make America Great Again” that will probably go down in history as the most famous—perhaps infamous—slogan of all. Has there ever been a slogan that’s named and defined a political movement—a movement whose strength continues to grow even after the president with whom it’s associated has been twice impeached, soundly defeated twice at the polls and faces more than a dozen criminal and civil legal actions?
Incidentally, can you remember Hillary Clinton’s campaign slogan? “Stronger Together” seems less rousing. But, effectiveness notwithstanding, Clinton out-polled Trump by three million votes only to be undone by the archaic and anti-democratic institution known as the Electoral College.
When I first heard Trump’s slogan I was momentarily baffled. What does it mean? Two words troubled me—“great” and “again.” The slogan presumes that America has been great, but now is not. The implication of “again,” of course, is that Trump—and only Trump we were told—could lead us back to greatness.
Truth be told, it’s debatable that America has ever been “great.” Our “greatness” depends on criteria that are applied. I’m reminded of one of the most powerful monologues ever delivered on television. In it, “Newsroom” (2012) star Jeff Daniels, playing a network news anchor, informed a starry-eye college sophomore in no uncertain terms why America isn’t the greatest country in the world. Take a look if you’ve never seen it. Even if you have, it may be worth revisiting.
Yes, America has done great things. Daniels enumerates many of those. But it seems to me that America’s greatness cannot be defined in concrete or material terms. It’s aspirational.
For over 200 years we have struggled to realize, to implement the vision of our founders—that we be a nation marked by freedom, a just nation ruled by consensus, a nation, not necessarily of “equals,” but of a people treated equally, a people given equal opportunity to succeed or fail.
Unlike Clinton’s plea for togetherness in the face of the political and social schisms we face, “Make America Great Again” was expertly crafted to appeal to Trump’s core followers. It plays to nationalism, nostalgia, and pessimism and insecurity about their futures.
He was telling his paranoid, delusional, gullible and ethically, emotionally and empathetically-constipated base that only he could take them back to the good old days—the days before people of color became so uppity, the days before legalization of abortion, the days when men were men and women were best kept barefoot and pregnant, the days when there were only two genders, the days when “father knew best.”
For white supremacists, a demographic doomsday is approaching. Indications are that the 2040 census will show whites as a minority of the population. Efforts by Trumpists to blow up
democracy, to halt what has been our painfully slow but steady 200-year march toward a just and inclusive society, to sabotage the aspirations of the majority of Americans—are designed to keep white males hands on the levers of power.
I hope the day will come when January 6 is commemorated annually as another “day that will live in infamy.” There’s an eerie resemblance to December 7, 1941. It was a sneak attack on our democracy. The major difference, however, is that December 7 pulled the nation together. Despite class, creed or color, Americans put differences aside and joined forces to defeat the Japanese with military might the likes of which the world had never seen.
This was the “greatest generation." This was true American greatness. But it’s not the kind of “greatness” to which Trump, his base and sycophantic Republican lickspittles want us to return. Quite the opposite. And more’s the pity.
The Grinch Who Stole
Build Back Better
By Lorin Robinson
(December 21, 2021) Sen. Joe Manchin has been called lots of things lately—including the well-deserved label “DINO” (Democrat in Name Only). Donald Trump has his RINOs, members of his own party whom he regularly excoriates for disrespecting his Big Lie or efforts to subvert our democracy.
In scuttling President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, DINO Manchin, with help from co-obstructionist Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, has not only disrespected the wishes of his own party and president, but that of the public as well. Depending on what poll one reads, 60-70 percent of Americans strongly support all or most of the Biden bill—including many Republicans.
Another label that comes to mind is “Grinch.” Only, in this case, the Grinch and Grinch-ette are not stealing “jingtinglers,” “floofloovers” and “tartookas” from kids in Whoville this Christmas. They are stuffing much needed social, medical and environmental programs up the chimney.
Specifically, what key provisions of the almost $2 trillion bill will probably now not happen?
Universal preschool for 3-4 year olds that will help parents go back to work and boost productivity.
Help with the cost of child care for more families, including some in the middle class
Extending the child tax credit that has lifted an estimated 10 million children to or above the poverty line.
Four weeks of paid parental, sick or caregiver leave.
Access to free school meals for nine million more students.
Greater assistance for eligible college students.
Money to bolster affordable housing options and provide rental assistance to low-income households.
Coverage of hearing aids every five years for those on Medicare.
Limits on drug costs, including a $35 cap on insulin for Medicare recipients. Other prescription costs and price increases could also be capped.
An earmarked $555 billion for renewable energy and clean transportation.
Biden’s “socialist” agenda has, of course, resulted in frenzied corporate lobbying—particularly from the fossil-fuel and medical-insurance industries—the likes of which Washington has rarely seen. According to Sen. Bernie Sanders, coal and oil alone have poured $300 million into efforts to kill Build Back Better.
Democrats, particularly progressives, have another label for Manchin and Sinema—“corporate democrats.” The epithet is well deserved.
They are the 2018 Senate class’s top recipients of contributions from lobbyists. In the first half of 2021, Sinema received $408,000 in contributions from lobbyists and/or lobbyist-controlled PACs, despite not being up for re-election until 2024. Manchin received $512,000 from lobbyists, nearly three times as much as last year. He also doesn’t run again until 2024.
Between 2011 and 2020, the Grinch made $4.9-$5.1 million from coal-related enterprises, according to an analysis by Open Secrets. Manchin also benefited from of a flood of political contributions from the energy industry in recent months. He took more than $400,000 during the July-to-September fundraising quarter, according to CNN.
As if further evidence is needed, Exxon lobbyists caught on tape earlier this year specifically identified Manchin as “their guy” and said they meet with him several times a week.
