Quit the Country Club

Donald Trump is such an awful choice for a presidential nominee that there is a real danger that lazy Democrats will stay home and help bring about the international nightmare of a Trump presidency, something not even Republicans want.

If this is not to happen, there are a few very important things Democrats must do to regain the title of the people’s party. To begin with, they must stop acting like country club multi-millionaires and limousine liberals, and this applies to every Democrat in Congress, but especially to Hillary.

Democrats have fallen into the wealth trap, and Hillary’s not the only one. When even a local election campaign costs millions, it is all too easy to warm up to those who have millions to contribute. This automatically makes them beholden to those millionaires, and forgetful of their real constituency. As a consequence, Democrats in many cases are hardly different from Republicans.

Remember what the Pope rode coming in from the airport? He left the stretch limos standing at the curb and hopped into a common car. He’s the Pope of the people, and the people know it because of stuff like that. Bernie’s like that too. Remember Trump’s ironic made-in-China cap saying “Make America Great Again”. Bernie’s cap was made by union workers in the US. The workers at his events are union. Bernie stands up for real Americans.

If Hillary and all the other Dems want to send out the same message as the Pope and Bernie, they must forgo the $300 lunches. Forget the $15,000 wristwatches and $4,000 suits. These things piss people off, and the seething anger of screwed-over Americans who have lost so much over the past 40 years will not go away until the infinite greed of the very rich is checked. Democrats must tell the voters exactly what they will do to check it and exactly why voting for Trump would be bad.

Bernie has not fallen into the wealth trap. He has fought for ordinary people every day of his adult life. With a modest net worth of some half a million dollars, he knows what money means for people who don’t have much, and he knows why they don’t have much: the greedy rich. This is the lesson Democrats must take into the election season, and it will not be easy because so many of them have fallen into the money trap. Members of Congress are paid $175,000 a year, but, mysteriously, most of them become millionaires on that salary. If Democrats do not want to be seen as members of the ultra-rich class, indifferent to the concerns of the non-rich, they must quit making the pursuit of wealth part of their political goals. Bill and Hillary have over $100-million. This is a ridiculous sum that will make it very hard for Hillary to relate to ordinary people.

There are all sorts of photos of Bill and Hillary, alone and together, attending events with the world’s wealthy, chatting with multi-millionaires (including Trump). Photos of Bernie show him with sleeves rolled up among ordinary folks, often at huge rallies stretching blocks, to support causes important to them.

These are the kinds of concerns Hillary must prove she cares about, because these people are the ones who will not vote for her if she can’t. There is a very real danger she will be perceived as part of the rich establishment, not part of the people seen in Bernie’s photos. Some will not vote at all if they can’t vote for Bernie. If there are too many like this, Trump may win.

Followers of Trump are angry. They no longer perceive that they are the chosen ones, at the top of the pyramid because they are white. Like all authoritarians, Trump provides them with darker people to blame for their pseudo-loss: African-Americans, Latinos, Mexicans, Muslims, immigrants, and so on. Getting even means punishing them somehow.

Trumpsters blame the wrong parties. These people with darker shades of skin don’t have the money they are somehow supposed to have taken from Trumpsters. Trumpsters also blame liberal Democrats, because, they are told by Trump and his ilk, liberals waste their money on those undesirable people they are supposed to hate, and on worthless government boondoggles such as welfare for them.

But the real enemy is greed, the limitless greed of the very rich, who now control Congress, the laws Congress makes, and the practices and regulations that feed their greed ever more. The corporate billionaires are the classical opponents of Democrats and the friends of Republicans. By hating the dark-skinned groups Trump says they should hate, non-wealthy Trump Republicans are being played for suckers.

Trump would make everything worse for them, but Democrats have to prove it. Hard to do with a net worth of a hundred million.

The SF Police Fiasco

In San Francisco, protesters against police killings parked themselves in front of the police station and staged a hunger strike that lasted 17 days and gained a lot of support. They demanded the resignation of the police chief and mayor. The nationwide attention was helpful in fighting ongoing police killings, but the effort was largely misguided.

Mario Woods was a man either mentally unbalanced or under the influence when he slashed a man he did not know. Confronted by police, he refused to drop his knife, and told the police to kill him. Police shot “beanbags” at him, to little effect, then shot him 20 times when he took a step toward the crowd that had gathered. Police could have subdued him with blankets, nets, tarps, shields, or a single shot to the leg.

