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.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Unity

Biden says he wants to unite people. Some interpret this as meaning a bipartisan thing, that he will give a little and the other side will give a little. So the question is, is there room to compromise, to meet in the middle? Is President Biden promising to adopt Republican policies to unite the people? I don't think that's what he means.

I would typify the previous administration as an incompetent presidency, with the economy gone to hell, massive corruption, natural disasters with no response, and of course a pandemic that somehow didn't get the message that it was supposed to go away like magic. But conservatives hate to see Trump go, they insist that he fulfilled his campaign promises, that he gave them what they wanted. I am not really the one to speak for what a great job he did, but I saw a few things that he delivered for his voters. Off the top of my head:

The wall. An attempt to physically block immigrants from coming over the border. Completely ineffective on every level and Mexico did not pay for it, but conservatives loved it as a symbol of American fear.

Muslim ban. The assumption is that all Muslims are terrorists, they hate our way of life. All billion and a half of them are our enemy. For many Americans this is (ironically) a no-brainer.

Amnesty for domestic terrorists. Armed militants taking over state capitols, caravans attacking cities with federal and local police protection. White murderers and vandals praised and rewarded.

ICE. Not just blocking immigrants, but humiliating them, making refugees' miserable lives even more miserable. So what if a few hundred women are raped, a few hundred kids are taken from their mothers, a few thousand get COVID, a few dozen die? What in the world ever gave all those foreigners the idea we would welcome the huddled masses yearning to breathe free?

Wealth inequality. The rich got much richer under the previous administration, and the poor got poorer. Good job, Republicans!

The courts. It didn't really help him any, but the Republicans under Trump filled the courts with conservative and incompetent judges. I think this is really about abortion, which the Bible says is ... uh never mind, it doesn't say anything about it.

Racist police violence. Conservatives loved the police brutality in Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis, and other cities, blaming it on the victims. Their point of course is that those people deserve it. Tear gas, rubber bullets, running over people, kettling and beating people, chokeholds -- conservatives think this is great, as long as the victims are Black or, you know, antifa or something.

Gay and transgender people. Rights eliminated all over the place. Hey, it's their choice, if they don't want to be discriminated against they ought to just quit that stuff.

Women. Grab 'em. The Stormy Daniels situation was something to be proud of, what a stud. And you could tell there were a bunch of others too, man this guy is a regular Romeo. Official Republican platform: hot women are the best. The rest of them are bitches, especially the ugly ones.

Guns. Look, Trump doesn't know anything about guns. He's a New York real estate developer. He's got soft little hands. But the point is, he is in favor of white people being able to shoot somebody without getting arrested. The Constitution is: sumpn sumpn Second Amendment sumpn sumpn sumpn, under God.

In other words, no, there is not room to compromise. Those of us who care do not want to see America turn into that. By that I mean, a majority of Americans do not and did not want that. Hate had its turn, it didn't work out, it's time to move on.

Unity does not mean compromise. It means inviting people back into our community who have been pushed out, often verbally and sometimes literally attacked by our government. The saying during the previous administration was "it's all about the cruelty," and that is going to stop. Laws need to be enforced, order needs to be maintained, but the government does not need to be abusive to people just because they don't meet the privileged profile.

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

The End of Doomscrolling

A browsing technique emerged on Twitter and news media over the past four years, called doomscrolling. This is where you go to your phone or computer every half hour or so and scroll furiously down the screen to see what insane or atrocious thing the President or his team have just done. Journalists found new ways to say, "We thought we had seen the craziest, stupidest thing possible, but he has outdone himself," and then they would describe some boorish or ill-considered decision or outburst, and by the time you read it the President and his crew had broken their own record and you had to scroll again to find out about the newest Worst Thing Ever. Pitching paper towels in Puerto Rico, Four Seasons Total Landscaping, "Lock her up..." I could go on for a long time.

