Thursday, December 29, 2016

Thoughts on Innocence

If 2016 was anything, it was a watershed year that tested the concept of innocence.

From the tragic and shocking deaths of David Bowie and Prince, to the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series for the first time in over a century, through the election of Donald Trump and right into the deaths of Carrie Fisher (and now her mother, Debbie Reynolds), America was forced to grow up a little.

I'll focus on the last bit in a moment. I want to explain why I think that.

America has had a sense of innocence and the concomitant sense of superiority ever since the Revolution that created us. We are one of two nations that span an entire continent from sea to sea (Australia, and sorry Canada, but Alaska cockblocks you on this) and that insulation has protected the citizenry of America from the ravages of war, with one or two exceptions (the Revolution -- including the War of 1812 -- of course, and the Civil War).

We've been able to grow and prosper without a thought to who might come along and take it. This singular insularity has allowed us to create a culture that has to look inwardly in order to find enemies. If there is a single reason why xenophobia has such a long and strange history in this nation built on the backs of the immigrants, it's that fact: no one worries about Canada or Mexico invading us.

Unlike, say, France, which has always had to worry about the Germans, or the English or the Spanish.

Effectively, any damage that America has suffered has generally come at the hands of her own people. This allows for a large measure of naivety, I think. It's easy to call Oklahoma City an act of extremism, even if that extremism is far more mainstream than we'd want to believe, because it goes against the grain of what we laughingly refer to as our values.

When an American drives a truck into a building full of children or even pulls out a semi-automatic weapon and mows them down, he's a nutcase -- despite the fact that he has mainstream media outlets spewing anti-liberal, anti-Christian venom into his ear regularly.

When a Saudi flies an airplane into a building full of adults, he's a fiendish terrorist.

Yet the acts achieve the same result: terror, anger, a sense of weakness.

This year, tho, I think the cracks in our facade of innocence have started to expand. Large chunks of that facade have fallen down. We're starting to see the rotting timbers of our structure and we don't like it much.

The deaths early on in 2016 of Bowie and Prince revealed to us that no one is exempt from the Grim Reaper.

By all accounts, apart from the occasional drug use long ago, David Bowie was a fairly healthy man, with a well of creativity deeper than the dark pools of Iman's eyes. He had much to live for yet (he just released an album the weekend before his death, in fact).

That he could be taken from us in such an insidious way at an age some might consider young tore a veil away from the eyes of many. The death of Prince reinforced that notion, that having it all meant nothing in the end, since it could all be taken in a moment.

And then there was that hideous campaign. The less said of the result, the better, I think, but the universal observation that rings truest is that Trump's "victory" was an invasion of our homeland, a cold war fought in digitalia.

The campaign, however, allowed freaks to fly their flags nationwide.

Which they relished.

While they still only make up 26% of the population, they feel like they are a far larger percentage. The innocence that any one of us is more than three meals away from rioting is on the table again, even if it was truly never off, even if the laws that protected us from the terror of the minority seemed to work well.

People voted for Trump out of anger, to be sure, and anger subsides. If The Donald, the Ferret-headed Fuckface, doesn't acquiesce to their demands, that anger will dissipate a little. If he does acquiesce, it will likely intensify as they find more and more to gripe about.

The American innocence that we are somehow sunny optimists is gone, and will be drowned in the cesspool over the next four years. While Democrats have won six of the last seven Presidential elections, we've only had two presidents to show for it.

If we had three, six terms out of seven, then the optimism that is America would be in force.

The final nail in the innocence coffin, in my mind, is the death of Princess Leia.

I'm sorry, Carrie: you've had a storied and wonderful career, full of tales ad life, but at the end of the day, every obituary featured your portrayal of Princess Leia. That's why I want to talk about it in this framework.

Leia came about at a time when America was starting to lose its grip on its innocence: 1977. Just after Watergate, just ahead of the Iran hostage crisis and the OPEC recession. We elected an honest peanut farmer from Georgia, blissfully ignorant that events would swamp his Presidency and while he was a nuanced and thoughtful man, he skated his administration on the knife's edge in terms of action and policy, an edge that did not leave him much room to maneuver.

Leia and her cohorts reminded us that good men must stand up to tyranny but we viewed that tyranny as an external foe. In our innocence, we believed the Empire to be the Soviet Union when in point of fact, Lucas was pointing out that empires begin at home.

Her death, and the selection of Trump by the Russians to be President, are two sides of the same coin.  Empires grow before our very eyes, but only because nations (or planets, as the case may be) let them be cultivated.

I have little doubt the next four years will prove our innocence was long misplaced, that rather than believing that a leader could fix us, we needed to pick up the axes and shovels and do the fixing ourselves, by electing people who agreed that America needed fixing,  and was not some shining city on a hill.

Instead, we have what we have.

And I have a bad feeling about this.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A New Direction Home

I've been doing a lot of navel gazing these past weeks.

Less about Hillary's defeat...because she won, even if the electoral vote is rigged in some fashion, and besides, this would still be applicable if she had swept into the Presidency as a re-election issue...than about how to expand the Democratic vote.

