.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

While We Still Have Time

In spite of the grimness of the times in which we live, there is still hope. If you feel, like I do, that the usual discourse about matters of critical concern tends to be superficial, misguided, and false, then you might find some solace and inspiration here. I will try to offer insight and a holistic perspective on events and issues, and hopefully serve as a catalyst for raising the level of dialogue on this planet.

My Photo
Name:
Location: Madison, Wisconsin, United States

I was born in 1945, shortly before atom bombs were dropped on Japan. I served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971. I earned master's degrees in Economics and Educational Psychology, and certificates in Web Page Design and as a Teacher of English as a Second Language. I followed an Indian guru for eight years, which immersed me in meditative practices and an attitude of reaching a higher level of being. A blog post listing the meditative practices I have pursued can be seen here.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

#GeneralStrikeJan20

A couple of members of the Russian punk group Pussy Riot were in town for an appearance at the University of Wisconsin Student Union Thursday (read about it here). One of them, Masha Alekhina (Мария Алехина, @MashaAlekhina), showed up at Friday's Solidarity Singalong at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. More people came to the singalong than usual, including me. I'm not much for singalongs, and didn't sing along with this one, though I have in the past. I prefer to keep whatever solidarity I have to myself, for the most part.

Pussy Riot is an all-girl band that has staged a number of outlandish stunts in Moscow, most notably in 2012, when five of them, including Мария Алехина (Masha Alekhina), appeared at Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Protesting the church's support for Russian president Vladimir Putin, they tried to perform a song, but were thwarted by security personnel. A video of the stunt can be seen here. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Masha (Maria) Alyokhina were arrested, tried, and both spent 21 months in prison for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred."

Now they are worldwide folk heroes, and are traveling around planet to spread their message of freedom and resistance. Hence the visit to Madison.

I was inspired, and came up with the idea of a worldwide general strike on Inauguration Day. I tried out the hashtag #GeneralStrikeJan20 on Twitter today, and sure enough, someone else had already come up with the idea. Not to worry. I don't need "credit." It would be a great response to the phony Trump election, and would give notice to him and his henchpersons that the world does not accept them as legitimate rulers of the U.S. Federal Government in any way, shape or form, that we mean what we say, and that we can make their occupation of office a painful tenure.

The Trump regime is already an awful gang of low-level human beings, so they deserve nothing but disdain and opposition. A general strike of one day would serve notice. Should it last longer, they would be served more than notice. A week's-long general strike, and there would be no more Donald J. Trump regime. They will cave.
_____________________________________

Here's a song. I haven't thought of this song in a while. The Who.  Here's a Redemption Song. Ashes, ashes, all fall down. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. It will take volunteers. We can create a better world. Trying to make it realThe cast of "Hamilton" didn't throw away their shot last night. Here's a song to sing while we wait for the Trump volcano to blow.

Here's Pussy Riot at Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior Cathedral. This video shows the Solidarity Singalong in Madison on Friday with Мария Алехина. Here's another news story about her appearance. And another video.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Memes

Donald Trump is a criminal sociopath. Or at best, a criminal psychopath. This has been clearly documented by a number of keen observers, most notably George Packer and David Cay Johnston. If he shows up for the Inauguration, he will be President of the United States on January 20. More than 60,000,000 "Americans" voted for him.

This says something about how easy many of us are to fool. I wrote about the inundation of scams in this country in a previous post, and there wouldn't be so many of them if they didn't work. I get scam calls every day. Some of them, to save money, are recordings, offering a "back brace" that I supposedly requested, anonymous offers to update my credit card security, and so on. A foreign guy called me the other day with a warning about my Internet connection, claiming to be from Microsoft. I don’t have an Internet connection. I do all my online activity in libraries.

Trump, one of human history’s great scammers, won't last. Though he may be a criminal sociopath, he is also a mortal human being. I believe he is in the early stage of dementia, and that declining health will force him from office before he does much harm. Michael Moore also believes Trump won't complete his term in office, but his reasoning is that Trump will do something criminal and get impeached. The only question is which will come first – mental incompetence or criminality. Bookies should be taking bets.

Trump may not have been elected anyway. Convincing evidence is gathering that voter suppression by “Republicans” may have reduced “Democratic” votes by enough to flip the results in North Carolina, Wisconsin, and of course, the reliably corrupt Florida. Hillary Clinton beat him by over 1,000,000 votes by people who cast a ballot that was counted. By the time the nationwide tally is complete she may end up winning the popular vote by over 2,000,000 votes. Trump "won" by leveraging the obsolescent “Electoral College,” which gives relatively greater weight to states with lower population.

So here we are, stuck, seemingly, with this terrible human being and his wrecking crew of bad people behind him. We likely won’t be stuck for long, but it will be bad for this country and the rest of the planet for as long as he remains in office. If he assumes office, that is, a prospect that is still not 100% certain.

On the bright side, Trump’s "election" is a call to action. A larger majority of people who have been silent as this debacle has been pending are now awakened, and an awakened populace is the first requisite for change. Great evil calls for its opposite, and Donald J. Trump is a great evil.

