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Posted by on Feb 26, 2019 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 3 comments

The Evaporation of Pride and Evolution of Prejudice Against the Working Class

 

 

I’ve talked with many young people lately.  They’re mostly guys in their early 20s.  They’re young enough to be my children.

Just about all of them are pursuing “careers” which seem impractical and even a bit far-fetched.  I recall one guy who wants to be a music producer.  Another is determined to make films.  Still, another hopes to race motorcycles for a living.  A few aspire to be professional poker players.

Pursuing one’s dreams is certainly a positive thing.  Each of us should aspire to jump higher, to move forward, and achieve the goals we set for ourselves.  But those goals must also be realistic.

The last few generations, I fear, we’ve lost all sense of reality.  We’ve made “working for a living” a stigma rather than a source of pride.  Labor has become a dirty word.

Discussions with these young men revealed something else that’s troubling.  This trend isn’t gender-specific.  They alleged that girls were far more attracted to guys who wanted to be music producers, filmmakers, motorcycle racers, and poker players.  Presumably, that made them more interesting.  The girls didn’t want to go out with guys who wanted to be plumbers, electricians, machinists, and auto mechanics.  They certainly didn’t want to date cooks, construction workers, and bus drivers.

So, it appears career choice isn’t just shaped by individual ambition.  A pervasive collective bias against the working class has mushroomed out of control.  This shift illustrates an alarming disconnect in American culture from reality that is both dangerous and in the end, self-defeating.

Let’s face it.  We need more bricklayers than basketball players.  We need far more dental technicians than disc jockeys.  What we need is — a lot more common sense.

During the first half of the 20th Century, working-class occupations weren’t merely the manifestation of self-identity, but also a tremendous source of personal pride.  Highly-skilled, mostly unionized workers manufactured cars, constructed bridges, paved highways, and essentially built the America we live in today.  When I was 21, I remember working one blazing hot summer as a unionized sheet metal worker in Dallas when all the high-rise buildings were springing up all over the city, and the workers pointing at and bragging about the skyscrapers they had “built.”  Call it what it was — working-class pride.

Of course, lots of highly-skilled jobs have disappeared since then, the casualties of both automation and global corporatism.  Union-busting has devasted the middle class.  Stock shareholders and bonus-chasing CEOs demand that every last farthing of profit be squeezed out of each division, project, and worker.  Wall Street has totally undermined the economic foundations of the once-great heartland and torpedoed what used to be called “The American Dream.”  Shortsighted short-term gains have metastasized into a long-term nightmare for the working class, which has seen wages stagnant since the horrors of “Reaganomics.”  No one wants to work at a low-paying dead-end job, with no benefits, nor economic security.  Thanks a lot, Laffer.

But working-class stigmatization goes much deeper than that.  It’s not just an economic and cultural trend, but now a social reality brought on by the way we interact and communicate, and ultimately how we judge one another.

America has become one giant reality television show with 320 million cast members all vying for the starring role in the “hey, look at me!” category.  Every single thought, experience, meal, party, toothache, and personal encounter now gets tagged and then blasted worldwide across social media.  Our identities have become almost entirely digitized.  Posting selfies at the nightclub have become the credit line of cultural value, a sort of twisted Kardashian cryptocurrency  No one posts selfies of themselves replacing the hot water heater.

Democratic Socialists want to make college tuition-free.  I agree with this ambitious vision, at least in principle.  More than any other metric, education is the ticket to upward mobility.  Not enough poor people have either the means to rise out of systematic poverty.  So, we must collectively do what we can to promote greater opportunity for everyone.

But let’s ease into the “free tuition” idea one step at a time.  First, let’s make vocational and trade schools, rather than universities, free to those who want to pursue their education and training.  I think lots of people, of both sides of the political spectrum, would get behind that idea.  Let’s also target poor areas and populations which desperately need more workers to build and renovate their communities.

