All posts by GenEx

This is my personal Idaho. Enjoy the potatoes!

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.

Get Your Money Back

Ask any Baby Boomer and they can tell you: it all started going wrong around Nixon. But why? Nixon has been dead for 23 years now, and yet things have not improved for the majority of working Americans. The economy is the engine that drives our prosperity, so why has it been stalled for millions of us since the 1970s? I’m no economist, but I do know that the rich have gotten richer and the poor have gotten poorer, to where simple basic needs are out of reach for thousands of us. What happened?

Put simply, we were lied to. We were told that we needed to try something different to shake the malaise back in the 70s, and we rightly decided to give it a try. Doing the same thing and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity, after all. And so a new group of power-brokers came to America with a plan: invest in us, give us the money in the form of tax breaks, loopholes, and deregulation, and we’ll start making so much money that it’ll make your head spin. And what’s more, we’ll have so much money that our pockets will overflow and trickle down to all of you, and we’ll all share in the prosperity.

But they lied.

They got our money: money we gave up from our towns, our schools, our local way of life, because you have to bet big to win big, after all. But, when the money started coming in, they took that money that was supposed to trickle down to us and ran off with it, hiding it in offshore accounts, managed bankruptcies, stock buybacks, and other tricks of the trade. The only thing that did trickle down, it seemed, were the taxes, as by cutting them up top meant our tiny towns and neighborhoods were suddenly on the hook for more and more of our local operations, while those at the top took money we trusted in them to buy another mega-yacht.

It was a bad investment. And any broker would tell you that you have every right to ask for your money back.

We’re not stealing from the mega-rich, we’re just asking for the money back we invested in them to begin with. We want higher taxes on the rich for no other reason than to get the money back we were promised and put it back into our schools and our neighborhoods. That’s your money they ran off with, and you have every right to demand we soak the rich and get your money back.

Basic Needs

2018 is an election that will be won on whatever candidate best comes up with a plan to serve the basic needs of a growing majority of Minnesotans and Americans. These are tough times for many, many people, and whichever candidate best understands that will win. DFL candidates need to show that there is a reason we are not called Democrats; we need to dust off the legacy of the Farmer-Labor party and nourish Minnesota’s strongly progressive roots before the tree dies. The progressive traditions of Orville Freeman, Wendell Anderson, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Paul Wellstone and countless other Happy Warriors are what have made Minnesota the beacon of human rights it is today, but Hillary Clinton only won Minnesota by 1.5% last November. Minnesota’s progressive armor is tarnished, but not destroyed, and the way forward does not lie through establishment politics. It lies through the old, tried-and-true methods of the left: listening, laboring, and legislation to serve people’s basic needs first and foremost.

And I do mean basic needs: food, water, and shelter. This system of brutal, no-holds-barred psychocapitalism has gone so far and cut so deep that to even ask anything beyond that is to risk looking like an out-of-touch elite. 2018 won’t be won on social issues, it will be won on lunch-pail issues. We’re talking about a return to old-school, New Deal era policies of chickens in pots and shovels in hands. The fiction put forth in 1976’s film Network has become reality: We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat. Massive corporate influence greases the wheels to allow food that doesn’t nourish, water that kills, and healthcare that puts profits before health. The richest country in the world can’t seem to spend money to deliver clean, safe drinking water to Flint or any of the thousand other towns without access to safe water. A campaign in 2018 needs to be able to promise to never stop fighting to bring healthy food and water to every citizen, not just those who write the checks, along with shelter not only from escalating climate change but also from sickness and disease, including the devastating affects of over-prescribed opiods. Shelter comes not only in the form of good homes and and strong infrastructure, but also clean energy and single payer healthcare to preserve our future and guarantee we can live to see it.

Times really are that bad; anyone out here in Greater Minnesota will tell you that. We need to have our basic needs covered, and after 30 years of Reaganomics have bled us dry in the small towns and rural areas, we’re ready to try something else. At the end of the day it comes down to securing basic needs for people, which is how a 74-year-old Jewish Socialist from Vermont ended up winning double the votes in Minnesota. When you reach a certain point, you stop caring about what your neighbor is choosing to do in their life, and focus instead on how to save your own. That’s what we need to promise people. That’s how we can win.

