The Rhythm of History

They say that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it sometimes rhymes.

I think of that as veterans are fighting to be taken care of for the sicknesses they’re suffering from exposure to toxic burn pits..

..just as earlier veterans had to fight to be taken care of for the sicknesses they suffered from exposure to depleted uranium..

..just as veterans of my generation had to fight to be taken care of for the sicknesses they suffered from exposure to Agent Orange..

..just as veterans of my parents’ generation had to fight to be taken care of for the sicknesses they suffered from exposure to nuclear bomb tests.

History is telling us that “Sign up and you’ll be taken care of” is an empty promise.

Defiance

In the subways of Ukraine
People have come to sleep again
Because the bombing makes their buildings shake
The fear and stress are keeping them awake
But there’s hope in the clever tactics and persistence
Of the resistance
For they define defiance.

There is an island with a fort
Defending a strategic port
The Russian navy said “surrender now
“We’ll bomb you and take over anyhow”
The radio crackled, the reply said “Russian warship,
“Go fuck yourself.”
So says the voice of defiance.

And out in the public squares
The Russian soldiers everywhere
Face grandmas and old men who rant and curse
“This is our country, now go back to yours.”
“Put these seeds in your pocket so that sunflowers grow from your hide
“When you die”
Ominous words of defiance.

The local women can be seen
Filling bottles with gasoline.
So when the Russian tanks come rolling by
A rain of fire will fall from the sky
Till the tanks turn around and go back to from where they came
They’ll see the flames
From weapons of defiance

The Russian army look like fools
Stuck in the mud and out of fuel
Their tanks are wandering the highway
Looking for signs so they can find their way
But the signs said, “Go fuck yourself, go fuck yourself again, go fuck yourself..
..Back to Russia”
Reading the signs of defiance.

Wherever evil stalks the land
Defiant heroes make their stand
With such a paranoid pathetic clown
Taunting and mockery will bring him down
So let’s call that punk tyrant a repulsive piece of shit
And then let’s spit
Into his face with defiance.

Shutting Down is Shutting Out

As our nation stumbles thru another primary election season, about half of the Democratic Party’s delegates have been pledged to one candidate or another, and (at this writing) Joe Biden has roughly a 55-45% lead over Bernie Sanders. Many pundits are characterizing this as “insurmountable” (I disagree, it’s only halftime).

But every time I see someone like James Carville saying, “it’s over,” or “we should shut this thing down,” I find myself angrily waving my middle finger at the teevee, and here’s why:

At this writing, there are 26 states and territories (representing 1532 delegates) still waiting their turn to vote. Let’s be generous and say that Joe wins 60% of the remaining delegates. That means Bernie would still get 613 delegates from the remaining states. If the primary were to be “shut down” today, all of those delegates would go to Joe.

So what Carville and his ilk are calling for is a convention without all of those pesky Bernie delegates. They want to shut us out, and to diminish our voice within the party. This is not only undemocratic, but it ignores some important realities.

There are down-ballot races where Democrats and other Progressives are counting on the big turnout that would be generated by a competitive primary. Here in Wisconsin, we have an important Supreme Court race. I’m sure other states and localities have their own races where turnout would vanish if we “shut this thing down.”

The biggest reality is that Bernie has won the battle of ideas. Exit polls confirm that vast majorities of voters favor things like Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, free post-secondary education, and other elements of Bernie’s platform; but they think Joe is more “electable”.

Bernie’s ideas will not be represented by Joe’s delegates. Our party and our nation needs to hear from the hard-working volunteers who have spent the past several years promoting the winning platform. Bernie’s supporters deserve to have their voices heard at the convention in Milwaukee.

So for everybody in a state or territory still waiting to vote: The only way to vote for Bernie’s ideas is to vote for Bernie himself. Every vote will help toward adding another voice to Bernie’s delegation.

We may be behind, but we can still win, and we will not be shut out.

If I Had a Time Machine…

…I’d go to Palm Beach, Florida in the late summer of 2000. Somewhere in the county government complex will be a public hearing (or comment period) on the ballot design for the upcoming national election.

