Sarandon has been great progressive for years, so it surprises she hesitates to support best hope progressives have

Susan Sarandon bases her well-publicized reluctance to support Hillary Clinton if she is the Democratic nominee on the fact that Hillary has taken so much money from corporate interests. Of course, that didn’t stop her from supporting Barack Obama twice.

Sarandon’s thought process exemplifies one of the many excuses that progressives and liberals have given as their reason they won’t vote for Hillary Clinton. Here’s my complete list:

  • They blame her for things her husband did when he was president or for her husband’s inappropriate behavior.
  • They do not allow her the opportunity to change her mind on issues based on new information or personal growth, e.g., stiff sentencing laws and the war in Iraq.
  • They judge her too hawkish on foreign policy without applying similar standards to Bernie Sanders.
  • They believe the right-wing nonsense about Clinton corruption and Benghazi that has been discredited multiple times.
  • They make her live by a double standard: It’s okay for other cabinet officials to use her-his personal email for government business and it’s alright for others to get obnoxious amounts of money for speeches, but it’s wrong when Hillary does it.
  • They apply a single issue to her, but not to other candidates, such as the acquaintance of mine who said he couldn’t vote for Hillary because of her stand in favor of capital punishment, but voted twice for Barack Obama, who also favors the death penalty.
  • They call her part of the corrupt establishment, no different at heart from the Republicans when it comes to taking money from large corporations. This argument was used against Al Gore by Nader supporters in 2000 and led to the election of George W. Bush and his numerous disasters.

If these thought processes sound like excuses, there’s a good reason for it. They are. Much of what masquerades as Clinton criticism hides an antipathy for Hillary Clinton that I can’t quite understand.

I have no problem with progressives or liberals who are currently supporting Bernie Sanders. He is an attractive candidate with lots of good ideas. That people would prefer Sanders to Clinton is a perfectly reasonable position that I respect and encourage.

What isn’t reasonable are the one-third of Sanders supporters who proclaim they won’t vote for Hillary. Even less reasonable are the 10% of Sander’s loyalists who say they would rather vote for the unstable, racist misogynist Donald Trump.

It befuddles me why so many Democrats hate Hillary. A Southern Democrat who once ran for Congress recently told me that it’s because she made the unforgivable mistake of marrying “poor white trash.” I’m more inclined to believe that it’s easier for a progressive to find something fundamentally wrong with Hillary than it is to admit that he-she is not quite ready to have a woman serve as president. Whatever the reason, if we held every candidate to the high standards to which many hold Hillary Clinton, we would only be able to elect candidates who are related to a deity or received divine law on a mountaintop. I guess lifelong contemplation under a Bodhi tree might also qualify.

The simple argument for voting for Hillary is that she isn’t any of the Republicans. Remember all the Republican candidates—Trump, Cruz, Kasich and those waiting in the wings—want to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. All want to lower taxes drastically on the wealthy. All are against any minimum wage. All have militaristic foreign policies. All want to cut funding to Planned Parenthood. All would like to limit women’s access to abortion and birth control. All will select right-wingers for the Supreme Court. All want to loosen gun safety laws even more than they already have been in recent years. Of the two front-runners, one is mentally ill and has fascist tendencies and the other serves the ultra-religious right.

The subtler and more uplifting reason to vote for Hillary is that she is a true progressive on domestic issues, albeit one who is willing to compromise, and can therefore help progressives cash in on a golden opportunity. At the very least, Republicans are either going to field a very weak candidate—Trump or Cruz—with practically nonexistent coattails with which to drag along the rest of the ticket. An even more dire situation for the Republicans will be if either Trump or another Republican launches a third-party campaign. In either case, the Democrats are poised to take both the House and Senate. Both Sanders and Clinton list leftward of Obama. Both have served more time in government than Obama had before assuming the presidency and won’t make the rookie mistakes that Obama did that led to the sequester, the reluctance to assert executive privilege in regulations and the continuation of certain tax cuts for the wealthy.

