Cruel DeVos

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I.

TRUE STORY. MY WIFE teaches grade school. In addition to the stories I can tell, and the ones my many friends who teach or are married to teachers can tell, during the school year, I hear a new one practically every day.

Here’s one: several teachers noticed that three siblings (third grade and younger) were digging through the garbage at school. Turns out they were looking for food to take home for the weekend since there would not otherwise be enough.

Here’s another: one of my wife’s fifth grade students broke down in class one day, and explained she was having trouble studying for the standardized test—a whole other topic—because she hadn’t eaten and was hungry. A few teachers pitched in to get her fed, and take some snacks home. Turns out her family was homeless and living in a motel.

My wife, a veteran with more than a decade’s experience in public schools, is not easily upset: it’s been her practice for years to keep extra non-perishables in her desk for the kids who can’t concentrate on empty stomachs.

This is not Appalachia, or even the most desperate inner city; it’s a county less than thirty minutes from the nation’s capital (the state of which is itself a never-ending metaphor for all we need know when it comes to equality, opportunity and our collective genius at hurting the most innocent and vulnerable amongst us).

Another story. Several years ago, she noticed one her students hoarding ketchup packets from the cafeteria. He was bringing them home in case there was nothing to eat.

(The Swiftian irony of this last anecdote is one that surely would have Reagan smirking in his grave.)

The worst one? For me, it’s the story of the student who claimed he wasn’t hungry at lunch time. Because he was embarrassed. He didn’t want to admit he had no money. My wife could literally hear his stomach rumbling as he pretended he wasn’t famished the same way Republicans pretend they care about people.

ii.

Never mind Trump. One need look no further than Betsy DeVos to understand the true depravity of the contemporary state of all-things GOP.

(Yes, Trump is the oozing pus from the Id of America’s underbelly, but if there’s any silver lining, it’s that light does expose the rot. Our Toddler-in-Chief has emboldened an element of our society we thought had either fizzled out or at least was content to spew its spleen safely—and anonymously—online. The smart money says this is not a fad or a trend; it’s a virus that’s required centuries to fester and one megalomaniacal half-fascist to bring to a feverish boil. It will, nevertheless, be flushed out and retired to the sewers of our lower frequencies, hopefully forever and sooner than later. Or, even more optimistically, Trump continues to do damage to the “brand” we figured George W. Bush had so indelibly done, and our next contender can do what Obama never had the heart or stomach to bother with: making a compelling case for Democratic politics with a heavy side dish of populism. As we know, first the Tea Party, and then The Donald wormed into the post-2008 vacuum and stole all the oxygen, which halfway explains why we’re where we are, today.)

But to fully understand the next-level sociopathy of our present administration, we must look at DeVos. Unqualified? Duh. Ignorant? Yes. Not only wealthy, but married to the King of Pyramid schemes that prey upon the poor and gullible? Even Dickens at his most heavy-handed would throw this away as clichéd opportunism. But there it is; only in America can we have and know so much and insist on making it worse for everyone but the .01%

iii.

Did you catch any footage of DeVos’s hearing? If you have a strong stomach, you should, especially if you think the criticism of her has been over the top.

How about the footage of her speed-walking away from a group of protestors?

These fanatics have been insulated by their money and blissful ignorance so long they’re flummoxed (and genuinely frightened) by the slightest resistance. And all of them (look at ongoing embarrassment of Republicans scurrying away from their own town halls, or The King of the Cowardly Cretins, Mitch McConnell, doing everything possible to avoid any public scrutiny of his healthcare bill) have no means to debate or defend themselves when challenged. Classic bullies.

Take DeVos’s brief confrontation with some citizens who dared oppose her, on principle. What an opportunity: she was on camera and could have totally owned the moment, engaged these people in conversation and made them look unreasonable if they shouted her down. Instead, she retreated like the rat she is. (By the way, this isn’t just normal political resistance from one party to another; that Trump even appointed her—and she accepted the gig—is an act of aggression, a calculated outrage to dismantle the very department she’s long had her sights on, and intended to demoralize opponents.)

iv.

