MOMMY, I’M SCARED!

Back in the day, I used to watch this TV cop show called “Hill Street Blues”. Every show was packed with humor, pathos, drama, excitement, the whole nine yards. And every show would start the same way – all the cops would be sitting in this big room, the gruff-but-lovable daily lecture cop would be setting up the program by running down the list of threats and potential threats of the day, and he would always end the meeting by saying “Let’s be careful out there”. Then all the characters would rush out while making witty observations, and proceed to get beat up, mauled, shot, chased, bloodied, and occasionally killed, if somebody’s contract was up for renewal and he wanted more money than the producers were willing to hand over.

It was a great show, and won many awards. Like I said, it had a lot of humor and emotional range. But strangely, it started to affect my mind in peculiar and unforeseeable ways. I began perceiving the world as a dangerous place. My happy-clappy small town of Spokane started to become darker and riskier. People on the street took on sinister characteristics; someone coming towards me with intent (even though the intent might be to ask directions) morphed into a frightening potential assaulter; groups of people behind me on the street seemed like dangerous plotters of damage to my person, despite the fact they might be singing a high-school fight song and laughing their heads off. Going outside at night was totally creepy, even though the likelihood of an attack in my part of town was virtually nil, and as we know, it is night in Spokane from 4PM til 9AM during certain times of the year so a lot of my normal activities were becoming stressful evasive maneuvers to avoid potential danger.

Why was this happening to me? Was I cracking up or what?

IT WAS THE DAMNED TV SHOW! Week after week I subjected myself to an intense parade of images that were threatening at the least, and often fatal to people I cared about at the most,  because you can care about an actor on a show you like. (That’s the point: if you care, you get involved, keep watching the show, and maybe even buy some of the crap they advertise between scenes.) Brains don’t really seem to know the difference: they process information about a loved TV character the same way they do about a real live loved individual. And that means, when bad things happen on your favorite TV show, it  messes with your head, big-time, and that’s what was happening to me.

So I pulled the plug on that baby, quit watching the show, and within a couple weeks, was back to normal, i.e., not a raging paranoid.

So today I open my Email from Mike Huckabee (I like to keep in touch with a lot of conservative people so I can hear what they have to say straight from their own mouths). Lead line: “Billionaires Dump Stocks. Prepare for the Unthinkable”. Followup line: “The data is clear, 50% unemployment, a 90% stock market drop, and 100% annual inflation . . . starting in 2012.”

Scary stuff. Not exactly supported by evidence though, because it turns out he’s talking about some guy from Newsmax who predicts all kinds of mayhem to come. BUT – the operative term here is “PREDICTS“. Not fact. A prediction. Kind of like when you pay five bucks at the fair to have somebody read your Tarot cards.

It is interesting to me how many conservatives rely on this technique. Like the NRA. “If you ban assault weapons in Washington DC, only criminals will have guns because “…it is a slippery slope!” Um, prediction. Not fact, prediction. Worst case scenario, at that. Like the baseless spoutings of Glenn Beck, he of the charts and black Marks-A-Lot, who has thankfully receded back under the rotting log from whence he came. Like the headlines from a certain conservative news outlet: “Campaign Exposes a Scary Trend”, “Sununu Says Obama Is Lazy and Detached”, Well, when you call something “scary”, I guess it becomes – scary! Pretty up-front manipulation there. And in these difficult times, we have a guy who is “lazy and detached” leading the Free World? More subtly worded, but also pretty scary, if not for the fact there is NO EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER that the current Prez is either of those two things. Now if you said it about W Bush, THAT assertion had PLENTY of evidence, even while the guy was in office.

The bad thing is, a lot of the time these cheesy predictions are trumpeted from the heights as FACT. For example, your taxes are gonna rise 1000% if Obamacare isn’t repealed! Your granny’s gonna die because the Dems are gonna kill her with death panels! The Muslims are massing at the border and they’re gonna take over your Safeway! And blah, blah, blah. Not IS, but GONNA.  Partisan-driven prediction, all of it.

As my little dissertation about “Hill Street Blues” demonstrates, fear is powerful, it is insidious, and it operates at a level outside of our conscious minds. But it can be overcome, because when they aren’t acting like a bunch of brainless sheep, human beings can be very courageous. Remember the subway bombing in London? The good citizens of that city chose to continue to use that transportation, and in doing so, sent a message to their attackers that said, “Your intent was to terrorize, but we are not afraid.” Same thing for the Shanksville 911 folks: they overcame their fear for the greater good of their fellow Americans, because guaranteed, if they didn’t, that plane was going to hit something in our nation’s capital. By virtue of their brave action, not only was much loss of life avoided, but the whole point of the terrorists – to instill terror – was defeated.

However, it takes effort to defeat the fear that is planted in the mind by baseless predictions and worst-case scenarios.

