Thursday, March 17, 2016

Smile More, Criticize Less...

That's my new goal.  I wasn't happy to see that I was becoming a crabby, complaining person.  These times can be trying if you're trying to find a "silver lining" amid the gathering dark clouds in American politics this year.  So I embarked on a path to try and improve my life.  Any path always starts with small steps, but the right path must be set with realistic, achievable, and measureable goals that are within my control.  Support from others always helps and may be the key to achieving the goals.

Approaching my 65th birthday late last year, I decided to work on my overall health and fitness.  I joined Weight Watchers in November and am happy to say I have lost 25 pounds thus far with their support.  In January, I joined a gym (a new benefit of turning 65 and getting a Medicare Advantage Plan with a fitness facility membership) and began to increase my level of physical activity (even on those cold, frozen days when walking in my neighborhood wasn't very inviting). In February, I got a personal fitness trainer and do two 30 minute personal training sessions per week.  I also do cardio like treadmill, cycling and water aerobics several times a week.  I got a Fitbit wristband and now try to walk 10,000 steps a day.  I have averaged 9,785 steps a day for the past month.  The Fitbit also helps monitor my sleep and I am now aware that I need to improve the quality and time of my sleep.

My eating habits have changed as I try to cook more vegetable and protein filled dishes.  Reducing the carbohydrate, saturated fat, and sugar in my diet has benefited my overall health as measured in my late January lab tests.  I use a lot of Weight Watcher recipes that skew toward a Mediterranean-type diet and have found most of the recipes are very tasty and I have lost a daily hunger for high-carb foods.  I still eat a breakfast burrito with green chile sauce every once in a while, but I fix them with less saturated fat.   A friend on Facebook shared a post about a farm fresh delivery service here in Albuquerque called Skarsgard Farms.  They deliver a "Harvest Box" weekly and had just dropped their delivery charges to encourage new subscriptions.  Ron and I now get a mini-Harvest Box every week delivered to our door and the fresh, organic produce, fruits, eggs, bread, goat cheese, and meats encourage me to cook healthy.

Besides Weight Watchers with a weekly support meeting and their great on-line e-tools, I also have friends and neighbors who I walk with.  I join my neighbor (who just turned 80) and another neighbor who works on-line at home (like me) to walk several week days and Saturday mornings.  The walking is, of course, a great physical activity, but I also find that the social benefit is very valuable to keep me connected with others and out of my own head.  And I have a new hiking partner who I met at the weekly Weight Watchers' meeting who will join me tomorrow for hiking in the foothills of Albuquerque.

So, no matter what happens in the world today, I am working on being a happier and healthier person.  Of course, I will vote, too!  I also want to smile more and criticize less or, to say it in another way, "encourage more, complain less".  That's my new motto along with "today is a day of infinite possibility".

Sunday, March 6, 2016

"The problem was mainly one of marketing: how to make racism suitable for prime time"

So writes Ben Fountain, a southern award-winning author.  Fountain was referring to the soul-searching done by the Republican Party after the stunning defeat in 1964 of their Presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater.
"Goldwater ended up capturing 55% of the white southern vote, the first Republican ever to win a majority of white southerners, and the party of Lincoln was transformed, for one election at least, into the party of southern reaction. The transformative chemistry went by various names. “White backlash.” “Racial conservatism.” Or the old standby, “states’ rights”, a political term of art that presumed wide latitude on the part of individual states to regulate provincial society, which included, it hardly need be said (though plenty of hot-blooded segs yelled it anyway), the power to grind blacks down to the legal and economic equivalent of inmates on a Louisiana prison farm."
GOP political operatives and the professional consultant class saw opportunity even while the American Left, the Democratic Party, and the TV network press (NBC, ABC and CBS -there were no cable news in 1964) celebrated the defeat of politicial extremism in a mainstream political party.

"Clearly, the situation called for serious soul-searching in the GOP. One might have expected the party to reject Goldwater’s white-backlash strategy and return to establishment Republican conservatism. But party pros, and in particular that political genius Richard Nixon, saw in Goldwater’s defeat the makings of an extraordinary coalition. A compact. A combination. A deal.
* * * 
What was needed was white backlash with a kinder, gentler face. Years later, the Republican strategist Lee Atwater, by then an operative in the Reagan White House, would explain the essence of the “Southern Strategy” to an academic researcher:

You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger’. By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’ – that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me – because obviously sitting around saying, ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘Nigger, nigger’. "
In his article, (Reagan, Trump and the devil down south) published in The Guardian March 5th, Ben Fountain goes on to talk about the "Deal with Devil" that the Republican Party made after that 1964 electoral defeat.  
"Well if that’s where the votes are, then by God we better get down in that hog wallow and root ’em out! And so the Grand Old Party, the party of New York financiers, thrifty New Englanders, and wholesome midwesterners whose ancestors fought and defeated the Confederate States of America, made a deal with the south. It had taken the better part of 40 years, but Republicans had finally found their answer to the New Deal.  