How is any of this different from the way Republicans have rolled since the day Reagan declared government our enemy? It’s pretty much the same, only more so. And that’s where things have crossed all lines of normalcy and decency. Circa 2017, it’s no longer sufficient to merely reinforce the wealthiest and most powerful; the GOP, with virtually no internal dissension, is on the public record (with votes, statements and, importantly, no comments to the contrary) advocating policy that literally takes away the (drastically underfunded) funds from those with the least, and disguise it as “choice”. Indeed, in another moment that Dickens, Orwell and Kafka, tag-teaming with three typewriters and ten bottles of tequila, couldn’t muster the imagination to invent, DeVos invoked segregated schools as a testament to the empowering benefits of “choice”. (No, seriously.)

Extolling the alleged virtues of the free market, no matter what contrary evidence accrued, mostly worked wonders for the Republican party these last few decades. We now are at a point where they’re acting, in concert, to raid the already paltry provisions of the disenfranchised. And to what end? Funding infrastructure or some national emergency? Of course not. Exactly what they’re after is simple, and truly staggering: to ensure that those born with every advantage will have still more opportunity and money. Revolting in the extreme.

But therein lies an opportunity. Audacity of this level is so breathtaking it’s negligent to become cynical; unacceptable to be indifferent. We’re at a threshold moment, where otherwise apathetic spectators must determine if they are, at long last, disgusted with the direction we’re headed. Doing nothing, at this point, is abetting evil. (And this includes not just going toe-to-toe with the True Believers across the aisle—many of whom, of course, stand to be most drastically impacted by all these reverse Robin Hood policies—but the pampered and recalcitrant nitwits who still insist Hillary Clinton was, at best, the lesser of two evils, or remain third party or bust when we see, daily, the disparity between what Democrats and Republicans do, when in power.) Advice: frame an argument, for once, that puts liberals on the right side of Scripture (what a concept!) and put the stakes in stark relief: it’s no longer a shell game, no more talk of trickle down; this is straight-up thievery, taking from those with the least. I think Jesus said a thing or two about this.

Finally, it’s tempting, even irresistible, to catalog the myriad flaws, hypocrisies, moral failures and rank opportunism that has virtually defined DeVos’s existence. But it’s more effective to look at her as the caricature she is. She represents the faceless figure epitomizing the worst Republican impulses, all untethered by our incurious, incompetent Tweeter-in-Chief. Never mind him, or her, and remember it’s not who she is, but what she represents. DeVos, and her merry band of nihilists, are the boot in the face Orwell warned us about. That is what must be resisted, mocked, defeated.

A final story. One of my wife’s friends, who teaches high school, had a student who was arrested for shoplifting. It turns out he had been doing this from a young age. He was stealing food. To eat.

Think of this kid, and all the other ones, especially the ones with increasingly fewer advocates who can defend or assist them.

Rage against this Machine.

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On Health Care: George Carlin Called It

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Nine years ago today we lost not only one of our better comics, but one of our most vital and intelligent voices.

George Carlin was incendiary, he was hilarious, he was often the smartest dude (and biggest smartass) on the block, and he was a national treasure.

He was a “political” comic the way George Orwell was a “political” writer. And as Orwell famously declared: “The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.”

Like Orwell, Carlin told big truths, and as we’ve seen throughout our human experiment? — ?especially in America? — ?the truth often falls on obdurate ears.

When celebrating a deceased icon, particularly one as full of wisdom as Carlin was — ?it’s typical to say “we could use that voice today”, or similar such sentiment. And while it wouldn’t suck to have Carlin around, assuming the spectacle of President Trump didn’t make him spontaneously combust like a Spinal Tap drummer, the sad fact is he already predicted much of what’s happened (and what might be coming, soon).

He made a career of putting political weasels and their fake piety and false promises in his sights, but it was toward the end when he pulled the fewest punches and dropped a bomb that’s still smoking, more than a decade later.

Check it out: when this, his last, special aired, I remember critics, even fans, suggesting that maybe George had gotten too cranky; that his cynicism had overwhelmed the better (or calmer) angels of his nature, or worst, that he wasn’t even funny anymore. He was funny, but not quite the way he used to be (some people would call that the evolution of a talent, not to mention an already-awakened conscience). Times were different and different tactics were required. Carlin was on the case.