It’s probably one of those low-level meetings held in a small windowless meeting room with hard plastic chairs, hosted by a sub-committee or a board with jurisdiction over this tiny niche of government. The committee sits at a table in the front of the room facing the handful of citizens in attendance… a reporter or two, maybe some government geeks with nothing better to do.

When the ballot design comes up, I would politely approach the committee and address the flaws in the ballot design. I’d work with them to find an improvement on the design that would make the ballot much easier to read, and much harder for a voter to make a mistake.

Let’s assume the committee worked in good faith and made the change. We now know that Gore had a net loss of over 6600 votes in Palm Beach County due to bad ballot design. If the redesigned ballot recovers only 1000 of those votes for Gore, then he wins Florida and with it the presidency.

Let your mind run wild for a minute about how different the world would be with Al Gore in the White House in the early ’00’s instead of George W Bush. Would 9-11 have happened? What would the Supreme Court look like today? Would this insane series of wars have ever started? Would we have seriously responded to the climate crisis long ago?

All because somebody showed up and spoke up at an obscure county meeting.

I have no reason to believe that this hypothetical meeting ever really happened (it could have and should have). What’s important is what this story says about civic engagement.

Political and community activism can be tedious. It involves sitting thru hours of mundane meetings in the dusty back rooms of government buildings. It requires a high tolerance for boredom, and an ability to comprehend dense bureaucratic documents.

But once in a while you can make a difference. You never know which meeting you go to – or which issue you comment on, or which action you take – will change the course of history.

So pay attention, show up, speak up and help out, ’cause you never know when you might save the world.

Don’t Go To the Mall, Go To the Attic

After seeing one too many ads for “Black Friday sales”, I feel compelled to say something about wasteful consumerism and what we can do about it.

Go to any dumpster, and you will find lots of stuff purchased as holiday gifts in years gone by. In many cases, this stuff never got used.. it sat dormant in a closet, basement, garage or attic until it was moved out to make room for the next round of new stuff. And then the new stuff sits unused until its time comes to get cleared out.

Think of all the material resources consumed to make all this stuff. Think of the human energy exerted to turn these raw materials into new things. Think of the fuel burned by the boats bringing that stuff from China and the trucks bringing it from the West Coast. All this energy is spent to produce and move stuff that may never get used before ending up in a landfill in a few years.

We don’t need more stuff. This country already has plenty of stuff. The stuff just needs to be relocated to where it can best be used and appreciated.

So at holiday time, rather than going to the malls or their electronic equivalent, we should find gifts in our attics and store rooms. Those toys your kids weren’t interested in.. maybe a friend’s kids would enjoy them. That dress that you hated might look good on your mother.. or your daughter. The stuffed animal you no longer have room for could delight the new toddler in your family.

I will briefly acknowledge the push-back that are sure to come. Some of it is related to kids’ obsession with the latest electronic gadget (let’s set that aside for another day); some of it is related to Americans’ prejudice against any gift that’s not new and shiny (get over it).

At the very least, my hope is that you consider a trip to the store room as one of your holiday shopping “stops”. So much has been consumed already, it helps when we don’t need to consume more.

 

Make America Decent Again

That was part of the message delivered by a crowd of 300-500 people who came out in searing 95° heat in La Crosse today (Sat June 30, 2018). The march started at City Hall just before noon, and followed 7th Street to Burns Park at 7th and Main.

I forgot to bring a real camera, so images from my pocket computer will have to do (click on any image to embiggen)

Who’s On Your Side?

In a recent news report on the 2016 election, impoverished West Virginia coal miners were asked why they voted for Trump. They said “he seems to be on our side”. I believe they were gravely mistaken.

Trump and the Republican Party are not on the side of working people and they never will be. Republicans like Trump are manipulative con artists who fool people into believing empty promises that are instantly broken on inauguration day.

Whose side are Republicans on? Meet Don Blankenship, who owned a big coal mining company in West Virginia. He played fast and loose with safety regulations until his criminal negligence led to a massive explosion, killing 29 miners. Don briefly went to prison for this, but he’s back in West Virginia running for the US Senate as a Republican.

Republicans are on the side of mine owners like Blankenship. Democrats are on the side of the miners themselves, looking out for their safety and fair treatment.

If you work in a factory, it’s the Democrats who are on your side. Republicans are on the side of the corporate bosses who treat their workforce as a commodity to be overworked, underpaid and discarded.