This awakening can be squandered, though, and if it is left to "the left," it almost certainly will be. I can say this from long years of experience, and from my understanding of human psychology. For the uninitiated, the terms "left"and "right" refer to supposedly opposite ends of a mythical spectrum of political belief, cohort and, most importantly, cliché. The "spectrum" doesn’t exist in physical reality, but that means nothing to those who believe in it with religious fervor. Humans need religion. When deity-based religious fervor no longer suffices, a material-based one takes its place. One opiate of the masses in exchange for another.

Once a person has identified with the mythical "left," some tenets of the myth need to be established. First and foremost, you’re either with "us" or against "us" – the binary divide. Shirts versus skins. “Packers” versus “Bears.” “Raiders” versus “Redskins.” Hmm. I wonder why there isn’t a pro football team named “The Cavalry.” How about “The 7th Cavalry?” An industry that allows a team to call itself “The Redskins” would, it seems, be open to balancing that disrespect with a team named “The 7th Cavalry.” Or, more symmetrically, "The Custer’s Last Standers."

But I digress. In an "us" versus "them" environment, identity is defined as much by who one is against as much as – if not more than – who one is for. In the case of “leftists,” it’s the “right wing,” an undefined broad-brush of individuals, groups and beliefs. “They” are pronounced as “ists” of one kind or another: racist, sexist, misogynist (which is an extreme form of sexist), fascist, ageist, classist, nativist and even speciesist. There’s also xenophobe, but that doesn’t end in ist, so it’s usually applied when a greater ego-sense of sophistication is needed.

Making homophobia into an ism would be awkward without a new term for bigotry against homosexuality, but someone should come up with one. In Latin, homo is the word for man, and phobia comes from the Greek word for fear, phobos. Fear of man, or men, would more commonly be experienced by women, though men by and large have good reason to fear other men. Fear of, or more accurately, prejudice against homosexuals and homosexuality, should have a name that is more precise, but it will likely be a long wait before homophobia is replaced in popular speech.

Donald Trump is of course the handiest of bugaboos, and can be called all these names, though the only real, consistent belief he has exhibited is in his own ego-aggrandizement. The state of being is known as narcissism. Hmm. An ism. A person with such a personality is known as a narcissist. And, or course, sociopath/psychopath. All these terms describe a mental state more than a belief system.

So how is it that the "world’s only superpower" has elected a criminal sociopath to its highest office? The reasons are sundry, as I have written before, but psychic resonance has to be a big part of it. A big guy was trying to taunt me in downtown Madison the other day, hovering towards me while whistling "God Bless America." I ignored him, so he was reduced to saying "hi." I said "hi" back to him, and continued on my way. He looked like the guy leaning on the guard rail in the picture at right, but as a prototype rather than the exact person. It may well have been the exact person.

Much worse than whistling "God Bless America" is going on around the country, with verbal and physical assaults taking place in several cities. While these people may have beliefs that could be called "right wing," their behavior is more accurately described in psychological terms, such as antisocial personality disorder, paranoia, authoritarian personality disorder and emotionally stunted. There is also, as described in a recent Salon article, the Dunning-Kruger effect, where stupid people don't know they are stupid. They have a metacognitive inability to recognize their ineptitude. While this portrayal may apply to "right-wingers," it certainly isn't limited to them alone. Many, many people in this country think they are the smartest of the smart, when the exact opposite is true.

If "right wing" is more a mental state or condition, what about the supposed "left wing?" Is "left wing" an ideological cohort or a mental condition? In my experience and understanding, mental state precedes ideology. Since the election accusations are flying by "leftists" that Trump and his inner circle are racists (or R-R-RACISTS!), sexists, misogynists and homophobes, as if these epithets convince people of something, or inspire them to action. Or, more accurately, reinforce “solidarity.”

Bandy these terms about, and add sprinkles of people of color and democracy and you build coherence in the cohort, where a hopefully widening matrix of people speaking in the same memes builds to a "progressive" crescendo that overpowers the fascists. Progressive is another meme word. Here in Madison it is progressive, progressive, progressive, progressive, in between racist and people of color redundancies.

Barack Obama in PhotoshopPeople of color is a hackneyed "leftist" meme, an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation (Urban Dictionary). It is in-talk, a term that identifies the user as a "member" of the non-racist intelligentsia. Grammatically it is meaningless. Of is a preposition that means from or away from, by or coming from (Random House Dictionary). People are not from or away from color. They (we - all of us) have skin, and our skin has color, no matter who we are. We are not our skin color, and are certainly not "from" our skin color. I am not white or "a" "white," or from white. The term people of color came into vogue gradually, starting as far back as the 1970s, a heady and pretentious expression of solidarity with people from non-European ancestry. Say it enough and you gain credence, or at least the illusion of credence, with other "leftists."

During the day I usually listen to Wisconsin Public Radio while doing other things, but sometimes tune in to Madison’s leftist station WORT, especially Friday’s bluegrass show, but also its weekdays-at-noon public affairs show. I can only stand a few minutes of this, as it is usually an hour of whinging about Governor Scott Walker, ALEC, the Koch Brothers, and related issues and people. And now, President-elect Trump. It isn’t simple whinging, but a feigned intellectual sophistication combined with arrogance that creates an air of aboveness, that, though "we" are powerless on the "left," we are better people, and "we" volunteer pundits are more pundity than the pundits who make millions on TV.

