Wide Open Spaces

Trees in the Open Space

In the wake of Bernie Sanders’ exit from the Democratic Primary, talk has turned to how Joe Biden begins to win over enough Sanders voters to avoid Hillary’s outcome in 2016, where enough of his voters voted for Trump to hand him the election (there’s also the number of Sanders voters that voted third party or stayed home to consider, as well). There are plenty of Bernie supporters that continue to be disillusioned with anyone but their man as the candidate and may not be persuaded to vote for the "establishment" candidate no matter what. Maybe some will hold their noses and vote for Biden because they don’t want another four years. In any event, Biden is going to need to adopt enough of Bernie’s platform ideas to make himself paltable to enough of Bernie’s base while also not alienating the vastly more moderate Democratic Party base that brought him this near historic comeback from a campaign that looked dead going into the early state primaries. The clearest tack would be for Biden to straight up adopt Medicare for All, which is Bernie’s signature issue and the one his base cares the most about. However, if Biden hasn’t gotten on that train now aside from some half measures, he never will, and I think he knows he risks alienating that more moderate base of African Americans and suburban white folks that lined up behind him in droves if he were to do such a rapid 180 on this issue.

So where does that leave Biden? What policies can be pick up that meet the moment and can meet the expectations of enough Progressives to make a difference? For my money, if I’m Biden, I get on board with the entirety of the Green New Deal and roll hard with it. I think this could be the difference maker because the way this plan is structred would help answer a major challenge the country has (climate change) as well as the moment we are in, with unemployment filings reaching numbers not seen since the Great Depression as jobs disappear in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic. Top that off with the fact that fossil fuel companies are desperately trying to lobby for all the Coronavirus relief funds for themselves instead of small businesses that are the backbone of the economy. Oh, and there is the fact that air pollution has plummeted like a stone thanks to all the stay-at-home measures that have been enacted. When you add this all up, how couldn’t a program that is going to use government money to create new jobs that are designed to help promote a move to greener energy and less pollution the absolute right move here?!? Maybe they can make a carefully worded pitch to Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez to get her on board with this, since she is behind the original bill in Congress. The time is now for Biden to get up on one of those Zoom calls and say that he is 100% backing the GND, and he will work to create hundreds of thousands of good paying jobs in the green energy sectors. This feels like a no-brainer. It would help get the ecnomony moving after the pandemic. It would keep this trend going of less pollution. It keeps money out of the hands of the fossil fuel lobby. And it’s a nice sweet spot of Progressive politics that enough Progressive voters could help get behind and get Biden into office, where they could then start to move for him–or his successor–to finally get on board with a universal health plan that works for this country once and for all.

It’s fun to think about, at least.

Cult of Personality

Bernie Sanders

It has been, without a doubt, a crazy roller coaster ride of a Democratic primary this year. Joe Biden’s campaign, which looked like it was on life support less than two weeks ago, has taken off, and he’s gone from also-ran to presumptive nominee. Buoyed by African American Voters, the same suburban voters that helped the Democrats retake the house in 2018 (including my ancenstral home in the NJ 7th, which has been solidly Republican for about as long as I’ve been around in this world), this is a result that only two weeks ago seemed impossible. So, maybe we need to look at the real question here: how did Bernie Sanders go from the obvious front-runner, outlasting annointed up and comers of the party, besting the other strong Progressive that was running, and shaking off not one, but two billionaires, including the one who spent an obscene amount of money to run, to being all but practically eliminated in early March? I mean, it’s a bit of a head scratcher in some ways, but not others.

It’s time for an honest admission from me. I’m not a Bernie fan. I’m not a fan of anyone who wraps not one, but two presidential campaigns up in the mantle of political revolution. I really hate to borrow the phrase from Biden, but most people don’t want a revolution, they want results. Plus, when you step back a ways and look at his supporters, it sometimes feels like he’s at the front of a personality cult, rather than a political movement. Consider the whole Warren snake emjoi thing that happened earlier in the year. Or the whole Twitter movement that sprung up that Warren needed to drop out and endorse Sanders because of course she did!* There is a troubling undercurrent of deism that surrounds a lot of Bernie supporters. Bernie is famous for his rigid views, and a lot of his supporters seem to really fall into this all or nothing rigidity in thier support of their man.

*Aside: did Warren’s aides see the writing on the wall for Bernie’s collapse and this is why she held off on endorsing him? If so, very smart. I think it’s both that and that she is not going to drop the whole "a woman can’t run" thing. I believe that happened no matter what his supporters try to refute.

