Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Justice Denied

Yesterday a grand jury failed to indict Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of the unarmed Michael Brown.

If you haven’t kept up with the myriad accounts of the incident in the media and you’re unsure whether justice was served, I can help you understand the problem with this decision in one brief statement:

Anne Coulter, Ted Nugent and Laura Ingraham enthusiastically endorse the outcome.

The end.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Is the key to a Democratic resurgence in repackaging our arguments or simply having the courage to make them in the first place?

There’s a lengthy interview in today’s Salon with a writer and intellectual I admire, George Lakoff. The title of the article is, “Progressives need to frame their values.” In the piece, Lakoff argues that progressives have to learn how to tie truths to values; to frame their arguments so that they better connect with voters’ values. It’s something that conservatives almost instinctively know how to do, but on the left end of the spectrum, we tend to offer laundry lists of intellectual solutions that are not connected to the voter’s values. Progressives need to do a better job of framing their political language to appeal to people’s deep-seated beliefs.

As someone who has worked in marketing most of my life, I do understand the importance of “framing” your appeals to consumers. You have to understand your audience and make your argument relevant to them. Where I work now, we are all about “behavioral economics,” and how to truly engage consumers to the point that they are not merely purchasers of your product, but brand advocates who champion your brand.

So I don’t necessarily disagree with Lakoff’s arguments about framing, but my question is this — Is the issue really about “framing” an argument correctly or is it about conveying progressive ideals, which are inherently about values, openly, enthusiastically and without apology, something too few Democratic candidates seem willing to do? Lakoff admires Elizabeth Warren and her ability to convey the values behind her progressive policies, but is Warren framing her argument or simply espousing progressive ideas clearly and confidently?

In other words, is the core problem for Democrats a marketing issue or more simply about finding their political courage? Again, I look at Al Franken’s recent campaign. Franken is a liberal, but during his tenure in the Senate, he has emphasized his work for Minnesotans and the value he’s brought to the state. In other words, he rarely gets on a soapbox to simply espouse liberal causes, but tends to link them with the needs of Minnesotans, and that has won him two elections. His Republican opponent used all of the “framing” arguments in the conservative playbook against Franken, but they didn’t work.

I am hoping that after the mid-term debacle, Democrats will stop reflexively running to the center, and begin to take their lessons from Warren and Franken and Sanders and other proud progressives. It’s important to understand “framing,” but I think success will really be achieved when Democrats find the courage to speak from their hearts and proudly convey their progressive beliefs and how those beliefs can help this country be far more successful and prosperous than it is today.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Too big to fail is an ugly reality

For anyone who still doesn’t think the economy is rigged against the common American citizen, statements by William Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, should put your doubts to rest. During a recent grilling by the Senate Banking Committee, the top economic dog admitted openly and unambiguously that the Fed did not go after big banks it knew had committed crimes because they feared it would lead to economic instability. Too big to fail is not a loony conspiracy theory but a hard, cold reality.

Of course, Dudley says that the Fed has “gotten past that,” but why should anyone believe him? The very financial institutions that the Fed is supposed to oversee play a large roll in who gets on the regional Fed boards. It’s a very cozy and incestuous relationship that for all intensive purposes is the banks regulating themselves. For their part, Democratic Senators sounded tough in the committee meeting, but only time will tell if their actions match their rhetoric.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Santafication of Christmas

As the Christmas season quickly approaches (well, at Costco it’s been the holiday buying season since September) there seems to be a new trend among super Christians to stop fighting and start merging. For most Christians, Christmas is a nominally religious holiday where friends and family get together, exchange gifts and share a feast. There might be a yearly trip to church, but the emphasis is on gift-giving, gatherings, kids and the magic of Santa.

Uber Christians have always been conflicted by Christmas and have been fighting for decades to put the emphasis more on the birth of Christ than Mr. Claus, but this is corporate America, and it’s been pretty much a losing battle. So the Christ cult leaders are changing tactics. Instead of berating the materialistic aspects of the holiday, they are working hard to find religious justifications for the fun side of the holiday. I call it the Santafication of Christmas.

All of this may have actually begun with Bill O’Reilly’s War on Christmas tirades that have been going on for the past few years. It’s Merry Christmas, Goddamnit, not Happy Holidays. There is no war on Christmas, the Fortune 500 would never allow it, but it may have nonetheless been the spark that lit a fire under Kirk Cameron and Glenn Beck.

Cameron released a movie recently called “Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas.” Beyond the egomaniacal title is his lonely battle to save the true spirit of Christmas and, at the same time, keep the fun stuff. At a family Christmas gathering, Kirk is confronted with a bah-humbug brother-in-law and proceeds to “save” Christmas with ludicrous historical inaccuracies surrounding Christmas traditions so that somehow, it’s all about Christ again. It probably goes without saying that movie critics have given it a universal thumbs down and it’s at rock bottom on Rotten Tomatoes and still falling.

Where Cameron’s effort is pretty straightforward, Glenn Beck takes the Christmas train into Crazyland. Beck’s movie company is releasing a film called The Immortal. Now bear with me here. In the movie, “Santa” is a conflicted superhero/hunter/warrior who is immortal, lives to see Jesus crucified, is converted by the Sermon on the Mount, serves as a bodyguard for Jesus, then, a thousand years or so later, befriends and mentors a kid named St. Nicholas.

That’s a lot of insanity to absorb, so I’ll give you a minute…. The Santafication of Christmas is essentially an attempt by Super Christians to have their cake and eat it too. They’ve had to concede that Christmas is just too darn fun and economically important to stop, so they are now putting their efforts into merging Jesus and Santa together into one holly Jolly messiah.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ignorance, nationalism and greed have broken America

Sometimes it’s hard to take reality seriously. We live in the computer age where just about anything you might want to know is only a few keystrokes away.  We’ve harnessed human knowledge and wisdom in a small machine and you can tap into it any time you want. Despite this, despite having all of the information we need to make informed decisions, we still have people governing us who live in the Dark Ages when science was black magic and it was believed God controlled people like pieces on a chess board.

Instead of honoring and elevating intelligence, our current crop of leaders shun it, deny it and run from it to hide in the warm buxom of their corporate masters. How can any country last when its leaders celebrate superstition and rule under the illusion that their magic is more powerful than science? They think God has blessed them and their ambition, when in reality these true believers are merely useful idiots for the elites who are willing to buy them a seat in Congress as long as they toe the company line.

Their faith doesn’t inform their lives. It’s just the opposite. They’ve cobbled together a set of beliefs that justify lying, cheating and stealing under the guise of doing God’s work.  They don’t answer to God or the American people. They answer to the Fortune 500 CEOs and greed-blinded billionaires who have become so twisted and perverted by money they are willing to leave their children a poisoned, dying planet. The only thing our leaders are highly skillful at is spewing platitudes and code words that draw ignorant, angry white voters to the polls like flies to dog crap every two years.

We will fall as a country under the weight of our willful ignorance, blinding nationalism and tolerance of greed. History tells us over and over again that any country that extols superstition over science, that allows its wealthiest citizens to control the government, that believes perpetual war is the optimal state, cannot survive. Our empire is already crumbling and, without real change, collapse is immanent.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Our war on terror is the definition of insanity

In the “Tell-me-something-I-don’t-know” category, the title of today’s Washington Post Wonkblog piece is, “After 13 years, 2 wars and trillions in military spending, terrorist attacks are rising sharply.”

Research findings from the Institute of Economics and Peace demonstrate clearly that our war on terror, just like our war on drugs, is not only failing in its primary mission, it is exacerbating the problem. Every bomb we drop, every soldier we send to the Middle East, every puppet dictator we support breeds new militants. Our actions are making the world less safe than it was before 9/11.

Let’s take a look at what we have to show for all of our efforts to stamp out terrorism: A significant increase in terrorist activity worldwide since 2000, a politically destabilized Middle East, the deaths of thousands of American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, trillions of dollars sucked into a black hole, a national surveillance state that is out of control, a drastic rise in the number of Middle Eastern refugees, and a diminished standing in the eyes of the rest of the world. Check, check and check.

