Boulder has just made another list. Typically, our city is rated among the best places to live, the town with the best quality of life, or the best city for start-ups. But this time, Boulder has made the unenviable list of mass shootings in America. Columbine, Fort Hood, Newtown, Charleston, San Bernardino, Aurora, Pittsburgh, Orlando, Las Vegas, Parkland, Atlanta, and now Boulder.

Boulderites often refer to the Boulder bubble—meaning the unreal nature of the town with the stunning backdrop of the Flatirons, the city nestled up against the foothills with red-roofed university buildings. Before this week, Boulderites had a sense of safety and security. Bad stuff happened outside the Boulder bubble, but never inside.

That is, until March 22, 2021.

A young Syrian-born man decided to make Boulder the setting for his massacre. We may never know why. Maybe he was leveling a score. Maybe a woman in Boulder rejected him. Maybe he didn’t like yuppies, hippies, college students, or triathletes. Or maybe he had no reason at all.

Our friends, neighbors, fathers, mothers, siblings, and children were picking up groceries and medication and getting vaccines when this murderous man pulled into the parking lot of King Soopers grocery store and opened fire in the parking lot, the ramp to the store, and inside the store. He cut short ten lives of Boulderites who lived, loved, and graced our town with their unique presences.

We are forever changed. We are linked to so many other communities by senseless violence, by bottomless grief, by burning rage, by hopelessness. A feeling that no matter how many Americans are massacred by disaffected men, nothing will ever change. We just wait for the next bloodbath. Whether in a school, temple, theater, mall, nightclub, or grocery store, we map out the best escape routes. We will now grocery shop with hypervigilance, ready to abandon our carts and run for our lives at the first sound of gunfire.

For a year, we’ve been afraid of an invisible enemy, a virus that could potentially kill if contracted. An enemy we spread to each other through the simple acts of breathing, talking, laughing, hugging, and kissing. It seems cruel that connecting with loved ones, acquaintances, even strangers could sicken, disable, or deliver a fatal blow. We’ve hidden away in our homes, behind our masks, covered by our face shields, and have obsessively disinfected our hands. But that enemy, although deadly, isn’t malevolent. It’s simply doing what a virus does—replicates itself.

The other virus plaguing America—gun violence—is man-made, and theoretically in our control. The recent shootings in Boulder and Atlanta remind us of the ever-present malevolent enemy—other humans with assault weapons. Men with weapons of war fantasize about slaughtering people in the name of bigotry, infamy, or revenge. Or sometimes for no reason at all other than just to cause carnage. We can speculate about motive, but does motive really matter when people are dead?

What matters is that alienated, disturbed, disgruntled men have access to mass killing machines. And the truth is men will always have scores to level. Always. What we must do is limit their ability to amplify their rage. You may think this is going to be another plea for gun control that will fall on deaf ears—ears filled with mantras from a gun-loving nation. But, nope, it’s not. So many have tried for so long to reduce violence in America. Who am I to think I can persuade others to enact commonsense legislation? Columbine was 22 years ago. Countless mass shootings later, we’re still going through the familiar cycle of shock, thoughts and prayers, grief, anger, apathy, and back to normalcy. And we’ve hardly moved the public policy needle. Even after elementary school children were slaughtered.

This is an altogether different focus. Potential mass shooters have friends, siblings, and parents. What we need to do as a community of friends and families is to watch our loved ones closely—especially if they’re despondent, rageful, and becoming unhinged. Especially if they have a history of assault and violence. We must intervene before they move to escalate their rage and violent fantasies by acquiring killing machines. If they do, we must take away their weapons and ammunition and then talk them down off the ledge. It’s likely their violent fantasies are fleeting. Maybe being homicidal is like being suicidal, only turned outward toward others. Suicide interventions aim to offer love and support during acute times until the urge passes. It seems that homicidal interventions could operate in the same way.

With 390 million guns floating around in the US like an unchecked virus, our only chance is to stop the spread of bullets. We simply can’t let our murderous loved one loose on America. We can’t just throw up our hands and walk away. We must pull him into the fold; let him know he has a place in our heart and home, even if he’s difficult. We don’t have to like him, but we do have to love him. The love we give could mean the difference between life and death.

Smitten with Bernie's mittens? Sorry, they're sold out

If you think about it, Bernie’s mittens are exactly what we need right now. Bernie Sanders, a senator from Vermont, sat alone in a simple winter parka with hand-knitted mittens that stole the inauguration show. Isn’t it usually glitzy, glammy, sparkly things that steal a show? Isn’t it usually loud, flashy, opulent things? Isn’t it usually the best and the brightest? Yes, it is usually.

But we, the American people, don’t need that right now. We need the opposite of flashy. Why? We’ve had gaudy, flashy, loud, opulent, fake, lying, racist, criminal, corrupt, and batshit crazy for four years and we can’t take it anymore. We had a reality TV star turned president who lives in a golden tower and is—or was—dripping with gold. He had everything money could buy, yet he had nothing, really. He couldn’t buy the love he lacked. He couldn’t buy a compassionate heart. He couldn’t buy his way out of toxic narcissism. He was the poster child for the adage “money doesn’t buy happiness.” Yet his life is—or was—one so many aspire to.

So, what do we need instead of flashy?

We need simple, hand-crafted with love, folksy, down-to-earth, and authentic. We need exactly what Bernie stands for. While so many other politicians get swept up in the celebrity and luxury of modern American political life, Bernie remains a public servant—for the people, by the people. In the model of Jimmy Carter who has dedicated his life to service.

We, the people, have been traumatized by presidential gaslighting and leadership that drove our country to the brink of annihilation. Although our democracy was shaken to its core, it appears to have survived, but tragically 400,000 Americans did not, in large part because of a bungled pandemic response. And, still, thousands of Americans continue to die each day. Los Angeles had to relax its air quality standards to accommodate all the cremations because of Covid.

So, hell yes, we need comfort, like home-made mittens to warm our popsicle fingers too long exposed to the cold. We need comfort, like home-baked apple pie, to fill our bellies, knotted with anxiety and impending doom and hungry for sustenance, calm, and security. We need to know everything’s going to be okay. We need politicians like Bernie who aren’t cutting back-room deals with lobbyists with a wink-wink, pretending to represent us and bring us much-needed universal healthcare, economic justice, sweeping environmental reform, and criminal justice reform—things that would allay the widespread suffering that ironically brought us the most dangerous president in US history. That conman pretended to care. He pretended to hear our pain, our troubles. And people fell for it. Tens of millions of people fell for the con when all they wanted was to struggle less, worry less, and live more. Sure, some liked his unadulterated racist, sexist ways, but because millions of Americans who voted for Obama went on to vote for Trump, it tells me people were looking for real relief but instead got a conman.

So, a man who would wear charming mittens to a fancy-schmancy event is exactly what we need right now. His mittens and simple attire tell us he didn’t drop thousands on inauguration duds to impress attendees and television audiences. It tells us he lives his values. It tells us he might not sell us down the river for a kickback, a bribe, a personal favor, a fancy perk. It tells us he might just fight for us with his hands warmed by the now world-famous mittens.

“It is what it is,” said President Donald Trump in an interview in response to the staggering death toll from the coronavirus—200,000 Americans dead under his watch. Now that he’s hospitalized at Walter Reed Memorial with the deadly virus, is it fair game to respond to his situation by saying, “It is what it is?” Or is that too cruel? Some may say it’s indeed cruel—that I shouldn’t stoop to his level—and they may be right.

You know what else is cruel? The President knowing in February how deadly and transmissible COVID was and ignoring it, claiming it would go away. The President knowing the science and not following scientists’ advice and stark warnings. His reckless incompetence contributing to 7.3 million who’ve been infected and the 208k+ who’ve lost their lives.

You know what else is cruel? The President politicizing protection—like masks—that prevent infection, disease, and death. Mocking and criticizing Joe Biden and others for protecting themselves and others from a deadly virus. Not wearing a mask because he’s too vain or doesn’t want to appear weak or like a “libtard” and infecting others.

You know what else is cruel? Not following the lead of countries that had a swift and competent response whose economies are back up and running. According to a new Pew Research Center survey, overall, one-in-four adults have had trouble paying their bills since the coronavirus outbreak started, a third have dipped into savings or retirement accounts to make ends meet, and about one-in-six have borrowed money from friends or family or gotten food from a food bank.

You know what else is cruel? Members of the Trump family knowing they had been exposed to COVID and refusing to wear masks at the presidential debate, even though the Cleveland Clinic requires it. The President testing positive for coronavirus and still attending two events without social distancing or masking. And the President going on joyrides in a hermetically-sealed car when he’s supposed to be recovering from COVID, putting his secret service staff at risk.

You know what else is cruel? Trump receiving top-notch healthcare on American taxpayers’ dime while nominating a SCOTUS appointee who could rule to strip 20 million Americans of their essential healthcare during a deadly pandemic. Stripping Americans of their pre-existing condition protection, especially as a deadly virus rages and strikes people, leaving some with permanent health problems (aka: pre-existing conditions) is unconscionable any time, especially during a pandemic.

It’s difficult to have sympathy for the President when so many of us have worn masks since March. We’ve washed and applied sanitizer to our hands thousands of times, socially distanced, stopped giving hugs, stopped attending gatherings, stopped singing in groups, frozen gym memberships, exercised our living rooms. We’ve moved to online work and school, Zoomed with loved ones, only socialized with people outside–all to keep you and me safe. It infuriates me that a huge swath of this country, including the White House, is not keeping you and me safe. Why? Because the President said it was a hoax, would just disappear, was no worse than the flu, was getting better, was overblown, was just affecting Democratic districts.

If the President had followed the science behind the coronavirus, the economy could be up and running—maybe not at full tilt—but certainly in better shape than it is now with people and businesses struggling for survival.

If the President had followed the science, he would not be in the hospital with the coronavirus. How ironic that the man who thumbed his nose at a deadly virus has been taken down by that very virus.

Dare I hope that if the President survives, we will finally get a competent national coronavirus response? That he will be a changed man–repentant, grateful, and empathic toward other COVID patients? Dare I hope that he’ll stop his cruel trail of death and destruction?

It didn’t have to be like this.

Dear GOP Friends,

It cannot be stressed strongly enough that our democracy hangs in the balance. We are tipping over into fascism. And the reason people in the U.S. aren’t sufficiently afraid of fascism is because our democracy–as compromised as it has become–has remained standing. But, trust me, if the current president is reelected, fascism will come to America and when it does, it won’t be pretty. Think: dictatorship, military parades, tanks in the streets, propaganda instead of facts, a cabinet of sycophants, government agencies that bend to the president’s whims and preferences. (In fact, some of this is happening already.) Just ask anyone who has lived in such a regime. Please consider voting for the person who will restore and preserve our democracy–Joe Biden. I know you’re probably concerned about abortion and that is one reason you’ve stood behind this president. But the thing is: Amy Coney Barrett will likely be confirmed and Roe v. Wade may be overturned. And, even if it isn’t, the states are chipping away at abortion accessibility and availability, so you’ve got that base covered. If you like the current president because you’ve benefited from tax cuts, you probably have more money than you’ll ever need, so you’re good there, too. And finally, if you’re nervous about the radical left, Joe Biden is neither radical nor left. He’s a centrist. He hasn’t been hijacked by the radical left or the people you call “woke.” He’s old school. He’s a public servant. He cares about this country more than he cares about himself. He has spent his life working across the aisle. (Remember when our reps used to do that?) Maybe he can bring that back. Please cast a vote to save the republic. Thank you.

If I were black in America right now, I’d feel hopeful that white people and the society they’ve built sees me. Finally sees me. Tragically, another man had to die for white America to wake up, to set aside their digital devices and take to the streets with black and brown people and fight for a country that doesn’t stand by while police officers slaughter black men and women. To fight for a country that doesn’t stand by while law enforcement officers invade homes and murder blacks. To fight for a country that doesn’t stand by while black mothers and fathers have to tell their children how to behave if they want to live.

If I were black in America right now, I’d be nervous that the current mood is a trendy here-today-gone-tomorrow moment. Nervous that protesters will go back to their everyday lives and the pressure on the criminal justice system and law enforcement will subside.

And white people will forget.

They’ll forget how enraged and horrified they felt watching a police officer snuff out yet another black man’s life. They’ll forget the arrogant expression Derek Michael Chauvin wore as he suffocated George Floyd. They’ll forget that this isn’t just about one man. It’s about hundreds of men and women who’ve gone before George Floyd and the hundreds who may come after, if we don’t make dramatic changes to the police forces who have embraced killology and murderous predatory behavior sanctioned by “the law.” They’ll forget what they learned about living while black—that black people aren’t truly free in America. They’ll forget that they have liberties blacks can’t even dream of, like going out at night, without triggering suspicion.

I’d be nervous that white people, because they’ve never known black oppression, will go back to their lives of privilege while blacks are systematically denied the same privileges. The same ones they’ve been denied for hundreds of years. I’d be nervous that white people will not do the work within each of them to fight racism and, instead, buy the lies fed to them by a country and system that has benefited from keeping black folks down. I’d be nervous that white people won’t easily surrender because it makes them feel big to make blacks feel small.

If I were black in America, I wouldn’t let white people forget that black lives matter. That freedom matters. And opportunity. That social and economic justice matters. And change. Changing the systems originally set up by nervous white people to keep blacks down.

Of course, slave owners were nervous. Deep down, they knew that enslaving people was a horrible injustice. They were nervous that if slaves discovered their power, they’d rise up and demand to be free, demand to be paid, demand to be valued, and demand to be seen.

If I were black in America, I’d want whites to be uncomfortable so that when they look in the mirror, they’re haunted by the ghosts of the past. But I wouldn’t want their discomfort to stop there. I’d want them to open their eyes and see us, really see us. And never forget that until they take their knee off our neck, we won’t be able to breathe.

I wake up every morning ready for battle against an invisible enemy. I slip my mask around my neck and either wear it as an uncomfortable choker or a dorky beanie on top of my skunk-striped hair, ready to defend against incoming viral loads. If I’ve managed to score a pair of free latex gloves by hoarding them in the bulk section of the grocery store, I slip those on, prepared to handle potentially contaminated Starbucks cups.

I ask, Is my cup of Starbucks worth dying for?

I drive under a sign on the highway that flashes, Stay Home. Save a Life. Essential Travel Only! Is going to Starbucks essential travel? I’m one of the few cars on a normally heavily trafficked road, which only adds to my non-essential travel guilt. If I were to get pulled over and questioned, what is my alibi? Costco?

I order at the Starbucks drive-through, slip on my mask, and pull up to the window. Kayley, Ashley, or Haley, the perky window girl’s mask covers her mouth but not her nose, so basically, she’s a potential disease vector through her nasal passages. And she’s probably one of those dreaded asymptomatic spreaders—the ones who will get my Social Security when I kick the bucket too early to ever collect. I think, we’re not really six feet apart, so, according to an Austrian study I saw online, she’s protected but I’m not. I pray she doesn’t cough, sneeze, or laugh. I’m on droplet alert.

I ask myself again, Is my cup of Starbucks worth dying for?

I want to inquire, Has anyone at this store been tested for coronavirus, but I know the answer. Because no Americans, except Tom Hanks and Donald Trump, can get their hands on a test.

The girl says, “What are you up to today?” which seems extra cruel because it only serves to underscore what I’ve lost.

Well, normally, I would go to dance class, meet a friend for lunch, and then go to choir. I laugh and say, “Nothing, really. Quarantining.” Is that an activity?

“Oh, this is your big outing for the day,” she says like I’ve just broken out of a senior living facility.

I laugh again. Isn’t it everyone’s who drives through here? I mean, technically, we’re not even supposed to be out here, traveling non-essentially. So, in that way, it feels like I’m doing something extra naughty by going to a Starbucks drive-through.

She says, “That’s $7.05.” I hand her my card, thinking, even though she’s wearing gloves, does she change them between every customer? The last non-essential traveler could have had a contaminated card and now the little evil viruses stuck to her glove are on my card. And what if the barista who’s handing her coffee cups is infected? If she doesn’t change them after every order, how are gloves any better than hands?

When she returns my card, I think, now the little fuckers are on my gloves, which will soon contaminate the coffee cups, which will, in turn contaminate the cup holder. After the COVID cups are in the cup holders, I quickly strip off gloves the way they do it in surgery rooms—the way Sanjay Gupta on CNN demonstrated—and toss them on the car floor. Lots of potentially contaminated items I fear have accumulated there—mail, packages, gloves, and masks. I can’t remember how many days different materials stay contaminated, so I just leave them there for an eternity. Surely after an eternity, they will be coronavirus-free.

I grab the steering wheel with my uncontaminated hands and drive off, telling myself I have to wait until I get home to drink my coffee because the cup is now covered in coronavirus and if I take a sip, the little buggers will somehow get on my face, slide into my nose and eyes, and infect me.

I arrive home and cart my coffee inside, realizing I’ve just cross-contaminated my keys, my garage door opener, my garage doorknob and my house doorknob, which I’ll have to wipe with the Lysol disinfectant wipes that I finally scored after six weeks of empty shelves. It had seriously felt like I just won the lottery. The life lottery anyway—like now I might not die.

