Former presidential candidate John McCain knows a thing or two about cruelty. Short of water-boarding the country what could he have done worse than leaving us the legacy of Sarah Palin whose drip, drip, drip of inanity is actually worse torture than a daily dose of Sean Hannity.

The American electoral system can be cruel.

Sadly, McCain has not learned his lesson. In his effort to deliver us another dose of cruelty McCain has endorsed Mitt Romney as his party’s presidential candidate. Defending Romney’s stupendous money-making at Bain Capital McCain said On Fox News Sunday, “The only place in the world that I can recall where companies never failed was the old Soviet Union,” McCain said. “And yes, the free enterprise system can be cruel,” he added.

McCain’s matter-of-factness about cruelty may be an indication not only of his cold practicality, but of an easy acceptance of what one person or system’s cruelty may mean for others —which goes far to explain his choice of a person with the brain of a mama grizzly as his 2008 running mate.

That the free enterprise system can be cruel is obvious; but that’s not the issue —accepting its cruelty is. Capitalism is a human  construct and human’s have the power to dilute its cruelty. You might say that some try to mitigate it while others strive to Mitt-igate it: some find ways to lessen a system’s harm while others find ways to gain as much advantage as possible from it. Mitt Romney has made his choice.

Since the day I finally understood the degree of suffering caused by  the manufacture and legal distribution and sale of tobacco products I’ve loathed the individuals and families who’ve made, and still make, fortunes by hooking and poisoning people to the point of grotesque death. Yes, capitalism can be cruel; but there’s no justification to be found for its cruelty in McCain’s apathetic remark.

Communism can be cruel, too. Fascism can be even crueler. To say that free enterprise can be cruel is not saying much in the way of a moral argument. What a person does with an obvious truth is the mark of his or her character. To find a very particular way to make millions by leveraging a system’s potential for cruelty is not a skill or aspiration a decent nation should want in a leader. If people and their politicians are willing to accept the cruelty of capitalism how long might it be before they accept that of , say, fascism or any totalitarian alternative?

Mitt Romney, in so many of his comments and musings, has exposed such a degree of insulation from what ordinary people go through in order to maintain a modest standard living, that the collateral cruelty of what he’s done to amass his fortune is, for him, a non-issue. As  Tom Hagen said to, Tessio, in The Godfather as he escorted the betrayer to the car for his last ride, “It’s just business.”

Romney just oozes the eliteness of money. He can’t help himself because he knows and understands so little of what it’s like not to have a personal fortune.

Among the advantages Romney has realized from the cruelty of capitalism is the means to make it possible for his wife to drive, “…a couple of Cadillacs,” (although she presumably has to drive them one at a time just like any ordinary housewife drives her Ford or Chevy.

Ironically, Romney let everyone in on his wife’s good luck  in a speech in Detroit, The Motor City, whose high poverty rate was not something that crossed Mr. Bain Capital’s mind when he opposed the president Obama’s successful bail-out of the auto industry.

Romney’s even clueless when he’s trying to play down his big money. He’s clueless because he literally can’t seem to imagine anyone having less than he does. Talking around the issue of the release of his tax returns he wanted to make it clear to everyone that the incidental money he made from speakers fees was “not very much.”

It happens that Romney’s “not very much” was about seven and a half times as much as many Americans make in a whole year sweating.

Do we want a president who sees average Americans through the scope of  his Bain job buster; someone who picks-off jobs like Dick Cheney on a duck shoot?

Yeah, John McCain get’s at least this right: capitalism can be cruel; as cruel as any endeavor run by anti-empathetic, amoral Mitt-gators.

by Jim Culleny


Bristol Palin is her mother’s daughter. Like her mom, Sarah, Bristol makes news saying things un-tethered  to reality, short on knowledge, and made of misunderstandings. In family tradition Bristol has come down on president Obama for his remarks on same sex marriage.

