Let me be crystal sparkling clear:

I have little use for partisan bickering and the “team sports” of American politics. My observations on the impending destruction of this democratic republic are not “whining” by the losing team (I’m not a Democrat). I have no personal issue with modern Republicans, only my profound disagreement with their Ayn Rand-inspired policies (that particular Russian hypocrite once praised a serial killer’s “strength of will,” you know, but ended up living on Social Security). I also find the lack of civility many in the GOP demonstrate in the political arena to be tawdry, immature, and a barrier to progress (and this goes for some Democrats too).

What I am now radicalized to fight against—yes, fight—is not “Republicans” but the white nationalist insurgency that hijacked that damaged and fractious political party in order to install a neophyte authoritarian narcissist bigot in the White House. What I am against is this same group’s acceptance—even encouragement—of a hostile foreign power inserting itself into what is supposed to be a free and fair democratic election. No matter Putin’s exact level of involvement or success, the mere fact of this blatant incursion by a global adversary, a former totalitarian state (and now a plutocracy/kleptocracy) run by an ex-KGB dictator who despises Western democracy—my God, this should be a blaring siren to highly placed officials who are entrusted to protect this society from those who seek to damage or co-opt it. But what do these incoming “leaders” and their admirers in Congress do instead? They dismiss the facts, they obfuscate, they lie, they deny, and they wait.

They are waiting for the last honorable person to leave Washington in disgust—to leave the keys of the capital city’s vault of treasures unguarded and all of us peasants unprotected by the rule of law.

What I also deplore is the normalization of bigotry, patriarchal misogyny, hate-based polices, and plutocracy run amok.

My position has nothing to do with “politics” and everything to do with fairness, freedom, truth, and honor. All of these principles are on the table now, because just enough Americans (nowhere near a majority or even a plurality, but enough) voted against them in November.

I just want to be honest about this. Clear lines are now drawn, and they have nothing to do with politics, personalities or political parties. I don’t want rebuttals or explanations or anything else from those who support lies, dishonor and infamy. I don’t want to hear from tiresome relativist cynics and closet anarchists about how politicians are “all the same” or “there’s nothing anyone can do” or any such self-deluding “I know the secret truth about the world” nonsense. I read widely and a lot, so I’ve heard it. Whatever a Sophist might say, the facts have emerged and are clearly plain to see. They are staring us in the face, with a sick and twisted grimace that openly mocks the good that’s left in this world. We see it because for now, large portions of our free press are still free, and still working. It will be a free press that helps us find our way—or at least those of us who value that freedom. And all the others.


Fishing for Renewal



So I’ve also been thinking a lot about civilizations. The idea is that we form a society in order to protect ourselves – from enemies and barbarians without, from famine, from disorder and violence as realized in nature. City States, the advent of Western civilization as first realized in Assyria and across the Fertile Crescent, all had one common feature: walls. And let’s face it: Nature, as well as its products, is violent – dog eat dog, as it were (or lion eat zebra, or bee rape flower, if you like). Nature cares not for the individual, only the continuance of life. In our societies, it was not so long ago that parents could expect half or more of their children to die, either immediately or by age five, from the various deadly agents that infect our bodies. (They too want to live and reproduce.) Women giving birth died too, in great numbers. Go back farther, and whole populations would regularly die from starvation during times of famine. Whole populations would be wiped out by diseases borne by unseen critters we knew nothing about. There is evidence that the great plague of Europe in the 14th Century arrived after wiping out practically the entire population of China. This is still conjecture, but it makes sense. Nearly half of Europe was wiped out, after all. In total, perhaps 100 million people were killed. By bugs.

Most of these bugs are still around, thankfully reaping souls on a smaller scale. Back then, we chalked it up to Provenance. God’s will. Today, we know it’s simply the uncanny ability of the world’s smallest creatures to continuously mutate into newer, more slippery forms – at a rate much faster than we can evolve our science to nab them.

Now, we have conquered so many of these nemeses – hunger is rampant, but starvation (in America at least) is pretty much unheard of. America can grow enough to feed the world, and we do when we can (logistics remain a challenge). Science has made great strides in conquering our most pestilent friends, who in past times would visit us with grim regularity, decimating unwitting populations in a repeating pattern defined by opportunity (mainly folks huddled together for warmth in the colder months).

