Write-in Votes for Bernie are NOT an Option!

Unless Bernie starts an official write-in campaign, your write-in vote is unlikely to be counted.

I co-manage the Bernie field office in Newton, New Jersey – yes, we’re still open – and I have put countless hours into the campaign. Many others and myself are still working for Bernie. More importantly, we are still working for the cause in general. Having said that, I am very disturbed that a lot of people are spreading misinformation about the viability of a write-in campaign for Bernie. It will not work, mainly because of various state restrictions that apply to write-in candidates. This is the law, and denying these laws exist will not prevent your vote for Bernie from being thrown in the wastebasket.

The most recent rumors that have surfaced come from a document which was posted by Kanta Masters.  Unfortunately, much what is in this document is untrue or misleading. I do not think that Ms. Masters is trying to deceive anyone on purpose, but she has been misinformed. Much of what is discussed pertains to petitions to get Bernie on the ballot for the Democratic Primaries. These petitions have nothing to do with being registered as a write-in in the general election in November. The document claims that Bernie has met the requirements to be a write-in candidate in “nearly all states,” and that is absolutely false.

After corresponding with Richard Winger, a national authority on ballot access, and researching on the site BallotPedia.org, I now have a firm grasp as to how the write-in process actually works for presidential candidates in the US. In seven states (Arkansas, Hawaii, Louisiana, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and South Dakota) write-in votes are simply not allowed. Nine other states (Alabama – not noted on map, Iowa, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont) have no restrictions. In the remaining 34 states, there are some restrictions, including registering as a candidate with the state’s Secretary of State/Board of Elections.

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 8.39.49 PM
US Presidential Write-in Restrictions by State via BallotPedia.

I called election officials in four of those 34 states (California, Illinois, New York, and Texas) that have write-in restrictions. I picked those four because they are among top six states in terms of largest populations and the most Electoral College votes. I have yet to hear back from California. New York told me that no candidates have registered as a write-in. Illinois told me that Bernie is not registered as a write-in, nor could he be because of the state’s “sore-loser” law that prevents candidates who lose in primaries from running as a write-in in general elections. Texas told me that no write-in candidate can register before July 23, and the state’s sore-loser law would also excluded Bernie from running as a write-in. So, of the three states that I spoke to, all three said that Bernie was not registered, and two emphatically said that he could not be a write-in candidate.

According to Winger, 45 states have sore-loser laws, but only a handful (Illinois, Ohio, South Dakota, and Texas) have laws that apply to presidential candidates. Additionally, Winger says that he has doubts as to whether these laws would actually be enforceable. However, even if Bernie can get around these sore-loser laws, he has to register in 34 states, which he has yet to do in New York, for example. AND he will NOT register in those states if he doesn’t officially continue his run. The bottom line is: if Bernie doesn’t officially continue his campaign after the convention and register as a write-in candidate, a write-in vote for Bernie will count in ONLY nine states!

Let’s be positive and assume that Bernie wants to continue his run.

If Bernie gets the nomination at the DNCC, all of our problems are solved. Unfortunately, that looks very unlikely at this point. Yes, we should get our delegates to Philly, and yes, we should protest at the convention, but the chances are great that the corrupt DNC will ignore us, just as they have been doing this entire campaign (and for years, for that matter).

Could Bernie continue as an independent? The simple answer is “NO.” Getting on the ballot as an independent after the DNCC would be nearly impossible in most states because of the petition deadlines and the outlandish number of signatures required in certain states.  In fact, the deadlines have already passed in Illinois, North Carolina, and Texas.

Could Bernie continue as a write-in candidate?  Yes, if he registers as a write-in. As I noted above, write-in votes for Bernie might count in as many as 43 states, with Arkansas, Hawaii, Louisiana, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and South Dakota being the known exceptions.  Illinois, Ohio, and Texas could also be exceptions due to “sore-loser” laws, which would lower the number of eligible states to 40.

Could Bernie continue as a member of the Green Party?  The Green Party presumptive nominee, Jill Stein, has said that she would consider stepping back to the VP slot behind Bernie, and that is logistically possible since the party’s convention takes place in August, after the DNCC.  Considering what Bernie would bring to the table in terms of votes, experience and prestige, it is difficult to imagine Stein not stepping back for the good of the party and the country.

The Greens are currently on the ballot in 21 states, including key states like California, New York, and Texas. The Greens are currently working on the remaining states, but they are running out of time. For example, in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the Greens must get a certain amount of petition signatures by August 1.

I asked Winger about the legalities of Bernie running on the Green ticket, and he was extremely positive. “Only Ohio and Texas would claim that he (Bernie) couldn’t be the Green Party nominee. There is no problem with simultaneous filing deadlines for president.  That is only a problem for other offices,” said the ballot-access expert.

