Friday, April 23, 2021

To Old Friends

Yesterday, I received the jarring news that my old friend -- and friend of this blog -- Lance Mannion had passed away in his home from natural causes. 

His was a gentle soul, a man named David who lived and loved his family and did his level best to provide for them (along with his wife, but more on that in a bit) while sharing the stories of his days and his observations.

He was first and foremost a father and husband. Then a writer, then a teacher, then a critiquer. 

I can't call him a critic because he rarely wrote about things that didn't interest him, which means an inordinate amount of his blogging, even to this day of the devolution of the blogosphere, was about his daily existence. 

He continued to blog while maintaining a social media presence, which is where my friendship with him both continued and lagged. I had left the blogosphere but remained on Facebook. 

His posts, both at his site and on Facebook, were wonderfully trivial and homey. In the face of the challenges life had thrown at him, that's saying a lot. 

See, it's easy to sit and complain, expounding on how life gave you lemons but forgot to give you a squeezer for lemonade, but that was not Lance's style. He'd mention something -- his wife's brain trauma, his son's learning disorder -- and it was done. He didn't have to tell us the weight of the world was on his shoulders. He showed us. 

He was antithetical to the Kardashian Society we've surrounded and enveloped ourselves with. He could have been an influencer but chose not to and in so doing, became a greater influencer than the world deserved. 

When I was working full time, and blogging was a distraction, I had a handful of sites I'd visit regularly, even daily: Wonkette, Lawyers Guns & Money, World-O-Crap.

And Lance Mannion. 

That's the company I held him in: funny, informative, off-beat, and all three at the same time. 

And now he's gone. No more "early morning coffee on the porch watching the mist dissolve". No more notes about Pops Mannion, his beloved father who died a few years back, or Oliver (his son) to The Blonde, the irrepressible and alluring Mrs M. 

He could have complained about the plumbing disaster, or helping his family through yet another health crisis, and lobbied for more. Instead, he gave with little thought of what he'd get in return. 

So many of the people we admire and respect have that kind of presence in our lives. They give. And give. And give. 

And in the void that follows in their wake, we wonder how those who received will survive. 

I am especially concerned for his family. Mrs M cannot hold a job and so it's on the two sons to take care of things. The friends of Lance have set up a GoFundMe, a tribute to just how unfair life can be since a man with as much talent and majesty as Lance shouldn't have to worry about providing for his family after he's gone. 

But Lance would explain that societal shortcoming better than I ever could. 

Godspeed, David. You gave me -- us -- so much of yourself. I felt it only appropriate to dust off Blogger and write a post in your memory. 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Thoughts on Innocence

If 2016 was anything, it was a watershed year that tested the concept of innocence.

From the tragic and shocking deaths of David Bowie and Prince, to the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series for the first time in over a century, through the election of Donald Trump and right into the deaths of Carrie Fisher (and now her mother, Debbie Reynolds), America was forced to grow up a little.

I'll focus on the last bit in a moment. I want to explain why I think that.

America has had a sense of innocence and the concomitant sense of superiority ever since the Revolution that created us. We are one of two nations that span an entire continent from sea to sea (Australia, and sorry Canada, but Alaska cockblocks you on this) and that insulation has protected the citizenry of America from the ravages of war, with one or two exceptions (the Revolution -- including the War of 1812 -- of course, and the Civil War).

We've been able to grow and prosper without a thought to who might come along and take it. This singular insularity has allowed us to create a culture that has to look inwardly in order to find enemies. If there is a single reason why xenophobia has such a long and strange history in this nation built on the backs of the immigrants, it's that fact: no one worries about Canada or Mexico invading us.

Unlike, say, France, which has always had to worry about the Germans, or the English or the Spanish.

Effectively, any damage that America has suffered has generally come at the hands of her own people. This allows for a large measure of naivety, I think. It's easy to call Oklahoma City an act of extremism, even if that extremism is far more mainstream than we'd want to believe, because it goes against the grain of what we laughingly refer to as our values.

When an American drives a truck into a building full of children or even pulls out a semi-automatic weapon and mows them down, he's a nutcase -- despite the fact that he has mainstream media outlets spewing anti-liberal, anti-Christian venom into his ear regularly.