Fact is, we don’t need more MBAs and so-called marketing gurus.  We don’t need more realtors.  We don’t need fast-talking con-men in rented hotel ballrooms “teaching” seminars to gullible suckers on how to be successful.  We have more than enough “experts” on how to make money, already.  Instead, we need pipefitters and concrete masons actually working in depressed areas, making money with the sweat of their brow and then spending their paychecks locally.  That’s how an equitable society is built.

Restoring pride in working-class values demands that we first admit there is a serious class division within America that is widening.  It’s not getting better.  It’s getting worse.  It’s not a class division just of income, but of a mangled distortion of misplaced priorities and the way workers and occupations are perceived.

We need to work towards a far more egalitarian society where a bunch of young guys can hang out together and talk about pursuing their dreams — which are entirely achievable, productive, prideful and won’t leave them with tens of thousands of dollars in student debt to parasitic banks and loan companies.

What we desperately need are more working-class heroes along with a heavy dose of realism.

__________

 

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Posted by on Feb 24, 2019 in Blog, Essays, Movie Reviews, Video 1 | 2 comments

Lights, Camera, Action! Our 2019 Academy Award Predictions [Video]

 

 

Some time ago, I ran into one of the smartest and most successful sports handicappers in Las Vegas at a party.  His moniker is, to no surprise, “Las Vegas Cris.”

Let’s call him “LVC” for short.

I discovered that LVC loves movies.  He goes to see at least a couple of films each and every week.  LVC purchased one of those monthly passes where you can practically see as many films as you like for roughly the price of what two tickets would regularly cost (around $24).  So, he goes to the movies and ends up seeing lots of very good films, and also comes across some real clunkers.

LVC and I share a lifelong love of movies.  We thought it would be a fun project to film a video and discussion of our picks for the best and worst in movies over the past year, along with our Oscar picks.  We planned on shooting a one-hour pilot, but got wound up and went kinda’ long.  Let’s call this the lengthier “Director’s Cut.”

If you want to skip the fluff and go straight to the Oscar picks, fast forward to the 26-minute mark.  Also, the last 20 minutes or so is pretty good where we hand out our worst movie awards.

Special thanks to Andrew Geber for the production and Jack Gramley for supplying some of the technical equipment.

Note that I’ll probably shift to a podcast format shortly and invite several guests on to discuss a variety of topics.

Thanks for LVC for some great insight.

“Couch Potato Critics” sounds about right……

 

 

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Posted by on Feb 19, 2019 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 3 comments

Bernie Sanders 2020: The Right Message, the Wrong Messenger, at the Worst Time

 

 

It pains me to write this article and say this:  I wish Bernie Sanders would not run for president in 2020.

As a fellow democratic socialist, I admire Sanders and agree with what he stands for.  He champions virtually everything I believe in.  But he’s also the wrong messenger at the worst possible time.  Sanders is making a mistake by joining a crowded Democratic field and running for president.

To his credit, Sanders and his 2016 campaign altered the course of contemporary American politics.  Should anyone doubt his impact, just look at what’s happened since the defeat.  It’s virtually unheard of for the losing nominee to shift the direction of a major party, reboot its national priorities, and continue wielding influence upon a significant percentage of devoted followers who liked what Sanders had to say and looked up at a then-74-year-old career political activist somehow as a fresh face on the national stage.  Even nemesis Donald Trump, in a bold rebuke during last month’s State of the Union address, felt the need to blast the growing tide of socialism in America.  That’s largely Bernie’s doing.  Socialism simple isn’t a bad word anymore to most Americans.  Such a thing would have been unthinkable ten years ago.

For the first time in a half century, certainly not since the ill-fated presidential campaign of the late Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, Sen. Sanders made unapologetic in-your-face liberalism cool again.  After decades of running away from the Leftist moniker, and in the process abandoning the working class while losing its collective soul, Sanders didn’t shy away from our core conviction that big government can (and must) be a force for good in society.  While mainstream Democrats scurried from one fundraiser to the next trying to out-elbow Republicans for corporate affections, Sanders the maverick candidate with nothing to lose openly spoke his mind and preached peaceful revolution.  All we were saying, was give Bernie a chance.  He embraced all the seemingly forgotten tenets of social and political idealism.

