The secret ingredient of Donald Trump’s popularity

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Donald Trump, on the stump, whips up some fervor.
Donald Trump, on the stump, whips up some fervor.

Staging a brawl is a sure-fire way to draw a crowd

Waving a fat sheaf of poll data to bolster its case, the New York Times recently solemnly announced it knows “Why Donald Trump won’t fold …” The Times is probably right that the bombastic boastful billionaire will stick around Campaign 2016, perhaps through the Republican National Convention, or maybe longer, if he loses the nomination and mounts a third-party challenge.  But he is not connecting with people on the issues. The secret ingredient of Donald Trump’s popularity is plain old political sludge. What makes it work, this time around, is his personality.

Despite his many bankruptcies and his house-of-mirrors finances, The Donald apparently does have the money to do carry on for a long time. But simply playing to the grandstand and pandering to the disaffected does not a president make. Or at least, historically, it hasn’t.

Something old is something new

Trump has breathed new life into something that is as old as politics itself, but has never before worked so well on the national American campaign trail: Open, unabashed bigotry, racism and misogyny – toxic things that would have instantly doomed any other candidate in the race today.

A casual reading of the Times’ take on Trump is likely to leave the impression that America has become a nation of angry bigots, ready to tear up the Constitution, build a border wall to rival that of ancient China (which didn’t work, by the way) and deport the equivalent of the population of Ohio.

donald trump rally
These “vocal supporters” at a Trump rally, in which the candidate declared “I’m really rich!” were actors recruited through a casting company and paid $50 for their performance.

Indeed, Trump’s rallies have grown to the double-digit thousands, attended by people who bellow “white power!,” and applaud when he refers to women as “disgusting creatures” and “fat pigs.”

They embrace his insufferable boorishness, which they mistake for disdain of political correctness.

They admire his willingness to bully and to fire people simply because doing so amuses him.

Trump fans love this stuff. They lap it up and cannot get enough. It is not that they are all bigots (though some doubtless are). They respond to Trump because they have thought these things themselves, but there he is, on a national stage, getting away with saying it out loud!

The charismatic Trump is skillfully using mass media to cast himself as an idealized, even heroic manifestation. He is emerging from the magma of his rhetoric as a worshipful, almost divine figure.

If he persists, and if he succeeds in his political quest to any large degree, get ready for the Cult of Trump.

Antagonism as a sport

Trump admits he pursued his “birther” antics – which included heckling President Obama about his birth certificate (which he had provided) and sending a team of investigators to ferret out the “truth” – because they were fun.

The rally crowds seem unfazed by Trump’s gift for gratuitous provocation (imagine a foreign policy to rival that of North Korea).

His adoring fans are untroubled by his philandering, his serial approach to marriage, or his success in gaming the nation’s bankruptcy laws – something everyone, including those waving a Trump banner helped pay for.

The crowds go wild with enthusiasm when, in a fit of rapid-fire buzzwords railing against “illegal immigration” and “anchor babies” and “birthright citizenship,” he calls for repealing the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

It is doubtful even one of those flag-wavers has a clue what that amendment provides, let alone the damage such an act would do to the nation and its legal system.

They cheerfully settle for an utter lack of details and accept the false coin of platitude.

Beating the war drum
Donald Trump and helicopter
Donald Trump planned to offer free rides on his helicopter at the Oho State Fair, but fair officials nixed the idea.

They lustily roar when he says he wants to “bomb the hell out of Iraq’s oil fields” as a way of striking at the Islamic militant factions our bombing the hell out of Iraq helped create.

He would have the U.S. confiscate Iraq’s oil. “We’re going to have so much money!” he exclaimed. As if the rest of the world would let us get away with such a crime.

Iraq, by the way, has never attacked us.

Trump loves making people sweat. Lately that sadistic talent has been focused on the GOP and his fellow candidates.

It is a measure of their shallowness that, after watching news clips of the response to his theatrics, so many of Trump’s superficial Republican rivals quickly adopted his tone and talking points.

But none of them can pull it off. They are not genuine like Trump, or even passable imitators. Any who try to out-Trump the master risk casting themselves into the pit of political obscurity.

Many otherwise intelligent people in government and the media, and the population at large, who should know better, are, like the Times, outwardly baffled by the Trump phenomenon.

Swayed by the bluster

For example, one local politician of my acquaintance, who is generally regarded as bright and savvy, recently opined in a bit of disjointed discourse that “people are pissed” over governmental gridlock in Washington.

I will not mention her name, on the possibility that her rambling remarks were inadvertently diluted by too much fermented grape juice. I only mention this by way of illustrating how easily even rational people can fall under the thrall of a demagogue.

Her remarkably simplistic line of logic holds that nothing gets accomplished in Washington because if something is resolved, it loses its value as a political wedge issue and fund-raising tool.

She decries what she sees as a “Political Industrial Complex” of political consultants growing wealthy over mismanagement of America.

Never mind that the fire of rage that Trump delights in stoking by throwing political gasoline is not about lobbyists.

A false equivalence

My lawmaker acquaintance says the anger welling up at Trump rallies “should serve as a wake-up call to both national parties.”

The notion that “both parties do it” is an intellectually lazy and dishonest canard. It is a false equivalence, patently and provably wrong. The obstruction of government was a deliberate and cynically calculated Republican strategy to recover from their losses in 2008.

The sad thing for America is that it worked.

The relatively few voters who showed up at the polls during the 2014 mid-term elections, along with the many who did not, all  expressed their approval of the GOP mischief.

The Management 101 textbook says rewarding a behavior will get you more of it.

Donald Trump at the August 6, 2015 debate.
The August 6 GOP candidates debate in Cleveland, Aug. 6, was transformed into the Donald Trump Show. Who remembers what any of the other candidates said? Trump is flanked by rivals Scott Walker, left, and Jeb Bush.

Many in the roaring Trump crowds really do buy into his amazingly un-American rhetoric and would actually welcome turning their government, their interests and their future over to a narcissistic, tyrannical one-percenter.

Trump, for all his fire-breathing showmanship, does not address a single issue of real importance to the average citizen, let alone nation’s well-being. He panders to the low-informed and plays to their bogeyman-under-the-bed fears and their ignorance. They, in turn, relish the political red meat Trump tosses.

