Saturday, August 15, 2020

Dismantling Government - The Postal Service Dilemma

If you live in a cave or a right-wing safe space you may not be aware of what the Republican party and their leader Donald J. Trump are doing to the United States Postal Service. 

Mail boxes are being removed, automated mail sorting machines costing millions of dollars are being destroyed and thrown into dumpsters, postal service leadership has been sidelined, overtime for postal workers has been eliminated and mail carriers are banned from making extra trips to deliver mail. Vice News seems to have fairly good coverage if you haven't been keeping up.

The new post master general Louis DeJoy and his wife Aldona Wos, who was appointed ambassador to Canada in February, own millions of dollars of stock in private competitors to the United States Postal Service. Louis Dejoy and his wife were big campaign contributors and fundraisers for Trump. Louis Dejoy was a Republican National Committee finance co-chair (along with now-disgraced Michael Cohen and now-disgraced Elliot Broidy). Steve Wynn (also now-disgraced) was the RNC Finance Chair. The Republican National Committee deleted the press release announcing these people's assignments in their political machine, but the wayback machine helps us fight the propagandists attempts to erase history.

Two streams of thought are converging - (a) the Republican parties long held desire to turn the United States Post Office over to for-profit private corporations and (b) the Republican party's decades long efforts to suppress voting

You can blame Trump but he's merely one symptom of a disease that infected American politics long ago. He's following doctrines held by the people who finance the Republican party. Prior to his election these doctrines were disguised using emotionally fraught deceptively simple words like freedom, individual rights, and free markets. 

Trump, from the Republican parties point of view, is fine on policy - his failures are rhetorical. Even though in his own estimation he knows the best words - the people who control the Republican party are afraid that he isn't using the right words to keep us peasants from revolting. 


Bernie Sanders has done us a favor by posting the policy platform of the group that has taken over the Republican Party over the last four decades.The following three planks from that platform are relevant to understanding what's being done to the U.S. postal service, and why it's being done, by the current administration -

  • "We propose the abolition of the governmental Postal Service. The present system, in addition to being inefficient, encourages governmental surveillance of private correspondence. Pending abolition, we call for an end to the monopoly system and for allowing free competition in all aspects of postal service.” 
  • “We oppose all personal and corporate income taxation, including capital gains taxes.” 
  • “We support the eventual repeal of all taxation.”

Very utopian, extremely radical and completely disconnected from the complicated world we live in. A case of ideology causing a break from reality while also allowing that insanity to be sublimated by those in it's grasp.


The Republican Party's efforts to turn the United States Postal Service into a private for-profit enterprise didn't start with the election of Donald Trump. Quoting from this 2013 L.A. Times article -

"In 2006, the GOP Congress passed a bill that required the Postal Service to fully fund future retiree health benefits for the next 75 years and to accomplish this within a 10-year period. Republicans are always insisting that the USPS be run like a good capitalist enterprise, but few, if any, private businesses could bear the burden of funding three-quarters of a century of retired employees’ medical costs over just one decade."

"In truth, the Republicans who crafted the bill were not interested in turning the Postal Service into a better business; they were seeking to run the post office out of business." 

"The post office may be mandated by the United States Constitution, as clearly as freedom of religion or the right to bear arms, but it does not fit with modern Republican dogma and, therefore, has been targeted for extinction."


People living thousands of years ago had highly developed civilizations that lasted for a time and then vanished leaving nothing but incomplete historical records for future generations. There is no reason to think that what we refer to as civilization in this century will suffer a different's just a matter of when. If I was a betting man I'd put my money on the climate crisis which the Republican party's decades of science denial has most-likely made insolvable according to people like Bill McKibbon. Never underestimate the power of the American people though...

Thinking about how the (current and soon to be worse) climate disaster happened, and if we ever could of prevented it given human nature makes an old guy like me sad, angry and confused...for awhile, life is too short to stay focused on things you can't control.

How about talking about money instead?

Money depends on public trust. If you have money backed by the full faith and credit of the federal government (as opposed to a money backed by gold or other precious metals) it is imperative that a certain amount of trust exists between users of that money and those who print it. As Wall Street thrives thanks to massive amounts of money being printed, and main street fails - the trust people have in the U.S. dollar will diminish. 

Some economists predict that printing an over-supply of fiat money will lead to hyper-inflation - which makes sense to a simple-minded person like me. I can't help but think there must be other impacts such as increasing the power of publicly traded companies at the expense of private enterprise (mom and pop or other smaller non-publicly traded businesses) leading to more monopoly power by corporations. 

Following the roaring 20's we had the stock market crash of 1929 and subsequent national depression. The shared pain of that crash led to a variety of financial reforms to keep banks solvent and government projects to employ and otherwise help a struggling people. This time is different - the pain is not shared. People in glass towers making money from investments, divestments, mergers, acquisitions and other financial paper magic that have no intrinsic value to society may find public support dwindling. They retreat to their super-zips while the rest of the nation is left holding an empty bag decorated with the words freedom, individual rights and free markets courtesy of the Republican party.

Whether you think a fiat currency is good or bad, credit should go to the Republican party for creating fiat money in the United States. Our country changed from having a dollar backed by gold to a fiat currency during Richard Nixon's time as president in the early 1970's.


Some people decry the onset of big government as being an outgrowth of the New Deal. That may be true but a complex open society needs a sophisticated open form of government. 

We won't get that type of government through slogans like "no new taxes" while Republican congresspeople create tax giveaways for rich people in private meetings with lobbyists ala the 2017 tax giveaway. Or by the sincere sounding words of Ronald Reagan about cutting government spending while his budget director David Stockman said it was "like hogs feeding at a trough" to see the corporate special interest lobbyists manipulating the politicians. Here's the quote from The Atlantic -

Stockman participated in the trading—special tax concessions for oil—lease holders and real-estate tax shelters, and generous loopholes that virtually eliminated the corporate income tax. Stockman sat in the room and saw it happen. “Do you realize the greed that came to the forefront?” Stockman asked with wonder. “The hogs were really feeding. The greed level, the level of opportunism, just got out of control.”

