The Talking Dog

May 30, 2015, Profiles in political courage?

Hot day here in the big city. Not so hot that I didn't manage to eke out a finish (just under a 12 minute mile) in the UAE Healthy Kidney 10K, my eighth finish of the year towards nine needed to qualify for the 2016 NYC-- which would then be my 15th consecutive if I make it to the finish line-- entitling me to guaranteed entry until I drop... since I'm registered for at least three more races here, including the 2015 NYC... I'm optimistic... And on the subject of things I'm optimistic (albeit cautiously) about...

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has vowed to thwart his fellow Kentucky Senator, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in plans to permit the USA Patriot Act to die by its own terms, according to a report from Politico's Manu Raju.

Coupled with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren's ongoing assault on her own party's President (and my college classmate) Barack Obama over the damned near satanic Trans Pacific Partnership by her outspoken opposition to it (joined by such luminaries as my current favorite Presidential candidate until Warren herself gets in the race, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont), we are looking at senators who, perhaps in the spirit of Mr. Smith goes to Washington, willing to take a stand. Sure, Paul and Sanders are notionally running for President-- but I will eat the hat I don't wear if either of them is their respective party's national nominee come November 2016... they are nonetheless standing for first principles.

In Paul's case, the principle is that the national security state should be reined in, even if only rhetorically ("legal authority" has never been an issue in a country where the security establishment enjoys elite immunity in any case). In Warren's/Sanders', that a deal designed to bayonet the bodies of American workers amidst the debris field known as our economy so that a few multi-nationals who lavish immense sums upon political "leaders" like the President, House Speaker and Majority Leader get to pass a "trade deal" that supercedes worker safety, wages, environmental rules and anything else designed to protect human beings in the interest of profit maximization for the connected (and a deal so obviously bad that it has to be kept ultimate-top-secret-even-from-Congress, lest the public learn anything about it), is one that has to be stopped.

In both cases, they are standing up to the President, who, insofar as he has seamlessly continued whatever it was Bush/Cheney were up to, can not be distinguished from them in almost every meaningful area, and in a few areas, has out-done Bush/Cheney in awfulness,

But at least there's some opposition-- somewhere. Even if only for a brief shining moment.

Update: 21:45 EDT on 31 May, 2015: The Senate adjourned without either extending the USA Patriot Act or passing the USA Freedom Act... in other words, advantage Sen. Rand Paul, friend to freedom and enemy to, well, the bipartisan Establishment (who just want you to know that paranoia is patriotic.)

May 25, 2015, Set your watches back... to the future?

The old joke was "Welcome to Ireland; please set your watches back 200 years." Times they would appear to be changing as Ireland appears to be at the forefront of one of the big human rights developments in the world; the Grey Lady treats us to this discussion of the future of the Catholic Church in Ireland, in light of the impressive (62% to 38%) referendum win for a constitutional amendment permitting same sex marriage in Ireland.

While a huge (and well-deserved) rebuke for one of the most abusive and corrupt religious institutions in the Western world the Church, the Grey Lady's piece looks, a bit, at the never-ending child abuse scandals that the Church covered up for a long time, I see the Times article failed to mention "Magdalene Laundries," which persisted for "fallen women" until recently. It does, however, mention the virtual theocratic hold the Church had from rendering homosexual relations a crime to airtight bans on divorce and abortion. But... times, they are a changing.

What I'm trying to figure out, of course, is why a place like Ireland-- albeit a small country-- is first in the world with something like this. Similar referenda have failed in most American states in which they were posed (the most prominent example being California in 2008, where the vote was largely voted down by millions of people who voted for Barack Obama, himself a staunch opponent of gay marriage at the time), only to have the United States Supreme Court deliberately frustrate the popular will on made-up technical grounds, specifically that the political elites (in the form of California governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown-- note the bipartisan nature of elite thought here), didn't want to defend the referendum result in federal court. And as far as I know, my own State of New York is the largest jurisdiction where gay marriage actually passed the way we are told laws come into being, by a bill passed by both houses of the legislature and then signed by the governor; in most cases gay marriage became law by judicial decision, though the scorecard of 37 states with same-sex marriage shows that 26 were by court decision, eight by legislation (though some of these were as a result of court decision) and three by popular vote.

In some sense, this is what makes Ireland's referendum all the more startling: this wasn't one of the perceived uber-liberal places, like Scandinavia or the Netherlands, but somewhere supposedly conservative... and yet, the measure passed by a wide margin.

And that's kind of where I'm going here. I've been blogging now for 13 1/2 years. When I started (days after 9-11), gay marriage was legal nowhere in this country; Hawaii's Supreme Court had permitted it for a short time in the 1990's, but the decision was ultimately thwarted by legislation. Then, out of nowhere, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts found that the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that banned same-sex marriage violated that state's constitution, just in time to create wedge issue to be used against already flawed presidential candidate Senator John Kerry.