See, if you count heads, the Democrats have won the Presidential election in six of the last seven cycles. Two Bill Clinton, one Gore, two Obama, one Hillary.

The one cycle Republicans won was by a hair's breadth, over arguably the least competent candidate since Mike Dukakis.

And yet, we can't seem to expand those victories to places where our message of equal opportunity for all should resonate like a church bell on a quiet June morning.

This isn't about pursuing the angry white male. Fuck no, and fuck them (see, I'm one myself, so I know whereof I speak). This is about shattering the solid red wall in the middle of the country.
“The Democratic Party ceded rural America to the Republicans quite some time ago,” said Vickie Rock, a member of the Nevada State Democratic Central Committee from rural Humboldt County. “They invested nothing, they built no bench. They don’t even send out signs anymore, which is a staple of rural politics. 
“All Trump had to do was peel off a small percentage of urban votes, and he was going to win,” Rock said. “Because he already had, in his back pocket, rural America.”
Some Democratic officials in rural areas are plotting runs for leadership in state parties, while other gurus say they will take it upon themselves to train a new generation of rural-friendly operatives. These kinds of efforts won’t solve the problem alone, the strategists readily acknowledge, but would at least help the party begin to understand how much ground it must make up.
The kicker is, we have the tools lying around to do just what our rural brethren are asking for.

Before I get too deep in the weeds, let's review what we're talking about so we speak a common language.

The largest beneficiary of Federal government spending (adjusting for total population of the state) is typically a sparsely populated rural agricultural community. Farm subsidies, food programs, defense contractors (those missile silos in Kansas need to be peopled), interstate highways -- admittedly, not a Democratic program, but...--  are all funded in large part by there Federal government. Our tax money.

Yet, every election cycle, we Democrats and pundits scratch our heads trying to figure out why those people won't vote for the people who would rather spend that money on them then take it away in tax cuts for the wealthy.

Now I want to talk about the other commonality we see every election cycle: the fact that Democrats and liberals in those areas feel like they are isolated, alone, and at the mercy of their more vocal and more belligerent political opposition.

If you need to think about this more thoroughly, imagine being at a picnic or a barbecue. Let's say you're a University of Michigan fan, but there are about an equal number of Ohio State fans there. But those guys had a head start on the beer, and are extolling the virtues of OSU loudly.

You might tease them with a "Go Blue" cheer (there's a reason I picked those two schools), but they've already bonded and they drown you out quickly.

The other UM fans see that and decide it's not worth creating a ruckus. They'll just cheer when they get home.


What if at that picnic, you were handed a list of people who also liked UM? And you sought them out? Made friends? Bonded?

Now, suddenly, you aren't getting drowned out. You have back up.

(I'll get back to this analogy in a moment)

This is where the Democrats have fallen woefully short: connecting the blue dots in the red sea.

We've been communicating top down, and we've paid a price. We've told people in Utah and Michigan and North Carolina what our positions are on issues, and on larger issues, that's fine. But tell me: what's a good agricultural policy for the Democrats to pursue?

Here's Hillary's.

One of the most important issues in the heartland, and all she could muster was two paragraphs, one that would increase regulation.

I'm a city boy, altho I'm the spawn of farmers and love living part time in farm country, and I can think of about a dozen bigger issues for rural Americans than where salmon spawn or what kind of fertilizer I use or how much my workers are paid.

You want rural votes? This isn't brain surgery. You know all those farm subsidies we hand out like candy? How about targeting them better? Give the lion's share to folks whose name is actually on the mailbox, the ones who actually raise food for a living, and not for a board of directors to pay out in dividends.

Create infrastructure to help those farmers get their food to market faster, cheaper and yes, more environmentally-safe.

Talk about water rights. Talk about how you aren't banning people from capturing rain water but you are keeping their neighbors from damming up streams they rely on.

Back to the hypothetical picnic above: You, a Michigan fan, scan the list, look up and see a bunch of other people looking around, lists in hand. So you gravitate over to them, and you all start to talk about your love of UMichigan and you find out that one of them is the county ag commissioner, and another is the local Methodist minister, and a third is the Girl Scout troop leader.

In other words, authority figures. People that other people will respect when they speak up.

But instead of talking about the quarterback or the coach, now they're starting to talk about how they got in touch with the state party chairman and he's arranging for the county officials to come up and speak to the legislature about including some provisions about, say, that creek that overflows every few years, or that road that all the trucks use that needs to be filled in every spring.

And they make a point of saying these are Democrats working for the people in the county, to make their lives a little easier.

Have you ever attended a local party meeting? It's ludicrous how few people show up, apart from the officials who hold an office there. It's insular, and everyone is elbowing, jockeying for position to be the next person to move up the food chain in the county/state/national party.

Instead of addressing needs, they seek power through alliances and vote trading. And if you try and speak your mind on a subject, you get quickly reminded of the time limits and oh, there's a point of order!

This means that there are just not enough people showing up at these meetings to make the complacency go away, and here, the party is to blame as well. There are simply too many chiefs at every level and not enough soldiers.

