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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.

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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.

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Ain't Democracy Great?

So the "Russians" are responsible for hacking the "Democratic" National Committee's emails, as some would have us think. The emails, released by Wikileaks, show the DNC's bias during the presidential primary season, planting informants in the Bernie Sanders campaign, trying to dig up dirt on him, sundry other mischief. According to one writer, this revelation is bigger than Watergate. Worse for whom, one might ask. Worse for the Democratic" National Committee, we can assume. Worse for Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the departed chair of the DNC. Worse for Hillary Clinton, who is again shown to be untrustworthy.

But good for the rest of us. We are finding out on an almost daily basis how thoroughly corrupt and venal our political "leaders" are, and how the system is rigged for the wealthy and powerful. Perfect evidence of this is that the various "Democratic" offenders and fellow-travelers showed no contrition for rigging the nomination. Instead they tried to shift the attention to Russian president Vladimir Putin, ominously trying to build a case to take some action against him. Should Hillary Clinton become our next president, we can expect some kind of shenanigans to take place. Let's hope it's not World War III. She has never met a war she didn't like, including future wars.

Curiously, I was watching TV last Sunday evening, and PBS's Frontline aired a rerun of its expose on Putin. It's pretty damning, suggesting he is a thug and a tyrant, and likely came into power as a result of a burning of the Reichstag-type bombing of two apartment buildings. Frontline normally is not shown on Wisconsin Public Television on Sundays, but made an exception for the Putin rerun. I wonder what might have prompted PBS and WPT on the night before the "Democratic" party convention to show this condemnation of Russia's president. Could it be that someone wanted to pre-empt the email scandal by slamming Putin and setting the stage for blaming him for hacking the DNC? If so, it was a mighty weak attempt. Hardly anyone watches PBS on a Sunday evening, and few of those who do would not be inclined to watch a repeat of an old show, no matter how enticing.

Except me, apparently. Though I was hoping to see Austin City Limits, I kept watching while this program went through the litany of crimes supposedly committed by Putin. Maybe he is responsible for the apartment bombings of 1999. Maybe he has murdered dissidents and opponents, and committed other crimes. The "U.S." and European countries enacted economic sanctions against Russia in 2014 over its intervention in Ukraine. A writer in Slate claims that if Putin could design the perfect candidate to undermine American "interests" it would be Donald Trump.

Just for a little balance, the Bush criminal regime planned on invading and occupying Iraq since before the 2000 "election." All they needed was an excuse. Voila, "911." How handy.

The "Bigger than Watergate" writer in Salon claims the DNC hack puts our national sovereignty at stake, because a foreign power can influence the outcome of our 1% "election." Spare me. Our government and private individuals have never shown much respect for the sovereignty of other countries, so what's the big surprise when someone else doesn't respect ours?  And the rich in this country have never shown any hesitation to subvert and control the democratic process, bending it to their will with campaign donations, bribes, junkets and undermining of campaigns, such as that of Bernie Sanders.

I responded to the "Bigger than Watergate" claim thusly:

Try again. Worse than Watergate. Worse than Benedict Arnold. Worse than Alger Hiss. Worse than Aldrich Ames. The Rosenbergs. Robert Hanssen. John Wilkes Booth.

How about what's good for the goose is good for the gander? The "U.S." has been involved in the politics of other countries for at least my entire life, and for decades before. The war against Spain was an interference with the government of Cuba, colonial though it was. The Vietnam War was an interference in the government of Vietnam, which started with preventing elections by Dwight D. Eisenhower, and continued to the killing of 3 to 5 million people in three countries, and led to the killing fields of Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, which wouldn't have even existed had we minded our own business.

There were smaller invasions and interferences, such as the invasions of Grenada and Panama, done for spurious reasons by Reagan and Bush I. There were assassinations, overthrows and impositions of dictatorships in such places as Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, pretty much all of South America, the Philippines, Iran, Iraq, and who knows where else in the Mideast. The various dictatorships in Egypt couldn't exist without "U.S." backing.

Then there is the fiasco in Libya. Another fiasco in Somalia. Yemen. Afghanistan. Iraq, again and again. The CIA had a hand in installing Saddam Hussain. Then he "went off the reservation," but assassinating and/or overthrowing him wasn't enough. We had to invade, occupy and decimate the country.

So the big bad Russians have hacked a political party's computers. Those big bad Russians. Who do they think they are? They are worse than Watergate.