I hold a complex open society requires a sophisticated open government (size is secondary, a small weak government does not necessarily mean good government and a large well run open government does not necessarily mean bad government). The conservative (whatever that may mean) intellectual George Will, citing the classical liberal economist Friedrich Hayak thinks a bit differently - the more complicated society becomes, the less capable government is in dealing with that societies issues and therefore the smaller that government should be.  In this video from his appearance at the Aspen Ideas Festival, George says that the goal of "American Conservatism" is, "to preserve a society  open to perpetual dynamic change." 

I can't help but think that some people who cloak themselves with a conservative label would be quite surprised to hear George's words about what he thinks American Conservatism really is.

I'm surely not objective but I prefer things a bit easier to understand. One thing I understand empirically is that the working class people I was close to as a young person - loved Franklin Roosevelt. Other people must of liked him, he was elected president four times. Maybe all those people who voted for him were misguided. Maybe so...but at least we could maybe agree that no matter your inherited ideology (and they are mostly inherited) it would be wise to occasionally ask yourself - is it possible I've been misguided?   

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Kurt Anderson: “Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America" | PBS

Kurt Anderson cites the 1971 Powell memo as the beginning of the takeover of American government by corporate business interests. I usually start with Reagan's election in 1980 which came shortly after his neoliberal counterpart Margaret Thatcher was elected prime minister of the U.K.

The Republican president Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. This exacerbated big business's concern that they had ceded too much power to the people (the government). Justice Powell wrote his memo in 1971 as a call to arms for corporate interests to assert their power to capture the government. Almost 50 years later we see just how successful they were in removing power from the people and placing it in the hands of special interests.

The fact that the Republican president Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 - then Reagan and Neil Gorsuch's mom, along with every other Republican administration afterward, worked so hard to dismantle it, should in itself tell you how far from the center the Republican party has slid. Going from protecting the environment to an active campaign to discredit science to deny human caused climate quite a leap.

The Republican party of today cannot be trusted with power. 

The Republican party no longer believes in majority rule and has shown time and time again that they will undermine our representative democracy in order to retain power. 

The Republican party's denial of science makes that party a danger to our country's health as the current pandemic makes clear. 

The Republican party is willing to betray our country by accepting election assistance from Putin's Russian. 

The Republican party has participated in the destabilization of the Western alliance formed post WWII by encouraging right-wing ultra-nationalist illiberal movements and leaders. 

The Republican party is willing to allow the Federal Reserve to print money to prop up the financial industry - as a result we see soaring stock markets juxtaposed with a country filled with suffering people and failing small businesses. A country filled with jobless, homeless, sick and dying people takes little comfort in rising Dow Jones. S&P or NASDAQ averages. The financialization of American business has made the productive economy of small business separate from, and subservient to, the unproductive financialized economy of mergers, takeovers, buyouts and other financial paper magic. CEO's, hedge fund managers and leveraged buyout experts roll in the dough while citizens sleep in the streets. 

and if all that wasn't enough...

The Republican party threatens the continued survival of our country and the world by denying climate science.

If that isn't sufficient to make the current Republican party a party of the past in November then we will have the government we deserve - which seems just.

It seems unjust that future generations will inherit a dying burning planet...because we were too selfish and ignorant to get our act together.

Vote em out...march em out. Do it for your kids, their kids and for every succeeding generation. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

When Radicals Takeover The Government

The Republican party would like you to be afraid that radicals, like Joe Biden, want to take over the country. If you hang out in Republican safe spaces long enough you might start to confuse Joe with Che Guavara

If you are too young to know who Che was, he was a Marxist of some sort whose revolutionary stance was solidified as a result of the neocolonial policies of the United Fruit Company and the United States government in South America. He held roles in the Castro government of Cuba in the early 60's and was executed by CIA-assisted Bolivian forces in 1967. The 2004 movie The Motorcycle Diaries is about Che's life-changing travels through South America. The United Fruit Company later became Chiquita Brand International, and the events that these large multi-national corporations participated in with United States government backing are the source of the term banana republic.

Swinging back from the radical left to the other side of the political spectrum...

William F. Buckley wrote a book in 1990 titled Gratitude: Reflections On What We Owe To Our Country. Buckley recommends some form of national service for young people in the book and in the episode from Firing Line below. I haven't read William's book but I did order it from Powell's and am looking forward to reading it.

More recently Sebastian Unger has recommended some form of national service in his book Tribe - On Homecoming and Belonging

I think some form of national service would help individuals further their educations by getting to know and work with people from various parts of the country - people with different religious, racial, sexual, economic, and educational backgrounds - then their own. Beyond the benefits to increasing individuals knowledge of the people and the world around them - this service for the country and it's people would aid national cohesiveness by cutting down on some of the stupid my team vs. your team activity we see in today's media and political realms. 


So that's the good's the bad part.

This Firing Line episode from 1990 is useful in beginning to understand what happened to the United States starting around the time Ronald Reagan was elected President in 1980. 

Ronald Reagan is a hero to many people and he certainly had his good qualities. He was quite charming, apparently sincere, and a good public relations guy - both for the General Electric Corporation before he entered politics, and after he became Governor of California and later President. He was a better actor than most politicians. 

Was he honest with the American people? My outlook on his veracity comes from a story in the book "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" by the British neurologist Oliver Sachs

The story is called "The President's Speech" -
"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."

Back to where I was...

In this Firing Line episode you can see part of the root of the ideology that led us to a place where today government does not serve the people, income inequality has exploded, medical care is shambolic, schools are failing, infrastructure is failing, childhood poverty afflicts 1 in 6 children in the U.S., the environment is in crisis and a myriad of other problems face us that should be addressed by society and government but are not. Why?

Because a group of right wing radicals took over our government.

Before you assume I'm being hyperbolic in using the word radical read the platform from the 1980 Libertarian Party when David Koch was running as their vice-presidential candidate. Bear in mind that the Koch machine, and a myriad of other dark-money funded groups that were created by, and for, those operating under the capitalist's golden rule - them that gots the gold makes the rules - wield a tremendous amount of power and capacity to shape public opinion. We actually don't know how much power since the money trails are all hidden thanks to Citizen's United which in itself should have been a red warning light that our democracy was being taken over by big-money interests.

"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)


The idea that some "radical" group or ideology is going to take over our government is of course a tired old saw from the GOP. It's also one of those mirror images where what someone says is the reverse of what is actually true. The radicals that took over our government are on the right not the left and the further right you go the closer you get to some type of totalitarian fascistic corporatist state. 

This Firing Line episode is a discussion between William F. Buckley and the economist Milton Friedman who was a member of the Chicago school of economics.

Milton Friedman is an odd character. I'm not sure if he is insane, insanely naive, ideologically possessed or just making a buck by pushing propaganda in service of his corporate masters. A lot of people would think I'm nuts for writing that.

They'd say - Uncle Miltie is a nice old guy who wants us to be free! He wants us to be independent individuals! He wants to shrink government, eliminate government waste and lower taxes - what could be wrong with that?

It turns out a lot is wrong with that. The concept is fine but as Aristotle noted a couple of thousand years ago - it's the extremes that cause problems.


The propagandists who serve the rich and powerful started this radical project after the New Deal and haven't given up trying to shape public opinion to allow the oligarchs to roll back the social safety net, privatize as many government functions as possible and eliminate regulations they don't like - to this day.

Our corporate masters put Milton Friedman on popular daytime television shows prior to and during the Reagan era (1980-1988) to shape public opinion in ways beneficial to their project. It's also possible that, out of the blue, working class Americans suddenly became interested in what an economist from the University of Chicago had to say. In the latter case the corporations who own the networks were just giving the people what they wanted to see on a popular daytime TV show - a lecture on economic theory. Sure sure that's it. 

The shapers of public opinion knew that people would be bored out of their gourds listening to some ideologue drone on about economic theory so they gussied the message up by having a kindly super-smart sounding old gent present his radical antisocial views in ways that made them sound like good old "common sense". Here's Milton on the Phil Donahue show in 1979 promoting a book and softening up the populace for the upcoming "Reagan Revolution" beginning in 1980.


You have to go back further than 40 years to see how this transpired. In the 1950's the radical right-wing John Birch Society was making inroads into American society. Fred Koch the father of the Koch brothers of Koch-topolis fame was one of the founders of the John Birch Society. 

When Lyndon Johnson became president in the early 1960's and passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicaid and the food stamp program (along with various other Great Society programs) - the extremely well funded hard right was energized - they never accepted the New Deal social programs from FDR and now LBJ was making things worse from their ideological point of view. The people with money and power began a project to remake our government and society.

They created all kinds of think tanks with benign patriotic sounding names, they funded and placed professors to preach their ideology on college campuses, they funded astro-turf (as opposed to grass roots) organizations like the Tea Party, congressional Freedom Caucus and more recently the protesters at the Michigan state capital. They spent decades funding magazines, books, websites, television and radio networks - to sow hatred and fear of the "others", with the goal of furthering their radical right wing agenda that helps the few at the expense of the many. 

The John Bircher/Koch wing of the political spectrum was too radical even for William F. Buckley so he instituted a project to distance the more mainstream conservative movement from the insanity of the Birchers. 

The Koch and other uber-wealthy plutocrats money talked louder than William F. Buckley's words which meant the takeover of the mainstream conservative movement by the radical right was well underway in 1990 when Reagan left office.


William Buckley is pushing back on this in his polite way in this Firing Line where he refers to some Milton Friedman idea as "randian". William says it's hard to have a serious debate with Milton about the role of government when his views are as radically anti-government as they are. Milton says things like, "I do not agree that it's desirable that the state force people to read and write....I'm opposed to compulsory education." There's probably some merit somewhere in a statement like that but on it's face it's as cray-cray radical as the laundry list of insane ideas the current Republican party is infected with thanks to the radical right that has co-opted their party. Here's one example (please read the whole list) - "abolish the Federal Aviation Administration".

Yeaaa that sounds great. The fantasy of the ideologically possessed that allows them to believe that every government function would be better off in private for-profit hands is betrayed by our own empirical experience in dealing with for-profit cable TV companies, cell phone companies, medical insurance companies and the health care industry in general.

If you can help any voter escape from the ever more harmful fantasy world of the Republican safe-spaces please do your part. Lest you think I'm some kind of partisan fanatic who just likes to hate on Republicans it might help to know I've been happily married to a Republican for about 40 years. We see eye to eye on important things, including her choice to leave that party after it devolved into it's current state. To paraphrase the actor who played "The Gipper" in the movies - she didn't leave her party it left her. 

The current Republican party cannot be trusted with power. 

I'm keeping my fingers crossed hoping enough people know that now - and come November there is going to be a wave of independent, red and blue voters who agree that it's time to start picking up the pieces after 40 years of insidious continual corruption in servitude to the wealthiest of the wealthy at the expense of the vast majority of the American people.

If you are curious about a time in our not so distant past when government worked for the people and the United States was thriving, and how that form of government was disassembled - read Paul Pierson and Jacob Hacker's book American Amnesia How the War on Government Made us Forget What Made America Prosper

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

MST3k 416 - Fire Maidens of Outer Space

Mystery Science Theater 3000 can be pretty funny.  It aired for about ten years starting in 1989. I used to watch it with my daughters when they were young - they may have liked the robots more than the jokes but we enjoyed watching it together.

I'm also getting a kick out of watching Maxwell (Mr. Max) a funny cockatoo who lives with a guy that rescued him. Max belonged to an elderly man who passed away. Max listened to a scanner or a radio and imitates those sounds sometimes. I think he's super cute but I can see why having a bird like that is a huge commitment. He loves to bite on things and can break pieces of wood with his beak. 

Have you ever heard of the Gartner Hype Cycle? Yeah me neither..but I hope we are coming out of the trough of disillusionment and moving up the slope of enlightenment. If what's going on in the world, and our country, now doesn't cause a person to question some of their preconceived notions nothing will.

Friends don't let friends watch Fox News...if only that was true or possible. It's impossible to quantify the damage those millionaires paid by billionaires have done to our country. These two stories about how confused people who watch Fox News are about Covid-19 are tragic. 

Monday, August 10, 2020

Please Excuse Me While I Rant Awhile

This PBS episode of Firing Line from 1984, the middle of the Reagan era, is fascinating to me for a variety of reasons. 

What we see from the Republican party of today didn't just happen when Trump showed up but has been a decades long effort to obtain power through any means necessary, but mostly by making stuff up, or as Lionel Trilling said, "..making irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas." It's entertainment, a spectacle...a sad, sick, old joke...and it's on us. 

On the other hand you have to appreciate William F. Buckley's demeanor compared to what you'll find in the safe spaces inhabited by Republicans today. I guess if you're going to get screwed there is some consolation in having a person like William Buckley whisper lies in your ear rather than some millionaire paid by billionaires on Fox News or right wing hate radio yelling about how evil the "others" are. 

This show, like much of right wing media, is an example of false-consciousness. In this show the right wing ideologues blame feminists and woman's rights supporters for forcing women to leave their homes and families to enter the paid workforce. This sounds like a reasonable assertion if you want to believe it. The idea that cultural norms dictate behavior isn't a new one. The idea that women left their homes to go to work because they were shamed into it by the feminists and liberal media..the culture - seems a bit dubious to me.

Another point of view is that this blaming of feminists and woman's rights supporters is an effort to divide and anger the working class so they don't blame the Republican party (and their wealthy elite appeasing counterparts in the Democratic party) for the U.S. lagging other economically developed nations in the world when it comes to access to healthy food, shelter, education, medical care, safety, free and fair elections and other basic human rights


If you listen to the show you may also detect some good old boy male chauvinism where the best women are; quiet, subservient, and non-threatening to our fragile male egos - preferably barefoot in the kitchen waiting to make us a samwich and bring us a beer. If they have to be out in public at least they should always speak in a pleasing feminine tone and refrain from being assertive or independent minded - since natural law dictates that raising your voice, being assertive or independent are reserved for us male folk. 

I think we can all (more or less) agree that women should be able to choose to work outside the home and be treated equally when they do that? I think we can all (more or less) agree that women who are happy staying home raising children should not be forced to leave their home and children and take a job outside the home?

Were some women, who would have preferred to stay home and raise their children and be a home-maker, forced to work outside the home? 

Yes - but the primary reason wasn't culture or feminists or liberals or whoever you're supposed to blame. The primary forcing function was and is - economic policy.

The forcing function was/is the policies that the Republican free-market laissiz-faire neo-liberal capitalists implemented (with help from some confused Democrats, notably Bill Clinton).

Allowing American corporations to offshore jobs with good pay and benefits meant men couldn't support their families on a single income. A constant battle against labor unions succeeded in lowering wages and benefits for millions of people and gave many women no choice but to enter the labor force. Failing to help family farms in favor of corporate agri-business contributed it's share. The Wal-Martizaton of many small towns where the local small businesses closed because they were unable to compete with the monopoly contributed as well.   


The dirty lie that some people either can't or won't recognize is that unfettered Capitalism is disruptive to individuals, families, culture and society. So disruptive in fact that it may have "disrupted" the planet to the point where it will be unrecognizable in the not too distant future. I'm not sure what the word "conservative" means but to many people who claim that title today it doesn't include conserving a livable planet. 

Being right (which I'm pretty sure I am in this case) gives me no pleasure.

It would be fairly easy to make a case that any historical meaning of the word conservatism is antithetical to free market capitalism. The word conservative and liberal have been so degraded by misuse and a lack of any historical understanding to be meaningless other than as a way to show we are irritated by someone or something that we don't understand. 

A basic understanding of liberalism and conservatism would lead most people to conclude both ideologies have valuable insights for how to shape societies, economies and governments...but that takes work and is lets just keep calling other people names, filling our selves with fear and! This fight of all against all will lead to our eventual downfall as a society..but it's not boring.


One of the tiredest old saws of the far right (which now controls our government) and the far left (which will never have much power for very long in this country or any other country where money=power) is the claim that we  only have a binary choice - either a socialist or capitalist economy. We have (and have always had) a mixed economy with elements of both capitalist and socialist policies. Striking the right balance is the key. 

For someone who believes in a purely socialist (or dare we say communist) society, and who wants to take over the means of production and form a non-hierarchical society no one is stopping you here in the good old USA. Get together with some fellow travelers buy some land and form your own utopian community. Seriously do that...try to find some land that won't be under water or on fire in the next decade(s).

On the other hand your libertarian brethren on the extreme right have captured our government to conduct a 40 year plus experiment in unfettered capitalism and it hasn't turned out so well for 90% of the population.

Sometimes, as has been the case for four decades, the redistribution of wealth is from the poorer to the more wealthy. A non-progressive income tax (one where people in lower income brackets pay a higher percentage of their income than those in higher income brackets) keeps the middle class angry about how high their taxes are while the non-taxpaying billionaires laugh all the way to the bank. This also helps the GOP with their claim that they are for lower taxes - sure who isn't? meant lower taxes for corporations, billionaires and millionaires? I'm not so sure I support that - do tell me more, but please refrain from any voodoo economics - I like data, and stuff you know?

I worked for 50 years and don't recall any notable reduction in my taxes regardless of who was in power in Washington D.C. What I did see in the state I live in is a completely non-progressive tax structure where there is no tax on income but high property and sales taxes combined with all kinds of stealth taxes disguised as fees. That non-progressive tax structure works pretty good for the 9 percent at the top of the wealth ladder, much better for the 1 percent and great for the .1 percent, but for the other 90% of the population not so great.


Some comments specific to this old episode of Firing Line -

1. The sponsors of the show are right-wing corporate ultra wealthy entities that among other things initiated the Federalist society that has supplied Donald Trump with his Federal judge candidates. Read Jane Mayer's book "Dark Money", Sheldon Whitehouse's book "Captured" or Nancy MacLean's book "Democracy in Chains" if you are curious about why you should be concerned if you value living in a democratic republic.

2. Christopher Hitchens shows his mastery of language, debate, and conversation. He was willing to criticize both left and right wing politicians which makes it hard for those who simply want to use negative partisanship and whataboutism to deal with his arguments. 

3. The disrespect the right wing author/propagandist shows towards women and the truth. He has all kinds of nasty things to call feminists and women in general ala Rush Limbaugh. You can start at time 16:30 and time 41:00 in the video if you want to hear some of that conversation. He tells us he is sure these women who support equal rights are the cause of most if not all of our problems...the rest of the problems are the fault of "liberals". In the constricted world of the truly indoctrinated the word liberal describes political figures from LBJ to MLK. This distortion is accelerated today. If you stay in the right-wing media safe spaces long enough you may begin to confuse Che Guevara with Joe Biden and be saddened that Joe wants to hurt God...while this guy thumps his bible. 

4. William F. Buckley's opinion regarding the Vietnam War and how misinformed he was in that opinion. Dow Chemical the maker of napalm is one of the sponsors of the show, which may factor into how "conservatives" beholden to military contractors for their funding form their points of view. Watch the Ken Burns PBS special on the Vietnam War if you're interested in knowing more. The U.S. government misunderstood the situation in Vietnam, lied to get us into a war, and lied to keep us in a war they knew was "unwinnable".

Nixon, sabotaged the Vietnam War peace talks to make the democrats look bad and help himself be elected President in 1968. Reagan took a cue from Nixon's dirty tricks when he sabotaged the Iran hostage deal to help himself be elected President in 1980. Twelve years later the person with the title Attorney General of the United States - William Barr, recommended the pardon of all the criminals involved in the Reagan era Iran-Contra affair

Power corrupts...absolute power...corrupts absolutely. For anyone paying attention - the scope, breadth and depth of corruption in the current Republican administration is historically unprecedented. A rational person might assume that people would not continue to vote for corrupt politicians and their political parties but ideological identities are not arrived at through rational thought. 

5. An example of the right wing doing precisely what they accuse the left of doing. In the right wing view liberals use corporate or elites money (Soros) to launch unwarranted attacks on the right, hire fake protesters, and control the whole of media (outside the right wing media safe spaces controlled and occupied by those who decry safe spaces). Like so many things in life when someone rants and raves about some thing being best or worst or all bad or all aware that things are complicated and what you are often seeing is a mirror image where the reverse of what you are being told is closer to reality. 


Since I'm rambling one last comment. I've been at a few protests including the big 1999 WTO protests in Seattle. That was a great day - families marching, labor organizers speaking, environmentalists in turtle costumes. It was a bad night with idiots breaking out windows of local businesses to protest something...or just to raise hell. You never know who's at those protests and what their motive may be. Destroying private or public property and threatening or actually using violence against other people seems to be a surefire way to lose public support and encourage a frightened electorate into trading our democracy for an authoritarian dictator who promises law and order. 

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Why Lie?

We have lots of reasons for telling lies - avoiding hurt feelings, promoting ourselves, avoiding embarrassment, escaping punishment, selling band instruments...etc.  

Donald Trump exhibits an interesting, perhaps less obvious, reason for telling lies.

He uses lies in a power game to demean and dominate those around him. 

Here's how it works...

He says something he knows is a lie and the people around him know is a lie.

If the people around him don't call out his lie he has successfully exhibited his dominance over them.

The more harmful the lie the more demeaning it is for those unable or unwilling to call it out - hence the greater the dominance the liar exhibits over those accepting the lie. To put it a little differently...

The size of the piece of our soul that we sell by not calling out the lie is proportional to the potential harm of the lie. Ignoring a lie with a greater potential for harm requires we give up a greater portion of our soul (our self). We demean ourselves more (make our selves less human) as the lies we refuse to call out increase in their ability to cause harm.

It's simple and pathological. Anyone who has worked in a hierarchical organization is probably familiar to some degree with this method of exhibiting dominance. 

This inability or unwillingness to question power and authority, being willing to go along with the lies, has led to tragic consequences throughout history...from wars, genocides, poorly designed products that kill people, to the ultimate tragedy of destroying our only home by going along with the biggest lies of them all...

Having been entrusted with caring for a planet with limited resources and multiple sensitive ecological systems, rather than conserving that gift for future generations, we accepted the biggest lies of all - that unlimited consumption, unlimited economic growth and unlimited use of fossil fuels was not a selfish fantasy that is destroying our planet, but our patriotic duty.


I started thinking about this idea of lying as part of a dominant/submissive power game when I heard Mary Trump (Donald's niece) in an interview describe meeting one of Donald's wives for the first time. In introducing Mary to this wife, Donald says Mary was a drug addict. Mary and Donald both know this is a lie. Donald has demeaned Mary first in calling her a drug addict and second by bullying/daring/dominating her into not calling out his lie. 

Weird man.


There's also a more primal element to Donald Trump's performance as described by the British primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall in this October 2016 Atlantic magazine article -

"In many ways the performances of Donald Trump remind me of male chimpanzees and their dominance rituals. In order to impress rivals, males seeking to rise in the dominance hierarchy perform spectacular displays: stamping, slapping the ground, dragging branches, throwing rocks. The more vigorous and imaginative the display, the faster the individual is likely to rise in the hierarchy, and the longer he is likely to maintain that position.”

He's a bad monkey but an even worse man...somewhere inside his head he knows that. His whole life consists of multiple unsuccessful efforts to forget who he really is. He's not alone in that respect just a particularly glaring example.

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Trump Tinpot Dictator?

