Archive for October, 2023

The Republican Lexicon

Below are a few terms consistently thrown out as Republican talking points or values. Beneath each term is the actual meaning.

Smaller Government

Up to a 30% cut in virtually all programs benefitting lower income Americans; less federal funding for infrastructure and the environment; maintaining subsidies and tax breaks for wealthy individuals and corporations; cuts in foreign aid and military aid to countries such as Ukraine and nations bordering Russia and China, except for Taiwan, because we need their computer chips.

Balanced Budget

A budget balanced on the backs of the poorest Americans, with more tax cuts for the affluent and corporations.

Reducing Federal Regulations

Only reducing those regulations that cost corporations money or require them to protect the environment.

Traditional/Family Values

Emphasis on traditional two-parent family; opposition to equal pay and equal rights for women; banning books and media that depict anything other than “traditional” values; opposition to educational courses that teach unpleasant but proven facts about American society and history; opposition to anything depicting other than heterosexual relationships or life styles; opposition to a woman’s right to choose in the matter of abortion, often even when a pregnancy could kill the mother.

Immigration/Secure Borders

No more immigrants are welcome, unless they’re multi-millionaires or billionaires.


Anything proposed by Democrats.

Idealogue or Tyrant?

The Republicans in the House have elected a new Speaker – Mike Johnson. By any definition, Johnson is a far-right idealogue – election denier, extreme evangelical, anti-abortion without exception, America-firster who voted against aid to Ukraine, who opposed same-sex marriage and any LBGTQ civil rights, and who continues to back Donald Trump with bogus claims of election fraud of various sorts.

Like all idealogues, for all of his genial soft-spoken manner, he’s an absolutist. Everything is black or white. And that’s the biggest problem with absolutists in politics. Life is filled with shades of gray, and trying to force everything into black and white always results in tyranny, as well as a denial of any facts that don’t fit within the absolutists’ beliefs.

Is Johnson a true idealogue, or an ambitious politician using ideology to gain great power? Or both? In practice, it doesn’t matter. The results will be the same, because idealogues don’t compromise. That should be obvious from the voting patterns of Republicans in the U.S. House.

I don’t see Johnson compromising unless he’s forced to by the defection of moderate Republicans, but if those moderates do defect, the Republican establishment will attempt to handle them in the same fashion as they did with Liz Cheney. If Johnson can hold the House in line, he’s the type to bring the government to a halt until he gets his way, just as the far-right has paralyzed the U.S. House until they got their way.

That kind of mindset can destroy democracy under the guise of saving it, and Mike Johnson is just the type to lead such a crusade.

Nightmare or Déjà Vu

This past weekend, we went to a dinner party. At the adjoining table were six people, all six more than acquaintances, but less than close friends. They were talking politics, and it became clear that all were Trumpists, very firm ones at that. All six would likely fall into the income classification of upper middle class but might well deny it. The men were professionals, a CPA, a retired consumer products plant manager, and a retired senior regional executive of one of the largest big-box retail chains; the women were a retired schoolteacher, the office manager (and wife) of the CPA, and a full-time housewife.

All were talking about how much they loved Donald Trump, using exactly those words and how much they hated Joe Biden, calling him an incoherent puppet of the far left.

I was tempted to point out a few facts, but refrained because a few weeks ago, I’d had a talk with the retired regional sales executive, and I knew exactly where anything I might say to the six would go. When I earlier pointed out that Trump had been convicted of tax fraud and evasion, as well as sexual assault and defamation, and faced four indictments and 90 some criminal charges, and tried to overthrow an election, and I asked him how he could support someone like that, his answer was, “All politicians are corrupt. What about Hillary and her emails, and Hunter Biden, or Biden’s brother?”

I suggested there was a difference between hard evidence with convictions and indictments and no charges at all in the case of Hillary and charges against Hunter Biden far less damning and not involving his father, and that Hillary hadn’t tried to overthrow the election she lost, to which he replied there was no difference.

Now, I can understand someone who dislikes or despises the policies of the Democrats and who will vote for any Republican rather than a Democrat. I personally think that’s a bit extreme, but I can understand it. What I find unfathomable is LOVING a convicted criminal and proven sex offender who tried to overturn an honest election, and who currently continues to spout proven lies about people in government just doing their jobs.