When a Saudi flies an airplane into a building full of adults, he's a fiendish terrorist.

Yet the acts achieve the same result: terror, anger, a sense of weakness.

This year, tho, I think the cracks in our facade of innocence have started to expand. Large chunks of that facade have fallen down. We're starting to see the rotting timbers of our structure and we don't like it much.

The deaths early on in 2016 of Bowie and Prince revealed to us that no one is exempt from the Grim Reaper.

By all accounts, apart from the occasional drug use long ago, David Bowie was a fairly healthy man, with a well of creativity deeper than the dark pools of Iman's eyes. He had much to live for yet (he just released an album the weekend before his death, in fact).

That he could be taken from us in such an insidious way at an age some might consider young tore a veil away from the eyes of many. The death of Prince reinforced that notion, that having it all meant nothing in the end, since it could all be taken in a moment.

And then there was that hideous campaign. The less said of the result, the better, I think, but the universal observation that rings truest is that Trump's "victory" was an invasion of our homeland, a cold war fought in digitalia.

The campaign, however, allowed freaks to fly their flags nationwide.

Which they relished.

While they still only make up 26% of the population, they feel like they are a far larger percentage. The innocence that any one of us is more than three meals away from rioting is on the table again, even if it was truly never off, even if the laws that protected us from the terror of the minority seemed to work well.

People voted for Trump out of anger, to be sure, and anger subsides. If The Donald, the Ferret-headed Fuckface, doesn't acquiesce to their demands, that anger will dissipate a little. If he does acquiesce, it will likely intensify as they find more and more to gripe about.

The American innocence that we are somehow sunny optimists is gone, and will be drowned in the cesspool over the next four years. While Democrats have won six of the last seven Presidential elections, we've only had two presidents to show for it.

If we had three, six terms out of seven, then the optimism that is America would be in force.

The final nail in the innocence coffin, in my mind, is the death of Princess Leia.

I'm sorry, Carrie: you've had a storied and wonderful career, full of tales ad life, but at the end of the day, every obituary featured your portrayal of Princess Leia. That's why I want to talk about it in this framework.

Leia came about at a time when America was starting to lose its grip on its innocence: 1977. Just after Watergate, just ahead of the Iran hostage crisis and the OPEC recession. We elected an honest peanut farmer from Georgia, blissfully ignorant that events would swamp his Presidency and while he was a nuanced and thoughtful man, he skated his administration on the knife's edge in terms of action and policy, an edge that did not leave him much room to maneuver.

Leia and her cohorts reminded us that good men must stand up to tyranny but we viewed that tyranny as an external foe. In our innocence, we believed the Empire to be the Soviet Union when in point of fact, Lucas was pointing out that empires begin at home.

Her death, and the selection of Trump by the Russians to be President, are two sides of the same coin.  Empires grow before our very eyes, but only because nations (or planets, as the case may be) let them be cultivated.

I have little doubt the next four years will prove our innocence was long misplaced, that rather than believing that a leader could fix us, we needed to pick up the axes and shovels and do the fixing ourselves, by electing people who agreed that America needed fixing,  and was not some shining city on a hill.

Instead, we have what we have.

And I have a bad feeling about this.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A New Direction Home

I've been doing a lot of navel gazing these past weeks.

Less about Hillary's defeat...because she won, even if the electoral vote is rigged in some fashion, and besides, this would still be applicable if she had swept into the Presidency as a re-election issue...than about how to expand the Democratic vote.

See, if you count heads, the Democrats have won the Presidential election in six of the last seven cycles. Two Bill Clinton, one Gore, two Obama, one Hillary.

The one cycle Republicans won was by a hair's breadth, over arguably the least competent candidate since Mike Dukakis.

And yet, we can't seem to expand those victories to places where our message of equal opportunity for all should resonate like a church bell on a quiet June morning.

