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Sunday, August 30, 2009


Written by: Rick Staggenborg, MD on Jul 24, 2010 7:05 AM PDT

This chapter is dedicated to Hunter S. Thompson, the gonzo journalist immortalized in Doonesbury as the character Duke. Thompson brought a disquiet delight to many disenchanted readers in the aftermath of Vietnam, those who despaired for the prospect of a government that represented the best interests of the American people.

Thompson chronicled his wild journey into the seamier side of America in his most popular book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Like a parody of an undercover narcotics officer, he was sucked into the world he sought to expose. He wrote in increasingly wild prose about the experience of essentially losing his mind along with his inhibitions in the fantasy world of Las Vegas, which he presciently saw as a bizarre microcosm of what American society would become.

I came to Las Vegas on Wednesday with one goal in mind. I wanted to further the network of supporters of Soldiers For Peace International by connecting with as many of the leaders of the progressive grassroots movement as I could get to listen at the Netroots Nation convention being held here through the weekend. I intended to let it be known that I was running for the US Senate in order to introduce in February a Constitutional amendment on the floor of the Senate that would eventually abolish corporate personhood, the first step to ending war.

It is easy to connect both efforts in a brief explanation, because the success of the mission of Soldiers For Peace International to end war is integrally dependent on ending the control of the US Senate by the international corporate terrorists who buy Senators and start wars at will for profit and power. Almost all of the people that I have spoken to agree that a Constitutional amendment is the only way to restore representative democracy to the United States. Though many continue to doubt that the plan will work for a variety of reasons, few argue that it does not make sense. It is the dissenters who intrigue me the most, however.

In the Exhibit Hall of the Rio Hotel and Casino where the convention is being held, I met the co-founder of the national movement Drinking Liberally. His brainstorm was to get groups of people together over drinks throughout the country to discuss how to advance the progressive agenda. One of the local representatives invited me to join the group that he had organized, one of three in the Las Vegas area. I called a friend of mine in Las Vegas and she and her significant other joined me in meeting the regulars who frequented the meetings.

When we arrived, we were greeted warmly by the early comers who were already engaged in discussing their pet issues. After we had sat awhile and listened to the light chatter of people clearly familiar with one another’s positions, I told them that I was running for the US Senate from Oregon with the intent of introducing the Constitutional amendment that I feel is necessary to restore representative democracy to America. The idea was met by most with interest and polite skepticism, but the self-proclaimed atheist sitting next to me reacted with unexpected anger.

He first tried to ridicule the idea as a pipe dream and argued that the Democratic-led Congress and President Obama had done quite a bit to incrementally address some of the more egregious abuses of the Bush administration. He argued that Obama had shown courage in demanding that BP set up a fund to reimburse the Gulf workers for the loss of their livelihoods. He went on angrily at some length before I finally interrupted to point out that so far, BP had not accepted full responsibility and had made access to the funds very difficult and only obtainable by signing away legal rights of claimants. I noted that it is far from certain that the US government would back up Obama’s strong words in promising to make BP fully financially responsible for the devastation that it had inflicted on the Gulf Coast and the people in the region.

At this point, I began to receive support from some of the doubters of the ability of the Democratic majority to get together behind any real reforms or tough action against corporate criminals like BP. My antagonist shifted gears and began to argue that if I were elected and introduced the amendment, I would cause such a backlash against incumbents that it would threaten the Democratic majority in whom he had clearly invested all of his hopes for an eventual return to representative democracy. He went on to argue that this would set back the progressive movement so far that the Republicans would take control, the momentum to shift to a Green economy would be lost and the planet would be destroyed as a result.

I did not have to make the obvious point that he was making a series of highly debatable assumptions that were all predicated on the idea that the Democratic Party would lead us incrementally toward a sustainable future despite the evidence of the powerlessness of the weak progressive element in the Democratic Party. My chief supporter in the group laughed out loud at the idea that the same corporate tools who could not pass a public option plan and refused to even discuss a single payer health care system were going to gradually force changes that they dared not even discuss for fear of offending their corporate Puppetmasters. The fact that he had shifted from describing my effort as “quixotic” to describing it as a threat to human existence went unchallenged.