The Democratic party needs to take a cue from the old corporate mantra of flattening the hierarchy and distributing responsibility. But then they need to go all in here and distribute the authority too.

In this case, authority = money. Stop investing in these grand national and state-wide schemes like the Fifty State plan of Howard Dean, or the federalism of Debbie Wasserman-Schulz (I had to make something up because, frankly, I couldn't remember that she had a strategy beyond winning the Presidency again). We're winning those frikkin' elections! We can afford -- no, we can't afford not to -- pay attention way down the ballot.

That's where the Electoral College is won or lost now. The two parties have so finely divided the nation through gerrymandering and abject pandering that we're down to a county by county fight for winning vote combinations. That we can win a seat by two and a half million votes yet lose the election is an embarrassment.

So here's a comprehensive plan, a road map for a new direction home, for the Democratic party.

1) Identify the blue dots in the red seas and encourage those blue dots to meet up for coffee and birthdays, and have star-power visit them in off-years. Barack & Michelle Obama, Hillary and Bill. Create a buzz about the Democratic party where it's not seen as "I need your vote" but "I want to listen to you".

Hillary did this to great effect in 2000 across New York State and she performed admirably even in rural counties against a candidate who was basically a lightweight version of Trump.

2) Find and develop those local officials who can persuade people, either through their charisma or their office, to think differently about Democrats. Imagine some small town in Idaho has Barack Obama show up to the church one Sunday. You think those people won't turn out to listen? And if the President talks about the pastor or the sheriff or the principal and endorses his commitment to the people of the county or town, you think that might carry just a little weight with that town? What if those people talk about how, you know, the farm subsidies were an invention of the Democrats who didn't want people to lose their homes when drought happened or when food prices plummeted?

3) Fund them for further pursuit of politics. So there's Barack Obama talking about this local resident and what a great job he did finding money to redirect that damned creek that kept overflowing.  Now that man or woman runs for town council or school board, and then state legislature. And then Congress. And then run on the local issues he or she has been talking about for years. Suddenly, we change a red bulb to blue on the board.

California, New York, those states will take care of themselves. Texas will likely turn blue by 2024, Virginia is nearly a certainty as well now, but we can take Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin regularly if we stop forcing the national party down people's throats are start listening to the people on the ground there. And we might scrape a few more states into play by just talking to the people who get their hands dirty and reassure them that we're listening.

The benches of both parties are mighty weak, but the Democrats have a slightly stronger one, one that can continue our grand tradition of winning the Presidency. We have the Castro twins. We have Corey Booker. We have Tulsi Gabbard. We have a nucleus for the immediate future but beyond that, we are starting to run thin. A clinton victory would have bought us time but not that much in the grand scheme of things.

We as a party can offer an alternative to politics as it has been now, right now, if we're willing to climb up onto the high wire and walk across. It's going to take money, but we have that behind us now, what with the massive train wreck that we will see in the next four years and even the wealthy realizing that things are in dire straits.

While Trump dismantles all we hold dear, we need to be out there, reminding people who put those programs they love in place and who will do their damnedest to fix them up again.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

This Is Not Slut-Shaming

This photo, from a modeling shoot that then-Melania Knauss did for a French magazine in 1996, made this rounds this summer as The Donald's campaign heated up.

There's nothing wrong with the photo: it's shows a moderately attractive -- I have extremely high standards -- if awkward looking woman, posing nude, protecting her femininity from manual assault by, say, some creepy short fingered vulgarian with her left hand.

She posed for it as a struggling young model in New York City, a city filled with some of the most beautiful women on the planet. She's done many many more, including one that sees her rolling around on a faux-Oval Office rug (you'll start seeing that more often, now).

As The Donald edged closer to the nomination, and ultimately the Presidency, this photo was circulated more and more.

Many people believe this is slut-shaming at a new level, and I can understand that point of view. No one posted nude photos of Hillary, or Sarah Palin (altho some were spoofed up, to be sure), and while much humor was made at the expense of the moral fiber of Bristol Palin (two children out of wedlock) and that could conceivably be slut-shaming, no woman had ever directly been exploited in quite this way in a Presidential campaign.

"Exploited". That's quite an explosive word. Paula Jones was exploited. She was dragged out into the limelight to confront Bill Clinton because she was promised fame and fortune. She got infamy and a small check. The other Clinton accusers, they were exploited.

Monica Lewinsky, exploited. She still is, every time someone cracks a joke about a blue dress or a Bill Clinton cigar.


I'm not sure.

It's certainly titillating, no pun intended. It's certainly attention-grabbing. Slut-shaming, though?

I'm going to disagree. I believe the reason this photo has such energy about it, is such a good summary of the entire Trump family, is not about Melania. Rather, it's about The Donald.

More specifically, it's about The Donald and his "say anything, do anything" campaign of desperation to get elected. He made a choice early on to campaign as a "come to Jesus" Christian. He stumbled badly, so badly that it nearly cost him his nomination ("Two Corinthians walk into a bar...").

This photo is about the fundamentalist Christians who abandoned Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee, and flocked to The Donald's message of hate and spite, abandoning even their stern and conservative Lord  God for this Antichrist.

If this photo is about Melania in anyway, in fact, it's about her personal shames. After all, take a good look at that photo (or any photo of her, if this one offends you). This is a woman who by all accounts has a nice temperament, is a devoted mother to their son, Barron, and who has a decent figure and a well-sculpted face.

She even plagiarized her looks...
This is about a woman who has all the attributes one might want in a partner...and still the Rapist-Elect felt the need to cheat on her.

We know that rape and assault are not crimes of sex, they are crimes of power, of control. A man feels the need to physically dominate a woman (in the case of man-on-woman rape) and use her for his own pleasure. 

Yet, this photo of Melania speaks to me as photographer of her power, her autonomy, her control over her own body. 

I don't know that she's like that in real life, but for the good of the women of this nation, I truly hope she can stand up to The Donald in the manner this photo presents. 

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

It's Mourning in America

When George W Bush won in 200 and again in 2004, I was angry. I was worried he'd take us down the wrong road (he did) and would cause irreparable harm to the United States (pretty close).

But I was never scared of him as an existential threat.

A few thoughts about Trump before I get into the meat of this post: I don't see him surviving the first term in office. Not that he'll be assassinated, and goodness knows I don't wish that on him. I think the combination of stress, his weight and foul temper will do him in.

Remember, this is a man who is used to taking even perceived slights and turning them into street fights. He's not going to be able to do that anymore (certainly to the extent he did as a civilian). He won't be able to tweet at 3AM, he won't be able to get his attaboys from his followers, he'll effectively be locked away in the White House.

He'll be on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. He'll wake up to a briefing, go to bed with a crisis, and pretty much never sleep.

Then you look at the toll the office takes on a younger, healthier man, like President Obama or even a completely disinterested generalist like Dumbya, and you realize this geezer doesn't have enough gas in the tank to do this. Reagan could do it, but the Reagan wasn't dealing with cell phones and the internet, and 24 hour a day decision making.

Trump can't hide from the world, even if he wants to.

What scares me most about a Trump presidency is his utter lack of interest in anything. He has demonstrated time and time again that he can't get past page one in a briefing book, and that executive summaries had better be three paragraphs or less.

And he'll be expected to make decisions based on that summary. Decisions that will affect the entire planet (just look at the markets today, the day after Armageddon), decisions that will need to be finessed and nuanced.

He'll rely on his advisors but if you look closely at those advisors, you can't find a more motley crew than those: bootlickers, rageaholics, toadies who were the only public faces willing to step up in support of him. The debris of the 1990s political power nexus so desperate to remain relevant they hitched their wagons to the only person who wasn't afraid of all the baggage they brought along because of his own baggage.

And Chris Christie, notably absent from any talk of a Trump administration. Interesting, that.

As for his policies and how he's going to implement them, well, there's another fear factor: how?

He doesn't have a bulletproof Congress. The Senate can be filibustered, unless McConnell invokes the nuclear option. His own party is deeply divided over him, so badly that Marco Rubio couldn't even talk about him by name until the last weekend of the campaign. Yes. they'll unite behind the President but it won't be unity driven from party spirit but a facade ready to fall apart at the slightest hint of weakness on Trump's part.

Yet another reason to believe he won't survive his first term. He'll be wrangling cats.

As for Dems, forget any chance of a bipartisan solution to anything. Given the absolute certainty of a filibuster on any legislation in the Senate (Dems took notes these past years), Trump's agenda is dead in the water.

Repeal Obamacare? No.

Tax cuts for the wealthy? No.

The wall? No. Not even if Mexico offered to pay upfront, which they might for President Trump.

New trade deals? No.

Jobs bill? No.

And Republicans will be forced to defend the use of executive orders. Again. Executive orders only have limited scope and force, however. He can't, for instance, overturn Roe v. Wade. He can make it harder to find a clinic.

Foreign policy could be even worse. Trump has called Angela Merkel, the most powerful woman in the world, a "disaster".  He's butted heads with his own party over Vladimir Putin, whom he admires -- despite the fact that Putin is an absolute threat to the United States (more on that in a bit).  And if Russia does decide to become an aggressor, NATO is on their own, according to Trump.

China is practically chomping at the bit to test Trump's resolve on trade deals and has to feel threatened by Trump's overtures to India.

All of this is taking as a given his feelings about the Middle East, South Asia, and our involvement there.

We do know Trump loves him some Sharia Law...when it comes to women, and not much else when it comes to Muslims.

So I'm failing to see where Trump's Presidency is anything but an abject failure from day one. Maybe, if he had President Obama's temperament, he could get stuff done.

You know, like Obama did.

And he really only has a short window to accomplish much of anything, since the midterm elections are literally around the corner in political time. He'll lose seats in Congress, bigly (the standard operating procedure in the first midterm elections, altho there have been exceptions.)

Now, there is one window that trump might be able to clamber out of, and curiously, I think it involves Russia and Putin.