 Ronald Reagan and wife Nancy share a chuckle as they try a rocking chair presented during their visit to the Neshoba County Fair. Photograph: Ron Edmonds/Bettmann/Corbis
 Ronald Reagan and wif

Goldwater discovered it; Nixon refined it; and Reagan perfected it into the darkest of the modern political dark arts. Where does Trump come in? We’re getting there. It may seem hard to reconcile so congenial a presence as Ronald Reagan with the violent racism behind the Southern Strategy, but Reagan knew that devil well; knew him and paid him court on his home turf. In August 1980, for his first speech as the Republican party’s newly minted nominee, Reagan traveled to the Neshoba County fair near Philadelphia, Mississippi, and spoke the following words:

I believe in states’ rights. I believe in people doing as much as they can for themselves at the community level and at the private level. And I believe that we’ve distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended in the Constitution to be given to that federal establishment. And if I do get the job I’m looking for, I’m going to devote myself to trying to reorder those priorities and to restore to the states and local communities those functions which properly belong there."
Fountain points out that it was not a random event that the new GOP candidate Ronald Reagan made his first campaign stop in Neshoba County Mississippi in August, 1980:

"The Neshoba County speech is a remarkable moment in American political history, the crystallization of an existential struggle whose outcome is still very much in doubt. Why would Reagan, fresh off the Republican convention with his party’s nomination in hand, travel to a remote, rural county in a poor southern state that possessed all of seven piddly electoral votes? Devil knows why, indeed. It’s in the history, and in particular an episode from the summer of 1964 – the “Mississippi Freedom Summer”, when scores of civil rights workers traveled to Mississippi to organize and register African Americans to vote. On 21 June, three of these activists – Michael Schwerner, age 24; James Chaney, age 22; and Andrew Goodman, age 20: kids, basically – drove from their base in Meridian to Neshoba County to investigate the burning of tiny Mount Zion AME church, whose congregation had recently agreed to host a “Freedom School” on its premises. That afternoon, the three young men were arrested on a speeding charge by Neshoba County sheriff Lawrence Rainey, held in jail for six hours, then released around 10.30 in the evening. They drove off in the direction of Meridian and disappeared.
* * * 
 And that’s where Reagan went to speak the words “I believe in states’ rights”, in his first appearance as the Republican nominee. These days we know it as dog-whistle politics, that coded language Lee Atwater was talking about. Reagan did not, by the way, mention Chaney, Schwerner or Goodman, whose bodies had been found a few miles away. That screaming silence, that was a dog whistle too, and to think that Reagan didn’t know what he was doing is to consign him to the ranks of the epically stupid. He’d campaigned for Goldwater. He was a two-term governor of California, and a veteran of national politics. The Neshoba County speech stands as one of the true masterpieces of the Southern Strategy, a dog whistle that blew out the eardrums of every racist reactionary within 3,000 miles.
 Now as angry Republican voters and dissaffected white Southerners, many whom are white men who have lost their privileged social status as well as good paying jobs, turn out to vote for Donald Trump, the Republican Party panics at what the Party of Lincoln has become.  Fountain points out that their "deal with the devil" didn't turn out so well for the working class whites the political operatives had snookered into voting for Republicans. While the GOP had delivered power to the oligarch class who had become incredibly wealthy as a result of Republcian policies, the working class whites were getting nothing:

" 'Take the bureaucratic shackles off' was Goldwater’s war cry back in 1964, and his laissez-faire economic gospel has echoed down through the years, from Nixon to Reagan to the Bushes and all the way through Romney. Cut taxes and regulation, roll up the social safety net, squash organized labor to nil. It’s worked out wonderfully for the job creators. While the true believers in the base were fighting the Kenyan in the White House over prayer in the schools and immigration and the hetero sanctity of marriage, tidal waves of money have been flowing upstream to their bosses.
No wonder people are pissed off. The south’s been suckered, along with all the other blue-collar and middle-class “Reagan Democrats” who put their faith in the GOP. The deal at the heart of the Southern Strategy is falling apart, and perhaps the modern Republican party with it. At this point it seems only a preternaturally gifted dealmaker could save the situation. Boehner couldn’t do it; he’s someplace warm playing golf. McConnell can’t do it; it’s all he can manage to keep the Senate from sinking into a cesspool of dysfunction. So just when it looks like the deal is beyond saving – lo, unto us a Trump is given.

It’s no fluke that one of the loudest and most persistent of the Obama birthers took the deep south states on Super Tuesday. While the other Republican contenders keep their xenophobia within the bounds of acceptably cruel political discourse, Trump blows it out: his racist rants play like full-fledged operas compared to the dog-whistle stuff, shredding the finely honed code that’s worked so long and so well for the GOP establishment. But that’s why the base loves him; he feels their rage. Even better, he’s beyond the establishment’s control. Nobody is the boss of Trump, not the Kochs, not Sheldon Adelson, and certainly not Reince Priebus, chief functionary of the Republican National Committee."

After 7+ years of unrebuffed racism (attacks on the President's birth, religion, and patriotism), legal lynching by vigilantes and the police (Trayvon Martin,  Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, etc.), the tacit encouragement for armed gunmen and  militias to take the law into their own hands (e.g. the armed occupation of federal land, attacks on abortion providers, and murder of innocent church goers in Charleston), the devil is finally cashing in his I.O.U.

Fountain provides throughout his article, appropriately as background, the lyrics of Robert Johnson's famous " Crossroads Blues".