In Nobody We Trust

This week’s Pew Research poll showing public satisfaction and trust with government are at all time lows should come as no surprise to anyone.   The American People’s  trust in their  government has been declining since JFK was blown away in Dallas .  As the chart above shows, one assassination, Vietnam War,  Nixon Watergate Scandal and a decade of 1970s Stagflation later public trust had plummeted from  near eighty percent  to the low twenties. Reagan restored some degree of trust, Bush I lost it, Clinton restored some then Bush II lost it.  (Note to Americans: Next time a guy named “Bush” is on the ballot, vote the other way.)

Two things have been driving this trust-deficit:  recurring  business cycles and increasing middle class anxiety.  While the public vents its frustration with the vagaries of their standard of living on Congress and government in genra, the   real  problems confronting America’s faith in its government (and, therefore itself) are far more systemic.  Which means, whatever the November midterm elections is going to have precious little impact on American’s trust in their government, no matter the outcome.

Look at the trust poll above.  Now look at the graph below with the  last 30 years with a rough overlay of economic recessions.

Trust in government always plummets with an economic downturn, as during the recessions of the early 1970s,  late 70s & early 80s, early 90s and today.  Then,  as recovery sets in, trust goes back up.  The Reagan boom saw trust go back up to a ten year high; the Clinton boom sent it even higher.  Americans seem to see the world through the narrow prism of their own pocketbooks.  (And, yes,  we ARE that simple and shallow.)  So, when times are good we trust government.  When they’re not we want to burn it to the ground.

The only other thing that spikes and depresses trust are major foreign policy events such as the 1st Gulf War and 9/11 (spike up) and the protracted Vietnam and Iraqi wars (trust down.)  How many congressmen are or are not reelected really has no impact on any of this.   Barring a major attack on America any time soon, the only thing that will bring a sustained return to trust will be economic recovery.

The second factor in all of this is the simple fact that, since the late 1960s, getting and staying in the broad middle class has become a progressively more tenuous proposition for an increasing number of people.  The pillars of the middle class have been growing incomes, secure home ownership, access to affordable healthcare and education and the promise of retirement.  All of these have come under growing pressure for the last generation.  This has made the middle class antsy.  Antsy people trust less.

Between the Second World War and the early 1970s the standard of living doubled in a generation.  It now takes 3 generations to replicate the gain.  Most Americans are living much better than in 1960or 1970–but it’s taking longer to see the gains of children over their parents.  Political Scientists call this “relative expectation,” the problem of people expecting improvement faster than government can provide it.  This leads, again, to middle class antsiness—like blue-collar support for George Wallace’s rebellion against “big government liberals.” (Read “government helping the poor and people of color and not blue collar whites who were starting to lose jobs not to affirmative action but to globalization.  Those textile jobs disappearing in the Southern US weren’t going to Watts or Harlem, they were going to Japan and Hong Kong.  Now they’re going to Vietnam and Bangladesh, exportation of low-end Chinese goods being SO early 21st century now.)

During really harsh economic times (like the Great Depression) relative expectation turns into “relative deprivation”—where the middle class, now desperate as it sees itself sliding back towards poverty, wants to find enemies to blame (and supports more radical political movements—aka fascist—that promise to restore the power of the Volk by making government more socially intrusive,  powerful—and authoritarian.) Thus the rise of the Fascists in the 1920s & 1930s.  We haven’t seen economies as bad as the 1930s in western democracies.  With each recession, though, more reactionary political movements form (e.g. the Wallace reaction to civil rights, the Militia movement reaction in the 1990s and even, one dare say, the Zonian reaction of this week, essentially criminalizing  being Hispanic while in the Grand Canyon State).

For most American households the Great Recession is far from over.  Even when it is in two or three years, most American households will probably find their buying power no greater than it was in 2007 which, adjusted for inflation, is not a whole lot better than it was in 1997 or even 1987.  Only this time Americans will not have an easy-credit gravy train to hitch on (those mortgages and credit cards becoming more elusive for the masses) which, in the long run, is a good thing. In the short run it’s going to hurt like hell.  And that means a prolonged visit by two really annoying relatives – Aunt Expectation and Uncle Deprivation.

