Are We Willing to Pay the Price for Our Freedom?

As the election process inches forward, we are once again faced with allegations of election fraud and voter suppression.  The primary yesterday in Arizona was an outright disgrace.  A state in which one county (Maricopa) had witnessed 300,000 people come out to vote at 200 polling stations during the 2008 election cycle, was unprepared to handle the estimated 800,000 who came out yesterday to only 60 polling stations.  Voters stood for five and six hours on line, only to find that once again, insufficient numbers of ballots were on hand.  Once again, registered voters found that their political affiliation had mysteriously changed or that they had been dropped from voter rolls altogether.  Once again, provisional ballots were handed out though it was indicated to voters that these ballots would not be counted.  And the Media called the election by 10:00p.m. eastern time, with just 1% of the vote in,  while voters were still lined up for blocks at 1:30a.m.

These are the same problems which plagued the primaries in Florida (where some thirteen precincts had run out of ballots by noon), North Carolina, Illinois, Ohio, Utah, Idaho, Missouri, Massachusetts, and just about every state the Clinton campaign has notched as a victory.  Oddly enough, a large proportion of Hillary’s supporters have been instructed to vote early, by mail, and avoid the entire precinct voting process.

But there have been instances of Republican election rigging as well, namely Ted Cruz’s efforts to convince voters in Iowa that Ben Carson was dropping out of the race.  Yesterday, in Mormon Utah, a Super Pac supporting Ted Cruz ran an ad featuring a nude Melania Trump with the tag-line, “Meet Melania Trump, your next First Lady.  Or, you could support Ted Cruz on Tuesday.”  I have absolutely no love for Donald Trump, but attacking someone’s family in this manner is gutless, classless, despicable and cowardly.  And whether or not it was authorized by him, Ted Cruz will have to own that characterization from here on out.

One interesting element to the dirty politics we are seeing from both sides, is that it has originated with the establishment candidates.  Neither Sanders’ nor Trump’s campaigns have been accused of attempting to rig the elections.  The DNC, on the other hand, has been complicit in nearly every effort to suppress the vote of Democrats who would largely be supporting Bernie Sanders (if Hillary’s supporters have voted early and in enough numbers, you could suppress everyone on election day and almost guarantee a win for the Clintons).  The RNC has openly suggested that they might need to run a third party candidate to stop Trump, and has dragged Mitt Romney out of mothballs to do their dirty work.

How should we read this?  To express the conditions surrounding our current election process in their simplest terms, the Establishment on both sides is actively working to suppress the will of the people to make a change in the status quo of our government.  The Establishment is utterly out of touch with the voters of this country.  When Trump and Sanders began their campaigns, each was scoffed at by their respective party elders.  Each was seen as something of a joke.  But Sanders and Trump are engaged with their base; they know their supporters.  Each, for his own reasons, reflects the will of the voting makeup of his party.  And now, the Establishment finds itself with only one card left to play; make sure that those votes don’t count.

Like him or not, Donald Trump is bringing voters out of the woodwork.  His rallies are enormous and his supporters passionate (for all of the wrong reasons, I would add).  The other night, Sanders held a rally in Washington State which drew 35,000 people.  Hillary, meanwhile, held her “rally” in a living room where attendees paid $27,000 apiece to get in and $50,000 if they wanted to meet and speak with her.  This is not lost on the American voting public.

Middle and working class people in America may not really be able to comprehend just how much money $170 billion dollars in increased earnings by the top fifteen people in America is, but we know when we are getting screwed.  We know that when Washington tells us the economy is improving, it isn’t improving for us.  Our wallets are still just as empty.  Our credit cards still carry large balances.  Our bank accounts still have no buffer.  Our jobs pay less, our health care costs more.  Our retirement savings won’t be enough and a trip to the hospital could be one cost too much.  We may be able to remember a past full of promise, but we now fear that our children will have no future.

“At least,” we may have thought, “we still have a voice.”  We have been taught since we first entered school that the greatness of America lies in the process by which we, the people, elect representatives to speak on our behalf in Washington and in the State Assemblies. Each November, we learned, the people get to vote so that the government represents our needs, our desires and our principles.   That, we now must concede, was a lie. 

The middle and working class people of this country did not arrive here overnight.  We can now look back on nearly half a century of legislation which has allowed corporate America to line its pockets while sending our jobs and our futures overseas, legislation that keeps us in debt to big health care corporations when the rest of the industrialized world provides better health care as a right to its people.  We have been dragged into twenty odd years of endless and pointless war, run up a national debt that is somewhere in the vicinity of nineteen trillion dollars, and found that a large chunk of the debt for which we are responsible, is held by the Chinese.  The people on both sides of the aisle, playing politics in Washington, have doomed at least once generation of us to penury.  And now, the RNC and the DNC have informed us that we no longer even have a voice of complaint in the process.  Our votes, if it looks like they will cause injury to the Establishment, don’t count.

In the title of this article, the question was asked, “Are we willing to pay the price for our freedom?”  We often hear that our nation’s soldiers have paid that price for us, guaranteeing with their lives the freedoms which we enjoy.  But now we have to ask whether we are free at all.  One need not feel the bars to be trapped in a cage.  When limitations are placed on our abilities to grow as a society or as individuals within it, we are not free.  When a corrupt economic system keeps the vast majority of us enslaved to the next paycheck, we are not free.  And when our political leadership looks us in the eye and says that our voices do not matter, we are not free.

It is now nearly forty eight years since the summer of 1968, two generations, a single life lived almost to its mid-line.  It was in 1968 that the people, for one brief, shining moment, found their voice.  The assassination of JFK in 1963 marked the first time that the majority of American people believed that their own government could not be trusted.  By 1968, with the war raging in southeast Asia and middle and working class American kids being drafted and sent to fight for nothing more than the nightly body count, that voice rose as one to shout down the Establishment. 

While the respective parties gave us establishment candidates in the form of Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey, the grass roots gave rise to Eugene McCarthy and, later in the campaign, Robert Kennedy.  McCarthy’s early primary lead chased incumbent president Lyndon Johnson out of the race and lured RFK in.  In time, the voice of the young people in America, desperate to end the war and to heal the wounds at home between white and black Americans, coalesced behind RFK.  McCarthy’s ill advised remarks on opting for a Communist coalition in Vietnam and relocating black youth out of urban areas to quell urban problems ultimately doomed his campaign. 

So, with the Doors’ song, “Five to One” as a backdrop, the young people of this country began to see that it was true that “they have the guns but we’ve got the numbers.”  And politics, after all, is a numbers game.  Everything was coming together for a political revolution.   And then it was gone.  Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered in Memphis on April 4th and RFK was assassinated in Los Angeles two months later.  By late August and the Democratic convention in Chicago, the sense that the fix was in was palpable.  During the primaries, some 80% of the votes cast were in favor of anti-war candidates, but at the convention, the DNC pushed Hubert Humphrey through, despite the fact that he had not entered a single primary.  The “riots in the streets” to which Donald Trump alluded last week when considering what might happen if he is denied the nomination, were exactly what played out in Chicago.

In hindsight, 1968 saw this country on the verge of a massive political shift, away from establishment politics, away from a war that no one outside of government wanted, away from hatred and divisiveness at home.  The chance was there and the voting public seemed ready to seize it.  But the promise went unfulfilled.  Now, nearly half a century later, the chance has once again arisen.  This time. however, it is not a “lone nut gun-man” who has his crosshairs on our opportunity.  It is the establishment itself, bold as brass.

Perhaps it takes a leader like RFK or maybe Bernie Sanders, to galvanize the people of our republic behind an image of all that is good about us, an image of the potential for greatness that still lies in America.  Or, could it be that Donald Trump has revealed something about ourselves that we have kept hidden, but which could once again push us to the top of the world stage?  Truly, those leaders come along only once in a lifetime.  So the question is reframed, “Are we willing to pay the price for our freedom to elect the leadership we choose for ourselves?”  If the people put their support behind a candidate whom the parties seek to undo, are we willing to destroy the parties in return?

This journal does not endorse Donald Trump.  Other articles here have in no uncertain terms pointed out just how bad a choice he would be for the country.  But if Hillary Clinton is to get the nomination, are we, the people, willing to pay the price of electing her and continuing the ownership of this country by the ruling class?  If the supporters of Bernie Sanders “sit on their hands” in protest, refusing to vote for a candidate who is the antithesis of all that they believe, Trump will win, regardless of what the Republican party does to stop him.  The next four years will be disastrous, for trade, for human rights, for maintaining allegiances throughout the world.  But should we elect Clinton, the very first order of business for the DNC will be to make sure that no grass roots candidate ever again threatens the party’s plan.  The next Bernie Sanders, maybe fifty years from now, will have it that much harder.