Noam Chomsky makes a case on Thom Hartmann's show for why he thinks calling Donald Trump a fascist gives Trump too much credit. He proposes that Donald Trump is more akin to a tinpot dictator we'd see in a failing third-world state where the government is overthrown by a coup at regular intervals. 

I'm not so sure. I think the right-wing oligarchs of America, their propaganda networks, the GOP, police guilds, militant right-wing groups and Trump are to some degree a single entity - which is much more powerful, and dangerous, than any third-world dictator could ever hope to be.
This 1995 article by Umberto Eco and this recent video of Jason Stanley on PBS tend towards labeling the Trump-era of today as a pre-fascist state. 

Calling Trump a tinpot dictator or pre-facist authoritarian may be a distinction without a difference - whatever is going on is massively corrupt, hurtful to the people in our nation, and weakening our democratic and legal institutions. If we don't succeed in voting him and the GOP appeasers who stood by while all this occurred it's hard to imagine what will happen. 

On the other hand to put things in some perspective - in maybe another 10 or 20 or 30 years, whatever Trump and the GOP did to America in 2016-2020 will be vastly overshadowed by what the GOP did to the planet by denying climate science starting in the 1980's. Continuing that denial to this day in the Wall Street Journal is the height of irresponsibility from both a moral and fiscal standpoint. Maybe we'll be able to enact a green new deal and fight this battle...there is always hope.

When I loaded the Hartmann/Chomsky YouTube video this is a screen grab of the ad that went along with much for micro-targeting ;-)  

Junior the great white hunter is calling on you to fight. I didn't listen to his words but I assume since he is on my screen he means fight to remove Senior from the white house.


At the end of that interview with Thom Hartmann, Noam Chomsky mentions the Davos World Economic Forum. That reminded me of this video where Tucker Swanson Carlson is interviewing a Dutch writer and historian named Rutger Bregman who attended the forum and things don't turn out quite as expected when Rutger starts to cut through the Fox fog and speaks some truth.

This video gives some background on the Tuck..

There's always this 2004 classic with Jon Stewart telling Tucker and his co-host on the CNN Crossfire show that cable television hurts America by presenting politics as entertainment (masquerading as news) to generate profit and foster division in service to the owners of the corporations who pay their salaries. 

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

My Favorite Anarchist

My favorite anarchist is Dorothy Day

I'll try and briefly outline why that is, but before doing that, it might be useful if I try and explain a few thoughts on the difficulty of using the written word to share ideas that can be complex, fraught with emotion, and have a high potential for misunderstanding both by the person trying to share the thought and the intended recipient(s).

In general words are insufficient to communicate the subtlety and complexity of this world and the people and things in it.

There simply are not enough precise words, and the words we often use have imprecise or personally defined meaning (ala Humpty Dumpty).  When words are insufficient, we may use; touch, music, painting, dance, sculpture or architectural structures to communicate meaning. If we are working in the non-human realm of physics, engineering or other hard sciences we use mathematics, some symbols and a set of words with an agreed meaning to communicate. 
In our everyday lives the complexity of the world and the people and things in it - force us to use stereotypes to both create our own world and communicate that world with others. A stereotype in general terms being any belief we hold that does not recognize differences or complexities in people or things. A stereotype may be fairly accurate, not at all accurate, harmful or useful. 

An example might help since many people think of stereotypes as necessarily bad. I stereotypically think of my car as something pretty simple; four wheels, a steering wheel, something that makes it stop and something that makes it go. If I want to repair or maintain my car, or design a better car, I need more knowledge than my simple stereotype provides.

There is an inverse relationship between the need for stereotypes and the depth of ones knowledge. More knowledge=less need for stereotypes, less knowledge=more need for stereotypes. In the introduction to his book Public Opinion Walter Lippmann who coined the modern usage of the word stereotype, wrote -
"The real environment is altogether too big, too complex, and too fleeting for direct acquaintance" between people and their environment. People construct a pseudo-environment that is a subjective, biased, and necessarily abridged mental image of the world, and to a degree, everyone's pseudo-environment is a fiction. People "live in the same world, but they think and feel in different ones."
A couple of more thoughts on words..

In some instances the spoken word is more effective than the written word. In a conversation - body language, tone, and eye contact help us to communicate meaning. 

The best way to communicate religious beliefs is not to talk about them or write about them, but to live them, and that's what Dorothy Day did.

Dorothy Day was (among many other things) a Christian Anarchist. Christian Anarchists believe in promoting social change through non-violent means, they are pacifists, they work to build community and care for strangers in need through cooperative non-governmental means.

Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin were instrumental in the Catholic Worker Movement, the Catholic Worker Newspaper and beginning the formation of houses of hospitality

The Sermon on the Mount and Leo Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God Is Within You are important sources for the Christian Anarchist.

This is a quote from the short book by Dorothy Day The Reckless Way of Love - Notes on Following Jesus that I found meaningful and touching -

I write to comfort others as I have been comforted. The word comfort also means to be strong together, to have fortitude together. There is the reminder of community. Once when I suffered and sat in church in misery while waves and billows passed over me, I suddenly thought with exultation, "I am sharing suffering," and was immediately lightened.

In patience you will possess your souls. Patience means suffering and suffering is spiritual work, and it is accomplishing something though we don't realize it until later. It is a part of our education, or pilgrimage to heaven. Heaven is within you. The kingdom is here and now.

So joy and suffering go together, pleasure and pain, work and rest, the rhythm of life, day succeeding the night, spring following winter, life and death and life again, world without end. 

Some Stoic philosophers propose that people who do evil suffer for their evil deeds not in a future hell but in a hell they create for themselves on earth. People with a conscience probably see some truth in this concept. 

This Stoic idea of creating your own hell on earth is the corollary to the Christian idea from the Gospels that the kingdom of heaven is within you. 

If the kingdom of heaven is within you then it follows that the pain of hell is also within you. I think a fairly close approximation for the word heaven in this context, is the word equanimity. It's harder to come up with an equivalent word for hell because there are so many varieties and we are always encountering some fresh hell - maybe some combination of fear, anger, guilt, hate, unhappiness, knowing you've let your self or others down, knowing you are not who you present yourself to be - combined with not having the individual, religious or philosophical tools for improvement, forgiveness or atonement? The Stoics were big on honor so maybe it's just not acting honorably? 