That Manchin chose Fox “News” as the venue to express his final opposition to the bill, further demonstrates where his sympathies lie.
Justifiably, the White House feels it has been used all along.
“Senator Manchin’s comments…are at odds with his discussions this week with the President, with White House staff, and with his own public utterances. Weeks ago, Senator Manchin committed to the President, at his home in Wilmington, to support the Build Back Better framework that the President then subsequently announced. Senator Manchin pledged repeatedly to negotiate on finalizing that framework ‘in good faith.’”
The statement also debunks Mansion’s “concerns” about the bill—inflation, deficit spending and impact on jobs in the energy sector.
Clearly, the game played was to keep the bill tied up until the end of this session in order to move consideration into 2022 when the focus of the majority of those in Congress will shift from getting anything meaningful done to getting themselves re-elected.
The only hope for Build Back Better is for voters to send enough Democrats to the Senate next year to ensure a bullet-proof majority. That, obviously, will not be easy in the face of concerted Trumplican efforts to subvert the democratic process.
by Lorin Robinson
(December 17, 2021) Joe Biden and I have one thing in common. Until recently, we were both 78-years-old. He pulled ahead in November, but, in a month or so, we’ll both be 79. That’s why I was pleased to learn the results of his recent annual physical.
His physician’s summary: President Biden "remains fit for duty, and fully able to execute all of his responsibilities without any exemptions or accommodations." Except for some minor age-related wear and tear, the president is good to go.
Incidentally, Biden is the oldest sitting president.
I know what it feels like to be approaching octogenarity. I, too, have age-related wear and tear. But I’m a retired guy while Biden holds down what is arguably the most physically, psychologically and intellectually demanding job on the planet!
Frankly, I’m in awe.
But let’s ask the question that has probably occurred to almost everyone. Will Biden run for reelection in 2024—at age 82? He’s not the EverReady Bunny! Even if his health is still relatively good after slogging through four years of a very difficult presidency, there’s the real question of his elect-ability—even if his presidency is highly successful.
So, if not Biden, then whom?
The logical candidate, of course, would be Vice-President Kamala Harris. But, before discussing that likelihood, let’s take a short look at the recent history of vice-presidential ascension to the presidency. In quick summary, it’s not a slam dunk.
Harry Truman succeeded FDR in 1945 and was barely elected for a full term in 1948.
Richard Nixon served under Dwight Eisenhower for eight years, but was unable to beat John Kennedy in 1960.
After JFK’s assassination, Lyndon Johnson was elected for a full term in 1964. His VP—Hubert Humphrey—lost to Nixon in 1968.
Watergate brought Nixon down in 1974 and VP Gerald Ford lost his bid for a full term in 1976 to Jimmy Carter.
Four years later, Ronald Reagan unseated Carter and George H.W. Bush, Reagan’s VP for eight years, won one term in 1988.
Al Gore spent eight years as Bill Clinton’s #2, but lost to George W. Bush in the still controversial 2000 election.
In 2008, Bush VP Dick Cheney did not to run—his approval rating (13%) was even lower than Bush’s (22%).
Joe Biden was elected along with Barack Obama in 2008, but, for personal reasons (the illness of his son) chose not to run in 2016.
Box Score: Since FDR, three VPs have run and won; four VPs have run and lost and seven didn’t run.
Running mates are selected with great hoopla in the hope they will prove to be an asset to the ticket and an incoming administration. Some presidents have made good use of their VPs, assigning them significant responsibilities within their administrations. Biden knows this. By all accounts, Obama leaned heavily on him.
Because of his age, common wisdom had it that Biden would groom his VP to be his successor if he doesn’t run in 2024. She certainly seems to have the necessary credentials— U.S. senator, state attorney general, strong woman of color, vigorous, ambitious, engaging personality, excellent debate and presentation skills.
Yet it appears that within the clunky, clanking machinery of the Democratic Party there are gears grinding out the message that Kamala may not be the one.
As CNN reports: “ Worn out by what they see as entrenched dysfunction and lack of focus, key West Wing aides have largely thrown up their hands at Vice President Kamala Harris and her staff—deciding there simply isn't time to deal with them right now… when…Biden faces quickly multiplying legislative and political concerns.
“The exasperation runs both ways. Interviews with nearly three dozen former and current Harris aides, administration officials, Democratic operatives, donors and outside advisers—who spoke extensively to CNN—reveal…many…fume that she's not being adequately prepared or positioned, and instead is being sidelined.”
And, although it’s less than a year into her vice-presidency, trial balloons are already floating for alternative presidential candidates in 2024—most notably that of Pete Buttigieg.
To keep the Trumplican troglodytes outside the gates of our democracy, Democrats need strong candidates to deliver big wins in 2022 and 2024. Continued Democratic disarray is not going to get us there.
Why Thousands of Americans
Deserve to Win the Darwin Award
by Lorin Robinson
(December 1, 2021) Are you familiar with the annual Darwin Award? If not, it’s worth a look.
The award, given since 1993, is a semi-serious effort to recognize those people who, through sheer and utter stupidity, have killed themselves, thus removing the potential for their genes to continue to infect our already ailing gene pool.
“The Darwin Award commemorates individuals who protect our gene pool by making the ultimate sacrifice of their own lives: by eliminating themselves in an extraordinarily idiotic manner, thereby improving our species' chance of long-term survival. In other words, they are cautionary tales about people who kill themselves in really stupid ways, and in doing so, significantly improve the gene pool by eliminating themselves from the human race.”
Here are two examples of recent winners:
This September in Berkeley, CA, two mental midgets climbed out of their vehicles on busy Interstate 80 to argue about who slammed into whom. In short order both were run down and killed by a motorist swerving to avoid the wreck.