“Only Ohio and Texas would claim that he (Bernie) couldn’t be the Green Party nominee.” ~ Richard Winger

Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein

And then there is the scenario that we all dread – Bernie does not get the nomination, and he does not continue to run. In this case, you could protest with a write-in vote, but it would only count if you lived in one of those nine states that have no restrictions. Instead of doing that, you could vote for Stein. By voting Green, you can: 1) protest the two horrendous candidates that we want nothing to do with, 2) have your vote count, and 3) help build a real progressive party that we can all make our own. To me, that would be a fantastic way to salvage a bad situation. However, for that to happen, the Greens must beat the deadlines and get on the ballot.

Why not give the Greens a hand? What do you have to lose? You’d be giving yourself, and possibly Bernie, a viable option if things do not work out at the convention.


An Open Letter to Bernie Supporters

Dear Bernie Supporters,

“Where does the Bernie movement go from here?” That’s the question that most of us have been asking lately. If I heard Senator Sanders correctly last night, the movement should be doing two main things: 1) not allowing Donald Trump to become our next president, and 2) finding and supporting Bernie-minded candidates in local elections. This plan of action leaves me somewhat cold. Point 1 suggests that Trump is a significantly more dangerous option than Hillary Clinton. Point 2 suggests that Sanders people can somehow make headway in the same political system that schemed against Bernie’s campaign and ultimately defeated him. I am not buying either suggestion.

Ginger at Newton
Bernie supporters discussing his speech at the NJ Sussex County Field Office on June 16.

The Democratic Primary has been anything but democratic. The corporate media and the DNC establishment have teamed up to ensure that their status-quo candidate, Clinton, will be the nominee. At the same time, the Democratic Party has been fully exposed as a neo-conservative, corporatist organization that cares little about democracy, fairness, and justice. Most Democratic politicians care about one thing – MONEY, and they can’t seem to get enough it. To insinuate that real progressives can work with these people and succeed is an insult to our intelligence.

Clinton and her friends will make deals with anyone for power and money, no matter how many lives are ruined and no matter how much of the planet is damaged. Bernie can talk for hours about what is wrong with America, and I agree with him on nearly every issue. The irony is that most of the country’s woes that he talks about can be attributed to the Clintons and their cronies as much as, if not more than, anyone else. We have seen what the Clinton cabal is capable of, and yet we are to believe that Trump would be worse?   Yes, the man is a bigot and a buffoon, but realistically, how could he surpass the damage Clinton has done and will do when it comes to facilitating endless war, oppressive regimes, mass incarceration, economic unfairness, a dying economy, a dying planet, and a political system that is beholden to the wealthiest people and corporations?

To his credit, Bernie has not specifically said that his suggested grassroots movement in local elections has to happen via the Democratic Party. As they say, “the Democratic Party is where progressive causes go to die.” Of course, any other route is very difficult at the moment, and would take a great deal of time and effort. Can the Bernie movement stay together long enough to make this happen, or will it fade away like many other causes of years past?

Bernie at Rutgers
Bernie speaking to a packed house at Rutgers on May 8, Mothers’ Day.

Bernie woke a sleeping giant – an entire population of people who were waiting for a genuine person to lead a real, viable progressive movement. The energy and the commitment of the movement are real. Do we really want to lose the momentum that we gained by splintering into little local groups and hoping that something tangible will come from our efforts years down the road? We have an opportunity here – right in front of us – RIGHT NOW!

I know many of you feel deflated and angry. I also know that you are a bunch of fighters! Working for the campaign has taught me that you have a tireless, vibrant spirit, and you are all motivated by the cause of saving our world from the greed and callousness of those currently in power. We have an opportunity to focus our anger and frustration in a positive way for immediate results. We have an opportunity to break the two-party stranglehold on the American political system.

I know for a fact that many of you vowed to leave the Democratic Party, and many vowed to NOT vote for Hillary Clinton. I applaud both stances, but where does that leave us? Writing Bernie’s name on the ballot in November is a valid protest, but what will it actually achieve? Write-in votes for the president are not even allowed in six states.

I have a more productive suggestion – we should all work to help Jill Stein and the Green Party get on the ballot for the 2016 Presidential election.

working the systemI am not asking you to vote Green or join the Greens, though neither is a bad idea. The Green Party and Bernie are not far apart in terms of philosophy; personally, I prefer the Greens’ more progressive stance on foreign-policy issues. Regardless, the Green Party platform is closer to our ideals than either of the mainstream parties’ platforms.

What I am asking is that you help the Greens get on the ballot so that a real progressive party can emerge from the Bernie movement. In an election year when the two major parties are offering historically unpopular candidates, now is the perfect time for a third-party breakthrough. The current system is rigged – we know this to be true, and many others are beginning to realize this fact. You can slowly work that rigged system, hoping for eventual change from the inside, or you can attack that corrupt system from the outside with righteous indignation. Actually, you can do both – getting the Greens on the ballot and working for change on the inside are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

To those that say, “I’m not giving up on Bernie until the convention is over,” I say, “No one is telling you to give up.” In fact, if Bernie would decide to continue his run outside the Democratic Party after the convention, doing so on the Green ticket is his only viable option – it’s far too late to run as an independent. Additionally, there is nothing you can do at this point to change the corrupt DNC’s decision to nominate Clinton; meanwhile, the clock is ticking for the Greens to get on the ballot. For example, the Greens need 12K-plus signatures in Pennsylvania by August 1. Waiting to help them until the DNC convention is over will be too late for the Greens in many states.