So, for all of those who are hoping that a “Throw the Bums” out movement come November will make everything in America right as rain, lot’s of luck with that.  First, the bums rush ain’t gonna happen.  Congressional reelection rates have been averaging 90%-94% plus for several decades.  Even the 1994 Republican Revolution resulted in an incumbent defeat rate of less than 10%.  If, on the off chance, this November produces a changeover in the 10%-20% range (at the extreme – that’s 80 seats) it will hardly constitute a thorough housecleaning.

Second, even if we started over with a 100% new Congress (and imagine the fun with all those newbies on Capitol Hill—the lobbyists will think they’ve died and gone to paradise and their 77 legislative virgins) trust in government will not, Q.E.D., return.   Until the economy goes back up (meaning unemployment goes down and household economic security as measured by buying power and  mortgage viability goes up) trust stays low.  And until the middle class economic miracle of the 1940s-1950s get’s replicated again, trust never returns to the glory days of yesteryear.

Meanwhile, for those Progressives and Liberals hoping that things will tilt their way once the unpleasantness of the 2010 midterm is behind them, lot’s of luck with that, too.  The economic downturns of the 1970s & 1980s turned America from a center-left New Deal society to a Center-Right Reagan Revolution land.  Baring a quick turn around in the economy—or, worse, a further downturn—America becomes a plain old right society.   Which should give the GOP another grand decade or two of prominence before shifting demographics undercuts it.

Most pundits have fretted about the American left becoming like the European left.  They should be equally concerned if the decline in trust and middle class economic insecurity results in the American left becoming more like the European right.

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Yo Ho Yo Ho A Filibustero Life For Me

In response to my “Fortune Cookie” blog, Loyal Reader Larry asks the following series of very good questions:

Mr. Luna- I have some questions for you that I really don’t understand. I was a Political Science Major, but that was a long, long time ago. I’d like to understand why this 60 seat thing is so crucial, yet the Republicans never had this 60 seat thing for their 6 years, and yet they were able to pass and enact bill after Bill, and there was nothing the Democrats could do about it for 6 years, and no compromises were necessary. What am I not getting here? How come with more than 41 Senators, The Democrats were not able to prevent the Republican/Bush agenda.
Did I also dream that when Republicans were in the Majority(recently) they threatened to abolish the Filibuster and now the Democrats are afraid of this group of 41, but were the Republicans ever afraid of the Democrats 40+ Senators.
I continue to be baffled and bewildered. Are there 2 sets of rules? I don’t get it. Thanks

The simple, knee-jerk and emotionally-satisfying answer to all of your questions is: The Democrats are a bunch of Woosies!  (NOT my first chose of epitaph but decorum dictates restraint.)   The Democrats have not been able to advance a meaningful, game-altering agenda ever since LBJ lost the hearts and minds of the American people over Vietnam.  If the Democrats jumped off the Empire State Building (legislatively speaking) they’d miss the ground.  If the Democrats tried to take candy from a baby, the baby’d beat them up.  If the Democrats fell into an empty swimming pool they’d drown. 

That being said, as in all things (except, perhaps, responding to the presence of a very large and very hungry carnivore by screaming like a little girl and running like hell)  the situation is more complicated than a simple, knee-jerk and emotionally driven response.

The United States Senate was, by design, created  to be a collegial institution.  The principle of majority rules never has applied to this august body. Senatorial rules of debate and procedure adopted since the dawn of the Republic allow for a minority—even of one—to slow down or even block action.   To get anything done on anything controversial a supermajority is historically called for.   The Senate was designed this way to prevent a majority of the states from simply forcing their will on a minority of states.  The House is all about majority rules.  The Senate is all about consensus.  The filibuster—the ability of a minority of senators to take the Senate floor and essentially hold it hostage until some matter they object to is removed from consideration—is one of those devices.

Now, today’s filibuster is not your daddy’s filibuster. Once upon a time, for a filibuster to work, a senator or group of senators had to physically stand in the hall of the Senate, on their feet, talking without stop.  As long as they held the floor no other senator could speak or make a motion to move a bill forward: there could be no vote.  The filibuster senator(s) would demand that a quorum of senators (fifty percent) be present to witness their endeavor, guaranteeing that, as long as they held the floor, no-one could get pretty much anything done in the Senate. These are the filibusters of  the days of Mister Smith Goes To Washington.  As we’ll see below, those simple days are long gone.