A new term within the political lexicon, “Berniecrats,” now refers to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, along with Left-leaning Independents.  Sanders’ grandfatherly delivery and astute frankness attracted millions of supporters, including a disproportionate number of young people who become politically active for the first time.  These are Bernie’s disciples, and will ultimately become his most deeply lasting legacy.  He alone ignited the seeds of a much broader movement that’s likely bear fruit when the next’s generation’s time comes to make the laws.  Sanders was, and very much remains, a viable political force to be reckoned with.

So, given Sanders’ impressive track record in exceeding everyone’s expectations and even changing the political game, why am I so convinced he’s making the wrong decision to run again in 2020?  Why have I come to bury Sanders rather than praise him?

Well first, there are lingering questions about Sanders’ party allegiance.  After all, he isn’t a Democrat and therefore shouldn’t be running under the party’s official party banner.  Most Democratic voters pretty much ignored this minor issue the last time around, since it was believed the “crazy socialist” posed no serious threat to the continuation of the Clinton dynasty.  He won’t be cut as much slack this time, since the Vermont senator remains a self-described Independent — with a Capital “I” next to his name.

Sanders’ wide periphery of political influence in other states makes him essential to Democrats, and they know it.  The party should be made aware they’ll need what remains of Berniecrats to show up at the polls and vote, come 2020, because so many didn’t in the last election and that’s one reason we ended up with the chaos of Trump.  Indeed, let’s remember that more Americans call themselves Independents now — than either Democrats or Republicans.  Yet, an astounding political reality still remains:  Winning elections in America requires candidates to align themselves with one of the two major parties.  Democrats can’t afford to lose independents.  If they do, that spells a possible Trump 2o2o victory (assuming the criminal isn’t removed from office first).  So, dealing with Sanders and his base is very tricky for the party that can’t afford any mistakes.

Sanders would be age 79 if he somehow wins the 2020 nomination.  Yes, ageism is terribly unfair, but it remains a significant political factor.  Ask around.  Some people insist they won’t vote for a candidate who would be the oldest man ever elected to the presidency.  And while former Vice President Joe Biden also carries much the same burden (he’s the same age), and President Trump in his 70s clearly demonstrates alarming cognitive decline, Sanders enters the presidential race with serious baggage as to whether someone in his 80’s would be fully capable of the day-to-day pressures of the job.

Moreover, there’s no compelling reason for Sanders to join the 2020 race, other than for personal vanity.  In 2016, Sanders was a compelling force and an attractive alternative to Hillary Clinton, the embodiment of the old Democrat establishment.  Progressives desperately needed a horse in the race, and the long shot damn near won the whole derby.  Yet, this isn’t the case four years later.  The landscape and the field have changed completely.  Out of the dozen or so major candidates on the Democratic side, perhaps a third of the current potential nominees can rightfully be tagged a liberals in the Sanders mold.  All the known candidates have embraced some of his views.  It seems redundant to add yet another candidate to the stage and keep slicing the progressive pie into smaller pieces.

Then, there’s political practicality.   The 2020 race will require a completely different approach, both in tact and substance, than we’re used to seeing.  Democrats need to pull out the switchblades and quit treating this like a chess game.  2020 will be a knife fight in a dark alley at 3 in the morning.  When one side plays dirty, it’s suicidal to play nice.  So, this time, let’s play to win.  Sanders, while passionate as an advocate and fiery as a speaker, remains profoundly intellectual in his disposition.  Accordingly, I’m not convinced he’s the best counter-puncher to an unhinged bully.  When Trump throws right hooks, we’re going to require a left uppercut with the weight of a sledgehammer, and a knockout.  Sanders simply isn’t the right street fighter for what will be necessary.

