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Category: Politics

It's Getting Dark Out
Ever since the Republican rout last week, the alarms on the left have been going off about the role of dark money in our democracy. Dark money is the cash that could be coming from anywhere, including foreign governments, shadowy global cartels, and crime syndicates. We don’t know its source because that information often can be and is kept secret by the people who collect these donations.

I agree that this practice is corrupting our system of self-government, but I believe there is an even more insidious menace at work here. It is a rot that eats at the heart of our culture, and it is getting worse with each election.

The right, for its part, shows no concern about dark money. They argue that the last election was a referendum on “the failed policies of the Obama Administration.” It is hard to be sure, sometimes, what failures they are talking about. Unemployment is almost half what it was at the nadir of the recession in 2009. The stock market is at record highs. The American auto industry has been saved. Obamacare has made healthcare available to millions of us and stopped its costs from spiraling out of control.

The only thing stopping Obama and the Democrats was a Republican Party without a single idea of its own besides obstruction and rollback. In some cases, such as the shutdowns and the sequester, they wilfully harmed our country purely out of spite.

And yet, they won. That is the real rot at the heart of our democracy — not so much the dark money as the dark irony. Dark and getting darker. I just don’t know how much more we can take.
Globally Warm and Cuddly
If I picked the topics for my political cartoons based on the importance of a given issue to all life on earth, I would draw one about climate change every week. Its potential to cause human misery could only be matched by a collision with an asteroid, but the probability of that happening is pretty remote. Global warming, on the other hand, is an ice cold certainty that will sting everyone now alive and everyone yet to be born. The need to stop it becomes more pressing with every passing moment.

Political cartoons, for the most part, are satire, and as such they are exercises in negativity. They point out the foibles and phoniness that so often surround the actions of the powerful. At their most positive, the drawings simply point to the absurdity of some situation. Even those cartoons, though, reflect unflatteringly on the people involved, making them appear foolish or ineffectual — or worse.

I could do cartoons like that all day on the topic of global warming. The parade of fools and liars in the midst of this crisis provides an unending source of fodder for satire. Sadly, the good that is being done by conscientious people rarely finds a place in what I do.

Normally, that doesn’t bother me. I think I bend naturally toward satire, and doing it for so long has bent me even further toward ironic, absurdist, sometimes caustic assertions of my worldview. It’s gotten to the point that sincere expressions of optimism and gratitude kind of give me the creeps. In honor of Climate Week, however, I’m going to try and unbend just a bit and give some credit where credit is due.

First, let me recognize the 400,000 or so people who flooded the streets of New York on Monday to demand action on climate change. Exercising our Constitutional right to freedom of assembly is one of the few powers most of us have to affect change. It may be feeble compared to the power wielded by Big Oil, but it’s something. So thanks, my fellow citizens.

Thanks also to the Rockefeller Brothers Fund which just divested its portfolio of all oil and fossil fuel interests. The satirist in me appreciates the irony of the descendants of Standard Oil (the original, and biggest, of all Big Oils) cutting ties with their own history to help the rest of us. I could summon up a sarcastic image or two about this story, but for now I will just say it was the right thing to do.

And speaking of the superrich, hats off to Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google. He recently walked away from his association with ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. That utterly meaningless name fronts an organization whose goal is to leverage corporate control of our government. Mr. Schmidt explained his move as a reaction to the group’s habit of lying and “making the world a worse place.” My satirist self might point to the fact that Schmidt had been heavily petitioned to take this action and that he had freely joined with ALEC to begin with, but hey.

Microsoft recently made a similar move with regard to ALEC in an effort “to be greener.” We might well ask, “What took you, jackass?”, but let’s not go there right now.

Let me also honor here all the owners of Priuses (both smug and not) for helping us move toward healing the planet. The same goes for those who have gone solar, or recycled, or turned off the light when they left the room. Thanks to Al Gore, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the U.N., and every person and organization who is working to do right on this very important issue.

Okay, that’s enough. All this Kumbaya-singing is starting to make me queasy. I’m going back to being my bent, ironic self now, but before I do let me just say that we can stop global warming if we can just work together and keep our wits about us. Oop, I just threw up in my mouth.
As Stupid Does
We’ve heard some criticism of Barack Obama’s thinking on foreign policy recently, notably from as-yet-unannounced candidate for president Hillary Clinton. Hillary charges that 44’s standard of performance is not a worthy organizing principle for a great nation. His stated maxim: don’t do stupid stuff.

He delivered that line half-jokingly, I think, as a testament to the complexities and dangers that make international politics so difficult. It was taken with great seriousness by Mrs. Clinton, however. She no doubt thought that she needed to differentiate herself from her ex-boss.

But let’s put politics aside for a moment and just examine the notion itself: don’t do stupid stuff. Is that really such a bad rule of thumb in world affairs? How about for simple governance? Or for life itself?

It is a hard enough job to avoid stupidity in this world — perhaps even a full-time job. There are, after all, so many opportunities to be stupid. Every day we are presented with decisions that, no matter how mundane, include many more stupid options than smart ones. Take this morning, for example. Rather than heading off to work, you could have caught a tramp steamer to Vladivostok, or volunteered down at the neo-nazi institute, or simply spent the day streaking all the malls in the tri-county area. None of those options would be fatal, but they would be stupid.

It is commendable, of course, to also have some positive objective to help guide our actions, but such high-minded ideals are no guarantee against stupid mistakes. We need a special rule to avoid those. If we can, then what’s left will be not-stupid — maybe even smart. Doctors, who have a reputation for being smart, have to take the Hippocratic Oath when entering their profession. That pledge is filled with all kinds of affirmations about patient care, but what is at the top of the list? First, do no harm. Even smart people need to be reminded of the obvious.

So let me suggest this to you as part of any personal philosophy: first, don’t do stupid stuff. After you’ve checked that box, you can move on to loftier motivations. And if you find yourself in a position to make foreign policy for a great nation, please remember this: of all the stupid things that humans do, war is by far the stupidest. It kills people by the millions, it cripples the lives of the survivors, and it’s a big money loser, even for the victors.

So don’t give in to this stupidest of all ideas, please. Not if you want to be smart. War is the idea that even the dumbest guy in the room can come up with. The smart folks, meanwhile, will think as hard as they can to find a way not to go to war.

For instance, by not voting for it when they were in the Senate…Hillary.
Taxation Nation
The poor Danes. Year in, year out, they remain one of the Most Taxed People in the World. They were number one again last year, with an average income tax rate of 60.2% per person. In the U.S., the rate is about 44%.

Before you start to feel too sorry for them, though, consider this: when measured by such standards as sense of well-being, mental health, opportunity, freedom, and general life-satisfaction, the Danish are also the Happiest People in the World.

Please feel free to draw whatever conclusions you like.
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee