The Professor winced when he got out of his flight capsule.  He had to keep reminding himself of how crucial his assignment was, that every little bit counted.  No matter how hopeless it seemed.

“Remember, you’re doing sacred work, Henrik,” he muttered under his breath.

A rag-tag crowd of natives was already beginning to gather, gawking at his ship. A few of them cheered and applauded, but most just stared, stone-faced.

Naomi bounded out to meet him.  She looked energetic as ever, no matter how much human misery she witnessed on a daily basis.

“Thank you for agreeing to come here, sir,” she said after hugging him. “This is a rough area.”

“Rough areas are my job,”  he replied, his Swedish accent making the word “job” softer. Not all of his colleagues at World United agreed that the charity missions to Merka were worthwhile. He couldn’t blame them.  Visiting a place like New York wasn’t too bad–it was quaint with all the red brick, and the traffic-clogged streets and old-fashioned subways, but one still felt connected to civilization.  Out here, though….

“What part of Virginia are we in again?”  he whispered to Naomi.

“Western Virginia, sir,”  she whispered back.

The Merkans continued to eye him with suspicion, but they also started quietly lining up, knowing that a World United flight meant food and aid packages for them.  It was a heart-wrenching sight: a long line of silent, ragged figures, pretending to be too proud to care about the hand-out they were waiting for.

But Naomi was beaming at him. “We’ve got something very special lined up for you today, sir.”

He gave her a weary smile.  She led him carefully down the steps from the landing pad, and then down a narrow, uneven sidewalk, manoeuvering him past a large pothole.  On the other side of the street was a row of the typical small shacks Merkans lived in, holes covered with blue tarp, walls stained by the smoke from the town factory.  He could sense the residents peering at him from their doorways, but they were blocked from approaching him by a mix of local police and World United security.

They stopped underneath a flashing blue sign which read Debbie’s Cafe.

“We wanted to treat you to the best Virginia has to offer,”  Naomi said, showing him to a table on the side patio of the cafe. A server immediately jogged up with a styrofoam tray of greasy fries.

He would never admit it to anyone back in Europe, but Henrik enjoyed some of these exotic Merkan foods quite a bit. They never did switch to the health service diet over here. Of course, they never did get a decent health service, either.

Naomi interrupted his fascination with the fries when she tapped him on the shoulder and pointed to a red-headed boy who had climbed a small podium and positioned himself behind a cheap portable keyboard.

After an announcement by a community center music teacher which Henrik didn’t pay attention to, the boy began to play.

It was a halting but graceful version of the old Cohen classic, Hallelujah. As the sounds melted away into the humid Merkan afternoon, Henrik was once again overcome with wonder. It was here, among these simple people in their slums, that he could find something akin to spiritual enlightenment.  He breathed it in.

The kid was talented.  He listened for a while with his eyes closed.  After the song stopped, the teacher and Naomi clapped with great enthusiasm.  Henrik walked up to congratulate the young musician, and the gaunt and nervous mother hovering behind him.

Henrik shook the boy’s hand. “Excellent job!  That was amazing!”  he said.  “Would you please give me your contact info?  I could get you a visa for anywhere in the Northern World Region.  You could study music at a real university.  What do you think, huh?”

The boy blushed and gazed at the ground.

His mother looked even more nervous. “I don’t know about that, mister,”  she said.  “I listen to the radio news and they’ve explained all about World United.  It might not be so good for him.”

He should’ve known. He had heard this so many times before. “Surely he won’t be able to get any real music training here, is he?”

“If we work hard and we save our money up, we might be able to get there,”  the woman said.  “At least here in Merka, we have the freedom to try.  My child isn’t going to be oppressed by a one world socialist government.”

“He wouldn’t have to live there forever,”  Henrik explained.  “And he would be free to make his own choices…”

“Yeah, if he chooses to be a gay snowflake,”  the woman shot back. “Look, his teacher wanted him to perform for you today, so I let him perform.  But I’m not letting you take him anywhere. We’re still the best country in the world.  I don’t care what anybody else says.”

The professor suspected that he was getting at least some of this hostility courtesy of his dark skin. The white Merkan natives always seemed to have an issue with that.

“That’s right.”  An older man standing nearby nodded vigorously.  Henrik couldn’t tell if he was a father or a grandfather. Most of his teeth were missing, his body bent from a lifetime of grueling labor.  “That’s right.  I thank God every day that I was lucky enough to be born in Merka.”

“Living in the rest of the world is not quite the nightmare you imagine it to be,”  Henrik said.  “We lead very normal lives.”

“Nope.  Nice try, but you can’t fool us,”  the woman said. “I listen to the Han Stannity show every day.  Good man.  He gives us all the information about what really goes on over there–how they tax you to death, how the only way you can get medical care is through the government…”

Her son stared at her, wide-eyed.

“We know the truth!”  the woman finished triumphantly.

Henrik bowed to her and her son.  “I suppose if you’ve found out the truth about us, there’s not much I can do to persuade you otherwise.  I wish you all the best for your future, young man.”  For a moment, his mask of politeness slipped.  “With all due respect, though, Han Stannity is a complete moron.”

He turned and slowly walked away.

“You can go fuck yourself!  You and your country!”  He could hear the woman screaming after him. “We will bomb the shit out of you!”

That would have been a scary threat, Henrik thought. A scary threat…about fifty years or so ago.

Naomi was waiting for him, her face drawn, her hands folded together.  “That was so disappointing, Henrik. I’ll have one of the event organizers speak to them.”

The professor waved his arms. “No, no, don’t.  It’s not necessary.”

He sat down and went back to sipping his beer. Now that the woman was done screaming, she and her family began making their way to the World United food and medicine distribution point.  There would also be doctors available there to give them free medical and dental exams.

He didn’t feel any anger as he watched these fiery warriors for liberty rushing to claim assistance from the institution they so hated.  He realized their fist shaking fury was a symptom of their total powerlessness.

He smiled at Naomi across the table.  “Please, don’t look so anxious, my dear.  I have never lost faith in the value of our mission.”

“It just breaks my heart that a man like you, who only wants to help others, gets treated like this.”

This would be the perfect time to hop on his return flight back to Stockholm.  In fact, it was way overdue.  He was done with this place.

“Naomi, this isn’t all about me helping them.  The truth is, these people help me.  They help me find gratitude–gratitude for what we’ve got in the rest of the world.”

And as she waved a tearful goodbye to him and he climbed back up to his flying ship, he added to himself:

“Where else could I go to feel this superior?”



Lucky Subjects of America!

I am happy to report our mission has been accomplished.  America has been Made Great Again.  We used to be Number One, now we are Number One Plus Plus!  We can count ourselves fortunate to be here for this glorious moment in our country’s history.

Our medical technology is the best and most innovative in the world.  One might worry that this would mean too many of us would live for too long, but luckily it’s also the most expensive medical technology in the world, and our health care system ensures that survival of the fittest (or, in this case, survival of the wealthiest) still applies.  Those in the working class will not burden the system after their productive and useful years are over.  Successful individuals, on the other hand, can be kept functioning in a vegetable state long past their expiration date.

The women of our nation are grateful to have been returned to their sacred feminine role.  No obstacle stands in the way of their freedom to birth countless babies.  Their labor may be unpaid, but it is the most important and holy work of all:  providing a supply of workers for our fast food restaurants, and soldiers for our neverending wars.

Speaking of which, our battles around the world are bringing us unprecedented victories–we are paying more money for more foreign military bases than before, and are able to grant the gift of democracy to the vanquished in those lands.  Haters might call us the Evil Empire, but we are ready and willing to fight anyone who questions our commitment to peace.  And now that our southern border wall has been extended to cover all four sides of the country, we can guarantee absolute safety to our fellow Americans, and keep them protected from nefarious eastern, western and northern influences.

Another nefarious influence which we have nearly completely succeeded in rooting out is that of the heathen Commie god named “Jesus.”  Our churchgoers pray to the Prosperity God and plead daily for His blessings.

Our enemies claim that we have turned America into a Third World nation.  We will not argue with this ludicrous assertion, except to say that even if it were true, we would be the best Third World nation ever.  Nobody can Third World the way we Third World.  Our tent cities are bigger than your tent cities, loser.

So don’t be afraid to embrace the MAGA, Americans!  Today, our nation stands unified–not least because anyone who dares to disagree has a good chance of getting “vanished”. Let us vow to ourselves that if we sacrifice more money, health and sanity to Our Dear Orange Leader next year, we can make America even greater!

This blog post dedication goes out to a very special presidential candidate…and the way he’s changed my life.

As some of you may know, I work in the health insurance industry, for a local company which shall remain nameless.  Yes, it feels paradoxical to be working in that field when I’m a supporter of a single payer system, but that’s life for ya.  Working in insurance may seem like the most boring career path ever–I’m like Kafka without the brilliant novels–but over the years, I’ve enjoyed my job and found some good friends among my co-workers.  It’s been a nice stable paycheck, and I was hoping to keep working there for years to come.

And now the company I work for is imploding.  Why?  Well, there are multiple factors, but a major one stands out.

When insurance companies agreed to join the Obamacare exchange, the government promised them payments from something called a risk corridor program.  This was meant to compensate them for the fact that they would be taking on a large number of new customers who had been uninsured for a long time, and thus would be very sick and would need costly treatment.  This turned out to be true, and costs for the industry have been even higher than expected.  If anything, this is evidence for just how broken our healthcare system was previous to the Affordable Care Act.  All these newly insured Americans are now finally receiving care for medical conditions they were often forced to neglect because they couldn’t afford to have them treated.

I certainly do not expect sympathy for insurance companies in this scenario.  However, the risk corridor payments were supposed to make the transition to Obamacare smoother and keep the health care infrastructure from falling to pieces.  Supposed to.  But only 13% of the risk corridor money which was promised has been paid out.  And it’s all because of that one very special guy.  Yep, Marco Rubio.  Marco cut most of the risk corridor money out of the budget, and he’s very proud of it.  He brags about being the only conservative who has truly succeeded in damaging Obamacare.  Because it’s so much more important to stick it to the President than to allow Americans access to health care…

So now, insurance companies across the country are going out of business, employees are facing layoffs–and the truly frustrating thing is that Obamacare is getting the blame.  I’m hearing it myself around my own workplace.  It’s easy to think that it’s Obama’s fault, if you haven’t heard all the facts.  Rubio knew what he was doing.

Okay, so saying that I’m not voting for Marco for President is a bit of an empty threat–it’s not like I was going to vote for him before.  Still, I’m definitely never voting for him now. Not for dogcatcher.  I’d gladly vote for Bernie over him.  A shoe could be running against him and I would vote for the shoe.  Call it a personal grudge.

Say it with me, everyone:  elections have consequences.  Think there’s no difference between the candidates?  Think it’s not worth your time to vote?  Nope, nope, nope.  My future, and the future of almost 2,000 other workers, hangs in the balance right now because of the actions of one man.  Vote like the quality of your life depends on it… because it does!!!

After a long, exhausting day, I curl up in my bed and turn on the large screen sitting on my bedroom cabinet. And when I’ve stared into it for a while…suddenly…it’s all okay.

It’s okay that my spend my days at my overwhelming, soul-draining job because, hey, there’s always a chance that I might get on a reality show someday and win a million bucks. Maybe I’ll be the one who isn’t voted off the island. On Survivor, the Blue Collar team can beat the White Collar team, even though in real life they wouldn’t have a melting snowball’s chance of it.

It’s okay that a soldier gets his limbs blown off in one of our pointless wars, because he can still go on Dancing with the Stars.

It’s okay that there are parents out there who can’t afford medical care for their child, because the local news will tell me a heartwarming story about how their neighbors held a bake sale to try to raise the money.

It’s okay that Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are both part of the same oligarchy running the nation, because the debate between those two is going to be so exciting!

It’s okay if I make less than a man, because Beyonce will sing me a song about how girls run the world.

It’s okay if tigers go extinct, as long as we have enough dogs left to do stupid pet tricks.

Bright colors flash into my eyes and happy tunes jingle into my brain, until I finally pass out, the tension leaving my shoulders and back, the white noise of our entertainment culture droning on…It’s gonna be okay…It’s gonna be okay….

The important thing to remember is that there is a rational answer to every question.