And then, that night after the dinner, I had a dream, more like nightmare, about the six of our acquaintances, back in Germany in 1933, sitting at dinner and saying how much they loved Adolf Hitler because of the way he was handling the communists and the Jews.

I did wake up from that nightmare.

Corrupt Societies/Governments

Societies exist because human beings fare better by cooperating in groups. Human societies have ranged from loose groupings of individuals to grand empires, but one of the distinguishing features of most, if not all, successful nations and empires is that they have adopted structures and laws that strike a balance of some sort between the rights of the individual and the need to maintain civic order while protecting their citizens from attack from without.

There are essentially two ways to hold a country/society together, either through laws based on honesty and public trust of the government or through fear and force. And even societies based on honesty and public trust use fear and force on lawbreakers and other disruptive elements to deter them from harming others.

But the greatest danger to successful societies usually results from corruption from within. Corruption can be loosely defined as breaking in some fashion social compacts or laws that maintain equal rights to personal safety, equal rights to hold and use property, equal access to public services, and equal treatment under law.

Failing to pay taxes is corruption because the evader obtains public services he did not pay for, and thus places a heavier burden on those who do. Bribing a public official for services or contracts disadvantages others (and results in unequal treatment under law) and possibly results in shoddy procurement/goods. Paying to get a government position almost invariably results in a less qualified person in that position… and also reduces faith in government. Less faith in government creates more incentives to cheat government and the mindset that “if everyone else is doing it, why shouldn’t I?”

By the same token, government policies that appear to grant special rights and privileges to certain groups or classes of people also reduce trust in government, even if such policies actually make access more equal.

Now, in practice, all societies have a degree of corruption, but history shows, rather conclusively, that comparatively more honest societies actually achieve more, have greater power, and have happier and more prosperous people.

A society that accepts corruption as a way of life deserves what it gets, and it will continue to get it, because corruption stems from the idea that whatever’s best for me and my family supersedes the rule of law, and when people don’t respect the law, corruption becomes endemic and self-perpetuating.

Responsibility? Deniability?

Over two million Palestinians live, and are effectively trapped, in the Gaza strip. Among them are thousands, if not more, members of Hamas. Most of the Palestinians now living in Gaza either left Israel for Gaza or are the descendants of those who did. Gaza was controlled by Egypt, but later occupied by Israel in the 1967 war. The Oslo Accords of 1993 provided for local control by the Palestinian Authority, and in 2005 Israel withdrew from Gaza. By 2007, Hamas vanquished Fatah and taken control of local government, after which Hamas cancelled elections.

After all its difficulties with Islamic terrorists, Israel clearly doesn’t want to govern the Palestinians, or to integrate them into Israel, and neither do any of the other nations in the regions bordering Israel want to accept the Palestinians, despite the fact that all of those nations have cultures not dissimilar to that of the Palestinians.

Since it declared itself an independent nation in 1948, Israel has been under attack, at times in all-out war, and the rest of the time from terrorist attacks. As the latest incarnation of those who have attacked, Hamas has declared that Israel must be destroyed. Although Israel removed its internal military presence in Gaza more than fifteen years ago, terrorist attacks against Israel have continued, with the latest being the most devastating in years.

Yet protests against the Israelis are growing in the United States, especially among “liberals,” claiming that the sad situation in Gaza is all the fault of the Israelis and that the Israelis shouldn’t attack Gaza because of the harm that will cause to “innocent” Palestinians.

But how innocent are the Palestinians? Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see them stopping the attacks by Hamas.

It’s both a truism and a truth, that no government can stand against its people – if they truly oppose it. Of course, the problem arises when a population is divided, and a true civil war is a disaster. But in the case of the Palestinians, they don’t seem to be repudiating their support for the destruction of Israel or for Hamas. Nor does saying nothing make them innocent. Here, as in many cases, an old saying applies — all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. And that’s assuming a population that wishes to destroy Israel is “good.”

