Thursday, October 20, 2016

America’s Elections Are Rigged, But Not In The Way Trump Thinks

Trump is right to say that American elections are rigged, but they are rigged in completely different ways than he asserts. The very fact that a racist, misogynistic, lying, fascist like Trump could make it as far as he has in a supposedly democratic election lays bare the lie that there is some kind of conspiracy against him. Wall Street and the military/industrial/media complex would have no ideological problem with a Trump presidency, except for the little fact that the man is crazy enough to blow up the world.

Our elections are rigged, but the victims of this reality are not white billionaires, as abhorrent as they may be. The true victims are leftists, minorities, the poor, the middle class…well, basically 99 percent of all Americans. Elections are rigged to support the agenda of the .01 percent, the wealthiest of the wealthy. A recent study that came out of Princeton University found that policies and laws enacted by Congress overwhelming benefit the richest individuals and organizations. In the summary they conclude, “Despite seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analysis suggests that majorities of the American public have little influence over the policies our government adopts.”

Unlike the vague assertions of Trump, there is plenty of concrete evidence to show that the deck is stacked against most Americans when it comes to who gets into office and who doesn’t. Here are a few examples.

Money. Money is the lifeblood of politics in America. If you have it, you get a place at the table, if you don’t have it, you don’t exist. Feeble attempts have been made in the past to try and curb the influence of money in our elections, but they have been ignored, repealed or subverted, and the buying power of the wealthiest few remains intact. Nothing has done more to corrupt the democratic process than the power wielded by the .01 percent to buy politicians and influence policies. Of course, it is a Catch 22 situation. Politicians who have benefited from the current system feel no obligation to change the status quo, despite its disastrous ramifications for democracy.

Gerrymandering: States have been gerrymandering voting districts for a very long time to favor a particular party’s chances, but things have taken a turn for the worse over the past twenty years as ultra-conservative Tea Party members have won governorships and state houses around the country. From Rick Scott in Florida to Scott Walker in Wisconsin to John Kasich in Ohio, Republican governors and state senators have been working overtime to disenfranchise minority voters who traditionally vote Democratic. Courts are now starting to fight back, but the practice continues and serves to distort the balance of power, and will of the people, around the country.

The Two-Party System: It’s no conspiracy theory to say the Republican and Democratic parties have a stranglehold on politics in America. The problems with this are obvious and numerous. As we’ve seen, third party attempts to gain legitimacy have gone down in flames time and time again. The two major parties are elaborate, firmly established machines that no upstart party can begin to compete with financially or in any other way. The result is a field of candidates who are more closely tied to party ideology and mega-donors than the American people. New voices and new ideas are discouraged and the big winner is always the status quo. Even within the two parties, there is little room for dissent, and a candidate as popular as Bernie Sanders is quickly dismissed to the sidelines by the party’s power brokers.

Electronic voting machines. This is a controversial one, but we do know a few things for sure: It has been demonstrated more than once that it is relatively easy to hack these machines and flip votes. There is also strong evidence that this has in fact happened at polling places around the country in elections since these machines were introduced. Voters have seen their votes change before their eyes and results from electronic machines have differed wildly from exit polls, most often helping Republican candidates. What many people don’t realized is that these voting machines are privately owned by corporations that keep their proprietary software secret and away from public scrutiny, so there is no way to verify the accuracy of the vote after the fact.

So yes, Donald, you’re right, America’s elections are rigged, but you are not the victim. The American people are the big losers here.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Lack Of Competition In America’s Major Industries Is A Serious Problem, Yet No One Wants To Talk About It

What could be more dangerous and threatening to democracy than having a mere handful of companies controlling our money, our news and entertainment and our food? Yet this is exactly the situation we find ourselves in today, and there has been little to nothing said about this situation from either Presidential candidate. The reason why is obvious. Industry giants contribute and control candidates running for office. They help set the national agenda and pad the bank accounts of elected officials who do their bidding.

Some will characterize this claim as a conspiracy theory, but in this case, the facts say otherwise. Here are a few:

- The American economy, and to a large extent the global economy, is controlled by four banking behemoths: Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup (joining them from abroad are BNP, Deutsche Bank, Barclays and a few other older large banks). Eighty percent of the New York Federal Reserve Bank is owned by eight families: Goldman Sachs, Rockefellers, Lehmans and Kuhn Loebs of New York, the Rothschilds of Paris and London, the Lazards of Paris, and the Israel Moses Seifs of Rome.

