Friday, May 13, 2022

Enforce the Laws

Trump's rallies have always had a special moment where the crowd breaks into the chant "Lock her up! Lock her up!" Sometimes the chant erupts repeatedly, spontaneously, while Hair Furor speaks. Originally it meant they wanted to lock up Hillary Clinton, but the target is not really terribly important. It could be Anthony Fauci, Nancy Pelosi, Hunter Biden, President Biden himself; women are the preferred victims. Kamala Harris is a favorite.

This chant has a strange appeal to conservatives. It is a pure, concise icon of their belief system: we don't want to debate with liberals, we don't want to listen to their over-eddy-cated ideas, we want to throw them in prison.

The new fascist movement is almost literally peasants with pitchforks and torches storming the castle. It is not literally that because, though we have seen torches, I at least have not seen pitchforks at these rightwing events. Also, they like to attack and occupy state and federal capitol buildings, and not actually castles. But the fact is, the magas want to take direct action and punish somebody, bypassing legitimate pathways. Jail would make them happy, though they are in favor of execution of liberal leaders. Assassination, torture, whatever.

Of course the problem with that is that the US has stuff like a Constitution, laws, processes for charging people and giving them a fair trial. No matter how frustrated conservatives are with our system of government, the idea that we would imprison political rivals without a criminal conviction is deeply un-American. It runs against the most fundamental principles of our way of life. You cannot claim to support freedom and liberty and also set up gallows to execute political leaders without a trial. This logical inconsistency is obvious to any reasonable observer. But still: conservatism is the defiance of hypocrisy.

These days, the Democrats control Congress and the Presidency and have the ability on many levels to investigate and prosecute big-time criminals who are trying to break our country. These are not neighborhood burglars, these are people who grab hundreds of millions of dollars at a time from government accounts through tax evasion, subsidies, fraud, bribes, nepotism, and other kinds of corruption. They make sure tax cuts go to people who don't need them, and that ordinary people do not benefit from government programs that would make their lives better; they redirect government money to their friends and families rather than to the most qualified contractors and corporations, or to citizens in need.

We do not hear Democrats chanting "Lock them up." In fact what we see is that Democratic leaders, including district attorneys and leading Justice officials, are afraid to use legitimate government processes to enforce laws that were established with good reason, for the benefit of the people of the country.

Maybe their focus groups are telling them that it would "look bad" to prosecute criminals who belong to the Republican Party. Maybe it would "look political." And so we have people like Mike Flynn, Steve Bannon, Alex Jones, Donald Trump and his family members and his former Cabinet members and advisors, all of them who ripped off the American people throughout the Trump years and now are running around promoting anti-American ideas and candidates who will implement them. We have people with pending sex charges, corruption charges, frauds and grifters, seditionists and liars out on the streets, enriching themselves while they do their best to try to bring our country to its knees.

The media direct our attention to the petty things, and we fall for it. "Illegal immigrants" are not getting all the baby formula. A Black women's lacrosse team is not smuggling drugs. Shooting Black guys for cracked tail-lights does not make us safer. Our media and our attention focus on petty incidents while billionaires and millionaires, preachers and politicians and gigantic corporations are robbing us blind. Why does the US have the worst technology in the developed world? Why do we have the worst healthcare? We pay our taxes and where does that money go? It goes to fund the arms industry and it goes into the pockets of billionaires and corporations with armies of lobbyists.

Joe Biden has a lot of good ideas, programs that really do make life better for people. He has increased employment, he nearly eliminated child poverty, wages are up and crime is down, except for gun crime. He is handling the situation in Ukraine skillfully. But his approval ratings are dragging the bottom. And why is that? It's because he is coddling criminals. Our leaders, from the top down, are too cowardly to enforce the law. People know the insurrectionists must be stopped, but our leaders won't stop them.

It is not enough to provide good services to the people, especially when you have preachers, posers, and politicians up and down the country telling people that the Democrats are communists and pedophiles. Our elected leaders need to defend our values and our country, aggressively and strongly.

We had an attempted coup, once the greatest country on the planet and now we are like some little dictatorship somewhere, with maga rednecks smearing their poop on the walls of our Capitol while Congress crouches behind blockaded doors. A violent insurrection, organized and directed by the president and his inner circle. Some of the suckers and minor-league sociopaths who went into the Capitol are getting jail sentences, while all the ringleaders -- all of them -- run around free, undermining our way of life. Congress and the Justice Department are afraid to disturb them -- oh, you don't want to obey a subpoena, no prob man, sorry to bother you. The corrupt rich and powerful are becoming exponentially more rich and powerful and our elected leaders are afraid to do anything about it.

The Constitution was carefully written to support robust government in the face of political abuse. Our government was designed to survive even when some citizens have criminal intentions. The justice system was set up to support and defend an orderly, secure, lawful way of life, and it is time to use it as it was intended. Maybe some defendants will be found not-guilty, fine. Try them. Put the evidence on the table. Bring consequences.

The recently leaked Supreme Court opinion regarding abortion, once it is issued, opens the door for the courts and the federal government to take away a lot of rights besides the right to manage your own reproduction. I do not personally understand the motives of people who want to take away American citizens' rights, but tighten your seatbelts, 'cause here we go. The rightwing Supreme Court is delivering the totalitarian state that the Republican Party dreams of. They are starting with abortion and you can expect your rights to drop like flies after this.

You will not get your freedom back once the unprosecuted criminals have had their way with our country. We need to enforce laws, from the Hatch Act, bribery, and emoluments, and up to fraud and tax evasion to foreign-agent violations, to perjury and conspiracy and sedition, to protect the system that makes lawful civilized life possible in the first place. But the media and government leaders are afraid of "how it would look."

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Gun Crime

Americans believe that crime is increasing, out of control. People in the middle of the country believe that the coastal cities are literally on fire, with looting and rioting and robbing and raping going on everywhere you look. They're afraid to come here. Every night the news goes on and on about escalating crime, and people believe it.

But the odd fact is that crime has been declining, even in the cities, for the past couple of decades. The country is safer than it ever was. Of course we can blame the media for this misinformation, and in particular we can blame their habit of going to the police for their facts. Police spokesmen have their own point of view, they want funding for the department and they want job security for officers and you can't blame them for that. But the result is not necessarily an objectively accurate narrative assessment of crime in the US, you might say.

On the other hand, one kind of crime is increasing. If this category gets recognized at all, it is typically called "violent crime." It includes homicides and felony assaults. Like, after a guy shot up the Van Ness neighborhood last week, just across the line from our little county, the Washington Post had this information in their news story:

[D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III] noted that on Friday and Saturday, police responded to a total of 10 shooting incidents with 15 victims, including a shooting of a man in a wheelchair and the shootings of three people in Brightwood Park. Both attacks occurred as police were in the midst of tracking down the sniper, evacuating buildings and securing the area around Van Ness.

Also over that 48-hour period, a construction worker directing traffic was shot by a person on a ride-share bicycle who was upset with delays, and a man was fatally shot and stabbed during an argument at a birthday party. On Monday, as the mayor’s briefing was wrapping up, a person was fatally shot in Northeast Washington.

Police said they have seized 969 illegal guns in the District this year, a 50 percent increase from this point in 2021.

School was in sniper’s ‘crosshairs,’ but link is unclear, D.C. chief says

That's a lot of violent crime. But let's give it a more accurate name: gun crime. These are all incidents where someone shot someone with a gun. These deadly crimes might have been fistfights or shouting matches, except somebody had a gun.

Gun control has become one of those things that politicians can hardly talk about, because the rightwing noise machine will drown them out. Remember, "Obama's gonna take our guns away?" Whatever happened with that? They hated him because he was going to take their guns away, which he never mentioned and never tried to do. He should have, but the issue is simply too controversial to touch, even for a skilled negotiator like President Obama.

If you try to peel away the layers, you conclude that the problem is too complicated to solve. And yet, the Unites States is the only country on the planet that has 1.this kind of belief that guns are sacrosanct, and 2.this kind of murder rate. The problem is not complicated; everybody else has figured it out. Somebody just has to do something.

New York's subways had a mass shooter a couple of weeks ago, guy shot ten people and a bunch more were injured in the crowd scene. Good guys with guns did not prevent the crime, or interrupt it. The subway system is swarming with cops -- last January the mayor announced a plan to have uniformed police on every platform in the whole system. There were cops all over the place when the shooter caused havoc and then got off the train, exited the station, and wandered around the city until he phoned in his own location for them to come arrest him. Police did not stop him or catch him, even though the NYPD's budget is more than ten billion dollars.

In other words, you cannot solve the gun problem by increasing the number of armed policemen. That sort of escalation does not work for one simple reason, which is that the "bad guy with a gun" always has the advantage of surprise. You could have one cop for every citizen, trailing them around, watching their every move, and still a citizen could grab his gun and shoot somebody before the cop could respond. Sorry, but that's the truth. Constant police surveillance is not the solution. Also, I don't know why anybody would even want to live like that.

The solution is to do what every other civilized country does: control access to guns. Yep, take 'em away. Melt 'em down. Use the metal in the supply chain. Nobody needs an AR-15 in their house. Nobody needs magazine clips with unlimited capacity. People with arrest records for violent crimes can do enough damage with their fists, they don't need the power of bullets when they lose their self-control. There ought to be some training for gun owners, some screening, periodic testing. Other countries do it, we can do it.

People around the world look at American gun violence and say, "That is crazy." And any reasonable person has to agree, this is crazy. Guns do not make anyone safer, they only make everyone less safe. And yet there is no serious movement to do anything about the problem.

It's as if there were a religious taboo on this subject, we are not culturally permitted to mention it. The Second Amendment is, for one thing, not grammatically clear, and for another, it was written during a time when "arms" were primitive compared to what Joe Shmoe can get now. Guns have a place, hunting is a worthwhile thing to do, and a pistol might make you feel safer in your house. But ... back to the guy last week at Van Ness, from the same Post piece:

Raymond Spencer had six firearms in the apartment on Van Ness Street, including three fully automatic rifles, the chief said at a news conference Monday. He said police found thousands more rounds of ammunition inside another residence in Fairfax County, Va., and parts to assemble three additional firearms.
Now come on, you know this is crazy. It's time for reasonable people to speak common sense about this topic and solve this uniquely American problem.

Saturday, April 09, 2022

The New "Grooming" Lie

This new "grooming" thing is weird and scary. The roots of hypocrisy run insanely deep on this one, and I just hope that ordinary people have some lick o' sense and can tell when the TV personalities, preachers, and politicians have gone too far.

The Washington Post explains, on this morning's front page:

In the charged debate over what and how children should learn about sexual orientation and gender identity, some mainstream Republicans are tagging those who defend such lessons as “groomers,” claiming that proponents of such teaching want children primed for sexual abuse.

Further, "some mainstream Republicans" are using the same slanderous concept to slime old-school Republicans who do not take the new fascism far enough.

Pizzagate was a conspiracy theory that said that prominent Democrats, including Hillary Clinton and her inner circle of advisors, were conducting some sort of child-trafficking sex ring. It was bizarre theory that saw secret pedophile code-words hidden in emails and secret messages implied in business logos, and somehow it came down to a punk-rock pizza place, just outside our little county, a place with artichoke pizzas and ping-pong tables, a place you took the family, where the team would celebrate a win. These nuts were sure that Hillary and her people had babies in the basement of the pizza place and were killing them and sumpn sumpn sex stuff.

QAnon continued that theory and expanded on it, where Donald Trump was going to secretly lock up all the child-molesting Democrats and purge the world of this cabal of powerful pedophiles. This is crazy stuff, yet conservatives are consumed by fantasies about pedophilia.

I was going to share a list of prominent Republicans arrested for child molesting and child pornography, but the list had almost 300 names on it and was just too much to post here. Oh, one of the names on the list was not a pedophile but was having sex with a mule, which ... how do you get caught doing that? Their latest thing is for Republicans to promote state bills dropping the age requirement for marriage, so adult men can marry children. Real pedophilia is an actual problem for conservatives. Trying to turn the tables on liberals is a little, uh, obvious, and it is hard to tell whether rank-and-file conservatives buy this stuff but history suggests that a lot of them will.

What we today call "conservatism" can almost be defined as the defiance of hypocrisy. Doing what they accuse others of is their calling-card. Liberals are criticized when they are inconsistent; it would be too tiring to treat Republicans the same way.

Now these people have started accusing liberals of "grooming" children for sex, by teaching them about sexual orientation and gender identity in middle-school and high school sex-ed classes.

It is serious to accuse someone of child molesting. It is irresponsible to make those accusations with no evidence, sometimes accusing blanket groups of people of sexually molesting children, again without a grain of substance. This is not a matter of differences of opinion. This kind of lie is intended to make Republican voters despise and hate Democrats, to think of them as devious sexual predators, to see them as legitimate targets of violence.

It is frankly depressing. These people will say anything, they really don't care if it's true or not. There are gay people, for real, and there are transgender people. It may be hard for Republican voters to understand, but it is an objective fact of the real world. Gay and trans people exist, and have since the beginning of time, in all societies. Everybody is not the same, and some of the differences fall on dimensions having to do with romantic attraction and gender.

Teaching students about this does two important things. First, for that minority of students who are becoming aware that their sexual orientation or their gender identity is not the same as most of the other kids, it gives them a way of understanding themselves, and learning they are not alone. They learn what it's called, and they can read and learn more if they want. This is much better than sitting there feeling like the only freak in the universe who has ever felt this way.

The second thing is that it teaches the heterosexual, cisgender majority of students that variations in orientation and identity are a normal kind of diversity. Everybody's different, and some people are different in these ways. It isn't something they chose, it's just how some people are, and they can still make good friends and colleagues, just like everybody else. Making fun of them only makes you look ignorant, like the Congresswoman who said, "[gay Cabinet member] Pete Buttigieg can take his electric vehicles and his bicycle, and he and his husband can stay out of our girls' bathrooms." A small amount of education could have prevented that embarrassment.

The thing is, these are some deluded people. We see them trying to end American democracy, they even tried to disrupt traffic on the Beltway hee-hee-haw-haw-haw. They are obviously not real smart about thinking things through, and they are prone to behaving impulsively on the basis of unfounded rumors.

So when rightwing TV pundits and politicians and preachers start saying that liberals are grooming children, as if we were all child molesters, they are putting innocent people in danger. You don't reason with pedophiles, jail is not good enough for them, when Bubba finds out somebody "likes kids" he feels violence, even murder, is appropriate.

It is important to teach about human sexuality. Our society is sexually twisted into knots, there are so many things -- untested rape kits, blocked investigations, churches moving priests around, pay disparities, this would be another long list -- and a little objective reality can only help. Yes, you learn about sperm and Fallopian tubes, and you learn that your armpits will stink and your pubic hair will grow, and you learn that most teenagers will be attracted to the opposite sex but some will not, and some small number of people have been assigned the wrong sex at birth, and they may need to begin to correct the problem before puberty changes their bodies in permanent ways. It doesn't hurt anybody to take a few days of class time to go over these topics. It does not encourage anybody to turn gay or decide to change their gender. And it has nothing to do with cultivating a generation of sexual victims for perverted liberals. These are just facts about human beings, and we all make better choices when we are better informed.

Monday, March 14, 2022

The Right to Make Sense

There's a lot going on these days but you might have noticed that Republicans have become very concerned about transgender people. They are passing laws regulating medical attention for trans people, keeping transgender people out of athletics, stopping any mention of trans topics in school; Texas passed a law saying that parents of a trans child can be convicted of felony child abuse, and other states are trying to pass similar laws. They want neighbors, schoolteachers, doctors to report parents so they can be charged with the crime of having a transgender family member.

It's a political strategy that works for Republicans. In real life, nobody is actually upset by someone's gender identity. Trans people are just people, you might do a double-take and then it doesn't matter. It literally does not hurt anything, does not affect anybody's life in any way except for the one person, who is pursuing happiness just like anybody.

So here's the game -- and conservatives do this over and over, we saw them try it here in our little county a few years ago. Out of nowhere, they start complaining about something that is not a problem -- on the topic of gender identity two favorite starter issues are bathrooms and sports, because they can bring these up as "what-ifs" without anything actually happening. Some preacher or lawyer starts complaining to the press and of course the press is happy to write about "the issue." If a preacher explains that something is sinful or even evil, many people just don't know any better, and believe what they are told. Next thing you know they are passing laws making life miserable for some citizens who have not hurt anything or anybody.

If you are comfortable with your birth gender then it can be difficult, if not impossible, to imagine what it would be like to have people treating you like someone you are not. You cannot blame people who don't get it, if they have not had a trans friend or family member or given it much thought. It "seems" easy, penises on this side, vaginas on that side, and most of the time that's how it works, but not always, and it can be hard to explain. On the other hand it is not hard to accept, either. There have always been trans people and somehow society managed to function. It does not affect anybody, and it should be nobody's business.

As conservatives start obsessing loudly over this, somebody has to come out and say, wait a minute, this isn't even a problem, and that will be liberals. And next thing you know, liberals are using unfamiliar words like "nonbinary" and giving press conferences about rights for trans people, and then the conservatives will claim liberals are "promoting" or pushing something that seems weird to unschooled countryfolk. These days they are saying that liberals are "grooming" young people for some kind of sexual exploitation, as if there was no other explanation for treating people fairly. Of course in the meantime they have passed a bunch of hateful laws, taking away the rights of transgender people, who are not a big part of the voting population and can't win in a majority-rules system.

People out there reading the newspaper don't know any better, they don't know what's going on. Millions of conservatives actually believe that liberals are literally pedophiles. It's not just that one pizza place. Fox News is telling them that Democrats are grooming children for secret liberal child-orgies, and people who don't know any better believe it.

This is absurd but you can't ignore it, you have to fight for the right to make sense in this crazy country. This is not something that will correct itself automatically, people will only get dumber and dumber if we do not stand up to this nonsense.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Expecting a Fascist Win

A lot of people these days feel like the fascists are going to win. There aren't very many of them and it is not clear what they stand for, but they are committed, they are loud, they cheat behind the scenes as well as out in the open, and they have the support of the media. Their political positions are so dumb that it seems like a waste of time to even argue with them, and so they keep claiming new ground. They're banning books, censoring history lessons, they fight -- often violently -- in favor of perpetuating the covid pandemic, they support police brutality and vigilante violence. Apparently white nationalist fascism "makes sense" to some people. But their points are so ... not-rigorous ... that it is impossible to debate or negotiate with them.