Jill Stein being arrested for protesting foreclosure fraud in 2012.

To those who say, “A vote for Stein is a wasted vote,” I say, “That’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. “ It’s that type of fatalist thinking that prevents real change from happening. Imagine what would happen if everyone who says that it “can’t be done” would join me. Furthermore, how is a vote for either Clinton or Trump not a wasted vote? Are we not weary of voting for the lesser of two evils, especially when it is difficult to determine who is more evil?

Getting the Greens on the ballot is not simply about helping Stein win in 2016; there are long-term goals. Getting five percent of the popular vote in the presidential election is the magic number to be eligible for millions of dollars in federal funding, which, in turn, would lead to greater ballot access in future elections at all levels for Greens. Stein is already polling at the 5-percent mark, but she needs to be on the ballot to get those votes. Also, as the party gains exposure and recognition, its momentum will grow, leading others to join the cause and possibly forcing mainstream politics to adjust for the better.

If you want something to come from the Bernie movement, I am asking you to join me. Sign up to help Jill Stein and the Greens get on the ballot in as many states as possible. This is our way to truly protest the undemocratic political system that currently exists. I know the passion, energy, and commitment that all of you have. We got this. The clock is ticking, so let’s get to work!



Clinton Campaign Considers Scaling Back on Public Speeches Due to Low Attendance

Clinton advisor admits deep concern over dwindling crowds and a general lack of enthusiasm.

According to a Clinton campaign advisor that I spoke to, Hillary’s 2016 presidential campaign is reeling due to a string of Bernie Sanders’ primary victories and dwindling public support. The source, who wishes to remain anonymous for numerous reasons, went so far to say that Clinton might have to cancel some future events. “It’s getting ridiculous,” the source said. “How many times can you pay the Young Republicans Club at the local college to sit behind her cheering while the arena is half empty? The media has been cooperating with us, but sooner or later, this will get out.”

The red-faced source went on to explain that the campaign itself holds much of the blame. “I’ve told them over and over again not schedule events at the same time when ‘Murder She Wrote’ is on TV, but they won’t listen. Hillary has the same audience as Angela Lansbury, the near-death crowd. Yes, she has a lot of money, but that’s not coming from a vast amount of people. Dictators and billionaires don’t attend public speeches – they’re more of the ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ crowd, if you know what I mean.”

empty seats

The source continued, letting out months of frustration. “Listen, Bernie appeals to everyday people of all races. I get that. But Hillary is the DNC’s choice, and I have to do what I am told. Do you know how hard it is to sell the message ‘Stagnation We Can Believe In?’ Let’s face it, the people supporting Hillary are pretty comfortable – too comfortable to get off their butts and listen to her speak. But how can you blame them? She’s not exactly the most dynamic personality.”

The discouraged source was correct about Clinton’s public speaking appeal. The prestigious public relations firm of McNulty and Bullafarht has rated public speakers since the 1970s, and Mrs. Clinton’s rating is among the lowest ever, ranking 9,894 out of 9,896. I spoke to Fred Smothergill, a consultant for the firm, and he explained the rating system to me. “We ask audiences to grade speakers on a scale of 10 to 1. Ten is the best, meaning the speech is life affirming and inspiring. One is the worst, meaning you may have had suicidal thoughts during the speech. Clinton’s average rating is 1.74, slightly higher than John Kerry and Henry Kissinger but below George Will and Gwyneth Paltrow,” Smothergill said.

I ended my conversation with the Clinton campaign advisor by asking about the recent GoFundMe campaign to raise $225,000 to pay Hillary to debate Sanders in New York. “Hey, I know these people have the right intentions, and I realize that Hillary will speak about anything if the price is right, but let’s be serious; we can’t afford to debate Sanders again. History and facts are not on our side,” the teary-eyed source said.

The NFL – The League of Sleaze

Are you ready for Super Bowl 50? The NFL would have you believe that it is the biggest yearly event in the World. Coldplay is the halftime entertainment this year (Nickelback was unavailable, apparently), so how could you not be excited?

I’m not excited. My life-long love affair with the NFL has ended. The league has become a sleazy farce. The games have become boring, over-commercialized, over-propagandized affairs. More importantly, I am now fully aware of a number of seedy actions taken by the league over the years.

The NFL is run by a handful of very wealthy and very greedy people, with the avaricious and vain Jerry Jones leading the pack. To say that the league is unethical might be an understatement.