I grab a glass from my cupboard, but, oh shit, now the glass is contaminated. I wash my hands singing happy frigging birthday, twice, but it’s neither happy nor my birthday, which makes the whole thing extra creepy, like a horror movie where the monster is right outside the door while you’re singing. Or maybe it’s like a hostage situation where the captor has a gun to your head and you’re singing happy birthday before you die. Either way, it’s a sinister tune sung while trying to kill coronaviruses by manically scrubbing your hands until the flesh becomes bone.

After having watched a number of hand-washing videos on YouTube, I realize that I never washed my hands right in the first place and it’s amazing I’m still alive. I’ve grown to hate my hands with all their nooks and crannies. And my thumbs. Who knew the 360-thumb scrub was a thing before we became Covidians? And my fingernails? Who has the patience to scrub under each fingernail, where the coronavirus is certain to lurk?

I grab the Starbucks cup, pour it into the sterile cup, but the plastic touches the lip of the glass and I think, Fuck! I never disinfected the cup. Can I still drink it? The little buggers die in your stomach—right? I take a sip of my hard-earned coffee and realize I just re-contaminated my hand that I had just cleaned by singing happy birthday under soap and water for the 1000th time since my life was hijacked by COVID-19.

I ask myself again, Is my cup of Starbucks worth dying for?

Although they say America is divided, everyone agrees on one thing: politics are messed up in America. Congress is at a stalemate with Mitch’s desk acting a graveyard for bills. He’s the resident ghoul watching over the decay with his zombie eyes and twisted corpse smile. Meanwhile, his wife is worth a gazillion dollars, so he’s not feeling any pain wrought by the failure of the American system. The crazy clown show in the White House has sent cable TV ratings soaring and launched the careers of comedians but is getting evermore dangerous by the minute. Lying about things like inauguration crowd size (kind of like lying about penis size) doesn’t really hurt anyone. But lying about a pandemic, like the coronavirus, which by some accounts is predicted to strike 1/3 of humans, is very risky, and in potentially millions of cases, fatal.

We have yet to see the full havoc that COVID-19 will wreak on the planet, but it is spreading as fast as a California wildfire when Santa Ana winds are howling. We’re all hunkered down with our hoards of toilet paper. (BTW, why do people hoard TP during a crisis?) There’s a run on anti-bacterial hand gel and masks that don’t work. Welcome to your new OCD lifestyle. Our hands are raw from washing. Our faces itch all the time now that we’re not allowed to touch them. If we do go out, we can’t shake hands, hug, kiss, or even do the fist bump. All we have left is the Ebola elbow, to which I say: why bother? If someone’s coughing or sneezing, we give them a how-dare-you-be-out-in-public glare and then move away or leave the premises. We wonder if we should become shut-ins and have everything delivered. But what guarantee do we have that the delivery folks aren’t delivering our packages covered in COVID-19?

The media is sounding the alarm, reporting quarantined cruises with passengers unable to disembark, the entire country of Italy is on lock down, colleges are canceling in-person courses, corporations are cancelling conferences and nonessential travel. We’re advised not to travel, attend concerts, or sporting events. They might even cancel the Olympics. Pretty much all the stuff that makes life worth living. It’s good news for introverts, who are always looking for excuses to cancel social events but terrible news for extroverts. We all have to suffer because of that fucking creepy pangolin. Who among us doesn’t have pangolin anger?

But as awful as the coronavirus is, the pandemic is doing something our political system hasn’t been able to do. It is shining a spotlight on our systemic failures and inadequacies. Of course, some pundits, politicians, and activists have been trying to do this for a very long time, but because we’re so partisan and suspicious of the other side, and, frankly brainwashed, we have stopped listening and trusting. We’ve stopped believing change is possible.

A pandemic doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t just strike poor people, white people, or Democrats. No, like the Terminator, it relentlessly seeks its next host—no matter race, ethnicity, social class, sexual orientation, or political affiliation. It even strikes furries! The coronavirus is illustrating in stark ways that accessible healthcare for every human is essential if we want to stay healthy and alive. For example, if testing is unaffordable, people without the means will not get tested. Unless they become symptomatic, they won’t know they’re contagious and could transmit the virus to all the people they come into contact with. Which could be you, me, your kid, my kid. Wouldn’t we all sleep a little easier if we knew that our fellow Americans were being proactive about preventing, diagnosing, and quarantining? But if testing and/or quarantining puts people in the hole for several thousand dollars and they don’t have the money, they’ll sit this one out. And Operation Community Spread continues.

What about paid sick leave? Many Americans don’t have it, which means they will go to work sick, not because they’re douchebags, but because they won’t be able to pay rent if they miss work. So, when they come to work sick, they will infect their coworkers, who, will in turn infect you or me. Are you starting to see that the I-have-mine culture of the United States backfires in the face of a pandemic? Even for selfish pricks who only care about themselves, the I-have-mine-and-I-want-you-to-have-yours makes sense. It keeps selfish pricks healthy.

We protect ourselves by gathering and acting on science-based information. The CDC was established to keep us safe, not to boost presidential polling numbers. Well, our once-trusted CDC issued an advisory, telling seniors not to travel.The CDC advised seniors and immune-compromised people to avoid enclosed spaces with people. That sounds like the description of a plane to me. The only problem is none of us got the memo because the White House blocked this advisory. So, let’s say your 83-year-old mom thinks it’s fine for her to get on a plane to Toledo to go visit her sister. Well, thanks to the CDC leaker, your mom’s not going to die. By censoring, the President could have put your mom’s life at risk, all because he doesn’t want facts affecting his poll numbers. Oh, and did I mention that he barred coronavirus cruisers from disembarking in San Francisco because doing so would skew his virus stats? So, the cruisers can just rot in hell while the Pres is golfing in Mar-a-Lago, protecting his polling numbers.

And if disease and death weren’t enough reasons to argue for common-sense policies like Medicare for All, paid sick leave, and a President who doesn’t censor life-saving information, the stock market just committed suicide over the coronavirus and the President of the United States’ botched coronavirus response.

The coronavirus may just defeat the menace in the White House more handily than any political party or human opponent could. I guess it takes a scourge to defeat a scourge.

It’s less than a year until the 2020 election and yet it seems that it has been going on for a year, maybe two, maybe forever. It’s bad when you have election fatigue and the year has yet to start. The dozens of Democratic candidates clamoring for a chance to topple Trump, the ones elbowing their way to the debate stage, the ones spending tens of millions of their own money, all seem like they would be far superior to the crime boss occupying the White House. We’ve got Rhode Scholars, Harvard grads, self-made billionaires, seasoned senators, mayors, and so on. We’ve got passionate, measured, anger-tinged, boyish and brilliant, prosecutorial, and quirky tech candidates.

Why, then, does it feel like, as far as the Democratic ticket goes, all roads lead to Joe? Is it a failure of imagination? Is it fear and trembling that four more years of Trump will bring on the apocalypse? Or is it something else entirely?

Pollsters tell us that Joe has synched the African American vote, Rust Belt voters, some independents, and swing voters. He might even have some portion of GOPers who’ve defected from the Grand Old Party who think that an old white moderate won’t lead this country into a woke, sexual identity politics-driven, socialistic direction. Read: naked ranting hippies on weed wanting free stuff or swarms of refugees from south of the border also wanting free stuff. But mostly there’s a common belief parroted by hard-core establishment Dems and even some progressives that Joe is the only candidate guaranteed to beat Trump, the only one who can win the much-sought-after Midwestern swing voters and centrists.

But is it even true?

The reason I ask is that Hillary was supposed to appeal to Midwestern moderates and African Americans and even though she won the popular vote, she lost in the electoral college to an unqualified, sexist, racist, cheating scoundrel. Forty percent of eligible voters saw the choice and sat out the 2016 election. That’s almost half of American voters who were overcome with apathy by Hillary versus the buffoon.

Here’s the thing: I don’t know one person for whom Joe is their first choice for POTUS. So, who are these people being polled boosting Joe’s poll numbers? Sure, most of my friends say they’d vote for him if he were the candidate. But will the apathetic voters of 2016 sit this one out too if Joe is the candidate?

Every time I watch the debates, and I know I’m not alone, it feels like I’m watching gymnasts compete in the Olympics. You know how you brace yourself, anticipating falls on the beam and uneven bars, crashes on the horse and mat? Similarly, I sit in a pre-cringe, hoping Joe doesn’t say something that reveals he’s dealing with early phases of dementia. Take his record player comment. He said to parents, “Make sure you have the record player on at night.” Vinyl is hip among hipsters, but I’ll bet Joe doesn’t know that. He was tapping into his 1970s record playing years. And, heck, I don’t blame him. Those years were my favorite too, but the world has moved on.

