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The Dollar Bill of Rights

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Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
 
Amendment II
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

 
The First Amendment derives its power from its first five words: “Congress shall make no law …”

The Second Amendment makes no such claim. It derives its power from money.

Never mind the right’s specious argument that the left wants to abolish the Second Amendment. It can’t be abolished. It won’t be revised. Ever. Nobody’s coming to take away your guns. Even if substantial political will to do so existed, it would require a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress and ratification by three-fourths of the states, and there is no foreseeable political climate in this nation that would make that a reality.

But it’s money — accepted predominantly by Republican lawmakers — that keeps breathing life into that specious argument, even as the breath of life is stolen from innocent citizens.

Money is the reason the words “Congress shall make no law” are superimposed onto the Second Amendment.

Money is the thing that makes Congress blind to the words well regulated. Or militia, whose 2018 definition differs wildly from its 1787 definition.

Money is the thing preventing Congress from making any law — however minor, however limited — that would make it harder for the wrong guns to get into the wrong hands.

Money is the thing preventing Congress from even having a conversation about various common-sense measures to protect Americans from guns.

Money is the thing prohibiting the imagination and vision of lawmakers to conjure real-world solutions that would improve the safety and security of innocent Americans where guns are concerned.

Money is the thing preventing the Centers for Disease Control from studying the effects of gun violence.

Money is the thing that held up the confirmation of a Surgeon General nominee who dared to believe that gun violence is a public health issue. Money is the reason the new administration asked him to resign before the end of his term.

Money is the reason our votes and our voices barely matter.

Money is the reason some voices in this country are silenced permanently.

Want your life to matter to Congress? Better get yourself some money.

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Written by Shepcat

February 17, 2018 at 1:56 pm

Posted in Politics, The Nation

How Would Lubitsch Do It?: A Parable

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During Hollywood’s golden age, between 1930 and 1968, filmmakers were governed by the Motion Picture Production Code, often referred to as the Hays code, which set out strict moral guidelines dictating what was acceptable and unacceptable content for American audiences, with a particular emphasis on sex.

The best filmmakers, not the least of whom was my idol Billy Wilder, were masters at subverting the code. By working within the restrictions imposed upon them, working around what they were not able to show or tell, they became better, more entertaining storytellers, in part because they made their audiences put 2 and 2 together, gave them credit for their own intelligence, and made them complicit in the telling of the story. Throughout his career, Mr. Wilder credited his own mentor, director Ernst Lubitsch, as the master of this technique, and challenged himself with a sign hung in his office that asked, simply, “How would Lubitsch do it?”

To illustrate “the Lubitsch touch,” Mr. Wilder pointed to the opening sequence in Lubitsch’s The Smiling Lieutenant (1931): There’s a king, a queen and a lieutenant, and you must dramatize, without being explicit, a situation in which the queen has an affair with the lieutenant, and the king finds out.

Open on the bedroom of the king and queen. They are dressing in the morning, and it’s a scene of affectionate domestic bliss.

Now the king leaves the bedroom. As he exits, we see the lieutenant standing guard outside the door in full dress uniform with his belt and sword. He clicks his heels in salute and watches as the king slowly descends the long staircase and eventually disappears into the palace.

We cut back to the lieutenant, who, assured that the king is now gone, enters the royal bedroom.

We cut back to the king as he descends the staircase, and halfway down he realizes he isn’t wearing his own belt and sword. He turns and ascends the staircase, returning to the bedroom. “Now we have a situation,” Mr. Wilder says.

The king enters. The door closes. We are never inside the room. The door opens. The king exits with the belt and sword. Happily he descends the staircase again, but as he tries to put on the belt, it doesn’t fit. It’s too small. It’s not his belt.

The king returns again to the royal bedroom, where he finds the lieutenant under the bed.

And scene.

Faced with a codified list of restrictions, Lubitsch has told us everything we need to know without explicitly showing us the lieutenant screwing the queen.
 


