COVID Limerick #1

It might seem a real simple task:
Wash your hands, keep things clean, wear a mask –
But fears of conspiracies
And other dark theories
Have made that too big of an ask.

THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: GO TEAM

The first contests of the 2020 Presidential election season, in Iowa and New Hampshire, have come and gone. What had been a crowded and remarkably diverse field of candidates has been sharply winnowed, with only a handful of folks remaining – all of them Caucasian.
The irony is almost painful, seeing that the Democrats generally present themselves as a “big tent” party, concerned with inclusion, in sharp contrast to the largely older-white-male composition of the Republicans. This contrast was well-displayed during the impeachment proceedings, but now seems to have been lost.
This may seem inevitable, as after all only one person can survive through the coming slog and gain the nomination. All the others will fall by the wayside, like failed chefs on a Food Network competition, folding up their utensils in their aprons and gamely walking to the exit… leaving the victor alone to somehow carry the hopes of all their various groups of supporters into the general election.
It’s also ironic to see all these individuals each trying to convince us that they alone can defeat Donald “I Alone Can Fix It” Trump. In one sense, they might all be correct – if the Democrats can put aside their internal differences, overcome Republican voter suppression, disinformation, and discouragement tactics, and get enough people to turn out the polls, any one of them could win.
But in another sense, I think none of them can win alone. They each carry some kind of baggage (real or contrived), or have vulnerabilities and soft spots that Trump and his campaign will repeatedly and mercilessly inflate, exploit, and attack.
Furthermore, the level of rancor and mistrust that has developed between the camps, so early in the process, does not bode well for the Democrats’ ability to wage a unified general election campaign. The way things are going, there will be enough disaffected voters from one side or other to depress turnout and hand the election – and the fate of our democracy – over to Trump.
I think that there is a way out of the problem for the Democrats – but it requires a severe case of “thinking out of the box.”

Somehow, they – we – have to get past the notion of “winner take all.” The model that the primary process is based on is predicated on the notion that the person who can eradicate his or her opponents will be the best candidate in the general election, and will make the best President. Maybe that has worked in the past, maybe not, I’ll let historians argue about that. But in our present situation, I don’t think that’s useful anymore.
If the country is to hold together, in the face of the coming demographic, environmental, and socioeconomic changes, we don’t have to fall into some lockstep “unity” – we have to get better at being different together.
I would like to see the Democrats find a way to model cooperation and coexistence. I want to see a team.
They should figure out how to distribute power among their various factions – corporatist to socialist and everything inbetween – in such a way that everyone feels that their concerns are taken seriously, and that they have a stake in the success of the entire enterprise. In short, they should embrace, rather than try to deny, their diversity.

World War Which?

It’s January 29, 2020. Donald the Impeached recently tweeted something about his bellicose former National Security Adviser, John Bolton, to wit:

For a guy who couldn’t get approved for the Ambassador to the U.N. years ago, couldn’t get approved for anything since, “begged” me for a non Senate approved job, which I gave him despite many saying “Don’t do it, sir,” takes the job, mistakenly says “Libyan Model” on T.V., and... many more mistakes of judgement, gets fired because frankly, if I listened to him, we would be in World War Six by now, and goes out and IMMEDIATELY writes a nasty & untrue book. All Classified National Security. Who would do this?

This tweet has garnered Trump a little bit of ridicule, since most folks think we’re only had two World Wars so far. But this might be one of the VERY few tmes when I kinda agree with the guy… at least as far as his numbering goes.

Let me explain.

I would like to suggest that WWIII has come and gone, though we didn’t call it that at the time. We called it the “Cold War.” It started after the end of WWII, and ended when the Soviet Union ended. It didn’t go nuclear, it didn’t bring the Apocalypse as predicted – but still, millions died, were injured, or suffered displacement and hardship. It was fought largely by proxies, but there was damage on practically every continent, from Nicaragua to Angola to Vietnam. Untold zillions of dollars were squandered or lost.

WWIV, the fight to cement what George H. W. Bush called a “New World Order” under American hegemony, began IMMEDIATELY afterwards. This included the Persian Gulf War, and the deposition of a certain number of petty dictators – but it brought some unexpected blowback. Let’s say that effort ended – or rather, changed – on 9/11/01.

WWV would then be the “Global War On Terror,” including the Afghan War and the invasion of Iraq. The military parts of it are still ongoing, as its neocon instigators (who thought that a state of permanent war would be a Good Thing) intended, and we’re still sorting out the effects on our civil liberties and international relations.