Are the Iraelis angels? Hardly, but when you’re the only Jewish nation in the world with a land area of a mere 8,000 square miles surrounded by nations that have never stopped attacking and who have advocated for your destruction for more than 75 years, being a peaceful angel will only result in another holocaust, something that the Jews cannot forget and that all the Palestinian “supporters” seem to have conveniently forgotten.

And then there’s the other question. At what point does a people or a nation have to take responsibility for the acts of their leaders? Certainly, some peoples never have. It took World War II to hold the Germans responsible for the acts of Hitler and the Nazis. It took a Civil War for the U.S. to deal with slavery, and there are still unfinished issues. No one ever held Stalin responsible, or Mao, or the Turks for the Armenian genocide.

All of that points out that most extremists have to be stopped by force, because that’s all they respect. Unfortunately, that makes whoever effectively stops them an extremist as well. And, in the case of Gaza, there’s a great deal of talk, but no one in the entire region seems to be willing to truly deal with the issues raised by Islamic extremists, except Israel, because it has no choice if it wishes to survive.


From where I sit, I’m seeing a general similarity between the situation in Gaza and the situation in the theoretically Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Both are allowing violent extremists to disrupt their workings.

The Republicans blame the Democrats for all the nation’s problems, while Hamas continues to put the blame on Israel. In the House of Representatives, Republicans have a slight majority, but they’ve allowed themselves to be bound and disrupted by an extremist minority that has, depending on the situation, blamed the former speaker for working with the Democrats and then effectively blamed the Democrats for not saving McCarthy from the extremists, after McCarthy stalled almost all legislative activity while trying to placate the extremists — most unsuccessfully.

In the Gaza situation, the Israelis pulled out of local governance fifteen years ago, and the Palestinians have accepted and allowed the existence of extremist terrorists who blame the Israelis for everything while doing their best to continue their attacks.

In both cases, the extremists are pushing ideas and ideology that, apparently, very few besides the extremists can accept.

Hamas wants the total destruction of Israel and will accept nothing less, while the Republican extremists want massive spending cuts that will fall on the poorest Americans and refuse to consider even the smallest of tax increases on the wealthiest Americans (who now possess the greatest share of national wealth ever)… and apparently will accept nothing less.

Neither situation is likely to end well.

Walgreens’ Pharmacy Problems

Walgreens has 9,000 locations in the United States, and, this week, in something like 200 of them, pharmacists are walking off the job, citing stress, understaffing, changing schedules at the last moment, and inadequate training for pharmacy staff.

This couldn’t come at a worse moment for Walgreens, whose stock value has roughly dropped fifty percent over the last year, and whose earnings aren’t improving significantly., and whose CEO departed recently. The company blames some of the problem on the fallout from fewer Covid vaccinations and says that the walkouts are limited to a few stores.

But, from what little I’ve seen, the problems are far worse than the company admits, and affect more than just a few locations.

We have a single Walgreens here in Cedar City, and it’s also where my wife and I get vaccinations, as a great many people do, because there aren’t that many options in Cedar City. It’s also not one of the stores cited as having walkouts.

Two years ago, I could call the store and get an appointment for a vaccination. Last year, Walgreens implemented a mandatory national vaccination schedule. Even if the pharmacy was empty, you had to go online to get an appointment.

This year I scheduled an appointment for Covid and flu vaccines. When I arrived, I was told that the Covid vaccine hadn’t arrived and that the store hadn’t been told the vaccine would be delayed in enough time to contact people – if, indeed, they’d had enough staff to do so, which they didn’t. Now… the staff was pleasant, and apologetic. And I got the flu vaccine quickly, with little fuss … and waited to reschedule the Covid shot. I also noted that the pharmacy staff never stopped moving, except to wait on people or answer the telephone.

When my wife went to get her vaccination, after the Covid vaccine arrived, despite the advance registration, the waiting time was forty-five minutes because the pharmacy didn’t have enough staff.

I’ve thought back, and over the past three years, that Walgreens appears to have changed almost all the pharmacy staff at least three times. I’ve had a different pharmacist or pharmacy tech give me a shot each time, and yet there are never more than five or six people working in the pharmacy.

So… I’m inclined to believe the pharmacists who attribute the problem to management, and I also suspect that management needs to pay more attention to operations than to the stock price.