Do we resign ourselves to business as usual or do we break the machine and build anew?

Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.  George Carlin used to say about the relationship between the working people of this country and the owners of the country (and of our government) that, “it is a big club and you and I ain’t in it.”  The old Fram Oil Filter ad warned us that, “you can pay me now or pay me later.”  If we don’t stop the cycle of selling our freedom now, we consign our children and our grandchildren to the debtor’s prison of paying later.  Thirty pieces of silver now could damn us for generations to come.  I, for one, am not willing to pay that price.

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Too Late to Stop the Runaway Train?

Over the course of the last two weeks, the political conversation among Republican party elders and increasingly, within the same Media which has helped to create the Monster, has turned to trying to find a way to keep Donald Trump from becoming our next president.  To many of us, the thought that he might actually have a chance at doing so seems ludicrous.  Here is a man with no experience of government, a self-proclaimed master of business with at least four bankruptcies to his credit and a string of failed business ventures which range from comical to con-artist.  If ever there was a candidate ripped straight from the pages of a Superman comic, this is it. 

But alas, it is we who have been proven wrong, as the Trump Train continues to gain steam.  You see, we have committed the cardinal sin of believing that somehow, the election process will run on logic and reason.  It doesn’t.  It never has.  The fuel of elections is raw emotion, visceral gut reaction.  In life, we don’t love and trust people from our head; we love and trust from our heart and our gut.  And the election process is nothing, if not a love fest.

One look at Trump’s supporters should be enough to tell us.  They are not interested in taking the time to hash out the details of his platform; he hasn’t got any.  His campaign is swagger, bluster, braggadocio, histrionics and self-aggrandizement in the extreme.  Every other day it’s “pin the blame on the foreigner” or “when are we gonna get sick of all this winning?”  I have personally witnessed high school pep rallies with a better articulated game plan.

But the Republicans don’t get it.  In desperation, they sent out Mitt Romney, first runner up as most boring man in North America, to strike dead this fire-breathing town dragon.  To say he failed to do so does not adequately paint the pile of ashes Trump and his supporters made of ol’ Mitt.  Next, Marco Rubio threw himself on his sword, overthinking the game and asking his supporters in Ohio to vote for John Kasich.  His supporters everywhere probably saw that Marco’s investment in the election was not 100% and they promptly lost him his home state of Florida.  Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on your way out.  Now, Ted Cruz and John Kasich are squaring off against each other, each claiming that for the betterment of the party, the other should step aside.

All of this plays right into the hands of Trump and his followers.  Every time the establishment makes a failed run at derailing his express, they confirm at a gut level, at a heart level, that they fear Trump because he is the strongest candidate, because he has the truest message, because he will make America great again.  This is the same Republican party which has taught the far right to fear that the government is coming for them, that the invasion of Texas by the US military is imminent, that the Supreme Court is coming for their weapons and will confiscate their bibles, that a Kenyan muslim has usurped our government with plans to overthrow the country and instill Sharia law.  Well fellas, you reap what you sow.

Let us be real.  Ted Cruz has all the appeal of a tooth extraction without the Novocain.  John Kasich’s homespun vitality plays well with the flannel shirt crowd, but the establishment Republicans are more of an Armani suit group and Trump’s followers don’t wear shirts; the bib overalls show off the White Power tattoos to greater advantage.  Neither of these guys is going to galvanize enough of the party faithful to overtake the Trumpster.

Now, it appears that Rod Serling is staging a chess match from the heart of the Twilight Zone.  The party suggests that if they can get to a brokered convention, the delegates will be free to vote for a candidate of party choosing.  Trump counters with a riots in the streets threat.  The party probingly hints that they might have to run a third party candidate of their own.  Trump’s smirk emerges like the Cheshire Cat as he instructs his acolytes, “see how the establishment works to undermine the will of the people, my people.”  This may go down in history as the first Reality Presidential Election, with Kim Kardashian installed as the next Secretary of Status.

So, what will it take to put the brakes on the Trump Train?  For stop it, we must.  If you haven’t been living under the neighbor’s porch and have an IQ somewhere north of litmus paper, you know that this guy is bad news.  What he lacks in a legislative record on which to run, he makes up for in a record of dim-witted get rich(er) quick schemes ranging from steaks and vodka, to a crashed airline business, a bogus school for wannabe real estate moguls and a casino empire that has run out of money on four separate occasions.  For Christ’s sake, he’s a game show and beauty pageant host.  Wink Martindale has an equal claim to the Presidency.

In one sense, the Republican elders are right.  If they can somehow drag this to the convention without the obligation of naming Trump the winner, arcane rules of the nomination process can be dusted off and a nominee, maybe someone who has not yet even thrown a hat into the ring, could be crowned heir apparent to Ronald Reagan or perhaps, Zachary Taylor.  But this is a Friday Night Football and Jeopardy kind of crowd.  The way they see it, whomever has the most points at the end of regulation time, wins.  The risk for the Republicans is that they could save the country (from Trump) and fracture the GOP in the process.  And this would not be Socrates knocking back a goblet of hemlock; this would be Jim Jones ladling up the Kool-Aid.

It is possible that a third-party, independent candidate could be run with the backing of a Super-Pac and keep enough votes from Trump in the general to either lose the election to a Democrat or stall it in the Electoral College.  That would send the decision to the Speaker of the House, Republican Paul Ryan. 

On the surface, it would appear that a split ticket from the Republican side would send the Democrat through, but there are no guarantees here.  It is already becoming clear that a large portion of the Democratic base will not support Hillary Clinton, should she become the nominee.  With allegations of voter fraud emerging from Florida, North Carolina and Illinois, and a DNC which has overtly been attempting to rig the primary process, many true liberals are feeling disenfranchised.  In a three way race, they might just stay home.

So, unless a true Republican could be induced to take a dive for the party, it would have to be another outsider running on the third party ticket and that would possibly put Ryan in a quandary.  If he named the Democrat as president, he would remove from the Republican party any license to play the victim at the hands of those Democrats.  If he selected the Third-Party candidate, the faithful would proclaim that the fix was in, and the party would be faced with rebuilding its base for the next decade.  And if he played the Trump card, he would not only risk the American economy, judicial system, a new war in the Middle East and deteriorating relationships with allies across the Western World, he would risk the Republican party becoming a global laughing stock, witnessed as the newest incarnation of a Papa Doc Duvalier led banana republic.

For these reasons and perhaps a few more, the Republican elders are more likely to do nothing, and continue to let the string play out.  “Perhaps,” they may think, “this train is still going to wreck and boy, we wouldn’t want to miss that!”  If they can make it to a brokered convention, they will have to wet a finger and see just how hard the political wind is blowing. 

They may determine that there is no choice but to let Trump run.  They may take him into a back room and make him an offer he can’t refuse; while his ego is immense, his love of money and the sense that he made a great deal might leave him open to an old-fashioned bribe to step aside.  Give him a huge cash settlement and make him ambassador to Monaco.

Or, they may wet the middle finger, test the wind with it and name Cruz or Kasich as their man with the plan.  If there are riots in the streets, well, it is only Cleveland.  Who’d notice?

Ultimately, if they choose to let this nation’s voters decide, the odds are that Trump will take the nomination and will be run against the Democratic nominee.  That is allowing this race to be run right down to the wire.  They could instruct the Super Pacs and Republican office holders to sit on their hands and let Trump play this game with his own money.  But he seems to have plenty of it. 

Then, it comes down to the Democratic candidate.  As I see it, Hillary is the Lou Costello to Trump’s Bud Abbott.  They were made for each other as they were made for entertaining, reality TV.  She is a large target with a string of scandals, a paltry legislative record, a history of failures as Secretary of State, lingering doubts about her honesty and the lurking and leering shadow of her womanizing better half.  All of Trump’s inadequacies as leadership material will have to be set against her on the record lies, obfuscations, legalese, flip-flops and her track record of not being able to work across party lines (let alone within her own party).  In a tragi-comic sense, she makes him look, if not good, acceptable.  And of course, this is a popularity contest.  This is emotion and gut.  People love a winner.  And people don’t like Hillary.