Can you have more than one world war at once? Sure, why not?

WWVI is the present struggle against resurgent nationalistic/ethnic/religious fascism, which is being pushed in defense of global capital. It has its military aspects, but is more of a political/cultural/economic/social conflict. (So far, at least.) It is also an information war, being fought explicitly to gain control of a different kind of territory: inside the heads of the people, including yours. (Check and see if you’re been conquered yet.)

To make things even more complicated, this is all taking place against the backdrop of climate change. It’s clear that fundamental changes will have to be made in our political and economic systems (viz. “Green New Deal”), but it is also clear that those who profit the most from these systems have no intention whatsoever of accepting those changes willingly.

So it may be a quibble over numbers – but it can remind us that we are still a long, long way from the first World Peace.

Open Letter to the Democratic Presidential Candidates (and Others)

Dear Bernie, Elizabeth, Joe, Pete, Amy, Mike, Tom, et al.,

The debates so far seem to have hinged on one basic question above all: “Who can beat Trump?” Not who has the best ideas, policies, or plans – not who has the best vision for the future – not who could best manage the transitions we have to make as a society – but just who can command enough votes in the right places to squeak through the Electoral College and get elected.

Let’s face it: as things stand now, not one of you could defeat Trump… as an individual, that is. He has too much cash, too many brainwashed followers, too many lackeys in important positions… and too much ability to use media to confuse, obfuscate and deceive. And each of you has weaknesses that Trump and his armies of pundits and commentators are just waiting to jump on, embellish, and blow out of proportion.

Together, though, all of you might have a chance… but only if you can campaign as a team… and get your various followers to do the same.

At this point, it doesn’t matter all that much who is at the “head” of this team. Any of you could competently fill that role. But it can’t be about just you. All factions of the Democratic Party – progressives, socialists, centrists, and corporatists alike – have to come together and find a way, not to show some false “unity,” not to paper over very real differences, not to squelch dissent, but rather find a way to leverage your vaunted diversity and use it as a real STRENGTH. Otherwise, the Trump propaganda machine will find it way too easy to set us all at each other’s throats. It’s doing so already, in fact. The time has come to abandon the “rugged individualist” idea that some single magical individual can somehow be sufficient to save us. That kind of thinking, after all, is what brought us Trump.

The primary process, as laid out before us, could be destructive and divisive. It could waste precious resources and cause widespread damage, if you just tear each other down in the hope of coming out on top at the end. Instead, you could be using this time, energy, and money to determine policies and approaches that will counter Trump’s appeal, use and develop the strengths that each of you have, and come out at the end with not just one bruised and limping survivor, but with an entire Cabinet’s worth of competent and inspiring individuals, committed to working together for the betterment of the country.

To do otherwise is to risk alienating and disenfranchising one group or another, when we will need all hands on deck to counter Trumpism’s threat to our democracy. Can you together craft a campaign that truly includes everyone “from billionaires to baristas”? That addresses the needs of financiers and families? Doctors and dockworkers?

Not an easy task, I’m sure. But if you can’t accomplish this within your own party, how will you keep America from tearing itself apart?

Sincerely,

LOCAL ECONOMY: NEW GAMES NEED NEW NAMES

(From the Transition Honesdale newsletter a few years ago…)

“You cannot change a game by winning it, you cannot change a game by losing it, you cannot even change it by refereeing it. … The thing we found out in the ’60s is that you can change the game by turning your back on it and going away and starting a new game, and if that is a more interesting game, then people come over to play it.”

— Stewart Brand, founder, New Games Foundation

One day, when I was about ten or so, I found myself playing a game of Monopoly with a kid I had just met, the son of one of my Dad’s Army buddies, whose family we were visiting in Gettysburg. Things were going along fine, until he started to add houses to Park Place even though he hadn’t acquired Boardwalk yet…

Now here, of course, let me stop for a moment and apologize to those of you for whom that last sentence might not make sense – but if you’re familiar with the rules of Monopoly, a game based on conducting real estate transactions in Atlantic City, you know that what my new acquaintance was doing was simply not kosher. I pointed this out to him, of course – but he settled the matter with a simple dictum:

“My game – my rules.”

Well. I certainly knew where I stood at that point. So, by the time I inevitably landed on Park Place, he had turned it into a veritable high-density multi-use luxury development, with several hotels and a neighborhood’s worth of houses, and the game was over.

At heart, any economic system is, simply speaking, a game – that is to say, it’s a set of arbitrary rules that serve to organize some kind of human activity. The rules of the game define goals, explain how the goals are to be reached, specify rewards for achieving the goals, and exact penalties for behaviors that contradict the rules.

