Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Author’s Prerogative - A short short story

The fire cast the only light in the room, a hazy copper glow that reached as far as Armand’s well-worn easy chair. He held a cigarette in one hand, a glass of good scotch in the other, wondering what else a retired writer does during his last night on earth. He could imagine a few things, but at 75 and ill, they were the wistful and wishful desires of a younger man. He took a drink and savored the smoky tang around his tongue before swallowing. As he set the glass back down on the chair’s arm, the air behind him began to chill and wrap around the back of his neck and shoulders like an icy blanket. He dabbed his dying cigarette in the glass ashtray.
“Are you preparing, Armand?” came a hoarse, hollow whisper behind him.
“I’m afraid you’re too late,” said Armand, taking another long drink. “I’ve finished the last chapter.”
“You couldn’t know. No one ever knows.”
            The old man responded with a dusty laugh. “Not even you, apparently.”
“I make the decision. What’s that smell?"
Armand’s glass fell to the floor. “What? You don’t recognize the smell of death?” he rasped, his heart’s final beat a triumphant exclamation point to a life ending exactly when he knew it should.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A monster lives among us

You know how in so many Hollywood movies, the bad guy (or girl) is completely amoral? They have absolutely no redeeming qualities or allegiances, no heart, and have only one goal in their miserable lives (world domination, killing the hero, the Holy Grail, the gold in Ft. Knox, etc.)? Well, think about it. What is the one real-world parallel that turns people into amoral, single-minded tyrants? Profits.

If companies are people, as the Supreme Court says they are, they are amoral organisms that have one purpose and one purpose only: to make a profit. Everything else is superfluous or incidental and subservient to the goal of staying in the black. Today’s large corporations have no national allegiance, no community allegiance, no concern for their workers other than that they perform their assigned duties competently, and absolutely no conscience.

To argue against free market capitalism in America is to invite stoning, shunning, career suicide and any number of other punishments. It’s not a serious part of anyone’s political discourse, with the possible exception of Bernie Sanders, and, to Tea Partiers, calling Obama a socialist is the modern day equivalent of labeling him a son of Satan.

Unregulated or even poorly regulated capitalism is a recipe for disaster, and that disaster is playing itself out as I type this. The economy has limped along since 2008, but much worse is on horizon as we continue to allow unchecked companies to move to lower wage countries, pay little to nothing in taxes, pay CEOs exorbitant salaries and keep hordes of money stockpiled in offshore accounts.

Politicians working with lobbyists have created an amoral corporate monster that lives only for profits and gives almost nothing back in return.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Obama’s legacy: Not much “there” there

Good article in Salon today by the always insightful Thomas Frank on what the Obama presidential library of the future will contain. Frank guesses that much of the museum will be devoted to hyperventilating over the Republicans in Congress and the obstructions they threw up at every turn of Obama’s presidency. Frank argues, and I think most progressives would agree, that Obama could have and should have done much more to fight the bastards rather than constantly wishing for the never attainable consensus he always seems to want. He simply hasn’t pushed hard enough for his agenda, hasn’t gone to the American people a la Reagan, hasn’t gotten angry, and therefore, hasn’t got much to show for the last six years.

No one expected Obama to walk on water or perform miracles. All we hoped for was that he would follow through on his pledge to change the destructive course set by Bush and Cheney and point America in a new direction. He hasn’t done that. He hasn’t even really tried to do that. If I were to design the Obama presidential library, it would be a very large room with nothing in it. Hidden speakers would play Obama’s speeches in an endless loop. Inspiring, hopeful words with nothing concrete to show for it.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Why third parties in America are doomed to failure

Why is it impossible to start a serious third political party in the U.S.? It’s been tried many times, but even billionaire Ross Perot couldn’t sustain his efforts. To me, the answer is pretty straightforward: If you have money, and you want influence, you need to back a winner. For many large companies, it doesn’t even matter if the next president is a Republican or Democrat, they give money to both candidates. Throwing away dollars on some third party dark horse wouldn’t make good business sense. Add to this corporate unfriendly progressive politics, and we have nowhere to go but down.

This brings me to a mantra I chant often; campaign finance reform. Until there is serious campaign finance reform, starting with overturning recent Supreme Court blunders, there will never be a serious third party. And, of course, there is no upside for Republicans or Democrats to encourage a more participatory democracy that could threaten their very elite status.

The status quo assures that we on the left end of the political spectrum are locked out of the political process. We can’t even get on Sunday news shows. Right-wing crazies like Ted Cruz and Louie Gohmert and Michelle Bachmann are given access and money because they are free enterprise zombies who will jump into a volcano if the Koch’s tell them to.

A slight detour in this argument leads me to net neutrality. As I mentioned, progressive voices are rarely heard in the mainstream media. You can, however, find many liberal and progressive sites on the Internet, and when they rally together, they can be politically potent. Companies salivating to end net neutrality see dollar signs for sure, but they also see a way of silencing pesky Netnick lefties and their stubbornly persistent world view that unfettered capitalism shouldn’t be the golden calf we all worship.

