BERNIE or HILLARY… or BOTH?

by Kevin L Miller

I just read a quote from Robert Reich (secretary of the treasury under Clinton) about the current choice between Hillary and Bernie, that I find insightful:

“This election is about changing the parameters of what’s feasible and ending the choke hold of big money on our political system. I’ve known Hillary Clinton since she was 19 years old, and have nothing but respect for her. In my view, she’s the most qualified candidate for president of the political system we now have. But Bernie Sanders is the most qualified candidate to create the political system we should have, because he’s leading a political movement for change. The upcoming election isn’t about detailed policy proposals. It’s about power – whether those who have it will keep it, or whether average Americans will get some as well.”

Hillary has been saying that Bernie is an idealist who cannot possibly accomplish his goals, while she is the hard-nosed pragmatist who knows the system and how to get things done. Well… She’s right. She IS the system, so she should certainly know it by now. But the system doesn’t work. Politics doesn’t work anymore. The environment is in the toilet. Climate change is threatening the very survival of all life on earth. The top 20 richest Americans hold as much wealth as the bottom 50%. The entire established social contract is anachronistic and broken and leading us to destruction. As Hillary is suggesting, we may have very little chance of changing the fundamental workings of society in a way that might save us, but don’t we have to TRY at least?

Bernie photo

Hillary is way more presidential than Bernie. No doubt about it. She knows how to evade reporters’ questions and appear unperturbed under fire. Bernie doesn’t look like any president of the USA that I’ve ever seen, and that’s exactly what I like about him. He just tells the plain unvarnished truth as he sees it, and those pronouncements from him have not changed in 30 years. By contrast, Hillary’s positions seem to reverse with every shift in the breeze, according to what is politically expedient, whether you want to talk about the KXL Pipeline, gay marriage, foreign trade, or you name it. We cannot trust that her positions today will still be the same tomorrow, because they certainly don’t sound like what she was saying yesterday. How can anyone trust a leader like that?

I was already a big fan of Bernie for years before he announced his intention to run for the nomination. I remember writing to friends many months before he declared, that I wished he would run, and they indicated that they didn’t really know who he was. Almost nobody knew who he was, and a lot of people who did, considered him a joke. He started with terrific odds against him and has risen to tie Hillary in the Iowa polls and beat her handily in the NH polls. And he has done this without a political PAC or dark money or giant Wall Street contributions of any kind, but with very small donations from millions of Americans. This unlikely candidate… this frumpy, grumpy, gravel-voiced, bald-headed, unpolished Jewish social democrat who will not compromise the truth… has already proven that he can beat the odds with his unconventional tactics. If he can do that, then maybe… just maybe… he can also lead the masses in changing the system enough to give humanity a fighting chance at survival.

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For me the choice is clear. I’m voting for Bernie’s idealism in the primaries. Obviously, if Hillary wins the nomination, I won’t have any choice but to vote for her in the general election, because turning over the nation and the world to a President Trump or Cruz would spell the end of all hope. But I’ll feel a whole lot better about our chances if we inaugurate Bernie as our next president, because I am confident that he will do everything in his power not to sell the masses to the highest bidder, and put all of his energy into moving us toward sanity and survival. If we can’t vote for that, then we’re in very big trouble. And besides… the majority of major polls are showing that Bernie would beat Trump and Cruz by a much wider margin than Hillary. Voting for Bernie in the primaries turns out to be the practical thing to do.

Let’s be practical and vote for the idealistic candidate — Bernie! — Peace, – Kevin

 

 

BERNIE OR HILLARY: WHAT DO THE HEAD AND THE HEART HAVE TO SAY?

By Paul M. Lewis

Next Monday, the 1st of February, 2016, we begin—and here, you choose how best to characterize it—either: 1) the democratic process of selecting a candidate from each party to run for the presidency; or 2) the giant circus act, including legions of clowns and endless pratfalls; or 3) all hell breaking loose. Also known, of course, as the Iowa caucuses. And soon after that, on Feb. 9th, we will get the results of the first actual primary voting, when New Hampshire holds its election.

I’ll leave it to another time to wonder about the sagacity and utility of the whole process of selecting candidates, of why two states with so few people and so little diversity get to set the stage for the debate (note that Iowa is 92% white, and New Hampshire is 94% white—hardly a reflection of America as a whole). More important and germane for the moment is the question of who the candidates actually are. But I also won’t bother—for now anyway—with the Republicans, as I consider them to be virtually a lost cause. Does it matter if Trump or Cruz wins in either of these places? The former is a blowhard of a buffoon, who touts overly simplistic answers to complex and weighty questions of policy and practice, while the latter presents himself as a rigid and doctrinaire authoritarian, with frighteningly xenophobic and jingoistic tendencies.

That leaves me with Hillary and Bernie to think about. And as a lifelong Democrat anyway, it’s only right that I do so. I will admit to having not paid as much attention to the contest as I should have, indeed, as much as I have done in years past. My partner and I have been preoccupied for months with matters of family, specifically with eldercare and its endless and enervating demands of what is best to do, how it should be paid for, and if what’s provided, in the end, really is sufficient. But this too is a topic for another time.

The question remains, am I for Hillary, or for Bernie? And how should I reply to the endless requests for money I’ve gotten on my email every day without fail from both the Clinton and the Sanders campaigns. So far, I have to admit, I haven’t donated a single dollar.

So, how to respond, especially when I fear that I haven’t done enough of my homework yet to feel as though I’ve fully plumbed the ins and outs of either of their policy positions? Of course, I know in a general way who is who, and what they more or less stand for. Hillary is the middle-of-the-road candidate, pragmatic and practical, who knows how to get things done, and who isn’t too afraid to crack a few heads along the way. While Bernie is more the ideologue, a guy who doesn’t shy away from calling himself a socialist, almost a dirty word in American politics—or at least so it has been up until now—and who stands for lots of things that I like, such as a single-payer healthcare system, the breakup of too-big-to-fail banks, free higher education, etc.

But Hillary poses a question about Bernie that is not irrelevant: if elected, would he be able to work within the system, especially if, as seems likely, at least one of the houses of Congress remains in Republican control? And if both are under GOP domination, he would be stymied on virtually all counts. Of course, the same question about ability to work with a Republican controlled Congress could be posed in regard to Hilary, as much as she apparently thinks she could do so, or at least that she would not be so utterly shut out by the Republicans as he (perhaps its own dubious and uncertain assumption).

To an extent, I’m beginning to feel as though this is coming down to a debate between the head and the heart. I have to admit that my own more pragmatic side leans a little bit toward Hillary. I keep hearing that nagging inner voice of reason, so-called anyway, saying things like: “Bernie would never be able to pull in that vital one-third of people in the general election, the Independents, who will ultimately decide the race. So why risk voting for him as a candidate and sending those middle-of-the-road voters running straight into the arms of Trump’s shallow and overly simplistic answers, to say nothing of his racism, or to Cruz’s totalitarian extremism?”

The other more idealistic, and dare I say more hopeful, side of me wonders why I shouldn’t vote for a candidate who finally embodies some of the values I have long cherished, but always thought too far outside of the mainstream of American politics. Isn’t this my one chance to do so, maybe my last and only opportunity to side with a guy who has the guts to say what needs to be said, and damn the consequences?

Not that even Bernie is without his flaws, mind you. His take on some issues related to race, for example, leave something to be desired. As the cogent and insightful commentator, Ta-Nehisi Coates, said recently writing for The Atlantic magazine: “Sanders’s basic approach is to ameliorate the effects of racism through broad, mostly class-based policies…This is the same ‘A rising tide lifts all boats’ thinking that has dominated Democratic anti-racist policy for a generation.” But it hasn’t worked, as anyone can see who looks at the still enormous disparity in economic opportunity between the races in this country. As Coates goes on to point out: “We now know that for every dollar of wealth white families have, black families have a nickel…We know that in a city like Chicago, the wealthiest black neighborhood has an incarceration rate many times worse than the poorest white neighborhood.” These are specifically racial, not just class, divisions, and Bernie has not addressed them. Neither has Clinton, it could well be argued, nor any other candidate in the race, for that matter. This is Bernie we’re speaking of, though, and haven’t we come to expect more of him?

But, in regard to Bernie, is it wise to think that the good ought to be the enemy of the perfect? Furthermore, should we even consider questions of pragmatism when it comes to choosing a candidate? If you don’t have somebody you can believe in, someone whom you can get excited about, someone you’re willing to work for, or at very least whose campaign you’re willing to open your wallet for, then what chance does he, or she, have against boisterous and bloviating bigots?

So, this is where I’m at for the moment. I get it that a lot rides on who wins the upcoming presidential race. So much is at stake, from questions of global climate change, to international policy as it relates to Iran, China, Russia, and the Middle East, to immigration, to healthcare, to the economy, and even potentially to new justices for the Supreme Court. More still could be added to this list, big questions having to do with race and class, education and employment, the use or abuse of public lands, and on and on.

So, do I follow my head or my heart? That really is the question. And I have to admit; I don’t know the answer yet. I love much of what Bernie stands for, and I at least like many of Hillary’s positions. But who could win, and who could best govern if they do win? For me, given our odd and dysfunctional primary system wherein the most populous state gets the last chance to vote for a candidate, it may well be a moot point. By the time we Californians cast our ballots on June 7th, it might all be settled anyway. Just in case, though, it’s probably time for me to try to sort this head-heart thing out once and for all. And as soon as I figure out how to do that, I’ll be sure to let you know.

 

THE BIG CON

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Living deep in the woods of South Central PA offers some respite against the constant onslaught of “The Big Con,” which is so all-encompassing that it is hard to see until we step back, become still, and gain some quiet perspective.

by Kevin L Miller

Maria Konnikova’s book “The Confidence Game” is right up my alley. It’s all about how con artists succeed and the ways in which all of us are susceptible to their manipulations. It dovetails very neatly with a big topic that I have been mulling over for months now — how we all get schnookered into the biggest confidence game of them all: “The Social Order.” Back in the ’60s, we counterculture types used to call it “The System,” and we looked for ways to “turn on, tune in, and drop out.” It took me 50 years to get there, but I am finally a hermit in the woods, turning on, tuning in and dropping out of what I consider to be an enormous, elaborate LIE — “The Grand Social Contract.” It isn’t real. It’s a con, designed by wealthy, powerful sociopaths at the top of the corporate/ military/ industrial complex to persuade us to give our lives to their even greater enrichment and aggrandizement. And for my money, you may as well throw in organized religion as well. God! I wish I had figured it out 40 or 50 years ago. But I’m a slow study and a late bloomer, I guess. Now, at age 66, I’m finally waking up.

For me, one of the key passages in “The Confidence Game” is: “Human beings don’t like to exist in a state of uncertainty or ambiguity. When something doesn’t make sense, we want to supply the missing link. When we don’t understand what or why or how something happened, we want to find the explanation. A confidence artist is only too happy to comply — and the well-crafted narrative is his absolute forte.

The “Social Contract” is the comforting narrative that assures our anxious hearts that if we play by the rules of “The System” everything will seem real, right, and secure… as it should be. If we behave in school and don’t question our teachers and all the assumptions behind our education, we will position ourselves for a good career in a respected profession. During those professional years, if we buy all the corporate/ military/ industrial and organized religion cons, and promise to be good team players who question nothing, we will achieve the “American Dream” of material comfort. Never mind that the 20 richest Americans hold more of the wealth than the lowest 50% of the population. We are told that we should not mind that the top 1% are getting exponentially wealthier and more powerful while the middle class is disappearing. After all… We have our home, car, TV, digital gadgets, appliances and credit cards. We should be satisfied. What’s good for the wealthiest will trickle down to us. A lie.

Miller Walking Proudly in Our Winter Coats 2004 11x14 018

“The System” promises us that if we put away a lot of money for “security in old age” and buy into one of a million “Disneylands of Death” that dot the American landscape like a pox, we will have a fulfilling old age and a pleasant death, especially if we invest in long-term care insurance. Instead, we wake up one morning to discover, as my 91-year-old Dad says, that we have “fallen into a trap from which there is no escape.” We are prisoners with no rights or freedoms in a beautifully landscaped and well-appointed death camp that offers very few comforts or joys in life. I know. I am living half of each week in one of those death camps now, trying to make life bearable for my captive parents, who, like the rest of the world playing the game by all the rules, will give up their entire excruciatingly saved fortune to pay exorbitant prices for this lack of sufficient care and profoundly low quality of life. It’s all a LIE!

The system is a LIE — a con game — a charade, and we have all been taken in by it. One of the clearest proofs that it is a con is what happens when you try to drop out. People around you get very angry. They tell you that you CANNOT do that. They feel rejected and criticized because you are choosing not to play the game anymore — the game to which they have given everything. Ultimately many of them reject you, because you are so threatening to their belief that “The System” is real and worthy of the sacrifice of every life. They shake their heads and whisper amongst themselves that you have lost your mind. You have become unbalanced. If you try to tell them that the Emperor is wearing no clothes — that they are working for the benefit of sociopathic con artists — they turn away and vote against their own best interests, for all the candidates of “The System” — Trump, Cruz, Hillary, Bush. And when the fabric of “The System” seems about to unravel, they do what G W Bush told us to do. They “go shopping” and give all their money to “The Man” (another term we had for the perpetrators of the big con back in the ’60s.) Worst of all, the materialistic con game in which we have all invested our lives, has poisoned the Earth and insured our ultimate destruction. We have sold our children’s future, their birthright, to the highest bidders, and they are exercising their option to cash it in.

So what’s the answer? Well, there IS no answer ultimately except what is Ultimate — Spirit. But when it comes to daily life on this mud ball the answers are always within the questions. And until we become willing to endure our own anxiety and insecurity and dive into the process of questioning everything every day, we will live a lie and perpetuate the con. Unless we become willing very soon to turn away from “The System” as it currently operates, and create an entirely new kind of lifestyle in harmony with the Earth and Spirit, humanity will become victims of The 6th Mass Extinction and the massive con that we call our “Social Contract.”

I’m as susceptible as anyone to the seductive lie of materialism, if not more so. After all, I worked for over 25 years as a facilitator, artist, and consultant to Fortune 500 companies seeking to invent new products and strategies to perpetuate “The System” of omnivorous materialism. When I get hungry enough, I still do some of that, if the specific project is not too heinous. The big con still takes me in, now and then, in all sorts of ways. It’s hard to divorce myself from the ubiquitous “Social Order.” That’s why I’ve chosen the life of a hermit in the woods. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me a million times… maybe I ought to consider a different way of life and a new system of “reality” that doesn’t surrender all my treasure and blood to the sociopathic con artist hierarchy. Yes, this choice has left me floating alone in space. But I can see things more clearly from here, and the stillness is exquisite.

I encountered a friend the other day who was wearing a T-shirt that said, “If I’m not moving, I’m dead.” I looked at him in his T-shirt and said, “That’s the difference between you and me. I’m not fully alive until I become still.” We are opposites. I don’t know what the answers are, but I am finding life lived amongst the questions more and more compelling and rewarding. The deeper the questions, the more profound and beautiful the stillness.

Peace, -k

HOW RICH DO YOU HAVE TO BE?

By Paul M. Lewis

Only some five or six years ago, it took close to 400 rich people to equal the wealth of one-half of the world’s population. And as astounding as this may in itself be, the numbers that register today go even beyond that. In 2016, the amount of riches held by just 62 individuals equals that of 3.5 billion people in the world combined.

The Gateses, the Buffets, the Slims, and the Kochs of the world are not just rich, they are so super-, mega-, ultra-rich that the money they have could—and to an extent does—bury much of the population of the globe. At these levels, the notion of wealth begins to blur a bit in the minds of most of us. We are no longer talking just about dollars and cents, that is, bills and coins, but instead we begin to enter into the realm of exotic financial tools that expand exponentially what we normally think of as money. For example, derivatives, monetary instruments that allow parties to create contracts between themselves for the purpose of benefiting from underlying assets or options such as futures, are worth far more than mere money, at least as we normally think of it.

The amount of simple hard cash in circulation in the world amounts to something on the order of about 5 trillion dollars. If we consider only that figure, these 62 super-rich men (it is mostly men, not surprisingly) own about 1.75 trillion dollars. However, if we move on to these other ways of valuing wealth in the world, what they are worth is far greater. It’s estimated that the derivatives market alone may be valued at close to 630 trillion dollars. No one knows exactly how much of this kind of wealth the mega-rich own, because it is often held in secret and in accounts that are closed to government scrutiny, and therefore to taxation. But we would probably not go too far afield in guessing that a very large percentage of derivative wealth is held by these same Gateses, Buffets, Slims, Kochs, and so on, and of course in the portfolios of multinational corporations like Exxon, Royal Dutch Shell, Berkshire Hathaway, GE etc. Bill Gates alone, the richest individual man in the world, is said to be worth $77 billion. If we take the Koch brothers together (and we know they often act in tandem, at least politically), they are even richer, at a combined wealth of about $80 billion. And if we are talking dynasties, the Walton family of Wal-Mart fame, taken as a whole, is valued at well north of $140 billion.

What are we to make of this kind of wealth, and of the ever expanding, yawning chasm between the super-rich, the middle class, and the super-poor? Most people in the world believe that you get money by working. When I was a boy in the late 40’s and early 50’s, living in an even then dying industrial town in upstate New York, you attended high school, graduated, and then went to work in one of the local factories. My brother worked on an assembly line that turned out radiators for the Ford Company; one of my uncles worked in a local steel mill and another in an Army arsenal that happened to be located nearby as a toolmaker. My mother sold women’s lingerie in Pearl’s Department Store in Troy, New York. She came home with $35.00 a week, and my father, who worked in a sandpaper factory, took home $65.00 a week.

Even in those years, it was not easy to raise a family of three kids on a weekly income of one hundred dollars. But that was, and is, wealth compared to the poorest of the poor, who today subsist on $1.25 a day. Many such people cannot find what we might think of as actual jobs, but live instead on scavenging or begging. If you are lucky enough to have a bit of land, you scratch out a living for yourself and your family through subsistance farming, if the rains come on time, or in the hope that not too much rain comes, and if you can afford a bit of seed in order to plant a crop for next year.

When we consider these figures and the depth of poverty so many people live in, we often think of it in moral terms. And undoubtedly there is a kind of moral framework in which we ought to consider such disparities. Questions of justice and injustice spring to mind. Is it right for such enormities of wealth to be concentrated in 62 men, while billions of people barely have enough to buy a loaf of bread or a bowl of rice?

But as crucial as this viewpoint may be, we must also consider issues beyond justice and injustice. Questions related to the general economy and to politics also arise. When so much money is concentrated in so few people, there is that much less wealth available to invest in the lives of the have-nots (yes, in this sense, it is a kind of a zero sum game). People without resources cannot buy things they need; they cannot purchase food and clothing for themselves, or afford a clean and decent place to live, to say nothing of needed medical attention and an education so that their children will have a chance at a better life than they have had. As such, the cycle of poverty repeats itself endlessly, and the poor not only remain poor, but they become more and more desperate. Additionally, this lack of buying power on the part of so many actually starves the market itself; when sellers are no longer able to move their wares, they stop buying from suppliers, and a downward spiral begins to set in.

Neither do desperate people make for a stable social order. Why should they? Why try to participate in a political system that appears to exclude you, that criminalizes you for being poor, or that ostracizes you from obtaining the bare necessities of life? And while factors like these do not fully explain dissident terrorist groups such as ISIS, they do go a long way toward helping us understand why young men and women feel they have nothing to lose, why they feel hopeless and enraged, and why they may be prone to follow authoritarian demagogues who promise ascendency in this world and reward in the next, if only they will believe, join up, and follow proper orders.

Although the world-wide stock markets and related money markets, where the real wealth is made, have taken a bit of a beating of late, even so they have risen enormously over the last 5 to 6 years. In a similar vein, CEO compensation has increased by more than 40% during that same period of time, while the wages of every day working people have remained either flat, or actually fallen, in real dollars. “The poor,” as one Catholic priest once told me many years ago, “we shall always have with us.”

He was not wrong. There will always be a disparity between people and how much money they have. To a large extent, such disparities are fueled by things like family wealth (those who come from money have a far greater chance of making money), as well as race, class, and educational levels. For better or for worse, these are things we all live with. But if we do not find some way of better disseminating what might be called “wealth opportunity,” if not actual wealth, if we do not begin to grapple with providing people with the chance to earn a living that not only gives them daily necessities, but one they can take some pride in as well, then we are dooming our world to ever increasing instability, insecurity, and terrorism.

In the end, an economy in which less than 1% of the population owns half of the world’s wealth is not merely unfair and unjust, it is also a highly dangerous world for all of us to live in.