I was moved to write what follows after reading a blog post from the always-entertaining writer, Clay Shirky. The post was entitled, “The Collapse of Complex Business Models.” Reflecting on it, helped me to re-frame how I think about the sheer “scale” of the various problems that we face both as a people and as a nation.

Shirky takes his cue from anthropologist Joseph Tainter, who in his 1998 book, “The Collapse of Complex Societies” makes the argument, that when societal structures reach advanced enough levels of complexity, they begin to lose the capacity to extricate themselves from the burden of their own strangling entanglements. “Hopelessly snarled” – is this what we are experiencing today? Clearly, the argument is there to be made.

Somewhere in the past, success is what initiates this process; a surplus of resources, environmental advantages, advanced technologies, a more skilled labor force  – all these forces (and more) work to expand the sophistication and methods of those organizations which then use them to innovate and advance their competitive agenda. For some period of time, it proves to be a successful formula that then gets broadly propagated. But gradually, the returns start to diminish, and procedures that were once quick and efficient grow lumbering and wasteful. No longer innovative or dynamic, the escalation of inefficiencies now requires more external subsidizing and rhetorical bolstering to maintain the same semblance of progress. The focus of activity shifts, as it has in our time, away from true productivity for the betterment of communities and the nation and towards profits for profit’s sake and for the benefit of the already advantaged and influential.

You know the beast is in critical condition when judges and lawyers take the place of doctors and nurses at its bedside. Those in charge of the health of the nation are replaced by those in charge of the wealth. Gutting the beast, and getting their share before someone else does, is what has brought them together in this elite death-circle. Strip it of its assets is the call, and if you can’t sell it whole, then sell it in pieces. It is too late to worry about anything as ephemeral as the “people” or planetary sustainability or moral responsibility; it’s time to act.

Do you need further proofs? Look at our political system. We hear these inane debates over how big government should be or how much control it should exercise over the lives of its citizens. Conservatives claim big government is an evil, while liberals claim that evil is a necessary one. Both positions are nothing more than sales pitches. Both sides of the political spectrum know what they have on their hands is an obese bureaucracy fattened by a lobbyists, that cannot help but consume both positions with indiscriminate and impartial fervor. The only question to be decided is who gets a bigger cut of the profits today! When it’s their turn, Republicans want those profits to go only to the already well off, claiming some Darwinian justification while at the same time dressing it in obsequious Christian fundamentalism. Democrats on the other side of the same hand, want to spread the profits around to themselves too, while giving lip service to the so-called “middle-class,” and lazily genuflecting in the direction of the poor and the disenfranchised to whom they offer a measure of (mostly inefficient) social programs. While the Democratic gameplan may be more to your liking.. it certainly is to mine; neither plan is really effective enough to unravel the knot of systemic imbalances or to stave off an inevitable collapse into chaos.

Consider the outright cost today of running for elected office. Thanks to our Supreme Court and their Citizens United decision, the overwhelming cost of running means that NO one (neither Democrat nor Republican) who ultimately wins office will have escaped capitulating their principles in some ritual act of compromise and surrender so complete that it would surely make truth and justice weep. But they do it, because this is the way things are – this is the way of the world. This is the new definition of “success” and of “winning” as defined by modern-day capitalism. It is common knowledge that lobbyists are the primary authors of many laws that get enacted. Politicians, too busy raising money, simply sign off on them. The Defense Industry, the Prison Industry, Energy Companies, Big Pharma, Big Insurance – and the Lady Gaga of them all – Wall Street; these are the real stars – the big “winners” of the doomed spectacle game show, for these industries and their chosen representatives are the ones who pull the strings at the same time that they unapologetically bring shame on what was once a justly proud nation with an envied form of democratic government.

Did we think that Obama would somehow bring his strong and swift sword down on the Gordian knot that is America today? Perhaps we did. I know I did. And I thought my lovely starry-eyed friend Marla (who has spent the last year joyously traveling through India) was being overly skeptical when she said that there would be little or no change under Obama. Now, it is not entirely true that there has been little or no change. (Check out the wonderful “What the Fuck has Obama Done So Far?” website for examples of what has been accomplished.) Indeed, there were many good regulations or revisions to older regulations passed in these past two years that reached out to and helped many previously under-served segments of the population. But in the bigger battles – in those battles that truly mattered, the ones that might actually shift the balance of power within society, what victories have we seen?

I am afraid, if we are to go in search of victories then we will have to seek out those won by the true protectors of justice, the ordinary people of this country who daily rise above hard-pressed circumstances to give generously of their heart and soul to their families and to their communities. This is the America that Obama spoke to so successfully in his presidential campaign, and it is this same America that now looks upon the coming collapse and realizes that perhaps the beast was more than any one man could slay, and that being president of the United States, even a stout-hearted freedom fighter president means governing over a fractured nation that no longer believes that individual heroics can effect the changes necessary to resurrect this land of ours from the specter cast by this dark and doubtful cloud of complexity.

