The “Sheriff of Nottingham” Party

Republicans exist for one reason: to serve power.  If you do not have power, and you vote for the Republicans, you are digging your own grave.

Some…or even most rank-and-file Republicans have deluded themselves into thinking otherwise…but I’m convinced that most Republicans, especially the big dogs in the political arena, know exactly what they’re doing.

They pick on the poor, and bow to the rich…and that gets them off.

Occasionally there’s a rift in paradise where we’ll see a conflict between one business giant versus another.  In these cases, it’s easy to see which business wields more power, because that’s the business that the GOP will defend with all the pomp and circumstance at their disposal.

Recently, the lieutenant governor of Georgia tweeted this: “I will kill any tax legislation that benefits Delta unless the company changes its position and fully reinstates its relationship with the NRA,” Cagle tweeted.

Note: this is a government official telling a private business what it should do, and threatening punitive action if his orders are not followed.

What does that remind you of?

Union-Busters Suck

Many if not most Republicans are vehemently opposed to the idea of workers unions.

They say it’s because paying dues is unfair to workers, but we all know that’s a bunch of malarkey.

The truth is that unions are effective.  The truth is that Republicans only care about the upper classes, which happen to be the same people who own corporations, which happen to be the same people in control of wages.

Yes, the people who own corporations “control” the wages.  Wages are not left to the whims of the so-called “free market.”  Prices might be, but not wages.  Corporate America collectively controls the wage indexes, and they do so with a coordinated, yet unofficial, effort.

When corporate America “collectively” does something, they are in effect working as a union.  So what we have is one union, the corporations, against another, the workers.  But most workers have no union, and corporate America is dead set on keeping it that way.

A union is power.  A union is leverage.

And unfortunately, in today’s political climate, a union is a social animal well on its way to extinction.  The masses have been thoroughly brain-washed into thinking that we only deserves the crumbs of wages we’re given by the rich.

If you want to get rich as a laborer, work harder!  If you want to get rich, you must first make some one else richer.

True Leadership is Needed

The left has no real leader at the moment. That is probably the biggest problem we face: no real leadership.

We have no coordination, no action-oriented objectives.

Voting is not enough.  If voting were enough, we wouldn’t be in this mess to begin with.

We have prominent people who are in a position to say what we’re all thinking, and that’s fine, but it won’t accomplish anything.

We need action, and we need coordinated action, and that can only be achieved under the direction of a true leader, or group of leaders working together.

Until that happens, we’ll keep flailing and fighting and…losing to the greedy imbeciles on the right.

On Nuclear Energy in New Mexico

If New Mexico ever gets snookered into building a nuclear power plant, you’ll know we got fooled, and fooled good.

Nuclear energy is not an option. If New Mexico were a submarine or an aircraft carrier then yes, nuclear energy might make sense. But in a land as rich in sunshine and wind as this enchanted state, nuclear power would be a huge mistake, and a gigantic step backward.

Some people say that since solar and wind are finally making headway, we should take their subsidies and give the money to nuclear instead. The notion is so profoundly illogical that the mind struggles for a metaphor. It’s almost like saying “Since smart phones are doing so well, let’s stop building cell towers and invest in land lines instead.”

Step back in time to the 1980s. Imagine if somebody said “Wow, personal computers are really taking off. Let’s stop R&D on those, and start building bigger mainframes instead.”

With few exceptions, nuclear has never really been a viable alternative energy source.

Exhibit A: No nuclear power plant has ever been built, anywhere, without a massive infusion of taxpayer money.

Exhibit B: In 2011, the Union of Concerned Scientists found that the total subsidies paid and offered to nuclear power companies from 1960 to 2024 generally exceeded the value of the electricity produced.

Exhibit C: Since 1958, more than 120 nuclear power plants were started and never finished due to cost overruns.

To make matters worse, nuclear energy is simply more expensive than traditional sources. As an example, where traditional sources might cost around 0.89 cents per kilowatt hour, nuclear energy can cost as much as 1.04 cents. Since we’re living in an era where energy can be traded across the country via power-lines, it’s altogether possible to build a nuclear power plant that generates electricity nobody wants to buy.