So, of course, Obama wants to double the number of troops that are now on the ground in Iraq.

(Forehead slap)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Americans don’t have a clue about income inequality

There’s an interesting and disturbing article in today’s Salon on income inequality in America. A recent study found that the United States has by far the largest gap in income inequality in the developed world. The current gap in this country between what CEOs make as compared to the average pay of workers in their factories is a whopping 354 to 1. To provide some perspective, in 1965, the gap between CEO pay and workers was 20 to 1. On the list of developed countries, the second country below America is Switzerland, with a gap of 145 to 1. The pay gap in the United Kingdom is 84 to 1.

The article points out how clueless Americans are when it comes to income inequality in this country. The survey asked people what they thought the actual wage gap was, and the answers averaged out to 36 to 1, and this was across ages, demographics and political affiliation. When asked what they thought the gap should be, respondents said about 7 to 1. How is it we have such a poor understanding of the wage gap and income inequality in this country?

The author points out a number of reasons for our rose-colored view of income inequality, including the lingering belief among Baby Boomers that we’re still living in the Post-WWII boom, the reluctance of Republicans and Democrats to address the issue and the Ayn Rand/Tea Party propaganda that those at the bottom of the economic ladder are lazy and not working hard enough.

The one culprit the article leaves out is the corporate mainstream press. Is it in the economic interests of the small cabal of media giants to make an issue out of income inequality? Absolutely not. Scaring consumers with stories about how much more their bosses make than they do could lead to all kinds of unfortunate circumstances, like people saving more and using credit cards less; letters to representatives demanding more income equality; citizens actually marching in the streets demanding things. The horror! FOX News is only the most vocal corporate shill, but it is by no means alone.

Breaking down existing beliefs about income inequality will be difficult, but necessary. If nothing is done, our ruinous trend will continue to push the 99 percent down and lift the .01 percent up and further enhance the political power they already enjoy.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Civil asset forfeiture: A license to steal

Civil asset forfeiture has to be one of the most odious police practices in America and needs to be stopped. According to the New York Times, the law

“allows the government, without ever securing a conviction or filing a criminal charge, to seize property suspected of having ties to crime.”

It basically gives the government the green light to steal from you if it wants what you have. In 2012 alone, $4.3 billion worth of assets were taken by law enforcement agencies throughout the country. They often sell off the cars, electronics, and boats they steal and keep the money to buy things for their departments. This practice is one more evil outgrowth of the Drug War that has expanded in scope from the 1980s to today, and now includes a vast array of suspected offenses ranging from drunk driving to shoplifting.

I know someone who fell victim to this practice and had her car confiscated before any charges were issued. Even when you manage to get your property back, you pay outrageous fines, so the cops win either way. It may be technically legal, but it is in no way constitutional, and there are organizations working to halt civil asset forfeitures. One such organization is the Institute for Justice. If you are so inclined, support their efforts. You or I could be the next victim.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Living in the painless concentration camp

Forget Nostradamus, Huxley’s prediction for the near future of America (and other democracies) is as spot on as it gets. While he lived during a period of brutal totalitarian regimes (Germany, U.S.S.R, China) he was able to envision the very different path that the U.S. would take to devolve into an oligarchy, and perhaps one day, a dictatorship.

He understood that there wouldn’t need to be a violent revolution to overthrow democracy. He saw the seeds of our demise beginning to sprout in the 40s and 50s as we grew wealthy and complacent and cowed in fear of communist infiltrations. “What’s good for GM is good for America” was the capitalist’s philosophy of the day as we exploited poor countries around the world for their raw goods. Eisenhower warned us about letting the military/industrial complex grow too powerful, but we were busy watching Leave it to Beaver and the Beverly Hillbillies and didn’t take his words to heart.

The 60s were a hiccup, a brief, unique moment in time when the people (young people) spoke up and demanded an end to war and discrimination, and the elites finally had to capitulate, although the victories were short-lived. The war in Vietnam ended, but then Reagan had to prove Americans weren’t wussies and the military grew and we found excuses around the world to use it. Reagan’s other contribution to society was cutting the tax rates for the wealthy, allowing them to grow in power and influence.

