Bill Nye is 100% pure, unsullied, unadulterated, undeniable WIN.
Bill Nye is 100% pure, unsullied, unadulterated, undeniable WIN.
They’re at it again. More revelations about the conservative personality. This time through the Republican Congress blocking the extension of unemployment benefits, we see the intrinsic lack of empathy amongst conservatives–that is until something trying affects them. On a recent episode of Bill Maher’s Politically Incorrect, He brought up instances on how conservatives, Repubs specifically, were intolerant and utterly lacking in empathy–that is until they personally were affected by whatever it was they were in a tizzy about.
A fine example is the Cheneys, Daddy Dicky and Lil’ Lezzie Mary. Up until recently, Dick Cheney rolled along with his party’s homophobic stance on all that is gay. He wasn’t necessarily known for being a vocal nutbag, a la Michigan’s RNC committeeman, Dave Agema, a real beauty. But neither did he make any stand against some of the really toxic shit that went down before his “awakening”. And then his darling daughter came out with a vengeance. And got married. And all of a sudden, Papa Cheney threw off the dreary shackles of Repub-style homophobia and joined the ranks of the super-fabulous. Well, maybe not quite that exaggerated; he didn’t exactly go out and march with PFLAG in the Wyoming PRIDE parade. (Is there a Wyoming PRIDE parade?) But he did go on the record to offer his support for gay marriage legislation in Maryland, and was frequently interviewed about his support for his lesbian daughter.
So you see, when it’s convenient; when it directly affects you, the Repub will all of a sudden gain empathy. Nancy Reagan’s about-face on stem-cell research is another fine example. When her dearest Ronnie became a possible beneficiary of stem-cell research for his Alzheimers, the ex-First Lady quickly forgot all of the dear little “snowflakes”, the mind-bogglingly sentimental term her Repub anti-abortion cohorts used for the frozen embryos used in stem-cell generation.
And so we come to this week’s unemployment benefits brouhaha. This particular iteration of convenient empathy is at least partially due to the fact that the Repubs have managed, over the past 25 years, to attract so many blue-collar workers with their god, guns and gays inanity, despite the glaringly obvious fact that those new Repubs would be voting against their own economic interests. Thomas Franks summed it all up quite tidily with What’s the Matter With Kansas?
25 years ago in 1990, when America was gearing up for the Clintonian boom years, blue-collars could still count on a relatively stable lifestyle and unemployment was at 5.6%, soon to dive even lower into the 4%s with the advent of the Clinton economic strategy–you know, that bloated federal-heavy monstrosity of prosperity so despised by today’s Teapublicans. And thus, the fat and happy blue-collars could turn their attentions to the suddenly imminent threat of godless homosexuals mustering their massive army to teach their kids to condomize bananas and take away their precious guns.
It could have been so good–if only the Bush administration’s economic freefall had not happened. But it did, and just like that, millions of blue-collars found themselves out of jobs that would never come back. Sure, they could toil for $7.00 an hour at Walmart, provided they sign away their rights to unionize, but that wasn’t gong to pay the mortgage, especially on those supersized McMansions that too many working class folk decided they just had to have, since it was so darned easy to get a zero-down “liar’s loan”. The job market for the working class was and is now a truly dismal affair; the Repub’s gleeful union-busting, alongside greedy corporate overseas outsourcing has cut the possibility of finding a stable, decent-paying blue-collar job down to next-to-nil.
When they were employed, they fancied themselves as able to breathe the same air as the multi-millionaire 1%er legislators that represent them, and subscribed to the cutthroat Ayn Randian viewpoint that those on top got there by sheer hard work. They drank the Adam Smith/Milton Friedman kool-aid and actually believed in the ethereal possibility that they too could be fabulously wealthy, by practicing rugged American-style individualism and prizing materialism as a godly virtue. The consumer economic phenomenon of “upsizing” of materialist tastes found the front yards of those McMansions that were teetering upon the foundation of a zero-down loan filled with boats, RVs, JetSkis and Harleys, and inside the house, room after room full of brand spankin’ new “luxury-styled” furnishings, and kitchens lined with marble and SubZeros. All of a sudden, it had become very important for the working class striver to look , act and live the part of an economic winner.
Meanwhile, the real economic winners–the 1%er elites, continued to widen the gap between themselves and their admirers, practicing the same legacy habits that had served their class for generations. Tax-dodging, insider access to corporate-friendly tax and trade legislation, good ol’ inheritance, cronyism that starts at their exclusive prep school and continues on through frats and elite college social clubs, finally culminating with corporate board swapping and political appointments is how the real Little Lord Fauntleroys on top of the economic pile do it.
Certainly nothing close to the experience of the blue collar contractor or auto repair shop owner looking to expand in order to join the magic economical machine that lifts the wings of those already in the air.
But as long as Mitt Romney’s “49%” believe that they might be able to join the elite ranks, the colder-hearted among them that drink the Repub kool-aid will see nothing wrong in stepping on the backs of others and bending, even breaking rules in order to get there. And they are easily convinced that those who don’t go that route and remain either close to poverty, or deep in it, are lazy, stupid, and deserving of their fate.
