All posts by GenEx

This is my personal Idaho. Enjoy the potatoes!

Neoliberal Bonk

So this happened:


While the removal of The White Nationalist Manifesto came with little fanfare other than Amazon saying that it violated the company’s policies (though it was unclear what policies those were), Johnson could see the writing on the wall. Two days later, Amazon banned 15 more Counter-Currents titles, including Western Civilization Bites Back by British Nationalist Party leader Jonathan Bowden and books by Nazi mystic Savitri Devi. Amazon had also banned four books by white nationalist leader Jared Taylor.
Other white nationalist authors targeted include American Nazi Party founder George Lincoln Rockwell, Harold Covington from the Northwest Imperative, Ben Klassen of the “Creativity Movement,” and National Alliance founder William Pierce, author of The Turner Diaries. All in all, dozens of titles were pulled from Amazon’s listings, leaving them essentially unavailable for most people in the U.S. It is an ongoing purge, so the number is increasing quickly, with no end in sight.

And this:


Facebook banned several prominent accounts promoting white nationalism on the platform on Thursday.
Accounts barred from Facebook, as well as its subsidiary Instagram, as part of the new enforcement include the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, the far-right troll Milo Yiannopoulos and the anti-Muslim figurehead Laura Loomer. Jones was previously banned from Facebook but still had an account on Instagram, which was no longer live as of Thursday.
“We’ve always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to our decision to remove these accounts today.”

And all of the people you would expect to be upset about this are indeed very, very upset. But in their haste to rise up and demand a platform for saying things like grieving parents of murdered elementary school students were actors, they rose up a little too fast and struck their head on something.

It’s what I like to call the “Neoliberal Bonk.”

Neoliberalism (and I’m quote an encyclopedia definition specifically so no one can say I’m working on a bias) is an “ideology and policy model that emphasizes the value of free market competition.” Let the market decide, says neoliberalism. The market is the best way to run things, says neoliberalism. The market needs to be as free as possible, says neoliberalism. We must be liberal, or have a free hand, with the market, like one may be liberal with the ketchup on french fries, unless vinegar or mayo is more you thing.

Under neoliberalism, the unifying theory is that the government must be used as little as possible, allowing the private marketplace to be let free. After all, the argument goes, freeing “the beast” of the market will allow people to “vote with their dollars” and create a system without the flaws of meddlesome government regulation where only the most successful market forces will survive because they provide the best services.

Now obviously, this doesn’t really work because people are frequently quite horrible in their pursuit of ever more money without anyone there to tell them to stop. In short, neoliberalism is bad economics because it thinks people, and by that extension markets run by people, will always be run in an upstanding way out of fear for someone losing their place in the market if the consumers disapprove of some of the owner’s methods. People aren’t rational, they don’t behave in one single uniform way and, as we can see by Twitter’s example, there’s often more to their market decisions more than just pleasing a consumer base.

If you go about buying up all of your competition until people have no choice to buy from you because you’re the only game in town, that’s not exactly the market working as it should. If you have the rights to, say, certain medicines that human beings need to stay alive, you can jack up the price as much as you want because where else will they get the not-die-stuff? That is not acting in consumer’s best interest, but it does generated disgusting amounts of profits. If you know that your site, driven by ad revenue, is showing ads mostly to bots and not real people, but you don’t want to acknowledge that because your advertisers might bail and hurt your value to shareholders… well, you get the idea.

So where does the bonk come in?

Well, if markets are the sole arbiter of what is acceptable and good, and there either is no or shouldn’t be any government regulation ensuring every last voice is heard in this situation… well, that’s just the market deciding. The folks getting upset that bonkers conspiracy theory peddlers aren’t being treated the same as makeup tutorials just don’t seem to understand how the market works. You can’t expect a for-profit outlet like Facebook or Amazon to be compelled to host and tacitly promote something that may damage their standing on the market. Under neoliberalism, you can’t force private enterprise to do anything that might justify their pursuit of profit. To do that, you’d need… government.

You can’t demand that an outlet like Facebook behave like a government when you want protection but not when you want to be free of regulation. Governments aren’t built that way, at least ours isn’t at current. Now of course, there is a form of government that is built on the idea of protection for one specific group while attacking others… but I don’t think they’re quite ready to go full fascist… yet. Neoliberal Bonk is that amazing phenomenon of having lived in a society that has for so long downplayed and weakened government while simultaneously championing the market that folks start to have difficulty separating the two or realizing that the latter is under compunction to behave like the former.

You stand up, try to defend yourself, and BONK hit your head on the hull of the USS Neoliberalism, a ship that conservatives themselves have been building for 40 years. Now, however, that their economic policies are proving so incredibly awful that even their own base are getting affected, more and more folks are banging their heads on the boat they helped create, and those sitting topside on the promenade deck can’t even hear it.

So the next time you hear some right-wing maniac complaining that the new overlords of our technical age aren’t allowing said maniacs to damage their brand, remember that this is the situation they had been campaigning for, and it’s just the will of the free market judging their product to be a liability.

Bonk.

We got radicalized on UHF

In furthering my theory on how older generations played themselves, let’s take a look not at music this time, but visual media like television and film.

This excellent article recently appeared from Current Affairs editor Nathan J. Robinson breaking down how, of all movies, Weird Al Yankovic’s screwball comedy UHF actually ends up advocating for the workers controlling the means of production, also known as socialism.

We’ve seen it all before: sneering men in suits try to crush the spirit of a wild dreamer who has a wildly popular idea but can’t quite stand up to the big bully and all of his big dollars, but something always happens. In 1989’s UHF, the community pitches in to collectively own the TV station. In 1984’s sublimely titled Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo the greedy land developer is thwarted in his quest to turn a community center into a mall. In 1987’s less sublime Ernest Goes to Camp, the titular character and a group of kids save the camp from an unscrupulous mining corporation. The list goes on and the tropes even persist to the modern media era, mostly with Disney fare like 1995’s Heavyweights, where the kids defeat the nasty corporate sleazeball by, um, borderline violent revolution?

You might be noticing a theme here with these films, and it’s not just movies that I enjoyed watching in my childhood. These are movies that are either:


A) explicitly for children
B) watched mostly by children
C) (and let’s be honest) pretty cheaply made/written

A movie like UHF wasn’t meant to have much plot. The creators, in a later interview, even talked about whether this sort of film needed a plot at all. So why is it that so many movies built to be light on plot or built to be watched by children have this similar plot, and why does the plot always seem to fly in the face of capitalism, particularly in the middle of the Reagan era?

The easiest answer is because it’s a simple story that’s simple to write, simple to produce and, most of all, simple to feel. For all of the banging on that the no-step-on-snake folks like to do about how capitalism is just basic human nature, we never saw a movie where Ernest successfully restructures the summer camp to generate more profit. Breakin 2 wouldn’t have as satisfying of an ending if Boogaloo Shrimp has negotiated for a mixed-use space. UHF would have been weird if Lee Iaccoca or someone had shown up at the end and buy the station for the good corporations. Folks know corporations aren’t their friends. Folks know that the pursuit of money eventually will come at the expense of someone else’s basic needs. Folks know deep down that there is no ethical consumption under capitalism, and they sure as shootin don’t want to sit down for a rollicking comedy that reminds them of that. They want something better, they want to dream of something better through their media. At the end of the day, people want to be taken care of, and socialism allows for that. Capitalism doesn’t.
As such, quick and easy writing for television and film often fell back on stories that would get the best bang for the buck with audiences across the board. Ironically, it’s the very psychocapitalism that demands schlock churned out to maximize the bottom line (and can’t even do THAT right as UHF was badly marketed, scheduled to open against titan’s like 1989’s Batman, and flopped at the box office only to find new life on video) is the exact same system that wound up giving the kids that grew up watching it the strong sense of justice that lead to Occupy and Bernie Sanders once everything fell apart in 2008.

(Fun side note about UHF: my brothers and I found it on a taped tape in the home for the disabled my mother was working in at the time. It was one of those long play cassettes, and Weird Al was sandwiched in between Pretty Woman and Back to the Future Part Two. My brothers and I watched it so much that we sort of ended up permanently borrowing it. When we finally tried to return it, the home told us to keep it… but, unfortunately, we did have to return Ghidrah the Three Headed Dragon. Our indoctrination, our buying into the U62 station if you will, was done through the generosity of someone who freely distributed the means.)

The same issue can be seen on the mass produced television of the era: Transformers, GI Joe, Thundercats and so many other properties considered nostalgic favorites relied on simple stories because there wasn’t really time or money invested for nuance. The best part is, in the case of the shows listed above, the shows combined a radical message of justice with another message: there are folks that oppose you, folks that only want to take and subjugate and exploit others, and those people must be literally fought to ensure peace. There does not exist an episode of Thundercats where Mumm-Ra can be reasoned with or a compromise can be negotiated with Cobra Commander, and Bumblebee never chided Optimus Prime on the ethics of punching Decepticons. Like it or not, these media experiences were formative to an entire generation’s concept of how the world should be, and because of base capitalist desires to produce faster, cheaper, and bigger, the shows instilled in many of us foundational left-wing beliefs of peace, love, justice, compassion, and so on. Because of lazy and easy writing to make money and sell toys, psychocapitalism again shot itself in the foot. The suits created an entire generation of kids who were told at the end of every GI Joe episode, in the cheapest and bluntest way possible, not to cheat or lie or be cruel… except to those fascists in Cobra Command.

oops! Looks like psychocapitalism played itself again, and now like nearly every one of those cartoonish villains (that now resemble the average oligarch just a little too much) they are locked in a battle they can never win, condemned to forever shake a fist as their armies retreat and shout “foiled again!” Just to come back tomorrow, same time, same channel, to fight it all again… and now, thanks to their own greed, we’re ready to fight back.

Yo Joe. Transform and roll out.

A L I E N A T I O N

In the latest example of bafflingly contradictory takes regarding Millennials, these two articles appeared independently of each other a scant two days apart. This isn’t the first time this has happened to somewhat comedic effect, as this screenshot I took in 2014 shows:


So why does this happen? Why are things so topsy turvy? Why does nothing make sense? Well, I’d argue, it doesn’t make sense because it’s not supposed to, and it’s not going to.

I’m a substitute teacher. In today’s school climate, it’s not exactly the high rung on the ladder. Today’s schools barely resemble the ones of ten years ago, let alone the ones I trained to teach in almost twenty years ago. Things change quicker than ever, and trying to rely on anything taught to you by a middle-aged professor in 2003 is an absolute joke. The classes, the student, the buildings themselves, everything has changed and you either change with it or get left behind. You either embrace the madness or get consumed by it. As a substitute, this is actually easier as I don’t have lesson plans, year-long curricula or delicate student & staff relationships to manage. If I don’t like a school, I just don’t come back tomorrow. A lot of full-time folks don’t have that option, and so it’s a lot harder to embrace the madness for them.

There are far fewer rules in today’s schools. Gum? Allowed. Drinks? Yep. Food? Sure. Only the biggest grumps in the teaching world hold a hard line on things like gum or wearing hats, and when you do it’s a constant struggle to keep that authority, and it is draining. But let’s go further: shouting for no reason? Happens daily. Throwing things? Almost daily. Swearing, sexual harassment, homophobia, racism, casual violence? It wouldn’t be a day at school without it in the average American school… and that’s not even getting started on school dress codes, if your particular school hasn’t long ago given up on them.

For someone who went to high school in the Britney era and saw administrators try to cut back on exposed skin, this used to be hard to deal with. I used to rail against it, decry the downfall of society, imply parents and students and communities to have more decency and police themselves and everything else that might have sent me down the alt-right path of skulls and swastikas… if it were not for my return to subbing in 2013 after a break of a few years. I resolved that this time, I would not let the students “get to” me, that I’d let it slide off my back, that I’d force myself not to care… and something amazing happened. I didn’t stop caring, but I started seeing the bigger issues at play and realizing that everything I’d believed about the world up to this point was at best misguided and at worst a malicious lie. I was subbing in rural areas now, and suburban ones, and I noticed the same issues happening there as in the urban ones I was sure was more poisoned than the sainted ones of my youth… but the same problems persisted. Why?

There’s a systemic issue, a larger issue in society that no amount of self-policing and gumption will solve. These students, first in the urban centers and now into the suburbs, are seeing how broken the system is as they see a woefully outdated educational model fail to prepare them for the nightmarescape they see every night on the news. Band-aids over gaping wounds appear all over the country in mass-shooter drills, means-tested tax incentives, and half-measures on basic needs like healthcare. One day in class, after a presentation on the students’ future career prospects, I waited until the full-timers had left the room and then scrawled on the whiteboard “DO YOU FEEL PREPARED?” and not a single student answered “yes.” It was then I started down a path where I realized it wasn’t parent v. child, teacher v. student, middle class v. lower class… it’s everyone that is suffering under the system v. the system itself

But what does this have to do with all these articles about Millennials? Well, it all comes down to the concept of alienation.

No workers are substitute teachers in the school of life. We’re immersed in this madness up to our necks, and on the daily. And embracing the madness of our current psychocapitalist system when you can’t just check out at the end of the day is damn near impossible. The students in the urban areas, some of the least powerful people around, experienced this alienation first: it doesn’t matter what we do, the system doesn’t care, so you disconnect from it. As psychocapitalism digs further and cuts deeper in pursuit of yet more profit, the same feelings start to spread into more affluent and privileged areas. Any futile attempts to mitigate the situation, as good-hearted as they may be, only serve to further highlight the flaws in the system and drive people further away. We soon see two sides of each generation: those who are alienated from society, and those who are not. In the interests of keeping their current comfortable situation, thought leaders and decision makers take an obvious course: one of these groups must be celebrated, the other demonized, and this is how we wind up in the even further alienating phenomenon of contradictory coverage.

When you see two articles that say “you should be having kids” and also “you shouldn’t be having kids” what’s being said is “certain people we approve of should be having kids, and it’s your fault if you are not those people, and you should feel bad about it.” When two articles say “Millennials are relying too much on late-stage capitalism gig economy to avoid adulthood” and also “Millennials are literally selling their future earnings to investors upon reaching adulthood” what’s being said is “the good ones are spending their money this way, and if you spend your money this other way you are one of the bad ones” Whether any of this is sound or helpful advice, however, is irrelevant as most of the generation has either checked out and embraced the madness or been consumed by its misery. It becomes another front in an age old war, where the elderly do their best to stand athwart history yelling “stop” and delude themselves into thinking this time, as opposed to when they were the youth of tomorrow, the adults will surely win.

There’s a certain… finality to our current psychocapitalist system. We’re getting to the point where we just are running out of things to sell, buy, market and exploit, including our very own habitable planet. We’re running out of areas for growth in a system that demands constant growth, and without that growth collapse in inevitable. There’s a distinct feeling that those at the top, knowing the party is almost over, is simply speeding full bore into that inevitable nightmare, because the faster it all goes before the crash, the more money they stand to make which will come in handy when it all hits the fan.

The big question now stands as to how much the rest of us will allow them to pillage or hoard when it all comes crashing down and the alienated are finally given a place back in a society that doesn’t treat them like a replaceable machine part but as a valuable and meaningful human being. The longer we wait, I fear, the harder it will be to pull folks back from that alienation: we’re already seeing some folks so deep into the alt-right and the rising neo-fascism worldwide that it ay be very hard, even impossible, to show them a better way in possible. Time will tell, but the key is action. Do something, say something, get out there and let anyone and everyone know that a better world is possible. A world without greedy bosses and hoarding CEOs but a world of cooperation and mutual understanding, a world without efficiency and profits at all costs but instead shared prosperity where no one is king, but everyone does okay. A world without alienation from work, life, love, and society where people not only feel prepared to survive, but know they can thrive… but it can’t exist while an oligarchy repeatedly siphons all the money, power and prosperity to the very top.

Burning Down the House… of Commons & Lords

Brexit. Even though the people narrowly voted for it, it now seems like no one wants it. The British government is desperately either trying to put together a deal that doesn’t lead to absolute crisis or begging the EU to give them more time… to come to a deal that doesn’t lead to absolute crisis. How is it that the party that campaigned for this idea, the party that called for the referendum on this deal not seem to have any plan on how to carry out this deal?

Because they honestly didn’t think it would happen. But their base, inflamed now for decades in a cynical ploy for votes, took the political theatre seriously and now stand poised to set the curtains alight.

I’ve made no secret in my writing that in the global right’s not-quite-slow-enough slide into fascism they had had to resort to more and more inflammatory rhetoric to gin up votes for oligarchy-enriching policies that, if they actually ran on those and not the unfounded fear of someone trying to steal your job or your race or your hamburgers, would never actually get them elected. It has served the right well for the past 40 years now and allowed them to essentially cultivate a base that doesn’t care if the oligarchs rob them blind, so long as folks aren’t surrendering their “western values” which I suppose means people chewed up & spat out by an exploitative system not getting the food they need to keep on living? The best example of this mindset was put into sharp relief in a recent New York Times article, where a voter for the current American Mussolini-in-training whined of the would-be dictator “He’s not hurting the people he needs to be hurting.”

That’s the lay of the land for the right: three decades of continually poisoning the well with harsher and harsher rhetoric (because the same old stuff loses its sing after a while, so you have to keep upping the ante) until your main voter base not only believes gay frogs are a sign of cultural Armageddon or that the government is looking to imprison people in abandoned Walmarts, but also that in the fight of socialism vs. barbarism, it’s barbarism all the way, so long as they’re not the ones being eaten.

The only problem with this continued pouring of gasoline on the fire is that, eventually, you have to start burning important things to keep the fire going. Eventually, you end up burning yourself. Ergo, Brexit. Ergo, the Trade War. Ergo, the US losing its place as an economic leader. All of these are the result of trying to blend reactionary far-right social policies with technocratic centrist status-quo financial policies. You can only exploit primal fears for so long before it starts to cut into the system of psychocapitalism that you’re trying to keep afloat. Ironically, this system of psychocapitalism, a system that prizes short-term earnings above all else is always doomed to be undone by the fact that no one running the system, whether it’s economically or politically, ever looks past the next quarterly earnings report or election. Because of that, they always fall victim to an unsustainable system that is directly undermined by the rules of the system itself. You can only cut so deep before you start cutting the throats of the people you rely on to keep you in power, and as soon as you start hurting the wrong people, the whole thing collapses because you lose the only thing that was keeping people voting for your garbage policies that were designed to fail.

The smartest among the psychocapitalists knows this, and that’s why you’re seeing so many naked power grabs and bluntly obvious admissions that yes, the game is up and it was always the point to extract wealth from the working classes. Those who aren’t complete fools who actually think they are doing a tremendous, bigly job are the ones looking to cash in and get out before the entire thing collapses. Brexit is a perfect example of stoking up this sort of blind rage in the voting population, but being unable to control the fire once it rages out of control and ends up burning your house down. As billionaire Jeff Greene told New York magazine back in 2012: “You’re in Palm Beach, you’re in the Hamptons, you think you’re so secure…Do you really think if you had 50,000 angry people coming across the river, you think you’re safe?” Play with fire and you get burned, and the global right movement is starting to need some bandages. The biggest issue is however, whether or not the right will be sent off to heal and possibly come back smarter from their ordeal, of if they will shamble forward like the living dead, content on consuming everything in a fiery hellscape. Given the attitudes of leaders today in Hungary, Brazil, France, the Phillipines, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States, among others, it would not be a completely foolish endeavor to believe the latter is coming.

It’s going to be the job of the Left to both fight off the zombies of bad ideas and also try our best to bring this world back from the brink as we have done before. In fact, there’s a disturbing trend in modern history of the left patching things up just in time for right-wing or right-wing-friendly “centrists” to wreck the shop again. It’s not going to be easy, and there’s going to be a lot of sacrifice, but you don’t wind up on the Left if you want things to be easy. The best parts of the left are not sustained like a fire but like a spring, endlessly bubbling with hope and optimism for what can be done instead of hoping to burn down the house before it changes into something you don’t personally recognize. It is those best parts, the parts that want the same rights guaranteed for all, that must lead the way forward with malice toward none and charity for all as Abraham Lincoln said during his second inaugural, with the Civil War still raging all around him. It is sometimes true that we can be at our best when the house is burning down, and how we all come together to rebuild it.

A matter of (bad) faith

This article originally appeared in the Fillmore County Journal on February 26, 2019

You may have heard the phrase “bad faith” or “bad faith arguments” shooting across the TV news lately (or at least what passes for news lately) and the phrase is a bit… high-minded. In everyday English it’s as simple as that one person who’s always trying to find some way to “get” you every time you have an argument, to the ridiculous point where you just dread every time you have to talk to them. If, for example, a new employee asks how to use the copier, that’s coming to you in good faith. However, if the slimy so-and-so gunning for a promotion in your office starts asking very pointed questions about how to use the copier the day after you presented a well-organized report to the boss… well, that’s obviously in bad faith.

In my last column we discussed how we live in a postmodern nightmare, which translates into “the truth is whatever enough people bark about for long enough.” Add to that the nasty habit of this late-stage psycho-capitalism system we live in where everything has to be a chance to get one over on everyone else, scrambling for crumbs while the richest among us get fatter and fatter… and you can see how this is a recipe for destruction. Let’s say, for instance, you’re a man with some clearly awful ideas about people who look different than you. If you can put a lie out there, and either hire enough trolls to repeat or say it so often people shrug and say “well, maybe it IS true,” you have a bad faith argument that is not being presented as fact. No one wants to challenge these clearly awful ideas, because as mentioned before, you have a well-paid army of talking heads and anonymous online attack dogs to sic on anyone who does, so your awful ideas go unchallenged.

Behold, the free marketplace of ideas.