As you know, Julian Assange did signal service to Putin by dumping buckets of emails purported to come from he DNC and aides to Hillary Clinton in the middle of the campaign. While the emails themselves were pretty, dinner dates, small talk mostly...the reminder that Hillary has this baggage helped seal the deal with independent voters that she can't be trusted.

But what if...

After all, Putin's goal wasn't to stop Clinton. That would mean admitting that he was afraid of her and while that's a distinct possibility, I think he has larger ambitions.

To destroy democracy. To finish the job that Osama bin Laden started. To bring the greatest nation to its knees by raising fears that, in fact, it's not as great a system as it seems.

Let's play the first half of this scenario out: assume Clinton had won.

Well, we already know that the useful idiots in Congress would have tied her up in endless hearings over her emails, more about Benghazi, etc etc etc. Jason "Bacon on the Hoof" Chaffetz admitted as much.

While her coattails might have drawn enough Democrats in behind her to prevent some of this nonsense, it would have gone on and like the birther conspiracy, would have given a significant portion of the population reason to doubt her legitimacy.

Probably moreso than the birther movement affected Obama because this kind of nonsense has been going on around Hillary since the 1990s. There's sort of this air of presumption that she must be guilty of something (she's not.)

So if Clinton wins, Putin still gets a version of his disruption of American democracy. His best case scenario is if Trump wins.

In the lame duck period between now and January 20, I think -- altho I have no hard information on this -- we will see a new Wikileaks dump on Trump.

Tax returns, admissions of felonious behavior, infidelities, who knows? The point is, dump enough stuff on Trump to raise a ruckus and cast the results of the election into doubt.

(Given the closeness of the vote versus the polling, it wouldn't surprise me to find out that some of the results were manipulated already, but I digress.)

Trump, already wildly unpopular, will lose any chance of making a case for his Presidency, a case as I've already demonstrated was not likely to be worth a bucket of warm spit, and will leave an electorate even angrier than before.

A nation already practically at each other's throats is not a long stride from a nation at war with itself.

And THAT is why I find Trump to be so scary.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Good That Came Out of 9/11

I've never been one to dwell in the past. Whatever mistakes I've made, I learn from and move on. The people I've hurt, the people who have hurt me, I find it easier to forget them than to wonder what might have been.

September 11, that's a hard thing to ignore, particularly on a big fat juicy anniversary like the fifteenth.

Such tragedies don't happen often in a nation's history. Tragedies similar, yes. Hell, we lose more innocent people to gun violence in a year than we lost on September 11, by a factor of three.

Normally, I acknowledge the day with a small prayer for the victims and for the nation to find the wisdom to prevent this form occurring again.

Something bothered me this weekend, tho: usually out of terrible events, some good can be found: connections, outcomes, developments.

Take Pearl Harbor: you can trace a line from Pearl Harbor to the end of the Great Depression, the rise of the American automotive and housing industries (after the war, the GI Bill helped these become powerhouses), the racial and gender equality movements, the computer, nuclear energy, the rise of the middle class in America, and any number of other positives that shaped the nation today.

Maybe it's just too soon to really recognize what September 11 gave us a gift. After all, many of the things on the list of Pearl Harbor took decades to come about.

Some did not. Some were almost immediate.

So I meditated on this theme a little: can we point to anything and say it is ultimately a positive for our country?

Let's look at the immediate aftermath of the attacks: we declared war and invaded two nations, one of which, as it turned out, was not even close to having anything to do with the attacks (indeed, we shared a common enemy with Saddam Hussein and probably should have used him as our proxy in retaliating.)

We wasted trillions of dollars hunting down the perpetrators who planned and financed the attacks. We endangered our allies in the Coalition of the Bought and Paid For (7/7/07, among any number of terror attacks in Europe and Asia). We blew up a budget deficit that was already skyrocketing from the ill0conceived triple tax cuts of the Bush administration -- remember, Bill Clinton left us on the path to economic solvency with a surplus that, projected, could have paid off the entire national debt.

Our housing market exploded thanks to low interest rates, a President who on the day after 9/11 encouraged us to spend as a show of our patriotism -- encouraging people to take out HELOCs and second mortgages -- and a complete and deliberate lack of oversight from the Federal government, creating the Lesser Great Depression of 2008, when Americans ended up more in debt than the government ($128 trillion to $104 trillion by 2007) and much that debt was suddenly being called in.

Because, conservatives. Conservatives suck.

Our culture suffered, too. America has long been a deeply paranoid nation, but our paranoia ran towards delusions of grandeur: we couldn't be hurt. An ocean protected us.

After 9/11, that quaint jingoism turned dark and ugly: we began to see shadows in the daylight, afraid of our neighbors, even people who lived here for years. Not just Muslims, either. Look at our egregious reduction in voting rights of minorities across the board, the nasty depiction of hard working immigrants as "illegal aliens," the rise of the men's rights activists and the war on uteri.

Things we had assumed were generally viewed as good things: that everyone has a right to vote, that everyone was free to immigrate here and help us build a nation, that a human body was sacrosanct from government intrusion, all went by the board after September 11.