The Repub PR machine has been brilliant in its ability to put forth hatred, envy, greed and distrust of one’s fellow man as the noble values of winners. And if these are the values of winners, then the overly simplistic and dualistic “moral” Repub mind sees the rest of us not willing to play that cutthroat game, or be so enthralled with naked materialism, as losers. Especially notable amongst the anti-government Tea Party types is the nosy parker tendency to make other people’s money issues their business, and to feel righteous indignation at anyone who is receiving the tiniest fraction of a penny more in assistance than they are. To the single mother on welfare, the middle-class Teapublican bitterly resents every dollar she receives from the government. They savagely criticize her lifestyle, confidently asserting that they would never end up in that predicament, then hugely exaggerate both the fiscal amount and the relative effect of her welfare “entitlement” upon what they see as a bloated government.
The Repubs have done an excellent spin job on making the needy poor the enemy, and working their lower class members up into a jealous and nosy frenzy, angrily chasing their tails trying to find out how much everyone else is unfairly benefitting from government programs. And not just the “enemy”, but morally degraded and lazy; deserving of not just scorn, but actual hatred. You see and hear it at their rallies, with their sub-literate homemade signs and talk-radio style angry ranting.
So, this week, the Repubs are denying extended unemployment benefits to those who are already in the tightest of economic situations. They disingenuously ignore the economist-proven fact that unemployment benefits serve as a crucial economic stimulus; those who have been unemployed for over a year are not able to contribute anything to the economy–as an employee and as a consumer. The next step for these folk is to get on the dreaded welfare roles, and the Repubs know this very well. But cutting off unemployment bennies makes it look like they’re being tough on “the gummint” and sufficiently anti-Obama to satisfy the miserly and resentful tendencies of their far-right party base. And we all know how positively evil those welfare sponges are.
And so it goes: that lack of empathy–except when it’s convenient for their immediate situation. Blue-collar/working class Repubs are in an awkward place. Far too many of them are living in their parents’ basements or in the RV in their driveway, eyeing the mailbox for their unemployment checks that now will not be forthcoming. What are they going to do? Realistically, they need to hie it down to the local social services office–the same place where they signed up for their unemployment bennies–and get their well-deserved SNAP and TANF benefits. That is, the SNAP benefits that are left, since the Repubs were so kind as to cut SNAP benefits last year–even though SNAP is perhaps the most economically stimulating and successful of all of the government programs. And they may just have to pee in a cup, as some state Repubs are pushing for drug testing of all welfare recipients. More ingenious demonizing of poor people who surely are rampant with decadent and evil druggy junkies. Except that they’re not–at least not more than their coke-sniffing, Oxy-popping upper-class fellow citizens
Techies in this town have faced a tough crowd, both during the dot.com era of “Die Yuppie Scum” and the current time of critical articles in every issue of the local weeklies, and high-profile protests like blocking the famous “Google buses”. They’re a bunch of really smart kids, and they have a lot of money, but it isn’t mere envy of their fortunes that so drives the angry local hordes. No, it’s their frustratingly dogmatic and miserly refusal to part with one red cent of their bountiful riches that has everyone all, well, atwitter.
My roommate, N, is one of that new breed of techie arrivistes that so many reflexively anti-gentrification folk in SF love to hate. Me? Well, I don’t necessarily want the already ridiculous rents in this town to go any higher; I’m damned lucky to be the beneficiary of 10+ years of rent control in our big 4-bedroom flat. Those techies, earning 6-figure salaries, and some flush with ridiculous amounts of brand spankin’ new IPO riches, think nothing of paying upwards of $4,400 per month for their 1 bedroom. But most of my friends in this city are techies of some sort, and they are stupendous and generous humans. And while some of them do make pots of money, well, that’s how this modern job market cookie crumbles. And San Francisco fared much better than the rest of the country during the recent recession, and is now again in the high times of another California Gold Rush.
But they’re not all like that. What I have noticed, to my consternation and disappointment, is the tendency amongst many of this techie generation to be frustratingly miserly with their newfound riches. This functions on an empirical level, as the stupendously paper money-rich tech companies are notorious for being less-than-ideal corporate and public citizens. Their record of charitable works and contributions is laughably poor, and they haven’t given much back to the city that so assiduously courted them with very generous tax deals. Of course, there are exceptions, like Bill Gates, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, and Mark Zuckerburg. But for every Bill Gates, there is a Steve Jobs who had “virtually no public record of charitable giving.”
And then there’s the personal level. Techies have long been attached at the hip to a brand of libertarianism, and the same ultra-logical thought processes that drive their employment are part of a tendency towards extreme personal fiscal conservatism. Which brings us to my roommate. N moved in about a year ago, and fit right in to our little 4 person two boy and two girl household. We’re all independent and responsible adults and get along with each other really well, although none of us are the bestest of buddies types; we tend to come and go on our own with a certain degree of personal privacy.
N, in his late 20s, hailed from Boulder, CO, and he had a bit of the high-altitude snowboarder dude about him, along with a brand-spankin’ new engineering job, a Suburu WRX, the not-inexpensive cult car of the techie brigade, and a room full of just-out-of-the-box IKEA, tastefully chosen and arranged.
We, through the utterly criminal lack of any market competition, are forced to get our broadband internet and cable TV through the evil machinations of Comcast, and their purposefully confusing and limited bundle deals with come-on pricing that lasts for 6 months, and then they really sock it to ya for the rest of your time with them, nearly doubling their rates with some packages. Our solution to this was to rotate the Comcast account between roommates each year, so as to take maximum advantage of the come-on pricing, and pay the bend-over rates for the shortest time possible. N was the chosen Comcastee this time around, and in June, he took over the account.