So, we’ve got to fight this. For folks on the left, stop buying into some right-wing huckster demanding to know every little in and out of every policy down to the punctuation, because he’s not operating in good faith. For folks on the right, stop taking the bait when people want to catch you saying something horrible about migrant children or poor people, because they’re not exactly operating in good faith. One would think it would be fairly easy to say “just don’t be terrible to children” but these days it seems to be a struggle for some. Fight the temptation to post an unsourced story because it sounds right. Fight the temptation to post a story that is just dunking on someone you don’t like. Operating on bad faith, whether it’s claiming everyone is a Russian Op or claiming everything is part of a grand Deep State conspiracy, doesn’t help anyone or anything.

And if you’re noticing that both the talking heads on the left and right are resorting to bonkers conspiracies to keep up their ratings, you might have noticed that the issue isn’t left or right, but oligarchy vs the rest of us. Folks at the top know they are running out of ways to keep saying giving all the money you worked for to billionaires is a good idea, so instead they resort to bad faith arguments and yell “boogedy boogedy the bad man is coming for you” on the evening news, no matter if your flavor of choice is Democrat or Republican. Don’t fall into this trap: you have the internet, possibly in your pocket right now. Look up sources. Get multiple sides to the story. Don’t just listen to Fox, or MSNBC, or even supposedly neutral outlets like NPR. Maybe you even find some of those options on the internet to hear their side of the story, but always doublecheck they’re not, you know, insane.

A world full of liars operating in bad faith is how you get things like Juicero, a company that sold $400 juicing bags you could squeeze with your hands for free, or Theranos, a company that gobbled up millions of dollars in investments promising a magical blood test to answer all sorts of life’s problems… which turned out to be a giant scam. If you want to live in a world that’s essentially one giant late-night infomercial, that’s your right, but keep your TV tuned to QVC and leave the rest of us to enjoy a non-nightmare kind of life, okay?

Lies and cats and lies about cats

This article originally appeared in the Fillmore County Journal on January 28, 2019.

My older brother went off to college in 1995 with a Brother-brand desktop word processing unit. No, not a computer, but a little thing that did word processing, nothing but. However, he did go off to a school that had an internet connection, and he would come home over holidays and breaks to regale us of tales of that primitive web. Now, this may come as a shock to some of you, but even in those giddy days of early internet one of the first things I remember hearing about was 100% percent fake. It was called Bonsai Kitten, which combined the Japanese love of carefully-pruned tiny trees with, of course, cats.

And thus was born the first two pillars of our modern internet culture: lies and cats.

Bonsai Kitten was a hoax created back in the year 2000. By this point I had just barely gotten dial up internet back in the old homestead in Canton, while my brother had had five years of internet citizenship to marinate in. I remember him explaining the website with a grin that I can only describe as impish: an MIT student had used what was then fairly cutting-edge technology to manipulate pictures to make it look like adorable kittens had been forced to grow in, and take the shape of, glass cases, much like the square watermelons of Japan that were all the rage at the time. After my brother finished the story, the question was of course asked.

“Is that real?” How young I was.

To which my brother laughed and answered that no, it wasn’t. First rule of the internet, folks: assume everything is fake until proven otherwise. Now, for folks like me who grew up in those hazy, crazy, Wild-West days of the early internet, we often learned this the hard way (I still see things when I close my eyes, dear heavens…), some folks who are older or younger than me haven’t seemed to accept this sort of framework when browsing. This is how you get obviously Photoshopped pictures, provably wrong memes, and absolutely bonkers worldviews suddenly presented as legitimate. Remember: assume everything is bunk before you can prove it, without a doubt, or risk being mocked on the internet… or voting for a carnival barker who, it turns out, can’t make the world better with a snap of his tiny fingers like he promised.

Beware of what the smartypants call “confirmation bias” which is a fancy way of saying “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Check your sources, assume everything is hot garbage until you can prove it’s not, and browse safely. Thankfully, those of us bleeding hearts over here on the left side of the fence have been hoodwinked so many times by pretend progressives serving big business that we treat everything with suspicion as default. But, for those of you who aren’t weirdos and are content not to spend your spare time researching marginal tax rates, be careful out there.

The internet is full of liars, and they want your money. And, thanks to a lack of common sense regulation or monopoly policy, they can do darn near anything hey want to get it. Practice safe clicks, develop a healthy sense of skepticism until you see it happen, and if all else fails just find your Millennial sibling, child, or coworkers and have them explain it to you. They’re easy to find: they’re usually the one browsing memes about how climate change will fry us all to a crisp by the time Social Security kicks in but hey, at least we won’t have to worry about retirement!

Have fun stormin’ the castle

Bernie supporter: All right. Who to vote for? The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both vote, and find out who is right… and who is dead.

Establishment Shill: But it’s so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you: are you the sort of man who is Bernie or Bust? Now, a clever man would vote for Bernie no matter who the nominee is, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the ballot in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the ballot in front of me.

Bernie supporter: You’ve made your decision then?

Establishment Shill: Not remotely. Because Bernie spent time on a kibbutz in Israel, as everyone knows, and a kibbutz is part of a sinister ploy to establish culturo-bolshevism worldwide, and socialists are used to having people not trust them, as you are not trusted by me, so I can clearly not choose the ballot in front of you.

Bernie supporter: Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.

Establishment Shill: Wait till I get going! Now, where was I?

Bernie supporter: Socialism.

Establishment Shill: Yes, Socialism. And you must have suspected I would have known the ideology’s origin, so I can clearly not choose the ballot in front of me.

Bernie supporter: You’re just stalling now.

Establishment Shill: You’d like to think that, wouldn’t you? You’ve out-polled Trump, which means you’re exceptionally strong, so you could possibly write-in Bernie, trusting on your strength to save you, so I can clearly not choose the ballot in front of you. But, you’ve also bested my other establishment candidates, which means you must have studied, and in studying you must have learned that it’s a two-party system, so you would have tried to infiltrate one of the major parties with socialism, so I can clearly not choose the ballot in front of me.

Bernie supporter: You’re trying to trick me into giving away something. It won’t work.

Establishment Shill: IT HAS WORKED! YOU’VE GIVEN EVERYTHING AWAY! I KNOW WHO TO VOTE FOR!

Bernie supporter: Then make your choice.

Establishment Shill: I will, and I choose… what in the world can that be?

[Establishment Shill gestures up and away from the table. The Bernie supporter looks backwards. Establishment Shill swaps the ballots]

Bernie supporter: What? Where? I don’t see anything.

Establishment Shill: Well, I- I could have sworn I saw something. But no matter.

[Tries to hold back laughter]

Bernie supporter: What’s so funny?

Establishment Shill: I’ll tell you in a minute. First, let’s vote. Me from my ballot, and you from your provisional.

Establishment Shill: [Establishment Shill and the Bernie supporter vote]

Bernie supporter: You guessed wrong.

Establishment Shill: You only think I guessed wrong! That’s what’s so funny! I switched ballots when your back was turned! Ha ha! You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders – the most famous of which is “never get involved in a land war in Asia” – but only slightly less well-known is this: “Never go in against the establishment when our tax cuts are on the line”! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha…

[Establishment Shill stops suddenly, his smile frozen on his face as Bernie wins the Presidency]

Bernie supporter: [Removes blindfold from worker’s head]

Workers: Who are you?

Bernie supporter: I am someone who wants things to get better, and that is all you need to know.

Workers: And to think, all that time it was your ballot that mattered.

Bernie supporter: They all mattered. I spent the last few years building up a working people’s movement and mobilizing voter registration while the establishment blew money on consultants.

Leitzen 2020


2018 saw a lot of highs for Minnesota as a whole, but in Greater Minnesota the story is still not a rosy one. The time is now to begin to think about our slate of candidates for 2020, and this is me officially throwing my hat into the ring for consideration. I’m a substitute teacher, father of two under five, and recession refugee from Scott Walker’s Wisconsin who knows what it means to have to struggle to make ends meet. In my 33 years I’ve been a teacher, city clerk, 3rd shift bakery packer, office manager, tourism director, and pumped the toilets on boats. I went to high school in Mabel, MN, and after my college years in Chicagoland, when it came time to find a place to raise my new family, I knew it had to be in Bluff Country. In my time working with kids, workers, and every day folks, I’ve seen first hand who gets the worst part of this broken, psycho-capitalist system that puts profits over people, and its time the folks around here had a regular guy like them willing to fight back, willing to say what needs to be said, and willing to do whatever it takes to bring back prosperity to the region.
The question remains: where do I run, and if there is a better candidate, where do I apply my talents as a writer, speaker, singer, and Bluff Country ambassador?
A race against Greg will be entertaining, I guarantee, but it’ll also be a bareknuckle back alley brawl from the word go. Someone needs to send a message that there’s a new breed of progressive running that won’t play by the old rules where we adopt a conservative frame on everything. I challenge power wherever I go and I’ve been fighting bullies since I got in a fistfight with Nathan Shaw in the second grade because he bragged too much on the football field. The campaign will be honest, simple, and brutal: This man has been in office since I was six years old, nothing has gotten better for the people of his district, and I am ready to lay that blame squarely at his feet.
A race against Jeremy will require a little more finesse. As much as it pains me to say it, I think the key to defeating Jeremy in this district is to compare him to Hillary: wishy-washy, milquetoast and ultimately unconcerned with issues affecting the real folks in the district. We need to critique his voting record to the punctuation marks. We need to call him Jeremy Clinton. We need to hand out free “Jeremy Miller Nothingburgers” at county fairs that are just empty paper plates with his failures on them. Most importantly, we need to run someone who doesn’t necessarily care if they win or lose, but can see the big picture. This candidate needs to be a bowling ball thrown at Jeremy’s ankles as he starts running for governor, and I am more than willing to be that hired gun.
Hagedorn is still in the planning stages, but here’s something to chew on: Walz won his district by fewer and fewer votes every cycle, and it finally broke with Feehan. Running the same old same old won’t work anymore, but there is an opening for Minnesota to have its own “AOC” to run on popular, lunch-pail, classical Farmer-Labor issues and score an upset over the big money and big corruption. We have been investing in the top 1% for as long as I have been alive (33 years) with tax cuts and deregulation on the idea that it would pay dividends. Instead, they took the money and ran. Any investor would be crazy not to ask for their money back, and that’s the sort of campaign I want to run. It’s time to Soak The Rich and Get Your Money Back to fund your town, your schools, your roads & bridges, your life. Wendell Anderson ran on such a platform and won every county in the state, and the DFL could do so again if it embraced its progressive roots. Whether it’s a slugfest with Greg, a throwdown with Jeremy, or a revolution against Hagedorn, I’m willing to be on the front lines and do whatever it takes to bring this state, and this country, back from the brink.

Sincerely,

Eric M. Leitzen

Bring on the Alphabet Soup

Growing up, I can remember almost every instance of FDR’s “Alphabet Soup Programs” being taught to me as a sort of humorous anecdote. How silly to have all these names and letters, my teachers would cluck: NRA, CCC, CWA, WPA, AAA, TVA, and so on. Such silly, much laugh.

Unfortunately, I can only really remember one or two that actually looked beyond the Twitter hot-take method of teaching and explained just what all those letters were about: mainly, they were an attempts to provide things people needed that the free market and private individuals wouldn’t, couldn’t, or shouldn’t have their grubby little hands in. As silly as the programs are always described, I can’t help but remember Jack Sparrow’s defense of someone calling him the worst pirate they have ever heard of: but you have heard of me.

