Bill Cosby will once again be a beloved comedian, but only after his death

Once over the initial shock of learning that Bill Cosby probably raped multiple women in a particularly disgusting manner, my analytical side took over and I began to wonder if it will ever be possible for Bill Cosby to rehabilitate his reputation.

He and his handlers have been trying to address the mounting negative publicity by denying the accusations and stating that Cosby dealt with them decades ago. Cosby’s aggressive protestations aren’t washing with the public, though, mainly because so many women are now announcing their own horror stories—and unfortunately, it’s all the same story: Cosby gives her something to drink and she wakes up with her clothes off or under Cosby’s mount. At this point Cosby is hurting himself by not coming clean, admitting he had (has) a problem, asking for everyone’s forgiveness and going into therapy. Of course, his denials may be keeping him out of jail.

Cosby’s behavior is totally reprehensible, in the category of a Jerry Sandusky, and for the same reason—the victims were helpless and unable to consent. What Cosby did strikes me as extremely bizarre. You would think that a successful comedian and television star could avail himself of any number of willing women of any shape, size, age, education level and color his heart desired. He must have liked having sex with the inert body of a passed out woman, someone totally passive and unresponsive. And he must have liked the trickery involved, the idea that he was getting something over on the woman. Totally sick and pathological!  I am certain I’m not the only one who hopes that there is a way to prosecute Cosby for his repeated rapes.

But I’m not writing this column about Cosby the rapist, but about Cosby the brand.

First and foremost, he will not be able to rehabilitate himself with the public until he does a public “mea culpa” and goes through the motions of rehabilitating himself. In the age of social media and 24/7 news, the story has gotten so big now, that he can’t hope that it will blow over and that things will soon return to normal as far as his career and reputation go. To win back his public, Cosby must take action and that action must be to come clean.

Once “rehabilitated,” I would imagine that some network or production company would take the chance that the public will have gotten over their revulsion and would be willing to see Cosby in a TV special, movie or new show, especially if some of the profit went to a nonprofit organization involved in helping raped or abused women. Some contemporary Chuck Barris might even want to produce a reality show that tracks Cosby as he goes into deep psycho-therapy. It never pays to overestimate the intelligence and good taste of the American public, but I believe that drugging and raping multiple women over years is a particularly heinous set of acts, and I don’t imagine an attempt for a Cosby comeback would succeed. While we have seen the public accept Michael Vick, Bill Clinton and Mark Sanford, what Cosby did was much worse than killing dogs or having an affair. Thus, even if he underwent a picture perfect rehab, he would still be poison with the public for any new work.

But the old stuff—that’s a different story. Once Cosby “rehabilitated” himself through a public apology and therapy, I don’t think most people would have a problem watching old episodes of “I Spy” or “The Cosby Show” or listening to some of his best-selling records again.

If Cosby digs in and never admits his sins, he may die alone under a thunderstorm of rebukes from an angry public, but his past performances will still be around. The initial news of his death will likely spur TV stations to replay the reruns from decades back. After that, I believe the public’s perception of Cosby will soften again, just as it is starting to soften for Joe Paterno. I don’t see rehabilitation in death for Cosby, but rather the reconfiguration of the various parts of his story. The rapes will become a small dark footnote, exactly in the same way as Joe Paterno’s lack of action when he first heard about Jerry Sandusky’s perversions is becoming a small dark footnote to his larger story of football glory.

The public tends to render the lives of past heroes and villains into short symbolic statements, almost like branding statements. The Einstein brand is the absent-minded physicist whose discoveries changed the world. The Babe Ruth brand is the undisciplined but awe-inspiring slugger who loved kids. These quick descriptions conceal a multitude of both sins and good works—we get neither Ruth’s whoring nor his speed on the bases. We miss Einstein’s political stands and his personal life, which was tumultuous at times. None of this detail survives in the public eye.

The one-sentence brand biography of Cosby a decade after he dies will likely be “one of the most popular TV actors who was a trailblazer for Afro-American actors and produced and starred in one of the very best and most important TV shows of the 20th century, but he also had a dark side.”

In other words, the Cosby reputation will probably weather the storm and the owners of the Cosby reruns can rest easy that sooner or later, they will start minting money again.

But Cosby the living man? As the saying goes, he’ll never work in this town again. And if there’s justice in this world, he’ll be doing his next standup routine behind bars.

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America digs deeper into Middle Eastern quagmire—a headline that could be written at any time over past 50 years!

One comment on National Public Radio this morning should jolt anyone into an epiphany about the brutal absurdity of the United States foreign policy since at least World War II.