Now there are physical limits to how long one senator can stand up and talk.  The record for a filibuster belongs to Strom  “Don’t Want to Give Equal Rights to Blacks But Don’t Mind Fathering a Child With One Out Of Wedlock” Thurmond, who ran on for over twenty-four hours to block the Voting Rights Act.  But you get two or more senators going at it in a tag team and a filibuster can last for ever.  To keep the Senate  from being forever hijacked  (the term filibuster comes from an amalgamated Franco-Dutch-Spanish phrase that, essentially, means “pirate”—filibustering is, therefore, in a sense, an act of legislative terrorism) by a handful of malcontents, the body adopted the rule of “Cloture.”  Cloture is a vote of senators to end debate—and therefore a filibuster—by invoking the Thirty Hour Rule. If passed, a move for Cloture means that, after just an additional THIRTY HOURS of debate, the matter on the floor must be brought to a vote.  The number of senators required to pass cloture originally was two-thirds; that threshold was dropped to sixty percent (sixty votes) in the 1970s, and remains so today.

The number of filibusters in the Senate have sky-rocketed since the early 1990s.  You can thank Bob “Easy, Boy” Dole for that one.  Back in 1993 the Democrats were giddy with power, controlling majorities in both the House and Senate and with their man Bill in the White House.  Having been elected to deal with the 1991-1992 recession on the mantra “It’s The Economy, Stupid”, Clinton sent a stimulus bill to Congress in early 1993.  Republicans in the House condemned it as more Democratic tax and spend politics.  With a large majority in the House, however, the Democrats were able to ride roughshod over the GOP,  passing the bill without allowing the Republicans much in the way of debate or amendment.  Dole, the Republican Senate minority leader, decided to teach the Democrats a lesson in congeniality. Dole dug  out a Senate Rule that hadn’t seen the light of day since the 19th  century. (Say what you will about Dole the Presidential Candidate—he was a Whiz bang Senatorially leader, the likes of which neither party has seen since he left his real home for the Quixotic ’96 campaign.)  The rule essentially allows you to “phone-in” a filibuster.  If your side in the Senate has a secure 41 votes to block a motion of cloture, your side can simply announce it will filibuster a bill if it is brought to the floor.  The other side, knowing they cannot bring the bill to a vote and facing the possibility of a real, stay up all night in the Senate filibuster, is now helpless. The bill dies without sixty votes.

When Dole did this to the Democrats they responded with anger, frothing at the mouth and sputtering before the press about how undemocratic and unfair it was.  (Clinton’s stimulus plan died.)   Bob Dole responded by blowing them a raspberry.  Then Republicans took over the Senate in 1994 and, for the next six years, Democrats started to use Dr. Dole’s Pain Free Magic Filibuster Elixir, guaranteed to kill bills before they kill you.  Republicans responded with anger, frothing at the mouth and sputtering before the press about how undemocratic and unfair it was.  Democrats responded by blowing them a raspberry. Then Democrats took control of the Senate in 2001 and Republicans Doled them with filibusters.  Democrats sputtered, Republicans raspberried.  When Republicans took back the Senate in 2002, though, things turned even uglier.  Democrats began using the Dole filibuster to block several of George W. Bush’s more controversial (at least in their minds) appellate court nominations.  Republicans sputtered and frothed—and threatened to change the rules on judicial nominations to take a vote of cloture down to a simple majority, effectively killing the use of the filibuster.  Republican leaders at first called this the “nuclear option” as in going to total war with the Democrats, changing the incendiary phrase to the “Constitutional Option” (which, like many GOP handles, was both misleading and false: there is nothing in the Constitution that precludes the use of the filibuster in the Senate.)  Then John McCain stepped into the breach (that was back in the pre-2008 days when McCain was still a moderate maverick and not the cranky old reactionary conservative he morphed into).  McCain reminded his fellow party members that, while they were currently in the majority one day they might not be so lucky and, when that day came, they might really like to be able to use a filibuster or seventy-three to block the judicial nominations—and other actions—of some future liberal Democratic President.  Say, a charismatic black politicians from, or, I dunno, Chicago?   McCain led the Group of 14 senators who pushed through a compromise:  the Democrats would practice more restraint in blocking Bush judicial nominations, the filibuster would remain untouched. Reactionary-right Republicans continue to this day to condemn  cranky conservative McCain for being a mooshy RINO for betraying his party with his Gang of 14, even though that is the reason why, five years later, a minority of forty-one Republicans in the Senate can now derail healthcare—and the rest of the Obama agenda.