And here we are today, fighting a war on terror we can never win, bombing innocent civilians in foreign countries, allowing billionaires to buy political candidates, yawning as the government spies on us in every conceivable way, sedating ourselves and our children with “pharmacological methods,” distracted by Lady Gaga and the Walking Dead and a corporate news media as the surveillance state tears the Constitution to shreds. Without firing a shot, without mass arrests, the American deep government has succeeded in brainwashing a majority of citizens into believing they still live in a democracy, when if fact they are living in the “painless concentration camp” that Huxley predicted.

This is, I have to agree, the final revolution.


I rarely do this, but I came across this article in Talking Points Memo this morning and had to attach it to this blog

A new study from Princeton spells bad news for American democracy—namely, that it no longer exists.
Asking "[w]ho really rules?" researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page argue that over the past few decades America's political system has slowly transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where wealthy elites wield most power.
Using data drawn from over 1,800 different policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002, the two conclude that rich, well-connected individuals on the political scene now steer the direction of the country, regardless of or even against the will of the majority of voters.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Your car is a surveillance target

Orwell-creep continues as we learn that over 2 million cars purchased with subprime loans are outfitted with GPS-based kill switches that can be used to turn off your vehicle if your payments are late. Cars have been killed in dangerous neighborhoods, at stoplights and while driving on a freeway. If you’d like details on the how and why of these devices, check out the story in today’s Salon.

My concern is the ever-advancing tentacles of the corporate state winding their way into our private lives. If I had written a blog a year ago saying I believed cars were having kill switches installed I would have been laughed at as another conspiracy nut. But here you are. Kill switches in cars. Today the NSA, CIA, FBI, DEA and other government agencies are deeply entrenched within the corporate world and are constantly developing new ways to insert themselves into our lives.

It doesn’t take a very vivid imagination to see where this is going. There will be a day when all cars not only have kill switches, but will be built with technology that allows the government to track them, listen in on conversations and, ultimately, take control the car. All of this will come under the auspices of fighting crime, in the same way that the war on terror lead to massive illegal surveillance.

The American security state is out of control. With little regulation and the ability to make up the rules as they go, the NSA, CIA and others wipe their boots on the Constitution as they develop newer and more devious ways to embed themselves deeper into your private life.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Should progressives form their own political party?

Is it time for progressives to start their own political party? As author Frank Rich pointed out in yesterday’s Salon, Democrats will likely do what they always do after a political drubbing and that is to run toward the ideological center. The flawed thinking goes like this: Republicans won big. That must mean that voters want more conservative candidates. No. That isn’t what it means. Republicans won because a lot of old white guys voted and whole lot of younger, more liberal adults didn’t. Why? There are lots of reasons, but a major one is that today’s Democrats don’t sound all that different than Republicans. What’s the distinction, young voters ask?

There are distinctions, but instead of using those points of difference to their advantage in campaigns, Democrats run screaming from them and hide behind squishy rhetoric and cautious pronouncements. Please, whatever you do, don’t call me a “liberal.” Obama? Who’s Obama? Why don’t Democrats take their lesson from Minnesota? Al Franken is an unapologetic liberal, and he’s won two elections. Voters had a distinct choice in the mid-term between a true conservative and a true liberal, and they chose Franken. Isn’t there something that can be learned here?

I like the idea of a new progressive political party. It doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s agenda, and third parties do have a history of failure, but there are a lot of progressives who feel that the Democratic Party has already written them off, so why not have our own soapbox? We could start by supporting and funding Bernie Sanders’ or Elizabeth Warren’s run for the White House in 2016.

A guy can dream, can’t he?

Thursday, November 06, 2014

A Dismal Performance by Democrats

This is a continuation of my post-mortem of the 2014 mid-term massacre. As a commenter rightly pointed out, the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates bear a large amount of responsibility for Tuesday’s debacle.

Democratic candidates had two simple messages to deliver to voters during the campaign. The first is that, as Paul Krugman has pointed out, Obama has been an effective President on many fronts. The second; if you don’t like the economy, your anger should be directed at the Republican obstructionists in Congress, not the President.