Throwing Your Money At The Problem

Those of us on the left often get accused of being “tax and spend” types who just “throw money at the problem,” but the more I dig into the policy of the last 30-40 years, the more something starts to appear to me.

We are throwing money at the problem. Only problem is, it’s the money we can least afford to throw. It’s your money being thrown at the problems of sluggish economic growth, colossal debt, and that pesky problem of low unemployment and low inflation running hand in hand.

Our money gets thrown at the problem by way of massive tax cuts and loopholes for the oligarchy, in the hopes that giving yet more money to the unfathomably rich will somehow make it trickle down when that hasn’t worked for decades.

Our money gets thrown at the problem by way of telling us to take out more and more debt: for a home, for school, for a car, maybe even just to survive with predatory payday loans, and for what? So the same massive companies up top can keep afloat on our borrowed money and their borrowed time.

Our money gets thrown at the problem by repeatedly cutting programs that benefit the vast majority of Americans, like healthcare, national parks, and public schools, television, radio. For some reason it’s considered okay to keep cutting those programs, but never okay to ask a billionaire to chip in an extra three percent.

So I’ll give some when people complain about “throwing money at the problem,” as long as the other side is willing to give that just as much, if not more, money is being thrown out of the common coffers and into the pockets of the obscenely rich, who proceed to do nothing other than hoard, manipulate, and further increase their own wealth. We were told 30 years ago that investing in the wealthy would pay dividends, and we’re poorer than ever. When can we ask for our money back?

 

Hillary Clinton: Millennial

In a recent interview, Hillary Clinton said the following:

“…I was a Senator from New York. I knew these people and I knew what they did for the economy and I knew what they did to the economy. And I think that speaking to them, raising questions — which I did in 2008 and 2009 — you know, people have no reason to know this, but in the 2008 campaign before the Iowa caucus, I actually ran an ad about the looming mortgage crisis. So I have to say, Walt, I never thought that anybody would throw out my entire career of standing up and speaking out and voting against and voting in favor of what I thought are good policies, because I made a couple of speeches.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, meet the newest version of Hillary Clinton. First, there was the young idealist, then first lady, then the health crusader, the beleaguered wife, the senator, the face of the establishment, and now finally, we find ourselves at Hillary Clinton the Millennial.

Hillary is upset that times have changed. Hillary is upset that things she did, said, and attained years ago are suddenly of no use to her in her current ambitions. Hillary feels betrayed by a system that it seemed was building her up for something wonderful, only to have it taken away despite her doing everything she thought she was supposed to do. Hillary is upset that a few actions are taken out of context and used to brand her as entitled, spoiled, or out of touch. Hillary Clinton is upset that everyone is choosing now, after everything is said and done, to suggest and lecture her on what to do, how she should have done it, or what personal failings were the real and true cause of her failure to launch.

did a search for "millennials should have"
lol

Welcome, sister Hillary, to the angst of the Millennial. Brother Bernie will be speaking soon about how we got a raw deal. Grab a locally sourced, ethically traded cup of coffee and sit down to chat with us over organic avocado toast that we bargained away our future homes for. You just might find we have a lot in common, now that we have stopped killing everything and come out of our parents’ basements.

Leitzen 2020 – On Trees

When I moved into my first home with wife and baby 2 years ago, I noted with a little bit of worry that my front yard had two ash trees in it. Come Spring 2017, both of those trees were infested with the Emerald Ash Borer and were so compromised they needed to be taken down. Unfortunately, I’m still waiting on a work order from the power company to take down the second, so there’s a mostly dead tree in my front yard, the top still trying to bloom and blossom as if it doesn’t seem to know that the rest of it has long since given up. Now, while this might be an apt metaphor to the big-money-supported oligarchs of the Democratic Party, I’m going to look at it a little differently.

Every morning I get my daughter up and get her ready for daycare. At this time, I could peel back the curtains in her bedroom and look at that half-alive tree, sighing and muttering and bemoaning the state of it. It’s ugly. Horrible. Makes us look bad. It’s completely at odds with what a front yard is supposed to represent. And so on.

But I don’t.

Why? Because it doesn’t do any good to worry about the existence of a tree that I knew for a long time was an eyesore. Yeah, it’s terrible, but simply jumping up and down at all times bemoaning its terribleness won’t do anything. Instead, I’m focusing on removing the tree, and the stump of the other ash tree, and planting new ones. It does no good to worry about the horrible present if you’re not also going to say “okay, then what?” and put together a plan to put things right.

So, if you drive past my house on Main Street and see that ugly tree, don’t worry. I know it’s terrible. I’ve known for a while. Possibly longer than you have. But I’m also taking steps to fix it. When you go home, take a look around what makes you upset about the world, and instead of obsessing over the fact that it’s awful and it exists, but look into ways you can re-plant your own, better trees in the future.

The New Pragmatism

Pragmatism. The word has reached a near-sacred status in the last decade, particularly since the awkward campaign and embarrassing loss of Hillary Clinton, but like all words, it can be bent to say what you want it to. The formal definition of pragmatism says:

  1. 1 :  a practical approach to problems and affairs tried to strike a balance between principles and pragmatism

and this is certainly something you heard ad infinitum during the campaign. Bernie Sanders, we were told, was not pragmatic. Hillary Clinton was.

Why then, on the grounds of pragmatism alone, did she lose? The very definition of pragmatism would say that, as the most pragmatic candidate in the race, she should have won it easily, but she didn’t. So what happened?

There’s a New Pragmatism that has finally asserted itself in America after bubbling beneath the surface for decades. This pragmatism isn’t the one that says you seek a middle road and compromise on policy, it’s the sort of pragmatism that says “gee, it sure is impractical that we have so many homeless, yet so many homes; that we waste so much food while so many starve; that we still wage a useless war on drugs while companies make massive profits getting Americans hooked on painkillers; that we can blow billions of dollars to bomb a country that never attacked us, but we can’t ensure clean drinking water for American citizens.”

THAT is the New American Pragmatism. It isn’t about cutting deals and not “letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.” It’s realize that even the “good” in this situation isn’t good enough when basic needs and security are not being met for half of the inhabitants of the richest country the world has ever seen. This isn’t about being clever and having complicated policy that can still allow you to make bank while appearing to care about the little guy… it’s just plain caring about the little guy. The varnish of neoliberalism, which was already cracking in the last days of the Clinton presidency, fully peeled off as we raced headlong into disaster in 2016 with the “Change” President actively pushing a trade deal that would prove disastrous for the same people who voted him in.

And for those people, looking at their ballots in November, a third term of Obama no longer seemed pragmatic. What did? Something, anything that might shake things up and help them get to a place where they aren’t fearing for their lives, livelihoods and futures every day of the week. Unfortunately, folks ended up voting for a charlatan who turned out to be as nakedly greedy as any President we’ve seen before, but that will only sharpen the necessity for 2018 to be a campaign not on the old pragmatism of cleverness and cute slogans, but the New American Pragmatism of Basic Needs.

Leitzen 2020 – Bullies

I’m a big guy. Always have been, always will be. Even though I was a year younger than most of the kids in my classes, I was bigger than most of them. I can remember from an early age, first grade or thereabouts, my mother telling me that because I was such a big fella, it came with certain responsibilities. One of them included making sure I didn’t use my size to take advantage of other kids. So even when they picked on me, when they called me fat or a nerd or a fat nerd or whatever six-year-olds said to make other six-year-olds cry in the early 90s, I wouldn’t fight back. I was told they would get their comeuppance, and I needed to keep my nose clean or I’d wind up some sort of delinquent.

The last time I really got into a fight was in second grade, 1992. I still remember it: Nate was getting a little too full of himself during a blacktop football game, and when he turned his cockiness on me, I snapped. From an early age, I saw things pretty simply: there are rules, and you’re supposed to follow them. There are things you should and shouldn’t do, and if you do something you shouldn’t, you get punished. You shouldn’t brag, you shouldn’t boast, and most of all… you shouldn’t bully.

Nate was a big kid: one of the few in the class bigger than I was. I got in a few shots, and so did he, but we were second graders; we didn’t know what we were doing. We scuffled for what felt like all of two seconds before one of the outside supervisors separated us, and I got my first referral from Principal Craig. After that, of course, I realized I had done something wrong, and my mother’s voice kept ringing back into my ears: fight with your words, you’re stronger than you think, be careful, you don’t want to hurt anyone.I adopted an approach of near complete appeasement: I refused to fight back in any way, instead convincing myself that if I took the high road, eventually it would all work out well for me. So in 5th grade, when Robert socked me in the jaw during a football game, I walked away. In 7th grade, when other kids were roughing up my friends, I let them try to take me down instead (they couldn’t). In 12th grade, when someone showed me a picture of my younger sister at 13 and told me, grinning, that he’d like to have sex with her… I did nothing.

I still regret that last one. I’m sorry, Boog.

There was supposed to be a reward, remember. If I kept my nose clean, went to school, worked hard, made friends instead of enemies, it was all waiting for me. Now, I look around at 31 years old and see a world where corrupt, negligent, ignorant men who make a career out of making enemies and weaseling out of debt are given some of the highest seats of power in this country. In short, the bullies have won, and I can only wonder if it’s because too many kids like me were told to take the high road.

But in looking back to that drizzly day on the blacktop again, I realized something: big Nate never really came after me again. Sure, he’d join in to mock me when it was safe in a group of five or six or seven, but after that day in 1992 until the day I moved away in 1999, I don’t remember him ever antagonizing me directly ever again. Maybe, sometimes, when things just get too bad, all that’s needed is to stand up to the bully, and maybe get in a few awkward punches, and that will be enough to make him cave. Most bullies, after all, are weak on the inside and fear someone challenging their power.

Maybe that’s what we need right now. I’m not saying to punch, or do worse, to the bullies that are currently making life unbearable for so many in the world. But as I found out with big Nate, all it took was someone finally challenging them. Even though no blood was drawn, no bruises were raised, standing up to them sent a message.

So I’m sick of trying to take the high road, but I’m not going to wallow in the mud either. It may be tougher to go through the grass, but if you come through the grass with determination in your eyes, that bully in the mud will start running. I’m not going to let myself get punched, and I won’t do the punching, but I’ll  have enough sense to duck. The bullies who killed our small towns with their tax cuts, who crippled our schools with their demands for more and more of our money, who are poisoning our air and water because they need to make just one more red cent… it’s time for someone, a whole lotta someones, to say we’re not going to take it anymore. We’re not going to give the bullies a bloody nose, and we’re not going to hurt them like they hurt us… we’ll do one better. We’ll let them know just how badly we could hurt them, and the fear of that is enough to fill the pants of any bully from sea to shining sea.

The Bottom Falls Out of the Consensus Market

It used to be, in politics, that we had a sort of a seller’s market on that magical, un-catchable unicorn of policy called “consensus.” The idea was you had to create consensus, or spend that precious political capital to build consensus, so you had to be very stingy with what you chose to support and not to support. There was a crisis of demand for consensus, so says the old-style politicians: there’s so little of it, and so few people seem to want the same things. So, we needed austerity to make sure we didn’t completely spend ourselves into a nightmare.

Then, the bottom fell out of the consensus market.

The paralysis of progress that this country has endured since the Reagan years has meant one thing above all: the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. First, it was “Mom has to go to work.” Then, it was taking out massive lines of credit for your car, your house, just the basic American Dream that was attained easily by previous generations. When that went bust in 2008, it turned out that you needed to work 2-3 part time jobs, and volunteer or intern on the side, just on the promise that someday you might have it as good as your grandparents.

It used to be so hard to find consensus on the more fiddly social issues: the old Republican trifecta of “guns, gays and God” allowed right-wing culture warriors (and others faking it, along for the ride on the gravy train) to score win after win, but their additionally psychocapitalist economic policy was built to fail. And when it did fail, and an entire generation found themselves with mountainous debt, no good jobs, fake food, unsafe drinking water, sky-high rents and no prospect for a better tomorrow, well… let’s just say a whole lot of people took their “consensus” stock out of something like who should be allowed to use what bathroom and instead flooded the market on issues like health care, taxes, and government corruption.

Long story short? It’s really hard to care about what someone is doing with their own body and their own life choices when your own life seems to have no choice but to suffer greatly. Add to it the fact that our new President likes to jet off for golf every weekend and lived in a literal golden tower, and you’ll start to notice that consensus on more than a few key progressive issues is a lot easier to come by these days.

The value in “Who Cares?”