We remember those programs. We still see them today. There’s a WPA building in my town of 600. The FEC, the FHA, the NLRB… these are still things that make the news in 2018. All of these letters, all of this effort and attention paid to actually trying to help people… that gets remembered, and it’s something today’s Democrats could stand to learn from FDR.

The Democrats allowed themselves to be played much like the guy in the old Hawaiian Punch ads. The left, often known for expanding the role of government to, you know, make sure people don’t die, was asked if they thought smaller government was a good idea. And Democrats, terrified after losing a couple of elections, nodded dumbly and eagerly took the punch to the face. Now, almost 40 years later, we’re seeing that hey, maybe having a government neutered by private interests, while those same private interests loot the till and get disgustingly rich while the rest of us are asked to do more with less might have actually been a bad thing. Maybe more government… could be good?

But no, cry the New Democrats, which have now become the Old Democrats. If you say government is good, then the other side can make fun of you for it and, as we all know, government is all about who is the most popular kid on the playground, not whether or not lunch gets served. Democrats, more worried about getting a win than actually helping the people they demand vote for them and also lured by that siren song of elite respectability, have conceded to fight on the terms of the other side, and when you start every drive from your own 10 yard line, it’s hard to score a touchdown.

It is honestly either some amazing sleight-of-hand by Republicans or monumental stupidity by Democrats… or that Democrats honestly thought they could sell out government to professional-class “captains of industry” and not destroy the social contract so… yeah, monumental stupidity. Newsflash, Dems: you’re not going to beat the other side if you try to play within their rigged rules, rules that start off by saying “government is inherently bad and should be as small as possible.” For Pete’s sake, you can’t even trumpet any marginal gains you get because, if you do, it’s talking up government and, as we’ve already stated, that’s a bad thing. It’s mind-boggling to step back and look at: it’s like agreeing to a boxing match with both hands tied behind your back, then turning to the crowd and going “but hey, at least I got a few headbutts in, right folks?”

Democrats will not start making things better for the people that are supposed to vote for them until they admit that this 40 year experiment in neoliberalism has been an absolute bust. It turns out that you can’t just have a kinder, gentler form of drowning government in a bathtub. It turns out you have to embrace government, clean up government, and most importantly make government work for the little guy. When one side says “we’re going to make government weak and ineffectual” and the other side says “we’re going to make government weak but still do everything you like,” people start to catch on to the con after almost 40 years.

Stop allowing the narrative to be set by the other side, who actively want your side out cold on the mat. Stop thinking “oh, but if we just took a couple of their ideas and made it work” because it won’t. That’s why we have opposing parties, they’re supposed to offer opposing ideas, not two slightly different versions of the same shit sandwich. And, if you’re that worried about victories and clout and electability, two of the biggest political forces in the country are a reality-show-star turned baby’s first Mussolini, and a Jewish Socialist from Vermont. Take everything you thought you know (or more accurately, everything your high-priced consultants tell you you think you know) and throw it out the window. Everything’s ready to change, and folks are willing to hear that yes, we’re from the government, and we’re here to help. Because, despite what the Gipper may have told you, it turns out a system based on making money does a piss poor job taking care of people, who turn out to be difficult and expensive and full of caveats that really hurt the bottom line.

The government doesn’t have to worry about making money. The government should only worry about providing for its people, and the people are ready to hear that someone’s going to make that happen, and they could really give a damn whether the box containing life saving drugs says US GOVT or Amazon.

NUN WITH FUMBERS

So… rich people have a LOT of money right now.

Like, “a lot” alot.

Just for perspective, the ratio of CEO to worker pay in the 1950s was 20 to 1. That was about $3500 per year for the average worker in 1950, which is just under $25k a year, according to Stanford. Now once upon a time, I went to school to be a History teacher, not a Math teacher, but I know my basic arithmetic. Sometimes, only knowing the basics can be really helpful in economics, a place sometimes way too in love with its own complexity. So:

$25,000 x 20 = an average CEO pay of 500,000 (in 2000 dollars)

Now, let’s take a look at some recent numbers from January 2018, where it shows that the CEOs of the 350 largest firms make 271 times more than their average workers… and that’s not even the worst! From the article:


“Although the 271:1 ratio is high, it’s still not as high as in previous years. In 2015, CEOs made 286 times the salary of a typical worker and 299 times more in 2014. Compare that to 1978, when CEO earnings were roughly 30 times the typical worker’s salary.”


According to a report from the Economic Policy Institute, the average CEO pay is 271 times the nearly $58,000 annual average pay of the typical American worker.

So let’s take that 58,000 and multiply it by 271, shall we? That nets us somewhere in the neighborhood of 15,718,000.

Let that sink in.
You get 58,000
They get FIFTEEN MILLION.

Now, a new article from the fantastic folks at Dissent Magazine detail a proposal to reduce this disparity…. somewhat.

“In 2010, trade union leaders presented elites at Davos with a proposal for a ratio-based maximum wage—something proposed in the United States by Amalgamated Transit Union President Larry Hanley. Hanley’s version would mandate that a top executive’s pay be no more than 100 times the salary of the company’s lowest-paid worker. In other words, if the receptionist or janitor makes $35,000 per year, the CEO would take home no more than $3.5 million. To raise his or her pay further, the boss would have to bring up the bottom as well.


While a 100:1 gap comes nowhere close to rigidly enforced equality, it would break from current norms in the United States, where a CEO in one of the country’s largest 350 firms earns an average of 271 times that of a typical worker, according to theEconomic Policy Institute.”

Reduce the gap to 100 to 1 as opposed to 271. That’s quite a harsh cut for the richies, isn’t it? I mean, that’s, what, a 158% reduction? Downright savage… until we run the numbers. Let’s take that $58,000 average income again, and this time multiply it by 100

58,000 times 100 is… $5,800,000. Over five and a half million dollars, PER YEAR, for the bigwigs at the 350 biggest companies. Speaking of 350 companies…

5,800,000 for 350 companies is… let’s take that 15 million and subtract the five and a half million… that’s a difference of $9,918,000 that could be used to, say pay people a living wage or give them healthcare free at the point of service… especially when you take that nine million saved and multiply it for all 350 firms…

3,471,300,000. Three billion four hundred seventy-one million three hundred thousand. Per year. And that’s only the 350 biggest firms in the country, and that’s even with the fairly tame expectation of cutting the ratio to 100 to 1. What if we cut it back down to the 1950s level?

58,000 avg income times 20 = 1,160,000 for the CEOs.
Do we dare subtract the 1,160,000 from the 15 million from the 271:1 ratio?
14,558,000. Per year to spread the wealth while the CEOs at the top 350 firms still get to make over a million a year. Oh, and if we take that 14 and a half million and multiply it by 350?
5,095,300,000. Five billion ninety-five million three hundred thousand. Per year. From only 350 companies. Money to be used for small towns, schools, roads, bridges, healthcare and, most important, money that could, and should, go into your pocket as realistic wages for the job you do.

I don’t know about you, but that could sure help a lot of people.

We’re coming up the stairs

So there’s all sorts of thinkpieces out there trying to understand why folks seem to be acting so screwy these days: the racism, the white nationalism, the fascism… but I keep repeating myself. In the lead up to this latest US election, we saw a bone-crushing volume of content devoted to the “migrant caravan,” and now since the election the coverage has plummeted in what can only be described as a blatant admission that the maniacs on the American far-right knew full well, and flat out did not even care to hide, that the entire narrative was nothing but a publicity stunt to gin up fear within the electorate. Fear of people not like you, fear of the world you know changing, fear of anything being different from the time when it was good, which always seems to be just far enough away in memory to be slightly fuzzy, slightly foggy, and more than a little tinted by nostalgia. Sure, Eisenhower may have taxed the rich at double or more the current rate, but I’d rather just remember it differently so we can return to “then” when things were “better” or, dare I even say it… “great.”

But why all this fear? Why this conservative terror to either return to a time when milkmen tipped their hats or when video games didn’t have to worry about making girls happy, depending on your generation? At the end of the day, the question sounds off like a tornado siren: why are you so scared? Fear is not known to be rational, or mature, or well thought-out, because if it was it wouldn’t be fear. Fear is by its very nature irrational, even if it serves a purpose of survival from aeons ago. Yes, learning to fear the bright colors of a poisonous snake can save your life, but without adding additional thought to the conversation you’ll find yourself running screaming into the night if someone puts mustard on your sandwich. Fear needs to be tempered with rational thought, which is something we as humans learn as we grow, and indeed it is one of the best parts of the human mind that allows us to succeed despite adversities. Without that tempering, without taking the time to calm down and think it over, we wind up acting like a human who has had not yet developed… like a small child.

I have two small children. One’s almost 4 years old, the other about a year and a half. As of lately, they have been little buggers when bedtime rolls around: yelling, screaming, sobbing, crying, begging for just one more book or one more hug or kiss even as the bedtime ritual stretches into its second hour. They literally lack the programming and brain development to be able to say “let’s sit down and be rational and calm about this: sleep is good for us and a well rested me is a better me for the challenges of tomorrow.” All they know is that Mom & Dad are going to disappear and they will eventually go unconscious, possibly hallucinate vividly for several hours, and then awake alone and probably with cold feet because they both hate socks and kick their blankets off at night. They are afraid of the coming uncertainty and, what’s more, they are upset at the adults in the room for not taking their irrational fears seriously and spending the entire night reading Bedtime for Baby Bear to them on repeat. They want to “conserve” what they have and don’t want it to change… I hope you can see where I’m going with this.

And when the adults don’t listen, or tell them that there’s nothing to worry about, or try to assuage their fear that they have convinced themselves is very real and imminent (my daughter often wails about invisible spiders she swears are in her room), or finally resign themselves to leaving the situation because at some point the kid’s just gotta get to sleep… the fear turns to anger. Why are my thoughts not being validated? Why are people not doing things my way? Why won’t things just stay the way they are and they way I like them? Why won’t Dad come upstairs for the seventeenth time to confirm that there truly are no spiders on the ceiling? I am not being served in the manner I wish to be, and so I am going to lash out at a system that I have convinced myself is unjust. I am going to test the boundaries. I am not going to go to sleep. I am going to throw my toys. I am going to scream and yell until you come up here and do what I want because, deep down, I am very, very afraid.

Fear isn’t rational. Anger is possibly even less rational because it often mutates from fear. How many times have you seen people act out in anger, only to say some permutation of the phrase “I didn’t mean it?” I know this all seems very Ivory Tower to compare conservative folks to my tiny children, but at the end of the day we’ve all still got that little kid inside. I’m 33 years old and I still get a rush every time I have to go up a flight of stairs alone in a dark house. I see a gaggle of teenagers walking down the sidewalk and my hackles go up. I hear my kids caterwauling about having to go to bed and my blood starts to boil… but then you remember the reality of the situation and you realize you can’t be mad at someone for doing what they know to do and what they may not be able to stop. It works much better to work with the person, manage the situation, and then look not at that they were angry, but why they were angry. It’s not about having the emotions, because we all do… it’s about how we respond.