Keep this guy in mind when you are in need of a propaganda lesson. What better place to plant a mole than Salon?
So what's a poor boy to do? Some Bernie delegates have decided they aren't going to take it, and have taken to the streets and to Twitter, with a new organization and hashtag, #Demexit. Maybe they'll make a difference. Maybe a big difference. They have nothing to lose. They already lost at the convention, having the presidential nomination swept out from under them by the "Democratic" party. Who needs the Russians when we can undermine ourselves and our democracy without any help from outside powers. Bernie delegates booed Senator Elizabeth Warren last week, yelling "We trusted you." They could say the same for Bernie Sanders.

I met Bernie Sanders once. It was right here in Madison, in 1995, at a small fundraiser for his campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives, hosted by Ed Garvey, longtime "Progressive" activist. Sanders has had "leftist" connections in Madison for decades. He was rude and abrupt. I was unimpressed, not knowing much about him. I voted for him in the Wisconsin primary this year, though. I liked his policy proposals and his courage in running, but still remembered his rudeness. I passed it off as his Brooklyn upbringing, but there was something crudely arrogant about his manner when I met him. I wasn't particularly surprised when he caved to the pressure from the DNC to back Hillary Clinton. Politics always makes strange bedfellows, and it is far easier for politicians to abandon their supporters than their careers.

So here we are, with the two putrid candidates the major parties have chosen for us. As for Trump, I believe, as has been reported, that he is in the early stage of dementia, and will drop out of the race before the election. My prediction is late August. If you look at what he is saying now and what it is likely to become in just a few weeks, he will not be able to maintain his composure or health much longer.

Look for Mike Pence to take over as nominee, with a new VP nominee appointed, ala Sargent Shriver. If this happens, Mike Pence will be our next president. Ain't democracy great?
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Here's a song. Here's another. And another. This too, for the umpteenth time. And, of course, this. I have avoided using this song, but it has come roaring back with new meaning.

This song by Iris Dement comes up for me from time-to-time.

Here's a song for Donald Trump when he quits. Here's one for him now.

This song is for #Demexit. Nonviolent of course. Here's another. This too. This song might provide a little inspiration.

Here's some more Peter Tosh. This too. Bob Marley. Another by Bob Marley. Still more Bob Marley. And this. One more from Peter Tosh. Here's the Neville Brothers.

Here's some news about #Demexit. As it turns out, the DNC paid people to fill seats at the convention, in lieu of Bernie Sanders delegates.

Here's a little more information about "U.S."  involvement in the Mideast. This is a list of "U.S." involvement in Latin America. Also this. And this map of "U.S." Latin America interventions.

Hint: If you click on any of the Salon links, it might crash your browser. Salon has become a clickbait site, jam-packed with enticements to look at the ten-best of something or other, famous people who have disappeared, former stars who don't look so good now. You may have to have an ad-block app installed, or do a reader view.
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At Ed Garvey's victory party in 1998. He may not have won the election, but he won the battle of integrity.I should elaborate a bit on when I met Bernie Sanders. It was in November 1995, and the fundraiser was at the home of Ed Garvey, local Madison attorney and "Progressive," "Liberal," and/or "leftist" activist of many years standing. He had been the executive director of the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), guiding the organization through two strikes during his twelve year tenure.

Garvey's home was in the Shorewood Hills neighborhood of Madison, the wealthiest and most exclusive part of the city, being 91% "white." The village has its own police force. I was invited to the fundraiser likely because I had donated money (in extremely small amounts) to the Senate campaign of Russ Feingold and to the mayoral campaign of Paul Soglin. You get on mailing lists when you donate to politicians. I donated $25 to Bernie Sanders, which got me in the door.

Madison's "leftist" establishment was at this gathering, and the hobnobbing was intense and pecking-ordered. I was a complete unknown, not even in the pecking-order, and only one person would talk to me - Madison's long-serving state senator Fred Risser. He was very gracious and humble, unlike everyone else at the meeting. Jerks. I crossed paths with Bernie Sanders passing between rooms. I shook hands with him and wished him luck in his run for the U.S. Congress.