The economic “game” is a little different, of course. Usually, we voluntarily choose whether or not to participate in a game, and we can leave the game if we’re not having any fun. (Or if the other kid cheats!) We either know the rules before we start, or they are clearly explained to us in fairly short order. The rules frequently have safeguards built in, to minimize (if not entirely prevent) injury, and to keep the game “fair.”

But in the case of the economy, we usually find ourselves born into the middle of a game already in progress. We have to try to puzzle out many of the rules as we go along, and frequently we find that the rules can change on the fly. We do not, generally, have a realistic option of leaving – although it can certainly be done, if one doesn’t mind putting one’s health and well-being at considerable risk. And increasingly, the safeguards are disappearing.

For millions if not billions of people, there never has been much “fun” to be had in this now-global game; grinding poverty, exploitation of the vulnerable, and environmental despoliation have long been the norm. Those in the middle classes, even if they weren’t exactly “winning” at the game, could at least expect to enjoy some creature comforts – but in recent years, as wealth and power have become increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, they’ve seen their expectations and assumptions begin to crumble.

So now, in keeping with the spirit of Stewart Brand’s quote above, there are new games being devised – despite the attempts of our dominant economic players to convince us all that theirs is the only game in town, or to use Baroness Thatcher’s immortal words, “There is no alternative.”

These developing institutions and methodologies turn existing economic models on their heads. Locally-focused, they run counter to the trend of increasing globalization. They aim not for more accumulation, but for better distribution. They are sustainable and restorative while the old systems are extractive and exploitative. They replace the ethics of competition and dominance with cooperation and mutual assistance.

From worker-owned cooperatives to CSAs, asset-sharing programs to “B” Corporations, these innovative ideas are frequently lumped under the heading of “the new economy” – a term, unfortunately, that says nothing at all. Indeed, the very term “new economy” is hardly new. It’s been used for years to describe various economic trends, from the shift away from manufacturing to the dot-com bubble, and is used now to describe the ways that high-tech companies, especially those in information services and biotechnology, do business.

“Sustainable economics,” “community-based economics,” “partnership economy,” “sharing economy,” “gift economy” – these are some of the other terms that have been bandied about to describe this process of economic transformation, but none of them have gained wide currency. (I like “syneconomy” myself, but unfortunately folks are likely to confuse it with “sin tax.” Ah, language!)

New games need new names. As we develop this new game together, I am sure one will eventually emerge – a brand, if you will, that we can stand behind and promote.

And who knows? It might be even more fun than Monopoly.

THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: FIFTY YEARS AFTER

In his memoir WOODSTOCK NATION, Abbie Hoffman paints a telling portrait of  himself at the festival’s end – staggering aimlessly around the deserted, trash-strewn field, stoned out of his mind, and crudely propositioning every female he encounters.

That image comes to mind when I try to figure out what happened to the optimistic peace-and-love vision of the hippies, and why 50 years later we find ourselves in a world that seems in many ways the exact opposite of what they were hoping for.

Part of the fault was our own, of course. (I am lumping myself in with the Woodstock generation here, though I was a little bit younger – still only in junior high when Woodstock happened.)   To put it succinctly, I think we were right to claim the freedoms we claimed, but we forgot… or neglected… or refused to accept the responsibilities involved. 

But there was also a backlash. The conservative establishment responded to the social unrest and cultural upheaval that marked the 1960’s with a campaign that was breathtaking in its depth, scope, and audacity. It was also, we must begrudgingly admit, largely successful. 

We can start with August 28, 1971, just 2 years after Woodstock. A corporate lawyer (and soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice) named Lewis Powell writes a memo to his friend Eugene Sydnor, Jr. – Director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Powell decries what he sees as a concerted attack on American economic institutions – indeed, on the American way of life itself. But he’s not particularly worried about Communists or leftists:

“The most disquieting voices joining the chorus of criticism come from perfectly respectable elements of society: from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians. In most of these groups the movement against the system is participated in only by minorities. Yet, these often are the most articulate, the most vocal, the most prolific in their writing and speaking.”

So he recommends that a series of  countermeasures be taken within each of those spheres: education, religion, the media, and so on. And though I can’t say that all these developments below sprang directly from Powell’s memo, we can note the creation of a vast array of new institutions and organizations, and changes in existing ones, within the next few years. (This was not a “conspiracy,” mind you; this was all done quite openly, right out in front of God and everybody.)