Most times, you can respond to people rationally, especially if you look at overarching factors rather than just chastising the behavior at face value. When I sit and talk to my daughter, she talks about how much she doesn’t like being alone when she sleeps, which speaks to a larger social aspect of humanity that, frankly, I find uncanny in a 4 year old. However, she still has her moments when her better judgment leaves her, and that’s the main anecdote I want to relate here.

A few nights ago, she was in fine form: sassy, cranky, overtired, the whole nine yards. She was pushing boundaries, and she knew it. How do I know she knew it? Because when my wife eventually headed up the stairs to have a frank conversation about her behavior, the first words out of her mouth were pleading for no one to actually hold her accountable. The turnaround was remarkable: it took only nanoseconds to go from a strident “NO!” to everything to suddenly apologizing profusely to spare herself.

I want to make a special note here that Mom was NOT going up there to give her a whoopin’ nor was there going to be any physical confrontation at all. What my daughter feared more than that was the knowledge that Mom was angry and disappointed in her. Just beneath the paper-thin surface rage and the contrary attitude was fear. She knew she was testing the limits, she knew she could possibly get in trouble, but the rush of sounding off at the parents was too sweet, she just had to. Only too late did she regret it.

Fascism is not rational. Fascism is not particularly mature. However, it is cunning. It knows not to say things outright; it knows to dog-whistle its awfulness in traditionalism, identity, nostalgia and, most recently, irony. But just beneath the surface, fascism’s main driver is fear: fear of difference, fear of change, fear of what dreams may come and fear of that loneliness, whether it be loneliness from community, family, intimacy, or even alienation from what work and duties you perform in the day to day. That fear manifests itself in testing the boundaries of things like good taste, civility, or accepted social norms like, say, racism or white nationalism. But, as we saw in this famous clip from the Charlottesville rally, when cornered, alone, and faced with the possibility of Mom coming up the stairs, their first reaction is to take it all back. No one had to touch him, there were police nearby to protect him, but when someone comes up the stairs and there’s no support structure around him, it all falls apart.

We don’t need to make the fascists scared; they already are. All we need to do is scrape off that tiny veneer of bravado and expose the fear underneath. It’s the equivalent of the schoolyard bully losing his clout when one of the other kid starts at him and, in his fear, he falls ass-over-teacup backwards over his own backpack. As budding fascism begins to bloom in America, we need to start coming up the stairs to each and every one of these chuckleheads. In the face of irrational fear turning into anger, the best strategy is to challenge that anger until it melts away to fear, because fear is much easier to reason with. Maybe the fear is because life is too uncertain in a world where jobs are crappy, healthcare is too expensive, the food’s unhealthy and the water’s not clean. It’s a lot harder to hate people when you’ve got a full stomach, money in the bank, and a clean bill of health, but first we need to get to a place where those things are possible, and doing fluff pieces on Nazis is not the way to get there, unless you want to be up all night reading bedtime stories to stop another meltdown.

There is a point where you need to take some action, and fascism is much harder to take action on when it may be easier to define, but large enough that it takes something like a World War to put it back in the box. The point is now to start calling fascists and white nationalists and racists and identitarians or whatever they’re calling themselves for the lulz these days onto the carpet and make them answer for it, one at a time. Fascism’s strength comes from being united: a fasces is an old Latin term for a bundle of sticks bound together, making the entire bundle harder to break. As a child, I remember an incident involving one of my elementary teachers and a student. By the time the story got to me, it had morphed into some kind of nightmare scenario where the teacher had slammed a child up against a wall, for seemingly no reason. There was a small mob of us in the playground, and someone started the ridiculous chant of “off with her head.” It was easy to go with the flow, it was easy to chant along. I can’t remember if I did, but I know it was hard not to. But I also knew, if my Mom had found out when I got home, and when I was no longer surrounded by classmates, when I was alone… she’d be coming up the stairs.

It’s time to start coming up the stairs and making folks apologize. If not, they’ll continue to stretch the boundaries and test their limits… and where budding fascism is concerned, that’s something you just don’t want to see happen again.

The Election Day Column

This column was considered unfit to run in the Fillmore County Journal as a commentary article for the 11/5/18 issue.
 
I think I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m not too happy with the top brass in the Democratic party not choosing to run on a revolutionary economic platform that puts food on your table, jobs in your community, safe water in your tap, no-worry medical care, and so on… but I’ve got to say I am absolutely baffled by the strategy being taken by the Republicans. Not at the national level, of course, that’s stuff isn’t exactly hard to figure out, but the state and local approach by the GOP is just plain flabbergasting.
Flabbergasting? Does that count? Spell check says yes, so…
Jeff Johnson, what are you doing? Do you even know? Does your campaign? Both your website and signs I’ve seen around (and we’ll get to that later) claim that a vote for you is to “overthrow the status quo,” but last time I checked the GOP controls both the Minnesota House and Senate, so wouldn’t overthrowing the way things are result in DFL majorities in Congress? Additionally, I haven’t seen too many DFLers out there putting out particularly radical proposals, so what exactly are you proposing to overthrow? As if this wasn’t confusing enough, I later saw an online ad in the local paper saying, and I quote “Tim Walz wants to radically change Minnesota.” Mr. Johnson, wouldn’t overthrowing the status quo actually BE radical change? Is your campaign threatening to overthrow the radicals, who aren’t in power, and, um… start a revolution by keeping everything exactly the same?
Because let me tell you, Mr. Johnson, what overthrowing the status quo would really be: massive taxes on the wealthy, universal healthcare, guaranteed jobs, homes and income for everyone, and local co-ops as far as the eye can see where once stood mega-corporations… is that what the GOP wants? If you’re looking to overthrow the status quo, Jeff Johnson, I suggest you try socialism, because that’s the opposite of what we have now. Because that’s what your sign seems to say… and that sign does happen to be red, the color of socialism… what exactly is up your sleeve, Jeff Johnson?
And speaking of signs… you guys at the GOP really need to re-think your optics. I recently drove to the cities for work, and there was at least a 1:5 ratio of DFL to GOP signs on massive, empty pieces of land, horse farms, or McMansions with four or five new cars out front… none of which are places a guy like me making 30k a year is able to even rent. If you’re looking to sell yourself as the party of the little guy, this ain’t a good look. At this point, putting GOP signs in your lawn might as well be the same as wearing a top hat and monocle, especially when Minnesota Republicans are quoted as saying they’re scared that immigrants are going to take their fancy cabins they spend a quarter mil on and only live in a couple of months out of the year. Where’s YOUR toy house, peasants? I guess you just didn’t work hard enough like I did when I inherited the money to buy this cabin… and now, thanks to the Estate Tax cut, I can pass on even more money to my kids so they can buy bigger cabins!
But don’t think I’ve forgotten about the local level: Greg Davids, what is up with your newspaper ads? All these lame, non-specific policy points and saying they should vote for you because you’re the name everyone knows… why on earth are you taking pointers from the Hillary campaign? Because, last I checked, running ads like that didn’t work out super well for her. Just saying “this is who has been in power” is not only the sort of thing Hillary said in 2016, but it’s also the exact opposite of what Jeff Johnson’s signs are saying. What gives?
This is some really weird messaging, you guys. I’m really not sure what’s going on at the GOP these days: I mean, it’s not like you’re completely bankrupt on ideas that will actually help regular people, and all your policies only seem to make the rich richer, so you try to cover your campaigns in slogans that mean nothing and, weirdly, disprove your other slogans… that can’t be the case, right? Because if that were the case… why would anyone vote for you tomorrow?

DON’T FEED THE TROLLS

I can’t believe I have to say this to people making, in some cases, millions of dollars, but…

don’t feed the trolls.

For those of you who may not have existed in the awkward developmental stage of the internet, “don’t feed the trolls” was a phrase that was born from messageboard culture. If you have to ask what a messageboard is, congratulations! This article is for you.

You see, before people risked destroying their lives by bragging about their racism publicly on Facebook, they did it privately and anonymously on messageboards or forums. Before internet connections were strong enough to handle all the graphical bells and whistles, notifications, and insidious ads custom made by psychocapitalism to chew into your privacy like the Ceti Eels from Wrath of Khan, there were simple, text based services where you wrote a post, clicked “post” and then hit refresh to see if anyone responded.

Oh, and there were still ads, but they were big an obnoxious and easy to avoid… and sometimes hilarious.

Anyway, messageboards is where online troll culture started. Now, the word has gotten stretched and appropriated far beyond its intended meaning, as words often do, but to boil it down to the nasty, fetid bone broth yields a simple definition.

A troll, and by its extension troll culture, is someone who takes pride and pleasure in upsetting people.

Maybe it’s posting gory pictures. Maybe it’s taking a contrary stance to the conversation even if they don’t actually hold that stance. Maybe it’s repeatedly refusing to understand the clear message of the conversation. Maybe it’s purposefully misunderstanding the conversation. Maybe it’s just making an account, screaming racial epithets, getting banned, and coming back and doing it again.

All that matters is that you made someone upset.
And when people get upset, they pay attention to you.
And when you get attention, you matter.

The direct result of this, once other forum users got wise to these shenanigans, was to adopt a policy: don’t feed the trolls. Don’t respond to them, don’t pay attention to them, don’t make them feel like they matter. Whatever you do, do not prolong the show. Don’t indulge them. Ignore them. Don’t let them know they matter, because they do not exist in good faith. They exist only to make things worse.

I listen to NPR when I drive. Now, for folks on the left like me, NPR is like being invited to a party from someone who works in the same massive office building as you, and then when you show up the hosts does nothing but trash talk you, your supervisors, your department, etc… but it’s Friday night and you can either stay home, go to this party, or attend the Klan rally next door… and sometimes you want a human connection. So… NPR it is.

They had a press conference on. And the President was talking. Now, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m trying very hard not to feed the trolls, so I try to avoid listening to this maniac talk for any long periods of time. But again, I was trapped in my car and didn’t want music, so… I listened to him talk.

I lasted about five minutes.

My main takeaway was “thank goodness he’s an idiot.” Under any other circumstances, this man could have already put us under full blown fascist rule, but he’s too busy preening in front of a mirror to actually make anything happen. And so, instead of coming to America draped in a flag and carrying a cross, America was very lucky that fascism came knocking wearing a dunce cap and violently filling its pants, all the time swearing that you’re smelling daisies.

So, analysis? Thing Bad. That much is obvious. But what to do now? Well, I’ll tell you the number one thing NOT to do: pay attention. DO. NOT. FEED. THE. TROLL. Don’t wring your hands and bemoan the fall of bipartisanship, civility, or whatever fetish MSNBC is going on about this week. Don’t cluck your tongues and wag your finger at the vulgarity, in fact, don’t say anything. Don’t do anything. Ignore the President. Whatever you do, do not prolong the show. Don’t indulge him. Ignore him. Don’t let him know he matters, because he does not exist in good faith. He exists only to make things worse.

