Thursday, September 27, 2012

Eyes on the Prize

We are heading into the final leg of this political race (and those of you who follow this blog for the book end of things, I apologize), and it's looking like Mr. Obama will be re-elected, barring some horrific gaffe or disaster on his part. And it also looks like a number of Tea Party favorites are currently in a position where they are fighting for their political lives.

This is the thing. I'm pretty left. There hasn't been a major candidate that exists that is as left as I am. I acknowledge that my views are not mainstream. I also acknowledge that there will NEVER be a candidate who passes my litmus test. I have made do with all the Democratic candidates that have come along. Probably my favorite has been Bill Clinton. And yet he also deregulated banks so that they could merge their securities departments with their banking functions, which essentially laid the ground work for the financial meltdown you saw in 2008. And he also pushed through NAFTA, which killed the labor movement in the United States. As much as I adore Bill, he's not perfect by a long shot. But basically, he adheres to a general philosophy of that it takes-a-village mentality, and doesn't chastise the poor for being, well, poor, unlike the Republican mantra that equates poverty with sloth and sin.

I acknowledge my otherness. I don't hate the system because it doesn't adhere to my views. I believe that democracy, which is the general will of the people, is a pretty damn fine system, and if I'm outside the bell curve, that's is my problem. The majority of Americans are far too conservative for me, but I recognize that THEY are the majority. I am not.

So Tea Partiers, this is a shout out to you. Accept your otherness, your extreme point of view, much as I have learned to accept mine. Do you know why your Republican candidate is losing? I will tell you why. Because you have bullied and threatened and forced others in the Republican party to adhere to your narrow viewpoint, so much so that you have ensured his defeat. I don't think much of his moral center (indeed, I don't think he has one--ambition thy name is Romney), but he's fairly middle of the road, albeit a little wedded to a leaner, meaner society. You pushed him into extreme positions (that he now finds himself backtracking on) to satisfy your narrow point of view.

Which was so pointless, Republicans! I thought you guys had brains.

How do you combat Obama, a President who inherited a mess of an economy, let's be fair, and who couldn't possibly fix that economy in four years, but why quibble about that. Common sense would say pull that centrist rug out from his compromised economic feet and hijack his stage. Romney would have been an ideal candidate for that. You didn't. You lurched even FARTHER right. Bad call. And Romney, who is basically a centrist, found himself caught in a horrible bind. He was dancing the extreme right mamba when really he was a centrist waltz kind of guy. Which he had to do to appease you people. Which meant that he entered this election with a credibility gap that continues to widen.

I know you wish that most Americans would think like you do. I wish that most Americans thought like I did. But I don't push my admittedly different agenda onto my candidates. I accept that I'm far too left for most Americans, but you have failed to accept that your viewpoint is far too right for most Americans. You have brought this on yourselves. I hope that this elections finally ends the hegemony of the Tea Party because I am sick of you people. I am sick of someone like Sarah Palin who thinks her high school education has given her the credentials to comment on global, political, and economic issues. I am sick of candidates who have benefited greatly from lucrative government contracts and yet see everyone else's use of government funds as handouts. I am sick of your racist, ignorant remarks. I am sick of you debasing, ignoring, and trivializing women.

What is even better is that I think that a huge number of Americans are sick of you, too. You know what? Keep on talking. Keep on exposing your ignorance. Keep on advertising exactly who you are and what you stand for: bigotry, sexism, hatred, racism, and ignorance. Talk your way out of office. Talk your way into political oblivion. Because you've had a little over two years to spread your message and let me tell you, people are getting it. Ask Mitt Romney.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Some Days are So Damn Depressing

As if we needed any more evidence that much of the animus toward President Obama is racial in origin:

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Book Review: Winter King by Thomas Penn

In my never-ending quest to read possibly every single published book on the Tudor monarchy, I spied this little gem a few weeks ago and picked it up. It's difficult to get a handle on Henry VII. Some of it is due to his personality--he played his cards close to the vest, unlike his son--and some of it is due to Tudor spin--they were, after all trying to bolster up the royal credentials for a man who didn't have that many. Overblown prose trumpeting his reign seemed to be the order of the day.

Although the first quarter of this book is a little dry, at around the twenty-five percent mark Penn all of a sudden takes off and finds his voice. What a beautifully written book. In a sure voice, Penn captures without so much as a hiccup the tenor of these men, an era of the fantastically ambitious and avaricious. Add several whose claims to the throne were considerably more legitimate than Henry Tudor's, and you have an age where the royal fortune is so fragile that success and failure seem to turn on the seemingly most trivial events, like a storm at the right place at the right time. Although these events are dramatic enough in themselves, Penn takes this up several notches by deftly marshalling these events into a coherent, fascinating narrative. The chapters dealing with the alum trade are alone worth buying this book.

The personalities of them men are large and Penn draws these men with the drollest of pens. From the enclave of rapacious Italians to the poets and humanists vying for royal favor, from Henry VII's financial henchmen Dudley and Empson to the emerging players that will play such a huge role in his son's reign (Wolsey, Cromwell, More, and Warham), Penn adroitly weaves in all their stories as the background to what is a monarchy that is obsessed with its legitimacy. Henry VII's solution to his less-than-stellar credentials was to amass so much money that he was able to buy stability, even if it meant terrorizing his people. His son would be no less obsessed and equally adept at terrorizing the populace.

A delightful read, I highly recommend it.

Mitt Meet Dick

I think that most politicians make hard choices to get to where they want to go. Support this so you'll get money for that. How far you are willing to go to "seal the deal" is what divides someone who has decided to sell their soul versus someone who basically rents out their soul every now and then.

Given the tenor of the Republican Party these days and the wholesale gutting of any Republican who isn't right of Genghis Khan, it wasn't surprising that the individual who got the nom would either (a) be a rabid Tea Partier or (b) someone who was more moderate but talked the Tea Party talk. Personally, I've thought that (b) would be preferable because I find the Tea Party political platform racist, reactionary, jingoistic, and, oh, did I say racist?

Given the last two weeks of the campaign, I'm beginning to change my mind.

Because I always thought that Mitt Romney had at least a sprinkling of core values that he'd hold close to his vest. Or let's put it this way, I always thought he was a decent man who was bowing to the insane pressures of a political party that was currently dictated to by a bunch of extremists. If he was lucky, the Republican Party would finally wake-up, realize that these extremists are destroying the party, and return to its roots of fiscal conservatism. At this point, Romney could heave a sigh of relief. Because it seems that the one thing this guy understands is how to make money.

Sadly, two things have happened in that last two weeks that have made me realize that Romney is neither an (a) nor (b) kind of guy. He's (c), someone who will do anything to achieve his ambitions. This is possibly the worst politician. Richard Nixon was that kind of politician. As far as Nixon was concerned, the most glaring problem with Watergate was that they got caught. At that point all conversation stops because this person has crossed a line. Whatever ethical center that might have existed previously has been replaced with cold ambition. Mitt Romney meet Richard Nixon. You two might have a lot more in common that you realize.

What tipped me over the edge? First, Romney's about face on health care. Or should I say "twirl" on health care. As Governor of Massachusetts we see him legislate a pretty damn smart model on revamping health care, so smart that the feds essentially adopted it as their model. He repudiates it in order to get the nomination. He doesn't merely repudiate it. He makes it one of his strident selling points. Then, when people finally, FINALLY, wake up and see, hmmm, not being bounced for pre-existing conditions, my kids get to stay on my plan until their are older, etc., etc., this health care thing might not be such a bad deal, Romney completes the twirl and says, well, some of it isn't bad and he would keep those bits that people like. Excuse me?

Number two is more damning because it's not policy or political, or it shouldn't be. The ONLY response to the death of Ambassador Stevens and three others is condolences for their families. There's no other way to respond to this tragedy. Oh wait. There's attempting to make political hay out of an awful event.

That's the problem, and where we are now entering Nixon territory. Because once you have lost sight of the fact that there ARE lines, then it's all over. You aren't merely renting out your soul on occasion, you have truly sold it.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Tension, Baby

So I was talking with some other authors the other day, discussing what makes a book work. This was a pan-genre discussion, although most of us are writing mysteries. But we all read across the board and, naturally, we all want to corral that magic that makes a book work.

What makes a book work? Two things: voice in concert with tension.

I've talked about how voice is so important. Someone could read me a passage from a book and I could tell you whether it was written by James Lee Burke or Robert Crais. The Burke passage will be lyrical and romantic, even if the passage is about killing a man, and the Crais passage will be punchy with lots of description of the actual gun. That's voice. Words that an author owns as his/her own, that identifies them unequivocally.

I think that voice is something that can take years to develop. It's about how you work with language. This is not in response to fads or the tense de jour. It's you and your brain and it's unique and marvelous.

Tension? This is more mechanical and not necessarily intrinsic. There are several ways to introduce tension. For those writing cosies, humor is the ticket. It doesn't have to be a howling sort of humor like, say, Donna Andrews, but it helps if you have humor plus something else. A fair amount of humor and violence usually works (like Ford's early Leo Waterman novels). Violent and sex are easy ways to introduce tension--probably the easiest--although sex is a lot harder to write than you would think. And, of course, action, action, action, baby. This can be psychological action, which is a fancy way of saying character development, but something needs to happen in a novel and how it unfolds is tension.

I think this is partly why mysteries work so well as a "good" read because you have the plot marching the action forward, with the accompanying who-did-it conundrum lurking perpetually in the background. And with the who is always the accompanying why, which I think should be as much psychological and physical. This is just a freebie because all mysteries have that question hovering over the story. Which is why I tend to like character-based mysteries as opposed to plot-based mysteries because most plots are pretty transparent--you read enough mysteries and by page 75 you know who did it--and it's the who that becomes so important. And then you have the writer who does both. Hits both character and plot out of the park.

Although she's now derided, I really don't think that anyone did it better than Agatha Christie. Pick up one of her books. The character development is marvelous, especially for the minor characters. And yes, the language is dated and major characters perhaps improbable (is there possibly a more improbable character than Hercule Poiret, but, hey, humor!), but, God, it all works so well.

Tension. A good thing.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Say What?

This election only gets more and more bizarre. I saw news clips this morning of Romney endorsing "segments" of Obama's healthcare plan. THIS? After months and months and months of hammering home that he would repeal "Obamacare," he does yet another about face and now endorses bits and pieces of it? Even though it was based on a plan HE legislated, Romney has repeatedly repudiated any and all of that legislation in his frantic quest to nail down the GOP nom.

I find this not only strange, but political suicide.

Note to Romney:

Mistake No. 1: You do NOT put all your eggs in one basket--in other words, the right-wing ultra conservative faction of your party that currently owns the party--and then walk away from it once you've nailed down the nomination. Obama will KILL you in debates. You are entering this election with a huge credibility problem as it is. You've done a 180 on issues that you ran on as governor when sold your soul to the Tea Party conservatives, and that's the thing about television. The Dems will keep replaying your flip-flopping. Even the most jaded person will find this hard not to see you as someone without ANY core convictions. You are all ready perceived of as someone who will say anything to get elected. You've just confirmed it.

Mistake No. 2: Your base is conservative white people. Sorry, even more importantly, conservative OLDER white people. And yet you chose a veep that has come out in favor of a voucher system to combat the Medicare crisis. No one but a goddamn fool would recognize that a voucher system where you have ONE person trying to shop for insurance isn't any way, shape, or form as powerful as, say, the U.S. government shopping for health care. Hey, so you've managed to alienate the elderly. If you lose Florida, thank Paul Ryan.