When asked about the attitude of Syrians regarding the prospect of U.S. help to fight ISIS, a Syrian photographer answered that Syrians were either confused or angry. His main point was that it was difficult to understand why America held fire when the regime killed 200,000, but are acting when ISIS has killed two or three thousand.

The crimes of Assad against innocents seem much greater than those of ISIS, even if ISIS does a better job of instilling fear into westerners. But is the horror of five or six beheadings of professionals who willingly put themselves in harm’s way more compelling than the brutal murder of 200,000 people?  When we start asking that question, it sends us sliding down a very slippery slope: Why didn’t we invade China after Tiananmen Square or Russia during its genocide by famine against the Ukrainians in the 1930s?  Why haven’t we invaded North Korea lately? Why aren’t U.S. troops all over Africa? Clearly ending brutal repression has never really been a priority for U.S. foreign policy, except when we can use it to support other ends.

In seeking an explanation of why we are fighting ISIS but not the Baathists (at least not yet), let’s start with a beautiful example of circular reasoning. Some assert that we are more concerned about ISIS than Assad because Assad’s Baathist government is at least recognized and legitimate. Of course how do we then explain going after Saddam Hussein in 2003?  Since the Bush Administration always knew Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction nor ties to Al Qaeda, the most logical answer (if not very logical)—and the one the Bush II Administration finally settled on years later—was that the Iraq war was an exercise in nation-building in a country dominated by an intolerable tyrant. Here the circle closes upon itself as we are left asking what’s the difference between Saddam and Assad?

Of course, there are some compelling cynical answers to the question why we are going after ISIS when we held back from bombing Assad’s military positions, including:

  • Russia, Saudi Arabia and/or Iran don’t want (or until recently didn’t want) Assad taken down, whereas virtually every country dislikes ISIS.
  • We can’t get the approval of our allies to go after the Syrian regime, but they’re happy to go after the beheaders.
  • We can’t afford another big war.
  • The ISIS threat is of a perfect size to test some new weaponry and guarantee steady work for military contractors, whereas a war against Syria could quickly deteriorate into another Iraq or Afghanistan.

Another reason pundits give for going after ISIS is because it has also grabbed land in Iraq and we have a responsibility to assure a stable government in Iraq. The odds that ISIS could have swept into Iraqi territory without there first being 10 years of war are minimal. In a sense we created ISIS, so shouldn’t we be responsible for eradicating it?

That rationale unfortunately assumes that the United States could fix the problem at this point, but can we? We poured trillions of dollars (and sacrificed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, plus about five thousand of our own soldiers) into toppling Saddam Hussein, waging a civil war and installing an ostensibly democratic government, which soon descended into suppression and cronyism. Do we propose to spend that money again and hope that next time a unified representational government takes hold? Or do we just incise and drain the ISIS abscess and assume that once the beheaders are gone, the Iraqi political situation will suddenly calm down? Fat chance! It’s more likely that another group will arise that will either take territory or commit frequent terrorist acts.

If the United States really wants Iraq to return to stability, it will have to pull completely out and stay out, and then stand on the sidelines and watch a period of often violent jockeying by the various political factions. This transitional period could last months or years and could result in the formation of a stable if fragile democracy, the establishment of a Saddam-like dictatorship or a splintering of the country into three parts (reflecting the ethnic and city-state organization of the territory from ancient times).

If we really want to help the Iraqi and the Syrian people, we will make it as hard as possible for these various factions to procure weaponry. Of course, disarming the various factions in just about any country in conflict might prove counterproductive to what I believe is a central tenet of American foreign policy: to make the world safe for American arms manufacturers.

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Obama’s aggressive announcements since the elections: Is he courageous or in the endgame of wimping out?

On the surface, it seems as if progressives should applaud the actions of President Obama in the wake of his devastating repudiation by 36.3% of the electorate. Instead of hiding in his man cave for the next two years, he has set or tried to set national policy in three important areas.

By coming out in favor of net neutrality, announcing a climate change accord with China and broadly overhauling the immigration enforcement system, Obama has in two weeks advanced the progressive agenda as much as he did over the past four years (or since the passage of the Affordable Care Act). He has taken a lot of flak from Republicans on net neutrality and global warming, but it looks as if the GOP is going to hold its fire on immigration, fearing a backlash from Latino voters.

Progressives could easily quibble about each of these presidential initiatives: He doesn’t go far enough when it comes to immigration and global warming (although maybe he went as far as he could and stay within the prerogatives of the executive branch of government). And although he is explicitly supporting net neutrality, he did appoint the current head of the Federal Communications Commission, Thomas Wheeler, who wants to end net neutrality and allow Internet service providers to charge different prices for different levels of upload and download speed, in a sense cordoning off the Internet into “first class” and “third class” sections.