Hardly anyone listens to these shows, and the same people call in every day. The station manager used to call in from another room in the building as an anonymous listener, and the pundit of the day would answer, referring to the well-known manager as "Caller." These conversations of course go absolutely nowhere. There is some useful information to be gleaned, depending on the guest, but listeners are left hanging about what to do with that information. I take it in, let it merge with everything else I have taken in over a lifetime, and the ongoing synthesis emerges sometimes in what I write, sometimes in dialogue, sometimes in support for a cause, and sometimes in a change of behavior.

It is frustrating, though, realizing that these shows aren’t much help in moving the dialogue, but serve mainly to reinforce the egos of the show hosts. It’s frustrating for some of the show hosts too. The station has fund-drives every few months, and one of the public affairs hosts was practically begging people to call in and "pledge" a donation. No one did, and she soon left the show and moved to Texas (she may have been moving anyway. I didn't get the details). Show hosts appeal for people to call-in, especially new callers, but it is usually the same few people every day, and sometimes no one at all.

Necessity is the mother of invention. The country – and the world – need an elevated level of dialogue, something I have been stressing since I started this blog, and indeed  it is the stated purpose for publishing it. Now that we are entering the Trump era, assuming he actually shows up for the job, a higher level of communication is vital for the survival of human civilization. We are at an existential crossroads.

I’m optimistic. Trump is like homeopathic medicine – a strong dose of the symptom of the disease stimulates the cure, or healing. We have had a long descent of human interaction and communication since the emergence of Ronald Reagan as a political force. His ascension ushered in an era of scapegoating, invective, deceit, bullying, marginalization of declared out-groups, condemnation and disenfranchisement. An entire "news" network is dedicated to these low-level forms of communication. The highly paid "stars" on this network are welcomed on more mainstream commercial networks as legitimate celebrities in our fame-obsessed pop culture. It's all showbiz.

Thanks to Trump, the entire apple cart has been upset. He is a total wild card, and if he is, as I suspect, afflicted with serious mental and/or physical health difficulties, great instability lies in our future, even if he doesn't assume office. Add-in the unsustainability of our infinite-growth economic system along with increasing severity of the effects of climate change, and far worse than instability looms. Complete breakdown and chaos may ensue. Out of chaos comes opportunity. We can seize the opportunity or we can squander it. I am confident that when push comes to shove for the survival of the species - and of all life on this planet – we will choose to seize.
_____________________________________

Here's an appropriate song for the times in which we live. Here's another. And another. John Prine. Bob Dylan. Liam Clancy. Utah Phillips. The Mothers of Invention. Some classic Frank Zappa. One of my favorite Frank Zappa tunes.
_____________________________________

Update, November 21: Here's a story that gives more detail about how the "Republicans" stole the election.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

These Are the Good Old Days

In 2011 I retired from my job as a “Customer Care Representative” for a well-known Wisconsin-based company that sells clothing, bed & bath items and luggage through its catalogs and website. When I started working there in the mid-1990s it was unique – in my experience at least – in its dedication to serving the customer, and to its supportive attitude toward employees. The company’s founder had a simple approach: “Take care of the employees and take care of the customers, and everything else will take care of itself.” Another of his principles was to provide quality merchandise at a reasonable price. The company had a folksy, middle-American feel, proud of its lore that many employees came to work after milking cows on their family dairy farms. I was stunned when the CEO handed me a Christmas bonus of two weeks' pay after working there for only two months.

<Over the years these principles became eroded, especially in the taking care of the employees part. Because of "competitive pressures," fewer products were made in the U.S., and employees were obliged to up-sell customers through a variety of means. Fewer workers were given full benefits, and those with health insurance were pressured to use their health benefits less often. Hours of work were reduced as Internet sales gradually took over the sales function. The great employee-friendly CEO was fired in 1998. For many years the company was the sole sponsor of Garrison Keillor's radio show A Prairie Home Companion. That ended in 2005, as Keillor became more outspokenly political on the air.

When the founder of the company sold it to a corporate behemoth in 2002 these trends accelerated, and in 2005 the call center where I worked closed. Nearly everyone at the center lost their jobs – almost 400 in total company-wide – and we were told we could be hired as temporary help at the company’s main headquarters for the Christmas season. Very few chose to do this, but I did. I worked there for the next six years as a “flexible part-time” employee. Eventually I became eligible for limited benefits, and signed up for the reduced 401K retirement program.

By 2011 I couldn’t stand the increased pressure to sell more and do other things to hustle customers. A new approach was instituted, called “performance metrics,” where everything possible to measure employee behavior is turned into numbers that can be graded. We were all instantly not good enough, and some people felt so insulted that they quit or retired. The company backtracked somewhat, being slightly less stringent with its scoring system, but the metrics approach remained.