I had been the account holder 2 years before, and when E took over a year ago, he didn’t want to deal with the monthly irritation of dealing with the somewhat complicated Comcast bill that was unequally divided between us 4, due to some people having TV and some not, and then required monthly collection. So I continued in my role of accountholder administrator though E actually held the account, requiring that he trust me enough to grant me access.
Comcast, probably due to their monopolist hold on most of the markets they’re in, has horrible customer service that you are forced to use way more often than you’d like, due to frequent billing fuck-ups, and service outages that occur far too often for the rates we pay. This means that whomever holds the account calls up Comcast right at the beginning of assuming the account duties, and gives them the names of everyone else in the house to be “OK” to call up Comcast and request customer service; otherwise, unless you are the actual account holder and have the proper ID, they won’t serve you.
For years, this is how we did things, and I arranged to pay the bill monthly with ePay, then I collected from the roommates by posting a simple breakdown on the fridge, with check-off boxes for everyone to pay. Our current household is the best I’ve ever had as far as people paying rent and bills ontime. Past disasters have included one flakey dude’s rent getting to me on the 10th,11th and 12th every single month, me learning the really hard way not to accept personal checks until I really know someone, and one fine day, the electricity clicking off due to the account holder’s tendency to collect our shares, then not share them with PG+E.
I should mention that I am what is considered the “master tenant”; the only one actually on the lease, the one the landlord deals with, and the one who collects the rent each month, turning it into a single cashier’s check. Because I’m the only one on the lease, I can, if necessary, and sadly, it has twice been necessary, kick someone out on their keister.
The flakey bill payer also happened to be a sadistic asshole who regularly caused epic and oft times scary household dramas in a house where no one was really socially involved with each other. The bouncy check writer also lost his job and became a meth-head, not necessarily in that order, holing himself up in his darkened room all day and night, and smoking what had to be 4 stinky packs a day. They got the boot, though I must confess that I am no great tyrant landlord; I was terrified through every step of the process of giving a 30-day notice.
Sooooo, back to N and the Comcast account. The first inkling that things might be amiss occurred during the first few weeks of his accountholder reign. We had to return all of the equipment and have Comcast issue and install all new equipment that was exactly the same as the old. I know. I tried reasoning with them, but those of you who deal with Comcast will instantly feel my pain.
N had the initial installer appointment scheduled in kind of a timely manner–we only went 5 days without service. But the installer only brought with him one TV box, and there are two of us who use the TV service. Since I was there, I got the box. But S also needed one, so I mentioned this to N and asked him to request one from the installer. For whatever reason, he didn’t. I noticed this after the installer departed, and told N to get on the horn and maybe get the installer back that same day. He didn’t do that either.
After a couple of days, I noticed that S still had no TV. And we had all decided to painstakingly divide up the bill according to whom used TV, and whom used internet. To my great annoyance, which I politely kept inside after things were decided, this meant that the big screen TV in the living room would no longer have a cable box, because the two roommates who would not pay for TV service didn’t want to have a communal TV that they couldn’t use.
Privately, S and I thought this was cheap and silly–that magic $10 a month they saved seemed hardly a worthy reward when it meant no more impromptu gathering around the boobtube to watch the presidential election returns, the World Cup, the Giants in the World Series, Niners in the Super Bowl and the Olympics. But, so it goes.
I advised S to politely inform N that she didn’t want to pay for those days in which she had no service, which now had stretched into a week and a half. And I would then politely inform N that I would not be taking on the entire TV charges because S had no service; that billing share would be paid by him, since he was the one in de facto controlling whom had TV service.
I texted N every 3rd day or so that S still needed TV service. And I began to wonder what exactly it was that was taking N so long to simply pick up the damned phone and make the call. I mean yeah, no one really likes dealing with the multitudes of Comcast’s tangled phone menus and the often clueless actual live person from whom you try and wrest resolution of service. But it really only takes 10 or 15 minutes. And it really needed to happen. What could possibly be keeping him???
Finally, a package arrived in the mail addressed to N: a self-install kit for S’s cable box. I took the initiative of opening it, verifying that it was the right item, and letting S know that her TV had arrived; who knew when N would “be available” to do so. And more than one entire month later, S had TV service. And it shall be noted that N empirically decided that the first month’s bill should be divided equally in fours, “because it was easier”. Never mind the fact that N had been the one who initiated the whole new unequal billing process and deactivation of communal TV, citing “the principle of the thing”, and really should have taken on S’s share of the TV. S and I just kind of let that one go in the interest of “the principle” of domestic tranquility.
Alas. This was only the first instance of N’s control issues with the stupid Comcast account. On 3 separate occasions, I needed to contact Comcast about various service issues. In each case, I told N about the problem, and he would nod in acknowledgement that I needed assistance, then he’d simply do nothing about it. By the 3rd instance, I had grown understandably weary of the whole process of asking for help, not receiving it, then texting and emailing him to remind him that I still needed help, only to receive no response at all. It was beginning to become a real issue, and when I desired to change our premium channel from HBO to Showtime, I finally just gave up in anticipation of the whole anxiety-producing process and accepted paying extra each month for a premium channel that wasn’t my first choice. I should mention that yes, I watch a lot of TV. I have a severe chronic illness condition that leaves me disabled and in bed for around 10-12 days each month, and TV is a blessing and lifesaver during that period. It’s important to me, and I brought that up during our house meeting to discuss the new Comcast billing procedures to divide up TV and internet access, so N knew of this.