My complaint with the President runs deeper, and I pose it as a question: If Obama had made these forceful executive actions before the election, would it have energized his constituencies and led to a larger turnout of Democratic supporters, thus enabling the Democrats to keep the Senate and make inroads into the GOP’s house majority?

We’ll never know, but a lot of circumstantial evidence supports the contention that the Obama Administration and the Democratic Party made very poor strategic decisions regarding the 2014 election cycle. Exhibit One is the fact that progressive initiatives passed all over the country. Exhibit Two is the post-election consensus that the vote, and lack of voting, was anti-Obama as much as pro the positions that Republicans favor.

All we saw and heard of Obama’s performance in the mass media in the weeks before the election was negative: the ostensibly botched responses to the threat of Ebola and ISIS. The media over-exaggerated both of these threats and tended to cover the Obama Administration response to both in largely negative and unfair terms.

But what else did they have to write about? Certainly announcing his support of net neutrality one week, a new accord on global warming the next, and a new more humane immigration enforcement policy the week after that would have filled the newspapers with articles about Obama acting boldly—and Republicans dumping on him in areas where surveys suggest the public holds the President’s views. At the very least, moving on these issues before the election would have crowded out some of the bad news, since the media has only so much time and space to fill. More importantly, it might have also given many of the people who stayed home from the polls a reason to vote.

We’ll never know if the untaken road would have led to victory, but we do know that the Democratic strategy to have the President hunker down and have candidates distance themselves from the President did not work. Instead of appealing to its base, Democrats chased voters who were likely going to vote Republican no matter what. It’s a strategy that has never worked in the past, and it didn’t work in 2014.

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Whom can we blame for the fact that 63.7% of the public didn’t vote, besides the nonvoters themselves!

Who are the 63.7% of the population who didn’t vote in mid-term elections this year? That’s the highest percentage of people to sit on their hands on election day since 1942, when poll taxes and voting restrictions prevented a significant part of our population—all Afro-American—from voting throughout the South and in other parts of the country.

I want to sort out the nonvoters, not demographically, but by the reasons they didn’t vote. The Internet is full of chatter about why people stayed home, in most cases giving undue weight to the one element that proved whatever point they were trying to make. I haven’t seen a survey, but I’m sure that significant numbers of citizens didn’t vote for the reason I’m about to discuss.

Let’s start with the slew of state laws that make it harder to vote because they shorten the voting period, make it harder to register, require more documents to register or require identification to vote. Certainly some part of the difference in the percentage of voters from this election and the mid-term four years ago stems from the fact that it was harder to register and to cast a ballot in many states. But in 2010, an enormous 58.2% of all eligible voters exercised their right to stay home from the polls. If we take a broad axe to this data, we come up with an explanation of why about 5.5% of the eligible voters stayed home: because new voting laws restrained or kept them from voting, a handsome price to pay indeed to try (emphasis on “try”) to prevent a repeat of the less than ten cases of voter fraud that have occurred across the nation over the past 30 years.

But what about the other 58.2% of the eligible who didn’t vote? Why did they stay home? Here are the standard impediments to voting:

  • Was ill: Some number of voters always miss voting because they happen to be ill that day or have long-term illnesses that affect their ability to make voting decisions.
  • Couldn’t get off work: It’s criminal that all employers of all sizes aren’t required to give citizens three hours to vote on election day. Keep in mind, though, that a goodly number of those who couldn’t get time to vote lost options for early voting because of new laws limiting it.
  • Disillusioned by the system: These people figure that it’s a fixed game and they just don’t want to play. It’s very difficult to argue with the disillusioned, especially given the record of the last 35 years in which our elected officials have repeatedly enacted laws and policies that harm 99% of the population but help the super-wealthy and large corporations. On the other hand, this year’s referenda favoring higher minimum wages passed in every municipality given the chance to vote on the issue. To a great extent, then, the disillusioned are perpetuating their own chagrin by not voting.
  • Never votes in nonpresidential years: It’s an enormous group. Over the past two presidential elections, an average of 40.1% of eligible voters stayed home; during the last two off-years, 60.95% of voters stayed home. Using a blunt axe again, that computes to a little over one fifth (20%) of all eligible voters who only vote in presidential years.
  • Have never voted: Say what you will about poverty, a lack of education, language barriers and upbringing, the mass media barrages us with so much information about elections, that it’s very hard not to blame those who have never voted—they are hurting themselves, and they are hurting others. Of course, a conservative of the Platonic or Burkean ilk would say that it hurts the body politic when uneducated or unprepared people vote (which for most of recorded history has meant those without property). I can’t agree with their logic. But when I’m wishing for laws that make it easier to vote and media that cover the real issues, I also wish for an electorate that believed more in civic virtues such as voting (plus serving on jury duty and whistle-blowing).