He couldn't be bothered, and was both unfriendly and dismissive, couldn't get away from me fast enough. In fairness to all these jerks, they may have thought I was a "Republican" "mole." I had only lived in Madison for two years at the time, and was not involved in politics or a member of any of their toothless organizations. I still am not a member of any of their toothless organizations, though I was a member of the local chapter of Veterans for Peace for a couple of meaningless years (Organize a bunch of men who have one thing in common - military service - and put it in Madison, Wisconsin, and, heh, you get Life of Brian on steroids. Or, more accurately, drink.).

That was it, my encounter with Bernie Sanders, man of the people, though not of the person. He did some good with his run for the presidency, and I voted for him in the primary election, but I didn't expect much. His explanation of his opposition to gun control was pretty lame, and he sounded naive about foreign affairs, advocating, among other things, "destroying" "ISIS." He laid a groundwork for the next un-corporate candidate, though, and deserves the nation and the world's gratitude. Maybe I'll get a chance to meet him again. I might be abrupt and dismissive.
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Something else I should mention about the Bernie Sanders fundraiser is that the only women present were Ed Garvey's wife and adult daughter. So it was a guys party. I would say "the old boys' network," except the only office-holder was Fred Risser. It was basically hangers-on, the kind of people who loiter on the fringes of political activities and events, keeping themselves noticed and available, should a campaign need some hangers-on.

One of the hangers-on was a guy who pops up on local TV and radio from time-to-time, an "outsider" historian of Madison - in the sense of outsider art - someone not academically credentialed, but, hey, how hard is it to write about Madison?  Even this guy, who has a penchant for running against Fred Risser in primary elections, didn't see me as worthy of the pecking order. I enjoyed voting against him, and likely will enjoy it again.
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Here's something insightful from former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich.
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Update, August 5: I started a hashtag for Trump dropping out of the "race" - #Trumpexit . Feel free use it and spread it around.

Here's something new about our sleaze "Democratic" candidate and her propaganda battle with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Here's an update on Trump's mental state.
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Update, August 6: I should have made the hashtag #Trexit. Here's a song for a couple of manly bureaucrats at the Madison Public Library. Here's another.
I found a new band, The Deep Dark Woods.

I thought I invented the hashtag #Trumpexit. I didn't. This morning I realized #Trexit would be much better. Someone else came up with that too. Then it occurred to me that #Hilexit would be a good one. Someone else beat me to that too. There is nothing new under the Sun.
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Update, August 10: Calls for a factual report on Donald Trump's medical condition are increasing.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

We Shouldn't Be Surprised

We shouldn't be surprised about anything in the news. Doing next-to-nothing about fossil fuel emissions, we passively watch the results of rapid climate change.

We shouldn't be surprised when we invade countries and occupy them, and worldwide terrorism results.

We shouldn't be surprised when we oppress a perceived "racial" minority for centuries and some of them behave badly.

We shouldn't be surprised when soldiers come home from our endless wars damaged and angry, and some behave as horrifically as the terrorists we inspire in other countries.

We shouldn't be surprised when we enable the most angry and disturbed among us to buy all the weaponry and ammunition they can get their hands on, and they use these implements of mass destruction on the masses.

We shouldn't be surprised when our major political parties offer putrid candidates, and things get worse, maybe catastrophically worse. Our next president could be our last.

We shouldn't be surprised when we rig the economic system for the wealthy few, and the many suffer. The economy suffers when reward is skewed to the rich, but the rich don't care. They own the system. Own the system and you own the people, just like slavery.

We shouldn't be surprised when we trust that our infinite-growth economic system will grow infinitely, and find out it isn't so infinite after all. We will be. We are surprised about everything else, so why not this?
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Here's a song. Here's another. This too, for the umpteenth time. Here's another. YouTube pulled the Beatles versions.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Freedom to Kill

When I heard the news of the shooting in Florida I reached for my Rand McNally atlas to see where the pertinent cities - Orlando, Fort Pierce and Port St. Lucie are located. I have never been to Florida, and am unfamiliar with the state's urban layout.

What stood out was that Florida is jam-packed with cities and large towns. Its population for 2016 is estimated at 20.28 million people. It has a land area of 65,755 square miles, giving it a population density of 353.4 people per square mile. It is the eighth-densest state in the nation, behind the states on the Northeast Corridor that extends from Washington, D.C. to Boston.

Though Florida isn't the country's most crowded state, it is pretty crowded. The "U.S." as a whole is pretty crowded, with a population of 323,625,762 and 90.6 people per square mile. It is a lot less crowded than "China," though, which has a population of 1,376,049,000 people, with 373 people per square mile. China as a whole is actually not much more crowded than Florida.

