Atlanta Stories Available August 1


Coming soon! Atlanta Stories: Fables of the New South. Eight stories about people coming to Atlanta to reinvent themselves. Stories include:

  1. Mockingbird 
  2. Journey From Night
  3. A Debt to Pay
  4. Dead Man’s Hat
  5. Remains 
  6. Bare-Assed Messiah 
  7. Atomic Punk
  8. Phoenix 

Release date: August 1.

Available at online bookstores and direct from the author. 

Fixing the System

prisons_meme_01-03-17

To win, one must be willing to lose, to sacrifice the very prize one is willing to gain, leave behind the comfort of certainty and face defeat time and again until the goal is attained. Along the way, one must remain focused on the ultimate goal, and not let minor setbacks get in the way. Some of the greatest individuals in history faced defeat time and again. Lincoln was not highly regarded by politicians of his time even as president, and faced almost certain defeat in the election of 1864, had Sherman not taken Atlanta, giving the president the boost he needed. With the support of his generals in the field, Lincoln went on to save the Union, after the initial two years of defeats made the outcome of the Civil War anything but certain. Throughout it all, Lincoln remained focused on the overall goal of preserving the Union even when common sense may have dictated that he cut his losses and propose a truce.

If the Democrats want to be a viable party again, they need to start focusing on the big picture, the ultimate goal. That’s how the Republicans won the overwhelming majorities they now enjoy. Democratic voters need to emulate the Tea Party. Vote for progressive candidates even if it results in splitting the vote and losing. Force the party left. Of course, this means running more progressive Democrats in races. Stop trying to build consensus with the Republicans and fight. Trust me, the Republicans don’t care about bi-partisanship. Not that they have to anymore. My biggest disappointment with the Democrats has always been that they try to please everyone and end up pleasing no one. I believe in building consensus, too, but when one’s opponents prove to be intractable, it’s time to change tactics.

Perhaps the solution is to let the Democrats fix their own party if they can, and instead focus on forming a new party focused on Progressive ideals, that’s not corrupted by corporate money. One could argue, for instance, that the Green Party is, at least, the ideal of a new Democratic party. But just like the Libertarians are sort of the bargan basement version of Republicans, the Greens currently seem more like the K-Mart version of the Democrats. True, they support a lot of progressive causes, but they’re also overrun by anti-vaccine advocates and other fringe believers. Plus the Greens don’t seem to have much of a local strategy, only showing up during national races, and not bothering with trying to make gains in the House, the Senate, or the statehouse.

Perhaps it’s time to completely abandon the two-party tyranny that’s ruined our democracy and instead find candidates free from party idealogy to represent us at the state and national level. Politics thrives on local action. Find good people, convince them to run and hold them accountable to the constituents who elected them. They don’t have to make decisions with which the voters always agree, but they always need to be able to explain to the voters why they made the decisions they made. The current crop of corporate candidates don’t know or care what the constituents want and the constituents have made it easy for them by not holding them accountable for ignoring us. Over the past four years, Congress has had its worse approval ratings in decades, yet the voters keep rewarding them by sending them back to do more damage. This has to end. As long as elections are decided by the extremist base of each party, the politicians have no incentive to work for the people. We need to take away the certainty career politicians have of retaining their positions and once again make them work for our votes, not just campaign for them.

Our political system is badly broken and the 2016 campaign only showed how broken it is. Now we have a president-elect only a small fraction of the public wants, and a Congress totally divorced from the will of the people. We no longer need to fear the worst possible scenario, because that’s exactly what we have. The time to act is now, to shake off complacency and start planning for a better future. We need to stop acting like politics is something that happens to someone else and start being responsible for our political system. We may not get many more chances.

Electing the Boogieman

 

Politics in the US thrives on political theater to keep the population confused and away from the voting booth and no theatrical act is more worn and overworked than erecting a boogieman to scare the electorate. We’ve all seen it time and again, both parties run candidates for whom the voters have no enthusiasm, then pit their bases against one another with the admonition, “We can’t let him/her win!” Nowhere was this more evident than the 2016 presidential race, which cast as it’s villain Donald Trump, and presented case after case that citizens had a civic duty to keep him away from the White House. In the end, however, this sad trope from business-as-usual politicians failed, and now Trump is the president-elect.

Trump, himself the son of a wealthy real estate magnate, is a billionaire real estate developer, who’s lived and worked in New York City his entire life, and who resides in the gilded penthouse suite of a building that bears his name. During the election, he promoted himself as a tough leader who understands the struggles of the working class, and his supporters, most of whom cannot even imagine the type of wealth he routinely takes for granted, enthusiastically followed his every word. They packed his rallies; they waved his banners; they beat up protesters and threatened the press; they shelled out much of their ever-dwindling resources buying his merchandise, all in the belief they’d found their true champion. We can only imagine what their reactions will be when they wake up to the reality of the massive bill of goods they’ve been sold. At best, Trump may attempt to carry out some of the promises that brought his rabid supporters out to rallies, but since many violate the Constitution he’ll be sworn to uphold as president, it’s highly unlikely that most will get more than lip service as his administration rushes to make his wealthy cronies more so, all at the expense of working families he exploited for votes.

Electing Trump has, so far, managed to keep a lid on the violent backlash he was inciting among his supporters in the waning days of the campaign in the event he did not prevail, but it has opened up a strain of hostility among certain members of society, who now feel untethered in expressing their rage at segments of the population they mistakenly blame for their troubles. Ironically, they have traditionally supported the very forces most responsible for the problems at the root of their distress, unregulated corporations, corrupt politicians looking to curry favor with them, and greedy corporate moguls out to pick the resources of this country clean for their sole benefit. The greatest symbol of this just happens to be the same man who’ll be sworn in as our 45th president in January.

Those who regard the President-elect as a self-made man disregard the large fortune he inherited from his family, when he took over his father’s business. While other members of his generation were just starting to suffer the effects of PTSD and other ailments as a result of the war in Vietnam, he was partying at Studio 54 with the likes of Andy Warhol and Liza Minelli. His first major challenge as a journeyman real estate executive under his father was fighting a discrimination claim by residents of his family’s properties. His business practices throughout have been extremely cutthroat — workers and small business owners who so enthusiastically supported him for president are just the sort of workers and partners most likely to be stiffed when one of his business ventures goes belly up and he has to declare bankruptcy.

One thing has always been consistent about elections and that is that once someone has been chosen as president, that person begins acting presidential, raising himself to a higher level of decorum and going about the business of putting together a government. In the age of incessant media scrutiny, we may hear rumors about potential candidates for various cabinet posts, but very little from the president-elect himself as he prepares to take over the highest office in the land. Trump has taken a different route, obsessively posting rants to Twitter, about vote counts, the press, and popular Broadway shows. He continues to berate Saturday Night Live, a show he hosted in 2015, during the early stages of the 2016 campaign a year ago — which sparked cries of favoritism among his opponents. If media reports are to be believed, he routinely skips security and intelligence briefings choosing instead to decide for himself how to judge the international situation, or to rely on his cadre of far-right advisors with their own agendas and axes to grind. Those who voted for him wanted someone who shoots from the hip. Let’s see how they’ll react when some other country starts shooting back.

There’s a lot of blame to go around in analyzing why Trump became president. The national news media glad-handed him, never taking his candidacy seriously, even after he secured the Republican nomination. The Republicans couldn’t decide if he was their best hope or a pariah from whom they had to distance themselves. Democrats were their usual smug and delusional selves, believing the election was in the bag from the moment Trump started doing well in the primary and rarely tried to convince the voters that Clinton was the better candidate — essentially relying on Trump to defeat himself, which he did seem to be trying hard to do. Most of all it was the electorate, who once again couldn’t be bothered to take responsibility for judging the candidates or reading the messages the politicians were sending. Just like the hapless voters in Kentucky a year ago, they listened to a candidate threatening to take away many programs and benefits they rely upon, and voted for him anyway. Even people who claimed to not personally like Trump or his message may have voted for him, believing he’d “shake things up” but not stopping to consider the things that would be broken as a result.

I firmly believe the Trump administration will be very short. He doesn’t want to be president anymore than many in the country want him to be president. Congress will most likely use some legal means to remove Trump or force him to resign, or simply do all they can to stall or question legislation or to block other goals he has to goad him into resigning, or elements of his own administration may invoke provisions in the 25th Amendment to remove his authority, and force him out. He’s a volatile individual used to getting his way with no concept of how to compromise or negotiate with others, even those with whom he’s supposed to be cooperating. One need only look at how he’s conducted his business to see how he’ll attempt to run the country, and we’re already seeing evidence of this, cutting shady back room deals with corporations and world leaders before he’s even sworn in as president. If he’s determined to try to stay in office, there may be some sort of Gulf of Tonkin type incident internationally that gets misreported by the administration and overblown by the press that distracts Congress and the public away from the President and gives him cover to enact more laws restricting freedom. In any event, the United States may well be done on the world stage. I said in another essay (see related links below) that had Clinton been elected, not much would change. The US is in for an enormous amount of change, and I can’t imagine they’ll be happy with what comes next.

 

Why the Democrats Lost

Hillary Clinton, Campaign Stop, Tempe, AZ, Gage Skidmore


Hillary Clinton at Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, 2 November 2016. Photo by Gage Skidmore. https://www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore/

Not everyone was surprised by the outcome of the election as the news media claims. Since the election began back in mid-2015, one name has clearly dominated the headlines and the commentary and the debates over candidates. To turn around now and act surprised is the height of hypocrisy for the national press, since they’ve been large contributors to this candidate’s success given all the attention and free advertising they’ve given him over the course of the election. Given the level of visibility this candidate already enjoyed as a celebrity, the excessive coverage only sealed his chances.

Since election night, many disgruntled voters have been blaming people who failed to vote, or so-called “uninformed” voters, or, especially, voters who supported alternate party candidates including the Green party and the Libertarians. They’re reacting as though these people are traitors to the cause of liberty and blaming them for the current president-elect. This is nothing but sour grapes and speaks to just what’s wrong with the two-party tyranny that has a stranglehold on our democracy — the belief that we’re only allotted two choices and no more. If more people supported alternate parties and candidates, they would no longer be viewed as a liability during election cycles. Don’t blame people who exercised their right to vote for a candidate of their choosing for the outcome of this election. It’s the system that’s broken, not the voters. In particular, the Democratic party, with their business as usual stance, bears the lion’s share of the blame. In November, 2015, I predicted how they would botch the election, and they pretty much performed as I expected (see “Related” links below).

To find out what works for the Democrats, it’s helpful to look back at Democratic candidates who have succeeded in becoming president and the circumstances of their victories. John F. Kennedy was considered an upstart and an outsider, given his Catholic background, who gained the presidency in one of the closest races in history. Jimmy Carter was a Washington outsider who benefited from the national disgust over Watergate and the fact that his opponent had gained the White House without being elected. He never enjoyed the full support of the party leading to Ted Kennedy opposing him in the 1980 primaries, despite his being a sitting president. Bill Clinton was another outsider who ran an energetic race against a man perceived as the ultimate insider, George H. W. Bush, who had held just about every government position available, including CIA director. Clinton was aided in his quest by Ross Perot, who ran as a third-party candidate, siphoning votes away from the Republicans. Barack Obama was in his first term as a senator and seen by voters as untainted by the corruption which had plunged the US into the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and racked up the worst deficit in history. Party insiders reluctantly supported him once it became obvious that he was the choice of voters. Contrast these candidates with Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, and Michael Dukakis, who met with their party’s approval, but failed in their bids for the highest office. Now Hillary Clinton joins their ranks, taking a spot once occupied by Ted Kennedy, a candidate Democratic stalwarts loved, but for whom the rest of the country couldn’t garner much enthusiasm.

People hate Washington insiders and Clinton is seen as the epitome of that and never did anything during the campaign to change that perception. For all her qualifications, Hillary Clinton did not resonate with the voters and the Democratic party knew this from the start. If there were lingering doubts, they had only to look back at 2008 for proof. They knew it and they either didn’t care, or were so inundated by Clinton loyalists that they were unable to do anything about it. They rigged the nomination to weed out any spoilers among their party. When Bernie Sanders entered the fray, they scheduled the Democratic debates during times when no one was watching, and didn’t call attention to them thus making it clear they weren’t going to tolerate any opposition to their anointed candidate. The mere fact that Sanders even ran should have been a wake up call for the Democrats and it wasn’t. If they had been able to convince someone more progressive and charismatic like Elizabeth Warren or Al Franken to run, or fielded a lineup of younger, more progressive candidates, things might be much different now. The fact that Sanders did as well as he did among Democratic voters, though having no credentials as a registered Democrat, should have clued everyone in on what the party wanted in a candidate, but instead fell on deaf ears in the rush to make Clinton president, hoping only to “push her left” on certain issues.

Throughout the campaign, Democrats acted like beating her opponent was a slam dunk. The only rallying cry was, “We can’t let him become president!” Some even suggested voting in the Republican primary in open ballot states for candidates considered fringe or kookie to make Clinton’s victory more certain. This had the effect of making their message less about supporting Clinton and more about denying her opponent. It was very rare, even during the debates that I heard many arguments in favor of Clinton. She highlighted her public service, particularly on behalf of families, but failed to convince people that she was the one who could change the grim economic circumstances many people in the US face. She seemed to be hiding from the cameras, while her opponent was on every possible news show every other day. Part of what made Bill Clinton’s campaign in 1992 so effective was the “rapid response” team set up to counter any misinformation about him. I saw no evidence of that during this campaign. It was largely left to friendly journalists to counter negative or politically inflammatory rhetoric from the right. Outrageous charges by her opponent went unanswered by her campaign or were brushed off as fiction as many, in fact, were. The problem is, people believed them, or at least questioned why she didn’t more vigorously defend herself.

Admittedly, the national press was much harsher on Clinton than her opponent, trumpeting every minor negative news release as though it was the smoking gun sure to derail her candidacy, while letting him make frequently untrue or unsubstantiated statements almost totally unchecked. One can understand that if someone is asked to explain situations which have already been explained over and over for years and years, it can become tiring but the fact that such questions were still coming up should have alerted the candidate and party that people were grasping for any reason not to vote for Clinton. The problem is that they gave voters no reason to vote for her.

The animosity toward Clinton is not rational but it’s very real and the Democrats failed to appreciate that. It doesn’t matter if the way people view Clinton is undeserved, or unfair, or unjustified; people don’t like her. They don’t care that most of the charges against her are baseless and politically motivated. They don’t care that’s she’s not responsible for her husband’s moral failings, or the fact that people who work for her can’t manage an email server. They just don’t like her. The one place where she’s been successful in an independent run for office, New York, is often friendly to Democrats, largely due to the influence of New York City where she lives.

Ironically, by losing this election the Democrats will have their revenge on Obama for not being the president they wanted him to be. After four years of a hard right-wing administration, it’s doubtful much of his legacy will survive, whether healthcare or civil rights. Any chance of him being on the Supreme Court is gone as well. Who knows what further indignities await him at the hands of the next administration and Congress. It’s doubtful Congress will allocate funds for a presidential library, given that their stated mission all along has been to make him look bad. In all likelihood, the next administration will do all they can to erase him from history and may largely succeed, at least, in the short term. The crucifixion has already started, with the national press spinning the election results as a refutation of President Obama rather than rejection of a particular candidate. The status quo has officially been overturned and I suspect Obama’s legacy isn’t all that will suffer.

Trumpland Trumpland Uber Alles

 Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Fountain Hills, AZ. Photo by Gage Skidmore https://www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore/. Cropped and autocorrected.


Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Fountain Hills, AZ. Photo by Gage Skidmore
https://www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore/. Cropped and autocorrected.

In an article posted to this blog in November of 2015, I outlined how Donald Trump could become the 45th President of the United States. At that time, he was one of sixteen Republican candidates, most of whom had better qualifications, organizations, and support from the party than him. Now, he’s the Republican nominee and will face Hillary Clinton in the general election in November. Despite his current shortfalls in support, and numerous missteps on the campaign trail, he still has a very strong chance of being elected, and wishing this wasn’t the case won’t make him go away. The same arguments which were used to demonstrate why he wouldn’t get the nomination are now being used to show why he won’t be elected. They are just as false now as they were then. In a nutshell, the people who want to see Trump as president are united; the people who don’t are not.

The problem is painfully familiar. Every time the Democrats become overconfident, they lose — every time. People are quick to point to polls that show Clinton ahead by a significant amount but these polls are meaningless and hurt more than help Clinton’s chances. If we get to November with Clinton still holding a comfortable lead, many in the electorate may conclude Clinton has the election in the bag and won’t need their votes. Once these voters check out of the process, Trump’s chances skyrocket. People simply don’t like Clinton. It may not be logical for people to feel that way, but guess what? People aren’t logical. If Democrats focus all their efforts on getting Clinton elected they will lose and lose big. The Democrats need to shift the focus away from electing Clinton and instead focus on retaking the House and Senate. If the electorate can be convinced they have a stake in the election, they’ll be more likely to turn out and Clinton will benefit by proxy. Clinton’s biggest challenge is to not make any missteps between now and the election and to give Trump plenty of leeway to make a fool of himself.

Clinton is very predictable. Her record as First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State is there for all to see. If she’s elected, not much will change. She may be more militaristic than Obama, but from a policy standpoint, she’ll toe the party line and everyone knows this. If the Democrats manage to take back one or both houses of Congress, she’ll be in a position to accomplish quite a bit, but the Republicans will oppose her just as rabidly as they have Obama and her husband before her. A number of Republicans have already raised the specter of impeachment with the election still more than two months away.