Of course, that is also not the whole story, either.

For a party to successfully use the Dole filibuster the party must have a firm, dependable forty-one votes.  That means, if the party is in the Senate minority, pretty much every member has to vote in lock-step.  For the Republicans that means ALL forty-one senators have to toe the party line to avoid cloture—which they DO!  The Republican party of today is also not your daddy’s party.  The Grand Old Party has become the Old Southern Party consisting lots of politicians who, in years past, would have been Democrats simply because they would never have belonged to the party of Lincoln.  But the GOP is no longer the party of Lincoln—it is the party of Reagan with all the anti-liberal, anti-Washington rhetoric, which are code words for all  anti-civil rights movement and anti affirmative action rhetoric–that implies.  Over the last twenty years the Republican Party has systematically purged moderate and liberal Republicans from their Congressional ranks such that, today, Lindsay Graham of South Carolina is being called too liberal.   The only remain Republican senatorial moderates—read Olympia Snow and  Susan Collins—understand that, unless they break to the right they’ll be busted out of politics altogether by conservative primary challengers.  So the Republican party has become one conservative beast with many mouths and limbs, moving in ideological lockstep.

Bully for them.

The Democrats, however, continue to live up to Will Rogers’ famous line, “I’m not a member of an organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”  The reality is, while the Democrats, by title, controlled sixty votes in the Senate until this Tuesday, the Democratic senators are ideologically divided between traditional liberals like California’s Feinstein and Boxer, Blue Dog  “moderates” (read fiscal and, mostly, social conservatives) like Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and DINOs like former Democrat Joe “Teach You All For Giving Me the VEEP Slot On A Losing Ticket” Lieberman.  This motley crew couldn’t find common ground on what condiments to put on a hotdog, let alone keep enough party discipline to deliver an assured sixty votes.  That’s why, even though Democrats had more than forty votes in the Senate throughout the Bush years, they couldn’t block much beyond the most controversial Bush judicial appointments and the Republicans could get much of their domestic—and almost all of their foreign policy—agendas adopted.

The real danger to the Republic, however, is not the filibuster or even the failure of healthcare reform.  The real danger is that, over the next several election cycles, Democrats follow in the footsteps of their Republican Brethren and begin to really work at ideologically purifying their ranks.   A number of the more conservative Democrats in purple states  may start to think about doing a full Lieberman (which Lieberman, with his trademark  jello-like resolve, hasn’t mustered the courage to finally do, yet) and bolt to the GOP.  Other moderate-conservatives might find themselves targeted by increasingly liberal opponents in their primaries.  The result: a US Senate divided between two completely antagonistic ideological blocks which tolerate no compromise and forge no consensus.  Under these circumstances the Senate simply cannot function: nothing can get done.  Which ever party is in the minority, enjoying more than forty votes, will simply obstruct the other party until they get propelled into the majority by an angry public—only to not get anything done when the minority blocks them.

The United States may well be heading into its Fourth Republic Phase.  Back in the 1950s the French government (the Fourth Republic) foundered when partisan division rendered the parliament impotent to deal with major problems like the Algerian problem.  The political paralysis and rising social crisis almost resulted in a military coup, averted only by the extra-constitutional creation of a new Fifth Republic by the godlike Charles de Gaulle.  The French had to completely redesign their government (producing the “French” or “Mixed” model, in which the people elect both a President who appoints a Prime Minister to run the government, and a Parliament which approves or fires the Prime Minister and passes laws).

I don’t see Americans, with their almost Japanese reverence of their political ancestors, willing to consider a major revamp of our system of government to deal with such paralysis any time soon.  And I sure as heck don’t see a de Gaulle out there anywhere on the political landscape.  (Colin Powell might have had a chance at the role if he hadn’t squandered his credibility defending nonexistent WMDs for a President who rewarded him by letting his administration rivals stab him in the back and heave his political corpse off the second term truck.)

So that, dear Larry, is why the Democrats couldn’t stop the Republicans, why the Republicans can stop the Democrats and why both parties are poised to stop the political heart of the American Republic.

Broken Cookie

Oh, what a difference a day makes. On Monday all the Democrats were wringing their hands in grief over the impending loss of Ted Kennedy’s long-held liberal seat in the Senate to Republican insurgent elephantista Scott Brown. Losing the seat would be a repudiation of Barack Obama and his policies among independents and disaffected voters, they all cried. Losing the seat following Obama personally campaigning for Martha Coakley would mean that his coattails had been shorn away. Losing the seat the day before his first anniversary as Commander in Chief would mean not only that the honeymoon was over, but also that the public was considering filing a petition of divorce. Losing the seat meant losing the filibuster-busting 60th vote in the Senate and, with it, the likelihood of passing Obama’s cornerstone healthcare reform this term, next term or any term. Losing the seat meant Obama now had the best chance of being a one-term Democrat since Bill Clinton blew healthcare reform back in ’93.

Woooh. That was a close one. But, as I boldly predicted in my fortune cookie blog Monday, Coakley won in a squeaker. In retrospect, I can’t imagine what all the hand-wringing was about. Did people really think the Democrats would actually take the Kennedy seat for granted and not find the best candidate possible to fill in his giant liberal shoes? Did people really think the Democrats would nominate someone with the personal touch of a cucumber and the political savvy of a stone to run for the a seat formerly held by one of the most gregarious, hand-pumping politicians ever to come from the Bay State? Did people really think the Democrats would run with a candidate who didn’t even know which team Curt Shilling played for? Moreover, did people really think Obama’s whiz-bang White House political machine would actually send their man up to the Bay State to campaign unless their own private polling showed that the thing was in the bag?

I mean, pleazzzz. These are the Democrats we’re talking about here, not a bunch of just-off-the-turnip-truck jokesters who couldn’t pass a bill holding a super-majority for the life of their party. These guys don’t blow elections by resting on weak Massachusetts candidates with the personality of a codfish. These guys don’t blow successive presidencies by trying to run healthcare reform straight down the middle into the unyielding Republican defensive line, giving up the ball at the next midterm election. This is the party of Carter! Gore! Kerry! Have a little faith, people.

No, the egg is certainly on the face of all those doubters who didn’t believe the vaunted White House machine would roll over this one as easily as a semi running over the Pillsbury Dough Boy, yessir. And After the Dems finish with healthcare reform, there’s nothing stopping them. Minimum-wage legislation, Wall Street-bonus bashing, reversing the 30-year slide in middle class income-level job creation? There’ll be no stoppin’ ‘em now that True Shoot Annie Oakley Coakley has stapled Scott Brown to the Cosmo centerfold…

Hold on, this just in.  What’s that…Brown?…By five percent?…Really?…Oh.

My apologies, all. I don’t know what I was thinking. (Damn you, California medicinal marijuana law!) Apparently the Democrats ARE THAT STUPID. And now, year one into his administration, Ba- “Rock the Status Quo” Obama is reduced to Bill Clinton sans philandering, waiting for the Republicans to overreach after winning the House next November and then nominating a right-wing ultra-conservative to alienate every independent in the country in 2012. Luckily for Obama, the odds are probably 8:3 in his favor on that one.

Oh well, at least I can take solace this weekend watching the Bolts take down the Colts this Sunday. After the trouncing they gave the Jets last week, there’s no stopping the chargin’ Chargers, despite what any party-pooping naysayers might have thought. I mean, people really think the Chargers would actually choke again in round one of the playoffs, throwing multiple interceptions and missing easy field goals……………

Fortune Cookie

Two quick predictions:

