Keeping Hillary off the Half Dollar

In January, Hillary Clinton still possessed the benefit of the doubt. Memories of her and Bill snarling at Barack Obama in 2008 had faded, and despite her long and dreadful record, it’s always possible to turn over a new leaf. But Clinton’s ongoing response to Bernie Sanders shows why she is unfit for the presidency. Even as the frontrunner, Hillary shows no leadership ability; she, too, follows Sanders, trailing him to the left as he takes meaningful positions on issues like income inequality and campaign finance reform. Her saccharine smile says “I can do that too!” but truly she should be inspired by competition, not forced to shift uncomfortably because of it. Her recent anger at being asked about money from the fossil fuel industry illustrates her shortcomings perfectly. Confronted with a fair election, faced with her own record, she becomes defensive instead of inspired. She says something that isn’t true to blunt the inappropriateness of her rage. She enjoys the benefits of Citizens United just as they were meant to be enjoyed: as a carte blanche that allows her and other mainstream candidates to deny the corrupting influence of big money even as millions of industry dollars are spent on her behalf.

But Clinton has never shown interest in a fair contest; she moved to New York in 2000 because it was the only state in the union that might elect her to the Senate. In her 2008 bid for the White House she carried herself as though presidential candidates are anointed by the Democratic National Committee, a private organization having no constitutional roots. She dismissed the possibility of nominating Obama just as she has dismissed Sanders. She and her jolly encampment harp on her inevitability; one of their favorite terms for her is “our next president.” Having every superdelegate in your pantsuit pocket is one thing, but insulting Americans by saying they have no choice is just asking to get burned.

Clinton seems to think her sex, along with her inimitable résumé, is a golden halo; although she is a lackluster feminist, she yearns to set a historical precedent as the first female president, and casts aspersions on anyone who would deny her the opportunity. Look at her inane campaign slogan: “I’m With Her.” But do you remember Gloria Steinem, advocating for Hillary, saying girls who support Bernie are only doing it to impress the boys? Do you remember the Clintons throwing Monica Lewinsky under the bus after Bill had thoroughly exploited her in the Oval Office? According to CNN, Hillary called Lewinsky a “narcissistic loony toon,” which is at least somewhat ironic. And do you remember Hillary deliberately praising Nancy Reagan for her crusade against AIDS last month, either out of sheer ignorance or else to saint the memory of an arch-conservative? Do you remember how until 2013 she advocated against gay marriage and now she thinks it’s great? Hillary Clinton is not a feminist, she’s simply a woman, and if that’s her strongest claim to the White House, it’s not enough. Her posturing is sexist in and of itself.

Meanwhile Clinton and her handlers and her campaign staff and the last godforsaken newspapers in this country have worked tirelessly to influence public perception with rhetoric and omission rather than take a stand on important issues. Outlets like The Washington Post and The New York Times have seriously undermined their credibility by covering this race not as a democratic contest, but as a victory march beset by ungrateful and even dangerous support for Bernie Sanders. First they say “Sanders can’t win” and then they say “Unite! Or Trump will take over in November” and now they say “Bernie is fighting dirty!”

But let’s think about Donald Trump for a minute. Like Hillary, Trump has a long public record, and along with the fact that he used to be very liberal, we all know he’s a world-class hustler and con artist. One thing Trump repeats throughout his fascist babblings is true: he’s a really smart guy. He knows exactly what he’s doing. But do we? Even if he becomes more centrist and “presidential” in the coming months he’ll never win back women and minority voters. But everything he says riles up the GOP’s most steadfast supporters, which is why he can’t be denied their nomination without the whole party going down in flames. Trump’s campaign has been carefully calculated to disrupt and even destroy the GOP. Should he win their nomination, he should be an easy target for the democratic coalition and sensible independents and Republicans.

There are two things that matter to the future of the United States in 2016: income inequality and climate change. Not surprisingly, they are directly related. They both result from an economic system that gives corporations free rein. Like King George III in the colonial era, corporations exploit us with no intent of letting us gain independence. They are designed to pay laborers as little as possible, tell sell the fruits of labor for as much as possible, and to keep all the profit for themselves. As a result the middle class becomes steadily less rich and more people slip into poverty, where some resort to crime. The U.S. compensates for the criminality it engenders by imprisoning more people than any other nation on Earth, and the truly sickening part of it is, many U.S. prisons are now privately owned and for-profit. They want more human beings within their walls, for longer periods of time. Corporations control the media through advertising dollars, and control the government through campaign contributions and even “speaking fees.” They control you and me. This is not how America is supposed to work.

The image at the top of this post shows two cents: the so-called Indian Head and the Lincoln. The Native American figure is not just anyone; she’s a woman, she’s a symbol, and she has a name: Columbia. She appeared on the cent for 116 years; Lincoln has been on it for 107. While the tradition of a noble women conferring respectability on a country’s coinage predates the United States, Columbia once provided to us a beautiful symbol of ourselves, long before she briefly appropriated the ceremonial headdress. In 1909, Abraham Lincoln was the first historical figure to appear on a United States coin, and now our pockets and purses are full of mens’ heads. Even the heraldic eagle has been removed from the quarter in favor of honorary dioramas. This is the best ideal we aspire to now: fame, or at least enough influence to leave a mark and thus be remembered. We used to aspire to something greater: justice for all. Despite the fact that he’s a democratic socialist, Bernie Sanders offers a return to our foundational roots, the chance to re-assert our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, rather than the right to liberalism, and the pursuit of security. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, probably wants her profile on the half dollar.

The global ecosystems that nurtured us as a species are withering all around us; climate change is not only raising sea levels, it’s precipitating mass extinction that will likely lead to our own. Even if some of us survive, we won’t be human anymore, we will evolve into something else—hopefully something that can metabolize ash and plastic. Our pollinators are dying, the last big animals on Earth will no longer be wild, and ocean acidification may wipe out the food chain.  There will be so many of us and our new smartphones that we will starve, or else live on bread and jellyfish and soylent whatever. Capitalism has played a valuable role in the development of our economies; but the hard truth is that our economies must not be developed any more, they must be stabilized, streamlined, and even diminished. Democratic socialism is the future, and it is also the present, as some European countries exemplify. Personally I like being human, and I think every human being has the right to be grateful for their existence, and that is why I will vote for Bernie Sanders. I encourage everyone who still has a say in this primary to do the same. It is time to demand that our policies are determined by science and not by for-profit interests.

I understand that you make think of Hillary as your ally, I understand that many in Congress and the executive branch have worked with her and respect her, I understand that she herself is friends with many on Wall Street and around New York; she and her family have made connections everywhere. I don’t think Clinton is a bad person. But I know she has never been a leader.

This election is the opportunity of a lifetime. It’s about more than personal loyalty. Bernie Sanders has offered America the possibility of a political revolution. Without it, we will run the risk of a real one. That’s my two cents.

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Spoiler Alert: The Lego Movie

The story starts off predictably enough for a grandiose adventure: a wizard, a prophecy, an unwitting hero.  Emmet is just a model construction worker, living his city life to the tee by following every rule in the book.  He is manically happy just to be doing it right: greeting his alarm clock with a smile, doing some calisthenics, watching his favorite sitcom before heading out for an overpriced coffee and a fulfilling day on the job.  He feels like he has friends, that he’s part of something.  Then a mysterious woman who’s obviously not playing by the rules leads him to fall down an archaeological rabbit hole and end up with a mysterious plastic piece stuck to his back.  The woman tells him he has found the “piece of resistance” and is the hero of prophecy.  And like Neo in The Matrix, Emmet begins to realize he’s been living a lie.

The putative villain in the film is Lord Business, head of the Octan corporation.  In real life, Fox News, though generally not known for its perceptiveness, accused The Lego Movie of pushing an anti-capitalist agenda and making Lord Business look like Mitt Romney.  To be fair, there is certain capitalist critique in the film: the Octan corporation not only employs Emmet but makes and sells his coffee, produces his television show, and constantly plays his favorite song on the radio.  They also manufacture voting machines, which may explain why Lord Business is president of the world.  To be fair, Lord Business’s plan to perfect everything to his liking and then glue it in place forever does reflect a certain degree of conservatism.  But never mind that The Lego Movie endlessly promotes the toys of a company that made nearly $1 billion in profits in 2012; the real reason the film is not anti-business is because Lord Business does not end up a villain.

Nor does Emmet end up a hero—until he realizes he was never entitled to be one.  The wizard from the beginning of the film admits he made up the whole prophecy, just so someday someone might believe in him or herself.  To help foil Lord Business’s superglue spree, the people of the city are inspired to believe in themselves as well, and they take to the sky in a hodgepodge of jury-rigged vehicles to fight the robotic micromanagers determined to pose everyone perfectly.  The message of the film changes: from there shall be a hero, to anyone can be a hero, to everyone can be a hero.  Emmet even offers heroism to Lord Business, saying that he has a choice, that he can change.  For exposing both prophecy and villainy as BS, The Lego Movie gets an A+ in the moral-of-the-story department.

Of course, there’s a twist: Emmet and his world are the projected fantasies of a real boy, who personifies his real father as Lord Business.  When Emmet tumbles out of his animated world onto a live-action concrete floor, he’s no longer able to move.  He finds himself in a basement where the boy has spent the day messing with his father’s meticulously constructed collection, ignoring signs to keep his hands off.  The lighting is somehow reminiscent of a twenty-five-year-old print ad, and for a moment you get the unsettling feeling that you just spent twelve dollars to watch a 100 minute commercial.  But then in walks Will Ferrell.  As the boy’s father, a mature collector and block aficionado, Ferrell’s plan to glue everything in place is real.  But the inventiveness of his son inspires him to change his mind.

The film represents something of a full circle for Lego, which prior to 1999 issued sets mostly based on its own generic intellectual properties: cities, castles, pirate ships, the wild west.  But then they started licensing Batman, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and other blockbuster film franchises.  The popularity of Legos soared, to the point where they now have a film franchise of their own.  It helps a lot that characters like Batman, Superman, Gandalf, Dumbledore, Milhouse (from The Simpsons), a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, and a Millennium Falcon‘s worth of Star Wars characters can drop in for cameos, along with half-forgotten real-life luminaries likes Shakespeare and Shaquille O’Neal.  If I have any criticism of the film, it’s that Shaq is one of the few diverse figures in a sea of yellow faces.  There’s also Morgan Freeman providing the voice of the wizard, and a Native American in a headdress, whose unprovoked toss of a tomahawk in the general direction of the good guys is all the more troubling for its tired half-heartedness.

But in the end, The Lego Movie wins because it is consistently, deliriously funny, because it is intelligent and has a heart, and because if you can catch even half of what’s happening in the plasticky mise-en-scène you will see things you have never seen before. The film is visually astounding, looking like a vast stop-motion fantasia even though it’s really computer animated.  Everything from fire to water to steam is depicted as frenetically rearranged Lego blocks, and the fluidity that emerges from the static forms is a revelation.

Social Democracy could Save the Planet

What are the benefits of keeping capitalism on a tight leash?  Yes, the best established company can make the most money, but when profit becomes the only merit, it tends to come at someone else’s expense.  These are called externalized costs, like pollution from industrial projects that damages ecosystems and/or requires costly public cleanup.

On The Pump Handle, Kim Krisberg has another example of an externalized cost: fast food chains billing taxpayers to take care of their employees.  Living on minimum wage, “half of the families of full-time workers participate in public assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.” Krisberg continues, “public dollars are basically subsidizing fast food profits — the 10 largest U.S. fast food companies cost taxpayers about $3.8 billion every year in public assistance for their workers.”  Most of the expenses saved by the companies end up lining the pockets of a few elite entities and stockholders.

Public welfare programs, including those that compensate for the avarice of CEO culture, obviously contribute to our national debt.  So does spending on making sure we have the power to kill everyone else on earth.  So does imprisoning people for drug offenses for which they would be better (and more cheaply) sent to rehab.  So does public education and national land administration.  So would a wall between U.S. and Mexico.

Yes, the fact that the costs of health care will soon be managed by the federal government means that our budgets and our debts will get bigger.  But this is only a short term perspective.  The long term financial incentive of national healthcare is eliminating waste and wasteful spending.  In other words, saving money.  Not just for the government but for we the taxpayers, who won’t have to pay an artificial price for every product and service received in a hospital—a price waged against the costs of emergency service, bills unpaid by the un- or under-insured, and steep discounts for insurance companies.  With a shift in medical care toward public health priorities, we will be motivated to save money rather than award more of it to our elites.

In short, we waste money when we punish what we could more cheaply reform, when we try to heal what we would be better off to prevent or reverse (e.g. heart disease), when we marshal a hypervigilant military to protect us from our enemies while allowing will-be mass murderers to buy automatic rifles as they please.  We waste money when we gamble, and we let bankers gamble with all the money we have.  In a culture that venerates wealth above all else, we look the other way as wasteful economic activity and lax regulation only serve to enrich the rich and impoverish the poor.  If any of us were truly conservative, we would want to protect or gain what we know is good: clean air and water, a healthy global ecosystem, a happy, well-nourished, stable populace.  We would want to save for the future and in doing so reduce our carbon footprint.  We would make our business less busy, and we would walk every day for hours.

Income inequality in America has skyrocketed in the last fifty years.  Our wealthiest citizens and corporations have had a profound influence on our leadership in Washington, D.C. and they have defined tax and business codes in their interest so they can make more and more money.  If someone’s business is to make art, then let them charge whatever they want.  But if their business is to ensure life and liberty for the American people, then they are known as the government, and they have a responsibility to be fiscally conservative.

Especially as global population explodes, our freedom must stop at the freedom to make needless profits by burning needless amounts of energy.  Otherwise we will cook the planet, and revolt.