Those who are disillusioned, only vote for President or have never voted don’t realize how much power they could potentially wield. Here’s why: Most votes are extremely close, and that was certainly the case in 2014. In fact, virtually all newspaper reports, opinion pieces and think-tank whitepapers since the beginning of the republic have labeled as a “landslide” every election in which one candidate receives 53% of the vote. Of course, the news media and their owners have a vested interest in maintaining overall political stability, which is why the bar is set so low for landslides. For most of the ruling elite, having a stable election that produces a consensus is more important than who actually wins; especially nowadays when candidates of both parties feed so luxuriously at the troughs of big and often shadowy donors.

Think of it, though. More eligible voters stayed home this year than the number of voters it would take to declare a landslide in favor of a candidate.

It’s a shameful record.

Yes, blame the Kochs and other right-wingers for bankrolling those who tell the lies they want the country to believe. Blame the news media for trivializing the election. Blame state legislatures for restrictive voting laws. Blame Obama for suddenly being so unlikeable (a new euphemism for Black).

But let’s not forget to blame non-voters.

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Our worst fear should be an accommodation between President Obama & Republican legislators

Typically I would take with a grain of salt the consensus analysis of the midterm elections: that the voters repudiated President Obama. But it’s hard to come to any different conclusion when you dig into statewide and local initiatives, which show a landslide for social and economic progressives. From medical marijuana to gun control to higher minimum hourly wages, the left side of the issue won most of the votes.

Thus many people in a sense “split the ticket” by voting with Democrats on particular issues but against the President.

Obama has certainly had a bad year, some of it of his own making. Saying that the Administration had no plan to combat ISIS was a big PR mistake—a Romneyesque (Romneytic?) moment from which he never recovered. He should have just shut up until he had a plan. Not having a plan is how we roll. In the 21st century: not having a plan didn’t stop the United States in Iraq or in Afghanistan. Most Americans don’t realize yet that U.S. foreign and military policy is going to be the same no matter who is president—we’re going to keep having these small wars so we can keep paying the defense contractors. No one who isn’t with that program will ever have a chance to become president, given the current structure of both parties and the election finance laws.

But the head of the Center for Disease Control had no business apologizing because one hospital in Texas screwed up treating an Ebola patient. What did he hope to gain, unless he is a secret Republican who wanted to throw more gas on the editorial flames?  The CDC and all health institutions have been doing a wonderful job keeping Ebola out of the population. The news media keeps us scared, but the government health agencies have kept us healthy. So why apologize?

I’m not saying Obama has been a great president, but he doesn’t deserve the disapprobation he received in the news media and among politicians before the election, and I don’t think he would have gotten it if he were white. Over the years in Pittsburgh I watched several African-Americans do average work in highly visible jobs and get fired after replacing whites who had done average jobs for decades. The most egregious case was the Pittsburgh Board of Education who fired an African-American superintendent for his plan to downsize the schools and then praised his successor—a white—for taking the same plan and implementing it. I have to think that the same standard applies in many if not most regions across the country.

It wasn’t just an insidious kind of racism that swung the mid-term elections to the Republicans: most of the key races were close, and in many states such as Wisconsin there were new laws restricting the right to vote. Even where court decisions had stopped enforcement of these laws, the publicity must have discouraged many citizens from voting.

Let’s also not forget the power of money. Large corporate interests and the Republican Party hammered voters for weeks with anti-Obama nonsense. ISIS and Ebola. Ebola and ISIS. You saw it in rightwing news coverage. You saw it in political ads. You saw it reported as part of the centrist balance of mainstream news media. Ebola and ISIS.

What’s next has been a subject of great speculation in the mainstream news media. Everyone seems to be rooting for a true coming together of the President and the Republicans, but it’s what I fear the most. The President has shown himself ready to capitulate just to get a deal. I could see him go for Social Security reform that cuts benefits, raises the retirement age and allows people to privatize their Social Security investment, while not lifting the cap on the income that’s assessed the Social Security tax. I could also see him agreeing to a deal that lowered corporate taxes and cut more social welfare, education or infrastructure programs.

What’s so odd about this election is that even though it signified a resounding repudiation of President Obama, Democrats still received more votes than Republicans nationwide. That bodes well for whoever the Democrats nominate for President in 2016. Of course by that time, the team of Republicans and Obama may have done a lot of damage that it will take the country years from which to recover.

Let’s hope that the Republicans and Obama can’t agree on anything and that gridlock continues—at least until 2016.

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Foreign Affairs writers all learn the same thing from recent wars—unfortunately, it’s how to fight future wars

The current issue of Foreign Affairs exemplifies one of the most common of all propaganda devices: selection of possibilities. It’s a simple yet powerful tool for fooling people: you say you’re going to get experts to discuss an issue, but all the experts either agree or agree with some highly nuanced differences. The audience gets the idea that the discussion has covered the waterfront, when it fact it has only analyzed one narrow possibility.

Foreign Affairs is the highfalutin quarterly journal in which political science professors, think tank gurus, government officials and other hired hands of the ruling political elite argue foreign policy strategy. The first part of the current issue focuses on what we as a nation can learn from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as far as military and foreign policy goes. Funny thing is, though, all we learn from the distinguished panel of six foreign policy experts is how to fight wars more effectively or efficiently in the 21st century. The broader questions of whether we should be fighting wars is never asked, because the viewpoint of all the panelists is interventionist, by which I mean they all want to intervene in the affairs of other countries through the use of military force.

Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations starts things off with a statement of befuddled frustration: “If only a nation as powerful and vulnerable as the United States had the option of defining exactly what wars it wages. Reality, alas, seldom cooperates.” To Boot, not being able to define the war means one thing only: being forced to fight non-traditional armies, such as al Qaeda or IS. Boot gives us a number of tips for waging these wars, all learned from the Iraq and Afghanistan fiascos, such as: be prepared to occupy the country after we win; don’t assume the best case scenario; do better strategic thinking; do a better job of managing mercenaries; and train troops for more than just short conventional operations. At no time does Boot question the idea that we will have to fight these wars. He assumes we will and will do so with mercenaries. He just wants us to do a better job of it.

Richard Betts, director of a foreign policy institute at Columbia University, advocates that the United States fights fewer wars but do “more decisively, erring, when combat is necessary, on the side of committing too many forces…” Betts also wants us to stop “fighting in places where victory depends on controlling the politics of chaotic countries” and focus military planning on fighting wars against great powers. Betts says that we are living in an era of permanent war, but evidently wants us to focus our militarism on China and Russia.  It’s not so much that Betts thinks the so-called small wars in Iraq and elsewhere have been worthless but that they have not prepared us for “bigger wars for bigger stakes against bigger powers.” What that means, by the way, are wars in which not thousands but hundreds of thousands of Americans die. By the way, it’s rare when the loser of a war does not descend into the kind of chaos Betts wants us to avoid in our opposition.

Rick Brennan, a political scientist at the private think tank, RAND Corporation, reviews in detail the events that led to and followed the departure of U.S. troops (but not U.S. mercenaries) from Iraq at the end of 2011. His article lists the lessons we should learn from what he sees as the bungling of the exit from Iraq. It was inevitable that such an article would appear from the day that the troops hit the ground in 2003. Chaos, partisanship, terrorism and revolt were going to be the fate of Iraq no matter when we cleared out our troops, be it 2011 or 2121. That’s what happens when a country cobbled together by outside forces loses its strong man. It happened in Yugoslavia. It’s happening in Syria. And the United States made it happen in Iraq. It’s an endgame predictable to anyone in the reality-based community, which unfortunately never included those who started the war. I think it took a lot of guts on Obama’s part to stick to his pledge to get the troops out of Iraq, even though he knew what would likely ensure. He didn’t pass the buck down the road so that the next president—or the one after that—would be left holding the bag when Iraq disintegrated after U.S. forces left.

What is most interesting about Brennan’s article, though, is that he never mentions learning the lesson not to invade. No, his teachable moment from the exit from Iraq only concerns exiting dirty little wars that destabilize countries, thus assuming we’ll be fighting more of them.

An article by Daniel Byman of Georgetown and Jeremy Shapiro of the Brookings Institute next warns us not to overreact to the threat of Islamic extremists living in western countries immigrating to fight for IS. After telling us why the threat is overblown, the good professors propose some changes to make it harder for would-be IS fighters to leave their respective motherlands. It seems like a small-bore article for a special segment dedicated to the big issue of learning from past wars. When we think of the number of innocent civilians killed, injured or displaced in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, the problem of a couple of fanatics making their way into the IS ranks seems trivial.

Finally Peter Tomsen, a former U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan, reviews three books about the bungling by all sides of the Afghanistan war. At the end of the article, Tomsen expresses a fear that, once all U.S. troops vacate Afghanistan, the country will descend into a full-scale civil war. Of course it will, just like Iraq has. That’s what happens when you break something and try to put it together with spit and string. It falls apart as soon as you set it down.