Nuclear is a big investment in terms of money and time. From start to finish, an operational nuclear power plant can take as long as 10 years or more to complete. Why? Because we’re not just building the plant, we’re establishing an intricate, exceptionally high-tech logistical system that has to run like clockwork or the whole thing grinds to a halt.

First we have to secure the uranium. Second, we have to enrich the uranium at special processing plants. Next we have to safely transport and store the activated material. Then we use it. Once used, we have to discard the nuclear waste safely. Not surprisingly, the taxpayer usually gets stuck with the bill for this last phase.

Nuclear energy is an exceedingly complex way to do a simple thing. Fissile nuclear material gets hot, really hot, hot enough to turn water to steam, which in turn spins electrical generators. The uranium “fuel rods” are useful for about 6 years. Sounds good, until you realize we generate about 2,300 tons of nuclear waste per year.

So after 6 years of energy, we’re left with thousands of tons of a useless, deadly nuclear byproduct which can last about 10,000 years. This means that for the next 10,000 years, someone will have to monitor it, measure its degradation, and be able to move it should some unforeseen complications arise.

10,000 years of lethal hazard for 6 years of limited, regional energy? That’s not a good trade-off. And who’s going to pay for minding the waste? How many companies stay in business for 10,000 years?

All of these negatives don’t even touch upon the very real possibility of something going catastrophically wrong. Then we’d have a Three Mile Island, or a Fukushima, or a Chernobyl, or worse.

Who gets stuck with the bill if something goes wrong? We do, the taxpayers, of course. That’s Business 101: privatize the profits and externalize the costs.

Whose ecologic system will be irreversibly impacted? Ours. Whose DNA will risk cancerous mutation? Ours. And you can bet money few of the shareholders of that nuclear facility will live anywhere near the contamination.

While I’m no fan of Wall Street, it’s telling to note its whims and fancies. The stock exchange isn’t crazy about nuclear power, and hasn’t been for decades. Way back in 1985, Forbes Magazine wrote that nuclear power was “the greatest managerial disaster in business history…only the blind, or the biased, can now think that most of the money has been well spent.”

Regardless of what we think of big investors, we should heed sound advice, forget about nuclear, and learn to look forward, not back. Just as coal has no future, neither has nuclear. It’s ironic, since one was made of dinosaurs, and the other was born of war, two things best left in the past.

“Parent’s Day”

It was probably the first, the last, and the only day of its kind on the peaceful campus of Adams State College, in Alamosa, Colorado, a town about the size of Roswell, nestled in the heart of the San Luis Valley.

Parents Day, as planned, was the first day of freshmen orientation. For a modest fee, parents could accompany their freshmen children for a tour of the college, eat a couple of meals at the cafeteria, then spend a night sleeping in the dorms.

What could go wrong?

“Brooklyn Julie” met us at the door and showed us to our rooms. She was the resident assistant from some place in New York. A fast-talker, we were her wards. She lead us to the third floor of Coronado Hall, where our parents would be sleeping. “Parents” is misleading, because only the mothers attended.

Each floor of Coronado Hall had a study area, and this is where our parents met. Big Ann and Little Ann were among the first we met. Big Ann was a boisterous Texas trophy wife, a sorority girl back in her day. Little Ann was her daughter, a cardboard cutout of mom, in appearance. In personality, Little Ann was a mousy little thing who had lead sheltered life.

Brooklyn Julie showed us a pony keg she had bought for the occasion. It was against the rules, but she thought it would be a nice ice-breaker. Big Ann was like a fish in water, taking it upon herself to pass out beers and make introductions. She was the only college grad among our moms.  The rest were working girls who had married young. Parent’s Day was supposed to be the college experience they never had.

As the mom’s hit it off, Little Ann and I decide to go to a lecture. The presidents of every college club were introducing themselves. I remember best the College Republican lecturing about the value of family, and personal responsibility.

After the lecture, Little Ann coaxed me into going to the local college bar, the Purple Pig. “I’ll buy,” she said. How could I refuse?

We walked into the bar, and as luck would have it, two seats were waiting for us. We ordered a pitcher. Way in the back of the bar, we kept hearing a festive commotion, so we asked the bartender what was going on.