Do you know what happens to online trolls when you don’t feed them? They crave attention, they are desperate for that next hit of validation. So what do they do? They get bigger, louder, nastier. And, eventually, they become so crazed in their pursuit of their fucked-up concept of glory that they do something very, very dangerous… and they get nailed for it. There’s no more perfect example of this than what befell the “YouTube Shouty Man” community, who started off getting attention by telling flat-earthers they were stupid, but then had to get bigger and angrier to keep an audience desensitized to the old format… and before you know it you’re discussing whether the Jewish Question was necessarily a bad idea and you’ve lost half your subscribers, and with it half your income.

Trolls always take it too far if you ignore them, because they want your attention and will do anything to get it. Now obviously this is a little different when you’re dealing with a man who literally has his finger on the button, but the same core idea works: do not feed the trolls. When he says something stupid because he wants a headline, ignore him. When he does something that is clearly illegal, laugh at him and call him an idiot… and then let it go. When he becomes overtly fascist, mock him. When he starts waving a gun around, then you step in to stop it. As we saw by the famous anonymous letter, there’s enough people in there to keep him from annihilating humanity.

Imagine what would happen if this clown had a press conference and the media went on strike. If they turned off the cameras and walked out when he said something stupid, and went back to the studio to talk about, I don’t know, poverty or our horribly broken healthcare system. Imagine if it reduced the President to a tiny echo chamber of yes-men, robbed of the attention he so desperately craves and draws his power from, until he finally does something so bananas that it’s all over.

Part of the problem is our current system of mindless, inhuman psychocapitalism where profits matter overall. Trolls do what they do because they see a “profit” in attention. News media is constantly desperate to find the latest, most sensational, sexiest story because then they can profit from the attention and profit monetarily. There’s no thought into any possible implications, effects, or danger that comes with these decisions, only that something was got that benefits the person. The Ayn Rand-inspired “greed-is-good” ethos of Reaganism, where the only thing that matters is that you “got yours” is now starting to pay horrible, horrible dividends where the supposed news channel is more concerned with wardrobe malfunctions that people dying in the streets. As MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes, covering climate change is a “ratings killer.” And no ratings means no profits, therefore under psychocapitalism it is not important, even if it might mean the end of the world.

So it’s up to the 90s kids to fight back with the most 90s of emotions: weaponized snark and apathy.  Mock the fascists. Laugh at the fascists. But most importantly, don’t take them seriously. Especially this early on in their renaissance when they’re more like LARPers or boys trying on Daddy’s fatigues. Much like vampires, these ghouls can’t influence our country, our politics, and our lives if we don’t invite them in. Keep these freaks marginalized on the fringes of society, and they can Sieg Heil all they want into the void. When they try to make themselves heard, show up by the thousands to tell them how stupid they are. Don’t tell them you find them scary, or powerful, because that’s what they want. Don’t feed the trolls. Laugh at them. And most importantly, move on.

Eventually, the troll will trip over their own stupidity, blame someone else (possibly one of their troll buddies) and the whole thing comes crashing down. This is why fascism is self-defeating: it requires a singular mind to obey without question, but we’re all humans and we all make mistakes and we all do stupid things sometimes. If you instead fall into lock-step with a movement that needs shock and attention to survive, a movement that, as Umberto Eco wrote, has to be forever fighting “enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak,” then it is sad, hilarious, and pathetic on its face. Don’t let them ever convince you that they have ever been, or will ever be, anything but.

“Dad”

I see a young man in fatigues, holding a baby and remarking, almost befuddled to himself:
“Dad…”

I see that young man in fatigues shipping out while a toddler cries for him:
“Dad!”

I see that toddler, now seven, seeing a war report on the TV and saying proudly:
“Dad!”

I see the seven year old, now a teenager, kneeling at a white tombstone and saying, sadly:
“Dad…”

I see the teenager, suiting up in his fatigues, back straight, nodding to a picture in the front hallway:
“Dad.”

I see a new man in fatigues, screaming in a foxhole:
“Dad!”

I see two white tombstones, side by side, as a young woman holds the hand of a new toddler and explains to the toddler:
“Dad”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2018/09/12/afghanistan-war-has-gone-so-long-people-born-after-sept-can-now-enlist/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.0ce423238f98

Of Peaches and Mint

So I’m not seeing if anyone else has mentioned this, so I’ll go ahead and put on my “I got a useless History degree” hat, adjust my pocket protector, settle my taped-up glasses and dive in.

So, when the Constitution was first written and came into force in 1789, it contained Article I, Section 2, Clause 5 which reads:

The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.

Pretty cut and dried, no? Yet, I’ve seen more than a few complaints that this system isn’t exactly the best, as it basically relies on a convoluted and heavily partisan system to replace a badly acting officer with, often, his own hand-picked second-in-command, which doesn’t seem like much of a punishment or penalty. This is particularly true now, with the worry that a Presidency of Mike Pence might be even worse than the rampaging chaos of the Trump Presidency.

So why does this seemingly broken plan for removing bad actors from office exist? Well, like most things in American that are broken, we can blame partisan politicians putting their own positioning and legacy above what’s good for the country. You see, this system of impeachment would work much better at discouraging dirty deeds if the larger system it existed as a part of hadn’t been fiddled with. Now get ready…

ARE Y’ALL READY TO GET PEDANTIC?!

I hope you are, because today we’re going to look at the letter of the law. More importantly, the letter of the Twelfth Amendment to the United States Constitution:

The Electors shall meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President, and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate; — the President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted; — The person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice. [And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, then the Vice-President shall act as President, as in case of the death or other constitutional disability of the President. –]* The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.

How’s THAT for padding out the article?

Essentially, what happened was we changed from a system where the President was the one who got the most votes (in the Electoral College) and the Vice President was the one who got the second-most votes (in the Electoral College) to a system where the Prez & Vice Prez run on the same ticket and are voted on as one unit.

Under the original system, we could have had President Trump and Vice President Clinton. Technically, if both Trump and Pence had gotten the same number of electoral votes, the contingent election would have been between Trump and Pence, but as we saw in America’s first few elections there were often many other candidates getting electoral votes (in a much more democratic looking breakdown than what we have today) and it would be plausible to say in that system, we may have been even looking at a Pence v. Clinton final, or possibly some other situation with the House of Representatives casting ballots for states in a contingent election… and we all know how good the House is at coming together on a topic.

One can probably understand now how, with the impeachment system that was put in but never changed would have worked a little better back then than today. Oh, and in case you’re wondering why the system got so flummoxed that they had to switch to the Twelfth Amendment, while at the same time doing nothing to also amend the removal process, all signs point to what we call, in the biz, Partisan Dickery:

The Democratic-Republicans chose Jefferson, and the Federalists nominated Vice Pres. John Adams. Neither party was able to decide on a vice presidential candidate. At the time, however, the Constitution—not having anticipated the rise of the party system—stated that the candidate with the second highest total of votes would become vice president.

It was oddly difficult to find research on this topic. Political parties, which Washington himself warned against in his farewell address, went into business for themselves and put in place a system that was more about cementing power than it was about holding people accountable. If anyone says that the country is too divided now and partisan tribalism whatever is a modern phenomenon… well, take a look at the Adams/Jefferson years and you might change your mind.

And would repealing the 12th Amendment make things more “small-d” democratic? Possibly, but the electoral college is still a piece of outdated, antiquated, and oligarchy-friendly garbage that should have been removed years ago… but it helps certain people stay in power. Funny how that works.

I say, repeal the 12th and the Electoral College all in one go. Popular vote only: first place is the President, second place Vice President. Not only would that allow the selection process to be more democratic, but it would also inject a lot more accountability into what is becoming the least-accountable office on the planet.

Trains

Fascism is a self-defeating ideology. In every case of a full-blown fascist government, and even those with budding fascist tendencies, you get to a point where supporters of the fascists have to start saying, doing, and believing ridiculous things. Fascism, after all, comes from the Latin fasces, which was a bundle of wooden rods or sticks. Keep the sticks bundled, Fascism says, and you can’t break them. Never break from formation, never question, never ever let the idea get into your mind that the group doesn’t have the right answers and the best interests in mind.

But, as we know from every college freshman who thinks he has unlocked the linchpin of Communism, human nature tends to muddle things a bit. Things will go wrong. Things will get out of control. If you allow someone to believe they are right 100% of the time, if you never question or even think that they might be wrong, they will eventually start to believe that they can do no wrong… and that’s where things get terrifying.

So we know Fascism is bad. Well, most of us do. We’re told from an early age that America is good because of freedom and democracy and Mom and apple pie and what have you… so why do the American people, increasingly in the past 20 years, seem to support actions, candidates and platforms that are increasingly anti-democratic, anti-freedom, and proto-fascist? We want to believe that people are inherently good and just and prone to democracy, but History proves out that democracy is something that must be won and maintained, not just implied. Consider, for a moment, if many, many people would be willing to sacrifice democracy. What if a bunch of folks just did not care about the ideas that are supposedly integral to our liberal democracy? What makes the idea of fascism or authoritarianism or totalitarianism so appealing?

Because he makes the trains run on time.

It’s an oft-repeated little chestnut of History, and one that turns out to be not true, it seems, but in the era of Fake News, is it really that surprising that a lie gains more traction than the truth? The most important thing to look at (and something our current news media conveniently continues to forget to do) is not THAT the lie is accepted… but WHY. Far too often you see the easy, lazy excuses put forth by J.D. Vance in Hillbilly Elegy: that they’re just dumb, they don’t know any better, or they didn’t put in the hard work to figure it out. Ironically, the same things that were said about poor blacks in America by Dixiecrats are now being said about poor whites by the Neoliberals. But it’s not as easy as a moral judgment. It’s not as easy as saying it’s someone’s else’s fault. The WHY behind these lies getting accepted is just as much the fault of you reading this as it is mine and our entire broken system of psychocapitalism.

People want to believe the trains run on time. People want to believe that a proto-fascist they voted for isn’t a terrible idea, but the trains are going to run on time. There are going to be benefits… maybe not for everyone, but maybe those folks didn’t deserve it. Yeah, that sounds right, it’s their fault. They didn’t deserve it like I did. Black folks are just more likely to get locked up; it’s not a systemic problem. All those kids with no future prospects just should have worked harder, it’s not that the system is built to fail for 98% of the population. I’d rather excuse horrible behavior from my government and have peace of mind than have to admit this entire system needs an overhaul… because if the trains run on time, I’m all right.

The sin is not in electing fascists, or supporting them. The sin is in not working to reform the situation when you are aware of it. The sin is in the rationalization, the convincing of yourself that this really isn’t as bad as other people say it is, and if everyone just stopped being so awful they could succeed, too. For forty years, all of us were told over and over about the glory of American Exceptionalism and Rugged Randian Individualism and the Dogma of Hard Work Above All, to the point where anyone struggling has it drilled into their head that it must be their fault that they are struggling. And, in those desperate times, comes a man who says it isn’t your fault. This is correct, as the system is broken at the top, but instead this man offers something easier. He points to the bottom, those even underneath you in your sorry state, and says it’s someone else’s fault. That guy over there who doesn’t look like you or talk like you or think like you. He can make things better for you, and you are so desperate… what can you do? At this point, you’ll do anything to stop the bleeding. So you vote for them, and then you think you have to defend them. After all, I supported this government because it benefits me… I can’t be wrong… can I?