            

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Short story accepted

My story "Unlucky in Love" has been posted at a short story site. 

Check it out here!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Rumors here. Get your red hot Obama rumors here.

Republicans really, really want to impeach Obama. The problem is, they can’t decide on what to impeach him for. Being black isn’t going to get out of the starting gate. Being born in Hawaii seems un-American, but apparently, it’s not. He’s hiding something. Everyone knows it, but what? We need an Edward Snowden in the White House, a patriotic American who will finally pull back the curtain and expose the President for what he is, whatever that might be.

Meanwhile, we have the rumor mill. This is the conservative fantasy land where fevered dreams about Obama can be let loose to be repeated on FOX as fact. Here are a few of the latest that I give as a gift to frustrated Republicans:

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is Obama’s half-brother.

Obama routinely flies Kenyan relatives to Washington D.C. to attend raves in the White House basement.

Obama gives copies of Mein Kampf as Christmas gifts.

Obama has a live video feed to a secret room in the White House where kittens are tortured.

Obama is about to issue an executive order making it legal to hunt white Christians.

An anonymous whistleblower claims to have been in a meeting with Obama where he shape-shifted into a reptile, Karl Marx and Elizabeth Taylor.

Obama will occasionally slip out of the White House at night and perform at local clubs as his alter ego, rapper Commander Bro.

Obama is about to suspend the Constitution, declare martial law and make narwhal tattoos mandatory.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

New short story: A girl can't be too careful

Here is an excerpt from my newest short story. Read the rest at They're only Shadows.

An early December snowstorm choked downtown Minneapolis with a blinding, blustery assault, keeping would be Christmas Shoppers and Warehouse District employees inside for the afternoon. The lunchroom of Hobbs & Linderman, a large design agency in the Twin Cities, was busier than usual as employees grumbled over Lean Cuisine and stale sandwiches from the vending machines. Senior designer Alice Nolan and copywriter Conner Farmington occupied a small table in a corner of the noisy room.
            “Is that a new tat?” asked Conner.
            Alice lifted up her arm. “Yeah. It’s a butterfly with Jeffrey Dahmer’s face.”
            “Of course it is. The expiration date on this cinnamon roll is in Roman numerals.”
            Alice smiled. “Well, since you’ve eaten half of it, I hope that’s not a problem.”
            “I’ve had worse. Do you or do you not find it weird that most of the people we work with on a daily basis are total strangers? I mean, here’s an example. I interact with Janice Dempsey almost every day. Project coordinator. She’s nice, capable, good at her job, but I know exactly nothing about her. No wedding ring. Okay. Not married. A bit gamey and course at times, but not outrageous. Beyond that, nothing. Even though I converse with her probably more than anyone else in my life, I don’t know a damn thing about her.”
            “And this troubles you.”
            “I find it odd. That’s all. On a given workday, I spend more time with you than I spend with my boyfriend. Okay, more conscious time, yet I only know bits and pieces of your life, but it’s a whole lot more than I know about Janice. Do you not find that strange?”
            “I live with two cats who know me better than my parents. Go figure. You gonna eat that pickle?”
            “No.
            “The copy for Dow?”
            “Yeah?” said Alice with a twinge of dread.
            “Full of cryptic satanic references that will make fundamentalist Christians instantly evacuate their bowels when they read it.”
            “That’ll win us more work. Do you really want to know more about Janice Dempsey’s life? And if the answer is yes, why?”
            “My point is a simple one. I spend a lot of my life with a group of people I know nothing about.”
            Alice leaned in. “That can be a good thing.”
            “If you have a lot to hide, maybe.”
            “I wish. Besides, this is 2014. You can find out almost anything about anyone online.”
            “Please. That’s too much like stalking for me.”
            “Listen, you’re interested in the life of Janice Dempsey? In a half-hour of searching I bet I can find out a ton of information about her.”
            “Okay, but why?”
            “Call it a personal challenge.” Conner arched an eyebrow. “Okay. My life is so boring and empty even this sounds exciting.”

The sinking U.S.S. America

The ship of state is listing. A new Rasmussen Reports Poll finds that nearly half of Americans believe that elections are unfair. That’s the highest percentage since the poll started ten years ago.

Only 19 percent of those polled think the government has the consent of the governed and only seven percent think that Congress listens to voters more than party leaders. Seven percent.

What’s interesting to me is that poll after poll indicates that a large number of Americans understand the political problems we face, but that understanding does not seem to translate into action. Reality-challenged Republicans will still win congressional seats and be elected governors, perhaps even President. Truckloads of campaign cash from delusional billionaires are clearly trumping the will of the people.

We have a comatose Congress, a President under daily assault from the Right, a Supreme Court majority ruling as if this was the 15th century, a mainstream media controlled by corporate interests, and a citizenry unable or unwilling to turn their anger into meaningful change.

The U.S.S. America is sinking, and unless you’re a billionaire, there ain’t no lifeboats.