The only way to save this country, and the Republican Party by extension,  from the disaster that would be a Donald Trump presidency, may be to stack him up against Bernie Sanders.  Sanders has the record of achievement that Trump lacks.  Sanders speaks to the heart of the American population from inside.  He is one of us.  There are no scandals surrounding Sanders.  There are no flip-flops, no moral lapses, no equivocations or inconsistencies of political vision.  The socialist tag has not done him any harm.  His actions speak volumes to his integrity.  Like Trump, Bernie Sanders can’t be bought.  But unlike Trump, he is doing this with our money, given gladly by a population that loves the man and trusts the message.  Trump’s style of attack will not find its mark with Sanders.  Instead, Trump will be forced to actually debate Sanders on real issues, and will be shown to be the fool that he truly is.  When the American voter makes an emotional decision here, it will be between everyone’s favorite grandfather and their belligerent, drunken uncle. 

But there is a price to be paid by the Democratic party as well, and they may not be prepared to meet it.  The DNC has backed Hillary because Hillary represents business as usual.  Her election ensures the continued funding from Wall Street, the backing of lobbyists attached to the health insurance and big-pharmaceutical industries, and the quick death of a grass roots movement that might toss out long standing Democratic House and Senate members in favor of new blood who would work with a President Sanders to revive the middle and working classes.  The oligarchy is not prepared for a life in exile, and they fear that Sanders might be punching that ticket.  As the DNC carefully pointed out in explaining the role of their Super Delegates, the Democratic Party does not belong to the people, it belongs to the folks who know better, the elder statesmen of the party, the oligarchs themselves.

Come November, should Trump become the next President of the United States, history will forever blame the Republicans.  But those of us who live through it, will remember that the Democrats, through the actions of the DNC, were absolutely complicit.

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Time to Choose Your Revolution

peaceful revolution - JFK

In the wake of the most recent “Super Tuesday,” it is time to consider that a revolution may yet be coming to America.  The races are not over, by any stretch, but one thing that we have clearly seen is that among all of the candidates who have thrown hats into the ring this election cycle, two have garnered more attention and enthusiasm than any other, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.  And, while the two are vastly different as men, as political figures, and as representatives of particular economic classes in our society, there is one constant between them.  Each is calling for a revolution.

In Sanders’ case, he is calling for a political revolution which involves more and more people becoming involved in the political process, such that the leaders we elect better reflect the desires of the broader base of the population and will work together to point our country in a new direction.  His is a revolution based on leveling the playing field for all of us, so that no one economic strata of our society foots the bill for everyone else.  Instead, his desire is for the wealthiest members of our society to pay their fair share, for our country to guarantee as a right, decent health care to all Americans, for the greed that has taken over corporate America and Wall Street to be tempered so that working people have a chance to own a decent standard of living, for us to look to the future and provide all of our children the opportunity to become the best and brightest that they can be, because we will be relying on them to take over for us.  And he is calling for a nation that has given its young men and women to two decades of purposeless war to finally, give peace a chance.

Trump is calling for a very different kind of revolution.  His is based on the idea that our enemies are already in the process of taking over our country from within and without, with the solution that we need to send our immigrant populations home, deny aid to refugees who might be coming instead to attack us, force our economic will upon the world in the form of “great deals” which would strengthen our economy against those of China and third world nations, and secure our borders with a wall which would be visible from space.  He points to outsiders and says, “They hate us.”  He wants to “bomb the shit out of” our enemies abroad and enter into a database all of the ones at home who might be conspiring against us. 

One revolution is about including people in the process and one is about excluding anyone who does not think like him and his.  These two candidates have consistently drawn larger crowds than all of the others. That alone speaks to an understanding among our people that some manner of change must come.

What merits this revolution?  What is different this cycle or has mysteriously managed to focus all of our attention on something we previously had ignored?

Bernie Sanders points to the rigged system and there has been ample evidence of it.  Since the passage of Citizen’s United and the legislated understanding that “corporations are people,” the rise and overt nature of the Super Pacs has become abundantly clear.  Aside from Sanders and Trump, all of the other candidates receive their funding in large part from Super Pacs, organizations of wealthy individuals and corporations who choose candidates to support based on their willingness to endorse the agendas of those individuals and corporations.  There is an old story about Henry Ford, who once said that people could “have a Model T in any color they wanted, as long as it was black.”  As voters, we have come to see that we can vote for any candidate we choose, we just weren’t the ones choosing who ran in the first place.

We have also seen that the mainstream media has attempted to shut out Sanders and his campaign in favor of Hillary the Inevitable and the ever entertaining media darling, Donald Trump.  Understanding that 90% of the main stream media in America is owned by six enormous corporations, which lobby and own their own candidates, makes it easy to understand why they want nothing to do with a candidate who can not be bought.  And, even the DNC itself, has shown that it is part of that same rigged system, organizing debates to run at times when the fewest number of people would be watching, shutting out voters from the process by arriving without sufficient number of ballots, and disregarding President Obama’s own expressed desire to keep Wall Street money from buying Democratic candidates.  When the DNC looks us in the eye and tells us that their Super Delegates exist to make sure that the party is not subject to the will of voters choosing a grass roots candidate, we know the fix is in.

For his part, Trump has asserted time and again that he is self-funding and cannot be bought.  Instead, he exemplifies the section of our society doing the buying.  He is a classic, self-styled “power broker,” able to cite the law and rationalize why he is not to be bound by it.  Rather than come to a fuller understanding of the principles at the heart of our system of government, he deals in expedient and entirely whimsical reasons to thumb our collective noses at those values.  His ignorance shall be our strength.  His defiant scowl, reason enough.  As the world bows to Donald Trump, so shall it bow to America.  I am reminded of a line from an old episode of the Firesign Theater, “All for one and all for one.  Let’s hear it for me!”

But the foundations of this revolution run far deeper.

What we have come to understand about America since the start of this election cycle is deeply troubling.  Where we once thought of our government as sitting at the top of our society, perched like Olympus atop the mountain, we have now come to see that the government is not at the summit of our nation.  That is the playground of the wealthiest people and institutions in the country, the same ones who buy the candidates and the elections themselves.  Instead, the government serves as a buffer between them and us.  The laws are passed to benefit them, to benefit big corporations and big money, to insure that they become bigger still.  And in just the same way that a corporation shields, in a legal sense, the owners from the threat of loss due to lawsuit, the government shields them from us.  We can replace the government, but we can not replace them or their influence on our nation.

Karl Marx once called religion, “the opiate of the masses,” and John Lennon sang that “they’ll keep you doped on religion and sex and TV.”  What we have come to see is that on certain fundamental levels, nothing in our country ever changes.  Bones are thrown our way, to be sure.  The Affordable Care Act promises that we will all be able to purchase health insurance.  But just like something called a Smart phone, it is neither smart nor affordable. 

More often than not, those who own and run the country find ways to pit us against each other.  The rise for example, of evangelical christianity to a point where some 25% of the country’s population identifies itself as evangelical, directly corresponds to the time frame over which this country has become so polarized that Republicans and Democrats have become the Hatfields and the McCoys.  Through a calculated fear mongering aimed at an element of the religious right, evangelicals have been taught to believe that they are under attack from all sides.  Their understandable response has been to rise up in opposition of this perceived threat.  And that keeps everyone’s attention focused like Don Quixote on dragons that are not really there at all.

The endless battle over issues like abortion rights, gay marriage, gun control, corporate taxation, the role of the bible in our government and judicial system, even the birthplace and citizenship of the president, are all issues designed to divide us.  Like a magician’s sleight of hand, they serve the purpose of distracting our eyes from the real issues.  Today, our magicians are all in politics.  And what is politics but the art of convincing people that you are saying one thing, when in reality you are saying something completely different?

The still recent and lingering (despite what Washington tells us)  recession has illustrated what the real issue is; in America, the very wealthy are becoming more and more so, while the rest of us slip a little further down the slope with each year.  When the wealthiest fifteen individuals in the country have seen their earnings grow by $170 billion dollars in two years, and the wealthiest 1% of the country controls more wealth than the bottom 90%, all while they pay a lower percentage of their income in taxes than your average secretary, one must see that there is something fundamentally unjust in our system.  When the richest nation on the planet sees 40% of its population with no savings, living hand to mouth on the edge of poverty, worried that the next rise in health insurance or the cost of energy, might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, something is fundamentally unjust in our system.  And when our politicians stare stone-faced at us and say that providing health care as a right to our people or free college tuition to our students, is impossible, despite the fact that much of the industrialized world does exactly that, something is fundamentally unjust in our system.

After all, is ours not a system of justice?  For so long, we have been taught that ours is not a democracy (where the mob can rule), ours is a republic, where there are laws which bind everyone, high and low.  Prove it.  The truth has become all to obvious; there is a class of people in this country who are above the law.  As Bernie Sanders pointed out, of the people on Wall Street who destroyed our economy, stole the retirement savings of countless Americans, and bankrupted cities to the point where they could not pay their retired workers the pensions they had bought and paid for, not a one went to jail.  Not a one was even indicted. 