We were all wrong, but it’s not our fault. We just want to be happy, it’s how humans are. But now, with the mask off and an unashamedly kleptocratic administration running the country, doing its best to loot the till, knowing full well that their policies may very well cause the next Great Depression… we have no choice but to fight it. We read in our History books how Mussolini was bad because he was a fascist, and needed to be fought. We read how people, desperate for some good news, supported fascism, even with all its evils, on the promise of returned greatness and punctual trains. It is now our duty to look 100 years into the future to see what folks may say about us, about our time, and about our action… or lack thereof. People may have installed this government because they wanted the trains to run on time, but the people also have the power to remove it, even if it costs us in the short term.

Because, at the end of the day, a few late trains is worth it.

Killing the Business

I love professional wrestling.

From my early days as a Hulkamaniac to my discovery of lucha libre in the mid-90s to my college days as a forum-posting “smart mark,” pro wrestling is one of those things that’s never really left me. I never got into UFC or boxing, but darn it if I don’t love watching all the pageantry and pantomime play out inside the squared circle. Over my now two-decades plus of fandom, I’ve started to learn some of the lingo and phrases used by those in the industry and even began to use them in my daily life. Wrestling language is its own sort of special code that developed out of the carnival speak of the early 20th century, and while I’d gladly love to go on talking about bumps, spots, works, shoots, juice, gas, marks and smarks, there’s one word in particular I’d like to talk about today: kayfabe.

Kayfabe, like a lot of the old carny lingo, was a way to say something without really saying it by means of mixing up syllables and sounds. Originally, kayfabe was a scrambling of the word “fake” when it came to selling a show to the impressionable “marks” in the crowd, but over time the term of kayfabe morphed into a juggernaut and sort of overarching code of law for the business. To keep kayfabe, you see, is to not give the game away. It’s to not lift the curtain. It is to not let the audience know that what they are seeing, while not straight up “fake,” was certainly a predetermined fight.

And before we go any further I want to squash the “fake” talk right now. When CM Punk got his fractured skull repaired without pain medication as a result of a neckbreaker gone wrong, you can be darn sure we won’t be calling it “fake.”

So kayfabe, to blend the world of wrestling with the world of acting, is staying “in character.” Some wrestlers have gone to ridiculous lengths to keep kayfabe, and some have done ridiculously stupid things to break it. Hacksaw Jim Duggan and The Iron Shiek were once busted for having a frankly comical amount of drugs in their car, but what was considered a greater injustice to the wrestling community is that they had allowed themselves, kayfabe enemies, to be seen together in public. In reality, they are just workers for a company, but in kayfabe? That car shouldn’t have gotten on the road without someone’s head getting imprinted into the hood first.

Kayfabe has caused more than one issue with a skeptical press, as well. Any wrestling fan worth his salt has seen the famous grainy video of David Schultz slapping reporter John Stossel upside the head to prove it was “real,” which lead to a battery accusation and lawsuit. The so-called Immortal Hulk Hogan got into a bit of hot water when he put Richard Belzer into a front chinlock and knocked Belzer out, causing the TV host to crack his head on the floor as he collapsed, resulting in another settlement. Wrestlers were told that, in order to keep their jobs and in order to keep the business alive, they had to be the tough guys they pretended to be both inside of the ring and out.

Keeping kayfabe has often proved dangerous for the wrestlers themselves, as well. In 1974, a plane crash that paralyzed one wrestler and killed the pilot left Tim Woods with a broken back. Unfortunately, he had been sharing the plane with a supposed sworn enemy, so Woods gave a false name at the hospital and went back to wrestling only two weeks later, with a broken back, just to prove he hadn’t been on the same plane as the bad guy. In 1995, a rumor was going around that “Macho Man” Randy Savage had injured his elbow and wouldn’t be wrestling, which lead to the “good guys” loudly proclaiming that Savage was not injured and would be wrestling tonight… which he did. With an injured elbow. And he injured it even more. But hey, you gotta keep kayfabe.

And, of course, the most infamous moment of breaking kayfabe was Owen Hart’s tragic death in the ring during a 1999 pay-per-view stunt gone horribly wrong. Trusted and beloved commentator Jim Ross told the audience at home that Hart had died… but promoter Vince McMahon went on with the show. After all if the show had been cancelled, he would have been out a lot of money. It’s best not to risk causing that problem, keep kayfabe, and insist that the show must go on above all. Wrestling is littered with bizarre, shocking and sleazy stories like these all over its long, dangerous and unregulated history, and I think it’s important to make note of that because, and I do not say this lightly, we are living in a world where everything has become pro wrestling.

Pro wrestling is a highly choreographed piece of performance art where two or more people make a concerted effort to go through the motions of an event, in this case a gladiatorial grudge match, while in reality they are just two workers, possibly even friends, doing their best to impress an audience, make some money, and gain a little validation. If that doesn’t sound like the life of your average worker under late stage psychocapitalism, I don’t know what is. We go to our jobs, and we go through the motions, but so many of us are just “working” to get paid, or do just enough work to get insurance. We’re just putting on a show because, hey, that’s what we have to do to survive. We all know it’s fake, and to some extent our bosses and masters in the “audience” know it’s fake, but what they are the most interested in, what they came here tonight to see, is the characters and the performance of it all.

We all cultivate a character, and we try to sell that character, and we see which ones “get over.” We have “faces” who help us and “heels” who skirt the rules, but at the end of the day so much of it is just a show to we can eat that night. And, on top of it all is the current World Heavyweight Champion of our Pro Wrestling Reality, a larger than life spectacle of a man with all of his aspects dialed up to eleven, who has found the best way to work the crowd, even if his punches don’t always look real. This current President is a pro wrestling star with a character that has been cultivated for decades. Much like the heyday of Hulk Hogan, we have an orange, balding man at the top of the heap who is what we might call in the business a “sloppy worker,” but that never stopped Hulk from selling like gangbusters because he had “it” and “it” is what gets you over, whether it be the wild and wacky world of pro wrestling, or our current political climate, which has become all too similar to any little Hulkamaniac-turned-30-year-old smart mark.

But, just like Hogan, one of the biggest failings of this current President is that he will, to a fault, try his damnedest to keep kayfabe. For the President, breaking kayfabe is unacceptable, even if his character is widely contradictory on its face. The President wants us all to believe he is this white-meat babyface champion of the Forgotten Man while he actively pursues policies that ruin the life of those folks. It’s like trying to have your good guy come out every night and wallop his best friend with a steel chair. Or having someone “sell” a punch to the face by leaping completely out of the ring. Pretty soon, the audience won’t buy what the character is selling and, in the President’s own words “you can’t con people, not for long.”  This is how we get the stories of fake publicists, the bizarre outrage about tiny hands, the mind-bogglingly contradictory actions and the flip-flopping on every issue. He doesn’t actually care about making anything better or helping the country: he’s just trying to keep character. He will not, under any circumstances, let that curtain come back. He will not tell the people he is managing, now the entirety of the American people, that Owen Hart is dead because it would cost him money. And, if you think this is going too far, here’s a short clip of our current President taking a Stone Cold Stunner at Wrestlemania, an event put on by his good friend, Vince McMahon:

And here is Vince’s wife, a former CEO of the billion dollar company, and now an administrator for the “Small Business Administration.”

 

Pro wrestling now runs our country, and it refuses to break kayfabe… and that is bad news for all of the rest of us. And, if you’re wondering, Trump did NOT “sell” that move well at all.

Wrestling, as an almost unregulated industry, has a lot in common with the completely deranged idea of capitalism gone beserk. In wrestling, to show the audience you are indeed hurting from whatever smackdown your opponent has placed on you, you do what is called “selling.” In wrestling, a “worker” “sells” in order to “do the job” when his back hits the mat for a 3 count. What started as an offshoot to a notoriously crooked carnival industry is now a billion-dollar, publicly traded psychocapitalist monstrosity where the workers don’t get health coverage, take repeated blows to the body that are often exacerbated by extreme stunts gone wrong, and not all that surprisingly die very young from overwork, drug abuse, and crippling injuries.

Perhaps the reason I like wrestling now isn’t the rush I got as a five-year-old watching Hogan triumph over bad guys. Maybe it’s no longer the awe and wonder I feel watching Rey Mysterio perform a springboard, leaping hurricanrana onto his opponent. Maybe now, as I see capitalism as less and less viable in a society that looks to be on borrowed time, I can appreciate the garish, grotesque clown show of overexagerrated capitalism pro wrestling has always been. Now, ironically, an industry usually steered by unscrupulous billionaires is one of the best stealth parodies of the system we could ever have hoped for.

In wrestling, kayfabe has been shattered due to the Internet Age, and now you frequently see a program where “heels” make small talk with each other while they drive to their next gig. These aren’t the moustache-twirling villains of yesteryear, they’re people just like you, doing their job, working and selling just like you and me. Quizzically, as soon as kayfabe began to die in wrestling, it took root everywhere else in the form of ridigly accepted dogma about tax cuts, immigrants, jobs, climate change, and so on. But, as wrestling learned when it began branching out of the bingo halls in the 1980s, kayfabe doesn’t do well when it is challenged by those on the outside. And these maniacal capitalists, now leaping out of the ring and into our government, will learn the same lesson that promoters have found out in an area of widespread skepticism: refusing to break kayfabe is, to use the lingo, “killing the business.”

The Soviet Strikes Back

I mentioned in an earlier post how the word “Soviet” comes from a term meaning “governing council,” and the eerie parallels America is currently exhibiting with the fall of the Soviet Union: over-militarization while neglecting the home front, workers being increasingly exploited, and an increased over-reliance on a growing oligarchy class. Now, as the turmoil of the Other Half continues to climb to the boiling point, we see those in positions of power do the only thing they know how to do: purge dissenters.

We’re seeing it happen on both sides of our two-party system. At the DNC, members loyal to the center-left campaign of Bernie Sanders are being drummed out to make room for lobbyists and other good soldiers. At the same time, the DNC is demanding that Sanders, who is currently the most popular politician in the country, even with supporters of his primary opponent, run as a Democrat. This isn’t really to say the DNC is ready to take on Bernie’s globally-centrist platform, but rather that they want to appear to care. This is evidenced as a purge claiming to want diversity that just so happens to throw out longtime members who just so happen to be loyal to progressive candidates. On the Republican side, we’re seeing retiring senators and former President start to draw lines in the sand against the current reign of terror from an unstable Republican President. Both of these moves send the same message: these people are not us. We are sensible in regard to the status quo. We like it here. We will not rock the boat. Please give us donations.