Comparing Trump to a certain German chancellor from the first half of the twentieth century is misguided. That individual was focused and had a very specific agenda. Trump is not focused and has no discernible agenda. He says whatever people want to hear and nothing more. The trick Donald Trump has been able to pull off is to fool his supporters into thinking he’s anti-establishment, when in fact a wealthy real estate mogul is the very definition of establishment. Trump is dangerous because he’s unpredictable. No one knows what he would do as president, not even him. We can’t believe anything he says, not even when he’s making fascist or racist statements. He’s the ultimate frat boy, a dittohead who’s made something of himself in spite of himself. He says outrageous things because he can get away with it. When the Clintons were in power in the 90s he was their best friend. Now, he sees an opportunity to expand his brand, and he’ll ride it for as far as he can, even into the White House.

If Trump gets elected, the Democrats will have no one to blame but themselves. It’s not the Sanders supporters, nor the people who might vote for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein who’ll be at fault. It will be the Democrats, who put forth yet another problematic candidate who doesn’t speak to the needs of the constituents. For all of her qualifications, which admittedly make her the most experienced person in the race, Hillary Clinton is not perceived as a candidate for the people. In many ways, she’s the new millennium’s equivalent of Ted Kennedy and faces an uphill battle to win the White House. No, this doesn’t make sense, but when have elections in the US ever made sense? At this point the only person who has a realistic chance of stopping Trump is Trump himself and that doesn’t seem likely to happen, though with Trump, anything’s possible.

Rise of the Know Nothings


Americans frequently exhibit a dangerous bias toward experts. The more educated and informed one is, the less likely one is to be trusted in this country. We see evidence of this in schools, in business, and most particularly in politics. The newcomer, uncompromising and untainted by years of corruption or back room deal making, always carries much weight with the electorate despite demonstrating no competence for the job being sought. Ironically, this negative attitude toward knowledge runs counter to the dreams of many parents who want their children to have a good education and to benefit from learning opportunities denied to those who came before them.

The founders of this country were some of the most educated and enlightened individuals of their day, albeit from the privileged classes, but still they understood the value of knowledge, which is why so many of them opposed letting black slaves learn to read and write. The so-called Greatest Generation of Americans took advantage of educational opportunities afforded by the GI Bill after WW II to acquire the skills and knowledge needed to turn the United States into a global super power. One could argue that, despite the cost, more people attend college nowadays than at any time in the nation’s history and still, there’s a growing number of people who disregard knowledge and learning as a significant factor in a person’s development.

The media contributes quite a bit to this trend. Educated people are portrayed as nerds, awkward, socially inept, and the constant target of bullies, while shows which cater to the lowest common denominator of voyeurism regularly command high ratings. We’re bombarded day in and day out with messages that school is boring and those who take their studies seriously aren’t worth having around. Politicians on both sides of the aisle decry the decline in learning, all the while cutting funding for schools, vilifying teachers, and increasing the amount of paperwork and bureaucracy involved in getting the job done. Testing becomes the priority, as rote memorization of facts overrides a true appreciation of the material. Learning how to color within the lines and blindly follow instructions replaces critical thinking. Social conservatives insist on confusing scientific theory with religious dogma, while liberals insist on giving equal weight to every point of view regardless of how obscure or unrealistic some are or how much time is taken up by the pursuit.

Nihilism, defined as a systematic denial of the reality of experience, has become the guiding philosophy for many Americans. While it is possible to have knowledge without wisdom, or vice versa, when knowledge and wisdom are combined, the result is a more well-rounded individual and a more dynamic society. Concerted efforts to encourage students to pursue science and math in high school and college led the U. S. to the moon, and fueled the rapid technological growth seen in the latter half of the twentieth century. This should convince us that when education is given its proper place in society, everyone benefits.

Education is the greatest equalizer among people. When one is given access to a good formal education, one is free to chart his or her course in life. Strong public schools always coincide with growing and vibrant societies. Before the time public schools became the norm, motivated individuals went to great lengths to secure the means for a quality education as a guaranteed route to prosperity and success. Some of history’s greatest individuals arose from nothing by sheer determination, and education was the tool that facilitated their rise. We need to once again place learning into a position of prominence in this society, and begin to see education as a fundamental right for all and experience as a desirable trait that contributes to the health and happiness of the nation.