Heading to Annual Convention, New Jersey Green Party in Turmoil

On Friday evening, a seemingly nondescript meeting on the logistics for the upcoming Green Party of New Jersey State Convention turned into a chaotic and bizarre scene, culminating with two people being rushed to the hospital. One of the injured, Maer Skjöldur (38) of Jefferson, was released from RWJ University Hospital early Saturday morning, while the other, Mark Mingels (35) of Rockaway, remains hospitalized in stable condition.

ambulanceThe event took place at “The Skullcap and Beard,” a popular coffee café near Rutgers University in New Brunswick. As I approached the venue, I saw a young man, who appeared to be of Hispanic descent, sitting on the sidewalk in front of the café and holding a Starbucks cup. He looked disheveled and very haggard. I noticed a number of Greens dropping loose change into his cup, and just as I was about to pass through the door, I overheard one Green ask the apparent itinerant if he needed refugee sanctuary. Obviously distraught, the unidentified man glared at the well-meaning Green, repeatedly saying, “Just leave me the fuck alone!” This prompted the café owner, who sported a skullcap and beard, to come outside and threaten to call the police if the angry man did not leave the area. The man rose to his feet and shuffled away, muttering incoherently.

Shortly after that incident, the meeting began, with GPNJ Chairperson, Hulie Milisandre, being the first to speak to a crowd of 20-plus sitting at six reserved tables at the back of the café. Milisandre firmly laid out the ground rules for the proceedings, stating that there would be no discussion of the proposed bylaw amendments, which were going to be voted upon at the upcoming convention. Some of these bylaws were an ongoing source of contention within the party, and not being able to discuss them did not appear to sit well with some in the audience.

Before discussing the logistics of the convention, Milisandre made a special announcement, strongly recommending a new mobile app, PrivZap, which uses state-of-the-art voice recognition software to detect when a user does not “check their privilege” and subsequently delivers a small electrical shock to the app user. Milisandre made a passionate pitch for the app to the all-white audience, semi-politely emphasizing the members’ general lack of insight. A good portion of the crowd repeatedly nodded in approval, nearly in unison, while others began conversing, mainly discussing how enlightened they were on privilege, “unlike most in America,” and collectively using the word “privilege” a dizzying number of times.

As Milisandre attempted to move the meeting along, a man, later identified as Richard Head, stood up and loudly interrupted the Chair. Head, a rather large but strangely handsome man, began a diatribe about the divisiveness of identity politics, the need to unite the working class, and the necessity for a precise and pragmatic electoral strategy. Most of all, Head expressed his disdain for the proposed bylaw that would mandate limiting the number of “straight” white males on the Green Council – unless they were members of the Self-Flagellating Caucus. In Head’s words, “I refuse to be excluded based on my skin color, my gender, my sexuality, or my skin sensitivity – I scar rather easily.”

Head’s comments were met with a chorus of disapproval, and the meeting began to descend into chaos. Heated exchanges popped up at every table. This not only prompted another round of the word “privilege” being used an inordinate number of times, but also incited several debates about the improper use of pronouns. The fact that the word “intersectionality” was used even once was a surprise to both me and the person who was intended to hear it. Two particular Greens appeared to come unhinged during this time: one was laughing hysterically while repeatedly saying “electoral strategy;” another appeared to be in trance, rocking in her chair and chanting “Hon-ka-la.” Overall, it was a very confusing and disturbing scene.

coffee shopDuring the bedlam, the unidentified young man, who had been chased away earlier, stormed into the café and began yelling at the owner. “You owe me a cup of coffee! These dumbass hippies harassed me, and then you threatened to call the cops on me? It’s bullshit, dude!” said the red-faced man. The owner was having none of it, and reached for his cell phone and dialed 911. At the same time, a distracted waiter dropped an entire carafe of coffee, and it shattered as it hit the ground. The shouting lasted no more than a minute before the unidentified man bolted out the door. The police arrived shortly after, and with the aid of a couple of Greens, who demonstrated breathing exercises, relative calm ensued. The calm was short-lived, however.

The unsettled waiter walked to the janitorial closet to retrieve a mop to clean up the mess on the floor. I was actually watching him closely because he appeared to be the only person in the room doing anything constructive. After he unlocked and opened the door, all color left his face and he screamed at the top of his lungs, “HELP!” I quickly ran to his aid. I looked inside, and to my horror, I saw two motionless bodies on the floor. The two police officers, who had yet to leave, were right behind me. They quickly examined the bodies, and one said to the other in an ominous tone, “they’re still alive.”

After the building was cleared, many worried Greens wandered about, discussing what may have happened to the two unconscious people. The prevailing theory seemed to be that vaccinations were the likely cause. Eventually, Milisandre announced that the meeting would reconvene on Sunday afternoon at a local sushi bar. At that point, most of the Greens went home, but several very concerned party members remained.