At the same time, there’s the fact that a lot of Bernie Sanders’ key policy positions remain highly popular with voters. Take his signature issue, Medicare for All, which continues to prove popular with voters. Yet, a lot of people are clearly turned off by Bernie. So, what’s the disconnect? I think it’s pretty clearly that if the message is a winner, the problem is with the messenger. Bernie might be the only one in the eyes of his supporters, but that group is proving to be smaller than it seems. Like I said, people want someone who will get things done, not necessarily blow them up. Plus, there’s the fact that Bernie doesn’t seem to really want to reach out to people outside of his core group doesn’t help all that much. At some point, we have to look at who is delivering the message and realize that maybe we need someone else to deliver it. The fact that we had the perfect person who could have been that messenger? We’ve just hit the tip of the iceberg.

(Photo Credit: Σ on WikiMedia licensed under the CC by-sa 4.0 license)

Lose Yourself


You might look at the number in that scale up there, and want to say to me, “Buddy, it’s time to start thinking about your weight. I mean, you do want to be around to watch your daughter grow up, graduate college, and maybe walk her down the aisle, right?” And I would get it. Really, I would. That number looks kind of scary. But it’s nowhere near as scary as it was before I undertook the biggest “me” thing I’ve ever really done in my entire life. With New Year’s on the way, and its plethora of “new you” fad diets, exercise equipment ads, and weird nutritional aids, it seems like a good time to talk about how 2018 was the year I finally lost part of myself.

I’ve always been that person who struggled with their weight. I’ve been fat for longer than I can almost remember. My mom was shopping in the “husky” section of the kids clothes for me fairly early on is what I’m trying to say here. Sure, I had moments where I lost a bunch of weight. Every fat person does. That one time when I was 15. That other time when I was in college and I even saw a nutritionist and everything. But, inevitbly, I let go, and not only gained it all back, but more. I let one “scary number” on the scale after another pass by. First 200, then 300. For a while now, that number on the scale was getting close to 400, and that’s kind of beyond “scary” territory, if you think about it.

There’s also the fact that with this whole weight mess, there came all the expected health side effects. All of my existing ailments, the asthma and the acid reflux, got worse with time. There was the inevitable Type 2 Diabetes, which was not being managed well at all, because, let’s face it, I didn’t like to really manage it. Food was more enjoyable. You know, typical fat kid uses food as an emotional crutch kind of thing. No need to rehash it all, I know the routine better than anyone else out there.

So let’s fast forward to this year, and I’m practically bursting the scale near the 400 mark. Then there’s the part where my girlfriend decided to get weightloss surgery herself back in February. And how she’s done super great with it. There’s also the part where basically every doctor I have, from my primary care doctor, to my GI doctor, my endocrinologist, even my damn allergist, telling me to get the surgery. And, like I started with, there’s the whole maybe I should try to stay healthy for the sake of having being around for all of the important stuff in my kid’s life. Finally, I made the decision to get the damn surgery done.

It’s kind of amazing how if you have the right insurance, this business is smooth. My previous job had a specific rider built in that it completely denied bariatric surgery. Period. End of story. No way, no how. I will admit this held me back for a while. But then came the part where I lost that job, and have been stuck consulting ever since, and I got on the Obamacare train. Here’s the silver lining, even with all my anger expressed in that post (which still exists, because this insurance is good, but goddamn expensive): ACA plans have to cover bariatric surgery. And, thanks to various other health reasons, I had already met my out of pocket max for the year, and this surgery was not going to cost a penny. The craziest part of all of this? It only took about six weeks from going to the first seminar to my acutal surgery date. Like, being strapped onto the table in the OR at the hospital and getting cut the fuck open.

Now, here’s the part where you’re probably expecting the happy ending. I’m not sure there is one. Don’t get me wrong, though. There have been a lot of positives. The weight loss progress has been great. I’m finally getting down to a point where I can start to shop in some regular stores again, not just the big and tall place. The diabetes is pretty much gone. I even ate a bunch of crap at our annual holiday party, and drank a bunch of soda, and checked my blood sugar the next day, and it was friggin’ normal. No more insulin needles, no more diabetes pills. I’m not complaining about any of that. It’s just that this whole exercise has been a lot harder than I expected or hoped it would be. Recovery and return to a mostly normal existance has been slow. I’ve been hospitalized twice due to complications from this procedure. I throw up. All. The. Goddamn. Time. Things that won’t upset my stomach one day will have me feeling terrible in a flash the next. My energy levels are not what they once were. And the hunger, it isn’t gone. I just want to eat all of the things all of the time. My mental state has really gone up and down in these past few months as a result of all of this.

Still, at the end of the day, stepping on the scale has stopped being a scary experience. It’s starting to be an exciting one. I get numbers like that one up there, and I don’t cringe. I rejoice. I’ve lost a part of myself, and that may be the best news I’ve ever gotten in my life.