One conspicuous outlier is war, the penchant for men to kill one another over their squabbles for power and territory. A sort of smallish “club” of willing warriors – fighting for honor, man to man – in the past, modern war claims many, many more civilian lives than military ones. World War 1? World War 2? They were not “wars” – they were massacres, killing millions with violence and even more (in the case of WW1) with disease. They are the shame of the 20th century and the shame of modern “civilization.”

Amid all of this “progress,” though, Western society has maintained a curious fascination with the concept of its own fragility and impermanence. Our myths and legends – the most enduring ones – can be collectively characterized as “destructive/regenerative.” As the pioneering social anthropologist Sir James Frazer demonstrated in his landmark work, “The Golden Bough”, we have been fascinated with the connection between the fitness of our leaders and the health of our societies since we began forming societies.

One of the earliest and most widespread of such legends that Frazer discovered involves the Vegetable King. Early societies were, of course, agrarian. They depended on regular rains – but not too much – to drench their fields. They required predictable seasons, temperatures, winds, etc. And for the most part these elements could be counted on to be friendly. But when they weren’t? When the massive floods or the arid drought years came? Whole cities could perish from starvation within weeks. The idea evolved that when such calamities happened, it was because the gods of the earth responsible for bringing regular rains, moderate temperatures, etc., were not pleased. Not at all. (If you are thinking of Noah and his ark right now, you follow me.) And since tribal leaders of these times (and some in modern times) are thought to be a direct link to the deities, it followed that it was some deficiency in the leader – some weakness, or often simply the infirmities and weakness of age – that displeased them. From a more mystical point of view, villagers could see the weakening of the leader as a direct corollary – a cause/effect result – corresponding to the weakening and death of their crops. The deific king and his realm were entwined in a mystical, symbiotic relationship of mutual good health – or mutual death.

What to do? An infirm king might hang on for months, years. But the land needs healing NOW.

The solution would seem pretty straightforward to one who is steeped in this agrarian/deific tradition of the king as intrinsically linked to the fate of the land he rules, and vice versa. We must have a new king, one strong and vital enough to renew the land through his symbiosis with the environment-controlling deities and therefore the environment – the world – itself. But new king can’t just walk up and take the job, of course. Kings like being king. And there can’t be two kings. Thus the tradition became one of renewal through the death – and rebirth – of the king and, gods willing, the land.

It wasn’t necessary to the theology that the king be “murdered” by his successor. It was simply necessary for him to either heal or die so that renewal of the land might accompany renewal of the king. But events – especially catastrophic ones – can move quickly, so it’s not hard to see why the ambitious successor might be encouraged by the populace to “hurry things along.”

The story might sound familiar if you’re a scholar of the Arthurian legends. Among the connected quests of Chretian de Troyes’ “Morte d’Arthur” (as also told by Malory) is the quest of Percival (aka Parsifal for you Wagner fans). In some versions Percival travels to the “waste land”, where the infirm Fisher King – keeper of the Holy Grail – lay incapable of movement in his castle as his realm steadily declines into an infertile waste. He can do nothing but “fish” from his castle walls, waiting for someone to come and heal him – and his land. There are many tellings of the tale, but in the earliest  Percival “heals” the king of a wound in his “thigh” or “groin” – probably euphemistic for his genitals, symbolizing fertility. The waste land is renewed by Percival’s gesture.

The most famous manifestation of the legend of the Fisher King is, of course, the story of Jesus Christ. The barbarism and inhumanity of the Roman world, so painfully felt among the occupied populations of Palestine/Israel, was due to a rejection of the God of the Talmud. To these conquered Jews, the world itself was a dying place, a barren “wasteland” in terms of obeisance to God’s will, a world run by pagans. These conditions, as the recently discovered scriptures contained in the Dead Sea Scrolls tell us, gave rise to a plethora of “messiahs”, or messengers bringing word of God’s displeasure with this world along with a message of guidance to the next – guidance that must be heeded lest one perish and spend eternity in “hell” – which was then often understood to be to dwell forever in “the absence of God’s presence”.

As an aside, the Christian use of the “fish” symbol can be traced back to centuries before Christ, and could very likely have its origins in these early theologies of fertility. (A fish symbol, or Ichthys, also symbolizes fecundity or plenty. In pagan beliefs, Ichthys was the offspring of the ancient sea goddess Atargatis). Among early, non-dogmatic Christians, the Ichthys could have served as a powerful hearkening to their earlier theologies (much in the way that Easter was originally a pagan goddess of fertility, hence the occasion of Easter in the springtime). Practicing Christians will recall a host of fish symbolism throughout the New Testament.

