America & taxes

Chomsky on how backward America is when it comes to taxes.

“I would like to electrocute everyone who uses the word ‘fair’ in connection with income tax policies.” — William F. Buckley, Jr.

’Tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes – The Cobbler of Preston by Christopher Bullock

Maybe it is because America fought a war over taxes that taxation has such a bad rap in this country. The only thing I hate about taxes are is annually preparing them. Personally, I don’t mind paying my fair share of income tax or gas tax or tax for other goods and services. I never have minded this seemingly Un-American duty. When I gazed upon the stub of my very first check from Taco Bell, I truly believed the funds pulled out of my gross pay was going to something worthwhile and/or necessary.

My introduction to the “evils” of taxation came when I voted in my second election. It was 1978 and Proposition 13 was the biggest item on the ballot. Prop 13 was the property tax revolt initiative introduced by Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann that radically changed California tax code–many people would later say for the worst. Though I recall my father, a Democrat at the time, was a big supporter of the initiative. I was neither aware of the damage the passage of the measure would reap down the road nor why the voter referendum was so popular. (Though many years later my father would say that property taxes were out of the control and Prop 13 fixed the problem.) I assume there was truth in that, but around the time the initiative was placed on the ballot, my father was on his way to becoming a Reagan Democrat and then a full-blown Rush Limbaugh-listening Republican so he may have also been on his way to being more fiscally conservative.

I am guessing I parroted my father’s ballot choices on many of the candidates and initiates on the 1976 and 1978 ballots. Sometime before the polls opened in those two elections my Dad, Mom, and I would sit down at the dinner table with our sample ballots and my Dad would give his reasons why he was voting for what candidate and for what initiative. I remember him stressing how we should all vote for the same things or we would be “canceling out” each other’s votes. My Mom would always tell me later with a wink that she was going to vote for whomever and whatever she wanted. Still, I didn’t understand anything about property taxes only that I didn’t pay for them. I also didn’t understand where the tax money went. Over the years I would figure it out with law enforcement and fire departments experiencing budget cuts, with people being thrown out of the apartments due to no rent control, and the State has to resort to the lottery to prop up our depressed schools. Wealthy neighborhoods were able to supplement their State education funds with local taxes that bolstered neighborhood public schools. The creation of charter schools also helped the affluent districts while negatively affecting depressed districts. Schools in depressed areas have to depend mostly on State taxes that Proposition 13 gutted. The long-coming teachers strike in Los Angeles is an example of counties taking back some of the monies lost due to Prop 13 and charter schools in rich school districts. The teachers tentative got back more nurses, more counselors, got more middle-school and high-school librarians and the teachers received a 6% raise. Will this raise taxes in Los Angeles County? I can’t see how it wouldn’t, but we are talking about our future. First Chicago, then West Virginia, then Oklahoma, now L.A. with strike talk happening in Denver and Oakland. We are seeing a reckoning a long time coming. Hopefully, this trend will ultimately affect the entire K-12 public schools in the U.S.

I learned another lesson on how fickle Americans can be when it comes to taxes and what taxes can buy or save on a local level. A couple of years after I most likely followed my father’s lead and voted Yes on Proposition 13 I became an employee of Tower Theatre–one of the last classic movie palaces in Sacramento at a time these kinds of theaters where closing down across America and video rental shops like Blockbuster, Hollywood Video, and Redbox were on the rise. While working as part of the floor staff I would hear older patrons go on about The Alhambra–a true movie palace that harkened back to the Golden Age of Hollywood. When it fell into disrepair in the early 1970’s Safeway Stores purchased the property and building to develop one of their supermarkets on the site. As Matias Bombal, local cinema impresario explained the doomed theater’s fate in a letter to the editors of Sacramento News and Review dated March 28, 2004:

“The blow was not delivered by Safeway, but by the people of Sacramento. Safeway Stores, upon hearing the tremendous public outcry of its potential destruction, offered the building and property back to the City of Sacramento for exactly what they paid for it. A special bond measure election was held to raise money to buy the property, and Sacramentans, likely not interested in additional taxes at that time, voted against it. With no acceptance by the City or any private party to buy the Alhambra, Safeway proceeded with their development.”

Safeway had the new store’s entrance designed in a vague homage to the movie palace’s front and it retained the water fountain now in the south side of the parking lot, but for many, these were hollow gestures. Now people pine about the long-gone movie palace, but I always wonder if some of the people bellyaching about the theater’s demise long for it, but not the tax that would have saved it from the wrecking ball. Apparently, at the time most people were watching their wallets and not the big silver screen.

I spent most of my adult years a political junkie, I spent most of the 1990s politically out of it while my wife and I raised a family. It was in 2000 with the election of George W. Bush I jolted back into politics especially when Bush doled out a huge tax cut for the rich and started two wars on a credit card. Before he left office when would me deep in debt. I became even more in tune with politics in the 2008 presidential election. Around that time, I recall all kinds of chicken little comments revolving around candidate Barack Obama, the U.S. Senator from Illinois. Besides the dog whistle racism, there were the fears that he was a socialist. While I hadn’t become a Democratic Socialist yet, I knew Obama was not a socialist–far from it. I recall an interview with the now disgraced Bill O’Reilly. The host’s opening comment went something like, “You’re a big tax-the-rich guy.” I looked up the video on YouTube and was reminded of Obama’s reply, “[chuckling] Just you, Bill.” I recall remembering that O’Reilly was the highest paid TV announcer of the time. Only a handful of primetime anchors make anything close to that amount, but the amount of money seemed ridiculous. (I will come back to this point later.) Why do the networks pay out that much for a talking head? It’s not as if they are professional athletes. (And don’t get me started on how much athletes get paid.)

As it turned out Obama really wasn’t that big of a “tax-the-rich guy.” True, taxes did increase a little to pay for the huge Affordable Care Act, but that wasn’t much compared to all the right-wing hype. Obama followed the Clinton centralist Democrat playbook, fiscally being about as center-right as any president since Reagan. Now, only social issues separated the two parties. Obama’s cabinet was a who’s-who in neoliberalism: Lawrence Summers, Timothy Geithner, Tom Perez, Hillary Clinton, Rahm Emanuel. Still, it was all the birthers, dog-whistle politics, and the unfounded “weak on Putin” crap that pissed me off. What is wrong with being a tax the rich guy, anyway (even if you’re not)?

It was Obama’s (and let’s not forget W’s) decision to bail out the banks with taxpayer money that helped birth the Tea Party movement. Or at least that is what most people like me believe. We know now that, unlike the later Occupy Wallstreet movement, the Tea Party movement was mostly Astroturfed, or as the historian, Thomas Frank put it: “Never has there been a phonier, more transparent bid to mislead an angry public. Supposedly a protest against bank bailouts, it was actually launched from among the futures traders on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange—and then backed to the hilt by Beltway libertarians looking for a way to distance themselves from the badly damaged Republican brand.”