Look at the Obama Health Care “compromise.” Other countries manage to run efficient and low-cost health care programs that are at the same time popular with its citizens. Why can’t we do the same? Because OUR health care plan had to be engineered to align with the arcane and entrenched health insurance industry. Every stakeholder within that vast industry had to be heard from and deferred to. So this well-intentioned helping hand to the poor and the uninsured came out of committee wrapped in so many layers of compromise, that any hope of its thick pork-stained fingers being able to pick up any kind of coin was doomed from the start. The only thing this helping hand is designed to pick up is a brick of gold that will go first to the health insurance industry who will then be responsible for doling it out to those in need. Right. Just like BP took charge of the oil spill – for the benefit of the people of Louisiana. When only a handful of profit-hungry corporations control nearly all our media channels, is it any wonder that what comes to us via radio and television is less “fair and balanced” than it is obfuscated and incendiary?

Last winter it was announced that the top ten health insurers reported over $9.3 billion in profits for the first three quarters of 2010. On average, their profits went up 41 percent from the year before. The staggering beast, firmly under the control of its corporate handlers grows increasingly single-minded in its role as capitalist predator.  Another study from the end of last year says that charitable giving decreased by more than a third between 2007 and 2009 among the country’s wealthiest. Clearly, them what’s got are hunkering down in anticipation of the increased chaos and uncertainty to come, while them what’s don’t got, are reeling and living in fear as to when the next flying fist out of nowhere will hit them. Meanwhile, the old beast plods along – his ticker tape heart on life support, doing what it must to survive and prosper – but knowing its options are as limited as its ability to change course. Though instinctively we know it’s the end of the line for the beast, very few are inclined to admit it publicly, because to do so would single them out and so jeopardize their access to the goose that even today is laying golden eggs at an unprecedented rate. Capitulation on extending the Bush tax cuts was a punishing blow to fiscal responsibility. What further signs do we need? What further proof must we see before we admit to ourselves that the America of our dreams is now for most people more nightmare than dream, and that the only way out is to let the beast die, so that the spirit within it might rise again in some new simpler form?

For most of us who have neither the ambition nor the desire to join in the gutting of the beast, what’s our excuse? What is it that keeps us from admitting the truth that a system that continues to serve only a few, does not a righteous alternative make? Come on, at least you and I.. WE must admit it. If we are to press on, we must more actively seek out signs of truth. And I’m not talking here about truth with a capital T. No, it’s just plain old simple common sense truth I have in mind. Now I cannot, anymore than you can, presume to know with any certainty what is or is not true. But I can (just like you can) by doing a little research and by following the money trail, see just who stands to benefit from obfuscation of their financial or political connections and who doesn’t. We know that some ridiculous percentage (maybe 37% I recall hearing once) of the American public believes that one day they too will be wealthy. So, we should not be surprised to see this percentage of the people at least temporarily deluded into some kind of self-loathing Stockholm Syndrome-like admiration and support of the wealthy and their elitist agendas. But for the rest of us, who harbor no such illusions that require our identification with the oppressor – what’s our excuse, and more than that, what’s our truth?

Fortunately for us, the way out is a lot simpler than the way in. On the way out, we turn away from the media-wide soul traps of advertisements and lies, and turn towards solutions and actions that are simpler, more sustainable and mostly right there in front of us. We – you and I, must become more skilled at separating fact from fantasy, and in distinguishing shared vision from mass delusion. Along the way, we must also look for ways to opt-out (however we can) from social, political and cultural processes that seek to enslave us in support of that dying beast that will surely take us with it, down to it final resting place, alongside all the other great but now collapsed civilizations of the past. If we and our children are to survive and prosper, it must be on a simpler and more transparently human basis. That is my wish for us all. May it one day be so.


I found it interesting that in the film they showed before Obama’s acceptance speech that no mention was made of the fact that he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review, or of his obviously sterling academic career. Not that academic excellence is any indicator of leadership potential, the omission was nevertheless an indication of just how concerned the Obama camp is that their candidate not appear “too” smart; an “egghead’ or some elite Mr. Smartypants.

So, now we must spend the next 8 weeks witnessing the dumbing down of an obviously super-intelligent candidate. Of course the guy is “uppity.” He’s uppity like Kobe Bryant is uppity – like Jay Z is uppity. Obama’s obviously great at what he does – and the silly set of contortions that he must now go through NOT to appear superior, is just one more indication of what lame-ass gossip orgies our political contests have become.

mccain_palinPutting McCain together with the remarkably unqualified Sarah Palin means that the next 8 weeks will be about as much fun as picking up dimes with woolen mittens. Count on the Republicans to keep the debate and attention focused on issues that constantly pander to that eternal starter set of ideals; patriotism, loyalty and a sentimental attachment to tradition.

If we are lucky, Obama/Biden will prove triumphant on election day, and these next agonizing 8 weeks will be cut loose for that long slide to memory’s graveyard. But as my more cynical friends keep reminding me – NEVER underestimate the extent to which the party of Cheney and Rove will go to hold onto power. This is the one area where they truly excel – at making sure that truth never gets a minute of playing time.