Why is this pertinent? Because the more people are crowded together the more they tend to get into conflicts. These conflicts often result in violence. The "U.S." ranks 182nd in population density, but first in gun crime, according to one survey. China ranked 97th. The New York Times did a comparison of gun homicides in the U.S. with other countries around the world. We didn't fare so well. Better than some, but worse than most.

What could be the reason for this disparity? Are we a nation of killers? Well, yes. We kill people in other countries with near-reckless abandon. We kill each other similarly. In both cases we have one distinct advantage, or disadvantage, depending on one's point of view: superior weaponry.

Because of our military weaponry we are the "world's only superpower," and can invade at will. Because of our civilian weaponry we are the world's gun nut.

Me in Heidelberg, summer 1970There have been a couple of times in my life when I was willing to shoot another human being with a gun. One was while I was serving in the Army in Heidelberg, Germany in 1970. My unit was on riot alert on July 4 because over 1,000 African American soldiers - U.S. citizens serving their country - congregated in Heidelberg to have a rally at the University of Heidelberg. They were invited by students at the university. For some reason Army higher-ups expected them to riot, and we were told we would be using live ammunition that day instead of the usual sheathed bayonets. I wrote about the experience here.

The other time was when I was in graduate school, when I kept a shotgun in my apartment. My dad had given it to me to hunt with. It was during the Nixon era, and I was engaged in some minor acts of dissent - writing a few things here and there, bringing in three radical speakers when I served on the Graduate Student Council. I had become friends with fellow-graduate students from Iran. They were engaged in anti-Shah activities, and I wrote a couple of letters to the school newspaper for them.

It was totally paranoid and stupid to keep a loaded shotgun in my apartment. My intention was for protection against home invasion, pretty commonplace these days, but not in my upbringing. My parents came down for my graduation - the day Nixon resigned in disgrace, August 9, 1974. My dad noticed the loaded shotgun in a closet, and took it back. I was glad to be rid of it. I haven't possessed a gun of any kind since.

One thing I learned from these two experiences was that the key factor in gun violence is the gun itself. When I was on riot alert it would not have occurred to me to shoot another human being, except we were told that was what we were getting ready to do.

I wouldn't have thought about shooting someone with my shotgun if I didn't have a shotgun. I don't think about shooting anyone at all nowadays. The issue doesn't come up, because I don't have anything to shoot with. No antecedent, no consequence.

There are 270 million privately owned guns in the U.S., with the average number of guns per owner at 8.1, and 89 guns per 100 residents. That's a lot of people thinking about shooting someone. Not every gun owner thinks about shooting other people, but it is safe to say that most of them do.

So, duh, the obvious way to reduce gun violence is to reduce the number of people who are thinking about shooting someone else, and the best way to do that is to have fewer people owning guns. Gun control. The NRA's worst fear.

The place to start is to enforce the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which states "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." In order to possess a gun, at least by "right," one has to be a member of a well-regulated militia. Nowadays that is known as the National Guard. Join up, get a gun, though it may be locked-up an arms room at one's unit headquarters.

In other words, there is no real right of people to possess guns. It can be legal, but that is up to what the people decide on a national, state and local level, just like owning explosives, military vehicles, drones and dangerous chemicals. Gun permits can be issued similarly to drivers licenses. Here in Wisconsin the "Republicans" have made it harder to register to vote for some people than to buy a gun. They have their priorities.

So the problem can be solved, or at least greatly mitigated. It takes willingness. Do we, as a nation, want to stop thinking about killing other people? Then stop having guns.

The U.S. military budget for fiscal year 2015 is $598.5 billion. That's a lot of thought about killing other people. How about reducing it by half? That would mean reducing the thought of killing other people around the planet by half. We would save money, and would perhaps save our almighty (so we think) souls. Or at least be on the way.



Or, we can keep doing what we are doing, whinging about the latest gun massacre while calling for more violence here and elsewhere as a solution. Meanwhile, as I am wont to remind, the Polar ice caps are melting. We aren't doing much about that either. We are nothing if not consistent.
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Here's our national anthem. Or maybe this. Or this.

How about this for the national anthem? Steve Miller is playing in Madison July 1 at Breese Stevens Field, a renovated high school football stadium on the near-east side of town. Here's another of his songs. Some people call me Maurice.

Here's a song for all the gun nuts out there. Here's another.