The big difference between the two is that Sanders will want to get us mired in the political quicksand that would be the renewed argument in favor of single payer healthcare insurance, whereas Clinton will accept the jerry-rigged system we have and focus on other parts of the progressive agenda.

To prefer Sanders to Hillary Clinton at this point shows idealism and an admirable political purism. But not to get behind Hillary when she becomes the Democratic nominee merely manifests a political death wish. The differences between the two candidates are minor, while the gap between them and the most liberal of the current crop of Republicans—the madman Donald Trump—is as wide as wide can be.

No pecking order problem in Xarelto commercial: the aging white male is on top

The Republicans keep sexualizing the fight for pecking order dominance in tasteless yet traditional ways. First came the vulgar insinuations regarding genital size, with its unspoken subtext that you had to have something to measure to qualify for president, or at least for the Republican nomination to America’s highest office.

More recently we have witnessed the dustup about the wives of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, in which both candidates reveal their deep-seated sexism. Somebody’s campaign suggested that the fact Trump’s wife had posed for nude photos somehow disqualified Trump from the presidency. Donald then compared his wife favorably to Ted’s, based solely on the Laddie Boy-Rat Pack definition of female attractiveness. Ted’s answer was to further commodify women in his counter comparison by defining his wife solely in terms of homemaker virtues. Sex toy or housewife? That’s pretty much the choice Donald and Ted are giving women.

This injection of sexuality into the fight for top dog is unseemly because it is so irrelevant to the tasks and responsibilities related to serving as president. Sexuality is, however, an important component of celebrity. Both the news media and the Republicans seem determined to wage the nomination battle based primarily on the criteria by which we judge celebrities.

The Republican race for top dog reminds me of the imaginary world created by a current television commercial in which there is no doubt who is at the alpha male, and in fact, no doubt as to the precise pecking order.  The civility, mutual admiration and joviality of this commercial contrasts sharply with the crass and tasteless accusations and assertions by the various Republican presidential hopefuls.

The commercial, for the anti-clotting drug Xarelto, depicts the Republican utopia—four prosperous and well-dressed guys playing golf on a beautiful course on a sunny day.  Except that these aren’t business owners or trust fund babies, they are three athletes and a comedian—all among the most celebrated in their highly competitive fields. The golf foursome includes golfing legend Arnold Palmer, basketball all-star Chris Bosh, stock car racer Brian Vickers and comedian Kevin Nealon.

Despite the fact that these are all extremely competitive guys used to fighting for everything they get (except for perhaps Nealon, who comes from wealth and is not in a field in which merit derives from winning something measurable), there is not even a hint of competition in the ad. In fact, the ad enforces a strict pecking order that each of the four men embraces openly and happily. The hierarchy has the comedian as low man on the totem pole, while the aging white male, Arnold Palmer, is the top dog, followed by Bosh the greatest athlete among the bunch and then Vickers.

In a single minute, the commercial packs a large number of visual and verbal cues that tell us that Arnie is the leader and hero and that this small society has a rigid hierarchy:

  • At the end of the commercial, the four sit together in a golf cart in pecking order, Palmer closest to us, followed by Bosh, Vickers and Nealon.
  • Bosh passes a helmet behind his back to Vickers. Nealon says “Nice pass” in open admiration.
  • Two practical jokes are played on Nealon, the non-athlete, one by Vickers, the least athletic of the athletes. It’s a jovial version of what happens on many teams—the weakest starter is frequently the “bad ass” to the non-starters, who represent the greatest threat to his/her status. Note that it is the non-athlete, who probably has the greatest verbal skills, to serve as the buffoon.
  • Palmer appears to be giving Bosh advice, and when Bosh hits a good shot, Palmer compliments the basketball player, who beams like a little kid whom the coach has just complimented.
  • As they drive in carts from one hole to the next, Palmer and Bosh drive in the head cart, followed by Vickers and Nealon.
  • At the narrative denouement of the commercial, all eyes are on Palmer in open, almost cloying admiration, as he makes a putt.