I didn’t like the Tea Party movement, but I was too busy at the time feeling betrayed by Obama and Democrats. I felt the party had lost its political courage. When the catastrophic 2010 midterms came around and the recession deepened I was ready to leave the party. I was looking for someone to believe in. Barack Obama did more to push me to the left–the real left than anything else. I hadn’t read The Nation since my college days. I began reading it every week now. I found some hope in its pages or maybe all it did was rile me up. I was introduced to the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)–I immediately became a member. I also discovered Bernie Sanders and his newly published book The Speech, the transcript of a nearly nine-hour filibuster by the Independent U.S. Senator from Vermont in December of 2010.

The filibuster was so inspiring that the volume of viewers watching the now historic speech on C-SPAN crashed the Senate server. Sanders had been around for years and I found articles in The Nation that went back to the days he was the radical Mayor of Burlington, but he was brand new to me thanks to the myopic mainstream press. Bernie was a member of the DSA. I also liked how he went after corporations and the ultra-rich. I bought and read The Speech in a record time for me. Then, I sought out the C-SPAN video of the filibuster, downloaded it on to my PC and watched it–mesmerized–over two nights late into those evenings. For me, Sanders was the voice crying out from the neoliberal wilderness (though I didn’t know what “neoliberalism” meant at the time). After reading the book and watching the filibuster, I began spending more time on YouTube looking for more of Sanders speeches and interviews. To be honest I really don’t remember when I found the video below of Elizabeth Warren that reiterated what I have thought about taxes for quite some time now. It appears to have been taped in the Bush years, but I think I found it later. I’m not sure now. It predates Warren, the U.S. Senator. Perhaps it was when she was an Obama appointee. Whatever its release time Warren’s take on taxes is spot on.

Elizabeth Warren broke the internet with this foggy-looking video.

Later, during Bernie’s 2016 presidential run I heard conservative friends and associates complain that Bernie wanted to give away “free stuff.” I pointed out that the “free stuff” they were referring to were critical in getting the economy and the poor and middle-class prosperous again, but all they saw were higher taxes. My retort was higher taxes for whom? Not us! This “free stuff” was to help educate and assist the people who keep the economy rolling like Elizabeth says in the video. It is frustrating how so many people–especially conservative, but mainline Democrats, too–think a healthy economy has absolutely nothing to do with taxation that keeps public services firing on all eight. When the attacks on Sanders’ “free stuff” were less abusive, they tended to be patronizing: an otherwise very intelligent, conservative, woman who works in a cubicle near me was so concerned that all these millennials were cheering for Bernie and all the things he promised (e.g. free public college education, college debt forgiveness, Medicare for all, paid family and medical leave, creating a jobs program, $15 an hour minimum wage, strengthening and expanding Social Security, et al.) with no way of generating the revenue to pay for these these things except through raising taxes. I kept my mouth shut. I knew the answer. Sanders had laid out how these services would be funded, but the mainstream press and especially Fox News (which I assumed this otherwise smart woman was getting her news spoon fed to her conveniently left out the part of Sanders’ plan. Bernie has explained how these programs would be funded, I could send this link to anyone who thinks these ideas are foolish, but it is far worse to think we should stay the course and what the middle class continues to shrink. When Sanders wasn’t speaking about this “free stuff” he wanted to give away to undeserving citizens who were strapped with debt or sinking below the poverty line he was talking about corporate taxation, taxes on Wall Street speculation, estate taxes, and other taxes that made the candidate the target for smears by the DNC, the Washington Post, the New York Times and the nearly every other mainstream media outlet.

The best things that came out of Bernie 2016 were the progressive political action organizations Our Revolution, Brand New Congress, and Justice Democrats, and one of the candidate’s organizers: Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. Ocasio-Cortez ran and defeated the ten-term incumbent Congressman, Democratic Caucus Chair Joe Crowley for the New York’s 14th Congressional District. From there she easily defeated her Republican opponent in the general in 2018 and at age 29 became the youngest woman to be elected into the Congress. As a freshman Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (or AOC) would float the idea of a progressive marginal Federal income tax to Anderson Cooper on CBS’ 60 Minutes. A kind of tax rate we have not seen in this country since the 1970s. AOC told Cooper, “If you look at our tax rates back in the ’60s when you had a progressive tax rate system, your tax rate, let’s say, from zero to $75,000 maybe ten percent or 15 percent, et cetera. But once you get to, like, the tippy tops–on your 10 millionth dollar–sometimes you see tax rates as high as 60 or 70 percent. That does not mean all $10 million are taxed at an extremely high rate, but it means that as you climb up this ladder you should be contributing more.” That last sentence is critical since Cooper suggested AOC is a “radical.” This from a man who makes $12 million annually. Fox News’ Sean Hannity was outraged by AOC’s suggestion and misquoted her tax idea multiple times to Fox’s angry, white middle-class viewers. By the way, Hannity is reported to pull down a ridiculous $36 million a year.

AOC on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Above AOC explains–again–how a marginal tax rate works, this time on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. The graph below is a visual history of how this country taxed the rich. Things went all to hell when Reagan took office. After AOC floated the marginal tax reform, I found two of my favorite podcast hosts talking about it. Jeremy Scahill on Intercepted brought up the subject of marginal tax rates with Stephanie Kelton, the popular economist and adviser to the Bernie Sanders 2016 campaign. Listen here at the 31:40 mark. Also, Richard Wolff talked about it on his January 23, 2019 installment of Economic Update. Pick up Prof. Wolff’s discussion about tax reform at the 15:28 mark. But most remarkable was Jamelle Bouie’s piece in the Op-Ed section of January 28, 2019, New York Times. Bouie’s writes how inequality has highly negative consequences on society and that AOC’s marginal tax reform idea, Elizabeth Warren’s tax plan, as well as many of Sanders ideas are gaining traction because the fact that “trickle-down” economics has never worked, that a healthy middle-class is what creates jobs by purchasing good and services which in turn creates more demand that results in jobs growth and higher wages. Since Occupy Wall Street and especially since the Sanders campaign and the wake of activism that has followed more people are figuring this out.