Retirement was an immediate drop in my income, so I needed something to supplement my meager Social Security and IRA payouts. I did a couple of short teaching stints, and in 2014 I returned to my old job. Because I had been gone for three years, I was hired as a new employee at the lowest pay rate.

It was worse than when I had left, far fewer workers, and most of them relegated to taking calls for the parent company’s rewards program. There was an air of depression pervading the building, with everyone, including supervisors, wondering how long their jobs would last. It was like a ghost town - or a graveyard - with most of the seats empty.

One thing that stood out when I was rehired was that I was told that because of “Obamacare,” no one is allowed to work more than 29 hours under any circumstances. If you signed-up for extra shifts and your weekly total went over 29 hours you would be terminated (fired). The reason for this restriction is that under the rules of the Affordable Care Act employers are required to provide health insurance for all employees who work 30 or more hours a week. Thirty hours is the official dividing line between part and full-time work. In order to be unequivocally in the part-time range, no one - under any circumstances - would be allowed to work more than 29 hours.

I was surprised at how casual the company was to blame Obamacare for this situation, but let it pass. I needed the job. I lasted through the Christmas season, and when I was offered the opportunity to stay as a continuing employee, I declined. It wasn’t worth the money or the stress. I was invited back for last year’s Christmas season, I declined, saying “This is the best job I ever had. I want to keep it that way.” I was invited back again this year, but didn’t bother to reply.

Nowadays I just live more frugally. I canceled my Internet connection, trimmed other expenses, and learned to avail myself to things that are either free or inexpensive. I get a discount at the food coop and other businesses for riding my bike and wearing a helmet. I can get double dollars at the farmers market that I go to. I take free yoga and meditation classes. My health care at the VA is free because of my income level. The one expense that I can’t control is dental care, so I have to be diligent in flossing and eliminating sweets.

My situation is far from unique in this country, and, while difficult, is far better than conditions that face the vast majority of people on this planet. I’m lucky compared to my former coworkers. The anxiety, fear and resentment that they feel about their jobs and their future is something I barely escaped. They have families that depend on them to provide a decent level of subsistence, and that subsistence has become more precarious every passing day.

Among the things that came to mind when pondering the extremely unlikely election of Donald Trump was that this feeling of unease is likely shared among most people in this country, and that it is also likely that it is what made the difference in this election. We are a country of unhappy people. The American Dream is over. It will never come back.

Trump promises to bring the American Dream back with his “Make America Great Again” slogan, but he will not only fail, he will fail miserably. He has no intention whatsoever to increase employment, job security, pay, benefits or working conditions. His plan to end trade agreements will not bring jobs back. He likely won’t end the agreements anyway.

What he will do is create a crony system, where those who pay – whether with money, fealty or compliance – gain advantage. He will not behave any differently as president than he has in his business and personal life. Our already corrupt system will become even more corrupt by several degrees of magnitude. His Supreme Court appointments will be cronies. His Attorney General will be a crony. His EPA Administrator will be a crony. His Secretary of the Treasury will be a crony. All of his department heads will be cronies.

Obamacare will very likely be repealed. Uninsured workers will then be able to work more than 29 hours, but it will matter very little. At best it will mean more hours for fewer workers. It likely won’t even mean that. With Obamacare repealed, it is unlikely that those with increased hours will be able to afford the health care that is no longer covered by insurance.

Melting at the northern Polar ice capThere is a saving grace of sorts. As I have written many times before, our failure to deal meaningfully with climate change will be our undoing. Our twin failure to deal with the unsustainability of our infinite-growth economic system will accelerate our undoing. With Donald Trump as president this undoing will happen sooner than it would otherwise. A completely corrupt system will self-destruct quickly under corrupt circumstances.

So maybe it is better that Donald Trump is our next president. His failure in office will be almost immediate. His bluster, arrogance and bullying will not be much help when the effects of climate change go into overdrive. They won’t be much help when the economy drops. They won’t be much help when the anxious and fearful people who supported him become more intensely anxious and fearful. When they turn on him he will not have the personal strength to keep them in line. We may think that his supporters are an unruly bunch now, but wait a year or two. Unruly will seem like the good old days.
 _________________________________________________

Here's a song.  Here's another. And this. Another by Richie Havens. And, of course, this. And this. Here's one for the incoming Trump Administration. Here's a song I heard today for the first time. This CSN&Y song keeps coming up. Neil Young. Leonard CohenAnother Leonard Cohen. And this, which I listened to many times in my Army days.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

A Sign of the Times

Madison was in turmoil this past week about someone wearing an Obama-in-a-noose costume at last weekend's University of Wisconsin football game. The so-far unidentified Halloween reveler seems to have been largely ignored by the crowd, but the offending costume didn't escape the notice of local and national news media.

The incident has resulted in outcry from various members of the community, and criticism of university leadership, which is reviewing its policy on freedom of speech. Athletic director Barry Alvarez announced that stadium policies will change before the next home game, but he hasn't specified what those changes might be.

It's a sign of the times. Who would have guessed that a president with African heritage would cause so much hatred and animosity? I have written before about the illusion of skin color, and it bears repeating. No one is "black" or "white," and no one has black or white skin. Those of us with entirely European genetic background have variations of off-white, peach, ecru or ivory. Here's a list of variations.