In the Buddhist tradition this internal suffering (hell) is transcended by calming our minds through some form of meditation (breathing, sitting quietly, riding a bicycle, walking or whatever works for you) which allows us to let go of our ego-driven desires, quiet our ever chattering monkey mind and find that equanimity which allows us to live in the world showing compassion and generosity towards all living beings.

This idea that heaven is within us can be construed as some woo-woo mystical idea where we get bonked on the head by the right guru, book, video etc. and are quickly and forevermore - woke. I believe a more accurate way of thinking about this idea is.... 

Heaven may be within you but you'll have to work like hell to find it.


For people who think this is scientifically/logically a bunch of bunk - that's fine - but I wouldn't waste too much time trying to "prove" your case. Philosophers and theologians have debated these ideas for thousands of years - maybe you've found "the" universal answer but it seems unlikely. If what ever answer you've found gives you - joy, peace, happiness, the ability to show compassion for all living beings, something of what the Greek philosophers called Eudaimonia - then you have your answer, go out in the world and demonstrate it. 

The gist of the matter is that people want meaning, comfort, joy and ways to alleviate or accept suffering. A culture of unlimited consumption and constant entertainment not only fails in meeting these needs it undermines them in a variety of ways. 

From a pragmatic point of view some religions and their cousins in philosophy offer a way to create your own heaven on earth (with some hell thrown in to keep things interesting). Pick the religions and or philosophies that work for you...and as long as they lead you to compassion, non-violence and a desire to work for a better world we'll be on the same page.


Since we are talking about anarchists...

Jacques Ellul was a Christian Anarchist. Jacques Ellul was a French philosopher and author of books such as The Technological Society and Propaganda - The Formation of Men's Attitudes. If you have the time and inclination he has some interesting ideas.

MIT Linguistics professor and well known political figure on the left Noam Chomsky aligns with anarcho-syndicalism.

Martin Gugino the 75 year old man who was shoved to the ground by police in Buffalo and suffered a fractured skull identifies with the Christian Anarchist movement and worked with the Western New York Peace Center after his retirement. 


In 1921 Walter Lippmann wrote in his book Public Opinion,
"The power to dissociate superficial analogies, attend to differences and appreciate variety is lucidity of mind. It is a relative faculty. Yet the differences in lucidity are extensive, say as between a newly born infant and a botanist examining a flower. To the infant there is precious little difference between his own toes, his father's watch, the lamp on the table, the moon in the sky, and a nice bright yellow edition of Guy de Maupassant. To many a member of the Union League Club there is no remarkable difference between a Democrat, a Socialist, an anarchist, and a burglar, while to a highly sophisticated anarchist there is a whole universe of difference between Bakunin, Tolstoy, and Kropotkin. These examples show how difficult it might be to secure a sound public opinion about de Maupassant among babies, or about Democrats in the Union League Club."
Note: The Union League Club was/is a club for wealthy Republicans.
In some respects things haven't changed much since Walter Lippmann wrote that book in 1922. Watching, listening or reading right-wing propaganda one would still be led to believe there is little difference between a Democrat, a Socialist, an anarchist and a burglar.

I started thinking about writing this post after our accidental president and shadow boxing wanna-be tinpot dictator used his twit account to spread lies about the 75 year old christian anarchist non-violent protester Martin Gargino who's skull was fractured by the cops in Buffalo. Hairspray head speculated that Martin was an Antifa provocateur which is about as far from being a Christian Anarchist as Donald Trump is from being an honorable man.


Monday, August 03, 2020

Oh My

This quote is from a Baffler newsletter earlier this week -
An eviction crisis is looming. It’s not a question of if, but rather when and how bad. A map created by CNBC, circulated widely on social media earlier this week, depicted the scale of the coming catastrophe on a state-by-state basis. Failing radical action by the government, 40 percent of all renter households are at risk of eviction; in states like Florida and Mississippi, that figure is more than 50 percent.
Lots of challenges ahead but one of the most daunting will be to avoid enabling corrupt authoritarian rulers who obtain and retain power by dividing, demonizing and "othering" of innocent people.  

Yogi Berra said, "It's tough to make predictions especially about the future." When we factor in the variability of human behavior as individuals or as members of a mass movement it becomes a guessing game - informed by history but still unknowable in advance.

Ignoring Yogi, one possible outcome is civil unrest due to poverty and racism that is then exploited and encouraged - to provide proto-fascists an opportunity to complete the formation of an oppressive police state and the solidification of an economic-class based society sold to the people as a society of hard working white Christian patriots vs. the "others" who want to destroy America.

Paradoxically and tragically - the true believers who love some idea of America will destroy America in order to save America. 

Or listening to Yogi - maybe not. If citizens vote, get involved, become informed and practice non-violent protests good things could happen.


People everywhere are running out of - money, food and soon to lose their homes. The right-wing social Darwinist contingent that's fought the social safety net of the New Deal for the last 80 years is alive and well. So it's also possible (inevitable?) that we will see an expansion of the shanty towns where people live in cardboard boxes next to high rise mega skyscrapers filled with mega-expensive condos.

If we'd been paying attention to the degradation of human rights (housing, medical care, mental health facilities, quality education, free and fair elections, racial and sexual equality) over the last four decades we'd be in a much better place to deal with what's around the corner. 

The U.N. definition of Human Rights were originated by Eleanor Roosevelt (Franklin's wife) and have been opposed in the United States by right wing billionaire funded think tanks, media conglomerations and massive amounts of propaganda for 80 some odd years. 

You can observe the success of this shaping of public opinion by considering the "heroic" images of depression era migrants and poor people from the 30's and 40's vs. the demonization of migrants, the homeless and poor people in right-wing media today.