A 2020 award was given to a 47-year-old Japanese man who attempted to climb the 12,000-foot Mt. Fuji in winter wearing only street clothes and carrying just two climbing poles. He live-streamed his misadventure on his smart phone. Amazingly, he almost reached the summit. Then his viewers heard: “I’m slipping!” The phone continued to transmit his thousand-foot fall. His frozen body was found at 9,800 feet.
I bring up the Darwin Award because, in my view, the thousands of unvaccinated Americans who have succumbed to COVID-19 deserve recognition for their stupidity, recklessness and sacrifice for the gene pool.
Darwin’s work popularized the phrase “survival of the fittest.” The reverse, of course, is that those who are not fit physically or mentally do not survive. How much more unfit can one be if one chooses to commit suicide by COVID when a simple vaccination is all that’s required to remain in the land of the living?
So I made the following submission for consideration for the 2022 Darwin Award:
“I realize that individuals who kill themselves through acts of extraordinary stupidity are recipients of the Darwin Award. However, I would like to break with tradition to nominate the thousands of unvaccinated Americans who have chosen to commit suicide by COVID. Some 30% of Americans to date (December 1, 2021) have chosen not to be vaccinated, putting themselves, members of their families and countless others at risk of infection. I don’t think I’m being too harsh when I say that the removal of their genes from the pool is of benefit to the human species.”
If you concur, I invite you also to submit this nomination.
A Global Warming Hall of Shame
by Lorin Robinson
(November 3, 2021) With The Warming rapidly warming, we’re starting to see efforts to assess blame and even to suggest appropriate punishment for environmental evil doers.
Take this recent well-considered piece in the Guardian, for example. In “The dirty dozen: meet America’s top climate villains,” the newspaper suggests: “For too long, Americans were fed a false narrative that they should feel individually guilty about the climate crisis. The reality is that only a handful of powerful individuals bear the personal responsibility.”
The article cites a study indicating that just 100 companies are responsible for 71 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. And, as might be expected, the CEOs of a number of biggest of these polluters are featured prominently in the Guardian’s list.
These corporate villains include the heads of Chevron, ExxonMobil, Chevron’s “smooth talking” lead attorney, and Charles Koch, multibillionaire CEO of Koch Industries, a refining, petrochemical and pipeline company that finds paying massive fines for environmental transgressions is cheaper than fixing the problems.
One major reason we find ourselves hurtling toward a global climate catastrophe is the uncounted millions in advertising, public relations, support of pseudoscience and lobbying spent by these energy companies to down play the problem and to shift blame.
The effort was made to convince the public, first, that the warming wasn’t real. Failing that, the focus shifted to blaming a “natural warming cycle” as the culprit instead of greenhouse gas emissions. Failing that, we’re now being told that the forecast negative effects are exaggerated.
This campaign of outright lies and disinformation is reminiscent of that perpetrated by the tobacco industry in its successful 50-year defense of smoking. It’s the same playbook. Only, in this case, the deceit has been far more harmful. It has misled and confused the public, substantially slowing society’s reaction to this potentially civilization-changing crisis.
“Public discourse has been polluted now for decades by corporate-funded disinformation—not just with climate change but with a host of health, environmental and societal threats. The implications for the planet are grim,” according to climate scientist Michael Mann.
Another character whose portrait graces this hall of shame is DINO (Democrat In Name Only) Joe Manchin, the obstructionist who is almost single-handedly stalling the Build Back Better Bill that, in its current pared-back version, includes $555 billion for clean energy.
Exxon lobbyists caught on tape earlier this year specifically identified Manchin as “their guy,” and said they meet with him several times a week. According to OpenSecrets, Manchin takes more money from the fossil fuel industry than any other Democrat. (“Between 2011…and 2020, Manchin raked in a total of $5,211,154 in dividend income from Enersystems, a coal and energy resource company he founded in 1988…. The senator earned $491,949 in dividends last year alone….)”
Other perpetrators include CEOs of investment firms heavily invested in fossil fuels, Senator “No” (Mitch McConnell), and “propagandists” who have helped spread the lies—Rupert Murdock, Mark Zuckerberg and Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman Public Relations. Also included is Cargill’s CEO for its profit model based on rainforest destruction caused by soy and beef production, particularly in the Amazon.
There are those who believe this media “perp walk”—and any resulting ignominy—is insufficient punishment for these hall of shamers. This kind of corporate misbehavior and disregard for the future of the human race has led many, from the Pope to Greta Thunberg, to call for the crime of “ecocide” to be recognized in international criminal law and meted out as appropriate.
The charge of ecocide—which literally means “killing the environment”—may seem questionable from a legal perspective, but advocates claim it’s reasonable. The theory is that no one should go unpunished for destroying the natural world. They believe the crime should come under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, which currently can adjudicate four crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression.
While it is unlikely that petrochemical, coal and utility chief executives, politicians or media moguls will see the insides of jail cells, there are many who believe they should. Others would also include a certain ex-President and several former federal government officials.
Locking people up, of course, is not going to forestall the developing climate crisis. Nor should we let ourselves off the hook. It’s axiomatic that if there’s a demand, there will—in a free economy—be a supply.
We are all responsible for demanding and using cheap fossil fuels—including those of us who know the consequences. And that includes me. I won’t tell you what kind of car I drive, for example, but it does get fewer than 20 miles to the gallon of premium and goes 0-60 in under five seconds. I am, therefore, part of the problem and, most certainly, not part of the solution.
Oh Christmas Tree!
by Lorin Robinson
(November 17, 2021) We had our first snowfall the other day. It got me thinking about Christmas and the fake Christmas tree I’ll bring up from the basement just after Thanksgiving. That led to thoughts of Christmases long past when the family would bundle up and head out to cut our own natural tree.