The good will and friendly joking between the four men makes for a light-hearted commercial, but the hierarchy by which this micro-society rules itself manifests itself in every shot. We can describe this pecking order in three ways: 1) By money made; 2) By quality of the athlete; 3) By importance of the sport to American culture.

Yet, by any of these measures, except perhaps importance of the sport, the creators of the ad appear to break ranks by putting Arnold Palmer first.

But it makes perfect sense for everyone to be looking up to Palmer as the leader if we consider the Xarelto commercial as an idealized version of the traditional image of the Republican Party—rich and connected people who in their own minds got to the top by being better than others, with the richest, oldest white guy at the summit. No testosterone explosion. No bullying (except the mild twitting of the comic). No over-the-top statements.  Everyone knows his place, and it’s always a good place to be. It’s the kind of world the Republicans would love to install, although most would like the role of Palmer to go to someone other than “The Donald” or “Lyin’ Ted”.

Just like Republican utopia, the world of the Xarelto commercial is missing a lot of things. For example, we don’t learn about the awful side effects that have led to a large number of lawsuits against the makers of Xarelto. That kind of reminds me of the bad side effects of lowering taxes on the wealthy, making it harder to unionize and reducing environmental, health and safety regulations that Republicans never mention. The Xarelto world also exists without greens keepers, caddies, waiters and other members of the working class.

Finally, the Xarelto world also lacks women. I imagine they’re either getting a bikini wax or baking pies.

One word to describe voters: not liberal, not conservative, not angry, but “apathetic”

The real question about this year’s electorate is how large a part of it truly seeks a confrontational authoritarian as our next president?  How many people practice racism, condone violence and approve of torture? How large is the population with fascist tendencies?

In other words, what part of the American public has voted for Donald Trump?

Judging from the numbers in a recent Economist article titled “How non-voters blew it,” Trump has gathered relatively few supporters. In no state to hold a primary until now has more than 25% of Republican voters actually gone to the polls and cast a ballot. Even though Republican primary turnout is at its highest since Ronald Reagan swept into office in 1980, only about 17% of eligible Republicans have voted in the primaries so far. Trump has averaged about 38% of the vote, which translates into a little less than 6.5% of all registered Republicans. But Republicans represent only about 28% of all voters, probably a little more in the states already holding primaries. If we extrapolate these numbers across the country, we find that a mere 1.8% of all eligible voters support Donald Trump.

The one word to describe American voters in 2016, is the same one word we can use to describe them virtually every year. That word isn’t “angry” or “frustrated,” not “conservative” or “liberal.” The one word to describe American voters is “apathetic.”

Ted Cruz and John Kasich have gotten an even lower percentage of the total votes than the Donald. Hillary Clinton hasn’t gotten many more votes than Trump, as voter participation in Democratic primaries is down.  If we’re using votes to measure whether any candidate is engaging the public, the answer is that none of the candidates are winning in any state or across the country, not even Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. With such low voter turnouts, we can’t proclaim anyone who has won a primary a real “winner.”

The real winners in this election season so far are not even “none of the above,” since that outcome would require people to enter voting booths and actually write those words down.

No, the real winners are the fascists like Donald Trump and the oligarchs, who represent about one tenth of one percent of the country, like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson. Just as in the Germany of the late 1920s and early 1930s, the oligarchs and the fascists share many traits in common—power hungry, obsessional about control, well-funded, prone to lies and misrepresentations, ruthless.

I used to tell the kids on the Little League teams I managed that the only way to guarantee never losing is never to play. But in American politics, the people are losing by not playing. Only when the electorate stays home can fascists like Donald Trump win at the polls. Only when the electorate remains uninvolved can oligarchs manage the voting patterns of legislatures. Only when the electorate prefers ignorance can oligarchs and fascists get away with filling airwaves and bandwidth with their lies.