 
Early Saturday morning, like thieves in the dead of night, the Senate GOP pushed through their version of a tax code that will cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, explode the national debt by $1 trillion, and benefit the wealthiest citizens in this country while ultimately raising taxes on the middle class it purports to bolster.

Since the Reagan administration, we’ve been fed the lie that, if we decrease regulation, cut the corporate tax rate, and approve a tax code that further benefits the wealthiest Americans, in effect making them all wealthier, they will then reinvest that wealth in job creation and production that will bolster the U.S. economy and trickle that wealth down to the American people at large.

And yet, since the 1980s, all that policy has achieved is to widen the inequality gap among Americans, with CEO pay growing exponentially as American wages have remained stagnant, fewer American families controlling and enjoying the majority of wealth, and corporations increasing their bottom lines by hiding profits offshore and outsourcing jobs overseas, where they can pay foreign employees considerably less than they would pay American workers to do the same work.

The obvious benefit of paying American workers is that we would turn around and put that money back into the American economy, creating more growth, but the gun to the American electorate’s head is the notion that, unless we give the corporations and the wealthy what they want — more wealth up front — they can’t (read: won’t) give us the jobs and income we need to contribute to the American economy.

In point of fact, American corporations are more beholden to the shareholders they already have than to any notion that they might create new shareholders, who are by now so far behind the richest shareholders in this country that they could never catch up. So corporations will continue to outsource jobs to bolster the bottom line for those shareholders, in much the same way as the GOP will continue to court their political donations by creating for them the conditions most favorable to their continued growth and increasingly obscene wealth, which — as the last four decades of American life has shown us — is never going to trickle down to the American public at large.

In the middle of the last century, the average tax rate for the wealthiest 1 percent of American households hovered between 40 and 44 percent while corporations were taxed at a rate between 52 and 54 percent, which not only benefited all Americans and allowed us to rebuild the country after the Great Depression but also allowed us to help rebuild Europe after the Second World War under the Marshall Plan.

And while those rates were a restriction of sorts on the wealthiest Americans and American corporations, it didn’t prevent them from investing in American workers and spearheading a quarter century of growth and innovation during which American homeownership rose significantly as the rise of suburbs corresponded to the growth of American cities; we funded public education and the arts; college enrollment and graduation rates rose steadily as tuition remained affordable; we developed safer, more efficient automobiles; we built an interstate highway system that stitched the entire country together; we advocated for cleaner, safer food, air and water; we made life-saving advances in medicine and medical technologies; we developed faster, more efficient computers that increased production and reinvented the American workplace; and we put satellites into orbit and man on the moon.

Despite those restrictions on the wealthiest among us, somehow we accomplished all this without explicitly screwing American citizens.

And scene.

Written by Shepcat

December 3, 2017 at 2:46 pm

Posted in Life, Movies, Politics, The Nation

Tagged with

The Long and Short of It

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On the April 7 episode of her podcast With Friends Like These, journalist Ana Marie Cox and her guest, author and political commentator Thomas Frank (What’s the Matter with Kansas?), briefly digressed in their conversation to talk about Donald Trump’s sartorial habit of wearing his ties so long that he has to Scotch-tape the narrow end that isn’t long enough to go through the loop in back.1

That’s the how of the Scotch tape, but it doesn’t address the why of Trump wearing his ties so long.

Naturally, I point to writer-director David Mamet’s 2000 comedy State and Main, in which drunken town doctor and bow-tie aficionado Doc Wilson (Michael Higgins) promotes the following thesis to dissuade someone from taking his advice:

It’s the truth that you should never trust anybody wears a bow tie. Cravat’s s’posed to point down to accentuate the genitals. Why’d you wanna trust somebody’s tie points out to accentuate his ears?

