Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Art of The Con

"The self-fulfilling prophecy is in the beginning a false definition of the situation, evoking a new behavior which makes the original false conception come true. This specious validity of the self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuates a reign of error. For the prophet will cite the actual course of events as proof that he was right from the very beginning."

- Robert Kenton, 1948

If you take information and strip it of context, you end up with propaganda. It is no different than manipulating visual perspective in a magic trick. Replay the magic act from different angles and you will eventually expose the trick. Likewise, restore context to information and you will always expose the propaganda.

Propaganda is the cocaine of partisan politics. It is an artificial rush that takes you up to the heights of "telling it like it is", only to slam you back down to the dirt-eating "we left something out". Without contextual information politics is a zero-sum game. It takes what it gives and it gives what it takes. 

There are 3,143 counties and county-equivalents in the US. Over six US presidential elections ago, an Australian immigrant named Rupert Murdoch observed that counties, not states, are the DNA of the US. There are still mainstream media outlets today that don't understand our national genetics. They talk about fifty red-white-and-blue states in time-wasting analyses. 

Murdoch astutely noticed that a vast majority of those counties see "red" when it comes to politics. By vast I mean, more than 90% of these counties are home to a red majority. A true color map would actually show more purple than red, as most of these counties are not 100% red. Be that as it may, the challenge for the Heartland was that Blue America had just been resurrected by centrist William Jefferson Clinton. Among the top reasons for this blue revival: it turns out trickle-down economics didn't actually trickle from Wall Street to Des Moines. The trickling was diverted and offshored to the brown fog of Beijing and Mexico City. The red Heartlanders who refused to wait forever packed their bags and decided to give Blue America a chance. 

Between 1992 and 2016 there have been seven presidential elections. In six out of seven the blues outnumbered the reds. In two of those six the reds were bailed out by the Electoral College. You can draw your own conclusions as to where that trend is headed.

Bucking the trend and with a little help from a red freshman class, Murdoch didn't just see a rise of blue Heartlanders marching to a promised land. In a glass half-empty vision he saw red folks being left behind. He saw the void, but more importantly, he knew the power of that void. Unlike Hillary Clinton, Murdoch bet on the wide open spaces and went to every county of the Heartland. A land abandoned by the new American majority, but not by the founding fathers. The large TV screen in the living rooms and bars of the Red Heartland was playing only one magic show: Fox News. 

Hillary Clinton did not lose to Donald Trump, she lost to Rupert Murdoch. The man with the largest share of Fox News' parent company, 21st Century Fox. A man who, in the ultimate twist of cynical fate, must fiducially consider the interests of Saudi Arabian prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, the second largest shareholder of 21st Century Fox.

To be fair it is not that Fox News is a lone outlier in our fulfilled Orwellian prophecy of Newspeak. It's just that they are one of the worst offenders. Their kind of magic appeals to simpler folk, whose appetite for the truth has been exceeded by their need for work and dignity. These are not unintelligent Americans, certainly not any more or less intelligent than any other segment of the country. These are left-behind Americans, whose anger has been poked by the peddlers of half-truths.

Propaganda sells zero accountability. It cons the illusion where nothing is your fault. Your responsibility is magically removed from your perspective. This is not just a red problem by the way: this is a red-white-and-blue problem, a black-lives, brown-lives, and every other lives problem. The peculiar thing about human nature is that, barring a few outliers who literally believe in magic, most folks know that the magician is manipulating their field of vision. It's just that they can't resist the thrill of the illusion at a time when reality is dull to them. The temporary absolution from reality is comfortably numbing, the rush of quasi-truths leaves them craving for more.

For their part, the Saudi Prince and his Chief Information Amputator can't really be bothered with the problems of America's Heartland. In exchange for the feel-good experience from self-fulfilling prophecies, at the end of the evening the magician always takes your money home. 

"...Now every time that she performed,
Oh, everybody cried for more.
Soon all she had to do was step into the light,
For everyone to start to roar.
And all the people cried, you're the one we've waited for..."