This isn't about pursuing the angry white male. Fuck no, and fuck them (see, I'm one myself, so I know whereof I speak). This is about shattering the solid red wall in the middle of the country.
“The Democratic Party ceded rural America to the Republicans quite some time ago,” said Vickie Rock, a member of the Nevada State Democratic Central Committee from rural Humboldt County. “They invested nothing, they built no bench. They don’t even send out signs anymore, which is a staple of rural politics. 
“All Trump had to do was peel off a small percentage of urban votes, and he was going to win,” Rock said. “Because he already had, in his back pocket, rural America.”
Some Democratic officials in rural areas are plotting runs for leadership in state parties, while other gurus say they will take it upon themselves to train a new generation of rural-friendly operatives. These kinds of efforts won’t solve the problem alone, the strategists readily acknowledge, but would at least help the party begin to understand how much ground it must make up.
The kicker is, we have the tools lying around to do just what our rural brethren are asking for.

Before I get too deep in the weeds, let's review what we're talking about so we speak a common language.

The largest beneficiary of Federal government spending (adjusting for total population of the state) is typically a sparsely populated rural agricultural community. Farm subsidies, food programs, defense contractors (those missile silos in Kansas need to be peopled), interstate highways -- admittedly, not a Democratic program, but...--  are all funded in large part by there Federal government. Our tax money.

Yet, every election cycle, we Democrats and pundits scratch our heads trying to figure out why those people won't vote for the people who would rather spend that money on them then take it away in tax cuts for the wealthy.

Now I want to talk about the other commonality we see every election cycle: the fact that Democrats and liberals in those areas feel like they are isolated, alone, and at the mercy of their more vocal and more belligerent political opposition.

If you need to think about this more thoroughly, imagine being at a picnic or a barbecue. Let's say you're a University of Michigan fan, but there are about an equal number of Ohio State fans there. But those guys had a head start on the beer, and are extolling the virtues of OSU loudly.

You might tease them with a "Go Blue" cheer (there's a reason I picked those two schools), but they've already bonded and they drown you out quickly.

The other UM fans see that and decide it's not worth creating a ruckus. They'll just cheer when they get home.


What if at that picnic, you were handed a list of people who also liked UM? And you sought them out? Made friends? Bonded?

Now, suddenly, you aren't getting drowned out. You have back up.

(I'll get back to this analogy in a moment)

This is where the Democrats have fallen woefully short: connecting the blue dots in the red sea.

We've been communicating top down, and we've paid a price. We've told people in Utah and Michigan and North Carolina what our positions are on issues, and on larger issues, that's fine. But tell me: what's a good agricultural policy for the Democrats to pursue?

Here's Hillary's.

One of the most important issues in the heartland, and all she could muster was two paragraphs, one that would increase regulation.

I'm a city boy, altho I'm the spawn of farmers and love living part time in farm country, and I can think of about a dozen bigger issues for rural Americans than where salmon spawn or what kind of fertilizer I use or how much my workers are paid.

You want rural votes? This isn't brain surgery. You know all those farm subsidies we hand out like candy? How about targeting them better? Give the lion's share to folks whose name is actually on the mailbox, the ones who actually raise food for a living, and not for a board of directors to pay out in dividends.

Create infrastructure to help those farmers get their food to market faster, cheaper and yes, more environmentally-safe.

Talk about water rights. Talk about how you aren't banning people from capturing rain water but you are keeping their neighbors from damming up streams they rely on.

Back to the hypothetical picnic above: You, a Michigan fan, scan the list, look up and see a bunch of other people looking around, lists in hand. So you gravitate over to them, and you all start to talk about your love of UMichigan and you find out that one of them is the county ag commissioner, and another is the local Methodist minister, and a third is the Girl Scout troop leader.

In other words, authority figures. People that other people will respect when they speak up.

But instead of talking about the quarterback or the coach, now they're starting to talk about how they got in touch with the state party chairman and he's arranging for the county officials to come up and speak to the legislature about including some provisions about, say, that creek that overflows every few years, or that road that all the trucks use that needs to be filled in every spring.

And they make a point of saying these are Democrats working for the people in the county, to make their lives a little easier.

Have you ever attended a local party meeting? It's ludicrous how few people show up, apart from the officials who hold an office there. It's insular, and everyone is elbowing, jockeying for position to be the next person to move up the food chain in the county/state/national party.

Instead of addressing needs, they seek power through alliances and vote trading. And if you try and speak your mind on a subject, you get quickly reminded of the time limits and oh, there's a point of order!

This means that there are just not enough people showing up at these meetings to make the complacency go away, and here, the party is to blame as well. There are simply too many chiefs at every level and not enough soldiers.

The Democratic party needs to take a cue from the old corporate mantra of flattening the hierarchy and distributing responsibility. But then they need to go all in here and distribute the authority too.

In this case, authority = money. Stop investing in these grand national and state-wide schemes like the Fifty State plan of Howard Dean, or the federalism of Debbie Wasserman-Schulz (I had to make something up because, frankly, I couldn't remember that she had a strategy beyond winning the Presidency again). We're winning those frikkin' elections! We can afford -- no, we can't afford not to -- pay attention way down the ballot.

That's where the Electoral College is won or lost now. The two parties have so finely divided the nation through gerrymandering and abject pandering that we're down to a county by county fight for winning vote combinations. That we can win a seat by two and a half million votes yet lose the election is an embarrassment.

So here's a comprehensive plan, a road map for a new direction home, for the Democratic party.

1) Identify the blue dots in the red seas and encourage those blue dots to meet up for coffee and birthdays, and have star-power visit them in off-years. Barack & Michelle Obama, Hillary and Bill. Create a buzz about the Democratic party where it's not seen as "I need your vote" but "I want to listen to you".

Hillary did this to great effect in 2000 across New York State and she performed admirably even in rural counties against a candidate who was basically a lightweight version of Trump.

2) Find and develop those local officials who can persuade people, either through their charisma or their office, to think differently about Democrats. Imagine some small town in Idaho has Barack Obama show up to the church one Sunday. You think those people won't turn out to listen? And if the President talks about the pastor or the sheriff or the principal and endorses his commitment to the people of the county or town, you think that might carry just a little weight with that town? What if those people talk about how, you know, the farm subsidies were an invention of the Democrats who didn't want people to lose their homes when drought happened or when food prices plummeted?

3) Fund them for further pursuit of politics. So there's Barack Obama talking about this local resident and what a great job he did finding money to redirect that damned creek that kept overflowing.  Now that man or woman runs for town council or school board, and then state legislature. And then Congress. And then run on the local issues he or she has been talking about for years. Suddenly, we change a red bulb to blue on the board.

California, New York, those states will take care of themselves. Texas will likely turn blue by 2024, Virginia is nearly a certainty as well now, but we can take Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin regularly if we stop forcing the national party down people's throats are start listening to the people on the ground there. And we might scrape a few more states into play by just talking to the people who get their hands dirty and reassure them that we're listening.

The benches of both parties are mighty weak, but the Democrats have a slightly stronger one, one that can continue our grand tradition of winning the Presidency. We have the Castro twins. We have Corey Booker. We have Tulsi Gabbard. We have a nucleus for the immediate future but beyond that, we are starting to run thin. A clinton victory would have bought us time but not that much in the grand scheme of things.

We as a party can offer an alternative to politics as it has been now, right now, if we're willing to climb up onto the high wire and walk across. It's going to take money, but we have that behind us now, what with the massive train wreck that we will see in the next four years and even the wealthy realizing that things are in dire straits.

While Trump dismantles all we hold dear, we need to be out there, reminding people who put those programs they love in place and who will do their damnedest to fix them up again.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

This Is Not Slut-Shaming

This photo, from a modeling shoot that then-Melania Knauss did for a French magazine in 1996, made this rounds this summer as The Donald's campaign heated up.

There's nothing wrong with the photo: it's shows a moderately attractive -- I have extremely high standards -- if awkward looking woman, posing nude, protecting her femininity from manual assault by, say, some creepy short fingered vulgarian with her left hand.

She posed for it as a struggling young model in New York City, a city filled with some of the most beautiful women on the planet. She's done many many more, including one that sees her rolling around on a faux-Oval Office rug (you'll start seeing that more often, now).

As The Donald edged closer to the nomination, and ultimately the Presidency, this photo was circulated more and more.

Many people believe this is slut-shaming at a new level, and I can understand that point of view. No one posted nude photos of Hillary, or Sarah Palin (altho some were spoofed up, to be sure), and while much humor was made at the expense of the moral fiber of Bristol Palin (two children out of wedlock) and that could conceivably be slut-shaming, no woman had ever directly been exploited in quite this way in a Presidential campaign.

"Exploited". That's quite an explosive word. Paula Jones was exploited. She was dragged out into the limelight to confront Bill Clinton because she was promised fame and fortune. She got infamy and a small check. The other Clinton accusers, they were exploited.

Monica Lewinsky, exploited. She still is, every time someone cracks a joke about a blue dress or a Bill Clinton cigar.


I'm not sure.

It's certainly titillating, no pun intended. It's certainly attention-grabbing. Slut-shaming, though?

I'm going to disagree. I believe the reason this photo has such energy about it, is such a good summary of the entire Trump family, is not about Melania. Rather, it's about The Donald.

More specifically, it's about The Donald and his "say anything, do anything" campaign of desperation to get elected. He made a choice early on to campaign as a "come to Jesus" Christian. He stumbled badly, so badly that it nearly cost him his nomination ("Two Corinthians walk into a bar...").

This photo is about the fundamentalist Christians who abandoned Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee, and flocked to The Donald's message of hate and spite, abandoning even their stern and conservative Lord  God for this Antichrist.

If this photo is about Melania in anyway, in fact, it's about her personal shames. After all, take a good look at that photo (or any photo of her, if this one offends you). This is a woman who by all accounts has a nice temperament, is a devoted mother to their son, Barron, and who has a decent figure and a well-sculpted face.

She even plagiarized her looks...
This is about a woman who has all the attributes one might want in a partner...and still the Rapist-Elect felt the need to cheat on her.

We know that rape and assault are not crimes of sex, they are crimes of power, of control. A man feels the need to physically dominate a woman (in the case of man-on-woman rape) and use her for his own pleasure. 

Yet, this photo of Melania speaks to me as photographer of her power, her autonomy, her control over her own body. 

I don't know that she's like that in real life, but for the good of the women of this nation, I truly hope she can stand up to The Donald in the manner this photo presents. 

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

It's Mourning in America

When George W Bush won in 200 and again in 2004, I was angry. I was worried he'd take us down the wrong road (he did) and would cause irreparable harm to the United States (pretty close).

But I was never scared of him as an existential threat.

A few thoughts about Trump before I get into the meat of this post: I don't see him surviving the first term in office. Not that he'll be assassinated, and goodness knows I don't wish that on him. I think the combination of stress, his weight and foul temper will do him in.

Remember, this is a man who is used to taking even perceived slights and turning them into street fights. He's not going to be able to do that anymore (certainly to the extent he did as a civilian). He won't be able to tweet at 3AM, he won't be able to get his attaboys from his followers, he'll effectively be locked away in the White House.

He'll be on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. He'll wake up to a briefing, go to bed with a crisis, and pretty much never sleep.

Then you look at the toll the office takes on a younger, healthier man, like President Obama or even a completely disinterested generalist like Dumbya, and you realize this geezer doesn't have enough gas in the tank to do this. Reagan could do it, but the Reagan wasn't dealing with cell phones and the internet, and 24 hour a day decision making.

Trump can't hide from the world, even if he wants to.

What scares me most about a Trump presidency is his utter lack of interest in anything. He has demonstrated time and time again that he can't get past page one in a briefing book, and that executive summaries had better be three paragraphs or less.

And he'll be expected to make decisions based on that summary. Decisions that will affect the entire planet (just look at the markets today, the day after Armageddon), decisions that will need to be finessed and nuanced.

He'll rely on his advisors but if you look closely at those advisors, you can't find a more motley crew than those: bootlickers, rageaholics, toadies who were the only public faces willing to step up in support of him. The debris of the 1990s political power nexus so desperate to remain relevant they hitched their wagons to the only person who wasn't afraid of all the baggage they brought along because of his own baggage.

And Chris Christie, notably absent from any talk of a Trump administration. Interesting, that.

As for his policies and how he's going to implement them, well, there's another fear factor: how?