First of all, cut off your exposure to negative broadcasting! Remember when that little old lady in the audience told a Republican incumbent that watching Fox News “scared” her? His advice was to turn off the TV, which earned him a trouncing from Rush Limbaugh and he lost in the primary. BUT IT WORKS! Guaranteed, if you cut off TV news of any kind, you will become less fearful practically overnight. Reading the news can be a little scary, but fear loses its punch when you don’t have flashy images and sincere looking people you think you “know personally” filling your senses with bullpucky.

The second way to beat fear is to DO THE RESEARCH. If somebody says something that contains words like “could”, “might”, “possibly”, “maybe”, and the rest of those words that render statements implication instead of fact, LOOK UP THE ISSUE in many different venues and try to ferret out the truth. Even if you decide, well, yeah! This is scary! – at least you have the FACTS, and that simple possession of the facts renders things less scary because you UNDERSTAND.

The third is to avoid contact with downer people, or at least avoid certain subjects they want to yak about. These folk are confidence vampires. Like all the crazy email that your (usually) far-right-wing family member sends you about stuff that MIGHT happen if Obama gets re-elected  – you know, showers of live frogs, REDRUM scrawled bloodily on all the mirrors of your house, non-stop tornadoes of box nails and bolts descending on your trailer park. Delete without reading. If you are going to talk politics, talk ONLY with people who can remain civil and balanced during the discussion. Otherwise – talk about something else, like kittens and ducklings. Everybody likes kittens and ducklings, nuthin’ to argue about there! The whole idea is to avoid the breath of fear that all the above engenders in your mind, unasked for, which will then hunker down in your unconscious, and soon affect your relationship to your world. And, not in a good way!

So solve your election season blues by boycotting radio and TV, doing your own research, and avoiding stressful people. Guaranteed you will feel better in a couple days, even without the bed rest and aspirin.

 

THIS TAX-RETURN KERFUFFLE

Okay, Mitt Romney finally releases his tax returns, after some real determined resistance, and also, to give him a little cover from his kind of impolitic observation in May, that about half of Americans are entitlement-minded takers, and not big-time, generous givers, like Mitt Romney.

There is much to learn from this document.

First of all, what I learned is exactly what I  predicted – most of Romney’s charity bucks went straight to the Mormon church, exactly 2.6 MILLION dollars, CASH. You know, after the big Mormon-financed push to influence the outcome of California’s Prop 8 (marriage equality, for those whose memories are short), I kind of lost interest in giving Mormons money,. and for that matter, not taxing the shit out of them too. If you want to be a political player, you should pay to be a political player.

BUT ANYWAY, 2.6 MILLION dollars? CASH? To a church that it just so happens you are very very entwined with? Isn’t that kind of like making a donation to yourself? Seems that way to me.

And then there is Mitt’s return itself, all 800 pages of it, with loopholes and easy-outs, and offshore accounts, and let’s not forget the deduction for Ann Romney’s HORSE, which came to more than the average wage-earner brings home in a year. The DEDUCTION for the horse! Not feeding the horse, housing the horse, getting the horse’s leg fixed by the vet, not all the horsey stuff she apparently needs to purchase – but the TAX DEDUCTION for the horse. SEVENTY GRAND’S  worth of deduction! Aiieeeee!

Then there’s the comparative wealth factor. Mitt paid more taxes than Obama because HE BRINGS HOME A CRAP TON OF MONEY. And, since all that discretionary income comes from the aforementioned loopholes, easy-outs, and offshore accounts, HE PAYS A LOWER TAX RATE than a person who makes money from, oh, say, HAVING AN ACTUAL JOB! Gosh, who do you suppose cooked up that portion of our all-American tax code? Could it have been some of Romney’s good buddies in the exclusive extremely-rich-people’s club? I am thinking – who else would care enough to manipulate the American legislative system to accommodate something like this? If you want to bitch about our complicated tax system, where rich guys can say “Oh, it’s all completely legal!”, let’s start with the people who enrich themselves big-time by complicating it in the first place! They have the money! They have the power! And they have a reason! Don’t blame some schoolteacher or beat cop for the bankrupting of America – place the blame where it belongs. And since ol’ Mitt has decided to go high-profile on us, let’s let HIM be the face of super-duper-wealthy America and let HIM explain all this away.

And the final irony? Mitt paid over twice as much in TAXES as Obama received in straight-up INCOME! And, just for the record, where does all that Obama money come from? Over the last several years, from books sales. He’s written a couple of best-selling books, and as the book sales go down, so goes the income. So he makes less every year. I may not understand what the hell Mitt’s blind trust does, but I get the whole book thing – it’s actual work Obama performed by writing a bunch of stuff all out, and then was recompensed for because people were apparently interested enough in what he had to say to buy the books. That I can understand.