For others, encouraging Trump is a means of discomfiting the grid-lockers. They indulge in the delusional hope that their show of support is “sending a message” that may have some effect on guiding the debate to a beneficial outcome. It is a feel-good exercise without immediate consequences, and without any possibility of success.

At this stage of the game, opinion polls count for nothing. They are, at least for the front-runner and the pundits and the debate-schedulers, useful for creating the illusion of strength.

As a functional matter, early polls are a bit like curb feelers on a lowrider, an aid in detecting whether the candidate has strayed too far to the right of the political mainstream.

Meanwhile, despite the dazzle and magnetism he projects, Trump is currently polling in the mid 20s – a lackluster number in a crowded field, and certainly not enough for him to win anything.

Buying into the scam

The corporate media know this, of course, but they pretend not to. After all, they have quarterly numbers to meet: market share to protect, page clicks, downloads of mobile apps to gin up, and other metrics.

Besides, who would watch news coverage of a campaign if it didn’t include a circus, a horse race or a brawl?

By the way, have you ever seen Donald Trump shaking hands as he worked a crowd? No, you have not. Because this man of the people thinks you are unclean. He’s not one to get his hands dirty because he is a germophobe; he has an abnormal, indeed pathological, fear of germs.

This is a president for all of America?

Michael W. Dominowski is a contributor to Not For Hire Media.

NASA’s Insight lander will soon be heading for Mars. Your name can ride along

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NASA Mars lander Insight
The Insight landeris shown hard at work on the surface of Mars in this rendering. (NASA)

How to make a name for yourself on the Red Planet

You may not ever actually pay a visit to the planet Mars, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a name for yourself there. NASA’s Insight lander, the next planned visit to the Red Planet, is scheduled to blast off next March. You cannot ride along, of course (Mars isn’t much of a garden spot anyway), but your name can. You can include your name on a chip inside the lander for free. But you’ll have to act soon.

Nasa Mars lander Insight
NASA’s InSight Mars lander spacecraft in a Lockheed Martin clean room near Denver.(Patrick H. Corkery, Lockheed Martin Corporation)

To sign on, go to NASA’s “Frequent Flyer” page and fill out a brief form. You’ll be rewarded with a “boarding pass.” It’s a clever bit of marketing and public relations. It confers a whiff of immortality, even though it is unlikely any creature will ever lay eyes on your name on the chip again.

As of this writing, more than a quarter of a million people have added their names.

surface of mars
The surface of Mars looks a bit like Nevada, but without casinos. (NASA)

The mission of Insight (the name is an acronym for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) is to get under Mars’ skin.

It is NASA’s attempt to figure out how Mars and other rocky planet in our solar system were formed.

To accomplish that, Insight will do what no Mars lander has done before. It will bore a hole in the planet’s surface to examine whatever layers of rock it finds and to measure for heat, seismic activity, signs of life and what have you.

Where to look for Mars and other major planets in the August 2015 night sky

moon, venus, mars conjunction
The moon, Venus – off to the left – and dimmer Mars as they appeared together in the Earth’s night sky.

NASA has had rovers and landers on Mars since 1976, but they mostly took pictures and examined features on the planet’s surface.

The launch window for Insight opens on March 4, 2016 and extends through March 30. The craft is expected to arrive on Mars 728 days later, which would put the landing sometime around September 28.

The deadline for adding your name to Insight is midnight ET September 9.

Michael W. Dominowski is a contributor to Not For Hire Media.

Human spirituality: When an atheist looks at God

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crepuscular rays

 Answers to the great mysteries and secrets have always been hiding in plain sight

Human spirituality lost its way when, so long ago, the rulers and sages discovered religion was an effective way to control people and societies and whole nations. Even rival tribes and clans, natural enemies, could be united and make common cause under the banner of shared beliefs.

To accomplish that, to harness this amazing inexplicable property of human nature, the rulers had to invent deities, the better to explain such natural terrors as storms and temblors and the occasional wrath of the seas.

People, by and large, proved very receptive to this.

The self-anointed wise ones claimed a special connection with the gods they created. They pronounced themselves the intermediaries, the givers of laws and revealers of profound truths and secrets.

A surfeit of deities

Eventually it became cumbersome to maintain so many gods. Keeping their stories straight and believable drifted inexorably toward the impossible.

It may be that the ubiquitous human need for gods is a sort of trade-off, the evolutionary price exacted for our intelligence.

People are endowed (or cursed) with enough intelligence to have imponderable questions and uncertainties and doubts, and want the answers provided.

The  number of gods providing those answers is immaterial. So the masters of religion had a reformation. Combining the many gods into one was not easy, but the risks were low.

The widely adopted monotheistic approach – a single, all-powerful, uppercase God, savior of mankind and foiler of his nemesis, the devil – was a concept and explanation, however implausible, that was much easier to convey.

It was at the moment of this conception that the true god, if it can be called such, was lost.

More noise than signal

Now philosophers and theologians are so keen to defend their God and so insistent to assert his (or her or its) existence that they bully and rant and pontificate, and won’t shut up long enough to tune in the wondrous truths they claim to seek.

Their noise overpowers the signal. They talk over the messenger and drown out the message.

The 19th century theologian William Ellery Channing once mused that “God is another name for human intelligence raised above all error and imperfection, and extended to all possible truth.”

That  may be the unreachable star, but it is still a station we can all aspire to.

The keepers of the Holy Books don’t want to go there. They may find Rev. Channing’s observation difficult to dispute, but they cannot dare embrace it and expect to maintain their authority – an immense power derived from, and willingly conferred by, their adherents.

If Rev. Channing’s thoughts were accepted, atheists and pagans and nonbelievers, and true believers and deists and clerics of all stripes and levels would find themselves gathered peaceably in the same room.

When the scales fall away

Here is the truth of it, the secret stolen from the ancients: God is no mystery. There is no need to congregate and pray and war in His name. You intrinsically know that because even without God you would know right from wrong.

You do not need a God to issue threats or command unwavering obedience or define moral behavior, or to make promises of immortality you hope against hope will be kept.

You do not need a hierarchy of religious to parse and dispense the answers you seek, because they do not have such things.