On a personal note, I don’t think anyone in my family (with the possible exception of my two sons) sees the world the way I do. My brother is a wealthy fiscal conservative. When my father was alive we used to argue over politics until we both come to the conclusion that neither of us is going to change the other’s mind so we stopped. The last political exchange we ever had, I think, had to do with a draconian budget proposal by Paul Ryan. My dad liked it and wanted to know what I thought. I just now qualified it as “draconian” so the reader knows how I felt about it. Still, I held my tongue and said something like I don’t know much about it and the subject was dropped. The last time I tortured a family member with my politics it was about income taxes and my mom was the victim. She told me that an affluent family we have known for years moved to Nevada because the income taxes were more favorable. I knew it was none of my damn business, but it just rubbed me the wrong–a well off couple spending virtually their entire lives in California enjoying all that the state has to offer–much of it due to taxes. Then move across the border. I know that’s not as bad as millionaire tax shelters, offshore accounts, et al, but it still–emotionally if not intelligently–rubbed me the wrong way. I made some comment that I bet they could handle paying the State taxes considering what they got out of the State over the years. It was a dumb argument, I know. I just got turned off how a wealthy family who I assume are pretty much set for life wants more. My mom snapped at me about how it was their money and they could do what they want with it. I shut my mouth at this point and salvaged our lunch date.

Every once in a while, I run into David, a lobbyist for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association motoring his way to the Capitol on his electric wheelchair. David is a fellow Christian. We met through a Bible study I used to attend at the State Capitol and it is mainly because of this connection I say hello and ask how he’s doing whenever I see him. I feel a little shame that I have a bad taste in my mouth whenever we exchange hellos. It’s an especially bad feeling because he is a perfectly well-mannered individual and if you asked him about me I am sure he would say that while he doesn’t really know me very well there is absolutely no animus between us. But for me, that’s not completely true. Back when we were in the Capitol Bible study he would make a comment every occasionally that rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe it was about the homeless problem or welfare. A better person–a better Christian–might confess his ill feelings and then hope the two would talk and pray it out, but I hold my tongue and just stew in it. I know he wouldn’t say anything stone cold about people less fortunate than us, but I’m pretty sure he would say or may actually have said something like “the State shouldn’t be responsible for the homeless, people below the rising poverty line–the church needs to step up.” (The church–as if it was a monolithic entity with a large budget and enough service workers to pull off these needed services so conservatives who don’t want their tax dollars going to the destitute can sleep at night knowing “The Church” is at work–regardless of they are putting any scratch in Sunday’s offering plate. Then again, maybe it’s my prejudice against his lobby firm he works for. I seem to think of Howard fucking Jarvis every time I see David motoring towards the Capitol or his office. As long as I envision depressed and overcrowded schools with overworked and underpaid teachers, Howard Jarvis pops into my head.

When I see David in his wheelchair riding from his office to the Capitol or back, or drinking a latte at Oblivion Comics and Coffee I have the opportunity to talk politics, but I envision him sounding like one of those anti-gas tax initiative commercials or telling me how the California Lottery is filling the gap his crappy Prop 13 created. (He’s younger than me by well over 20 years. He wasn’t born when the tax initiate made it on the ballot.) Yeah, I know, I need to let this go. It’s a free country, right? Not only that, we’re supposed to be hermanos en Cristo, for Cristo sake. Still, I marvel how people don’t want to pay for anything that just might help the community at large and especially the less fortunate if it means forking out some of their own earnings.

Taxes, especially fair income taxes, estate, taxes in the form of offshore penalties, taxes on capital gains, and dividends taxes can be great equalizers. And, yes, I do believe you can have too much money regardless of what you do for a living. Though there are plenty of rich people who would disagree with me. Enter billionaire Howard Schutz of Starbucks fame, who thinks he can make America great again by running as an independent centrist and hopefully defeating all the Democrats that are now jumping on the progressive tax bandwagon. President-hopeful Starbucks calls the tax ideas of AOC and Warren “punitive.” No shit Schultzy, you’re a fucking billionaire! Any truly progressive tax plan is going to make Daddy Starbucks feel like he’s been kicked in the balls every April 15. And downstream the least of us will see improvements. I’m all for that! If you ask U.S. Senator (and possible presidential-hopeful) from Ohio, Sherrod Brown he would call Schultz a “total idiot.” or as Robert Wright in his The Mindful Resistance Newsletter (January 27-February 2, 2019) said it a bit more decorously “If you’re a billionaire, and you live in a country that’s in the throes of a populist revolt on both the left and the right, and the country is being run by a guy who figured being a billionaire qualified him for the White House and is now widely loathed, maybe you should sit this one out.”

I know everyone has a right to their own opinion, but whenever someone like Schultz or one of those grossly over-paid news commentators or one of the mouthpieces of the Koch Brothers, the Walton family, or Sheldon Adelson offer their two bits about taxes and economics it rings so utterly self-serving considering these are the people who have the most to lose while their fellow citizens living in abject poverty just may benefit from a more progressive tax plan. I seriously doubt David, the low-tax lobbyist I see occasionally, would agree. Perhaps one day I’ll broach the subject the next time we run into each other in Oblivion and maybe even talk over cappuccinos. I could ask how his wheelchair handles the potholes of California streets only to find that he was not happy how Prop 13 played out. I’d sip my cappuccino feeling like a dick, ah, but a tax-the-rich democratic socialist dick!

Big head. Balding big head. Overweight with a balding big head. Overweight with a balding and graying big head: My life in a few unflattering pictures

As a toddler, I might as well have worn a hat that said, “C-Section Baby” to remove all doubt from anyone who cast their eyes upon my giant head and thought, “How did mom birth that kid?” On second thought, I would have to wear a T-shirt–they wouldn’t be able to find a hat large enough for my gargantuan grape. My small mouth only accentuated the problem. Growing and keeping my hair longish helped for a while until I began to lose it. Then, after I got married, I began to gain weight followed by my receding hair graying. So the images below are not intended to impress. “There but for the grace of God go I,” I suppose.

tahoe
Is this 1963? Close. That is me on the left next to my sister, Michele. It is amazing my neck could suspend that gigantic head!

 

gatta post this one
The early 60s. After my grandfather got the donkey and told my brother to get off of it, we settled down and watched 8mm home movies on my forehead.

 

TBT1
Two hopelessly square conservatives and one swingin’ progressive in or around 1966.

 

1967 3rd Grade
1968, Third Grade class picture. I nearly flunked out of this one–as I actually did First Grade. I hate to say it, but I credit my promotion to Fourth Grade to my teacher’s serious car accident. Mrs. Pickett was replaced by a long-term temp who had more patience with me. Geez, look at me! I was a hot mess.

 

jr hi
Eighth Grade yearbook pic, I think. Check out the wave in those bangs!

1970so

Sometime in the mid-70s, we saw Rich Little at a casino in South Shore or Reno, Nevada. Rich Little inspired me to become an impressionist, but like everything else, once I found out it took a lot of practice and hard work, I dumped it. Leasure suits? Good God! Were my brother and I feigning senior citizens?

1975
Because my father built boats for a living, I spent a lot of time on the Sacramento River in the mid-1970s. This pic might be from Folsom Lake, though. What a ham!

