Thursday, April 25, 2019

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

Richard Brautigan was one of my literary heroes when I was younger. I think I probably bought his book Trout Fishing in America in the early 1970's because I thought it was about trout America. Richard Brautigan loved to fish but that book (like most of what he wrote) was a combination of stories, poems, fragmentary thoughts, and occasionally - amazingly creative use of language. Richard was born in Tacoma, Washington. The Brautigan Library of Unpublished Manuscripts from everyday writers is located in Vancouver Washington.

I had a beer beside Richard Brautigan at the Eagles Club in Bozeman, Montana...I think about 1981 or so. They had dollar burger night on Fridays at the Eagles. B and I were there drinking and eating cheap burgers and to my surprise Richard Brautigan was sitting at the bar by himself. We talked a little and I told him I was a fan but I got the feeling he wanted to be left alone, so didn't bug him.

In this review of "Trout Fishing in America" the reviewer calls it a book for losers.

The reviewer says that, " the way Brautigan sees it is comforting, funny and delightful only to people who haven't yet invested too heavily in what used to be called greed and hypocrisy."

He then goes on to say, "To give you an idea of the kind of person he is (and why the big people in New York are afraid of him), he raised the money for his book of poems all by himself, got the paper and press, printed it, and then gave the entire issue away. I'm not kidding. The book is called All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, and right in the front it says, "This book is printed in an edition of 1500 copies by the Communications Company. None of the copies are for sale, they are all free."


"You can go up to the City Lights Book Store right now and take a copy off the shelves without paying for it. You can take two copies and give one to a friend. You can take the whole stack, if you're a hog, and throw them in the garbage can. Free means free."


"All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace" is a poem, in a book by the same name, written by Richard Brautigan in 1967. On the surface one might read it as an ode to a future technological nirvana. I'm not so sure it isn't a bit of ironic humor poking fun at well meaning but naive people who believe in a future technological nirvana.

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

I like to think
(right now, please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.


"All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace" was used as the name for a BBC documentary series by Adam Curtis. I only watched the first episode. It's an interesting take on faith in technology, free markets, corrupt financial institutions, various financial collapses, Bill Clinton, Robert Rubin and Alan Greenspan (among other things)...with a lot of references to Ayn Rand.

Alan Greenspan was a member of Ayn Rand's inner circle. I'm not sure if he was still on board the radical libertarian capitalism train after the financial collapses of the last couple of decades showed those willing to see, just how much damage unregulated markets and financial institutions can do to people and the countries they live in.

Looking at Ayn Rand's face in the documentary I can only feel sorry for her - she looks frightened and sad.

It doesn't take a great deal of imagination to see that someone following Rand's "philosophy" of self above all else - would end up afraid, sad and lonely. If you are a mother or a father, husband or wife, brother or sister...her ideas seem quite out of touch with how authentic human beings live in real world loving families and relationships.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

What We Aren't Talking About

There are many critical issues we could be discussing in lieu of the scandal or outrage of the day.

Instead the bully in the bully pulpit is following the well worn path of demagogues and totalitarian leaders throughout history.

Attacking verifiable reality, endless repetition, magical thinking, self-deification, othering, the creation or exploitation of crises - are all tools in the totalitarian leaders toolbox. The one we are dealing with in the U.S. currently, has a 21st century tool allowing him to manipulate the media like a cat chasing a laser pointer (I always thought that was cruel to do that to cats).

What could we be discussing if we hadn't been sucked into the latest outrage over a tweet or ignorant comment?

Hmmmm....maybe 999 other things.

For starters -

Why is it that European countries can provide their citizens with education, pensions, health care, modern transportation systems, parental leave, and guaranteed vacations? What would U.S. citizens gain and give up if we were to move towards a more social democratic form of government.

In the U.S. we have pressing issues of homelessness, addiction epidemics, obesity, childhood poverty, poverty in general, rise of paramilitary, white nationalist and white supremacist groups - what's our plan for the future?

Education from pre-K to post high school, college debt, working and middle class wage stagnation, infrastructure, voting rights, money in politics, dysfunctional government, consumer protection, discrimination, gun violence, dying communities, privacy rights, the future of our democracy - the list could continue...but what's our plan for improving any of these?

Among all these challenges climate change stands alone as a direct existential threat to the humans, plants and animals that inhabit earth.

Even as challenging as all these things are they are what a professor I had once called "delicious problems". That is - hard problems, complex problems, but for informed, confident, problem-solving and brave people like U.S. citizens - not insurmountable problems. We need the right leaders to help guide the way.

We'll have to work together on these things as citizens of one nation and as inhabitants of one earth. What solutions are possible will need to be worked out but I can say with 100% certainty that they won't come in the form of a tweet.

In his book On Tyranny Timothy Snyder writes,
"In the politics of eternity, the seduction by a mythicized past prevents us from thinking about possible futures. The habit of dwelling on victim-hood dulls the impulse of self-correction. Since the nation is defined by its inherent virtue rather than by its future potential, politics becomes a discussion of good and evil rather than a discussion of possible solutions to real problems. Since the crises is permanent, the sense of emergency is always present; planning for the future seems impossible or even disloyal. How can we even be thinking about reform when the enemy is always at the gate?"    

Changing the conversation from fictional crises to real crises will be an uphill battle given the political and economic incentives to keep people distracted, angry or afraid. Step away from the screens every so often to read some long-form writing, talk to real people, get outside (I'm giving myself a pep talk).  

Speaking of keeping it real. 

The song (trying to make it real) Compared to What performed by Les McCann and Eddie Harris at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1969, on the album Swiss Movement is one of my favorite songs. I first heard it when I was working a summer job in the Grand Tetons about 45 years ago, and my roommate from New York introduced it to me. He was an experienced rock/mountain climber and would hand-roll and smoke cigarettes while we were climbing...oh to be young and foolish. Now I'm just old and foolish....but still loving life.

It's best listened to nice and loud...on a good stereo....or maybe better yet in the Grand Tetons if you happen to be in that vicinity sometime.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Meaning of Democracy - E.B. White

E.B. White - July 3, 1943 Editorial in The New Yorker
"We received a letter from the Writers' War Board the other day asking for a statement on "The Meaning of Democracy." It presumably is our duty to comply with such a request, and it is certainly our pleasure."

"Surely the Board knows what democracy is. It is the line that forms on the right. It is the don't in don't shove. It is the hole in the stuffed shirt through which the sawdust slowly trickles; it is the dent in the high hat. Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time. It is the feeling of privacy in voting booths, the feeling of communion in libraries, the feeling of vitality everywhere. Democracy is a letter to the editor. Democracy is the score at the beginning of the ninth. It is an idea which hasn't been disproved yet, a song the words of which have not gone bad. It's the mustard on the hot dog and the cream in the rationed coffee. Democracy is a request from the War Board, in the middle of a morning in the middle of a war, wanting to know what democracy is."

A collection of E.B. White's work is being released on May 7, 2019 in the book On Democracy

The publisher's description of the book includes the following -

"Anchored by an introduction by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Jon Meacham, this concise collection of essays, letters, and poems from one of this country’s most eminent literary voices offers much-needed historical context for our current state of the nation—and hope for the future of our society."

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Financialization of the U.S. Economy

"Finance is the buying and selling of assets rather than the production or exchange of goods. Beginning in the 1970's the U.S. economy began a shift from the production and exchange of goods to the buying and selling of assets."
"In the 70's manufacturing made up more than a quarter of the national economic output. Finance, insurance and real estate contributed about 15%. By 2001 the relative position of these two sectors had reversed. In that same time frame the share of corporate profits from finance, insurance and real estate went from 20% to 50%."
"Starting in the 70's finance changed from being the servant of larger corporate aims to being more and more the driver of them."
Source: American Amnesia - How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson. 

Beginning in the 1970's we also began to see the rise of corporate raiders like Carl Icahn who specialized in hostile takeovers of businesses. The basic playbook was to gain control of a business by purchasing a controlling interest, drive the stock price up with promised efficiencies, and then sell off assets, layoff workers and oftentimes liquidate the original company. You probably already know that Carl Icahn was chosen by Donald Trump to be his adviser on financial regulations - until Carl had to step down for what appeared to be breaking the laws regarding insider trading. Time will tell if there are any legal penalties - any bets?

I had an occasion to temporarily work with some TWA employees in Kansas City about thirty years ago. Things were looking fairly bleak for that once great airline after having been taken over by Carl Icahn. TWA had been laying off workers and had been saddled with debt in accord with the corporate raiders playbook. The employees I worked with from executive types, engineers, to guys in the shop and the flight line - didn't have any kind words for Carl.

TWA was having trouble attracting skilled workers due to the instability of the company under Carl's ownership. Ray, the super nice guy I was working with most, offered me a full time job. Kansas City was nice but I already had a job, so I had to pass. In 2001 TWA filed for it's third and final bankruptcy and was acquired by American Airlines.


The shift in the economy from producing and exchanging goods to buying and selling assets resulted in major changes in who ran businesses, and how they were run.

Prior to the changes that began in the 1970's, leaders of corporations were often people who had worked their way up in the business and as a result were familiar with what they produced, how it was produced and who produced it. 

As the economy became more financialized these types of CEO's were replaced by professionals who didn't know anything specific about the particular business but had demonstrated more generalized financial skills.

You might call this the rise of the "professional manager". Jim McNerney an ex-CEO of Boeing serves as an example - started at Proctor and Gamble in brand management, moved on to McKinsey and Company a worldwide "management consulting firm", went to GE to become president and later CEO, hopped over to 3M where he was chairman of the board and CEO...before he became the CEO of Boeing in 2005. That's quite an impressive career, for Jim McNerney - how impressive it is for the core business of individual companies, the people who work in those companies and the country as a whole - is open for debate. It's interesting to look at the acquisitions and divestments GE has made and ask yourself what benefit that frenetic buying, selling and trading of assets provides for our society. Mad money indeed for some but at what cost to society as a whole?

A comparison of Mitt Romney and his father George Romney also illustrates this trend. George Romney spent 20 years working in the automobile industry, learning it from the ground up, eventually becoming CEO of American Motors Company (AMC) and later Governor of Michigan. George Romney was able to work with union leaders and successfully fended off a corporate raiders attempted takeover of AMC way back in 1957. Mitt Romney spent his years working his way up the financial management-consultant industry, eventually becoming head of Bain Capital - specializing in leveraged buyouts.

It doesn't take much imagination to see that there is a big difference in a leader with expertise in what his company produces and knowledge of the people involved in the production, and someone who jumps from company to company making them more efficient by laying off workers and profiting on the buying and selling of assets.

This new type of CEO realigned corporations from a broad set of goals - profit, product quality, worker satisfaction, civic responsibility,  to a single narrow goal - increasing the stock price.

This occurred partly due to CEO's compensation being heavily dependent on stock options but it was aided by the idea that a corporation exists solely to maximize return to investors (stock price and dividends).

I remember decades ago my Mom telling me the newly re-opened mine in her neck of the woods in Montana had installed a digital sign at the entrance to the mine with the current stock price. It seemed funny that a miner entering a mine would want to know how the corporate stock price was doing - but the sign illustrated the single minded emphasis the owners of that mine put on stock price.  I can only assume the miners, had some way to impact the stock price (which seems fairly unlikely) or at least that they benefited when the price went up.


Eating the seed corn.

Have you ever heard that phrase? It's when a shortsighted or desperate farmer eats his seeds thereby destroying his future source of food. A similar phrase might be used in the case of a misguided effort to make a business more efficient when we say - they not only cut the fat but the muscles, bone and sinew as well. Killing the goose who laid the golden egg would be another example.

The financialization of the economy is a case of "eating the seed corn". It also explains why wealth in the United States has gravitated to entities that buy and sell assets, and away from people involved in the production and distribution of actual products or services (ie. something a human being can use as opposed to say a collateralized debt obligation).

I'm going to quote from my latest favorite book American Amnesia - How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson to wrap this up. I bolded the second paragraph because it was surprising to me and makes a critical point about eating the seed corn.

"When might supersizing finance hurt growth? Well, there's the ugly truth that big financial sectors beget big financial crises. Big financial sectors may also divert productive investments in the real economy that could produce faster growth, into activities that reward mostly shareholders and executives."
"For example, over 90% of the profits earned by companies that were in the Standard and Poor's (S&P) 500 from 2003 to 2012 went to stock buybacks (54 percent) and dividends (37 percent). That left less than 1 in 10 dollars of profit to be invested in future growth or higher worker pay."
"And lets not forget about human capital. Even if financial activities were net neutral economically, Wall Street would still be sucking some of the nation's best and brightest from science, education and other fields that clearly make our society more prosperous."
"We are very far from the corporate world described by Peter Drucker in chapter 6, in which the top college and graduate degree holders shunned Wall Street for Main Street. At Harvard for example the share of college graduates entering finance rose from 4% in the 1960's to nearly a quarter in recent years.
"The story is the same or more extreme at other top universities. Even recipients of the Rhodes scholarship, once the quintessential path to public service, have been going into finance at record rates. The American secretary of the Rhodes Trust, Elliot Gerson, explains, "Nothing is wrong with this picture if one believes that changed career paths of a few privileged people is not of any larger significance. Never mind that some have gifts that realistically could be expected to lead to world-changing breakthroughs, cures, or innovations; to greater respect for politics; or to hundreds of profoundly moved and inspired students."

On a pretty much totally unrelated topic. I was happy to be able to see Arlo Guthrie perform up in Bellingham awhile back. B got to meet him and some of his family who were staying in the same motel we were. 

Arlo's father, Woody wrote a song about Donald Trump's father Fred in the early 1950's. The song was about racial discrimination in a housing project owned by Fred Trump. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree in Arlo or Don's case. Arlo is a talented singer and songwriter like his dad. Don is a racist crook like his dad.

If you have some time on your hands I recommend reading the New York Times piece about Fred Trump's businesses and the amazing amount of fraud and apparently criminal activity that the "family" engaged in for decades. Times reporters spent over a year researching the article - it's either fake news, eye-opening, about what you'd expect, or exactly what you'd expect depending on your perspective, I suppose.

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Problem With the News

At times in my life I've put quite a bit of emphasis on keeping up with current events. Reading daily newspapers, listening to the radio news and talk shows, watching TV news and political shows, reading - magazines and numerous websites.

I've taken breaks now and then but I'm almost at the point where I think following current events, in real time, is a waste of time. I like wasting time as much as anyone, but I guess I'd rather do it on something that makes me feel better.

I'm not sure if this is a good analogy but I'll try it...

Assume you are part of a group of people who designed a self-driving car. You equip your prototype car with a variety of sensors and recording equipment to collect data on the cars performance. You monitor the data continuously in real time and judge performance based on various pass/fail criteria. The problem with this method is there is no way to measure trends. You don't know if the things you measure are getting better, worse, or not changing - over time.

That's sort of how the daily news works - there's a ton of interesting data but if all you do is monitor it real time you have no idea how we got to where we are, or where we might be headed. You don't know if things are getting better, worse, or not changing - over time.

Because there are so many interesting things happening every day we (society) can end up moving very far from where we started because of unnoticed, or quickly forgotten, incremental changes. A leader calling the free press the enemy of the people (and a thousand and one other examples of broken norms, traditions, and traditional courtesies) are accepted as everyday events.

In the example of the design team collecting data; they know that the only way to ensure design improvement is to create records from historical data - benchmarks to measure performance which can be compared to real time data to evaluate the benefits/detriments of changes. Evaluating these trends also allows for predictions regarding future performance.

Just hearing presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg say the word data makes me sort of tingly ;-)


Assuming we want to know where we are, how we got here and where we might be going - rather than following the never ending news cycle, we might be much better served by studying history, philosophy, psychology, sociology, religion, economics, and political science.

Who has time for that? Maybe students studying liberal arts in colleges..or autodidacts with lots of free time, but not working people. So what can they do?


Read books, periodicals and websites that explore how the world works, that challenge some our preconceived notions, that are created by people who are interested in getting closer to truth.

A single book like American Amnesia - How the War on Government Led us to Forget What Made America Prosper contains elements of all the disciplines I mentioned above. That book took the authors four years to write with lots of help from other people. Those guys did all that work so you don't have too.

Don't trust experts just because they seem like they know more than you do - make sure you understand something about their motivations and potential biases. Determine their credibility based on comparisons between what they say and other independent sources.

If you don't trust experts, do your own research and become an expert. Anyone for do-it-yourself dentistry?


The Baffler has become one of my favorite periodicals for providing alternate points of view about culture and politics. Articles like The Century of Spin by Liz Franczak might take you 15 minutes or so to read but the nice thing is you might learn something new - about where we are, how we got here and where we might be headed.

The New York Review of Books has interesting long form articles about a wide array of topics - current and historical. If you love books it's a good source for seeing what books you might want to read. If you are pro-book and like libraries this recent article by Sue Halpern In Praise of Public Libraries may interest you. Sue Halpern is married to Bill McKibben the famous environmentalist.

I've liked The New Yorker magazine for a long time - initially the cartoons and as I got older the articles. Although these days I'm building up stacks of them - thinking I'll get around to reading them someday. You can learn all kinds of fascinating things from the New Yorker like all the different kinds of sand in the world.

I used to like picking up the Village Voice at Poor Richard's books when I lived in Bozeman. I haven't looked at it since they stopped publishing a paper edition years ago though so I don't know what the quality of the online edition is. This 1992 article, Bill Barr: The "Cover-up General" looks like it might fall into the - how we got where we are category.


I know what you might be thinking - aren't those periodicals all east coast elite liberal creations?

For the most part that is true...not all east coast but definitely elite liberal-type publications. It becomes a matter of perspective - how you think of the words liberal and elite.

Liberal, in the non-political sense, means being open to change and seeking knowledge in a broad range of fields - what colleges call the liberal arts. The liberal tradition emphasizes critical thinking - knowing what questions to ask and when to ask them - sometimes called the Socratic method.

Elite can be either the plural or singular form. Lebron James is an elite basketball player. Phrases like east-coast elite, or economic elite, use the plural form with negative connotations. We don't look down on Lebron James, Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods because they are elite athletes. Why look down on high quality authors and their writing because it's "elite"? Doesn't that just mean good?

You might argue that beauty (good) is in the eye of the beholder - isn't whatever writing I choose to call good just a subjective opinion? The liberal tradition asks us to exercise critical thinking before forming an opinion. It also supposes a broad-based interest in arts, history, philosophy, religion, science - the humanities. So...if we combine - asking good questions and having a broad based knowledge we can come to some general consensus on what constitutes "good writing".

I'm anything but an east coast (or any coast) elite. Because of the way I was raised I never thought anyone was better because of their economic, intellectual or social status. Sure they might be smarter or richer or belong to some other social strata - but not better people. The current occupant of the white house has a different outlook on people that some call the racehorse theory of genetics.

I try to read "conservative" publications like the National Review or the Weekly Standard but it often seems to me that they are not written in the spirit of furthering knowledge.

From my vantage point much of what they provide appears to be bad faith attempts to promote a particular point of view, without providing sufficient facts to let a thoughtful reader reach their own conclusion. To put it in another way - they often promote right-wing talking points you can find all over the right-wing media-sphere. If you live in that bubble much of the writing appears to hold to the theory that perception is reality.

They also lack what one might call - a cohesive (honest?) point of view, going from virulently opposed to Trump to "hey this guys not so bad he's implementing policies we like", in a few short months.

I also can't bear reading, listening to or watching most of the popular media conservative stuff because it's totally lacking humor, at least as far as I can tell - maybe I just don't get the joke. To be fair Jonah Goldberg who writes for the National Review and the Los Angeles Times does write some fairly light-hearted and amusing things...imho.


For awhile I tried to learn things by listening to right wing talk radio, reading Breitbart, watching Hannity and Carlson or Fox and Friends. I gave up because I'd fact check what they were saying with various sources and often found the right wingers were either not being truthful, eliminating important parts of stories, or not covering stories at all. It was interesting as a study-exercise in how propaganda works but stressful because of the cognitive dissonance and knowing this is the real world and not an academic exercise.

Rather than being enlightening after awhile it just becomes frustrating and maddening to watch, read and listen to the best propaganda money can buy. It's frustrating because you know the people shilling for the gilded class are not the least bit interested in working class people - unless they happen to employ them that is.

They are creating a show, with appropriate working class props - country music, flags, trucks, people in uniform - to convince working class people that government, liberals, democrats, coastal elites, brown people, you name it (anyone other than the plutocrats and their radical libertarian lackeys) are the problem.

One of the worst in my opinion, because it's so insidious, is a show on late night AM radio called Red Eye Radio. It's supposedly a show for truck drivers and maybe it's listened to by quite a few truck drivers. It's sponsored by Chevron among other corporate giants - employers of truck drivers, not generally thought of as advocates for truck drivers.

The hosts like to talk about politics, economics and government (nothing about trucks, truck technology, truck maintenance, tips for truckers, truck driving songs or anything like that). The main goal is not to inform truck drivers about politics, economics and government (or anything about trucking) but to demonize any group who might threaten the plutocrats power.

Their main product seems to be encouragement. They encourage listeners to be angry, hateful and to blame made up strawman versions of "liberals", "democrats" and "unions". Being a liberal, democrat, strong believer in unions who's married to a Republican I know that the stereotypes presented are like all stereotypes - inaccurate.

It seems like the height of hypocrisy that they run an advertisement for the Truckers Medical Fund (or something like that). The ad says truckers can't afford medical care so they often put off getting care until they are really sick (like those 40% of Americans who can't come up with 400 bucks in an emergency).

What's the solution to this problem?

Something like what every other rich country in the world has done - some form of socialized medicine?

Nope the solution is to create a charity where goodhearted people will donate to help those truck drivers get the medical care they need. If you look at that Truckers Medical Fund website you'll see they have currently helped (as of today) 2,549 truckers. It's estimated that there are 3.5 million truck drivers in the USA.

The Koch Trucking enterprise is a silver sponsor of the Truckers Medical Fund which gives you a preview of how medical care is apportioned in the radical libertarian utopia they envision - if you are poor hope for charity - if charity isn't available, die in the street - taker.


The propaganda network is vast and well funded. The corporation  targeting truckers with the late night trucker show also brings us Mark Levin, Michael Savage and Ben Shapiro among other right wing defenders of the plutocrats.

If you don't know who those people are...

Mark Levin tweeted this today -
Michael Savage on-air comments include: the Koran is “a book of hate”; some Muslims, at least, “need deportation”; and adherents of Islam would do well to “take your religion and shove it up your behind” because “I’m sick of you.”

I don't know what Ben Shapiro's shtick is but from what I know about the right-wing media-sphere I imagine he's a clone of some sort.


In 2008, Jim David Adkisson killed two people and wounded six others during the presentation of a children's musical at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. Court records show he attacked the church in order to kill liberals "who are ruining the country." Inside Jim David Adkisson's house, officers found "Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder" by radio talk show host Michael Savage, "Let Freedom Ring" by talk show host Sean Hannity, and "The O'Reilly Factor," by television talk show host Bill O'Reilly.

Correlation isn't causation but if you spend any time listening to these propagandists it's easy to see how some already disturbed individuals may be incited to violent acts. Consumers of this media are left knowing less then they did before reading, listening or watching - but are quite sure that whatever they think they know is gospel....sort of like me ;-)


Thursday, April 18, 2019

Non Trending Topic of the Day - "Know Thyself"

The ancient Greeks Delphic maxim "know thyself" and Socrates proposal that "the unexamined life is not worth living" are still considered valuable insights more than two thousand years after they were formulated.

Many centuries later these basic ideas are the catalyst for a variety of thought.

Carl Jung wrote about something he called archetypes that reside in humans collective unconscious. One simple way of thinking about archetypes is that they are instincts that reside in our unconscious mind.

When people encounter these archetypes in their conscious mind, it can lead to anxiety; because we don't understand their source, and they can bring us into contact with our darker sides. Humans developed religions to help us deal with these anxieties. When religion fails we may turn to psychology. I say may since there are any number of other options humans may try to deal with these anxieties, that can be much more damaging and dangerous than going to a therapist.

Jung proposed that good psychology (like good religion) helps the individual acknowledge and deal with his inner darkness and the wild forces that reside inside him - helping him become a true individual rather than a conformist.

He compared archetypes that inhabit our collective unconscious to ancient river beds that have cut deeply into the earth's surface. Society, government, religion may build canals that contain these archetypal rivers. When those three canal-builders begin to fail as happened in pre-war Germany the German people were swept into the most destructive mass movement of our time.

Not all mass movements are disastrous, but they may all appeal to individuals who share some common traits - one in particular being the need to conform rather than be a free individual.

The longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer describes  religious, social and nationalist mass movements, and the traits of those attracted to these movements, in his book The True Believer - Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements. I read that book the first time over 40 years ago and it never ceases to amaze me that people use it to defend or denigrate whatever "mass movement" they happen to like or dislike...but I digress.


There are two topics I wanted to wind my way to in this discussion about knowing yourself - Modern day Christian Evangelicals and technological brain hacking.

Regarding Modern day Christian Evangelicals -

A Pew Research Center poll taken in 2009 showed that a majority of white Evangelical Protestants (62%) and white Catholics (51%) thought that the use of torture against suspected terrorists was justified. The author of this article in the Daily Beast asks the question, "Who Would Jesus Torture?" I can't help but wonder what impact propaganda like the Fox TV show 24, which premiered in 2001, had on these people's beliefs.

I can't begin to imagine what interior angst must occasionally occur for someone who professes to be a follower of Jesus while at the same time giving a thumbs up for torturing fellow human beings. The ugly secret is....

We gave up on God a long time ago. 

Religions that foster an interior experience of the divine and sacred have been overtaken by other religions. As Jacques Ellul said, "The elimination of traditional religions by modern culture is a process that creates new religions."

Religion asks for faith, not reason. We have moved our faith from the sacred to the secular. We have faith (often without reason although not always) in - our selves, our leaders, our political parties, in technology and in the misguided notion that some external thing (money, possessions, self-help books, gurus) will bring us joy.

The 62% of white evangelicals and 51% of Catholics who believe torturing another human being is acceptable, know - somewhere in their psyche, that they gave up on God.

The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard was critical of mainline churches. His book Fear and Trembling is about working out your personal relationship with the divine on your own - after you've come to the end of reason...with fear and trembling. I think he also said that he liked to attend unfamiliar churches and sit in the back pew - being critical of the people who show up in church every Sunday and sit in their assigned pew to make a good impression on their fellow churchgoers.

Why is that important to this discussion?

It helps explain why professedly religious people gave up on God. True Christian faith seeks a personal relationship with the divine. It's hard individual work, not achievable by following the letter of a human-constructed theology. 

Fundamentalist religions like the Christian Evangelical and some versions of Catholicism, teach that every word of the bible is true. Obviously this is ridiculous....or maybe a better word is magical (not necessarily bad but potentially). We need magic in our lives - good magic. 

A rigid theology is easily shattered once it is exposed to the reality of this world. This explains both the hypocrisy of the pious and the turning away from rigid theological religions. A simple belief in love as taught by Jesus is harder to shatter...but that part of Christianity was never too popular anyway - what with the just war theory, manifest destiny, and whatever else man came up with to explain barbarism. 

Thinking adults, and children, can take stories from the bible as metaphors, along with wisdom literature from philosophy and other religions, in living their version of the good life.

The fundamentalists are stuck though - they have to at least claim to believe the bible chapter and verse....or whatever the prosperity preacher is selling them in the mega-church or on television. This causes a major discontinuity between what they actually believe (based on actions) and what they profess to believe (the gospel of Jesus).

That's about enough - I really don't know anything. I do find that the more I try to learn the more complex things seem and I realize how ignorant I am. The corollary being - that the less you know about something the more sure you are of your opinions.

Technological brain hacking is something Yuval Harari talks about and writes about in his books Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tommorow and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. For those debating this topic, manipulating a person's brain via machine or vice versa, is a sign of either a future utopia, or dystopia - or possibly something less extreme.

I think it's more likely society is at (or reaching) the dystopian end of the spectrum. I might change my mind (or maybe a machine will do that for me).

To avoid being manipulated you have to know yourself better than the machine knows you. Maintaining some semblance of free will becomes more challenging as individual self-knowledge declines while machine knowledge expands.

In this podcast, starting a little after minute 24, Yuval Harari says that one of the most important facts about living in the 21st century is that man is now a hackable animal. He also makes these points...

Given the advances of artificial intelligence, machine learning and brain science we are quite close to where an external system can know you better than you know yourself. It can then sell you anything it wants whether it be a product or politician.
People who don't believe they can be manipulated - that their decisions and actions represent their own free will - are the easiest to manipulate. The best counter-measure we can enact to maintain our freedom is to follow the maxim "know thyself".

Propaganda (also called advertising or public relations) is nothing new, and neither is the idea that people who consume propaganda, thinking they are operating in accord with their own free will, are the most susceptible to manipulation. 

The French philosopher Jacque Ellul's book written in 1973 Propaganda the Formation of Men's Attitudes  also tells us that people who think they are immune to propaganda because of how intelligent or informed they are...are actually the most susceptible to propaganda. 

Sigmund Freud's nephew Edward Bernays wrote the seminal book Propaganda about U.S. public relations and advertising in 1928. In 1928 the word propaganda didn't have the negative connotation it does today - that only came after the U.S., Germany, and the USSR used propaganda to control their populations prior to and during wartime.

Walter Lippman wrote about the use of propaganda in mass culture his 1922 book Public Opinion. It's a fascinating book and available for download from various places being in the public domain.


If a Christian fundamentalist who supports torture had sufficient self knowledge they would (a) not identify as a Christian or (b) stop supporting torture.

If people consuming propaganda, advertising, and public relations from antisocial media, TV, newspapers, radio, and magazines, spent some time getting to know themselves, they might start to think the lyrics to this old John Prine song sound pretty darn good.

Blow up your TV, throw away your paper 
Go to the country, build you a home 
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches 
Try and find Jesus on your own…

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Challenge of Doing What is Right

I was reading an article in Orion magazine, written by the Irish author Paul Kingsnorth, called Life versus the Machine and thought this part was particularly interesting - 
"When I was young, I thought that the world was divided into good and bad people, and that I was one of the good ones. Later, slightly older, I thought it was divided into informed and ignorant people, and that I was one of the informed ones. Older still, though still not nearly old enough, I thought it was divided into Bad Elites and Good Masses, and that since I had no money or power, I must belong to the second category.

For a number of years, I believed that this second category was made up of people who, if they knew the truth about the human massacre of nonhuman life, would demand significant changes to society, and be prepared to make sacrifices accordingly.

 I was an idiot.

Now I think that humans like ease, material comfort, entertainment, and conformity, and they do not like anyone who threatens to take these things away. I think that even the people who say these things should be taken away in order to prevent the collapse of life on Earth do not really mean it."
Being a human he talks about what he has or has not done to reduce his carbon footprint. He then quotes Samuel Beckett saying, "You're on Earth. There's no cure for that."

It's interesting to think about that quote in context of what we can or can't do individually to reduce our carbon footprint vs. what we choose to do individually to reduce our carbon footprint. As humans we'll do whatever we want but while doing that we should not fail to recognize that there is no out there, away from here, where we can go - as Dr. Bronner the soap maker tells us on his soap bottles, we are "all-one" on this "spaceship earth".


And now for something completely different, as they used to say on Monty Python.

Well not completely different but certainly a different perspective on environmentalism. Here's a lecture on a book called Ecofascism - Lessons From the German Experience.

It's one of those easy to misunderstand complex discussions where some might be tempted to think this a rock they can put in their pocket to throw at the next hippie they hear talking about reducing our carbon footprint. 

I'd listen to the whole lecture and do further research if you are interested. 

It does say something about the dangers of moving to the radical extremes of either left or right ideologies. It also confirms the observation that individual humans are complicated and not the simple stereotypes we use to try and understand contemporary or historical individuals or groups of individuals. 

Humans contain lightness and  darkness - as Russell Crowe said in the movie 3:10 to Yuma, "even bad men love their Mamas".


Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Health Care - Some Numbers

The italicized information below comes from the book American Amnesia - How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson.

It's not as fun to read as Beautiful Country Burn Again - Democracy Rebellion and Revolution by Ben Fountain, being more in the academic than literary realm, but it's an important book if you are interested in figuring out how we got where we are.

I'm still reading American Amnesia and am looking forward to getting to the part of the book where they suggest ways to fix this broken system.


If you live in the San Francisco Bay area a knee replacement will cost you more than $100,000. In Fresno, approximately 150 miles away, it will cost you less than $14,000.

In the U.S. a patient was quoted $78,000 for a hip replacement - not including surgeons fees. The patient got the hip replaced in Belgium for $13,660 which included all provider fees, operating room costs, five days in the hospital, a week in rehab, and round-trip airfare.

On average, U.S. insurers pay $10,000 when a woman gives birth, in the Netherlands it's $2,824.

American's spending on health care accounts for about one-sixth of the domestic economy compared with around one-tenth or less in other rich nations.

In 1980 Switzerland and the U.S. had comparable per capita spending on health care. Switzerland moved to control costs while universalizing coverage. By 2010 the Swiss were spending about a third less per person than we were. If the U.S. would have followed the same trajectory we would have saved $15,000,000,000,000 (trillion). That remarkable sum could have financed a four-year college degree for more than 175 million Americans. It could also have eliminated all federal deficits over the same period and left a healthy surplus.

Take out rising medical expenditures and the federal budget is more or less balanced as far as the eye can see. In 2010 Republican politicians made cutting food stamps the centerpiece of their agenda for fiscal constraint calling for $40 billion in cutbacks over five years. The federal government spends more than that on health care every three weeks.

In the early 2000's when Medicare Part D was enacted, and since that time, the Republican party blocked efforts to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices to contain costs.

Republican politicians pursued changes to Medicare that increased, rather than restrained medical costs. In particular the growing role of private plans within the program. Through an aggressive lobbying effort and gaming of the reimbursement formulas this has cost Medicare nearly $300 billion in excess payments between 1985 and 2012.

Even facing these headwinds Medicare costs have risen slower than private insurance costs in recent years. Medicare has seen a 1% per increase in costs vs. private insurance increase of 4% per year for comparable procedures.

The health insurance industry gave the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over $102 million dollars to fight health care reform in 2009 and 2010. Since reporting began in 1998 pharmaceutical manufacturers, medical device makers, health insurers, hospitals and medical professionals have reported spending over $6 billion on lobbying. Between the start of 2009 and the end of 2010 three industries - health care, finance and energy each spent $1 billion dollars on lobbying. No one knows how much dark money is spent in these efforts.

Republican politicians in the 2000's jumped on the "tort reform" bandwagon claiming frivolous malpractice lawsuits were causing health care costs to rise. So called defensive medicine to avoid these lawsuits account for a tiny fraction of health care costs (1 to 2 percent). Texas and California, two states that enacted caps on damages (tort reform), saw their medical costs rise as quickly as states without such measures. 

Republican politician Rick Scott the recent Governor of the great state of Florida and now one of it's newly elected Senators oversaw the largest Medicare fraud in history during his tenure as CEO of the health care corporation Columbia/HCA.

I can't help but think that there has to be some division within the business community about Republicans and some Democrats catering to special interests in the health care industry to maximize profits. This drives the costs for consumers (including businesses who pay for health insurance for their employees) ever higher...while we see increasingly poorer outcomes relative to other rich nations.

If you are a Republican, in case you didn't already know, this is not your father's (or mother's) party.


Since we're talking about numbers how about a song about math?

Well not exactly but I'm a fan of Laurie Anderson and am really glad B and I got to see her in Seattle years ago.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Blog Post 2000!!

This is the 2000th post I've put on this blog since I started it a little over sixteen years ago - my how time flies. Here's an example of a post from back then. I've left this blog dormant for periods of time but I've been using it lately as a way to organize some of my thoughts in these amazing times.

I like to listen to lefty podcasts and have been impressed recently by some of the podcasts from Seattle based Pitchfork Economics hosted by Seattle venture capitalist Nick Hanauer.

The three I've listened to so far include a podcast with the provocative title, "Why Does the U.S. Hate Families?" discussing the challenges working people face in finding and paying for quality child care. They also discuss how the U.S. lags other developed nations in helping working families with child care and early childhood education, and how this adversely impacts the U.S. economy.

The second podcast is titled Do Regulations Kill Growth? It's got a really interesting discussion about the pillow industry from Nick Hanauer who says, "he grew up in a profoundly dishonest business - specifically the pillow business." It's interesting if you like to collect weird facts like how much it costs to produce a white goose down pillow vs. a ground up chicken feather pillow - but it's also being used to illustrate a point about how markets without appropriate regulation can fail to work for consumers and honest business owners.

The third podcast is an interview with Yuval Harari a lecturer in the history department, Hebrew University Jerusalem and the author of several books including the 2014 book - Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. I haven't read that book but it sounds worth reading based on the podcast and the blurb on Amazon that says it was on the summer reading lists of Barack Obama, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.

When I first heard the name Nick Hanauer from Seattle I confused his name with Chip Hanauer the hydroplane racer and was thinking - wow what a diverse set of interests. I'm still impressed with the quality of some of these podcasts even if Nick isn't a hydroplane boat driver.

The blog associated with Pitchfork Economics is hosted on Medium and called Civic Skunk Works. Pitchfork Economics is also one of the shows on TYT.

It seems appropriate that people in Jet City who are interested in breakthrough ideas to help society would use the term skunk works that we usually associate with technological breakthroughs in the aerospace industry


This is my take on part of what professor Harari was saying in the podcast-

Humans are able to organize and cooperate to a greater extent than any other animal. We are able to do this through shared stories. We have created stories to describe all sorts of things, including human constructs like money (as a concept), appropriate minimum wage, and the mostly pseudo-science of economics. When we say something is a natural law or God's law what that really means is humans created a story about some thing which for a variety of reasons eventually came to be thought of as an inviolable law. 

The point being that significant changes are possible if we change our shared stories. 

The story of the day from some is "the economy is doing great." If you are a 1 percenter, or better yet a .1 percenter, or heavily invested in the stock market that might be so, but for a significant segment of the population the economy isn't doing great and hasn't for about 40 years.

Barbara Ehrenreich's book Nickel and Dimed - On Not Getting By in America provides some insights into what it's like for the people who survive on the wages from a minimum or low-wage job(s).

Of course the first step to solving any problem is to recognize there is a problem. We can help people recognize the problem(s) by changing the stories we tell each other. So....when a political adviser said it's (all about) the economy stupid - he was right. The challenge is to expand the stories we tell about "the economy" beyond the simplistic notion that it's the stock market, or the unemployment rate, or GDP.

We might talk about the success/failure of the economy in terms of gross national happiness which includes these nine domains -

1. Psychological well being
2. Health
3. Education
4. Time use
5. Cultural diversity and resilience
6. Good governance
7. Community vitality
8. Ecological diversity and resilience
9. Living standards

We might measure our country's economic success by tracking how well we are doing at fulfilling Maslow's hierarchy of needs for citizens of the U.S. We have to fulfill humans basic physiological needs for warmth, rest, food, water and shelter - before we can move up the ladder.

When we talk about what the economy is and how it is doing we need to tell stories that include facts. 

Facts like 40% of Americans can't come up with 400 dollars in case of an emergency. Facts about the tragic levels of childhood poverty in the U.S. Facts showing stagnation in wages for middle class workers and explosion of compensation for CEO's over the last several decades. Facts showing corporate tax cuts don't result in increased R&D or worker wages/benefits. Once we expand the notion of what the economy is and who it should serve we can tell each other better stories and over time improve our country for all people.

All those facts made me think of this scene, from the 1964 Pink Panther movie "A Shot in the Dark", where Inspector Clouseau is explaining the facts. ;-)

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Meritocracy and Idiocracy

The words used to describe political belief systems can be hard to understand when we consider the history of those systems.

A popular belief, aided by corporate media's constant repetition, is that the Republican Party is the party of conservative beliefs. The ideologies promoted by the modern Republican party since the 1980's actually trace their origin to the English philosopher John Locke who was an important figure in the development of classical liberalism. Classical liberalism emphasizes free markets and individual rights, particularly the rights of individuals to thrive or fail based on individual merit.

A case can be made that conservatism is derived from the thought of Edmund Burke. This type of conservatism places a strong emphasis on custom, convention, tradition, bonds of social order and the defense of ancestral institutions. Wendell Berry who decries the destruction of small farms and communities in the name of free market capitalism demonstrates elements of this type of conservatism.

Free-market capitalism disrupts culture, community, and family - making it antithetical to conservatism. The ideologues of free-market capitalism refer to this disruption of our social fabric euphemistically as creative destruction. Capitalism has created unprecedented wealth and worked better than any other system to distribute that wealth but it's been failing to do the latter for decades.

The Republican party of today has gone beyond the roots of classical liberalism to what is called neo-liberalism. This ideology holds that the state should be as small as possible to maximize individual freedom. In this worldview, freedom allows members of society to thrive or fail based on individual effort - a meritocracy. It's appealing to think that people who succeed deserve their success because of their individual merit - intelligence,  thrift, and hard work. Sounds fair right?


He gets criticized probably rightly so by some, but Edward Murray's book Coming Apart The State of White America 1960-2010 illustrates just how misguided and unfair the idea that people rise or fall in society based on individual merit has become.

Murray talks about "super-zips" his name for select areas in the U.S. with excellent private schools - from pre-K to university level, excellent medical care, easy access to healthy food, low crime rates, and professional jobs with high incomes. He contrasts these areas where the super-elite reside with areas that regular Americans live that have failing public schools, high crime rates, low wage jobs and persistent poverty.

If by accident of birth you happened to not be born in a super-zip but instead into an area where there is no pre-K education, failing public schools, limited or no access to medical care and healthy food, high crime rates and broken families - often as a result of rampant addiction...well then the meritocracy doesn't work so good for you. If you don't have any boots it's hard to pull yourself up by your bootstraps as they say.

We now have generations of people who know the U.S. only through the vantage point of the super-zip(s) in which they were born, educated, work and live. When I was a kid, rich and not rich people lived in the same neighborhoods, attended the same churches and schools, shopped at the same grocery stores, had drinks at the same bars and got to know each other to some degree.

Murray holds that the emergence of super-zips has resulted in a cultural split between the residents of super-zips and the rest of the country. Cultural splits in what and where they eat, what they drink, how much TV they watch, which TV shows they watch, what they read, when or if they marry, how they raise their children.

He proposes this has led to a class system in the United States which didn't exist prior to the 1980's/90's. In comparison Nancy Isenberg's book White Trash The 400 Year Untold History of Class in America makes the argument that class has been part of America since it's founding. Richard Nixon said in 1959, "The United States, the world’s largest capitalist country, has from the standpoint of distribution of wealth come closest to the ideal of prosperity for all in a classless society." Murray's book illustrates how far we have departed from the society Nixon observed in 1959.

Do we live in a democratic or aristocratic society? Murray and Isenberg are both making the case for this being an aristocracy. Murray is pointing out how the last several decades have brought class divisions into sharp focus. Since it's founding America has been ruled by elites which worked because our meritocratic system allowed everyday Americans to enter the elite class. The development  of super-zips broke that system. The last time we had a revolution in the U.S. it was a rebellion against rule by a titled nobility in England. Super-zips provide us with kings, queens, lords and ladies today with inherited wealth, privilege and massive political power...they just don't have the titles.

Super-zips provide our country with CEO's, politicians, supreme court judges and the popular media. So....we have lots of very powerful people who are clueless about how the other 90% of America lives - what they believe, what they fear, what they need or what their dreams are.

No wonder the media elites who grew up in the super-zips keep wanting to travel to fly-over country to figure out what's going on with those Trump-voters. Media bashing is fun but I'm more interested in how CEO's, politicians and supreme court judges could possibly represent the interests of people they know nothing about.

I have to confess to being sort of an elite-lite in how out of touch I have been with what's happening outside my bubble. I was surprised to see so many Trump signs when driving from the West coast to Montana a few years ago. I'm starting to get it I think. In my defense I'd say I sort of lost track of what was going on in the larger world - what with work and kids and all that life stuff.


So much for meritocracy what about this idiocracy? You probably already know that is the name of a movie. I'm using it in a more generic sense to consider the possibility of a group/nation/world of idiots.

The long quote that follows is the introduction to the book - Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman:

"We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares. But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another - slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. 

Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think. 

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. 

Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. 

Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. 

Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. 

As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." 

In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us. This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.

Here's a video of Neil Postman discussing his book in 1985.


It's not yet clear where this leads, but Neil Postman was quite prophetic. If no one reads books and we have an unlimited number of distractions every waking moment it's hard to see how society progresses. An informed citizenry is necessary for a democracy and we aren't becoming informed through antisocial media, TV or radio.  

One last thing on the movie Idiocracy. I haven't watched the whole thing for years but I have been watching the trailer. The trailer makes me a bit uncomfortable in it's simplistic stereotyping and disdain for poor people but it is a comedy and probably contains some truth. It's worth considering if this is some elite created propaganda implying that since we theoretically live in a meritocracy, it's okay for fortunate people to look down on poor people because they are too lazy and ignorant to better themselves. I thought the poor peoples house with the dirt bike spinning around in the yard looked kind of fun - at least to my younger self. 

Friday, April 12, 2019

Public Power

"We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."

Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis  (1856-1941)


John Cassidy's article in the New Yorker today "A New Road Map for Progressive Democrats" discusses a recent paper from the Roosevelt Institute "New Rules for the 21st Century - Corporate Power, Public Power and the Future of the American Economy", and progressive policies being championed by Democratic presidential hopefuls.

The Roosevelt Institute paper is 82 pages but John Cassidy summarizes it's content in a short article which he ends with this statement -
In its concluding section, the Roosevelt Institute report strikes a hopeful note. “The task ahead is large, but it’s not impossible,” it says. “We are at a rare moment in our politics when older paradigms for how we govern our society and shape our economy no longer work, and a new worldview, though emerging, is not yet dominant. Americans are hungry for big, new ideas, and voters will reward leadership that is able to articulate those ideas clearly and put them into action.The conservative policy agenda that triumphed from the nineteen-seventies onward was an expansive one, and it will take an equally expansive effort to roll it back.” Let’s hope that’s right.
Yes let us hope.

I addition to having hope, I think this statement from the article is worth thinking about -
"The conservative policy agenda that triumphed from the nineteen-seventies onward was an expansive one, and it will take an equally expansive effort to roll it back."

Just how expansive an effort would it take to roll back 30 or 40 years of government policies enacted by politicians at the behest of the wealthiest and most powerful people and entities in this country to favor the privileged few at the expense of the majority of American people?

I'm not overly confident that most Americans understand how organized, well funded and pervasive the radical right's takeover of government has been. If you've ever had occasion to read Jane Mayer's work concerning money in politics or her book Dark Money, or Nancy MacLean's book Democracy in Chains - The Deep History of the Radical Rights Stealth Plan for America you would know that uber-wealthy individuals have been setting the groundwork, and manipulating the levers of power to make government as dysfunctional as possible for decades.

The radical libertarians goal is to eliminate or neuter government and government regulations and allow the free market to rule. In this short sighted and ahistorical view; if capitalism is set free from the coercive effects of government, then prosperity and social benefits will be maximized.

Never mind that no developed country in history has ever followed such a path to prosperity, or that when our country was at it's most prosperous (post WWII until the 1970's) government took an active role in markets, or that the experiment the radical libertarians started in the 1980's has proven to be an abysmal failure for a large segment of the U.S. population.

The radical libertarians work to achieve this goal with massive amounts of dark money funneled to PACS, super-PACS, think tanks, universities, astroturf campaigns, multitudes of radical right wing media outlets and state run TV. The propaganda is the best money can buy, with great patriotic names like the Heartland InstituteAmericans for ProsperityThe Heritage Foundation and The Federalist Society.

Some (more all the time one hopes) find it troubling that a government controlled by a small group of individuals/corporations is a simple description of fascism. The fact that there are no large successful economies in the world that follow the libertarian dream of minimal or no government does not deter the true believers or their paid spokespeople.


The actor/President Ronald Reagan said in his 1981 inaugural address, "Government is not the solution to our problem it is the problem." He followed up at a news conference years later with this, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help."

Since that time, corporations and plutocrats have bought right wing politicians to do everything they can to ensure government doesn't work. They have done this knowing that if people perceive government as irredeemably dysfunctional they either - give up on the political process and don't vote (which benefits the GOP) or support the radicals that fund and control the GOP in their efforts to dismantle government.

The resulting weakened non-representative government allows corporations and plutocrats to run the country. It's some crazy radical stuff for those who were taught we live in a representative democracy to think there is some stealthy forces dismantling our government - but this version of the story doesn't interest corporate media, so we've all come to believe it's just a bunch of business oriented folks trying to make government more efficient for the betterment of all.

You have to do some careful reading and research to start to see the contours of how radical this stuff is. Most people have heard of the Koch brothers and know they fund radical right wing libertarian causes with tremendous amounts of money. There are many other suppliers of dark money but they are the most well known. The Koch brothers father Fred C. Koch was a founding member of the John Birch Society back in the late 1950's.