For all the horserace drama the Massachusetts special election is generating my bet is, when the fortune cookie crumbles, Coakley and the Democrats hold on to Ted Kennedy’s ancestral seat and Barack Obama keeps his thin filibuster-busting sixty votes in the Senate.  As far as I can tell (and I may well be wrong on this, as I often am), the touted polls showing Scott Brown up a by a few percent over Martha “Makes Bland Seem Exciting” Coakley have been of “voters” and not “likely voters.”  The turn out tomorrow is going to be bleak, comprised of party stalwarts who actually care enough to brave the thirty-something freezing rain to vote.  While Brown is doing well with independents. Both Bush and Obama have shown that independents matter far less than getting the party base out.  And Democrats have a three-one advantage in their Bay State base.   Brown has gotten a lot of out of state support.  But getting Rudy “I’m from New York and You Know How Much People In Massachusetts Love New York” Giuliani to campaign for you is a far throw from getting Bill “Show Me the Love One More Time Massachusetts” Clinton to stand by you.  Throw in the Obama Express stop yesterday and the Mass Senate race begins to resemble the Owens/Hoffman row last fall in New York’s 23rd Congressional.   If Coakley wins—even by a narrow two or three percent—Obama celebrates his one-year anniversary with a second major congressional victory (which he can claim as his own due to his quick visit) and National Republicans look like they’ve blown yet another one.

Of course, if Brown does pull it off and upsets Coakley Republicans go into the spring fundraising season invigorated and on the offensive, Healthcare gets filibustered to death by the Republicans, despite whatever Nancy Pelosi may Pollyanna-ishly hope, Republicans score big victories in November and Barack Obama faces the real possibility of becoming the Democrats first Jimmy Carter of the 21st Century.  So relax, Democrats.  Nothin’ on the line here.

Closer to home, I’ve got to disagree with long time Charger Voice Lee “Hacksaw” Hamilton’s observation on “These Days” this morning that the Charger’s Disappointment Bowl loss yesterday won’t impact the franchise’s quest for new digs. Going all the way to the Big Dance in the Big Easy was the Charger’s best chance in years to rally Bolts fans—particularly the “We only pay attention to the Chargers when they win” fans, aka the “independent voters of the sports world — to support a new stadium at the ballot box.   In disappointing defeat, Bolts fans are more likely to balk—and bolt—at any municipal effort to throw public money at a team who didn’t deliver on the publics hopes.  Will this make the Bolts more likely to bolt themselves?  Maybe.  Though any reality of a bolting is years in the future.  For know Dean Spanos had better suck it up fast and launch a determined “Just wait’ll Next Year, San Diego!” campaign, replete with a willingness to throw a few million more at team building over the next year.  John Moores at least knew enough to buy a guaranteed championship team before he hit the voters up for big bucks.  It’s time for Spanos to put up and shut up—or sell the team to someone willing to do what it takes to make San Diego winners.  That is, if they want a big, new home for the Chargers.  If not, just keep doing what they’ve been doing.

National Science Day, Anyone?

medal_nobel_after_topbox

Well, Nobel season has come to an end with the U.S. receiving its usual slew of Nobel laureates. Eight American scientists (Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider, Jack W. Szostak, Charles K. Kao, Willard S. Boyle, George E. Smith, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas Steitz were honored with Nobels in four areas of science. Throw in the dismal science of economics and you’ve got two more members of Team Nobel USA (Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson). And, well, memory is foggy on this, but I think another prominent American got a Nobel for something or other besides science or literature. Altogether, of the 11 Nobels awarded for science and economics, 10 went to Americans.

So where have all the balloons and national whoo-hoos been?

Oh, that’s right. This is only the Nobel prizes we’re talking about here—certainly nothing as important as winning gold medals at an international athletic competition. I mean, somebody shot-puts a foot farther or luges .0003 seconds faster, that has a big impact on our lives. Meanwhile, three obscure U.S. scientists pick up a Nobel in physiology/medicine “for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase”? I mean, who cares about telomeres and enzyme telomerase? Except, of course, maybe for the fact the seminal work these scientists conducted over the last several decades is telling science why cells, after so many cell divisions, start screwing up their self-replication, leading to little minor maladies like cancer. And aging. And because of the work of these three scientists, Science (with a big capital S) is getting really, really close to curing the big C. And taking a whack at prolonging the even bigger and even more inevitable “A”—adding, in the process, perhaps decades to the human life span.

Like I say, big whoop!