“Teacher, they’ve been draining my blood for a long time now. I’m starting to feel weak. When will it stop?”
“So you want the people who pump your blood to lose their jobs? And the people who transport it, and sell it? What do you think that will do to the local economy?”
“But I will probably die if this goes on.”
“Well, the free market gods don’t owe you your life. How selfish can you be?”

“Teacher, our food is trash. Can we request better quality food?”
“You do realize that will make it more expensive, right? Is that you what you want, for everyone to have to pay more?”
“I guess not.”
“Exactly.” *dangles smart phone in front of student* “Now look at the shiny toy and relax…relax…”

“Teacher, I’m ill. Do I have the right to medical care?”
“Oh, sure–medical care! What will you ask for next? Free Internet? A limo and a mansion? Why do you want to get something for nothing?”
“But I work for you.”
“So? I don’t have to give you enough to live on in return.”
“I don’t think I like this arrangement.”
“If you don’t like it, move on. Find someone else.”
“All the other free market gurus are assholes too. I don’t think they’d treat me any better.”
“That’s not my problem.”

“Teacher, I’ve lost my retirement money in the stock market.”
“Well, that’s your own fault. You chose to invest it.”
“So you’re saying I should keep my money out of the stock market?”
“Of course not! You can’t do that. If you don’t invest, you’ll never have enough for retirement.”
“Huh, I’m confused. Now what?”
“It’s up to you! Isn’t it great to have all this freedom?”

“Teacher, I’m working harder and harder, and barely surviving. I’m not able to afford health care, or an education, or a retirement. I’m paying a fortune for wars around the world. I need your help…what am I supposed to do?”
“You’re supposed to show gratitude for how great your life is! Say thank you.”
“Thank you, Master.”

Well, the election is just a few weeks away and my mind is in pieces. Politically speaking, I’m stuck in a no-man’s-land between disappointment and anxiety. I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling this way right now.

I’m disappointed by the airstrikes in Syria. Disappointed that no matter which party is in power, we keep doing our perpetual war thing. Our addiction to constant military conflict seems to be a train which has jumped the tracks and cannot be stopped by anyone. I just hope it doesn’t end with our country’s demise.

But I’m anxious that if the Republican side gains too much strength, they could do even more damage. Their openly stated goal from the beginning has been to block and get in the way of anything the President proposes. I can complain about the Middle East, but thanks to the Affordable Care Act, my mother has health insurance for the first time in years. Repealing the ACA would have a real effect on my life and my family. Also, I’m in no mood to see the guys in Congress try to force more socially conservative stuff down our throats.

Having Obama in office hasn’t made as much difference as I had hoped it would. But having more Republicans in the House and Senate could make a bigger difference than we think it will.

So the disappointed side of me will continue to shake a fist at all the pictures of pretty, pretty missile explosions which my TV box keeps showing me. But the anxious side of me will vote for and is signing up to volunteer for the local Democrats in our state.

The rest of me remains in no-man’s-land.

Funny how the politics business works these days. President Obama’s tenure isn’t even over yet, but there’s already a committee planning the Obama presidential library, with places such as Chicago, New York and Hawaii competing to be the location for it. And, as with anything else involving this President, there’s already controversy. Political leaders in Chicago were proposing to offer a $100 million down payment to lure the library foundation to their city, but other locals are asking why tax money should be contributed to this project.

Here’s a simple idea for saving tax and donation money. There’s already a George W. Bush presidential library in Texas. Why not just blend the two together into a state-of-the-art Bushbama Republicrat Library & Museum? Imagine: on the soothing green of the library grounds, we could gaze at a monument to the glorious military-industrial complex, including a sculpture honoring the Unknown Job Creators. Inside, we could attend educational exhibits on topics such as the importance of continuing to be embroiled in the Middle East (and of keeping Guantanamo open), why health care services are better when there is a profit motive involved, and of course a water feature displaying the delicate process by which stock market gains will one day trickle down to the rest of us. (That one takes a little patience.)

Doesn’t that sound delightful? And hell, why wait? Let’s tack on a Hillary Clinton wing right now.

See? Even a progressive like me can come up with good budget-cutting ideas.