The startling thing is that it's so asymmetrical. You've got Republicans being investigated for human trafficking and large-scale sexual abuse, multimillion-dollar financial crimes, working secretly for foreign governments, and yet the media will focus on how wasteful and hypocritical it is for Joe Biden to fly home to Delaware for the weekends. They have literally criticized him for going to church. Biden's biggest scandal is the unproven assertion that his son's laptop had bad stuff on it, personal sex videos and files from his druggie days. Not even Joe Biden's own laptop, his adult son's. And the allegation is almost certainly false. On one hand, we have flagrant criminals hoping the next election will save them from going to prison for real crimes. On the other hand, we have a religious family man with a hint of a stutter and some policies that our country has long needed, as we slip farther behind the rest of the developed world in almost everything except incarceration, infant mortality, gun violence, and covid deaths.

The Republican Party has stopped having a platform. They can't say what it is they want to do for our country. They dropped the idea of proposing policies for the last election and won't have anything next time, either. Also, for the next Presidential election they have already said they're not going to debate. Because, honestly, it doesn't matter what they'd say. They are against something, and that's all it takes, fear and anger. The Democrat will propose a problem solution and the Republican will say, "I'm against it," and that's their position. That's the debate, so why bother? They do not have solutions to any problems, only complaints, and you don't need to commit yourself to a platform or debate anybody for that.

It won't matter that the GOP does not stand for anything. White people are mad after years of progress by minorities and they are blaming everything on inclusive liberal politicians. People don't know what Biden has done for them, because the media are not saying anything; the public is vaguely aware that there was a "spending bill," because, everybody knows, spending is what Democrats do. But nobody knows what was in the last bill, or the next one.

This week Newt Gingrich said the January 6 commission should go to jail. You remember the "Lock Her Up" chants that Trump's followers so enjoyed. You might remember when the federal government killed Michael Reinoehl, Trump said, "This guy was a violent criminal, and the US marshals killed him. And I’ll tell you something — that’s the way it has to be. There has to be retribution when you have crime like this." Rand Paul says that Anthony Fauci deserves five years in prison. In the coming America, this is how it will be. They won't bother with arresting people and fluffy stuff like trials; troublesome political rivals will get what they deserve, administered by government goons and rightwing hit-men, like in a bad movie.

These are people with no understanding and no respect for the Constitution and the justice system we have in place. Violence replaces lawfulness, as one group ascends to unearned dominance over all others in the country. And it is hard to oppose them when their message is this dumb. Joe Biden is not a communist, or even a progressive, he is a mainstream Democrat who holds popular views on most things. Fauci is not a sadistic monster and big fat liar. Vaccination does not kill you or make you turn socialist or shrivel your testicles and masks do not infringe on your personal expression. Russia should not be attacking Ukraine, and refugees and homeless people need help, not more punishment. Yes, there is racism; various groups in the US are treated unfairly. The earth really is getting warmer, there is a reason for the fires and the huge storms. The 2020 election was fair and Joe Biden won it. It is tedious to argue about these things. They are not real controversies, they are made-up issues that don't make sense, have no evidence to support them, and reasonable people really don't want to have to spend their time talking about this.

These aren't things worth arguing about, and it's hard to get regular intelligent people engaged with these topics when there are real problems that need solving now. So while Democrats are trying to make things better, conservatives are threatening violence over nutty non-issues. They are changing the rules for voting, moving district boundaries, putting their own people in charge of monitoring elections, putting judges in place, school board members. You can't vote them out of office if they have twisted the voting laws so they can win with a minority. Unless you have a better idea.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Antifa

I'll tell you something that bugs me: antifa.

In an attempt to head off the violence expected the following day, on January 5th, 2020, President Trump instructed the Secretary of State to consider adding Antifa to a list of “aliens who are members of an identified criminal organization” within the country’s Foreign Affairs Manual. A 2019 Senate bill called for "the groups and organizations acting under the banner of Antifa to be designated as domestic terrorist organizations." A bill was introduced in the House of Representatives this year, "calling for the designation of Antifa as a domestic terrorist organization."

The day before the Capitol insurrection, the President issued a statement:

Pundits now theorize that the President actually believed that an organization called "antifa" existed, and he was preparing to have the National Guard protect the nice "pro-Trump people," swooping down on antifa when they tried to disrupt his coup. Then Trump could declare martial law and cancel the certification of the election results. The non-appearance of antifa spoiled the plan.

Fox news and other media went ahead with their part and reported that antifa was actually responsible for the January 6th attack on the Capitol. (Dr. David Duess has even published a 212-page Complete List Of Antifa Members In Capitol Building Riot -- one reviewer wrote, "A thorough and well vetted list of AntiFa terrorists caught trying to undermine the Democracy of this great country of ours. Every patriot should read and try to grasp the magnitude of this book") All the people arrested so far in conjuction with the January 6th attack have been Trumpers.

In small towns across America, warnings have gone out that antifa was planning to attack, and patriotic locals would go downtown with their guns and gimme caps, and in every case antifa saw the turnout and went chicken, didn't even show up.

I'm old enough to remember protesting the Vietnam War. They called us, sensibly enough, "anti-war protesters." There were usually some pro-war protesters as well but not enough to give them a name, maybe "hard-hats" because a lot of them were construction workers. Anti-war protesters were not usually very well organized; if you had somebody with a hammer and some tacks they could put up posters and everybody would show up for the demonstration. You didn't join anything, you just went to express yourself with millions of other Americans.

There were some well-organized civil rights groups in the mid-twentieth-century with names, like the NAACP or the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, that had members and leaders. You knew if you were in it or not, there were offices and membership lists and roles in the organization. There were also groups like the Black Muslims and the Black Panthers, who took a different approach but again, you were either a Black Panther or you weren't. You might agree with them and go to their events. but that didn't make you a Black Panther.

On the other side you had groups like the Ku Klux Klan, fighting against racial equality. There were lots of these groups, the point being that on both sides there were real organiztions, with members, and headquarters, and leaders. There were also lots of people who sympathized but did not wear the hood and gown, they might even show up for the violence but you were either in the KKK or not in it.

During the Iraq War I marched in some protests in DC that had two or three hundred thousand people in them, massive parades, miles long. They called anti-war protesters "anti-war protesters," or, maybe "liberals," or if you wanted to be inflammatory you could call them "lefties," but that would not appear in a news story. Most people weren't members of any group, they just opposed the war and protested it.

Donald Trump rose to power on a movement that is correctly described as fascist. It is an authoritarian white supremacist movement that seeks preference and power for a certain segment of the population. They don't like Black people or uppity women or gay and transgender people. Also don't like Jews, Muslims, atheists, or foreigners. Or liberals. They believe that laws apply to other people and not to themselves. This group of people doesn't really have a name because they are used to being the default American. Every television show was about them. They starred in every movie, played every sport, they ran every big company and got all the good jobs there. If you ask them what group they belong to, they will say "we're normal Americans," because as far as they know everyone is just like them, or should go back to where they came from. There was a suggestion to label them "Deplorables" but they also run the newspapers, and that did not stick.

Trump's followers walk around with heavy guns, intimidating people. They start fights on airplanes and in grocery stores when they are told to wear a mask during the pandemic. Groups of them go into cities and vandalize them, shoot people with paint guns or bear spray, start fights with residents. They display a lot of patriotic American symbols as a way of asserting that this country belongs to them and they don't want to share it -- they even refer to one another as "patriots." These people are fascists, even if they are too dumb to know what the word means. Their beliefs coincide with a way of thought that is generally considered by decent people to be an evil force that should be stopped. My father, for one, took a load of shrapnel and nearly lost his life over Europe opposing fascists. Many Americans died for that cause, and we grew up proud that we stopped Hitler.

It turns out there are many millions of people in the country who do not agree with our fascists, and sometimes they come out to protest the increase of racism and authoritarianism in the country today. It would be reasonable to call these people "anti-fascists." Most of them do not belong to any organization, they just have common sense and some knowledge of history.

A rightwing agitator/writer named Andy Ng, in the Pacific Northwest, is most directly responsible for popularizing the myth of antifa. He uses the term for any liberal person or group who challenges the fascist crush for power. He has almost single-handedly created the image, now a cliche on Fox and other Republican media, of antifa rioting, looting, starting fires. He regularly claims to be a victim himself of the awful violence, though nobody ever sees it happen.

Rightwing media took the ball and ran with it, further mythologizing antifa as a well-funded and highly organized group. It is believed by many conservatives that George Soros himself, who in reality has nothing to do with it, is sending paychecks to protesters for marching in the streets, committing violent acts, vandalizing the cities. Rightwing media show video of street violence and claim that it is "antifa," and millions of ignorant Americans think that antifa members use their Soroschecks to loot and vandalize cities and attack "normal Americans" on the street. Out in the flyover states they believe that coastal cities are too violent to visit, because of antifa looting and violence.

Antifa is said to dress in black, that's how you know it's them, unless it is a rightwinger in disguise. Antifa are said to be extremely violent and highly organized and they take orders from a secret cabal of ... nobody really knows. Communist China, maybe. Atheists? Somebody bad, that's all we know.

