Saturday, May 13, 2017

We are not in a failed state...yet. May it never be so.

I am seeing a lot of posts from friends and articles written for the left that are essentially declaring us a failed state and that our democracy is over.  Donald Trump is a Tyrant and we can't rescue the system, seems to be the gist of these posts and articles.  
While I understand the despair from whence this comes and I DO NOT want us to fail to realize the seriousness of the danger we are in, because we are in the balance and close to falling into authoritarianism, we haven't lost yet.  We are not yet in a failed state.  

Donald Trump has all of the characteristics of a tyrant and is causing constitutional crises (plural).  But we have not yet lost and that is important because if we believe that we have, prematurely, it hands him the victory.  

It took a while for Nixon to get ousted and, although it looks and is really bad (worse than Nixon) things are moving in that direction. It was always political pressure that did it. The reigning party must be more afraid of the voters than anything else. Of course, we have terrible gerrymandering and this is all desperately dangerous...I am in NO WAY trying to get us to think we are safer than we are, but we also need to avoid freezing in despair and proclaiming it to be over....or being too fast to throw our system overboard - although we clearly see places where it has to be strengthened.

Trump has the lowest approval ratings of any President at this point in time.  We have a couple of gerrymandering cases that could dramatically change things in 2018.  We have some of the biggest enemies in Congress and in government who are weakened.  The courts are upholding the constitution.

Yes…there are really horrible things happening and McConnell has done more to undermine our democracy than virtually anyone in our history.  But just because he and his cronies have blocked a special prosecutor and independent commission right now, doesn’t mean that this is over.  First of all…did people really think he was just going to turn around and do it?  If so, you had different expectations than me.  I expect us to have to put pressure on EVERY DAY for six months at minimum to get it.  If we do it and do it right, we will destroy McConnell in the process…which is a worthy goal because he has shown himself to be quite willing to re-write the rules for his own success regardless of their impact on generations to come.  He is unworthy of office.  We need to make this as much about him as about Trump.  I am going on the assumption that he may be implicated.  

McConnell and Sessions need to be as strongly targeted as Trump.  There is reason to believe that they may be implicated.  We know Sessions lied under oath about Russia.  He is supposed to recuse himself and has not.

So, when do we give up?  When do we proclaim that our democracy is over and it is no longer worth trying to fight for the system?  (And I believe it is important for us to fight for our system both to prove to ourselves it can work and to prove to the world…we are the oldest democratic system standing…we owe it to the world to try with everything we have to make it survive.  And all of you radicals who want socialism or some such?  The dangers from a GOVERNMENTAL perspective are the same, so we have to survive to prove it is possible).

These are the four things I am looking for:
  1. 1. Trump suspends the government for some sort of emergency (a Reichstag fire) and is not immediately deposed.
  2. 2.  The 2018 elections fail to meet the standard for fair and free elections (and with voter suppression…we are more dangerously close there than most of our citizens realize).
  3. 3.  The courts block Trump and he refuses to abide by their ruling, using the executive branch power to ignore them.  If he is not virtually immediately removed…we are a failed state.
  4. 4.   He orders our military to act against our citizens and is obeyed.
If these things happen, we are in a failed state.  The fifth, which is a little slippery in terms of when to call it, is the suppression of the press.
We edge closer and closer to it the more Trump flouts rule of law (over and over again) and is not checked by Congress.  If the GOP does not check him and then the Dems do not regain control after 2018, we will have to re-evaluate from there.
But, again, I would expect us to have to scream CONSISTENTLY about the need for a special prosecutor and to start implicating McConnell and Sessions for six months or so to get action.  Part of our problem is that these four months have felt like a decade and people are tiring out and giving up.  That is what they are expecting.  We have to remain focused.  

And then, when we win, we’ve got to very seriously revisit our form of government and see how to strengthen the protections.  Unfortunately, in any system, a huge amount of it is always upheld by societal norms.  Society is always a compact.  It just always is.  And our system is grossly imperfect and there are things we can do to tweak it.  But the biggest problem is that any democratic form of government is prone to what we are currently facing because people can be ignorant, hateful, tribal, and downright stupid.  That’s a human condition problem.  There are other forms of government that would theoretically be better, (the old meaning of aristocracy means rule by the best…which is not supposed to be hereditary, oligarchy just claims that you are ruling according to who has the most wealth which is usually hereditary, but can let new wealth in) but they tend to degenerate rapidly into rule by hereditary lineage.  The dangers of socialism as a form of government are essentially the same as a democracy.  
Until we all manage to achieve enlightenment…some form of democracy is probably best for us.  