When I was a kid the only way to know anything about the John Birch society was to know someone who was in it or somehow get your hands on what they called the Blue Book - which explained the principals of their organization. If you saw a sign that said "Get the U.S. out of the United Nations" or "Fight Fluoridated Water" it was probably from the Birchers. They were considered an extreme radical conspiracy minded libertarian group and pretty much forgotten about by most Americans (me anyway). Sixty some years later the sons of Fred Koch have as much if not more power in politics as the GOP.


Ronald Reagan was a spokesperson for one of the biggest corporations in America prior to being elected president and after his election he became the spokesperson for all big corporations and plutocrats in America. His conversion from liberal democrat and president of a union (SAG) was quite extreme...unless we think about how absolutely power corrupts.

I know people love Reagan and he was a good cheerleader sort of person but his policies (which are now called neoliberalism) proved to be incredibly damaging to middle and working class Americans. You can pretty much draw a straight line from Reagan to Clinton to Bush to the dismal performance of the United States in key indicators of a nation's overall well-being, compared to any other economically developed country of our time.


One of my favorite stories concerning Ronald Reagan's veracity was written by Oliver Sacks in his book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. I like it because it illustrates how smart people can be fooled by a skilled politician's use of words. The chapter about Reagan is called The President's Speech. Here's part of it -

What was going on? A roar of laughter from the aphasia ward, just as the President's speech was coming on, and they had all been so eager to hear the President speaking. ..
Thus the feeling I sometimes have-which all of us who work closely with aphasiacs have-that one cannot lie to an aphasiac. He cannot grasp your words, and so cannot be deceived by them; but what he grasps he grasps with infallible precision, namely the expression that goes with the words, that total, spontaneous, involuntary expressiveness which can never be simulated or faked, as words alone can, all too easily. .. 
And what dogs can do here, aphasiacs do too, and at a human and immeasurably superior level. 'One can lie with the mouth,' Nietzsche writes, 'but with the accompanying grimace one nevertheless tells the truth.'
We recognize this with dogs, and often use them for this purpose-to pick up falsehood, or malice, or equivocal intentions, to tell us who can be trusted, who is integral, who makes sense, when we --so susceptible to words-- cannot trust our own instincts.

That quote from Nietzsche, that one can lie with the mouth, but with the accompanying grimace one tells the truth - makes me wonder about the truthfulness of this guy. Not really.

We shouldn't be surprised that people living in Fantasyland where the industrial entertainment complex is going 24/7 365 have been conditioned to believe anything.

The Kurt Anderson book Fantasyland - How America Went Haywire is an interesting look at how American's went from landing a man on the moon, to questioning if we ever landed a man on the moon, to believing the earth is flat - something seemingly settled for centuries until Twitter, YouTube and Facebook brought some of us back to a pre-enlightenment (pre-factual or pre-scientific if you will) society.


How expansive an effort is required to roll back the takeover of American government by the .1% that has occurred these last few decades?

I think the first thing is to consider how challenging it is to get the story to a majority of voters. Even understanding some of it takes either a fair amount of attention or absent that - trust in someone else's version of how the world works. 

I'm not sure people have considered just how entrenched the people with power are and what lengths they will go to in order to maintain the status-quo.

People, hoping to change the status-quo, must have some knowledge of history. 

How did American's create a government and economy that lifted all boats (not just the yachts) and made the USA a world leader in technology, productivity, research, medicine and education - from the post-war years until the 1970's? Hint - It wasn't the Reagan revolution - since we've followed those neo-liberal policies the US has fallen far behind other developed countries in these key areas. 

The US has even lost it's place as the country with the tallest average height, with various European countries now vying for first. Childhood nutrition and medical care are key factors in how tall children grow to be. Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson devote a chapter titled "Coming Up Short" to this topic in their book American Amnesia - How The War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper.

People wanting to change the status quo have to understand the tremendous effort from unions, activists, protesters, politicians, writers, artists and everyday citizens into creating a government and economy that served all classes. It was a hard fought battle (often literally) over decades.

It was, and is, a battle - between the minority (those with wealth and power) and the majority (working people). Any attempt to regulate the free market was attacked as socialism, communism, un-american or the end of capitalism and prosperity. Even something as seemingly uncontroversial as prohibiting child labor was fought tooth and nail by the free market capitalists. You might argue times have changed but I don't think people change all that much. 

It seems to me that in order for political means to overcome the dysfunction in government we need a wider appreciation for how much blood, sweat and tears went into achieving the gains working class people were able to obtain. Consider just one movement that was crucial for gains for the working class in the early 1900's - the IWW or as they were popularly called the Wobblies.

Joe Hill was a Swedish/American labor activist and member of the IWW in the early 1900's. He was charged with murder and executed by firing squad in Utah in 1915. Facts in the case indicate he was innocent and some people believe he was a political prisoner executed for his union activity.

 In 1916, a year after Joe Hill was executed, the Everett Massacre occurred. The shingle weavers had been on strike against the mill owners for some time and tensions were high. A confrontation arose on the waterfront between the Wobblies - and the sheriff, deputies and volunteer deputies. From the Wikipedia article -
"At the end of the mayhem, two citizen deputies lay dead with 16 or 20 others wounded, including Sheriff McRae. The two businessman-deputies that were shot were actually shot in the back by fellow deputies; their injuries were not caused by Wobbly gunfire. The IWW officially listed 5 dead with 27 wounded, although it is speculated that as many as 12 IWW members may have been killed."
The IWW is still around today. Noam Chomsky is a member as well as Josh Dukes the peacemaker shot by a MAGA woman attending an event featuring a right wing provocateur named Milo something at the University of Washington.

That word provocateur is interesting, it's a shortened form of agent provocateur which means an agent hired to make trouble. I mention that because it's interesting to think about who, or what group, hires people like Milo to incite violence on college campuses. I suspect it's the same class of people who hired the Pinkertons to infiltrate and damage labor unions.


I hope the U.S. can effect change through the political process.

If that isn't possible it won't be people of good faith attempting change through peaceful protest that cause civil unrest. It will be confused angry people who more likely than not will have been convinced by Fox and other right wing propaganda to attack innocent people - who they have made into scapegoats.

2016 was an inflection point - there was a primal scream from a lot of confused angry people and we ended up with an entertainer/conman in the White House - who has done nothing that would benefit those people. Being unencumbered by the thought process he did blurt out to the fat cats at Mar Largo what a solid he did them with the GOP Tax Plan. Naturally the audience at Mar Largo is supportive of a plan that redistributes wealth upward. The fact that it leaves an additional trillion dollars plus in debt for our children to pay someday seems to be okay with them too - since they were the beneficiaries.

Fox News and other purveyors of right wing propaganda continue to blame democrats, immigrants, people of color, liberals, college professors, antifa or anyone they can - to avoid the responsibility for the failure of policies they have promoted. But they do this at great risk to our nation. It's not that they are "owning the libs" or whatever the saying is - they are stirring up the base. Considering the rejection of a fact-based reality, along with genuine hardships of that group of people - what happens when they figure out they've been given the shaft once again is anyone's guess.

Power to the people sounds great until we consider that the people who start to exercise power in the streets may be the base - confused, angry, well armed, and enthralled by a demagogue. The fact that the people who own right wing propaganda outlets are willing to continue to lie and rile up the new base of the GOP should concern all Americans. If nothing else it shows how far they are willing to go to retain power. Very risky my friend very risky indeed.