So listen, have you ever seen an antifa website? Have you ever seen an antifa office building? Have you ever met anyone who said they were a member of antifa? Have you ever received a fund-raising email or text message or robo-call from antifa? Have you ever seen antifa supporting a political candidate, or calling for a boycott, or carrying a banner in a march? Have you ever seen a reporter go undercover into an antifa bunker, compound, or training exercise? Has any TV show ever had commentary by an antifa pundit, or even quoted an antifa official or representative? Have you ever seen an antifa yard-sign, flag, "antifa" on a cap, in a song? Antifa grafitti? Have the police ever busted an antifa arsenal, or actual pile of bricks or concrete milkshakes (hee hee) prepared by antifa? Can you name any real person you have ever heard of, in the news, on TV, anywhere, who said they are a member of antifa?

Does that not seem a little strange to you? The Republicans literally wanted to declare antifa a terrorist organization, but ... what organization? You can read all the organization's beliefs and official positions on their website: antifa.org.

Antifa is the creation of rightwing media. Everything you have heard -- dress in black, looting, attacking conservatives -- is fiction. There is no such group. Oh somebody might loot after the police murder someone, maybe even start a fire, there are counterprotesters at Nazi rallies, but calling them "antifa" is simply made-up. Antifa, or anti-fascist, means somebody who opposes fascism, which should be all of us. It's not an organization, not a club, cult, party. Just like we were anti-war protesters, these are anti-fascism protesters, people who oppose the authoritarian takeover of our constitutional democracy.

Responsible citizens should be wary of the way that our media are able to create the myth of such an organization and drill it into the public's collective brain, and responsible citizens should ask themselves why the media are doing this, what they get out of it, and what it means for our future as a country.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

A Defense of Education

Authoritarianism does not work for educated people. When the leader says something absurd, people who are able to judge for themselves remain unpersuaded. This is the simplest political fact there is.

The educational system works from bottom to top to produce experts -- individuals who are knowledgeable in their field, who know not only the subject matter but the research methods that produced that knowledge, alternative theories, the history of the topic and ideas that have been tested and discarded. These experts know when to trust a fact and when to doubt it even if it is supported by some evidence or arguments. Their opinion is not based on confident-sounding assertions of truth, but on the actual fact that they know what they are talking about. Experts can disagree among themselves and they can be wrong, they are typically constantly adjusting their beliefs in response to new information. An authority is a person with power, whether it is deserved or not. Non-expert authorities can appeal to faith or common sense arguments, metaphors and analogies, and they can be right sometimes, but there is no system behind them for validating and providing the most erudite and up-to-date knowledge of the time.

The consequence of course is that dictators oppose education everywhere around the world. The universities come under attack, teachers and professors come under attack, as well as artists, activists, scientists, and innovators; people are mocked for using "ten-cent words," and the value of an education is literally measured in terms of the dollars that it adds to a student's lifetime earnings.

Job-training programs are worthwhile but they are not education.

By defining the value of knowledge within an economical frame, authoritarians are able to steer students away from intellectual pursuits such as philosophy, literature, and basic theoretical scientific research, and towards majors that will help them find a place in the ongoing corporate system of business. The goal is to reduce intelligent human beings to consumers and producers, unquestioning participants in an economy where wealth continues to flow toward the already-rich. Discouraging the pursuit of knowledge as an end in itself is a way to keep the population ignorant and dependent on authoritarian leaders who can say "Only I can solve these problems."

It appears that Republicans are gearing up to make education the wedge issue of choice for the next election cycle. In the recent race for the governorship of Virginia, the tide turned when Youngkin attacked McAuliffe for saying that he trusted teachers more than parents to educate kids. Republicans treated this as some kind of attack on the family, but it was really an opportunity for them to further undermine the institution of education. School boards are being threatened across the country, rightwing radicals are demanding that books be banned and even burned, they want public schools to support white Christian values, and that's all.

Here ya go: we'll pick a parent each day to teach a lesson in the classroom. Monday, Mrs. Jones will teach the kids how to solve quadratic equations; Tuesday, Mr. Smith will walk the kids through the battles and shifting alliances of the French and Indian War. Wednesday, Mr. Jackson will explain the Bernoulli effect and how airplanes fly. No, come on, parents are not qualified to educate children, that's why we have schools. Teachers have a prepared lesson plan, and even if you don't solve quadratic equations in your adult life it is important to know how mathematics works at that level, that there are things you can do with symbol manipulation and the laws of logic that give correct results. It's important to work it out on paper, to grasp the fact that logic works, that the world makes sense if you know the facts and the logic that connects them. Even if you forget how the Bernoulli effect works, it's good know that there is a physical reason that airplanes fly, and it isn't just angels holding them up there.

The idea that parents should decide what is taught in school is ridiculous. We saw it in our county with sex education, where noisy rightwingers demanded that absolutely nutty ideas should be taught in the public schools, and today we are literally seeing prize-winning books being banned, book-burning advocated, as school boards try to dumb down to parents' demands on matters of sexual identity, race, immigration, and other topics that require careful critical examination.

We already have fragmented, personalized knowledge. The Internet quickly figured out how to give end-users information that is tailored to their personal preferences. If you search for a term on Google on your computer, and I search for the same term on mine, we will get different results. If you are conservative, you will get conservative results, and I will get liberal results. And if authoritarians have their way, people will send their kids to schools that, following economic principles, "give the customer what they want." If you don't think quadratic equations are important, then you could send your kids to a school that doesn't bother with that stuff. Black people can send their kids to Afrocentric schools, white people's kids can learn history with no mention of slavery, Christian kids can study creationist biology, and over time knowledge will become even more fragmented and unreliable than it is now. We will be more dependent on authoritarian leadership to guide us confidently but wrongly through the confusing mess of actual reality.

Historically, white Americans literally sailed ships to Africa and kidnapped people who were living their ordinary lives there, brought them to this land and forced them to work without pay or any rights. The entire Southern half of the country depended on that forced labor to develop industry and wealth, and it was not unknown in the North. Today a significant proportion of the country's population is descended from those African people, and any history that avoids or whitewashes that episode of our past is ... just wrong. Of course it doesn't sound real good to say that white people kidnapped Black people and held them as slaves, but it happened, and the consequences of that activity are part of our daily life now -- you simply cannot understand American culture without knowing about slavery, the Civil War, the Reformation, segregation, lynching, Jim Crow -- ragtime, boogie-woogie, jazz, blues, hip-hop... None of it makes any sense if you don't know what happened.

Note that understanding history does not directly help you find a better job; there are not a lot of jobs out there for historians. If we define our educational standards in terms of production and consumption -- skill learning -- then it is not necessary to teach history accurately. But if we treat knowledge and critical thinking as being inherently valuable, then we can cultivate a society that makes well-informed, intelligent decisions that pave the way toward a history that future Americans will not have to sweep under the rug. Democracy, rule by "we the people," requires accurate knowledge and good skeptical critical thinking. And, by the way, a well-educated person will be qualified for the best-paying jobs.

An educated public will be resistant to authoritarianism. You can't just toss out slogans like "death panels," or "communist," or "critical race theory" and tell people these are important forces in the real world, because educated people have the intellectual confidence to distinguish what's real. This month a Republican politician literally accused Big Bird of being a communist -- do you think people who understand communism believe that? Or even people who know that Big Bird is a person in a costume? It is embarrassing that anyone would even think of this, never mind the millions of people who hear the statement and believe it. Knowledge and logic -- education undermines the effectiveness of this kind of absurd communication.

I am not optimistic about this. Neither political party seems to have any desire to shift away from a view of citizens as consumers-and-producers, neither party seems to be ready to advocate for knowledge and critical thinking as ends in themselves. Ivy-League-graduate Republican congressmen mock the Ivy League elite and their voters are too stupid to notice the hypocrisy, while Democratic politicians always describe the value of education in terms of employment and wages -- producing and consuming. Sometimes it is important to know things just to know things, so that when someone tells a falsehood or presents invalid logic you have the mental ability to identify the errors and not be persuaded by them. Dictators always go after the intellectuals, and there is a reason for that.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Putin Comments on Western Values

The textbook case of cognitive dissonance is when somebody you can't stand says something you agree with. What are you supposed to do? You can dislike them less or find some reason to disagree with what they have said, or both -- it is hard for human beings to hold conflicting thoughts. You want to be on the same side in everything, or on opposite sides. It's basic psychology: we want our thoughts and feelings to be consistent.

This crossed my mind as I flipped through yesterday's Washington Post and encountered a headline:

Putin slams trans rights and other values of the West.

(Online version: "Putin slams ‘cancel culture’ and trans rights, calling teaching gender fluidity ‘crime against humanity’") This is the least surprising thing in the world, isn't it? Of course Putin opposes rights for transgender people and "other values of the West."

Putin stressed that his country should adhere to its own “spiritual values and historical traditions,” while steering clear of “sociocultural disturbances” in the West.

These statements of Putin's do not induce the slightest amount of cognitive dissonance in an American reader. I do not like Putin and his authoritarian ways, I would not want to live in Russia, and I also like Western values and think "sociocultural disturbances" tend to be healthy for a community, strengthen individuals' sense of autonomy, freedom, and strength, and they are fun. I don't like him and I disagree with him: no dissonance.

Republican readers also will feel no sense of cognitive dissonance upon reading Putin's statements, but for the opposite reason. He embodies their ideal as a strong and manly leader, and of course he opposes trans rights and other values of the West, which they also oppose. They like him and agree with him: no conflict there.