We don't doomscroll now. Occasionally the White House press secretary gets off a mild zinger, but these are easily defensible statements of values and assurance that the US has changed directions. The President is not shooting gotchas at his enemies, he is meeting with them and trying to work out deals. And if they don't want to contribute something, he has both houses of Congress and will go ahead with the agenda he was elected to implement. The Republicans have their reasons for hoping he doesn't do too well, y'know, and sometimes he's got to roll past them. There's no time for their malarkey, man.

People are liking this. No poll has had Biden's popularity under fifty percent since he was inaugurated -- you might remember, Trump never got up to fifty percent. And as for his policies, Yahoo conducted a survey:

When asked about the 20 policies that define President Biden’s agenda, more Americans support than oppose all 20 of them, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll.

The margins are decisive. The majority of Biden’s proposals garner at least twice as much support as opposition. Nearly half are favored by more than 60 percent of Americans.

The biggest issue facing the country right now is the coronavirus pandemic. During Trump's term it appeared he was intentionally undermining the United States, and he left us in bad shape. The previous administration lied about having reserves of vaccine. Their statistics were sabotaged to make the epidemic look less deadly than it actually was. They muzzled the scientists, hijacked the protective gear -- the State Department literally overruled the CDC to bring infected people into the country and release them to wander around and infect others. The actual plan was to let Americans get sick and die until there was nobody left to infect. There was no strategy for distributing vaccine, even with a year to figure it out.

It is frustrating now to see the government scramble to get vaccine made, to see the logistical difficulties of getting "shots into arms" of people (I hate that phrase), but everybody knows the situation. It's going to take a little while to recover from Trump's attempt to bring our country to its knees but progress is visible. Each state still has its own approaches and quirks, with "good governors" turning into "bad governors" and vice versa from day to day, but it is very complicated to chase down an invisible enemy, disrupting everyone's lives, figuring out how to prioritize fairly while still giving the rich and powerful their expected special treatment. There are rumors about the vaccines, some are borderline-credible and some are borderline-schizophrenic, but a good percentage of people are afraid to take the stuff. It's hard to reach people, hard to keep records, hard to transport the medicine... there are competing layers of complexity in every aspect of this task.

There is a thing that I told my kids when life dealt them difficulties, like for instance a knot in their shoelaces or a friend's sudden change of heart: It's just a problem, and all you have to do is solve it. You can freak out, you can blame somebody, you can feel sorry for yourself, you can deny they exist, but you will inevitably encounter problems, and the way to get past them is to solve them. So Biden's administration is taking the coronavirus problem and breaking it into its components -- statistics and prevention, informing the public, subsidizing a stalled economy, vaccine production, deployment, etc. -- and figuring out how to solve each of the sub-problems. It may seem overwhelming but it's not actually the end of the world, it is a big problem and it will be hard to solve but at least the President is doing that. He doesn't have to blame China or brag about what strong and great measures he has taken, he needs to boost vaccine production and put supply chains into place to get the stuff to the people, and he's doing that.

So you don't have to doomscroll these days. There might be a breakthrough today, or a setback, but generally you know where this is going. We citizens need to stay home, wear masks, avoid crowds, wash our hands, and hold on while they figure it out. You will eventually get a phone call or email telling you how to schedule an appointment for a shot, and while that is not the end of it, you can at least relax a little knowing that your life has been saved. The end of this catastrophe is in sight.

It will make a lot of difference to have competent leadership in this country. There are still big issues to resolve, especially in some of the states, but these are just problems, and all we have to do is solve them.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

A New Day in History

Four years of unimaginable dystopia come to an end today as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are sworn into office as President and Vice President of the United States. It is a solemn occasion held in a city filled end to end with soldiers to protect the incoming executives from the white nationalist rebellion fostered by the outgoing President. The event will be attended by a carefully selected few in a time when uncontrolled pandemic sweeps through the country, killing thousands every day and interrupting normal business and daily activity. There will be no inaugural balls, no parties, not even a parade.

The country looks ahead to recovery. Management at the federal level, which has been suspended for months, will be resumed today. Incompetent grifters appointed to powerful positions will be ushered out. Policies implemented to serve the rich and greedy will be reversed in executive orders and legislative bills, one by one. Hands will reach across the chasm to our allies, reassuring them that we are awakening from our nightmare. Tyrants around the world will once again be pressed to promote policies of freedom and human rights.

The Trump legacy will not end abruptly. We can expect racist mobs, police violence, outbreaks of anti-American sentiment, to continue. Republicans and their propaganda media outlets have declined to refute the Big Lie, and millions of gullible citizens still believe against all evidence that Biden and Harris won a rigged election. The Big Lie will be the Trump legacy, and it will be Biden's challenge.

The fact that we survived to this point is confirmation of the strength of the Constitution and the wisdom of the Framers. We wish the new administration good fortune in leading the recovery of a badly injured country.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Two Theories About What Happened

The people who were supposed to be in charge of security at the Capitol on January 6th all said nearly the same thing: "We had no idea this group would be a problem." They said this even after weeks of social media postings and rally promotions declaring the intention of storming the Capitol and starting a civil war, among other things. They said this even though their own field offices had sent memos and notices warning of violence. The security people said they were caught totally by surprise.

So it seems like you have a choice of two theories. One, the heads of the Pentagon, the Capitol Police, Metro Police, House and Senate Sergeants at Arms, and every other police and security force were in on it. They may have been part of the planning process, with Trump and his entourage telling them to stand down and stay away and let the rightwing revolutionaries do their thing busting up the Capitol. Once the election was disrupted and the Vice President and a few Congresspeople had been executed, then they could send some cops and soldiers in to chase everybody out. Oh, and no arrests, please. We'll blame antifa afterwards, no problem.

This theory is entirely plausible. If you live around here you know how the government buildings are, you don't just stroll into them. Once you get through the lines, after the barricades, there are metal detectors, x-ray machines, pat-downs and wanding. And whenever there is a protest or parade the whole mall and surrounding area is flooded with cops. January Sixth there was none of that. All of Congress -- both chambers -- were meeting together, along with the Vice President, in one room, and there were a handful of Capitol Cops stationed outside, about the same as any pandemic Wednesday with tours canceled.

There are reasons to believe the theory that this attempted coup was a setup from top to bottom. We can be sure that Trump himself was in on it, refusing to authorize National Guard help from DC, Maryland, and Virginia, and we can be sure his idiotic Acting Secretary of Defense was in on it, and probably some generals who denied requests for support and made sure the military was not ready. There were plenty of mid-level officials who could have assigned security to the occasion, and all they had to do to make the plan a success was nuthin. Just sit there and let the crowd have its way. Memos sat on desks, requests and pleas went unanswered.

The second theory is that they really did not expect violence. Sometimes they express this by saying that they viewed it is a smallish political rally on the mall, happens every day. Some of them said they did not have any reason to believe that Trump followers would have bad intentions. The most-repeated reason was that they didn't like "the optics" of a bunch of uniformed troops outside the Capitol.

This is worse.

I can see if two political factions organize to oppose one another. One side wants democracy and the kind of government we have had for a couple hundred years with constant improvement and expansion of individual rights, and the other side wants to overthrow the US government and install their God-sent dictator to rule us in glory for life. We understand what is going on there. Antifa, and fa. Democrats and Republicans.

Remember when Trump wanted to hold up a Bible in front of a church? They loved the optics of a bunch of uniformed troops shooting tear gas and rubber bullets at peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters in a public place. It was Trump's greatest moment, optically, you can still see the dramatic, photogenic clouds of gas, the scrambling, choking crowd, the cops in riot gear with their weapons out, beating citizens. Later one general apologized for stepping out of his role (the optics there were not so good); otherwise everyone understood, that is what this government does. Portland, Seattle, Kenosha, Kansas City, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Denver, Miami, Detroit, Port Huron, St. Louis, Buffalo, New York City, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, Pearland Texas, Tacoma ... the federal government sent extra uniformed officers into American cities with military-grade technology to make sure the FOX-watching public could enjoy "the optics" of a repressive police state putting down an uppity minority.

"The optics" is Washington talk for how a show looks to a white audience, and armed-to-the-teeth police cracking down on Black people and hippie socialists is great optics. Those militarized police are rarely enforcing any law, the protesters have a right to be there, but if anybody breaks a window or starts at fire the networks play it over and over again and the optics are great when the cops show up at a protest, an army attacking its own citizens.

But January Sixth, this was white people, Republicans, and the optics of police actively controlling a crowd of insurgents would not look good to white people who normally sit at home and watch TV and the announcer tells them that "BLM and antifa" are looting and rioting and the police had to be called in, and they're dumb enough to believe it. Honey, aren't the police supposed to be on our side?

Two theories, both correct. This was a plot by the fascist right, from the President all the way down to the local police chiefs, to overthrow the federal government, and it was racist security professionals believing their own propaganda. Could it be that any police authority actually believes that "BLM and antifa" are a danger and white supremacists are not? Well, yes, that is exactly what they say. The police departments are infiltrated with white supremacists, including their leadership, definitely their unions. Local police and federal officers have been violently and increasingly suppressing Black people throughout this administration. It makes sense to them to gas and beat groups protesting for rights for Black people, and it just doesn't compute that their own side would cause any trouble beyond a little, y'know, boys-will-be-boys rowdiness, driving around shooting off guns and cracking skulls for fun.

Yes, of course this was planned. Trump has been firing and replacing people in his Cabinet Departments on the basis of loyalty alone for a couple of years. He knew that someday he would need them for this. He and his staff met with police and military leaders and made sure nobody would be around when his people decided to attack. Trump and his family and associates had been talking with violent rightwing groups, planning how they would pull it off, and were actively coordinating with them on the phone while the attack was underway. At the same time, profoundly biased police simply could not imagine any threat from racist Trump supporters. Simply. could. not. imagine. They favor white conservatives so much that they didn't think action was necessary when the mob started marching against our democratic government, breaking windows, smashing in the doors, when they set up a gallows and chanted "Hang Mike Pence" and "Where's Nancy Pelosi" and swarmed through the Capitol building. Their racism is so baked-in that they could not imagine any problem with a white, conservative crowd.

Joe Biden will be inaugurated the day after tomorrow and now the District of Columbia is wall-to-wall soldiers. Citizens will not be able to come into the city for the event, the bridges are blocked, roads are blocked, there are fences and barricades everywhere. There will be no celebration, no inaugural balls, no parade, no cheering crowds. It is a weird transition in a country under attack from within (and there is concern about traitors among the troops). At least these four years of overt, government-sanctioned fascism will be coming to an end.

Friday, January 08, 2021

Closing One Door, Opening Another

If you look back at previous posts here, you will see that on December 21st I wrote, "Trump is planning a 'wild' demonstration in Washington DC on January 6th, the day when the Electoral College vote count is finalized and the results are certified by Congress." That was three weeks before Trump's attempted coup, which took law enforcement entirely by surprise. How did I know that was going to happen? Everybody knew that. Trump had announced it. The social media were all full of talk about it, with lefties agreeing among themselves that it was a good day not to counterprotest -- and in fact there was no counterprotest or liberal presence as far as I saw -- and the radical right licking their chops and planning what to wear on the Big Day (Proud Boys decided on a black ensemble).

And yet, you saw it -- rightwing radicals walked right past the understaffed police, into the Capitol building. Smashed windows, broke things, wandered the halls, stole stuff. A few of them died, one shot by cops, but then after a few hours they walked right back out of the building; some of them paused to pose for selfies with the cops. Almost no arrests. Maryland's Governor Hogan says he offered the Maryland National Guard to help, and was delayed by the Defense Department while rioters looted and vandalized the Capitol; the federal government told him no thanks, not right now -- I will be interested to learn about coordination between the Trump crime syndicate and the Pentagon in this attempted revolution.

Many of the rioters were armed and at least one man in military fatigues who was moving together with several others was carrying a handful of expensive twist ties that are used by police for handcuffs, as if he planned to take hostages; there appears to have been at least one team on a mission inside the Capitol. Work is ongoing to identify the violators, and it appears there are a number of military and police personnel among them. We'll see. The Pentagon agreed to provide 300 unarmed troops, mostly to help oversee traffic checkpoints and Metro subway stations. That's it. They are pretending to have been totally taken by surprise here.

Maybe the puny police presence calls to mind any of a great number of recent scenes of police by the hundreds, armed to the teeth, teargassing and beating peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters, running over them with their cars, putting their eyes out with rubber bullets. The contrast is clear. Trump had been promoting this "wild" (as he called it) event for weeks. I have seen two social-media videos of people bragging that they were preparing to come to DC "to occupy the Capitol." Nobody was surprised this happened. It appears that the attempted coup was coordinated between Trump's people, the Pentagon and Capitol Police, and underground rightwing militias and mercenaries; the story will come out but I speculate that intended kidnapping and hostage-taking was interrupted by armed Secret Service officers protecting Mike Pence. Otherwise, you have to agree, the plan went very well.

Trump needs to be removed, either by 25th Amendment or impeachment. Nuff said there. It's time for him to go.

A new team is coming in, with a new tone. Today's poisonous Republican rhetoric has been simmering for several decades and it is time to undercut it and establish a kinder, fairer America. We have real problems and do not need to be making up my-inaugural-crowd-was-bigger and I-did-not-say-that-thing-you-heard-me-say fake controversies for people to take sides on. I have previously talked about several concrete steps that could be taken, all of which were implemented in the past and which could take us back to happier days. And how progressive does that sound?

For one, Citizens United was a 2010 court ruling that overturned 100 years of previous law. With a President and both houses of Congress, the Democrats can quickly and effectively write legislation to un-do that terrible decision, which gives unlimited power to corporations that have unlimited financial resources. They didn't used-ta could do that, and it would be good if they couldn't do that again. The ruling had assumed that corporations would be transparent and not corrupt, and those assumptions have been proven wrong. Put some reasonable limits on what people can donate while you're at it. (I suppose taxing political churches would be too much?) We have billionaires and huge companies who could buy the United States of America, cash on the barrelhead, if they wanted to. Let's make it so us little guys have a share in it too, how about that?

Second thing. In 1987 the all-Republican-appointed FCC eliminated the Fairness Doctrine. This was the rule that said licensed broadcast media -- radio and TV -- had to present controversial issues of public importance and they had to make it honest, equitable, and balanced. "Too much government regulation," those 80's Republicans said, and then they changed the law, allowing rich investors to influence programming so their message would prevail on radio and TV. The result today: one-sided, fact-free propaganda blasting into American family homes day and night. Beyond the point of endorsing an opinion, some of the shows present fiction as news, claiming that news is a form of entertainment. Bring that law back. I get tired of the same "panel of experts" every night anyway, what if we had news that was news? Is that idea too old-fashioned? They should be accountable for their facts and coverage.

Finally, the Voting Rights Act was, you know, awkward. I appreciate that a lot of people wanted to get rid of it. But people we do have a problem. This year Black people were motivated after four years of Trump's overt racism, and they stood in line for hours, in a pandemic, to vote, and they changed history. This week's results in Georgia, you know what that was? A: Black folks. Many states -- you might find that most states -- make it harder for Black people to vote. Latinos, too. Native Americans have real problems, just getting to a ballot-box. Even poor rural whites. We don't need different rules for Southern states at this point, we just need some federal standards for voting. How many locations should there be per thousand people? What is the maximum distance someone should have to travel to vote? What is a reasonable time to wait? What kinds of ID can be required? Mail voting -- if it's okay then let the law reflect that, at the federal level. How will mail-in deadlines work, if the mail is slow? How will signatures be handled? These should be guidelines that the states have to follow. They don't have to offer mail voting, for instance, but it is all right if they do, and these will be the necessary conditions. Like, maybe they can start counting them before election day, is that unreasonable? Today's voting environment is engineered to give the minority party the advantage; the Democrats have a shot now at making voting a fair process that works equally well for all populations.

Sure I want the $2,000, actually I think universal basic income sounds like a good idea, especially now, in the pandemic, but I'll take the two grand. That isn't why we elected Joe and Kamala. America needs a real change. We need to be kind to people who are suffering and who need help, and we need to be fair to everyone. You and I expect fair treatment, and it should be something all Americans can expect from their government.

I want to see the door slam shut on these Trump criminals. The greed and corruption should be punished to the full extent of every applicable law, and this latest violent coup attempt should send a lot of people to prison -- not just local Second-Amendment-Bubbas but also the leaders who lied to them. All of them, the whole Trump family, their lawyers, their donors, the crooked people who work for them. We cannot shrug and move on, we need to slam the door. And I am picturing a tall door, on rollers, made of steel bars. We need to shut the door on this embarrassing chapter of American criminal leadership and open the door to a way of life that benefits everyone. We need to beat the virus, we need to get back to work, our kids need to be in school -- we need live music!

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The New New Year

It seemed like 2020 would never end. It was just one disaster after another until you just about had to laugh, if you still could. We'd ask, what else can go wrong? And then something even worse would happen. In a couple of days we will flip our calendars over, and in a few more weeks America can start a new year.

In the meantime, the President who brought us 2020 will try to see how much disruption and misery he can cause before he is booted out of the White House. Trump has given up on presiding. As the country spirals into 2020's despair he wanders the golf course, inattentive and apathetic.

A suicide bomber took out a few blocks of Nashville: not a peep out of the President. COVID-19 killing three thousand people a day, every day, and not a peep. He got a relief bill and didn't sign it until unemployment benefits ran out for millions of citizens. Vaccine has been prepared for administration and there is no plan, millions of doses sitting in refrigerators while people die. Renters losing their homes and freezing on the streets, police and rightwing gangs joining forces to bring violence to US cities, with the President promoting rebellion on the day that the election results are officially certified by Congress.

It's crazy.

Dana Milbank at The Post writes it up as a King Lear story. And I guess this is how it happens. It seems so majestic on the stage, but the reality does not seem tragic or larger-than-life; this is the story of a miserable little man who got in over his head and refused to take on the responsibility he said he deserved. It is the story of a greedy, petty person who found it easy to complain loudly, but when he talked his way into leadership it was too hard for him. You can't really rule by tantrum; an organization as big as the federal government has policies and procedures, and you have to work with those. I remember George W. Bush saying, "If this were a dictatorship it would be a heck of a lot easier... as long as I'm the dictator. Hehehe." And as much as I hate to agree with him, he was right. It would be easier for the President if he just had to issue orders and people would jump to carry them out, or off with their heads. Also it wouldn't work. The country is just too big to follow one not-very-smart, not-very-mature person's whims.

This year there will be a sort of amendment to the calendar. The year 2020 will officially end on December 31st, as usual. The occasion will be celebrated by people sitting in their homes, possibly drinking, until after midnight. There will be no parties. Times Square will be evacuated. Midnight kisses are for pod members only.

Then, this year we will have a sort of Leap New Year, nineteen days that will be set aside for people to huddle in their homes, holding their breath and hoping we get through them. We can expect those weeks, from January first through January nineteenth, to be Republican Days of Hell, filled with rightwing violence and surging deadly disease. Washington's lies will reach a crescendo as reality-denying politicians make a last-ditch effort try to destroy American democracy and our country's way of life, and fail.

January twentieth will be the New New Year's Day. We will have a modest and dignified inauguration and no bragging about whose crowds were bigger. The new President will put his hand on a Bible that he actually reads and believes in, and will swear to uphold the Constitution, which he has actually read and understands. I expect some rightwing hooligans will try to spoil the ceremony but it doesn't matter, the weight of American history carries a lot of momentum and despite anti-American attempts at disruption our country will emerge from this dystopian phase of history intact and ready to move forward. We have an economy to fix, a disease to subdue, racial injustice and rightwing police violence to tamp down, the climate needs immediate attention. People need to get back to work, kids need to get back to school, businesses need to open, as soon as the coronavirus is beaten, which will become a possibility in the New New Year.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Prediction: It Will Get Worse

Joe Biden is staying calm, appointing people, getting briefings, treating his ascension to the Presidency as a normal thing after a normal election. This is the forty-sixth time we have done this, transitioned from one President to another, and it has become a sort of matter of routine. The exiting President leaves a note in the desk, rides with the new guy to the inauguration, there are meetings between the incoming transition team and departing staff at many levels. It is complicated to replace the CEO and senior leadership every few years but it is a traditional and healthy part of American democracy and Biden is treating it as such.

Trump doesn't want to leave. It is not clear why. He does not show any interest in doing the job he was elected to do, but he does not want to leave, and so he is making this as painful and ugly as he possibly can. He is encouraging violence and disruption, hinting at civil war and a military coup, he is setting up the Executive Branch agencies so they will barely be able to function once Biden comes in. He is appointing people to ridiculous positions, stirring up conflict with other countries, trying to start purely political investigations, siphoning huge amounts of money out of the system.

He still has not admitted that he lost the election, and insists it was rigged. And here is the beautiful thing: he has every right, under Constitutional law, to challenge any election result that might have been fraudulent in some way. Trump can use the judiciary to challenge anything improper that might have happened in the 2020 election.

I have lost count, but he has gone to court now more than sixty times over this, including at least two appeals to the Supreme Court. He has had a good share of Republican judges and even judges that he himself appointed. They would love to help him out, you just know, they like him and would be happy if they could catch those libtards cheating in the elections, if they could prove that Trump actually won "BY A LOT," as he is saying. By and large, the judges are on his side. More than sixty times his lawyers have written up narratives and lists of evidence, names of witnesses and descriptions of what they witnessed, video of trucks in the night and people using flash drives and marking up blank ballots, and more than sixty times the court has been unconvinced. The witnesses are incoherent morons. The videos show ordinary ballot-counting processes. The complaints are trivial and unrelated to bias or "rigging" of the election. Still, any time the Republicans think they have found something they have the right to go to court, to follow the Constitutional procedures and demonstrate that our system of government is robust and serves to maintain justice and order. And so far it's working.

Plus, Trump's people get all the air-time they could ever hope for. "Access journalism" means that reporters and media outlets will let powerful people say anything they want without challenge or criticism, and Trump and his people have been in the media constantly, alleging improprieties. All they would have to do is hold up one piece of evidence, one photograph or recording or a piece of paper that shows a vote was changed or entered illegally. That's all they need, one piece of evidence to turn the American public to their side. If they can't convince the courts, they can at least try to convince us citizens. And they can't. They don't have anything that holds up, even in the eyes of Joe Blow sitting at home in front of his TV with Fido on his lap.

The inauguration is a month away. So let me make a prediction. I am going out on a limb here, so hear me out. Just based on my gut, on my finely honed political instincts, on my encyclopedic knowledge of history and inside-baseball political maneuvering, I am going to predict: it's going to get worse over the next month.

Trump has given up on the coronavirus pandemic. He will not even mention it, will not call a meeting, will not push to allocate funds to fight it. He is focused on one thing, and that is the election that he lost. It was an honest, fair election, even according to his own people that he sent out to find problems with it. In order to "win" he has to overthrow the system of democratic voting that we have had in place since 1789. He has to overthrow the American government and the American way of life. That might sound bad to you and me, but the Republican Party is soundly behind him, they do not recognize the validity of our electoral system, they will not acknowledge that Joe Biden has won.

It will get worse before January 20th. Trump is planning a "wild" demonstration in Washington DC on January 6th, the day when the Electoral College vote count is finalized and the results are certified by Congress. He is stirring up violence and talking about civil war. If there is to be a civil war now, the only issue is that the loser of the election does not want to admit he lost. It is nothing more than that, a rejection of the rule of law, a rejection of the Constitution, a rejection of the American way of life. Trump has gone off the deep end mentally and has surrounded himself with raving maniacs who are detached from reality. They don't want what the country wants, they don't want the heritage that has been handed down to them by history. It's going to get bad.