Each generation of Progressives paints a picture for their children not of how things were in their time, but of how they wished it was. This is why you get the supposedly race-neutral Baby Boomers who fought for Civil Rights in the 60s overcompensating with their surprise when their Gen X white daughter brings home a black boyfriend. See the same for Gen X parents now trying to seem hip to the gay acceptance movement, and possibly Millennials to their more trans-accepting children in the near future.

Meanwhile, the children are confused as to why their parents act so strangely. After all, this is the world their parents always told them they should accept, so why does this acceptance seem so ill-fitting on their parents? Because the parents weren’t really non-racist, non-homophobic or non-transphobic by and large… but they really wanted to be, and they knew they should be, but generations of learned behavior are harder and harder to un-learn.

Societal progress, it seems, can be measured simply by the following generation’s ease and ability to look at the worries of their parents and say “who cares?”

Leitzen 2020 – So Shines a Good Deed

Part One is here.

OLIGARCHY: You’re a kook!  You’re a pie-in-the-sky idealist!  That’s what you are.  How can you do a thing like this?  Build up the Middle Class’ hopes and then smash all his dreams to pieces.  You’re a Communist!

PROGRESSIVE: I said Good Day!

OLIGARCHY: Come on, Middle Class, let’s get out of here.  I’ll get even with him if it’s the  last thing I ever do.  If Sanders wants us to vote for Hillary, that’s what we’ll do.

(Long pause.)

MIDDLE CLASS: Mr. Progressive . . .

(Middle Class leaves his last $27 on the Progressive’s desk.)

PROGRESSIVE: So shines a good deed in a weary world.

Middle Class  . . . You won!  You did it!  You did it!  I knew you would; I just knew you would.  Oh, Middle Class, forgive me for putting you through this.  Please, forgive me.  Come in, Mr. Sanders.  Middle Class, meet Mr. Sanders.

(BERNIE SANDERS enters.)

SANDERS: Pleasure.

MIDDLE CLASS: Sanders!

PROGRESSIVE: No, no, that’s not Slugworth.  He works for me.

MIDDLE CLASS: For you? But he endorsed Hillary!

PROGRESSIVE: I had to test you, Middle Class.  And you passed the test.  You won!

OLIGARCHY: Won what?

PROGRESSIVE: The jackpot, my dear sir, the grand and glorious jackpot.

MIDDLE CLASS: A living wage?

PROGRESSIVE: Yes, a living wage, but that’s just the beginning.  We have to get on, we have to get on; we have so much time, and so little to do.  Strike that.  Reverse it.  This way please.  We’ll take the Elevator.  Step in, Middle Class.  Oligarchy, sir.  This is the Great Class Elevator.

OLIGARCHY: It’s Socialism.

PROGRESSIVE: It’s DEMOCRATIC Socialism.  Full Socialism can only go one way, but  Democratic Socialism can blend the economy, with private businesses and public services…

MIDDLE CLASS: And universal healthcare?

PROGRESSIVE: . . . and fair elections and sustained prosperity and progress for all of us, rich and not.  It can take you to any state in the union one of these buttons.  Any of these buttons.  Just press a button and ZING!  You’re off.  And up until now I’ve pressed them all . . . except one.  This one.  Go ahead, Middle Class.

MIDDLE CLASS: Me?  (He pushes the button labeled ROOSEVELT REVOLUTION.)

PROGRESSIVE: There it goes.  Hold on tight.  I’m not exactly sure what’s going to happen.  Faster, faster . . . If we don’t pick up enough speed, we’ll never get through.

MIDDLE CLASS: Get through what?

PROGRESSIVE: Ah-ha!

OLIGARCHY: You mean we’re going . . .?

PROGRESSIVE: Up and up!

OLIGARCHY: But this ceiling is made of glass.  It’ll shatter into a thousand pieces.  We’ll be cut to ribbons!

PROGRESSIVE: No one said the revolution would be easy.  Hold on, everybody.  Here it comes.

(The Elevator crashes through the roof and flies into the sky.)

OLIGARCHY: You did it, Mr. Progressive, congratulations!

PROGRESSIVE Get up.  Take a look.

MIDDLE CLASS: Grandpa, our town looks so pretty from up here.

OLIGARCHY: It’s so many of the little folks, all working together… that’s what makes this country great, isn’t it?

MIDDLE CLASS: Yes!

OLIGARCHY: It really looks beautiful.