Since I don't believe there is such a thing as race, I don't jump at the opportunity to call people racists. To believe in "racism," as it is understood, is to believe that people operate on the basis of intellectual positions, and that some of them have an ideological, or system of intellectual concepts that affirm the belief that one nonexistent "race" is superior to another, presumed inferior, though equally nonexistent "race."

What I see in the picture of the guy in the Obama-in-a-noose costume is someone with a psychological pathology. It can safely be assumed that he is a bigot, believing in racial superiority, but bigotry is a psychological condition, intellectual only as cover for mental disease. We have been hearing a lot in recent months about the narcissism of Donald Trump, but he is only the latest and most blatant example of pathological self-obsession. It could be that the "American" form of mass industrial fragmentation and marginalization produces narcissists as a survival response.

We have seen in recent years entire television and radio networks dedicated to what is known as Sophistry - the deliberate use of fallacious reasoning, intellectual charlatanism and moral unscrupulousness. Heavy on ego, bluster, fakery and scapegoating, these networks promote the paranoid rantings of "right-wing" demagogues. It should be no surprise that there are wanna-be self-promoters among the masses.

The reptilian brain, home of “right-wingers”Again, as I have written before, these propagandists aim for the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain. For those among us who are tribally-oriented, aggressive, territorial and prone to ritual masculinity, the amygdala is easily aroused. It has been concluded by neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean that they haven't evolved past the reptilian brain. MacLean referred to species-specific instinctual behaviors such as aggression and tribalism as rooted in the basal ganglia at the root of the forebrain, what he called the R-complex or reptilian brain.

Rather than have an "ideological" divide in this country, we have a psychological divide. Another way of describing this divide is, as I also have mentioned previously, is through the hierarchy of needs that was authored by developmental psychologist Abraham Maslow. The lower, or deficiency needs of power, money, sex and safety are where supposed "right-wingers" are self-confined. The reptilian brain-dominated "right-wing" contingent is one not so much of belief as psychopathology.

If this is our predicament, what do we do about it? How do we get out of it? Is it the inevitable result of mass industrial capitalism? Would socialism do any better?

Only time will tell. We haven't experienced the full effects of climate change yet. Our infinite-growth economic system hasn't reached its limit to growth yet. It will, and likely within the next ten years - or less. When these twin inevitabilities take place, all bets are off. The ego-aggrandizement of right-wingness won't mean much when your house floats away in a storm or burns up in a massive wildfire, and there are no jobs.

The end of growth will be disaster enough, but in concert with rampant effects of climate change there won't be much point in being a narcissistic,  paranoid, amygdalian, reptilian bigot and xenophobe. Nothing lasts forever, including our current absurd and stupid predicament.
______________________________________________

R.I.P. Tom Hayden.

 Here's a song for Trump. Here's another. And this. This too. One more.

Update, November 8: The University of Wisconsin revoked the season football tickets of the fans who were involved in the Obama-in-a-noose costume.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Looking Past Election Day

Bernie Sanders was in Madison yesterday, firing up the faithful to vote for Hillary Clinton and Russ Feingold. And volunteer. The event was held at Madison's Monona Terrace, and 1,200 people showed up. It was a much lower turnout than when Sanders was running for president, but the event was on short notice, and there are still a lot of hard feelings here in Madison about the nomination of Hillary Clinton.

Sanders hit all the main points of his campaign - higher minimum wage, student debt relief, police reform, protecting Social Security, gender equity, immigration reform, and expansion of health care access. No mention of foreign affairs. It was a good speech, and got the crowd inspired, hopefully to get out the vote.

Momentum seems to be moving in Clinton's favor, and Feingold has held a steady lead in polls throughout the campaign. The future is hard to predict, though, and we could have a President Trump if the forces of the Universe are in a bad mood on November 8.

It isn't likely, though, and I still look for "The Donald" to completely melt by election day. His "campaign" is a running theater of the absurd, with Trump just saying anything outrageous without a sense of restraint. He argued with a crowd in Nevada Wednesday about how to pronounce Nevada.

So I expect Hillary Clinton to be our next president. I'm not concerned about her emails, her penchant for secrecy, or her curious relationships with foreign governments and others who have donated to the Clinton Foundation.  I don't think these will be issues in her presidency.

The reason I say this is that she will be undertaking a job that has severe constraints on what she can do personally, and she will be under so much pressure from all sides that any shenanigans would be extremely unwise. What I expect her to be is a placeholder, a one-term president who will be the head of state when global climate change kicks into high gear, and when our infinite-growth economic system finally runs out of the ability to pursue infinite growth. In other words, the system will fail.

A good part of our citizenry is in denial that climate change is happening. This pales in comparison to the portion of our citizenry that would not even consider limits to growth. Few economists admit that growth in output can't last forever. Their careers depend on perpetuating the myth. The circular flow diagram at right makes it clear. Think of it getting bigger every year, forever. Doesn't make much sense, does it?