But of course among all those messiahs, Jesus is the messiah we remember, for reasons I won’t try to divine here. Yet the one aspect of the New Testament Jesus that separates him from the messianic crowd, that hits the legendary Vegetable King nail right on the head (as it were), is his bloody crucifixion and death.  His death was “necessary” for the redemption of Man. For the rebirth of grace. For the restoration of men’s souls. His “restoration” – which created a schism in the early church among those who would deify Jesus and those who refused to “require” his resurrection and deification in order to follow his teachings (the latter group lost) –  symbolizes the restoration of man through Jesus’ suffering and death.

So what am I getting at?

Full circle, I am getting at the idea – as old as humanity – that when we feel our society, our world, has been corrupted and becomes a land of “waste” – our society offensive in its detachment from the land or the spirit of the land or the ‘original purpose’ of society – we seem to get the idea that we need to destroy it in order to “renew” it. Lately, we see so much apocalyptic cultural touchstones – the zombie craze, the “end of times” Christian books, the Bush “holy wars”, endless movies about the destruction of the earth from space objects or space aliens, etc. – but it’s not new. It happens at regular intervals, and always has. Just as in the year 2000, the year 1000 (such a tidy number) saw hordes of people putting bags over their heads to await the apocalypse. The very idea of the apocalypse was invented well after the death of Jesus, by an obscure cloistered Greek monk who had a “vision” of the Second Coming and wrote the story of “Revelations” (by far the most popular of the Bible’s New Testament stories, or perhaps second after Christmas). Why is Revelations in the New Testament at all? It has nothing to do with Jesus’ life. (It does provide a tidy ending to the whole thing.) Other sects “decide” arbitrarily that the world is “ending” from time to time – such as when a large comet arrives or the planets align a particular way. On a more concrete level, many during World War 2 thought the overwhelming amount of death and destruction happening around them must surely harken the end of everything – especially the Jews in Europe, who were in fact on a path to eradication.

So I guess that’s why all this has come to mind. Journalists, pundits, pollsters – none of them foresaw  our Nov. 9 disaster – our American political “Ground Zero,” our unprecedented act of self-destruction via the voting booth. We put the nuclear codes in the hands of a reactionary, thin-skinned narcissist when we could have chosen “business as usual”. Why? The press says now (should we believe them?) that they “missed it”, and that “it” was a subterranean desire for “change” at any cost. Because society is “ruined” by the current regime’s “corruption” and faithlessness.

Change they did want – and possibly, also renewal.

Pete Ricketts Comes Clean

“I want to thank the distinguished ladies and gentlemen of the Nebraska legislature – and you too, Kintner – for inviting me to speak today. It is, as always, a great honor.

Today I’m here to speak about the progress of our state under my administration. As it happens, though, I accidentally took a double dose of Ambien last night, and boy am I feeling it. It’s like this drug physically compels me to tell the truth.

So here goes.

We could talk particulars, right? We could talk about my blockade of Medicaid expansion for the poor, how all those studies commissioned by you good citizen legislators showed that expanding Medicaid would not only greatly improve the health of our poorest and most vulnerable citizens, it would also benefit the state economically and create thousands of jobs in the field. I saw that related report last year – that our rural hospital network is in danger of collapsing without expanded access to care for the self-employed folks in our rural counties, not to mention the federal subsidies – that’s dollars – that come with the newly insured, some of which will go to Nebraska insurance firms.

And it’s not like we’re saving any taxpayers any money by blocking the expansion. The federal dollars flow to the states that claim it, and those that don’t, well, they are watching from the sidelines.

So, sure, yeah, I’m aware of all that.

Then there’s Obamacare in general. I’m sure you all saw the article last week from Tribune Services, how  they examined all the states where insurance companies are bailing out of the exchanges, leaving the self-insured with fewer choices and less competition and higher premiums, how they were all red states led by GOP governors and legislatures intent on blocking the implementation – and by extension the success – of the president’s key health care initiative. Yes, I know, I stood in the way of Obamacare at every opportunity, with my Republican predecessor paving the way by refusing to provide even the slightest amount of input or any effort at  building a state exchange that would work for our needs, in fact rebuffing and insulting the entire program. I remember his “mantra” for the press: “We won’t need an exchange, because Mitt Romney’s going to win in November 2012 and we’ll abolish the whole thing.”

Of course we never built one, we had no intention of building an exchange. So the state’s poor have suffered greatly as a result, needless suffering, and coverage is extremely thin here in Nebraska as a result. All news I am acutely aware of.

Meanwhile, states like California and New York are doing great with their exchanges, enjoying efficient state management and plenty of insurers and plan options for folks looking to get covered.  Highly competitive. They really have it going on!

Just ask yourself one question: if we had cooperated, if we had expanded Medicare,  and if it did result in massive savings and job growth in Nebraska as well as the protection of our rural hospital network – who do you think gets the credit for that? Me? Pete Ricketts? No – the president gets it. That’s who.

Enough said. I mean, c’mon.

Then there’s the death penalty. Hoo boy, what a joke that is. No executions in, what, 20 years? Something like that? Fourteen million a year to feed a broken system, according to Goss’s report. And no approved method for execution, even with my illegal drug buys from India  that violated federal drug laws and ignored the stated policy of the manufacturer not to supply the drug to executioners. (And thanks again John Gale, top law enforcement official in Nebraska, for your help on that buy.) Feds stopped the drugs at the border, but how could I have known they would do that? I’m not one to think deeply about these things. I just wanted my drugs so I could kill my prisoners.

I know, I know, our death penalty is outmoded, ineffectual, crazy expensive — if you described it as a “government program” it would be roundly despised by Republicans, wouldn’t it? Ha ha, yeah we would hate that boondoggle. But seriously, dad and I decided that the will of the people, as expressed through their elected representatives, was just not what we wanted to do. So we dropped a few bucks (what, about $300,000? My last bike cost more than that) on the referendum, got John and other state officials and luminaries like Hal to jump on, called in some favors, you know. And here it is back on the ballot – just because I wanted it! It’s hilarious – here we are, “Put our ineffective, massively expensive, completely backward-looking priority on the ballot! Screw the people, and screw their representatives!” That’s us. We want it our way. And you know what? I think we’ll get it. There really is one born every minute, folks.

Anyway, I’m kind of woozy from the Ambien, but I hope you’re following the pattern here. There’s progress, there’s common sense, there’s the will of the people as expressed through their representatives in the legislature.

And then there’s us. My dad and me. And all the toadies who suck up to our money.

We don’t care about any of that.

It should be abundantly clear what we care about. Look out, to other horizons. Look over at Wisconsin, where an incompetent governor made a national name for himself, who got a run at the nomination, by crushing public unions and public universities. That state is a mess. Look to Kansas, where they have untaxed their state into an unholy cluster of bankrupt government and failing schools, not to mention an eroding business climate. But you know the name Brownback, don’t you. You know it. Do I even need to mention Jindal? Complete idiot, and he was in the running for 2016 too. Because he screwed his state over like nobody’s business.

So what are we about? Anybody wanna guess? No? Really, it’s very simple (just like me).

It’s power.

Power is what we want. The power to decide who succeeds, and who does not. Who gets a driver’s license and who doesn’t. Who gets health care and who doesn’t. Who goes to prison (Hint: not our friends or their kids, at least not for long) and who dies there – at our hands.

Heck, we’re even suing the state of Colorado for their liberal pot laws. Why? Well, I’ll tell you – it’s an arbitrary thing. After all – ha ha – I buy illegal drugs myself! And try to smuggle them in the country! To deny “free people” (ha ha – sorry that always gets me) the right to grow and use a native plant for their own purposes that involve no offense to any other citizen, let alone the “state”– it’s the most arbitrary of power plays, with no reasoning behind it, just like the power to kill my prisoners. Hell, we won’t even let them have their no-THC cannabis oil for the sick kids. Why? Why forbid proven relief for these epileptic kids, beating their own brains out every day? Because we said so, that’s why. I want that power BECAUSE it’s arbitrary. I want it so that I have it – and you, dearest citizens – you don’t. And it’s important that you KNOW it, that you know it’s an arbitrary thing. A nonsensical, arbitrary demonstration of power you can do nothing about except write letters to me, or to your newspaper. Letters I don’t read.

This is the political dynamic we are fighting so hard to keep alive, for our kind and our descendents. Good governance is for suckers. We’re here to build a power base and to get recognized for it on the national political stage.

It really is as simple as that. Like Walker, or Brownback, or Jindal, if I prove I can wield arbitrary, nonsensical power over an entire state – if I can, with clumsy, empty rhetoric devoid of logic or pragmatism and a cadre of powerful toadies in official positions (not to mention tons of money) effect a reversal of fortunes for all of the people in my state who don’ t share my European heritage, skin tone, background, religion, income level – you know what I mean here – If I can pull that off, as dad has explained to me, I have put myself in the running for the White House in 2020. It’s a natural continuation of the path I’m on. It’s the next step for dad and me.

So yes, of course, you – all of you, from the lowliest immigrant to the loftiest official not in my dad’s pocket – all of you are expendable. Your state is expendable. Your aquifer is expendable. Your efficient public utilities are expendable. Your health and your lives are expendable in pursuit of my one overriding goal. Heck, remember my knee surgery? I went home to Chicago. I’m not letting you backwater hicks  touch my leg.

You are to me, Nebraska, a big flat stepping stone.

And as I’ve demonstrated in my first years in office, with nearly every initiative, I’m more than willing to step on you and step on you and step on you until I reach my goals, as told to me by dad.

Thank you. I would take questions, but I’m really very sleepy. And bald. Hm? Oh, ha, I didn’t mean to say that last part, did I. Or, heck, any of this. Dad’s gonna be pissed. Ha ha. G’night.”

The GOP “Insurgents”

The very structure of our information society precludes anything like a universal, universally acknowledged truth. There can be none. If you don’t believe me, check out the Flat Earth society, or the Creationists, or the Republican Party. These organizations, and hundreds if not thousands like them, have absolutely zero interest in facts, or truth, or anything resembling a coherent logical approach to digesting “information” about the world they live in.

No, such folks are interested only in information that supports their preconceived ideas, and even then only in cases where that support applies to the exact truth they wish to believe: for example,  corporations don’t need regulating (unless they have anything to do with women’s reproductive medicine, in which case they need tons of regulating); law enforcement is universally benevolent and race-neutral when it comes to policing (except the feds, who are “out of control,” as in out to take away the guns of law-abiding citizens, steal state lands, and open up the immigration floodgates); the federal government is itself “tyrannical” and cannot be trusted (except Republicans in Congress like Ted Cruz and Trey Gowdy, who become instantly immune to the effects of Washington when they are sworn in because of their party affiliation; or in the case of a Republican being elected president, at which time anyone who has a problem with his policies magically transforms from a “concerned patriot” into a “traitor”).

When we hear Darrel Issa or Paul Ryan or Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump say ridiculous, unproven things about the Democratic presidential candidate (such as that she is “unqualified” to be president or that she is a “criminal”), they are not speaking in the way that you or I might speak about our day to day lives. We would not say “the mailman is probably evil in his heart” at home among our family and friends, because it makes no sense. It only makes sense if we are engaged in some kind of power struggle with the mailman, and our desire is to undermine his position and, if possible, destroy his reputation. In that case, it makes all the sense in the world to imply that the mailman “probably” has some base evil quality about him – nothing we can pinpoint, but you know – probably. Just look at all the things people are saying about him. Where there’s smoke, you know…just got to dig deep enough.

The dynamics of the ‘smear campaign’ are foreign to most of us, because we have no day to day interest in conducting smear campaigns. But what if I told you there was an organization in America that has been promulgating a smear campaign against a single citizen for over a quarter century? Do I need to say more? Do I need to explain what this organization is, or whom they’ve been trying to paint as “criminal” for over 25 years? No, I don’t. You know very well who the target is, and you know that she’s been a political target for decades, ever since the Clintons upset the Reagan-Bush trickle down party in 1992.

For decades, the sharpest right-wing minds in the country (*cough*)  have been bent on “getting the goods” on Hillary Clinton. Whole careers have been made (and unmade) in the process, with Darrel Issa being one of the most prominent politicians to have basically made his entire congressional salary off of “suspicion” of progressive policies and politicians. He doesn’t have to do anything, or create anything, or even propose anything of substance to earn his pay as one of our “leaders”. No, like Trey Gowdy and Mitch McConnel and so many other so-called leaders, he has not been required to lead anyone anywhere for one single moment of his career as a leader. Instead, he follows – like a bloodhound – every move made by those who are actually doing something in the name of progress – people like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton – people who are actually leading the way. But Issa, and his me-too Congressional cohort, and their pet news organizations, and their angry white voter base, are perfectly content to fill this insurgent role. It’s their ticket to relevance and something resembling a legitimate purpose in life. They are “constantly working” on a job that nobody in the private sector would consider actual work: the destruction of their political enemies through a concerted, non-stop, top-priority Republican policy objective that can be summed up neatly as: “Stop them before they do something good or popular.”

You could almost call it a vast, right-wing conspiracy. Except conspirators operate in secret, and the GOP foot soldiers currently waging full-time war against progressive politics in general and the Clintons in particular is a wide-open scorched earth campaign operating very much in the public eye.

It’s not a conspiracy, it’s the party platform.

So we have a national mise-en-scene, as it were, that no longer even resembles a “government” being administered by people who believe in the legitimacy of the government they are running. Instead, it reminds us more of a government (composed of Democrats and a few lonely moderates) in constant battle with a GOP “anti-government” insurgency, one that has made no secret of its desires (as evinced by its frustratingly smug puppet master Grover Norquist) to eviscerate itself in the name of “limited government”. In order to convince a majority of Americans to vote against their own interests (Medicare, Social Security, public infrastructure like the interstate highway system and national parks, etc.), what must one do? One must make the “alternate evil” worse than – more dangerous than – the privation and hardship that will result from following the oligarchs to the land of unregulated corporations, crumbling infrastructure, and a vanishing social safety net for American workers.

I’ve not even mentioned the combed-over walrus in the room, the GOP presidential candidate who, more and more, does not appear to actually want the job of president. He is pretty much all that’s needed to get Democrats to the polls this November. And no, we don’t need operatives like the GOP’s Gowdy and Issa and McConnel to conduct a decades-long smear campaign against the Orange One. The candidate has (thoughtfully?) smeared himself, repeatedly, all during the primaries  and so far during the general election cycle. And quite handily too. Come to think of it – he’s been smearing his own reputation for his entire adult life and probably before that.

So, again, what do you do when you have a popular progressive current president, a driven and experienced Democratic candidate for president who has proven to be unassailable even after decades of attacks, and a GOP presidential candidate who has no idea what he’s doing, and who doesn’t even appear to want the job very badly?

What else? Double down on the one shred of hope you have left: that you might finally convince someone who matters that Hillary Clinton is a “dangerous criminal” who should be “locked up” (we’ll overlook the GOP convention speaker who said she should be “shot for treason” for now).  But here’s the hard part: if you ever actually get to a trial phase for whatever crimes you so fervently believe were committed, judges and juries and defense lawyers will require something of you, something you’ve never had to rely on in the past, something possibly unfamiliar to your way of thinking:

They will require evidence.

The Freedom to be Massacred?

It’s true, you know – freedom isn’t free. This little axiom has been used in the past to bolster support for armed conflict, as in “we have to be prepared to fight wars to ensure our freedom is not taken from us.” That has been true, though only once in the last century to my reckoning, in 1941.

But now, today, it’s different. We have to fight domestic lovers of conflict and haters of peace like the bizarre orange man-baby, the demagogues and indiscriminate saber-rattlers, the gun fetishists, the amoral greed of the military-industrial-technological complex, the soulless NRA and its meek toadies in Congress – we have to fight all of them. We have to oppose them in order to guarantee our freedom to NOT be party to the indiscriminate murder of innocents by way of legislative inaction or by allowing an insane megolomaniac to gain the awesome power of the presidency. It’s OUR government that’s doing nothing to protect the innocents, it’s VOTERS who put these people in office. Unless we act with courage against them, WE are culpable.

Thoughts and prayers? Faith without works is hollow boasting, vanity and evasion. Far too easy to cross oneself and then look away. Look back – the danger is still here, it’s not over because this week’s dead are buried. Your loved ones are at risk every day, all year long, as we know too well.

To hell with Congress’s moment of silence and Republican lawmakers’ fear of the demagogue. To hell with the transparent lies of the NRA. We need loud, angry voices decrying the inaction of cowards and the dangerous nonsense spouted by ignorant fools every moment, until we are heard.

Socialism Part 4: Time to Choose

In spite of where we are now, we still retain one great power: the power of the vote. Yes, this power is being attacked and undermined as we speak, with Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United and a plethora of anti-democratic voting restrictions being instituted by the oligarchy’s Tea Party foot soldiers in state legislatures across the country. But for now we still retain that power, which, at least in theory, can change our destinies.

Enter Bernie Sanders. The self-described Social Democrat (or “Democratic Socialist”) has ‘berned’ through the 2016 presidential primaries with a highly focused message to the country: Wall Street is running the show. Government will continue working for the 1% — and will continue ignoring the rest of us — until we fundamentally change the system.