NFL CartoonThe NFL extorts cities and states for public money, and if the league doesn’t receive what it wants, the teams in those areas are moved—tradition, history, and fans be damned.

The quality of the product produced is not a concern for the NFL; the league is relying on blind customer loyalty, recently bolstered by gamblers, who play in fantasy leagues at sites such as DraftKings and FanDuel. I seriously doubt that this business model is sustainable.

The games have become pure drudgery. The penalties and the stoppages are endless. NFL games have no flow, and feature very little action. I can’t watch a lone game, such as a Sunday night contest, without having something else to do; I usually half-heartedly listen to the game in the background, occasionally looking up when there is an interesting play. This wasn’t always the case. I have been a fan since the age of seven; the first game that I vividly recall is Super Bowl V. For nearly forty years, I watched every play of every game that I could, but now, I can take it or leave it, including the playoffs. I am certain that I am not the only person who feels this way. Anyone with an active mind, especially today’s youth, cannot find the NFL captivating.

The league is over-officiated, seemingly imitating our over-litigious society. The rules are too complicated, some are inconsistent with other rules, and others are completely unnecessary. And worst of all, none of the rules are enforced consistently. Officials, coaches, players, and announcers often are unclear about the rules. It has gotten so bad that it is now common to have a former official as part of broadcast team—unprecedented in televised sports and not a source of pride for any league. In 2009, the number of flags thrown per game was 6.9; the number of penalties accepted per game was 5.9. Those numbers were 8.2 and 6.9, respectively, in 2015, roughly an 18% increase.

Stoppages for penalties and reviews are annoying, but the constant and unrelenting commercials are absolutely infuriating. Commercials account for roughly one-third of a televised NFL game. Prime-time games feature commercial breaks after most kickoffs, which are returned less than 50 percent of the time. So, after a score, there is a commercial break, followed by only one play that is typically a touchback (nothing happens), and then there is another commercial break. Fantastic! Fans are also inundated with promos during the game via the announcers or pop-up graphics—this is where “huddling” comes in handy for the gluttonous NFL. And everything has a sponsor, from the end zone cameras to the Star-Spangle Banner (not joking). The shameless greed is nauseating at best.

The seemingly non-stop interruptions happen in a game that already features breaks with the clock running (huddling). Football players actually stand around more (roughly 46 minutes) than they actually play (roughly 14 minutes) with the clock running. Is huddling really necessary at the professional level? Why not reduce the play clock, call the plays at the line of scrimmage, and allow substitutions only when the clock is stopped? In other words—why not play football?

It’s also disturbing how little the league cares about the quality of play. Due to injuries, it’s not uncommon these days for teams to play with second-, third-, or even fourth-stringers at multiple positions, including quarterback. An action-handicapped game featuring unskilled players is a horrendous combination. The solution would be to have a serious developmental (minor) league, and to expand both the full and game-day rosters, but that would cost the penny-pinching NFL owners a bit of cash.

The fans also get screwed by the unusual way the NFL broadcasts its games. The majority of the non-prime-time games are televised at 1 PM, EST, on Sundays, with a few, usually three, on at 4 PM. Why have so many games on at once? It’s certainly not for the fans, but it undoubtedly has something to do with bigger profits for the league.

Ray Rice cartoonWhen it comes to the NFL, profits always trump morality. The league that brought you O. J. Simpson has had more than its share unsavory characters, many of whom were welcomed with open arms. For example, Leonard Little played in the league for 11 years (1999-2009) after crashing into and killing Susan Gutweiler, a loving mother and wife. Little’s blood-alcohol level (.19) was nearly twice the legal limit, and the NFL suspended him just eight games. Little somehow managed to weasel out of another DUI in 2004, and was never suspended by the league. More recently, there was the ugly incident involving Ray Rice, who knocked his fiancée unconscious and was initially suspended for only two games. Rice is now out of the league, but only after a public outcry. Bully and total nutcase Richie Incognito is still playing. The fact that many around the league tried to rationalize Incognito’s utterly debasing behavior is telling, in and of itself.

The NFL loves to flaunt how much it “cares” about people, and the public swallows this crap without thinking twice. This is no more evident than during the few weeks when the players and coaches wear pink garb to “support” Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The NFL sells this pink attire, such as hoodies that cost $85, under the guise that the league is major contributor to breast cancer research. Ever wonder how much of the money for that pink merchandise actually goes to breast cancer research? 75%? 50%? 25%? The answer is a miserly 8%.

Some individual players and coaches have also ignored morality for profit. Former Cowboy coach Jimmy Johnson did commercials for Extenze, the phony male “enhancement” drug. Saints QB Drew Brees and Packers LB Clay Mathews are shills for Power Balance Bracelets, which feature a hologram that is based on “Eastern philosophies” and “enhances” performance. Both bogus companies have been sued for making false claims.   And then there are guys like Peyton Manning, who can’t seem to manage on a salary of $17 million per year. Manning endlessly promotes Papa John’s Pizza. It is widely known that the owner of Papa John’s, John Schnatter, is a very wealthy man and a staunch Republican, who lobbies against things such as decent wages and healthcare for workers. “Papa John” found himself in hot water for massive “wage theft” in 2015, but that didn’t stop Manning or the NFL from working with him.