Luis Gongora was a homeless man with a kitchen knife, a common defense item among those living in tents as he was. He had been walking in circles, talking to himself. Police shot beanbags within seconds of arrival, and killed him with bullets within 30 seconds. No one was within ten feet of him. Gongora spoke only Spanish, yet even in the Mission not one cop spoke Spanish to him. They shouted meaningless commands in English—“Get on the ground!—then immediately killed him. I’m not sure I would have known what was being shouted or how to comply. Witnesses said he did not lunge at officers, as claimed. The police failed to follow protocol. No attempt was made to calm him or subdue him peacefully.

Alex Nieto lived all his life in Bernal Heights and the Mission. He was employed as a security guard, and was wearing his uniform, including his licensed taser, under a sports team jacket. He was eating some food in the park before work. He finished eating, and was walking out of the park. A 911 caller had reported someone “acting erratically”, which to me sounds like fear of the non-white. Police responded and immediately drew weapons. An officer at some distance shouted “stop” one time, and bullets were fired soon after. Alex fell and drew his taser, which has an identifying red laser light on it. Seconds later police fired a total of 48 shots, at least ten hitting him.

People protesting the deaths of these three men at the hands of the San Francisco Police are certainly justified in their anger at these wrongful deaths, and particularly the lack of accountability that followed, but they are making the wrong complaint about the wrong people.

The demand of protesters is that police chief Suhr and mayor Lee resign, which would accomplish nothing. The problems are with the police themselves, and both Suhr and Lee have made serious efforts to improve police policy and practice. A new policy statement was released in February. A new chief and mayor could do no better.

Protestors cite racist texts and emails between police officers, but they make no mention of the fact that the officers involved were out of a job the following morning, fired by Chief Suhr. They also failed to note that the police department already had policy in place for addressing threatening persons, but the police failed to follow policy in all three cases mentioned above.

There is no question in my mind that these killings were unjustified. I even wrote a blog essay suggesting various ways to manage such difficult situations, and most of us have seen how European and Canadian police have handled similar difficulties. Mostly they involve overwhelming the threatening person with non-lethal means that prevent him from harming anyone, or even moving. In one case, officers closed in on the threatening man with large plastic shields until he was completely surrounded at close quarters. I see no reason persons like these cannot be controlled with a net or nets either thrown over him or wrapped around him, or even blankets. There is rarely a need for guns, let alone a fusillade of dozens of bullets.

New police policies were announced in February, but putting them into full practice in a large department takes time. One change involves quadrupling firearms training time and changing the focus to “force options” training, which is exactly what is needed. The most important element may be training to sensitize officers to realities like limited English, different cultural practices, and better ways to deal with the mentally ill. There are several other parts of the plan, which are all being implemented. The Obama administration has also been working to develop policies and practices to stop the ongoing national tragedy of police murders.

Improvements in SF should follow because, among other things, police “chaperones” will be required for cases like the three above. That is, lower level officers will not act without a direct order. Additional accountability will also be part of the changes. SF police, like in many other cities, will be wearing body cameras before the year is out. In other cities, cameras on cars and officers have by themselves led to improvements, because officers cannot claim someone did something when video evidence says otherwise.

Suhr and Lee are putting these changes in place. Neither is the evil demon that demonstrators have claimed without evidence. Both are long-time proponents of exactly the things the protesters advocate.

My Racism and Greed Are Permanent, and So Are Yours

As unlikely as it might seem, racism and greed have similarities. My belief is that they come from a very ancient time when both of them served us well. We lived in small groups then, families, tribes. Now and then we would cross paths with another such group, and we could not be sure these guys didn’t want to kill us and steal our spears, so we treated everyone who looked a bit different with suspicion.

Likewise, if we killed an aurochs on a hunt, it would be supremely stupid to have a barbecue then go home, leaving 3,500 pounds of meat behind. So we took as much as the tribe could carry, fresh for the next few days, and smoked or dried for the future, a valuable hoard that might be the factor that allowed us to live through another tough winter.

If I’m right, racism and greed are built in. We don’t have a choice whether they are present: they are. They can never go away from any one of us, but we can learn to overcome them in ourselves.

Or not. If you were not convinced that racism is still amongst us, the Republican presidential race would certainly disabuse you of your naivety. The snarling rednecks at Trump rallies, burners of black churches in the Old South and various other nasties are valid reminders. African-Americans have been saying this all along, but for some of us it’s been a lesson in awareness, because we thought things were getting better on the race front.