Maybe Hillary Clinton can get the country to admit that a basic equitable distribution of income and wealth is necessary for a functioning civilization. "Democrats" and "Leftists" couch this principle in terms of fairness and morality, and also in terms of constituent advocacy and movement-building. To me these are stances more about themselves than of actually changing the public discourse and attitudes.

Or getting something done. If we had a more equitable distribution of income and wealth there would be far less crime, "racism," police brutality, corporate and Wall Street crime, a less corrupt political system and likely wouldn't have such a prevailing denial of climate change. Take away the motivation to have all the money on Earth and you mitigate greed, hostility, dishonesty and even religious fanaticism. So much of grandstanding religiosity is about greed and lust for power that a limit on income and wealth would make these iniquities less tempting. Some of these fanatics for themselves might actually muster up the humility it takes for real spiritual practice.

On today's Democracy Now, atmospheric scientist Michael Mann (Penn State) said that Trump and Pence are a climate change denial dream team. These pathetic creatures are pathological liars. Pathological lying is a form of mental illness. It goes hand-in-hand with other pathologies listed above - greed, lust for power, hostility, aggression, misanthropy. In other words psychopathy/sociopathy.

As I have written many times before, we misrepresent reality by insisting that the world is organized according to people's placement on an imaginary line that extends from "left" to "right." At the supposed extremes of this imaginary spectrum, people are pronounced as "Leftists" or "Rightists." Such brilliance is the kind of thing that Nobel prizes are made of.

Time is of course running out on these silly distinctions and ascriptions. Most political "players," though, will keep on insisting that the binary divide between "left" and "right" is real. There is even a TV network, Fox, that depends for its existence on the quasi-religious belief in the left-right spectrum. Its minions spend their waking hours perpetuating the myth, using propaganda techniques perfected by Joseph Goebbels.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Matthew is approaching the East Coast. and President Obama has declared states of emergency in Florida and South Carolina. Reality rolls over propaganda. I wonder how many people in those states think climate change is a hoax. I wonder how many of them will believe so in five years. Ten years.

Florida's current governor is a climate change denier. He has banned any mention of climate change by state agencies. I wonder if he will be in office a year from now. Two years. Three, though I don't wonder much. Like the phony "ideology" of "Conservatism" in general, fake "Conservatives" have run their course. "Conservatism" was always a fake ideology, more about prejudice, scapegoating, justifying greed and unbridled wealth, and of course empire. No matter who becomes president, the days of the preeminence of "Conservatism" are just about over. Let's not waste this opportunity by perpetuating the false myth of "the spectrum."
_______________________________________________

Here's a song. As several times before, a scene from Life of Brian. Here's another. Here's Peter Tosh. Bob Marley. Just stir it up. And remember to lively up yourself. In lieu of the Beatles, this. Also in lieu of the Beatles, Jack WhiteJohn Denver. The Beatles, while it lasts. The Cascades. Dan Fogelberg. Randy Newman. More Randy Newman. Creedence Clearwater Revival. More Creedence. Bob Dylan. Prince. Talking Heads.
_______________________________________________

Update, September 8: Among the growing number of people who believe Donald Trump has a mental illness is  David Letterman.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The End of Trump

Actually, I voted Tuesday. I hadn't planned on voting, but was at a public library, and early voting was taking place about 20 feet away from where I was pecking away at a computer.

I voted for Hillary Clinton for president, something I also hadn't planned on doing. My choice had been Green Party candidate Jill Stein even during the primaries, though if Bernie Sanders became the "Democratic" nominee I probably would have voted for him.

What sealed the deal for me was Monday night's debate, as well as my declining enthusiasm for  Jill Stein. She increasingly appears to me to be a sloganeer - a common affliction among "leftists." She also seems robotic. I met her in April at the Wisconsin Green Party's state nominating convention, attended by about 8 people. I asked her if she was still practicing medicine, and she answered "I'm practicing political medicine." It sounded rehearsed and rhetorical to me, but at the time she appeared to be a better choice than what the major parties had to offer.

The debate was fun, much more than I expected. I watched it out of duty as a citizen, but was expecting an hour-and-a-half of pain. Instead, Hillary Clinton delivered a masterful performance, making Trump look like the blustering fool that he is. If the people of this country choose him after this debacle, they deserve the downfall that comes with him. The choice would be to just go completely mad.

I don't expect this to happen. The pressure is building on Trump and the "Republicans" daily, and he likely won't be their candidate by election day. He may bring them all down with him, and it would be a disaster for this criminal organization. It would be a disaster for the rest of us if he becomes president.

Today, in a parting gesture, outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid addressed the entire Senate, and among other words of condemnation of "Republicans" told them "The only thing Republicans have truly done this year was to prove that they are the party of Trump. Republicans would have us all believe that Trump just fell out of the sky, and somehow mysteriously became the nominee of their party. But that is not how it is. Trump is no anomaly. He is the monster that Republicans built. He is their Frankenstein’s monster. They own him."

Stunning. I would say that truer words have never been spoken, but there might be something truer in human history. Tied for truest words ever spoken - that will do. So long Harry, we'll miss you. You fought the good fight.