Mitt’s 800-page tax document, I do not understand. Blind trust – didn’t get that either, so I looked it up. Basically, a blind trust is a wad of dough you hand over to some guys called “fiduciaries”, who handle the money, invest it, throw it around, bathe in it, whatever. The fiduciary is supposed to keep knowledge of his activities in the trust a big fat secret from the investor (wink, wink). So, let’s imagine Romney owns tons of stock in Monsanto, which runs into a little corporate trouble by killing off a couple thousand farm workers with a bad batch of bug spray. This won’t reflect poorly on Mitt politically for being an uncaring asshole, because (wink wink) “he knows nothing about the activities of the fiduciary because it is a (wink, wink) BLIND TRUST!” See how that works? Clever! Only rich guys would have thought THAT one up. Only rich guys would NEED to think it up. The fact remains, of course, that blind trust or not, a) the money is STILL ALL MITT’S, and b) he can take it out and blow it however he wants, whenever he wants, if he is willing to weather the political backlash. Clever times two! Wow!

And here’s the last thing I learned from Mitt’s tax release – SOME PEOPLE ARE SOOOOO WEALTHY THEY CAN MANIPULATE THEIR OWN TAXES! Most of us are so busy ducking and diving to lower our tax brackets by some miniscule amount per year, we don’t really think about the fabulous benefits this can have. For example, Mittens could have paid way less taxes if he had actually used all the deductions “legally” available to him. But, since he is on fire to become the POTUS, he actually used only some the deductions available to him so he could say he paid at 13% instead of an even lower rate. Says Brad Malt, the fiduciary-trustee-guy-who-runs the blind-trust-without-telling-Mitt (wink, wink),  the Romneys “limited their deductions of charitable contributions to conform to the governor’s statement in August, based on the January estimate of income, that he paid at least 13 percent in income taxes in each of the last 10 years.” (Just as an aside, if Romney worked for a WAGE the rate would have been 35%, but since he gets most of his dough in dividends and capital gains, the rate is only 15%. ACK!!!)

That is pure, straight-up manipulation. Must have been a rough decision for the Romneys, the money or the Presidency. Kind of like “Sophie’s Choice” with thousand-dollar bills instead of kids, and in the wealthy people’s paradise of 2000’s America instead of Germany in the 1940’s.

All the above tells me something terribly important. That important thing is, don’t EVER think a guy as rich as Romney will tell you the truth. Obfuscate, evade, deny, complicate – well, sure, you betcha! You get what you vote for. It would be great if we could overcome the horrific partisanship, the deadly hatred for Obama the conservatives have nurtured in their followers, the venomous blame-game in Washington, and the plain flat racism that exists in our supposedly post-racial America during this election cycle. That’s not gonna happen, so let’s just accept what Mitt shows us about himself  with this whole tax-return explosion and go with that. It is plenty enough to make a decently informed decision.

 

 

A PERFECT STORM OF BS

Well, the election season is upon us. Everybody (well, some people, anyway) has an eye on the polls, and the candidates are in the middle of saying really stupid things they can never back up with fact, and expecting us fine citizens, most of whom have been pretty well softened up in the cranial area by TV and religion, to swallow whopper after whopper like pita chips at a Superbowl game.

Romney… Well, what can you say about a basically decent guy – though he has tunnel vision and only sees certain things that absolutely must conform to his world view, or else they are invisible to him – who goes on this weird defensive, saying things he would never be able to say to Obama’s face?

And how about Obama, the word wizard who gave a kind of depressing campaign-acceptance speech? If I read the body language right, here we have a guy who really doesn’t give a flying crap about whether he’s President again or not. I certainly can’t blame him, because Washington DC has become a poxy place, and not one to try and elucidate one’s ideals. If I were him and had to look at John Boehner’s simpering spaniel mug even one more time, I would be tempted myself to commit ritual seppuku.

Ah… but however, here we are. Romney says (all of a sudden) that it’s all about JOBS and he’s better at the JOBS thing than he other guy. However, if Republican policies are so fricking great, why isn’t everybody already employed in a great job accompanied by a big-ass labor shortage in the USA? They have certainly had enough time to employ their magical fixes, but for whatever reason, are holding back. All through Bush II they held back, and with nary a peep about the deficit, despite the fact that Bushie-poo ran it up to monster heights that had never been seen before, even while leaving TWO foreign wars completely out of the budget.

Okay, then Obama. As I recall, the nation was teetering on the brink of a crash so big and so brutal, it would take decades to crawl out of the hole. Sure, he said a lot of crap, but what I HEARD him say was he was going to stop us from going over the edge. And, somehow, he did. Did he employ some slick tricks to postpone the inevitable? Probably. Did he do some things that crazy conservatives hate with the white-hot heat of a thousand suns? Sure did. But in essence, he bought us some time, and THAT’S the promise that I heard back in 2008.

And here’s proof he was right – WE ARE STILL HERE! Thanks, Obama, and NO thanks to the idiots of the House of Representatives, who seem to think just about anything is more important than jobs for Americans. You know, if the Tea Party Representatives are so het up about returning to the 18th century, maybe the nation should present them with an island somewhere, so they can engage their imaginations, live off the land, have total freedom (within, of course, their personal Tea Party boss-of-you authoritarian limits), and then come back when their fabulous new society is self-sustaining and functioning flawlessly.

I look forward to that day.