My conclusions.  
  1. We are in real, serious danger…do not forget that and resist with everything you have got.
  2. We are not yet in a failed state, so don’t give up in despair and it is not yet time to chuck the system.  That hands the victory to the enemies of Democracy – which includes Trump, it includes the oligarch funders of the GOP, and it includes the oligarchs in Russia.  Don’t do it.
  3. We need to scream EVERY DAY for the next six months at minimum for a special prosecutor and special independent bi-partisan commission to investigate whether there was collusion with the Trump campaign and Russia and whether there IS a cover-up or continued collusion.  Don’t let the narrative wander (the media will let it wander if they don’t think it will sell).
  4. McConnell and Sessions are working to block a reasonable investigation – we very publicly ask the questions about whether they are implicated.
  5. Work very hard beginning now on 2018.  And this is about the survival of our democracy.  We must elect people who will be willing to stand up to the executive branch, if necessary…even against their own party.  Frankly, if this was a Democrat doing the same, we need to be willing to be as vigilant and outraged.  It is unlikely to be since Democrats tend to work for the system and the GOP has been trying to undermine it since the oligarchs have gotten control of their party…but our loyalty should be to the system, not the party.
  6. Anything that starts to slide on any of the four pathways to a failed state…we have got to be immediately up in arms. 
  7. We have to fight with everything we’ve got against suppression of the free press.


There are a lot of issues.  Tons of them…overwhelming us and overwhelming the narrative so that we don’t stay focused.  But the Russia issue, we need to get to the bottom of it.  At this point, if we don't want to lose our form of government entirely and end up in civil war, we focus on protecting the Constitution...just like every government employee, including every member of the military, has sworn to do.  May the oath breakers be held to account.



Monday, May 8, 2017

Some thoughts on healthcare

I am rethinking how I am going to talk about healthcare with people.  I think that it is important that we fight what is, essentially, a repeal of the ACA, but recognize that the ACA is a woefully imperfect bill.  I think we need to force the discourse to move in a different direction and be careful about how we do it.

One thing that is dangerous is debating pieces of Trumpcare - although we can point some of it out.  I'd really rather have us just start talking very differently about our entire healthcare system.  Take the debate where we want it to go rather than being on the defensive.  

To me, the real question--and it is a moral question--is, should profit-making motives have anything to do with healthcare?  Do we really want a system of healthcare that is designed to generate profit for corporations?

The reason that we have governments is that there are times in which "the market" is the wrong instrument for social organization.  There are many reasons why this might be the case.  Sometimes they are social "goods" that are just never going to make a profit, but that we recognize as contributing to society in important ways, so want to support them.  Sometimes it is because if the services were run like a business, it would be dangerous for society - imagine if the military was not a government entity, but was loyal to companies and shareholders - we would be back in the days of warring petite fiefdoms.  I believe that healthcare is one of these instances in which the market is just the absolute wrong instrument for healthcare.  The goal of healthcare is to prevent illness, heal the sick and the injured, ease the suffering of the dying, and to help the members of the society thrive.  As such, there needs to be enough money in the system to fairly compensate all those who work in healthcare, to ensure that facilities are top notch, and to encourage continued research and development into new treatments, but they should not be about profit.  And I'm going to point out that I know A LOT of people who work in the medical professions, and not a one of them got into healthcare with profit as their main motive.  They got into healthcare because they wanted to serve humanity as healers....because they care about people.

The ACA was an attempt to move the needle, but it was a compromise, and not a very good one.  What we really need is to get medical care free of the insurance companies by moving to single payer - to Medicare for all.  This would cut way down on the administrative burden.  A huge amount of the business that doctor's offices have to deal with is trying to get claims paid.  Medicare for all would dramatically simplify that.  With all the population in the pool - it would balance out the younger and healthier balancing the older and sicker.  Rather than returning to the horror-show of pre-existing conditions exclusions, Medicare for all would eliminate the terrible risks to people who have employer paid insurance if they lose or change jobs.  The government could negotiate for actually reasonable drug prices.  We could kill the UCR tables where every bill I ever get from a doctor says things like "Hospital services, amount charged $39,541.60, Allowed amount $4,466.50, Amount paid, $4,466.50."  (This was from my surgery).  So, what this says to me is that my surgery costs around $4500, but in order to get that amount, they jacked up the price by almost $35,000 and if I didn't have insurance...I'd be paying almost $40,000 for the surgery I just had...which means I wouldn't be having that surgery because I don't have $40,000.  I mean, who does?  What reality are we living in?  I guess I'd just continue to go through life with sinus troubles and not being able to breathe.  I suspect that if we had single payer, they could negotiate what they are going to pay and there would be no more of this crazy math.  And before anyone says, "But wait! SOCIALIZED MEDICINE!!!"  That is a red-herring.  Nobody says in hysterical tones, "SOCIALIZED STOPLIGHTS!!!"  There are things that it makes more sense if they are run through the government rather than the market.  Medical care is one of them.

So now, I want to wind the clock back to before the ACA and talk about what I DO NOT want to go back to...and what I believe Trumpcare could re-create.

Obviously, there were a lot of uninsured people who would go to emergency rooms for everything because they didn't have care and you can't get turned away from an emergency room.  We will have a lot of people who will lose their insurance.  But, at the moment, I'm going to speak from the position of someone who works as a manager in an organization that has employer-provided healthcare because I want to point out several ways that tying employment to healthcare makes NO SENSE.

Without laws making it illegal to exclude pre-existing conditions, depending on how large and aggressive your company is in negotiations, you may or may not have a plan that has pre-existing conditions exclusions.  Now, this doesn't necessarily keep you from getting "care," it just means that the plan is not going to cover conditions that you had prior to being covered by that plan.  So, let's say you are in the job and you have something that you are concerned might be serious or chronic.  If you knew that no matter what you would be covered, you would go get the diagnostic tests as soon as you were worried about it...possibly catching a situation early, when it is easier to treat.  But instead, you think..."well...I may want to change jobs in a couple of years and if it is something chronic, then if I switched insurers, they might not cover me and I think in the long-run, I'm not likely to be at this job in ten years.  Maybe I should just wait and see if it goes away."