“While it’s great to listen to your kids’ ideas,” she says, “there’s also a time when dads simply need to be dads … it would’ve been helpful for him to explain to Malia and Sasha that while her friends parents are no doubt lovely people, that’s not a reason to change thousands of years of thinking about marriage…”

But these are political and religious talking points. My guess is Bristol has not put in much effort to find out how or why they may  be so. She suggests that in his talks with his daughters President Obama should have explained that there are certain things that are to be done in certain ways, and certain ways to think that have been worked out to a certainty many years ago by folks much smarter and more tuned to the thoughts of God than we are —which means, in a nutshell, that there are things religious folks don’t have to think about.

Fortunately, not everyone thinks like Bristol and her mom; if we did we’d still be hunting supper with spears. And we’d be castigating Wal-Mart for selling Chinese goods on the Sabbath. Not only that, but pre-marriage sex partners, Bristol and Levi Johnston, would have been stoned to death in a public square if tradition regarding marriage and sex outside it meant anything. But cherry-picking scripture has a long religious tradition too.

The Bible source most used to justify the oppression of gays is Leviticus. Leviticus is a wonderful book for folks who think like Bristol and Sarah. It’s chock full of rules. Ironically, it’s the go-to book for members of the nation’ theocratic party, the GOP, which hates regulation in business. To be a member of the GOP one must hate regulation in money matters, but demand it in personal affairs —especially those having to do with sex and procreation, and particularly when it comes to women.

Besides the verses loved by homophobes, Leviticus offers a cure for leprosy: take two birds, kill one and dip the other in the blood of the dead bird along with some cedar and hyssop, then, dip the live bird in and drizzle the leper seven times, pronounce him clean and let the live bird go. If Bristol ever has to deal with leprosy, she now knows what to do.

Leviticus also advises that we kill children who curse their parents. In fact Leviticus pretty much lumps parent cursing in with adultery and homosexuality and calls for death for all. If cursing parents were still subject to the death penalty it would probably solve our global population problem.

But the point is not to ridicule Leviticus or the Bible, but to suggest that what’s written there was written in fear, wonder and ignorance by ancient people. To cherry-pick from such books to establish authority to dump on your personally favorite dumpee is to show yourself to be as ignorant.

But Bristol also has another justification for depriving gays of the right to marry: tradition; or, as she puts it “…thousands of years of thinking about marriage.” Which begs the question: How have we thought about marriage?

The idea that marriage as we know it goes back to antiquity is just wrong.

In fact “… through most human history and in most cultures the most widely accepted tradition of marriage has been polygamy.” Stephanie Coontz, Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

But we’re not talking about just primitive cultures. Mormonism, the religion of Mitt Romney, until relatively recently had a tradition of polygamy. And if Bristol would open and read the first five books of her Bible she’d find that polygamy was once the prevalent biblical basis of family.

The definitions of marriage are as varied as any other human construction: in some societies “traditional marriage” meant one woman married to several men; in some a woman could take another woman as a “female husband”; in China and the Sudan, in order to forge closer family ties, a child of one family was sometimes married off to the “ghost” of a dead son or daughter of another.

But what about Christian marital tradition —the only kind that counts for many?

Taken literally, Jesus himself did not seem all that enthusiastic about marriage and family. In one place he said, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”

And Paul, the person to which  most Christian doctrine owes its foundation, thought that marriage was just a little better than burning in hell —a sentiment shared by many married heterosexual couples to this day.

In the early Catholic Church virgins were held in highest esteem, widows second, with wives bringing up the rear —an idea institutionalized in the dictum that wives be subject to husbands; although,  for smart, 21st century Christian women married to lazy idiots I’m not convinced the idea of voluntary subjugation carries much weight. God knows it wouldn’t in my family.

The fact is that our “traditional” ideas of marriage are relatively new. Just two centuries ago people married for “…mercenary or practical considerations,” not for love. And up until 130 years ago, men could legally beat their wives (again according to Stephanie Coontz); although many modern men have apparently still not heard that news.

But, look, everything changes (if you can show me something that doesn’t —other than the fact that everything changes—I’ll join your religion).

Marriage changes too. Religion has been instituted, in part, to stifle change, or at least slow it down. In this a certain political party is like a religion —and may have become one. It wants to bring social progress to a grinding halt and is, in fact,  presently working to do so.

But there has been no religion, party, or person who has ever halted change because change is the way the world works; the way the universe works.

If you want to give that a religious spin, Bristol: change is the way God works.

Jim Culleny
For The Shelburne Falls Independent

Mr. Hyde’s Party

May 11, 2012

In order to understand the lay of the crossroads the U.S. is stalled in —this gridlock of the  right— it occurred to me it might help to start with the premise of Robert Louis Stevenson‘s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  In his book Stevenson suggests that within even nominally good men an evil twin lurks. I thought that by getting in touch with my personal Mr. Hyde it might help me relate to Republicans.

It was a scary idea, but it seemed like it might be worth a try.

Having convictions about which way to head from this crossroad was not my problem. My problem was in coming to terms with why others in similar economic circumstances, and with the same info available to them, would choose what I see as the road to perdition.

So, I set out to get in touch with this inner Republican, my closet totalitarian, my witch-hunter, my nascent Ayn Rand. I figured, if Stevenson was right, a dark shade must be in here thumping on the dome of my skull looking for a way out in order to hunt, hound and pounce on someone weaker in a hostile take-over.

Maybe this came to mind because our political and economic circumstances in the run-up to a critical election felt to me like Stevenson’s dark take on humanity. The writer’s famous tale opens with a Mr. Enfield telling of an incident that happened during an early morning walk alone in London:

“All at once, I saw two figures: one a little man who was stumping along eastward at a good walk, and the other a girl of maybe eight or ten who was running as hard as she was able down a cross street. Well, sir, the two ran into one another naturally enough at the corner; and then came the horrible part of the thing; for the man trampled calmly over the child’s body and left her screaming on the ground”

It turns out this was Enfield’s first sight of Mr. Hyde, the alter ego of the book’s Dr. Jekyll. Only because Enfield chased and collared Hyde was he forced to even acknowledge that he’d trampled a child —a classic case of a progressive confronting a conservative.

Mr. Hyde’s behavior might be considered emblematic of the way society of a few hundred years past dealt with the children of the poor and the poor in general. As author Bill Bryson wrote of 17th century life in his wonderfully informative book At Home:

“For most human beings, children and adults both, the dominant consideration in life until modern times was purely, unrelievedly economic. In poorer households – and this is what most homes were – every person was, from the earliest possible moment, a unit of production.”

Bryson reminds us that the contemporary 17th century philosopher John Locke suggested that “… the children of the poor should be put to work from the age of three, and (quite remarkable to us —until now) no one thought that unrealistic or unkind.”

Maybe John Locke was his inspiration when Newt Gingrich’s suggested during the GOP primary campaign:

“It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in, first of all, child (labor) laws, which are truly stupid. Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they would have pride in the schools, they’d begin the process of rising.”

So Gingrich (so-called visionary), would return us to the 17th century by simultaneously killing labor and exploiting its children.  After all, as Bryson noted “…every person was, from the earliest possible moment, a unit of production.”

So we can imagine that Gingrich, having pressed elementary school “units of production” into service cleaning urinals, would then be fully John-Locked and loaded, and introduce a bill mandating that “…children of the poor . . . be put to work from the age of three…”

“Ok,” my inner Republican said, “this makes sense —children as units of production. I like it. This will be good for poor children and corporations! Two goods in one fell swoop. Not only would it teach the genetically idle to get off their butts and get a job, but (as another plutocrat, Mitt Romney, noted), the children of the poor would then experience “…the dignity of work.”

The bottom-line beauty of Mitt, Newt and Locke’s vision had my inner Paul Ryan hallucinating the scent of  thousand dollar bills accumulating in executive compensation packages of corporate patrons, and flooding his campaign coffers. A collateral bonus of this bliss was envisioning the justified suffering of all the losers of society —the parasites, the hangers-on, the food-stampers— having to scramble for the crumbs of paragons such as myself.

But wait there’s more!