Mistake No. 3: Your other problem also relates to Paul Ryan. Dude, you should have picked a woman. Haley of South Carolina would have been perfect. She's a smarter Sarah Palin. She's relatively unknown, she's beloved by the Tea Party, and most importantly, she's not a white male. Conservative women have greater potential of shoving through conservative, reactionary social policies like limiting abortion than, say, a white guy like Ryan.

Mistake No. 4. This is a twofer. You alienated the seniors by picking Ryan, thereby endangering your lock on Florida. And by picking Ryan, you also widened your huge gap with Hispanics. If you just couldn't commit to having a woman as a veep, then Rubio was the obvious choice here. Tea Party, Hispanic, charismatic, let me name the ways in which he would have benefited your ticket.

Ryan does NOTHING to bring in the senior, women, OR Hispanic votes. We know that this election is going to be a squeaker. You need those votes and Ryan can't deliver them for you. Even worse, he's a liability in those very areas where you need help. Hell, even his seat in Wisconsin is now shaky.

At this point, all you have going for you is the visceral hatred of Obama floating out there. I think we should just label it what it is. There are a lot of people who hate having a black man in the White House. You've made a deal with those people. But they don't love you so much as they hate Obama. You'd better believe that the most damaging aspect of the Republican convention was not the hurricane or the lies or the Eastwood mess. It was the overwhelming panorama of faces in the audience. They were all white. Contrast that to the panoramas of the Democratic convention. The only way you could have nipped that pretty damning evidence that this is a party in freefall with limited appeal would have been to choose a non-white veep.

But you didn't. You made a pact with the extreme edges of your party and now you're realizing that, hey, they aren't representative of the majority of Americans. They are loud and powerful, but they are a minority. If you alienate them by moving to the center (and the reality is that you couldn't win the nom by NOT appealing to the extremists in your party and that's extremely sad), then you will lose them, too. They will write in Ron Paul. And as much as conservatives bleat about Obama's "socialist" agenda, the man is a basic centrist. As you know! He is running on the Clinton model. Keep center. Most people are center. It's only the fringes of your party (and fringes of the Dems) that are out there politically.

Mitt, you're blowing it. Think of it as a business. You've just lost your market share.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

This Time of Year

Even in California we have seasons. It's subtle, yes, but all of a sudden the shadow deepens and there's a bite in the night air. The trees are beginning to loosen their leaves, and the roses are nearly done blooming.

It's also my father's birthday tomorrow. He's been a dead a number of years now, but I like to think of him on his birthday rather than on the day he died. A difficult man at best, I wish we'd had a better relationship. I've found that a lot of daughters have problematic relationships with their fathers, but I think my relationship wasn't the stuff of Freud. It was more that he was a deeply unhappy man who always seemed to make the wrong choices in his life. It's hard to connect with someone who is unhappy. Their personal misery usually trumps pretty much everything. You come in second, third, fourth, hell, maybe even fifth.

Anyway, I saw my hands on the steering wheel of my car and they are my father's hands. You'd think by the time I was fifty-five this wouldn't be much of a revelation, but it was. I suppose I've had him in the back of my head for a couple of weeks now, as his birthday got closer and closer. I've inherited many things from him. My height, my wit, my intelligence, and now I can add his hands to that list.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

And Now a Note to Obama

People need answers. Give them more credit than Washington has been giving people lately. You think that people want to hear the spin that the GOP is handing out? People know differently. Please do not follow-up the Repub convention with a similar level of lying. All they are offering is Bush redux, yes? The world has gotten a lot more complicated since then, and the simple solutions don't work anymore. Say that. Say that you're working to end unemployment but that it's not like you can pull a switch and, voila, it's done. Like what the GOP are saying.

I mean, let's think about it. If it was really easy to get the jobs numbers where you want them to be--like, oh, I don't know, because maybe your re-election depends on it?--wouldn't you do everything in your power to raise those numbers? Let's think on this for a second. Poor job numbers are seriously affecting your re-election. WHY WOULDN'T YOU DO EVERYTHING IN YOUR POWER TO CHANGE THAT?  And yet the GOP puts out this message that you could care less.