None of these distinguished scholars considers for even one paragraph an alternative to the military imperialism that we have called our foreign policy for decades now. They all take it for granted that we are going to get into wars. They are just trying to make sure that we’re fighting the right wars and that we win them quickly and with a minimum of hassle. No one ever considers that maybe we shouldn’t be fighting any wars. Certainly the last several we have fought have had no strategic value to us—unless we somehow improve our safety and access to raw materials by throwing one of the major oil producers into permanent disarray. These esteemed gentleman all take it for granted that we will need to fight wars to protect our political and economic interests in the future and that these wars—or at least most of them—are just and necessary.

Readers can come away from the pages of Foreign Affairs thinking that they have learned every imaginable lesson they can from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflagrations. But in fact, readers will learn nothing but the ways of military imperialism.

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Hold your nose & vote Democratic if you want our elected officials to work for the 99%

Today’s the day for my annual Vote Straight Democrat essay. These past few years it seems to be an exercise in futility in every other area than social issues, as many Democrats are almost as right-wing as the Republicans on economic and foreign affairs issues, further to the right than the Eisenhower administration.

Most Democrats were once true progressives, which makes it doubly frustrating. The urge to stay home rather than vote for an Allison Lundergan Grimes or an Andrew Cuomo is strong.

But there are only two ways to influence elected officials, because those are only two things they want: votes and money. Correction—they want money and need votes. Unless you’re willing to cough up a few thousand—or a few hundred thousand—bucks, all you can offer a politician is your vote.

Votes don’t speak as loudly as money because you only have one vote and you can give many, many, many dollars. But the collective votes of demographic groups can speak loudly and clearly to the candidates.

Nothing short of an enlightened dictatorship will magically transform the United States overnight into a land in which all people get adequate health care, education and retirement as part of the social contract, there is an equitable distribution of wealth and income and we have secured our future as a species by slowing down man-made global warming and resource shortages.

In our system of government, movement in a new direction, or back into old and successful direction, comes slowly. We have to keep pushing, just like the 1%, social conservatives and gun manufacturers have kept pushing over the past 35 years, gradually increasing inequality, limiting the right to an abortion, weakening unions, lowering taxes on the wealthy, attacking any scientific theory that doesn’t support their views and making it easier to carry guns in the street and get away with shooting people in cold blood for flimsy excuses.

To turn back the tide may take as long as or longer than it took for the right-wing waters to gather and flood our country. The first step is for progressives to show our power, which we can’t do if we don’t vote, since we 99% don’t have the same ability as the 1% do to feed money to the candidates and parties. Until minorities, young people and the poor establish a track record of voting, Democrats will continue to ignore our pressing needs, make compromises with the right wing and pursue militarism and 21st century imperialism abroad.

Right now the best reason to vote Democratic is that the other side is so much worse. Let’s call it “voting on the Gore,” as we now know that progressives who voted for Ralph Nader instead of Al Gore for president in 2000 are in a large part responsible for the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars, the torture gulag, the disastrous federal tax cuts for the wealthy, racking up major debt and then paying for it by cutting funds for education, the poor and our infrastructure, the embedding of the religious right in key government posts, the curtailment of civil rights in the name of security—and, as it turns out, possibly the 9/11 bombings through deliberate ignoring of many warnings signs.

Today we have to vote, and vote on the Gore. But if we can swing the Senate for the Democrats, erode the Republican majority in the House and start to hand governorships and state legislatures back to the Democrats, we will be in a position in 2016 to move the party left—to insist on more progressive candidates, and to maybe get Elizabeth Warren, Bill De Blasio or some other progressive on the national ticket.

But if we stay home this year, the Democrats will once again treat 2016 as if it were Halloween and dress up as a bunch of right-looking centrists. And I’ll be back again telling everyone to hold their noses and vote straight Democratic.

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Kellogg’s adds to infantilization of American adults with Fruit Loops TV spot

It’s Saturday night. The kids are in bed and their early-thirties parents are finally alone.  She slips into a negligee while he opens a bottle of wine. She turns off the lights and waits for him on the sofa by the soft flickering light of a few candles. He programs some smooth jazz into the stereo, then sits down beside her. He tells her how beautiful she is.

Sounds like a great way to spend an evening without the kids, doesn’t it?

But not if you’re in a TV commercial for Fruit Loops, a Kellogg’s dry cereal with toxic contents: sugar is the first ingredient and you won’t find a single fruit or fruit product anywhere in the list of ingredients on the side of the box.

The commercial starts with an attractively plain-looking man and woman pouncing onto a plushy sofa, both with smiles as large as a half moon now that the kids are asleep and they are alone. But instead of getting amorous, she frenetically grabs a joy stick and starts playing a video game on the flat screen, while he excitedly spoon feeds her Fruit Loops from a large bowl which may or may not contain milk. They are completely into it, but not in a sexual way, but gleeful, like children at an amusement park having fun.