How many real trees this season, I wondered, will be fastened precariously on car roofs or tossed in the back of pickups to be brought home for the holidays? And what difference does that number make in environmental terms?
Trees, of course, are efficient carbon sinks—mixing CO² from the atmosphere with chlorophyll to create their sustenance while “breathing” out oxygen.
So, fresh from Google, here are the numbers:
Approximately 30 million natural trees—usually some variety of fir—will grace American homes this year.
In contrast, 94 million homes (79%) will decorate with fake—or as the industry prefers— “artificial” trees.
A mature conifer absorbs about 46 pounds of CO² a year. If that tree lives 50 years it will remove over one ton of carbon from the atmosphere.
Therefore, simple math—the only kind of which my calculator is capable—tells us that the 30 million trees cut this year, over their lifetimes, would absorb about 1.5 billion tons of CO².
Now I confess these figures are a distillation of a wide range of statistics available on the subject, but you get the idea.
Incidentally, there was, to me at least, some surprising political news in all of this. A recent PBS/News Hour poll indicates that 44 percent of Democrats use natural trees while 63 percent of Republicans have fakes. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.
By the way, why those two figures don’t add up to 100 percent is beyond my limited statistical abilities.
In any case, considering the fact that we continue to pour 35-40 billion tons of CO² into the atmosphere annually, would leaving 30 million trees standing this year and in years to come make a difference in the developing climate catastrophe? A bit, perhaps.
I realize that most Christmas trees are farmed and, like a crop, replaced on harvesting. Still I could not help feeling sorry for the tree in our living room, watching it die and thinking what it might have become.
Honestly, it’s not the purpose of this post to dissuade natural tree-ers from following their usual holiday tradition. But, for what it’s worth, please consider the following narrative “poem” I wrote that views Christmas from a tree’s perspective:
It stood in the living room.
Drying. Dying. Festooned with twinkling lights and gaudy spun glass ornaments, sacrificed to a pagan ritual it could not understand, sawn and separated from the Mother, from its roots and rhizomes radiating through the rich loam of the forest floor.
The tree hadn’t known its trunk would be placed in water to sustain it. So, after the saw brought it down, the tree instinctively sent sap to the wound, closing it to conserve moisture. The tree-stand water couldn’t penetrate, hastening its death.
To pass time, the tree remembered halcyon days:
Its seed bursting from the cone, floating freely on the wind, falling on the Mother’s breast in the center of a sunny clearing. Of germinating, taking root. Of growing straight and tall. The feeling of moisture and nutrients rising through its trunk. Of synthesizing food with its chlorophyll and the carbon dioxide it inhaled. Of exhaling life-giving oxygen.
It remembered restful slumbering in the crackling cold of winter, snow and ice coating its green needles. Of sheltering small animals under its spreading limbs.
It remembered awakening in spring. Warming sunshine. Melting snow. The rush of sustenance from the Mother to quell its growing hunger. The growth spurt. Its seed cones forming. Birds nesting in its protective embrace.
It remembered golden summer. Sunlight pouring through its limbs, pooling like honey. Of swaying gently in the warm wind. Of the dryness, driving its roots ever deeper to tap needed moisture.
It remembered fall when its deciduous friends turned resplendent in reds, yellows, orange, ocher, rich browns. The first frost. First snow. Sleepiness.
Now the tree was dying. It wondered if death would be like the sleep of winter. A sleep from which it would not awaken.
It longed to commune one last time with the Mother, with everything.
Instead, the tree listened as its browning needles fell, pattering on the garishly wrapped packages spread beneath.
Stay Tuned. Trump Anxiously
Awaits News of “His” Nobel
by Lorin R. Robinson
(October 5, 2021) Mar-a-Lago is all atwitter. Recipients of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on October 8. And The Donald, again, is among the nominees—329 of them including 95 organizations.
This is not his first ride on the Nobel merry-go-round. He was an unsuccessful candidate in 2020 and bogus nominee in 2018.
At least Trump’s nomination this year seems legitimate. Such was not the case in 2018 when the Nobel Committee disqualified two bogus nominations for him. Although the committee has been reluctant to provide details, a person or persons unknown forged the names of some heavyweights on nominations. Possibly considering Trump’s penchant for prevarication, the committee checked with the supposed signatories and unearthed the fraud. The matter was turned over to Interpol to investigate—without success.
Why this escapade didn’t lead to “Nobelgate” is a mystery. Perhaps it fell too low on the growing list of Trump’s crimes and misdemeanors to raise eyebrows.
The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded almost yearly since 1901. While winning the award is tough, being nominated is not. Nominations can be made by anyone deemed qualified—members of national assemblies, government functionaries, university professors, Nobel Committee advisors and former recipients.
One must distinguish between the Peace Prize and other prizes given in chemistry, economics, medicine, literature and physics.
Trump received a 2020 nomination after shamelessly campaigning. It’s always rankled him that arch-rival Barack Obama received the prize in 2009. Trump’s name was put forward by 18 Republican toadies who told the Norwegian Nobel Committee that Trump had worked “tirelessly to apply maximum pressure to North Korea to end its illicit weapons programs and bring peace to the region.”
We’ve seen how well that’s worked out.
Trump was also nominated by two members of the Norwegian Progress Party for similar reasons. Not coincidentally, The Progress Party is libertarian and about as far right as it’s possible to go without bumping into Attila the Hun.
And, acceding to a bald-faced request from the White House, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also filed a nomination for Trump. Nobel Peace Prize nominators, however, are supposed to remain anonymous for 50 years. Either no one told Trump or, as is most likely, his gargantuan ego made it impossible for him not to trumpet.