This bit in particular, about the so-called “American Dream”, made for painful listening, but also essential viewing. Remember, this was in 2005, a few years before the (totally predictable) financial collapse, the subsequent refusal of Obama to do anything of consequence to the bad guys, and the impunity with which the Republicans have mostly acted, ever since.

Full of piss and vinegar, sure, but also prescient. Depressingly on point.

And, not for nothing: nine years to the day after he died, we see footage of disabled citizens being physically dragged away from lawful and peaceful protests. Why? Because the Republican politicians are too cowardly to face them. Why? Because in an act of cynicism that didn’t just jump the shark, but the entire ocean, these cretins are quite aware how deeply unpopular their health care “repeal” is. As such, they intend to pass it as quickly as possible, with little to no scrutiny. The media is finally making some noise, albeit too little and possibly too late. And you’d think something like more than twenty million people losing coverage so the rich can have a tax cut might warrant some headlines. Same as it ever was, only more so.

And here’s the thing. Normally I’d reckon that this footage would make for some pretty compelling political ads, come mid-term time. (Or now, for that matter.) Especially with some stats flashing across the screen that detail the number of Americans who could (or will) be devastated by this hideously destructive policy.

And then I think: they’ll get away with it anyway. They’ll shirk responsibility, or blame Obama, or the Democrats. And the sentient amongst us will shake our heads, either furious or shell shocked (or both), while the Republicans, having retained control of the House and Senate, will set about dismantling Social Security.

And we won’t be able to say George Carlin didn’t call it.

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Obama’s Next Move

So, back in March 2010, the day after Biden –with his typical ill-advised, but beautiful candor– announced, within earshot of the mics “This is a big fucking deal”, I had a few thoughts about what had happened, what could happen, and what should happen. That long post can be found here.

This is how it begins:

Here’s how bad it’s gotten: David Frum, the dude who used to write speeches for the worst president we’ve ever endured, has written the most lacerating epitaph for The (Tea) Party of No, here. The entire thing is a must-read, and the closing paragraph demands to be quoted in full:

So today’s defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry. Their listeners and viewers will now be even more enraged, even more frustrated, even more disappointed in everybody except the responsibility-free talkers on television and radio. For them, it’s mission accomplished. For the cause they purport to represent, it’s Waterloo all right: ours.

Here is the really ugly part: Frum is not Monday morning quarterbacking. He was practically pleading with anyone who would listen how (self) destructive this unified and unyielding obstruction would be in both the short and long term. In fairness, the G.O.P. had deluded itself into thinking that the fantasy they were spinning was gold, not shit. And there were plenty of cowards and co-opted folks in the media and inside the Democratic party who still hadn’t figured out how to stand up to bullies.

And then this:

Of course this problem was exacerbated in no small measure by Obama himself being way too cool and detached on the sidelines as the Fox News and RNC fear factories spewed out their garbage and took control of the narrative (and I’ll never forget, or forgive the cynical and craven Rahm Emanuel for folding like a shanty house in a hurricane the second Scott Brown pulled off his big upset in Massachussetts). Finally, at almost the last possible second, Obama joined the fray, inspired more by the need for survival than anything else.

Especially this:

As always, the so-called Liberal Media was about as useless as usual (and their general incompetence increases in direct proportion to the overall degeneracy of our political discourse). Obsessed with the trivial horse-race aspects of who won the most recent news cycle, and handicapping the odds and chances of whether some bill (any bill) might pass, they did less than a little to help dispel the truly hysterical talking points and outright falsehoods the right wing noise machine was expelling into the air.

And finally, this:

To the victor go the spoils, history is written by the winners, etc. But it’s more (and less) than that: just as the fairly hysterical media coverage post-Brown did not paint an accurate portrayal of what was really going on, or what was likely to happen, the surprise passage of HCR is not going to transform moderates into liberals. It doesn’t need to. Unless the bill begins rescinding peoples’ coverage because of pre-existing conditions or bankrupting families who can’t pay their bills (oh wait, that’s what is already happening), it stands to reason that HCR will never be more unpopular than it was last Saturday. After Sunday, the bill can only get more popular in direct proportion to the number of people who realize it’s not only not the end of the world, but actually a pretty swell thing. This transformation is already underway(not just the big shift in public opinion in recent polls); each day that goes by without any of the more outrageous Republican predictions coming true is another opportunity for T&R (Truth and Reality) to vanquish the hysteria.