Here's a song for the NRA. The song in this delightful instructional video goes out to the NRA as well. Here's the original. It will be time better-spent learning this song than pretending to be a good guy with a gun.

Here's one for the arms merchants.

A song for all of us. This too.

This song needs no explaining.

This song is for the victims of the Orlando shooting. This too.

Here's a couple of singers from Illinois. Shawn Colvin grew up in Carbondale, got her musical start singing in the bars, mostly Joni Mitchell songs. I knew she would make it big when she started writing her own music. She has won three Grammys. She is currently touring with Steve Earle. Here's a sample.

Alison Krauss grew up in Champaign. She has won twenty-seven Grammys, tied for the second-highest total with Quincy Jones, who is from Chicago. The most Grammy awards, thirty-two, were awarded to Georg Solti, long-time music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Here's Steve Earle's best song.

Los Lobos.

Jimi Hendrix. I bought Band of Gypsys when I was in the Army in Germany - at the Heidelberg PX, for $2.50. Things were so subversive in those days, we could get just about any music we wanted - Hair, the Fugs, Country Joe & the Fish, Janis, Jefferson Airplane...They even sold water pipes, though they weren't very good, just kind of ornamental. Worth a try, though, for about $3.00. Band of Gypsys came out after Hendrix died, at least at the PX. Words cannot express what that album meant for GIs not particularly with the program.

Here's the national anthem. Or maybe this is our national anthem.

Here's a song for the U.S. Army.

Dick Gregory was one of the speakers I was able to bring to SIU to speak. He was named outstanding athlete of the year there in 1953. It was his first time back to the campus since then.

Here's Dick Gregory in 1967 announcing his fast to protest the Vietnam war. Here's something more recent. He hasn't mellowed a bit. He has always been a conspiracy theorist, but seems to have reached a new level, or sunk to a new depth. A lifetime of bitterness can wear on the soul.

Another guest speaker I managed to bring was Scott Camil of the Gainesville Eight Vietnam Veterans Against the War trial. The third speaker I got funding for was Shahin Fatemi, then the chairman of the Economics Department at the University of Akron.

Here's a song about Scott Camil by Graham Nash. Here he is in more recent times.

A story about the Gainesville Eight appeared in Rolling Stone in February 1974. It is not an easy read.

U.S. gun sales set a new record last year. We have a huge weapons industry. selling $36.2 billion worth of armaments around the world in 2014. If we are to stop thinking about killing each other we will have to reverse this trend.

I wrote about gun fanaticism last July, after a horrendous shooting in Louisiana. One would think that things would have improved by now. Part of the problem is that our politicians, especially, but not exclusively "Republicans," are psychopaths and sociopaths. I have written about this numerous times, most recently two weeks ago.

Frontline showed a repeat of its investigation of the NRA on June 14.
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Update, June 19: Investigators are saying Omar Mateen, the Orlando killer, showed little evidence of radicalization, and fits the profile of a typical mass shooter.

For a detailed discussion of the hoax of the Second Amendment, this segment of On the Media provides great insight. The writer interviewed, Dahlia Lithwick, elaborates further in her article in Slate.

Update, June 20: Salon has an article debunking the myth of "militias" today.

Update, June 21: Meanwhile, in the "American" Southwest, Mother Nature has her own priorities, which seem to involve getting rid of us.

Five hundred people were shot in the "U.S." in the week after the Orlando shooting, two-hundred-twenty-eight of them fatally.

Update, June 22: David Byrne, former singer and guitarist for the legendary Talking Heads, says we are at war with gun-nuttery. He didn't actually use the term gun-nuttery, but it will suffice. He also says guns are a public health hazard. Read about it here. This calls for a Talking Heads song, my favorite. Here's another.

Update, June 26: Here's a story about men with guns.

Not all men are irresponsible with guns, as this story from On The Media explains.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

A Change Whose Time Has Come

A couple of weeks ago Madison's "leftist" radio station, WORT, held its annual block party. WORT calls itself "community radio," but its community is of those living outside the mainstream of "American" society, and its message to that community is one of advocacy of "leftist" beliefs and causes. The event was a mixture of music, speeches, information booths of various kinds, products for sale, food, drink, body painting, and some free-lance performance art.

The block party finished with a performance by a local favorite, the Rousers. A "fifties" rock-and-roll band, they were competent, but I found them boring and anachronistic. The fifties were a long time ago, and rock-and-roll is the music of youth, rebellion and sexual energy. This band is neither youthful, rebellious or exuding of sexual energy.