His 2021 nomination was made by one of the extreme right-wing members of the Norwegian Parliament who tendered the 2020 nomination—for the role he played in helping broker a peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates that August.
For the record, four U.S. Presidents and a Vice President have won Nobels:
Theodore Roosevelt (1901-09) in 1906 "for his successful mediation to end the Russo-Japanese war and for his interest in arbitration, having provided the Hague arbitration court with its very first case;"
Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) in 2002 "for decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development;"
Al Gore (1993-2001) in 2007 for his work in research and dissemination of knowledge about global warming;
Barack Obama (2009-2017) in 2009 "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”
Incidentally, it’s worth noting that none of these recipients is or was Republican. Roosevelt, a one-time Republican, founded the Progressive Party after dissatisfaction with the GOP led him to part ways.
There is some good news for Trump in all of this. Several other major world leaders over the years have also been nominees. So he’s in good company.
Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini was nominated in 1935—the same year he invaded Ethiopia and placed three-quarters of Italian businesses under state control. The reason for the nomination is a mystery since the nominator’s letter has been lost.
Adolf Hitler was nominated in 1939 by a member of the Swedish parliament, not because he approved of der Führer, but to protest the Nobel nomination of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain who supported the Munich Agreement that gave parts of Czechoslovakia to the Nazis.
Russian dictator Joseph Stalin was nominated first in 1945 and again in 1948. The reasons for the nominations are obscure. One of Stalin’s major accomplishments, of course, was killing about 20 million of his own people through purges, pogroms and one-way trips to Siberia.
Clearly, these nominations—like that of The Donald—had more to do with politics than world peace.
The Civil War
Has It Ever Really Ended?
by Lorin Robinson
(October 9, 2021) Many observers maintain that the ongoing attack on democracy from the right is the most significant threat to our country since the Civil War.
When I think about the Civil War, I remember experiences during my last two years of high school in a rural Virginia town. I was the only Yankee and suffered as a result. It didn’t help that I refused to stand in assemblies as everyone sang “Dixie.”
And I’d occasionally hear this admonition said in jest (I thought): “Don’t paper the outhouse with Confederate currency, Ma. The South will rise again!”
I also had a problem in history class. I once asked the teacher why she referred to the Civil War as the War Between the States. She looked down her rather long nose with some distain and tried to explain.
“A civil war is an attempt to overthrow a government. This war was between states wishing—not to replace the national government—but to exercise their right to secede.”
Actually, she was right about the definition of “civil war.” This was not a civil war. But nor was it a “war between the states.” States weren’t fighting. A confederation of 11 states was seeking to secede.
Incidentally, there are those who say “War of Secession” is the most accurate name.
Many Southerners have always preferred to make the war an issue of state’s rights in order to shift the focus away from slavery/white supremacy as the primary cause.
Actually, the Confederate states may have had the right to secede. To quote the 10th Amendment: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”
After the war, any wiggle room in that amendment was snuffed out by the Supreme Court in Texas v. White (1869) holding that states cannot unilaterally secede.
But that doesn’t mean secession is a dead issue.
In the wake of President Obama’s re-election in 2012, nearly one million Americans from all 50 states signed petitions to secede.
The Texas petition had the most signatures—118,000. Eleven states—Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Alabama, Florida, Ohio and Texas—had petitions reaching the 25,000 signatures necessary to require an official response from the Obama Administration.
It should come as no surprise that the eight of these states were among the 11 Confederate states—147 years after the end of the war!
A new YouGov survey conducted on behalf of a democracy watchdog group finds that 66 percent of Republicans living in the South today say they’d support seceding from the United States to join a union with other Southern states.
It is also interesting that 10 of the 11 Confederate states voted “red” in 2016. The exception was Virginia. In 2020, nine of the 11 were “red.” Virginia was joined by Georgia, a formerly reliable Republican stronghold. Trump’s criminal mismanagement of the pandemic no doubt lost him Georgia, but only by a slim 12,000 votes.
Red states, of course, are scattered throughout the country, but this concentration in the south isn’t coincidental.
The reality is that state’s rights and slavery/white supremacy were inextricably bound then as they are now. The “Civil War” may have ended officially on April 9, 1865, but has it ever really ended?
That the “Civil War” or War of Secession is still so much with us is in large part because of something called the “Lost Cause of the Confederacy” or simply the “Lost Cause.”
Winston Churchill famously said that, in the case of war, it’s the victors who write the history. While generally true, the South has been allowed to construct and promote its own narrative.
The “Lost Cause” is a pseudo-historical ideology dating from the 1870s that promotes the Confederate cause as heroic and not centered on slavery/white supremacy. The notion was used to perpetuate racism during the Jim Crow era following the war.
Jim Crow laws enforcing segregation were enacted by white
Southern Democrats and designed to remove political and economic gains made by Blacks during Reconstruction. Many of these laws were enforced until the 1960s.
The narrative aided and abetted the Ku Klux Klan whose predations helped stymy efforts throughout the South to enforce the 14th Amendment granting citizenship to former slaves and guaranteeing them “equal protection of the laws.”
The KKK was also supported by The United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), founded in 1894, whose purpose is commemoration of the Confederacy, funding monuments, biasing history textbooks, promoting the “Lost Cause” and white supremacy.
There was an intense wave of “Lost Cause” activity around World War I to preserve the memories of the last of the Confederate veterans. The UDC began its active support of monument building during this period. And, not coincidentally, membership in the KKK reached its zenith—an estimated four million.
Despite UDC efforts, nearly 100 Confederate monuments were removed in 2020 following the killing of George Floyd. But more than 700 remain.