I think it's because 9/11 hastened trends that had been building for decades: the dismantling of the middle class by the monied classes, for one thing. The inevitable downward slope of a nation's power, that history teaches us is unavoidable since it touches facets of society that are not easily predicted, is another factor.

That wages have been stagnant for thirty five years while productivity has skyrocketed beyond even what we could expect from the technological revolution speaks to me of a people scared of the future, and willing to effectively become indentured servants to the whims of a boss who at any moment can pick up and head to the exits and the greener pastures of southeast Asia.

All happening as the government is forced to withdrawal from the social safety net by a small but wealthy few who demand it.

You see what I mean about the difficulty in finding the good of September 11.

But there hope. For one thing, we as a nation rose up after we understood the treasons of the Bush administration and threw conservatives out of the executive and legislative branch (one house, admittedly...conservatives had already rigged the other one for permanent status).

Yes, we gave the Senate back in 2010 and if there's a reason to hate Debbie Wasserman-Schulz's reign as DNC chair, it's that she oversaw over 700 electoral losses in her tenure, many that could have been prevented.

We elected the first African American president. We are poised to elect the first woman President (the polls don't sweat me: in 2008, John McCain was leading Barack Obama at this stage), and to take back the Senate.

We are about to turn Texas into a blue state, while keeping California and New York. Maybe Texans are finally just that embarrassed by their state politics, that gave us Bush 43, and Rick "Three Strikes" Perry, and Ted Cruz, and Greg Abbott.

We have young people who galvanized around a 70-something Jew from Brooklyn who asked, "wouldn't it be nice if we could have back some of the blessings we worked so hard for forty years ago?"

We saw the Occupy movement. We see the Black Lives Matter movement. We see anger and outrage being channeled into challenging the system, instead of at each other.

This fall's elections is a critical benchmark in the movement to a progressive America, and so if there's any good to speak of out of September 11, it's that we are moving in the right direction.


Friday, July 08, 2016

We Have Met the Enemy...

It strikes me that it's not only bad cops who are at fault when a cop kills an innocent citizen.

And while black men and women get killed with alarmingly frequency, white kids are often killed for no good reason. But there's clearly a racial factor at play nationwide.

There's a much deeper problem, though, and it goes beyond bad cops and beyond good cops not stepping up to intervene.

It's institutional. It's societal. It's about a culture that demands we underfund our cops -- because God forbid we should raise taxes! -- then insist they keep crime at a zero tolerance level. It's about turning citizens into statistics, and outsourcing our prison system to corporatists who see nothing but profit.

It's about a culture that worships guns and weapons, valuing them well above the very lives they are alleged to protect.

It's about turning our citizenry into targets in a video game. It's the same culture that has turned "citizens" into "civilians" as if the cops are one big armed occupying force and we the mere motion capture bystanders (or worse, perps) in a huge game of Grand Theft Auto.

When arrest statistics and "perpretrators incarcerated" become the goal of the average flatfoot on the street, when the line item for policing in the budget has to be justified with cherry picked statistics, he's going to have little incentive to actually solve problems.

Police work is hard. By God, it's hard, and there are millions of cops out there who do good, even great work every day.

The problem is, there are also thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of really horrible people wearing uniforms precisely because crime fighting has become less about fixing problems and more about "how many people can I sweep off the street today?".

We see an innocent man shot because he was complying with police orders.

We see an innocent man shot for having a legal gun to protect himself.

And we see the Blue Wall of Silence envelop the killers to protect them, like some grand omerta. We see a cop culture that echoes how badly kids are raised these days as opposed to "in the day," and how you should treat them with not respect but capitulation and deference, as if they are noblemen and we serfs.

Funny thing is, those cops grew up in that same culture. Hell, they helped create it.

And here's the kicker: today's culture is no more or less respectful of authority than any generation of the past. You have only to look at the 60s hippies, or the 50s hoods, the 20s gangsters to see that.

It's just that today, we have instant access to information from around the nation and we see right in front of us the culture from all sides.

It's not a surprise to me that nearly the first reaction of an officer is to shoot first and let the chips fall where they may. When you have the conflicting ideals of putting people away and keeping your numbers down against "serve and protect" (because how are they doing either by shooting people in knee jerk situations?), you are strongly tempted to take the easiest course of action.

And it's no surprise to me to see entire communities rise up against these tactics (sadly resorting to violence and slaughter, as evidence by the tragic events last night in Dallas). BlackLivesMatter is a real and a good thing: it reminds us that there are still entire communities who cannot live their lives and go about their business in peace.

Thing is, we're fighting the wrong enemy: the cops are a tool. They are quite literally nothing more than a tool to enforce the status quo of a society that is terrified of dissent and deviation of thought and opinion.

The real enemy is the society that forces these poor men and women into aggressive stances and situations where they are forced to make a split second decision to shoot or not because there are billions of dollars on the line each and every day across the nation: prisons are profit centers, police departments are cost centers, citizens are civilians in an armed occupation.

The police aren't the enemy. The kids being killed, black AND white, aren't the enemy. Our culture is the enemy and that enemy is pervasive and insidious.

And that enemy is us.

You and me. We have the power to stop the slaughter and violence from both sides. We can turn the relationship with law enforcement from an adversarial one, where the average cop has to have his hand hovering near his gun for a simple traffic stop, into a cooperative one.

We can vote. We can vote to fully fund our police departments. We can vote to establish accountability beyond some "civilian review board" that essentially rubber stamps anytime a gun is used. We can vote to put a framework in place that gets rids of bad cops quickly, and rewards good cops for solving problems, not ending lives, either literally or by putting away (usually) young men in prison and ruining their chances for gainful employment and all that goes with it. (The statistics in minority communities are terrifying. We have a real problem on our hands and it's going to last a long time).

We can vote to fully fund education and keep our kids in school and encourage them to go onto to college and get jobs and become responsible members of our society.

We can vote to fully fund after school arts, sports, and cultural programs, to give people an outlet to express themselves that goes beyond standing on a street corner bored to tears and restless as hell.

We can vote to let people earn a living wage, so that one parent can stay home and take care of the kids if the family so desires, keeping those kids off the streets.

There are a million things we as a people can do to stop this, and none of them involve limiting choices, but the involve expanding opportunities.

We, the people, have to fix this.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Whither Bernie?

In reality, the primary season is over. The path Bernie has to the nomination is basically to renege on his entire raison d'être, get a firm grasp on the Dark Side, and try to super delegate his way past the will of the people, the popular vote, and electoral process he so valiantly defends against "corporate money".

In truth, the primary was over when Bernie announced he was running. He probably kept Joe Biden out of the race (who would have stood a decent chance against Hillary, and certainly could match her vote for vote at the super delegate level and could conceivably have energized the same young voters that Bernie has. Google "Biden Bitchin' Camaro"). Sanders' mishmash organization, inability to cultivate even the super delegates in his own state...I mean, really, if you're going to descend into openly trying to steal an election anyway, you may as well be honest about it and stop disillusioning the youth of today...and absolutely barebones campaign infrastructure speaks of a man who made this decision basically about as carefully as a rich person chooses toilet paper.

His most important decisions -- hiring Tad Devine and Jeff Weaver -- speak volumes about his priorities and his willingness to thrown his believers under the bus for one chance at...what? The nomination? A chance to speak at the convention? A chance to get his issues on the party platform?

He never stood a chance at the nomination. Coming from 65 points behind to ten points behind is an admirable effort but it's still a losing effort. Second place is second place and double digits is double digits, and my suspicion is that a ham sandwich could have accomplished the same, especially with a layer of bacon.

He understood all this even as late as the New York primary, where he had a slim chance still but only spent $35,000 on a get out the vote effort. Now contrast that to the million he spent monthly on Messrs. Devine and Weaver.

Sanders has reached a fork in the road. He can choose to embrace the dark arts of the possible, lawyer up, spend even more money on irrelevancies and make a joke of himself and a parody of his campaign. Or, he can choose to embrace the good in his campaign, the positivity he brought, and the idealism of the tens of millions who believe in him.

See, he's in a difficult spot and there's a carrot dangling in front of him that, frankly, I don't see how he cannot take.

For one thing, he has tens of millions in illegal campaign contributions that have to be returned. Estimates run as high as $23 million. At March 31, he only had $17 million dollars, cash in hand. He is currently outspending his monthly hauls, diminishing faster than a reservoir in a drought in summer.

If Weaver and Devine returned their stipends since they've been hired, that would be enough to pay back the money Sanders owes. But they won't.

Sanders could hold onto the money, of course, but then he exposes the donors to criminal and civil prosecution and the campaign to sanctions (moot, as Sanders will not be running past the California primary).

He's between a rock and a hard place, to be sure, so he'll probably request a bailout (heh!) from the DNC, which has a fund for just these purposes.

The same fund that is replenished by those $350,000 a plate dinners George Clooney has to hold.

Oh, the irony: the People's Candidate bailed out by the very corporate whores he hates.

Note something else: because of this indebtedness (first to his donors, then to the DNC), there is no way in the world Sanders runs a third party bid. It would immediately be shut down by the FEC until the records are straightened out. He'd need an even faster cash infusion. Hello, superPACs!

But there's a flip side to this whole conundrum: he can't *stop* running either, if he wants to be a player at the convention (and certainly if he has any chance of flipping the nomination). This means he'll be deeper and deeper in debt as the hours pass by.

Which then calls into question his entire policy platform of redistributing the federal tax revenue to pay for his programs. After all, if he can't micromanage his campaign (and word on the street is that is exactly what he is trying to do, along with his wife) then how in the hell is he going to pay for college and single-payer, even with massive cuts to defense spending?

These are issues I could never have foreseen when I endorsed Sanders back in February. My concerns dealt with his possible success, but never about his probable failures.

It concerns me because, right now, Bernie Sanders is at another crossroads that has nothing to do with his campaign and everything to do with the future of the liberal progressive movement.

In the course of my lifetime, I've seen the liberal movement's concept of a President veer from the idealism of Robert F Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy to the sham of Michael Dukakis. You'll notice none of them won.