The fact that it’s only retiring Republicans or those already out of office speaking out against this President while those still in office or seeking re-election have to pussy-foot around the truth speaks volumes. This isn’t about doing what’s right for the American people. This isn’t about actually fighting back or resisting this President’s repugnant agenda. It’s people in no political danger drawing a distinction between the more radical wing of their party in order to save their party from almost guaranteed electoral defeat in the future from a bigger, younger, and more progressive rising demographic. The point here isn’t to make anything better, it’s to keep it as it is, with sly politicians throwing out useless phrases on the campaign trail only to immediately support their own oligarchy once in power. If These senators really were interested in fighting back, they would run as independents or form a splinter party. By not doing so, they are broadcasting loud and clear that they don’t have any issue with the awful messages this President belches onto Twitter; they just wish he would be quieter about it so as not to give the game away. We’ve got a good thing going here.

The same can be said for the ruling Democrats. By purging those supportive to people like Bernie Sanders or Keith Ellison, they are sending a clear message: don’t mess up this good thing we have going. If one were to be a bit more conspiracy-minded, one could think that maybe those in power realize their days are numbered and the economy is poised for another crash, and are just fighting back the tide long enough to make their money and get out. In reality, it may be closer to simple mob mentality: these are my friends, and we are all doing well, so why would we actively work to jeopardize that? This line of thinking causes a campaign to declare “America is Already Great” while more than half of the country fears bankruptcy from an emergency expense. We’ve got a good thing going, so clearly things must be great, because all of us here in this governing council are doing just fine, and anyone who dares to say otherwise must be removed.

The message is clear: the oligarchy is circling the wagons and hedging its bets on both sides by trying to draw a false equivalency between the budding fascism of Trump and the global centrism of Sanders. Anything and everything to keep the good thing they’ve got going for just a little bit longer.

Minnesota? Nice.

Let’s talk about Minnesota.

Minnesota has gone “blue” in every Presidential election since 1976. Three times since, it has been the only state out of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and both Dakotas to vote Democratic. In 1984, as quipped by Homer Simpson, Minnesota was the only state won by Walter Mondale, not counting the District of Columbia. In 2010, when the rest of the country went under a red tide caused by the Tea Party, Minnesota kicked out its bumbling Republican governor Tim Pawlenty and voted in the awkward-yet-competent Mark Dayton, and let’s not forget the state’s brief flirtation with third-party governor and former Body-Breaker Jesse Ventura.

Heck, even the state’s “blue” party doesn’t call itself the Democrats: it’s the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party due to a 1944 fusion between a swiftly-desegreating Democratic party and a populist Farmer-Labor party that had actually successfully installed three governors pre-1944. Maybe this commitment to social issues comes from the idea of “Minnesota Nice,” a phenomenon noted by outside visitors who note that, even if they are upset, Minnesotans seems to be by and large a kind, forgiving, and compassionate people who don’t like it when folks go in for themselves, which may explain Trump’s drubbing in the Republican caucus last year and Wendell Anderson’s fall from grace… but more on Wendy later.

Political niceness isn’t Minnesota-centric: Wisconsin, with a few early-20th-century flirtations with electoral compassion in the form of Fightin’ Bob LaFollette’s Progressive Party, is the only other state in the region that can hold a candle to Minnesota. Only Minnesota and South Dakota went for Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Progressivism in 1912, but Wisconsin did turn out at the only Progressive state in 1924 for favorite son LaFollette. Minnesota was the only state in the region that did, and still does, flaunt the two-party hegemony as much as anyone can these days. In fact Minnesota seems to wear its distrust and even contempt of the current accepted political reality as a badge of pride… and they have good reason to.

Because they keep being right.

Minnesota was backing progressive causes like union rights, progressive income tax, equal pay for women, and collective bargaining years before it caught on elsewhere in the country thanks to third-party governor Floyd Olson in the 1930s. In the 60s, progressive senators like Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy and Walter Mondale continued making sure that Minnesota was on the cutting edge of progressivism compared to other states at the time. Further on, senators like Paul Wellstone and, to a lesser extent, current senators Klobuchar and Franken are considered relatively progressive voices in a Senate more in control by oligarchy fat-cats than at any time since the previous Gilded Age. At the state level, Governor Dayton may go down in history for his decision to tax the rich when nearly every other state was pushing austerity, leading to some of the best post-recession numbers in the Midwest. But it was a governor that came before Dayton, one Wendell Anderson, that I want to be sure to talk about.

Wendy Anderson was only 37 years old when he was elected governor by a comfortable 9 point margin in 1970. He ran on a bold and baldly progressive platform that promised to change the way local schools and governments were funded. The plan boiled down to revenue sharing, where money from the richer sections of the state would be shared throughout the state to poorer communities desperately in need of funding. Today, one particular propaganda network might foam at the month and jump up and down screaming about “redistribution” or “socialism,” but the single fact of the matter was that it worked. It worked so well that it became a model for other states, got Minnesota on the cover of Time Magazine, and worked pretty darn well until the aforementioned bumbling Pawlenty gutted it and, in a surprise to no one, threw local budgets and school funding back into turmoil. But hey, as long as rich people can keep getting richer.

Oh, and I almost forgot: after Anderson ran on such a pinko-commie socialist pipe dream, a pie-in-the-sky, unrealistic fairy-dusting unicorn pony rainbow platform, his re-election in 1974 looked a little something like this:

He won every single county in the state.

Anderson not only won every single county in the state (look it up), but he also won more than 62% of the vote, which is a total strangely similar to the vote percentage scored by Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary. So, as it turns out, running as a progressive and actually enacting policies that help people in their homes, their neighborhoods, and their pocketbooks is an incredibly successful means of ensuring you get re-elected. Who knew?

There’s all sorts of think pieces asking what the Democrats need to do to win, but the answer is simple. Be less like the corporate Democrats at the trough for massive corporations and corrupt billionaires of all affiliations, and be for the people. In this time where everyone is panicking about what to do, the answer is simple: look to the Star of the North and say “Minnesota? Nice.”

Pop Punk & How the Boomers Played Themselves

Time for an uncomfortable admission: I’m 32 years old and I love Sum 41’s “Fat Lip.”

I can’t help it. Pop Punk was all over the place when I was in high school: from Sum 41 to Good Charlotte to Bowling for Soup, they had a fairly outsized influence on my formative years. After all, it was either that or listen to the Pogues on repeat, and in a small rural Minnesota high school even my own sister told me to knock it off.

It was almost liberating, though, to hear this sort of stuff getting airplay on the pop stations. After seeing my older brothers thumb their noses at authority with bands like Nirvana and even once-scandalous acts like Green Day in the early 90s, my generation was cast into a stagnant pool of boy bands, pop tarts and, dare I even say it, country music. So when something came along that sounded like a sanitized version of the hardcore stuff our older siblings rocked out to, we were ready to ride whatever train didn’t feature choreographed dance numbers. What we didn’t realize at the time, though, was that Pop Punk was an attempt to control the anti-establishment energy that punk and grunge had created. Yet, at the same time the ultimately short-sighted captains of industry were lining up their $600 Italian leather loafers in the sights of a gold-plated pistol when the broad, simplistic ideas of pop-punk crashed headlong into a New Gilded Age.

Pop Punk was an attempt to capitalize on the angry, disaffected “fuck you I won’t do what you tell me” ethos of the grungy 1990s. The only problem was, as a capitalist venture they were more concerned with getting it out fast and cheap. Manufacture the band, manufacture the music, and ape as much of what was popular the last time round as quickly and cheaply as possible. As a result, all the edges were sanded off and the whole product was dunked in Listerine, creating a sanitized and marketable product. The problem was they were in such a hurry to make a buck they didn’t think about what exactly they were trying to make a buck from. Any irony or self-awareness that might have been part of the 90s movement was scrapped for a more appealing and marketable product. As the suits learned with Cobain, nihilism doesn’t continue sell well enough if the guy kills himself. This was a nihilistic, anti-establishment, and in some cases overtly anarchistic movement, and the music spoke in that language even if the packaging was squeaky-clean.

So rather than get a nuanced approach, we get bands like Sum 41 playing it entirely straight. We had lyrics telling the listener to buck tradition, reject the status quo, and not become “another casualty of society,” which obviously clashed with the cash-grab nature of the business, a fact many people have pointed out. And what happens when the kids who see this anti-establishment message on MTV or hear it on the radio every day grow up and make decisions? Well, thanks to an adult society also weaned on the Reagnite/Randian toxic cocktail of psychoticly rugged individualism, they’ve been carefully cultured to not listen. Even bubble gum could be a revolutionary statement, and being an individual, an original and fighting the system was drilled into an entire generation for years. The only problem is, it was being translated by marketing hacks without any sort of nuance. It was revolution for revolution’s sake, and nowhere in these songs or commercials did you see anyone saying “now now, let’s be reasonable and accept that real change happens gradually.” You instead got a never-ending parade of skateboarding punks sticking it to “the man” and drinking soda. The only way to be cool, said the culture, was to fight the system, and now the Boomers who wrote those ads and co-opted that movement wonder why the kids won’t listen? You told them not to!

Funny thing is, if capitalism had just taken a bit more time to build a few back doors into the system, or had taken just a little more effort to put that edge of cynicism into it, they would have had an out when things hit the fan. But hey, this is psychocapitalism, and it’s all about get what you can when you can as fast as you can, which is why psychocapitalism is destined to eat itself. You still see attempts at damage control with the “pie in the sky, fairy dust and free ponies” line taken from the establishment, or even Chuck Todd’s latest screed claiming that the establishment is the only way to really get anything done. But, thanks to the short-sighted, profit-hungry marketers and promoters to the Millennial generation, these messages aren’t sinking in and the kids are falling in line. After all, if you do, you just wind up being that creepy lunchlandy or a trite Good Charlotte lyric come to life.

Now all of this wouldn’t be an issue if it weren’t for one thing: turns out all those trite lyrics turned about a lot closer to reality than the marketers and the promoters intended. The grunge kids, while growing up in a recession, entered adulthood into a bubble economy that made it easier to dismiss Cobain’s nihilism as “teen angst,”  a “phase” or whatnot. The WTO protestors in the late 90s eventually calmed down, got jobs, had kids, moved to the suburbs and assimilated… all things Millennials were banking on doing as well. Again, thanks to the lack of foresight and capitalism’s reliance on boom and bust, the Millennials didn’t get that, and instead had every bit of the manufactured media’s tone-deaf talking points verified: the system is crooked, and only those who reject it and act as individuals will survive. Suddenly, it didn’t matter if you were top of your class or the stoner in the back of the room, because you’re both flipping burgers. Any pretense to following the rules and rejecting the anti-establishment message as youthful transgressions fell apart when it turns out trying to conform actually was a terrible idea. Being part of the crowd just makes you another guy at Bear Stearns cleaning out his desk, but being a stinky, conniving, bend-the-rules individual who no one liked made you Steve Jobs. In a topsy-turvy world like the post-Recession one Millennials found themselves in after paying way too much for college, revolution doesn’t seem like the craziest idea anymore. After all, why should it? We were told in everything from our food to our music to our movies to our video games  that you can’t trust the system, and then that system turned out to be just as horrible as they said it was.

And those in power brought this on themselves by not being able to, or not wanting to, see the bubbles before they burst.

And they wonder why we don’t listen.