Misguided Approach to National Security Leaves US Vulnerable

The United States has built the most powerful military force in human history. Our annual military spending is roughly equal to that of the rest of the world combined. Our nuclear triad is unmatched. We have all the best aircraft carriers. We have the best drone fleet. SEAL Team Six…

Yet polls show that roughly half of Americans are unconvinced, or unaware, of our military might. Partially due, no doubt, to the fact that our approach to national security is so incredibly stupid.

Our approach to Daesh (ISIS) and the War on Terror is entirely counterproductive. The ways we deal with conventional weapons systems, terrorist organizations, and lone-wolf attacks, are nonsensical. Our data-analytics and threat-assessment are pitiful.

SmedleyButler
General Smedley Butler, author of War is a Racket

The main problem, of course, is that War is a Racket. War equals ratings, clicks, and large font for media conglomerates. They cheerlead war by prominently featuring neoconservative so-called experts, fear-mongering politicians, and retired generals who are paid by defense contractors and see the US military as a hammer in a world full of nails.

George_W_Bush_on_the_deck_of_the_USS_Abraham_LincolnAnother problem is that we don’t take seriously the fact that our president represents civilian control of the military. Commander-in-chief (meant for times of war) and the term defense have become permanent propagandistic terms of militarism.

Image via DonkeyHotey via filckr
Image via DonkeyHotey via filckr

We’ve gotten rid of the draft, so the children of the elites – who decide whether to send poor kids to die in foreign lands – are allowed to go unscathed. With our voluntary force, only one percent of the population has served in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Images of the human carnage in Vietnam turned public opinion against the war. We showed new, supposedly accurate rockets being fired during Desert Storm. Now, news media show the rubble where the rockets landed. But over-classification allows the government to hide more uncomfortable realities  from the public.

We’ve allowed war to become an abstract notion to the vast majority of the county. Something for other people to worry about.

Don_Knotts_Jim_Nabors_Andy_Griffith_Show_1964We’ve also allowed it to become impolitic, post-9/11, to criticize or question anyone in uniform. We used to poke fun at Gomer Pyle and Barney Fife, and Maxwells Smart and Klinger.

Out of irrational fear, we’ve become a nation of boot-lickers. We put Support Our Troops sticker on our cars, and wrap ourselves in Stars & Stripes on holidays; yet we completely and utterly fail our veterans. We saddle our military with diplomatic missions. And victors tend to keep fighting the last war.  So we have all the best aircraft carriers and all the best bombers.

However, our government, political parties, and businesses keep getting hacked. Yet the government threatens (both pointlessly and counter-productively) to ban encryption rather than strengthening cyber-security.

We’ve lapped the field to the point that no one would dare attempt to best us with conventional weapons.

Yamal_GMAChina has a humongous military, but their weapons systems are inferior. Russia has fancy nukes, but actually using them would require a suicidal determination for mutual annihilation. (We can’t get Europe or China to level sanctions against Russia, so we are once again at an impasse. Oh, and they have all the fancy ice-breakers, so they already claimed the Arctic.)

Sun-tzuOur situation is as old as the Art of War. Our Revolutionaries knew they couldn’t stand in a field and trade volleys with the powerful British army. We were called terrorists for attacking their flanks, hiding snipers in trees, and targeting officers.Friedrich_Wilhelm_von_Steuben

Post-WWII, the inverse has been true. We saw tactics in Vietnam which we found reprehensible (booby-trapped tunnels, human shields, child-soldiers).  But we kept sending more and more poor kids to sacrifice their lives and slaughter brown people. And we refused to admit that we could lose. As did the Soviets when they bankrupted themselves in Afghanistan in the 1980’s.

uncle samAs we are doing now with Daesh. We simply refuse to learn from history. (We call it the War of 1812 to remain ignorant.) We know that defeating an ideology cannot be done by military means. We know that fellow Muslims must defeat them on the battlefield and in the battle of ideas. (We should know that we can’t force religious reformation.)

Yet we have politicians who legitimize murderous mad men by linking them directly to the religion of Islam. In doing so, we force all Muslims to choose between us and their personal identity. We are actively promoting a religious and cultural world war against 1.6 billion people.
Abu_Ghraib_53By eliminating diplomacy as an option, we are only left with war. Which we aren’t very good at, anymore.

The ways we’ve waged the War on Terror has only produced more terrorists. We suspended habeas corpus to lock people away without charge. We ignore our own 8th Amendment and the Geneva Convention while  we torture prisoners of war, farmers, and some, I’m sure, the worst of the worst we were warned about.

We’ve managed to arm opposite sides of conflicts in Syria, Yemen… We’ve bombed wedding parties and funeral processions. We’ve purposely bombed journalists and first responders. We’ve purposely bombed American citizens. Hell, we’ve purposely bombed Doctors without Borders hospitals.

We call it collateral damage. We call the victims enemy combatants. It was a mistake. It’s classified. It’s not a war crime when we do it. Nothing to see here.

Nearly everything we do seems purposely designed to give the terrorists exactly what they want. From creating more recruits by killing innocents to echoing their recruitment message. From eschewing our values and surrendering our freedoms.

George_obamaWe know they would like to kill Americans (though mostly they kill fellow Muslims). We know they don’t have any planes or ships. We know they want to do battle with the infidel in a particular place to fulfill religious prophecy. And we play right into their wishes.
One guy tried to blow up a plane with his shoe, so we all take our shoes off now. (Well, most of us – an uneven application which defeats the purpose.) Another guy tried to blow up a plane with his underwear. Do we remove our undergarments in line at the airport? No, proving the idiocy of the shoe policy. Israelis are far more susceptible to attack, yet they don’t put themselves through nonsensical motions just to board a plane. Politicians just wanted to do something, anything to seem like they were keeping us safe.airport scan

We told the NSA to ignore the 4th Amendment and scoop up all of our communications and online activities. We’ve deluged them with such vast amounts of data that our intelligence agencies can’t possibly analyze it all, and useful information goes unnoticed. Boston, San Bernardino, Orlando, Charleston, Colorado Springs… Intelligence officials have admitted under oath that they’ve failed to thwart a single attack with programs which blatantly violate our civil liberties, yet they insist upon continuing the failed and unconstitutional practices. Dzhokhar_Tsarnaev

Practically, lone-wolf attacks cannot be stopped. The odds could certainly be reduced, but significantly doing so would require microphones and cameras in every room. From bedroom to boardroom. It would require East Germany-style paranoia, distrust, and turning-over of friends, neighbors and family members. Sealed borders and restricted travel. The criminality of thought crime and political dissent.

eisenhowerMilitary bases and defense contractor operations have been strategically positioned in virtually every congressional district. Slowing the churn of the military industrial complex would mean fewer local jobs and depressed local economies of congressfolk. Openly questioning war means defense contractors will fund your opponent next election. Because our campaign finance system is inherently corrupt.