Meanwhile, the Democrats who have won: FDR, LBJ, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama -- Jimmy Carter being a mild outlier -- have been centrists who have enacted policies that tended to pull the nation leftward.

In FDR's case, yank it hard.

Sanders has an act to juggle here: he has to keep liberal issues at the forefront of policy discussions, yet he can't afford to have himself shunted aside as just an angry old man in a bathrobe who yells at clouds, no matter how bright and sparkly those clouds might be. That would destroy whatever progress we can make in the next four years, and render the liberal movement dead in the water for decades.


I'm all for Bernie continuing his crusade but there's an exit strategy that he needs to start implementing. The country can't afford his embarrassment.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

An Endorsement. And An Explanation.

I’m supporting Bernie. He better (not best, better) represents the values I want to see in a Democratic candidate. 
But Hillary is a very very close second. Close enough that the bullshit BernieBros and BernBots are tossing out there made me reconsider my vote, which is why I'm late to the endorsement. 
I've decided that I’ll vote for him anyway, if only to register my support for a left-wing platform, but it will not be a particularly happy vote unless the rhetoric starts redefining itself.
I have very serious practical & pragmatic concerns about a Sanders candidacy:
1) He will have to raise at least a half billion dollars, and more likely $2.5 billion (if you include SuperPAC and 501(4)c spending). The Kochs have committed $1 billion to getting a Republican in the Presidency already. I don’t see how that happens without going to Wall Street and even then, how that happens going to the very people he’s vowed to destroy….unless he sells out the way BernBots claim Clinton has. 
Maybe….MAYBE…if he gets the 50 million or so people who vote for him to pony up $50, he covers that nut. Maybe. Which brings me to point two:
2) He’s going to have to, inside of three months, define his brand of socialism to that slice of the population who have made reality TV popular — in other words, the uninformed. 
In fact, I think I should probably amend that $2.5 billion to $3.5 billion because a rough estimate of the ads he’ll have to run that say “No, the OTHER kind of socialism!” is massive. Meanwhile, the Republican strategy to defeat him is simple: Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Sanders. 
Hillary hasn’t stooped this low, thank God but does anyone think the Trumps of the world will play nicely? Which raises point three:
3) Right now, Bernie Sanders is the only candidate in either party with a net positive favorability rating (Dr Ben Carson flatlines at neither positive or negative. Hillary has a -8 net unfavorability rating). But you’ll notice, apart from the occasional joke tossed Bernie’s way, no one has truly vetted him in opposition research. There are serious issues surrounding him that have not come to light (or have been investigated and dismissed, a possibility I will admit). Burlington College will be an issue for his campaign (Jane runs his staff). His missing mid-1960s years (he’s not particularly forthcoming about them). His conscientious objector status during the Viet Nam war (remember, these are people who Swiftboated a decorated hero from that war). 
None of these have to be true to quickly turn that positive into a negative, in the skilled hands of Frank Luntz and Karl Rove. Hillary, for all her baggage, is pretty much naked in the fields: her ratings build in the best the Republicans have smeared her with.
So well have they smeared her that Bernie’s most zealous supporters are parroting Luntz talking points. 
So yea, I’ll vote Bernie and if he’s the candidate, I’ll work my ass off to get him elected because the alternative is Trump and the Idiocracy. But I hold no illusions that it will be hard work. Very very hard.

Monday, January 11, 2016

RIP David Bowie

The news of the death of David Bowie was profoundly shocking to me, and it's taken me a moment to collect my thoughts why.

Bowie was an artist who was always able to stay relevant without becoming a parody -- unlike, say, Madonna. It was the endless variety of music he could produce without losing the underlying thread of his talent by imitating a style. He lived that style, worked that style, mined it and made it his own.

From his early glam-rock days to his more recent "rock crooner" era, he never let you lose sight of the fact that it was David Bowie, no matter what name -- Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Thin White Duke -- he cloaked himself in. 

If anyone had found a veritable fountain of youth, Bowie had. The endless reinvention and reincorporation of music made him a walking performing encyclopedia of the past forty years.

And he never seemed to age physically. Sure, there were lines and wrinkles, the occasional wattle when he lost weight (possibly from the cancer that took him), gray hair so neatly combed and styled that you were sure he added the gray as a final touch, but you never sensed any less energy from him.

You look at a Mick Jagger or Paul McCartney, Elton John or Peter Gabriel, and you see how time wounds us, saps us of strength and vitality, despite our best efforts at covering that up.

But Bowie never seemed to drain, never seemed sapped. He seemed endlessly energetic.

Many years ago, he foresaw this day as Ziggy Stardust, in "My Death": 
My death waits like a beggar blind
who sees the world through an unlit mind
throw him a dime
for the passing time...
My death waits there between your thighs
your cool fingers will close my eyes
let's think of that and the passing time
My death waits to allow my friends
a few good times before it ends
so let's drink to that and the passing time

But what ever lies behind the door,
there is nothing much to do
angel or devil I don't care
for in front of that door... there is you
Of all the people I imagine who might beat death back, it was the Man Who Fell To Earth. Godspeed, David. You've brought us all joy.