 

mx 77
1977 trip to Alcopoco, Mexico. Here my brother and sister and I pose for a picture.

 

homecoming
Senior Year Homecoming. I rarely went to school dances. I was as out of step with my schoolmates–and my date–as that leisure suit was in the fashion of the day. I should have seen it coming! Sorry, Jerri.

 

1976
I spent two seasons trying to shoot pheasants from the sky. On the last day of the 1977 season, we bagged three drakes. I never hunted after that. I don’t mind eating fowl; I didn’t like the feeling I got standing over mortally wondered birds lamely flapping their broken wings, then having the unenviable task of breaking their necks.

 

1980
This 1979 lad is beginning to bald, but can still rock a Calvin Klien oxford, Newman jeans, and a YSL belt.

 

1984
Party time after hours at the Tower Theatre. The year is 1985 because that was the release year of “Cocoon.” That’s me on the ground, my boss Gerry above me, my best friend and fellow floor staffer, Paul on the couch. Randy and Anne are the attractive lovebirds. They met at the Tower, fell in love, got married, and became successful in the film business in SoCal.

 

1980sa
This photo appeared in the now-defunct Sacramento Union in the mid-1980s. It was the main image in an article by Mick Martin about college students opting to stay home. (And, presumably, leave the housework to their mothers.) The picture was a big hit with the ladies. You missed a spot, Mom.

 

Paul, Judi, Jack 198512
I think this was taken in 1985 during my one-year relationship with Judi. My best friend, Paul is on the left. I don’t know what party we all went to that required name tags.

 

Tower Gang '86
1986: The end of my five-year stint as part of the Tower Theatre floor staff. I got a job working for the State of California. When I was put on furlough, I came back and worked for a couple of months. This photo was one of the last nights working with the old crew.

 

dorman
In 1987 one epoch came to a close, and another one began. I graduated from California State University, Sacramento. (The Ten Year Plan.) Here I am with my mentor William A. Dorman. The new epoch started within a month of posing for this photograph: I got married.

peteI’m not sure if this was taken in 1987 or 1988 since I lived with my future wife and her kid, Peter, for a year. Call it a test drive. Of course, it worked out swimmingly. This is one for the images from a photo booth at either the Pizza Hut or the Time Zone arcade across the street in Old Sacramento. I spent countless hours and quarters on Peter at the Time Zone. First Pizza Hut then, when Ely was a toddler Chuck E. Cheese’s. I was once a pizza snob before this time in my life. Now, it was whatever Peter and later Peter and Ely wanted no matter how shitty the pizza. Parenthood.

1989
In 1988 we bought our first house. Here I am amusing my father (kneeling) and my father-in-law with my sophisticated jocularity while we installed tiles in our new kitchen.

 

ely
Then came Ely. I think this was when I started to gain the weight. A lot of time resting, followed by eating, then more resting.

 

12-23-2008 09;26;29PM
1989, I suppose. Ely is young enough to ride on my back. I don’t know where we are, but I like the look on Ely’s face, asking himself what the heck is his big brother Peter is doing.

 

1990
Christmas 1989, I think. I’m trying to figure out my kids’ Christmas toys.

 

sutters fort
So in 1992 I messed up and didn’t do any of the parental hours I was supposed to perform during Peter’s Magnet school year. I was told I could make it up by spending the night at Sutter’s Fort with my kid and his classmates (and other slacking parents). We had to rough it: wear period-looking clothes, even sleeping on the ground at night. It’s strange hearing total strangers fart in their sleeping bags! My job was the class photographer. See that twine around my neck? Below it dangles a period Asahi Pentax K-mount SLR with a 55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. Very rustic! This is one of my many pre-smartphone selfies. They did that back in the day, no?

 

19xx w DC trip
In 1994/5 my wife and I took separate vacations. She went to Chicago and came back an ardent Cubs fan to this day. I went to the D.C. area where I stayed with our friend Mad Dog and became a passionate hockey fan–for well, about two years. (I’m not good at sticking with things.) I saw all the Smithsonian museums, and on the weekend Mad Dog and I  went to Gettysburg and Baltimore where we took in an Orioles game at the beautiful Camden Yards, John Water’s old apartment complex, and visited Edgar Allen Poe’s monument.

 

another meth problem
My brother and I have always had to share birthday parties since our dates are only about two weeks apart. I used to think that was a ripoff. Since my youngest son, Ely, has a birthday within a month of my brother and me, my mother makes a big deal of celebrating “The Keaton Kids” birthdays together. I like the idea and other family members’ birthdays are celebrated in a like manner. Here is one of the dozens of Keaton Kids Birthday Cake Blowout pix my wife religiously takes. This one is from the late 1990s. Ely’s big brother, Peter on the right. Since his birthday is near Thanksgiving we celebrate his with Tommy Turkey’s death day.

 

unknown 2
At the cabin owned by my parents and brother and his wife sometime in the 1990s. That’s my dad in the background probably saying something like, “Cut that selfy shit out!”

 

Jack & Peter
Not sure when this was taken, the early 00s, I suppose. I’m either in mid-laugh, mid-fart, or just trying to pull my now gigantic ass out of the chair. This time was also Peter’s long, unkempt, “What’s a rubber band?” hair phase.

 

unknown 1
We’re at the in-laws here, Peter, Grandma Peggy, Ely, Grandpa Bob, and me. This was probably taken in the mid-00s.

 

2006
Martial-arts leaves grabbing in 2006. My all-time favorite pet, Casey is giving himself a bath on the hood of my neighbor’s Beemer in the background. I miss Casey.

 

2007
2007 Playa del Carmen, Mexico. I remember thinking. Boy, am I going to lose weight in Mexico! Last time I was there (1977) I got a severe case of dysentery and things aren’t supposed to be much better as far as the water goes. As it turned out, we stayed at an all-inclusive resort that had it’s own water filtration system. Outside of the resort, I drank nothing but cerveza and diet soda, so I ate like a pig and hit my all-time high in weight: 235!

 

8
We took an Alaskan cruise in 2008. Best vacation I’ve ever had. The cruise part wasn’t all that great. Like the previous year in Mexico, I pigged out on the ship. What else do you do on a cruise? It was all the ports of call that made the trip fantastic. I’m not a hiker, but this glacier hike was great! To all readers of this post: Go on a glacier hike quick and remember to take plenty of pictures so you can tell your grandkids what they were like.

 

Photo_101108_001
This one hurts. Yes, there was a time I liked Obama, and I believed in all that Hope and Change shit. The wife and I had left a restaurant in East Sacramento and noticed an Obama 2008 campaign office near our parked car with this standee inside. There was a short line for people wanting to pose with this chunk of cardboard. The time was obviously magical for more people than just me. Then the man was elected, and he called in the arsonists to put out the fire!