This kind of thinking is really common.  It keeps people from getting checked out when things can often be dealt with more safely and cheaply and then they finally end up in the doctor's office when it is really bad and much more expensive to treat.  This is one of the reasons why our healthcare costs were so ungodly high.

Another scenario goes like this.  You know you have a chronic condition that needs to be managed and that if you left your job, would be uncovered.  Maybe you need a drug that costs $200 a month for the rest of your life, a liver test that costs $1500 annually, and if anything ever went wrong with it, it could be quite expensive.  You hate your job and you feel trapped, but you don't dare leave.  On the other hand, you are a good twenty years from retirement.  Every day, you get up, feeling trapped and resentful.  You carry that into the workplace where you are angry, ready to take offense, frustrated in general and are a morale dark hole.  You are totally toxic in your workplace, but are not going anywhere.  You do your job well enough to not get fired, but negatively affect everyone around you.  Another variant is that instead of being angry, you are a hyper-anxious mess about the possibility of getting fired and losing your coverage...which is also a seriously negative hit on productivity and morale.  These were really common and are devastatingly bad to an organization.

Maybe you have an entrepreneurial spirit and would really like to try starting your own business.  Or you are an artist and can support yourself, living frugally, on your art and a part-time job.  Except you can't, because you can't get health insurance that would actually cover anything at a price you can afford.  So, instead, you never strike out and, instead, stay at a full-time job that does not allow you to take a chance on your innovation.  Is this good for our country?  I don't think so.

Finally, you have employer-related insurance for your children.  You have a teen that is showing some signs of a potentially chronic condition.  They are going to be off your coverage soon...do you wait on seeking a diagnosis and medical care in the hope that they can make it until they get a job that they will then be tied to?  Do you get them the care and then hope that they will be able to get into a job that is both large enough and has been able to negotiate strongly enough that they don't have pre-existing conditions exclusions...but what if they don't?  What do you do?  If it's a mental illness, you only have until they are eighteen where you can force them to get help, but then you set them up to be potentially without care the rest of their lives.  Yay.  This totally sucks and there is no good conclusion without pre-existing conditions being illegal.

We need, we absolutely need, the requirement that companies must cover pre-existing conditions and that those with pre-existing conditions should not be isolated into their own "high risk" pool.  What will happen if they are isolated is that they will be given an "opportunity" to buy health insurance that will be so cost prohibitive that no one who is not wealthy will be able to afford it.  That isn't "access" to health care.  That is a "bare opportunity."

Again, I think we need to step back and ask ourselves why we have for-profit health insurance companies.  Unlike, say, fire insurance - health problems happen to all of us.  It is part of the human condition.  There isn't anyone who is not going to get sick, get hurt, get old, and eventually die.  So, it isn't like the statistical odds of various forms of accident or fire insurance where you are paying a bit into the kitty on the off-chance that you are the one who will need it...but you may never.  You WILL need healthcare.  You will probably need health care at some point this year.  You SHOULD probably at least get screenings for something so that you can stay healthy.  Insurance is not the way to deal with this.

The clear solution is Medicare for All.




Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Shu

One of the things that happens to me sometimes is that poetry comes through my pen really quickly without my real thought.   Mostly it is Apollon, but this one is from a God about whom I knew virtually nothing at the time this appeared on this paper.  It is about 6 years old.

The river runs through the mountain.
The river flows through the sea.
Of all the lore forgotten
How could you forget me?
I am the breeze in the morning.
I am the world's last breath.
I count your length and rhythm,
I'll leave you at your death.
The starlight is my stallion,
The blood flows at my whim.
I mediate your spirit.
I sing your life's great hymn.
I am Shu, I am Shu, I am Shu.


Saturday, March 4, 2017

Demanding a Special Prosecutor

Hello Everyone

I have not had the chance to write much, but I have been quite busy.  It is clear that we need a special prosecutor and a bi-partisan investigatory committee to investigate the connection between President Trump, his campaign, his surrogates and the Russians and whether or not there was collusion and/or cover-up about the Russian interference in our elections with the intention of aiding President Trump.

The Justice Department is supposed to appoint a special prosecutor whenever there is a conflict of interest or unusual circumstances.  Given that Jeff Sessions, the head of the Department of Justice, was a Trump surrogate and lied about his conversations with Russia and the FBI is supposed to be investigating both Sessions and Trump, among others, there are CLEARLY conflicts of interest.  A special prosecutor is a necessity.

This is my postcard text:  We need a special prosecutor [as per 28CFR 600.1] and a bi-partisan investigatory committee.  Given what we know right now, refusal to allow proper investigation looks suspicious.