Finally, there are growing concerns, even among some supporters, that Sanders and his repetitive messaging has become stale.  He’s “so 2016.”  Sanders was correct to make income inequality and class division the cornerstone of his previous campaign.  To a large extent, he’s already won the ideological war for the heart and soul of the party since virtually all Democrats now favor raising the minimum wage, adopting some form of universal health care, and making the tax system more fair for the working class.  But Sanders’ ceaseless attacks on billionaires, while certainly warranted, won’t be greeted with nearly as much enthusiasm when its clear the real boogeyman to America isn’t named Warren Buffet or Elon Musk, but Donald J. Trump.

Petty party suspicions will hurt Sanders.  Ageism will hurt Sanders.  Tougher competition will hurt Sanders.  Legitimate questions about whether he’s the ideal candidate to face Trump will hurt Sanders.  An outdated message will hurt Sanders.

Instead of running again, which is likely to be an wasteful exercise in futility, a regurgitation of familiar themes we saw in 2016, and ultimately another defeat, Sen. Sanders should take a well-deserved bow for being electric shock therapy to a dysfunctional and thoroughly corrupt political and economic system.  He can still be a game changer, perhaps the Left’s elder-statesman.  Bernie:  The New Lion of the Senate — ala Ted Kennedy.  As the largest newspaper in his home state pined only a few weeks ago, he was elected to do a job for the citizens of Vermont.  His interests, Vermont’s interests, and the interests of the American progressive movement would best be served by passing the torch to a new generation of visionaries.

Thank you, Bernie Sanders for all you have done and for what you will continue to do as a legislator.  You have changed the political landscape for the better.  Now please, step aside, and let your followers take the lead from here.

__________

 

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Posted by on Feb 17, 2019 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 0 comments

Prosecute Jussie Smollett to the Fullest Extent of the Law

 

 

Why is there any sympathy for Jussie Smollett?

The television star’s incendiary allegations that he’d been the victim of an ugly racial attack imploded yesterday.  His story fell apart.  It was apparently, all an act.

Smollett had claimed he was assaulted on a downtown Chicago street by pro-Trump racists wearing red MAGA hats while walking late at night.  His allegations sounded implausible from the start.  That’s the reason so many of us sympathetic to the victims of hate crimes took a “wait and see” approach to the alleged incident.  Not that racially-motivated and homophobic attacks like the one described by the TV actor don’t happen in America.  Yes, they do.  It’s just that so many pieces of Smollett’s case didn’t seem to add up.

Admittedly, I’d never heard of Jussie Smollett until this controversy.  He’s the co-star of a popular hit television show, Empire.  Based on a persistent and often feisty social media presence, Smollett, who is a gay Black man, has been described as an outspoken activist.

Investigators now believe the attack on Smollett was a fabrication.  It was staged.  If this proves to be true, he’s about to become the new Tawana Brawley.  Recall, she’s the despicable young girl who accused multiple police officers of a brutal gang rape thirty years ago, sparking national outrage.  Eventually, a thorough investigation found that she made the whole thing up.

Although there are clear parallels in the two cases, there are also significant differences.  Brawley was a poor Black girl with little education.  Not that she deserved any slack but let’s also remember:  Brawley was a minor, just 15 when she claimed she’d been raped by four men.  At least there were grounds for understanding what happened in the Brawley case.  The girl lived in an abusive household, feared severe punishment for staying out late one night, and made up her story as an excuse.

Smollett has no excuses for fabricating his criminal conspiracy.  He’s a relatively affluent, seemingly intelligent man, with a highly-successful career and — until this moment — a very bright future.  Inventing such a far-fetched story makes absolutely no sense, nor has any justification whatsoever.

