Eli's Observations

Month: November, 2012

Aging Gracefully?

Since Thanksgiving breaks up a lot of routines and many readers are used to this column arriving sometime during the weekend, I have advanced this week’s piece to today.

I’ve also decided to take a break from politics. The subject is writing. The public seems a little obsessed about writing. Very few people have real writing ability but it sometimes seems that there are more people who want to write books and articles than there are those who want to read them (I guess that’s why blogs were born.) But books seem to be just as numerous as ever, and that means that occasionally one of them shows up on my desk in spite of the fact that I don’t review books. I assume the sender had never read the blog or was just plain desperate. He or she might want to consider sandwich boards.

Some books are sent to us by friends long after they’ve been published (“You’ll find this interesting!”) The book I have in mind today, Albert Brooks’ “2030: The Real Story of What Happened to America,” can’t be considered blurb material since it was published several years ago.

Albert Brooks is a funny, quirky filmmaker, and this book is quirky, funny and serious. It deals with something few people want to hear about: what to do about old people who go on living, longer and longer, using up their social security and pensions. They also are very large consumers of public health dollars.

I recently attended a birthday party for an artist friend who is celebrating her 100th birthday. She’s still active in her profession and doing fine, with an exhibition due early next year. At her party, I noticed that many of the guests seemed to me to be in their late 70s or even late 80s. But few of them appeared to be infirm.

I asked myself were these people to be regarded as an annoying and expensive surplus? In his novel, Brooks describes several young characters who gradually become hostile to older people whom they regard as greedy geezers, blocking everyone younger from a better life.

There is probably some truth to that. Some of my friends and relatives who live in rural or suburban places say that older people in their communities routinely vote against tax increases for education. We’ve seen a little of this kind of bloc voting in our national elections.

So, does it have to be a choice between young people or their parents? Recent public statements by some Darwinian Republicans would have you think so. I have a different slant.

Instead of focusing on the age of the average citizen, let’s take a look at the big earners and the obscene fortunes that so many have amassed. We could then tax them accordingly. A revolutionary idea!

There’s a reason we used to call that kind of tax “progressive taxing.” It has fostered a progressive element in our society rather than divisive agism. Does that make me a tax-and-spend liberal? If we spend the money on better health care and better education, you can count me in.

I said this piece would be about writing, not politics. Apparently you can take the boy out of politics but you can’t take the politics out of the boy. Maybe next time.


Stop The Presses?

They sat like well-behaved school children, trying not to fidget in the crowded rows of chairs, waiting for the grown-up talk to be over. They wanted dessert. They were already feeling deprived, and the Washington Press Corps often got grouchy when they weren’t fed the kind of stuff they liked. They were tired of election food.

The endless Clown-of-the-Week primaries by the Republicans had not been satisfying for long. No-Drama-Obama and No-Charisma-Romney had been disappointing. No flash! No clash! The debates had offered little chance to stir things up.

The press turned to election night hoping for some last-minute suspense and excitement. But no matter how much they tried to hype things, David Axelrod’s numbers kept turning out to be true. There was to be no all-nighter, no nail-biter, no fist fights at the polling places. Even when some Republican governors suppressed tens of thousands of voters, it didn’t seem to have caused a ruckus.

Reluctantly, the Press Corps had sat in The White House facing the prospect of having to report real issues, like taxes, like the deficit, like energy policies. Complicated stuff! But their hopes began to rise with the tragedy at Benghazi. At least they could count on Senator McCain to start rattling the sabre.

They got a real story from two women that had never been on their radar screen: Paula Broadwell and Jill Kelley. These two women seemed to be about to topple the head of the CIA, and possibly another four-star general. This was juicy stuff. David Petraeus with all those ribbons on his chest? A brilliant female soldier with “toned arms?” Definitely the stuff of serious journalism.

Right on schedule, Senator McCain began demanding hearings. Big hearings. The press followed his lead eagerly. This was better than following him to some dusty place in the Middle East where people got shot. Much better.

When there seemed to be confusion about what had happened at Benghazi, and why, McCain rode to the rescue shouting, “Cover Up!” The Washington Press Corps still liked the image of the outspoken soldier demanding the facts. These silly emails were suddenly being elevated to Watergate level.