Two roads for Bernie: 1) Fight to convention; 2) Use funds to support statewide progressives

It’s pretty clear that Hillary Clinton is going to be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States. Bernie Sanders has fought a good, clean fight and in the process has moved the entire Democratic Party leftward. He has also made Hillary a better candidate, forcing her to sharpen her ideas. But Sanders is losing most of the primaries, despite outspending Hillary two to one in some states. The losses in Ohio and Illinois were devastating blows to his campaign. He won’t make up the difference by winning the super-delegates, who overwhelmingly prefer Hillary.

For the past month I’ve been telling friends that I hoped Hillary would win the nomination by one vote, because that would drive the Democratic Party as far left as possible at this point in history. Something resembling that outcome could only come if Bernie stays in the race, as he has stated is his intention to do. Many pundits and politicos believe that Obama was a stronger candidate in the fall of 2008 because Hillary didn’t leave the race until relatively late.

But I’m beginning to doubt the benefit of Bernie fighting to the convention, mainly because I think there is a much better use for the enormous campaign chest he has accumulated: supporting the most progressive Democrats running for Congress, Senate, governor and other statewide offices across the country.  I’m suggesting that Bernie bow out of the race now and earmark his surplus campaign funds to these local campaigns, which is his right under campaign financing laws.

The most likely Republican nominees, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, will both send major Republican financial backers running to the exits, which in this case means the local races. Some leading Republicans such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have already broadly suggested that they would focus on Senate and Congressional races and pretty much ignore the national race if Trump is the Republican candidate. The Republican establishment is painfully aware that a Trump or Cruz disaster would assuredly lead to the loss of the Senate and may even threaten their gerrymandered dominance in the House of Representatives.

Let’s look at two of the various possible outcomes in November: If Hillary is elected with a Democratic majority in both chambers of Congress, she will be able to move the progressive program forward, which means higher taxes on the wealthy, more investment in mass transit, roads, bridges, education and alternative energy and an improved social safety net. If she wins and the Republicans keep both houses, we will have four more years of legislative dysfunction.  Which will be better for the country?

The one enormous mistake the Democratic Party has made since the turn of the century was to underestimate the importance of the 2010 Congressional races.  By releasing his tens of millions of campaign funds to local candidates who pledge to a progressive, left-looking agenda, Bernie will help the Democratic Party avoid making that mistake again.

The other reason Bernie should throw in the towel is so he can have more time to remind his supporters that they should vote for Hillary and contribute to her campaign. There are indications that some portion of Bernie’s supporters will either sit out the election or vote for Trump because they believe the decades of lies about the Clintons spewed out by the right-wing propaganda machine. On a symbolic level, these are the same people who sat out 2010, voted for Ralph Nader in 2000 and sat out 1968. Bernie can help make sure that these people understand that once again a lot is at stake.

Determining whether Trump or Cruz would be worse for the country reminds me of medieval debates about the number of angels fitting on the head of a pin. They are both so awful as to be unimaginable. Most people know how much electing either of these two mendacious autocrats would hurt the United States. That’s why Hillary will win the election.

It’s time then to start thinking about the type of legislative help and allies in the states our first woman president is going to need. For the better part of six months, progressives have been showing Bernie the love. It’s time for him to give that love back in the form of much needed dollars to elect progressive and left-leaning Democrats to Congress, the Senate and statewide offices all over the country.

NRA and elected officials it buys or intimidates work for gun manufacturers, not gun owners

The other day I saw in person what we all know. Our elected representatives, especially Republicans, often only represent large corporate interests, even if those interests hurt most of the voters and their families.

The issue in question was gun control. I was at a family event in Portland, Oregon for a cousin’s son who lives in Republic, Washington, a town of about 1,000. At a brunch, I asked the men and teenage boys about gun control. They were all hunters and they all owned guns. They were all Republicans, as befits the name of their village.

Now most recent studies show that people who own guns have pretty much the same attitude about gun control as the rest of the country. For example, a Quinnipiac University poll a few years back found that 85% of all gun owners supported universal registration of firearms and only 13% opposed it, pretty close to the 88% in favor and 10% opposed to universal gun registration among the general population.