My personal Mr. Hyde flushed with excitement as he recalled Bryson’s foreshadowing of the Republican state-focused demolition of public education in America’s 21st century by quoting Sir Charles Adderley (England’s 17th century education czar):

“It is clearly wrong to keep ordinary children of the working class at school after the age at which their proper work begins.  To do so would be as arbitrary and improper as it would be to keep the boys at Eton and Harrow at spade labor.”

It was a hideous trip to the brink of the underworld, but it only served to confirm my suspicions about Republican bliss. Their strange pleasure has something in common with the odd satisfaction of bullying suspected gays in high school or pulling the legs off flies.

My short trip riding the mind of a plutocrat through the psychic basment of the GOP taught me that it’s a narcissistic luxury to feel so entitled and to be so shameless that you can  trample the poor and their children while simultaneously greasing the skids for the rich and still be able to sleep at night.

“Republican bliss,” sighed my inner thug, “…thank you Jesus.”

Jim Culleny

I’ve always thought it interesting how most ardent anti-science creationists will wisk their loved ones off to a hospital in an emergency to avail themselves of x-rays and laboratory services, not to mention those of even a-biblical doctors.

Roshi Bob has a little story about this irony I think it’s worth a read:

 A creationist student of mine with a wart the size of a gumball on the end of his nose recently told me science is overrated and often anathema to God.  In the same breath he said he was seeing a dermatologist about the wart.

I asked, “Have you prayed about this?”

He said, “All the time.”

I asked, “Has it helped with the wart?”

He said, “I don’t pray about the wart.  I pray for forgiveness for consulting a dermatologist.”

As his guru, I told him it would be wise to meditate not only on the wart, but upon his inclination to view God as an idiot.  He looked at me as if I’d told him there were mountains on the moon and excused himself to call his dermatologist on his iphone.

— and Emily Dickenson did too:

“Faith” is a fine invention
When Gentlemen can see—
But Microscopes are prudent
In an Emergency.




In addition to rudely offering to orally copulate with talking head Jeff Glor who in an interview was definitely not pleasuring him, Ted No-gent (from under the sanctuary of his camouflage cowboy hat) also took agressive action with Glor’s female producer.  As an ardent gun stroker who knows how to shoot both bullets and bullshit, No-gent lobbed macho sex bombs on the two.

First No-gent offered Glor some real militia-style pleasuring if the anchor could prove No-gent was not a nice guy.

“I’m an extremely loving, passionate man!” N0-gent said, “And people who investigate me honestly — without the baggage of political correctness — ascertain the conclusion that I’m a damn nice guy!

“And if you can find a screening process more powerful than that, he added (perhaps to prove how really nice he was) I’ll suck your fucking dick!”

Ok, maybe No-gent was just trying to be nice, offering to Glor what he himself apparently liked so much he went around offering it to strangers.  But If I were Glor I wouldn’t have pressed No-gent much further because, whatever I came up with pro or con, No-gent might either shoot me or insist he deliver on his offer. Either way it was too hideous to imagine — I just don’t find No-gent physically appealing —and forget inner beauty.

After mowing down Glor, and not to leave Glor’s producer out of his carnage, No-gent then threatened her with his (momentarily) preferred weapon of choice (which is probably a granade launcher in No-gent’s own mind):

“Or fuck you! How’s that sound?”

Not so nice to me, but I guess that’s what a right-wing gun nut thinks sounds nice —gives you a clue into what they and their heavy munitions might do if they had more elbow room to be not so nice.

They’re out there folks, locked, loaded and steamed up waiting to be unleashed by a Republican Party with all three government branches sewn up.

Read the wind American little-folk: these are not-nice people.

Jim Culleny

It’s a useful aspiration for a writer to want to rattle cages because if people aren’t out beating cages with a bat to Zen-smack us out of our stupor, we and our cages will become as irrelevant as sunrise is to a corpse.