Democrats are on the side of farmers – people who work the fields, tend livestock, and harvest and process our food. Republicans are on the side of the corporate food processors who underpay the farmers, overcharge their customers, and overpay themselves.

Republicans are on the side of those who poison our air and water, crush our wages, degrade our quality of life, and muffle our voices thru voter suppression and union busting.

So unless you’re a rich and greedy sociopath, it’s the Democrats who are on your side. Please remember that in November.

What Ron Kind Was Afraid to Listen To

My statement for Ron Kind’s “listening” session was occupying my brain cells for several days before-hand. In spite of showing up early and following all of the rules, most of the people who got called on showed up long after I did.

I can only conclude that either the process for choosing people to call on was grossly unfair, or unappealing questions were filtered out of the pile. I suspect a combination of both. At any rate, after three hours invested in my attempt to participate in democracy, I was never called on.

Here is what I would have said if Kind had had the courage to call on me:

Congressman…

The last time we spoke, it was during breakfast one morning last summer in Philadelphia. Our encounter was hurried and awkward, and it didn’t go well for any of us, and I apologize for that. So let me take this opportunity to respectfully and politely explain why so many people have a problem with your position on international trade deals.

We are not against trade per se, but we prefer FAIR trade over “free” trade. The problem with NAFTA, CAFTA, SHAFTA, the TPP, and all of the other trade deals you support so enthusiastically is that when they were negotiated, the only people at the table were representatives of trans-national corporations.

Those who represent working people were not given a seat at the table.

Those who represent the interests of the environment were not given a seat at the table.

The entire process was conducted in the dark, and the general public  – even members of Congress – was forbidden from knowing what was being negotiated in our names.

If these agreements had been negotiated openly, and with advocates for workers, local communities, and the environment at the table, then we might have reacted differently.

But the biggest deal-breaker is the Investor-State Dispute Settlement provision. ISDS allows a foreign corporation to sue a domestic government for passing a law that may affect potential future profits. For example, there was a state that wanted Country Of Origin Labelling on food products, but a Canadian food processor sued for potential (NOT actual) lost profits.

This is an attack on our national sovereignty, as it puts the interests of foreign corporations against the will of our own people. I really hope you can reconsider your position on such international trade deals in the future.

Perhaps my mistake was being truthful when I filled out the space on my sheet with my question. “I’d like a response to some concerns on trade.” I don’t remember hearing ANY questions where trade was the central topic.

During the last half-hour of the “listening” session, I could see Kind sifting thru the pile of question sheets in front of him. Some were discreetly shuffled to the side. I suspect the word “trade” got my sheet shuffled to the side.

“I’ll be holding another listening session in La Crosse,” he said as time wound down. But I’m not going to waste my time showing up unless those of us who didn’t get called on are guaranteed to be at the front of the line next time.

Elections as Football

In eighth grade, I was a bench-warmer for my Catholic grade school’s football team. Our star receiver was a guy that was always a dick toward me on the school playground. In fact his name was Dick, and his friends called him Dickie.

One Saturday morning we were playing a road game. I was standing on the sidelines (as usual) when our quarterback threw a bomb to Dickie who then sprinted toward the end zone. As I was jumping up and down screaming, “go, Dickie, go!”, a little voice in my head reminded me, “hey, don’t you hate that guy?”

Indeed, I did hate that guy. But at that moment, he was part of my team and he was helping my team to win, and it made everyone on the team happy.

As a National Bernie delegate, that’s how I feel about voting for Hillary. I have problems with her hawkish foreign policy and her coziness with Wall Street. On the other hand, she has adopted most of Bernie’s playbook; and a growing number of “Bernie players” are on the team.

We all would have preferred to have Bernie as our quarterback, and we feel sore about how the choice was made during tryouts. But Hillary is now our quarterback, and there is nothing we can do now that will change that. For our team to win, we must respect and support our quarterback, just as I cheered for Dickie in eighth grade.

Remember, Bernie people: we’re winning! If we elect Hillary and flip the Senate, then Bernie Sanders becomes one of the most powerful people in Washington. So do his allies such as Elizabeth Warren and (hopefully) Russ Feingold. These are OUR people, and Hillary can’t do anything without their help and approval.