It will only get harder for Trump from here on out, and he's a mere human like the rest of us. He has lived his life as a fraud, and it has served him up to this point. It takes the psychological strength of a psychopath to lie and bluster all day every day, but there are limits. Trump is 70 years old, a year younger than me. I'm in good shape - do yoga, tai chi, walk, ride a bike, and do some lifting. I get plenty of sleep. I eat organic foods. I meditate. It's still a struggle, and a losing struggle as time passes. The inevitable gets closer every day. Trump isn't in good shape, gets little sleep, and what exercise he gets is in walking to podiums.

He will break. Forces are mounting against him. In the latest Newsweek it is revealed that Trump violated the embargo against "Cuba." The statute of limitations may have run out on this latest crime, but this report shows the "Republican" candidate for the presidency of the "United States" to be a Federal felon.

We can expect revelations to appear on a daily basis between now and November 8. Trump can lie and distort all he wants, but his support will dwindle, and with it his spirit, such as it is. He's no Samson, though he has the hair. A good haircut is in his future, metaphoric though it may be. If he ends up in prison, a real haircut would be likely.
_________________________________________________

Here's a song. Here's another. Alternate version. Jimmy Cliff. When Trump goes down to defeat we can sing this great Blind Faith song. Here's a song for Trump. Here's another. This is what is going to happen to Trump on November 8. This song captures the mood of what it must be like to be a Trump employee. This would be a good job for Trump when he's in prison. Or maybe this. Or this. Maybe he could take guitar lessons. Alternate version. He can look forward to the warden throwing a party.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

How Far We Have Fallen

I was wrong. I thought Trump would have dropped out by now. Maybe it was wishful thinking, but it felt like intuition. I still have confidence he will quit, and his behavior recently confirms my belief that he is suffering from some mental defect, likely exacerbated by early onset dementia. A candidate who suggests his opponent's Secret Service protection be disarmed is not functioning well mentally.

That's still good enough for the many millions of undiscerning voters who support him. They are the "basket of deplorables" Hillary Clinton described. It may not be the wisest choice of words for a presidential candidate to make, but it is an accurate description. My disagreement with Hillary Clinton is in her arrogant tone, the "yeah, yeah, yeah" condescension that so many engage in these days.

She also underestimates the size of the basket. It is far bigger than half of Trump's supporters. Last week we learned that the quashed investigation of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker indicated that he was much more involved in coordinating dark money from a front organization that supported him in his 2012 recall election. And before. I have said many times that Walker is a criminal sociopath, and the entire "Republican" party in Wisconsin - and nationwide - has become a criminal organization. This is a verification.

In the week previous we found out that banking giant Wells Fargo fired 5300 employees for setting up 1.5 million in phony accounts for customers without their knowledge. The company was fined $185 million by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. No one faces criminal prosecution. The recently retired CEO was handed a $125 million bonus.

It's an endless story. Phone scams are so common these days they don't even bother to have a live person call you. I get recorded, live-seeming calls from well-spoken "representatives" offering "information on the back brace that you requested," a free cruise, life-alert of some kind, and an extension on my car warranty. The car warranty calls are from a live person, and the last time someone called I asked him who he represented. He replied that he was from the company that issued my current warranty. I asked him to name that company. He said "The Department." I asked "Department of what?" All he could say was "The Department," and hung up.

It's rampant. A program on Wisconsin Public Radio has a monthly segment where state consumer protection experts answer questions from callers about scams they have been exposed to. For an hour-and-a-half last Thursday people called in with a barrage of stories about attempted and successful ripoffs from contractors, phone scammers and the latest trend, gas pump skimmers.

NBC reported yesterday that scammers have found a way to bilk students who are having trouble paying their loans. The ruse is to promise struggling students that their monthly payments will be reduced, or even that their loans will be forgiven.

Pope Francis said on Sunday that corruption is as addictive as drugs. We can assume he was making an observation about humans worldwide, and not merely the U.S. It is the human condition in 2016, but what makes it worse here is that the "U.S." is the most complex and technologically sophisticated country on the planet.

I have fallen for a scam or two in my life. A few years ago I bought a one-year-old car, the first time ever from a dealer. The dealer in question is one of Madison's leading sellers of new and used cars, so I was trusting. I fell for the pitch of an extended warranty on engine and drive train, a $2000 addition to the loan I took out.

A few months later I had the oil changed at the same dealership - too soon, it turned out. The service agent tried to get me to have an alignment done, and told me I should get my brakes tuned up. There was nothing wrong with them, but just for preventive maintenance I should get it done.

I fell for it, for $90. I passed on the alignment. I had the car checked out by my long-time mechanic, and he said the alignment was fine. A friend advised me to go the the dealer's eastside location in the future. I did, and the next oil change went fine without any offers of needless repairs. Last December, though, I went back for another oil change and had the tires rotated and balanced. The service guy told me that they couldn't balance one of the tires, and that I should get a new one. I declined.

A month ago I went on a visit to the Chicago area, and checked the car's vitals before going. Everything was O.K., except the tire that the service rep wanted to replace was overinflated by eight pounds. This would be enough to make the tire wear out faster, and would be less safe over time. Next time I need an oil change or repairs I'll go back to my tried and true independent mechanic.

In recent years we have been hearing about the fraudulent for-profit higher education industry, such as in this episode of PBS's Frontline from 2010. I taught at one of them. It was only for one term, but I learned plenty about how these phony schools work. Madison has several local affiliates of various for-profit colleges and "universities," and I was hired by what is likely the worst, which for legal vulnerability reasons I will call Planet Earth University.

When I retired from my regular job in 2011 I soon realized that I needed to do something for some extra cash to make ends meet. I put an ad in Craigslist for proofreader, figuring my literacy skills would be useful to some publication or business that depends on the printed word. I got no response, for proofreader at least. I did receive an email, though, from the faculty dean at Planet Earth University. She wrote that Planet Earth was in need of an Economics instructor, and if I was interested I could send a resume.

I had left the field of Economics in disillusionment and disgust twice before, and wasn't keen on going back, but the money tempted me. I sent a resume, and was hired almost immediately. I should have taken this as an omen. The faculty dean was a pleasant enough person, and she told me that Planet Earth specializes in enrolling "the non-traditional student," by which she meant students who have failed everywhere else. As I quickly learned, they failed everywhere else for good reason. She also told me that their students had a sense of "entitlement," meaning they felt that since they were paying a lot of money for school that they deserved good grades, whether they learned anything or not.

I taught one class in Macro, the branch of Economics that focuses on whole economies, the big picture of GDP, consumption, interest rates, unemployment and inflation. I had to do some quick remedial study to catch up with changes in the discipline. It hadn't changed greatly, except when I was a budding economist the predominant measure of economic activity was Gross National Product (GNP), not Gross Domestic Product (GDP). A minor difference to outsiders, but within the Economics profession, a big difference. There were some other new things, but I managed to catch up without much difficulty.

My class was small, starting with seven students. This was typical of Planet Earth's classes. They charged enough for the classes that they made as much money as the public community college in Madison would with three times as many students. They also paid teachers one third as much as Madison Area Technical College, so they saved as much money as would have cost for another three classes.

This is how the for-profit education industry makes its huge margin of revenue over cost. All they need is students with money, which is conveniently provided by the student loan industry. It appears the money trough may not be replenished, though. ITT, a national for-profit chain, closed all its campuses this month, after the U.S. Department of Education imposed restrictions, especially on student loans. Here's a synopsis of ITT's crimes.

What I found most offensive about the University of Planet Earth was its misleading of students. Of all the attendees in my class, only one of them was a legitimate college student. Five people stayed to the end of the term. Three of them failed the course, one had a grade of D, and one earned a B. I was very generous in grading. One poor guy had no business being in a college classroom at all, and the school knew it. He would have been better off learning welding. It was heartbreaking, because the guy worked and worked, studied as hard as I have ever seen anyone apply himself. I conducted tutoring sessions for an hour before each class, and the guy showed up for every one of them. He learned almost nothing, couldn't figure out the simplest concepts, and Economics isn't replete with easy concepts.

Another guy, a large ex-Marine, made so many violent outbursts in class I finally told him if he kept it up I would have him removed. He barely opened a book the entire quarter (yes, Planet Earth uses the quarter system, which almost no one does anymore), and said he got his G.I. Bill money whether he passed or failed. He failed, but Planet Earth changed his grade to passing so he could be pushed through for his associate's degree in Criminal Justice. I learned he had this degree in the New York Times, which ran a story about how Wisconsin governor Scott Walker was preventing him from becoming a policeman. It turned out the guy has a felony conviction for battery, and Walker refused to pardon him, so no police force would hire him. In "leftist" lore, anything Walker does is fodder for criticism, so the nasty Walker is preventing a veteran from becoming a policeman.

When I read this I thought, hmm, the New York Times, all the news that's fit to print, the nation's newspaper of record. They could have asked around. They could have asked me. They certainly could have asked someone at the University of Planet Earth. The last thing a police force would want is this big, none-too-bright, violent ex-Marine with PTSD in its ranks. I'm not including they guy's name, as well as not including the name of the "university," but a little intrepid Googling would bring up all anyone would want to know.

So here we are, a nation of scammers. In such a condition is it any surprise that Donald Trump stands a very good chance of being elected president. Various news outlets are expressing shock and horror, exposing scam after scam in Trump's background, including his foray into for-profit higher education, Trump University. Though I don't think he will be "elected" (another questionable activity), the mere fact that Donald Trump could even be considered a legitimate candidate for the presidency shows how far we have fallen.
________________________________________________

There is cause for optimism in spite of all the painful news. Here's another account of Bronson Koenig's visit to the Standing Rock reservation.

Here's a song. Here's another. Here's Townes Van Zandt. Neil Young. The Dave Matthews Band.

R.I.P. Edward Albee.

R.I.P. W.P. Kinsella.
________________________________________________

Update, September 22:

Another scam to be aware of is phony home repair operations that go door-to-door after damaging storms.

This video is a must-see, the Trump basket on full display.
________________________________________________

Update, September 24:

The latest scam to be exposed is PacNet, a global money laundering operation. The U.S. Government is finally cracking down on this criminal operation, according to CNN.