Concussion CartoonThe NFL doesn’t seem to care much about the long-term health of its players, who don’t live very long compared to the rest of us. The average NFL player dies roughly 20 years sooner than the average American male. The NFL doesn’t talk much about this fact, but the general public is catching on slowly. The main culprit for the shortened life span seems to be repeated head trauma, a deadly serious problem that the league brushed under the rug for years. As far back as the 1970s, probably before then, doctors knew that multiple concussions could cause brain damage and/or death, and yet concussed players were constantly allowed back onto the field as long as they were relatively lucid (Do you know your name? Good, get back in there.). The much publicized concussion settlement with former players is considered to be a joke by many independent observers. Not many former players are laughing, however; in fact, some are suing the NFL, and if there is any fairness in the World, they will win.

The NFL has aligned itself with conservative America. The league is constantly paying homage to the US war machine—the few, the proud, who protect the interests of the 1%. The league’s core fan base, which becomes more NASCAR-like by the day, eats up the nationalistic bullshit. And if you’re familiar with the Latin phrase “panem et circenses,” it all makes sense. “Ladies and gentleman, please remove your hats, place your hands on your hearts, and hail Caesar.”

Dan Snyder CartoonThe NFL’s right-wing mentality is most evident in our nation’s capital. The nickname of the team in Washington, D.C. is a racial term that is disparaging to Native Americans, but the league ignores this fact without a second thought. The historical fact is that the word “redskin” referred to a scalp removed from a murdered Native American during a genocidal period of American history. Daniel Snyder, the creepy owner of the team in Washington, has gone out of his way to spread propaganda that denies the R-word has racial implications. Snyder, with support form the league, no doubt, has done things such as cite surveys that show that the majority of Native Americans are not bothered by the name. Snyder misses the point completely, most likely on purpose. Those who know their history and want the truth to be known are extremely bothered by both the R-word and Columbus Day. Ignoring this is a huge slap in the face to the ancestors of those who were the victims of genocide, and is another example of mainstream America rewriting or ignoring history to suit its needs.

The NFL works very hard to convince us that the league is the most popular thing since sliced bread. It’s a common marketing ploy to attempt to make people believe that they are missing out on something special. The facts show that most of the World could care less about the NFL—it’s almost exclusively an American pastime. Roughly a billion people watched the 2014 World Cup Final, which is nearly 10 times the amount of people who watched the 2015 Super Bowl. In fact, it’s not uncommon for a regular-season soccer matchup, such as FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid, to draw 4-5 times more viewers than the Super Bowl. On a worldwide scale, football ranks behind sports such as Formula-1 racing and cricket in popularity; it’s not even close to soccer and basketball, and it never will be for numerous reasons. Compared to the soccer and hoops, football is more expensive, more complicated, more dangerous, more difficult to play with a small number of people, and more difficult to play in limited space. Some, if not all, of these factors are contributing to a decline in youth participation in football.

None of the above means that football will become extinct—a lot of people watch golf, don’t they? The league will always have a niche in America, just like NASCAR. However, the NFL’s out-of-control greed will catch up to it at some point, and I expect that 20-30 years from now, it will likely be the third or fourth most popular sport in America. Who knows? Perhaps, by that time, the old greedy bastards who currently run the league will be dead and replaced by people who have some morals and some foresight.

Extreme Contrasts

Bipolar disorder and tours of duty in war-torn Lebanon and Kosovo have not prevented Tommy Richardsen from becoming one of the most dazzling photographers in Norway.

Nature can be humbling, inspiring, moving, and healing. Poets, writers, and artists have been reminding us of this for ages. And as civilization continues to tread heavily on nature in the name of progress, we need those reminders more than ever before. One such artist who recently touched me with his work is Tommy Richardsen, a landscape and night-sky photographer from Sørkjosen in the municipality of Nordreisa in Troms, northern Norway.

Aurora Brutality by Tommy Richardsen
Aurora Brutality by Tommy Richardsen

Richardsen’s work caught my eye on DeviantArt.com, a social network for artists and art enthusiasts. I found his work to be breathtaking and captivating, and combined with my newfound interest in the country of Norway, I felt compelled to reach out to him. To my delight, Richardsen is very approachable, and we have been corresponding regularly since July.

Richardsen has lived his entire life in Sørkjosen, a town with a population of less than a thousand. He describes the people as “rough around the edges” but warm. Apparently, the locals have a quirky sense of humor, which is often related to weather, and the primary activities are enjoying nature, having “a few drinks” at the pub, and using profanity regularly. “What Norway has to offer is magnificent landscapes, raw steep mountains, dropping straight into the sea, fjords with lush forest around, warm friendly people (once you get to know them), and peace of mind in a hectic world,” Richardsen told me.