The military budget, our nuclear program, and war spending are all separate categories. Plus foreign aid in the form of military training and weapons. Then there’s the TSA. Intelligence agencies. And since the number of overseas bases, covert operations, and fancy prototypes are all classified information – no one can possibly know how much we are spending.

Yet, in contrast to blank-check expenditures for defense, our treatment of the voluntary members of our armed forces is disgusting. We send the same brave souls again and again until their minds are ravaged by the carnage of war. We expose them to bound child sex-slaves and tell them to keep quiet and accept it.

We hand them assault weapons and tell them to promote democracy. We give them bombs and tell them to nation-build.

When the bravest one-percenters return home we tell them that we fucked up and sent them to the wrong places for the wrong reasons. We refuse to properly fund the VA. We deny benefits to those discharged for surviving sexual assault. We tell them their combat experience (especially when classified) doesn’t translate to the private sector.

We refuse to show images of the flag-draped caskets of their fallen comrades.

Graffito_of_Bradley_or_Chelsea_Manning,_Vienna,_Austria_-_20140721When images of atrocities committed in our name and with our tax dollars are leaked, we lock whistle-blowing patriots under the jail and call them traitors.

We sit drone operators in a video game to rain death from the sky from thousands of miles away before going home for dinner every night with their family – and no time to mentally readjust.

Adolf_HitlerWe waste trillions on F-35s that pilots refuse to operate because they aren’t safe to fly in the rain. We waste billions on amphibious landing vehicles – as if we’re preparing for Normandy – which we can’t actually use because mines are cheap. We insist upon giving the Pentagon more and more tanks that they don’t actually want and wind up collecting dust in the Nevada desert – as if we’re preparing to go to battle with Hitler’s Panzer division. We’ve been tricked into buying fake missile-defense systems – test results of which the government was caught lying about. We hand out grants for a militarized police state to unleash weapons of war in local communities.

War and national security are topics which must be taken seriously. And I worry that our resources and our focus are being directed in a manner which leaves us vulnerable, as well as morally bankrupt.

We have all the fanciest toys. But a swarm of inexpensive drones could render them inoperable. And a single drone could deliver a bigger payload – chemical agents, perhaps. Or malware.

An electromagnetic pulse could render all electronics useless. Numerous nations and NGOs could hack our haphazard power grid and shut the lights out for months at a time. No one could work without electricity. Bills for shelter and communications couldn’t be paid. No gas to move goods or people. No AC for old folks in the desert. No ATMs. Where would we get food? How would we fill prescriptions? We could ration power to hospitals with generators. But how would citizens communicate in the case of medical emergency? The economic and human destruction would be devastating.

Where would we bomb to stop a cyber attack? What random country might we invade? Hackers do no operate on a traditional battlefield with physical targets to identify and land to be seized. Hackers aren’t dark-skinned sand-dwellers who talk and pray funny. Hackers would be spread out in metropoles that people wouldn’t feel comfortable simply carpet-bombing. And capturing or killing one or a few of them wouldn’t make it stop.

Our focus needs to be on cyber-security; not wasting more money on redundant tanks and air-craft carriers, not a new generation of even more expensive nuclear weapons. We need to have an honest conversation as a nation about lone-wolf attacks and the real reasons our government wants to violate the constitution for unfettered access to our communications. We need to talk about imperialism. And consensus. We need to have a serious conversation with the rest of the world about the ethics of drone wars and technological attacks.

We need to stop lavishing our riches, out of ignorance and fear, upon a handful of war-profiteers. Precious tax revenue which could be funding useful things such as education and healthcare, infrastructure, and research & development for tools to fight our gravest threat: climate change.

Sorry Bernie, but I’m Still #NeverHillary

Closing out the first night of the Democratic National Convention, Senator Bernie Sanders gave a full-throated endorsement of Secretary Hillary Clinton for president.

Though slightly abbreviated (a mere half-hour), Bernie gave his usual policy-filled stump speech that supporters had grown accustomed. Cameras cut to teary-eyed delegates, realizing this was the last time they would hear those powerful words from that wonderful man during this historic campaign. Bernie punctuated each familiar, progressive point with the promise that Hillary Clinton would fight to make it reality as president.

Image by Ali Shaker via http://m.voanews.com/a/democrats-celebrate-republicans-criticize-clinton-speech/3439780.html
Image by Ali Shaker via http://m.voanews.com/a/democrats-celebrate-republicans-criticize-clinton-speech/3439780.html

He stressed the importance of the times and the courts and anger and the danger of the cheeto-fascist. He implored his followers to actively support Hillary Clinton in the coming months.

Image by DarrellNance via wikimediacommons
Image by DarrellNance via wikimediacommons

But I just can’t do it. I fully understand and accept that Bernie had little choice but to endorse. After all, Nina Turner was supposed to introduce Bernie at the convention, but withheld her endorsement and coincidentally wasn’t allowed. Bernie wanted to give that speech espousing those values on the national stage of the convention, so he did it.

He also wanted the DNC to adopt the “most progressive” party platform in decades. So he forged ahead despite establishment Democrats and media berating him for months on end for hurting Hillary and helping the orange man and he had to drop out of the race.

Image by Qqqqqqvia wikimediacommons
Image by Qqqqqqvia wikimediacommons

Bernie is smarter than me. He was doing the right thing before I was born. And he’s doing the right thing now – from his perspective. After all, he’s headed back to the senate where he’ll be working with establishment Democrats he’s been calling corrupt for the past year. He’ll return as ranking Budget Committee member, and by smoothing things over it’ll be easier whip his progressive budget.

Image by GageSkidmore via flickr
Image by GageSkidmore via flickr

Also, he likely believes that in the short-term, with the current system, co-opting one of our two major-parties makes more sense than trying to lift a third party to prominence (see, Tea Party). That’s why he ran as a Democrat when he had been an Independent for decades prior. (And why Trump = R.)

The government gives funds to parties that reach certain thresholds – which only Ds and Rs meet. Same goes for news network and political party requirements for getting free media and a national spotlight on the presidential debate stage. Bernie understands intricacies and rules that most people don’t. That’s why he’s the Amendment King. He knows exactly what he is doing.

Image by Becker1999 via https://www.flickr.com/photos/becker271/27930236823/
Image by Becker1999 via https://www.flickr.com/photos/becker271/27930236823/
Image by Hanksey via instagram
Image by Hanksey via instagram

But I can’t get down. I’ll shame and belittle the toddler-tyrant, but I won’t support Hillary Clinton. I can’t support a candidate who supports fracking and the TPP (ask Terry McAuliffe) and the death penalty and prohibition and settlements and private prisons… Who thinks the banks aren’t too big, just misunderstood; and that US foreign policy should be more muscular.

Dr. Jill Stein Source: CC-BY, RAHurd
Dr. Jill Stein Source: CC-BY, RAHurd*

Also, I’m not a Democrat. I am a progressive – far more Jill Stein than Chuck Schumer. And instead of trying to woo my vote, Democrats spit in my face. They had the opportunity to nominate the most progressive candidate in memory and invite a generation of enthusiastic  voters into the party. Democrat leaders instead – despite poll after poll showing the progressive champion was far more electable – chose to rig the election and collude with mainstream media in order to coronate the most unpopular candidate in the history of the party. They scoffed and ridiculed, they accused and demeaned. Then they demanded we fall in line. If Democrats want millennials and progressives in their party, they need to stop condescending and start listening.

Image via DonkeyHotey via filckr
Image via DonkeyHotey via filckr

Admittedly, I have the privilege of not being a white racist terrified of demographics. And I am not an immigrant or a Muslim, or black or brown or native or queer or disabled. So an oompa-loopma-in-chief might only mean accelerated trickle-down for me, personally. Besides, you know, a fascist takeover of the country with an authoritarian police state locking away journalists and political dissidents; perhaps nuclear Armageddon.

Image by Ali Shaker via voanews.com
Image by Ali Shaker via voanews.com

That said, I won’t be frightened into actively violating my conscience. Even though I admit that Bernie is correct. Because I can hold more than one thought in my head at a time.

#Demexit looks fun. I would have stormed out of that convention and holed up in that media tent in Philly if I could have been there. But if I were a politician I would say that we have to be productive, and reform the system from within – that only then can there be legitimate challengers to the two-party system.

Image by DarrellNance via wikimediacommons
Image by DarrellNance via wikimediacommons

That’s the difference between the politician and the revolutionary. They may be on the same side, but they play different roles. Activists and revolutionaries will always be fighting to make the world a better, more just place. Politicians have to make strategic maneuvers along the way. The job of the revolutionary, the activist, the protester is to inconvenience – to get in the way, when necessary, as a means of communicating frustration. The job of politician is to leverage that frustration to push the opposition toward legislation.

Image by Becker1999 via flickr
Image by Becker1999 via flickr

The politician is the example. The opposition are identified, pressured, and, when necessary, removed via ballot box. Allies are rewarded with grassroots organization, voter enthusiasm, and high-volume small donations.

Populist turned sellout super-delegate Gov. Howard Dean, Source: CC-BY, Elliot Munoz
Populist-turned sellout super-delegate Gov. Howard Dean, Source: CC-BY, Elliot Munoz

Howard Dean was a great voice of the people a decade ago. Then he sold out. I used to like Barney Frank. But he sold out to Wall Street, and he’s mighty proud of himself, too. Obama sold us hope and change, but turned out to be a pragmatic corporatist who bombed seven majority-Muslim nations. I had an Elizabeth Warren 2016 bumper sticker on my car. Then Bernie Sanders picked up the mantle.

Bernie represents the best of politicians. He gives voice to the people. He helped spark a political revolution. His progressive bona fides cannot be questioned. He’s been in politics for forty years, and he never cashed out – he’s one of the few non-millionaires in congress. He only ran for president when it became clear that no one else would step forward and challenge Hillary from the left. He could’ve leveraged his delegates for a VP bid or a cabinet appointment+, but he’s in it for the good of the people, not personal gain.

Image by DarrellNance via wikimedia
Image by DarrellNance via wikimedia

So it hurt to see him twist the last stump speech of this whirl-wind of a campaign into a check-list of promises that Hillary would supposedly keep as president. As if he believes that. As if I’m supposed to believe that. But again, he’s a politician. Hopefully he only said those things for the future when she fails to show much effort.

Image by Becker1999 via flickr
Image by Becker1999 via flickr

I am not a politician. My values needn’t be compromised. I won’t support lesser-evilism, and accept this neo-liberal false-binary. Not even for Bernie.

When politicians know that they only have to convince us to be afraid of the other candidate, they only have to be slightly less frightening than their bogey man.

The more liberals shun the labor class and embrace the chamber, the further right conservatives are forced to go for contrast. The more liberals agree with them on fiscal issues, the more conservatives are forced into social issues to please their base.

Image by Rachel Troyer via wiki
Image by Rachel Troyer via wiki

And the country slides further and further to the right. Further toward corporatism and austerity and trickle-down. Further toward culture wars and apocalyptic foreign policy.

Image by GageSkidmore via wikimediacommons
Image by GageSkidmore via wikimediacommons

Voting again and again for the lesser-evil has come to its only logical conclusion: both options are roughly as evil. Both running on fear. Fear of the other. Fear of each other.

I cannot, in good conscience, reward either of them for lesser-evilism. I will not be frightened into enthusiasm. I will not be condescended only to bow my head.

The Trump Effect

Now that Donald Trump has proven everyone wrong and won the Republican nomination, it’s time to seriously examine the repercussions of a Trump presidency. Unfortunately, he, perhaps more than any other candidate, is difficult to assess. Normally, we weigh the voting record and past public statements against the campaign promises and positions taken by the candidate.

Trump obviously has no voting record; he’s flip-flopped on seemingly every meaningful issue; and the few specific policy proposals that he has revealed have been waived off by his campaign staff as mere suggestions or starting points in negotiation.

Kasich_99th_Congress_1985To make the assessment more difficult, Trump admitted in a press conference that he had delegated supreme court nomination to the Heritage Foundation. And he reportedly offered John Kasich full control over “domestic and foreign policy” as vice president so that Trump could concentrate on “making America great again.”

Image by DonkeyHotey via flickr
Image by DonkeyHotey via flickr

Will President Trump be a cheeto-fascist tyrant who torments minorities, seals borders, mobilizes a police state, and imprisons journalists and political opponents? Or does he just want the title, prestige, and lucrative nature of the presidency – in which case we should be studying up on the record of Mike Pence? (Hint: it’s terrible.) Either way, irreparable damage has already been done to our nation by his reckless campaign.

Candidate Trump initiated his run for president by calling our Mexican neighbors rapists and murderers. He oafishly demands that Mexico pay for a nonsensical border wall. He promises to track down and deport 11 million undocumented immigrants. Trump knows these despicable acts would demand an unprecedented police state at an ungodly financial cost.

He reportedly admitted off the record that he isn’t serious about the whole wall thing. I doubt that he really cares much about immigration at all, I think he’s just playing call-and-response with the immigrant-hating Republican Party base. If anything, he might waste money on more border agents and drones; perhaps he tries to ban sanctuary cities, or states from issuing licenses. But if you are one of those 11 million people or their loved ones, who are American in every way but on paper, that’s not a gamble that can be taken. And the hatred being spewed toward your community cannot be unheard or unfelt.

Image by Mstyslav Chernov via wiki CC 4.0
Image by Mstyslav Chernov via wiki CC 4.0

Candidate Trump has promised to ban Muslims and shutter mosques. Unfortunately, hardly anyone defends Muslims (aside from Jews, who know from experience that religious bigotry will inevitably find them when allowed fester), so who knows? Trump will certainly have the NSA violate the 4th Amendment and spy on mosques (more). He will definitely shun victims seeking refuge from terrorism. He has promised to “bring torture back” and meticulously murder innocent family members of suspected terrorists. He couldn’t possibly be anything but counterproductive with Daesh (ISIS) or Syria (or Yemen, or Somalia…). And if you are one of the three-point-three million Muslims in this country, nothing you say or do can stop the rampant spread of Islamophobia which Trump has exacerbated with his incessant fear-mongering hate-speech.

On foreign policy, Trump claimed that he advises himself because he has such a “good brain.” He has asserted that every country (and Japan specifically) should have nukes. He’s given Putin the go-ahead to invade our Eastern European allies by saying he wouldn’t necessarily fulfill our (NATO) treaty obligations. He praised Sadaam Hussein for killing terrorists. He awarded Bashar al-Assad an “A” for leadership. He gave Kim Jong-un “credit” for taking control. He was all for the Iraq invasion, before he was against it. He was all for the assassination of Gaddafi, before he was against it. He’s wholly unfit, he’s pathetically and blatantly uninterested in geopolitics, and he’ll be surrounded by the same old war mongers from the pentagon and intelligence agencies.

Oreo_cookie
Image by Angel Caboodle via wikipedia

Trump says China and Mexico are “killing us” on trade, and that he opposes the TPP. His opposition is a major plank of his faux-populism. However, as we all know, Trump shirts and ties are made in these countries. He will happily sign the TPP into law, and claim that he got some meaningless win in negotiations to save face. We can only hope that he isn’t stupid enough to start a trade war with China.

He claims that he’ll drive the deficit down by renegotiating the value of government bonds and printing more money. Most economists insist that this would cause the interest rates we pay to foreign investors to soar and the value of our dollar to plummet – plunging our own economy into recession and throwing the worldwide economy into chaos in the process. (I don’t necessarily agree with most economists on hyperinflation. That said…)

Trump knows nothing about economics. He knows unscrupulous lawyers who uncover legal ways to defraud those with less power. He knows nothing about business outside of marketing. He simply sells his name for buildings and gold courses – a brand whose value is based solely upon Trump’s perceived personal wealth. Steaks, wine, cigars, magazines, airlines, bottled water, football teams and leagues… All of his own businesses ventures have been utter failures. All he does is lie and cheat and defraud and drag people to court.

Image by wikipietime via wikimedia commons
Image by wikipietime via wikimedia commons

He has been caught conflating revenue with profits to publicly inflate his wealth. Yet for years he has been taking advantage of tax credits which are only available to couples earning less than $500k. He scams people with fraudulent universities and fake real-estate classes. Trump is a con artist. He is a fraud. He is a failure and a punchline.

Coincidentally, he knows nothing about tax policy. He claims that he wants to raise taxes on the rich. His tax proposal would, of course, do the opposite. For his part, he has promised to eliminate the carried interest loophole. But overall Trump would, as any good republican, lavish the wealthy with more and more while inflicting austerity upon everyone else. Same old trickle-down nonsense we’ve been beaten down with for 35 years. Same old deregulation dogma allowing corporate donors to pollute the environment and abuse their employees more. Same old socialization for the rich and rugged individualism for the poor. Same old privatization of profit and socialization of cost. Same old rigged economy.

Image by Gage Skidmore, CC by 3.0 via wiki
Image by Gage Skidmore, CC by 3.0 via wiki

Candidate Trump bemoans a rigged political system. He bought the Clintons off in the past and they came running to his wedding when he called. He rightly states that candidates are beholden to their superPAC donors. But what would he do to fix it? He hasn’t offered anything at all to get money out of politics. He claims to be self-funded. He claims to be so rich that he doesn’t need the money and won’t owe any favors. In reality, he does take superPAC money – he just couldn’t  land any big money donors like the Koch brothers or Sheldon Adelson. Instead, he has been begging foreign leaders for campaign cash (which happens to be highly illegal, aside from the betrayal of his supporters).

That Trump is a slippery guy. Especially so given an inept corporate media unwilling to challenge the powerful. A media who have replaced objectivity with neutrality – who’ve traded acquiescence for access.

Trump has in the past referred to himself as “very pro-choice”, yet recently insisted that women should be punished for abortion. He lamented that wages are already too high, then asserted that “people have to get more.” He claims that climate change is a conspiracy by Chinese scientists, yet cited global warming as the reason for a sea wall at a Trump golf course in Ireland.

He says that he was the establishment when he was buying off politicians, but that he is now the outsider candidate (and establishment again as once elected – just this brief and convenient break from the establishment in pursuit of his faux-populist run for the presidency).

The man is a weathervane. And there are already concrete consequences whether or not Trump manages to get himself impeached as president. With his boorish behavior – making penis jokes, casting aspersions upon the appearance of other candidates’ significant others, calling another candidate a “pussy” and handing out sophomoric nicknames – he has violated norms of acceptability which cannot be erased. He has demeaned POWs and the disabled. He blames our first black president and Black Lives Matter for racial tension and police killings. He has encouraged his followers to physically attack protesters, and promised to cover legal costs if charged. He eggs on a mob who calls for the jailing and assassination of political opponents. He cordons off and verbally attacks the media at his rallies. He bans media which report negatively on him, and sues satirists and comedians for shaming him.Hillary_Clinton_(24266562219)

Image by Rasagri via wikimedia commons
Image by Rasagri via wikimedia commons

Donald Trump is a simpleton. He is intellectually incurious.
He is thin-skinned and ego-maniacal. He is a bully and buffoon. He has the makings of a neo-fascist dictator who could literally be the last president of the United States (pull a Putin, with Pence his Medvedev). Trump says that he wants to make America great but he hates everything great about America. And even if we are lucky enough to have Hillary Clinton as president, Donald Trump will have already convinced an unsettling number of aggressively ignorant racists and bigots – white nationalists, homophobes, misogynists, religious persecutors – that their hate-filled and violent rhetoric is perfectly normal, acceptable, and deserves to be reflected in public discourse and policy.

Unrigging the System – Before Ballots Are Set Aside for Pitch Forks

Source: Matt Brown, CC-BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Source: Matt Brown, CC-BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Justin_Trudeau_supporting_Gerard_Kennedy_3Working, poor, and young people throughout the West are on the verge of political revolution – a veritable Western Spring. This is manifest in vastly differing manners – from Trump, La Pen, & Farage; to Bernie, Trudeau, & Corbyn. Political establishments throughout the West are, of course, reacting in the least productive manners imaginable. Thus, the shared frustrations of increasingly disenfranchised peoples are magnified and accelerated by corrupt, rigged and (seemingly at best) unresponsive governments. People have differing views on the causes, and thus solutions, to these maladies. And prerequisite to bringing honest and fair public policy debates before our respective populi are reform and the unrigging of our universally corrupted political and electoral systems.

The initial steps for any individual are to educate yourself and to vote. And not just for president. Presidents aren’t dictators, so simply voting every four years just isn’t enough. Elections with the most impact on our daily lives are at the local level – our school boards, city councils, state legislatures. They decide your property taxes; your jurisdiction’s reliance upon seemingly-omnipresent fees (rhetorical non-taxes for message-conscious politicians; whether potholes are filled; how many kids are in the classroom; how fast emergency personnel are able to respond; whether revenue conversely serves to fund tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy… More influential than general elections are primaries. And elections – though they occur somewhere in America seemingly every Tuesday – are but dipping ones’ proverbial toe into the political process.

Congressman turned lobbyist Dick Armey Source: CC-BY, http://www.access.gpo.gov/congress/105_pictorial/index.html
Congressman turned lobbyist Dick Armey Source: CC-BY, US Congress

Wealthy campaign donors and paid lobbyists have members of congress at beckoned call. They also need to hear how their constituents feel and what they desire. They need to hear the struggles and concerns of regular people.

Source: CC-BY, Associated Press
Source: CC-BY, Associated Press

Call your representatives. Don’t get nervous – you’ll likely never speak to them directly (unless you’re persistent, and please do). You simply tell their assistant your name (or the voicemail of their assistant, keep trying), whereabouts you reside (be specific as you like), and what issue or piece of legislation you wish them to support or oppose. If they refuse the will of their constituents: petitions, letters to the editor, click-tivism, support primary competitors, canvass & phone bank, peacefully protest, practice civil disobedience when necessary.

occupy fuck apathyUnfortunately – and until we unrig and reform our political and electoral systems – just getting people to care enough to vote, let alone risk arrest…

Lewis Powell Source: CC-BY, Library of Congress
Lewis Powell Source: CC-BY, Library of Congress

Money is the root of all evil. And political bribery is as old as governance itself. But in America we’ve essentially legalized the practice. (Which monetarily-incentivized corporate media has embraced and legitimized, casting the most successful fund-raisers as best qualified for office.) Our Supreme Court has determined – just in the past forty years – that corporations are people and money is speech (which just so happens to coincide with an era of wage-stagnation). According to this relatively recent Supreme Court precedent, corporations and the wealthy have the constitutionally protected free speech rights to lavish politicians with “donations” (Buckley, Bellotti). They’ve declared that there is not even so much as an appearance of corruption in legal bribery, specifically unlimited and secret dark-money (Citizens United). They’ve set the judicial precedent that quid pro quo is insufficient evidence of corruption (Bob McDonnell).

ferguson10Sane people find these sorts of things to be somewhere on the scale between ridiculous and vomitous. And it speaks to the mistrust we rightly have in our supposedly representative governments.

But voting for Trump, or Bernie, or whoever else can’t fix these unfortunate realities alone (unless you count waiting for justices to die and hoping their replacements vote correctly on an eventual case). The POTUS doesn’t get to overrule the SCOTUS, and only some even have the opportunity (however macabre) to shape it, which leaves the matter still to the whims of nine, fallible human beings.

Thomas_Jefferson_revThe only way to concretely overrule the SCOTUS is by amending the US Constitution – which every generation of Americans has done, and which our founding fathers fully expected of us. They inserted the initial ten themselves, and included multiple routes to do likewise.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz Source: CC-BY, US Congress
Debbie Wasserman Schultz Source: CC-BY, US Congress

Congress could conceivably come together and call for a constitutional convention for an amendment to get money out of politics. But people who’ve thrived under a given system are unlikely to want to change its rules – especially when there is financial incentive for inaction.

Fortunately, the states were afforded by our forefathers the ability, and when necessary the responsibility, to call for a convention. And must ratify any proposed amendment, no matter the origin.

Cenk Uygur Source: CC-BY, Ocaasi
Cenk Uygur Source: CC-BY, Ocaasi

The 28th Amendment for Free & Fair Elections will ban political bribery on behalf of corporations, unions, special interest groups – all of it. That way, our elected officials will be accountable to their constituents – the voters – rather than the sponsors who fund their (re)election campaigns. A recent Princeton study going back to the 1970s showed that the will of the people has essentially zero correlation with public policy, unless the wealthy happen to agree with the general public. That’s not democracy. That’s oligarchy.

While the specifics are not always clear, and require the luxury of time to research, the vast majority of people have a sense that vast economic distress is the doing of the wealthy using corrupt politicians and governments to extract more and more for themselves.

George_Washington_lithographOnce we achieve reform demanding that the decisions of the people determining our economic (foreign, immigration…) policies are based upon how the people will be affected rather than just their corporate sponsors, we will have regained control of our government. Revolution. Without a single shot fired. Our founding fathers were both brave enough to take up arms for liberty & freedom and wise enough to ensure that we wouldn’t have to.

The amendment is the tallest and utmost hurdle. And but the beginning. That’s just to get money out of politics. The obvious question is how else, exactly, political campaigns should be funded. Many people want a reasonable cap on personal donations, with the government matching those funds. We could give a credit to each voting-age citizen that could be transferred to their preferred candidate. We could eliminate the practice entirely with publicly funded elections.

FDR, four-term pres Source: CC-BY, Elias Goldensky
FDR, four-term liberal president Source: CC-BY, Elias Goldensky

And suddenly…I’ve got a hard on. We’re talking about how to best shape a government that will best represent its people. There are good ideas and bad, of course. Some people think we should pay members of congress the minimum wage; or withhold their pay should they fail to pass a budget – I say we should pay them more, not less, in order to better attract talented individuals to public service. Many people are in favor of term-limits – I think the people should be able to elect whomever they want to represent them, so long as the electoral system is fair.

Our current system is profoundly and openly unfair (fair is a place they judge pigs & pumpkins, but I digress).

Given the electoral college system, my vote for president is basically worthless. Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Colorado… There are but a handful of swing-states, and those are essentially the only places where individual Americans have even a modicum of a say in who will be their president (choosing between vetted-by-billionaire lesser-evils). We could switch to a popular vote – but then candidates would mainly cater to areas where voters are concentrated like California & New York (which could conceivably leave them vulnerable to rural-focused candidates #sideeffects).

Dr. Jill Stein Source: CC-BY, RAHurd
Dr. Jill Stein, Green Party presidential nominee, Source: CC-BY, RAHurd

The presidential debates system is rigged – the two major-party candidates have their respective places reserved, but 15% support is required before people are exposed to the ideas of third-party candidates (Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, currently).

There are no national standards for who gets to be on the ballot. Some states just want cash for a spot – as little as a couple hundred bucks. Some states require hundreds of confirmed signatures of registered voters from every county – which requires significant resources and name recognition.

Populist-turned-sellout super-delegate Gov. Howard Dean, Source: CC-BY, Elliot Munoz
Populist turned sellout super-delegate Gov. Howard Dean, Source: CC-BY, Elliot Munoz

There are no national standards for selecting a nominee. The political parties control the nomination processes. The parties decide how many debates to hold (and bar candidates from participated in unsanctioned debated), and the standard for which candidates’ ideas are granted access to that megaphone (see Rand Paul, Lawrence Lessig).

The parties decide whether there are unbound delegates, or unpledged (super) delegates – both of whom serve as establishment fail-safes, just in case the people get behind a populist fringe candidate.

States decide whether to hold primaries or caucuses (caucuses are fundamentally unfair to working people). State parties decide whether to hold open, mixed, or closed primaries (closed & mixed are unfair to independent or unaffiliated voters, in addition to those same populist or fringe candidates). State party (and precinct) chairs determine the rules (or at minimum control the processes for adopting rules) at caucuses. Elections officials decide how many polling stations to open, and whether people in line at closing of the polls still get to vote; how long before the election you must’ve registered; whether to hold recounts in close or challenged elections (short of a lawsuit).

Primaried Republican Senator Dick Lugar, Source: CC-BY, US Senate
Primaried Republican Senator Dick Lugar, Source: CC-BY, US Senate
Source: CC-BY, Boston Centinel
Source: CC-BY, Boston Centinel

By gerrymandering districts (every ten years following the census), politicians get to pick their voters. They stack & pack the electorate to their benefit – rounding like-minded voters into noncompetitive, incumbency-protecting safe districts – where the only threat of losing office is being primaried by someone further to the political extreme. This not only  results in more extreme politicians, but increasingly extreme voters and political parties. Arizona, California, & Washington have created non-partisan redistricting commissions. We could easily use computer programs to draw unbiased boundaries and end the uniquely American practice of Gerrymandering.

Politicians in decide whether you get to vote if you have a felony (and decide which felonies are disqualifying, if any). Elections officials can purge your name from the rolls if you haven’t recently voted, or if they think you are a felon, or think you died, or think you moved, often because you have a common or similar name (Williams, Jackson, Hernandez, Ramirez, Mohammed, Abdul, Lee, Kim – see how that works?).

Your vote could be challenged at the polling station by a campaign operative (you’d be given a provisional ballot). Poll workers may give you a provisional ballot because your voter registration shows a maiden name or middle initial but your ID doesn’t, or you’re a student with an out-of-state ID and they don’t accept student IDs, or you went to the wrong polling station and it’s too late, or you were purged from the rolls, or your party affiliation had been changed. Provisional ballots are only counted under very rare circumstances. Never, ever settle for a provisional ballot (search the number for a voter-support line if you have problems).

Voter ID proponent Gov Scott Walker, Source: CC-BY, Michael Vadon
Voter-ID law proponent Gov Scott Walker, Source: CC-BY, Michael Vadon

Voter-ID laws could mean that you can’t vote because you can’t afford a car (have direct deposit) and don’t have a license. Or you are already registered to vote, but can’t get a current ID because you don’t have a birth certificate, or you don’t have the resources to make the trip to your home state to get a birth certificate, or your birth certificate shows your maiden name and not your registration, or there is no place in your county to get an ID (which costs money, and time off from work, and transportation ie poll tax).

Last of his kind, investigative journalist Greg Palast, Source, CC-BY, Zdroberts
Last of his kind, investigative reporter Greg Palast, Source, CC-BY, Zdroberts

Your mail-in ballot could be misplaced and you’d never know it. Your ballot could be cast on an old or untested machine which could be, unbeknownst to you, owned by a company associated with a particular candidate or campaign. We could vote online, but that could be hacked. As has been said (and often attributed to Stalin): It is not the people who vote that counts. It is the people who count the votes.

There are myriad obstacles to the franchise; numerous ways in which the system is rigged at seemingly every level. We must do everything possible to get people involved and educate them on how to reform our political and electoral systems so that politicians who refuse to abide the will of the people are removed and replaced. So that those with the privilege of being afforded positions of power understand that their primary task is to ensure that public policy benefit the public.

Voting should be a right, not a privilege. We could have a holiday for voting so that more people are able to participate. We should have at least two days, because some jobs can’t go offline (9-1-1, fire departments, healthcare workers, prison guards, bus drivers, gas stations…).

We could have motor-voter laws which automatically register people to vote when they get their license. We could have opt-out voter registration of all citizens upon their eighteenth birthday (or sixteenth, but that’s another matter). We could have same-day registration so it wouldn’t matter what party you were listed under or for how long. We should have compulsory voting. We could employ the carrot method: increasing tax credits for voting in presidential elections on down; more for primaries, mid-term, and off-year elections.

We could have top-two (aka jungle) primaries. We could have ranked-choice voting. We should have a None of the Above option on ballots.

What we cannot have, and what we mustn’t continue, is this vicious cycle. Our elected officials and our institutions have earned mistrust and cynicism. Wealth inequality is the worst since the Gilded Age. Statistically, the average member of congress is now a millionaire. Congress as a whole maintains worse approval ratings than lice. We are showing up to the polls at the lowest levels since WWII.

If a politicians knows that there is 0% chance that you will vote for them, they have zero reason to care how you feel. They instead use public policy to cater to wealthy campaign donors who’ve been unburdened of the normal consequences of bribery. Which breeds even more regressive, supply-side economic policy and austerity (and wars for profit, and prisons for profit…). Which increases socioeconomic inequity and immobility, and yet more public mistrust in government. And so goes the downward spiral.

Nigel_FarageJeremy_Corbyn,_Tolpuddle_2015And the inevitable yet unpredictable backlash. The Trump. The Bernie. The Corbyn. The Brexit. Eliciting the wringing of un-calloused hands. Birthing plots of witless opulents to undermine the will of exasperated peoples. And calls (echoed by a complicit commentariat) for less democracy – for establishment fail-safes and referendum do-overs – to keep the unwashed masses from having a say in their own, supposedly self-governments. To breed yet more mistrust. Spiraling, spiraling.

We are fast-approaching an inevitable rebirth. Either we continue down the current trajectory and become a society with a tiny class of oligarchs brooding over masses of politically & economically repressed worker-subjects – which would result in pitch fork-wielding hordes storming the Hamptons. Or, establishmentarian neoliberal so-called elites will submit to a peaceful people’s political revolution. To reform political and electoral systems. To restore the American Dream. And embrace the awakening of the Western Spring.

Top Ten Running Backs

Gale Sayers

Gale-Sayers-Jan052008-ArmyFBAwardsAwesome. Breath-taking. Poetry in motion. Record six touchdowns in a single game; record 22 rookie-year touchdowns. Most gifted and awe-inspiring runner with the football anyone has ever seen with human eyes. Suffered a devastating knee injury which retired runners of his time (backs return in less than a calendar year thanks to modern medicine/surgical acumen), yet Sayers rehabbed his injuries and reinvented himself as a grind-it-out work-horse back. (Movie Brian’s Song memorialized Sayers’ comeback and relationship with fullback Brian Piccolo, who died of cancer.)

Jim Brown

Jim_Brown_Cleveland.jpegSuperman. Widely regarded as the most dominant football player in history (best lacrosse player to boot). Rose slowly and plodded back to the huddle after every single carry so that no one knew when he was slowed by injury. Stayed after-hours to sneak in trainer’s room so even teammates would never witness his bodily-armor chinked. Retired at the height of his powers after only nine incredible seasons (role in Dirty Dozen, plus a bit of spite).

Walter Payton

Walter_PaytonSweetness: Football player. Could block, catch, even throw when called upon. Relentless runner. Fought for every single yard, and with super-human abilities when near the goal line. Heart. Walter Payton Award is awarded annually to the player exhibiting best community outreach.

Barry Sanders

Barry_SandersUngraspability. Sayers clone with durability. Most exciting one-yard runs in history. Set NCAA record book aflame (once Thurman Thomas departed for the NFL). Retired in his prime like Jimmy Brown, foregoing within-reach rushing record.

OJ_MadeinAmerica_PosterOJ Simpson

Unfortunate.

Red Grange

Red_Grange_delivers_ice_1930The first great back. When Grange roamed the gridiron, the college game was the cat’s pajamas – no one cared a lick about professional football. The Galloping Ghost was such a transcendent star at the University of Illinois that he barnstormed the country after his college career before finally bringing credibility, and a much-needed spotlight, to professional football and the Chicago Bears.

Marshall Faulk

Marshall_Faulk_CropEvolutionary apex. Among the elite runners in league history and a Pro Bowl-level wide receiver in one magnificent package.

Marcus Allen

Marcus_AllenLike Payton before, Allen deserves the best compliment of all: football player. Graceful runner. Nose for the end zone. Selfless: switched to fullback when a guy named Bo came to Los Angeles.

Eric Dickerson

Eric_DickersonSpeed/size combo with durability. Upright, one-cut runner. Batman of running backs (eye goggles, shoulder roll, elbow pads, forearm sleeves…).