And who can blame the media and talking heads for focusing instead for the last two weeks on that other American who won a Nobel for working toward Peace?  Or on not winning an Olympic bid? Now those are big, human-species-shaping events. Those Nobel science geeks? Let them be happy with a presidential pat on the back and a 10-second blurb on CNN.

If you want to know why I’m banking on India to be the big, global power by the end of this century, just consider: India celebrates National Science Day every Feb. 28, in memory of an Indian physicist who won a Nobel Prize 79 YEARS AGO!!! India—INDIA!—which has won eight Nobels total, has a National Science Day, recognizing that the future of India as a great power rests upon its rising mastery of science and technology. The U.S., with more than 300 hundred Nobel winners—more than three times the total of any other nation (and more than the total of most other nations combined)—does not. Yes, we we used to have a rinky-dink National Science Week that garnered about as much attention outside of high school and college science departments as National Peach Melba Day (Jan. 13) does outside of Georgia. But a day honoring the hundreds of American Nobel prize winners who have transformed this nation and the world? Please. I mean, where could we fit one in anyway, with our national calendar already chock-a-block full of must-celebrate days like National Buffet Day (Jan. 2) and National Bicarbonate of Soda Day (Dec. 30).

If you want to understand why America is rapidly becoming a post-scientific/scientifically illiterate culture in which PM infomercial flim-flam artists and AM talk show flakes compete with Nobel prize winning scientists for the public’s attention and trust (and, alas, increasingly win), reflect on this: If you don’t celebrate, elevate and commemorate science—if you don’t even bother to meaningfully nationally praise those American scientists who have earned the respect of the world—don’t be surprised when the public disparages and disputes them instead.

Maybe that’s why fewer Americans (less than 40 percent) accept the scientific theory of evolution than in any other industrial country in the world. Yeah, evolution’s just another scientific theory, so what? I mean, just because evolution theory is the very foundation of pretty much all the earth-shattering—and life-altering—work in biology and physiology for the last century, like the research in cell development that three Americans just got a Nobel prize for, someone should believe in it? Please—that is so empirically rational. Maybe our public diminishing of science is why only 53 percent of Americans know how many days it takes for Earth to go around the sun? Or that only 59 percent of Americans know that The Flintstones is fantasy and that man and dinosaur never cohabitated.

If President Obama wants to do something for making up to the world for getting a Nobel prize many argue he didn’t deserve (but everyone should recognize he didn’t ask for), maybe he should work with Congress and proclaim a National American Nobel Prize Winner’s Day. And follow it up with a National Science Appreciation Day. Make the latter a real, day-off holiday. Maybe that would get Americans to pay attention to the endeavor that has set them apart from and above all the other nations of the world since the days scientists like Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson dominated American culture and politics. Maybe a National Nobel and National Science Day would help Americans remember and reclaim their heritage as a scientific culture born of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason.

Oh, and restoring public funding of applied scientific research to its 1980s level might be a good idea, too. You know, in lieu of sending flowers or e-cards on that new National Science Day.

Something’s got to be done. If we become any more post-scientific in our culture and scientifically illiterate in our national debate we’ll soon start to stop winning those Nobel prizes. And then the sun will really set on the American dream.


Go Fish

fish-in-newspaperFish left such a thoughtful comment to my last post that I had to take the time to address in an illustrious fashion.

Dear Fish,

You smell like a three-day-left-in-the-sun-real-world-version-of-your-online-avatar.

Sincerely,

Lunacy

No, no. that’s not what I really meant to say.  As far as I know Mr. Fish (who should really pal around with Mr. Chips) is a paragon of hygiene and Body Shop botanical splendor, the mental images of sub par dentistry and grimy fingernails his less than genteel online manor suggests notwithstanding.   A serious statement (or as close to one as Fish seems capable of tapping out with a solitary finger) deserves serious response.

What did then Candidate Obama mean –and his supporters hope for—when promising change?   That would be Change from the worst economy produced by any two term president in modern history?  (And no, this is not the Obama recession any more than the first two years of the Gipper’s Administration are called the Reagan Recession.)  This is not the verdict of left wing hippy type intellectuals.  Check out former Bush speech writer David Frum’s comments last week in which he pointed out:

In terms of income growth and poverty reduction, Bush performed worse than any two-term president of the modern era. Even in the best year of his presidency, 2007, the typical American household still earned less after inflation than in the year 2000. The next year, 2008, American households suffered the worst income drop since record-keeping began six decades ago.