MIDDLE CLASS: Look! There’s my school, Oligarchy! They’re rebuilding it!

PROGRESSIVE: How did you like the Democratic Socialism, Middle Class?

MIDDLE CLASS: I think it’s the most sensible idea in the whole world.

PROGRESSIVE: I’m very pleased to hear you say that because I’m giving it to you.  That’s all right, isn’t it?

OLIGARCHY: You’re giving Middle Class the–?

PROGRESSIVE: I can’t go on forever, and I don’t really want to try.  So, who can I trust to run the factory when I leave and take care of the Revolution for me?  Not an oligarch.  An oligarch would want to do everything his own way, not mine.  That’s why I decided a long time ago I had to go to the Middle Class.  America has a  very honest, loving Middle Class that I can trust to work toward everyone’s benefit.

MIDDLE CLASS: And that’s why you sent out Mr. Sanders?

PROGRESSIVE: That’s right.  So the country’s yours, Middle Class; you can move in immediately.

OLIGARCHY: And me?

PROGRESSIVE: Absolutely… as long as you don’t mind making 50 times more than your workers instead of 300.

MIDDLE CLASS: What happens to the rest of–

PROGRESSIVE: The whole country.  I want you to bring them all.  But Middle Class . . . don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he always wanted.

MIDDLE CLASS: What happened?

PROGRESSIVE: He lived happily ever after.

Leitzen 2020 – Good Day, Sir

Oligarchy: Mr. Progressive?
Progressive: I am extraordinarily busy, sir. Revolutions don’t start themselves.
Oligarchy: I just wanted to ask about the prosperity – Uh, the sustained economic prosperity… for the 99%. When do we get it?
Progressive: You don’t.
Oligarchy: Why not?
Progressive: Because you broke the rules.
Oligarchy: What rules? We didn’t see any rules. Did we, Middle Class?
Progressive: Wrong, sir! Wrong! Under the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America, it states quite clearly that the phrase “in order to form a more perfect union” renders void if – and you can read it for yourself in this photostatic copy – “I, the economic elite, cease to provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare,” et cetera, et cetera…”secure the blessings of libery,” et cetera, et cetera…”to ourselves and our posterity!” It’s all there, black and white, clear as crystal! You stole from the American people. You demanded tax cuts and redistribution to further enrich yourself at the horrible expense of hunger, pain, and despair for the vast majority of Americans, requiring an entire social and political revolution to rectify and return the country to a more equitable distribution of wealth, power & opportunity, so you get nothing! You lose! Good day sir!

Dishwasher Politics

As I’ve stated before, I’m not exactly a handyman. However, my father, an old farmer pushing 70, has done his share of repairs on the farm, in the house, and on the job. Yesterday, he stopped by to help me with our dishwasher. For over a month now, it would run normally, and the pump would kick in, but it would fail to drain. I’d done everything I could with YouTube tutorials, but as I’m a fairly new homebuyer, I was pretty much flummoxed. I needed the experience of someone who has done this sort of thing before (and another Dad & husband who knows what it’s like to try to DIY everything to avoid losing your shirt in bills) to get my dishwasher up and running again.

We worked through every possibility with a variety of outcomes: pump good, filter cleaned, and pipes all cleaned out both from the garbage disposal and from the dishwasher itself. That last one finally managed to drain when I disconnected it from the air vent, causing some of the foulest smelling water I’ve ever encountered to finally drain into a bucket and get tossed onto any unwanted weeds I had in the backyard. Once everything else was clean, we focused on the aforementioned air vent as the culprit. I’d never taken one apart before, but I was able to see how the parts went together and I was soon looking down a nightmare telescope into what could only be described as Hell’s Meatloaf crammed in there. After some more cleaning, soaking, and percussive maintenance (slamming it against the garbage bin a few times), we had it cleaned to the point where we could reassemble and now the dishwasher is back in fighting shape.

Boy, if that isn’t a metaphor for what needs to be done to the Democrats, huh? Using the guidance of the old liberals, the young folk need to get down into the muck and take it apart bit by bit, cleaning out all the muck until it’s all running clean again. You can call it #DemEnter, Brand New Congress, Justice Democrats, or any of the fantastic resistance groups thriving in America today… but me? I think I’m going to start calling it engaging in “Dishwasher Politics.”