So this is no time to walk off the field in disgust. To support a third party this year is a waste of effort, like picking a high school team to win the Super Bowl. We need to make sure our team keeps the ball. Letting it fall to the other team would be a disaster.

With our players on the field, and the quarterback running our plays… that puts us in a good position to get our quarterback on the field next season.

The game doesn’t end on election day. That’s when the second half begins.

Hi Mom!

I grew up reading MAD magazine, and a common element of portrayals of crowd shots on TV was someone holding a sign that said, “Hi Mom!” I started thinking about this after coming home from the Democratic National Convention, around the time the emails and text messages started coming in that started with, “I saw Obbie on…”

The first such message came from RoZ’s brother on the Sunday evening after the convention. He had seen me in a report on a Showtime political show, and offered the following image:

onShowtime

I remembered the camera coming by as I sat along the aisle during roll call Tuesday night, which was confirmed in the brief video clip he sent along to show the context… a clip where my mug was visible for about a quarter-second.

So while my brother-in-law was ribbing me about my “fifteen minutes of fame”, it wasn’t even fifteen frames, and most people didn’t even notice.

I found some other stuff while looking around for a video that I still haven’t found. On the first night, I was in the second row up from the main floor and watched as a CBS News crew set up to interview someone in the first row, directly in front of me. While the crew was live, I remembered this advice from George Carlin:

This is something you can do for practical…humor. Do this on television; if you can get into a kind of a side of a television story…, the kind of thing where you’re not the center of attention ’cause they’ll edit you out if you do this as the center speaker. You must be on the sideline. And what you do is you don’t say this, but you move your lips to it. And what you move your lips to is- “I hope all you stupid ******* lip readers are looking in!”

So I tried that. I also mouthed the words, “Hi, Rozie.” As the crew was setting up, I sent her a text that read, “go to CBS,” and a few minutes later a text came back that read, “I just saw you, love.” I never did find any video of the interview that took place right in front of me that night, but while looking for it I found this:

noTPP_night1

This was found in the online version of USA Today (embedded in an article about the hell we raised at Ron Kind’s appearance before the Wisconsin delegation breakfast on Wednesday). While the guy to my left was going ape-shit every time a speaker mentioned Hillary’s name, every camera in the building seemed to converge upon him.

The next day, a friend emailed us a smartphone-picture of a page from the dead-tree version of the New York Times containing the same picture (Page B4 on Wed, 7/27). On Monday of this week, we received the actual paper in the mail, so I upgraded the picture a bit:

NYT_20160727_B4_combo

Unfortunately, the caption said the picture was taken outside. A correction was requested, and one was issued about a week after the story ran.

A picture caption on June 27 with the Economic Scene column, about the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, misidentified the location of the photograph showing delegates to the Democratic National Convention protesting the agreement. It was taken on the floor of the convention hall, the Wells Fargo Center — not outside the building.

Did they really say “June 27” when the image was published on July 27? The Old Grey Lady is slipping.

Relaxing at home one evening last week, we watched one of Bill Maher’s shows from convention week, and during the “New Rules” segment we saw this:

onBillMaher

It looks like I was trying really hard to make it clear that I was not with this guy.

Just to complete the collection of what I’ve found so far is this one that I came across yesterday (Tuesday):

Bernie-Sanders-Supporters-Delegates-DNC-AP-640x480

I was there for four days, but nearly all the pictures I find of myself in the media were taken within seconds of each other. And the only reason I show up at all is because I was sitting next to a camera magnet.

I know there are at least three videos out there where I was directly interviewed on-camera. The first was taken on the second day while I was sitting on the aisle in my green & gold tie-dye, but I have no idea who the crew was with. On the fourth day I was interviewed in the hallway by “Italian TV”, and on the floor by “Norwegian TV”. If anyone happens to have copies of these videos, I’d love to see them, if only to find out whether they translated my comments correctly.

Now that I’m home, seeing myself in the media isn’t that much of a thrill relative to the feeling I get when I watch news reports as DNC events reverberate thru the country. For instance, I keep seeing clips of Michelle Obama or the Khan couple, and as I realize how these events are now part of political history, it blows me away to remember that I was actually there.