The seven or eight I spoke with all wanted universal registration. They had no problem with waiting periods. They supported a national registry of gun owners. They wanted all gun owners to have to take a gun safety course, and they didn’t have a problem with gun licenses. One teenaged boy said that anyone who couldn’t wait three days for a gun shouldn’t have one.

They all agreed that there was no need for people to own automatic and semiautomatic weapons. Wasn’t needed to hunt, wasn’t needed for protection.

I forgot to ask them about open carry laws, which is a shame, because those are some of the most extreme attempts to extend the rights of gun owner to the detriment of the community. I don’t want to put words into the mouths of this articulate group of individuals, but whether or not they liked open carry laws I am guessing that they do not object to gun bans on college campuses, hospitals, stadiums and other areas where large numbers of people gather. It’s only a guess. I’m also pretty sure that this group of conservative gun owners would support research into gun safety.

My anecdotal evidence backs up the surveys and reinforces the case that the National Rifle Association (NRA) represents the interests of gun manufacturers and doesn’t care about either public safety or the wishes of gun owners. By following the NRA’s wish list for legislation, both the craven politicians who kowtow to the NRA for fear that it will run someone against them and the brazen ones who take its money and mouth its lies follow the wishes of gun makers.

It’s a frightfully irresponsible way to play politics, but the preferred modus operandi of virtually every Republican and a fair share of Democrats. On tax policy, job creation, environmental protection, health care, Planned Parenthood, a Supreme Court Justice to replace Scalia and global warming, our Republican elected officials at all levels do not listen to what surveys say their constituents want.

I’m not the first to say that this lack of responsiveness has led angry voters to Donald Trump. That they haven’t been repulsed by Trump’s incitements to violence, his crude, unpresidential comments, his many lies and his authoritarian tendencies befuddles. But that a large slice of Republican voters who don’t own businesses would be pissed off with all elected officials shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Word to GOP candidates: you don’t need a penis to be President

At a certain point in last night’s debate between the remaining four Republican candidates I thought Donald Trump was going to whip out a ruler and then whip out something else and start measuring.

I imagine that Republican demi-god Ronald Reagan, stealing from an old Russian proverb, would respond to Trump’s claim that “I guarantee you there’s no problem. I guarantee,” by saying, “Trust but verify.”

Doth the lady protest too much? (This time it’s Shakespeare providing the one-liner.)

Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich could have settled the question of male dominance the old Cub Scout way: Line up, unzip, aim and see who can piss farther.

All jokes aside, that the question of the size of anyone’s penis should be a topic of discussion at a presidential debate of a major political party demonstrates how debased the American election process has become. Rubio sank into a slime pit of vulgarity in his speech that brought up the topic and Trump sank further down by responding specifically to Rubio’s crude remark during a nationally televised debate.

Of course, the Fox News troika of inquisitors were more interested in finding out about how the candidates felt about the accusations of other candidates than they were in issues and experience. That played right into the hands of the Donald, who preferred to insult other candidates than to answer questions about his past business dealings, his contracts with foreign manufacturers and his fuzzy math. In a series of charts at the beginning of the debate, Chris Wallace revealed that Trump’s tax plan could never succeed.

Every candidate lied last night, at least once and sometimes multiple times. Kasich lied when he took credit for the balanced budgets of the 1990s, which were a result of the Bush I and Clinton tax increases. Cruz lied when he said he could get rid of the Internal Revenue Service. Rubio lied when he said that stricter gun laws don’t make people safer. Trump—he lied about everything that we can verify and remain within the boundaries of good taste.

Word to the Republicans: Not only does size not matter when it comes to running the country, you don’t even have to have a penis. Yes, Donald, Marco and Ted, even women can serve in the nation’s highest office.

The hidden message in the talk between “Little Boy” Rubio and The Hands of the Donald was the retrograde idea that a president must be a man.  Size serves as a stand-in for a wide range of related leadership qualities often seen as positive in men and negative in women: firm, resolute, action-oriented, aggressive, dominance-seeking. This subtle swipe at Hillary Clinton attempts to disqualify her on the basis of her sex.

That only a man can be a president is an obsolete idea that never had an iota of validity, but it is definitely part of the subtext of the current election.

Still unanswered is whether or not Rubio, Trump and the other GOP candidates believe the old wives tale that the size of hands predicts the size of the male member. We know that none of them can do math and we know that they have reading comprehension problems, at least as it relates to 18th century documents such as the Constitution. We also know they subscribe to a duffel bag of myths and folklore related to the free market, climate change, evolution, LGTBQ individuals and women’s health.

For those more interested in the real world and real issues, I recommend that you tune into the upcoming debates between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Or better yet, listen to either perform at a town hall meeting, where they have time to detail their positions. Both Hillary and Bernie demonstrate the presidential qualities sadly lacking in the Republican clown car.

Take time out from presidential politics to urge elected officials to vote for Genocide & Atrocities Prevention Act

Strange as it might seem, we can predict genocides and other atrocities committed against groups of our fellow humans with a certain degree of accuracy. Those who pursue genocides—be it a totalitarian ruler, army, political party, tribe or nation—give off a lot of signs ahead of time. Harbingers include past ethnic tensions, persistent conflict, lawlessness, sporadic outbreaks, threats against groups, mass property confiscation, mass media campaigns and displaced populations.

By intervening early, the nations of the world can prevent atrocities from occurring by using diplomatic, political, financial, and intelligence resources. The biggest impediment to precluding a mass murder or rape rampage before the shooting and herding begin is the difficulty in coordinating the various sources of information and aid needed to identify and then address the situations that could develop into genocides or other atrocities. As the world’s largest economy, second largest democracy (after India) and most powerful military machine, the United States could play a large role in preventing future atrocities.

That’s why we should all take time from wallowing in the presidential election follies to get behind the Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act of 2016, recently introduced by Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and co-sponsored by 13 other Democratic Senators.

As Senator’s Cardin’s news release announcing the bill details, if passed the Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act would:

  • Authorize the establishment of a transparent and accountable Atrocity Prevention Board to advance an interagency effort to prevent mass atrocities and ensure a coordinated and effective response to emerging and ongoing atrocities.
  • Make permanent the Complex Crises Fund to support emergency efforts to prevent or respond to emerging or unforeseen complex crises overseas, including potential mass atrocities and conflict.
  • Mandate training in how to recognize patterns of escalation and early warning signs of potential atrocities or violence for Department of State and USAID Foreign Service officers at high risk posts.
  • Encourage the Director of National Intelligence to include a review of countries or regions at risk of mass atrocities or genocide in her-his annual testimony to Congress on threats to US national security

Besides the 15 Senators, more than 60 organizations support the legislation, including groups representing Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Africans, immigrants, refugees, Armenians, peaceniks and students. A petition that these groups have signed makes the case for the new law better than I ever could: Preventing genocide and mass atrocities is…a core national security interest of the United States. Right now, over 60 million people have been displaced by conflict worldwide – the highest number since World War II. This has required growing expenditures to support life-saving humanitarian assistance and has led to other cost-intensive interventions. These crises have also resulted in increased instability with long-term consequences for countries and regions around the world, feeding into the possibility for repeated and expanded cycles of violence. These threats to U.S. security and interests can be mitigated with robust investments in early prevention.”

The world sat by and watched Armenia, the Holocaust, Darfur, Bosnia, Rwanda and other atrocities occur, to its shame. Early intervention might have stopped at least a few of these outbreaks of savagery.

What are you waiting for, dear readers! Email or contact your Senators and Congressional Representatives and tell them to actively support the Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act.

While you’re at it, let Bernie and Hillary know that you want their active support of the bill. I would also ask readers to contact the Republican candidates, but the fact that they all support torture and conflict escalation suggests that none of the GOP candidates will make a bill that could forestall atrocities a very high priority.