Big Noisy Bug

I'm just glad I'm on our side…


I’d like to explain: yes, I’m voting for Bernie Sanders

This week, I will walk into the voting booth with a handful of career politicians, one con artist, and one idealist.

Truth be told, they’re all politicians. Even the guy who’s never been one before, by placing himself into the political arena, he takes on that definition.

Although we might like individual politicians, or at least dislike some less than others, the term itself has (often deservedly) become a much-maligned word. It’s been said (not by me) that a statesman is simply a dead politician, and that all good politicians are statesmen. It’s not hard to understand why: we generally see them as con artists, working the long game; telling people what they want to hear in order to get reelected and keep bringing in all that juicy lobbyist coin. They “tack left” or “tack right” as needed; they “play to their base”; they speechify when their advisers tell them it will matter and disappear into the woodwork when they’re told to keep out of the fight. They talk to us, look us in the eye, shake our hands, nod at our concerns. And then they fly back to DC, where they sign their names to “example legislation” handed to them by special interest groups and forget all about us until the next time they need our vote.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Bernie Sanders protesting segregation in the 1960s.
Bernie Sanders protesting segregation in the 1960s.

This is the lot of the politician. You fight to get the job, and as soon as you have it, you’re moving on to the next con, the next deal.

Hmm. Perhaps the guy who has never done this before isn’t so inexperienced after all.

If all politicians are con artists, it probably makes sense to vote for the actual con artist, because at least he’s not pretending to be anything else.

It’s the same reason folks love Las Vegas. It may take your money, but at least it’s not pretending to love you back. You don’t build a volcano or an Eiffel Tower replica or a dancing lake in the middle of the desert if the suckers aren’t leaving with less cash than they arrived with.

There’s a simple honesty in the obvious con, whether it’s a slot machine or a sending a bill for a breathtaking wall to a neighboring country that didn’t build it and doesn’t want it. Maybe we’ve been lied to so much over the years that we’ll gravitate to simple honesty in whatever form we can find it.

But I digress. I really want to talk about the other guy. Because there’s one candidate in this election who has never been accused of “tacking left” or “tacking right,” or of simply playing to his base, or saying whatever he needs to just to get elected. He’s stood up for what he believes in, even when it was unpopular. In fact, for decades he’s used the word socialist to describe himself, even during an era in which “socialist” was a code word for “scary bad guy.”

Truth is, most of us are socialists around here; it’s just a matter of degree. If you accept Medicare or Social Security: socialist. If you think OSHA should keep workplaces safe, or that laws should limit how many hours your employer can wring out of you without giving you a break: socialist. Government regulating the quality and marketing of drugs: socialist. Public water: socialist. Fire department: socialist. Trash collection: socialist.

By calling himself a socialist, Bernie Sanders is just telling it like it is.

Simple honesty. Sometimes you don’t see it when it’s right in front of you.

As a protester in the sixties, a mayor in the eighties, a representative in the nineties, and a senator in the aughts, he has a reliable and demonstrated track record of fighting for equality, fairness, and liberty.

Hey! Those are my values too!

There are some arguments against him:

He’s unelectable. That’s true of everyone, right up until they’re elected. I’m told he’s extremely popular in his home state—the people who know him best—so he must be doing something right.

His policies will cost too much. That’s pretty much true of everyone who’s ever held the office, except maybe Herbert Hoover. Show me a president who saved the government money all by himself and I’ll show you a dead guy.

He’s not a woman, and it’s time for a woman. No argument there. They boys club absolutely needs disruption. But I trust voting by genitalia about as much as I trust voting by party, which is to say not at all. All I ask is for the best candidate regardless of sex, and in 2016, that’s Sanders.

He’s not conservative. You’ve got me there. If conservative is worth more than honesty, follow your heart. Or vote for John Kasich, but unfortunately it looks like he has even less of a chance than Sanders.

The bottom line is, there’s not one person in this presidential election who has a solid track record of following his or her scruples for the recorded history of their existence. Not one person who has stood up for the little guy (or gal) every single time it’s mattered, for his entire life.

Except Sanders.

If this is a con, he must be running the really long game.

So on Tuesday, March 15, 2016, I will walk into the voting booth and cast my vote for Bernie Sanders. For the first and possibly the only time in my life, I will vote for a real person who believes what he is telling us and has the best interests of our country at heart. Someone whom I can support without reservation. An idealist. A quality dude.

I can’t tell you how much that means to me. I may have to selfie the moment, just to be sure I was there. I may never have this chance again.

Congratulations Mr. Sanders. You’ve been earning my vote since before I was born.

And on Tuesday, you’ll have it.


No, thank you

A friend of mine who is also an NRA member once asked me, “If all your neighbors had guns, wouldn’t you feel safer?

I laughed out loud at the thought. Everyone in my neighborhood could kill me at a distance and that’s supposed to make me feel safer? I don’t think so. Beating each other with fists seems much more civilized, and I’d rather nurse a black eye in a pub than bleed out in the emergency room.

Don’t think I’ll ever understand the gun thing. And you know what? I’m fine with that.

High gun ownership makes countries less safe, US study finds

Gun Ownership and Firearm-related Deaths


I don’t know much, but…

I don’t know much about what happened the night of Feb. 26, 2012. I don’t know if anyone was a racist and I don’t give a crap about the skin color of those involved. I don’t know if one party was acting suspiciously or who decided to initiate a confrontation. I don’t know if one guy smoked weed or wanted to watch a game with his dad, or if one was a good family man or a tough guy with a gun. I don’t know about Stand Your Ground or Castle Doctrine or any of the other legal mumbo jumbo lawyers like to throw around.

What I do know is this: an armed civilian reported that he saw someone “suspicious” and was told by the dispatcher to leave the situation to the police. And there’s almost no scenario in which George Zimmerman follows those instructions and Trayvon Martin ends up dead.


Folk wisdom solves gay marriage debate

Your rights end where mine begin.

It’s a simple enough idea—arguably the mantra of libertarians everywhere—and as rules of thumb go, it’s a pretty good one. After all, the argument says, in a free country I can swing my arms all I want, as long as I don’t hit your nose.

For me, it’s difficult not to apply this simple folk aphorism to the debate about gay marriage, which became turbocharged this week when President Obama waded in and (some would say finally) declared his support for the idea.

I have to dismiss many of what could be termed impact-on-society arguments here, because let’s be frank, most are ridiculous. Some people say allowing men to marry men will destroy the institution of marriage, as if a divorce rate somewhere north of 40 percent for first-time marriages hasn’t already done that. As one friend recently stated, “I believe that marriage is one of the most beautiful and sacred things to ever be offered as a prize on a game show.” Read More


The slow-motion SGR train wreck

The debt deal is a piece of crap. At least part of it…

Raise your hand if you know what the SGR is. Okay, I’ll explain. Back in the ’90s, Congress decided to limit the growth of Medicare physician reimbursement through something called the Sustainable Growth Rate formula. Essentially, if reimbursement costs outpace estimates provided under the formula, physician pay is cut the following year to compensate. Read More


Debt and taxes

As much as I cherish my ignorance, I’ve been reading up on some of this debt ceiling stuff. Here are a few links that you don’t need an economics degree to read. I’ll try to add more as I find some good ones.

How we got into this fine mess
Pointing the finger at…well…everyone really.

Who Rules America?
This article is a little more involved, but it’s important. In 2007, the top 20% of the U.S. controlled 93% of the wealth, and the economic downturn of 2008 is estimated to have widened that gap.

The Laffer Curve debunked; Part One
Nice look at the Laffer Curve—the theory we’d all love to believe in—in which the government takes in more revenue as taxes get cut.

Debunking One of the Worst Ideas in Economics
More on the Laffer Curve, in case the previous article didn’t take.


Dating the crazy chick is fun…for a while

A guy I used to know ended up dating the crazy girl. You know the type: outgoing, artsy, off-beat, plenty of piercings and tattoos. She seemed pretty cool at first. Loads of fun at parties, and from what I was led to believe, the sex was great. But over time, she became more demanding, more jealous. She had a very dark side that came out more often as time when on. The two of them almost got married and if that had happened, I wouldn’t have been surprised if one of them had ended up killing the other. For a long time after they split up, he was an emotional wreck.

I’ve been thinking about this as I’ve watched the Tea Party gang yank the old-school Republicans around on this debt ceiling issue. There are plenty of reasons why the debt limit needs to be raised, but they’re boring and I don’t want to get into them here. Suffice to say that the U.S. defaulting on its obligations would be unprecedented and very, very bad. So the limit needs to be raised. This isn’t a particularly partisan issue. It might be distasteful, but it has to be done. Read More


Higher gas prices? Bring ‘em on!

Before you all go lynching me for demanding higher gas prices, hear me out. As someone who drives 54 miles or so round trip to work each day, I’m no fan of overpaying at the pump. It grinds my gears every time I spend 40 bucks or more to fill up my four-banger, when it seems like it wasn’t that long ago that it only cost me about 25 to fill my pickup truck.

When I was a kid, we had a gas crisis, and we were told that someday we’d just run out of oil, and if we didn’t do something about it, we’d be quite screwed in just a few years. At the time, we believed what we were told, and our parents ran out and started buying tiny, fuel-efficient automobiles with funny names like Honda, Toyota, and Datsun. People don’t talk too much about it now, but those early Japanese imports weren’t very good cars. They were light on gas, but the thin, recycled-steel bodies tended to rust out quickly, parts were hard to get, and many local mechanics either didn’t work on “them foreign cars” at all, or worked on them grudgingly and charged through the nose for the privilege.

It didn’t matter. We were all saving the world, and being smart about it. When oil supplies would start to run low a few years hence, we’d be ready with our cars that sipped instead of slurped. Who cares if a generation of drivers grew up with back problems from sitting in cars that were never designed to hold six-footers?

Then, the impossible happened. We didn’t run out of gas. We didn’t even come close. Gas prices stayed the same. They even went down for a while. When I started driving in the early ’80s, gas was pretty easy to find for about $1.25 a gallon. By the mid-’90s, I was paying under a dollar.

All of this caused the notoriously short-term-memoried American public to go hog-wild once again. While we never quite returned to the heady days of building 8 miles-per-gallon vehicles (Dodge Viper excepted), we began buying sport-utes and campers and strange-looking military machines called “Hummers” by the thousands.

Of course, the impossible happened again, and gas prices began to climb. And climb. And climb. Higher than they’d ever been before. Higher than some would have believed possible in the modern era with all of that cheap oil flowing out of Iraq.

Pardon me while I pause to snicker.

It turns out that we were never really in danger of running completely out of oil. While such a thing is theoretically possible, experts in the ’70s made us believe that one day, the straw would hit the empty bottom of the oil wells and that would be it. We’d hear a sick gurgling sound, and just like that, no more gasoline. We’d be stuck on permanent “E.”

The truth, as usual, is more complicated than that. There’s lots of oil remaining underground, but the more of it we take, the more difficult it becomes to draw out what’s left. Getting at what’s left isn’t impossible, it’s simply a matter of building more expensive and higher risk (and therefore more expensive) wells.

It doesn’t take a math whiz to figure out that a more expensive supply, coupled with increased bidding competition from countries that are industrializing (such as China) results in higher gas prices to the consumer. It also shouldn’t take a math whiz to figure out that, short of discovering a new and gigantic really cheap source of oil (which would only delay things anyway), there’s no end to this. Gas prices will continue to rise throughout our lifetimes. Yes, there will be fluctuations, and they will occasionally drop a bit, but the trend will remain upward.

At some point, these prices will begin to take a toll on our economy. All of those pots and pans and clothes we now ship cheaply across the Pacific will begin to cost more. All of those semi-trucks we see tooling along our highways will cease to be a cost-effective means of shipping. Everything that is moved more than a few miles to its destination, which is to say everything, will rise in price faster than our ability to pay for it.

At that point, we’ll be screwed.

What do we need? We need better public transportation, so we all don’t have to sit on a highway every morning smogging up our lungs at 3 bucks a gallon. We need a nationwide rail system that isn’t the punch line to a joke. We need alternative sources of fuel that are cleaner and cheaper. We need you and me to buy fuel-efficient cars that will help tide us over until we can bring the other stuff on-line.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the only time anything gets done around here is when someone is taking a hit in the wallet, or is in danger of doing so. We can talk about how proud we were to put a man on the moon with nothing more than a good rah-rah speech by JFK, but once the government put the guy there and the bill showed up in the mail, we put the kibosh on such nonsense.

So we need high gas prices as an incentive to make that other stuff happen. I know. I don’t like it either. But the alternative is to party blindly until we paint ourselves into a corner, and I care too much about this stupid country to want to see that happen.

What about you?


Imus’ firing really not a big deal

Lately it seems that you can’t swing a dead radio career around here without hitting something labeled “Don Imus.” As much as I’m loathe to jump on the bandwagon on any particular issue (I shouldn’t have to jump, as I consider the bandwagon to be my more-or-less permanent home—comfortably furnished and stocked with Cheez Whiz and Saltines), I feel the need to toss out my thoughts on some moaning that a couple of nationally syndicated radio pinheads were engaged in the other day.

It seems that the pinheads, whose names rhyme with Dopey and Shmanthony, were making a great Wringing of the Hands over the idea that a chilling effect would soon cast a blight on radio hosts across this great land of ours. Freedom of speech was their rallying point, and the general consensus seemed to be that, although Imus might have been misguided, shutting him down due to a few spiteful malcontents like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton would eventually lead to the demise of democracy, candlelight bowling, and the American Way.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard talk like this—it seems to arise any time a high profile figure gets fired from a broadcast job for allowing the thoughts in his brain to exit his mouth without being filtered through his pay stub. Certainly the thought isn’t original to the radio duo mentioned above, and it won’t end with them either.

Let’s all say this together so we remember it in the morning: Don Imus’ firing had nothing to do with freedom of speech, nor will it. The First Amendment is still in place, and it’s just as strong as it was a few weeks ago, minus the damage done to it over the last several years by the brain trust that insists on protecting us from terrorists by making us take our shoes off to get on a plane.

The firing of Don Imus will neither produce a chilling effect, nor a “corseting of society,” as one radio guest put it. Well, it might make a few radio-types watch their words for the next couple of months, but by the time the All-Star Game rolls around, most will have forgotten about it.

No, Imus’ firing has everything to do with the fact that he proved himself to be an incompetent on nationwide radio.

Some may wonder how I can call the man incompetent. After all, he’s had plenty of success. He’s had a long career and national recognition. He can afford to wear fancy cowboy hats while hanging out on his ranch where he does admittedly nice things for children with cancer.

It’s simple. He had a job. His job was to entertain people. He opened his mouth a bit too wide and let the fact that he is a misogynistic racist fall out. Lots of listeners didn’t find that entertaining. Many of his advertisers didn’t find that entertaining. Most importantly, his bosses at CBS and MSNBC didn’t find it entertaining, and they fired him. That’s the whole story.

We all have bosses, well…most of us do, anyway, and when we do something at work that bothers those bosses, there is a strong likelihood that we’ll be fired. This applies to the kid pushing the mail cart, the up-and-coming executive, and Don Imus. Fortunately, most of us are faced with a fairly simple set of rules that even we can understand; rules that allow us to keep our jobs as long as we conduct ourselves within broad guidelines. One particular rule that tends to hold true across many career paths is that, while your employer may not fire you for being a misogynistic racist on your own time, talking that way at work is almost certain to get you canned.

So Imus spouted off at work and found himself on the street, same as would happen to almost anyone reading this if they acted the way he did. He was stupid and incompetent, and he paid the price. After all those years in broadcasting, he should have known better.

Freedom of speech? I’m all for it, and I’ll even defend Imus’ right to spout his asinine viewpoints on any street corner in the U.S. Of course, I can think of a few intersections where he might not get away uninjured if he talked that way, and if he’s interested I’ll send him a list of suggestions, but that has nothing to do with the First Amendment.

But he won’t be spilling his swill on CBS’s airwaves anymore, and that is as it should be. If national radio hosts ever make a habit of spouting racism and there’s no public outcry, we should probably take a good look at ourselves. Again.