All of this still applies. Only more so.

The Roberts ruling was unexpected, and frankly underscores how freakishly right-wing his compatriots have become. Alito, Thomas and Scalia are like the unholy trinity representing a genuine repulsion for anything resembling progress, equity or tolerance. They are appalling, repugnant human beings. It will be delectable to see the GOP turn on their golden boy, who has gone from icon to outcast in less than one news cycle. Welcome to the jungle, John.

Let’s break it down to brass tacks: Obama got a gift here; let’s hope he uses this to push harder instead of retreating to the “conciliatory” gestures that have served him so poorly thus far. First order of business: he needs to beat Romney with this 24/7 and begin laying out a new mantra: this policy is good for people, despite what you’ve heard, etc. And it was devised at the Heritage Foundation (yes ladies and gentleman, until very recently, this was a Republican idea and one that was enthusiastically endorsed until a Democrat had the audacity to hope he could sell it). And finally: Mitt did this in his own state. Make it impossible for him to continue his mealy-mouthed, intelligence-insulting retreat from both history and reality.

Next: messaging. Boy has this administration been lousy (and lazy) in terms of articulating some simple talking points, and defending its own achievements (despite the 24/7 noise from the Right Wing Machine, it’s ludicrous, to take one notable example, that so few people understand that Obama has consistently cut taxes, not raised them). The temerity and incompetence of his staff could be ameliorated quite easily. Hint: I’d do it for free. Here’s something off the top of my head:

I do not consider this a victory for Democrats; it is a victory for Democracy. This is not about defining my legacy; it’s about measuring our collective morality. I salute the Supreme Court for not yielding to the lesser angels of our nature, epitomized by partisan bickering, well-financed lobbyists and a media culture obsessed with horse-races and news cycles. Rather than celebrate my first obligation is to set the record straight. You all have heard a lot about death panels. No. This policy is to prevent the deaths of loved ones and people who don’t have access to simple care, or who are bankrupted by the out-of-control costs of basic treatment and prescriptions. Ultimately this is not about politics or even personal choice; this is about running the country in a fair and effective fashion and helping drive down debt and taxes due to a dangerously outdated system. And because we will at long last refuse to make profits off of our sick citizens. We are all God’s children and it’s the position of this administration that we can no longer afford –literally– to be the only major nation that has a for-profit health care system: that is outmoded and outrageous. No hard-working American should be bankrupt by the cost of his or her medical bills. No child or senior citizen should have life-saving medicine withheld because it’s too expensive. No insurance company should make obscene profits while our death rate escalates to third-world levels. To my partisan critics I offer this reminder: Social Security, Medicare and Civil Rights were all vehemently opposed and protested; now they are seen as natural and inevitable components of the American culture: our mission should be ensuring our society is more fair and the opportunity to prosper is a reality, not a dream, for more of our citizens.

This stuff writes itself. No, it won’t win over any useless idiots on the other side of the aisle (America has yet to identify an effective antidote for denial and willful ignorance) but it will slowly, steadily start to resonate. A different, better –and accurate!– narrative will emerge, and it will be increasingly difficult to argue against. It doesn’t mean that heavily-financed corporate interests and bought-politicians won’t try their damndest to tell it like it ain’t, but a funny thing has happened throughout our nation’s history: new ideas that frighten or threaten vested power structures are initially ridiculed, then slandered, then feared, then resisted, then pilloried and, finally, after too much time and money has been invested by the bad guys, enough citizens look around and see that their lives are improving, and the spin they were spoonfed was, in fact, erroneous. And getting someone to feel bad about something that demonstrably improves their life is something even corrupt judges and deep-pocketed slumlords have a difficult time doing.

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Waterloo This

I love the smell of health care reform in the morning. Smells like victory.

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