Paul Ryan
1233 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515

Mitch McConnell
317 Russell Bldg.
Washington, DC 20510

GOP members of the House Oversight Committee
Jason Chaffetz
2236 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515

Trey Gowdy
2418 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515

Blake Farenhold
1027 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515

Virginia Foxx
2350 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515

Thomas Massie
2453 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515

Mark Meadows
1024 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515

Ron DeSantis
1524 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515

Dennis A. Ross
436 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515


Mark Walker
1305 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515

Rod Blum
1108 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515

Jody Hice
324 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515

Steve Russell
128 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515

Glenn Grothman
1217 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515

Will Hurd
317 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515

Gary Palmer
330 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515

James Comer
1513 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515

Neal Dunn
423 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515

Clay Higgins
1711 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515

Scott DesJarlais
413 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515



Paul Gosar
504 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515

Justin Amash
114 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515

Mark Sanford
2211 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515

Jim Jordan
1524 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515

Darrell Issa
2347 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515

Jimmy Duncan
2207 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515


Senate Select Intelligence Committee GOP members

Jim Cornyn
517 Hart Bldg
Washington, DC 20510

Tom Cotton
124 Russell Bldg.
Washington, DC 20510

James Lankford
1015 N. Broadway Ave. Ste 310
Oklahoma City, OK 73102

Roy Blunt
260 Russell Bldg
Washington, DC 20510

Susan Collins
413 Dirksen Bldg
Washington, DC 20510


Marco Rubio
284 Russell Bldg
Washington, DC 20510


Jim Risch
438 Russell Bldg
Washington, DC 20510

Richard Burr
217 Russell Bldg
Washington, DC 20510

John McCain
218 Russell Bldg
Washington, DC 20510

I am specifically thanking: 
John McCain and

Lindsey Graham 
290 Russell Bldg
Washington, DC 20510 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Forming a Resistance Group - Do it

One of the things that I have done since 11/9 that has been most important to me is that, in December, I founded The Symposia of the Resistance.  This is NOT a Facebook group or a virtual group.  It is face to face.

One of the things that I strongly believe is that no small part of our culture's current weakness and danger is our social isolation and that, although I love social media, it is not a replacement for real, face to face, support.  On November 17th, I wrote a post about the Resistance and part of that, an essential part, is that this is a marathon, not a sprint...so we must build into our daily lives ways to increase our own resilience and capacity and the resilience and capacity of our communities.  In order to do that, we must meet in community face to face.

Based on this, I founded the Symposia of the Resistance shortly after that post.  For me, it has been an essential support and I have had others tell me that it is for them as well.  These are my guidelines for such a group:

1.  Schedule it on a regularly recurring rotation so that people can plan for it.  Not everyone will make it every time, but everyone will know when it is happening.
2.  Make it EASY to host - potluck, order a pizza, pick up a rotisserie chicken or something - don't overcomplicate.  I kind of pick up my house, and maybe run the vacuum and wipe down the bathroom sink - but the main thing I am doing is giving people a place to come.  I don't really clean for the group.  I lived in a studio for years - if you can't host, choose a restaurant.
3.  Name it.  This will help everyone remember that it is a Resistance Group. We talk about the Resistance.  We talk about Resisting.  As long as it stays on related topics, that is fine.  But don't let it devolve into a regular social group that has no purpose.
4.  No prep work!  I do have a component (a book) that is helping build our capacity BUT we have one copy, we read aloud and discuss as we go, meaning that there is NO pre-work.  We all have too much to do and I want people to spend their free-time outside of the Symposia actually resisting and keeping updated on the relevant topics, not preparing for the Symposium.  Besides, this is, actually, how we used to run symposia - there was no mass production of texts.  We sat and read aloud together and discussed.  Reading can be incredibly social and it becomes much more awesome that way.

Basically, what I do is that every other Friday, I open my home, I always have something easy to eat (pasta, rotisserie chicken, pre-made pot pie) and people bring food.  I always have some wine and people have been bringing some other drinks if they want them.  And we get together for a few hours and talk about the Resistance.  I have a book that is on a topic useful to the resistance (right now it is Don't Think of an Elephant by Lakoff) that we are passing around the room, reading aloud to the group, and discussing.  Now, honestly, after about 15 or more hours of the Symposia, we are on page 12, so, clearly that is not mostly what we are doing.  However, several of us have said how even those 12 pages are shaping how we are doing some things and that we are consciously thinking about framing (the topic of the book).

Mostly what we are really doing is:

  • Processing the events and sharing information
  • Sharing analysis and strategic areas to watch and areas of our individual interests, such as information about Whitford v. Gill, in depth information about the Russian connection, environmental information, data security, etc.
  • Sharing our various experiences in Resistance - what we are doing, what effects we are seeing, and reflecting on them
  • Sharing opportunities - such as information about making calls for special elections, including local state legislature elections in red and purple areas
  • Sharing resources (e.g. this is the best place to buy pocket constitutions, it is cheaper to order a ton of post-cards to send to Congress and local representatives than to buy them or print yourself)
  • Sharing information from other groups that are engaged in the Resistance and linking people up to training, opportunities, or others who have special knowledge, skills, connections
  • Strategizing and trying to think through short and long-term priorities
  • Reaffirming our patriotism, our love and care for our communities, our nation, the earth, the vulnerable, and our willingness to STAND UP in their defense
  • Communal, social, human support.  This is huge.  We are talking openly about our fears, our wounds from past oppression, our hopes, our dreams and all of this, ALL OF THIS, openly discussed in a group of people who are also part of the Resistance fortifies our resolve in profound ways.
Now, in the Symposia of the Resistance, we are not, at least at this point, taking specific action TOGETHER.  We have a bunch of people who are involved in a bunch of actions, who are involved with other groups, and there are subgroups of us are working together on specific actions.  However, in your group, you could decide that you are strategically planning and taking action as a group. We are beginning to consider if we want to link up with a Sister District in a purple or red area: https://www.sisterdistrict.com.  