In the meantime, if Don Imus feels that his artistic freedom has been unfairly stifled by his former employers, I have another suggestion for him: get a blog. Sure, the pay sucks, but you can say anything you want.


The President should find a way to thank Congress

I have to admit—my position on the Iraq war has been taking a waffling lately. It wasn’t always that way. In the beginning, I was steadfast in my belief that not having an Iraq war was absolutely the right course of action, yet lately, I’ve been watching as everyone from Howard Dean to Steve Earle has demanded that we pull the troops out of Iraq and get them home where they belong.

That’s a sentiment I could embrace pretty easily, but there’s an annoying, contrarian thought that keeps crawling around in the back of my head and I just can’t get rid of it, no matter how much bug spray I use. The idea is this: if we pull out of Iraq early, not only will we have done irreparable damage to the people of that country, but we’ll be sticking them with our mess.

A fine mess it is, and one that, by the way, ends with Iraq either nurturing its infant democracy, breaking into several unstable warring parts, or turning into yet another repressive Islamic theocracy that I like to call Iran, Jr. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide which of those is most likely. And which is least.

So, I’ve found myself in the unlikely position of defending “the surge,” even though it’s probably a silly idea (too little, too late) with a seriously silly name, brought to us by the gang who started all the trouble in the first place. I’ve defended sending over even more troops and seeing this thing through, even as I’ve had friends fighting for their lives in the Middle East. My lack of military service makes me feel like one of those war hawks who served very little or not at all, yet sends others to fight at the drop of a hat. What do we call those guys again? Oh, yeah…presidents.

Then I read about American soldiers who have written home and told their loved ones that the Iraqis have basically hung them out to dry. The Iraqi forces, it is said, don’t support the U.S. troops, they fight amongst themselves, they form secret or not-so-secret alliances with local warlords. That makes me believe that maybe enough is enough. Solving the problem with the help of the Iraqis seems difficult, but solving it with them working against us seems impossible. Maybe we really should bring our forces home.

Then there’s the “spilled grape juice” analogy that I discussed with a friend of mine recently. It seems to me, that if you spill grape juice all over someone’s sofa, the least you can do is pay to have it cleaned. Make no mistake, we spilled the grape juice. We may have meant well at the time, but the alternative Iraq sans U.S. invasion looks very different than the Iraq we’re stuck with now. If nothing else, common decency would put us in the position of trying to stabilize the country before we all go back to watching “Dancing with the Stars.”

Thus the waffling.

The only conclusion I can draw from all of this is that the U.S. is in a genuine no-win scenario. That doesn’t mean the terrorists have won, because I don’t think they have. What that means is that there is no good, clean end to the Iraq situation, no matter what course of action we choose. To paraphrase a line from the old movie “War Games,” the only way to win would have been not to play.

Do you think George W. Bush lays awake at night, musing that, like Waldo, the cure for Iraq is right there in front of him if only he can spot it? Me neither, but I’d like to think he loses a bit of sleep every once in a while.

Fortunately for him, the Democrats have parachuted into the Capitol bearing the perfect solution for the Republicans. Unfortunately for the Iraqis, the Democrats’ answer has nothing to do with fixing that country—they’re no smarter than anyone else when it comes to that, and the same no-win situation holds just as true no matter who’s in charge.

No, the Christmas present the Democrats hold in their hands is the face-saving that they are handing Bush and the Republicans, if only they’re smart enough to accept it. Sometime in the near future, Congress will send the President a bill with a date on it. That date will be the target for bringing American troops home. The President will veto that bill. Congress will be unable to override the veto, but will work with the President’s people on a new compromise bill that gets the troops out by a later date.

If they play their cards right, the core Republicans will rail against that new bill, telling us what a big mistake it is to set an artificial date for the end of a war. The president will sign the bill, all the while expressing reservations about the concept. In so doing, he can simultaneously unify his party, end the war, and dump responsibility for Iraq’s disastrous future squarely in the laps of the Democrats. “We didn’t wanna do it,” he’ll say. “They forced my hand. I said all along that pulling out was a bad idea, and they proved me correct.”

When your political enemies give you that nice of a gift, the least you can do is thank them with a nice steak dinner. At a bare minimum, Bush should send over a couple kegs of the good stuff.