And well we remember that even on the off chance that a scum bag like Marc Rich could be charged or convicted, the system, in the form of then President Bill Clinton, would pardon him and absolve him of his crime.  When Hillary Clinton laughs at the camera and tells you that she will never be indicted, you can believe her.  It matters not that there is or is not evidence against her that would merit an indictment.  What matters is that like Achilles, she has been dipped in the River Styx by the ruling class, and is nearly impervious.

But Sanders and Trump each know her Achilles’ heel.

And so a revolution may yet be coming to America.

Where establishment candidates like Clinton and Cruz are content to blame each other’s party, whilst wrapped in the flag or clutching their bibles, Sanders and Trump, like the majority of the voting public, know that the apple doesn’t rot far from the tree.  The system is broken, perhaps hopelessly so, and the engine of government needs to be completely overhauled or even replaced.

It is then up to us to decide.  Which revolution shall we choose?

Bernie Sanders has been careful to say, “I can’t do this alone.”  He needs the help of all of us, joining in the political process.  He understands the gridlock that is Washington and just how easy it would be for the Republicans to block his efforts as they have blocked President Obama’s.  But there is a difference this time around.  It just so happens that 88% of the House of Representatives is up for re-election this year.  If the grass roots movement is really paying attention, the chance is there for us to throw the bastards out, and make a real change, from within.  It will be hard, for certain, but if it is truly the will of the people, and the people choose to stand together, it can be done.  Unless, of course, the DNC does not print enough ballots, or the Super Pacs run enough smear campaigns.

Then, we might be left with Trump.  Why it has taken so long for him to terrify the Republican party, I do not know.  But terrify them, he has.  Today, there is even talk of running an independent candidate against Trump in the general election.  It would not be because that candidate might win; it is simply because that candidate might split the ticket and cause both to lose.  Many Republicans would rather see Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders in office, than to endure a Trump revolution.

It has been very interesting to me to see all of the comparisons of Trump to Adolph Hitler.  It is easy to make them, based on his attacks on minorities, outsiders and a particular religious group.  His posturing and scowl may owe more to Mussolini, but the comparison to Hitler is certainly warranted.  What worries me more is the style of his revolution.  In some ways, it has a greater resemblance to that of the Bolsheviks.

When the Bolsheviks overthrew the Czar and took control of Imperial Russia, they had before them the task of bringing the revolution to all corners of the empire.  So, while they could easily have exiled the Czar and his family to any one of a number of european countries (the royal families were all inter-related by birth or marriage), they chose instead to line them up against a wall and have them shot.  Years later, they acknowledged that this was done for one simple reason.  After the execution, there would be no turning back.

Trump’s rhetoric is increasingly backing him and his adherents into a corner.  The cult of Donald Trump allows for no errors of judgement, no statements of remorse, no admission of fallibility.  Any such event could topple him like a house of cards.  Instead, his revolution is targeted specifically at those who can not defend themselves.  His followers have been groomed for a generation to believe that they are already under attack and they have armed themselves to the teeth to defend their god, their freedom and their guns. 

Would Trump do something to advance the agenda of his revolution from which there could be no return?  If it was good for business, he just might.  He just might start a third world war with the Islamic world, because our country would then be mobilized into full industrial productivity, full employment for the war effort, and a booming economic forecast.  Think not?  Remember that World War II brought this country out of the Great Depression.

If this election is bringing revolution to America, our saving grace may be that it appears we will at least have a choice.  We can overhaul the engine from within or we an drive off the lot in a shiny new convertible, paid for in the misery of generations to come.  If we make the peaceful revolution impossible, we might make the violent revolution inevitable.

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Putting Some Perspective on Income Inequality

A number of different campaign strategies have evidenced themselves during this presidential election cycle.  Among the Republicans, much, if not most of the campaigning has been focused on the need to undo everything President Obama has done, and to insult anyone who holds a different idea or who may have smaller hands than yourself.  For Hillary Clinton, her primary strategy has been one of touting her years of experience, while distancing herself from what she actually said and did during those years of experience. 

Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, has spent a great deal of his campaign energy on the issue of income inequality in America and its impact upon the middle and working classes of this country.   He has expressed a number of plans for the country, chief among which are implementing a single payer health care system, creating a massive infrastructure rebuilding program to put many Americans back to work in meaningful jobs, and creating a program whereby our young people could go to state colleges and universities, tuition free.

Many pundits and the Clinton campaign have gone out of their way to say that Sanders’ ideas are unworkable, and on the surface it is very clear that they would indeed be costly.  So, as a matter of gaining some perspective on this, it is illustrative to actually break down some numbers and see how some aspect of his ideas could be made to work.

In a recent campaign video from Bernie Sanders on the nature of income inequality in America, he pointed out that the wealthiest fifteen people in America have seen their wealth increase by a combined total of $170 billion dollars in just the past two years.  Let us come to a deeper understanding of that.

For starters, who are these people?  According to Forbes Magazine, the wealthiest people in America are, in order: Bill Gates (Microsoft), Warren Buffet (Berkshire Hathaway), Larry Ellison (Oracle), David & Charles Koch (energy interests), Christy, Jim, Alice and S. Robson Walton (Walmart), Michael Bloomberg, Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Sheldon Adelson (casino mogul), Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google). 

Did they really see their wealth increase by $170 billion dollars?  According to Statista.com, yes they did.  We think of their increase in wealth, rather than in earnings, because “earnings” has the suggestion of wealth gained through work.  For people in this income bracket, their money comes from many sources, most of which are outside of what we would traditionally think of as “working for a living.”  Essentially, their net worth as reported in 2013 was set against their net worth in 2015 and the difference was a gain of $170 billion dollars.

Now, you might think that these people pay out a tremendous percentage of their net worth in taxes, but, according to Forbes Magazine, their Fortune 400 pay on average about 22.9% of their income to the IRS.  That is less than the income tax rate on a single person earning $38,250 per year (remember when Warren Buffet said that he pays less by percentage in taxes than his secretary?).

For the purposes of discussion, let us look at this in a different light altogether.  First, we’ll divide that $170 billion dollar figure in half and call it one year’s earnings, $85 billion dollars.  Then, let’s imagine that we are taxing that income at a rate of 90%.

If we taxed $85 billion dollars at a 90% rate, the tax collected would be $76.5 billion and the amount retained by the wealthiest fifteen people in America would be $8.5 billion.  Divide that evenly among the wealthiest fifteen and each would see a net increase in their earnings of just $565 million. That is quite a chunk of change, lost to the taxman.  How would the wealthiest fifteen survive?

Well, if Bill Gates or Alice Walton or Charles Koch were to go into full on panic mode, and determine that he or she might never be able to work again, that $565 million could be stashed in one of the safest investments going, a United States Government Treasury Note.  Now, these notes pay only a very modest return, but they are backed by the federal government and as safe an investment as you can get.  Currently, they have a yield of 4.625% interest per year.  So, if $565 million was stashed in your name in a Government T-Note, and you were to live on the interest from it, never adding another dime to your savings, what would you get per year?  The answer is $26 million, 131 thousand, 250 dollars per year, every year.

Could you eke it out on $26 million a year?

The first part of putting income inequality into perspective is this.  If we took from the fifteen wealthiest people in America 90% of their earnings and forced them to survive on the interest alone from the investing of the 10% left to them, they would each still earn more in a year than the overwhelming majority of Americans could dream of earning in a lifetime.

Now, what of that $76.5 billion in tax that was collected?

In a simple equation, let’s assume that every penny of it was to be spent on providing free college tuition to students attending public (rather than private) state colleges and universities.  In 2015, the average cost of tuition and fees to in-state students at public stage colleges and universities was $9,410 per year.  The cost for same to out of state students was $23,893.  If we divide the tax collected by the cost of the tuition, we get the number of students who could attend college, free of charge.  In this example, those “in-state” students would number 8 million, 129 thousand, 649. 

So, the second part of putting income inequality into perspective is this.  If we as a nation determined that it was in the best interests of the country to educate our young people as fully as possible, so that they might take on leadership roles in business, science, medicine, education, government and the arts (!), and through their leadership, better support the rest of us as we slip into middle and old age, we could send over eight million of them per year to college, tuition free, on the taxes levied against just fifteen people.

Think that a 90% tax bracket is too high?  Remember the lyric to George Harrison’s song from 1966, “Taxman”:

“Let me tell you how it will be, there’s one for you, nineteen for me”

One for you and nineteen for me (the Taxman), is a tax rate of 95%, what the Beatles were paying in England in the mid 1960’s.  AND THEY STILL GOT RICH!