The Southern Poverty Law Center considers the UDC as part of the neo-Confederate movement—"a reactionary conservative ideology that has made inroads into the Republican Party…and overlaps with the views of white nationalists and other more radical extremist groups."
In August 2018, its website still stated: "Slaves, for the most part, were faithful and devoted. Most slaves were usually ready and willing to serve their masters.”
It’s been more than 60 years since the modern civil rights movement erupted cataclysmically along the same geographic, political and moral fault lines that have always defined this conflict—the Mason-Dixon line, state’s rights versus Federalism and equality versus white supremacy.
The Confederacy is still with us—whether in the form of flags waived by insurrectionists bent on mayhem and murder in the Nation’s Capitol—or the current legal battle over whether photos of a Confederate vanity license plate displayed on the truck of the accused killers of Ahmaud Arbery is relevant or prejudicial to their prosecution.
That many in the “rebel” states have long memories is evidenced by their continued belief that states can solve the complex social and economic issues confronting us as a nation—a raging pandemic, global warming, failing infrastructure, income inequality, social injustice, geopolitical turmoil, cyber-warfare. The list goes on….
Texas, for example, has exercised the “right” to secede from the national power grids to operate its own. But it’s so poorly constructed and managed that the state has suffered numerous outages including a protracted and devastating statewide power failure last February. Ironically, Texas is supposed to be the energy capital of the U.S. and to have the world’s 9th largest economy.
But, instead of serving its citizens, the state’s reactionary leadership has focused on making it even more difficult for “certain” people to vote, has loosed vigilantes to eliminate legal abortions and banned masks for students.
Unfortunately, the Confederate states and their other red siblings continue to hew to the failed anti-Federalist Republican notion that “the best government is that which governs least” and that protecting the personal freedoms (i.e. privileges) of the “right” sort of people is paramount.
“O, I wish I was in the land of cotton
Old times there are not forgotten….”
Happiness Is in the Eye of the Beholder
by Lorin Robinson
"For Americans, the pursuit of happiness is happiness."
--George F. Will
(September 27, 2021) A friend sent me a link to a recent article in the Washington Post by conservative columnist George Will. The long piece was primarily self-congratulatory—Will is celebrating 50 years as a columnist.
Anyone who has made a living for 50 years writing newspaper columns IS to be congratulated. But, since we are political poles apart, I confess I’ve never paid much attention to him. Yes, like most everyone else, I’m prone to “selective exposure.” I know it’s one of my least commendable qualities.
So I probably wouldn’t have read the column if it weren’t for the peculiar headline—“The Pursuit of Happiness is Happiness.” I simply had to see how he supported such a statement.
That, eventually, led me led me to his final sentence: “For Americans, the pursuit of happiness is happiness.”
Now I don’t mean to be unkind, but that’s one of the most ridiculous statements I've ever read!
It's a lovely but vacuous thought. Under scrutiny, it's far too facile and has little relevance to the plight of millions of Americans for whom the pursuit of happiness leads only to unhappiness, dissatisfaction and disappointment—because, for them, there is no "silver lining," no "rainbow's pot of gold," no "Horatio Alger" story. For them the "American Dream" is a nightmare.
As a conservative—like most of his tribe—Will fails to appreciate the fact that, for many Americans, "happiness" is putting food on the table for the family, keeping a roof over their heads, and having enough money to pay for necessary medical care.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
This promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” was made in our Declaration of Independence. Of course, initially, it was only made to white, male landowners. It’s taken two centuries for the promise finally to be rolled out—at least theoretically—to all Americans.
Then, of course, there’s the knotty philosophical question: “What is happiness?”
“Philosophers, theologians, psychologists…have long sought to define it. And since the 1990s, a whole branch of psychology—positive psychology—has been dedicated to pinning it down. More than simply positive mood, happiness is a state of well-being that encompasses living a good life, one with a sense of meaning and deep contentment,” according to a piece in Psychology Today.
Then there are the cynics who define happiness as “the absence of pain.”
In any case, Will seemed to define it on a purely personal level. He says, for him, happiness is his work.
I’m glad his work provides him with “a sense of meaning and deep contentment.” But I wish all workers in our society could say the same.
It’s the wealthiest of Americans who have the luxury to pursue happiness—that “state of well-being.” Many others, however, live lives of quiet desperation from pay check to pay check knowing that financial ruin could be right around the corner.
Income inequality refers to the extent to which income is distributed in an uneven manner among a population.
"In 2019, the top 20% of the population earned 51.9% of all U.S. income. Their average household income was $254,449. The richest of the rich, the top 5%, earned 23% of all income. Their average household income was $451,122. The bottom 20% only earned 3.1% of the nation’s income. The lower earner's average household income was $15,286."
Also, for wealthy Americans, the pursuit of every possible loophole in our hopelessly muddled tax code is happiness. Happiness is paying little or nothing in taxes.
ProPublica, the investigative journalism nonprofit, has obtained years of tax returns for the wealthiest people in the country that show how they exploit the tax laws. This vast cache of IRS information shows how billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Warren Buffett pay little in income tax on their massive wealth — sometimes, even nothing.
As billionaire Warren Buffet famously and rather off-handedly said, “My secretary pays more in income tax than I do.”
I think Will’s proposition needs some serious editing. How about: “For wealthy Americans, the pursuit of happiness is happiness.”
For many other Americans, not so much….
The Internet of Everything! Really?
by Lorin Robinson
(September 18, 2021) In contemplating what seems to be a dystopian future, I’ve thought the Warming would be the culprit. It’s difficult not to feel that way, watching the incineration of thousands of square miles in the west and Ida’s recent march of death and destruction in a wide swath from Louisiana to New York.
But I’m beginning to wonder. Will it be the Internet that does us in?
The thought came while reading a book with the hyperbolic title: This They Tell Me Is How the World Will End by long-time New York Times cybersecurity reporter Nicole Perlroth. It’s promoted as “the untold story of the cyberweapons market—the most secretive, invisible, government-backed market on earth—and a terrifying first look at a new kind of global warfare.”
Perlroth’s intense, in-depth reporting caused me to add cyberwar to my already long list of ills plaguing our beloved Internet.
It’s almost too obvious to say, but the Internet has become as ubiquitous and as necessary to modern life as the light bulb. What’s the first thing you complain about when there’s a power failure? Is it that the lights are out or that the router is dead?
Since the mid-1990s, the Internet has had a revolutionary impact on culture, commerce, and technology, including the rise of near-instant communication by email, messaging, phone and video chat, streaming, access to news/opinion sites, forums, blogs and online shopping.
Sounds great. The Internet—the Information Super Highway! The facilitator of the Global Village!
Well, it hasn’t worked out that way. What started in the ‘70s as the simple networking of a few scientists’ computers so they could share data and research has, as Hawking put it, become a “giant brain.” And a sick one at that.
Humans have the capacity to create amazing things and, in turn, to destroy—or be destroyed—by their creations. Examples are legion.
The process of nuclear fission was discovered as an exercise in pure science. It’s first use? Atomic bombs that incinerated more than 200,000 Japanese.
This led Albert Einstein, who laid the theoretical foundation for nuclear fission, to exclaim that, if he had imagined it would be used this way, “I would have become a watchmaker.”
(Arguments about the appropriateness of securing Japan’s surrender in this manner are outside the scope of this post. But I will say I believe if Col. Tibbets and the Enola Gay had used “little boy” to blow the top off sacred Mt. Fuji, the result would have been the same.)
I would like to propose four words to describe today’s Internet: weaponized, politicized, criminalized and over-commercialized. The Internet and its “anti”-social media offspring (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all the rest) have become cesspools of conspiracies, lies, disinformation, defamation, criminal activity and, as Perlroth warns, the conduit for cyberwarfare.
The list of the Internet’s ills is too long for this column. Some samples:
An estimated 47 percent of Americans experienced financial identity theft in 2020 aided and abetted primarily by the Internet and costing $712.4 billion.
Ransomware attacks on businesses, organizations, infrastructure and individuals are costing untold millions each year and take place every 39 seconds.
It’s estimated that the Chinese hack more than $300 billion worth of U.S. intellectual property annually.
It’s been well documented that “foreign actors” actively use our “anti”-social media to influence our elections.
The lunatic right wing relies on the Internet to promote its conspiracies and to foment and organize anti-democratic activities.
An estimated 28,258 Internet users are watching pornography every second. Best guess is that at least four percent of all websites are pornographic.
Study finding: “…32% of teen girls say that, when they feel bad about themselves, Instagram makes them feel worse.”
Do you suffer from Internet Use Addiction? Millions do. Many thousands seek counseling to kick the habit.
And, as Perlroth warns, the next frontier of global warfare is online.
Despite all this, for the last decade or so, the whiz kids in Silicon Valley have been promoting more, not less, Internet—The Internet of Everything (IoE).
IoE is based on the idea that future Internet connections will not be restricted to laptops, desktops and tablets. Instead, machines will become increasingly smarter by having more access to data, expanded networking opportunities and will “talk” to each other.
Wait! This sounds familiar. Wasn’t that the plot of the interminable “Terminator” movies—smart machines take over world?
Right! Let’s allow our already intrusive and seriously flawed Internet to have access to everything. What could possibly go wrong?
Haiku: Words and Images
by Lorin Robinson
(September 8, 2021) I’ve been writing haiku for many years as word play. I’ve enjoyed the challenge of saying something meaningful within the form—5/7/5 syllables. I would call my haiku occidental (or maybe accidental). Traditional Japanese haiku focuses on evoking images of the natural world. I saw no reason why the form couldn’t also be extended to philosophy, satire and other content. I suppose traditional haikuists would throw up their hands in dismay. For subject matter, as a photographer, I have often been influenced by images I’ve made.
Life's fragile fabric,
Woven from gossamer threads,
Floating on the wind.
Tradition's threads bind
The displaced generations
Whirling through life's dance.
From the Earth’s bowels
Sprang sacred Kawakarpo
To touch man and sky.
Serene, ageless scene;
Misty shroud lifting to reveal
Summer’s golden day.
Etched, trapped in stone. Mute.
Staring from ancient walls, aching
Age doesn’t always
Suck the color from life. Look
Beneath the surface.
Old and weathered door.
Wrought iron hinges, handle.
Which Side of History Are You On?
By Lorin Robinson
(August 9, 2021) Those contemplating history over the centuries have offered many illuminating observations, some well-known:
“Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” (George Santayana)
“History is written by the victors.” (Winston Churchill)
“History is a set of lies agreed upon.” (Napoléon Bonaparte)
“On human stupidity: It is one of the most powerful forces that shape history.” (Yuval Noah Harari)
There is another phrase that interests me whose provenance is less clear. It’s the claim that one can be “on the wrong side of history.”
As liberals rail against the growing authoritarian and anti-democratic tendencies of a large swath of those on the right, there might be the temptation to hurl this as an accusation. I confess to having being tempted during a recent “discussion” with someone who doesn’t share my particular political views.
But, on reflection, I wondered if there actually is a “wrong side” of history. And, for the sake of symmetry, is there a “right side?”