 

Flag
I took this selfie in 2009. I was in a church in Elk Grove, California and about to join a Bible study session. In the 1980s the right wing hijacked patriotism, the flag, the National Anthem, everything short of apple pie. I never had a flag to put out on Flag Day, but after all this shit I never wanted to be misunderstood! So, no flag on Flag Day or July 4th. Also, conservative churches began to associate themselves with the Republican Party and its candidates. I found this flag hanging in a hallway near the room where the study was being held. What’s a flag doing in a church? Where does it say to worship Ceasar? This selfie was intended to be slightly irreverent–as if to say, “This the way I salute the flag, my fellow Christians!” But after posting it on Facebook, a few of my conservative friends dished out some patriotic tripe. “Hell yeah! America!” and the strange, “All you need now is a cowboy hat, and you’re Toby Keith!” Huh?

 

Photo_080409_002
Me and my wife’s little mistake. We are cat people, but in 2009 Ely, her baby boy moved in with his girlfriend. I suppose my wife felt she needed a replacement–something more responsive than a cat. Enter Vivian, somewhat equal parts labrador, beagle, “Canine from Hell.” We were not prepared for this kind of dog. Nor were the two trainers who kicked my wife and her unruly dog out of each of their training classes. My wife says she will cry hard when Vivian dies. Then, after a respectable time of mourning passes and we’ve vacuumed the last hair of dog from the property, she’s going to get a litter of kittens and become “That crazy old lady with all the cats.”

 

IMG_0728
Keaton Boat Group, Stockton Ski Club, 2009. I’m in the floppy hat talking with Dennis Payton, a long-time family friend. My dad is in his boat. For decades we never had a boat of our own, always taking demonstration models and clients’ boats out for family outings on the Sacramento River. In his retirement, my dad bought a used Keaton from someone who most likely bought it from my dad. Then he modified it into a fishing boat with the ability to troll. Still, he complained he had to settle for a small block. We’re talking about fishing, and my dad still wanted to go fast! I miss him dearly.

 

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2010: The Year of the Scooter. I got a Vespa GT 200L in 2010. I launched the blog BurgerScoot and rode around town reviewing burger joints and dipping my toes into the local scooter subculture. Turns out you really should know how to cook if you want to write decent, informed reviews on restaurant food. Alton Brown, I am not. I had fun and officially ditched a diet that I was unofficially failing. I discovered food trucks around this time. MY GOD, FOOD TRUCKS! Here I’m at REI where Krush Burger (nee Mini Burger) parked.

 

Boring
In 2011 we vacationed in London, Oxford, Bath, and Paris. All fascinating places, especially London which I won’t mind seeing again, but I have found over the years that I like to stay close. Close like North America. Is Hawaii considered North America? What about Iceland? I’d want to go to those two places, too. Wait, Ireland, and Scotland! Oh, the Scandinavian countries, also…

 

2012
Springsteen at The Jewel, Oakland, CA., 2012.  Thanks to Annie and her brother Karl!

 

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One of the most exciting finds in recent years here in Sacramento is The Moon Lecture Series hosted by St. Mark’s Unified Methodist Church. St. Mark’s is a progressive-minded church and the Moon Lectures, which occur during the last four months of each year, features some of the most interesting progressive voices in the country. I have seen Morris Dees, Chris Hedges, Angela Davis, Michele Norris, and recently Jim Wallis (see below). I am very sorry I have missed past guests like Rev. William J Barber II, Amy Goodman, and Daniel Ellsberg.  Here I am with Advocate Dees, co-founder of the monumental Southern Poverty Law Center, doing my very best Jimi Hendrix impression.

 

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In 2014 I was diagnosed with Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a terminal illness–you’ve got it until your bones shatter like glass or you die of some other age-related disease, or you get hit by a truck. The closest thing to an Rx for the condition is staying limber. My physical therapist recommended yoga. It was one of the two most important pieces of advise I have received in my advancing years. The other being “Lose at least fifty pounds.” I’ve taken the first piece of advice very seriously and am struggling with the second piece.

 

2015 Rogers Centre Toronto
In 2015 we vacationed in Toronto. It is a beautiful city. Here I’m in the CN Tower. By the scowl on my face, you would think I knew that the A’s would get their collective ass handed to them by the Blue Jays later that evening. No, that’s how I usually look. If you get a chance, visit Toronto and don’t miss taking in a game at the Rogers Centre. It’s a great ballpark, even if the otherwise amiable people of Toronto turn into complete assholes when they are in that massive stadium!

 

2016 A's v Pirates
2016: A’s host the Pirates. Guess who won?

 

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Late in 2016 my mom and I saw Anthony Bourdain in San Francisco. It was a fun night. The chef turned author, TV personality, and activist along the way was funny, crude, and gracious. I realize this addition may come off as obligatory after hearing of the man’s death especially considering I never watched his shows on a regular basis. Still, his Kitchen Confidential is one book that I think of every time I walk into a restaurant, glance at a menu, take a slice of complimentary bread, and use the restaurant’s bathroom. Bourdain has been called one of the greatest storytellers of our time and one of the most influential cultural figures of his age.

 

2017
Last year Mom took me to a Giants vs Nationals game. One condition, though: I couldn’t wear my A’s colors. I couldn’t abide by wearing anything with the Giants on it, so I met her halfway and bought a River Cats cap. The Sacramento River Cats is our local AAA team and, alas, a Giants affiliate, so purchasing and wearing the headgear stung a bit. When I pulled the cap out of the shipping box, I frantically perused it to ensure it didn’t have any Giants markings or that “Stronger Together” bullshit slogan on it. I enjoyed the crab sandwich, a dugout-clearing fight, the Nat’s shutting out the home team, and the excellent company!

 

Mom's 85th 1a
June 23, 2018: My mother’s 85th birthday party at Raley Field, home of the Sacramento River Cats. My mom popped for a corporate suite! Sweet…
Another Moon Lecture at St. Mark’s Unified Methodist Church in Sacramento. This one on
November 2, 2018, with Jim Wallis: preacher, activist, founding editor of the independent news and faith magazine Sojourners. Wallis is also the author of many books including his latest America’s Original Sin. I went with my co-worker and friend, Tom. I think he liked the political activism of the man but wasn’t crazy about the Christianity part. To me, Wallis embodies the best of both worlds, and as you can see by the selfie, he’s quite a sport! Chris Hedges wasn’t so amiable when I asked for a picture together here a few years back.

You cried yesterday, I’m crying now

Thanks for your vote, ma’am. I’m crying now that Beto lost to a truly horrible U.S. Senator. More tears for Andrew Gillum’s loss to a bigot in the Florida Gubernatorial race. Stacey Abrams may lose to a complete asshole in the Georgia Gubernatorial.