Or maybe it’s change from a litany of some of the biggest mistakes made by any modern administration as summarized  by Craig Newmark, a list which includes:

• Going to war on false premises;

• The greatest disaster relief failure in American history;

• Controversial (and, one might add, potentially dangerous and often unconstitutional assertions of Executive Power;

• Becoming the first administration in modern US history to overtly condone torture;

• Unprecedented politicization of the departments of the Executive Branch (can you say Justice) and political patronage appointments of demonstrably incompetents (see number 2 above) ;

• Fiddling while Wall Street burned and then putting out the fire with a trillion dollars in public money; and

• Gutting environmental policy while exposing millions of Americans to increased health and quality of life risks.

Or how about change in simply ending what an overwhelming numbers of professional historians (more than any other president at this point in the post-presidency) call one of the worst administrations in history.

Of course my own personal favorite bit of change:  having a president who can now use the language of Shakespeare without making the Bard want to switch to French.

Fish,  read a book.  Read history.  Read SOMETHING other than right wing blogs perused while listening to right wing talk radio.  Obama is not the best thing since sliced bread.  He is not the Messiah.  He is making plenty of what I consider to be significant mistakes which all into question his ability to produce the change his supporters hoped for.  But by any objective standard he is so far performing better than his predecessor.  That is a good thing.  Democracy worked.  The people spoke and maybe things improve.

So Fish, I sign off with YAJSCIIYLKJARRWTIJWTDYIMY.EHOC.*

Best, Lunacy

(*You are just so cute in your little knee-jerk and rude reactionary ways that I just want to dip you in my coffee.  Extra hot, of course.)

I

Doobie Brothers

Obama US Mexico

What a brotherhood exists between the US and Mexico.  We smoke pot.  Lots of it.  (With some 42% of Americans having whiffed weed at least on occasion,  leading the world in cannabis consumption according to the WHO, one now understands why so many Krispy Kreme’s opened in recent years…)   We have guns. Lots of them. (Over 200 million, according to the Brits.) 

Meanwhile our brethren to the south have poverty. Lots of it.  And access to pot.  Some 25 million tons of it a year.  So we give money to Mexican pot smugglers who use it by US guns to then shoot other Mexican pot smugglers (and cops, politicians, journalists, women, children and any other form of life who gets between the business end of an Uzi and an intended target).  

What a perfect, symbiotic relationship.

And look at the advantages to both sides! Both make money off trade.  People get employed. Consumers get products.  The freest of free market competition reigns This is David Ricardo’s concept of comparative advantage leading to mutually beneficial trade made real.  Indeed, except for all those bodies everywhere, the US/Mexican pot relationship is neo-liberal globalization at its best,  Everybody wins.  Except, of course, for all those pesky dead bodies.  Mexico has lots of them.  Over a thousand in January alone.  And except, of course, for Mexican civil society and democracy, which has pretty much collapsed in Juarez and is teetering in TJ.  And then there are US tax payers, shelling out tens of billions a year to arrest  and incarcerate hundreds of millions of tokers.

But America’s 70 year pot prohibition stills continues to give and give: drug lords get rich,  prison guards get employed and Mexican undertakers have to literally stack up the clients business being so good.  And, best of all all those Americans  who don’t smoke pot, don’t want to smoke pot (heck, they’re plenty happy with old man tobacco and devil whiskey—two other deadly vices the US leads the world in) can continue to take tremendous solace that their cheap, moral thrill of superiority still trumps the cost in ruined—and ended—lives on both sides of the border.

Oh, America and Mexico. Let that  Philadelphia Freedom sing.

I wrote over a year ago that Tijuana (and, now,  most of northern Mexico) is burning while we, their brethren, pay them no heed.  Now the fire is an inferno that is incinerating our neighbors to the south  and is beginning to engulf our own communities on this side of the border.  And, beyond calls to man that border with troops, no-one seems to care. 

Note to President Obama: foreign policy begins at home.  For what does it gain a president to win a victory in Afghanistan if he loses Mexico right on his doorstep.