Saturday Night Special

I started out writing this with the whole idea of structuring an argument around how the United States has an angry white male problem, and that’s the real driver behind all these mass shootings. It really does always feel like that’s a root cause of these things, doesn’t it? White guy is angry because he feels slighted by the world around him, hates that women, minorities, and the gays are getting everything, and needs to do something about it? Decides that the best way to fix the problem is to get a gun and shoot a bunch of people? I mean, it fits, but it’s a little too stereotypical for our needs here (although there is this interpretation which has some strong arguments about the anger issue). While I was trying to organize my thoughts on all of this–I mean, it’s kind of nuts that we keep having to do this every few months–I fell into a real webhole for about two days, just reading stuff so I could try to back up my arguments. I didn’t find a lot outside of the realm of opinions that could back me up, but I found so much other stuff that has left me kind of sad and a little numb. So yeah, here are some disjointed thoughts about all this shit, just to get them out of my head at this point.

Columbine happened in April 1999. That’s nineteen years ago. Nineteen. I was a senior in high school back in April 1999. That shit could have happened to my school. Yet, here we are nineteen years later (like the ending to the Harry Potter series), and it seems like we’re even farther away than we were then to any meaningful change. Also, let’s consider that we have now had a full generation of kids who have never known a world where a mass shooting at their school isn’t at least a possibility. Instead of laws that might make it supremely difficult for someone to carry out this sort of thing, they get mass shooter drills, and somehow we call this okay.

And how is that possible? Well, I found this very interesting piece by Vox that talks about how the NRA got overrun by conservative loons during that weird post-Watergate era in the 70s. Interesting to me is how legal thinking before this was pretty staid. The Second Amendment said militia, so they must be talking about an organized militia. You know, the state calls you to service and you have a right to be armed during that serivce. Today we call that shit the National Guard, and no one has a problem with them having rifles. They do get some training, right? It also brought up an interesting argument about how Southern delegates to the Constitutional Convention wanted this in place because they used militias to go after fugitive slaves. Oh, and also, it turns out that there was fairly comprehensive gun control that existed in Colonial times. So the loons at the NRA revolted in 1977 and took over the organization, fueled by God knows what (but probably a lot of that white rage that I started out thinking about, especially as a lot of inner cities really went to shit in the late 60s), and sprouting this idea that the Second Amendment was not meant to protect the government from disarming militias, but for allowing people to be able to rise up against government tyranny instead. And, fueled by extreme government distrust in the wake of Watergate, that message succeeded. And over the next 40 years, they chipped away at any sane notions about what to do about guns, to the point where you get laborious legal interpretations like this one, which helped lead to the Heller decision and fucking Scalia’s view that militia meant any individual person since any person could be called to serve in a militia. Great. This isn’t what the guys in that painting up top meant.

By the way, quick sidebar. I do love how court conservative politicans and jurists love to rail against legislating from the bench and preach the gospel of “originalism”, but had no problem doing it when it helped their pet causes. Fun, right?

Oh, here’s another thing that popped up since I started writing this. As it turns out, there was an armed security guard at the high school the day of the shooting. So, the theory the gun nuts love is that “a good guy with a gun will stop a bad guy with a gun”, right? Guess not. Turns out the guy hid outside while the carnage was happening. Some rounds at the range against a paper target, or spray and pray against a defenseless deer might get your juices flowing, but it isn’t going to steel you to actually put hot lead into another human being, is it?

Anyway, the biggest takeaway is all the research that comes to one conclusion: limit access to guns, stop a lot of gun violence. Illegal guns may play a big role in shootings in places like NYC, Chicago, and LA–and that is going to be difficult to fix–but when it comes to these mass shootings? Research shows that most of these people got their guns legally and easily. I mean, maybe we need to look at this. The kid who did the Parkland shooting could not have gotten a handgun legally at his age, but there was no problem getting a fucking AR-15 style semi-auto. What the fuck is that?

Lastly, let’s return to that white man anger problem. I mean, you can kind of piece together how that is very possible. Did you hear about Wayne LaPierre’s CPAC speech which basically said that any regulation of guns means the end of Western Civilization as we know it? Or the idea that having one of those semi-autos in your hands brings about a very inflated sense of power? Or how maybe, just maybe, you feel like society has declined and that AR-15 is your only defense against wild chaotic left wing anarchy? Yeah, you can see how angry white people might think they need to shoot first and ask questions later. And if that’s not enough, there’s always the gun manufacturers themselves, letting you know that you’re not really a man unless you have a gun. Fuck, no wonder we are where we are today.

(Header Image: Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull)