I once attended a show put on by a magician.  It was a small audience, and the magician let me sit next to him.  I swore to myself that I would scrutinize his every move and catch him at his tricks.  Yet time after time he executed his magic flawlessly and left me completely awed.  I finally asked him the obvious — how did he do it?  He smiled, and said one word:  “Misdirection.”


The idea behind misdirection is to have your audience focus on one thing while you accomplish something entirely different.  That idea perfectly describes a political strategy that is in its death throes in the present presidential campaign.  Certain moneyed interests (not by any means all) sought to add to their wealth.  The general means are obvious:  make larger profits and pay out less in taxes.  To do that, they needed to pay less to the workers who made their products and slash the revenue of government.


But there are vastly more workers than there are moneyed interests, and this is a democracy.  So, to accomplish their goals, the moneyed interests needed to somehow convince the majority of the people to support this program, even though it was directly against the interests of the people.  How do you do that?  Simple:  misdirection.


How do you get people to give up their right to organize and bargain collectively for a living wage?  Tell them that unions are taking away their freedom.  How do you get people to give up their right to have decent medical insurance?  Tell them universal health insurance would take away their right to choose their own doctor.  How do you get people to allow taxes on the wealthy to be slashed?  Call the wealthy “job creators.”  How do you get people to vote in politicians who will do the bidding of the moneyed interests?  Talk about gun rights and abortion and same sex marriage and anything you can think of that will distract the people from realizing that they are voting in politicians who will strip them of a living wage and of their basic needs.  In a phrase, divide and conquer.  Convince enough people to buy into your program, and hope they don’t notice what they are giving up.


Here is the thing, however.  Sooner or later, the people wake up and realize that their pockets have been picked.  Sooner of later, they realize that their wages are dropping, that basic things like insurance and retirement are beyond their means, that their roads and bridges are falling apart, that their schools are collapsing, that even the most fundamental needs — food and clothing and housing — are being priced beyond their reach.


When all of that occurs, one of two things happen.  Either the people come to their senses and vote out the politicians who have been doing the bidding of the moneyed interests who have been funding them, or, if that doesn’t happen, the people revolt.


This, I submit, is the choice that the people face in the coming elections.  If we vote in someone who will dismantle Obamacare, gut Social Security and do away with Medicare, we will end with nationwide violence.  That is an awful thought, and I beg someone to show me what other alternative exists.  If, on the other hand, we vote out those politicians who have been complicit in this strategy of misdirection, we face a long, arduous road back to fulfilling the democratic ideal upon which our country was founded.  Long, yes.  Arduous, yes.  But I yearn for it.


I hate labels.  Labels end thinking.  Put a label on someone, and you no longer have to consider what that person means when she speaks.  All you need is the meaning you put into the label.  Our present shameful political scene is just one massive collection of labels.  Democrat, Republican, conservative, liberal, progressive, populist, right-wing, left-wing, etc.  Don’t even get me started on judicial theories.  All of these are just cubbyholes for our prejudices, and we use them so we don’t have to think about what their proponents and opponents mean when they say them.  It is exactly the same as labeling someone a liar or a choker or a con man.  Don’t think.  Just label.  I hate it.


So let us put aside this anti-intellectualism, this abandonment of what It means to be a human being, and consider another one of the labels:  socialism.  The other day the news featured a marine biologist who had joined efforts with a team of Cuban marine biologists to investigate the waters around Cuba.  He found two things of great significance.  The first was that, when he dove into the waters surrounding Cuba, he found that the sea life and the coral life around the island were flourishing.  He observed that ninety miles away, in Miami, one could find nothing like that because the environment had been rendered too toxic for marine life to survive and grow.


The second thing he observed was the attitude of the people of Cuba.  He said that he was expecting to find a group of frustrated capitalists, all thirsting for the opportunity to adopt the American way of business.  Instead, he said, he found that people, while openly critical of their government, were happy with their way of life and with the relation they had with their environment.  Yes, the infrastructure was badly in need of repair.  But there was no urge to engage in the endless pursuit of profit which has come to define the American style of living.


The beauty of the sea world around Cuba highlights, by glaring contrast, the junkification of the American landscape by the unslakeable thirst for profit that has characterized American business for the past several decades.  What little of the environment we have put aside for communal use and appreciation is now being put at risk by those in government who would sell it off to private interests.  Every call for environmental protection is shouted down in the name of jobs, by which label the opponents mean profit.  It is in the name of profit that we are, for the first time in the history of this nation, passing on to our progeny a world that is decidedly worse than the one we inherited.


We are in need, not of a change of political regime, but of a serious cultural change.  We need to see the world, our world, in a manner consonant with our environment.  We need, as a culture, to see environment, and social interrelations, not as a means to personal aggrandizement, but as a shared asset to be put ahead of any private gain.  We need to have the attitude that the Cubans seem to have developed in their decades of development since the overthrow of dictatorship.


Is that socialism?  Well, that depends on what you mean by socialism, and to understand that you have to look at the term outside of its meaning as a label.  Trump now refers to Bernie Sanders as a communist, which only proves how lost in labels Trump is.  If you want to understand what it is that is rallying youth around Sanders, you have to think about what it that youth wants from society and what it is they, perhaps naively, think that they might get from their politicians.


I think the youth of America are rebelling against the junkification of our world created by the persistently single-minded pursuit of profit.  The American landscape is well illustrated by the barrenness of the sea world around Florida.  We have, in the name of profit, so reduced and squandered and uglified our surroundings as to render them all but unlivable.  Recently a news program showed photographs of a public school in the Detroit area that had allowed standing water to remain in its walls so long that there were mushrooms growing on the walls.  Our streets and highways are a mess.  our public lands are up for sale.  Our cities are rotting from the inside out.  Over 2000 American cities are providing drinking water that violates OSHA safety standards.


What the youth of American are clamoring for is for the assets of this country to be preserved and fostered by the entire community rather than sold off or let slide in the name of profit.  What they are suggesting is that we operate on a different principle, namely that we should all share the cost of those things for which there is a universal need.  We all need military defense and police protection and fire protection.  These things should be paid, and are being paid, by the community.  In addition, we all need medical care, and we all need good streets and highways, and we all need basic education.  These things need to be paid for by the community, and their preservation and fostering must have priority over private profit.  Very likely it means increasing taxes on everyone, in accordance with their ability to pay, and it means placing the needs of the community over the interest of private profit.


Is that socialism?  Yes, in an extremely broad sense.  The fact that we all share the cost of military and police and fire departments and roads and highways, means that we are socialists.  We socialize these costs.  If, on the other hand, like Trump and his ilk, you identify socialism as a label that carries with it the inhumane political oppression of the Soviet Union and Maoist China and North Korea, then it is nothing of the kind and you are completely missing the point.


The conversation about what we are all looking for needs to start with a clarification.  Democracy is a political system.  It is contrasted with dictatorship.  Socialism is an economic system.  It is contrasted with laissez faire capitalism.  These systems are segments of a broad continuum of answers to two questions:  first, how should a community be governed, and, second, how should a community manage its living needs.  Democracy, oligarchy, plutocracy and dictatorship are segments of the broad continuum of answers to the first question.  There are various ranges of positions within those segments, as is illustrated by the division between Republicans and Democrats, both of which groups are, at least in principle, committed to the principles of democracy.  Likewise, socialism and capitalism have various ranges, from the extremes of Marxist socialism to the much watered down socializing of public costs that is being promoted by the right wing of the Republican party today.


Here is my basic point:  Bernie Sanders is not a socialist, not if by that term you mean extreme Marxist socialism.  And we all are socialists, if by that term you mean to include the sharing of expenses like military, police and fire protection.  To find out what someone means by the term, you have to think, and using terms as condemnatory labels will prevent you from thinking.


So do me a favor.  The next time you hear someone call Sanders a socialist, ask that person what the word “socialism” means.  If the person won’t discuss it, you’ll know it’s just a label.  I hate labels.



Even I would not want to read an article with the above title.  If you got this far, though, bear with me a bit.  You’re going to love it.


The endless lament for the persistence of Donald Trump as a likely winner of the race for Republican nominee for president is falling into a few convenient categories.  It is because the people are angry.  It is because the people have been dumbed down.  It is because the Republican political strategy created him.  It is because there is no viable Republican alternative.


Because I am such a smart guy, I have decided to inform you that all of these are wrong.  That might be a bit too strong.  They miss the real point.  Here is the real point:  it is because we made it possible.  It’s our fault.  Permit me (you knew I would say this) to explain.


There is a critical flaw at the heart of all human consciousness.  It is a temptation that needs constant resistance in order to maintain anything like clear thinking.  The flaw is that we are constantly tempted to replace reality with our image of reality.  You can put that in several ways, the most common of which is that we tend to see things the way we like to see them.  We always interpret the world from our own point of view.


I can prove it to you.  Did you ever drive through a red light?  You probably did, but you are probably insisting that you never did.  I’m a lawyer.  I’ve deposed, let’s say, a hundred people who got into an accident involving an intersection with stop and go lights.  Ninety-nine of them insisted that they did not go through a red light.  Slightly less than half of them were wrong.  Were they lying?  Probably not.  But, if they did go through a red light, they wouldn’t know it anyway.  Why?  Because, in ordinary circumstance, people go through red lights because they aren’t looking at the light.  They don’t do it deliberately.  They don’t just say, “Oh, the hell with lights.  I’ll just take my chances running through it.”  No, they just weren’t paying attention.  And, since they weren’t paying attention, they couldn’t possibly have a clue as to whether they went through a red light.  So, sitting there in their banged-up car, they say to themselves, “I don’t go through red lights.  So, I must have seen that I had the green light.”  In other words, they replace reality with what they would like to see as reality.


We do this all the time, and it leads to big problems.  We create an ideal, say, the American ideal.  To represent it, we make a flag.  Then, gradually, we start honoring the flag at the expense of the ideal.  We worship God.  To do so, we make an image of God, or we build a religious organization to help us worship God.  Then, gradually, we find ourselves worshipping the image or the religious organization rather than the God it was meant to serve.  You get the general idea.  We replace reality with the image we created of it.  We’ll call that eidetic displacement.  Nice name, huh?


So, now, we create a community to serve our principles of freedom, creativity, security, prosperity for all.  We create a political system to serve those principles.  Then, gradually, we find ourselves serving the political system rather than the ideals and principles it was created to serve.  So what if Trump would bomb the hell out of innocent people?  So what if he would drag millions of people out of their homes?  So what if we would tear parents away from their children?  So what if he would torture people?  So what if he condones and encourages violence at his campaigns?  He is for America!  America!  Love it or leave it!  America! Right or wrong!


So, we made Trump.  If we had kept our ideals before us at all times, Donald Trump would have been laughed off the first stage he ever set foot on.  If we had insisted on the real American ideals as the standard for judging candidates, Donald Trump would likely never have even contemplated running.  We didn’t do that.  We forsook reality for images, and into that world of images walked the world’s most plastic character.


So don’t blame the economy or world politics or even the wretched Republican policy of saying no to anything the president wished to do.  Those, while factors, are not the core explanation for the apotheosis of a con man.  The real explanation is:  us.




During the 1980 presidential campaign that pitted the incumbent Jimmy Carter versus Ronald Reagan, I was visiting a family in Belgium.  A wealthy relative of the family asked me, with clear relish, “Who are you voting for, the peanut farmer or the B movie actor?”  I took the slam as politely as I could, but I have never forgotten the incident and I have never come up with a decent answer to the critical question hidden behind that derisive query:  why does the United States not demand more experience and training and expertise of its presidential candidates?  We choose as presidents people with little talent or, if talented, little experience.  We accept as candidates the wildest assortment of extremists and egomaniacs and a veritable army of the ill-informed and out-of-touch.  It is said that the genius of the founders was to create a system of government that is brilliant when run by capable hands and adequate even in the hands of the incompetent, and we test the truth of that statement all too frequently.


The reasons for this quirk in the American character are likely hidden deep in the psyches of the average citizen.  We like to see ourselves as devoid of class structures, average Joes and Josephines, people of the earth, common folk.  We more often demand of our candidates that they be born in a log cabin than that they had any suitable training to run the most powerful county in the world.  We brag about humble beginnings and hardscrabble upbringings as if they were advantages, and we deride wealth and high-level education as indicating that those with such advantages are “out of touch.”  We demand of our candidates that they hang out in coffee shops, wear blue jeans and practice droppin’ their word endin’s.


The nonsensical character of all this is on full display in the present presidential campaign.  We have, as a Republican front runner, a man with absolutely no political experience whatsoever.  He is being attacked by two people whose every speech tells of their rise from poverty and oppression and by a retired neurosurgeon.  The one truly experienced politician in the bunch brings up the rear in every primary.


The Democrat candidates present an entirely different picture, and they are roundly criticized for it.  Bernie Sanders has had a lifetime of commitment to public service.  He marched with Martin Luther King.  He opposed the war in Iraq.  He led the struggle against deregulation and the concentration of wealth in a few.  Hilary Clinton has spent her entire adult life in public service:  as wife and partner of a governor and a president, as a senator and a secretary of state.  She knows more about national and international politics than, quite likely, any person living.  And what does that get these two?  Condemnation as “insiders.”  God forbid that we should elect a president who actually has some knowledge of how to do the job.