It is ironic then that the answers to the great mysteries do not flow from organized religion after all. They have been here for us all along, hidden in plain sight, waiting only for us to cast off the blinkers of religion and see them.

If you would hear the word of God, listen to the flowers and trees and animals. Listen to the breezes and tempests, the rivers and oceans; to children and the majesty of the universe revealed in the night sky. There you will find wisdom. There you will find your God.

Michael W. Dominowski is a contributor to Not For Hire Media.

Field of candidates for the Republican presidential nomination is about to be thinned

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Republican presidential candidates
Color them gone. Most of the candidates in the second tier of the August 6 presidential debate are running out of steam.

Here  are the candidates who are likely to be gone before the Thanksgiving turkey

The primary elections are still months away, but the crowded field of leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination will be thinned – perhaps significantly – in the coming weeks. Today we make our predictions about who will likely be gone before the Thanksgiving turkey.

But first, some context.

The 2016 election cycle produced a bumper crop of wannabe presidents: More than 450 candidates have so far filed campaign papers with the Federal Election Commission.

Why so many? One reason is that the bar for qualifying is set pretty low.

If you are at least 35 years of age, are a natural born U.S. citizen, and have lived in the country for an aggregate of at least 14 years, you are qualified to be president of the United States.

The only other requirements are to file a statement of candidacy (FEC Form 2) with the Federal Election Commission and to prove you have raised or spent at least $5,000 on your campaign.

Such easy entry brings out all manner of political beasts, some of them repeatedly. A lot of the office seekers are no more serious candidates than is Limberbutt McCubbins, who happens to be a cat.

A cast of characters
limberbutt mccubbins
Limberbutt McCubbins exudes presidential gravitas.

Many are preachers or imbued with religious fervor of one stripe or another.

On that list you’ll see characters like the aptly named Skip Andrews, a Kansas building remodeler who is sure America is God’s chosen country and insists, with Taliban-esque fervor, that all Americans must “live by the moral laws that Jesus taught” and obey the Ten Commandments.

He is joined on the hustings by Michael Bickelmeyer of Ohio, who would press on to decisive victory in the war on terrorism. To that end, he says, he has patented a solar-powered death ray (he calls it “a gift for children”) which, once he puts it in orbit, could be used to zap individual terrorists or whole countries.

Then there’s George Brent Bailey. For whatever political end he imagines it must serve, Bailey, a preacher from Mississippi, cites myriad medical challenges in his life: Asthma, hypertension and Type II diabetes among them.

He claims he takes a dozen prescribed drugs every day, yet despite those pre-existing conditions, he is opposed to Obamacare. He boasts that God has healed him of leukemia three times. The cure never seems to stick, but Bailey keeps faith. He says his two ex-wives were right when each accused him of being “a fool for God.”

No presidential election cycle would be complete without HRM Caesar Saint Augustine de Buonaparte, Emperor of the United States of Turtle Island. His royal highness hasn’t missed an opportunity to run for president since 1996. Despite his admirable persistence, he never seems to get much traction.

If your interest is piqued, here is his FEC form.

The list goes on and on.

The nearly departed

If brevity be the soul of wit, this missive is probably already past the threshold. We will nevertheless soldier on, but we’ll stick to a review of the lesser Republican hopefuls, if only because they are such a motly bunch. As they drift down the extreme right edge of the political mainstream, the roar of the proverbial falls grows ever louder.

Carly Fiorina
Failed CEO Carly Fiorina survived banishment to the second tier of the August 6 debate.

She didn’t make the cut for the main debate, but fired former CEO Cara Carleton “Carly” Fiorina, who is widely credited with nearly running Hewlett-Packard into the ground, is the only candidate relegated to the August 6 debate’s weenie round who will likely stick around on the campaign trail for a while, thanks to a bump in her poll ratings.

Only one on our list of the nearly departed, Chris Christie, is a survivor of the Donald Trump Show – also known as the main debate hosted by Fox News. A fat lot of good the extra exposure did him.

Here, in no particular order, are the winners of our Gone Goose Award:

Christopher James “Chris” Christie
republican presidential nomination candidates
Chris Christie has his “Dukakis in the tank” moment.

An early exit can be expected for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. There has already been talk in his circle that the end may be near, in no small measure because there’s been little national interest, and less money, to sustain his candidacy.

Christie is a notoriously willful, bombastic bully – an intrinsic quality he has tried to parlay into an endearing political advantage.

When he publicly calls someone stupid and/or barks at them to sit down and shut up … hey, he’s just being Chris – the candidate who will “tell it like it is.”

But Christie was indelibly stained by the “Bridgegate” scandal, and by subsequent ethics questions in other areas; his unabashed and very public acceptance of lavish hospitality from Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, for example.

Not only has Christie failed to gain traction in the polls, but his popularity in New Jersey has significantly eroded. The fact that his favorite football team resides in Texas probably hasn’t helped him politically.

Christie’s behaviors (they are not unfortunate blunders but completely in character) all combine to cast further doubt about his electability.

Tweedledum and Tweedledee
Were Tweedledum and Tweedledee the inspiration for Christie’s baseball costume?

To top it all off, Christie has already had his “Dukakis in the tank” moment. Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis had his 1988 presidential aspirations destroyed when, in a bid to burnish his national defense credentials, he was photographed riding around in an Army tank. The gear he was wearing made him look ridiculous, and the publicity stunt backfired badly.

Christie, a man of ungainly girth, allowed himself to be photographed in a tight-fitting baseball uniform that looked like it had been patterned afterTweedledum and Tweedledee.

Suffice to say the images from that session did not have “presidential material” written all over them.

James Richard “Rick” Perry

The magic glasses have not helped.

The former Texas governor’s campaign has been running low on funds since donations dried up when his standing in the polls fell through the floor. He has stopped paying most of his campaign staff.

It also hasn’t helped that he is currently under indictment for abusing the powers of his office, a persistent legal cloud that has cast a long shadow over his presidential aspirations.

Rick Perry affects a tough-guy pose in a National Guard aircraft near the Texas-Mexico border.
Rick Perry affects a tough-guy pose in a National Guard aircraft near the Texas-Mexico border.

Rick Perry portrays himself as a tough guy, an image he seeks to reinforce with his “secure the border” rhetoric, theatrical posturing and photo ops.