Despite my own feelings about Obama’s performance, as a strategy, Democrats should have trumpeted his successes. Instead they ran away from the president as if he was an Ebola carrier, and we now see how successful that strategy was. Just as a side note, the Republican candidate who ran against Al Franken for a Minnesota senate seat, spent truckloads of money on television ads highlighting Franken’s many votes for Obama’s policies. He lost the race.

The second message should have been a no-brainer. Obstructionist Congressional Republicans are to blame for our current economic situation. Was that so hard? They shut down the government, and held the economy hostage for their own political gain. This message should have been a focal point of all Democratic arguments and been driven into the voter’s minds over and over again. Obviously it wasn’t.

Democrats have learned nothing over the past twenty years. They are still allowing Republicans to dictate the debate and playing by their rules. They seem to have already forgotten that Barack Obama won two presidential campaigns on a relatively liberal platform of hope and change. Despite his subsequent performance, voters are yearning for positive change in Washington, for someone to say, we can do better than this. Whether that’s possible or not is debatable, but Obama’s message of hope and change struck a chord with voters, and Democrats should make note of that in future election and stop wallowing around in the Republican muck.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Welcome to the Capital Hill Asylum

As predicted, American voters, at least that relatively small group that showed up to actually vote, elected the craziest inmates to run the asylum. Lunatics like Wisconsin Governor Scott “Koch addict” Walker, Florida Governor Rick “White-brother-from-another-planet” Scott and Senator Mitch “Yertle-the-Turtle” McConnell are all given back their respective jobs. And then there is the new crop of crazies headed by Iowa Republican Senator Joni Ernst, who made a campaign commercial where she linked her experience at castrating pigs to her desire to “cut the pork” in Washington. Iowans must have loved it.

As many others are pointing out, the electoral system in America is broken. From the money tsunami unleashed by Citizens United to gerrymandering to voter ID laws that disenfranchise minorities to hackable computerized voting machines, every election is now suspect and less a representation of the people’s will than a slave auction for white billionaires.

And paramount in this particular election was the issue of Obama hatred and racism. Primarily a red state mid-term, we saw how successful Republicans were at demonizing the President and shifting the blame for America’s problems from themselves to the “uppity negro” in Washington. Aided by a cowardly mainstream media, Republican candidates effectively used their code words, winks and nudges to stoke the racial hatred lying just beneath the surface of many white voters.

One rare bright spot was in my own state of Minnesota where we reelected a Democratic governor and sent Al Franken back to the Senate. I don’t envy Al because he is going to have his work cut out for him as one of a minority of sane voices trying to be heard amid the wailing, babbling patients of the Capital Hill Asylum.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

New scary short stories at "They're Only Shadows"

I've posted four new scary short stories at They're Only Shadows. A jogger tries to be a good Samaritan with deadly consequences. Find out what happens when one member of a pair of psychopathic killers loses the urge to kill. Father is gone, but his children uncover a secret that will haunt them forever. Not all Halloween monsters wear masks.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Our government lies constantly, but that’s no reason to believe in conspiracy theories

There are some very contradictory and confused arguments in an article in today’s Salon, “America’s Conspiracy Mania: Why Ebola and 9/11 truthers reflect a tortured history.” The strange angle the author takes is that if the government would just stop lying to Americans so much, we might not have so many crazy conspiracy theories. Okay… Good luck with that.

On the one hand, the author details a number of times the government has lied and misled the American people, on the other, he flippantly dismisses the possibility that the government has lied about other issues, such as 9/11.

There is a long history of real U.S. government conspiracies, from the CIA’s Tuskegee syphilis experiments to dosing unsuspecting citizens with LSD to the fabrication of the Gulf of Tonkin incident to illegal mass surveillance by the NSA. But according to the author, there’s no reason to suspect any current conspiracy theories are legitimate.

As an example of our gullibility, the author points out that one-third of Americans polled in 2006 believed that the Bush Administration had either planned the 9/11 attacks or new about them beforehand and did nothing to stop. Perhaps, just perhaps, so many people believe this crazy conspiracy theory because there is a mountain of evidence indicating it is true.