The rise of the super-class of multi-billionaires, likewise, teaches us that greed is infinite. No amount of accumulated wealth is ever enough for the ones whose wealth exceeds the wealth of a dozen nations, who will go to any extreme to control the laws that give them even more money. This is not to say that wealth in itself is undesirable. What is undesirable is extraordinary wealth whose limitless accumulation and hoarding has the effect of hurting the rest of us, particularly the poor. And that’s exactly what has happened.

This brand of greed is also mixed with the ugly racism we have been treated to. In fact, it’s been the longstanding belief of conservatives that the only reason anyone is poor is that they are too lazy to work and get rich. A few lazy fools aside, this belief is essentially racism, and it isn’t going away no matter how many times independent proof is shown that it’s total nonsense.

Likewise, the ultra-rich who speak out to oppose infinite wealth are rare enough to be newsworthy.

So the question is: Given these intractable conditions that appear to be part of our DNA, what can be done to tame them?

Education and law. We all knew that, but both have been subverted. If there are other answers, they are not widely known. The great civil rights movements that have been debated and fought over before becoming law are the foundation. Brown vs. Board of Education, the Voting Rights Act. But then, as if our progress was too swift, the Supreme Court, in one of the greatest nonsensical votes in history, informed us, to our surprise, that corporations are actually people, and are entitled to contribute unlimited cash to elections. This stupidity makes no sense any way you look at it, and has put democracy in a holding pattern until the slow wheels of justice grind out a new Amendment that can be approved by a sufficient number of states. Half a century is my guess.

There are many laws that benefit only the rich, laws like the carried interest provision of tax law, laws like the one that prohibits the government from bargaining for drug prices, and disallows us from buying them across the northern border, laws that allow corporations to set up a shell headquarters in low-tax Ireland, and so on.

The progress of education is similarly halted by conservative beliefs that the citizenry is divided into those who are white and honorable enough to receive an education and those on whom education is wasted because their skin is darker and they are therefore lazy. These forces are doing their best to subvert the entire idea of universal free public education by slipping the business world in edgewise. Their goal has a long history in business: make every item as cheaply as possible in order to boost profit, resulting in high profit and crappy products. The wealthy, of course, get top education in private schools, something most of us can’t afford, while public schools decline. The rest of the modern world, meantime, is making top quality education through graduate school free for everyone, sometimes even for non-citizens.

So our racism and greed are permanent parts of our individual makeup, I believe. If we are to fulfill the promise of a truly egalitarian society, we will have to find ways to overcome these tendencies. We have to find a way to control those who don’t get it, both the racists and the ultra-greedy. It will be a tough job.

Dying For Lack of Opportunity

The death rate for white males in their middle years has skyrocketed because of suicide and drug overdose. These are people who have been denied the American dream. Their jobs disappeared, along with their house, their medical care, and their retirement. Their very lives.

People who have faced such depressing conditions become depressed, naturally. The longer it goes on, the more likely they will become dependent on alcohol or the other dangerous drugs that are so readily available everywhere. The longer they are depressed, the more likely it is they will kill themselves.

When these conditions affect the black population, self-righteous whites put on their church pins and tell them to man up. Get a job. They are not saying those things now, because the ones affected are white. There are no jobs of any kind in lots of places, other than a few part-time minimum wage gigs. Nothing you can live on.

Where did the jobs go? Many were shipped overseas by corporate bosses, where desperate people are forced to work under conditions that would be illegal here, and for pennies on the dollar.

But the other condition, which nobody is talking about, is the absorption of jobs by new robots and computers that aren’t paid a wage. We can’t even see this huge dilemma, because its onset has been insidious over decades, and it’s ubiquitous.

What began as a novelty is now the norm. Take the job of inventory of stock. Today’s young adults were not around to know that there were businesses whose sole purpose was to take inventory for companies that hired them. They came to work after a store was closed for the day, and a large crew counted everything in the store and wrote it down on paper. Later, the managers tallied these counts and presented their report to the store.

All those jobs are gone. Inventory today is continuous and invisible. Each new item is scanned into the computer, and each sold item is automatically deducted from the inventory count. If an item becomes depleted, the computer tells when to order more, or does it automatically. There’s no such thing as an independent inventory, and computers perform dozens of other business services that used to require employees.