So far it seems Joe is offering this to the American people: I’m Obama’s guy and I’m better than Trump. I don’t have socialistic leanings like Bernie and Warren. But who is Joe Biden, really? If we vote for him, will we get Obama 2.0 or just the anti-Trump agenda? Granted, both would be better than what we have now, but just because things are careening toward the abyss, does that mean we have to play it safe in the voting booth?

History tells us that playing it safe isn’t really safe. Case in point: Gore, Romney, Kerry. So, what if we remind ourselves that Uncle Joe actually isn’t safe and that a candidate with a bolder vision for America and the fire power to make it happen is? Once the crowded Democratic field winnows, we’ll be less distracted. Then we’ll be able to rally behind the bold choice the Democrats will offer American voters in 2020.

The world has gone mad. Hillary Clinton is accusing Tulsi Gabbard, a pacifist surfing congresswoman of being a Russian asset and a friend of Assad. Thinking about how her aloha spirit aligns with genocide and authoritarianism is enough to make your head explode. Hillary’s claim is either a crazy conspiracy theory or evidence she has her hands on some hot intel the rest of us aren’t privy to. And if it’s intel, shouldn’t she just tell us that? Rabid, self-righteous Still and Forever Hillary types are saying of course Tulsi is a Russian asset. Duh. And they are attacking everyone on social media, left, right, and center. Three years out, they still hold a grudge against Bernie, Jill Stein, Jim Comey, Putin, Russia, polling stations, and progressives for denying HRC of the crown she deserved. It was her time after all! They won’t admit that if an incompetent, narcissistic, corrupt, racist buffoon could beat her, she was a weak candidate. Yes, I said it. Their social media trolling smacks of Russian-backed attempts to drive a wedge between moderate Dems and progressives, thus dividing the party and giving Trump a second term. (God forbid. In fact, if there were a god, she would forbid it.)

We have a so-called President who has committed so many impeachable offenses, those on the left have lost count and those on the right don’t care. That President, in his latest foreign policy disaster, claims everyone is happy even though we’ve pulled the plug on the Kurds, our long-time ally in fighting ISIS, to which his daughter-in-law said, “No one knows who the Kurds are, so whatevs.” Her stunningly heartless and ignorant response sums up how many Americans feel about groups of people they’ve never heard of or can’t locate on a map—which is almost everyone except for themselves. They certainly don’t have time to delve into the issues, because they have Netflix series to binge-watch and things to buy on Amazon Prime to keep the capitalist machine humming. They’re so busy binge-watching and buying stuff they don’t notice the continuing slow-motion heist by the billionaires at the top who don’t yet have enough. Really? How much do they need? They’re apparently not going to stop until they have all the riches. Hoarders are psychologically disturbed unless they’re hoarding lots and lots of money and then they’re gods.

The gods must be crazy. And so are the men.

We’ve got Bernie Sanders, an octogenarian who just suffered a heart attack on the campaign trail as the frontrunner for the Democratic Presidential nominee buoyed by younger voters. In other words, they don’t care that he’s as old as their grandpa. The we-should-vote-for-him-cuz-he’s-the-only-person-who-can-beat-Trump candidate, Joe Biden, seems to be tragically suffering from the early phases of dementia, disqualifying him for the highest office in the land. But, in the bizarro land we’re living in, deranged thinking doesn’t disqualify the person who currently holds the office. And that person is playing Santa Claus to our former enemy—Putin—granting him everything on his wish list. Apparently “naughty or nice” doesn’t apply to him. So far, the theories on Trump’s motivation to be traitorous are a combo of Russian hookers with dirt, golden showers, debts to Russian oligarchs, and authoritarian envy.

It’s raining plastic, the Amazon is burning, the rising oceans are the Earth’s waste bins, air is unbreathable, glaciers are melting way faster than predicted, bees are croaking in record numbers, millions of species are going extinct, and some believe that banning plastic straws will save the planet.

Meanwhile, in Hollywood, a former Desperate Housewife is serving prison time for a college admissions scandal over her partying daughter who couldn’t of her own merit get into an Ivy League school, a storyline so bizarre even the writers of the once-popular series couldn’t have come up with it. Of course, her prison time is quaint in that it’s a two-week slap on the wrist when men and women who’ve committed far less crimes are serving time for decades. But she’s rich, white, and a celebrity.

What the hell is going on? Is this what happens in late-stage capitalism? According to Wikipedia Late-stage capitalism, is a term first used in print by German economist Werner Sombart. Since 2016, the term has been used to refer to perceived absurdities, crises, injustices, and inequality created by modern business development. Annie Lowrey in the Atlantic writes, “Late capitalism, in its current usage, is a catchall phrase for the indignities and absurdities of our contemporary economy, with its yawning inequality and super-powered corporations and shrinking middle class.”

