Walking the Cat . . .

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Posts Tagged ‘politics

All of the Credit, None of the Blame

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     One of the things — one of the many things — about the current resident of the White House that angers me (and I’m guessing a lot of other people) is his penchant for taking credit for things that happen, whether he had anything to do with their happening or not. The recent unemployment figures for African-American workers is an excellent case in point.

     The employment figures for African-American workers has been going up, or rather the unemployment figures for African-American workers has been going down for several years. The trend started in 2009-10, long before Donald Trump was even a candidate for office. Still, when the numbers reached an “historic” low, the president (with characteristic hyperbole) touts how great the numbers are, and that they are the result of his policies. Of course, we could say his policies regarding police excessive use of deadly force when dealing with African-American offenders, or suspected “offenders”, could account for the numbers; fewer African-American men alive to claim benefits, (Sorry, I know that’s a stretch). But the numbers don’t take into account those who haven’t yet filed for benefits or those whose benefits have expired. Still, Trump takes credit. He’s in office, he gets the credit.

And then there’s a report citing a “hike” in wages, (I wonder how many people working in the “service sector” saw a hike in their wages>) Never mind Trump’s refusal to raise the federal minimum wage prompted many businesses and municipalities to raise their minimum wage (setting off something of a “wage war” between the municipalities and their state governments; some of the state governments, mostly those controlled by Republicans, passed laws prohibiting municipalities from raising the minimum wage.) Never mind Trump’s highly touted wage increase has less to do with any Trump policy, and more to do with simple market forces. With falling unemployment numbers there is a corresponding decrease in the availability of cheap labor; businesses are forced to raise wages to attract needed workers. Still, Trump takes credit. He’s in office, he gets the credit.

And then there’s the stock market, which has been “on a tear” lately. The Dow Jones has topped 20,000 on its way to 25,000. It’s been quite a ride. That is until the “Jobs & Wages” report arrived and Trump started crowing. Those numbers made Wall Street nervous. Seems what’s good for “the man in the street” isn’t at all good for the boys on “The Street”. More jobs and higher wages mean businesses won’t have as much money to invest, meaning less profit for traders, hedge-fund managers and banks. Add to that the fear that more money in circulation, instead of in the Banks, will lead to inflation, forcing the FED to raise interest rates, making it harder to borrow money. No more easy money. And if that happens, it won’t be just Wall Street that suffers. Credit will tighten throughout the economy, making it harder for “the man in the street” to get credit for the things he needs: homes, cars, washing machines, etc. All of this combined to trigger a startling and traumatic stock “sell-off”. The Dow dropped more than a thousand points in a week, and panic briefly ensued. The decline halted but the fear hasn’t subsided. And from the White House, nary a peep. Trump gets credit, due or not. Blame, that’s somebody else’s problem.

And I haven’t even touched on the ramifications of a recent declaration from the European Union.

When president Obama signed the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, aka The Paris Accords, it was hailed as a significant step forward in the fight to combat climate change, and the United States’ commitment to take a leadership role in that fight.

When Trump decided, unilaterally, to abandon the Accords, and America’s leadership role, saying, “it was a ‘bad deal’ for America” and would cost trillions of dollars (not an altogether true statement since the carbon reduction goals agreed to in the Accords were entirely voluntary), he shocked and angered many of the world’s leaders. Well, the shock may have worn off, but not the anger.

A few days ago, French President Macron announced that as long as the United States remained apart from the Paris Accords, France would not trade with the U.S. It’s unclear whether or not the other members of the European Union will follow France’s lead, but since no other European leader has voiced disagreement, it’s likely the others (all signatories of the Accords) will do so.

While it’s uncertain what impact, if any, the French president’s pronouncement will have on Wall Street, it’s a fair bet it will do little to endear Trump to the business community at home. And, given his penchant for abandoning deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Paris Agreement on Climate Change (PACC) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA, which he is currently struggling to wriggle out of), and levying excessive tariffs and fines on trading partners he says are taking unfair advantage (and for “unfair advantage” read “beating him at his own game”), it isn’t likely his standing is going to improve any time soon; in the world at large, or at home.

But hey. Let’s give credit where, and when, it’s due. There are a lot of people who think this country ought to be run more like a business. Wasn’t it Herbert Hoover who said, “the business of America is Business”? We all know how that worked out. (They do still teach students about The Great Depression in school, don’t they?)