One of those who stayed was the Chair of the Membership Committee, Ryan Gile, who was standing next to me when I managed to interview a police officer. The officer, who asked to remain anonymous, explained to us that both Mingels and Skjöldur had suffered from carbon dioxide poisoning. “It’s the craziest fucking thing that I have ever seen,” she said. “Apparently, this was a secret backroom meeting, and one of them put a towel at the base of the door to sound proof the closet. What they didn’t know is that they were cutting off the air supply. They talked so much and were in there so long, they sucked up all of the oxygen and filled the closet with CO2. One of the medics told me that the female was in much better shape than the male because she must have fallen asleep while the guy was talking, lowing her breathing rate and taking in less CO2,” said the puzzled officer.

After the officer walked away, I looked at Gile, who had a very concerned look on his face. He explained that he knew about the meeting, and he had attempted to cut it short. Gile explained, “Listen, I love Mark to death. He’s a great guy, but he takes this backchanneling way too far. I went over there at one point and told Mark to come out of the closet, but he didn’t answer. I know Mark wanted Maer to help him be reelected at the convention and support his baby, SIC. The problem is that Mark has a tendency to go off on tangents and talk forever. Lately, he’s been going on and on about not using aggressive prepositions, like ‘off.’ And, he has been ranting that Vegans should not eat animal crackers.”

I asked what SIC was, and Gile told me that it stood for the Socialist Initiative Collective. According to Gile, Mingels had been working for years on an amendment to have all of the socialist parties and the Green Party to run candidates in New Jersey elections under one banner – “The SIC Green Party.” Giles further explained, “There are like 13 different socialist parties in Jersey. We’re talking about like 900 people! Mark wants us to all work together, except Socialist Alternative – he considers SA a cult.”

I pondered what Gile said, and then pointed out that the biggest party in the proposed collective, the Socialist Party of New Jersey, wasn’t exactly a political force; in fact, they were unable to get the 800 petition signatures needed for their 2016 presidential candidate to be on the ballot in the state, which has six million voters. I also added that the word “socialist” might scare many voters away. Gile responded by saying, “Yeah, personally, I would much rather that we focus on flushing FBI informants out of the party. It’s a huge problem . . . ”

I started walking to my car while Gile was still in midsentence. I could not wrap my mind around everything that I had seen and heard this night, and I could not take anymore. As I approached my vehicle, I saw someone walking toward me out of the corner of my eye. He was now wearing a hat and had changed his shirt – to a t-shirt with a picture of Joseph Stalin with a wombat on his lap – but I recognized the person. It was the angry young man from the café.

diegoAs he approached, curiosity got the best of me. I stopped in my tracks, turned, and asked, “Hey, how’s it going? You OK?” The man was surprisingly subdued and introduced himself as Diego Lodbrok, a senior at Rutgers and one of the founding members of the All Marxist-Leninist Union (AMLU). He went on to describe what led up to the disturbances at the café. “I had a rough day before I got to the coffee shop. I had three classes in the morning, and I always volunteer at a local soup kitchen at lunchtime. Then, we ALMU members marched with a local striking union, where I was fucking peppered sprayed. On my way home, I got a cup of coffee and sat on the sidewalk because I was beat. And then those morons start dropping coins in my coffee – typical Green Party crap. I just lost it.”

Diego and I went to a local bar. We had some beers and lots of laughs while discussing the absurd events of the evening. As we parted, my new friend left me with this quote from Karl Marx, “Surround yourself with people who make you happy. People who make you laugh, who help you when you’re in need. People who genuinely care. They are the ones worth keeping in your life. Everyone else is just passing through.”

Footnote: The 2017 GPNJ Convention will take place on take place in South Amboy on April 8 and 9. The keynote speaker will be Sun Hines, a Polio survivor and former patient of Dr. Jill Stein.

Dems Just Don’t Get It!

This past Wednesday morning, a good friend who lives in a very conservative part of New Jersey texted me, “There are more Trump signs in my neighborhood than before the election!” I replied, “That’s telling. Dems just don’t understand the monster that they helped create.” My friend responded, “Yep.”

What both my friend and I understood is that many people who voted for Donald Trump didn’t advertise their support because they realized that much of his rhetoric was racist, sexist, xenophobic, and generally offensive. At the same time, those same voters could not bring themselves to vote for Hillary Clinton, who represented the status quo, hypocrisy, and corruption.

The New York Times published a very detailed exit poll, and among other things, it showed that people who rejected the status quo and/or did not trust the system voted for Trump. The findings showed that 69% who said the “direction of the country was seriously off track” voted for Trump; 79% who said “the economy was poor” voted for Trump; 63% who said “life would be worse for next generation of Americans” voted for Trump; 77% who said that “they were angry at the way the government was operating” voted for Trump; and 83% who said that “the most important quality in candidate was the ability to bring change” voted for Trump.

Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post summed up the exit polls best by saying, “Trump’s victory should be in no way interpreted as a vote of confidence in him or his capacity to do the job. Less than 4 in 10 voters (38 percent) had a favorable opinion of him. Only 1 in 3 said he was ‘honest and trustworthy.’ Thirty-eight percent said he was ‘qualified’ to be president. Thirty-five percent said he has the ‘temperament to serve effectively as president.’ How can a candidate win with numbers like these? Because the desire for change was so great that it overrode all of the doubts — or at least many of the doubts — people had about Trump.”

sad-bernie

What no exit polls show is how many would have voted for Bernie Sanders over Trump, but the general consensus seems to be that Sanders would have defeated Trump; in fact, at least one pre-election poll indicated that Bernie would have won in a landslide. Sanders, like Trump, stood for change and railed against the machine, but without all of the ugliness. However, the Democratic overlords preferred to promote the distrusted and disliked Clinton to protect their own special interests. This involved the DNC colluding with the corporate media, and even promoting Trump early in the race, when he was still considered unelectable.

Who knows how many Bernie supporters voted for Trump or another candidate? A good number of them may have simply not voted at all. When the best thing that you can say about your candidate is that she is not Donald Trump, you can hardly expect people to be inspired. Percentage wise, the turnout for this presidential election was the lowest since 1996, with Clinton receiving roughly 10 million fewer votes than Barack Obama did in 2008 and six million fewer than Obama in 2012.

Of course, there are those who saw Clinton as perfectly fine candidate and want to blame third-party voters for Trump’s victory. Those solely blaming the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, clearly struggle with math. Had all of Stein’s votes gone to Clinton, it would have changed the outcomes in only two states, Wisconsin and Michigan, and that would have not been enough for Clinton victory. Those who want to blame the Green Party and Libertarians, collectively, clearly do not understand ideology – the two parties could not be further apart and would never vote for the same candidate en masse. The whole concept of holding other parties responsible for not electing shitty Democratic candidates displays a sense of entitlement that could only belong to a party that is clearly out of touch.

Other Democrats would like to attribute Trump’s win to racism and xenophobia, but the exit-poll data does not necessarily confirm this conclusion. The Washington Post compared the 2016 results with 2012 and reported that “Trump actually performed slightly worse among white voters than Mitt Romney did. He did, however, perform better than Romney among blacks, Latinos and Asian Americans, making it more difficult to claim that racial resentment was the dominant factor explaining Trump’s support nationally.” The Guardian published a similar report that focused on the Latino vote, saying “They (exit polls) show that Clinton took 65% of the Latino vote, down from Barack Obama’s 71% in 2012, while Trump’s 29% share was actually two points up on Mitt Romney.”

There is no denying that white voters favored Trump while non-whites did not. There is no denying that the majority of anti-immigration voters supported Trump. But there is also no denying that politicians often use “divide and conquer” tactics and pray on people’s fear to deflect blame for their own misdeeds.  This is especially true when it comes to economic issues; politicians will almost always point the finger at some group of people rather than the unjust capitalistic, imperialistic system. Those in power have ingrained this type of thinking into our heads with constant propaganda since birth.

There is an irony here, too. While Democrats smugly call Trump people racists and bigots, Clinton and the Democratic Party have supported racism, colonialism, and apartheid all over the World for years.  How many Democrats support Black Lives Matter, especially the white ones?  What have Dems done for the people of Flint? What have they done to stop the executions in our streets by cops?  How many call out for the end of mass incarceration?  How many protest Columbus Day or the racial slur that is the nickname of the NFL team in our nation’s capital?  How many stand up for all of the brown people murdered in the Middle East? How many support freedom for Palestine? How many have protested Obama’s constant drone strikes and deportations? How many protest our country’s alliances with brutal and repressive regimes, such as Saudi Arabia? How many refuse to stand with the hands on their hearts during the national anthem at sporting events, like ancient Romans saluting in the Coliseum? How many dare to say the military is not fighting for our freedom, but rather the interests of the wealthy? The answers to all of these questions are either “not many” or “not much!”

There is no doubt that some Trump supporters are bigots and racists, but many Democrats are just as guilty — they just manage to do it quietly.  There is a whole level of racism and bigotry in this country that is “acceptable,” and Dems have ownership of that as much as anyone else.

Democrats can whine about Trump and all of his awfulness all they want, but it is difficult for true progressives to take them seriously when they stand for so little. Despite their smugness, Democrats are complicit in much of the injustice and misery around the World, and their failure to acknowledge this, combined with the economic unfairness that they support, makes even further extremes possible. This country continues to shift further to the right, toward fascism, and the Democrats are doing absolutely nothing to stop it. They are part of the problem, not the solution.

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

bernstein_590
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-Arrested
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!

Sincerely,

RCH

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/