But somewhere along the line, elites changed their view on this. Who knows how much of this had to be with former George W. Bush campaign chief (in 2004 no less!) and Republican National Committee Chairman, the now out-as-gay Ken Mehlman, who seems to have spearheaded Republican support of gay marriage? The Grey Lady herself reported on the heavy hitters in finance who were behind the ultimate passage of gay marriage in New York, including my college classmate (the one who isn't Barack) Dan Loeb, vulture capitalist Paul Singer (whose son is gay) and Cliff Asness.

Thing is, boys and girls, my point is that while same-sex marriage (which has only recently crossed 50% in popularity, and is now around 54% in this country) has its own merits as a matter of, say, "equal protection jurisprudence" (that is to say, it is well-nigh indefensible to assert that a couple consisting of two people of opposite genders can receive a large package of governmentally dictated rights, privileges and benefits from their status as "married" while another couple of two people of the same gender cannot), the grudging and quite recent "popularity" is not what's driving this issue. What's driving this issue is that elites-- specifically, moneyed White men, usually because someone in their lives happens to be gay-- want it to go the way it is. I have noted that this country is no longer even remotely a democracy, but an oligarchy (according to a Princeton study), it makes sense that public policy as such will reflect what elites want-- not what non-elites want (or don't want).

So, it should come as no surprise at all that elites in Ireland got behind the gay marriage referendum, as that's who supports it here.

I find myself in an interesting position: I agree with the substance of the decision-- defenders of "traditional" marriage don't seem to understand that "tradition" is subjective-- other "traditions" include child marriage, arranged marriage, bride price and polygamy-- and so, the "tradition of one man and one woman" (note the order!) doesn't win the day. And issues of institutions devoted to child-rearing, cries of "don't go there" might be in order in a country where the majority of women under thirty seem to have at least one child out of wedlock. So... the issue itself has, in my view, only one reasonable outcome; there are age differences to be sure in its popularity, but little besides nostalgia for the Ozzie and Harriet era or outright bigotry supports the other side of this issue. Sorry, that's how I see it. But I have a rather pressing discomfort level...

Gay marriage, which now has the support of the powerful (and hence, is the new status quo, and will presumably become the law of the land in a month or so when the U.S. Supreme Court endorses it by a presumed 5-4 vote), costs the powerful nothing. Indeed, they benefit from it, by being able to show their support for "civil rights." But, of course, it's the civil rights of affluent (usually White) people-- "those people" aren't getting married as much. And so, isn't that interesting? An institution that is becoming the province of the elite as it is-- is now opened up to a group that the elites want?

Notice that things that might cost the elites, such as living wages for the working class, single-payer health insurance, or banks paying interest on savings, or public schools that aren't simply post-industrial baby-sitting services, meaningful food and drug safety testing, and I could go on for days... aren't happening, by referendum or otherwise.

We can wave a cautionary rainbow flag on this one and celebrate the people of Ireland and their apparent open mindedness; but we have to think about a future where the only things we will be getting are things that the elites want us to have...

May 17, 2015, The Meaning of Life

The Grey Lady treats us to this simultaneous hagiography/hit-piece/elegy called "Poor Little Rich Women", discussing an alleged sociologist's case-study of around 100 pampered glam-SAHM's (glamorous stay at home moms) of the Upper East Side, which, as this Gothamist observation notes, ,correctly, , is the Grey Lady's core demographic, to wit, the aging rich White folk of the Upper East Side of Manhattan-- specifically, the parts between 63rd and 94th between Lex and 5th... roughly a square mile or so, at most, which houses an insanely high portion of the Masters of the Universe.

The big takeaway from the piece seems to be the "Wife Bonuses"-- that is, apparently, some kind of cash incentives/rewards for "good service" or "hitting numbers" or whatever (be they as ordained by pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreements, or perhaps simply in the discretion, whim, or pattern and practice of the various male Masters of the Universe who dispense said bonuses to their, ahem, beloved). But yes -- annual, cash payments from husband to wife are an integral part of some number of these relationships (the only thing we can say for sure is that the number is at least two, as the author-- with the uber-cool name of Wednesday Martin-- noted that the bonuses were "plural.")

"The rich are different from you and I," famously said Fitzgerald, to have Hemingway archly add, "Yes, they have more money." The fact is, this "lifestyles of the rich and famous" paradigm: fabulously beautiful and fit moms toting around the fabulously bright and beautiful tots to the first-rate schools and social engagements and keeping the Master's houses (always houses plural) in order... is not only the American Dream, it is, in fact, the epitome of the American imagination. These are the lives we desire most of all (and certainly what we are constantly told we desire from every television and computer screen, billboard and passing transit ad imaginable)... Indeed, so many of us feel we are but a lottery ticket away from them! Yes-- the most intimate of relationships-- hearth and home-- are just another basis for monetized transactions-- another monetary bonus to be doled out for services well-rendered, whether the "the Mrs.," or to a brilliantly performing personal assistant or division chief... cash is life's sweetest reward-- whether on the giving or the receiving end.

The funny thing is, Ms. Martin the author's upcoming book has the title "Primates of Park Avenue." She has stumbled into the relevant observation, which, perhaps, she will make in her book (hint: it's actually not about mocking the Stepford Wives lifestyle of her subjects... though I do wish someone else would have made that observation). Actually, I was going for the observation that human beings-- even the rarefied ones of the Upper East Side-- are actually primates at all, to wit, products of biological evolution. Sure, social Darwinism has put them (and especially their masters powerful husbands on top of the social heap... but all they really are is the product of the logical omega point of American life... to wit, nothing is merely about "love" (let alone "honor" or "social obligation" or even "biological imperative" or "just because.") Every transaction must be monetized. Not merely the employment of (presumably a vast army) of household servants, but the family members themselves... "wife bonuses" are discussed, but doubtless, children have various financial incentives in their allowance structures for good grades, athletic performances, perhaps even for landing the right life-partner (corporate mergers and acquisitions are handsomely rewarded, and since all-is-money, it is inconceivable that Junior or Juniorette wouldn't be either for making a smart catch). This is, on the one hand, simply a throw-back to Victorian costume drama type novels of the Jane Austen variety-- the English Upper Class revisited.

But it's a little bit more than that. Oh yes. Back to the primate thing. You see, back in the Victorian era, social relations of all kind were governed by all sorts of things. Some of which, were social constructs, like money for things like dowery/bride price, to be sure. But some of which were broader senses of family honor, some sense of class noblesse oblige, and some sense of only-recently broken off dynastic and feudal ties. Most of these things were actually not easily convertible into pounds and shillings. But I'm still going far afield.

This is really a "communism/capitalism" thing. Most families the world over-- including, I bet, yours and mine-- are organized communistically-- that is, the entire resources of the family are, for the most part, available to every member of the family, and in any event, are not doled out in accordance with some measure of "economic value." Apparently, that is not how we should be living, of course, as Ms. Martin's article tells us: real men bring capitalism into the bosom of the family, and money and family resources are dispensed on the basis of economic value, as it should be. This, in an American society where so many functions-- attending to children (including educating them), preparing food (and at one time growing it), cleaning the house, personal grooming-- have now all been "monetized," reduced to monetary payments, often to unrelated people or institutions. Obviously the truly advanced above us have set about making sure that we have a paradigm before us of monetizing
everything... the last great frontier of still-not-monetized American existence is a Man's (always a man's) "relationship" to his wife and children... now, it seems, a few truly enlightened individuals have figured out a way to monetize even that. Kudos are clearly in order.

The irony is that, in order to be a Master of the Universe in finance (what most of the UES Masters described by Ms. Martin presumably are), one probably works for institutions that were the beneficiaries of psychotically large amounts of government largesse after the last financial crisis (the one caused by the very same Masters of the Universe in Finance). So... we'll overlook that, because they earned their places fair and square by being the right place in order to bribe convince the government to hand them (immense amounts of) the taxpayers' money, which they then benefit humanity by allocating to the efficient employment of capital themselves.

Got all that? If it seems a tad grim to you... perhaps we should question your bona fides as an American.

May 14, 2015, Consistency

What to say about the President's (rather quiet) approval of a permit for the Shell Oil Company to start drilling for oil in the Arctic? The business of America is business, particularly multi-national global corporations not based in the United States (among the major beneficiaries of the proposed uber-top-secret "free trade agreements" he is trying to thrust on us).

So, while he screws around on approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline, the delay of which does not really or necessarily keep the tar-sands "oil" in the ground... his government approves a practice that is pretty much a consensus environmental disaster. The only big surprise to me is that Shell got the permits, rather than BP.

There are a number of other permits required before the environmental holocaust drilling for oil can begin... but this was pretty big.

The moral of the story: at least notional Republicans might face actual opposition to their devastation; notional Democrats still get a pass. And we get crap like this.

May 13, 2015, All in all, maybe I'd rather not be in Philadelphia

The City of Brotherly Love is the site of a disastrous Amtrak train crash, in which at least six people have been confirmed dead with dozens injured.

It's been a bad period for trains in our area , what with an earlier incident in Valhalla, NY where a commuter Metro-North struck an SUV, killing several people, and 2013's disastrous derailment in the Bronx killing four.