Call to Action
If you are not in a group like this, really, consider creating one.  It will help your resilience, it will build resilience in others, it will strengthen your community, and all of that is needful work.  






Wednesday, December 14, 2016

What is Our "Wall of Wood"?

I am getting the really powerful feeling, right now, that we have been given our "Wall of Wood," but I don't yet know what it is.  I am trying to figure this out.

For those who do not know the reference, it comes from the stories of the second Persian invasion of Greece, as recorded by Herodotus.  It is, I think, difficult to realize what these battles looked like.  Suffice it to say that all of the Star Wars franchise and others owe a tremendous debt to this history.

The Persians had sent a comparatively small (for them) number of troops into Greece/Hellas and were repelled at Marathon over odds that look like a Jr. High football team defeating the winners of the Superbowl.  They went back, regrouped, and launched a second attack.

When the Persians were in the process of sending their second invasion, Athens sent a delegation to Delphi to ask Apollon what they should do.  The response was unequivocal and terrifying.

" “Why sit you, doomed ones? Fly to the world’s end, leaving
Home and the heights your city circles like a wheel.
The head shall not remain in its place, nor the body,
Nor the feet beneath, nor the hands, nor the parts between;
But all is ruined, for fire and the headlong God of War
Speeding in a Syrian chariot shall bring you low.
Many a tower shall he destroy, not yours alone,
And give to pitiless fire many shrines of gods,
Which even now stand sweating, with fear quivering.
While over the roof-tops black blood runs streaming.
In prophecy of woe that needs must come.  But rise,
Haste from the sanctuary and bow your hearts to grief.” (Herodotus, VII, 140, trans., Selincourt)

This is not ambiguous.  Athens was going to be utterly destroyed.  So, the Athenians deliberated and did a lot of sacrifices and went back as suppliants for a second reading to see if they could get anything more from Apollon that would help them.  After all, they were the city devoted to Athena and Apollon, Himself, had both given them their first courts, assisted in the development of democracy (the rule of the people) and their constitution, and was the divine ancestor of the people.  Both Athena and Apollon have a strong relationship with Democracy.

The Athenian delegates were granted a second reading.

 “Not wholly can Pallas win the heart of Olympian Zeus,
Though she prays him with many prayers and all her subtlety;
Yet will I speak to you this other word, firm as adamant:
Though all else shall be taken within the bound of Cecrops
And the fastness of the holy mountain of Cithaeron,
Yet Zeus the all-seeing grants to Athena’s prayer
That the wooden wall only shall not fall, but help you and your children.
But await not the host of horse and foot coming from Asia,
Nor be still, but turn your back and withdraw from the foe.
Truly a day will come when you will meet him face to face.
Divine Salamis, you will bring death to women’s sons
When the corn is scattered, or the harvest gathered in.” (Herodotus, VII, 141, trans Selincourt).

The delegation went back to Athens and there was a debate in the ekklesia.  The debate centered upon what is the "wall of wood?"  Themistocles held the day by saying that clearly the physical city of Athens would be destroyed, but the wooden wall was referring to the triremes, the ships, and that the second prophecy gave both the location (the straits of Salamis) and the time (two options) of a stand, but that they should evacuate the city and run.  The ekkesia agreed and decided to make their stands in ships against a vastly superior navy in the straits of Salamis.  The Athenians won over odds that make Star Wars look realistic.

However, acting correctly on Apollon's prophecy involved a massive shift in thinking for the Athenians.  The argument was that it was the people and Athena Herself that constituted Athens, not a particular location.  They abandoned the city (which was utterly destroyed by the Persians), but they took the holy xoanon statue of Athena from the old temple and took the people.  Wherever they were, together, that was Athens. Then the citizens went onto the ships, where they had more maneuverability and had an advantage from knowing the straits and being great fishers.  And they won against impossible odds.

The question I feel compelled to ask right now is, what is our wall of wood?  I do think we are given one.  According to Apollon, it was Athena (and, honestly, Him), using their power to sway things on the inner planes and move probability as best as possible.  It doesn't mean that there is not destruction...awful, horrifying destruction...but Athens was victorious in the end from using power in ways that their enemy never dreamed about.  I think this is also a possibility for us, here, in one of the incarnations of Athens.  I feel it.  We have to figure out, what is our wall of wood?


Saturday, December 3, 2016

Our Democracy has been Stolen and We Need to Take it Back!

If there is one thing for which I can be thankful out of this debacle we are currently facing in the United States it is that it has been a tremendous wake-up call to many parts of our populace...including me.  It is time for us to acknowledge that we have been asleep at the wheel.  For Democracy, the "Rule of the People" to work, it requires tremendous vigilance and engagement from its citizens at all levels.

So, what happened?  Many of us woke up on 11/9/2016 to find our Democracy had been stolen from us...but, truthfully, this is the result of a many-year game plan by a bunch of bad actors in the GOP.  It is far more than the Trump Presidency.  We need to step back and look at the bigger picture.

I need to make clear, right now, that when I say it is the work of a bunch of bad actors in the GOP, I DO NOT mean that it is every single Republican politician.  And I certainly DO NOT mean that it is every single person who is a Republican or who voted Republican.  There are many of the Republican base who at some point are going to be in for as rude an awakening as the rest of us when they finally start feeling the effects of what they voted for.

The bad actors are definitely the GOP leadership, many of whom began this work during the Clinton administration if not back further...people like Newt Gingrich.  They have been seriously playing the long-game.

So, when I am making a claim that our Democracy was STOLEN from us, I am talking about the system itself being corrupted to take power from the Demos, the people, and consolidate it into the hands of the GOP who have set things up so that they can win and hold all of the power as a minority.  There is a whole other analysis about who the GOP actually serve, but right now I want to focus on the ways that they have corrupted the system so that it is a minority who can rule over a majority without their consent.

Let that sink in.  We have a situation in which a minority can rule over a majority WITHOUT THEIR CONSENT.

How?

1.  Gerrymandering
2.  A lack of reasonable controls on campaign finance, especially in the overwhelming influence of "dark" money where there is no transparency.
3.  Weaponizing the state investigatory apparatus for political purposes
4.  The destruction of fact-based discourse as a norm in politics and the media
5.  Voter suppression
6.  The corruption of the original purpose of the Electoral College
7.  Stacking the courts

In addition, there are three structural problems that have been fully exploited by the GOP that have to do with the history of our nation and need to be changed if we are not going to be under the tyranny of the minority.

1.  The historical way in which our states were created and how the Senate is composed
2.  The Electoral College
3.  The rights of colonies and territories, especially the District of Columbia

So, let's talk about this.  I'm going to take them a little out of order.

Weaponizing the state investigatory apparatus for political purposes
For those of us old enough to remember the Clinton administration, this is where I first, personally, saw this used to extraordinary effect.  Of course, if I were older, I might remember McCarthy and we shouldn't forget that Roy Cohn...Trump's mentor...was McCarthy's main attack dog.  So, we seriously need to watch this shit and make sure we are not back into things being investigated as "Unamerican."

But I remember very well the way in which the GOP used Ken Starr to basically keep a made-up innuendo shit-show front and center in the nation's consciousness for years.  It began, if you will remember, as an investigation into a real estate deal and found...no wrong-doing.  But Starr kept expanding and expanding in ways that, frankly, if it had been a "real" investigation in which you have to show probable cause...there was NOTHING.  There was nothing but incessant innuendo and the "appearance" of wrong-doing without anything that was actually...you know...wrongdoing.  Until they finally impeached Bill Clinton on....getting a consensual blow-job from an adult and lying about it.  But through this, the impression that was being created in the mind of the public was that the Clintons, and more broadly the Democrats, were somehow untrustworthy and corrupt...with NO evidence.  But they manipulated the press that even then was struggling with trying to keep themselves financially afloat and kept it front and center because people will tune in and watch a fucking circus.

Then we see this again in the Benghazi hearings.  No evidence of wrong-doing and, in fact, far more people had died in embassies under W. Bush - and that had never been investigated.  During the course of that, they took a page from Starr and expanded into this email investigation...not because there was any evidence of wrong-doing, but because they were keeping this manufactured "scandal" front and center in order to discredit Hillary and to give the impression of untrustworthiness.  Never mind that there were many, many more emails that had gone missing under W's administration...emails that might have been investigated to determine whether or not he and his administration had...you know...LIED about the weapons of mass destruction to get us into a war that we are still dealing with.  Real questions.  But that is never investigated.  Because this isn't and never was about truth or anything but manufacturing scandals to distract the public and attack political opponents.

And then the HEAD OF OUR FEDERAL POLICE throws a bomb into the election 11 days ahead of time to provide more baseless innuendo about Hillary Clinton's emails...when he keeps oddly silent about the investigations going on about the Trump campaign's connections to THE RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT and its influence on our elections...the kind of thing that is APPROPRIATE to investigate.  That is the heavy hand on the scale and should be investigated as a violation of the Hatch Act if ever there was one.

What all of this does is to get people to inherently distrust the Clintons but more broadly the Democrats based on NOTHING while simultaneously serving as excellent misdirection (you know...what stage magicians use) for all of the actual corruption that the GOP leadership is engaged in spreading throughout the country.

And, I believe that it directly leads to:

The Destruction of Fact-Based Discourse in Politics and the Media

For years the parts of the "inner workings" of government that are given incessant coverage by the broadcast media, especially, in their 24-hour news cycle, is a non-fact based circus of shouting people with nothing but innuendo, accusation and drama.  And people tune in.  In fact, politics has just been reduced to...REALITY TV.

Except Reality Television is NOT reality and this has real effects.  So, what is learned from this is that things that generate passion and upset and drama...they get people to watch...and anyone who watches reality TV is an expert in reality TV.  And it does not matter one whit if what is said is true or not.  It is all about their "perception."  And there is a whole spin-off industry that was already there but gets steam, of angry "reality tv" type stars screaming more made-up bullshit.  When the comedians on the left (Stewart and Colbert, especially, now Jon Oliver, Samantha Bee etc.) do more truth-telling than most of the mainstream broadcast media...we are in serious fucking trouble.

Add to that social media and the fact that only a few of the old hardcore journalistic outlets even have investigative reporters AND that they do not have a viable business model to stay in business...we have a very, very serious problem.

So, we have a real crisis where people in power say things in order to provoke particular reactions and have no commitment to truth-telling and two-generations of a population whose main exposure to politics has been through the televised circus that is indistinguishable from "reality television" in which made-up bullshit drama is accepted and swallowed...and then they are basically told that they can choose their own adventure through voting.  They watch their own news outlets, which for many in the GOP is outlets that directly, repeatedly and intentionally lie to their viewers because they have accepted the axiom that all truth claims are really rationalization of power.

The trouble (and hopefully the salvation), of course, is that there is such a thing as reality.  It will bite us in the ass.  The coal miners who thought they are getting their jobs back...their jobs aren't fucking coming back.  They just aren't.  The messaging from the GOP leadership and their segment of the media will, of course, be that somehow it will be the fault of the Democrats...but their jobs aren't coming back any more than being a stable-boy or chimney sweep will be common and viable forms of employment.

But the point of this is that in a post-fact situation, we have unscrupulous actors who are intentionally manipulating the populace through misdirection, lying, and innuendo and that they are overwhelmingly members of or aligned to the GOP.

All of the above serves as giant misdirection
while the GOP advances several major pieces of agenda that steal our Democracy.  I will need to go into these in more detail at some point but they have very systematically:

1.  Corrupted Campaign Finance...well...the conservative justices through things like Citizen's United...but it enables dark money to be used in order to influence campaigns.  What is most important to know is that Dark Money is especially used in LOCAL campaigns....especially in state legislative races and so forth.  Why?  Both to influence policies that are created on a local level...and we often forget how much power is given to states as a result of federalism...but also, to enable:

2.  Gerrymandering!  Urban areas are the economic centers, the population centers, and tend to be overwhelmingly politically progressive.  This is where most of us live and because we are the economic centers, we are the main tax base.  Now, there are some urban people who are Republicans and vote for tax laws that directly benefit them...especially if they are part of the 1% because the GOP has been taxing in ways to increase the share of the wealth that the 1% has at the expense of everyone else since Reagan, but in general, urban areas go blue.  So, thanks to unscrupulous gerrymandering at state levels, in states where the GOP has systematically managed to get control over state legislatures...often through dark money and attack campaigns that use the innuendo, lies, etc. discussed above...urban centers and areas that typically tend to have a strong progressive presence tend to be carved up, often in totally insane ways, so that it is ridiculously difficult if not impossible for a Democrat to get elected.  So, you can have a county that will vote blue in every presidential and Senate election that is ALWAYS going to have GOP reps in the House and state legislature.  As far as I am concerned, this should be utterly illegal and we should go to a system in which computer algorithms determine district boundaries based on nothing but population compression.  Technologically, this could be done.  Now, to be fair, Democrats have definitely used gerrymandering also...Maryland is a notorious example...but the vast majority of this is GOP.

3.  Voter Suppression:  Once the GOP began getting control of the state legislatures, then they started instituting both laws and practices that are specifically targeted at suppressing voters who tend to vote Democrat.  These include voter ID laws that disproportionately affect poor people of color who almost all vote blue; closing polling stations so that lines are incredibly long in areas that have higher proportions of registered Democrats; stripping the voter roles for people who haven't voted in the some number of elections using criteria that they test-model first to ensure that it will disproportionately affect Democrats (which requires re-registering and they often don't inform people who have been stripped that they are no longer registered...until they show up and aren't listed); closing down early voting; denying citizens who have previous incarceration the right to vote...which when you consider the disproportionate impact of policing/conviction/incarceration on poor people of color, especially African-American men, this permanent disenfranchisement is deeply morally problematic.  All of these measures are statistically modeled first with an intention of disproportionately suppressing voters who tend to vote Democrat.  Most of this was made possible by gutting the Voting Rights Act, a key piece of Civil Rights legislation that is CLEARLY still needed.

4.  Corruption of the Original Purpose of the Electoral College:  The Electoral College was originally designed, as described by Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist Papers to keep the populace from electing a demagogue.  Well...if ever there were a test case...we are facing a true demagogue.  But at the same time, most states have passed laws that aim to restrict the so-called "faithless electors," those who vote against the decision of the popular vote in their state.  So, one of two things really should happen here.  EITHER the electoral college should be a carefully selected group of people with high-powered critical thinking skills, a dedication to doing what is right for the country, and they should be fully empowered to vote their conscience OR we should abolish the Electoral College and go straight with the popular vote.  What we have now is a situation in which if our electors voted their conscience, in many states they would be breaking the law AND the understanding of their role is so misunderstood that there is a decent chance it would mean armed insurrection.  That being the case, I would advocate for abolishing the Electoral College.  What we have now allows for the tyranny of the minority in selecting a President.  Because of the way in which the electoral college is created, it structurally benefits rural populations...as I will discuss in a minute.  But these state-level laws making it an offense for delegates to the Electoral College to perform their constitutionally appointed role of protecting us from the threat of a demagogue, while still maintaining the Electoral College - this is systemic corruption of our system.