The staunchly “pro-life” Perry proudly admits he hasn’t lost a minute’s sleep over his approval of at least 278 executions, a number that broke all records and  included some seriously controversial killings, during his tenure at the Texas Statehouse.

Also during that time he vetoed a bill that would have banned the execution of mentally retarded prisoners.

To bolster his image as a badass, Perry dispatched the Texas National Guard to the state’s southern border, to show he was serious about battling a (nonexistent) crime wave committed by illegal immigrants.

He paraded around like a field marshal and, in one notable photo op, put his hat on backward, jutted out his jaw and hunched over an unloaded machine gun in the door of a National Guard aircraft, to convey the impression that he was actively hunting border trespassers.

When state lawmakers asked how he planned to pay for the deployment, Perry shrugged that he would send the bill to the federal government. Predictably that didn’t fly, and the state was stuck with the bill. While the rash act was sorted out, the hapless Guardsmen and their families went without pay; some resorted to using food pantries.

Despite his grandstanding and cosplay, Perry has never been able to shake the moment he became a laughingstock during a debate in the 2012 presidential campaign, when he announced he would eliminate three federal agencies – then could only remember the names of two of them. His never-to-be-forgotten response to the national audience: “Oops!” No nuclear launch codes for this fellow.

Scott Walker
scott walker
Scott Walker knows the answer is somewhere in the talking points memo he was handed.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s bid for the presidency is going nowhere. He will pack his bags and decamp for home.

This despite his much-touted, if illusory, early strength in the polls, and the fact that he is being bankrolled by Charles and David Koch, the billionaire poster boys for all that is wrong with the Citizens United ruling that gutted the nation’s campaign finance laws.

Walker ascended to national prominence, and became the darling of big-money political contributors, when he stripped the state’s public employees of their collective-bargaining rights and enacted a string of ALEC-written laws.

He cemented his position, in the schizophrenic environment of Wisconsin politics, by surviving a recall election, then winning re-election. In that same election the state chose an openly gay woman for the U.S. Senate.

Since then the college dropout has succeeded in chopping some $250 million from the prestigious University of Wisconsin budget because, he insisted, the state couldn’t afford it. He then proceeded to put up a similar (and presumably more affordable) amount of taxpayer money to build a new stadium for the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team.

Walker will leave the race because his poll numbers have gone into an irreversible decline.

That happened partly because he is terminally boring; he has all the appeal of a Wisconsin meadow muffin, and he comes across on the national stage, fairly or not, as dopey. Listen to Walker dull around for a moment and it becomes clear that he is being fed his “ideas.”

Dr. Randall Howard “Rand” Paul
rand paul
Rand Paul, self-certified doctor, plagiarist and spotlight-lover may linger longer in the presidential derby.

On second thought, we will fudge the expiration date on this already-too-long-under-the-moonlight campaign.

Paul is an especially persistent political animal who is capable of ignoring his irrelevance and poll-number obscurity if doing so keeps him at least on the edges of the spotlight. He may last a bit longer than most of the others.

He is called “Dr. Paul” because he was “board certified” as an ophthalmologist – by a board he created for himself. The “National Ophthalmology Board” has long since gone out of business, but the Kentucky senator continues to illegally present his medical credentials as “board certified.”

Like several of his rivals, tea party darling Rand Paul wants to raise the retirement age to 70 and “means test” Social Security benefits.

(Social Security is an insurance program you pay for – with your own money – all your working life. You earned it the old fashioned way. It is not some sort of government give-away.)

In his younger days he was known as “Randy.” Perhaps appropriately so. During his college days (Baylor University), he was a member of a secret society associated with acts of vandalism and boasts of sexual prowess. Bill Cosby is an honorary member.

Paul is a serial plagiarist who has been caught stealing several times. Even the right-wing newspaper Washington Times fired him when it was discovered the columns he had been writing were the work of others.

Striking a blow for tax dodging by the One-Percenters, Paul played a leading role in blocking the IRS from pursuing tax cheats who kept secret Swiss bank accounts. That played well in Republican circles.

On the other hand, his vocal opposition to the Patriot Act, ostensibly because he perceives it as a threat to gun rights, and his criticism of “fat cats, rich people and Wall Street,” has been a continuing pain to Conservatives, who seem unable to distinguish the scent of a red herring.

Even in the GOP-friendly Fox News poll, Paul lately logs in at about 3 percent. “President Paul” is a phrase that is unlikely to appear in a headline anytime soon.

Richard John “Rick” Santorum
rick santorum
Presidential candidate Rick Santorum will soon be running for the sidelines.

Rick Santorum, the sweater-vested wowser, gay-basher and religious zealot who once served as a Pennsylvania senator, has been a decimal point in the polls lately.

Nobody is buying the holier-than-thou stuff he’s peddling. His 2006 bid for the White House met a similar fate, for similar reasons. He will be gone soon.

Piyush “Bobby” Jindal

The Louisiana governor’s brand of political discourse is given to wildly incoherent swings of psychobabble that mix abrupt logic reversals and non-sequitur references with high-flown, if bewilderingly hybrid, religious references.

He went so far as to bypass the state’s Legislature by issuing an executive order that basically guaranteed any business owner could, under the guise of religious conviction, effectively disregard any personally objectionable laws.

The move was intended to pre-empt the possibility that same-sex marriage might become accepted in Louisiana.

The New Orleans Convention and Visitors bureau said Jindal’s order sent tourists “a radioactive, poisonous message” and expressed fear the state could lose untold millions of dollars in revenue if big-draw tourist events went to friendlier states.

bobby jindal
Louisiana Gov. Piyush “Bobby” Jindal’s off-color official portrait.

Beyond such  ill-conceived swings, Jindal has been unable to articulate an identifiable vision for a Jindal-led America, probably owing to the fact that he doesn’t have one.

To his credit, Jindal did urge the GOP to abandon its condescendingly simplistic treatment of important issues and stop being the party of stupid. The irony was doubtless lost on him.

If we had to pick Jindal’s “Dukakis in the tank” moment, it would probably be his official gubernatorial portrait. In it, the dusky Jindal, whose parents are from India, became a Caucasian.

His nickname derives from a character on his favorite white-bread TV show during his childhood – The Brady Bunch.