I'll make the obvious point: American infrastructure is not being maintained-- and that's physical infrastructure like track and rolling stock, and human beings, who, if you look carefully, are probably working longer hours than ever for the same or lesser pay than they received a long time ago. With the occasional deadly consequence. And for what? So a few sociopaths in the financial sector can continue to drive up real estate prices and pay outrageous prices for Picassos?

Given our blase national reaction to everything that the powerful don't want us to react to, I expect... a big yawn after this.

But it's falling apart, boys and girls. Rome was neither built nor brought apart in a day. We won't be either. But it's under way. Apparently, well under way.

May 11, 2015, Glorious Misleader

Who are you going to believe-- Seymour Hersh-- a journalist who has broken amazing stories time after time, from the My Lai Massacre to Mafia-style hit his present piece documenting the blatant falsehoods surrounding the Mafia-style hit murder daring raid of the compound in Pakistan where Osama bin Laden was hiding out and then murdered taken out by Navy Seal Team Six, and has proven a reliable source for decades... or my lying sack of sh*t college classmate the President of the United States, who might, you know, exaggerate from time to time.

Bottom line: I obviously believe Hersh. The only credible part of the OBL story is that he was actually killed (or was he?) by Navy Seals... that's about it. The rest-- hogwash. OBL was a prisoner of the Pakistani military and intelligence apparatuses, for God's sake. Was it inconceivable to believe that the world's most wanted terrorist would be hiding out on Pakistan's equivalent of the campus of West Point without those apparatuses knowing about it? Yes... yes it was. OBL was their prisoner. Bottom line is that someone with knowledge handed over OBL's whereabouts for the reward money., No "following the courier" bullsh*t. Then the CIA stalked him for a good long time to ascertain it was him-- but then, when the raid was ordered, it was with the acquiescence of two key Pakistani generals... not by slipping through Pakistani defenses. The generals opened the door; helicopters could easily have been shot down otherwise-- and would have been.

But since everything is about Barack, and in 2011, he was still facing reelection the following year, so he needed to make it about him, and then made it... all about him, thereby burning his Pakistani General cooperators (and the Navy Seals, btw, who he silenced). Yes... he made the heroes into chumps. And let's not forget the campaign line, "GM is alive and OBL is dead." And Zero Dark Thirty. All. Bull. Sh*t.

But the American people want the bullsh*t. Dear Lord. As so many other bloggers say... read the whole thing.

This has been, "Glorious Misleader."

May 10, 2015, I'm not quite dead

Given my posting frequencies of late, one would never know if I were live or if I were Memorex some kind of net-bot, or if i were just an aging malcontent watching his nation decline (environmentally, financially, morally, in health terms, you name it...) so quickly (under the "management" of his own college classmate the President) that not even the self-indulgence of blogging is worth the trouble very often.

Oh well. It's a lovely proto-summer day here in the Big City; I managed to eke out race 7 of 9 toward qualification toward NYC Marathon #15 which will take place in 2016 (thanks to the missed year caused by Hurricane Sandy, my streak-- now at 13 consecutive-- no longer conforms to the calendar year)... to wit, the Japan Day 4-miler.

And so, a Happy Mothers Day to all so celebrating (starting with Mrs. TD, her mom, my mom, TD sister, TD sister-in-law, etc. and all.) And a happy birthday to TD Dad (actually yesterday, a birthday he shares with Billy Joel among others). Even now-- with an NYC high in the low 80's-- I'm still hesitant to fully install my roof vegetable garden yet... last year went into June before I did-- this year's winter was relentless, and I remain convinced it still has something to say. Even, of course, if I don't seem to have much to say myself.

For no reason, here's the Grey Lady's Frank Bruni with "How Hillary is Winning." The answer (Bruni doesn't want to give) is "by being the only candidate." Hey Frank: no one else is running as a Democrat (the only announced candidate for the Dem nomination, Bernie Sanders, is an independent, not a Democrat).

Meanwhile, in non-candidate news, progressive love-child Elizabeth Warren is the subject of a Barack-Obama-rant on how "she is dead wrong" about the biggest corporate give-aways and sell-outs of American sovereignty, jobs, and health, safety and the environment in human history ultra-secret "free trade deal" known as the "Trans-Pacific Partnership," a deal so bad that it is being kept at the highest level of top-secret even though it will be "law of the land" if it passes Congress... because the public would be vehemently opposed to it if they knew what it was.

What it is... is a giveaway of the ability of American federal, state and local governments to protect worker safety, worker rights, environmental safety, public health, indeed, anything that would threaten the profit of the selected corporate behemoths who benefit from TPP, whether in the United States or in its "trading partners." Lookit boys and girls: when it comes to a question of a "balance" between profits of the people who gave enough money to put him in office and the health, safety and welfare of the American people, Barack has shown that, 100% of the time, he will go with the former, and with TPP, he does it again, this time, evidently, swinging at Elizabeth Warren... then again...

Did I say that out loud?