Not to worry, though. No matter how bad things get for the rest of us, President Trump will land on his feet. What’s one more bankruptcy, anyway? He’s got his “golden parachute”.

 

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Thoughts on Writing

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What is a writer?

Well, the simple answer is, a writer is someone who writes. Easy enough to explain something by citing its definition. Bricklayers lay brick, dancers dance, musicians make music, and writers write. Simple.

But why do writers write?

The answer to that question is a bit more complex. It is, as they say, a whole other ball o’ wax. The reasons people choose to write are as varied as the writers themselves. I could list all the reasons for writing by it would take up more time that I’m prepared to spend on this post. For those interested in exploring the topic, l suggest you pick up a copy of Margaret Atwood’s Negotiating With the Dead, A Writer on Writing. She offers an extensive, although by no means comprehensive, list of reasons why writers write; some of them surprising, others not so much. One reason that appears elsewhere in Ms. Atwood’s book, although not among the listed reasons for writing, is that it’s a comparatively easy thing to do. There are no prerequisites; no intellectual or educational background is required beyond a certain facility with one’s native language. That, and the determination to see the process through from beginning to end. After all, it is, as Neil Gaiman is supposed to have said, simply a matter of putting one word after another on the page until you’ve finished saying whatever it is you want to say. Simple, right? Not really.

There’s a small addendum to Mr. Gaiman’s description that’s worth noting if one aspires to be a published writer. (Not all of us aspire to that lofty goal, but I’ll get to that in a bit). The addendum is, that along with putting one word after another on the page, a should be able to put the right word in the right order after another on the page. Makes this ‘writing thing’ a bit trickier, don’t you think?

Ernest Hemingway once described the act of writing as, “You just sit down and open a vein.” Ironic, considering Hemingway did a lot of his writing standing up. I’ll confess that Hemingway’s description is a bit more strenuous the Mr. Gaiman’s, and anyway most writers – not all, but the majority – manage to confine their bloodletting to the page. Suffice it to say the actual process of writing lies somewhere between the two extremes. I, myself, picked writing because it was one of the few things I was suited to that didn’t require an inordinate amount of time trying to dislodge the dirt from under my fingernails.

So, what’s it like, being a writer?

For the most part writers live pretty much to way everyone else does. Most of us have ‘day jobs’. We get up, get the kids ready for school, go to work, attend PTA meetings, grocery shop, pick the kids up after school, get the car washed, the tires rotated, go to the barber or the hairdresser, maybe go on vacation when we can afford it. Pretty much the same thing everyone else does, except when all the other stuff is done, we write; usually late at night or early in the morning, and sometimes on the weekends if there are no soccer, baseball or football games, or piano or ballet recitals to attend. We’re just like everyone else. We’re kind of like witches in that respect; you can’t tell just by looking whether we are one or not.

Writers also tend to be avid readers, and we read across a wide variety of subjects and genres. I’ll give you an example. My own small library contains books on history, biography, memoirs, religion, business, art, writing, cooking, science and politics. I have thrillers, literary fiction, classics, philosophy, occultism, humor. books on photography and crafts, wine and winemaking, books and book collecting. And these, in one way or another, inform my own writing, as well as the way I tend to see the world around me. By reading how others viewed their world, I gain insights into my own world, and how it came to be the way it is. It’s also a handy how-to for using words, a turn-of-phrase that, with practice, helps me improve my writing.

Writers have always experienced a peculiar, Janus-like relationship with the non-writing public. Being among the ‘creatives’ in society, we are encouraged, even celebrated, in our ability to provide entertainment for the masses; to allow them to slip the bonds of their work-a-day lives and enter realms where good and evil battle endlessly for supremacy, and where good doesn’t always prevail, at least not until the next installment rolls off the presses. Then the god smiles on the writer, and the critics praise his efforts and lament the dearth of creativity in society, and presses roll out another spate of how-to books exclaiming, “You, too, can be (or become) more creative!”