Outdoors is where Richardsen spends the majority of his time, hiking and taking photos of the dramatic northern Norwegian countryside. He describes his days as waking, shooting, and sleeping, and the extreme length of days/nights suits his style. “In the summer, we don’t just have what’s called ‘the magic hour’ (the hour surrounding sunset and sunrise), we have hours, so you go out in the evening, come home early morning, wake up and go at it again. And same happens in the winter, as we have so much darkness; at its peak, it is almost 23 hours of full darkness, so you wake up, eat breakfast, go out to shoot, sleep and repeat.” Richardsen admits that his lifestyle is not conducive to having a family of his own and can be bit lonely at times. On the other hand, he finds great peace in the solitude and grandeur of nature—more so than most.

Richardsen near the end of his tour of duty in Lebanon.
Richardsen near the end of his tour of duty in Lebanon.

Born in 1977, Richardsen was a typical rough-and-tumble boy, spending much more time rolling around in the dirt than appreciating the wonder of his surroundings. In 1998, he began his mandatory military service, which started with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFL) and ended in 2000 as a part of the NATO forces in Kosovo (KFOR). Richardsen said that the contrast between the serenity of northern Norway and these war zones was dramatic and life changing.

The time that Richardsen spent in war-torn countries would not be the toughest challenge of his life. After serving, he began to have constant panic attacks. “It was more or less like a full on assault on body and mind, and draining to the point where I can’t really find a proper word to describe it,” Richardsen recalls. His condition went misdiagnosed for years, and he calls this period in his life a “blur.” In his words, “I had to go through a massive amount of different medications, some that would just make me sick as a dog while others would make me more like a zombie, moving around without a single goal in mind.”

Eventually, doctors made the correct diagnosis, and Richardsen is now taking the appropriate medication. This is not to say that he is cured, far from it, but the medication has smoothed the ultra-magnified highs and lows that accompany untreated bipolar disorder. However, Richardsen says that the medication does have side effects. “One thing that is really difficult to handle is how the medicine I am using often flatlines my emotions. This, of course, is picked up by others, and it makes human interaction a lot harder than it should be, which makes it more difficult to properly express what I feel to people. . .  I could use more friends or maybe even a significant other, but none of that seems to matter when I experience a beautiful sky.”

Sojourn by Tommy Richardsen
Sojourn by Tommy Richardsen

Richardsen often describes his work in nature as being therapeutic. His photos reflect nature at its most extreme, in a wondrous way, and it’s not difficult to imagine how it could render any mind to a relatively quiet state. When confronted with such undeniable glory and beauty, how could one not be silenced with awe?

Richardsen says that it is difficult to describe his experience; he talks of exhilaration and serenity in the same breath. “The appreciation of nature is one of the things I am the most grateful photography has taught me. In a way, I did before but nowhere near the level I am now. I can feel so down; it is like my very being just hurts, but once the beautiful northern lights starts dancing, the midnight sun vividly colors the sky, or the distant stars twinkle on the sky, it is like the weight of the world goes away and nothing else matters than that moment.”

“When you let everything else go, and it is just you and the moment, that is why I photograph.” ~ Tommy Richardsen

Boundless Moment by Tommy Richardsen
Boundless Moment by Tommy Richardsen

In terms of photographic style, Richardsen is not a purist, and he prefers not to abide by rules made by “others.” “I shoot for myself, and it is I that make the decisions how to capture and edit my photos.  Not that I go to extremes, but I do both shoot and edit for how the moment looked and how it felt.”

He also believes that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and seems to appreciate a compliment from a layman as much as one from an art critic. “Someone free of photographing thinking can be amazed by an image while a photographer just sees technical execution at its worst. I try to make my images as technically sound as I can, but at the end of the day, what it really boils down to is what message my image is sending.”

Only Richardsen knows exactly what messages he is sending, but I can say with some certainty that those on the receiving end are often left speechless.

For more information on Tommy Richardsen, visit his website: http://www.tommyrichardsen.com/

Pissing in the Wind

Every cause has its share of racists and bigots who hide behind the movement and use it to spew hatred. On some occasions, people infiltrate movements with a hidden agenda that involves personal gain of one form or another. And at other times, loud radicals, who more closely resemble fascists than they do activists, hijack movements. The foundation of any successful grassroots movement is solidarity on a widespread, diverse scale, and I believe that the goals of anyone who does not work toward solidarity have to be questioned.

Members of the group named Outside Agitators 206 created a Black Lives Matter Seattle Facebook page less than a week ago, and then proceeded to interrupt and shut down a scheduled speech by Bernie Sanders in Seattle on Saturday. Over that span, most of the statements coming from these agitators, mainly Marissa Johnson and Mara Willaford, and their supporters have ranged from hypocritical to hurtful.

Here’s an excerpt from a Washington Times article on the event:

Two women jumped onto the stage as Mr. Sanders was about to begin his speech before a crowd of a few thousand. They threatened to shut down the rally if organizers did not give them a turn at the mic.

“If you do not listen to her, your event will be shut down,” one of the female protesters said as Mr. Sanders backed away from the podium.

When the mostly white audience booed and hissed, calling for Mr. Sanders to be allowed to speak, one of the demonstrators said the Seattle crowd’s negative reaction to her proved them to be “white supremacist liberals.”

“I was going to tell Bernie how racist this city is, even with all of these progressives, but you’ve already done that for me. Thank you,” she said.

And then there was this on the website Outside Agitators 206:

While we are drowning in their liberal rhetoric, we have yet to see them support Black grassroots movements or take on any measure of risk and responsibility for ending the tyranny of white supremacy in our country and in our city. This willful passivity while claiming solidarity with the ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬ movement in an effort to be relevant is over. White progressive Seattle and Bernie Sanders cannot call themselves liberals while they participate in the racist system that claims Black lives.

At a minimum, Johnson and Willaford have succeeded driving a wedge between progressives, and have dealt a blow to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Perhaps that’s what these individuals wanted — to hurt either BLM or the Sanders’ campaign (or both). How deep the wedge goes and how big the blow is, has yet to be determined. Evidence is emerging that Johnson may be a “radical” Christian and former Sarah Palin supporter. Also, many BLM supporters have already distanced themselves from these two individuals.

Worst EnemyIf we take Johnson and Willaford at face value, which most people are doing, then we can only conclude that their “strategy” is to shame people into action, via rude insults and claims of moral superiority. Exactly what type of action is being called for remains unclear. If they’re demanding that other progressives act as they do, I personally decline because I see their actions as being nothing but counterproductive.

As I struggle with this topic, mainly because a few self-righteous radicals have accused me of being part of the problem, I keep coming back to Palestinians, who have it far worse than most Americans (of any color). I can’t imagine members of Hamas, for example, turning on the many non-Palestinians in the ‪#‎BDS‬ movement. Hamas is on the frontline, but I have yet to hear one these freedom fighters say, “BDS is bullshit and not doing enough.” Why would they?

Last summer, the ‪#‎FreePalestine‬ movement embraced BLM‬, but for the most part, I have not seen that sentiment reciprocated. A number of BLM members do not appear to be keen on hearing about anyone else’s suffering, as if this was a contest to be won by the most downtrodden. This attitude goes hand in hand with the Johnson’s and Willaford’s perspective, which appears to be that it is more important to be self-righteous and indignant than it is to actually do something productive — a very adolescent perspective.

People in Lebanon, Yemen, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza, and most of Central American must have very mixed feelings about BLM. Millions of people in those areas are suffering far more at the hands of the US Government. The vast majority of BLM supporters live in the US, and if we use the logic of Johnson and Willaford, then BLM is willingly participating in the colonial oppression and murder of millions. Does that mean BLM is anti-Muslim or anti-Hispanic? Does living in America mean that one agrees and supports all that the US government does? Should people go to BLM rallies, steal the microphone, and call the audience a bunch of racists and murders for not doing more to help the millions of refugees created by the US government?

The answer to all three of those questions is “no,” but Johnson’s and Willaford’s logic dictates the opposite. So, again, I question the stability, maturity, and/or motivations of these individuals and their supporters. People true to a movement, and ONLY to the movement, embrace solidarity from anyone with good intentions. On the other hand, people who divide, for any reason, freely do the work of our “masters” and are enemies of the cause.

Fighting Oligarchy with Solidarity

Recently, I discussed my new get-your-house-in-order approach to activism, but that doesn’t mean that I have lost sight of the bigger picture, nor should you.  That means that we must find the root of our problems, instead of just dealing with the symptoms. Getting to the roots is not only efficient but also the only way to bring about real and lasting change.

In the United States, I see the roots of the problem being that we no longer have a democracy — it could be debated that we never did — but it is clearer today than ever before that the US government works for the elite class (of the World, not just America). Our government has officially become an oligarchy, and that system of governance is not only the source of the nearly all of our woes but is also responsible for much of the misery in the rest of the World.

Oligarchy as defined by Dictionary.com: “a form of government in which all power is vested in a few persons or in a dominant class or clique; government by the few.”

In a 2014 study conducted by Princeton and Northwestern Universities, it was concluded that the US is, indeed, an oligarchy. In all, 1,779 public polices (enacted between 1981 and 2002) were examined, and it was discovered that the opinions and desires of average people had very little influence on government. On the other hand, the opinion of the wealthy elite had a huge influence.

From the report itself:

“What do our findings say about democracy in America? They certainly constitute troubling news for advocates of “populistic” democracy, who want governments to respond primarily or exclusively to the policy preferences of their citizens. In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule—at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes

Graphs of Influence on Public Policy.
Graphs of Influence on Public Policy.

When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.

