A Precious Tale

We are all the enemy now. We are all out to get Donald Trump.

Trump has become something akin to Gollum from The Lord of the Rings, corrupted by the power of the White House. The White House has become his One Ring.

If anyone who even looks at the Presidency — at the White House — Trump lashes out in jealous rage.

“My precious!!!!!! Get your grubby hands away from my precious!!!”

His rants have no nuance, no restraint, no perspective, no logic. They lack even the barest of established facts. He used to base his angry tweets on something real, something he could claim was factual, but lately it’s as if he’s stopped caring.

He just lies and lies, and he doesn’t care that we know he’s lying. It’s as if he figures, if he can shoot people on Fifth Avenue, nobody is going to care that he’s lying all the time.

Why is he losing it?

Truth is, he never had it. Donald Trump lost the ability to tell himself the truth, to accept reality, so long ago that he probably doesn’t remember his last lucid moment.

His entire life has been such a thinly veiled charade that it would take the mental strength and agility of a Gandhi, a Plato, a Stephen Hawking to hold onto reality.

Trump is a dull intellect with the vocabulary of a fifth grade dropout. He ain’t Gandhi. He ain’t Plato. He ain’t Hawking.

He’s Cliff Clavin. He’s Herb Tarlek. He’s the used car salesman sitting at the end of the bar who cops a feel from the waitress every time she walks by. He promises to buy the next round, every round. But he never does.

And he’s in over his head. Waaaaaaay over his head. He’s got a job that has to weigh the needs of 320 million citizens and seven billion worldwide interested parties to the most powerful nation in the world. He has the launch codes that can send seven thousand nuclear warheads out to explode cities, killing millions or even billions of people.

And he literally only cares about himself. About his power. About his precious presidency, his precious White House. His precious.

To Trump, anyone who refuses to bow to him is trying to steal his White House. Steal his power. Steal his precious.

Neither Trump nor Gollum have the gumption to actually take over a kingdom, just an overwhelming desire to possess the power. Gollum was in the cave, using the One Ring to Rule Them All to catch fish for several hundred years, and nobody suffered.

But once it got out, it had to be destroyed. Not Gollum, who was merely a lustful tool, but the ring itself. I think it’s the same with Trump. He is not the problem; he’s just a lustful tool. The White House itself, the power, is the problem.

Gollum’s ring left in Bilbo’s pocket; in our world, it was social media that grabbed the ring and ran. Trump, foreign interests — principally the Russians — and the racist, alt+Right radical fringe used social media to grab the power of the White House. They did it by suspending reality and replacing it with a new reality, what KellyAnne Conway called alternate facts.

And, through social media, the maniacal lust for power spread to the masses. The nation has become so partisan that reality itself is getting shot on Fifth Avenue, and nobody cares.

We’ve become slaves to a reality that simply, plainly, does not exist. Only the power exists. The precious.

So we get Sara Sanders lying her ass off every day. Mitch McConnell refusing to impeach Trump, because the “ring” gets him Supreme Court justices. Senators and Congress members, even the sane, human ones, struggle against the power. Jeff Flake had to leave the Beltway altogether to get away from the power of the White House, much like Gandolph recoiled in horror when he was offered the ring.

The other side isn’t rooted to reality, either, but they have a couple of leaders who have been leaving bread crumbs, so there’s some hope. But until we put reality back in front of power as a public priority, all the bread crumbs in the world are just litter.

Step one: stop believing the words of a man who trades on your trust, your gullibility, your FEAR. Stop being afraid of the other guy, the immigrant, the minority, the foreigner, the person of another color mother. Stop lashing out, and start reaching out.

Think of it like the end of a flood, and we were all trapped in the house, chained to our social media chairs. Now we can walk out the front door and look at our neighbors without seeing “democrat” or “republican” or “snowflake” or “white supremicist.”

We can see things like, “that family likes to bbq on a Sunday afternoon” and “her kids are good with their skateboards” and “that dammed dog shits more than it eats; how does it do that?” and “if I got a few things from the hardware store I could convert that vacant lot into a playing field for the neighborhood kids.”

If we stop seeing everyone else as a threat to power, we can remind ourselves that the only truly precious thing in the world is our shared journey.

Our lust for power is Trump’s source of power. If we stop lusting after it, his power will dissipate and his ringwraiths will slink away. And we can get our world back. Thanks for reading.

Good Night, Mr. President

George Herbert Walker Bush was the last living GOP president whose service predated the shift in party focus from the middle class to the rural poor. To the end of his life, he presented an image of integrity, honesty and kindness.

I was in the Navy during Desert Shield/Desert Storm; President Bush defined, in my mind, the term, “my President.” He was my president, and I was happy to ride into battle on the horse he chose for me. I didn’t always agree with his policies, but I always trusted his judgement.

He wasn’t quite the last of his kind, but there are precious few left.

Senator Bob Dole may well be the next to go. At 95, Dole is wheelchair bound and mostly skin and bones. His sunken eyes can no longer generate tears, but if you watched the video of Dole saluting President Bush as he lie in state, you know that they are still able to convey emotion.

As he sat back in his wheelchair, exhausted by the simple effort of propping himself against an aide and straining to give President Bush a left-handed salute, Dole’s sunken eyes glowed as he thought about their long lives of service to the flag draped over his old friend’s coffin.

What lives they led.

Each began his service to the country as a teenager, enlisting for World War II. Dole joined the Army as an enlisted man in 1942, becoming an officer in 1945. Bush enlisted in the Navy on his 18th birthday in 1942, took pilot training and was commissioned just before his 19th birthday in June of 1943.

Bush survived the loss of his plane during a bombing mission by flying the flaming plane out to sea and bailing out, eventually getting rescued by a submarine. Pilots who were captured during that mission were executed by the Japanese; had he bailed out when the plane caught fire, Bush would have been one of them.

Dole was hit in the back and upper right arm by German machine gun fire in the mountains near Bologna, Italy in April 1945. He was so badly wounded that his fellow soldiers were powerless to do anything for him. They simply pumped him full of morphine and painted an “M” on his forehead in his own blood, so the medic wouldn’t double-dose him if he lived to see one. He survived (of course), but his right arm was rendered virtually worthless.

Both men served the nation in a variety of roles, Dole primarily as a lawmaker and Bush primarily as an administrator. Dole, long known as a dour, humorless man, built a second career poking fun at himself and touring the nation’s media as a political pundit after losing the 1996 Presidential race. Bush built a family dynasty, of course, and wore just about every hat in the executive branch of the government.

Both men had personalities that suited their generation. Both were strong, stoic leaders during their public service, and both remained heavily involved in civic and charitable projects after they retired from the Beltway.

With the passing of Bush, Dole may be the last Don of the political Greatest Generation. I don’t necessarily buy into the idea that the WWII generation was uniquely great, but they did the deeds. They deserve the applause. We would be lucky to have one of them running things now, or at least keeping the GOP’s current leadership honest.

Rest in peace, Mr. President. My president.

This ain’t your Grandmother’s Climate Change

The biggest obstacle to understanding climate change is that global warming gets all of the attention. The warming aspect is just one aspect of the larger picture.

I am not the most qualified climate change analyst, so take my words with a grain of alcohol (trust me, that’s the best way to take me pretty much all the time).

I see Climate Change as a four-prong issue. These are the four members of the Climate Change band, as first explained in last week’s slack chat with John.

1. Global Warming. This is the actual temperature rise. The public sees a couple of degrees and thinks it’s no big deal, but that’s not how it works. If the ocean temperature goes up a couple of degrees, everything dies. And the balance at freezing moves up and down in fractions of a degree. One degree of temperature rise could mean several hundred miles of coastline melt, and several hundred feet of mountain ice caps.

We have ice ages and tropical ages, of course, so the public justifiably sees small changes as simple ups and downs. They may be right. But the baseline temperature is now significanlly higher than it was before we started burning coal and oil, and before cow farming (coming next).

2. Deforestation. Trees regulate land temperature along with waterways. Deforestation isn’t JUST cow farming, but that’s most of it. The rain forest has gone through some horrible things over the past few decades, as cow farmers and the thugs who love them kill anyone and everyone in their way in order to cut down the forest and replace it with cow farms.

