Saturday, November 29, 2014

My Attack of Neo-Conservatism and my Recovery

A few decades ago, I made a mistake. I went temporarily insane, politically speaking. I became a neo-conservative. I supported Ronald Reagan. I subscribed to and wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

As a professor of sociology, I had reached the point of nausea with academia’s group think and political correctness, most virulent in the social sciences. I was a liberal, of course, like everyone else. While hardly anyone in the academe is a conservative, neither were most of my colleagues anarchists, Trotskyites, Stalinists, Soviet apologists, anti-Semites or extremists in other ways. However, there were some, and they were intimidating. They were rarely challenged. Most of my colleagues settled into a lazy group think and dialogue ceased. THAT is what began to bother me.

My background:
I grew up as a member of a respectable left-liberal European family. My grandfather was a (Jewish) social-democratic history professor in Budapest. My mother was briefly in prison at age sixteen when she participated in Communist demonstrations against Hungary’s fascist regime. My father was a hero in the Hungarian resistance during World War Two.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Ferguson and Michael Brown are Not the Central Issue

Okay, so the case against Officer Darren Wilson is a whitewash. Prosecutor Robert McCulloch achieved what hardly any grand jury hearing ever produces: No indictment. This was to be expected. The cards were stacked. McCulloch was not impartial. Only in name was he a “prosecutor.” A majority of (local) public opinion was stacked. The jury’s composition was suspect.

Then, too, the FACTS were ambiguous. A video showing huge Michael Brown manhandling a small storekeeper went viral and demonstrated that Brown was no saint. Above all, there is a strong possibility of a scuffle inside Officer Wilson’s car, in which Brown was trying to grab Wilson’s gun...

Anyway, this is not to rehash my incomplete knowledge of the case, but to make the following point:

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Obama's Immigration Reform

On November 20 President Obama made his important immigration speech. To their shame, the major networks refused to broadcast it - a mere 15-minute long address to the nation about a very important matter! A decade or so ago, when President George W. Bush gave a similar speech on the same topic, every major network carried it directly and it was viewed by 40 million Americans. And people still dare to say that the media have a liberal bias? My foot. It’s the opposite. The so-called “mainstream” media are fully participating in the non-stop sniping at this beleaguered president, inflicting a thousand cuts so as to bring him down.

The double standard applied to this president is gross: Reagan, Bush Senior and Bush Junior all proposed similar executive actions for illegal immigrants. But when THIS president does the same thing, all hell breaks loose.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

What is Important?

We are drowning in politics, in elections, in agendas. The public is incessantly  being told what we should worry about. The powerful (and often corrupt) power structure is supported by the media, it brainwashes  the populace, tells us what the most important problems are, and  how we should devote our energy and our resources. Over the past century or so, Americans have by and large been told to be AFRAID;  to protect themselves against, and to fear,  the following things:

Communism in the past, Muslim terrorism now.
Crime, always.
Alcohol in the past, drugs now.
Various countries: Russia in the past,  China, Iran and Arab countries  now.
Nuclear Armageddon.
Foreigners and immigrants.
Racial miscegenation.
Epidemics: AIDS in the past,  Ebola now.
The government.
Government surveillance (NSA, CIA, FBI, etc.).
Wall Street.
Global Warming.

Monday, November 17, 2014



I am looking out on my snow-covered back yard, the sun slowly sinking into the horizon, painting the sky a deep purple. The leafless trees, black and motionless are frozen in silence. Nature itself is paralyzed. No birds dare venture to our overflowing birdfeeders. No squirrels peek out of the tunnels they so laboriously dug under the snow. Life has slowed down to a bare subsistence level. Winter is master in this little corner of the world.

Inside the house, the fireplace is ablaze, overflowing with ashes. The cat is purring in his sleep, dreaming of warmer days and outdoor adventures. The smell of firewood and pea soup fills the air. The furnace is humming its reassuring song, keeping the frozen world at bay.

Night has fallen and the weather has turned nasty. Suddenly, a large animal appears out of nowhere in front of the large bay window and through the glass, I see a black and white husky look at me with his beautiful sky-blue eyes. He is magnificent looking, high on his legs, his thick fur making him oblivious to the cold. He seems to be asking if he can come in. Read more...

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Greatest Movies of all Times

I have been a movie buff all my life. The thousands of movies I have seen include many of the world’s best. Lately I have been playing with some databases, looking at movie rankings, directors, nationalities, etc.

Perhaps the most popular movie database is IMBd - the Internet Movie Database. It is a trove of over three million titles. Unfortunately, its most popular feature is an unsatisfactory ranking of the top 250 movies, as voted by IMDb users. In other words, a popularity contest.