No Perfect Solution

Americans are dissatisfied, in a wide range of areas, but particularly in their current political choices, and I’m afraid that the dissatisfaction is only going to get worse because, as a nation, we refuse to face certain realities.

The first unpleasant reality is that no society, even the U.S., can offer the higher standard of living which most Americans want to all its population (unless the society is small and relatively homogenous). In the U.S., there aren’t enough resources and energy sources to do that (not to mention the “small” problem that using that much energy would increase global warming). The second is that we’re producing twice as many college graduates for high-paying “elite” jobs than there are jobs, which means that more than half of those degree holders are unlikely to ever be able to pay back the debt they’ve incurred in pursuit of those degrees, and each year those numbers increase, and so does dissatisfaction.

Then there’s the fact that tens of millions of people outside the U.S. are more than willing to come here, because almost any form of subsistence in the U.S. is better than what they face where they are, and there’s at least some hope by coming here.

Add to that the fact that the majority of Americans are looking for a one-size-fits-all perfect solution. No system, plan, or method works perfectly all the time, and the greater the diversity of those relaying on a system and the greater the range of problems the system has to deal with, the lower the probability of agreement among the users of the system. For large systems to work, political or economic, compromise is necessary, like it or not.

On top of that, a significant percentage of Americans don’t want to compromise. Those with great wealth are piling up more wealth, and those with few or no financial resources feel their comparative situation is worsening. The wealthy have the political power and resources to avoid compromising, and the poor have comparatively less and less.

All of these facts and factors are well-known. They’re everywhere. So what are our politicians doing to address them?

In recent political debates, especially among Republicans, I’ve observed that, for the most part, the politicians who assess the current situation more realistically and also advocate at least semi-realistic changes appear to be the least popular. I see the same problem among the Democrats.

Could it be that everyone fears that any actual realistic solution will hurt them or go against what they believe? And that any politician who’s realistic faces getting thrown out of office?

It’s certainly possible, since the U.S. continues to spend far more than its revenues and the politicians appear unable to cut spending (because too many people will suffer) and unable to raise taxes on the wealthy (despite the greatest income disparity in U.S. history)… and yet they’re unwilling to work out a realistic compromise, because it’s clear that too many voters find compromise unacceptable… and are demanding the unworkable and unobtainable perfect solution.

The “Dickens” Approach

I’d venture to say that the vast majority of Americans have encountered something written by Charles Dickens, even if it’s only one of the movie versions of A Christmas Carol, or perhaps high school English class required reading of A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, or David Copperfield.

One of the aspects of Dickens that has always bothered me about his work is the lack of loose ends. As one New York Times book reviewer wrote years ago, “Dickens seduced his readers with atmosphere and then clubbed them with coincidence. He dreaded loose ends – no one has ever tied up his literary anxieties with more circumstantial knots.”

While Dickens has been criticized for “paper” main characters, excessive sentiment, and a reliance on fortuitous circumstances, what bothered me more was the lack of loose ends. Even as a student in high school, it always seemed to me that life was filled with meaningless death and loose ends.

Over the years, I’ve seen that novelists certainly recognize and often overdo meaningless deaths, if sometimes imbuing deaths with more meaning than they actually have, but some seem to work too hard to tie up all the loose ends, even if that seldom happens in real life, which is far less tidy than fiction.

But today, as in Dickens’s time, a great many readers enjoy having all the loose ends tied up and feel that the only loose ends that shouldn’t be tied up are those that will indeed be tied up in the sequel. This is natural, given that life is indeed untidy, and one of the reasons people read novels is not only to be entertained, but also to be challenged, as well as given a sense of meaning or order in life.

As a result of my feelings about loose ends, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that I leave more than a few loose ends in any novel, some of which will never be resolved, and that just might be because I have the feeling that, more often than not, the only order and meaning in life come from what individuals and their societies create, and that no one is capable of tying up all the loose ends in life.

But that also might explain, at least partly, why I don’t have a best-seller like Tale of Two Cities, which, tied-up loose ends and all, has sold more than 200 million copies and is still selling, more than a century and a half after the author’s death.