To understand the value of the rain forest, compare the climate around the Amazon to the climate in the Middle East. Because that’s what it would become if you remove the temperature- and rainfall-regulating trees and replace them with grass and methane-spewing cows.

3. Overfishing. Studies show that roughly 90 percent of the Pacific Ocean garbage island is made up of fishing nets. Without a global governing body protecting the oceans, Japan in particular has been fishing the Pacific to within an inch of its life.

Fish used to be cheap, then a little pricier, then actually expensive. Fish houses used to be like burger joints. Now they are gourmet restaurants. The only change? The price of fish, because of how much harder it is to find good fishing in the Pacific Ocean.

4. Resource Depletion. If we use all the oil, the Earth will replace it. In a few million years. Using oil for cars when we have other options is insane.

Think of oil like a bag of halloween candy, about a month after Halloween.

We already ate the snickers bars and most of the other chocolate. Fracking is literally us digging into the bottom of the bag, trying to find the rest of the chocolate. Oilsands — like the Canadian stuff, the so-called Keystone Pipeline stuff — are the dum dum suckers and jolly ranchers.

We use petroleum for tons of other things. What happens when we run out? What happens when oil is so expensive — like fish is now — because it’s so hard to get to, when we’ve sucked all the surface oil dry, fracked the hell out of the rest, and drained the oil sands?

And it’s not just oil. Coal mining … compare mining to using meth. Look around West Virginia, Pennsylvania, at the strip mining. Read up on acid rain, where the smoke stack exhaust rains down on the people living downwind of the plants. Go drink the water in Flint, Michigan. Mining has a lot of the same effects on the Earth as meth on your teeth.

Are there solutions? Sure.

1. We can fix carbon (separate it from the rest of the air), we can reconvert plastic to petroleum, and we can stop using oil and use solar, wind and steam power in its place. We can build batteries out of recycled tires and other refuse, and use the stored power to balance the grid.

2. Trees grow back, but the demand for cow meat is dangerously high. Beef is an incredibly inefficient food source; sooner or later, we have to either learn how to farm in space or eat something else.

3. We need a worldwide governing body to manage resources, including the oceans. Net fishing desperately needs oversight, to prevent overfishing as well as stop the practice of discarding the nets. Better material for the nets — making them more permanent as well as more valuable, so they can’t be discarded — would be a positive step.

4. We only use about two percent of the sun’s ambient power. Technology is advancing, but it will advance a lot faster with public backing. We got a man on the moon in less than a generation. We can get the sun to power our cars, homes and businesses if we make it a priority.

Can we fix it? Yes. Smart people are the most valuable resource in the human race. And they are working on all of the Climate Change issues. They just need public support. Pubic faith, public belief in the need for their work.

Can we wait? I don’t know. But if you found out you had cancer, would you wait until you started puking up blood before you took steps? Of course not.

Ask yourself who is denying it. Do they have a conflict of interest? Of course they do. The rich old men who keep telling us that climate chage is a hoax … of course they do. They want to keep flying around the world in their Gulfstreams, farming cows, drilling for oil, strip mining and otherwise grabbing the Earth’s pussy.

Of course they deny climate change. They deny it like a little kid denies it’s dark when it’s time to come in and take a bath. They don’t want it to be dark, so they’ll keep claiming it’s still light out, even after they can’t see the hands in front of their faces.

The old white men aren’t going to stop denying Climate Change because they flat-out don’t want to believe it’s true.

It’s up to us to stop believing them.

The Will to Power

Robert Robb, who wrote this piece, is not some right wing kook. He’s a dammed good columnist. But he’s wrong here.
 

Presidents wield power comensurate with their experience and expertise. They need that power to handle their myriad responsibilities.

They have no unique right to power. The President is a public servant, not a master. We own the sumbitch. A big part of the job — the predicate move to gain power — is to understand that the power is within the populace, not the executive office.

 
President Trump can rewrite executive orders, but the nation does not have to let him just rewrite them in whatever way suits him. He does not have the right to rewrite, so to speak.
 
He does have the power to rewrite. But the judicial system has the power to rescind his rewrite, if they determine that it runs counter to constitutional law.
 
That’s what happened here. Because of the president’s public displays of racial animosity toward immigrants who were not white, the court ruled that the rewrite was disengenuous and counter to the public interest.
 
And they were correct. And the next time President Trump tries to repeal President Obama’s actions regarding immigration, chances are they will also be struck down. Because they will run counter to public interest.
 
The judges were not liberal, and their decison was not based on partisan animosity.
 
Most judges are centrist, not really liberal or conservative in the terms we are used to thinking in. Brett Kavanaugh, who the democrats tried to paint as to the right of Breitbart, would be considered a blue dog republican by most political candidates, too liberal to run for office as a republican. The so-called left wing of the Supreme Court would all be considered conservative compared to your average liberal political candidate.
 
The courts are, at least at the moment, the last bastion of centrism in the nation. They would — and did — shut down Obama when he went too far. They shut down Jefferson, they shut down Lincoln and they shut down both Roosevelts when they overreached, while allowing to stand policy moves that they did not deem as counter to the public interest.
 
We need to stop thinking in terms of rights for powerful people, and responsibilities toward powerful people. The more power a person has, the more responsible he is supposed to be. Power should never be given as a right. Only despots exercise the right to power.
 
Power is a tool, and a dangerous tool that should never be given to someone untrained in its use. The courts are the nation’s protection against misuse, abuse and inadvertant damaging use.
 
Trump’s DACA repeal was all three. Untrained in the use of executive power, Trump hamfisted a new policy that was unenforceable, prohibitively expensive and ruinous to millions of tax paying, longterm Americans. He tried to use his executive power to bully it through, selling it to his supporters as racial animosity.
 
It’s up to you to decide why he is so convinced his supporters are racists, but the point has nothing to do with racism. The man took the job with no experience. The man does not read or listen, so he isn’t learning how to do much of anything; he still has no real experience.
 
Even more dangerous is that the nation is getting used to him. They don’t remember what it was like when an actual professional ran the country.They don’t remember when we had a president who didn’t brag about everything like a 5-year-old boy.
 
Over 40 percent of the nation wants Toonces the Driving President to take the wheel and drive us over a cliff. The courts are our last defense.
 
Robb is a good journalist, and a thoughtful columnist. He just missed the mark this time. 

Burma Shave and a Haircut

This is different. Vice President Mike Pence braced Myanmar’s leader about the nation’s treatment of Muslim refugees coming in from Bangladesh and the jailing of two Rueters journalists.

“The violence and persecution by military and vigilantes that resulted in driving 700,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh is without excuse,” Pence said.

Her response:

“We understand our country better than any other country does. I’m sure you will say the same of yours.”

Every news outlet has the story. I culled this passage from the Associated Press:

“Myanmar’s government and most of the nation’s Buddhist majority say the members of the Muslim minority are ‘Bengalis’ who migrated illegally from Bangladesh, and do not acknowledge the Rohingya as a local ethnic group even though they have lived in Myanmar for generations.”

Sound familiar? Even though they have lived there for generations. It’s the birthright citizenship argument. ‘Migrated illegally’ is code for ‘we don’t want them here.’

That should sound familiar. Every immigrant group in American history has tried to close the door behind it. Irish, Italian and German immigrants were treated like we treat Muslims and Hispanics now, back in the 19th century.

That might be the crux of the immigration debate right there. Half the world thinks we are all part of the same race, allowed to move freely and mingle. The other half thinks there are distinct races, and thinks they ‘own’ the borders of their nation.

I suppose both are equally valid in a political arena, but even Vice President Pence is telling you that national borders are not sacrosanct.

The Burmese leader doesn’t agree — it’s MY border! MY CHEESY POOFS!!! — and that’s part of the understanding. It’s a lot easier to see how immigration is supposed to work from a distance. It’s not so easy when it’s your cheesy poofs that some outsider is reaching for.

How can we get a little bit better here? What can we learn?

I think we should simply take Pence at his word. The GOP’s #2 man just said, in front of the world’s press, that a national push to refuse, reject and remove immigrants based on religion or previous nationality is (his words) “without excuse.”

This won’t change anything, at least not in a hurry. But I will step a little lighter today, knowing that there is at least one member of the GOP leadership who isn’t a rabid nationalist.

My Three Sons

My three sons have ancestors who killed Native Americans.

One decided to embrace the responsibility for the sins of his ancestors. He swore to protect those who remained.

One decided to embrace the legacy of his ancestors. He swore to maintain the supremacy of his white heritage.

One decided not to care.

My three sons have ancestors who kidnapped Africans from their homeland and enslaved them.

One decided to embrace the responsibility for the sins of his ancestors. He swore to embrace as equals the descendants of those his ancestors enslaved.

One decided to embrace the legacy of his ancestors. He saved their flags, their monuments, and their philosophies.

One decided not to care.

My three sons have ancestors who lived in trees.

One decided to embrace the gift of shared wisdom graced on him by teachers, books, and – in the modern world – the Internet. When he did not know something he needed to know, he looked it up.

One decided he didn’t much like school, and education was for sissies anyway. If he had any questions about life, love or politics, he would turn on the radio in his car, the television in his kitchen, and let those people tell him the answers.

One decided to spend his life stoned, making love, listening to music and ignoring everything else. Lucky bastard.

My three sons will live to see a world united by shared knowledge or shattered by superstitious hatred.

One will embrace whatever comes, accepting change.

One will fight stubbornly against whatever comes, fearing change.

One will barely notice, because of all the dancing and screwing. Plus he’s pretty much always stoned.

My three sons are loved, even the dumbass middle kid. And I hope they all find their way to lots of stoned, happy love and music, and stop worrying so much about what a bunch of assholes their ancestors were. Thanks for reading.

Bullying Pulpit

I thought the recent spate of shootings and the pipe bombs might slow President Trump down a little, but somehow he’s stepped up his bullying and threatening behavior. He’s ratcheted up his attacks on the media, and he is no longer shying away from direct confrontations. He threatened to end democracy in Florida and cut federal aid for wildfires and hurricanes in areas that didn’t vote for him.

So what’s he really trying to do?

He’s trying to cut his non-supporters out of the American loop.

On purpose? Of course. It’s his basic kiss up, shit down, wave to friends, finger to enemies pattern. You didn’t vote for Trump? Get out of America. It’s my country. My cheesy poofs!!!

Just to be clear: In the real America, the sane, not-a-dictatorship America, Mr. Trump, you are the President of the United States. You are not the King. You are not the supreme leader, the Sultan or the Grand Pooba. You are not the Fuhrer.

  1. You don’t get to choose which fires to fight. When Americans need you, it’s your job to be there for them.  All of them.
  2. You don’t get to choose which hurricane victims to support. If Americans need you, it’s your job to be there for them. All of them.
  3. The free press does not belong to you. You belong to the free press. If Americans need to know the truth, it’s their job to report it. And it’s not your job to decide what is truth and what is fake news.
  4. The justice department does not belong to you. It belongs to the people.
  5. It is your sworn duty to protect and defend the US Constitution. It is not your place to rewrite it, or to interpret it differently for different citizens.

Given your lack of tether to reality, you are the last person who should be speaking freely on Twitter, without a lawyer guiding you and an interpreter guiding the nation. This is why you have a justice department (your lawyer) and we have the free press (our interpreter). This is why presidents don’t spend their mornings tweeting letters to the editor.

Hindering the Florida voting would cause a constitutional crisis, something I assume is a fireable offense. Cutting aid to firefighters and Puerto Rican hurricane victims would be a despicable abuse of presidential power, also a fireable offense.

But how do you fire the President? How do you even find the time to list his fireable offenses? He has committed so many already that it’s impossible to keep up with them. Those are from the last two days.

Toss ’em on the pile, I guess.

That’s a tire fire nobody wants to light, which is why he hasn’t been fired yet. But sooner or later, there will have to be an accounting.

Reality in the age of the Real

Trump thinks fake news is to blame for the collapse of civility in public discourse.

And he’s right.

It would be easy to yell at Trump for calling the media fake news, or yell at him for blaming the media for the collapse of civil discourse while he stands over the ruins with a smoking hammer.

But he has a point.

By “the media,” he doesn’t mean the media has a board of directors and works in concert, deliberately fomenting outrage.

“Hey, let’s all be really uncivil this week.”

“Our mission statement has been revised to emphasize the need to stoke public outrage.”

“Hey, you know what would be hilarious? Let’s just write only about Trump until somebody freaks out and turns into the Unibomber.”

“I miss saturated fats.”

No, what he means is that the media he sees on television, as a polyglot aggregate, is fomenting outrage and riling everybody up.

And he’s on the money in the larger sense; the net result of the aggregated media is fomenting outrage on a heretofore unknown scale.

But the media doesn’t make the news. They use microphones and amplifiers to share the message; they don’t create the message itself. The media – the mainstream media, not the tabloids and self-published propaganda-bombers and Russian bots – serves the news to us on a plate with a side of gossip-flavored potato salad, based on what we will actually eat.

And we don’t eat well. We are suckers for a sweet comedy or a fat-filled drama. We are suckers for a juicy narrative. Human beings are as bored with reality as we are bored with green vegetables, which is why we invented beer, potato chips and soap operas.

What do you get when you turn a documentary into a soap opera? You get the National Enquirer.

“Hillary Clinton has cancer.”

“Donald Trump had sex with his daughter.”

“Elvis is alive and living in Tuscaloosa, Alabama with Amelia Earhart and their now middle-aged alien love child.”

“Kim Kardashian hates her step-father step-mother Bruce Jen Kaitlyn (her Kaitlyn?) Artist Formerly Known as Bruce Jenner –

“Kim Kardashian hates her sister Khloe. And her mother. The one who doesn’t have a penis.”

Tabloids won’t report something like, “Kim Kardashian’s step-father/mother has a penis” because, well … it’s true, so it’s boring. So we have to read the New York Times to get that sort of information.

Tabloids have been around so long that they used to have to draw pictures because there were no cameras. We see them every day, hanging over the gum and candy bars in the supermarket checkout lane.

But what do you get when you turn a soap opera into a documentary? Ah, here we go. You get reality television.

And you’ve got the entertainment template for 21st century.

There are a bajillion variations, but these are the three main types.

THE REALITY SHOW COMPETITION

Examples: Survivor, Big Brother, American Idol, The Voice, Dancing with the Stars, The Amazing Race

The first reality show competitions were a hybrid mix of soap opera, game show and sporting event. Shows like Survivor, American Idol and Big Brother were catnip for audiences and relatively cheap to produce.

Most of the original competitive template survives, much like templates for soaps, sitcoms and cop shows are all pretty much the same.

  • A narrator follows the show’s contestants around, providing the play-by-play.
  • Witnesses and family members fill the role of color commentators, describing feelings and providing useable quotes for the narrator.
  • A common thread ties the competitions together over separate seasons. Survivor has the rats. American Idol has the bad auditions. The Voice has the spinning chairs.
  • Contestants are voted off, one by one.
  • “real” people step away from their lives and speak through the fourth wall, directly into the camera.

Most of the contestants return to their normal lives afterward, but their status, as former reality-show contestants, usually provides them a little extra cache. A few of them, mostly from American Idol, have become famous in their own right by producing popular content in the real world.

These shows are basically benign in the public sector, because there is a clear separation between real and reality. The public knows it’s a game.

REALITY FORUMS

Examples: Jerry Springer, Judge Judy, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Morning Joe, Bill Maher

Another form of reality television is the fake/real court of public opinion. What was once an attempt to be honest and – excuse the pun – real eventually morphed into self-caricature.

Substance was swapped for titillation, like the remaining bit of Brussels sprouts on your plate is removed, replaced by a slice of cheesecake. Of course it was a popular move. Who in the world will say no, we want the fucking sprouts back?

When the three-channel public splintered into groups of warring cable and satellite dish-watching tribes, reality forums adjusted. Rather than reaching out to the larger populace, each show developed a template to attract a specific demographic. Truth was swapped for confirmation bias. Telling became selling, as partisan punditry replaced trained, disinterested journalism.

Judge Wapner begat Judge Judy.

Phil Donahue begat Jerry Springer.

Paul Harvey begat Rush Limbaugh.