It’s the right message, and though I would not have believed it six months ago, I now feel it may be the right time, or close to it. The idea of a 74-year-old socialist, a secular Jew, a political outsider, an atheist whose only child was born out of wedlock, who honeymooned in Russia, who has praised Castro’s Cuba – the idea that this man could beat an establishment Republican in a general election heavily financed by the Koch machine? That’s a crazy idea.

But look over there! All of a sudden the GOP is imploding, rocked by a slow-motion civil war with its Tea Party wing and devolving at this moment into a chaotic brawl between the racist supporters of runaway front runner Donald Trump, who is channeling proto-fascist populism a la Vladimir Putin, and the party establishment. It appears very likely that the GOP will not have a “safe” candidate to run. They will have instead a racist, xenophobic, amoral blowhard fascist at the top of the ticket.

So the question now becomes a legitimate one: Can we actually transform this hijacked society into a social democracy? Can we quit shooting ourselves in the foot – quit starting oil wars for Wall Street, quit propping up oil-and-blood-soaked dictatorships, quit disparaging our own government as if it were our  enemy, quit scaring everyone with exaggerated threats of “Islamist Terror” by Syrian war refugees, quit denigrating these same refugees for fleeing from real terror, quit the “unlimited guns and ammo for everyone” 2nd amendment fetishism, quit meddling in women’s private health care issues, quit bashing and hobbling the unions that built the middle class the oligarchy is trying to destroy, quit pretending taxation is evil and that opposing taxation is a legitimate reason to stick it to the poor and the elderly, quit gunning down unarmed African-American citizens in the streets with impunity – can we really quit all that nonsense and start to move forward?

Can we really be more like the smart countries?

It seems too good to be true. But because of this moment — the sheer unlikely madness of this moment — Bernie has crashed the national conversation and Social Democracy has entered the exciting realm of the possible. One is tempted to think that perhaps this moment is pre-ordained, as if the GOP’s distracting crisis were some kind of divine “opening” of the system’s seemingly monolithic barriers to fairness and equality, an opening that would allow us to infuse humanity and dignity into the political process and, like grown-ups, put an end to the endless era of so-called “partisan gridlock” (AKA planned government malfeasance engineered by the plutocrats who want it that way).

People are excited about this! – And especially about the Messenger, Bernie Sanders.

But we don’t need a “revolution” — whatever that means — we just need to get out, and vote, and win, for the principles that already bind us, for the values we obviously share and have for decades. This has nothing to do with the Democratic Party, and everything to do with government of the people, by the people, for the people – which truly is in peril of perishing from the earth.

Bernie alone cannot do it — as he says over and over, it’s not about him. It’s about us. Hopefully, a sizeable number of the young ‘Berners’ transform into political activists, willing to not only post memes on Facebook but to vote, then to stand up and fight for a government that truly works for the people, and to keep fighting when the oligarchs hit back with the usual scare tactics, patriarchal bluster, and anti-citizen legal maneuvers.

And by that I mean if Bernie does not win this primary — and it appears that he will not due to the vestiges of party influence and cold delegate math — giving up is not the way to go. To paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld: our entrenched, co-opted political establishment is like a Coke machine — you don’t just walk up and tip it over, you’ve gotta rock that thing back and forth a few times.

If it’s Hillary, vote for Hillary. I don’t care how you feel about her, there is no way you will convince me that Trump is the preferable choice. No way in Hell. Do not even try. And definitely don’t tell me that if it can’t be Bernie, we need to elect Trump in order to create the “crisis” that will usher in the “revolution” – that’s Leninist bullshit. It didn’t work for social democrats in post-Weimar Germany, and it won’t work here. A sour grapes “none of the above” in November is also as good as a vote for President Trump. You know this. Let the Republicans stay home and nurse their embarrassment. Liberals need to get out there. A President Hillary can have coattails – a friendly Senate — with your help. She will choose at least one (and probably several) Supreme Court Justices. So if it goes that way hold your ego in check and help her out — help her help us continue down a progressive path rather than the path of cynical fascism and national ruin. We can get there eventually, but not if the president destroys the nation first.

Stick with your principles. Don’t give in to despair or jaded indifference or, worst of all, defeat. Use your vote, and your voice to tell your story, and keep telling it – why you object to the dismantling of your democratic government, the co-opting of politicians by the corporate oligarchy, why you deserve a voice and a share in the great promise of the American economy, why you will no longer stand for a government in the service of corporations rather than its own citizens.

You will be able to say it under Hillary, by the way, to hold her feet to the fire. You will be ignored, and will very likely land on an enemies list, or perhaps leave with a few bruises, or perhaps worse, saying that to a president Trump.

All of it needs to happen, and to be sustained by your millions of advertising-immune votes competing with billions of dollars in advertisements. We must wrest this nation away from those who seek only, as the GOP’s dictatorial “tax activist” Grover Norquist puts it, to shrink the federal government until it’s small enough and weak enough to “drown in the bathtub.”

You Say You Want a Revolution? Well…You know…

The fact-challenged narratives that are informing this election cycle, not to mention the caricature candidates, make it more clear than ever that the oligarchy has nearly completed its work. The Parties, in other words, are weakened almost unto death. If you think about it, the outcome that is most desired among the “400” (forget percentages – about 400 people run everything you care to name, the .000001% if you like) is a dysfunctional, factional, barely legitimate government that is constantly at odds with itself, distracting the voters from the actual daily business of government (which is protecting the interests of the 400) through personality cults, amusing theatrics, and of course the constant threat posed by “them” (terrorists, Mexicans, liberals, CEOs, the Clintons, whatever). The 2016 hate-filled presidential bread and circus express, complete with soulless money-grubbing media supplying big microphones to the loudest, most obnoxious voices steeped in ignorant fear and lies —  this serves as our new crass substitute for what once resembled a self-confident political process, at least most of the time.

So if you have the unsettling feeling that everything is about to fall apart,  remember it is by design, and this chaos is being purchased into existence by people who want it this way. The oligarchs will win a rare prize if the voters elect a president who is himself a card-carrying hater of all things federal, a head cheerleader for the destruction of the awful, corrupt “establishment” (i.e. the government as we know it, your friends and neighbors, AFSCME union members, civil servants, cops, teachers, librarians, toll booth workers, park rangers, the DMV, my dad the soldier). The picture is one of a deluded Nero fiddling away at airy ideological ditties in the White House while the massive bureaucratic engine of Washington goes quietly about its never-changing long-term tasks, such as preserving the unbalanced power structure via the tax code and other arcane regulatory regimes, thereby supplying oligarchs with the only self-enrichment and dynastic development tool they need in steady supply: your tax dollars in the form of supply-side tax giveaways and guaranteed interest payments on government “debt” (bonds). The oligarchs are happy to underwrite public debt when the government refuses to collect enough  taxes to pay for itself. Keeping tax rates low on the wealthy means they have plenty of money to lend Uncle Sam instead of just giving it to him, thus making still more profits off of profits that were barely taxed in the first place (i.e. capital gains). But hey, you don’t get rich writing checks to the government! What’s more, the condition serves to symbolically undermine a chronically “indebted” government as a poorly run, ineffectual, wasteful enterprise.

But don’t oligarchs also want safe streets, safe schools, good health care, etc? Sorry, the American oligarchy has already constructed its “parallel” elite society within the nation’s borders on your dime (private learning/health care/financial/social/leisure institutions, private security, gated communities). And of course if things get depressing at home they have the money to globe-trot to all the Earth’s ritzy destinations. Meanwhile their minions in Congress are actively neglecting public infrastructure and public institutions (the dilapidation of which emphasizes the “uselessness” of “excessive” government taxation). Of course, some  notable  exceptions to the “let it rot” philosophy of so-called “limited government” include law enforcement, prisons, the military and its many weapons, which will always be fully funded for obvious reasons. No, the ‘waste’ to be cut from government, the waste that is “ballooning” our national debt, is of course the social safety net – Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The longer this trend continues, the more we will hear bought-and-paid-for politicians muse about how we “can’t afford” to care for our most vulnerable citizens.

This is the plan: eventual de-legitimization of representative democracy through cultural/perceptual manipulations that undermine the federal government’s efficacy in the minds of voters  – some of whom may then predictably demand a “political revolution” but won’t know what that means, nor how they are going to make it happen within a political system – and under the watch of a massive law enforcement apparatus – that is now fully controlled by their economic adversaries. This oligarchic control over a thug-like political class will, if they succeed, become the norm, will be the new face of our “democracy” as more and more disaffected voters walk away from what has become, frankly, a vulgar process that is beneath a sovereign individual’s dignity.

Most Americans, of course, aren’t even paying attention.