 
I mean, think about it: This is a man who attempts to dominate everyone he meets with a weird, jerky alpha-male handshake that puts his counterpart off balance and yanks him toward Trump, in whose mind this practice — what? makes him appear stronger than the other guy? This flabby asshole who eats KFC on his private jet and doesn’t get any exercise aside from walking to and from his golf cart after hitting a 7-iron shot on the fairway? He’s precisely the kind of asshole who would want your eyes drawn toward his junk.

So yeah: Good luck keeping that thought out of your head next time you look at Trump’s necktie. Go with God.
 
 
 
 
 
1 It’s also notable that the ties Trump wears in all likelihood come from his own eponymous menswear line. I mean, they’re certainly not bespoke, but it’s his name on the back of each one. So why does this couturier, this clothes horse, this man of fashion not have his own personal neckties customized with the loop stitched a few inches higher to accommodate his preference for unwieldy length?

Written by Shepcat

April 12, 2017 at 12:10 pm

Posted in Movies, Politics

Tagged with

Reason to Believe

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I still believe in Barack Obama.

I still believe in him because he still believes in an America that is greater than any one person or any 1 percent of its people. He believes that we’re all in this thing together, and he wants to even the playing field so that we all have a chance to be better, to do better, to have enough opportunity to succeed and thrive, as individuals and together as a nation. It’s a vision of America that once was and can be again. It’s within reach.

That’s as simply as I can describe what was and will be again the best vote I ever cast as an American citizen.

Such a sentiment was dismissed thusly by a couple of men I overheard at a Starbucks recently: “Obama supporters tend to vote emotionally. Romney supporters seem to be more interested in facts.” I stayed out of the fray. It’s enough that my Obama-Biden T-shirt was likely what inspired them to strike up a conversation in the first place. Bringing people together: It’s what I do.

And yet everywhere I look, it’s emotion that drives most people who rail against our sitting president. Raw, venal, bitter emotion of a kind that seems to have checked any sense of reason at the door. These people who hate our president so much that they’ll vote for Mitt Romney by default rarely give me arguments, rarely present to me these alleged facts that those men at Starbucks were so sure are the meat of their political discourse. Instead I get bumper stickers, throwaway lines and mere rhetoric, plus no small amount of racism and birtherism, both subtle and overt.

And yet, in all this time, I’ve not heard one person say, as sincerely as I just said to you, these words: “I believe in Mitt Romney.”

Oh, plenty of people think he’ll do a better job of handling our economy, but they can’t provide facts and specifics. Because as of this writing, Romney himself hasn’t provided many. Most people are simply impressed enough by Romney’s personal relationship with money (without any real sense of how he earned it, for himself and for others) that they imagine he’ll know what to do with ours.1

Besides which, it’s not as if anybody on the right even really likes Mitt, let alone believes in him. Witness the way so many prominent Republican officials and candidates have recently distanced themselves from Romney after the surfacing of the catastrophic “47 percent” video.

It was only a few short months ago, during the long slog through primary season, that we learned how ambivalent Republicans could be toward the man who was nonetheless viewed as their inevitable nominee for president. Even after Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain and Rick Perry dropped out of the race, and despite a sizable delegate lead, we endured two more long months of formal primaries because this man didn’t have enough actual charisma and political capital to finally drive a stake through the heart of Rick Santorum and lock down the nomination.

Rick Santorum!

All along, the Christian right was cool to Romney because so many of them feel that Mormons aren’t true Christians, but since he eliminated Santorum — a Catholic and the most socially conservative candidate since the Inquisition — they’re having to swallow hard, grin and champion Romney as the standard bearer of so-called family values in America.2

Not even Romney’s fellow Mormon and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman — a superior candidate in nearly every way3 — could mask his obvious distaste for Romney, even while claiming to support him during a recent appearance on MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports.

So say what you will about us emotional Obama supporters. We’re still behind our man, because he’s brought us — all of us — this far against some pretty daunting odds and stonewalling opposition, and he’s working hard to take us even further.