Confusion over who did what and when at Benghazi gave the press a third victim, U.N. Delegate Susan Rice, who might have, at most, been guilty of “mis-speaking.” However, Senator Lindsey Graham, McCain’s Sancho Panza, announced that he no longer trusted her. This from a man who had trusted Condi Rice with her fantasies of Weapons of Mass Destruction and mushroom-shaped clouds!

No matter. The press now had three attractive women and boxes full of secrets, or at least emails. There were still some complaints from Congress about our not sending arms to Syria, but McCain was able to drum up very little enthusiasm for going over there with troops. This was much better copy and the hearing rooms were usually air conditioned.

So, big issues and fiscal affairs would just have to wait. The Washington Press Corps knew an important story when they saw one! What a relief to know that our watchdogs are watching out for the real problems.

What’s The Rush?

Aesop must have met some ancient Republicans while he was working on his fables. In them there was a fox who announced that he could not reach the grapes overhead but that they must have been sour anyway. Some GOP leaders seem to have been hanging around the same grape vineyard. Karl Rove couldn’t admit that the better man won, or even that the better ideas won. Or that his own multi-million dollar propaganda effort seems not to have swayed the voters one bit.

The Faux News Channel finally admitted the loss with a not-too-subtle message that either the public got it wrong or their candidate did. Most seemed to blame it on Romney. He lacked the skills that George W. had of choosing some big, big lies and sticking with them consistently. W. knew the virtue of consistency, if not honesty. Limbaugh dismissed the GOP candidate as if he had never heard of him before.

It’s a shame that people like Rove or Limbaugh won’t ever run for office themselves. What a target Limbaugh would have made for satirists! Picture “The Great White Whale” or perhaps headlines like “The Fat is in the Fire” or “The Mouth That Roars.” We can only dream of such things because these “pundits” will never run the risk of putting themselves before the public. Besides, he already has an audience (strangely known as “Dittoheads”) who live for his every tirade.

Rush and his imitators offer this audience endless, mindless anger. Their listeners are frustrated citizens who are angry at anyone who looks differently, thinks differently, or acts differently. They’re not going to be discouraged by election results or persuaded by logic. This group (mostly older white men) may just have to die and go to Haters’ Heaven before Rush runs out of listeners.

But we should not get too comfortable listening to NPR about our victories. The Limbaughs and Koch Brothers are still out there working hard to undermine everything we’ve done. The Barbarians are still at the gate, and it’s time for us to get back to work.

Just Two More

Way back when, I still thought of a tea party as a harmless pastime for little girls. The only people in robes who worried me were in the white ones with pointed hoods. But recently, I’ve learned to fear the guys in black robes because their target isn’t a bank, it’s the progress we’ve made in the 20th Century.

Butch Scalia, Two-Gun Thomas, and Alley-Oop Alito are fixing to shoot holes in the Bill of Rights. Right now, they’re taking aim at reproductive rights and consumer rights, and they’ve already blasted a huge hole in our political rights with the People United decision. This election has shown that every man in the country who’s got a million dollars can run for the Senate but he hasn’t got a chance against the Karl Rove gang who’ll be packing ten or twenty million, or whatever it takes. And all that the Scalia gang needs to get rolling are two more sidekicks. Once they get those two seats on the Supreme Court, what’s going to stop them?

This judicial/political takeover is barely noticed by our voters because our famous free press is busy on important stuff. Most of our “journalists” cover politics as if it were a sport. Who won that second debate? Who scored with that new TV spot? Who’s behind in what market, and by how many points? And who has the most charismatic family, or, failing that, a pick-up truck and a cute dog?

But wait — what about all those hard-hitting questions and interviews on the Sunday talk shows? Won’t they expose the dangers ahead? Folks, there’s not a politician running for dog catcher who hasn’t figured out how to handle an interview, whether it’s David Gregory or David Letterman. 1.) Ignore the question and deliver your talking points. 2.) Repeat the process but stretch it out. Throw in an occasional appropriate chuckle. 3.) Run the clock out — they’ll never lay a glove on you.

So don’t wait for our free press to sound the alarm. Our press isn’t a watch dog. It’s a show dog. Remember, the Gang in Black is getting near the ranch. In fact, they’re only two seats away.