He doesn't have a bulletproof Congress. The Senate can be filibustered, unless McConnell invokes the nuclear option. His own party is deeply divided over him, so badly that Marco Rubio couldn't even talk about him by name until the last weekend of the campaign. Yes. they'll unite behind the President but it won't be unity driven from party spirit but a facade ready to fall apart at the slightest hint of weakness on Trump's part.

Yet another reason to believe he won't survive his first term. He'll be wrangling cats.

As for Dems, forget any chance of a bipartisan solution to anything. Given the absolute certainty of a filibuster on any legislation in the Senate (Dems took notes these past years), Trump's agenda is dead in the water.

Repeal Obamacare? No.

Tax cuts for the wealthy? No.

The wall? No. Not even if Mexico offered to pay upfront, which they might for President Trump.

New trade deals? No.

Jobs bill? No.

And Republicans will be forced to defend the use of executive orders. Again. Executive orders only have limited scope and force, however. He can't, for instance, overturn Roe v. Wade. He can make it harder to find a clinic.

Foreign policy could be even worse. Trump has called Angela Merkel, the most powerful woman in the world, a "disaster".  He's butted heads with his own party over Vladimir Putin, whom he admires -- despite the fact that Putin is an absolute threat to the United States (more on that in a bit).  And if Russia does decide to become an aggressor, NATO is on their own, according to Trump.

China is practically chomping at the bit to test Trump's resolve on trade deals and has to feel threatened by Trump's overtures to India.

All of this is taking as a given his feelings about the Middle East, South Asia, and our involvement there.

We do know Trump loves him some Sharia Law...when it comes to women, and not much else when it comes to Muslims.

So I'm failing to see where Trump's Presidency is anything but an abject failure from day one. Maybe, if he had President Obama's temperament, he could get stuff done.

You know, like Obama did.

And he really only has a short window to accomplish much of anything, since the midterm elections are literally around the corner in political time. He'll lose seats in Congress, bigly (the standard operating procedure in the first midterm elections, altho there have been exceptions.)

Now, there is one window that trump might be able to clamber out of, and curiously, I think it involves Russia and Putin.


As you know, Julian Assange did signal service to Putin by dumping buckets of emails purported to come from he DNC and aides to Hillary Clinton in the middle of the campaign. While the emails themselves were pretty, dinner dates, small talk mostly...the reminder that Hillary has this baggage helped seal the deal with independent voters that she can't be trusted.

But what if...

After all, Putin's goal wasn't to stop Clinton. That would mean admitting that he was afraid of her and while that's a distinct possibility, I think he has larger ambitions.

To destroy democracy. To finish the job that Osama bin Laden started. To bring the greatest nation to its knees by raising fears that, in fact, it's not as great a system as it seems.

Let's play the first half of this scenario out: assume Clinton had won.

Well, we already know that the useful idiots in Congress would have tied her up in endless hearings over her emails, more about Benghazi, etc etc etc. Jason "Bacon on the Hoof" Chaffetz admitted as much.

While her coattails might have drawn enough Democrats in behind her to prevent some of this nonsense, it would have gone on and like the birther conspiracy, would have given a significant portion of the population reason to doubt her legitimacy.

Probably moreso than the birther movement affected Obama because this kind of nonsense has been going on around Hillary since the 1990s. There's sort of this air of presumption that she must be guilty of something (she's not.)

So if Clinton wins, Putin still gets a version of his disruption of American democracy. His best case scenario is if Trump wins.

In the lame duck period between now and January 20, I think -- altho I have no hard information on this -- we will see a new Wikileaks dump on Trump.

Tax returns, admissions of felonious behavior, infidelities, who knows? The point is, dump enough stuff on Trump to raise a ruckus and cast the results of the election into doubt.

(Given the closeness of the vote versus the polling, it wouldn't surprise me to find out that some of the results were manipulated already, but I digress.)

Trump, already wildly unpopular, will lose any chance of making a case for his Presidency, a case as I've already demonstrated was not likely to be worth a bucket of warm spit, and will leave an electorate even angrier than before.

A nation already practically at each other's throats is not a long stride from a nation at war with itself.

And THAT is why I find Trump to be so scary.