The moments when Obama was landing punches in his acceptance speech were absolutely exhilarating – like he was marking a spot on the Republican’s jaw and then actually holding the elusive wraith still long enough to smack it square – just like Popeye. Hoo-rah! We can only hope there will be more moments like that. Obviously, having Sarah Palin dancing around in the sexy red trunks will mean that no hard punches will be allowed in that contest. Steely-jawed Biden – just itching for a fight – has been given a real kick in the nuts with this deeply cynical pick.

There is no doubt in my mind, that we will look back on the Democratic primaries between Obama and Hilary as the best of political times – our proudest moment in years – a race between two highly intelligent and highly qualified candidates.

What we have to look forward to now is a contest that can only prove notable by how bad it gets. It will never be good. The match-ups simply will not allow it. It will be like having Roger Federer playing tennis against Maury Povich. And forget about the Vice-Presidential contest – that’s like LeBron James playing hoops against Cameron Diaz. But while the contest may blow, don’t for a moment think that Maury and Cameron won’t score points. They will, because as usual, the game won’t be decided  – like real sporting contest are – on the basis of skill, but rather how popularity contests are decided – by dumb sentimentalities.

Is it any wonder that Obama has to hide his intelligence? Intelligence brings few victories in American politics – it is the gift that dare not speak its name. That’s just us. We like our leaders dumb and constantly pandering to our lowest instincts. Thus we can always kid ourselves into thinking that they are no better than we are.

As I see it, the Democratic presidential race began sliding downhill right after Super Tuesday, and last week’s Pennsylvania debate offered mind-numbing proof that the slide has yet to hit bottom.  Coming off Super Tuesday with the winner still undecided – the deeper issues surrounding gender and race deemed too complex to profitably pursue, the press settled in for a protracted battle by fixing their cross-hairs on the soft target of personality, thereby stepping into what has come to be called “gotcha” politics. In this form of bear-baiting, every word and action is scrutinized not for its intended meaning, but for its possible innuendo.

obama_wright Who you are and what you say or do is not nearly as incendiary as who you once knew and what they once said or did. On this score, any and all candidates will be equally vulnerable. Hillary’s associations with lobbyists and deals struck with the super-wealthy are just as ready to picked apart as Obama’s youthful associations with more radical elements of the left and black communities. It’s just a matter of the press deciding which fish in the barrel get shot.

And, what do these associations prove? In most cases not much. Yes, they deserve mention, but not fixation – not unless there is provable guilt beyond association. And certainly when compared to what does matter; namely what deals have been or are being struck by the candidates right now? Who is beholding to whom right now? Positions on education, environment, healthcare and the economy? Let’s let the candidates’ voting records speak for themselves. Who voted for what and when? Who benefited from those various votes? When in doubt, follow the money; it rarely lies. Tossing around puffy cupcakes like “elitism” and “bitter” at us, without attaching specific definitions to them, is just a waste of time.

hillary_murdoch This type of exhausting and torturous media recycling requires our so-called “journalist” class to make evermore fantastical attempts to connect all the disconnected dots of a story. Do they connect? To most of them and to most of us, it doesn’t really matter. As Fox News has proven over and over again, the insinuation that they connect is enough to justify their constant repetition and the attendant flood of sponsorship dollars. And so it was, the battle charge was sounded, and the media, hot in pursuit of those nice fat ratings followed the wounded monster Hillary down the low-road – and from then till now, it’s been a steady diet of mudfights and bullshit.

Welcome to the world we deserve, my fellow Americans. And once a story takes off like the “bitter” one did, then it becomes source material for more of the same – a mad and recursive hyperbolic rush to see just how much of this recycled nonsense the public will swallow in any given 24 hour news cycle. And of course, enough of the public – at least that large segment whose intelligence has never exceeded anyone’s estimation, does in fact jump at the chance to toss their prospective leaders into the celebrity mudpit with Britney and Paris and good ol’ Bill Clinton. Feeding on such crap is the ultimate waste of time. Catering to that urge, and serving it up in ever more scandalous packaging, under the guise of “news” is the ultimate cynicism.

Our only hope in the face of such cynicism is that one by one, enough of us will say no more, and show our disdain for the status quo and for this sort of feeding frenzy reporting by calling out corruption for what it is and signaling our desire to put an end to its reign by electing to the toughest job in the world, someone who while not without faults, seems after months of intense scrutiny to be a pretty decent fella; one who is clearly far less corrupt than most politicians and far more intelligent than most people you or I know. That would be a remarkable and positive step and would indicate the rise of a citizenry finally ready to do something to change the way our country has been run for far too long. Let us see what we can make come to pass.

There was a fine article today in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Obama’s Touch of Class,” written by Thomas Frank – he of “What’s the Matter with Kansas” fame –

His last paragraph reads as follows..