If one is on the “wrong side,” the presumption is that he or she subscribes to a failed or discredited political or philosophical position. On the other hand, those on the “right side”—and here I’m using “right” as a synonym for “correct” and not as a political descriptor—align themselves with a well-considered, historically successful or predominant movement.
In other words—“wrong side,” bad; “right side,” good.
In considering this apparent dichotomy, it’s difficult to escape making moral or value judgments. It's also difficult not to consider what the “weight of history” suggests quantitatively about the two philosophies/movements in question—authoritarian versus democratic.
Speaking broadly, history’s weight is heavily on the side of dictators, despots, “divine-right” monarchs and all the other strong men who have littered the past—and litter the present. Authoritarianism of various stripes has been the norm since humans began organizing into social groups. Democracies, on the other hand, have been a rare and rather recent phenomenon.
Thus, American Democracy is called “The Great Experiment.” It’s based, conceptually, on the individual who is said to be born with unalienable rights that are not granted by a government, but inherently endowed within each being—a government subservient to the individual.
For this reason, it may be more meaningful to ask—not whether one is on "right side" of history— but whether one is on the right side of humanity. It goes without saying that all humans seek and have always sought freedom, equality and justice. But the story of humankind has been more about the denial of these basic rights than about their fulfillment.
Republicans love to trumpet that they are the protectors of personal freedoms. What they fail to acknowledge, of course, is how many personal freedoms they actively campaign to curb—women’s reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, the right to vote. The list goes on.
Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize (2008) winning economist and New York Times columnist, has said Republicans seek not to protect personal freedom, they seek to protect personal privilege—the privileges these largely White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant (WASP) males use and have used as leverage to control American society.* And that control is slipping as we rapidly move demographically toward being a white minority country.
Clearly, to me at least, to be on the right side of history one must be aligned with sentiments expressed by Abraham Lincoln in his inaugural address as he contemplated the deep and potentially disastrous divisions in the country:
“The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
In the face of the existential crisis facing our democracy—the authoritarianism deeply rooted on the wrong side of history—may the better angels prevail.
*Paraphrased from an interview with Rachel Maddow, MSNBC.
Pants on Fire
by Lorin Robinson
Near the end of Donald Trump’s first year in office, I wrote an opinion column for the Madison Capital-Times about the 1,950 lies he had told the American public to that date. I don’t think anyone would have predicted that his total lie count would reach 30,573 by the end of his reign of terror.
“This astonishing jump in falsehoods is the story of Trump’s tumultuous reign. By the end of his term, Trump had accumulated 30,573 untruths during his presidency—averaging about 21 erroneous claims a day.
“What is especially striking is how the tsunami of untruths kept rising the longer he served as President and became increasingly unmoored from the truth.” Trump averaged about six claims a day in his first year, 16 claims in his second, 22 in this third—and 39 in his final year, according to the Post’s team of three fact checkers.
In this context, I think you mind find my earlier column to be of interest.
(January 11, 2018) When The Washington Post announced recently that, according to its fact checkers, President Trump made 1,950 “untrue claims” in his first 347 days in office, I was surprised how little impact the news seemed to have. When the President of the United States is found to have told the public an average of six whoppers per day, wouldn’t you think there’d be rioting in the streets?
Well, for another president—maybe. But not for one whose penchant for prevarication is so well known and, dare I say it, accepted, that stories about his falsehoods have become routine, boring.
“Ho-hum. Another of Trump’s lies. Let’s move on to something more interesting—like what’s up today with members of England’s royal family.”
However, the first thing that came to my mind was: This has got to be some kind of record. A Guinness World Record? Is there, I wondered, a category for lying? Off to the Guinness website, where I found that 47,000 world records are available to be broken, but nary a one for lying.
How can that be? There are records to be broken for almost everything. Why not lying? Then it came to me. Guinness records must be verifiable, quantifiable. How many miles of string are in that ball? How big around is the world’s biggest pizza? How tall is the tallest human male?
How can lies be counted and verified? Well, they couldn’t—until recently.
Enter FactCheck.org and all the other fact-checking organizations within media and without. It’s a whole new industry and growing rapidly. (Allow me a brief aside to say that, as far as I can see, the only evidence of Trump’s promised job creation is in the field of fact checking. It’s certainly not going to come from coal.)
Guinness offered me the opportunity to establish a new world-record category—for only $5. I was tempted. But I read further. What I really wanted was to nominate Trump for world-record lying. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works. The initial record-to-be-broken would have to be mine.
I do lie, of course. But I don’t think I can manage six a day. And my lies are pretty pedestrian. None of them rises to the level of national or world significance. Most are just the routine, everyday lies many of us tell to try to get along. And I’d like to think some of them are white. Then, too, no fact-checking organization cares enough about my lies to count and call me on them.
Still, I thought the President should get some recognition for his incessant and creative fabrications. Then it occurred to me that he has. But it’s not the kind of approval and approbation he so desperately seeks.
A major contributor to his abysmal approval ratings is his dishonesty. The fact that almost two-thirds of country believes very little of what he says indicates Trump must not know the Russian fairy tale about the smart-aleck boy who cried "wolf” so many times for effect that, when the wolf finally made an appearance, no one came to his aid. The results were not pretty.
The results of Trump’s serial dishonesty also are not pretty.
As Time Magazine recently pointed out, “During the campaign, Trump’s pitch depended a lot on salesmanship. He avoided detailed plans in favor of making grand claims about how “I alone can fix it.” As the first president without a track record in politics or the military, he essentially asked voters to take his word for it. But his reputation for dishonesty is making it harder for him to do that job.”
The President may believe he is a “very stable genius” and “like, really smart,” as he recently claimed to counter concerns about his mental health. But, let’s see a show of hands. Who else believes it?
The scary thing is that 74 million Americans raised their hands last November.