For whatever reason, N had rather deep-seated issues of control when it came to the Comcast bill. Not being able to call up Comcast when we needed service help felt an awful lot like being a helpless child, with a controlling parent “looking out for us”. And our household was otherwise a very functional home of financially responsible adults; neither S, who had the PG+E bill nor myself who had the garbage bill and the rent, attached restrictions of control to our respective account services. N’s billing behavior, in context of how the house operated, was increasingly paranoid.
Things recently came to a head again when I busted my ethernet port, which I had been solely using for internet access, and needed to get the wireless password, which had never been given to me. In previous Comcast account cycles when I handled the bills, I had dealt with the wireless router setup, and had posted the password up on the fridge. I also was the one who used the router dashboard software should anything come up that required its use, but I gave out the software password to S, who several times needed to fiddle with the router for her own usage. Naturally, this would not be the case in the N administration. N was out of town, and I texted him explaining my need for the password, and he in return texted me that it was “complicated” and required setting up my computer’s MAC address as a client.
Well, anyone with a scintilla of computer experience can do this really simple task; it’s not some super-complicated process known only to the techie gods. But I suspect that N fancied himself the tech expert, equipped with superior tech wizardry that the rest of us non tech job-having mortals could not possibly grasp. I texted back that I knew how to do this; could he provide me with access to the router software so that I could do it myself?
Now, keep in mind that this whole time I’m going without internet access. While not having TV access is annoying, in this modern world, not having internet access is akin to not having oxygen; I’m sure all of you can relate, and imagine your discomfort at having to face an open-ended period of time with no internet access that hung on the mere access to a fricking wireless network password.
I received the terse return text that he was importantly “on a plane taxiing on the runway”, and couldn’t help me, and that he “maybe” might be able to set things up the following evening–no indication of what time. Note his passive/aggressive refusal to admit that he actually wouldn’t allow me access because he needed absolute control of “his” wireless network.
Coincidentally and unfortunately, I also had a very time-sensitive need to collect for 7 months of a garbage bill that I’d been ePaying, but had neglected to collect in a timely manner; the garbage bills came out every 3 months and were easy to overlook. I sent out an email to the household on Sunday saying I needed prompt payment by Wednesday at the latest, and the other two roomies, S and E, paid on Monday. N also had been paying his rent either 1 day late, or as close to the 5-day grace period deadline as was humanly possible, PayPal-ing me his rent late at night before the last day I could receive it, download it, then wait the 3-5 business days for it to hit my bank account. On 3 separate occasions, N made the rent late, or forced me to have to hand-deliver rather than mail it because he neglected to account for non-business holidays or weekends, and every month, I now got to look forward to the anxiety that his rent roulette caused me.
N neither made good on hooking up the wireless network, or paid his garbage bill, which I should note was a mere $60, or around $8.50 a month. I aired my frustration to S, and she, and then E, noted that N never actually gave them the password. Like an all-knowing paternalistic techie wizard, he set up their computers and typed in the password without actually giving it to them. But I wasn’t even to receive that service. He came home and collected his mail sitting outside his door, which I noticed; I was there the entire time; and then never contacted me to spend the 3 minutes setting up my computer before he left again. He spends a lot of time at I assume a girlfriend’s house, and it isn’t easy to physically connect with him. But this was ridiculous–could he really be so busy on a Monday night that he couldn’t knock on my door and set up my computer–or ideally, just give me the fucking password???
I’ve had to text him 3 separate times about the bill and the password, and have yet to receive a single reply, making me feel like a fool, and the biggest naggy bitch, as I can imagine him seeing my text come in, silently cursing my existence, and then callously ignoring me. Feels real good, don’t it? I have a feeling that he is going to question the minutiae of the garbage bill, as he himself emailed us with a freaking 2 page Excel spreadsheet detailing the cable bill, and his, I kid you not, “projections” of the rest of the year’s monthly bills, because “(he’s) such a nerd”, and he “believes in complete transparency.” Now, I can sort of understand this impulse; sort of. He figured out a most exacting way to digitally transmit the most intricate details of our cable bill, and because he could do this, he did. But then again no; it’s fucking ridiculous; we’re talking about a $30 max per person per monthly bill. A bill that previously, we all had managed to pay on time like the adults we are, with no big questions or problems, or curiosity about the details.
Which brings me to the whole libertarian/miserly techie personality thing. There’s a very unlovely elitist streak masked with supposed libertarian rugged individualism amongst the techie class. Their whole lives, their ability to excel in maths and science has anointed them as the Smart Kids who have access to a trove of elite techie knowledge that the rest of us liberal arts types can’t possibly understand. I think it simply would not compute to N that I actually was a biochem major for 3 out of my 4 university years, and made it through Inorganic Chem, Calculus II and Math Analysis, and due to the primitive computing technology of the time, became very adept at self-taught UNIX programming. To N, and others of his techie ilk, I’m merely a Lit major muggle.
Couple this with the techie’s wonky tendency to see things in overly simplistic purely logical terms, and to live their lives adhering to the strict “principle of the thing”, as if life operated with the same black and white simplicity of a math problem. If it’s possible to create an Excel spreadsheet detailing the “projections” of a year’s worth of cable bills, then this should be the universal norm, and I should do the same with my garbage bill that costs each resident a mere $8.50 a month, and requires its administrator to perform the unthinkably complex mathematic magic of dividing the total bill by 4. It’s the principle of the thing. Never mind that we are talking about sums of money with the cable bill that max out at $30 per month, and access to a household account and a wireless router’s dashboard software that, to my knowledge, is not currently connected to any high security banking networks or national defense platforms. Nope, it’s the principle of the thing. (And what about that other vaunted techie value of elegant simplicity???)
Some iteration of this tendency is what I suspect drives those techie companies to go to ridiculous extremes when vetting charities to possibly receive a tiny fraction of their vast millions, or billions, as has been reported in local weeklies. It’s OK to receive the charity of the city’s very generous tax relief in order to secure their corporate headquarters in our downtown–this means that once again, their techie genius was able to score a win in free-market capitalism. But when it comes to returning the favor as good corporate citizens, impossibly complex procedures are enacted, and our many needy charities end up either waiting forever, or giving up when faced with the massive number of hoops they must jump through to possibly receive a comparatively minuscule slice of their rich techie pie.
What the techie “elite” almost comically does not realize, or “compute” as it may be, is that they have ended up taxing themselves with a huge amount of extra work and bother by insisting upon being the controlling elitist wizards, and they are actually revealing a huge weakness in their lack of ability to be pragmatic. By simply following the house traditions we’d established over years of household accounts, N could have saved himself untold hours of spreadsheet creation, coordinating with 3 other roommates to administer their TV and internet service needs, and texting back and forth, then becoming annoyed with all of the resulting nagging behavior of that irritatingly needy and pesky roommate. And more important, N could have maintained household peace, something that I believe to be more important than the “principle” that dictates if you can analyze and number-crunch a thing, you should do so.
And those techie companies, who are increasingly gaining the reputation of most-hated gentrifying arrivistes, could solve many of their PR problems in one fell swoop by simply throwing open their coffers to the many local charities in need, becoming the good corporate citizens they really should be already. Locals would be less likely to barricade the Google buses and relentlessly blog about the gentrifying evils of the techie invasion if we had the Twitter-St. Anthony’s Dining Room, Zynga Head Start or Yelp Free Clinic. Of course, this sort of seemingly simple pragmatism and generosity of spirit is something we lowly liberal arts Luddites already inherently “get”. Maybe it’s time for us to bestow some our wizard-like humanity upon our baby genius comrades; I for one know of a particular software engineer in need.
(And as of today, I officially still have neither internet access nor garbage bill payment. Of course, S so kindly lent me her USB Ethernet dongle, allowing me to be online, but don’t tell N that! Though I’m sure he probably is monitoring the router dashboard as I speak…)
This last week, New Jersey governor Chris Christie and his staff got caught being mean, vindictive bullies. It seems that a certain Democrat mayor, Mark Sokolich of Fort Lee, had the gaul to endorse the Democrat candidate for governor, instead of falling in line with the powers-that-be and supporting incumbent Governor Christie. Why this was such a shock has not been properly explained, but it appears that it absolutely infuriated Christie’s staff to the point where Bridget Anne Kelly, his deputy chief of staff, sent an email to David Wildstein, a high-ranking Port authority, and a Christie appointee–one of his toady/cronies–saying, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee”, to which Wildstein replied, “Got it”. These two simple sentences set off 5 days of epic traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge, the nation’s busiest bridge, and inconvenienced the New Jersey electorate in ways that can only be described as extreme. I’m currently watching msnbc’s Al Sharpton show, and the Reverend is opening up a can of whoop-ass on the governor and his toadies.
Rather than fess up, the Christie cronies put forth the outright lie that there had been a “traffic study” that had caused the closure of two out of three access lanes from Fort Lee. Bill Baroni, Wildstein’s boss and yet another Christie appointee, even went so far as to put together an elaborate, but totally fake print and video presentation, and then did some Academy Award-worthy acting to explain this mysterious but now very well diagrammed and Powerpointed fake traffic study to the port commission, who was alarmed and concerned about the GW Bridge being brought to a screeching halt. That’s right. They drew out the bald-faced lie even further and produced an actual presentation to sell the lie to the port commission. This was all so very calculated, and all possibilities of innocence amongst the whole dirty lot of them had flown the coop long ago.
Before news of the incriminating emails broke, Governor Christie insisted that the whole brouhaha was “not that big of a deal”, and that there was no political motivation behind the closures. He also advanced the idea of the utterly fake traffic study. Meanwhile, also before the emails broke, Wildstein and Baroni all of a sudden resigned, claiming that their dual resignation out of nowhere had been planned long before the bridge problem. Rrright. Again, Christie and his staff were obfuscating and refusing to fess up, covering their tracks and grasping for plausible deniability. No matter that this sort of shenanigans was exactly the sort of deeply corrupt politicking that should never be happening, especially in the highest office of the state.
Furthermore, the very tone of the email is deeply suspect. Kelly and Wildstein engage in a crony-tinged shorthand that suggests a profound familiarity with engineering Nixonian dirty tricks. Kelly merely has to write the one short sentence about “traffic problems” at Fort Lee, yet Wildstein replies, “Got it”, without any further questions, as though the very culture of Christie’s staff was well-schooled in this type of scheming. It also suggests that they’d all been airing out their dislike of Mayor Sokolich with each other, and had already thought about using their significant insider access within the port commission to do some dirty deeds with the Fort Lee on-ramp lanes.