The sad fact in America is that the position of president is purchased, and the buyers have been getting just what they paid for.  The moneyed interests who elected George Bush and who purchased the seats of numerous members of Congress are once again pouring money out to preserve their programs of wealth concentration and the impoverishment of the masses.  Not having to drive the potholes of America’s roads, they fight investment in infrastructure.  Not interested in educating our youth, they fight investments in education and encourage the wasting away of our public schools.  Most of all, not caring about anything but the continued increase in their wealth, they blindly deride all efforts to provide basic healthcare and make the other investments that would improve the lot of the average citizen.  The financial elite want, not experience and ingenuity, but ownership.  The last thing the hugely rich who hide in the organizations allowed by Citizens United is someone who actually understands and cares about the needs of the average American.


We, the people, have some serious problems.  We all need basic health care, and we need to get it at a reasonable price.  We all need good basic education.  We all need decent infrastructure, drivable roads and trustable bridges.  We need a sustainable atmosphere.  And we need jobs that pay a decent wage.  To do all of this, we need to increase the national income in order to pay for it.  We have lived off the national credit card far too long.  I frankly have no idea how to do that, but I am quite sure that we will not provide the needed funds by cutting taxes.  The other thing I am sure of is that we will not even begin to solve this country’s critical problems by electing someone unprepared for the job.


So who are you going to vote for?  The melon cutter or the reality tv star?



Somewhere in the1970’s, the chief operators of the health insurance industry announced that the providing of medical care needed to be run “as a business.”  While that ostensibly suggested that it should include principles of efficiency and proper management, in actual fact those in charge really meant that the driving principle of medical care should be, not the quality of care, but that the guiding principle behind the providing of medical care should be profit.


That decision created a paradigm shift in medical care.  Insurers made generous use of exclusions such as refusing coverage for pre-existing conditions, and an entire new industry arose, the subrogation industry, to help insurers recover payouts from other insurers.  Meanwhile, the providers of medical care adopted the same commitment to profit, and the cost of medical care itself soared.   While Obamacare has corrected some of the inequities arising from the primacy of profit in medical care, medical care in the United States remains a disaster, with millions of people still uninsured and the cost of care and insurance seriously hobbling both American industry and the budgets of the average American household.


The core lesson of this horrendous experiment is that there are some aspects of the community that do not fit the paradigm of business.  As the chaos of the present political debates is beginning to show, the American people are deeply disturbed by the politicians who have served the god of profit instead of the interests, the needs, of the community they were elected to serve.


Business, of course, has its place, and it remains true that the free market does in fact both encourage creativity and create competitive prices.  The problem is that the principles of free market capitalism can be perverted.  If, for instance, both supply and demand are controlled by the same people, the results unfairly favor those who hold those strings.  This is precisely what happened with treating medical care as a business.  The medical industry creates need and then controls the supply and, accordingly, the price of that supply.  It is the doctor who tells you that you need an MRI or that you need this or that medication, and it is the medical industry that tells you, utterly without competition in price, what that examination or medication will cost.  No one asks how much an MRI or a CT scan will cost.  No one asks how much it will cost to be hospitalized or how much a program of antibiotics or statins will cost.  So we accept treatment that costs thousands of dollars with absolutely no voice in the level of cost.


What all of this suggests is that communities have to operate on a more complex principle than the single paradigm of business.  Where a need is universal, that need should be paid for by the community in whatever way that community decides is fair.  We all need roads.  We all need schools.  We all need health care.  We all need police and fire protection.  We all need military defense.  For these things, the paradigm of business just does not fit.  It is, instead, the community that needs to pay for these things in whatever fashion the community thinks is fair.  Whether that is income tax or property tax or value tax or use tax, the fact is that universal need is best satisfied by a system of universal payment, with profit not being an element.


When you sift through the smoke, the haze and, far too often, the stench, of the present political debate, this is what is at the heart of the political struggle.  Flint, Michigan, happened because the primary consideration was profit rather than the needs of the community.  The disastrous treatment of aged and disabled veterans in Michigan happened for the same reason.  Our massive infrastructure failure, our massive problem of health care, our massive problems in education, all find their base in the inappropriate application of the paradigm of business to the universal needs of the community.


The point here is that we need to do far more than stop arguing about tans and wet pants in sorting out our political needs.  We need to stop hiding from the real problems.  We need to address straight up how to best serve the universal needs of the community.  Herein lies the real test of the merits of the candidates.  Those who refuse to address the real business of the people do not deserve anyone’s vote.