I can’t even remember the last pundit who cared about substance, and neither can you. If there is substance, he/she ain’t a pundit. It is literally impossible, in the age of reality television, to enter the public forum without bias and be the slightest bit interesting.

It would be like serving popcorn without oil, dry and uninteresting. The only thing we will eat served dry, so to speak, is the actual truth. Everything else is oiled with bias; man-bites-dog has become truth-according-to-me.

THE REAL

Examples: Real Housewives of Atlanta/Orange County/Hazzard County/your county, Hell’s Kitchen, Storage Wars, American Pickers, Top Gear, Pawn Stars

The worst template, in my opinion, is the Real. Real Housewives of Orange County, real pawn shop owners, real restaurant assholes, whatever. The original show would be impossible to find, because real people have always been real-ly interesting to other real people. Real cavemen of Stonehenge? I dunno.

Back in the 1980s there was a show called, simply, “Real People.” And, of course, “Real Sex” was an HBO staple for decades — and Hugh Hefner was stapling the belly buttons of another type of reality show contestant back in the 1950s.

But the new version of Real isn’t reality. It’s tabloid reality. It’s supermarket checkout stand reality. The new Real sucks viewers into a reality vortex, just like a good drama will suck viewers in, and entertains them.

But at the end of the drama, everyone goes home. That doesn’t happen with the Real.

In the Real, the media acts as if the reality shows are reality. The Pawn Stars guys, Gordon Ramsay, that horrible woman from the Real Housewives who went to jail … the media shoves them in our face like we are supposed to keep caring about them after the show is over. We turn to the news on Twitter, MSN, USA Today, Facebook — and there they are.

Kim Karsashian’s only contributions to American culture are her butt and a sex tape, yet she’s more famous than most of the cultural icons who will headline history books a thousand years from now. I still don’t know who those people from the house selling show are, but for awhile they were on the front page of MSN every dammed day.

One of the Real shows was The Apprentice. Its star – Mr. Trump – was already one of the most famous people in the world. But he was mock-famous, like Tiny Tim or Frank Burns from M*A*S*H. The Apprentice legitimized Trump by convincing its audience that he was the smartest guy in the room.

He wasn’t, of course. As we all know, he was given literally hundreds of millions of dollars by his family over the years, yet he still was forced into bankrupcy several times.

The Apprentice was actually how he got rich for real, outside his family money. Before the show, he was a failed would-be tycoon who kept trying — and failing — to brand himself. The show’s alternate reality turned Trumpy Smurf into the Boss, and suddenly the Trump brand was immensely valuable.

Steaks, vodka, even a ponzi scheme disguised as a college that bore his name all failed — he still sucks at business — but it didn’t matter, because he made a fortune selling his name. He hasn’t built anything with his own money since 2006.

But as Jimmy Stewart found out in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, when the legend becomes fact, the media will print the legend. The media attention from The Apprentice played a massive role in tranforming a lifelong political laughingstock into a serious presidential candidate.

And here we are. Real life can’t compete with the Real, because real life has to be real, while the Real gets to make up its own reality, just like a good drama. We love cheesecake, and we are easily bored by Brussels sprouts.

So Trump is correct in a larger sense, in that fake news is mostly to blame. But Trump doesn’t know what fake news is, because he himself is the product of fake news. In his reality-show world, reality itself has become a funhouse mirror.

The media’s view of the Trump administration is firmly in the realm of the Real. He’s a Kardashian. He’s that guy from Dirty Work, sent to save the farmers and stop all that LBGTQ crap from messing up their neighborhoods and public restrooms. He’s the Boss, and all those libtards? They are fired.

Trump is the new American Idol, the top reality show, the ratings monolith. Because Trump is an angry old white guy, the news media keeps reporting angry old white guy stuff. It was probably inevitable that somebody would decide that it was time to punish all those libtards and snowflakes who were making him so angry and mail out a few bombs.

So is Trump to blame? I mean, he sure as hell ain’t helping … but our own addiction to reality television, our inability to settle for real life is the predicate cause of our current civil unrest. Life itself has become all too Real.

Picking my (Ideological) Poison

I’m not liberal, conservative, a Trump lover or a Trump hater, but I have been accused of being all four. To be clear, my axis goes something like this.