“If Barack Obama or anyone else really cares to know what I think, I will simplify it all down to this. The landmark political fact of our time is the replacement of our middle-class republic by a plutocracy. If some candidate has a scheme to reverse this trend, they’ve got my vote, whether they prefer Courvoisier or beer bongs spiked with cough syrup. I don’t care whether they enjoy my books, or would rather have every scrap of paper bearing my writing loaded into a C-47 and dumped into Lake Michigan. If it will help restore the land of relative equality I was born in, I’ll fly the plane myself.”

He may not have banged the nail flat smack on the head, but Barack Obama, in his recent speech on race, did manage to courageously pound some light into some very dark and fear-filled corners.

He did this even though he knows how little “play” is available in the black and white American psyche. He took the high road nonetheless. He knows that 20 years of conservative flag-waving and mindless media chatter have left the political left mistrustful and exhausted and the political right reactionary and intolerant, but he chose to speak neither to the right or to the left, but rather to the heart of both.

A few more rounds of that kind of heartfelt truth-telling and Senator Obama may find himself addressing a new audience – an audience composed of those countless folks who have, in the numbing passage of the last eight years, given up altogether on political discourse. As I see it, it is truth-telling and truth-telling alone that might one day serve to awaken the sleeping giant that is the generous spirit at the heart of American democracy.

The moral high ground is there for Obama to take, if he can somehow manage to do the impossible, and keep his head above the rising cesspool of corruption and that so easily sucks the soul out of ambitious politicians.

That said, I was genuinely heartened by his recent speech, in that he sounded significantly less like a politician and noticeably more like a human being – a suffering human being, trying as each of us must, to make some sense of a complex and painful world.

Here’s a quote from the great Cornel West that I believe speaks to the larger dilemma. “The categories of optimism and pessimism don’t exist for me. I’m a blues man. A blues man is a prisoner of hope, and hope is a qualitatively different category than optimism. Optimism is a secular construct, a calculation of probability. Black folk in America have never been optimistic about the future – what have we had to be optimistic about? But we are people of hope. Hope wrestles with despair, but it doesn’t generate optimism. It just generates this energy to be courageous, to bear witness, to see what the end is going to be. No guarantee, unfinished, open-ended. I’m a prisoner of hope. I’m going to die full of hope…”

obama_hopeIt’s too soon to tell whether or not the response to his recent speech will begin to part the waters and so help push Obama far enough ahead of Hillary that the agonizing infighting might cease. More and more I feel it is time for her to give up the field – if only for the sake of the deeper sense of hope that the junior senator offers those most in need of it.

I read today that in September of 2006, Hillary voted against an amendment to ban the U.S. military’s use of cluster bombs – a brutal weapon that reserves its greatest damage on women and children. Obama voted for the ban. Is there any conscionable way to regard Hillary’s decision on this and many other war-related issues as anything other than expedient politics? I have great admiration for the woman as a courageous and indefatigable fighter, but I fear she has been speaking the language of politics so long, and is so conversant with its shady intricacies, that she will never be able to speak as Obama does, to the soul of the country or to ever truly help our nation put an end to what Dr. West has called this chilling “ice age” of power and greed. This is the change that we all most need to support.

Postscript: A little more truth-telling. I just came across this from Obama, when asked if he used marijuana… “I inhaled frequently” “That was the point.”

Ralph Nader’s recent announcement that he would once again run for President got me thinking back to the America of 2000 when Nader last ran –  then as now, as an advocate for “truth.”

Well, what was true then is even truer now.. America is no country for the truth.

Something dark and unfunny has happened to America in the last 8 years, since Ralph last cast his Lincolnesque shadow across the American landscape.

Somewhere in those first days of the Bush administration, the powers that run the corporations that control the legally elected officials who seem to run the show, decided that for better or  worse, this obvious dope, George W. Bush was to be our duly elected (well, kind of elected) leader, and that they and all their associated institutions and conglomerates would show this smirking frat-boy the respect and deference that is usually reserved for those who have actually done something to earn such respect.

According to their expedient philosophy, just having someone witless enough to be willing to “play” the president on TV was good enough, and if it was good enough for TV, then it would be good enough for radio, and thus good enough for newspapers and supermarket tabloids, and so on down the line. And as long as the sponsors were happy,  then for a while at least, the profits could flow unimpeded, because truth could simply be replaced by the much easier to manage “appearance” of truth.

And so that’s what happened, and a great sleep feel over the land. What once had been the subtle and discrete manipulation of truth, grew increasingly obvious and blatant, spreading across the land like a giant texas cow fart. But nobody said that or even dared to ask “What’s that stink?”-  because to do so would be unpatriotic and highly suspect.

And so day in and day out, the army of media “journalists” go out there and report on what the president and his administration “said” that day – just like it was real. And if there are any gaping disparities between what is said and what is done – well, what’s said gets preferential treatment. Why? Because it’s easier and doesn’t require investigation, and it’s wartime, and freedom is under attack, and that’s what we need to do to keep selling cupcakes – a happy story is what America needs to hear.