As it turned out, the event had little youth, rebellion or energy of any kind. The attendees were mostly older people, with a lot of long-haired men, beards, tie-died shirts, and even sandals. It made me feel old and tired. I bought a few used CDs that were on sale, walked around a bit, and went home.

This event turned out to be a good metaphor for the futility and tiredness of what remains of the "movement" of the 1960s. Madison has long fashioned itself as one of the country's main bastions of the strident "left" - activists of issues and a wide range of peace, justice, environment and a fair and distributive economic system. All worthy causes, but the identity with the direction left has become tiresome and ineffective. It inevitably became something narrow, insular, resentful and largely ignored.

I used to identify with the "left." As time passed I got to know many "leftists," and found most of them to be insufferable: obnoxious, ego-centered, arrogant, posturing and seeking of attention. And, most importantly, powerless.

Except, of course, within the peer group, which is an arena of constant bickering, jealousy, infighting, conniving and ostracism. It depends on the group, of course, but the more overtly political the organization, the more the discord.

This year it might appear that the "left" identity has gotten a new lease on life with the candidacy of Bernie Sanders for president. His life and his advocacies over the years would seem to place him squarely in the "leftist" camp. Looking a little deeper, though, reveals that Sanders's appeal is mainly to young people, who are worried about their futures and frustrated by the lack of opportunity that they are facing in this brave new world of globalization and neoliberalism. They aren't wearing tie-dyes, head bands, bangles or sandals, except maybe incidentally - not for group conformity of worship of the past. Or of worship of the "old guard" as their revered elders.

This is encouraging. We are at the end of something old and the beginning of something new. There is wisdom of the past for the young to make use of, but they would do well to pursue their dreams free of the limits of directionality. There is no good reason that political alliance and beliefs have to be organized according to a linear abstraction - a model of reality that presupposes that people exist along a horizontal spectrum that runs from left to right along a continuum. For any particular person or belief, there is a slightly different person or belief just to the left and just to the right. Then another just to the left or just to the right of the first person. Than another, until some linear limit of extreme "right" and extreme "left" is reached. It's like space, though, where there is no limit. One could keep going "left" or "right" into infinity. The farther in one direction or another determines whether one is a "moderate," "extremist" or "centrist." As if all these things are "isms.

A better way has been needed for a long time. I have been writing for years that developmental psychology rather than political ideology is the more meaningful approach to human social interaction. The Abraham Maslow hierarchy of needs in particular does more to describe human levels of being and aspiration than the arbitrary and fictitious linear spectrum from left to right. The ideological approach inevitably leads to polarization, to an "us" versus "them" divide, where the "us" is always superior to and threatened by the "them."

A perfect example of the binary approach of ideology is the weekday talk show on WORT called A Public Affair. There is a different host each weekday, and guests are interviewed, sometimes in person, but mostly by phone. The guests are researchers, authors, activists and journalists, and are experts in their areas of study and activity, and the conversations are informative. And forgettable. They go nowhere. The segments invariably end with some variant of "We're out of time," and then on to another show. Listeners are left hanging. URLs are often given so those interested in further information can gain access, but there is rarely a suggestion of what listeners can do with what they have learned. You're on your own.

Mostly what is discussed on A Public Affair are variations on the themness of the "right wing" and its bad behavior around the world. Most attention is on the "right wing" of the "U.S." - a catchall grab bag of religious crackpots, gun nuts, "white" supremacists, survivalists, police, Wall Street bankers, Corporate America, the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson.  Foreign entanglements of the "U.S." government are also covered on the program, and fit under the umbrella of the "right wing."

The guests tend to be miles above the local show hosts in terms of knowledge, intelligence, experience, and discernment, and also tend to be less ideological, more focused on the problem or issue at hand. The show hosts exhibit varying degrees of paranoia and victimization, weaving together a worldwide web, so to speak, of THE "right wing."

The broad-brush inclusion of so many disparate individuals and groups into the "right wing" renders the ascription without much meaning. What is really meant by the attribution is not "us." I called in to one of the segments years ago, and because I disagreed with the show host I was accused of being a "right winger." The accuser still hosts one of these weekday shows, and hasn't mellowed a bit.