Most of the Dems that won in the less-than-tidal “Blue Wave” are Centrists. Most politicos are now saying the only one who can defeat Trump is one more neoliberal Democrat like Corey Booker, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren or Joe Biden. Jesus, how depressing! Anyway, thanks for this, David Doel. You and Naomi Klein are two of my favorite people from The Great White North.

I know there are some positive Firsts from the 2018 Midterms. AOC’s win now seems anti-climatic after her stunning win over Joe Crowley in June. I guess I’m too morbid to list them, so click here for news that is mostly good if you are a liberal.

Just what I’ve been saying. Well, sort of.

I’m the worst person you want on your debate team. A couple of years of Toastmasters didn’t make much of a dent in the problem. This person pitfall is made worse when the subject is politics in general and advocating socialism and criticising capitalism specifically. I get anxious, frustrated, angry when my listener thinks socialism won’t work here in the U.S. (presumably because it has never been tried and my listener does not have the imagination to seriously consider a society without the free market and the social architecture of capitalism). I lose my thread. Hell, I lose my thread nearly every time I tell one of my long-winded stories. Just ask the few friends I have who will attempt to hang on for dear life as I jump subjects like a train in a switching yard until someone asks, “What do cats have to do with California’s GDP?”

This brief piece from Kevin Drum’s column in Mother Jones’ website does a better job explaining how the Democratic Socialists of America want to change one aspect of health care.

I’ve been curious for a while about just what a democratic socialist really is. An FDR liberal on steroids? A Swedish style social democrat? I’m not very clear about this. Meagan Day clears things up for me: Here’s the truth: In the long run, democratic socialists want to end capitalism. And we want to do…

via I Still Have One Question About Democratic Socialism — Mother Jones

And speaking of single-payer health care in America, Libertarians may not like Medicare for all, but by criticising it they approved of it.

 

Here is the source David Doel is referring to in the above video:

https://www.mercatus.org/publications/federal-fiscal-policy/costs-national-single-payer-healthcare-system

Some Notes on Arundhati Roy Books I Have Recently Read

royI had heard of Arundhati Roy and her novel The God of Small Things when it was published back in 1997. I had long forgotten why the book interested me. I was a newly-minted Christian at the time, so maybe the provocative title with “God” in it made me want to check it out. I probably jotted the title down for future reading on the bookmark I was using at that time. That was my pre-Goodreads.com method of keeping a list of books I wanted to read. That approach wasn’t advantageous. (Somewhere out in the world, there are a dozen or so deteriorating New Yorker and QPB Book Club bookmarks with book titles scribbled on them.) It took the recent publicity of her 2017 book The Ministry of Utmost Happiness–glowing reviews and fascinating interviews–to remind me of the author’s previous award-winning novel and my interest in it. In between these two critically-acclaimed works of fiction are twenty years and eighteen non-fiction publications and activism.

When I started reading The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, I immediately fell for Aftab, a Shia Muslim hermaphrodite born in Old Delhi, India. As she reaches adulthood, she has gender reassignment surgery and becomes Anjum, a glamorous, affectionate woman. Anjum moves into a house called Khabgah (or “House of Dreams”) with the group hermaphrodites and transgenders. Anjum later leaves Khabgah and moves into a nearby cemetery where she transforms it into a guest house, called Jannat (or “Paradise”), and creates Jannat Funeral Services. Jannat Guest House becomes home to other marginalized and persecuted characters like herself. This, I believe, is where Roy gets the title to the book. The significance of the cemetery is that in India graveyards are usually for Muslims. Hindus cremate their dead, and so these sites become ghettos of sorts since Muslims are the minority and have been pushed to the bottom of the economic and social chain.

But this is only the beginning of this beautiful and brutal braided narrative covering many decades of often bloody struggles and strife. The story moves back and forth in time and geography: Delhi to Kashmir, from the 1990s to current time dealing with the hypocrisy of the caste system to the Kashmiri separatist movement that called for the Muslim-majority Kashmir to break from Hindu-majority India.

roy ministryThe West often thinks of India as the land of yoga, meditation, and Gandhi. However, Roy said in a recent interview with Jeremy Scahill of The Intercept, “There has not been a single day since August 15, 1947, when India was declared independent that the Indian Army has not been deployed within its own borders, against its own people…It’s just a nation that is nailed together by military might.” As an American who never studied the history of India, Richard Attenborough’s version of Mahatma Gandhi’s life is the most background knowledge I have on the subject, so the stuff in this book had some shockers. (By the way, if you have fifteen minutes, check out Roy setting the record straight on Gandhi here. It was news to me!)

Roy dedicated the book to “The Unconsoled,” and that would apply to the characters in this book if they were alive. They don’t fit neatly into the complex grid that is India. An India “that is divided into this tiny little fretwork of caste and ethnicity and language and each is pitted against the other,” as the author told Scahill. A humous example of this is contained in a joke that militants passed around on their mobile phones:

I saw a man on a bridge about to jump.
I said, “Don’t do it!”
He said, “Nobody loves me.”
I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”
He said, “Yes.”
I said, “Are you a Muslim or a non-Muslim?”
He said, “A Muslim.”
I said, “Shia or Sunni?”
He said, “Sunni.”
I said, “Me too! Deobandi or Barelvi?”
He said, “Barelvi.”
I said “Me too! Tanzeehi or Tafkeeri?”
He said, “Tanzeehi.”
I said “Me too! Tanzeehi Azmati or Tanzeehi Farhati?”
He said, “Tanzeehi Farhati.”
I said “Me too! Tanzeehi Farhati Jamia ul Uloom Ajmer or Tanzeehi Farhati Jamia ul Noor Mewat?”
He said, “Tanzeehi Farhati Jamia ul Noor Mewat.”
I said, “Die, kafir!” and I pushed him over.

Forgive this blogger’s indulgence. The joke was too funny to not reproduce here. It is also the only time while reading the book that I laughed out loud. So, the passage misrepresents the work as a whole, but the punchline fits with much of the novel’s text. Still, there are beautiful love stories here amongst the massacres, lynchings, and tortures. The fact that Roy can effectively reveal love and tenderness in this kind of landscape is her genius.

When interviewed by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! Roy said, “Fiction in reality as well as in my imagination is my real home, but this time it is home with the roof blown off.” Indeed, at times The Ministry of Utmost Happiness seems like it is rubble where home used to be. I, for one, am grateful for the storm. I found The Ministry of Utmost Happiness a tough read, but worth every challenging page.

If I had treated Ministry of Utmost Happiness as some kind of dark speculative history and didn’t follow up by reading the sobering nonfiction Capitalism: A Ghost Story I might have just moved on an been a happy idiot, but I didn’t. Capitalism: A Ghost Story is, at least to this rookie of Indian politics, a The Ministry of Utmost Happiness without tenderness or beauty. Capitalism: A Ghost Story is in part about how non-taxpaying foundations like Carnegie Corporation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Ford Foundation with almost unlimited resources turn their economic wealth into political, social, and cultural capital.

roy capitalismCapitalism: A Ghost Story is about neoliberalism, racism, the privatization of public works, and pollution run amuck, and the wreckage unfettered capitalism leaves in its path. There are Kashmiri separatists, anti-government Maoists rebels in the jungles fighting against the government that wants to strip the forest for mining operations and massive privately-owned dam projects threatening to wipe out hundreds of poor communities. Scary shit, indeed!

Roy spends much of the ink here on the evils of foundations. It is fascinating in a very dark way how foundations have a history of “defusing and deradicalizing” movements like, for instance, the Black civil rights movement here in the 1960s and the “successful transformation of Black Power into Black Capitalism.” Roy writes:

“The Rockefeller Foundation, in keeping with J. D. Rockefeller’s ideals, had worked closely with Martin Luther King Sr. (father of Martin Luther King Jr.). But his influence waned with the rise of the more militant organizations—the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Black Panthers. The Ford and Rockefeller Foundations moved in. In 1970 they donated $15 million to “moderate” Black organizations, giving people, grants, fellowships, scholarships, job-training programs for dropouts, and seed money for Black-owned businesses. Repression, infighting, and the honey trap of funding led to the gradual atrophying of the radical Black organizations. Martin Luther King Jr. made the forbidden connections between Capitalism, Imperialism, Racism, and the Vietnam War. As a result, after he was assassinated even his memory became toxic, a threat to public order.”

Foundations “remodeled his legacy to fit a market-friendly format.” The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, with a grant of $2 million, was set up by the Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Mobil, and Monsanto, among others. The center maintains the King Library and Archives of the Civil Rights Movement. We rarely hear about the radical, socialist King. All we easily remember (unless you look for his late speeches or read Tavis Smiley or Cornel West) is the “I Have a Dream” speech, the non-violent protests, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in D.C. Stuff that corporate and middle American can easily ingest.

Capitalism: A Ghost Story is a sharp rebuke of neoliberalism and multinational capitalism. Her in-depth writing reminds me of Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, and Chris Hedges. I can’t always wrap my head around what she is saying. That’s alright though–I would prefer to be challenged than jaded.

The last book I read was Roy on mass government surveillance. Things That Can and Cannot Be Said is a collaboration with American actor John Cusack and is, for the most part, nothing new. Roy and Cusack fly to Moscow with Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg to interview NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. The interview turned out to focus on Ellsberg as much as on Snowden. Most of the book is interview transcripts, the first part of it between Roy and Cusack alone and the second half the co-authors with the famous whistleblowers.

roy thingsSnowden seemed to add little new information to the conversation. Roy questioned Snowden over the controversial Wired Magazine September 2014 cover. Snowden gave a flippant answer. Presumably, because he has fielded that question too many times already. To me, this was a missed opportunity. Snowden–like Ellsberg–entered the armed forces and later the government because he wanted to serve. Like Ellsberg (and for that matter Chelsea Manning, Thomas Drake, et al.) he was not a radical. I might be reading in between the lines here, but I felt Roy was disappointed in the Wired cover pic. She has been quoted as saying, “Flags are bits of coloured cloth that governments use to first shrink wrap people’s brains and then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the dead.” My guess is she felt that Snowden was falling back on a banal patriotic trope and she wanted a clear answer from him and what she got was frustration.

I gleaned more from the Ellsberg comments. I hadn’t visited the Pentagon Papers scandal since college, so some of what he had to say refreshed my memory. One of the more chilling comments came from Ellsberg. I have heard others comment on this, most notably Chris Hedges, though Ellsberg broke it down to how it would all happen:

“We don’t have a police state, not yet…One more 911 and then I believe we will have hundreds of thousands of potentials. Middle-easterners, Muslims will be put into detention camps or deported. After 911 we had thousands of people arrested without charges, but I am talking about the future…I’m talking of hundreds of thousands in camps or deported. I think the surveillance is relevant to that. They will know who to put away. The data is already collected.”

Ultimately, Things That Can and Cannot Be Said was a rehash for me. All the stuff I have read about since the initial story from The Guardian broke and then the interviews and articles that have come in its tsunami-size wake.

What to read next by Arundhati Roy–Walking With the Comrades where Roy traveled into the forests of Central India where Maoist guerillas confront some of the world’s biggest mining corporations. Or maybe The Doctor and the Saint where Roy attempts to replace Gandhi with Ambedkar as India’s preeminent modern figure. Wait! Minutes before posting this I bought An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire–a book that has been described as “a call to arms against the apocalyptic apparatus of the American empire.”

I’ll probably just take a break from Roy for a while. She is an excellent writer and a great thinker, but like Chomsky, Hedges, and Klein, a little too sobering to take in large doses. Still, I just may get around to reading The God of Small Things sooner than later. I wonder what other titles are on all those lost bookmarks.

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Roy with the Maoist guerillas.

Marx Turns 200 Today

Today is the bicentennial of Karl Marx’s birth, and while much of his work is over my head, some of his basic ideas are spot on like how all profit is “surplus-value” (obtained by paying workers less than the value of what they produce). Marx called capitalism inefficient, wasteful, and immoral. Today this seems like an understatement. Read Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism and This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate for starters. Marx wrote of the “laws of motion” of the capitalist system before there were crippling recessions and depressions, booms and busts. Marx also predicted monopolies. Most of these predictions and assertions were writing in his masterpiece, the three-volume tome Capital: Critique of Political Economy (also known by its German name Das Kapital). While I can say I have read the passionate yet anachronistic Communist Manifesto (co-written by his friend and often financial supporter Friedrich Engels), I cannot say I have read much of Capital Volume 1 and I have never seen the other two volumes.

I had a proper introduction to Marx in high school thanks to Mr. Thorn–an exceptional economics teacher–who had his class read Robert Heilbroner’s The Worldly Philosophers. Heilbroner’s Marx seemed to me like the hero of the common laborer, but I was young and a remedial student and was aware of this deficiency. I was easy prey to the smarter kids who thought Marx was terrible. (It was the Cold War and I lived in an upper-middle class neighborhood and attended a high school of the like.) Mr. Thorn was a free-thinking kind of teacher and was open to ideas by Marx and Thorstein Veblen–another thinker in Heilbroner’s book that fascinated me. I loved the class so much that upon receiving a “C” in the course I enrolled in the class again, earning the same grade despite covering the same material. (I told you I was dull!) Without a doubt, Marx was the most challenging chapter in a very challenging book for me, but Marx cared about working person. No matter how mediocre of a student I was, I understood Marx cared for the little guy, and I liked that.

In college, my exposure to Marx was relegated to a guest speaker on one day in my Economics 1A class. My professor lectured almost exclusively on how reduced governments, free trade, deregulation, and fiscal responsibility in government was the ideal. I got re-acquainted with Adam Smith, David Ricardo and was introduced to Friedrich Hayek and other Austrian School economists, as well as Milton Friedman, and other University of Chicago economists. Just like in my high school economics class, I was horrible, garnishing a “C” and compelling me once and for all to stay away from the subject but focus on the social ramifications of economic projects. I have always been compassionate. Where I got that from I don’t know. Maybe my parents, but also there were my Sunday school teachings of Jesus. (I would later articulate Jesus feeding and healing the poor into being pro-welfare, pro-National Health Insurance, and pro-Guaranteed Minimum Income.) When I was a kid, I liked Robin Hood’s stealing from the rich and giving to the poor idea. (I would later articulate this into aggressive wealth redistribution aka Progressive Taxation.)

Anyway, I put up with the libertarian-leaning class study. In a lame attempt to be “fair” the professor had a student who was a member of a socialist party come in an explain socialism to the class. It sounded good to me, but after the socialist finished his talk a classmate who had been quiet the whole semester started asking questions. Soon he was ripping into the speaker rhetorically asking something like “How do you expect architects, engineers, doctors, lawyers, etc. will agree to be paid the same as janitors, waitresses, groundskeepers, dishwashers, etc.” The socialist stammered and the guy in class just kept coming at him. I even remember the professor smiling impishly on the sidelines not about to help the young socialist out even if he could defend the speaker if only in theory. When the capitalist apologist was done, he became the Big Man in Econ 1A. I knew there were smarter socialists on the planet who could debate this student, and for every smarter socialist, there would be a more intelligent capitalist, and so on, but I didn’t know the answers. I would like to think the winner in the Debate Royale would be a socialist. In a timeless universe perhaps Marx would be the last man standing.

After I graduated I put away Marx and socialism and settled down as a family man, discontinued my subscriptions to leftist magazines, and voted an uninspiring Straight Democratic Ticket in most elections. Twenty years later, in 2007, I would get back into following politics after falling in love with the eloquent words of Barack Obama. At the same time, though, I started reading the alternative press, like I did back in college. People were calling the U.S. Senator from Illinois a socialist and I was intrigued to know if he really was one.

 


Shortly after Obama took office, I started wondering how this guy could be a socialist when he was hiring the same people Clinton used to betray American workers with their free trade agreements, screwing the poor by reforming welfare and passing the Crime Bill, and opening the door for catastrophe by dismantling Glass-Stegall. I was flipping through an issue of The Nation Magazine one day and saw an ad for the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). It sported the faces of Cornel West, Noam Chomsky, and the Independent U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders–three people I had a lot of respect for. West was one of Obama’s biggest supporters. (He would later call Obama a “counterfeit.”) I knew of the erudite Chomsky back in college. The Senator from Vermont I just had heard about. Sanders had recently done a filibuster on the Senate floor corporate greed and the decline of the middle class that lasted over eight hours. I had read extracts from it in The Nation and was inspired: I hadn’t read Marx in years but thought this hero of the working class and poor was the closest thing to it. When I became a member of the DSA, it was the first time I called myself a socialist. By the time I read the full transcript of Sanders filibuster in his book The Speech I was a big fan, but I also knew–long before he ran for president in April of 2015–that he was a lite version of a socialist. Bernie was–is–more like a pre-neoliberal Democrat. Noam Chomsky has referred to him as a “New Dealer” and others have likened him to LBJ. I knew he was the best bet by far for president in that election, but neoliberalism has both parties and the mainstream media in a death grip. Bernie didn’t stand a chance. At least in 2016.
Shortly after the Mid-term elections of 2010, I began attending meetings and reading groups at my local chapter of the DSA here in Sacramento, but while my fellow members were warm and welcoming all my years of reclusiveness had taken its toll. Additionally, I was often by far the oldest person in the room. Most of the attendees were college students–my kids’ ages. I stuck out. I continued to attend meetings off and on, then quit for a while, then started up again, then I just decided to watch from the sidelines. I remain a member. I pay my dues, contribute whenever there are fund drives, but otherwise, I’m more of an armchair socialist.

I have read the Max Beer biography The Life and Teaching of Karl Marx, portions of Eric Fromm’s Marx’s Concept of Man, as well as revisiting the chapter on Marx in Heilbroner’s book.  I admire Marx mainly in some of the ways he has inspired thinkers that I better understand and follow. For one there is the filmmaker Raoul Peck, director of the new film The Young Karl Marx. The movie is good if not stunning like his previous film I’m Not Your Negro. The interview below of Peck by Amy Goodman is interesting because they show how the National Rifle Association uses fear of Marx(!) to combat the rise of anti-gun protests after the Stoneman Douglas High School shootings in Parkland Florida.

Another interesting note about Wayne LaPierre’s C-PAC speech is that it is highly speculative that “on college campuses ‘The Communist Manifesto’ is one of the most frequently assigned texts” and it is dubious, at best, that “Karl Marx is the most assigned economists” [sic]. The complaints from Marxist professors like David Harvey, Erik Olin Wright, and my favorite, Richard D. Wolff, is that heterodox economics is not being taught in many colleges in the U.S. enough. The trend for some time now has been towards Neoclassicalism, a school of thought that has no room for Marx, or Keynes or any of the others outside the orthodoxy. I like Wolff (and Harvey and my youngest son who is a Marxist) because he is so accessible. He hosts the excellent podcast Economic Update, he is a frequent guest on The Thom Hartmann Program and here he is on Real Time with Bill Maher.

Finally, I accidentally found the video below when looking up Wolff on YouTube. Wolff is the narrator for this Join the Socialist Party USA video. I am not endorsing the party, but maybe I should. I’m still a Democrat for some inexplicable reason. (More about me and my attachment to the Party of FDR and LBJ (and not the Clintons and Obama) in an upcoming post.)

Anyway, I agree (at least on an intellectual level) with the message in the video. I’d like to think Marx would, too, if he were around today.

marx beer
An Indian for each century, Uncle Karl! (Image courtesy DSA Sacramento.)

Horrible Sports Team Names

It will be nice to see the Chief Wahoo logo finally phased out since the initial removal of the offensive logo from the players’ caps and batting helmets back in 2014.

 

Here’s a timeline from Mother Jones of offensive sports mascots. Some of them are quite unbelievable.

Before the Washington [Redacted], there were the Duluth Eskimos and the Zulu Cannibal Giants.

via Timeline: A Century of Racist Sports Team Names — Mother Jones