So I went to another website instead: TSPDT (They Shoot Pictures Don’t They). This is an excellent source, which ranks the 1,000 best movies ever made, as well as the 250 best directors, based on the votes of three and a half thousand critics, film makers and other experts. A caveat is the sample of voters: The vast majority are Americans, with a sprinkling of Frenchmen and other foreigners. Nevertheless, I want to share some of the things I discovered: Read more...

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Cornivore's Dilemma

In his 1951 post-apocalyptic novel 'The Day of the Triffids', John Wyndham writes about a plague of blindness that befalls the whole world, allowing the rise of an aggressive species of plants. Bioengineered by the USSR, Triffids are carnivorous super plants that can walk and talk and are trying to take over the world.

We have a similar situation happening in real life, where the invasion of the giant tropical grass known as 'corn' is invading our farms, our food supply and our bodies. You might say: 'Well, what's wrong with that? I like corn, it's healthy and it tastes good.' But the corn that we produce in such abundance is not grown for direct consumption; it is grown to feed cattle, to produce ethanol for our cars and as additives to processed foods.

In his book 'The Omnivore's Dilemma', Michael Pollan explains how this real life Triffid has been able to take over our food supply. Modern corn, already having a natural advantage because of its efficiency at using sunlight to grow, has made itself doubly attractive by tolerating many climates. 'The plant gratifies human needs, in exchange for which humans expand the plant’s habitat, moving its genes all over the world and remaking the land, clearing trees, plowing the ground, protecting it from its enemies, so it might thrive.' (from: When Corn Becomes King). Read more...

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Mandate, My Foot


Is America the stupid country? The easy-to-brainwash country? A country of lemmings? Other countries have lost their way in the past - Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Argentina, Mexico - is it America’s turn now?

Millennials and other young people made up 13% of all the votes on November 4. Oh sure, it’s not worth voting, you say, because you are terribly busy, and the system is rigged anyway...Those are some of the excuses. Well, good luck with that! If you keep letting old men decide who is going to rule, you will continue to get screwed by the plutocracy

Reactionary Behavior: Obama saved us out of the Great Recession, the worst thing in eighty years, and Americans are practically ready to lynch him. What is that?

However, an  historical perspective might help: such reversals are common. In 1945, immediately after Churchill had saved his country, defeated Hitler and won World War II, the British electorate kicked him out and replaced him with Labour’s Clement Attlee. How is that for ingratitude? Reaction and regression are part of history. In the words which
Take the French Revolution - 1789. It was followed by Napoleon’s dictatorship and a century of monarchy and restoration. Not until 1871 did France become a permanent Republic. Ancient Rome, same story: There were many populist efforts at dismantling the senatorial and patrician oligarchy, for example those of the Gracchi brothers,  those of Marius and  those of Caesar, who was a populist. To little avail.  The aristocracy ALWAYS came roaring back. Sulla triumphed over Marius, the Gracchi and Caesar were assassinated. 
The US? Here, we had a Civil War,  Lincoln’s heroic presidency, his Proclamation of Emancipation, the 14th Amendment and  an attempted  radical Reconstruction of the Deep South. And then? The rise of Jim Crow laws, the KKK,  and  the sordid reaction which persists in some forms to this very day.

So now the pendulum  swings back once again. We are going through the “GREAT AMERICAN REACTION” (set in motion by Reagan, by the way). 

What happened on Nov. 4, 2014  tends to happen almost every time: By the time a President has served  for six years,  many  are ready to kick him out, or at least to kick out his party. Weird.

le One, Reagan was the worst off  in this regard. Yet, many (not me, but many) see him as a great president. Therefore we can surmise that Obama’s legacy and reputation will not be affected  by the Nov. 4 election results. And then, what about our undemocratic “democracy”? Do you realize that every single election, INCLUDING THOSE WON  by Republicans, has MILLIONS more people voting Democratic than Republican? This happened  of course when  George W. Bush and the Supreme Court stole the presidency  from Al Gore  in 2000.

It happened when Republicans won a majority of house seats in 2010 and in 2012, and it probably happened again on November 4, 2014 (see More Democratic Votes).   It is astounding that despite the vastly greater proportion of old, conservative people voting, even on a day like November 4, there are more people who  vote democratic than republican! Democracy schmemocracy!  Majority rule is circumvented  through gerrymandering, the electoral college and other tricks.

Americans are a  generous and altruistic people; they  assume the best in others;  to their credit, they are not envious. However,   they are also na├»ve and gullible. They lack class consciousness. They often fail to perceive or to vote for their self-interests. On November 4, millions of lower middle-class people, little old ladies in tennis shoes, tea-partiers and other  people barely getting by on miserable incomes, voted in such a way as to make the 10% most opulent fat cats in  America even richer - at the little people’s own expense. Now comes the next con job: After the election, Republican leader Mitch McConnell was like a pussycat.  Oh so magnanimous and reasonable. He is willing to work with President  Obama, he said.  “There will be no government shutdown and no default on the debt.” As to Obamacare? “We just want to replace it with something better.”

Republicans are now clamoring that  they are not just “against” things (Obama things). They claim to  have a positive agenda.  They want to accomplish things. For example, they wan to start with “tax reform.”

And here is where the con starts. Do you know what “tax reform” is? It’s tax CUTS. They say: (a) we’ll close loopholes and (b) we’ll reduce marginal rates and corporate rates. But I know what  will happen: only (b) will happen. Loopholes can never be closed. New rules can always be circumvented. When they eliminated the home office deduction for professors in the 1980s, all we had to do was to separate our writing  business from our teaching business in order to continue to use the home office tax deduction. “Tax Reform” will not be revenue neutral.

Replace Obamacare with something better?  Since Obamacare, Republicans have professed to be   concerned about health care. For 150 years, they have resisted all attempts  at providing health benefits to  the entire population, including the dozens of millions of poor Americans who have had to forego medical coverage. They have loved the fact that America’s profit-based health care system consumes 17 % of our economy, much of which has nothing to do with healthcare.  Are people blind?  Isn’t it obvious that the “better” system they want to introduce is  a  return to the status quo, sending back 60 million people to the uninsured rolls? Republicans have never given a damn about public health, only about the bottom line. Now suddenly that would change? Come on.

There will now be renewed efforts at privatizing everything, and further assaults on   government,  public services and  unions. Privatization will mean renewed attempts at handing over the last vestige of a meager “defined benefit” plan  - Social Security - to the grubby hands of Wall Street gamblers.

The plutocracy is on the march. America is becoming a highly stratified society. The “land of opportunity” now has a class system every bit as rigid as that in Europe, where upward mobility now surpassed ours.

The Power Structure:
As ever, the dominant power in America is the white, rich, middle-aged male. He is numerous, powerful, resourceful and cunning. No other group approaches his level of power.

The media are complicit. It is said that they are just the messengers, and that one should never kill  messengers. But the problem is that the media  deliver the message so badly. The media are fearful, and they therefore  collaborate with the power structure. Under the guise of “balance,” they give a pass to cheats and  liars.

When Ted Cruz is  interviewed by the allegedly “centrist” NBC, that network  lets him get away with an oft-repeated lie about Hillary Clinton: That she said  she didn’t care about our embassador’s murder in Benghazi. That is a lie. What she said was: “What difference does it make whether he was murdered by an organized cell or a spontaneous riot?”

When  allegedly liberal NPR interviews the Colorado legislator who introduced  a  more “patriotic” history curriculum, they let her get away with the following amazing statement: “We look at both sides of historical issues, both the pros and cons of slavery.” Why didn’t NPR say at that point: “you can’t be serious?”

The solidly democratic Sacramento Bee  prints more right-wing syndicated columns (Krauthammer, David Brooks, etc.)  than progressive ones - Paul Krugman being one of the few of the latter sort. So the allegedly “centrist” and “moderate” media kneel before the right-wing spokesmen.

Unlike the media, I will not equivocate: Flawed as it is, the Democratic Party is still a regular political party. Its goal is to improve the lives of the American people, including  schools,  infrastructure,  safety,  health,  environment.
The Republican Party’s goal is  to maximize the wealth of its supporters. It cleverly uses slogans and subterfuges - “freedom,” “individual responsibility,” “wasteful, inefficient and corrupt government,” “lazy takers,” “take America back.” However, their true agenda is to stuff  as much money into their own pockets  as possible. That is what  “the pursuit of happiness” means to them.

There is no reason for the Republican Party to exist. It is against people, against Americans, against justice. It should disappear. We need a multi-party system without a Republican Party. Americans who belong to the Republican Party  or who vote for a Republican are either dishonest or fools.

Now that the Democrats are nearly the opposition party (apart from that great Hawaiian-Indonesian-Kenyan-Anglo-American in the white house), they should start doing what the Republicans  have been doing for six years: Oppose everything, filibuster, paralyze every republican initiative. Obama can still achieve a lot through executive action, and he may even be able to push some legislation through Congress, as there is now a heightened expectation from Congress to finally “do something.” leave comment here

© Tom Kando 2014