“We live not for today, but for the ages yet to come, and the children yet unborn.” — Mary Harris (Mother) Jones

Archive for the ‘A Piece of My Mind’ Category

VOTING IS USELESS or: How Wannabe Rebels Help Maintain Our Managed Democracy

It’s well-known that those who publicly shout the loudest about “illegals” are most often the same people who rush to hire as many as possible because that’s the modern version of slavery. The term “sweatshop” applies, but with the added twist there’s no way these sweatshop workers can organize for better treatment.

It’s a situation reminiscent of the 19th-century Gilded Age, when the capitalist moguls employed agents to travel to deeply poor regions in Europe and sign people up to work for a chance to reach the US. Once they arrived, though, they were literally “wage slaves” who never made enough to work off their debt.

There are a number of reasons why some jobs go wanting when it comes to workers, but for now I’ll focus on one. I find it interesting no one ever asks why it is those “dirty jobs” — most of which aren’t, really, just very hard work — go begging unless they’re filled by underpaid people at risk of being deported. Is it really only because of the pay?

Or is it that most people aren’t interested in hard work? Yes, I know—Granny’s picking on the kids again. But pause a moment and think about it. How often on social media do you see someone saying they’re desperate for work, but only if it’s related to their educational level? It’s hard to imagine there aren’t any job openings available, and I get that we all want a job that pays enough to live on, as few and far between as those are getting to be. It just seems that if you’re desperate, paying work is paying work.

Immediately after WW II, Madison Avenue joined Wall Street in inventing a “middle class” comprising mainly college-educated white-collar workers who in that economic climate were easily persuaded hard work and good choices could make them wealthy. That it also gave them a sense of superiority over their blue-collar neighbor, even if the latter was making more money, was a bonus that ensured the paradigm became embedded to the point it was accepted as a truism.

Every time you see some boutique leftist (h/t Chris Hedges) sneering at MAGA voters, you’re seeing that indoctrination at work, because they aren’t thinking of the power-holders when they do it. They’re thinking of the men and women they were taught are too stupid to perform proper work—or perhaps more important aspire to the professional-managerial class all the college-educated consider their just due.

Already feeling the objection rising? Pause a moment and consider what you’re objecting to. And why. When was the last time you really worked hard for days at a time doing some physical job that needed doing, and which you knew even as you finished it you would need to do again. And again. Gym workouts and lawn-mowing don’t count.

Now consider whether you’d want to do it every day all year long. Hold that thought and go back to it next time that kind of work comes up. Stay aware of how you feel when it’s done, even if only for a moment. Did you experience even a little trace of satisfaction and accomplishment? No? You may be suffering from capitalist indoctrination.

What would be your reaction if someone walked up, saw what you’d just done, and sneered at you for not paying someone else to do it? Repeat that mental exercise, this time with someone who shows respect for your hard work. Now how do you feel?

If you can manage that, you’ll be closer to understanding why the “deplorables” vote for people like Donald Trump who seem to show them respect. Ironically, it’s also why the Comfortable Class votes for one corporate Democrat or GOPster after another. They need the reassurance that the people doing the “dirty jobs” aren’t like them for intellectual and/or moral reasons.

The first step to achieving the solidarity the new crop of revolutionaries claim they want is to respect all work and all workers. And respect isn’t expressed by “defending the rights of the downtrodden”. That’s the opposite of respect. It’s condescending, because it turns people into helpless victims in need of their superiors’ coming to their rescue. It’s also the root of the concept of the “deserving poor”.

Why? Because wanting to be a rescuer inevitably means you’ll start lumping individuals into generic categories “for broad impact”, and the “help” offered will be just as generic — and useless for many if not most. Politicians love generic categories because they make for easy patches that may or may not be permanent and thus don’t address the underlying rot in the foundations. Even a cursory review of Congressional legislation in the last two decades makes it clear just how much politicians love patchwork. They take great pride in announcing introduction of a bill that covers one tiny fragment of a systemic problem.

So, I told you that story so I could tell you this one, because once again I see the “voting is useless” crowd swarming onto social media; and these two topics are related. What passes for the Democratic Party these days has abandoned its former base to embrace the Comfortable and Professional-Managerial classes; and thanks to The Donald and generations of practice the Libertarian-Republican Party is waiting to swoop in and grab the leftovers.

Are you someone who refuses to vote for an otherwise excellent candidate for no reason other than their position on your pet issue? If so, then consider how likely it is that kind of patchwork voting will bring about the systemic changes standing in the way of the broad policies most people have said they want. In other words, nothing will improve while you wait for the perfect candidate.

I’ve lived a long time, and I’ve watched effort after effort to change the system fail. Why? Because people refused to expand their minds beyond their specific issue to address the underlying reason why we live in a “free-market” dystopia that’s killing us. Instead of listening to what a candidate actually thinks, they go looking for their private niche; and if they don’t find in it what they want, that’s it. They go back to waiting for perfection. Or howling we need a revolution.

Right now, there are two very important people who’ve chosen to defy managed democracy and challenge an incumbent President of the US from within his own party. They’ve already been subjected to the character assassination and media blackout that party uses to maintain our managed democracy. One of them has experienced the murder of two family members engaged in what he’s chosen to do.

And right on cue, there emerge the purists. “I can’t support X/Y because they disagrees with me on (whatever)”. Never mind the overall message. “I don’t see what I want to have, so I’m not playing.” What’s worse is half the time what they’ve chosen as a disqualification is based on nothing other than media propaganda; and when challenged to go see what the facts are simply double down on their cult thinking.

Five years ago, Sheldon Wolin wrote a book that everyone who really cares about replacing our corrupted, corporate-run governments needs to read. He had at the time what I consider far too much faith in the Democrats, but that’s beside the point. The important part is that by not voting, especially in primaries (73% of us don’t), we are complicit in the maintenance of the managed democracy he describes.

Just as our current Congress wants to address single issues instead of passing legislation that would fix the problem those issues are just one part of, our single-issue political newbies don’t think of the broader goal. There’s no point in changing the tires if the engine doesn’t work, but that’s essentially what seems to pass for progressive politics right now. And not enough people want to do the hard labor of repairing the engine.

Family Is As Family Does

It’s past time we dumped the limited definition of what a family consists of

The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof. — Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

I long ago came to the conclusion that the narrow definition of what constitutes a family was a manipulative myth authored by the same people who brought us the middle class to shatter the power of labor unions by convincing “white-collar workers” the really important part of their label was “white-collar” and not “worker”.

The dictionary defines “family” as a group of people related by blood, but throughout most of history, and likely all of prehistory, the “family” was the group of people you lived, loved, worked, and slept with, and whom you joined in the defense of the group and all effort to ensure its survival. When you consider that, it becomes obvious why redefining the concept so it’s limited to a heterosexual couple legally joined in a manner approved by the state and their direct offspring. It was that, in my opinion, that laid the foundation for the unworkable mass of sub-tribes currently being used to keep us fighting each other instead of our enemy.

They know they’re our enemy. Recently, it became clear to even them that an increasing number of people are also growing aware they’re our enemy. Suddenly, both political parties are all about “helping families” and “cherishing family values” when, in fact, everything they do is all but guaranteed to do just the opposite. Credit where it’s due, now they have the populace divided into a hundred little cliques all demanding attention and attacking all the others, finding a way to weaken family solidarity is a natural next step. And might it not be considered that the drive to convince people living with one’s parents is a social faux pas little short of perversion because grownups live all by themselves in apartments or, if possible, their own home? Think about it.

So, the new gimmick is to tsk-tsk and try to guilt-trip people into thinking they’re at fault if they don’t gird up their loins, paste a grin on their face, and head off to spend hours in the company of a “traditional” family where they’re either ignored, criticized, and/or bullied. In the end, this is guaranteed to shatter “family solidarity” beyond repair.

How, you ask, will trying to get along with radical relatives weaken family solidarity? Because getting along with toxic people with whom one shares lifelong emotional ties just isn’t possible. The psychological effort required to deal with toxic people doesn’t lessen just because one shares the same parents. In fact, it’s worse, because not only must one deal with the toxin but with the rest of the family either taking sides or scolding one for not joining in the discussion. Especially if, as is getting more and more common, you’re the outlier in a family that to one degree or another embraces ideas opposite to yours.

And then there’s all that baggage from the past that inevitably gets hauled out of basements, closets, and attics.

Mind, I’m not just talking here about newly-christened leftists sitting down with their MAGA uncle. Radicals come in all shapes, sizes, and politico-religious persuasions; and listening to someone screaming for a socialist uprising is just as poisonous as hearing about how President Trump got robbed.

There’s an old saw that says you can’t pick your relatives but you can pick your friends. My question is: Who decided it was only relatives that qualify as a family? If a family is a group of people who care about one another, are ready to pitch in to help one another, and keep each other safe, what does sharing DNA have to do with it?

There are millions of lonely people of all ages in the US who could use a family, including the ones who can no longer mingle with the one they were born into. Nothing prevents us from finding them and seeing if there are bonds to be made, communities to be created, lonely hearts filled. I don’t mean building a bubble where everyone thinks alike, either, because that’s toxic, too. You’d be surprised how many people you’d maybe dismiss as being unredeemable Trumpists actually share may of the same opinions on things you do. I know this because I run into them on a daily basis—simply by stating the facts of what’s wrong with the system without dragging in politics.

After all, it worked for Trump. It was only after the primaries that he started attacking the Democrats. Up till then he sold himself—literally—as being against both parties. The Democrats, meantime, were busy sneering at the people he was conning. I try to only sneer at pretentious Comfortable Class elitists who explicitly or implicitly show their contempt for anyone they consider “stupid” or “ignorant”. The ones who seriously criticize people working two jobs to feed their kids and keep the roof over their heads for not understanding Marxism or whatever.

The holidays are coming up. If you just can’t bring yourself to sit through a day with people who not only disagree with you but hold your ideas and ideals—and possibly you—in utter contempt, don’t. Drop by with something for the dinner but say you’re having a few people over yourself so you can’t stay. Then have a few people who’ll appreciate having the company over. Make a new family. The bigger, the better.

On How the Media Deflect Us from the Real Enemy

As I write this, the media, both corporate and social, are flooded with outrage over the draconian voting and abortion bills passed into law in Texas, and gleeful Shadenfreude on the party of the Comfortable Class as they sneer at all the ignorant hillbillies taking “horse dewormer” instead of just getting the COVID vaccine.

As a result of the latter, an anti-parasite medication for both animals and humans that has had some success as a treatment in some cases of COVID has not just been narrowly defined as being only for the former but even resulted in calls that its use be banned entirely with regard to COVID. Instead of responsibly reporting the truth—that there have been a small number of positive responses to treatment of advanced COVID with ivermectin but that there is insufficient evidence to draw any conclusion about it either for or against—they have created a deflective circus that once again reinforces the idea that anyone who dares question the demand for universal vaccination is a Trump-voting, science-denying ignoramus.

Why do I say it’s deflective? There are several reasons.

First, we are only just reaching the point where we can state with sufficient backing of evidence that the current vaccines in use show sufficient efficacy in preventing or mitigating the effects of COVID with only small incidences of serious side effects. Anyone who understands how medication trials work, and who has a personal reason for choosing to wait for more evidence before accepting one that was rushed through that phase, can now make an informed decision.

These would be among those who have been declared “science-deniers” by people many of whom still seem to believe the vaccine renders them immune to COVID, even though the actual science clearly shows otherwise.

Second, not one of those howling the “anti-vaxxers” are killing ourselves, our children, and every other living being susceptible to COVID, grasps the observable fact that if people are confused there is a direct line of responsibility leading to both the US government and the corporate media of both flavors, Fox and non-Fox. The former’s efforts to assure people the experts have everything under control when they clearly didn’t would have been enough to convince people who don’t have a college-level grasp of biology nobody knew anything for sure.

Add to that the media’s ongoing barrage of only that information likely to keep people’s stress levels at 11, changing it with every breeze as the next new thing emerged from the science, and making sure the only people being blamed for the mess were either the previous President or the current one, the Republican Party and the “liberals”, and all those “deplorables” Hillary Clinton mentioned, and how is it to be wondered people refuse to believe anything anymore.

The corporate media derives its very existence from playing to the confirmation bias of its target audience, and this has been blatantly clear for the entire course of the pandemic in the US. It ignored the initial outbreak in China for months—I was reading about it in October of 2019—until the US had broken China’s quarantine to bring home people who should have stayed where they were and “suddenly” there were cases here.

I watched as our government claimed it didn’t have a full report on the seriousness of the situation until the end of January, and then waited until March to decide something needed to be done. I watched as the media all but ignored how at least six members of Congress were caught using the information about the virus to benefit their stock portfolios all through February while at the same time politicizing the narrative to maintain their Trump-based revenue stream.

Last month, the FDA approved one of the two major vaccines, and the press were all agog that here, finally, was the “proof” all those vaccine-rejecting fools said they wanted, never mind that by this time that ship had not only sailed but sunk. Absent from their reports, curiously, was the fact that the other major vaccine, released at exactly the same time as the approved one, still awaited FDA imprimatur despite the scientific evidence it was more effective and provided protection longer.

I’m still waiting for that question to be asked, much less answered.

Finally, I see the media regularly inserting timely articles concerning the economy, and how it will suffer unless everyone gets back to work. That these stories ignore the number of people who have to work to get back to because the funds supposedly meant to help small businesses survive went instead to offshoots of mega-corporations. And were, in some cases, used to fund stock buybacks to benefit executives’ and stockholders’ bottom lines.

Still, the effort has been highly effective. People who ordinarily at least try to apply critical-thinking skills are now demanding people be vaccinated, willy-nilly. Suggest working to counter the media misinformation that’s led to so many rejecting the idea, and in some cases rejecting even the existence of the virus itself, might be more effective than getting them fired or thrown out of school or whatever authoritarian consequence they deem appropriate is met with cries of horror.

The fact that the majority of children dying from COVID now isn’t the fault of those who reject vaccination. It’s the fault of a for-profit healthcare business and a culture of systemic oppression that left those children undernourished and less healthy. It’s the fault of an economic system that exploits workers by paying them starvation wages to do the kind of labor guaranteed to increase their level of exposure to infection.

That these facts are not even being discussed, and at a time when demands for equality and justice are at a level not seen in more than a century, shows just how effective media deflection works. Once again it has us attacking each other instead of those who are truly responsible, all the while media conglomerates rake in revenue, and the government establishes more precedent for expanding its control over acceptable behavior.

Just so we’re clear, I believe anyone who qualifies for the vaccine and who wants to engage with the outside world should have it. I also believe they should do so with clear understanding what it will and will not do, and how it will protect them and those they have contact with. I will also continue to regard with those vaccines with careful regard for the ever-changing information connected to them.

I also believe we should have access to all available successfully tested vaccines, including those from China, Cuba, and Russia, with the information about their efficacy, side effects, and longevity provided in ways understandable even to those not versed in science. In other words, I object to having my options limited when I know the corporations associated with the two “acceptable” version made major revenue gains in the last two years.

Why the Green Party Makes Me See Red

I am about to make myself a likely target of outrage again, but recent events make it necessary I speak my piece. I’ve had more than one engagement with Green Party enthusiasts, most of whom don’t seem to have studied the history of previous third-party efforts to see what went wrong and benefit from that knowledge.

As the House of Representatives prepared to pass HR.1 of 2021, the For the People voting reform act, the Green Party launched an indignant campaign on social media declaring “the Democrats” were once again setting up roadblocks to any successful challenge to the duopolistic status quo by a third party.

The language in question:


(a) AMOUNT OF AGGREGATE CONTRIBUTIONS PER STATE; DISREGARDING OF AMOUNTS CONTRIBUTED IN EXCESS OF $200.—Section 9033(b)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 is amended—

(1) by striking ‘‘$5,000’’ and inserting ‘‘$25,000’’; and

(2) by striking ‘‘20 States’’ and inserting the following: ‘‘20 States (disregarding any amount of contributions from any such resident to the extent that the total of the amounts contributed by such resident for the election exceeds $200)’’.

For those unfamiliar with the language of campaign finance, under the existing law a candidate running for President of the United States was required to have accumulated funds in the amount of $5,000 collected from at least 20 states to qualify for matching funds from the US government. That amount has been increased to $25,000, which to most people would seem reasonable for someone aiming to cop the top office in the national government.

There is no question the legacy parties have made it extremely difficult for third-party challengers to get on ballots. Most states have sets of rules for third parties that are so clearly designed to make it impossible for them to get a foothold they should have been challenged all the way to the Supreme Court decades ago. Or, alternatively, the parties seeking that foothold would find ways to win seats in state legislatures to the point they could initiate changes. That’s a discussion for another time.

The discussion this time is about the Green Party trying to rouse the masses by telling them to demand their representatives in Congress refuse to pass the entire reform bill unless and until the provision above and one other that states “IN GENERAL.—Subject to the provisions of this chapter, the eligible candidates of a party in a Presidential election shall be entitled to equal payment under section 9006 in an amount equal to 600 percent of the amount of each matchable contribution received by such candidate or by the candidate’s authorized committees (disregarding any amount of contributions from any person to the extent that the total of the amounts contributed by such person for the election exceeds $200), except that total amount to which a candidate is entitled under this paragraph shall not exceed $250,000,000’’ are removed.

“Progressives should be demanding full public funding based on equal grants for all qualified candidates and a constitutional amendment to end the US Supreme Court imposed doctrines that limit public regulation of campaign funding in public elections,” 2020 Green Party Howie Hawkins says in a position paper posted on the party’s website. “The qualifying thresholds to access this presidential primary matching funds are increased five times, putting the program beyond the reach of third-party candidates.”

I leave it to my reader to decide whether $25,000 is such a huge amount of money as to be “beyond the reach” of a truly viable third party running someone for President of the United States. Why not be complaining that these major reforms aren’t scheduled to go into effect until 2028? Or, put another way, until the current Democrat Party’s occupation of the Oval Office, provided one or the other of the top two holding office wins in 2024, the opportunity arises for the other legacy party to take over again.

That is, the Democrats get to run another Presidential campaign and at least three Congressional ones without having to abide by the changes called for in the bill.

Hawkins admits the bill contains desperately needed reforms, but the Green Party’s hobbyhorse (cf. Sterne, Lawrence, The Life and Times of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman) about matching funds is in full gallop. Never mind closing the loopholes to keep foreigners from donating, to require paper ballots, to improve voter access, and curb the influence of dark money. It’s more important that anyone who decides to start a new political party immediately have access to the same level of support as established parties that have developed, for good or ill, a sufficient voter base to be able to raise the levels of financing modern political campaigns require.

Which, it must be noted, the Green Party has failed to do despite its 20-year history of running people for President every four years then essentially disappearing into the woodwork until the next time come around. It seems their core belief is that anyone with the least intelligence in the working class will simple fall in love with their eco-socialist platform and come running to sign on. I call it Field of Dreams politics—a group of committed and well-meaning activists who think all they need do is set up their new political option and “they will come”.


The most successful third party in US history, the People’s Party, emerged from the Farmer’s Alliance movement in the latter half of the 19th century. The Alliance had, at its height, 40,000 traveling lecturers and educators, 1,000 newspapers and magazines, and even its own press organization—The National Reform Press Association. Local Alliance chapters had libraries, and held study groups. Even so, the People’s Party failed—because it allowed its organization to be dominated by men more interested in getting elected than in advancing the goals of its platform, and because it refused to acknowledge just how deeply rooted party loyalty is in the majority of people who embrace a party.

Nevertheless, the Populists were making major inroads into the duopoly’s control despite the huge levels of funding coming from the same kind of corporate oligarchs and bankers candidates face today being used against them. They did it with the support of people some of whom were burning their own crops to keep themselves warm because they couldn’t sell them for enough to live on. There were no matching funds. There were simply millions of people mad as hell who understood who their real opponents were and worked their hearts and souls out to fight them.

From where I watch, there seems to be a whole lot of people so focused on their pet issue they’re incapable of understanding that compromise and politics is the way things work. They’re so conditioned to thinking that if something isn’t working the way you want it to, the solution is to throw it out and get something new instead of looking at how the one you have might be repaired. They claim they embrace solidarity, and then are ready to toss the benefit of the mass of the people aside unless their own special to-do list gets fulfilled. They call for “general strike” and, when asked if their strike fund is ready, airily state they don’t need one because sometimes you just have to suffer for the cause.

The US governments—federal, state, and local—have been run by two, and only two, major parties for most of the country’s history. Students of that history know all too well how, thirty years ago, the two parties essentially became Siamese twins joined at the hip of neoliberal economics. Anyone who thinks they can just declare they’re launching a new party and succeed in combatting that wall of established privilege is delusional. If there’s going to be a new, third party, it has to be built from the grassroots up, blade by blade and brick by brick. That doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen without a lot of hard work. And yes, reality does suck.

Stop Helping Your Oppressors

“People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.” — Blaise Pascal

If you’re going to “call out fascism”, you’d best get started ASAP, since the US has literally been a neo-fascist oligarchy in the model of Mussolini’s Italy since Bill Clinton handed the Democrats over via his Third Way. Is The Donald finally exposing the authoritarianism that’s underlaid our society for most of its existence? Yes. Yes, he is, and for that we should be thanking him profusely.

The ongoing effort of the US corporate media to conflate Donald Trump with Hitler, and thus maintain the false view that a country must look and operate like Nazi Germany to be fascist is nothing but propaganda, and the fact journalists I know are aware of how propaganda works choose to ignore it in favor of embracing that propaganda does the US voting public a shameful disservice.

In my observation, that’s what most of the pearl-clutching over The Donald’s proclamation he won’t remove himself from the Oval, and his “orders” to the White extremist groups he and who knows how many others have been encouraging for at least the last 40 years is about. Any student of real history, as opposed to the watered-down version we’re taught and which he wants to, apparently, dilute even further, knows this. It’s what makes the ongoing propaganda effort to make him some kind of boogeyman Icon of Evil® so appalling.

When anyone focuses a discussion of authoritarianism and fascism solely on Donald Trump, they are either woefully lacking in historical perspective or deliberately choosing to reinforce the false narrative that supporting a different party with the exact same agenda as the one he belongs to will somehow save us all. It’s a lie, and an egregious one.

Does Donald Trump need to be removed from the Executive Branch? Without question, but not for the reasons on offer. He needs to be gone because he is a clear and present danger to our survival, being a narcissist who is both bored with his current worldview and feeling challenged to defend it. This is potentially fatal combination, as any number of victims of domestic violence can attest, assuming they survived it.

Nevertheless, pretending Joe Biden (or more likely Kamala Harris) is going to make any definitive reversal of the current administration’s policies that will benefit anyone other than the oligarchs is either painfully naive or unabashedly disingenuous. Wasting our time shouting at people to repent their evil ways will not help, so if anyone thinks confronting people by telling them they’re racist or misogynist or homophobic or whatever will result in anything other than hardening their confirmation bias, they need to spend sometime studying how you really get people to change their minds and/or viewpoints. Because that ain’t it.

“Don’t be in a hurry to condemn because he/she doesn’t do what you do or think as you think or as fast. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today.” — Malcolm X

Book Review: Redemption by David Baldacci

If my rating for this latest in the Amos Decker series seems a bit bipolar, it’s that my reasons for not enjoying it as much as its predecessors has nothing to do with the actual quality of the story and everything to do with politics.

I’ve noticed an annoying trend in thriller fiction I can’t mention in detail without it being a spoiler. Mr. Baldacci handles it with a bit more finesse than some, but the result, for me, still came off more like propaganda than good fiction. Other readers and fans of Mr. Baldacci and Amos won’t be bothered by it at all, and the overall plot is both an excellent mystery and a superb voyage into the protagonist’s history and its effect on his character. As the acronym says: YMMV.

I’m partial to this series because watching Amos Decker deal with his condition—which reminds me again our language lacks a decent word to describe those for whom a disability is also their best asset—and how Mr. Baldacci develops him is always a pleasure. Walking the fine line between empathy and sympathy is hard, but Mr. Baldacci manages it with skill. In this book, Amos returns home and interacts with those who were once his friends, enemies, and colleagues, in the process coming to grips with the tragedy that, despite everything, remains the center of his life.

So, yes, if you’re an Amos Decker/David Baldacci fan, you’ll definitely want to read this new installment. If you haven’t met Amos, I recommend reading the other four books first, beginning with the introductory Memory Man, for the simple reason that watching him emerge from his chrysalis of despair step by step is part of what makes this series unique.

Politics Is Everybody’s Business

I read an op-ed this morning in which the author said that despite the bumps in the road we’re currently experiencing, our federal democracy is nevertheless working as intended.

Sorry, but anyone who thinks government in the US is “working as intended” isn’t paying attention. If it were, one individual Senator would not be able to block every single bill his party objects to that was approved by the House from even reaching the Senate floor for discussion. If it were, Congress would not have, over the last three decades, handed more and more of its responsibility over to the Executive such that we now have a president with the ability to rule like an autocrat.

The author began by noting that being politically involved in the governing of our localities, states, and the federal government is a never-ending task. On that, we agree. There is no moment where the majority can sit back, prop its collective feet up, and assume everything will go on as desired. That is, in fact, the reason we now live in an oligarchy. As long as everyone was doing okay, being willing over-consumers, they had no desire to dip into the messy realm of politics, so they simply voted for whomever their party of choice put on offer. Those who weren’t doing okay gave up any hope of being heard, since they were told over and over it was their own fault they weren’t doing better. I’m the first to confess I wasn’t paying nearly enough attention for way too long.

Now, though, I am paying attention. I know that team-player mindset that afflicts the voting public isn’t an accident but something that has been carefully designed and nurtured to maintain status quo. That public education has been corrupted from a means by which people become informed and able to apply critical thinking skills to a system for churning out “employable consumers”. That the media supposed to ensure we know all that’s necessary to make informed choices is instead a megaphone for the narrative approved by those in power.

In other words, rather than a byproduct, the condition of the people you’re talking about is a feature, not a bug. Those in power consider the rest of us stupid and easily manipulated, and have been acting on that belief for at least the last 40 years and probably longer. It worked well, until a few people woke from their stupor and began asking questions.

We’re awake now. And we’re watching. And talking to each other. We know now how our small differences have been deliberately exaggerated to keep us divided when the problems we share are larger and more numerous. We’re shaking off the idea we can’t change anything, discovering as we do that the reason we thought that is we’ve been told it so often we came to believe it—Propaganda 101.

There will always be those who think the most complex issues can be rendered down to either/or, right/wrong, win/lose. Those people can be weaponized by the oligarchs to try silencing the voices of those who understand life and people are more complex than a game where all that matters is whose team wins. Like Martin Luther, we say “Here I stand, I can do no other”, and like Martin Luther King Jr., we believe “A man dies when he does not stand up for what is right.”

If it takes a Second American Revolution, so be it.

Tone-deaf Gaslighting: The New Democrats’ Plan for Defeating Donald Trump

Over the Christmas holiday, award-winning journalist David Sirota became the target of Democrat Party Twitter vitriol when he dared to publish a column criticizing the new DNC superstar Beto O’Rourke’s funding sources and voting record. It took less than 24 hours for an article containing nothing but facts readily available to anyone who cared to go look for them to become a “war on Beto” by supporters of Bernie Sanders. By Boxing Day, DNC mouthpiece Neera Tanden was shaking her head sadly that she, too, was suffered the pain of the innocent for the last two weeks.

For the record, I will be 71 in two weeks, am a White cis-female, have been a registered Democrat for 50 years, and resent being referred to as a “Bernie Bro.” So do the half-dozen women who responded when I posted that to Twitter. None of us has ever “attacked” a New Democrat with anything other than facts. Several women have been virulently attacked, however, by people alleging to be Sanders supporters, which suggests there is already a well-coordinated campaign in place to reinforce the idea real Sanders supporters are fanatical trolls. Remember Correct the Record? It hasn’t gone away.

The ridiculous assertion that criticizing a candidate is somehow an “attack” is the latest version of Democrat Party establishment gaslighting. The New Democrat contingent feels free to tell Sanders supporters, 80% of whom voted for their candidate, what they should be talking about. It’s the precise kind of “We know best” attitude that is really what drove those conservative Democrats in rural areas to vote for Donald Trump. I know because they’ve said so over and over to researchers and interviewers who actually went there to listen.

It’s the corporate media who persist in dismissing the Sanders message as “all about the economy”, not Sanders supporters. We are quite aware the needs of the many are much more complicated than “economic anxiety” or whatever euphemism is used for “people are one flat tire from being homeless and dying” in any given week. The media then go on to provide “examples” of a few white men in Iowa or somewhere else that’s not located on the East or West Coast who said they voted Republican because were against voting for a woman, or who’ll spout racist propaganda, ignoring the very real problems everyone not in the privileged 25% Thomas Frank calls the Professional Class suffers on a daily basis because of neoliberal economic policies and globalization.

Bernie Sanders saw a need to call attention to the real world, the one outside the Beltway and the suburbs where The Comfortable live, and he did that by choosing to challenge Hillary Clinton. He did so by declaring he was running as a Democrat, which is how it’s done in Vermont. Yes, there were people who heard his message and ignored the part where he said over and over it was not about him, but about the message. We’re a culture that’s been trained to expect superheroes to swoop in and fix everything for us. Bernie never said he’d do that, but it didn’t prevent people from assuming he would anyway.

He has also been criticized for focusing on economic issues to the exclusion of other things, like racism. Which, if one only looks at the surface, could appear to be true. However, anyone who has ever faced a huge job knows you don’t get it done by doing a little here and a little there. You figure out what you can do that will address the overall problem and start there. Bernie Sanders knows that people, and particularly women, of color are at the bottom of the economic scale. He knows that is partly a function of racism, but also understands the greater issue is systemic inequality.

Children are going hungry in this country as I write, not because they don’t have hardworking parents but because the jobs those parents can get are low-paying and all too often part-time/on-call gigs. Again, this is particularly true for women of color. “Economic anxiety” is very real, and a perfectly valid reason why people refused to embrace Hillary Clinton, a candidate who ignored what they said, and instead bewailed the fact they wouldn’t accept that she knew what they needed better than they did. Oh, and I know HRC never said that in public, but it was reported by two of her media fans in the book Shattered.

I don’t expect this to have any effect, as it’s clear the effort to block a Sanders run in ’20 is already polished and in full swing, just as the program to block progressive candidates from running in the midterms was blatantly obvious. The problem this time around is that people know that’s what it is, and the Democrats might want to pause a moment and rethink it. Unless they get past their arrogant assumption the voting public is too stupid to learn the facts and make an informed choice, they’re just another obstruction.

When Talking About Rape Goes Off-Topic

Which it does. Always. Without exception. Any time the opportunity to discuss sexual assault, and our culture that vocally condemns it while refusing to do anything to mitigate it, arises. Instead, the conversation invariably diverges from the real root of the problem — power and the privilege it gives — to sex. Don’t take my word for it. Take the time to review the matter and watch it happen.

The real cause of sexual assault and rape culture is simply this: a society that encourages anyone with a degree of power to view anyone not of their own power level as personal property.

The basis of this goes bone deep, and is ingrained from childhood by child-rearing methods that allow parents to not only dictate how their children are to behave but still, in what is supposed to be a civilized society, allows them to beat their children when they don’t. Despite our much-vaunted insistence on our having a “moral compass,” that compass seems to be too easily deflected by a concept of individuality that has become what can only be described as a religion.

As a result, the next generation, barring enlightenment, has absorbed the idea that anyone in a superior position of authority is entitled to treat those of lesser authority as objects.

There are even bodies of law to protect a parent’s right to do to their child what any other adult would be arrested and jailed for. It echoes the idea that one can do as one likes with one’s property.

How often do you hear of an upper-middle class family having their children removed because of abuse? Could that be because our body of law is written to mainly protect the property of those with the wherewithal to own property? Or are we to believe that only poor people are lousy parents?

Well, yes, based on observation, we are supposed to believe only poor people are lousy parents, despite ample evidence to the contrary. The misdeeds of children of privilege—and by that I do not mean the advantages of being White, which is a rant for another time—make it into the media every now and then, lest they be accused of class bias. Incidents of abuse among the lower classes, though, are regularly reported, and the first response by the system always seems to be removing the children from their home.

Don’t get me wrong. I fully believe any child in a dangerous situation needs protection. However, there seems to be no distinction made between situations where the danger arises from a complete lack of support for the parent(s) and those where the parents are themselves the danger. In the former instance, one might suggest the children are being treated not as people with feelings but objects—property—that can be shifted from one shelf to another with no regard for how that might impact them.

Even cursory research shows that most abusive situations, regardless of income level, have one big thing in common: they result when parents view children as they would a pet, i.e., property. That is, they see child-rearing not as encouraging their children, as small people, to become individuals but rather as training them to obey and conform to whatever the familial boundaries are.

There’s an active movement to bring back the concept of “free-range” child-rearing. That is, of allowing children to explore their world and interact in ways that kids used to do as the natural order of things. It’s in opposition to several fairly recent developments, the two most insidious of which are the ideas that the world is a dangerous place, and that unsupervised children are being neglected by their parents. “Helicopter parents” are a subject of scorn, yet our entire culture not just encourages but even demands that kind of constant, hovering supervision.

Human beings don’t handle constant supervision well. It’s dehumanizing, because it implies we aren’t intelligent creatures capable of making decisions and grasping the meaning of the results. It suggests that, absent that watchful eye, we might behave in some manner outside the subscribed boundaries. Might I suggest the operative term for that is “slavery”? And slaves are—wait for it—property.

So, having seemed to wander a bit from the original topic, I will wander back. Observe the various reports of sexual assault since the rise of the #metoo movement. At least, observe them up to the point where the discussion diverges from the point where all the unrepentant perpetrators are clearly people in positions where they manipulated the lives of others on a daily basis.

Now consider that most cultures train us to admire those in power. How many times have you heard that we should respect X because he or she occupies some such position of power? Respect the boss, or lose your job. Respect your parents, because they’re your parents. Even if they’re toxic or even brutal, we’re told they deserve some respect because of the label they wear and the position they occupy in the system.

That’s why the reporting process is such anathema to many victims of sexual assault. It’s constructed such that whether one is believed depends on what level of the power structure one occupies. Add in the dynamic that bad things only happen to bad people that permeates most cultures, and where is the incentive to tell the truth?

So, the victim decides to just let the incident go, because no one will listen anyway. Years pass. Personalities grow and change, for good or ill. An opportunity to finally report the incident arises, and the victim gathers courage and does. Only to be told that, by waiting so long, he or she can’t be believed because there’s no evidence. Which brings up another matter for consideration.

Might it be argued that the difficulty of providing decent evidence long after the fact is the reason why the system makes it so hard for victims to come forward? Those in charge know the longer they can prevent an accusation from being made, the less likely it can every be proved. In other words, again, victims aren’t people, just objects to be moved about to keep the status quo firmly in place.

So, they are property, this time of the so-called “justice” system. The victim becomes the only evidence, and evidence is sealed into bags and tucked into boxes to be set on shelves in storage rooms.

If we truly want to end rape culture, we have to stop allowing the Power People to change the subject, to prevent them from making sexual assault and harassment about sex and gender dynamics instead of the real root cause. And we need to stop allowing them to use it as a weapon in political conflicts before we reach a point where even highly qualified, ethical individuals are blocked from office solely on the basis of an allegation. Do we really want someone’s lifelong sexual history to become the most important criterion for their ability to perform an important public office?

That would be just another way those in power would be able to screw the rest of us over.

(The opinions expressed as A Piece of My Mind are my own, and should not be considered those of Zumaya Publications or its authors. They are also subject to change in light of new evidence. Should you wish to contest any of them, please do so like an intelligent human being using supported facts.)

Book Review: Rendezvous with Oblivion by Thomas Frank

Rendezvous_OblivionRendezvous with Oblivion: Reports from a Sinking Society is a collection of essays from 2011 to the present that provides a travelogue of the downward journey of the US. Not that it starts at the top of the hill, because for the bulk of the population that’s been forbidden territory for several decades—only the nobility gets to occupy the castles.

That’s sort of the metaphor used in title of the first set of essays, “Many Vibrant Mansions,” and the subject of the second piece, “The Architecture of Inequality.” Describing his trek through the world of the McMansion, he observes they are “houses that seemed to have been designed by Stanford White after a debilitating brain injury.”

Those unfamiliar with Mr. Frank’s work should consider reading his earlier books The Wrecking Crew and Listen, Liberal! before joining him on this trip. The former answers the question many who only became politically involved during the 2016 election keep asking, which is “What are the Republicans doing?” The latter explains that it isn’t just the Republicans, and why.

In politics, of course, the scam and the fib are as old as the earth itself. Even so, the past decade has been a time of extraordinary innovation in the field…Millions of Americans came to believe that everything was political and that therefore everything was faked; that everyone was a false accuser so why not accuse people falsely; than any complaint or objection could ultimately be confounded by some clever meme; that they or their TV heroes had discovered the made-up argument by which they could drown out that still small voice of reality.

So, the first part describes how we came to accept escalating inequality, encouraged by politicians on both sides of the aisle who lied and obfuscated to ensure we stayed convinced there was really nothing wrong. That if the benefits of the tax cuts and the trade deals and the bank deregulation somehow missed us…well, it was our fault for not working hard enough, or for making bad choices, or not getting the proper education. Supported by news media and TV and movies that bombarded us with the message that the billionaires were the above-mentioned heroes we must needs struggle to emulate.

Meanwhile, the first African-American president, who promised us hope and change, saved the banks and the Wall Streeters while millions of the middle-class lost their homes and/or their retirement funds.

The one percent got the of both [“a brief experience with deficit spending” then President Obama’s “famous turn to austerity”]: not only were they bailed out, but the also chalked up some of their best years ever under Barack Obama, taking home 95 percent of the nation’s income growth during the recovery.

And speaking of not getting the proper education, that’s the topic of Part 2: “Too Smart to Fail.” This section covers the encroachment of neoliberalism on campus, which has led to a decrease in the number of tenured professors and an increase in the number of adjuncts most of whom can’t live on what they’re paid and don’t know from one week to the next if they’ll even have a job. In fact, a writer I know who works as an adjunct had a class he was counting on to pay his living expenses cancelled four days before it was scheduled to start, with no compensation.

And then there is soaring tuition, which more and more goes to pay inflated salaries for legions of unnecessary administrators while services (and those tenured professors) are cut back. Four-year college graduates are re-entering the world carrying a massive load of debt, which is not just stressful but a major drain on the economy both because wages and salaries have stagnated or actually declined in the last four decades and because money that goes into the vaults of lenders isn’t being spent in the economy.

[E]very democratic movement from the Civil War to the 1960s aimed to bring higher ed to an ever widening circle, to make it more affordable. Ours is the generation that stood by gawking while a handful of parasites and billionaires smashed it for their own benefit.

Part 3, “The Poverty of Centrism,” traces the path by which, beginning in the 1980s with Ronald Reagan and continued unabated by those administrations that followed him, the rich got filthy rich and the 90% were tricked into believing keeping them that way was good for us

To a Washington notable of the pre-Trump era, a team of rivals was a glorious thing: it meant that elections had virtually no consequences for members of the consensus. No one was sentenced to political exile because he or she was on the wrong side; the presidency changed hands, but all the players still got a seat at the table.

The only ones left out of this warm bipartisan circle of friendship were the voters, who woke up one fine day to discover what they thought they’d rejected wasn’t rejected in the least.

In this section, Mr. Frank also talks about the role the news media have played in enabling this mess. I don’t share his admiration for the Washington Post, but I have to wonder if his informal analysis of the way they undermined Sen. Bernie Sanders during the 2016 primaries wasn’t a bit painful. Or even disillusioning. He also seems unwilling to admit the collusion between the DNC and the Clinton campaign and the news media to achieve that goal; he avoids referring to the email leaks that revealed just that, and sadly, he seems to at least partly believe the so-far unsupported insistence on “Russian influence.”

Even so, his criticism of the Democrats was apparently sufficient to get him blackballed by those major news media he tries hard not to accuse of bias.

The final section, “The Explosion” addresses the why of the election of Donald Trump and why it was the direct result of the Democrat Party’s refusal to accept that they could no longer take their traditional working-class and minority base for granted. Which brings us to this year.

Trump succeeded by pretending to be the heir of populists past, acting the role of a rough-hewn reformer who detested the powerful and cared about working-class people. Now it is the turn of Democrats to take it back from him. They may have to fire their consultants.

As I said earlier, I wouldn’t recommend this as an introduction to Thomas Frank’s work. The broad scope of the subject matter is easier to take in context if one has a background in what he’s written at length. For those familiar with that body of writing, these essays are sharp-tongued snippets of the history of the last seven years, with reference to those that preceded them. They do require personal honesty, in that we who allowed this mess to come as far as it has must take the responsibility for not paying attention and staying informed.

Well done, Mr. Frank. May we please have some more?