- Six companies own 90 percent of the media in America: Comcast, The Walt Disney Company, 21st Century Fox, Time Warner, CBS Corporation and Viacom. In 1983 there were 50 companies in this category. A mere 232 media executives control the information and entertainment diet of 277 million Americans.

- Ten companies control almost everything we eat and drink: Nestle, Pepsico, General Mills, Coca Cola, Kellogg’s, Associated British Foods, Mondelez, Mars, Unilever, Danone and Mars. From granola bars to frozen foods to your morning glass of orange juice, ten companies determine the diets of most Americans.

Although today’s situation may not conform to the strict definition of a monopoly, the result is basically the same. What makes this so undemocratic and anti-capitalist?

Competition. One of the basic tenets of capitalism is the supposed benefits of competition. If I build a good mousetrap, but you build a better one, you, and supposedly the consumer, benefit. When you have only a handful of giant corporations controlling an industry, competition and innovation are stifled and, in some cases, bought up and incorporated into the mother company. Consumer choices are artificially limited.

Workers’ rights. The less competition, the easier it is to control prices and wages. Workers are the big losers when they have so few choices of companies for which to work, and the companies are more than happy to take advantage of this situation by keeping wages and benefits as low as possible, despite making huge profits.

Market control. The media monopoly is a good example of how a small group can control an entire industry. There have been numerous examples in recent years showing clips of local and national newscasters from different networks not only airing the same stories during the same news cycle, but reading from the exact same script. News is no longer news, but corporate propaganda designed to not only sell things, but to keep the masses docile and uninformed.

It’s really a crime that this very serious situation is receiving absolutely no attention during this campaign. A few notable politicians like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders understand the problem, but they have been excluded from the race to the White House by the Goliaths they are fighting against. When you have two candidates who benefit financially from the very companies we need to break up, there’s little hope change will come anytime soon.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Trump’s Hubris Will Bring Him Down

As the allegations continue pouring in from women Trump has sexually harassed and assaulted over the years, I can’t help but be amazed at the scale of hubris it must take to run for the highest office in the country and not expect your personal behavior to become an issue. It is especially stunning in the case of Trump who has held no public office before and has little to talk about except his personal life.

Donald is certainly not the first person to run for office who failed to take into account the skeletons in the closet, but in his case, it’s not a closet, but a Trump Tower full of decades of behaviors ranging from the annoyingly childish to the clearly illegal. To say Donald Trump lacks introspection and the ability to understand the ramifications of his own actions is the understatement of the century.

An actual human being with a heart and a conscience would never in a million years consider running for President of the United States with a track record like Donald’s, but he is clearly not an actual human being. Brought up by a rabidly racist father, cloistered in the world of wealth and privilege, Trump lived in the frat house of his own making for his entire adult life, revealing his inner depravity to fellow fraternity brothers and foisting himself on women who he was sure wanted to party with the president of the club. Being the classic narcissist he is, it never dawned on the rich white kid that he wasn’t the coolest, most desirable man wherever he went.

And now, finally, the stone walls he built around himself to keep him impervious to reality are starting to crack and separate. Only now, seven decades into his life, is the world that exists beyond his mental bulwark beginning to seep into the inner sanctum, causing Donald to become unsure, erratic, and to lash out in childish tantrums at all the many enemies around him.

Hubris will ultimately be the downfall of Donald Trump. His ugly, demeaning, racist behavior is finally being held up to the light and it is penetrating his defenses, burning him like sunlight burns a vampire. Hopefully it will burn hot enough and long enough to send him back into the darkness where he belongs.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

When America Looks In The Mirror, It Sees The Face of Donald Trump

Donald Trump is without question a despicable human being. The latest revelations of his demeaning rhetoric towards women are being rightly condemned by just about everyone across the political spectrum. Yet this is only one in a long line of horrible comments by Trump objectifying women, and only now are many of his staunchest supporters speaking out against him.

The bar has been lowered so far for The Donald, that it was only when his fans had to actually dig into the ground to push it below the surface that any complaints were raised. Conservatives and evangelical Christians are just fine with sexism, misogyny and suppression as long as you use the right terms and phrases. “Grabbing them by the pussy” is not correct form and thus, objectionable. When you get down to it, it is really only semantics that separate the rest of the conservative pack from Trump, and no one should forget that.

Ask yourself, how can someone who believes that a wife should be subservient to the husband criticize the substance of what Trump said? How can a person who insists a woman should not have control over her own body call out Trump for his comments? The bluster and indignation from the right is as phony as a Trump apology and the only real concern on the part of the Republican Party is that their candidate can’t stop handing Hillary more ammunition.

Can anyone imagine what would happen if Trump’s hot mic comments were uttered by Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama? Yet as of today, Trump is still the Republican presidential nominee. Our institutions are failing us, our “leaders” are not leaders at all, but tools of the one percent, and our democracy is dying. Donald Trump is the abomination born of nationalistic greed and hubris, the spawn of anti-democratic chauvinism and American exceptionalism. Conservatives pretending to be aghast at his remarks are his long-time enablers now swimming in a cesspool of hypocrisy. Far from an aberration, Trump is the true face of America in 2016, the candidate we deserve.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Ever Feel Like You’ve Known Donald Trump All Your Life? You Have.

Since Trump became the Republican nominee for President, there has been a spate of articles psychoanalyzing The Donald, with many professionals agreeing he is clearly a narcissist and possibly a sociopath. I do have respect for the psychologists who have brought to bear their many years of experience to categorize the man, but you and I already know him by a much more common moniker: “The Asshole.”

John, come on, are you just being rude? No, well yes, but no. We all know or have known Donald Trumps throughout our lives. He is representative of the assholes we come into contact with at work, on the roads and at large family gatherings. Think about the time you were having dinner with your wife and a coworker’s name came up in the conversation, and she said, “That asshole?” You’re talking to a neighbor in the apartment complex and you complain about the constant noise, and he says, “Must be the asshole in 4B.” You’re attending the big game at your hometown stadium, but the guy in front of you keeps standing up and yelling at the top of his lungs, and you’re thinking, “What an….” That annoying human being, in every case, is Sir Trump.

Donald Trump is the person who…

You never want for a group project.

Cuts you off in traffic, and then gives you the finger.

Takes more credit than he deserves for a successful project.

Looks for a reason not to leave the waitress a tip.

Laughs when someone trips.

Pulls into the parking spot you’ve been waiting for at Costco.

Takes the last cup of coffee and doesn’t make a new pot.

You will surely have your own additions to the listing of habits of your typical asshole. And I’m not even going to the misogynistic, racist tendencies of the man, although there are certainly correlations here, too. What I’m saying is that in some ways, Donald Trump really does represent the common man, but that thin slice of humanity known familiarly as the “common asshole.”

Monday, September 26, 2016

Tonight’s Debate Is A Clash Between Concepts of Reality, Not Merely Ideology

On the morning of the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, my overburdened in-box is filled with subject lines like, “Nate Silver says it’s a dead heat,” and “Hillary’s losing.” Behind all of the hyperbolic fear mongering is the never-ending quest for donations, but back in the real world, the race is far, far closer than it should be. I don’t doubt for a second that Hillary is sitting backstage somewhere or on a plane wondering for the millionth time why she isn’t fifty points ahead of Trump in the polls. We should all be wondering that.

A portion of the blame goes to the corporate media. If the presidential race isn’t a close one, viewers will become bored and tune out, so it’s in their best interests to continuously sell the drama of a neck and neck competition. A second issue is the successful demonization of the Clintons, and especially Hillary, among the right wing media over the past twenty-five years. They’ve accused her of every crime from witchcraft to murder and in the echo chamber of the wing-nut nation if a Clinton is involved, it has to be true.

Most discouraging of all, however, is that there exists in this country of public education, twenty-four seven news and the vast information resources of the Internet such a large group of voters who are unable to discern fact from fiction, reality from ideology. I’ve watched interviews with Trump supporters and while they’re often intended to be humorous, it strikes me as tragic that adults in America in 2016 would lack the basic, almost childish, intellectual skills needed to see that Donald Trump is completely unfit to be President of the United States.

I’d like to think that the debates will be a game-changer, that Hillary will decimate the woefully inept Trump and put his ignorance on display for all to see, but we know that won’t be the case. Trump could stand at his podium and not say a word for an hour and his supporters would declare him the winner. If he walked over and punched Hillary in the nose, his people would anoint him a god. The Clinton/Trump battle isn’t a competition between two ideologies, it is a fight between two versions of reality.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Don't Rent Apartment 118

I've posted a new short scary story called Apartment 118. If you think your neighbors are odd, check out Cliff's story at "Two-Minute Tales of Terror."