Don't lie. Please don't lie. Don't make things rosier than it is. We are in a global economy and we're not an island. What happens in Europe, affects us. I think you need to come out with a host of measures that appeal to the middle class. They are the engine that buys cars, washing machines, lawn mowers, and durable goods. If they aren't buying them, then no one is.

And I think you need to lay out a list of all the things that government has done. The good things. The GOP has been spreading this message that government is bad. Counteract that with a message laying out exactly what government has done. Because people are the government. Our vote ensures that. We know what happens when government gives up. Witness the debacle after Katrina. Government didn't step up and help the people. Witness what happens when it works. The three major car companies are in the black, reaping profits for the first time in years. Have paid back their loans. On what level is this failure?

Above all, be honest. People are really sick of lying.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Silly Season

We head into this election with the race being pretty tight. I have been a life-long Democrat, and I can't imagine voting Republican solely for the reason that I view our social obligations as a fairly big tent. I think that our Puritan heritage whereby wealth is seen as a benediction from God is a pretty corrupt and dangerous POV, and yet it has been the economic engine for our country for the last two hundred years. Nothing like a distrust of government and a veneration of money as a way to run roughshod over minorities, the law, the land, and other governments who might stand in the way of making money as a blueprint for success. And yes, Halliburton, I'm looking at you.

Okay, so we know that I'm not on board with the Republican ethos. And yet, I'm part of the 1%--okay, maybe the top 10%. My husband and I live in California, so although we might make an obscene amount of money, we live in a small, 1500-square-foot house that is worth over $700,000. We drive cars that are ten years old, and our vacation every year is camping. Such is California Dreamin'. However, we don't carry any credit card debt, and I have the freedom to go to the grocery store and buy a nice bottle of wine when I feel like it. I consider us very lucky. I am more than willing to pay more taxes, and I fully support Jerry Brown's tax increase (which will affect us). And it's not because my kids are in school. They are graduated. It's because an educated populace is important to maintaining a healthy society, and California's schools rank forty-eighth in the nation in what we pay per child. Right in front of Alabama and Mississippi. I wish I were joking, but I'm not. When my children were in school, we wrote lots and lots of checks to supplement our kids' education. We were in the position to write those checks. Every time I signed my name, I wondered about all those people who couldn't afford to write checks. Whose kids got one hour of sciene a month as opposed to mine who had two hours of science a week, solely because my community could afford to write checks. This is NOT a level playing field. So yes, I support Brown's tax increase. Bring it on.

So, the Republican convention. This is a shout out to Congressman Ryan. Did you go to confession after you made that speech? As a practicing Catholic, you should have had your confessor on speed dial. If you can't make a case for your party other than to lie about your opponent, you have a problem. Surely you don't need to lie. There are a number of things that I would call Obama to task on (Gitmo and his cosy relationship with Wall Street to name two), but these probably are not the things that you find objectionable. But, come on! I guess you can't mention the stock market, because last time I looked it was up over 13,000. Wasn't it down at 8000 when Bush left office? And all economic indicators are pointing up. Not way up, but up enough, so perhaps that doesn't give you enough ammunition. And you can't really fault him for not being religious because he invokes God in his speeches as much as you do (something I find extremely problematic, but then I actually believe in the separation of church and state). But still. There must be a few things you can nail him on.

The problem is that the Republican party has lost its center. You guys don't have a platform anymore. You can't have a ethos that is based on American ingenuity and smarts when you've excluded a huge majority of Americans. Like all those black and brown people. The ones who weren't at your convention. Every time the camera panned the audience, it was a sea of white faces. That's not America anymore. I know you wish it was, but it isn't. And the more you push an agenda that excludes minorities and women, the more marginal you will become.

Stop lying. Remember who you are. Why I am, a Democrat, telling you how to run your business?