In fact, in the United States, the wealthiest income bracket between the years 1944 and 1963, had a tax rate which vacillated between 90% and 92%.  And what was the cut-off point?  Two hundred thousand dollars.  So, if you earned $200,000 in 1960, your tax liability was $180,000 of it.  That would leave you with just $20,000, but in 1960, $20,000 was roughly four times what an average school teacher earned per year, and three times what your average NFL star earned.  In other words, you would still be very well off.

In 1964, that tax rate dropped to 77% (still on $200K and up) and then to 70% as a top tax rate on the $100K and up bracket from 1965 until 1981.  In 1981, the tax rate for the wealthiest Americans dropped to 50% and it has continued to decline until today, where it stands at 39.6%.  Of course, that tax rate is on W-2 reported earnings, not on dividends, and it is set against various write-offs and tax havens.  This is why Forbes reports that the wealthiest four hundred people in America only pay about 23% of their earnings in taxes.

In the illustration of what taxing the wealthiest members of our society would do to provide for free tuition to public colleges, we looked at just fifteen people.  Bernie Sanders refers to the top 1% of our income earners, a group of people who collectively earn more than the bottom 90% combined.  If we get our priorities straight and make the wealthiest people in America pay their FAIR share (and it need not be as much as 90%), they would still be rich beyond our wildest dreams, and our country would be able to provide for its citizens and our own future.

Disregard the rhetoric; look at the candidates’ records.  And by all means, do the math.  That is why we send you for a free public education.

The Richest People in America:

http://www.statista.com/statistics/201426/the-richest-people-in-america/

How Much the Richest People in America Make:

http://money.cnn.com/2015/12/31/news/economy/richest-americans/

Information on T-Bonds, T-Notes and T-Bills:

http://www.thesimpledollar.com/making-sense-of-treasury-securities-treasury-bills-notes-and-bonds/

Cost of a College Education:

http://www.collegedata.com/cs/content/content_payarticle_tmpl.jhtml?articleId=10064

Federal Tax Rates by Year:

http://taxfoundation.org/article/us-federal-individual-income-tax-rates-history-1913-2013-nominal-and-inflation-adjusted-brackets

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The Role of Judgement & the Other Government

Today, I was reminded of a conversation I had had with one of my sons, when he was about seven years old.

“Dad,” he said, “what is government?”

Of course, as an adult I knew that government is a very complex organism, but I tried to give the seven year old a basic understanding of it.

“Well, government is a group of people whom the rest of us choose to go to a special meeting place and work with each other to express our wishes for how to change the country and keep making it the best place it can be for us to live.  And, since the rest of us don’t agree all the time on what changes need to be made, we send these people, called representatives, to talk to each other, argue out the details and try to come up with solutions that benefit everyone.”

“Okay.  And what if we don’t get what we want?”

“We can change the person whom we send to speak for us.  We do that in an election, every few years.”

“Okay.  So Florida sends a person, and Pennsylvania sends a person, and Texas sends a person?”

“Right.  Every state sends people to speak for them in the government.”

“And France and England send people?”

“Well, no, the government is for the people from the fifty states and a few other places, like Puerto Rico and Guam and the Virgin Islands.”

“How do England and France get what they want?  I mean, from us?”

“Well, we have this part of the government, called the State Department, and their job is to work with the governments of other countries, to make friends where they can, and to make sure that American people and American businesses are safe and protected by the governments of other countries when they are living or working there.”

“Okay.  But we choose the people in the State Department, right?”

“Umm, no, some of the people in the State Department are there because it is a job that they were hired to do by the other people that we did send to the government.  And some of the people, the leaders at the State Department, are given their jobs by the President that we elect.”

“But the State Department does what we want it to do.  Right?”

“That’s the idea.  But truthfully, we often don’t really know what the State Department is doing.  A lot of it is kept kind of quiet.”

“Oh.”

Thinking this way, trying to take a complex issue and boil it down to its essential components, makes you realize how onion-like our government really is.  In that sense of layers upon layers, we get to vote for a President or a representative to Congress, and we are somehow led to believe that these are the people at the center of the government.  It might be argued that they represent only the outermost layer.  What is inside the onion, hidden at the core, are the layers of government who are appointed, hired into the mailroom and brought up through the ranks, or given a position out of nepotism or the sense of a favor owed.  And it is these people, people who do not answer directly to the voters of this country, who do the bidding of the government behind the scenes, the Other Government.

Of course, they answer to the people we elect (or at least, that is the plan).  But we often fail to get “progress reports” from our elected officials.  And so, much of what they do, behind the scenes, is also under the radar, and not necessarily in our best interests.

Of chief concern to most of us, would be the actions of the FBI / Homeland Security and the State Department / CIA.  As citizens, we want to know that our guaranteed freedoms remain guaranteed, so we want to keep tabs on the FBI and Homeland Security Departments and their surveillance of or spying into our own affairs.  And it is with the State Department that we need to know that their actions are making the world safer for Americans to inhabit, both at citizens and as business people.  The CIA?  Well, that has become a whole ‘nother kettle of fish, entirely.

In recent weeks, and particularly since the addition of Representative Tulsi Gabbard to the Bernie Sanders campaign, the issue of judgement in terms of our foreign policy has come to the fore.  We have already heard from the Republican side of the aisle, in the form of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump and their plans to “carpet bomb” or “bomb the shit out of” ISIS.  As an expression of foreign policy, it is direct, to say the least.  It also is manifestly illegal by any and all International Conventions on war.

Recently, Donald Trump had stated that he would ramp up the use of torture as a means of leveling the playing field between us and ISIS, and that the military would follow his orders to torture prisoners and even murder the families of terrorists.  They won’t.  The United States military swears an allegiance to the Constitution, not the President.  They follow the laws of our land and the International Conventions on warfare.  They do not do the President’s bidding.

That is the job for “the other government.”  That is the job for the government which we do not get to elect, and it is the number one reason that we have to focus on the judgement of the people we do elect.

The State Department functions, in many ways, like its own government.  It makes agreements with other nations and establishes laws that exist between multiple countries.  It gathers information.  It has the task of making the world a better place for Americans and American business.  And, since the end of the Second World War, it has had its own army to act as an agent of change.  That army is the CIA.

At the end of the Second World War, the CIA grew out of the old OSS and became the chief tool for gathering information and implementing “compulsory change” in our dealings outside our own borders.  As an organization, it is tasked with two responsibilities, gathering intelligence and covert operations.  And, since about 1953, these operations have often involved the changing of regimes in other countries.  There is not enough room here to delve into too many specifics, so there is a link at the bottom of this article to a timeline of CIA operations.  Suffice it to say, the United States, through its agent, the CIA, has played a large part in the changing of numerous regimes in the Caribbean, South and Central America, and the Middle East:

1953 – Iran, Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh overthrown in favor of the Shah

1954 – Guatemala, President Jacobo Arbenz forced from power

1959 – Haiti, CIA installs Papa Doc Duvalier and his private police force, the Tonton Macoutes

1960 – Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba assassinated by the CIA

1961 – Ecuador, President Jose Velasco forced to resign

1961 – Dominican Republic, Rafael Trujillo assassinated with CIA support

1961 – Cuba, CIA led attempt to remove Castro from power fails in Bay of Pigs disaster

1963 – South Viet Nam, puppet leader Ngo Dinh Diem, originally installed by the CIA in the late 1950’s, removed and executed with CIA support 

1963 – Dominican Republic, Juan Bosch overthrown and military junta installed by CIA

1964 – Brazil, President Joao Goulart, thought to be moving toward a communist style government, removed in a coup with CIA support and Humberto Castello Branco, chief of staff of the military, installed as head of government

1973 – Chile, Salvador Allende, socialist President elected in 1970 is overthrown in CIA backed coup, and General Augusto Pinochet is installed

1989 – Panama, Manuel Norriega removed from power and President Guilllermo Endara sworn in

2001 – Afghanistan, CIA works in support of US led invasion to oust the Taliban

2003 – Iraq, Saddam Hussein is ousted from power.  The CIA had originally supported Hussein with arms, training and intelligence as an ally against the Iranian revolutionary regime

2011 – Libya, CIA support of rebels in Libya leads to the capture and assassination of Muammar Gaddafi, but many of the arms we delivered found their way into the hands of ISIS and other Islamic terrorist factions, culminating in the attack on the US embassy in Benghazi

2016 – Syria???

2017 – Mexico??

The general idea is that the President sends as his or her emissary, the Secretary of State, to pursue the interests of the United States in foreign locales.  In recent years, John Kerry has fulfilled that function.  Prior to Kerry, that job belonged to Hillary Clinton for a four year stretch under President Obama’s first term.  And today, Hillary Clinton is running for Obama’s office. 