“Wet T-shirt contest.”

So we’re sipping our beers and we kept hearing the hoots and hollers of voices that sounded vaguely familiar. Finally, we stood up on our bar stools, looked down the beer hall, and there was Big Ann, standing on the stage with four other co-eds. Gone was her teal blue, Dolce & Gabanna silk blouse. She was wearing a Purple Pig T-shirt instead.

Little Ann sat down. “Shoot me. Just shoot me now. Let’s get out of here.”

As we left, the crowd was chanting “Skin to win! Skin to win!”

The night was young, so we checked our activities brochure. The college was showing a vintage film called “The King of Hearts” so we decided to go. Great film. A rite of passage for all college students.

After the movie, we headed back to mom land. The pony keg had been sucked dry. All the moms were wearing Purple Pig T-shirts. Somebody had won a little pig trophy. I heard Big Ann tell Little Ann “Lighten up, toots.”

At around ten o’clock, I said good-night to Little Ann and we headed back to our respective dorm rooms for some much needed slumber. Big day tomorrow. An outing to the Sand Dunes.

Must have been around two in the morning when Kool & the Gang started blaring through the quad. Took it upon myself to investigate. Sure enough, it was coming from those she devil moms of ours. The little study area with the pony keg? Now it was a dystopian den of vice with jugs of wine and fifths of booze. The dainty hor d’oeuvres had been cast aside, replaced with a half-dozen pizzas. No moms to be seen. Then, I heard a cheering sound.

Looking down the hallway, there were about twenty of our moms, all wearing Purple Pig T-shirts and what I could only hope were swimming suits underneath. Brooklyn Julie had unfurled a yellow slip-and-slide down the hallway and lubed it with baby oil and shaving cream. Small plastic shot glasses and half-chewed limes littered the aisle. Our moms were taking turns sliding. Fearing discovery, I sneaked away.

I’ve no idea what depraved reindeer games our mothers invented to amuse themselves that night. Clearly, those she-wolves had abandoned polite society hours ago. All I remember from the next day was that all of our moms left early, wearing sunglasses on a gray September morning.

College. It’s an experience.

Yawn…Yet Another Mass Shooting

Yet another random, mass shooting.

It’s the biggest one to date…as long as we don’t count the white supremacist marauders who, many years ago, killed three times as many blacks.

Odd how those particular mass murders are mysteriously lost to history…sort of like how all of the unarmed black people who are gunned down by the police aren’t supposed to matter.

Will anything change? No, not likely.

And we all know it.

Many, many more will die in seemingly random, meaningless mass-shootings, some of which have become so common that they no longer warrant airing on the national news.

Nothing will change as long as nobodies keep getting killed.

Dumb-fuck conservatives will still scream in the defense of their guns. “It’s our Second Amendment right!” they’ll say. The Second Amendment is actually talking about arming “well regulated” state militias, but let’s not let facts get in the way.

It’s bad for sales.

In the USA, there is absolutely nothing to stop a mass shooting from happening tomorrow, or the day after that, or every day after.

Nothing.

And unless you’re rich, powerful, and well-connected, nothing will ever be done about it.

Nothing will be done until the rich, the powerful, and the well-connected start dying in a series of seemingly random, meaningless mass-shootings.

But that’s a little too much to hope for.

The Myth of the Free Press

Recently quit my columnist gig.

For nineteen weeks I thought that column mattered, that my words made a difference, but they didn’t. Small town, small paper, maybe a few hundred readers, tops, and half of them hated my liberal guts. A lot of time and effort, for nothing.

The breaking point came when they wouldn’t run a piece about climate change. I pointed out that there was no real debate on the issue. On one side, we had mountains of data and every respected scientific organization in the world. On the other side we had “liars and fools” whom I called “scoundrels and dupes” in an effort to soften the critique’s edge.

The paper rejected the article outright. They saw no reason to “demonize” climate-change skeptics. The whole point of the article was to illustrate that they weren’t skeptics, they were, in fact, liars and fools.

The liars are the think tanks funded by big oil whose only job is to stir up doubt. Not truth, doubt. The fools are the conservative idiots who spread those lies faithfully, stalwart morons like John Stossel, possibly the dumbest journalist on earth.

This is the unvarnished reality of the climate-change “debate” in America: there is no debate. There is only the truth as science knows it, verses the calculated fabrications of big oil which are being falsely presented as sincere counter-arguments.

What kind of paper squashes a column because it’s afraid of offending liars and fools? Almost every newspaper in America.

Which leads us to the heart of this essay: the myth of America’s “Free Press.”

What does that really mean “Free Press?” It apparently means that they’re free to print almost anything that they want, but they are under no obligation to print the truth. If the truth offends their conservative readership, or the oil baron down the road, or their business-minded advertisers, then newspapers are free to pretend that the truth does not exist.

Most Americans have been fooled into thinking that our “free press” is looking out for our best interests. That is clearly, and alarmingly, not the case.

We have to realize the press is not our friend. The press is not independent. The press is not watching out for us. The press is not telling us what we need to know.

In point of fact, the press is discouraged from doing just that at every turn, primarily from vested commercial interests.

The press itself is a corporate entity that only exists to reap profits. Only when the tide is so decisively turned against a controversy will the press dare to print the truth, and then, usually with a sense of bashful reluctance.

Ideally the press only wants uncontroversial content to fill the spaces between the advertising. That’s all. Mass murder? Cool! Nothing controversial there. A deadly storm? Fab! Nobody roots for a hurricane.

Meanwhile big corporate interests can be robbing us blind…and mum’s the word…because nobody’s paying the press to tell us about it.

But don’t take it personally…it’s just business.

Climate Change is Real

Climate change is real, and climate change deniers are either scoundrels or dupes.

A harsh assessment? Yes, but it has to be said. The time has come to call a card by its name.

Of all the problems we face in the world today, climate change has to top the list. It’s global, it’s impending, and it’s irreversible, but there are steps we could take to mitigate the harm, if we start now, and we start on a large scale.

That’s what the Paris Accord was about: a coordinated, international effort to lower the emission of greenhouse gases which are the primary cause of global warming. Despite broadscale scientific support, Trump backed out of the Paris Accord. For whose benefit?

In Joseph J. Romm’s book “Language Intelligence” the author made a couple of simple yet astonishing observations that I could not stop thinking about. First, he said that “scientists don’t keep repeating things that they know” which is why scientists don’t issue a new argument or explanation for climate change every other day. Second, Romm wrote that “If facts alone were sufficient to persuade people, then experts in science would rule the world. But facts are not, and scientists do not.”

That second statement is so depressingly true that it’s hard not to question society as a whole.

Climate-change deniers are usually not scientists, and if they are, they’re not very good scientists. More often than not, they’re retired old cranks so starved for attention they’re willing to say and do almost anything. To make matters worse, they’re usually compromised in the same way that medical doctors were compromised regarding tobacco back in the 1950’s: they were bought off.

Climate-change deniers rely heavily on the rhetorical device of repetition, which is why every other day we read some new, absurd, nonscientific opinion regarding what they like to call “Climate-change alarmism.” Even though around 97% of all climate-change scientists have agreed on peer-reviewed studies regarding the nature and causes of climate change, there are still about 3% who hold out and cherry-pick the data in order to stir up controversy.

And yes, almost every one of these so-called skeptics is receiving money, money from people and industries who consider any action against climate change, any attempt to reduce emissions, to be a threat to their finances. We are literally in a situation where our society is allowing a handful of wealthy, powerful people to put their profits above the welfare and maintenance of our very planet, and its future.

By keeping the controversy alive, they make it appear as if climate change is still a questionable, unfounded theory and that both sides are posing equally compelling arguments. That’s malarkey. Based on the data, there is no debate.

If we take a moment to chronicle the climate-change denier’s arguments, it looks something like this:

“There’s no proof of climate change.”

“Okay, there’s proof, but humans had nothing to do with it; the climate has always changed.”

“Sure, humans probably caused climate change, but it’s not all that bad.”

And finally “Anthropomorphic climate change is real, of course, but any attempt to stop it won’t matter. It will only hinder our economy and cost us jobs.”

This is criminal. There’s no other word for it. This is an act of fraud on a massive scale.

The only reason the deniers are shooting off their mouths is because they know that nothing they say can be held against them. It’s just their opinion, their innocent “skepticism” verses a mountain of evidence to the contrary. And if their efforts negatively effect life as we know it, so what?

The problem is that their denialist patter is being presented to the world as a valid counter-point, which it is not. If one respected scientist appears on a program to explain climate change, there is almost always some lunatic-fringe fraud sitting across from him spouting falsehoods, and I’m sad to say that many people just can’t tell the difference.

Under President Trump, the White House removed any mention of climate change from its website, and encouraged the EPA to follow suit. That says a lot. It says that Trump is willing to ignore scientific reality in order to serve vested, business interests. He’s lying by omission.

If Trump is willing to lie to us about something that 19 prestigious scientific academies around the world have agreed upon, then he’ll probably lie to us about anything. Think about it.

Maybe it’s time scientists did rule the world. At least they show their work.

Self-Esteem & Learned Helplessness

Alfonzo was a talented young Brazilian. We worked together on Cape Cod. Tattooed and wild in his younger days, he had grown to be a dependable family man in his mid-thirties. A jack of all trades, there were few things he couldn’t do. Though not bookish, the guy was no dummy. There was no construction equipment that he couldn’t operate, and do so expertly. He was sort of our unofficial foreman, because whenever there was a problem, we usually went to Alfonzo.

Handsome, witty and big-hearted, he was born with a fiery side, and could be short-tempered. He had a bad habit of blowing things out of proportion. Little slights that the rest of us could shrug off would gnaw at him unremittingly. It got so bad that one day he took a swing at the boss, and was fired on the spot. We had mixed emotions seeing him go. Although we genuinely liked Alfonzo, we were relieved that we didn’t have to work with a ticking time-bomb any more.

Crossed paths with him a few months later, and he was a changed man. Gone was that almost cartoonish thundercloud that had always hung above his head. Now there were clear skies and rainbows. He smiled brightly when he saw me.

After some small talk, he confided that he was seeing a therapist. Turns out he was suffering from a sever case of low self-esteem. That was why he kept blowing things out of proportion. He said when the doctor told him that, it was as if someone had turned on a light.

Low self-esteem has many manifestations. Some people express it with over-exaggeration, or by over-reacting to problems. Others compensate by being manipulative, or domineering, or deceitful. Regardless, each behavioral abnormality is rooted in a person’s low opinion of themselves, be it conscious or subconscious.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 20% of Americans experience mental illness. While I have no reason to doubt that, I can’t help but think the figure is far higher.

In addition to low self-esteem, I think a large number of us suffer from another behavioral malady that’s not so obvious at first glance, a condition known as “learned helplessness.”

When Dr. Martin Seligman began his career back in the 1960’s, he did what most psych students did at the time, which was to perform behavioral experiments on lab animals. Behavioral conditioning. Think Pavlov with his bell and a salivating dog.

In one experiment, the dogs were given a slight shock to see if they’d learn to jump over a little barrier. Seligman noticed that about a third of the dogs refused to respond, and just sat in their cages enduring the shocks. They had been subjected to experimentation for so long that they felt like nothing they did would make any difference, so they just stopped trying.

Presciently, Seligman realized that the condition probably existed in humans as well, and after some experimentation and data gathering, he found that he was right.

“Learned helplessness” causes despairing pessimism, which leads to long-term depression, which in extreme cases ends in suicide. The condition basically has three parts: 1) we feel like everything’s our fault, 2) we feel like our problems will never end, and 3) we feel like everything is bad.

Thankfully, Seligman developed a methodology of “learned optimism” to remedy the problem. Best of all, after some clinical studies, he found that the solution worked.

It boils down to what Seligman calls our “explanatory style.” If we constantly describe our lives in negative ways, it creates a defeatist feedback loop that further acerbates the problem. Describing our lives in positive ways creates an encouraging, affirmative feedback loop.

These are the solutions in a nutshell: 1) stop making it personal; it’s not always your fault, 2) nothing is permanent; your problems are usually temporary, and 3) just because there’s a problem in one part of your life, that doesn’t mean your entire life is a failure.

Clinical studies show that these three simple changes in our way of thinking can often alleviate our sense of helplessness. Once we realize that things can change, our minds are opened to new opportunities. Optimism inspires us to act, and change, and grow.

“Learned helplessness” is real. It’s so real that two psychologists were recently sued for turning it into a method of torture for the CIA. But just as it is learned, it can be unlearned. Studies prove that.

As the great Marcus Aurelius said, over 2100 years ago, “The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.” How true. “When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love….”

“Everything is what you judge it to be.”

On Eugene Debs & Labor Day

“I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man, who does absolutely nothing that is useful, to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars while millions of men and women, who work all the days of their lives, secure barely enough for a wretched existence.”

Eugene Debs said that, 99 years ago, in September 1918, as part of a statement he made to the court just before they convicted him of sedition.

Few people know about Eugene Debs. He was a great American, and he gave his life fighting for the working class. In the process he suffered countless hardships and was even jailed for sedition, a charge one step shy of treason.

On the other hand, when we hear Rockefeller, Carnegie, or Vanderbilt, most people recognize those names. The History Channel even produced a stern, one-sided, somewhat entertaining mini-series about them called “The Men Who Built America.”

A more accurate title would be “The Men Who Robbed America Blind.” Each one of them got obscenely wealthy on the backs of people they paid barely enough to survive. But that’s what unfettered capitalism does, and does best: it makes a handful of people exceedingly rich at the expense of everyone else.

If one man had as much wealth as the rest of the world combined, this capitalist system would not only enable that, but encourage it, and defend it as well.

How does the system achieve that? By actively suppressing the power of the working class, and one of the best strategies for doing that is by keeping the workers dumb.

Make no mistake, it’s no accident that almost nobody knows about Eugene Debs. It’s no accident that young people are ignorant of the history of labor in this country, of how every single work-place advantage that we enjoy today was fought for and won with the blood, sweat, and tears of union members from days past.

Corporate America didn’t give the workers one single thing out of the kindness of its heart. Not one. Whether it’s the 8-hour day, or the 40-hour work-week, or sick leave, or vacation — the list is long — every single thing we take for granted in the working world today was literally fought for by the unions — and the corporations fought back tooth and nail.

At times, the company men were overt and vicious, like when they literally machine-gunned strikers at a coal mine in Ludlow, Colorado. While they were at it, they set the little tent city on fire and incinerated women and children alive. Sticklers will say that the National Guard actually did that. Don’t make me laugh. Everybody knows the attack dogs obey their masters.

Mind you, that’s just one of many such examples of extreme brutality on the behalf of the genteel titans of industry.

The corporate undermining of labor runs the gamut from open attacks to petty misrepresentation, and Labor Day is a prime example. Originally, Labor Day was celebrated on May first, May Day, and called International Workers’ Day. It was a world-wide celebration, but since it smacked of communism, the American establishment would only allow an official labor holiday in September, not May, thus defeating the original sense of global solidarity.

That’s only one of hundreds of examples of corporate America’s relentless campaign against the labor class. The latest, and possibly the most nefarious example of these efforts, is the establishment of anti-union think tanks that pose as pro-labor advocates. If weasels had kings, these guys would wear crowns.

They like to paint unions as useless, predatory entities that do nothing but take money. They pretend to speak on behalf of the worker who doesn’t want to join the union and pay dues, but still wants to benefit from the union’s collective bargaining. It’s a total con, but a lot of people fall for it.

Union membership is at its lowest point in decades, and it’s no coincidence that wages and benefits are also lagging far behind the record-breaking profits that we see on Wall Street.

The minimum wage would currently be around $22 an hour if the wealth were spread proportionately. Of course, Wall Street would prefer we didn’t know that, and most of us don’t. They want us to think that we’re just lucky to have a job, and that they’re actually doing us a favor by paying us barely enough to survive, just enough to go a little deeper into debt every month.

Eugene Debs, Mother Jones, Emma Goldman, three names we hardly ever hear. If you want to thank someone for making your life better, thank them. Labor built America, not wealth, and everything we have today was fought for, and won. Remember that.

To paraphrase Debs, “Ignorance alone stands in our way.”