5.    Stacking the Courts:  This, to me, is one of the most egregious and, I believe ILLEGAL forms of corruption in which the GOP has systematically engaged.  It is the duty of the President of the United States to appoint federal judges...not just to the Supreme Court, but to the federal appellate courts and federal district courts, with advice from the Senate - which is obligated to hold conformation hearings.  Under the "leadership" of Mitch McConnell, the Senate has just refused to hold hearings for hundreds of nominees put forward by Obama...they have just refused to do it and kept the positions vacant until they could recapture the White House.  Let me repeat that...THE GOP HEAD OF THE SENATE HAS SYSTEMATICALLY REFUSED TO PERFORM HIS CONSTITUTIONALLY MANDATED DUTY FOR YEARS IN ORDER TO CORRUPT THE BALANCE OF POWER BY ONLY ALLOWING NOMINEES FROM HIS PARTY TO APPOINT JUDGES.  McConnell is going to go down in history as one of the great destroyers of the great American experiment.

So, THE GOP HAS SYSTEMATICALLY DISMANTLED AND DESTROYED THE CHECKS AND BALANCES that form the foundation of our Democracy.  They have stolen it.  They broke the rules about the courts.  They have used dark money to break the rules about how we are supposed to have representation in Congress through shameless abuse of gerrymandering, the protective purposes of the Electoral College are undermined.

There are also, as I mentioned, some deeply problematic structural problems that have to do with history.

1.  The historical way states were created
The admission of states into the Union was subject to various reasoning at the time.  We have had some shifts, though, in the way in which our country is structured that render this problematic.  So, each state gets two senators.  The Senate, of course, was never intended to be a proportionately representative body.  However, when the Constitution was created, it was 13 colonies, not 50 states, and the proportions were more reasonable.  At this point, we have 50 states and an overwhelming portion of the citizens live in cities, especially cities situated on the two coasts.  So, historically, there may be reasons why there are so many states in the middle even though they all have low populations.

If you were to combine and make a single state out of the following

  • Wyoming
  • North Dakota
  • South Dakota
  • Montana
  • Idaho
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • Kansas
  • Utah
It is STILL almost a million people smaller than New York.  It is many millions smaller than California.  

So, New York gets two votes in the Senate.  The states listed above that represent fewer people get 18 votes.  There are some small states that tend to vote Democrat also, but there is a massive population disproportion that has to do more with historical circumstances concerned with governing territory in an era that predates modern transportation.  If we were dividing up the states now, many of these low-population states in the middle would be combined and would not give them THIS level of extraordinarily disproportionate power.

2.  The Electoral College
Looking at the above combined with the fact that the Electoral College does NOT function the way initially intended, not only do small, low-population states have overwhelmingly disproportionate influence in the Senate, the electoral college combines the numbers of House and Senate representatives, structurally diminishing the power of states with large populations.  For example, one vote in Wyoming is worth about 4 Californians.  Additionally, most states are winner take all.  This is especially problematic since the population has moved into big cities often on the coasts.  We are now in a situation in which we have a President who lost the popular vote by an extraordinarily large margin and is about to be sworn in based on this structural problem in which the majority has no power because of the inequality of the worth of votes.  One possible solution would be to pass a constitutional amendment abolishing the Electoral College - especially since the original purpose of the EC has been undermined.  A reinstitution of the principle of one voice, one vote.  However, since the GOP has corrupted the system so that it can remain in power in the legislature, it is unlikely that they will do such a thing...thereby seizing the power of electing the Presidency away from the majority.  Again...our Democracy has been stolen.

3.  Colonies, including the District of Columbia
There are a number of colonies, but the two that especially should be made into states are the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.  DC is a particularly problematic case since we pay federal taxes and have no voting legislators and don't really have home rule.  We don't because we vote 96% Democrat.  We have more population than Wyoming or Vermont.  The ONLY reason that we are being denied statehood is not the original reason set forth by the framers when they believed that no one would actually live here...we are now like London, Paris, or Athens.  It is interesting, also, to note that those who live and work around the capital and who, frankly, are the MOST informed about how the federal government actually works are overwhelmingly in favor of the Democratic party...which is why we are systematically disenfranchised.  Puerto Rico has a population of 3,480,000, which makes them more populous than 20 states.  They, at least, do not pay federal income taxes right now, but they have no representation.  But the reason that we are not given the full rights of citizenship is all about the GOP suppressing the power of the Democrats.

Conclusion

So, all of these things, again, when taken together have created a situation in which a minority can rule over the majority without their consent.  I understand that the GOP is exultant and drunk on their power, but they might want to seriously remember that there are REASONS why our founders created checks and balances because what they are doing is not the way to govern in a sustainable manner.  The only way to govern is through the consent of the governed...if you don't have that, you have tyranny and the appropriate response to tyranny, according to our own founders, is to overthrow it.  

I believe in the great American experiment.  It was an attempt to create a stable system that did not create the conditions that lead to tyranny and from thence to revolution.  I hope that our leaders and, specifically, the leaders of the GOP, take a good look at what they are doing and reconsider whether or not "winning" is really worth the cost.