Bo Jackson

Bo Jackson NY_junior_Heisman_awards_dinner_1985Did someone say speed/size combo? Football was but an off-season hobby for this fabled behemoth of yore. Bo Jackson belongs on the Mount Rushmore of Athletes of the Twentieth Century, perhaps human history. Chuck Norris in cleats. Dos Equis’ Interesting Man in shoulder pads. Mythical figure who was, like Sayers, a fleeting star whose feats of excellence must’ve been seen to be believed.

Honorable Mentions: LaDainian Tomlinson, Adrian Peterson, Emmitt Smith, Tony Dorsett, Earl Campbell, Marion Motley, Doak Walker, Hugh McElhenny, Roger Craig, Herschel Walker

Top Ten Quarterback of All Time

Sammy_Baugh_NYWTSSammy Baugh

The original. Dreams of playing professional baseball were diverted with a high school knee injury which resulted in his scholarship being rescinded from Washington State. Finished fourth in Heisman voting at TCU, drafted 6th overall. Though the forward pass had been legalized thirty years prior to his arrival, Baugh was the first major passing threat in pro football. Set completions record, led league in passing yards, and his led his Washington professional football team to an NFL Championship during rookie campaign in 1937. Once threw four touchdown passes, and intercepted four more, in a single game. In 1943, led NFL in passing, interceptions (also played safety), and punting average (still holds NFL record for single-season punting average). Two-time MVP. Charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Named Most Versatile Player (NFL Network), and 3rd Greatest Player of 20th Century (Associated Press).

Johnny_Unitas.jpegJohnnyUnitasSignAutograph1964Johnny Unitas

Johnny U was deemed too skinny for Notre Dame, was injured during his senior season at Louisville, and cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers without the virtue of a single practice snap before playing semi-pro ball for $6 a game. Quarterbacked the Baltimore Colts to the 1958 NFL championship (one of three) in Greatest Game Ever Played (the first televised, and first overtime, NFL contest) victory over Frank Gifford-led New York Giants. Four-time NFL MVP. Considered the best quarterback for decades following his retirement.

Otto_GrahamOtto Graham

Received basketball scholarship to Northwestern where he was spotted playing intramural football on campus. Played another season of basketball at Colgate, served a brief time in the military, and won the 1946 title with the Rochester Royals of the NBL, before Paul Brown offered Graham a contract to play for the Cleveland Browns. Most dominant player of his time – led Browns to championship game each of his 10 seasons, including seven titles, during which Graham was awarded five MVPs (two AAFC, three NFL). Still holds NFL records for win percentage & yards per passing attempt.

Joe_Montana_crop)Joe Montana

Though Joe Cool began playing football at age eight (parents forged papers to get him on the nine-year old team), his favorite sport was basketball. He was named to the all-state team as a senior, and received a basketball scholarship to North Carolina State. Third-round pick out of Notre Dame for Bill Walsh’s West Coast offense. Threw touchdown pass that became “The Catch” to Dwight Clark – effectively ending the dynasty of America’s Team, and birthing that of the San Francisco 49ers. Two-time MVP, three-time Super Bowl MVP, four-time NFL Champion (including 11 Super Bowl TDs & 0 INT). Named #4 All Time Player by NFL Network, and Most Clutch QB by Sports Illustrated.

Tom_Brady9Tom Brady

Married to a super model and currently suspended by the NFL… Tom Terrific: four-time NFL Champion, three-time Super Bowl MVP. Still going strong.

1987_Atlanta_Falcons_Pocket_Schedule_(crop)John Elway

Perhaps the best athlete – with unquestionably the best arm – on the list. Highest rated quarterback prospect in history. Threatened to play baseball rather than with the Baltimore Colts (who held first pick in NFL Draft following career at Stanford). Carried bad teams on his back to title games against superior opponents during his prime, before finally winning back-to-back Super Bowls on the legs of Terrell Davis following his final seasons.

manningPeyton Manning

Never beat Florida. Greatest regular season quarterback in NFL history. Bested Rex Grossman for a title (carried by all-time defense for another in final season). Returned to football following neck surgery and nerve damage. Changed the way position was played: coach on the field, embodiment of Signal Caller. Most passing yards in a season and career; most touchdowns in a game, season, and career. Real jerk of a guy despite commercial persona.

Tarkenton_ScramblingFran Tarkenton

Retired with virtually every NFL passing record. Led Minnesota Vikings to three championship games. 1975 NFL MVP, 1986 HOF inductee, Monday Night Football commentator. Modern equivalent = Russell Wilson.

Staubach_cowboys_qbRoger Staubach

Captain Comeback was the Joe DiMaggio of American football. Won the Heisman trophy quarterbacking the Midshipmen before serving four years in the Navy (including a voluntary tour in Vietnam). Finally earned starting quarterback position for Dallas Cowboys at nearly 29. Won two NFL Championships. Threw original Hail Mary to Drew Pearson in 1975 playoff game. Eventually sold his real estate company for over $600m.

MarinoColorPitt1979Dan Marino

Best pure passer. Passed over by hometown Steelers in draft. Named to Pro Bowl as rookie. Set single-season record for touchdown passes and yards in first full year as starter, which culminated in MVP honors and Super Bowl loss to Joe Montana & the 49ers. Retired with a then-record 420 career passing touchdowns.

ChicagoBears42Sid Luckman

The first deep passing threat. First to throw for 400 yards in a game. Record of 28 passing TDs stood for 15 years before being broken by Unitas (32, 1959). Four-time champion. MVP of 1943 season when he set the NFL record for TD pct (13.9), and his 10.9 ypa remains second best in NFL history. 1965 HOF inductee.

Joe_Montana,_Steve_Young_Super_Bowl_50Steve Young

Nearly the athlete as Elway, nearly the scrambling ability of Tarkenton. Fought out of shadow of Montana. Three-time champion (MVP of Super Bowl XXIX) & two-time NFL MVP. Incredibly bright. Mormon.

Brett_Favre_cropBrett Favre

Incredibly narcissistic. Incredibly tough. Three-time NFL MVP, one-time Super Bowl champion (Desmond Howard MVP). Retired with most attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns, and interceptions in NFL history. 321 consecutive starts (including post-season) a seemingly-unbreakable record.