Likewise, robots have taken over large parts of manufacturing in every realm. Even things like certain types of surgery are on the verge of being performed by robots, which are much faster than human surgeons.

This modernization came on over a long period, and the evidence is scattered, so it’s not easily seen with casual observation. But it’s everywhere.

Perhaps skilled laborers are the most heavily affected by this modernization, but in actuality, new machines are absorbing jobs at every level from unskilled labor to CEO, and some of the displaced from every kind of work end up on the street, helpless before the new reality.

This, I believe, is one of the reasons that homelessness is not being solved. Every year there are additional people forced from their homes and their former lives into the streets, into tents.

My belief is that there are two things we could do to help solve the condition. First, shorten the official work week to 30 hours or less, which would mean more people working. This is not a radical change. There were regular reductions of the 72-hour work week before we reached 40 hours. Second, require all employers to pay a living wage for 30 hours of work. High enough earnings to supply everything necessary. Living wage does not hurt business because employees must spend what they earn to survive, which is fed directly into the local economy.

The federal government could greatly help the nation’s people by passing several wise laws, such as improved Social Security and initiation of national health care, like every other nation did long ago. Note, however, that this modernization would make the insurance industry largely redundant. It’s also unlikely to happen any time soon because conservatives have labelled it “Socialism”, which they associate with Karl Marx and the USSR, whereas the proper model is the modern nations of Europe and Asia.

Until the cause of white decline is recognized, accepted, and conditions changed, we can expect more of the same: substance abuse, overdose, and suicide. It won’t go away by itself.

How to Smallify Gummint

Here’s the quickest way to reduce government to the size that even libertarians might like: eliminate each and every tax deduction and tax break for individuals and businesses. Compel every person and organization to pay their share of taxes. Cut funding for war-making by 50%. Easy, huh?

No longer let the Pentagon fill in the sums on a blank check when they want to build bigger and better death machines. It should be obvious: you have to win hearts and minds, something that is rarely accomplished by carpet bombing. Trying to foster the next war to “bomb them into the stone age” would be enormously wasteful, like it is now, but with a 50% cut we would be less likely to launch such foolishness.

Compel all corporations and individuals to pay their share of taxes—not zero, as many have been paying for years. Take an import duty for every product sold in the US by corporations who have moved their headquarters overseas to avoid taxes. In other words, don’t allow them to play games with what they owe for the services and infrastructure they use.

Homeowners would suddenly be minus their favorite write-off, the mortgage interest deduction. Suddenly they would be like people in Canada and Europe. But their taxes would not increase. Most probably they would decrease, because nobody would be getting away with tax gamesmanship.

Who would scream the loudest? The ones with the most tax breaks, of course. And who might they be? Why, the ones with all the money, of course. But how did they get all the money, you might ask? Simple, they bought it. How is it possible to buy money?

Well, first you must have a lot of money to begin with. When you have accumulated money beyond any conceivable use, you invest in politicians. You give lots of money directly to the politicians most likely to pass laws that would give you more money. So they have plenty to assure their re-election. Getting re-elected is the most important thing most politicians do.

You give lots of money to lobbyists who explain to the politicians you own how to vote. That way the politicians you own will pass the laws you gently suggest would be “good for business”, meaning corporate capitalists, never the people. What is good for the population becomes irrelevant. What the corporations want always gets done, even when 90% of the population wants the opposite.

In the end, even with all tax breaks eliminated, everyone but the very rich would be happier for paying lower tax. This would come about because corporations and the wealthy would no longer be able to screw over the rest of us by owning the government.

It should be observed, though, that even with all the tax breaks for the rich and corporations, we already have lower actual taxes than every other advanced nation, and corporations never pay the maximum tax rate, if they pay any taxes at all. Why are our taxes so low? Because we underfund government services and benefits. Most notably, we have no national health care policy, even though 80% of us want it and our failure to have it costs us literally twice as much. Nor do we have adequate educational support, or retirement funding.

What we do have is a grossly bloated military budget, equal to the total of the next dozen or so countries, and famous for literally squandering billions. Billions were sent to Iraq, literally filling Air Force cargo planes with pallets of hundred dollar bills, most of which evaporated.

These things would not improve just because tax breaks were eliminated. We would have even lower taxes, but we still would not have the level of services that the civilized nations have. It would take positive steps to bring our personal security up to the level of the more advanced countries.

In the end it comes back to the purpose of government. Is it for the capitalists and corporations so they can become ever richer? Or is the actual reason for government to serve the interests and needs of the citizens, all of them? We know what the answer is at the moment.