As I write, Politco’s national poll shows a dead heat between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in the run-up to November’s election. Gallup shows the same thing, which means that almost half the nation thinks the policies that dumped us into our great recession are the best policies to haul us out. It also means that as far as the future of the planet is concerned, half want to take climate change and global warming off the table. And (most counter-intuitively), it means that the same almost-half believe the obstructionist party of labor-hating, middle-class-dissing, poverty-ignoring, job-destroying, corporate-doting, deregulationists who have a problem with women is the one most likely to work for interests of workers, women, the middle-class, the poor and the planet.

Have fear and sound bites made us that looney?

Once, shame on you.
Twice, shame on me

Forty-six percent of us want to return to the scene of the crime and watch the right pull off the heist again.

We cannot ignore our way to a better world. We can’t restore the free-market pleasure dome. Like it or not, change is the only future we have.

To wish for a time we might again cruise interstates in gas guzzlers on a blazing June afternoon, hair in the wind, deliriously coddled by a free market that automatically fills potholes ahead and sucks carbon directly from our exhaust to some out-of-the-way dump while simultaneously draping invisibility cloaks over the poor, is to be lost in a bizarre, oligarchic, Wall Street hallucination dreamed up by myopic, narcissists who speak through the hand-puppets of billionaire Ruppert Murdoch’s Fox News to folks watching giant flat screens at tea parties.

In fact, there will be no so-called free market, no consumer society and no absurd Wall Street compensation packages in the world the free market, our consumer society and absurd Wall Street compensation packages are creating. That trajectory is, quite literally, a dead end. There are not infinite resources on a finite planet. At seven billion, we’re out-growing and soiling our room without a bigger, cleaner one to move into. Yet we go on electing corporate employees to office, hoping for a return to the same level of runaway depletions we luxuriated in during the glory years.

If you don’t believe we have a death wish, look at our politics. It would be reasonable to assume that a tuned-in population would run any politician out of town who suggested a return to policies that decimated our economy and which is decimating our planet. Since Ronald Reagan’s voodoo economics (a term coined by the first Bush president in his campaign against Reagan) took hold with its tax breaks and deficits, deregulations, war against labor and empty claims of trickle-down wealth, the U.S. has declined to the place we are now. We’ve believed too much the myth fed from the top: that more money up there means more money down here and that, regarding wealth & consumption, more is better.

If eight years under George W. Bush and his tax breaks for “job creators” hasn’t proved the bankruptcy of Reaganomics, what will?

Nothing, I fear.
And where has that model lead us?
To here, my dear.

We’re really quite crazy, you know
A classic case of the Midas Touch
We don’t think things through

You know the story: King Midas was so gold-obsessed and gorged with cable-visions, he got his wish and one day everything he touched became a glittering object, but a glittering object that did not sustain life —everything he touched became a heavy metal; his couch, his bed, his Hanes, his suit, his food, his air. In the end, Midas longed for a simpler life.


There’s a wonderful poem by Tony Hoagland that addresses this lethal possession we’re caught in. In the poem the poet, a college professor, reacts to some half-baked ideas of a student. He calls it, simply, “America.”


Then one of the students with blue hair and a tongue stud
Says that America is for him a maximum-security prison

Whose walls are made of Radio Shacks and Burger Kings, and MTV episodes
Where you can’t tell the show from the commercials,

The poem goes on like that for a few more lines until the professor remembers:

… that when I stabbed my father in the dream last night,
It was not blood but money

That gushed out of him,

He gasped “Thank god—those Ben Franklins were
Clogging up my heart—

. . .

And I look at the student with his acne and cell phone and phony ghetto clothes
And I think, “I am asleep in America too,

And I don’t know how to wake myself either,”
And I remember what Marx said near the end of his life:

“I was listening to the cries of the past,
When I should have been listening to the cries of the future.”

But how could he have imagined 100 channels of 24-hour cable
Or what kind of nightmare it might be

When each day you watch rivers of bright merchandise run past you
And you are floating in your pleasure boat upon this river

Even while others are drowning underneath you
And you see their faces twisting in the surface of the waters

And yet it seems to be your own hand
Which turns the volume higher?

The 2012 election is about more than electing a President and representatives who work for more than campaign contributions, it’s about selecting a future.

It’s about having a future.
by Jim Culleny, 4/30/12