I don't know if Republican leaders get literal envelopes of cash from literal Russian oligarchs. I don't know if Putin has his people call their people every morning to tell them what to do and say. I don't know how it works, but clearly there is a well-funded and well-organized global movement to eliminate individual freedom, to assign more power to the state and to the very rich, and Putin is a leader of this movement and one of its least embarrassed spokesmen. Because the movement opposes Western values, American politicians have to veil their motives, hiding behind religious privilege and using words like "truth," "patriotism," and "freedom" in ways that are the opposite of their usual meanings.

The global authoritarian movement has infiltrated American society in a way that I would never have imagined, growing up during the Cold War and after the Allied victory against the Nazis. Putin's words here would be unusual for an American, we normally speak up in support of personal freedom, we encourage differences among people and individual uniqueness as a cultural foundation. Our country's history has been a story of the broadening of acceptance for people as they are. Where Constitutional rights were initially awarded to the small group of white male landowners, over the centuries the gift of freedom has expanded to include more people. We rejected the ownership of human beings and gave rights to the descendants of freed slaves. We eventually gave many rights to women, including the right to vote. Our country recognizes that sexual orientation and gender identity are not qualities that should affect someone's right to participate freely in our society. The goal of Western values, I think I can say, is for "we the people" to explicitly include all the people. It is not a goal we have attained yet, but our historical momentum marches incessantly in that direction, even against constant opposition from the outside by leaders like Putin, and from within by Republicans, Nazis, white nationalists, and others.

I kind of like the ring of that phrase, "sociocultural disturbances." It is almost as if the West engages in some kind of ongoing revolution, pushing back against the suppression of liberties, one sociocultural battle after the other, expanding its definition of freedom until just about everybody has it. This is disturbing to the Putin/Trump authoritarians who feel they have the right to determine the standards and values that everyone should comply with, and it is empowering for the rest of us. This empowerment of the ordinary citizen can only come under democratic rule, where voters decide how policies will be implemented.

The simpler term instead of "spiritual values and historical traditions" would have been ideology. The are many kinds of "spiritual values" in Russia, as well as in our country; in the US these are not broadcast and enforced by the government, though Americans aligned with Putin's values do endorse the merging of church and state (as long as it's their church). "Spiritual values" in this kind of context comprise not only attitudes toward deity and the afterlife, but judgment and punishment of our fellow citizens as well. There is obviously nothing in Christian, including Orthodox, scripture about transgender people. Yet Putin as well as many evangelical Americans consider it a "spiritual value" to despise certain of their fellow citizens and to make their lives as miserable as possible, to deny them rights solely because they fail to comply with a particular in-group's social gender norms.

Western values encourage the expansion of history, as well. It is generally held that "history books are written by the conquerors," but an enlightened, scientific history is one that tells the story of a society without taking the point of view of one participant or group over another. Conquerors tend to be cruel, and the history of that cruelty can be told from the perspective of the colonialists or from that of indigenous, conquered, or exploited populations. This is the conflict behind the current Republican opposition to "Critical Race Theory" or any teaching where white people might have been unkind or unfair to a minority group. Western scientific values promote a historical narrative that is objectively accurate, not one that glamorizes the victors with fictions and half-truths.

Putin's allies are working hard to undermine our Western values in the US. Supporters of his ideology are moving into official positions in the states and counties, poised for the moment when they can eliminate the troublesome habit of a democratic vote and install their leaders regardless of the will of the majority. They are disrupting and changing the norms of our federal government processes to accommodate outbursts and violence, defying norms and laws, ignoring the dignified protocols that have evolved in centuries of governing by officials who respected Constitutional law. These opponents of Western values make up a small minority of our population but they are relentless, sneaky, and dangerous.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Preliminary AZ Fraudit Results Are In

I have been interested in the election challenge conducted by Maricopa County, Arizona, Republicans. Well, I was born in Phoenix, grew up there, I have some ideas about the place. When I grew up it was Goldwater's town, and both the newspapers were bizarrely conservative -- there just wasn't any other point of view. At some point some of us realized how crazy it was, lots of people moved there from more sensible places, and some residents were exposed to points of view from outside the Valley of the Sun, and there are today a few clear-thinking people in the county. But even today the tone is set by those crusty desert-rats who live in trailers out by Apache Junction or Gila Bend, or near the Superstition Mountains, sitting under an awning in the hundred-ten-degree heat watching a little black and white TV with rabbit ears, and shooting at intruders.

It would have been no surprise at all if Trump had won Arizona, including the big-city capital of Phoenix, in the 2020 election. It woulda been a yawner, the most expectable thing in the world. "AZ" would have gone on an alphabetized list with other red states with no explanation required.

You might remember the flurry when Fox News, of all the networks, called Arizona for Biden on election night. Trump literally got on the phone to Rupert Murdoch and told him to take it back. It was a close race and still early in the evening when Fox painted Arizona blue. Nobody understood it, but Fox stood by it and many hours later the other networks confirmed the call.

Arizona went blue and Maricopa County, being by far the most populous part of the state, led the charge. Tucson was no surprise but ... again, you cannot imagine how deeply conservative Phoenix has always been.

The Republican nutty fringe, which is mainstream in that region, decided to challenge the election results with an "audit." Actually they were not only challenging the results, but were challenging the whole idea of voting, the idea of democracy. Trump should have won, because Trump should have won. Who cares if a bunch of dumb voters feel otherwise? Destiny cannot be diverted by something as trivial as an election.

The Maricopa County fraudit, as it is more appropriately called, violated every principle of rigorous research. They started with a conclusion -- Trump won and the election was stolen from him -- and worked back, looking for incriminating evidence, chasing down every paranoid rumor. I won't review the whole process here, but it was ... ugly. Oh and then remember, when they were going to issue the report they all caught covid and it was delayed.

This morning the Washington Post reports that they got a draft of the final report, pretty close to what will come out officially this week.

And guess what: fraudit results agree that Biden won the county. In fact, these jokers estimated that Biden won by an even greater margin than the official count. It was not a great difference, 360 more votes, but still.

A Republican-commissioned review of nearly 2.1 million ballots cast last year in Arizona confirmed the accuracy of the official results and President Biden’s win in Maricopa County, according to a draft report prepared by private contractors who conducted the recount.

After nearly six months and almost $6 million — most of it given by groups that cast doubt on the election results — the draft report shows that the review concluded that 45,469 more ballots were cast for Biden in Maricopa County than for Trump, widening Biden’s margin by 360 more votes than certified results.

The draft report found the count to have “no substantial differences” from the county’s certified tallies.

Draft report of GOP-backed ballot review in Arizona confirms Biden’s win

You know the saying, "Garbage in, garbage out" -- there is absolutely nothing meaningful about the result of the Maricopa County fraudit. It does not mean that Biden "actually" got more votes than the official tally. They just could not come up with any way to twist the data so that Trump won.

About the only conclusion you can take from this is that the grifters who soaked the county for millions of dollars did not feel obligated to make the customer happy. They were like dowsers who did not find water, but got paid anyway. Does that make them "honest?" Of course not, everything about this, from the premise to the data-collection to the analysis, was dishonest. It never should have been done. The election was fine as it was.

The whole point of this was to undermine the public's confidence in the democratic process. Now other Republican-run states want to do the same thing, as we see them trying to destroy one of the most successful representative democracies in the history of mankind. It would be nice if this discouraged them, but they're not smart enough for that.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The Passing of Pat O'Neill

We want to take a minute here to express our appreciation for Patricia O'Neill, Montgomery County School Board member for twenty-three years, who passed away this week at the age of 71. Pat was a true friend of the county who always took her position on the school board seriously; she put time and effort into digging into the topics that faced the board, to see what was really behind them, what the options were, and what the consequences of the options would be. Other board members regarded her as the unofficial "historian" for the school board, as she could explain, off the top of her head, the background of every policy issue that came up.

Our group, Teach the Facts, formed when MCPS came under attack for its new sex-ed curriculum, and we worked with the school board and administration to make sure they understood that the Sturm und Drang of the rightwing rabblerousers was not representative of our community. Conservatives spent a lot of money to see that our county kids didn't learn about gay or transgender people, and we really relied on the courage of the school board to steer the district into a good, healthy direction that a majority of residents and parents wanted.

Pat was an unshakable ally through it all. She was not partisan but considered each issue rationally, and in the case of the sex-ed curriculum she was a solid advocate for comprehensive sex education and the inclusion of relevant and important facts. Her top priority was always the students, and she defended students who came from nontraditional families and also wanted to ensure that other students understood that some of their friends may have a single parent, or step-parents, or parents of the same sex. She also empathized with students who might be gay or transgender and supported the inclusion of material to help them understand themselves, and to help their friends understand them. These changes met with loud, high-profile resistance but Pat and the school board stood their ground and we are all better off for it.

Pat's statements during the board's public comment sessions were wry and insightful, and respectful, no matter what point of view was being expressed. For instance, when a parent once complained that the district did not have enough teachers to teach the new material, Pat thanked them and said she hoped that they would actively work to help increase the district's budget, so they could hire more teachers.

Pat O'Neill served five one-year terms as board president, and six terms as vice-president. Her death is a big loss to the county and she will be missed for a long time.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Delta and Compassion Fatigue

With the delta variant of the coronavirus, there is still a lot of political insanity going on, but there is also actual confusion and concern among serious people about what is going to happen and what we are supposed to do. In particular, reasonable people are questioning just how much they should be expected to sacrifice to protect those who wilfully put themselves at risk.