(1) Total, relentless equality is both stupid and against human nature. So stop it with the PC Nazi garbage, use the bathroom that matches your plumbing (not your sexual preferences) and grow up.
(2) Cooperation is a virtue, but so is competition. The key is to balance them out. Don’t outlaw profit, but maybe outlaw – or at least limit – franchising, so someone else can make a dammed profit.
(3) We can’t have an incompetent president with the power to blow things up. Trump’s views on race might be what makes him an asshole, but his views on reading and learning are what make him a danger to the nation.
(4) We can’t substitute rights for responsibilities. If you are proud of your vote, you dammed well better have taken some time to know what you were voting for. Or you are nothing more than a faceless lamb, proud of your missing wool as you march to slaughter with your nose in the air.

Most important, know where you are getting your information. Don’t let yourself be sold your news. Read newspapers – plural, don’t just let one guy be your source – and turn off those cable news filler shows. Don’t get your news from Facebook or Twitter or those other so-called media sites (like MSN) that treat gossip like news. It’ll just confuse you.

Why Single Payer?

America’s healthcare insurance system has too many moving parts. Every extraneous moving part diminishes efficiency and increases the number of dark corners in coverage where vermin thrive.

Blame capitalism; capitalism is competitive, not cooperative. Healthcare can’t be competitive, but healthcare insurance is, as it should be, competitive as hell. The dichotomy creates absurdities, both logical and financial.

Don’t sprain yourself, we can see you waving: “What do you mean, healthcare is cooperative? Healthcare isn’t cooperative!”

If healthcare was competitive, rather than cooperative, there would be piles of dead bodies in every hospital parking lot. We’re exaggerating; they’d have them removed, but it would be a genuine problem. People would die because they lost the healthcare insurance competition.

Some would die because they couldn’t afford to pay for healthcare, some would die because they didn’t understand their healthcare plans, and some would die because fake healthcare insurance companies fleeced them, leaving them holding healthcare policies as useless as piles of Monopoly money.

Medical professionals, unbound by cooperative concepts like the Hippocratic Oath or human charity, would ignore anyone not waving a thick wallet or a valid insurance plan, leaving them to pray. self-medicate or join the body pile. This is common in some areas of the world.

Not here, though. American medical professionals don’t refuse patients in dire need. it’s comforting that our society – the part of the world we live in – remains at heart a kind, caring society. We feed our hungry and we care for our sick and infirm, even when we know they have no means to pay. Charity is one of the nicest of all human traits. It’s beautiful. It’s sweet. It’s kind.

And it’s expensive.

There are bills that have been in circulation for decades, floating around like ghostly little IOU slips. that will never be paid. Insurance companies and medical professionals have to compensate for the lost revenue, so they overcharge those who pay to cover those who don’t. In a competitive system nobody volunteers to pay the insurance company’s bills, so this is how it has to work.

Is this what we want? Should sick and injured citizens without medical insurance be given access to expensive care without bearing any responsibility, while the working poor overpay for confusing, manipulative insurance plans to cover their overpriced medical bills? Should restaurants be obligated to feed everyone who walks through their front door, then charge these “free” meals to their other customers?

We need a system that requires every American to take responsibility for his or her future healthcare needs. We need a national healthcare umbrella that will cover everyone, designed with safeguards so it won’t fold up the first time it rains. Hospitals need the freedom to serve anyone who needs care, without worrying about who will pay for it.

In order to reconcile the two incompatible financial models – competitive with cooperative – there has to be some sort of buffer, a payment-to-coverage ligament, that holds the competitive insurance markets and the cooperative healthcare markets together. We need a system where the afflicted will know they are covered, but also a system where the bills will be paid. There is no such thing as a free lunch; the buffer has to account for that harsh but unavoidable fact.

That buffer exists. It already covers nearly 10 million Americans. It might even cover you.

The model for our buffer, the single-payer conduit that keeps both sides in line so they don’t try to kill each other, is the Veteran’s Health Administration. The VHA can be converted and expanded into a national single-payer health system; already has in place priority mechanisms for payment through national service, and its outlets are used to dealing with a single insurance provider.