We Desperately Need a National Reboot

The US was founded on an imperfect belief in equality. We have lost much of what we had of that belief, and are overdue for better treatment of everyone, and major changes elsewhere as well. Here are some old lessons to learn again.

No group is superior; no group is inferior. There are many cases in which a group of people has been particularly successful at one thing or another. Mostly this is because of strong cultural habits. Not all Asians are good at math, and there are erudite African-Americans who have no interest in basketball. Natural and permanent superiority has never been demonstrated for any group. There’s just no such thing as a superior race or culture, and those who believe otherwise need to learn why it is so.

It has been often said that justice in a country is best seen in how its poorest are treated. We’ve been slipping for a long time, in particular because of the machinations of the very rich over the past half century or so, which is part of the Republican drive to reduce the effectiveness of government. This has left us with a legacy of unfair laws both at the national level and state levels. New laws in Republican states frequently are specifically designed to punish one group or another, and to favor Republicans and the wealthy.

Everybody must be able to live a decent life on earnings from full time work of any kind. Anything else is undemocratic. The ugly belief popular on the right is that the poor deserve their fate because they are too lazy to work. It’s a claim made especially for African-Americans, ever since they quit working for free, and it’s a stupid belief. The poor are poor because they aren’t paid enough money and have no power to change that, not because they are lazy.

The rich have always had an unfair advantage with government because they can afford to spend heavily to influence law, which of course always favors themselves. Since the 1970s, when Republicans began to espouse the idea that government could do no right, the wealth of the rich has grown rapidly. Inequality now stands at an all time high, fed by top salaries and earnings far beyond reason, greed overcoming all else.

Everyone must learn what science does. The scientifically illiterate influence our laws far too much. Not only the undereducated don’t understand, but even many members of Congress don’t. The discoveries we make through science tell us how the natural world and the natural universe actually function, not how we imagine it functions, and particularly not how religion says it functions. To not “believe in” science makes no more sense than not believing in gravity.

Science is self-correcting. No scientific explanation can be “proven”; it can only be disproven. A good scientific theory is one that has been rigorously tested with many unsuccessful attempts to disprove it. Einstein’s Relativity is a good example.

Scientific thinkers were aware a century ago that it was possible to upset the global thermal balance. We have now arrived at the point where the evidence of that danger is very real every day, and whether we “believe” it is irrelevant. Firm scientific evidence of warming was found decades ago by petroleum scientists, their findings killed by corporate capitalists more worried about reduced profit than the fate of the planet. At that time we could have corrected our faults. Now it’s probably too late. The denial of politicians has also almost completely prevented actions that might have saved us when it was still possible. Instead, we may well have sacrificed the future existence of all life on earth.

Religious beliefs cannot be allowed to determine what non-believers may do. In some cases church dogma has been directly responsible for a person’s death. The church has said a pregnancy may not be terminated for any reason, and the mother dies. This is hardly what Jesus taught.

The debate over abortion is legitimate, but many of the forced-birth crowd have no real interest in protecting life, only in forcing an unwanted birth. The very real unmet needs of one out of three of our living children for adequate nutrition, health care, and education are largely ignored, seen as of lesser moral concern than small collections of cells that stand less than a 50% chance of becoming a viable birth. I call this hypocrisy of a high order.

Worse, protests against abortion tend to be radical and violent, accepting only a complete cessation of all abortion, rather than seeking a solution that improves the situation. Many also refuse to accept any form of contraception for anyone, and a few have become violent enough to commit arson, and even to murder women’s health care providers.

My personal belief is that every abortion represents a failure, a failure of sex education and of providing contraception when it was needed. Higher rates of unwanted pregnancy and abortion are found where education and contraception are wanting.

Republican battles against universal health care makes no sense. Even after a century and a half, we remain the only advanced country that fails to provide affordable health care for every citizen. Our health care costs literally double what others pay, wasting hundreds of billions of dollars. Many millions of Americans do not earn enough income to afford health care insurance, causing some 700,000 medical bankruptcies every year. The toll in all nations with national health care: zero.

It is time to correct these grievous faults, brought to us almost universally by the Republican party and it’s wealthy supporters. It is time for Republicans to think about what they have wrought, to restore the beliefs they once had, and to again make government serve the people, and not just the very rich.

None of this will happen if we sit on our asses again November 8th. People need to vote.

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