Capitalism, Greed & Social Democracy

Bear with me. This is fairly long, but I think it’s important. More than that, I believe it is an accurate explanation, in lay terms, of what America is facing. I hope you will have the patience to read it all. Thanks.
   Ken Langone, co-founder of Home Depot, is suggesting that people unhappy with the economic state of America should fly to Venezuela. He wants you to see how socialism works there. Hint. Not very well.
   Mister Langone is a happy recipient of all the benefits of a democratic, capitalistic society, perhaps the most notable such society in the history of the modern world. It is the “Great Experiment,” testing literally whether such a society such as ours can long survive. Mister Langone undoubtedly worked and still works hard. Just as hundreds of millions of other Americans. In addition to hard work, he has been extremely fortunate, and now he absolutely feels that people such as himself are entitled to all they can take, in both money and power. Notice how he throws around the word ‘socialism,’ in a grossly generalized slur. I think some things need to be cleared up.
*First note* Remember that it is the job of the government in a capitalist/ free market society to stand up for the people, ALL of the people; to use reasonable regulation to ensure that the ever more greedy rich at the top don’t become Kings while the working population is relegated to the level of serfs. The process that the government uses is often described NOT as socialism, but as DEMOCRATIC socialism.
   The question that needs answering is, what then IS ‘democratic socialism?’ What’s the difference between that, and simply “socialism? In as few words as possible, it is this: SOCIALISM, in concept is a society in which everyone’s efforts, big and small, are placed into a central pot, from which everyone draws the fruits of those efforts equally. It is a concept that has never worked in the modern world. I’m not sure if it ever worked in the pre-modern world. I think it probably didn’t. The obvious inequity is that those who produce the most get the same amount of fruits as those who produce the least.
   Socialism has also been smeared by monsters such as Hitler, Mussolini, and others who have used the term as a thin disguise of their hateful dictatorships. Socialism is at the core of Communism, which has also not worked well for one simple reason. Power has always become centralized in the hands of one, of a handful of powerful people.
*Second note* The destructive force within socialism is, and always has been, the rise to power of ultra-ambitious and greedy people who believe that their ambition and personal “vision” gives them the right to dictate what is good for everyone, based on what is good for themselves.
   So then, what is capitalism? Here is a good, succinct description of the theory of capitalism from Wikipedia: Capitalism is an economic system based on private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit. Characteristics central to capitalism include private property, capital accumulation, wage labor, voluntary exchange, a price system, and competitive markets.
   All of the things described there are in themselves good, and on the surface, as fair is it is possible to get.  But there is a built-in danger, a very severe danger, in that description. Did you find it? Can you see it? The Achilles heel within capitalism is what you do NOT see in that description. There is no mention of limits, or regulation.
*Third Note* The ultimate destructive force in capitalism is the same, EXACTLY THE SAME, as in socialism.  There will always be those who are ambitious far above the norm, greedy in their desire for accumulation of riches far above the norm, and who will inevitably draw as much power as possible to themselves in their quest to have, consolidate and grow ever greater levels of riches and power. Moreover, these people will always, like the man you see here, will always feel ENTITLED to more.
*Fourth Note* Such people will always feel it is their right to keep as much of the accumulated fruit for themselves, and to share of it as possible with the very people whose labors actually produce the fruits. They march forward with grossly exaggerated rewards for their own efforts while denying an equitable level of reward for the “working people,” without whose daily toil their own reward be either severely limited or non-existent.
THE IRONY, then, is that such people, when faced with any effort to create a more fair share of the fruits for the people who actually produce the goods and create the fruits, will shout SOCIALISM and warn of its evils, when in fact they are practicing the same kind of central power and greed that they rail against. Every time they moan about big government and regulation, what they really mean is “You’re getting in the way of me getting richer”
*Fifth Note* Unfettered, unregulated capitalism is, then, is doomed to end as badly for the masses of population we call “working people,” as the dreaded socialism they throw about as the boogey man. Awareness of this is not a new thing. It’s been known about since the very inception of the term going back at least two centuries.
Remember this. The power and unscrupulous will always seek to gather all riches and all power to themselves. It is a simple fact of humanity.
So now, what IS a Social Democracy? It is actually what our founding fathers envisioned when they established this “Great Experiment.” The experiment is actually a test of whether a society can be as free and capitalistic as possible, with just the right amount of control exerted by a government of the people in order to maintain the freedom and rewards for all in reasonable balance. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are part of a democratic socialism. Tax structures represent democratic socialism. Regulation to protect and distribute food and water supplies, and to provide a safe environment for working and living are part of democratic socialism.
*Next to Last Note* The Great Experiment then is make it possible through capitalism, for ambition and hard work to be rewarded in kind, while using regulation and taxation to ensure that everyone who works hard, who labors with dedication, is also reward in kind. THAT is what is called democratic socialism. My preferred term is socially responsible governance.
*Last Note* America is currently far along the last branch of the road to collapse as a democracy. Every book and movie that has portrayed a dystopian society, one in which the mass, the working class, lives in misery while the rich and power few live and rule in outsized luxury, has pictured a society not very far down the path we are following. Consider: **- the working class faces ever shrinking affordable housing due to rising prices in both rents and houses; **- the working class goes without necessary health care due to drug and care prices that rise astronomically; **- working class youth is subject to inferior education due to poor funding and priorities for our education system; **- Higher education is outlandishly expensive; ** working class Americans can no longer plan or save adequately for retirement due to prices that rise much faster than wages; **- 1% of America has more wealth than the remaining 99%.
*Conclusion* American capitalism is broken. It is out of control. The only way to fix it is through governmental intervention and regulation to restore some level of equity. The 1% who have accumulated their power and wealth will not agree to a more equitable society of their own accord. Remember, they believe it is their right. They think their extreme ambition and ruthlessness make them better than the other 99%. Their wealth and power, and adding to both, is more important to them than the greater economy, the environment, or anybody they don’t perceive to be on their level. They have control of America, and I don’t know if it is even possible to fix America at this point. The 1% has insinuated its power and its control to within the very core of America’s governance. I believe their very being is wrapped around a singular belief which they will never say in public, but which I describe thus: “If you can’t keep up with me, then live the way I allow you to live. If you can’t handle that, then perhaps you had best just die.”
I don’t think Vlad the Impaler could have said it better.

Butch and Sundance Were More Ethical Than the GOP

It’s going to happen. You know that as well as I do. They are going to do it. The Republican majority is going to push Kavanaugh through and right down our throats. Because they can. By the time you read this, they will probably already have done it. But even if by some miracle they should fail, the mere fact that they are attempting it is unethical, immoral, unjust, and a shot right through the Constitution.
It has nothing to do with right vs. wrong, with morality or ethics or justice. None of that matters. The Republican party has stopped even pretending to care about any of that.
It is about power. It is about taking advantage, by hook or crook, and there are plenty of crooks in the GOP, of the opportunity to control the country for the next 20-30 years through manipulation of the Supreme Court, which ultimately has more power domestically than the President.
It is about grabbing the power for 1/3 of America, the conservative to the point of regression third, the ultra religious cultists third, the racist and sexist third, the third of toxic masculinity and a yearning for the return of the 1850’s.
Make no mistake. The manner in which the Republican party has abandoned all ethics and all sense of morality in its ruthless manipulation of the SCOTUS selection process, is best described by one word. Coup. That’s C.O.U.P.
We can only hope that this is the very last straw, the final bullet through the Constitution needed to move independent and undecided voters to the left side of the line in the midterms. Only by retaking not just the House but the Senate as well can sanity be restored. Even then, it will be necessary for a new Congress to impeach at least one unfit SCOTUS judge as ruthlessly as he was shoved onto the court. Then Trump needs to replaced by a landslide in 2020, and a new, rational President should seriously consider adding judges to the court. Steps should also be taken to establish inviolate rules by which SCOTUS justices are nominated, vetted, and seated in the future.
Or the racist, sexist, economically ignorant and societally regressive one third of the country will continue to govern all of us. This is simply unacceptable.

Surviving the Trump Threat and Moving Forward

There is a question we no longer need to ask. You know what it is. It’s that question we asked Germans for decades after WWII. How did Germany allow themselves to succumb to Adolf Hitler?

We don’t need to ask any longer because we are seeing how it happened, as it happens right here. In America. In the 21st century. Trump is taking America down that same road, and all we do is watch.

Trump has a rabid core of supporters formed of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and fake ‘Christians’ who call themselves evangelicals. He has the support of a Republican party that has lost all sense of either ethics or morality. They are dismantling the core values of the Constitution. They have already made America a laughing stock on the world stage. Now Trump and his National Socialists are taking America from laughing stock to world terror.

And all we do is watch. Because, you see, we depend on our democratic underpinnings to save the day. First the mid-terms, then the ouster of Trump in 2020. Hopefully.

*Hopefully*

Just like all those Germans in the 1930’s who were sure reason would triumph before Hitler and his Nazis took over completely. Oh, and the hopeful ones were in the majority, too. Because, you see, their democracy had two fatal flaws. It was too democratic. It really had no built-in safeguards against a takeover by a charismatic psychopath. And there were insufficient restraints on the power of a single man.

Our own forefathers made exactly the same mistakes. There are no provisions in our Constitution to keep an immoral tyrant from seeking control. And there are roadblocks sufficient to stop a determined Hitler persona from doing whatever he (or she) wants, once in office? The Congress can serve that purpose only if the President’s own party doesn’t also control both houses. The Supreme Court holds no enforcement powers. The nation’s top law enforcement officials serve at the pleasure of the President and his party. The emoluments clause has as much real substance as a Marvel comic book hero. There is no Superman.

IF the United States does manage to survive Donald Trump, these failings need to corrected by Congressional action up to and including Constitutional amendment. It needs to be done with a sense of immediacy. Yes, I have suggestions. They may need to be refined, of course.

1. Psychiatric testing for all Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidate. This can be done by a panel made up of an equal number of psychiatrists from each party. They should also all be teaching level psychiatrists at respected Universities and medical schools, not just anybody with a shingle.

2. No party shall be allowed to control both houses of Congress. The easy fix is for the Supreme Court to allot ‘extra’ votes to the minority party in one of the houses. This is not unfair. Having a single group viewpoint in charge of both houses of Congress is unfair, and dangerous.

3. Abolish the Electoral College.

4. Give the Supreme Court enforcement powers.

5 Reduce the power of the President to make war. He/she should not be able to initiate military action alone except as a direct act of defense/retaliation against a specifically identified hostile force/country in response to a clear act of hostility against America itself. This must be limited to defensive action not to include American forces invading foreign nations. Anything other than this must be authorized by Congress.

6. Once justice department officials have been appointed, the President must not be able to fire them without the concurrence of both houses of Congress.

7. The emoluments clause must be re-written and given teeth. A majority of either house of Congress should be able to instigate the opening of an evaluation. The President’s cabinet, since they have been appointed by the President, can have no part in the process, other than opening an evaluation process by simple majority.

8. No individual who has ever lobbied for industry can be placed in charge of a government agency.

9. The Vice-President cannot serve as the tie breaker in a tied Senate vote. A tied vote must send the questionable legislation to a select committee made up of an equal number of Senators from each party to reach an equitable solution.

10. The President must not have the ability to single-handedly push the nuclear button. He/she must have the concurrence of the Chairperson of the Joint Chiefs. To this end, That individual’s office must be located in the White House instead of the Pentagon.

11. Congress must take immediate action on legislation which spells out clearly that the government shall have no connection whatsoever to any religion or religious body or group.

12. Citizens United must be revisited and overturned. Congress. must take corporate and lobbyist donations completely out of American elections.

13. Congress must review every area of Presidential executive authority and determine legislation to limit it.

Come Back Marshall Dillon

America, we have a problem. It’s sad but true. Police are out of control in many places in America. They use flimsy excuses to excuse bigotry while beating, maiming, falsely accusing, and killing. This has to be stopped.

Now understand, these unfit officers represent, hopefully, and we are told, a very small percentage of those who wear the uniform properly and proudly with humanity and distinction. But until that vast majority who truly protect and serve stop protecting the racist, bigoted beasts within their ranks; until that vast majority, and the departments themselves, take a stand for what’s right, they can’t complain about the negative spotlight cast upon all of them. John Q Public can’t waltz into a police department and clean it up. It must be the organizations themselves, purging and cleaning from within.

Make no mistake. I’m far from naive. Our police officers have the most difficult, dangerous moment by moment job in the country. They see and deal with the worst levels of our society. I respect them immensely. They face sights and situations and dangers the rest of us can most avoid, thanks to them. Their bravery is for the most part unquestioned. The simple traffic stop we take granted is, for them, never simple and never safe.

But here’s the deal. As tough as that job is, as dangerous, as discouraging, as scary, as thankless, if they cannot find a way to maintain their humanity and discard their prejudices, they shouldn’t be doing the job. For the vast majority of good cops out there, my heart goes out to you, for your bravery, your dedication, your humanity, and perhaps most of all, your resilience. You are the stellar examples we need. But when you protect those among you who shouldn’t be wearing the badge—and in most departments I’m sure those are well known—you do a disservice not only to those whom you have sworn to protect and serve, but more keenly to yourselves.

And yes, I’m fully aware that many if not most, of the excessive force and shoot first, ask questions later incidents are, more than anything, the result of fear, quiet insidious fear, that police officers live with every minute. It has to eat at even the strongest person in uniform. I can’t truly imagine, no matter how hard I try, what it’s like to feel that with every call, every traffic stop, and maintain one’s humanity and not prejudge and not give in to doing it to them before they can do it to you.  And yet, that’s exactly what we need our police to do.
I have an idea, for what it’s worth. It goes something like this. I recommend that every officer, particularly in the larger departments cities, be assigned to spend time every week, on the clock, in some activity to help counter the negatives they face. Group talk it out sessions, uplifting and positive activities with the community, things that do nothing but depressurize. Maybe that will help. Maybe you have a thought to make it a better idea. Go for it. Please.

But the bad apples have to go. Now. Immediately. Previously good officers who show signs of tending toward excessive violence may not even need to be fired.  There are probably plenty of honorable desk jobs that can to be filled, at full pay and benefits, by officers with severe signs of burnout. That seems to me to be the best way of ‘protecting our own.’

I grew up knowing officers. I grew up admiring and respecting police. I still do. But the incidents of brutality and killing of unarmed people, of policing with violence and brutality first, humanity and reason third or fourth, has to stop. The job itself is incredibly hard. There’s no doubt about that. But I also know this. A person with a badge a club a gun and the cover of authority, but lacking in humanity or possessed by racism and bigotry or just burned out, is far more frightening than reassuring. That isn’t the kind of policing we can live with in America.

We can’t accept policing our citizenry with Negans. Not even Dirty Harrys.  We need Reagans. We need Marshall Dillons, Reed and McCoys, Jon and Ponches  Joe Fridays. And we need officers who see humans rather than colors.

 

That Praying Bus Driver

I just read about a school bus driver in Minnesota who was relieved from his route due to leading students in prayer on his bus.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/school-bus-driver-fired-after-praying-with-students/ar-AAw9Sam?ocid=spartandhp

The article said he forced the students to pray with him. He denied that. But he did pray with them, and evidently, on occasion led them.Whether he forced them to pray with him or not isn’t the issue. He should not have been praying with them. Period. Removing him from school buses was entirely proper. It was necessary. The driver said his First Amendment rights were violated. He was wrong.

The action taken by the bus service here is entirely appropriate. Students have the right to pray individually or among themselves. However, the bus driver leading the prayer was in clear violation of the separation between church and state. This is a critical pillar of our Constitution that must be safeguarded at all costs, for the good of the entire citizenry. It had to be addressed, and was. The driver, by the way, was not fired.
During the forty years that I taught theatre, students frequently asked to hold prayer circles before play performances. I never advocated it. I never suggested it. But if they told me they wished to do it among themselves. I always allowed it. I never participated. I made clear to them I couldn’t do this, and I distanced myself. That is the way it must be handled.

Religion is perhaps the most acutely personal aspect of any human being. No particular faith has any right whatsoever to be endorsed by the government, or individuals in government positions, over any other. In the school setting, a teacher or school official must not participate in religious activities during, though it is acceptable in many places for clubs, initiated and conducted by the students themselves, to meet as an after school activity, with a student-requested staff member who agrees to be present for supervision only. The public schools cannot be, and must not, be in the business of advocating any particular religion over any other.

Christians who claim they are ‘under attack’ are crying wolf. Please. They are not in any way under attack. Do they still have the right to pray in their churches and homes? Yes they do. Have any Christian churches been closed down by city/county/state/federal agencies for practicing their religion? Of course they haven’t. Are Christians still free to “witness” for friends and others on behalf of their faith? Yes they are, as long as the people they are witnessing to agree to it. This claim of being attacked is based on one thing only, their not being allowed to enforce their own religions beliefs on others in a multi-cultural, multi-faith society. 

BUT 1: The state does not advocate for any particular religion. That is the only way the state can fairly represent all faiths. It is unreasonable, unethical, and improper for Christians to expect to be given preference.
BUT 2: Business owners operate under a state/local license that empowers them to offer their goods to the public. This means ALL the public. It does not give them the right to refuse service to those with whom they disagree, whose skin or nationality or sexuality is different from their own, who wears their hair oddly, etc. It’s a simple—and absolutely vital— matter of civil rights, which are guaranteed to all citizens. Baking a cake or making a pizza for someone who’s ‘different’ does not indicate agreement, comradeship or partnership with them. It’s nothing more than the matter of meeting the responsibility of being licensed to sell to the public. Anyone who thinks that refusing service to someone whose skin color or lifestyle is different from their own is one of their civil rights, is grossly mistaken. The buyer’s civil right to buy a cake, etc., easily overrides the business person’s assumed right to insert the prejudices of their personal religion into the public obligation which is part of their license. Again, the government doesn’t deal in religion. It deals in civil rights. These must be safeguarded for all of its citizens.
BUT 3: The First Amendment of the Constitution does not expressly give, nor does it imply, permission to violate the separation of church and state. It does not allow one person’s religion to eradicate the civil rights of another person. It does not make one person superior to another in the conduct of business due to their religion. Period.

The founding fathers of our country, who were mostly Christians, saw the danger of mixing government and religion. They did everything they could to prevent it.  Regardless of what Christian zealots like to think, the Constitution did not—and this was by design—establish the United States as a Christian nation. Our country is a country of many religions, just as it is a melting pot of many cultures and traditions. None has the privilege to enforce itself over others.

Christians who complain that they are “under attack” because they are, in actuality, seeking and being denied special treatment under 1, 2, or 3 above, are behaving like petulant and badly behaved children who don’t get their way. It’s time they realized that. Neither God nor Jesus ,at any time, gave them special permission to consider themselves any better than others. Otherwise, they make end up making their imagined “war on Christians” a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

A- Religion is personal, and cannot be enforced by one faith upon another.
B- Society is governed by laws and mores for the well-being, the “…life, liberty and pursuit of happiness,” of all the people.

Never the twain shall meet. Amen.

Do NOT Call Donald Trump Stupid

Do NOT mistake or underestimate Donald Trump. He realizes damned well that informed Americans know this kind of tweet, and all the ones like it are bullshit. They are not intended for informed Americans. They are intended to keep his core supporters engaged and enraged. This is exactly what Trump’s angry,  poorly informed and analytically challenged supporters call “..talking like us.” He knows that the secret to his success is holding onto that rabid base, including racists, white supremacists, and the uneducated poor, then getting just enough others to cross the line because of various personal dissatisfactions, whether it be closet racism of Barack Obama, hatred of Hillary Clinton, or economic dissatisfaction. 
 