It wasn’t until news of the incriminating emails broke that Christie and his staff were forced to admit that indeed, this had been a nasty little political vendetta all along. Now it was just a matter of sussing out who knew what and when they knew it. The fact that Wildstein and Baroni, part of the Christie cronies, were led to resign well before Christie and his staff were forced to admit their involvement suggests that the inner circle damned well knew about what was going on, and were frantically trying to clean house before all hell broke loose. Never mind that they’d engineered massive amounts of squandered economic activity due to the logistical interruptions on the GW, and actual public safety was seriously endangered due to the inability for emergency responders to navigate the epic, all-day traffic jams. What was more important to the Christie cronies was that they not get caught, and they were more than willing to lie and misdirect even more.
Christie’s current stance is to flat out deny his personal involvement, claiming he didn’t know what his staff was doing–and to act the part of the put-upon victim. Never mind the fact that Christie is well-known to be a micromanager of the highest degree; a highly egotistical narcissist who normally cannot bear to delegate or empower his underlings. Christie’s staff has historically been known to be steeped in the kind of bullying, criminal culture that can handily produce dirty tricks and vendettas. A commentator on Al Sharpton just classified the Christie staff style as “gratuitous meanness”–perfect! Moreover they are, fundamentally, yes-men, not given to a whit of independent thought, or criticizing or opposing their big boss man. If nothing else, Christie is a top-down style manager. Meanwhile, the Senate is calling for a federal review, and it has been determined that several laws were broken. If found culpable, Christie faces impeachment.
This whole scenario, down to the impeachment denouement, mirrors the Republican party’s most embarrassing scandal, the Nixon-Watergate affair. We now know almost everything there is to know about this unfortunate stain on the American presidential record. This is due to the fact that Nixon himself was obsessed with having utter and absolute control over his staff, and he secretly taped the goings-on in his offices. The end-game of the impeachment is widely known. What always piqued my interest above and beyond the impeachment itself was the sheer pettiness and nastiness one hears on those tapes. The language used, tone of voice and emotions conveyed in spooling out the Watergate events is that of an angry, spiteful bully. Nixon comes across as a small, mean man obsessed with keeping his reign of power and absolute control over those around him, the Republican party, and ultimately, the entire country. I couldn’t help but to be reminded of the arch-typical James Bond villain who concocts a ludicrously complex plan in order to take over The Whole World.
The actual Watergate crimes were also shifty and underhanded, reminiscent of the worst kind of frat-boy hi-jinx played out on a presidential stage. The Committee to Re-Elect the President, with one of the all-time great acronyms of CREEP, counted as its members the highest ranking members of Nixon’s staff, and CREEP was by far Nixon’s highest priority and received the most actual working attention in relation to everything else assigned to the occupant of the Oval Office. Securing re-election at all costs was the primary goal and driving force behind almost everything that Nixon did. The fact that Nixon actually did later achieve some impressive deeds like winding down the Vietnam War, and opening up relations with China, is almost entirely overshadowed by the misdeeds of Watergate. Nixon’s staff included some rough trade; really nasty pieces of work in G. Gordon Liddy, H.R. Haldeman and John Erlichman, whom remind me of grown-up frat-boys of the worst sort: entitled, privileged bully-boys used to getting their way, who see themselves and their political advancement as entirely above the rules and morals of “the rest of us”.
The Nixonian office culture has quite a bit in common with Christie’s, and it is this culture that has come to define the American conservative personality. Authoritarian, venal, righteously moralistic, lacking in empathy, and bullying are all key words that aptly describe the driving forces behind the Neo-Con/Teapublican/GOP brand of the Republican conservative personality. The authoritarian personality is obsessed with power and control, and lives to enforce a very rigid set of rules. It is no coincidence that Repubs lean heavily towards Christian Fundamentalism, favoring their god’s coldly paternalistic aspects, and the conviction that only their path is the righteous one; all others are inferior, and defacto, dehumanized. The endless sets of archaic and outdated rules set forth in the Bible are stubbornly defended as the one and only way, and the authoritarian takes great joy in meting out and inflicting punishment over those who will not completely comply with these inflexible decrees.
The conservative personality is also totally convinced that his moral stance is the only correct one, and sees the world in overly simplistic black/white, wrong/right terms. They long for a mythical earlier “more simple” time when everybody followed their rules without question. Currently, this era is embodied as the American 1950s. The following cultural revolution of the 1960s was deeply distressing to the conservative personality, especially the overturning of women’s roles, racial lines, sexual mores, and the notion that the paternal head of the nuclear family receded in importance to the idea of the distributed power of group harmony. All of these largely communal awakenings worked against the authoritarian power base that lauded the isolation and sterility of the father-headed nuclear family, with strict conformist rules, clear and distinct hierarchies, and a near-obsession with doling out punishments.
The law-and-order stance that really came into its own during the early 1980s, with the launching of the War on Drugs as well as the 3-strikes law is classic Repub conservative personality. So is the tendency to be extremely hawkish, with a kind of worship for the military way, and its ability to lord power and the American way over the rest of the world with our reputation as the World’s Policeman. Conveniently, they are able to set aside their Tea Party anti-government funding principles when it comes to lavishing the Military Industrial Complex with almost unlimited funding that is funneled away with shocking levels of corruption to conservative-friendly corporations like Halliburton, Blackwater (now re-named with the confusing moniker of Academi), and any number of companies owned by the Koch brothers.