They do what boys and girls of all sexual proclivities do before they discover sex.

Kellogg’s is obviously targeting adults, but in doing so, they offer not an adult pleasure, but a retreat to a pre-sexual childhood. Contrast with the TV spot for Post’s Cinnamon Toast Crunch of a few years back that equated eating the cereal to scratching a dog’s belly, suggesting it was the highest of sensual pleasures.

Kellogg’s is only one of many advertisers who infantilize adults or present a juvenile world as the ideal for adults.  Advertisers want adults to behave like children because it makes them better consumers. Children are more self-centered and find it harder to think long-term, so they are more likely to make an impulse purchase for themselves. Children have less sophisticated thought processes and are therefore easier to convince to buy or believe something. Children have not had rigorous training in economics, the scientific method and logic, all part of the core curriculum of any high school. Children tend to believe anything an authority figures says.

But as OpEdge has demonstrated in several columns, advertisers are not alone in supporting the infantilization of American adults. Year after year, the movie industry turns out movies about adults remaining children, behaving like children or returning to childhood. The “Harold & Kumar” movies,  “Old School,”  “Big,”  “Grandma’s Boy,”  “Ted,”  “The Wedding Crashers,”  “Billy Madison,”  “You, Me and Dupree,”  “Dodgeball,”  “”Step Brothers,”  “The 40-year-old Virgin,”  “Knocked Up,”  all three “Hangovers,”  the “Jackass” movies, “Bridesmaids,”  “Hall Pass”  and “Identity Thief” –these infantilizing movies dominate the playlists of the dominant cable networks. Marketers from the American Museum of Natural History to amusement parks are packaging childhood experiences for adults, as are makers of products for children such as LEGO and My Little Pony, who see a market in adult followers.

The 2006 satirical film, “Idiocracy,” depicts a future world in which humans have become stupid and illogical, basing most of their knowledge on what television commercials tell them. Thus they water their crops with Brawndo, a Gatorade like liquid they believe is good for everyone and everything because ads tell them “it has electrolytes.”  Of course the crops fail.

When I see commercials like the one for Fruit Loops and movies like “Ted,” I wonder how far off we are from the world of “Idiocracy.”  It wouldn’t be the first time that the educational levels and cultural sophistication has declined for a period of time. Think of the decline of knowledge and literacy in Western Europe after the death of Charlemagne.

It’s more than just the infantilization of adults in the mass media and mass entertainments that troubles me. There’s the virulent reaction of the religious right and their political factotums to scientific knowledge. There are the attempts by state school boards to sneak fake theories and false notions into curricula. There’s the retreat from modernism in poetry and other art forms.  There’s the almost plague-like spread of celebrity culture stealing more and more news media space and time from real news and the discussion of issues.

Many signs point to a new dark age of ignorance falling upon the United States.

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Pennsylvania legislature & Governor join forces with NRA to put more guns in hands of criminals

On election day the citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will most certainly sweep out of office Tom Corbett, their ultra-rightwing Republic Governor who drastically cut aid to public education, impeded implementation of the Affordable Care Act, kept taxes and regulations low on shale gas drillers, and tried to restrict voting rights.  But before they “throw ‘de bum out,” he intends to inflict even more damage on his constituents.

Corbett is expected to sign a new law that would allow the National Rifle Association (NRA) to sue local municipalities in Pennsylvania that enact guns laws stricter than the state’s. Once Corbett signs this odious sop to the gun lobby, the NRA is going to sue the cities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia over laws on their books that require gun owners to report when a firearm is lost or stolen.

One study counts 230,000 guns stolen in the United States every year in burglaries and property crimes. Pittsburgh and Philadelphia surely account for a share of those thefts. By definition, all 230,000 of those guns end up in the hands of criminals. I haven’t seen any studies, but I think it’s safe to assume that a significant number of lost guns also end up in the hands of the bad guys.

Police can’t go after stolen and lost guns unless the owners report the losses. Not having the report on file slows down the process of gathering evidence when they succeed in encountering or arresting a criminal. And let’s not forget that sometimes people who don’t report a “lost” or “stolen” firearm have in fact sold the weapon, possibly to a criminal.

It’s mind-boggling that in many places in this supposedly civilized country people don’t have to tell the police when a gun goes missing.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article on this truly outrageous and dangerous legislation focuses most of its attention on the great drain on city treasuries that defending the lawsuits will make.  And it’s not just the big cities. Thirty other municipalities across the Keystone State have similar laws that the NRA could challenge or topple once Corbett signs the law.