Lindsey Graham

The South Carolina Senator was famously mocked by GOP candidate Donald Trump as being “stupider than Rick Perry.” When Trump then mischievously gave out Graham’s cell phone number, Graham proceeded to prove Trump correct by demonstrating he did not have a clue about how phone numbers work.

Graham, who has proudly proclaimed that he has never sent an e-mail message in his life, seems to have believed that his phone number was somehow inextricably attached to the phone. So he released a video showing him one-upping The Donald by destroying his phone with, among other things, a meat cleaver, a blender and a golf club.

Graham is barely registering a blip in the polls, suggesting almost nobody thinks he is of 21st century presidential quality.

John Kasich

The Ohio governor has never been able to decide if he is a fiscal conservative or a defense hawk. The two are mutually exclusive, but that hasn’t stopped Kasich from straddling the fence in an effort to stand out from the rest of the herd.

Kasich is particularly keen on vastly expanding the Navy fleet. He channels Ronald Reagan when he cites a link between strong defense and a strong economy. Never mind that benefits of that strong economy would accrue primarily to the economy of the weapons industries.

Kasich also insists the president must step up and balance the nation’s budget. He will find that no mean feat when he is making good on his promise to build five new aircraft carrier groups in a cut-taxes-for-the-rich political environment.

Why would he do that? Who knows? The Navy doesn’t want them. The nation doesn’t need them. But then, he is having “commander in chief” fantasies.

As a former chairman of the House Budget Committee Kasich must surely be aware that all spending originates with that committee. The president not only doesn’t get to vote on it, but cannot spend a dime but that it was authorized by the House.

A presidential candidate really ought to at least give the impression he knows that, but Kasich seems oblivious.

Lindsey Olin “Jim” Gilmore

The former Virginia governor says he wants to commit 10,000 troops somewhere to combat terrorists. He also says he’s a confirmed bachelor and, if he’s elected, his sister will assume the duties of First Lady.

George Pataki

As the japesters put it, the colorless former governor of New York is best known for holding Rudy Giuliani’s coat when both appeared at the World Trade Center site after the 9/11 attacks.

He didn’t really do that, but the fact that, in defiance of GOP dogma, he has been pro-choice and pro-gay rights probably dooms his presidential aspirations – which don’t look to be going anywhere anyway.

Michael W. Dominowski is a contributor to Not For Hire Media.

The Cana Wedding miracle: Now it can be told

image depicting miracle at cana
Jesus saves the day at the Cana wedding. (Maerten de Vos)

The first miracle couldn’t have come at a better time

beyond beliefs bannerAt one time or another, every maker of garage wine hears or tells a Cana Winery joke, usually without giving a thought to what actually happened during the famous wedding party in that eponymous town somewhere in the Levant, long, long ago.

For centuries the inside story of that notable nuptial has been obscured, enmeshed in the official version.

One day, while mixing observations of human nature with a convivial evaluation of the latest vintage to emerge from a local garage winery’s aging tank, a moment of apocryphal clarity, what the Italians call “chiarezza,” occurred. It is something akin to epiphany.

The revealing anecdote about the Cana Wedding miracle could have come straight out of the obscure Book of Isosceles.

According to the late venerable Catholic Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, the Biblical account of the legendary Cana contretemps had to do with Mary’s son helping a relative, probably an uncle, out of a predicament.

It was a dilemma he may have  inadvertently contrived for himself.

The fellow found himself the host of a wedding party, providing lavish hospitality to new in-laws he held in low regard. He had secretly tried to throw the party on the cheap, and now found his subterfuge in danger of unraveling.

Nearly hoist by his own petard
Cana miracle
Jesus gets word that the Cana Wedding has run out of wine.

In planning for the wedding party, which in those times could go on for days, the father of the bride had laid in a supply of the cheapest wine he could find, and then may have proceeded to add a bit of water, the better to stretch the supply.

He never imagined the lowbrow rowdies would manage to guzzle all that diluted plonk. He was about to fall victim to his own cleverness.

Here we shall digress.

We are not sure what words Aramaic speakers, back in the day, used to describe bad wine. The Aramaic word for “wine” translates, in our modern alphabet, to ormxb. The Aramaic word for “foul” is odydn.

We have no idea if those words were uttered in combination, or at all, at Cana, but we have to admit that “odydn ormxb” certainly sounds bad when you try to say it. Vintners today probably would not take the phrase as a compliment.

We went with “plonk,” a latter-day derogatory Australian slang term for less-than-wonderful wine. It was apparently derived from “blanc,” the similarly pronounced French word for white. Never mind that the wine served at Cana was almost certainly red.

By the way, the French probably would have called the Cana host’s initial wine offering “vin merde,” which is an unflattering phrase we are not going to translate for you.

Back to the wedding party.

The old amphora switcheroo
loutrophoros amphora
An example of a loutrophoros amphora, typically used as a water container..

The host had hidden his good wine in loutrophoros amphorae – which students of the culture at the time will recognize as the workmanlike clay water jugs of the day.

Wine would have been stored in classier amphorae designed to impress. The contents of the awkward container would probably have been poured into a big bowl – the Greeks called it a krater – from which libations would be parceled out.

The disguised wine would go unnoticed, of course, because nobody would ever peer into a water container, let alone drink from it. That stuff was used for animals and bathing and funeral ceremonies. It would be unthinkable to put good wine in a water jug. So the true contents of the Cana dad’s stash of water containers did not come up on the radar of the already woozy crowd.

a wine amphora
An amphora meant to contain wine was typically more ornate than those used to store water.

Now the ruffians had quaffed all of the odydn stuff, but it wouldn’t do to declare the party to be at end. Running out of wine at a wedding would have been a major faux pas.

But breaking out the good wine at this point would have exposed the deceit and invited social catastrophe for both the bride and her family.

The wedding at Cana was in serious trouble.

The Cana dad was in a tight spot.

Only a miracle can save us

Enter Jesus, who had shown up with his band of disciples (a fact, Rev. Sheen noted, that probably accelerated the draw-down of the wine supply).

Jesus already had a reputation for being resourceful and a bit different. When his mom told him of the wine shortage, he apparently missed the “Oh, yeah, the guys” moment and supposedly acted annoyed, wondering aloud “what has this got to do with me?”

wine krater
Wine at parties was typically served from a large bowl called a krater.