That was 8 years ago, and maybe it’s all over for America, so far as the truth goes. Maybe the days are gone when journalists will be allowed to seriously consider the disparities between words and actions.

John Stewart , Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher seem to get away with it. Why do you think they are listened to and admired so much more than so-called journalists? Because they approach the news not as journalists, but as comedians, and just like so many of us – with a sense of “disbelief” – as if to say, “Can you believe what that hammer-headed idiot said today?”

And we listen to them and we nod our heads and we can’t help but laugh because we know that least these guys are getting close to the truth. We know that real news got eaten up by money a while ago, just like politics did. Fake news – now there’s a new market opportunity for you. Who can be disillusioned by that?

Now, you and I both know at a deeper and personal level, that the truth is indestructible. It is after all who we are, and so it is intrinsic to each of us – “individually.” I know for myself, that if I want to, I can burrow into my RSS feeds where I will find pockets of crystalline logic and expert analysis, and there find others too, equally as pissed off as I am. I know you know this… I know that each of us knows this. But who we are as individuals is very different from who we are as a country.

That is why the main task of Corporate America is to constantly make you forget what you KNOW and instead listen to them tell you what you NEED.

That’s why the “truth” when it does appear, always shows up way below the radar, because that’s just where our corporate gatekeepers have relegated it. The truth maybe you can spy for 20 minutes between 4 am and sunrise on C-Span. The truth wouldn’t be the truth unless our corporate gatekeepers, and their happy advertiser henchman thought enough of it to bury it.

In “news” companies and in the board rooms of the sponsors that sustain those companies – truth is dolled out in very limited amounts – in such limited amounts in fact, that it mostly passes by unnoticed.

When will we see the day when some lone and heroic newsman stands up in a presidential news conference and and asks the President the one question that we all in truth secretly want to ask this leader of our country and of the free world, “Do you even have a clue what a demented fuck you are?”

An America where that kind of counter-terrorism could happen, is an America where school shooters might use angry words instead of guns to express their frustration.

An America where that could happen, is an America where the poor might feel that somebody somewhere out there understood the intensity of their pain.

An America where that could happen, is an America that might even be ready for someone as uncorrupt as Ralph Nader.

I think Ralph Nader is right about almost everything. Too bad he doesn’t look like George Clooney. Nope, he looks like Bullwinkle. Too bad he doesn’t give smooth evangelically-tinged speeches like Barack Obama. Nope, he talks like a depressed English professor with egg salad on his tie. Too bad he doesn’t have the cash of the energy, defense, pharmaceutical or insurance industries in his pocket like Hillary Clinton. Nope, he powers his lamps with wind energy and good intentions.

You know what I think? I think Ralph Nader is a gift to the human race.

In fact, I think that Ralph Nader is too great an American for a country like this.

That’s why I say America doesn’t deserve Ralph Nader.

And I don’t think that “we, as a people,” will deserve such a man as Ralph Nader until we are ready to get up off the mat and demand that truth be reinstated back into our lives.

America won’t deserve Ralph Nader until enough people demand that news not be what sells cupcakes, but what speaks truth to power.

In a world where that was true, I’d be all for Ralph Nader.

However, in a corrupt ass world where truth is a line of coke snorted off the ass of a hot NAFTA punta, who cares if you’re the most honorable kid in class, huh?  You’re not going to get listened to, and you’re not going to get laid, because that’s the way it was in high school, and that’s the way it is today. High school was when the really good bullshitters took charge of the pack. It’s those same bullshitters who run this county today – because as a country, high school is pretty much where most of us still live.

You see America is a land of great opportunity for good bullshitters – and as such when America looks in the mirror, it sees the bullshit it wants to see. It sees Baracks, and Hillary’s and Britneys and Lindsay’s. It sees people duke it out like on American Gladiators. It sees scandals and embarrassments. It sees petty corruption,  personal tragedy and upskirt photos, but just like the munchkins of Oz, the one thing it doesn’t want to see is what’s behind that curtain. Because what’s back there is not pretty, and it won’t make you feel good about being an American.

America doesn’t want to hear the truth — so save your breath Ralph. Spend your time writing a book, so that the 3 million people who love you for the Don Fucking Quixote you are, can have something to comfort them at night.

Don’t waste your time on this bullshit election.

The hopes of millions are being unnaturally shaken and stirred by their new flavor flav candidate, Barack Obama. Let them have their fantasies, Ralph. Let the new young millennial voters hit the pavement for this cool hipster guy. Let the guilty boomers feel the warmth of some good old fashioned and non-fattening hope.

Look Ralph, it’s absolutely true that no one is going to attack the “big” issues that you think we should talk about. That’s because they don’t want to. That’s the fucking truth. The country is a whole lot dumber than it was in 2000. Not individuals mind you. People individually are smarter than ever. They are so smart in fact, that they can calculate their own self-interest down to the penny and tell you which brand of compromise is right for them faster than you can say “locally-grown.” Face it, this whole game is way more locked-down today than it was back then. That’s why I read the other day in Time magazine that some company is selling a gold and jewel encrusted cellphone for $171,000 plus change. I mean, you’ve got to be pretty darn smart to be able to afford such an expensive gizmo, wouldn’t you say?

So, this is the way it is, Ralph. This is America today.

We are not going to see world class political and social thinking practiced by any of the major candidates in this election year. We are going to hear more of the same old pandering platitudes and baseless promises, all dolled up and “celebratized.”

Barack Obama is no more going to take a truncheon to the fat-headed and greedy corporations of American than John McCain is. And why? Because he needs their money to stay on TV – and to keep selling himself to America – just like “every” major candidate does. He’s a good guy I’m sure. He’s a smart guy. Smart enough to know that you don’t get elected  – not in the Alabama high school of America, by telling people the “truth.”

Not you of course, Ralph. You speak the truth. You did back then, you still do now. You are the curmudgeon candidate, the one who speaks the truth because he still believes we are a people who actually “deserve” the truth.

Not so, Sir Ralph of Corvair.. we are the people who truly deserved 8 years of proto-fascism as practiced by someone who might have been a Hitler – except he had none of Hitler’s talents. In fact, he had no talents at all – except of course, to follow orders.

And that’s why we deserved him. We get what we deserve in this country Ralph, and we don’t deserve you. The best we can hope for now is the lesser of multiple evils. Right now in America, that lesser of multiple evils is Barack Obama – and if the largely kind but confused people of this country elect him and if the corporate powers that run our daily lives ‘allow’ him to be elected, and if some right-wing hit squad doesn’t put a bullet in his hipster head, then I think we will have fewer dead soldiers, more minorities in schools and fewer drug-offenders in prison, “some” better version of healthcare for the uninsured, and maybe even a tax increase for the super-rich. That’s my hope anyway – call me delusional – I’m not the only one.

So, leave it alone Ralph – go write a book, start a blog, have a tasty cupcake – and leave America to play the lottery and wallow in its ever expanding pool of hopeful delusions.

In his Sunday, February 9th column, Frank Rich clarifies the divide between Clinton and Obama, not in terms of  history, race, gender, class or policy, but rather by the choices that each has made in their more recent rounds of campaigning. On this score, Rich is highly critical of Hillary (and Bill’s) tactics.

Could it be that the first woman to run for President will be defeated not by anti-women prejudices, which are mountainous, or by utopian idealism or the coolness factor of her younger and sexier opponent, but rather by her own trail of bad decisions?

Staged and obviously phony town-halls, race-baiting, both by patronizing Obama and by playing Hispanic against blacks, as well as suggestions of Obama drug use, non-disclosure of their tax returns, and even outright inaccurate accusations.

The question Rich asks is how low will the Clinton campaign go in its fight for victory and what effect will that have on the party nominee’s chances of victory in November. Years of daily battles with hateful conservative foes during Bill’s presidency has created a sort of siege mentality among the Clintons that counts “survival” as an end that justifies some highly questionable means.

Curiously enough, as I write this, there is news that Clinton’s campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, who has been with Hillary since 1992 will be replaced.

Taking a similar position on Hillary is the notable Lawrence Lessig, who created the following video where he outlines the long tail of Clinton errors and why he now  supports Obama.

Three articles from recent NY Times columnists addressed the deeper social dilemmas raised by this clash that is brewing between the cool and low pressure candidacy of Obama and the hotter and more high pressure candidacy of Hillary – a national political fight to the finish between a 46 year old black man and a 60 year old white woman.

• 1. In the first, Judith Warner uses a Super Bowl Sunday conversation with two male friends as her launching point into a discussion of  the various frustrations that attend to a woman’s life in a mostly man’s world. This leads her to reflect on the sort of difficulties that Hillary faces, that all white men and even some black men are spared. She links to a recent and free-ranging rant by a noted 60’s feminist named Robin Morgan, an early feminist who speaks truth to the more misogynistic currents that are operating below the surface to undermine and compromise Hillary’s considerable powers.

Reading Morgan’s piece after Warner’s got me thinking that any woman in modern day America who would stand up and fight for her right to lead will unloose a dark banshee shadow such as now takes many-headed forms in the countless and completely irrational Hillary hate movements that criss-cross the land.

•• 2. In another column, Stanley Fish tackles the whole issue of Hillary hating square on.

After making my way through these three pieces, I felt that I needed not only to look again at the Hillary movement, but to look and to listen more closely to the forces and the voices that have ventured forth to attack her – because among them are forces that will not soon be calmed, but will almost certainly continue to madly work to poison the well of equality and hope for women, and to deny truth and justice to all those who threaten their deep-seated insecurities.

It would be a beautiful thing if a black man became president. It would also be good if a younger and more multi-cultural person took the reigns of leadership on a platform of greater commonality with the people of the world.

But what would it say for America to elect a woman – and one as competent and forthright as Hillary Clinton?

I said in my post the other day..

“… she’s all-right – though the anti-Clinton artillery of 1998 is all ready to go again – and that won’t be much fun to watch in re-runs.”

But that artillery’s existence is almost none of her doing! Rather, it is the fault of those Rovean forces that never tire of demonizing and attacking her character – not her policies and positions, but that far more elusive and subjective target – her character. This is their target, and it is one which in the eyes of her demonizers will never follow from what she says or does, but will simply persist because she is the target of a self-fueling hatred that exists entirely independent of her.

On this score alone, just to give the back of our hand to those who lack all sense of truth or justice, and who would perpetuate this insidious war against any woman who vied for true equality, sounds like a damn good idea. Because in the end, it’s not just Hillary who is the object of their hatred; it’s really any and all strong and independent women who would seek to upset the status quo.

••• 3. Giving some historical context to this thread, columnist Nicholas Kristof considers how females of the past have ruled over nations. He looks at history’s many famous queens and finds among them an astonishingly high success rate. Non-royal leaders of the modern era have had a much more difficult time of it.  Kristof’s extends the following theory to explain the discrepancy between the two.

“In monarchies, women who rose to the top dealt mostly with a narrow elite, so they could prove themselves and get on with governing. But in democracies in the television age, female leaders also have to navigate public prejudices — and these make democratic politics far more challenging for a woman than for a man.”

Women who self-promote are seen differently than men who do so. This narrowed range of options means that someone like Hillary woman will likely be perceived as competent or as likable, but not both.

Appearances matter far more for women than for men, which again puts Hillary under a microscope that men can far more easily bypass.

Hillary, in her pioneering role is shouldered with the daunting task of of reducing such prejudice by a long and arduous campaign of  trust-building and strong decision-making.

David Brooks, who gives me half a dose of the creeps (William Kristol gives me the full dose), in a February 8, 2007 NY Times opinion piece picks up on the affable idea recently circulating that Hillary is to the PC as Obama is to the Mac.

Brooks attacks the difference at a more fundamental level by dividing Democrats along education and income lines and then assigning to each strata, different retail consumer orientations. In this way, he differentiates “commodity” buyers from “experience” buyers. Commodity buyers are more concerned with the purely economic impact of their purchases, while experience buyers are more concerned with the emotional fulfillment that those purchases provide them. Commodity buyers go to Safeway; while experience buyers bicycle over to Whole Foods. Holidays Inns for the former, W Hotels for the latter. There’s Walgreens for everyday folk, and the Body Shop for that special someone.

I think there is truth in his divisions, just as there is truth in the “Two Americas” argument that John Edwards offered. In California, Hillary took non-college educated voters by 22 points in California and by 54% in her ex-home state of Arkansas, while a recent Pew Research survey found Obama holding a general 22 point lead among people with college degrees.

All right, so the numbers do expose relevant demographic breakdowns, but Brooks goes on – in his typically disdainful way, to attribute this elitist behavioral tendency among the more well-educated and better off, as a kind of sole signifier of their liberal and self-absorbed tendencies. They spend the extra money, he says, because it lends meaning to their lives. OK, there is some truth to that, as well. Obama does have the gift of offering a hopeful and attractive alternative to those with time enough to discriminate for themselves and to choose the best of possible alternatives. Besides, there is something sturdy but used with a lot of mileage about a Clinton, and that intoxicating new car smell that clings to an Obama.

But is this new found attraction to Obama based, as Brooks suggests, on “what” he is selling? Or is it, as I think (or at least “hope”) based on “who” he is?

There is no escape from the “class” argument, nor should there be. At the same time, I believe there are those occasional times in our lives when self-interest is overruled by arguments directed neither at our vanity nor at our pocketbooks, but rather at our more enduring sense of morality and justice.

When questions of morality and justice arise, any effort to resolve them must bring us back to the question of “character.” There are rights, and then there are obligations that attend to those rights. Yes, we are free to do as we please. That is after all the fabled pursuit of happiness. But that freedom without some commensurate obligation to support the rights and freedom of others, soon becomes a hollow privilege.

There is a complexity to moral choice that defies simplistic conclusions. Morality asks us not to simply say the right things, but more importantly to take particular actions – actions which might “cost” us in some way. And in the face-off between words and actions, can there be any doubt which speaks louder and which is ultimately for the greater good?

Beyond demographics and spending patterns, beyond surveys and projection, there remains this issue of character… because inspiration can never be removed from the makeup of the person for whom the inspiration is a tangible first-hand experience. Inspiration then, is a delicate and perishable commodity that can only be sold in small portions and for short periods of time. To be sustainable, inspiration must be ignited from within and so passed from one person to another. And though it can be temporarily simulated or excited by what we are told or sold, its persistent and life-altering value is dependent upon it being this constantly renewable resource. Inspiration awakens the more metaphysical aspects of our being, at the same time that it demands of us that we remain authentic and open to its presence in ourselves and in others. Only in this way, can we allow it to guide and strengthen us in bringing about effective change in the way that we co-exist as individuals, couples, families and as citizens – of both nations and the world.

It is obviously true that less educated people with lower incomes are bound to be less optimistic about their lives – and for obvious reasons. Life has taught them hard lessons. Hillary, as did Bill before her, hits at their “blue-collar” concerns by promising to be tough and to fight hard for “them,”  To this same demographic, Obama softens his punches with the suggestion that he’ll work “around” those old conflicts, as well as out-maneuver the old and dark “retailers” who perpetuate them, and by so doing, create a new ground of commonality – where one day we will all (rich and poor, educated and uneducated, alike) be better off for the “difficult” work that we have accomplished together.

So, is this Obama thing just another pipe dream, and are all these optimistic self-fullfillers who are currently inflating the Obama bubble, just collectively toking the bong of inevitable disappointment?

I will admit to there being a little more messianic hoopla around the Obama phenomenon than my comfort level will allow. The “Yes We Can” video comes off like wide-eyed puppy-love to me, and listening to Stevie Wonder stretch out Barack Obama’s name into at least ten distinctly sung notes is five notes too many for me.

I think my fear is that the high-end retail “hope” experience machine may need somebody like Obama as much as the defense industry needed Iraq. Retailers, of both the commodity and experience varieties – irrespective of their politics, stood by George Bush for his single-minded belief that as Americans, we have a civic duty to shop. I expect those same retailers are asking themselves, who between Hillary and Obama, will help them ring up bigger sales in the next four years.

I will grant that many of us are deliriously desperate for hope, having spent the last eight years being regularly tormented and exasperated by the ineptitude, corruption and immorality of our own government – and that under such depressing conditions, any inspiration or glimmer of hope might be forgiven as preferable to none. Yet, at the same time, it does seem that the time has come for us all to take a good and questioning look at who we are and what we do, and at who benefits and who suffers in the course of the choices we make in response to the daily force-feed of options that an opportunistic retail spin industry would have us believe are vital to both our survival and our fulfillment.

The much discussed issue of “experience” as it applies to our current presidential candidates is one that intrigues me.

We want to take comfort in leaders with experience… wise elders if you will – who make decisions that though perhaps personally difficult for them, are in the end made for the good of the majority of folks – because that’s what leadership in a democracy is asked to do.

I know the good of the majority is a mostly painful burden. But like it or not, imperfect democracy came into existence as the best sustainable defense against the abuses brought on that majority by centuries of kings and dictators and tyranny.

lil-pisser.jpgAt the same time, as Bush’s continued survival in the big chair and Huckabee’s evangelical hogcalls illustrate, with high-sounding catch phrases and chocolate icing, authoritarianism can be made almost appealing.

After 8 years of GWB, America has been plundered – both financially and morally. Resources that could have gone towards rebuilding our infrastructure or New Orleans or education or keeping poor kids healthy or actually securing us against terror attacks has been poured into the leaky bucket of Iraq and into the lead-lined pockets of big corporate contractors. And as to good will and respect among nations? Fuggedaboudit – And for what reasons? What were those again? “Freedom?” “Liberty?” “Democracy?”

John McCain’s not a bad guy, I suppose .. Compared to the rest of the Republican field he looks like Abe Lincoln hosting Saturday Night Live… but having him take over the country is a little too much like asking Bart Starr to come out of retirement to take over the Packers.

We have a deeper problem here – and it goes by a lot of names; apathy, mistrust, but mostly it’s just plain fear – stoked by those (including sponsor-driven media) who know that fear is a requirement of control and as such, also a natural suppressant of all things good for the soul of a people, i.e. love, altruism, compassion, etc.

Hillary has the experience. She also has more money from defense contractors than any other candidate. But considering the alternatives… she’s all-right – though the anti-Clinton artillery of 1998 is all ready to go again – and that won’t be much fun to watch in re-runs. If there weren’t a more interesting options, I’d be fine with HER excellency. But I think there is a more interesting option.

Generational change, attitudinal change… throw the boomer rascals out (Oops! – there goes me!) – and bring in some new post-boomer rascals; sounds good to me.

I don’t think that Hillary – as forceful as she is, has the same ability to awaken the spirit of people as Obama does.

I ACTUALLY believe that HE believes he can serve as a leader who makes decisions that are good for the majority of folks.

Maybe I’ll be disappointed. Wouldn’t be the tenth time. We’ll have to wait and see.

I like what Robert DeNiro said before Super Tuesday.. “It’s clear Barack Obama does not have the experience to let the special interests run the government. That’s the kind of inexperience I can get used to.”

I like even more what the father of pundits, H.L Mencken said in 1920 – long before television!

“The larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, a first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even the mob with him by force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide, and the fight must be waged chiefly at second and third hand, and the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most easily and adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.

The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

The challenge of the election and the moment, as I see it, is to awaken the inner soul of the American people, and for that task, I think Obama’s our brightest hope – just because we don’t know where his lack of experience will lead him.