What a win-win-win this law will therefore be to the broad spectrum of the right.

Taking city funds from fixing roads, clearing snow, educating the young, feeding the poor and ensuring public health and safety and giving it to attorneys certainly helps to give the rich a larger share of the income and wealth pies.

It must help gun manufacturers sell more guns, but I’m not sure I see how, unless they think they will benefit from an increase in crime rates, which may make more people buy guns for protection.

Finally, because of the widespread myth that most urban dwellers and recipients of government aid are minorities, the racists will be delighted to see city funds diverted from helping those whom they consider undeserving.

When Harry Golden wrote and Jay and the Americans sang, “Only in America,” I don’t this is what they meant!

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Scenes from the class warfare the rich are waging against everyone else

For days, images of the Philadelphia public school system have haunted me. More than 30 children in one class share 11 math books. Bathrooms locked because there aren’t enough hall monitors. What’s most heartbreaking is to know that just a few miles away other school students attend some of the highest rated public and private schools in the nation, where they are lavished with cutting edge technology and enrichment opportunities.

Then there are the images of elected officials turning a deaf ear to the protests of the students, teachers and parents angered at the extreme cuts. And the image of the Philadelphia Board of Education voting to cancel the contract with the teachers’ union. Shame on the board and shame on everyone else who blames Pennsylvania’s and American’s crisis in public education on teachers or believe the solutions to the problem all involve taking money out of the pockets of these highly skilled professionals.

Most people agree that the immediate cause of the public school crisis in Philadelphia is the extreme cuts—50%!!—to public education enacted by Pennsylvania under right-wing Republic Governor Tom Corbett. These cuts have led to resource shortages, less enrichment and larger classes throughout Pennsylvania.  According to polls, Corbett is going to pay at the polls for these Draconian cuts, his attempts to limit the voting franchise and his opposition to implementing the Affordable Care Act.

But all that means is Corbett will go back to some cushy job at a major law or lobbying firm. What about the tens of thousands of children who will receive inferior education because of his cuts?

The other thought that haunts my mind lately is a claim that I am unable to substantiate that a major nonprofit health institution in the western part of Pennsylvania makes job applicants pay the cost for background checks that are part of the hiring process. The checks cost $57.50 for a job paying $11.51 an hour, barely more than the purchasing power of the minimum wage in the 1960’s. I heard from several people I know that it is standard for some nonprofits to ask job applicants to pay for these security clearances.

I connect the charging of job applicants to the gutting of state support of public education. Both are little pieces of the wealth-and-income pie taken in the 35-year program to give a larger share to the rich folk and less to the poor and middle class.

The logic of cutting aid to public school makes perfect sense if you want to transfer wealth up the economic ladder. The cuts by definition will negatively affect teacher compensation, if for no other reason than it will increase the pool of teachers looking for jobs. The cuts will also make poor folk less able to climb the economic ladder because they will receive inferior education. Finally, it drives the middle class into private schools, translates into support of the education of the rich, who have always taken the private route.  That’s maiming three birds with one stone, the glorious topper to which is that the money saved from harming public education goes directly to the wealthy without passing Go. Brilliant strategy!

Cutting public education may be brilliant class war strategy, but making people pay to apply for low-paying jobs is merely sadistic. The message is, “we have the job and we can do anything we want.” It equates to Lebron James spiking the ball in the face of a fifth-grader.  Of course, anything to save a buck. That’s the excuse that Amazon.com gives for not paying its employees for the half hour it takes for each to go through the security screening process before and after work.

You would think that the extremity with which corporations and right-wing state governments are going would sicken the electorate. After all, 99% of us are not gaining from the continual grabbing by the wealthy of our government benefits and income. Now I know some vote with the right wing because of its 19th century views on women, gays and race. But all surveys suggest that number is decreasing rapidly in all parts of the country.

What I think drives the 99% away from the Democrats is that they aren’t much better than the Republicans. Massive contributions from billionaires and multinational corporations have colored the views of most Democrats on public education, tax policy and unionism. For six years now, President Obama has started negotiations on economic, taxation and budgetary matters by giving away the store, so eager has he been to make a deal—any kind of deal—with the factotums of the 1%.

It doesn’t help people trying to distinguish between Democrat and Republican that the Obama Administration continues to build on the Bush II security state and still uses bombing and troops as the primary tools of foreign policy—save the ending of the Bush II torture gulag.

Note how popular are the candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Bill De Blasio who have articulated a progressive vision. But instead of following their lead, the Democratic Party in general is consolidating into a centrist position that resembles 1950’s Republicanism without the racism and sexism: in other words, more progress on social issues than economic ones.

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