Some highlights:

There are many more examples I could cite, of course – from the establishment of think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, from FOX News to the Koch brothers, from ALEC to the Citizens United case. My point is this: these people worked long and hard to bring us to the present situation. Whatever happens to the Trumps and their supporters and enablers, it will take at least as much time, money, effort, and dedication to undo the damage they have caused.

Maybe by the Woodstock centennial, we’ll be able to really celebrate.

Jesus re the death penalty…

USA 2.0: Towards the #NextRepublic

There’s a certain amount of hand wringing going on regarding the possibility of a new Constitutional Convention.

The concern is understandable. An “Article VConstitutional Convention would indeed open a can of worms, as various individuals, organizations, and interests strive to bend the new system to fit their particular political peculiarities. But nonetheless, it’s a can that needs to be opened.

As I wrote a couple of years ago:

Governments are kinda like [automobiles]. For one reason or another, you have to get a new one every once in a while. They wear out, or break, or some calamity comes along and makes them unusable, or the cost of maintaining them becomes unsustainable…

It’s time to call for the Next American Republic. This one is broken, worn out, obsolete, and too expensive to maintain – and furthermore, it has been vandalized and tampered with, its safety mechanisms and pollution controls deliberately disabled.

Of course, we can’t go to a new government dealer, or even get a certified “pre-owned” Republic for a replacement. We’ll have to build it ourselves. We can use some of the old parts, maybe, the ones that still work – but before we get to that, we have some design work to do.

Rather than try to maintain the status quo, I would like to suggest that we progressives need to create our own parallel efforts for Constitutional reform. There are too many things about our system that desperately need to be upgraded and updated. We are dealing with social, environmental, and economic conditions that the Founders never could have imagined, and we need to change accordingly.

For example, here are some features that I’d like to build into the Next Republic.

  1. Clarify the rights and responsibilities of citizens – not only with regard to firearms ownership, but political participation, taxation, etc.
  2. Create a better system of checks and balances, not only between branches of government (Executive/Legislative/Judicial), but between the Market, the State, and the People. Prevent power from becoming centralized.
  3. Ensure that all levels/classes, not just the wealthy, have meaningful representation in government, and the opportunity to make their concerns heard and acted upon.
  4. Rescind “corporate personhood,” making clear that corporations do not have the same innate “rights” as citizens
  5. Make clear that political donations are not “free speech” and can be regulated; enforce total transparency in political influence (no more “dark money”).
  6. Make true multiparty democracy possible – institute voting reforms such as Instant Runoff or Ranked Choice.
  7. Make Congress and state legislatures more reflective of the population; get rid of “winner take all” systems and institute proportional representation.

That’s just for starters.

It’s not such a big deal, really – many countries have reinvented themselves from time to time.  South Korea is in its Sixth Republic now, France and the Philippines their fifth, Nigeria its fourth. Some historians say that we’ve actually had three or four distinct republics in American history already, though none of them manifested in a complete Constitutional overhaul.

I think the discussion needs to happen. We need to redefine who we are as a nation, and what we think our goals and purpose as a nation should be. We need to make strong cases for progressive reforms. But we also need to make sure that we design a system where people from across the spectrum – from progressives and liberals to conservatives and traditionalists – feel they have a stake.

 

Psalm for My Device

My Device is my servant; I shall not want.
It helpeth me to locate green pastures;
it leadeth me towards the best deals on lakeside accommodations.
It restoreth my data; it directeth me away from traffic delays
and findeth the most righteous alternate routes.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of poor reception,
I shall not fear; thy memes and cat videos, they comfort me;
thy GPS functionalities, they guide me in the paths wherein I shall walk;
thy schedules and reminders, behold, they keep me on time.
Truly may I order pizza, even in the midst of my enemies;
I shall ascend to the next level of Unicorn Frolic; my data plan runneth over.
And surely I shall dwell within range of free WiFi forever.

SONG FOR A GREEN NEW DEAL

Take a look at the sky
Take a look at the sea
Take a look in the faces
And you might start to see
That the old ways of working
Just don’t work anymore
That the time’s come for changes
More than ever before

(chorus)
We gotta have a GREEN! NEW! DEAL!
We gotta make it real
Or else the thieves will steal
Everything they can
We need a GREEN! NEW! DEAL!
We need some hope to feel
We’ve got a world to heal
While we still can
Gotta rise up and stand
For a Green New Deal plan

So much work to be done
And the people are willing
But we’ve got to stop
All the hatred and killing
Gotta change our priorities
Let green values lead
Put the future of our planet
Above shortsighted greed

(chorus)