As it turned out, the woman whose laughter he had provoked was his best friend, who was entirely exhausted with his chronic negativism and unrealistic belief that a Demican Party as beholden to corporate interests as the Republicrats was going to lead us to a future of economic security and environmental responsibility. Perhaps it was the fact that she did not herself have access to health care despite being the wife of a Vietnam veteran with PTSD that gave her a more realistic perspective. After I told her about Soldiers For Peace International, our new friend had tears in her eyes as she told me that she had not served in the military during Vietnam because they would not accept her as a medical corpsman. Before we left, she pledged to do everything that she could to recruit more people to our effort to end war in our lifetime. My friends and I left the gathering with one more very good friend in Las Vegas.

I thought about the discussion after I returned to my motel room. It seemed to me that every person there was motivated by a desire to advance the discussion about how America might proceed to address the needs of its people and once again become a world leader in the cause of liberty, equality and justice for all nations. Even the libertarians who joined us later in the discussion seemed to passionately believe that focusing on individual freedom would lead to a better world for all. While I cannot share their belief that Mankind is ready to be responsible for ensuring that all men and women have an equal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness without government intervention, I admire the faith in human nature shown in their belief that this is somehow possible.

The lack of faith in Mankind is what motivated my antagonist to so passionately argue that we must trust in a very imperfect system to restore the promise of freedom to Americans and the world. He believes as strongly as I do that human civilization is at stake, but not that average men and women are capable of saving it if we dare to try. He is too cynical to believe that we can seize the reigns of our government ourselves, but is willing to trust the future of his children and grandchildren to a Senate that he admits is beholden to corporate interests. Like too many Americans, he shares the sincere belief that this is somehow the inescapable reality that we have to live with. I was left with a deep sadness that such a passionate man cannot reconcile his hopes with his beliefs.

Walking through the casino earlier in the day, I had taken stock of other visitors to Sin City. I saw beautiful women dressed to impress, former hippies wearing long hair and sandals, bikers, military service members, foreign tourists enjoying the vicarious thrills of American decadence at its extreme and most of all, older Americans determined to enjoy the chance to beat the system and come away a winner, whether they had been winners or losers in the game of Monopoly that life in America has become. I saw delight in the faces of the young enjoying the bright lights at night and grim determination on the faces of some of the older visitors who were hunched over the one-armed bandits with mindless absorption.

I have often tried to imagine what could motivate someone to move to Las Vegas to live in this circus atmosphere. I was glad to have met some of the saner denizens of Sin City, who showed that even in such a place there are caring and involved citizens who have hope for the future of our nation, however misguided the nature of their hope. Getting off the plane on arrival to this place that to me was as hot as I imagined Hell to be, I had thought of myself as one of a couple of thousand people among the throngs of those who had come to indulge in sheer pleasure. Given the state of politics in Nevada, I had even wondered if we might outnumber the progressive population of the city that was not attending the convention.

I no longer feel lost among the legions of hedonists in this city and am reminded that everywhere I go, there are loving people who have and are hope for the future of Mankind. Strangely, even those who have no faith in either God nor ordinary men and women cling to hope wherever they can find it, because they too know that our children will share the world we leave them.

In the immortal words of Katherine Lee Jones:

O beautiful for spacious skies,
for amber waves of grain,
for purple mountain majesties
above the fruited plain!

America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
from sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
whose stern impassion'd stress
a thoroughfare for freedom beat
across the wilderness.

America! America!
God mend thine ev'ry flaw.
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
thy liberty in law.

O beautiful for heroes prov'd
in liberating strife,
who more than self their country loved
and mercy more than life.

America! America!
May God thy gold refine
till all success be nobleness
and ev'ry gain divine.

O beautiful for patriot dream
that sees beyond the years
thine alabaster cities gleam,
undimmed by human tears.

America! America!
God shed His grace on thee.
And crown thy good with brotherhood
from sea to shining sea.

Rick Staggenborg, MD

Las Vegas, Nevada

1 comment:

  1. Nevadans have shown themselves capable of at least a rudimentary form of reasoning in rejecting Sharron Angle as their newest Senator. It seems that living in the glare of the bright lights might have made them less susceptible to the glitter of the show the corporatocracy staged for her.

    Of course, now they have to be content with Harry Reid, who may have been the only reason that anyone took Angle seriously in the first place. Harry is not the worst of the Democrats, but as the Senate majority leader he certainly represents the overall mediocrity of the Party in fighting for the People. It just highlights the fact that corporations pay the production costs of all the actors in the great American show "Democracy."


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