He’s fought for equal pay for women and placed two impressive women on the Supreme Court. He’s fought to abolish Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. He’s fought to improve health-care insurance for all Americans. He fights for our environment and clean energy. He fights for college students not to be crushed under the weight of loan debt and to make Pell grants accessible to more young Americans. He got us out of Iraq, will get us out of Afghanistan, and he made the call to eliminate our most hated enemy. The day he took office and inherited the Great Recession, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dove 330 points and closed at 7,949.09; today it closed at 13,596.93. And if the GOP was not singularly, petulantly focused on ensuring the failure of his presidency, he might pass any number of the jobs bills that have been proposed during his first term to put Americans back to work, including the Veterans Jobs Corps Act, which Senate Republicans shot down just Wednesday. (Repeat: Veterans.) Through it all, President Obama has kept his eye on the long game and managed to do it with a lot more grace and equanimity than any of us could muster under the same circumstances.

We don’t merely “like” our guy on Facebook or check off his name on a ballot because we hate the other guy so much.

Barack Obama still gives us reason to believe.

So how about it, Republicans: Can any of you honestly say you believe in Mitt Romney? And if so, why? I’d really like to know.
 
 
 
 
 
1 This “proximity to money” phenomenon explains somewhat why every few years some idiot stirs up a “Draft Trump” campaign. Of course, that idiot is usually Donald Trump himself, but the short-fingered vulgarian does have sycophants, so the rumors persist. Worth noting: Steve Forbes and H. Ross Perot weren’t able to ride their bank accounts into the White House either.

2 It made me laugh that Romney’s shout-out to “freedom of religion” was such a big applause line at the Republican National Convention, delivered by a Mormon to a crowd among which a significant number of delegates likely believe that their nominee belongs to a cult and/or that our current Christian president is really a secret Muslim. So celebrate that in your classrooms, to borrow a line from Aaron Sorkin.

3 Aside to the GOP: For your own sake you need to give up the Rovian pipe dream of a permanent Republican majority and stop stonewalling President Obama just because you want him to fail. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to govern and lead again instead of just trying so damn hard to win all the time, because your entire party is going to implode like a punctured bouncy house one of these days.

In the meantime, know this: a) There’s no shame in moving toward the center. It’s where we all meet when we want to come together to move our country forward. And b) If you really want to infuriate the left, throw your support behind a nominee whom we might actually think twice about before voting against him (e.g., McCain in 2000, Huntsman in 2012). It would drive us crazy if we actually had to choose.

Written by Shepcat

September 20, 2012 at 10:45 pm

Posted in Politics

Tagged with

Romney to the 47 Percent: Drop Dead

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If a presumptive President Romney ran the country the way Candidate Romney has run his campaign, we’d all be screwed. Because this man shouldn’t be allowed to manage a Denny’s, let alone the most powerful nation in the Western Hemisphere. As Charles P. Pierce opined recently in Esquire, Romney “could screw up a two-car funeral if you spotted him the hearse.”

There are dozens of valid reasons not to vote for Mitt Romney — among them his apparent disdain for diplomacy (“projection of strength,” he calls it, this man who fought the Vietnam War from the seat of a bicycle in France) and failure to demonstrate a grasp of the nuances of foreign policy1 — but we always seem to circle back, in one form or another, to how incredibly tone-deaf and out-of-touch he is.

Now Romney has perpetrated the prime example of that disconnect between himself and average Americans, the pièce de resistance, the ne plus ultra, his masterpiece, the mother of all foot-in-mouth campaign fiascos.

The issue of the moment isn’t simply that Mitt Romney, caught red-handed on video in a fit of uncensored personal candor, is conceding 47 percent of the vote, as it were, to President Obama in the upcoming election. If only that were the case, one might imagine that Romney and his campaign managers were cannily playing a complicated and fascinating game of electoral calculus, in which they throw out the known red states and blue states and the all-but-unwinnable swing states, and game the remaining 6 or 7 percent margin of error in one hand of stud for all the chips on the table.

But no.

Mitt Romney doesn’t gamble like that. He wouldn’t know how to. He’s never had to. Because Mitt Romney has built his professional résumé and amassed his personal fortune by playing mostly with house money. And it was the house money he was speaking to when he tipped his hand, unwittingly letting the American people know exactly what he thinks of them.

Don’t think you’re one of the 47 percent he singled out as the “taker class” in America? Doesn’t matter.

The point is that, if Romney is willing to write off — whether by electoral math or the decimation of essential programs to pay for his desired tax cuts — nearly half of the people whom he supposedly wants to lead, it’s only a matter of time before he decides he has no use for “the rest of us” either. You know: you people.

If he doesn’t value that sizable segment of the American electorate enough to make an earnest and specifics-laden pitch to them for why he will better for them than Barack Obama — how he’ll put them back to work, help put their kids through college, and help them save and invest for their twilight years — instead of bloviating in front of a banquet hall full of $50,000-a-plate donors that they’re a race of professional victims sucking on the government teat, then he has no real interest in governing the American people. As has been the case over the last two decades of Republican politics, Romney is interested in one thing only: winning.

It’s no secret that I have barely enough respect for George W. Bush to agree that he, like me, is a carbon-based life form. (For a refresher or to be brought up to speed about how little respect this amounts to, feel free to browse this blog’s archives between 2001 and 2009.)

That said, for all my personal animus toward and disagreement with the policies of George W. Bush, I can’t say that I ever sensed that he was disinterested in leading all of us. As heedlessly and dishonestly as he propelled us toward unjust, unjustified and costly wars, I concede that he truly believed he was serving and protecting us all in the only way his jingoistic, guns-a-blazin’, Saturday-matinee cowboy mind could wrap itself around, that he wouldn’t have taken lightly any collateral damage that should happen to befall any American citizen in the war on terror, regardless of their location along the ideological continuum.

That’s an extreme example — it would have to be, if I’m actually giving props to George Bush. And yet, from an economic standpoint it’s just what Mitt Romney is saying here: He plans to make matters worse for the 47 percent of Americans he classifies as “takers,” to allow them to be the collateral damage in an economic policy whose net gain would be to cut taxes on the upper class while making the lower classes (including minimum-wage employees, single working moms, students and seniors) pay for them by giving up many of the social safety nets they require just to make ends meet.

Romney has already written off the vote of the 47 percent, and he apparently doesn’t care about their fate (at least not enough to treat them as equal citizens). He doesn’t have to, unless he can actually follow through on creating the jobs that will make them all more productive members of whatever society looks like when viewed through the prism of privilege and wealth. In Romney’s own personal experience, however, the companies he salvages don’t have to become success stories in order for Mitt and his compatriots to end up in the black.

Think of it as a leveraged buyout on an epic, national scale. Mitt already does. He must, because if unemployment is still stagnating at 8 percent even after the extension of the fabled Bush tax cuts, why should anyone believe that the so-called “job creators” in this country — the ones who trim their budgets and boost their bottom lines by cutting pensions and shipping jobs overseas — will step up to move America forward any more than they already have if they’re given another government handout. (See what I did there?)

In doing so, Romney is doubling down on the failed “trickle down” policies of Ronald Reagan, which bear their fair share of responsibility for having created the wealth disparity we have today. And when gutting the 47 percent fails to do anything but add trillions more to the deficit, rest assured that President Romney will come calling on the other 52 percent of us before he ever asks a sacrifice from the 1 percent that stands atop the pyramid.

Because if there’s one thing Mitt Romney understands, it’s that you’ve always got to repay the house money, no matter how many people you have to screw to do it.
 
 
 
 
 
1 Though it remains to be seen whether his strident pronouncements aimed at Russia, China and Iran and his persistent attacks about the president’s “apology tour” represent an attempt to score cheap political points or a true indication that a Romney presidency intends to move to the far right of Dick Cheney. It’s always the guys who had all the deferments when they were eligible to be drafted, isn’t it?

Written by Shepcat

September 18, 2012 at 9:09 pm

Posted in Politics

Day 100

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It’s an arbitrary milepost that amounts to less than one-fifteenth of his first term, so right now there’s no way of knowing whether Barack Obama will go down in history as a great leader, a failed one or merely a mediocre one who didn’t quite attain all the lofty goals he set for his presidency.

Has it been a perfect 100 days? No. Have I agreed with everything the Obama administration has done so far? No. Has the business of the nation proceeded as smoothly as possible? Heavens, no. Do I occasionally question the wisdom behind some of the decisions made at the top? Of course.

I will say this, though: One hundred days isn’t quite enough time to get me past the night terrors of the last eight years, either, but I still feel a little surge of giddiness every time I hear the words “President Obama.”

Barack Obama is already the statesman America deserves, and though his detractors may still dismiss him as a “rock star” and a “fad” whose glamour will fade as soon as the going gets really tough, the fact remains that he has already improved our relations with our allies by the virtues of his intelligence, focus and charisma, and he has set the tone for improved relations with our antagonists and enemies by addressing and engaging them in the spirit and tone of actual diplomacy instead of cowboy bravado.

The greatest difference, however, may be the manner in which he addresses the American people. One of the things that most infuriated me about George W. Bush was his habit of squinting down over the podium after one of his pronouncements, a quizzical look on his face that read, “I can’t believe you people don’t unnerstan’ this.” (The subtext, of course, being, Why, hell, they just ’splained it to me a half-hour ago an’ it makes perfect sense to me now.)

Obama, on the other hand, seems to treat every question he is asked as though it is the most important one he’ll be asked all day. His responses are measured and thoughtful, and though he is at times long-winded, it is not the sort of circuitous rambling that was Sen. John Kerry’s liability during his 2004 presidential run. (I admire Kerry greatly, but listening to him respond to questions back then was often like watching Phil Mickelson putt: “Get there… Get there…”) Obama, by contrast, already knows where he’s going when he speaks, and he wants to take us with him. It is becoming almost a cliché at this point, a verbal tic that now belongs to Fred Armisen’s impersonation of the president on Saturday Night Live, but I find it invariably comforting to hear President Obama preface any remark with “Now let me be perfectly clear…”

One hundred days isn’t much time at all, but this much I already know: Barack Obama wants to govern, and he wants to lead. He doesn’t wield fear like a cudgel to keep us in line and the rest of the world at bay, but neither does he back down from telling Americans or anybody else what they need to hear. He’s the smartest guy in the room, and he’s surrounded himself with other smart people, starting with his vice president1. He hasn’t embarrassed himself — or me — yet.2 I haven’t for one moment regretted casting my vote for him. To those who say he’s taking on too much too soon, he seems to reply, “Well, that’s what you hired me to do, isn’t it?” He’s got big ideas and an honest-to-God vision for America, and if he fails, it won’t be for a lack of trying to achieve that vision.

Barack Obama has 1,361 days remaining in his first term, and I still like his odds.

1 Laugh all you want, but God help me, I love Joe Biden.

2 OK, that time I was talking about Obama, though.

Written by Shepcat

April 29, 2009 at 10:06 am

Posted in Politics

Tagged with

Thank God Obama’s in the White House

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One more reason I’m grateful for our new chief executive is that there’s now a real chance for a meaningful long-term payoff to a scene that is likely to play out at dinner tables across the nation tonight. It goes something like this:

“Dad/Mom, I had a lot of fun spending time with you today and following you around the office/warehouse/sales floor/abattoir, so I hope you won’t take it the wrong way when I say that, after watching you at work and learning more about what you do for a living, I’ve decided that I’d really like to pursue a career in the arts.”

Written by Shepcat

April 23, 2009 at 10:21 am

Posted in Politics