Accordingly, Jussie Smollett should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

The Chicago Police Department spent a countless number of hours on this case which began three weeks ago.  Law enforcement dedicated considerable manpower to their investigation.  Dozens of people were interviewed.  Businesses with surveillance cameras were summoned to provide any evidence of a crime.  Hence, police wasted considerable time and effort chasing an invisible rabbit down a hole.  These pointless efforts reduced the precious resources available that might otherwise have been allocated elsewhere in Chicago, which does have a serious crime problem.  If dozens of police officers were out rabbit hunting Smollett’s false claims, that’s less law enforcement on the streets, and by consequence, more incidents of unsolved crime.  Smollett has done a terrible thing, and now he should pay for it.

But the real victims of Smollett’s deception (if eventually proven), are all those people from lesser backgrounds with little money, fame, or power who must live in constant fear and have to endure pervasive racism and homophobia in their daily lives.  They don’t have Smollett’s easy access to media nor talent for playing the convincing role of a crime victim, so they won’t get on TV to tell their stories.  The casualties of this contrived canard are future victims of hate crimes.  Now, because of doubts and discord and the lingering impossible-to-ignore memories we all have, they’ll face even more doubts.  They must meet higher, perhaps impossible thresholds, to prove when racially-motivated crimes actually do happen.  The movement Smollett purportedly wants to help shall ultimately pay the highest cost for his blatant deception.

That’s the real crime.

If evidence is found to implicate Jussie Smollett in a conspiracy, then he must be prosecuted.  Then, if he’s found guilty — lock him away.  For a long time.

We must make an example in this case and send a clear message:  There’s more than enough racism and homophobia in America already, without having to make things up.

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Posted by on Feb 16, 2019 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 1 comment

Why Do So Many Brits Dislike Donald Trump?

 

 

Note to My Readers:  I rarely post content from other writers, since that’s their content and what’s promulgated here at my site is always my own.  However, I was so impressed with this short missive by a British writer named Nate White, that I had to share it.  I hope you will agree, it’s a marvelous retort as to why so many British citizens and people from other countries are appalled by what’s happening in America.

 

Question:  Why do some British people not like Donald Trump?

A few things spring to mind.

Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem.

For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed.

So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever.

I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman.

But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

Trump is a troll. And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers.

And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults – he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.

There is never any under-layer of irony, complexity, nuance or depth. It’s all surface.

Some Americans might see this as refreshingly upfront.

Well, we don’t. We see it as having no inner world, no soul.

And in Britain we traditionally side with David, not Goliath. All our heroes are plucky underdogs: Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Oliver Twist.

Trump is neither plucky, nor an underdog. He is the exact opposite of that.

He’s not even a spoiled rich-boy, or a greedy fat-cat.

He’s more a fat white slug. A Jabba the Hutt of privilege.

And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully.

That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a snivelling sidekick instead.

There are unspoken rules to this stuff – the Queensberry rules of basic decency – and he breaks them all. He punches downwards – which a gentleman should, would, could never do – and every blow he aims is below the belt. He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable or voiceless – and he kicks them when they are down.

So the fact that a significant minority — perhaps a third — of Americans look at what he does, listen to what he says, and then think ‘Yeah, he seems like my kind of guy’ is a matter of some confusion and no little distress to British people, given that:
* Americans are supposed to be nicer than us, and mostly are.
* You don’t need a particularly keen eye for detail to spot a few flaws in the man.

This last point is what especially confuses and dismays British people, and many other people too; his faults seem pretty bloody hard to miss.

After all, it’s impossible to read a single tweet, or hear him speak a sentence or two, without staring deep into the abyss. He turns being artless into an art form; he is a Picasso of pettiness; a Shakespeare of shit. His faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws, and so on ad infinitum.

God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid.

He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W look smart.

In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws – he would make a Trump.

And a remorseful Doctor Frankenstein would clutch out big clumpfuls of hair and scream in anguish:

‘My God… what… have… I… created?

If being a twat was a TV show, Trump would be the boxed set.

 

Special thanks to Tom Robinson for bringing this to my attention.

 

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