While she can certainly lay claim to having the most foreign policy experience of any candidate, Republican or Democrat, running for President in this cycle, she can not lay claim to demonstrating particularly good judgement in that capacity.  Under her watch, the efforts we had made in rebuilding the nation that is Iraq unraveled into chaos that allowed for the rise of ISIS.  Her leadership in Libya provided for the arming of rebels who in may cases turned out to be the very terrorists we hoped to suppress.  And now, in Syria, we are still trying to sort out the disaster that she left as she attempted to oust Assad and the influence of the Russians with him. 

It is now becoming clearer that along with the support of the CIA, then-Secretary Clinton entered into an arrangement with the governments of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar to support their countries with arms and materiel, while they provided the ground forces to overthrow Assad and fight ISIS.  A lot of American armaments have been moving into that often unstable and unpredictable area of the world, much to the dismay of our largest ally there, Israel, and to one of our chief adversaries in that region, Iran.  One supposition is that our recent agreement in economic support of the Iranian regime, was really an overture meant to calm tensions which had arisen from our arming of its neighbors.

One of the reasons that Hillary Clinton’s email scandal refuses to die is simply this; by refusing to establish a secure, government provided server for her email correspondence, Secretary Clinton created a situation in which our own government was not immediately privy to the complexity of her dealings with foreign governments.  No one knows what quid pro quo may have transpired outside the realm of government business to “grease the wheels.”  While the Secretary was negotiating the arming of Saudi Arabia, for example, the Saudi government was contributing millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation.  In total, during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, the State Department approved $165 billion dollars in commercial arms sales to twenty countries which had all donated sizable sums to the Clinton Foundation.  And sixteen of those same countries received a further $151 billion in separate deals through the Pentagon.  Not too surprisingly, a number of American defense contractors, the beneficiaries monetarily of those sales, were also large donors to the Clinton Foundation.  While that might just be a coincidence, it would certainly require that the left hand did not know what the right hand was doing.

Our country has a history of involvement in the world outside its own borders, going all the way back to Stephen Decatur and the Barbary Coast Pirates in 1801.  Since the end of the Second World War however, much of that history has been written with the aide of the CIA, and that history is not very glorious.  Nearly every instance of regime change that we have undertaken has ended disastrously and has spoken to the poor judgement of our State Department and the hubris of our own intelligence community.  What we have seen from Mrs. Clinton is poor judgement on a grand scale and the lingering concerns that her office was corrupt, for sale to the highest bidder, and actively engaged in flying under the radar of her own government.

Whomever becomes the next President of the United States is going to appoint his or her own Secretary of State and that person is going to do the bidding of the American government and by extension, the American public in the world of foreign affairs.  That President and that Secretary of State needs to exemplify sound judgement in order for this country to repair its relationships with much of the rest of the world.  As voters, we need to think not only of the government that we will elect, but also of the other government which our elected officials will install at the heart of the onion.  We can always vote out a President if we feel we have made a mistake in our judgement.  But mistakes in his or her judgement can haunt this nation for generations.

Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy Disasters:

http://observer.com/2016/03/its-time-to-talk-about-hillarys-foreign-policy-faux-pas/

Arms deals and the Clinton Foundation:

http://www.ibtimes.com/clinton-foundation-donors-got-weapons-deals-hillary-clintons-state-department-1934187

Timeline of CIA operations:

http://www.globalresearch.ca/a-timeline-of-cia-atrocities/5348804

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Are Voters Crashing the Party?

Follow the link below for a telling series of comments from DNC Super Delegate Howard Dean and from DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz on the process by which the Super Delegates cast their votes in the Democratic Primary. 

When challenged on his decision to cast his Super Delegate vote for Hillary Clinton in the wake of Vermont voters selecting Bernie Sanders by an 86 to 13 percent majority, Dean responded that, “Super delegates don’t “represent people” I’m not elected by anyone. I’ll do what I think is right for the country.”

Similarly, DNC Chair Schultz (an ardent Clinton supporter) has explained the role of Super Delegates as a means by which the Democratic Party is protected from grass roots candidates, you know, the ones the people actually get behind.  Far be it from the Party to allow actual voters to crash the process.

“Unpledged delegates exist really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don’t have to be in a position where they are running against grassroots activists. We are as a Democratic Party really highlight and emphasize inclusiveness and diversity at our convention, and so we want to give every opportunity to grassroots activists and diverse, committed Democrats to be able to participate, attend, and be a delegate at the convention. And so we separate out those unpledged delegates to make sure that there isn’t competition between them.” – DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz

More Washingtonian Double Speak.  There should be a Rosetta Stone guide to this language.  The gist of it is that the Party wants the grassroots movements, the ones that could change the direction of the party and possibly bring it into the twenty first century, to be represented like a fly in amber, but then conveniently shelved in time to name the candidate the party wanted all along.  Is the primary process just for show?  The implication is that the Party exists as a philosophical plaything of a small group of elite social planners, and that the expressed will of the citizens of this country is understood more as a hindrance to their planning than as a validation of it.

Since his campaign for President began, Bernie Sanders has reminded us that the system is rigged.  I can imagine him now, in his thickest New York accent, bending one arm upward at the elbow and shouting, “You want your rigged system?!  I got it right here!”

Once again, we are witness to an election cycle where contests are exceedingly close. This year, the opposition candidate, frontrunner Donald Trump, is bringing voters out of the woodwork like never before.  And yet, the party elders of the Democratic Party  do not see any real need to support the will of their own base.  After all, they know better than the voter what is good for the country (at least in terms of lobbyist funding for Democratic Super Pacs).  It may surprise them in November to find that the voters think otherwise.

It is very interesting to note that on both sides of the hedge, Republican and Democrat, the party leaders still fail to grasp just how disgusted with party politics the voters have become.  The grassroots movement to which they refer is spreading everywhere, on both sides of the fence.  On that first Tuesday in November, the party faithful may show up for the victory rally and wonder where the party went.

For us, the voters, it is one more example of the reasons we need to vote our conscience and disregard the media pundits, the Super Pac advertising blitzes and the proclamations from the parties, themselves.  If this country is ever to return from oligarchy to one in which the voice of the people resonates in Washington, it will be on our backs and on our votes.

Disregard the rhetoric.  Look at the records.  Decide for yourself whom this government should represent.  Do not let anyone convince you to stay home because the decision has already been reached.  Your vote matters.  Vote your conscience.

http://ivn.us/2016/03/08/former-dnc-chair-superdelegates-dont-represent-the-people-theyll-do-what-they-want/

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Best Not Be the Last Rat Off the Ship

The continuing saga that is the Republican primary process goes from cliffhanger to cliffhanger.  Last week, Mitt Romney stepped up and took a few pokes at the Donald, but failed to connect.  I’m sure that the RNC was praying for Romney to at least take a punch while landing a few of his own.  Ever the good soldier for the party, Mitt could not even rope-a-dope the guy in the clown mask.

Today, still more Republican Senators and Congressmen have stepped up, and taken great pains to show themselves backing as far away from Trump as possible.  And it is not that they believe that Trump will lose to Hillary or Bernie.  Quite the contrary, they are terrified that he will win.

Well they should be. 

Those Republicans know that in Trump, they would boast a President with zero experience of government, no knowledge of how the system that is Washington, works.  Trump insists that he is a leader and that people will follow his orders.  He does not seem to realize just how constrained the scope of the President’s power really is.  When he claimed in a recent debate that the military would obey his orders to torture prisoners or to murder the families of terrorists, he was completely oblivious to the fact that our military personnel swear allegiance not to the President, but to the Constitution.  They will not torture anyone on Trump’s say-so.  It stands to reason that Trump would experience a whole new level of frustration as a businessman in the White House, as he would have to wait on the Congress, not usher them a memo with a to-do list for the afternoon.

Realistically, unless the far right manages to seize the bulk of the open seats in the House and Senate within the next couple of years, Trump will enjoy less support than any President since Jimmy Carter, and many of us remember how poorly the country faired under his administration.  And I’m not knocking Carter; I believe that unlike Trump, Carter is a very fine human being.

As a nation, we would be faced with absolute grid-lock in the House and Senate, blustering, Mussolini like postures from our President, the gilding of the White House, photo spreads of the First Lady in Maxxim, chaos in foreign policy, the loss of faith of our most trusted allies, and a President played for a fool by our nation’s enemies.  The Supreme Court could be in line to receive three and maybe four new justices.  Whose interests or prejudices would they represent?   This is a train wreck, just waiting to happen.  And so it is from that impending train wreck that we can not avert our eyes.

And, after four years (and maybe less, couldn’t that be interesting?), Trump’s supporters would scurry back under their porches, and he’d be roundly voted out of office – taking the rest of the Republican party with him. The Senators and Congressmen flinging themselves from the halyards of the ship of state and into the ocean are doing so in the desperate hope that it will save their political lives.  It may not.

That is not the kind of future for which any of us should hope.  A shattered Republican party is not healthy for our country.  We need two good parties, different ideas from which to choose what is best, a far left and a far right, and a very strong, moderate base in each party. 

The rats are fleeing Trump’s ship, whether it be sinking or not.  The question now is whether or not they can swim to shore, regroup and take back the control of this election before November.

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The Present has Roots in the Past

It was a spirited and at times subtle debate this evening in Flint, Michigan, between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.  Hillary is a very skillful speaker and has a well earned reputation for choosing her words very carefully.  Bernie remains a man of the people, clearly not a member of the elite Washingtonian set.  Both candidates made some good points and delivered what is now a well rehearsed synopsis of their campaigns as they made sure to differentiate themselves from each other.

One recurring motif during the night was that Hillary repeatedly bemoaned Bernie’s focusing on the politics of the 1990’s.  It was rather clear that she really did not want to go there.  And of course, there is the presidency of her husband.  No, there were no forays into the sexual peccadillos of the then president.  But Bernie did successfully draw attention to the disastrous trade agreements that began under her husband’s tenure in office (NAFTA in 1994) , and which she has continued to support as Senator and Secretary of State (CAFTA, Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China, Trans Pacific Partnership), though from which she is now attempting to distance herself as candidate.

What will dog Clinton throughout this election cycle is that she is on record in the senate and on video tape, supporting those trade deals.  And in that way, today’s present has its roots in a past she no longer wishes to discuss.  During her husbands’ presidency, Hillary was often dispatched as First Lady to speak with the press as cheerleader for the President’s economic plan.  And yes, in the early days of those deals, the economic future of America looked pretty bright.  But Bernie Sanders stood in opposition to them then and has been proven right some twenty years later.  The inescapable truth is that the trade deals into which the US government has entered have been catastrophic for American working people.  NAFTA alone cost American working people 850,000 jobs and the Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China has cost us 3.2 million more.  Since 2001, some sixty thousand factories in the United States have shut down as our industry continues to be outsourced into the third world. 

All of this is part of a larger, still evolving picture.  When Bernie Sanders draws attention to Hillary’s ties to Wall Street and the $15 million she has raised through those ties for her campaign, he puts her squarely in the camp of the people who profited through the outsourcing of American jobs.  Her refusal to release the transcripts of her speeches to Goldman Sachs is not helping her case.  She can continue to assert that she will release hers when the Republican candidates release theirs, but the Republican candidates are not hiding from their support of big business.  Their platforms consistently call for even less regulation of Wall Street and of big business in this country.  Hillary alone seems to want to have it both ways.  She wants to be seen as the defender of the middle and working classes and hard liner against Wall Street’s transgressions, yet she takes money from Wall Street and gives those two hundred thousand dollar speeches.  If she will not produce the transcripts, we are forced to come to our own conclusions regarding just what is in them.

Each of the candidates sees the need for intervention in Flint and Detroit to help two crumbling cities and so many people in dire need.  What Hillary will have a hard time escaping is the understanding that her husband’s trade agreements and her support of them and of others, is in large part what doomed those cities in the first place.  Flint’s lead crisis is in part due to the fact that it has been one of the most economically devastated cities in North America.  Had it remained the vital and prosperous city it once was, it would have had a tax base in place to be used for infrastructure repairs.  And when the Secretary tries to point to her support of the Auto Manufacturers bailout, it should and probably will fall on many deaf ears.  The reality is that the bailout helped the ownership, not the workers.  In Flint, Michigan, there had been some 80,000 jobs in the auto industry.  Now there are barely 5,000 left.  The bailout, once again, allowed the ownership of an American company to send jobs overseas.  And that bailout was paid for by you and me and the people of Flint, Michigan.

When the subject of hydraulic fracturing arose and Anderson Cooper begged the candidates’ position on it, Hillary was typically equivocal and Bernie was typically not.  Where she laid out the scenarios under which she would oppose fracking and said that there would not be very many where she would support it, Bernie uttered a clear, one word answer.  No, he does not support it.  When Hillary stated that she would demand that corporations engaged in fracking tell the government just what they were pumping into the ground, she already knew that thanks to Dick Cheney and his connections to and ongoing support of Haliburton, that is considered a trade secret.  There is already a law in place, passed under the George W. Bush administration, which prohibits our government from requiring that information of Haliburton.  They can pump what they damn well please.

Bernie used the opportunity of speaking about Hillary’s time in Europe as Secretary of State to segue into the issue of guaranteed health care and here again, there was subtle distinction between the candidates that has a lot to do with the choice of language.  Bernie asserted that like the countries of Europe, we should guarantee health care as a right to each and every American citizen.  Hillary’s response was that we were well on the way to doing just that, with almost 90% of our citizens covered under health insurance. 

Health care and health insurance are two different animals.  Hillary wants to continue with a program by which all Americans are required to have health insurance, provided by our long established health insurance companies.  That same insurance which keeps going up in cost while it drops in coverage, with higher deductibles and higher out of pocket maximums.  Who benefits from that?  Who benefits when a person has health insurance yet can not afford to go to the doctor because he or she can not pay the deductible?  If you do not go to your doctor, the doctor does not get paid.  So where would that money go?  Obviously, it stays in the pocket of the health insurance company.

Bernie, instead, wants us to have health care.  And it is the health care that we really need.  His single payer system will rein in the staggering costs of health care in this country and put us on a system similar to that which is already in place in the rest of the industrialized world (so please do not tell me that it can not work).  Hillary wanted to paint a similarity between her position and that of Bernie Sanders, but the two are actually very, very different.

As Hillary rightfully pointed out, this election is for the presidency which is here and now.  We have problems in the here and now and we must deal with those problems in the here and now.  But Bernie Sanders wants us to see that those problems have roots in the trade agreements, bailouts and legislation which have made it easier for corporations to move their workforces to the third world and their money offshore.  And those roots go back to the 1990’s and the first Clinton administration.  Both candidates have their rhetoric and both candidates have their records.  Hillary’s rhetoric may be timely, but her record is one of supporting decisions which ultimately have destroyed our economy and the lives of millions of Americans.  Bernie Sanders has a record that is now some fifty years in the making and has consistently been on the side of the middle and working classes of this country.  He has released all of his speeches to Wall Street.  We know just whose side he is on.

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Why Do You Keep Voting For These Guys?

In the clip from Rachel Maddow’s show below, Bernie asks and answers this all important question, one which we all have to ask of ourselves.  Why do we keep voting for people who drive our country further into the hole?  Our political process, much like society itself, has devolved into a stream of vacuous soundbites, personality cults, fear mongering and knee-jerk responses to what are more often than not, the wrong questions.  And from that, we somehow are expected to find our leaders?

While Bernie’s response in the clip below is focused primarily on the phenomenon that has become Donald Trump, it really is a plain spoken assessment of what we as receptors have allowed the senders to accomplish as a means to their own ends.  We are afraid of the now and even more so of the future.  We have become powerless against the demons under the bed, monsters which most likely would vanish in the light of day.  But the curtains are held closed, the light extinguished, and those who profess to hold the answers keep pulling the covers over our heads.

The American people, the real people of this country, are indeed in trouble.  This has become the first generation who will undoubtedly be providing their children with a lower quality of life than they had, themselves.  It is hard to be all you can be when you are just barely hanging on.  We are working harder, and for increasingly less, but never quite for nothing.  And that is significant.  For, as the old song goes, if we had nothing, we’d have nothing to lose.  Instead, the power brokers and institutions who benefit from the rest of us following blindly like sheep are sure to leave us with just enough that we fear that someone will come and take it.  Why do we keep voting for these guys?  We have been conditioned to respond to that fear by electing, time and again, the man with the plan, the candidate with the answer to the very fear he or she has been spreading across the countryside.  It is as though the knight in shining armor has arrived in our town, bringing his own dragon, just in case we don’t have one of our own.

It is easy to blame the far right for their calculated use of fear as motivator for their brand of conservatism.  They taught us to be afraid of women taking men’s jobs, blacks  moving into white neighborhoods, gays becoming teachers in our schools, the government coming to take our guns and drive our religious beliefs out of our culture, Mexican rapists crossing our borders with drugs, and Muslim terror cells waltzing into the country on refugee visas.  But the Democrats are as much to blame in the dispensation of fear, teaching us to be afraid of conservative Supreme Court justices taking away women’s rights to control their own bodies, the imposition of an Evangelical belief system upon our laws, and a government of the corporation, by the corporation and for the corporation.  In short, both sides have taught us to fear the other.

These architects of fear have become the builders of our modern political system.  I’ve said this part before, but I believe it bears repeating.  We need to understand that in America, our politics have come to function as a form of religion.  And it is an Old Testament style of religion, built on fear from a house of cards.  Our politics are like a religion in that increasingly, they are built upon assumptions that are unproven or unprovable.  Candidates from each party rail against perceived injustices and Machiavellian designs of the other party, but seldom, if ever, is any injustice really probed, does any design really come to fruition. 

Without the pudding, we never experience the proof.  But there is reason for that, as well.  Just like a religion, if any of our unprovable assumptions were to become provable and demonstrated to be unfounded, that part of the house of cards collapses and possibly takes the rest of the structure with it.  Here we have two churches, Republican and Democrat, and each holds their congregants in large part through fear of the other.  But each instructs those congregants not to look too closely at those fears, not to test the waters of their fear to judge the depth.  As a result, Washington is more devoted to posturing than a Vogue runway.  Very little of substance is attempted or accomplished for fear that if it works, the party that suggested it is validated and the party that feared and opposed it has another wall removed from its own house of cards.  Similarly, if a bill is passed and the results of it merit a failing grade, we pull a card from the stack of the party that suggested it in the first place.  Thus we have replaced bustle with monolith.

An interesting manifestation of this development of the “immovable object” as government can be found  in the candidates running for President.  If you dare not risk validating the ideology of the other church, you do not want to run a candidate who has had much experience mingling with its congregation.  And so we see many candidates for office who have very little real experience of government, very little experience of real political compromise, very little experience of getting legislation passed into law.  The one thing they know is that the fault lies somewhere in the other party.

By way of example, here are the political tenures, at a national level, of the major candidates we have seen thus far (with a couple of ringers thrown in for good measure):

Marco Rubio – one term in the Senate

Ted Cruz – one term in the Senate

Donald Trump – zero political experience

Ben Carson – zero political experience

Carly Fiorina – zero political experience

Rand Paul – one term in the Senate

Interestingly enough, we used to elect former governors to the Presidency, in large part because we found them to have had a great deal of relevant administrative experience and of having worked across the aisles in their own states to get things done.  Aside from John Kasich, who is still trying to get a leg up in the Republican party, three others have run during this election cycle.  All three washed out fairly early on:

Jeb Bush – two terms as governor

Chris Christie – two terms as governor

Martin O’Malley – two terms as governor

Beyond Martin O’Malley, the Democrats present a somewhat different resumé:

Hillary Clinton – one and a half terms in the Senate, four years as Secretary of State

Bernie Sanders – sixteen years in the House, two terms in the Senate

Jim Webb – one term in the Senate

Barack Obama (remember him?) – one term in the senate

John F. Kennedy (remember him??) – one term in the House, one term in the Senate

Why would either political party want to run candidates with little to no demonstrable experience of government?  Perhaps they fear that experience makes agnostics of us all.

Now we are down to five candidates.  On the Republican side, the front-runner has no experience of government, though he does have numerous bankruptcies and a track record of failed business schemes to his credit.  The two candidates chasing him each have one term in the Senate to their credit.  What did they actually manage to accomplish?  Not a whole lot.  Ted Cruz sponsored fifty-seven pieces of legislation and Marco Rubio one hundred and six.  Each has had only one piece of legislation passed into law. 

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton proposed seven hundred and thirteen pieces of legislation, but only three were passed into law.  And those three were fairly nondescript, the Kate Mullany National Historic Site (Troy, NY), the renaming of a post office in New York City (Major George Quamo Post Office Building) and the renaming of a section of State Route 20A as the Timothy J. Russert Highway.  Her tenure as Secretary of State has been the ongoing focus for much of the political discourse in both parties this cycle, and we may have to wait for numerous shoes to drop before we make a final assessment of it.  That being said, she did preside over the mess that has become Libya, Syria and the rise of ISIS.

The lone outlier in this election cycle and the only independent who also possesses a proven track record in government of working across the aisles and passing legislation is Bernie Sanders, whose accomplishments in some twenty-five years on Capitol Hill are too numerous to mention (so they are attached via a link below).

Perhaps it becomes a little easier to understand the level of enthusiasm people have felt for Sanders (due to his accomplishments) and Trump (due to his lack of political failures), the resignation to practicality which has greeted much of the Clinton campaign,  and the vitriol from both Cruz and Rubio, who really do not have much of a record on which to run. 

Each of the candidates has introduced a level of fear into their respective campaigns, often directed at the candidates of the other party.  The Republicans would have us fear immigrants, Muslim extremists, Socialist governmental programs, and the chance that the balance of power in the Supreme Court might switch, meaning the end of gun ownership and Christianity itself.  The Democrats are less unified in their expression of fear (aren’t they always).  Bernie Sanders fears the continued erosion of the middle and working classes and widening economic inequality in the country, while Hillary Clinton seems to fear that the nation will not settle for incremental progress toward hazy aspirations.

What should we fear?  From my vantage point, we should fear exactly what we now have, a society and a government so polarized that we cannot come together, compromise, and seek mutually beneficial solutions to stop the downward slide of the American Dream.  We may choose to imagine it differently, but in the end, we all have the same monster under the bed.  Fear, itself.

Rachel Maddow’s interview with Bernie Sanders:

https://www.facebook.com/aamir.pvz/videos/980505895331895/

Bernie’s record of accomplishment as member of the House and Senator:

https://pplswar.wordpress.com/2015/11/11/what-bernie-sanders-got-done-in-washington-a-legislative-inventory/

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Did the RNC just blink?

It was a very interesting speech from Mitt Romney this afternoon.  At long last, the Republican National Committee has come to the conclusion that Trump is for real, and they are just as frightened by him as much of the rest of the country.  So, in the absence of a more respected statesman, Romney was dispatched to talk some “sense” to the electorate and steer them away from Trump before it is too late to derail this runaway train.  The gloves came off but I’m not convinced that he landed a knockout punch.

My hunch instead, is that this was a fool’s errand.  If anything, this is even more likely to strengthen Trump’s position with his base, who are genuinely angry people, disgusted with politics as usual in Washington and all too happy to point to Romney (as they have pointed to Cruz and Rubio) as “part of the establishment” and part of the problem.

So, what is the likely outcome?  This is going to get very interesting.  If the plan was to chase Trump out of the game, he may just take his ball and go home.  If the RNC thinks that Trump will fall on his sword for the party, I believe they are sadly mistaken.  After all, and as many of them have pointed out, he’s not even a Republican!  To date, Trump is routinely capturing somewhere between thirty and forty percent of the primary voters.  If this holds true through the next couple of primaries, I suspect that Trump will feel comfortable enough to announce that he will happily run as a third party candidate. 

At that point, the crystal ball becomes even murkier.  With Trump running on a third party ticket and taking say, 35% of the Republican vote, Cruz and Rubio will battle it out until there is just one left standing.  Though that person would stand to get 65% of the Republican vote in the general election, in reality, there is likely to be a lot of bad blood and a lot of voters staying home.  Maybe only 50% turn out to vote.  Meanwhile, as we look at the Democratic side of the aisle, we have to note that in the Super Tuesday primaries, turnout was lackluster in many states.  The insistence by the Clintons and the DNC that Bernie Sanders can not win has been balanced by the fact that a lot of Democrats genuinely dislike and distrust Hillary.  Voters are already staying away in droves, and that feeling of despair is likely to carry over to the general election. 

We could wind up with a general election marred by poor voter turnout and divided among three candidates, and that could result in the failure of any candidate to secure the required majority (270) of votes in the electoral college.  At that point, our next President would be chosen by the House of Representatives from among the three candidates running (the Senate would choose the Vice President).

Of course, the longer Trump stays in the primaries as a Republican, and the longer he keeps winning, the less likely it is that the RNC could get rid of him or deny that he is the presumptive nominee.  Then, and perhaps I say this with a degree of well earned cynicism, it might come down to a back room “deal” with the man who wrote the book on “The Art of the Deal.”  The RNC might have to ask Trump, “How much do you want to drop out of the race?”  And Trump could wind up cutting the sweetest deal ever, all the while holding half of the US government hostage. 

It will be most illuminating to see how this plays out.  If the RNC gets it wrong, we could be witness to the demise of the entire party.

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