Writers – and this applies especially to journalists, whether they write books or newspaper and magazine articles – have also always had the responsibility to “speak Truth to Power”, to expose, whenever possible, the misdeeds of governments and corporations, and provide the public the information necessary to combat the abuse of power. Then the god frowns on the writer, and governments and corporations berate him or her for the “misleading information”, “the lies”, “libels”, “unfounded accusations” and “unsubstantiated rumors”. These centers of power and influence have always viewed the writer as suspect, unreliable, and possibly subversive. Writers who continually joust with those in power have often been described in stereotypical terms; alcoholic, drug-addicted and mentally unbalanced, all to discredit those who question authority; and not only those who currently challenge authority, but those who would do so in the future.

That’s what it means to be a writer. It’s just like any other job or avocation. You have your good days and your bad. Like my mother used to say, “You pay your money, and you take your chance.”

In the end, I guess, it really doesn’t matter what type of writer you are (or become); whether you labor in the public eye like Stephen King, John LeCarré, or Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, or you labor in secret like Winston Smith, the reluctant hero of George Orwell’s 1984, or even if you write a single word. It doesn’t matter what you do, what matters is that you do it. But if you’re human, and I’m betting you are, sooner or later you’ll give in to cacoethia scribendi, “the itch to scribble”. Just be warned, if you scratch that itch once, you won’t be able to stop.

 

 


 

Justice Scalia & SCOTUS . . .(W-T-F, Tony?!)

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At the outset, I want to say I had some reservations about posting this here but then I re-read the “About Walking the Cat” page and decided it was as appropriate as any other post I’ve written, so . . .

I am troubled by comments made by Justice Antonin Scalia during oral arguments in a case before the Court regarding certain sections of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).  Justice Scalia’s reference to VRA as “. . .racial entitlement” is appalling on its face, but a larger issue resides in the attitude this comment represents as it relates to the function of the Court.

It was never the intention of the framers of the Constitution that the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) should be a vehicle for legislation.  It was designed to be a check against “unruly” legislation; to insure those laws passed by Congress comport with the Constitution.  I don’t believe it is within the Court’s purvue to examine the motivations of individual legislators as to why they voted, pro or con, on a particular piece of legislation.  Using such as argument the Court could examine every law enacted by Congress going back to the founding of the country; even to question the very decision to declare independence from England in the first place.

Yet Justice Scalia sees it as his responsibility to do just that.  After labelling VRA as “racial entitlement”, he continues: “It’s been written about.  whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes.  I don’t think there is anything to be gained by any Senator to vote against continuation of this act.  And I am fairly confident it will be reenacted in perpetuity unless — unless a court can say it does not comport with the Constitution.”

Further along in the argument(s) Justice Scalia reaffirms his belief in the reasons some senators voted to enact (and reenact) VRA.  After noting the existence of “black districts by law” (the results of state’s practice of gerrymandering), he adds, “And even the Virginia Senators, they have no interest in voting against this (VRA) . . .and they are going to lose — they are going to lose votes if they do not reenact the Voting Rights Act.”  

I find this last statement mind-boggling.  Apparently, in Justice Scalia’s mind, senators should not vote for or against bill based on what their constituents think.  Never mind that, in the case of VRA, some of those whose rights are being protected could conceivably be persuaded to vote for them (I know it’s not likely to happen, especially for conservative senators, but it’s conceivable).  Senators (and Congressmen, too) always take into consideration what their constituents think about the laws they are expected to vote on (at least they should be thinking about it); if they don’t, they abrogate their responsibility as elected officials and risk being voted out of office by that same constituency (as they should be).

The Voting Rights Act is important legislation and it should be reenacted; not only because it protects the rights of blacks (for whom it was enacted in 1965), but because it protects the rights of all of us.  In 2011, seven states, all of which were (and still are) controlled by Republicans, attempted to establish restrictive voter ID laws in an effort to block (or at least restrict) those voters (not only blacks, but Hispanic, the poor, the elderly) they felt likely to vote for “the other guy”.  Those efforts were blocked by the Justice Department, in two states, under Section 2 of VRA.  The Voting Rights Act is vibrant and necessary legislation; as much now as it was when first enacted in 1965.

If Justice Scalia wishes to determine the constitutionality of law based on his assessment of the motivation(s) of lawmakers; whether or not their motivation was sufficient to warrant a vote for passage of a given piece of legislation, he should, perhaps, retire from the bench and take up psychology.

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