But the family honor was at stake.

With a bit of intercession from Jesus’ mom, the father confided what he had done, and admitted he was open to suggestions.

After all, he had only tried to follow the Apostle Matthew’s admonition to not cast pearls before swine. See what that led to!

An incantation over the water jugs, the product of some quick thinking by J.C., neatly converted the hapless uncle’s deception into an enormous and permanent boost for the young man’s personal credibility. It was a clever act of legerdemain, born of desperation, but to the credulous inebriates at the party, it passed for a miracle.

Until now, nobody in the know ever dared to breathe a word about what really happened.

The power of a good story

In his Biblical eyewitness account, retold by clerics yet today, the Apostle John (2:6-10) played along. He wove a good cover story, describing how the “water was drawn” for the “wine steward” (think of him as the bartender) who, understandably, expressed amazement.

As the French would have said, “Laissez les bons temps rouler!

What actually happened, of course, was that the servants, at Jesus’ direction, lugged a water jug (or a wine jug into which some of the “water” had been decanted) over to the wine steward, who probably had been woozily passing judgment on vessels of the other vintage all day. He would not have guessed the water amphorae had contained wine all along.

Even if he had suspicions about the roots of the miracle, the wine steward was probably in no mood or position to quibble.

So the story of the miracle endures.

Michael W. Dominowski is the editor of Not For Hire Media.

Despite Bridgegate, politicized Port Authority may elude reformers

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Bridgegate lanes are reopened
As the 2013 conspiracy behind the 5-day “Bridgegate” shut-down of traffic lanes at the George Washington Bridge unraveled, workers for the highly politicized Por Authority began to reopen lanes. (Tariq Zehawi/

Governors Cuomo and Christie strangling move to clean up dysfunctional PA

A rare, indeed historic, opportunity to bring real reform to the deeply troubled Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is slipping away. With the “Bridgegate” debacle receding into the past, governors of those two states are assiduously working to scuttle meaningful changes to the scandal-mired interstate agency, and it appears increasingly likely that they will succeed.

As have a long line of their predecessors, Governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Chris Christie of New Jersey, who jointly control the agency, have operated the PA as a piggy bank and a patronage mill, and frequently used it to provide political cover.

They have not only colluded to misappropriate toll revenue from the cash-cow bridges and tunnels to fund pet projects, but have also embroiled the agency in ventures that have little or nothing to do with stewardship of metropolitan New York’s port facilities.

Think Bridgegate Was Bad? The Port Authority Is a Daily Disaster

A bridge too far

The whole festering mess boiled over on September 9, 2013 – the first day of the school year – when access to two of the three New York-bound toll lanes of the George Washington Bridge were abruptly closed, without explanation.

Despite the proximity of the disruption to the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, emergency services were not notified.

The resulting epic traffic jam in and around Fort Lee, N.J. ended five days later, and only because the PA’s executive director, a Cuomo appointee who was himself kept in the dark about what was happening, ordered the lanes reopened.

Gov. Christie’s office, and one of his more powerful PA appointees, tried to pass off the cause of the debacle as a traffic study. It quickly became apparent that the interference with interstate traffic was part of a bizarre political payback scheme, contrived by Christie aides to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, a Democrat, for failing to endorse the Republican Christie in his bid for re-election.

No investigation has yet turned up sufficient evidence to charge Christie in the conspiracy, but his vociferous denials have not succeeded in chasing away the persistent shadow of doubt.

Christie is, by most accounts, a notorious micromanager, yet we are asked to believe that he remained in a vacuum as the mind-boggling plot was hatched by a senior aide whose desk was just feet from his office door.

By the way, the aide, Bridget Ann Kelly, clammed up for a while, then broke her silence. She stopped short of implicating Christie, but said it was “ludicrous” to claim that she could have been the only person in the governor’s office aware of the bridge closure.

Christie said that when the conspiracy’s cover story unraveled, he promptly fired Kelly, his deputy chief of staff, without asking her for an explanation of what happened.

Resistant to reform

The PA cannot be changed by the states unless legislatures in both states pass reform identical bills. It is an all-but-impossible hurdle, designed to shield the agency from political whims and pressure. It has morphed into one of the greatest protections corruption could hope for.

Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo
Even as motorists at the George Washington Bride sat in a traffic jam manufactured by the Christie administration, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, left, joined his fellow Port Authority lord, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in a patriotic pose during ceremonies marking the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. (David Handschuh)

Last year, in an expression of disgust over the PA shenanigans and a display of political unity that was nothing short of astonishing, both legislative houses in New York and New Jersey unanimously agreed on a far-reaching package of reforms, changes that would have gone far to put the dysfunctional PA’s house in order and to restore trust.

Governors Cuomo and Christie each promptly vetoed the measure.

The governors have since come up with “reform” legislation that is more to their liking. Their plan, it seems, is to bury the whole steaming heap, perfume the political air and go about business as usual. It is not about reform, it is about protecting their prerogatives.

Unfazed by lawsuits and scandals

In an Aug. 6 letter to the New York Times, John Corlett, chairman of the American Automobile Association’s New York chapter, says the governors’ approach offers only superficial solutions to deeply rooted problems.

Corlett says the Cuomo plan does not address the issue of toll-revenue diversion – which is the subject of an AAA lawsuit against the PA. “Worse yet, it eliminates financial-accountability provisions included in last year’s unanimously passed bistate legislation.”

A disingenuous July 23 New York Times editorial praising the Cuomo plan as “… a big start toward reform” drew Corlett’s derision. He said the bill would instead bring the reform effort to a premature conclusion.

Meanwhile, as the swirl of criminal investigations and trials of PA officials – and that AAA lawsuit – play out, the governors will continue to use the agency, and purloin its bridge toll money, to operate incinerators and warehouses and airports far from greater New York. They will continue to divert great sums to the PA’s money-losing real-estate ventures and to rebuild state infrastructure such as the hopeless money-sink that is the Pulaski Skyway.

The Pulaski Skyway
The Pulaski Skyway, shown in this 1978 photo, has been an expensive safety and maintenance problem since it opened in 1932. The steelwork contraption belongs to the state of New Jersey, but N.J. Gov. Christie, with the acquiescence of N.Y. Gov. Cuomo, stuck the Port Authority with the costly refurbishment of the elevated highway. (Library of Congress)

The latter is a New Jersey road, an elevated steel contraption that Christie had the PA rebuild so he could avoid having his state pay for the work – which might have resulted in a gas tax increase which, in turn, might have damaged his political fortunes, which are sagging anyway.

The tortured rationale for having the PA re-do the New Jersey ironwork monstrosity holds that motorists use the highway on their way to the PA-owned Lincoln Tunnel – which happens to be well north and far off of the Pulaski’s route.

The same specious argument could be made for the street in front of your house.

The state legislatures have proven unable to effect meaningful Port Authority reforms, and the self-interested governors have proven unwilling. The most important collection of interstate roads and bridges and ports in the nation should not be left in the unaccountable grip of devious politicians.

If ever an interstate agency was a candidate for federal oversight, it is the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Michael W. Dominowski is a contributor to Not For Hire Media

Why the killing of Cecil the lion stirred such fury

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cecil the lion
Walter Palmer, left, grins triumphantly behind the dead body of Cecil the lion.

Trophy hunter’s behavior was more than blood lust. It was a treacherous act of betrayal


By now it is a rare person who has not heard of Cecil, the lion lured from the safety of a national park in Zimbabwe so he could be slaughtered by a wealthy American, a convicted felon, who has made a hobby of killing large and rare animals for the fun of it.

For those who may have arrived late to this story, Cecil was an icon, the best-known animal in Zimbabwe, a true tourist attraction. He wore a tracking collar around his distinctive black mane, and he had developed a habit of allowing photo safari groups near enough to get some great pictures.

Cecil and lioness
Cecil nuzzles a lioness. This is thought to be the last photo of Cecil before he was killed. The image was taken in Hwange National Park by researcher Brent Stapelkamp, who works with Oxford University’s lion project.

If the big cat’s familiarity with humans proved his undoing, it also proved to be a life-changing blunder for the sawdust nimrod who paid $55,000 for guides to arrange the kill, which was accomplished in a most gruesome manner: The killer used a crossbow, then tagged along as the guides tracked the mortally wounded lion over a period of two days before someone in the party dispatched it with a rifle.

It took Cecil some 40 hours to die.

walter palmer and rihnoceros
Walter Palmer poses with a rhinoceros he bagged on an earlier expedition.

The reprehensible behavior, in early July, touched off a worldwide firestorm of indignation that has yet to fully subside. Zimbabwe has since outlawed lion hunting, and several major airlines have banned the transport of animal trophies.

This was not the first time Walter Palmer, a 55-year-old dentist from Minnesota, had poached an animal in pursuit of a trophy. In 2006 he shot a black bear in Wisconsin, some 40 miles from a legally designation hunting zone. He then conspired with his hunting buddies to pretend they had followed the rules. When federal agents questioned him about the kill, Palmer stuck to the pre-arranged lie.

His story didn’t hold up. Palmer eventually pleaded guilty to a felony, paid a fine of about $3,000 and served a year on probation. He also had to forfeit his trophy.

Then, as now, he protested, in a fine perversion of sanctimony, that he was only engaged in a sport he loves and has always practiced responsibly.

Now Palmer is in hiding. When the news of his cowardly deed broke, he abruptly closed his dental practice and dropped out of sight.

walter palmer and leopard
Walter Palmer poses with a leopard he killed as a trophy.

One frequently asked question is why this particular incident created such an uproar. “It was just a lion,” the apologists say. “Lions are killed every day, right? I mean, Teddy Roosevelt used to hunt big game, and he’s on Mount Rushmore!”

We might counter that President Roosevelt, who did his own hunting, went on safari at a time when there were more than 300,000 lions in the African wild. Today that number is closer to 30,000.

But this is beside the point.

However else you might describe what Walter Palmer did, know that his shot was an act of betrayal.

Cecil’s relaxed manner in the presence of humans was acquired through experience and, yes, trust.

Humans, in his experience, were never dangerous, so their visits to his territory were tolerated. When Cecil followed the scent of the dead animal the guides had dragged behind a truck, the treachery that awaited would not have occurred to him.

Walter Palmer, in his ego-driven greed for yet another prize, coldly betrayed that accumulated trust between man and beast.

The act flies in the face of every sense of honor and fair play that humans are still able to muster. It was outrageous and wanton, even depraved  disregard of our common ethics and morals, some of the core things that make us, or so we like to claim, higher beings.

His name will forever be associated with all that is wrong with blood sports.

If Walter Palmer ever manages to comprehend and accept the depravity of what he did, and if he ever wants to come out from whatever rock he’s hiding under, he might wish to seek redemption. That could mean renouncing his blood lust, acting on behalf of society’s conservation efforts. And maybe learning to use a camera.

Michael W. Dominowski is a contributor to Not For Hire Media

Government by the few: How we lost America


cartoon image money stuffed into a ballot box
John Ritter

The American Republic has been usurped, bought by a ruling class of monied oligarchs


goshawk headerYou might think the declaration by a former president that America has lost its democracy and is now governed by bribe-takers controlled by a ruling elite would have, at the very least, generated some prominent headlines in the corporate-owned media or sparked a national dialogue. The fact that it did not suggests just how far the transition has gone.

president jimmy carter
President Jimmy Carter says American democracy has been replaced by an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery.

President Jimmy Carter was speaking with radio host Thom Hartmann. The subject was the Supreme Court’s destruction of campaign finance laws, which, in summary, sent the message to Big Money that “Anything goes.”

Best democracy money can buy

Hartmann said “unlimited money in politics” seems like a violation of the principles of democracy.

The president responded: “It violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president.”

The president went on to say: “And the same thing applies to governors and U.S. senators and Congress members. So now we’ve just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election’s over.

“The incumbents, Democrats and Republicans, look upon this unlimited money as a great benefit to themselves.”

Indeed it is. [Cue the collective national yawn] Big money has successfully bought a majority of the elected members of the U.S. government and controls their every move. Your opinions and, for the most part, your interests, count for nothing if they are at odds with the ruling class.

Unless you have been following the news in more thoughtful depth than the zipper at the bottom of the screen on a propaganda-oriented TV network show,  what follows may read like a collection of ravings from a nut-job conspiracy theory. The oligarchs hope that’s how you read it.

But these things are not imaginary. They are the reality you are living in. If you cannot detect them, you may be like the clueless goldfish in the bowl: It doesn’t know it is wet.

The path to  betrayal

You want a stronger economy? The rulers say we first need to cut taxes for big corporations and the wealthiest Americans. They (still) want you to believe that they’ll use the money to create new jobs and prosperity will trickle down for all.  (In reality, they used it to buy Congress.) The real job creators, the middle-class consumers, are an endangered species.

You think the wealthiest should pay their fair share in taxes? You’ll be told that’s crazy talk. “You are advocating a class war to redistribute the wealth!” If you believe that, just what in hell do you think has been going on since the tax-slashers got into office? They have been redistributing wealth – upward – since the “trickle down” scam started.

You want job security? Forget it. The rulers want cheap and disposable labor. They love NAFTA and lust for TPP, which will free them to outsource and offshore to their heart’s content as they ship jobs wherever it’s cheapest.

foreclosed house
Economic security is something the oligarchs want for themselves, but not for you.

You want a comfortable retirement? You’re on your own. The rulers want to avoid funding pensions of any sort. They don’t want to pay even a dime for Social Security. They suggest you save your own retirement money from your increasingly meager wages and entrust it to Wall Street investors.

You want to be able to afford medical care for your family and yourself? The rulers, who currently have to kick in at least some money for health insurance, say “Go to the hospital emergency room.” That’s first aid, not health care, but ER service for indigents is funded from your tax dollars.

Meanwhile, the cost of such every-day things as providing critical care for a premature baby can easily mount to $1 million during a the child’s first months.

You probably don’t have that kind of money lying around; that’s a job for the protection that comes with  health insurance. But the rabidly anti-insurance (and typically rabidly, if hypocritically,  “pro-life”) rulers couldn’t care less. Their stand, quite simply, is “You can’t have it.”

Inattentive voters easily led

It is a measure of the electorate’s dismaying level of inattentiveness (a property famously noted by Republican operative Karl Rove) that a plan to give everyone access to affordable private health insurance, and to require everyone to contribute at least something to the health care system could be demonized, by its detractors, as “socialism.”

Socialism is public education. It is the fire and police departments. It is the streets and sidewalks and street lights and libraries and parks and all the other commonly shared, publicly funded things that make up a modern society. Paying your own way is socialism? Only if your thinking skills fell down a Lewis Carroll rabbit hole to a world where everything is backward.

While you were being distracted by the latest “Benghazi” bogosity or the latest barefaced lie about Planned Parenthood, “the war on [fill in the blank. Try Christmas], the nonexistence of climate change, or any of a long list of red-herring non-issues, the oligarchs and their minions were stealing your right to do anything but shut up and keep paying.

The American Legislative Exchange Council writes laws favorable to the oligarchs and lobbies for their enactment.
The American Legislative Exchange Council writes laws favorable to the oligarchs and lobbies for their enactment.

You think your elected lawmakers write the laws they vote on? More likely they are paid to vote for laws written by the powerful, secretive corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). How better to get the outcome you want?

Is your legislator part of ALEC?

Robbed by the  bandits of ‘Plunder Road’

You think Congress should put Wall Street on a tighter leash? You’ve got the relationship backward. Wall Street regulates Congress.

Wall Street (call it Plunder Road. We refer to all the big players in the world of high finance) engineered the transparently bad idea of dismantling regulations put in place after the resurgent robber barons caused the catastrophe of the Great Depression.

The enthusiastic repeal in 1991 by an already well-bribed Congress,  of the highly successful Glass-Steagall provisions of the 1935 Wall Street reforms, laid the fire for the conflagration that was to follow.

The Depression-era provisions had prevented investment bankers from such abuses as ginning up money from mortgage loans they knew would fail, and gambling with your life savings in a rigged financial market. The repeal led directly to the economic collapse ushered in by the G.W. Bush administration.

Once the demolition was done, and the mortgage industry meltdown was under way (the industry would crash some years later), the architect of the Glass-Steagall repeal, Texas Republican Sen. Phil Gramm, decamped for the executive suite of UBS AG, a giant international investment bank based in Switzerland that trafficked in, among other things, toxic mortgages. Gramm is currently vice chairman of the UBS Investment Bank division.

So, come the next election, you’re going to change things. Right? Vote the rascals out, and all that. You may try, but even if you did not have to swim against the raging river of corporate cash, your chances of success would be somewhere between slim and none.

tea party movement
White reaction to the election of a black man as president helped give rise to the “tea party” movement.

While much of the electorate stayed home during the 2010 midterm elections, the angry backlash reaction to the election of a black man as president – the so-called “tea party” movement – swept the political right-wing into power.

Once every ten years, the nation’s congressional district boundaries are redrawn, based on the latest Census figures. Republicans won the right to redistrict 173 Congressional districts in 17 states. They recast the map to make sure as many of those districts as possible had permanent Republican majorities, thus assuring the party a continuing grip on the levers of power.

And to double down on their control, ALEC and its Red-state allies have been busily chiseling away at your right to vote by making it increasingly difficult. (The same  corporatist Supreme Court that gave us the unlimited-money ruling in Citizens United also tore up the Voting Rights Act.)

End of the American Experiment

OLIGARCHY: A small group of people having control of a country, organization, or institution.

REPUBLIC: A state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president rather than a monarch.

At the close of the nation’s first constitutional convention, in 1787, a woman approached Benjamin Franklin and asked “Well, Doctor what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?  “A republic,” replied the Founding Father, “if you can keep it.”

Franklin’s misgivings have finally been realized. Like a python slowly and quietly squeezing the life out of its prey, the bankers and industrialists and corporados, and their well-bribed elected lackeys, have steadily strangled the American Republic. They have consolidated their power and are now very deeply entrenched.

It may be possible to somehow take back the America “of the people, by the people and for the people” that we fondly remember and still naively like to identify with. But the well-monied rulers have what they want. They are where they have long worked and schemed to be. The country is now theirs, and they can be expected to resist giving it back.

Michael W. Dominowski is the editor of Not For Hire Media