Compassion and empathy are notably lacking in the Repub conservative personality, especially when it comes to the poor. The supposedly Christian notion that society should take care of its poor and needy is entirely discounted. Rather, the conservative personality has conveniently concocted the antiquated Calvinistic idea that the poor somehow deserve any hardships that may come their way, as they are not “favored by god”. But the conservative personality doesn’t just stop there, they seem to have an unsettlingly strong hatred of the poor and needy. They delight in such measures as cutting already meager welfare and unemployment benefits and deflating the Affordable Care Act, now that almost every single Republican governor, with a mean and petty glee, has refused federal funding to increase Medicaid eligibility to include poor and childless adults. Conservatives have sadly succeeded in rewiring American opinions on getting government-based assistance to those in need. Just mentioning “welfare” now brings up visions of the phantom “welfare queen”, a meme too successfully spread by conservatives who knew better that in reality, the level of welfare fraud is around 2% for TANF and less than 1% for SNAP.
That old conservative favorite, the Christian Bible, rails mightily against venal sins, with countless stories about how god smote a rich man, and Jesus begged his wealthy followers to donate their wealth to those in need–blatant class warfare, if you will. Venal sins are perhaps the most insidious of all, for the venal sinner prizes enriching himself with material and monetary goods, a particularly hollow, shallow goal, while intentionally hurting and/or dominating others to achieve his wealth. You cannot ascribe the venal sin to a crime of passion; it is crafty and underhanded, and entirely intentional. The Repub conservative personality has scored a major coup by transcribing the idea of the American Dream to mean getting ridiculously wealthy by any means possible, with absolutely no sense of the common good, or of community with his fellow citizens. The “greed is good” mantra has been adopted by a shocking number of the evangelical mega-churches who teach their parishioners that acquiring wealth and material goods mean that you are living a life favored by god. Gone is the sense of charity and good works that used to figure largely in the Christian mindset.
Lastly, the Repub conservative personality insists upon the strictest conformity. Conformity of religion–Christian definitely, Protestant and Evangelical preferably, Fundamentalist ideally. Conformity of personality; amazingly, there are still children’s therapists and private military-style reform schools to force little Johnny to look like, dress like and act like their hopelessly old-fashioned 1950s-style ideal of an “upstanding young man”. Woe to the child of the Repub conservative who dares to assert himself with any kind of rebellion; there is an entire shady industry of erstwhile and often Christian “therapists” and “educators” to shout down the merest hint of nonconformity.
Conformity of political views. Unlike the often chaotic free-thinkers of the American progressive movement, the conservative political leaders have done a frighteningly efficient job of keeping their party in line. The last 20 or so years have seen a massive shift to the far right, and those few remaining Republican moderates have been drummed out of office by their own party. To be a member of the Repub conservative political movement means subscribing 100% to the ideals of anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-feminism, anti-separation of church and state, and pro-gun. This sort of unquestioning marching in lockstep makes the conservative political message efficiently uniform. You see this in how amazingly quickly the Fox News/Republican Party talking heads all spout the exact same talking points at every political development, whereas their opposites will often come across as comparatively disorganized when they dare to voice divergent, nuanced rebuttals.
Perhaps the most insidious, conformity of sexuality. The American conservative, true to the practices of his organized religion, is deeply uncomfortable with sexuality in general. The rest of the world is incredulous that America, a first-world country with a high standard of living, actually promotes abstinence in sexual education in its public schools, thanks to the prudish influence of local school boards colonized with far-right Christian conservatives. In the last presidential election cycle, there was a bewildering lack of outcry at Senator Rick Santorum’s actual presidential platform that called for the federal government to delegitimize birth control. He actually put forth his belief that sexual intercourse should be for procreation only, and thus we had the launching of the conservative party sport of slut shaming birth control users. Santorum had a creepy and almost childish aversion for sexuality in general; the man must have had quite the interesting marriage. You could just imagine him in bed, ready for some of that hot procreational sex, looking at his wife’s naked body and thinking, “Ewww“.
As amusing as that may be, Santorum’s attitude towards homosexuality is positively chilling in its level of hatred and contempt, and so goes the Repub conservative’s vicious damning of any sexuality other than monogamous heterosexuality. LGBTQ rights is the last civil rights struggle to pass muster in this country, and the Repub conservative is fighting tooth and nail against the increasingly powerful tide of progress. Now that it’s unacceptable to espouse racist views, conservatives have put all of their venom and acrimony about the modern world into demonizing gays. (I’ll use “gay” as shorthand for LGBTQ for ease of syntax.) Groups like James Dobson’s Focus on the Family continue to mount the most toxic and vulgar “protests” that, had they been aimed at any racial or religious group, would receive the across-the-board disapproval they deserve. But the right wing has let the primitive and scary Old Testament viewpoints flourish, and you hear more baseless, truly evil hatred of gays coming out of conservative mouths than is to be believed because they think it’s OK.
Never mind the fact that a steady parade of deeply-closeted, vocally self-hating religious leaders and wide-stance congressman are regularly outed under the most embarrassing circumstances. I have to admit that I do get a giggle out of the latest rent-boy tale of a meth and anal sex-loaded weekend in a seedy motel room whilst the wifey and kiddies wonder why Daddy comes back from his “church retreats” so tired and grumpy. Once the media gets a hold of the story and it’s impossible to sweep it under the carpet, we get the tearful confession on the dais with the stiffly smiling wifey, and the promise to go to “gay rehab” to be schooled in the magic of becoming “ungay”. Thankfully, with each younger generation comes the acceptance of LGBTQ lifestyles, and once enough of those stick-up-the-arse haters die off, it won’t even be an issue.
This is admittedly an overly long and rambling examination of what it means to be a conservative in America today. However, I remain fascinated with exactly what makes them tick. With every breaking scandal like the Christie bridge debacle, I see once again the roots of this kind of misconduct, and the world in which this kind of behavior is permissible. It is overwhelmingly an authoritarian world in which its adherents are compelled to march in lockstep, and “outsider” values aren’t just opposed, they are demonized, often using the Christian Bible as “proof”. Progressives are so used to being tolerant of other viewpoints that they don’t realize how fundamentally intolerant their opposite number is, and so knuckle-dragging anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-immigrant and anti-nonconformist values continue to worm their way into the American mainstream. Instead of dancing around the complicated details of civil law and impeachment procedure, I wish we could just shout out, “He’s an asshole bag of douche“, and just be done with Chris Christie, and all of the rest of the Asshat Brigade with irreparable Repub conservative personalities.
Of all people, it was Albert Einstein whom inspired this post on Why I Despise Organized Religion. Today, a letter of his went up for sale on ebay, and while the amount it’s selling for is impressive, (opening bid of $3M) it’s what’s in the letter that really grabbed me:
I’ve always like Einstein’s cool rationalism, especially given the timeframe in which he was expressing himself. Here’s a guy who did not come from the privileged and favoured classes that existed in the scientific and academic worlds of that time. He was essentially a working-class Swiss tinkerer/fix-it guy who was utterly unafraid to totally go for it; Damn! the torpedos and the hidebound rules of academia with its hoary intellectual paralysis called “tenure”. Proud secularism isn’t quite so revolutionary today, given the evolved state of Europe, Japan and bits of Oceania. However, there’s always America and the Middle East to drag rational thought backwards, kicking and screaming, into its dripping, stinking Fundamentalist maw.
Fundamentalism has become the chief scourge upon rational humanity, and a powerful source of devolution everywhere. Judaism started it all with the idea of Yahweh as a supreme being who existed in a nebulous form somewhere up in the skies, divorced entirely from all humanity and Nature. We should have seen that one coming. I mean, how unbalanced must one be to decide that there is only One God, and he has nothing at all to do with the funkiness of Being Human and the chaotic beauty of Nature. Then, the Christians took it one further, giving him a son who had to be borne of a virgin to get the stink of Woman and sexuality/Nature off of him. The Christians practically invented Don’t Look Behind the Curtain, with the “awww cute” image of a Baby Jesus and winged white angels on Heavenly clouds that would later inspire an entire aesthetic of cutesy big-eyed babies and angel porcelain doll series for overweight, crazy lady greedy hoarders in the flyover states who then get to feel that much better than everyone around them. That’s what Christianity really wrought: the I’m Better Than Youism that sprouted from the idea of a xenophobic heaven, no Others allowed. Muslims came along 800 years later and upped the intolerance and violent militancy. They also gave the men unlimited power over the women, a move that guaranteed the evolution of a particularly hateful, power-mad group of assholes that would really run with it.
So what all happened to those boastful sky god conquerors, who took the name of Nature in vain and made a big chunk of cheddar in the process? (And we’re referring to the Fundamentalists among them.) First we have the Fundie Jews in their Israeli catbird seat, whom after 2000+ years of some admittedly horrid treatment, not just decided they’re over it, but then opted to go All In, acting like the supreme asshole bullies that handed it to them for so long; not a very spiritual improvement, if you ask me. Then you have Fundie Islam, inspiring the male half of its population to incredibly nasty violence on a global scale by making them King Shit locally of everything that moves; chiefly, “their” women and children. And lastly, we have Fundie Christianity, the World Champions of taking intolerance and greed and insisting to the everyone else that they are the most pious of little lambs. Sure, they’ll bomb a few abortion clinics or Federal buildings and snipe a few OB/GYNs, and there’s that wonderful millenia of pogroms, Inquisitions, and Prod v Cath in any number of iterations. But what Christians are really good at, in the Free World they supposedly created, is slowly poisoning and killing people from the inside, a la the Westboro Church’s irrational and kinda perverse obsession with “The Gays”, or hating and fearing human sexuality so much that they make their priests celibate and unmarried, and then try to sweep the resulting sickness and abuse under the rug. (I think that covers Fundie Prods and Caths pretty evenly.)
If I’m ever to become a devotedly spiritual type, it will be through some return to the Nature-based animistic tradiTIons of past, a la Wiccans, Druids, Wotanism, or some slice of modern Buddhism. Those guys told all kinds of what seem to be ridiculous stories in order to “explain’ natural phenomena, something that seems to put them at odds with rationalism. But look a bit closer. Those stories are highly metaphoric, and were always understood to be that way. Just look at the often humorous trials and tribulations the gods and goddesses of that world get up to, and the pie-in-the-sky “fantastic-ness” of so many of their creation myths. They knew that their traditions weren’t the literal “TRUTH”, but rather a compelling manner of passing on an oral tradition that gets the listener to really think about what is being said. Contrast that intellectual and spiritual freedom to the trio of Sky God Assholes who sternly insist that only their way is correct, and that you’d better damn well write your shit down and then toe the line EXACTLY as written, no deviations or original thought allowed. Every time a form of spirituality gets entrenched and starts down the road of power-mad intolerance and greed, we need to put our collective foot down and shout, “KNOCK IT OFF!!”
Until then, “SCIENCE!“