-"Duchess" (1979)

Sunday, November 20, 2016

"The Forgotten Will Be Forgotten No More"

On Friday January 20, 2017, the 45th president of the United States will be sworn-in. During his inauguration speech, forty-five will be facing a historic dilemma: to mention or not to mention that prickly will of the people.  You know the one, "the American people have spoken." No matter what forty-five decides, the elephant in the inauguration will be telling it like it is: "The electoral college has spoken." 

We heard you loud and clear founding fathers. Your message from the past was a shot across the bow. You'd think after 2000 we would have taken that warning more seriously. Which prompted me to take a closer look at our history, since we've obviously been condemned to repeat it. 

I dug deeper into that electoral college dragon you set loose on us. The one that lurks in the shadows of every election, never actually pouncing. Except for a handful of times, including this last one, when the dragon spewed hellfire on an "unfair" majority. I should have been paying closer attention this time around. What exactly is an unfair majority? 

I came out of my research with the mother of all head-scratchers. That famous electoral college I knew all my adult life, harmless and quiet for over one-hundred years before 2000, was designed to protect the less populated, under-informed and forgotten... by counting slaves as two-fifths of a white man? Good grief Thomas Jefferson. Say it ain't so.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." When Jefferson's pen released that last drop of ink on one of the world's most famous parchment papers, somewhere on a plantation in Virginia an enslaved man looked up at the heavens and shook his head. And somewhere in the conscience of that slave's "owner" there was a twitch, as he stared at the words he had just written. The kind of twitch that for a moment we think might have been a pinched nerve in the neck... but no. It was something worse. 

In a world driven by "pre-truth" and "post-truth" (and anything but the truth so help me God), I am willing to hold Thomas Jefferson accountable only to the pre-truth of his time. In his case, pre-Civil War. That being said, how does a man so otherwise enlightened in matters of leading the world away from tyranny reconcile that blatant contradiction in his mind? Surely that twitch must have afflicted him occasionally. Especially while sitting on Monticello’s terrace, looking down upon Mulberry Row, and watching enslaved men and women build his personal wealth. Men and women he deemed not fully human. Two-fifths human, to be precise. 

The revolutionary war was a bar brawl compared to the Civil war. True liberty and the pursuit of happiness were not born with the revolutionary war. They were born through the labor pain of a one-hundred-year journey. A journey that started with the Civil War and ended with the political defeat of white supremacist George Wallace.

Against all those odds, I refuse to judge from the cheap seats of a better-informed future. Flawed as he was, I still hold a decent  amount of respect for Thomas Jefferson. He was no John Adams, but there was greatness in him. I will assume until further evidence that he may have been a “good slave-owner”, whatever in god’s name that is. Or at least a slave owner with a twitchy, nagging conscience. I typically don't look to the past for a moral compass anyway, as much as I respect the few enlightened ones that made my world a better place. I especially respect the many who sacrificed life or limb for the basic freedom of millions. But this much I know: It's the ones who delivered actual inalienable rights to those condemned as two-fifths human who should command our greatest respect.

The electoral college was a borderline undemocratic measure, its roots borrowed from Roman times. Times that were no longer relevant, like everything in evolution: we are not here to make Rome great again. To be fair it was a measure born out of an arguably legitimate concern: the under-representation of less informed and / or less populated areas. But it was also a concern that was instantly addressed through less undemocratic means. Not only was it neutralized right off the gate by the creation of political parties, it was wiped out as long ago as the propagation of radio and television. Nevertheless, a concern that became a powerful tool for political manipulation. 

With all due respect to a good-faith watchdog of fair representation, when it was dragged through the mud of de-humanizing tyranny it became a threat to the greatest democratic development the world has ever known. The well-meaning founders had no way of knowing that the under-informed could one day be mass-blitzed by false information. The exact opposite of what the measure was intended to protect just happened. The under-informed were deliberately mis-informed, propaganda style at its most dangerous, giving proof beyond shadow of a doubt that the electoral college was ill-conceived. 

So knowing what I now know better, I have an appeal to those whose anger was awakened by Donald Trump...

Dear Forgotten:

I was wrong. I didn't think your message would make it this far. Honestly, I thought your nomination of Donald Trump was your message, but it didn't have a chance to go further. Speaking at least for the politically independent, we were wrong. 

Many of us have heard you, loud and clear. Forty years is enough. Since the day that first factory was closed back in the mid 70's, you have slowly watched the disintegration of your world. Almost everything you were promised by your fathers and grandfathers was crushed. You retreated to a world that looked awfully close to those ghettos you saw on TV. Except you weren't black, or brown, or did not live in a large city - as if that matters, but let's stay on point.  So how in the world did you end up in your own rural ghetto?

I don't know that anyone clearly knows that answer, but I do suspect this: you went through the five stages of grief. You stopped asking questions when you submitted to acceptance, in your own version of hope. A hope that never came. Well, at least not the way we would like it to be. That "long run" crap politicians talk about is a slap in the face of dignity. Forty years is enough. Screw the long run, you're mad as hell and you're not going to take it anymore.

Who knew, but apparently it is possible for the five stages of grief to be re-started. Awakened. Someone came to your town, to your TV sets, to your twitter accounts, and whispered the magic words in your ear: "It's not your fault. Follow me." So far so good, you still have my attention. 

But here's where I'm losing you: the man who asked you to follow him not only never walked a mile in your shoes, he wouldn't wear your shoes if you paid him. And that's saying a lot for a billionaire. The rub is, you turned a deaf ear when you heard he was not self-made. Strike one.

One of the five stages of grief is anger. When he whispered in your ear, Donald Trump didn't just stop at "it's not your fault." Oh, no, he knew how to fire up that anger like there's no tomorrow. In fact, that's literally what he told you: there is no tomorrow. Only he had the billionaire superpower to turn back time, and he "told it like it is": it's the Mexicans, the Blacks, the Muslims, the Jews, the Immigrants, the Liberals, the Gays, the Handicapped, Non-Christian Soldiers, Captured Soldiers, Washington, Hollywood, China, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, the Media, and Women who don't know their place, especially Fat Women. Notably absent from that list: fat billionaires who stiff the ones who actually do the work, then hide behind bankruptcy; the same ones who outsource their own production to Mexico and China, and who get bailed out by Saudi Arabian royalty. A royalty that is quite possibly one of the most evil on the planet. And here's something no one told you: it wasn't China or Mexico who shut down your factories. It was the billionaires who thought paying you $8 an hour was stupid, when you can pay a Chinese or a Mexican $1 an hour. Strike two. 

Which brings us to bases loaded, two strikes, bottom of the 9th. The good news is, you are clearly in the World Series. The bad news is, the math is stacked against you. Look closer at that scoreboard: the popular vote is sliding away from you. In 2000 the difference was half a million. Today it reached six times that. That trend is not going to stop, and no electoral college can stop the actual will of the people. Which by the way, always included you. You never needed an undemocratic contraption to be a major part of this country. And it’s time to let it go.

Want to keep America great? Why not start by making accountability great again. Fix yourselves, as you rightly demand of the welfared ones. Stop dreaming that a bored billionaire prince actually cares about you. Had the electoral college been designed to honestly defend you, I would say swing away. The next one will be out of the park. But no, it wasn't conceived with honesty. It was created for political gain, on the backs of slaves, who at two-fifths human didn't even qualify to be called the forgotten ones.

I'm betting that you're smart and realize that four or eight years from now there won't be a sea of factories in Mississippi, Texas, Detroit, or Pittsburgh. These mythical factories certainly will not be hiring you at $15 an hour. Oh there will be the usual sewage of misinformation, telling you that the few that are still there are there thanks to the people you voted for. And there might be one or two new ones, subsidized by taxpayers. Definitely not by free markets, because irony needs no electoral college. Because irony actually tells it like it is.

Since the likes of Bannon and Coulter already know about the factories myth, they will continue to do what they do best. They will make a lot of money by dog-whistling to you in textbook intelligentsia-speak: It's not your fault, follow me. Up to you if you want to let them do that. I think you're smarter than that, and I think you’re pride in resisting government handouts is genuine. I also think you're right that the political machinery on the left is full of hypocrisy. But that's no reason to strap dynamite to your chest and blow yourself up. A Machiavellian prince is not worth it. Trust me on this one, Machiavelli lost that war. And so will this current bored prince, whom you thrust upon the rest of us when your anger was poked. Just remember, no good decisions are ever made in fits of rage.

As we both seek to repair the damage done, can we walk away from the propaganda and anger puppeteering? Let's start a conversation about an America where political tyrants will be powerful no more. An America that truly honors the founders legacy by rejecting royal dreams of Camelot and trickle down cake from golden palaces. An America where the far right and the far left can no longer fool anyone with their self-serving propaganda. The America that once truly liberated itself and helped make the world a better place.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

I Love The Way You Lie

Lie to me. 83 million times a day. That's the number of fake Facebook accounts, according to a CNN study. Just last night I came across my daily one: "Southwest Airlines" is giving away free, all-inclusive vacations, all you have to do is post your favorite number, from 1-30. And maybe your dignity. Either way, the troll extracted 250,000 “likes" in 12 hours. 350,000 shares. 50 dupes per minute. Yes, that's almost one every second. Every second, you can see one more victim popping up, right before your eyes. Pop. Pop, pop, pop.

83 million. That's just the known fakes. Either way, it's a large number. It is just over the entire population of Germany. It is roughly 2/3 of U.S. voters. Think about that on Wednesday, when your candidate wins/loses by a landslide/one vote. What are the chances of 83 million Americans being compromised by deliberate misinformation? Let that sink in for a moment. Pop.

Democracy, thy name is pyrrhic. Maybe not in the short run. But the U.S. Founders already knew that, didn't they. Because monarchy. The biggest lie in the history of mankind. Pyrrhic victory it is then, bring it on. Again. 240 years and counting.

For those who are still confused about the Founders lack of trust in "we the people", exactly how much evidence do you need? The Founders did not care about your love / hate relationships with political candidates. They did not trust your dreams of Camelot or their Machiavellian pursuits. They created a robust system like the world had never seen before, and they sent us off with one clear mission: at the worst of our dissent, stand united by choice. In a world of Princes and Kings, be much better than that.

We joke about the vice-president being just one heartbeat away from becoming president. Yet we're oblivious to the dark side behind the joke. Our presidents are just one lie away from becoming kings. Let's just hope the band of gypsies, tramps and thieves we call congress can do the ONE job they were asked to do, be the ONE thing they were designed to be: king destroyers.

For those who feel bad about falling for trollers, scammers, and politicians... don't. You're human, it's OK. Just get up and finish the race.

And for those believe they have a license to lie; yes, you, king makers and king wannabes; cocky that no one can fool you... you missed one. Check the mirror.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio?

Those were the days, my friend. When great men set records that haven't been broken, and boys dreamed the dream of owning the moon. Days that morphed into the dark fog of night, when men in white sheets would kick your door down. Long silent nights that muffled the screams of a pig-tailed black girl as her daddy was hung. Darkness that fell to the dawn of the brave, trading limb, and then life, for the freedom of love... it was indeed the best of times. It was no doubt the worst of times. But there was always a morning after. There was always morning in America.

So there I was, sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon, going to the candidates' debate. On my virtual way there, I decided to first stop by Wikileaks. Because that's what Jolting Joe would do. Because good friends I respect, right of center, were telling me that’s where the smoking gun was. The scene of the crime, for the whole world to see. Well, I have a bone to pick with my friends: there was a smoking gun alright, but it didn't have Clinton's fingerprints on it. It had the American voter's paws all over it.

I suspect that like 99.9% of Americans, my friends had not visited Wikileaks, never mind read through the un-pundited documents. Hell, I would bet an autographed "Make America Great Again" ball cap that the 99.9% don't have a clue who Podesta is. So I have a challenge for them: read the damn emails. Not Assange's spin on them, and for the love of Jefferson, not CNN's, NYT's, FOX, Drudge Report or Huffington Post. Use your own noodle for heaven's sake.

What I found perusing through the Podesta emails was that the majority of US voters will vote for a political machinist in November, not any different than Obama, Bush Jr., WJ Clinton, Bush Sr., and Reagan. All the way back to POTUS Three. POTUS Two actually strongly opposed the creation of political parties, making him my favorite founding father. Can we all agree now that John Adams was right? No, of course we can't. We're addicted to the crack of character assassination, no time for rational thought. 