Here’s the thing: we need to stop. We need to unplug. We need to resist predatory capitalism. We need to stop producing and buying more stuff. We need to stop consuming crazy-ass news that drives ratings that makes ad-buyers happy. We need to stop perpetuating conspiracy theories. We need to learn who the Kurds are and why they matter. We need to stop attacking each other. We need to find common ground. We need to let go of Hillary and her ilk—so-called safe candidates who lose—and embrace a bold, new vision for America—one in which people don’t have a price tag. We need to remember who we were before everyone was for sale.

I grew up with the Jackson 5. In fact, they were home-state heroes. Hailing from Gary, Indiana—just minutes away from my dad’s hometown in Hammond—they almost felt like neighbors. I spent my school years in Indianapolis belting out “ABC” and “I’ll Be There” with the radio in my dad’s convertible Mustang. It was impossible to sit still when a Jackson 5 tune was playing.

Then when Michael launched his solo career, I fell more deeply in love with the man and the music. His tunes inspired my dance and copying his dance moves—minus the crotch grab—made me ecstatic. I was caught up in the MJ hysteria for decades. Then Thriller was released and although it was masterfully spooky and met with wide acclaim, I started to see the darkness of Michael creep in. And the anger. If you contrast his joyous boyhood performances with his later ones—especially in the 1990s, you see him twitching with rage. The pure delight he once conveyed on stage was supplanted with a palpable darkness.

There have been whisperings that he was abused by his father—possibly even sexually. But according to research, the absolute risk that any given victim of sexual abuse will go on to become a sexual offender is very low.

At the apex of superstardom, rumors surfaced about his penchant for boys. We heard accounts of sleepovers and slumber parties with pre-pubescent boys. Jesus juice. Porn. Masturbation. The backdrop of a theme-park-styled ranch designed to attract and delight children. A predator’s web artfully created to lure his prey. Then there were accusations of child molestation. And the trial. But he was acquitted—flying doves and all.

All the while, I kept my blinders on and remained in the camp of people who believed the parents of the boys were fortune-seekers. For me, MJ moonwalked on water. I never wavered because I wanted to believe that my guy, Michael, the creative genius and sensitive soul, wasn’t capable of such monstrous acts. And, to be honest, I didn’t want thoughts of these unconscionable acts to interfere with my enjoyment of Michael’s music.

After watching Leaving Neverland, which was painful to sit through, I have little doubt that Michael was a plotting, manipulative pedophile, grooming boys and their families. If the accusations and accounts are true, he sexually assaulted little boys believing or convincing himself that he was expressing his deep love. But he allegedly didn’t sexually violate his own children, so, if true, a part of him knew what he was doing was wrong. He victimized other people’s kids but protected his own. That shows consciousness of guilt.

I’ve spent days after watching Leaving Neverland filled with grief and anger—but mostly rage. I’m enraged that no one intervened. Based on interviews with his sister, LaToya, in the 1990s it seems the family knew about his pedophilia but did nothing, or, if they did, it didn’t stop Michael’s behavior. Was it because he was the family’s gravy train? Was it because they didn’t want to be extracted from the Michael Jackson payroll?

When someone is as rich and famous as Michael Jackson, people in the orbit of such a superstar never say no, and if the person is sick, that allows the warped behavior to continue unabated. The mothers of Wade Robson and James Safechuck appeared to be star struck, benefiting from the perks, possibly paid off, and loving the limelight, so much so that they failed to do the one thing parents are charged with doing—protect their children. Take away Jackson’s star power, money, and make-believe ranch and the equation was this: thirtysomething man wants to sleep with a 7-year-old boy. Alone. To not see that this is warped is to want to believe that the privileges Jackson was doling out didn’t come with a price. In essence, the mothers made a deal with the devil; the price was the lives of their vulnerable, trusting children.

Abused children can seem fine until decades later when, as adults, their lives unravel. That’s because children are resilient and in survival mode during childhood, which, let’s face it, can be brutal. Adults who withstood trauma as children are vulnerable, fragile, and broken. They’re lucky if they ever heal enough to be whole. I ache for all Michael Jackson’s victims—for all the Robsons and Safechucks that we’ll never know.

As much as I would like to continue to delight in the tunes that have brought me joy for so many decades, I can no longer separate the man from the music.