The battle between greed and compassion isn't a new fight in America or in the history of world civilizations. Rather than admitting American exceptionalism in all matters was a myth some persisted with the "we're number one" idiotic fantasy and instead of working to fix the problems denied they existed. 

When Philip Alston wrote his paper on the dismal state of human rights in the USA several years ago, rather than debating the issue and considering means of alleviation the right wing ideologues took their ball and went home by removing the USA from the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. 

Some form of toxic masculinity or maybe we could call it "I'm not going to stop and ask for directions" type of masculinity pervades society. The wrong-headedness of a group of men can be astounding but maybe not surprising to anyone familiar with the the go along to get along, good old boy culture of many male dominated activities and the fact that many "men" are really frightened little boys inside who refuse to grow up.

“Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect.” —Eleanor Roosevelt, American Delegate to the United Nations

Combining the already dismal state of human rights in our country with the massive shock of the global pandemic sounds...not good.

The challenge seems to be how do people form thriving, compassionate, free societies absent government or maybe in spite of government. I'm assuming (hoping) that there are many experiments in utopian-like communities, smaller communities, self-sustaining communities...any kind of real (as opposed to unreal virtual) communities. The Christian Anarchists like Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin, and Jacques Ellul have some practical ideas about building communities of support absent government intervention. There will be plenty of space for exercising human kindness.


On a personal note - My gram loved FDR and I loved her so I'm not an objective observer. She grew up in a dry hard scrabble beautiful part of Montana, worked in a defense plant in Wisconsin, lost her husband (my grandfather) in a motorcycle accident before I was born, got her teaching degree and spent her life teaching and helping students learn. Her specialty was remedial reading. I will never forget one day when I was maybe six or so and Gram was teaching older kids in our 1-8 grade school. She thought one of the older kids looked hungry so she brought him to the lunchroom and made him a jam sandwich. It makes me tear up..I'm very proud that my daughter follows in her footsteps by teaching in a public school with students that come from poor families. 

You're my heroes. 

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Let Them Drink Martinis

Upon learning the peasants had no bread a princess who lived hundreds of years ago supposedly replied, "let them eat cake." 

That statement may or may not have ever been uttered by a princess but it served to make a point. In our time we have a somewhat analogous position towards hungry people taken by politicians who are beholden to the ultra wealthy.

According to this WaPo article; 
"Although the Senate GOP proposal offers no new funds for SNAP and Pandemic EBT, it does double the tax deduction for business meals, known as the “three-martini-lunch deduction,” increasing the reimbursement from 50 percent to 100 percent of meals."
Pandemic-EBT (P-EBT) is intended to provide food for children who received free or reduced-price school meals in the 2019-2020 school year, but their school was closed. SNAP is another name for food stamps. It is the federal government program intended to help prevent families with dependent children from going hungry. To begin to understand who those families might be it may be helpful to consider that a person working full time (2080 hours) a year in one of the 21 states that adhere to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour brings home a yearly gross income of $15,800.

GOP senators care less about kids going hungry then they do about pleasing lobbyists representing the rich and powerful. 

I draw two conclusions (a) the American people (minus the oligarchs) should be mad as hell and (b) over the last 4 decades our federal government has been captured by people/corporations with vast wealth/power so that it no longer represents the will of the people. 

Either that or you have to believe the will of the people is to be able to fully write-off expensive business and lobbyist three-martini lunches...which of course no one the GOP is essentially giving the vast majority of citizens a big old middle finger and daring them to stop them.


The GOP are (as they have for decades) playing the "how ignorant are the American people" game. As "the one who says the quiet part out loud" said I love the poorly educated. Well bless your heart of course you do - otherwise why start Trump-U? It's not breaking news that con men of all stripes, from snake oil salesmen to corrupt politicians, love ignorant and gullible people.

Working class people have been manipulated into voting against our own interests for decades but we can hope that current events will cause enough citizens to become politically informed, active and energized to use their vote to bring back a representative democracy that represents the people rather than the .1%. 

We'll soon find out if money, power, and decades of the best propaganda money can buy, have led us inexorably to some sort of fascistic/totalitarian state where people are encouraged to label, hate and fear their fellow humans to keep the rich rich and the powerful powerful, or if we live in the nation that so many in our time and before our time fought so hard for.


Sorry if this is boring but this little bit of personal history might help explain where I am coming from...

In my first incarnation as a college student with a double major in Political Science and Philosophy I wrote a paper in 1973 during the Nixon administration about what appeared to be pre-fascist tendencies at that time. Professor Prausnitz gave me good marks for it. I found out after Dr. Prausnitz died that he and his parents had escaped Germany after the Nazis came to power. Then sort of like Rip Van Winkle I went to sleep for 40 years or so (in the Navy, working, raising kids) and when I woke up (retired and had time to do some research) I began to realize how anodyne the Nixon administration's pre-fascist tendencies were compared to where we are today after 40 years of insidious attacks on liberal democracy. 

There are lots of articles and talk about fascism in the air these days. One of the best I've read is this one by Umberto Eco who was a young fascist in Mussolini's Italy. If you don't have time to read the whole thing here's a synopsis from the New York Review of Books -

"Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises.” Umberto Eco wrote in The New York Review in 1995. “Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances.” To that end, Eco outlines fourteen defining qualities of fascism, among them: the cult of tradition (1), a fear of difference (5), obsession with a plot (7), and a contempt for the weak (10). “These features cannot be organized into a system,” he writes. “Many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.”

Probably worth mentioning, in the fog of the deliberately hysteria-generating anti-antifa propaganda coming out of the right wing media complex, that we fought a World War to end one would think (incorrectly) that we are all anti-fascist. In the Orwellian propaganda of the billionaire funded right-wing media machine the pro-fascists are patriots and the anti-fascists are criminals. My father fought and was wounded in that world war to end fascism. He was a Montana farm boy who loved his country not a criminal.

Saturday, August 01, 2020


The documentary 13th is available free on YouTube. People interested in furthering their understanding of the history of race, policing, mass-incarceration and the take over of state governments by right-wing corporate special interests via ALEC will find it useful.