So back to the smoking gun and the race for POTUS Forty-Five: in just a few weeks the majority of voters will elect her at gun point, gun pointed at their own feet. Mind you, the alternative was to point the guns at their heads. Given the alternative, I might also risk a foot.

To my friends left of center, half of you certainly have the right to see Clinton as an honest and caring public servant. But stop getting annoyed when 75% of the country thinks you're addicted to KoolAid. When you defend machine politics blindly, you've given up your spot at the higher moral ground.

As for the shooter with the smoking gun: vote away, with a vengeance if you must. Just one question for you: what do you think would happen if you put your gun down and pick up a good history book? Why don’t you try sources of information beyond your comfort zone? You know, like they do in a court of law. We give one side a chance to present their case, and we listen to them. Then we extend the exact same courtesy to the other side. Only then we decide, even if the judgment was not what we thought at first. If you think you have already listened to them, but you can't really feel their pain, you have failed. You’re not listening, because you're busy shooting your gun and pretending it's a vote for truth and justice.

Justice is blind, not because it doesn't care if you're rich or poor, black or white: it is blind because it doesn't always know where the truth is, but hungers for it relentlessly. True justice is not always found in a court of human law. True justice is its own reward.

No such reward for you, my fellow partisan voters. You read and listen to all the same pundits. You "like" and share partisan sources of aggregate, clickbait opinion dungeons, embarrassingly taking them for sources of news. You're desperately looking for self-fulfilling validation. You're living in a world run by kangaroo courts. Good luck with that.

To my fellow independents, stay focused: our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.


"Mrs. Robinson" by The Lemmonheads

Sunday, July 24, 2016

My Dinner With Thomas Jefferson

"Excuse me, sir... I've probably had the wrong kind of mushrooms in my salad, but... aren't you Thomas Jefferson??"

"I was, but don't wear the old name out. If I hear it invoked one more time in vain I swear I will figure out how to give you guys back to the British."

"I'm pretty sure they don't want us anymore."


"Mr. Jefferson, sir, I have to ask... "


"Thomas, thank you. I have to ask... well, first, I have to tell you, I'm, like, your biggest fan..."

"Listen, I don't mean to be rude, but you and every Tom, Dick, and Harry have already declared your undying love for me. As adorable as you all are, can you all do me a favor and just grow the hell up?"

"Whoa. Well, Mr. Jeff... Thomas, to be fair, you guys started something very special..."

"We didn't start it."

"Well, OK, I get it. But you guys made quite a splash with it."

"Apparently not enough. What the hell is an email server?"

"Long story... hey, we put a man on the moon..."

"That was impressive, I'll give you that."

"Well you should be proud. Don't you think you had something to do with that?"

"With escape velocity? Once again fellow, that wasn't us."

"Funny. Ok, so, about that 'more perfect union...' "

"What about it? Let me rephrase that... how did it work out?"

"Well... it took us one hundred years to free your slaves..."

"Thanks, that's embarrassing. How did that freedom thing work out for them?"

"Not great. Took a little while for the former slave "owners" to get used to the idea. They called it segregation, the American apartheid."

"How long?"

"About another one hundred years..."

"Holy shit. Well you can't pin that one on us."

"You're safe, trust me. It's like you guys could do no wrong. Both sides of our political spectrum claim direct moral association with you and the rest of the founders. You guys are like the rock stars of founding fathers."

"Nice analogy, don't quit your day job kid. Listen, allow me to break this down for you as simply as possible: we're human. The world has always been a wild place, but the prospect of a great civilization and enlightenment is like a promise land... It was for us too."

"That much I'm going to fight you on: you ARE enlightened, I mean were, sir, I mean Thomas... hell, I can't bring myself to call you Thomas!"

"Because you're talking to a dead man or because you think you're talking to a demigod?"

"Both... I guess..."

"Alright, listen: sit down before you hurt yourself, and let me finish. I need to go back to being peacefully dead and you still have some time to make a difference. So, I've read some of your blogs, I hear you're a big fan of our checks and balances in government and power..."
"Yessir, I... wait, you've read my blogs?"
"Quiet. Or I'll have you whipped."
"Um... we don't..."
"Have you guys lost your sense of humor too? Don't get your knickers up in a bunch. Just let me finish..."
"Checks and balances: before we let the first leader of the United States run wild with the keys of the spanking new republic, do you know how many men we checked-and-balanced his ass against? Ninety Seven. Just three shy of one hundred, and that's only because my cousin John, his wife Martha and their dog George could not be bothered. But I digress: ninety-seven. Sixty-five representatives, twenty-six senators, and six Supreme Court justices. If the union had indeed become more perfect over time, or simply become more orderly, don't you think that ratio of ninety-seven to one would have gone down? How much distrust can we possibly have for one man??"
“Five-hundred and forty-four to one, apparently... I just googled it. One-hundred senators, four-hundred and thirty-five representatives, and nine Supreme Court justices."
"Five-hundred and forty-four to one. And there you have it son, the truth shall set you free! Every four years you all hyperventilate over a single person, then you let loose five-hundred and forty-four pit bulls on his ass."
"Maybe soon to be her ass..."
"Whatever. The point is, and I’m not exactly sure how you dimwits missed this, the constitution had a clear mission: to form a more perfect union. It was right in front of your noses, in the first sentence for crying out loud! What part of that did you not understand?? It is a mission statement first and foremost, the constitution part was the building plan. We provided the foundation, you were supposed to build a great nation upon that rock. 

Look, you have accomplished great things - no doubt. And for a few shining moments, you were the greatest nation on earth. But greatness hasn’t always come when you thought you were great. When you freed the slaves, you became a great nation. When you allowed women and the former slaves to vote, you became a great nation. When you legitimized the emancipation of the slaves by ending segregation you became a great nation. When you were instrumental in the liberation of Europe from fascism you became a great nation. And when you landed on the moon, you were a great nation among the stars. Since then, I can't think of a time where you've been more pitifully disunited. I hate to say this, but the great melting pot has a mortal gash in it."
“Thomas, sir, you are bumming me out."
“Good. Listen, you guys desperately need to try something new, we can't keep coming back from the dead and beat you over the head with the obvious. So let me leave you with the best shot I have left: 
If you're all so fucking hungry for a leader, then be one to yourfuckingselves."


"Sorry kid, hope I'm still someone you like. But stop putting me on a pedestal, dead men and their outdated ideas end up on pedestals. Like the good man said: heal yourselves. The politicians you obsess about have major conflicts of interest, they will never be what you want them to be. The reporters that report back to you enjoy freedom of speech from the government, but not from the owners of their news organizations. What does that say about who the real government is? All you have done is shift the oppression of tyranny from government to corporations. That was never the intention! Between the self-centered agendas of the owners, and the reporters' own conflicts of interest, the abandonment of the truth has been a painful thing to watch from the sidelines. The men and women who are supposed to bring you the truth are so mired in bias they must wonder how their profession is still a thing."

"Backup a bit there Sir Thomas: are you saying large corporations are a bad thing?"
"They don't have to be."
"For a prolific thought leader and author of one of mankind's greatest documents you sure just avoided a simple question. Big time."
"Actually I have said too much. If your corporate police find me, they will hang me."
"We don't…"
"…oh excuse me. Fry me. Much better. A more perfect union indeed."
"One last thing, and here's where I need you to pay close attention: the biggest irony I've ever witnessed is that these corporations, their politicians, and their reporters... they are missing out on one of the greatest secrets the universe has to offer... ... ..."
"...What?? Humility? Selflessness? Heaven?? I think Jesus tried that message a long time ago Thomas. Two thousand sixteen years and counting!"
"Truth. The Sheer. Beautiful. Simple truth. You want justice? You want freedom? You want a moral ecstasy that you can't even begin to comprehend?? Give up everything you own for just an ounce of it."
"Wow. Brings John Keats to mind... 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty. That is all ye know on earth..."
"...John Keats my ass, Limey bastard stole it from me. That is the ONE thing I WILL claim!"
"Good luck, kid. What is it that your generation likes to say... catch you on the side that flips?"
"Close enough Thomas... you're still the man in my book."
" *Blog."

The Might of Arthur Ashe

Fresh from the US Open Women’s final yesterday, the New York Times published an opinion piece titled, “The Power of Serena Williams”. T...