A possible objection to populistic democracy is that average citizens are inattentive to politics and ignorant about public policy; why should we worry if their poorly informed preferences do not influence policy making? Perhaps economic elites and interest-group leaders enjoy greater policy expertise than the average citizen does. Perhaps they know better which policies will benefit everyone, and perhaps they seek the common good, rather than selfish ends, when deciding which policies to support.

But we tend to doubt it. We believe instead that— collectively—ordinary citizens generally know their own values and interests pretty well, and that their expressed policy preferences are worthy of respect.  Moreover, we are not so sure about the informational advantages of elites. Yes, detailed policy knowledge tends to rise with income and status. Surely wealthy Americans and corporate executives tend to know a lot about tax and regulatory policies that directly affect them. But how much do they know about the human impact of Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, or unemployment insurance, none of which is likely to be crucial to their own well-being? Most important, we see no reason to think that informational expertise is always accompanied by an inclination to transcend one’s own interests or a determination to work for the common good. . . .

Our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.”

For all intents and purposes, the US government laughs in the face of the common citizens. In this information age, you have to be willfully ignorant to believe that most public policy is designed to help the majority of the people. One of the most obvious symptoms of the US Oligarchy is income and wealth inequality, which I have discussed previously, but there are many other sickening manifestations, such as:

  • A never-ending “War on Terror” that has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and military and “intelligence” services that cost nearly a trillion dollars per year.
  • A selective foreign policy that is based on greed rather than principles, and includes the arming of genocidal and fascist governments and terrorists.
  • A corrupt and bias judicial system that involves mass incarceration, a deadly and hostile militarized police force, and discrimination against minorities.
  • A gross corporate bias that involves ignoring the health of the people and the environment, land grabs, unfair labor practices, and unjust tax laws.
  • A gross lack of concern for the health and safety of the public, including the privatization of public services and austerity measures.

So, how do we fight this oligarchic monster that is stomping us into the ground? The ultimate solution is to get all of the money out of politics, by repealing laws and decisions like Citizens United. However, the elite will not give up their stranglehold on government without a huge fight.

cartoon oligarchyTo be effective, we need solidarity, and that entails as many people as possible recognizing that anyone who is not wealthy has become disenfranchised.  We have to make the word “oligarchy” part of the common vernacular. We have show people how their government and media distort the truth and outright lie to protect the interests of the elite. We have to help people see how they are manipulated and divided by a propaganda machine. We have to help people realize that American “exceptionalism” is a myth based on revisionist history. We have to help folks see that they have a government that does not represent them, nor care about them.

Solidarity will not be a tough sell to many liberal Democrats, but it will be to Republicans and Libertarians. I wouldn’t spend too much time on the latter two groups. I highly doubt that you’ll be able to move many on the right with facts and figures; they are bound by fear, and you’ll likely have better results with a combination of psychology and compassion. Of course, some will never budge, and the few you can convert might not be worth the effort.

Of course, most of today’s US Democrats can hardly be called leftists; if they were, they would not blindly support their party, which is part of the establishment. Not being a Republican doesn’t make you a progressive, rather, it means you’re either not rich or still have some grasp on reality.  Some Democrats will admit that they’re voting for the lesser of two evils, but that’s hardly thinking outside the box, nor is it a good solution. We need these moderate Democrats to acknowledge that most of the politicians that they are supporting are also a huge part of the problem.

More importantly, we need to include the huge number of disenfranchised that are not even a part of the political system.  If everyone voted, it would be much more difficult for our government to ignore our needs.

“You see, revolution sounds like something that happens, like turning on the light switch, but actually it’s moving a large obstacle, and a lot of folks’ efforts to push it in one direction or the other have to combine.” Gil Scott-Heron

Lastly, to achieve solidarity, activists must stop bickering amongst themselves. Some of the disputes that I have seen are immature, self-defeating, and downright inane. People argue over the ownership of causes and hashtag hijacking.  Some attempt to limit who can be a part of a cause, not based on ideology but based on bigotry. Some are so angry and self-righteous that the cause becomes secondary to their personal goal of moral superiority.  People even argue about who has it the worst and whose cause is the most important, as if the most downtrodden gets a prize. And when this particular type of argument comes from Americans, who are hardly in a position to patent misery relative to the majority of folks in the Middle East, Africa, Central America and Asia, it loses much of its credibility. An analogy would be, “I had to walk to school in the snow with no shoes,” vs. “My school was blown up while I was in it, and I survived by eating snow and old shoes.” Frankly, the people who do any of this shit look like bratty teenagers, and they alienate many who might otherwise support the cause.

Without solidarity, we’re on a sinking ship, bailing water with a thimble. We must support each other in our individual fights against injustice. We must be inclusive, not exclusive. And, no matter your cause, be it global warming, police brutality or gay rights, DO NOT lose sight of the fact that the wealthy elite and the politicians that they own are the root problem. We cannot rest until we have a government that is truly for and by the ALL of the people, and we can only do this as ONE.