   Donald Trump is woefully ignorant in most of the ways that we judge as genuine intelligence and intellectual capacity. He is clearly narcissistic and psychotic, a veritable textbook sociopath. He is a serial liar, but one that can sell those lies like few in history.
   He is the granite statue of the con man who can sell ice in the Arctic and sand in the Sahara. He is the role model for ministers who live in million dollar mansions by taking the last dollars from already poor worshipers. If he had lived in the old west in the 1800’s, he would have lived in luxury while selling snake oil for fifty cents a bottle. If you believe in the antichrist, he will look and sound like Donald Trump.
   Donald Trump is brilliant in his understanding of how to manipulate the most vulnerable people around him in order to build and maintain a power base. His expertise is in doing this while preventing the people upon whom he preys (and depends) from seeing behind his curtain. He is then ruthless in ridding his personal power circle of anyone who disagrees with him.
  
   Calling Donald Trump stupid dismisses him without truly understanding the danger he represents. It creates a false sense of security. a comfortable sense of safety from him. It provides an illusion that he is mentally incompetent and therefore not really dangerous. It weakens resistance. It helps us to think it will all be okay because after all, he’s stupid.
 
That is the worst mistake we can make. Donald Trump is the most dangerous individual to surface since the end of WWII.
 
   Donald Trump is Adolf Hitler, right down the line, all the way to the last point of comparison. All that remains to be seen is if he has the same kind of world domination psychosis as did Hitler. He cannot be allowed to answer that question.

The Telephone

This is a short mood piece I played around with the other day. The style is 1940’s/50’s noir. The story is . . .

The telephone rang. The woman looked at it. The man looked out the window, pretended not to notice. It rang again. The sound was soft, melodic, not the loud silence shattering clanging you read about in novels. The woman stared at it. She guided a stray wisp of blonde hair back into place with a glossy red, newly manicured pinky finger. The man shifted position, leaned against the wall.

A third ring broke into the subdued jazz music. Glenn Miller’s orchestra playing ‘In the Mood.’ The man moved away from the wall, leaned back against it. The woman made a move as if to get up, changed her mind, sat back.

The instrument rang a fourth time. The man checked his watch. The woman lit a menthol cigarette with a small gold plated lighter. The clerk glided silently across the thick carpet, picked up the receiver. Said something inaudible. Listened. Said something else, laid the receiver soundlessly on the polished wood table, left the room. The woman watched him go. So did the man. Their eyes connected for half a second.

Glenn Miller faded out, replaced by Dizzy Gillespie’s orchestra, ‘All the Things You Are.’ Outside the window, the faint rumble of distant thunder announced the approaching storm. The clerk returned, picked up the receiver, delivered a quiet message, placed the receiver back on the cradle with a hushed click, returned to the desk.

The man went to the window, studied the darkening sky. A couple entered the room, talking quietly. She was short. brunette, trim, black dress, spike heels, almost as pretty as the blonde. He was tall, athletic, gray Brooks Brothers, black shined loafers, not quite as handsome as the man. She laughed at something he said. A faint trace of expensive bourbon drifted from them. They went to the desk. The blonde casually studied the brunette, flicked ashes into a glass ashtray, smoothed the folds of her red satin skirt.

The black gilt trimmed phone rang again, stopped after one ring. The man turned from the window, studied the instrument briefly, returned to looking out as the first big drops drove themselves against the window. The woman stubbed out her cigarette, a single graceful movement. She looked back at the phone as it range again. Once. Twice. She stood up with the same elegant grace, crossed to the phone, picked up the receiver. She spoke a single word, listened, smiled, answered, replaced the handset..

The woman looked up to find the man watching her. Their eyes connected, held for a small moment. He smiled a crooked half smile. She also smiled, the smallest lifting of the corners of her mouth.  He nodded. So did she. She turned, walked from the room. The man watched until she was out of sight. The clerk approached, handed the man a glass containing exactly two fingers of aromatic amber liquid, smiled, replied to the man’s questioning look, “On the house.” The man smiled his wry smile, nodded his thanks. He turned back to watch the rain cascade against the glass.