The original virus spread fairly slowly, each person infected about two to three other people on average, and an honest early effort to "flatten the curve" in the US could have brought that number down below one, where the virus would finally die off and we could party again yall. But while we were waiting for a miracle and then trying to talk people into getting vaccinated, the virus was spreading and evolving.

The new delta virus is much more infectious than the original one. It appears that each person with the delta variant infects an average of six or seven other people, plus children seem to be more susceptible to it. To stop the process we will have to beat it worldwide, and many places have not even gotten the vaccine at all, so this is going to be part of our lives for quite a while yet.

The current vaccines are really good at preventing infection, but not perfect, and a few people are getting "breakthrough" infections after they've been vaccinated. The good news is that they do not need to go to ICU and they don't die from it. The bad news is that they can get sicker than a dog, and also they can spread the virus to others.

That sets the stage for the current moment. Oh, one other thing, in an apparent attempt at mass suicide, the Republican Party has politicized the disease and decided they should not take the vaccine. It might be bad for them. It might be a communist plot. Shots hurt. I can't explain it, it's just a fact that the rate of vaccinations dropped off once sensible people got theirs. The same Republicans also do not "believe in" wearing masks in public.

Now we have to decide what to do. You can't order people to get vaccinated, because it is more important to them to own the libs. So we are probably reaching the max as far as percent vaccinated goes. You can't force people to wear masks, because, same thing, it's some kind of lefty plot to take over our minds. These arguments are idiotic but they are the background for any intelligent planning process that is taking place now. The plan has to assume that a good number of Americans are not taking this seriously.

So -- the rest of us. If we catch covid -- delta or otherwise -- we will try to deal with it rationally. Possibly we will infect other people before we realize we're sick. Most vaccinated people who catch it will get sick and get well again. Some will not get sick, and some will stay sick for a long time.

The truth is that vaccinated people are very much less likely to become infected, and if they do get covid they are very much less likely to pass it on. Supported by other measures such as masking and social distancing, vaccine can end the pandemic, if a large enough percentage of the world's population gets it. But that is not something that we can foresee in the near future, so we need to fight it on our local turf for now.

This new variant seems to be harder on kids than the original virus, and we need to catch up on research and policy for vaccinating children. In the meantime we should protect children from exposure, and that might mean remote school, masks in face-to-face classrooms, careful contact tracing and communication to parents, and other precautions. There are also immunocompromised people, and I'm sorry but they are just going to have to be extra careful for the time being. (An extra booster shot might increase their immunity in some cases.)

People who have been vaccinated can get moderately sick, and people who have not been vaccinated can get very sick, tie up the hospitals, and die. Meanwhile people with heart attacks, cancer, and other serious medical problems are not able to get into the ICU in some places already, because it is full of Republicans.

I hate to quote the Philippines' president, Rodrigo Duterte, but I think a lot of sensible people can identify with his statement about how he -- as a Trump-type dictator -- will manage anti-vaxxers in his country:

"To those people who do not want to be vaccinated, I am telling you, don't go out of your house.

"If you go out of your house, I will tell the police to return you to your home. You will be escorted back to your house because you are a walking spreader..."

"For those who do not want it, well, for all I care, you can die anytime."

People who have taken the vaccine and followed the guidelines are increasingly feeling what The Atlantic calls compassion fatigue. If you want to do something stupid to yourself, the rest of us are caring less and less, and are not feeling a great obligation to save you from yourself. Also, trying to overthrow our constitutional government was not endearing.

President Biden is the leader of a democratic country, and he is trying to convince the idiots to take the vaccine. He does not want families to grieve, hospitals to be overwhelmed, he doesn't want Americans dying by the hundred-thousands on his watch. But the conservative mass suicide is largely a political statement of opposition to him and his party, and he can't reach those people. I'd say he's doing as well as he can but he's stuck.

And you and me -- what do we do? Sure there are legal orders, for instance right now in Montgomery County you have to wear a mask in public places and so on. But beyond that, what does a good citizen do? Assuming you are already vaccinated, your duty is to try not to spread the coronavirus to innocent people -- kids, the elderly, compromised people.

First of all: don't catch it and you won't spread it. Follow the familiar guidelines for crowds and indoor public spaces. Stay home if you can, and if you go out wear a mask. You are not limited by what the CDC says, or the county -- use your head. Stay away from people who might have it. Protecting yourself will also protect others.

If you believe you have been exposed, then you know the drill. Isolate yourself and get tested after a day or two. You might feel fine, that doesn't mean you aren't infectious.

If you're sick, do I have to tell you? Even if it's just a cold, stay home, stay in bed, get well.

The complication is this. I feel just like you, and like Duterte. I'm not the President of the United States and it's not my job to keep you safe; I did what I should have done for more than a year and now I want to live a normal life and I don't really feel a lot of responsibility for people who refuse to take care of themselves. I am not the suicide hotline, I am not going to argue with you about the Constitution. If you want to get sick and die to make a political point, it is your business.

We feel that way but as good people, even if somewhat resentfully, the rest of us will continue to limit our own behavior, both to protect others and to protect ourselves from irresponsible, rude, self-destructive, seditious idiots. It ain't fair, I tell you, but we'll do it.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Dictatorship and Democracy

It is possible that a dictatorship is a more efficient way to run a country. You put one guy in charge, he gives orders, and everybody does what he says. There is no red tape, no endless discussions about alternatives or what is "fair" or environmentally friendly or any of that. People who resist or complain can disappear, no problem. There is no point in listening to them or arguing with them.

When you hear Joe Biden talk about democracy, he often looks at it in terms of efficiency, his question is the practical one of whether a democratic government can be competitive, and that is his goal. The idea of the people governing themselves sounds inherently better, but if it doesn't work, it doesn't work.

The Republicans don't think that a democracy can work, so when they get in power they make sure it doesn't work. We just had Republican control of the executive and legislative branches of federal government, they filled the judicial branch with their unqualified judges, and the result was inefficiency, greed and corruption, nepotism and cronyism, breakdown of public services, a freakin' plague fer cryin' out loud. Of course it's possible that a competent strong-man would have done a better job, but unfortunately this is how it works. The kind of people who prefer an autocratic leader want an authoritarian, not an expert. You get a tough guy who doesn't know what he's doing.

Democracy draws its power from the full breadth of the population. Some businessman or professor might have the perfect solutions to society's problems, but we don't just run out and adopt those, we put them before the people. And that means every idiot in the country gets to have an opinion, and they can vote against ideas that they are incapable of understanding. Also, they might have a weird but good idea that nobody else thought of. You might think you know more than the next person, and you might, but his vote cancels yours. It is a terrible process, and also the best.

Some countries have violent revolutions, where some subset of the population thinks they know so much more than the others that they are justified in taking over. In our country that is white people, at least those white people who think white people are special and better than everybody else. They have tried to overthrow democracy a couple of times, and certainly will again, but it's going to be pretty tough to do it that way. You take over a Capitol building, execute a couple dozen politicians, smear your poop on the walls, then what? You still gotta run things, and that's hard.

The sly way for white people -- white supremacists, actually; most white people do not want a revolution -- to take over is to modify the voting process. That way they don't have to come out against democracy, they can claim to support the right of the people to determine their own fate -- they just make sure that their own people are more likely to vote, and that everybody else will have a harder time.

In our present time there is a two-prong attack on democracy. For one, the white supremacists are saying that the last presidential election election was rigged, that the other side cheated. This is called the Big Lie, in reference to a technique promoted by Adolph Hitler, you tell a lie so big that nobody can argue with it. So for instance, on the night that he lost the election, Trump tweeted: "I WON THE ELECTION!" This was so obviously false that you could not refute it with facts. All you can say is, "No, you didn't," then you're out of arguments. And now, half a year later, most Republicans still believe it. That is one Big Honkin' Lie.

While the Big Lie revises the past, the other prong of the attack is future-leaning, with white supremacists changing the rules of democracy, making it easier for "their people" to vote, changing the voting districts and locations and definitions and rules and methods. Between these two kinds of attack, white supremacists can claim to support democracy while making sure it doesn't work. One person equals one vote, that's a pretty straightforward principle, but if one of the people can't get to the polls, or can't get the necessary ID, or their signature is ruled to look "different" from the official one, then that one person equals zero votes.

There was a big foo-foo in Michigan this year, where white supremacists alleged that a number of voting irregularities led to Biden winning the state. So a Republican-led state commission went through all the evidence, listened to many hours of testimony, brought in experts. Yesterday they issued their finding: Michigan Republicans eviscerate Trump voter fraud claims in scathing report. They found two examples of dead people voting: "one was a clerical error while the other was a timing issue." That's it. A timing issue, I love that: huh, he wasn't dead when he voted, but it looks like he is now. That's a timing issue, all right.

The foundation of democracy is that the minority has to accept things they don't like. Those other idiots can outvote you, just because there are more of them. But in an autocracy it's the majority of people who have to accept things they don't like. White supremacists might think they are right about everything but they are a minority in this country, and if they succeed at revolution, either by violence or by degrading the voting process, the government will run badly for most people. Now, it might be that they don't care about "most people" as much as they care about themselves: that's the real problem.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Conservatives Win -- Now What?

So ... you'd think they'd be happy. All year pro-virus Americans have been complaining about how masks were an unconstitutional violation of their God-given liberty, a government imposition on their freedom. Waves of misinformation swept through the covidiot population as, first, they were sure there were government microchips in the vaccine to control our minds (Bill Gates may have put them there, this part was never clear), and then even worse, "vaccine passports" were going to allow the government to track you wherever you went, as Step One toward totalitarianism.

And don't forget, this is all Anthony Fauci's fault, for sumpn-sumpn in Wuhan, communist party etcetera.

For the past year Republicans have demanded the freedom to get sick and to make other people sick. Videos of maskless Karens coughing on customers at Walmart became a cliche, nobody wore masks to Trump rallies and Capitol insurrections -- state or federal -- or even to march around drunk tearing down BLM signs. They wanted to be free and they have been in a state of rebellion ever since the virus first reached the US and public health experts made their recommendations.

I think President Biden pulled off a beautiful political maneuver this week when he and the CDC announced victory over the pandemic in the US, and told people that if they were vaccinated they did not have to wear masks, except in a few situations. He did not impose a "vaccine passport" or tell anybody they needed to carry government-approved identification. He basically smiled at the camera and said, "Have a good time. You're welcome."

You'd think they'd be happy, wouldn't you? Fold up the mask and stick it in the hankie drawer, we're done with those old things. Freedom! We can go to the high-school game and cheer for our team and no libtards will tell us we have to cover our faces.

Of course they are not happy.

First of all, the CDC only said you could go without a mask if you were vaccinated. If you haven't had your shots you are supposed to keep wearing it.

These people had already printed up fake cards claiming to have a medical dispensation that exempts them from wearing a mask. They were already staging riots in the aisles of Costco to demand the rights our Founders gave them, guaranteeing them the freedom to spread disease far and wide. They were not wearing masks or getting vaccinated even when they were asked to. So let's just say there is "some possibility" that conservatives are now going to go around without masks, claiming to have been vaccinated when they are not.

The problem of course is that you can't tell who has been vaccinated and who hasn't. Sure, they give you a little card when you get the shot but one, Republicans are already counterfeiting those, and two, where did I put it again? You go to your kid's game and they ask you if you've been vaccinated, what do you do? You say yes, of course. You don't have to show no stinkin' ID.

According to the CDC, 35.8 percent of Americans have been vaccinated. I am no epidemiologist, but I am pretty sure that <does the math> 64.2 percent of the population is enough to keep a deadly pandemic going. As you know, vaccinated people can still get sick, so the percentage of potentially contagious people is actually higher than that, but let's say two-thirds of Americans are potentially carriers of the novel coronavirus. The point being, the threat is not actually over. The pandemic is wiping out some countries, and it has receded here largely due to vaccinations, but we are not out of the woods. Expect a new surge.

The difference now is that the only people who will get sick are those who wanted to. It's now a personal choice.

I'd say Biden gave the pro-virus Republicans exactly what they wanted. They will be going out without masks and mixing with vaccinated people, and there is no way to know, because Biden totally did not impose government surveillance -- either microchips or passports -- on people. So now Bubba doesn't have to take a shot -- which might, you know, hurt -- or wear a mask, and nobody can tell if he's teeming with viruses or not.

Now our state's Republican governor has even gone a step further. He has announced that as of today, people in the state of Maryland don't have to wear masks whether they are vaccinated or not. So our local Republicans don't even have to lie about being vaccinated (which might take some of the fun out of it).

I'm sure conservatives are cheering. They won. They got what they wanted. No masks, no social distancing, and at least in our state they don't even care if you get the vaccine or not. Just do your thing, man, breathe on your brother, share your microbes with your neighbors, everything's cool.

Actually, I'm sure they are not cheering, because that isn't what they do. They only complain.

And so today the Washington Post front page says: CDC’s mask guidance spurs confusion and criticism, as well as celebration.

Many, including President Biden, hailed the relaxation of restrictions by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a milestone in the nation’s return to normal. But with a majority of Americans unvaccinated, others questioned the sudden and blanket recommendation, worrying that the onus is now heavier on state and local governments, businesses and individuals to determine whether precautions are necessary.
So yep, the conservatives have what they wanted. Here you got state's rights, as fifty different states get to figure out how to sort these things out, and you also got the free market at work, because basically business owners are going to have to figure out who to let into their venues and who to keep out. The federal government is staying out of all that.

Now the MAGAs can cough on people at Walmart without getting thrown out, and spread disease freely just as the Founders intended.

“The guidance shifts all the burden onto individuals to be ‘on their honor’ and choose the appropriate actions when deciding whether to wear a mask,” said Lisa Maragakis, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “There is no way to know who is vaccinated and who is not in most scenarios. The likely result is that almost no one will wear a mask.”
Oh yeah, "honor" is a big Republican value. Uh huh. I'm sure they will be honest about this.

Those of us who stayed home, social distanced, wore masks and managed to stay healthy, those of us who got vaccinated, don't have much to worry about. There is a small chance that we will still get infected, and a tiny chance that the infection will be serious. There is an even smaller chance that a vaccinated person will infect someone else.

So really, I hate to say it, but it's not our problem now. The pandemic is raging, and with unvaccinated people going into crowds without masks you can be sure we will see a spike in infections, but mostly they will only be people who were too dumb to follow the rules. I think most people in nursing homes have had their shots, there are still some vulnerable populations -- ICE detainees, prisoners -- but now anyone can walk in and get vaccinated any day of the week. At this point nobody is telling you what to do, the virus needs hosts and you are free to volunteer to be one.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Rightwingers Say the Darnedest Things

"I've decided to "identify" as Chinese. Coke will like me, Delta will agree with my "values" and I'll probably get shoes from Nike & tickets to @MLB games. Ain't America great?"

That was Mike Huckabee's contribution to the conversation this week. Also this week, Fox launched a new show attempting humor. It's embarrassing to watch.

See, this is the problem with conservative humor. I am pretty sure that someone who calls themselves a comedian can book a gig, with a little understanding of the biz, regardless of their political leaning. I don't think agents or venue owners ask you what party you belong to. If you can fill the house, if people will buy tickets and maybe dinner and/or a few drinks, it doesn't matter what you talk about in your act. Controversy is actually a plus, somebody who can make good jokes about something sensitive can do well in comedy.

And yet ... there are no conservative comedians. Yeah, Dennis Miller can spew a stream of impressive-sounding verbiage in a condescending tone of voice, but that's as close as they get. If you haven't seen him, find the Russian propaganda site RT and check him out, he's got a show there. I don't recommend this Fox trainwreck, which I doubt will last. Conservative humor is not humor, it is usually a form of bullying or mocking.

Huckabee put "identify" in quotes, indicating that it is not really a thing. Conservatives think everybody has an identity except themselves. Huckabee for instance does not see himself as "identifying" as a white person, because everybody he associates with is white. He doesn't have to think about it, it's a given, normal people are white, as far as he knows. He doesn't have to "identify" as heterosexual because everybody he knows is straight -- as far as he knows. This is why rightwingers think everybody else is engaging in "identity politics," and not them.

People do identify as something. We live in social units and we know which social units we are part of and which ones we are not part of. We don't decide to "identify" with a group. And yet that is Huckabee's "joke." (By the way, I am enjoying this gratuitous misapplication of quotations marks through my text, following and satirizing his "lead.") Somebody does not decide to identify as Chinese. If your family came from China, or if you came from China, you identify as Chinese. You might not say it that way, you might say "I am Chinese," it's the same thing. That's how it works. You can argue about whether it really matters where somebody's family is from, but basically every single person can tell you what ethnic group they identify with, even if it's some poorly-defined racial category like "white" or "Black" or there is more than one group -- you don't just have one identity. You can be Chinese and American, too. And gay, or straight. You know what kind of person you are.

The dig, "identify" in quotes, is understood by Huckabee's readers as mockery of gay and transgender people. The "joke" is that gay and trans people "choose" to have a gender "identity" or sexual "orientation" that someone like Huckabee doesn't "understand." But identifying does not mean you decide to be something, it means you are something. A trans man does not decide to be a man, he is someone who knows he is a man, the same as other men know what they are. You don't decide to identify as straight or gay, you might choose to conceal the truth but you know who you are.

Huckabee's statement not only reveals that he 1.does not have a sense of humor and 2.doesn't understand what identity is, but by publishing this idiotic comment on Twitter he is announcing that he is coming out as someone who actually identifies as an ignorant person.

The previous president cultivated hatred for Asians, in particular the Chinese, partly to blame them for his failure with the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, America is seeing a wave of random racist violence against Asian people. Many of us would like to see people walking safely on the street and do not think you should have to live in fear because your ancestors came from a certain continent. So we are looking out for our Asian neighbors. Huckabee seems to think this is some kind of special treatment, companies are giving Chinese people special deals, treating them special. Really, we are just looking out for people who are vulnerable through no fault of their own. If a Chinese company is engaging in unfair business practices, then they will be dealt with; Chinese spies will be prosecuted. But your average Asian person walking down the street should feel safe and should know we've got their back.

Huckabee puts "values" in quotes too, and I have to admit I do not know what that's about. I had thought that Republicans claimed "values" as one of their own advertising slogans, remember when they used to call themselves "values voters?" I guess they've canceled that.

And he ends his tweet with "Ain't America great?" The strangeness of this is bottomless. Yes, actually America is pretty great. When somebody is treated unfairly here, Americans rally around them and protect them. We do not like for people to be beaten up on the street simply because they have Asian features, or African features, or do not seem to fit neatly into a simple two-by-two sexual-identity category schema. First of all he sets up a ridiculous proposition, that by claiming to "identify" as Chinese he will be treated differently, which wouldn't happen, partly because he is not Chinese and partly because Chinese people don't get any special treatment. And then says ain't we great? America is supposed to be ironically great for giving Chinese people like him special deals on tennis shoes and baseball tickets.

This is why there are no conservative comedians. This is what they consider to be "funny." Of course part of the joke is that people like me will take the time to respond to it, aka "owning the libs," but I don't care, I think the world deserves to be taken seriously. I do not want my society to degenerate into a bunch of rude people making nihilistic attempts at irony and then laughing because somebody takes it seriously. Irony is fine, it has its place, but you have to know what you believe before you can make fun of it, and I do not believe there is any coherent belief system behind these idiotic words of Huckabee's. What do Huckabee and today's conservatives stand for? Nothing. They stand for white people's values being applied indiscriminately to everyone, not because they are superior values but because they don't know any better.

[Note, 4/9: Fox News' "comedy" show has already been canceled, after three episodes.]

Friday, March 19, 2021

Nice For a Change

It is nice to have a competent government again. You see the media complaining about things like, President Biden has not held a press conference, and it's ... kinda cute. Migrants at the border? Sure -- it's a hundred times better than it was last year, but yes the problem needs some good, rational attention and is finally getting it. Did you see, he wears a Rolex! Woo, those are some scandals. It's nice, isn't it? We have regular problems again, and they are being solved in a professional way. We now have a leader who can speak in sentences, has plans and executes them, a press secretary who explains decisions, policies, issues. Competent Cabinet Secretaries getting sworn in. Fact-checkers twiddling their thumbs.

In the meantime the Republicans are off in "Cancel Culture" land, talking themselves into a tizzy about whatever that is supposed to be, as if anybody 1.believed them, or 2.cared. President Biden is ignoring their silliness; if they want to be part of modern American politics then they are going to have to come up with some promise of competent leadership, and they are nowhere close to that.

Here's the kind of thing they're into. In the past year Republicans introduced more than twenty state bills about transgender athletes. They insist it's not fair for transgender athletes to compete in sports. Is it fair for poor people to pay more taxes than billionaires? Is it fair for Montgomery County police to pull over Black drivers at twice the rate of white ones? Is it fair for women to be paid less than what men make for the same job? Oh, I see, fairness is not really the issue. The Republicans are working themselves up over an issue-that-is-not-an-issue. There is a certain small percentage of the population which they call "their base," who might vote on the basis of something like Doctor Seuss or transgender athletes, and that's who they perform for now. It has become clear that the base is unreachable, they're gonna be what they're gonna be. "Haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate" (Swift, 2014).

Transgender athletes do not seem to have any systematic advantage, there are some who win and some who lose. Like everybody else, some are better and some worse in their events. There are many kinds of variations between people, and no reason in the world to make this particular quality the focus of any controversy unless, as the front page of The Post print edition said yesterday, the question of gender identity is being made into a "political flash point." There are so many ways that Republicans could make athletic competition more equitable (**cough** Colin Kaepernick **cough**), but they don't care about that. They only care about humiliating and punishing those people who have the courage to live as God made them.

So while the Democrats are leading a recovery after the Trump years, the Republicans are concerned with things like making it harder to vote, reading "Green Eggs and Ham" on the Internet, and trying to keep transgender athletes out of sports.

Some small percentage of the US population is just going to be obsessed with these things. Those people can be noisy, they can be violent, they have their own TV networks and nutty people in public offices. They turn up in the news disproportionately. But at this point it just seems kind of sad. Conservatives don't have anything to offer other than bizarre conspiracy theories, white supremacist beliefs, and weird obsessions with kids' books and cartoons and people who are different from themselves. There is one competent political party, and they are in the Presidency and both houses of Congress. It's nice, things will be going well for a while.

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Cancellation Nation

It's fascinating when conservatives get their jaws around something and won't let go. This week it's "cancel culture." Every time you look up you see some nut talking about this thing.

So, listen, did cancel culture just start -- is this something new? I don't see anything different but ... maybe I missed it.

It looks to me like cancel culture means that if you screw up at your job you get fired. Producers drop bad products. Bad ideas are shot down. So, okay?

Apparently this is a liberal thing. Conservatives accuse liberals of wanting consequences when somebody does something bad. So, say, Donald Trump was accused of raping a thirteen-year-old girl, then threatening her and her family with physical harm if she told anyone. It was headed for court years later but her lawyer said she had received threats and was afraid to appear.

See, liberals would want to know what happened there, and if an adult man had in fact raped a child they would want to see some accountability. Liberals would expect a child-rapist to withdraw his candidacy for the Presidency of the United States, at least. But that's cancel culture. Conservatives would say he raped the little girl a long time ago, he was young and sowing his wild oats. She came on to him first. Maybe they would point to the girl and say look how cute she was. And why weren't her parents keeping an eye on her? Give the guy a break, he was just joking, this is political correctness run amok. Obviously conservatives would not cancel their golden idol, Donald Trump, over something like raping a child.

Liberals don't seem to mind the accountability thing. The bitter example is Al Franken. He once posed for a photograph with his hands hovering over a woman's breasts, and was forced out of the US Senate. Liberals thought the photo was in bad taste, sexist, undignified. This week Andrew Cuomo might get run out of town for harassing women. He is not meeting the standard we set for Democratic leaders and will be held accountable, one way or the other. He didn't rape a child, but he was disrespectful to some women. Republicans famously don't care about those things.

Conservatives have had hysterical fits over a different "cancel culture" example nearly every day this week. Yesterday it was Doctor Seuss. Nobody is canceling The Cat in the Hat. His publisher decided to stop publishing some of the older books that did not seem appropriate now. Seems to me they run their own business and if they don't want something on the market that's up to them. Loudoun County decided not to include Doctor Seuss in their list for Read Across America Day, they looked over his stuff and decided not to point kids to that content. When President Biden read his reading-day statement he didn't mention Doctor Seuss, one way or the other. Nothing was canceled. There are lots of great authors for kids, and Doctor Seuss is still out there.

Ted Cruz posted an image online of a bunch of Doctor Seuss books that are still in print, and said, "Who knew Joe Biden was such a great book seller." Actually, Joe Biden literally did and said nothing. Literally. But as a liberal he is personally responsible for Dr. Seuss Enterprises' decision to let some books go out of print.

Oh and the Toy Formerly Known As Mister Potatohead -- this one set them off! The company that makes the toy decided to take the "Mister" out of its name. I am pretty sure kids are not going to care. The company reevaluated their marketing strategy and conservatives are going crazy over it. Glenn Beck literally called this "The end of freedom in America."

Again: "The end of freedom in America."

I'm so old I remember when you used a real potato and stuck some eyes and stuff on it. Now America is collapsing because the plastic potato isn't a man any more.

Recently the company that makes Aunt Jemima pancake mix and syrup decided to change the name and picture and rightwingers went berserk. I don't know why they decided to change it, but Aunt Jemima was surely a stereotype that we don't see any more in the real world, the Black "mammy" who cooked for the (white) family, raised the kids and took care of the house. I'm not saying that Venus and Serena would sell more pancake syrup, but the company has the right to change the name and picture if they want. Actually, Venus and Serena, not a bad idea... I'd buy that.

The Conservative Political Action Conference this year called their event "America Uncanceled." Republicans in Congress want to have official government hearings on "cancel culture." They are sure this is a way to humiliate liberals but it seems to me they are just making themselves look dumber than usual.

Here's the thing: most liberals don't care. Oh, you won't see me sleeping on a My Pillow pillow, and there are no Goya beans in our pantry, but you know, aligning with Trump was just bad advertising. Their marketing lost me as a customer, pure and simple. Sucking up to Trump is about like putting Charles Manson on the can, or a color photograph of vomit; it does not appeal to me. But you can sleep on whatever pillow you want, and eat whatever beans you like, I don't care. I look forward to a world without prejudicial cues everywhere, but I don't work for the companies that make pillows, beans, pancake batter, toys, or books, and I don't make their decisions. That's just the free market working. When bigotry and stereotypes sold products, the companies were on board, and now they're not. A lot of Americans are not into that stuff these days, and it hurts the bottom line.

BREAKING: Jeep might change the name of the Cherokee. You know what that means.

It's quaint how conservatives will find one little thing and try to smear all liberals with it. Recently a hockey team decided not to play the national anthem before their games, and for a long time nobody even noticed. Then somebody wrote an article and conservatives went wild with it. It was not a liberal decision or "cancel culture," the company just figured they could sell beer or whatever instead of having people stand for the anthem. Conservatives love to take something like that and pretend that that is what liberalism is about. But liberals didn't notice the absence of the national anthem any more than they did.

All levity aside, it comes down to this. It wasn't liberals who tried to overthrow the government and kill our elected leaders a couple of months ago, so just STFU. Go home and change your panties and come back with a better attitude.

Coming next -- "Virtue signaling:" how conservatives define good behavior as a bad thing.