The reptilian brain, home of “right-wingers”In my experience, most people who are labeled "right wing" can be more accurately described as being dominated by the reptilian brain, a condition described by neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean as characterized by aggression, dominance over others, territoriality and ritual displays. It's the tribal mentality. A perfect example is the Ku Klux Klan, but you can find this condition among "leftists" as well. "Us" versus "them."

The psychological approach is especially pertinent when it comes to politicians. What I have observed over the years is that most politicians don't have any real beliefs other than their own advancement. They can change parties, change alliances and change stances on issues depending on which way the political winds blow.

Many politicians are psychopaths and/or sociopaths. One of the entertaining aspects of this election season is the way "Republicans" have condemned Donald Trump, then supported him when they thought it was in their best interest, then condemning him again when he makes his latest outrageous statement. None of them are truly "right wing," except to the degree that it suits their narcissistic purposes. Indeed, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is common to almost all politicians, almost as if by definition. "Right wing" is not a mental condition. Narcissism is.

WORT is having one of its quarterly "pledge drives," where they harangue listeners to donate money. The station is listener-supported rather than commercial-driven, so these two-week marathons are what keeps it on the air. I still listen to some of the programs, and it appears they are having more difficulty than usual getting people to part with their money.

I wish WORT would have an easier time getting donations. Its left-right binary obsession is wearying, but the station still provides a valuable service. The mainstream corporate media are little more than propaganda vehicles for the powers-that-be, whether governmental, corporate or individual. Even under the illusory "left" umbrella one is still likely to get a more truthful and accurate understanding of what is going on in the world. It just doesn't go anywhere. The "left" is impotent, existing on the margins, the fringe of society. It is not a threat to the dominant social order. If WORT were a real threat to the ruling elite it would soon be off the air.

WORT can serve as a hologram for what is failing in the effort to create a meaningful and sustainable human civilization. Back in the 1990s the station carried a nationally syndicated program New Dimensions Radio, which featured interviews with pioneering thinkers and practitioners in the fields of consciousness, healing, agriculture, business, the arts and spirituality. There was even a Public Affair segment devoted to the same topics. Both shows were dropped when the station took a "leftist" turn, or at least a more exclusively "leftist" turn.

The planet is in ferment. Change is on the way. Only the corrupt, the fanatical and the crazed believe we are not in the throes of an ever-worsening climate change. The dominant economic system, corporate capitalism, has just about run its course, due to its gross inequity, unsustainability and environmental destruction. Human civilization is at a precipice, about to fall into an abyss that may result in the species homo sapiens going extinct.

We can avoid extinction, and may be able to create a sustainable, equitable civilization. It isn't likely, but with a change in approach it is possible. Another way of describing a change in approach is paradigm shift, employing a different way of looking at phenomena and existence. This happened before in my lifetime, during the 1960s and '70s. It was called "The Revolution," the "Hippie Movement," and to some "The New Renaissance." It petered out, lost in an excess of drugs, extremism and burnout. Many died, many went to prison, some joined the mainstream, some divided-off into specialties like organic agriculture, natural healing, arts and crafts, and spiritual pursuits.

And some became "leftists." It is the most binary choice, a militant stance that defines itself largely as not everyone else. I might add that it is a militant stance that is not much more than a stance, similar to the "People's Front of Judea" in Monty Python's Life of Brian.

As the ferment of change intensifies, "leftist" media like WORT are likely to be left out in the cold, so to speak. Or, they can change as the world changes. If they do, so much the better. If they don't, something will arise to replace them. I'm optimistic.
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Here's an example of the Rousers from twenty-six years ago.

Here's how to be an old band. Here's the chords and lyrics. Old rockers can always be inspired by younger artists.

You can watch some videos from New Dimensions Radio here.

There is a time to every purpose. Maybe that time has come today. There is no time left for hackneyed old ways. The new way will be the time of our lives, as long as we face the strange changes. We can ring out the old, ring in the new, though some would like to save time in a bottle. Maybe this should be our national anthem.

When I was accused of being a "right winger" it was almost comedic. A few years later comedian Will Ferrell did a parody of W. Bush, in which he kept adding people and countries to the Axis of Evil. It had a similar feel. I was added to the Axis of "right wing."

Here's another great scene from Life of Brian.  And this, another meeting of the People's Front of Judea.

Update, June 7: NPR aired a short analysis of dimensionality today, concluding that we are all stuck in three dimensions. All, except those stuck in one dimension - horizontal.