Sunday, March 17, 2019

Another Massacre in the Name of White People

The killing in New Zealand leaves us with an especially hopeless feeling. Even as the ambulances were still arriving at the mosques the news announcers had to mention that Christchurch is a beautiful city. New Zealand has always seemed to us like a pristine, peaceful little paradise nation, healthy and happy. And yet the death toll now has reached fifty, as another festering boil of hate pops.

The killer left a 74-page document explaining why he was doing what he did. It all makes sense to him, and in fact the tone of the manifesto is perfectly calm, articulate, it's well-organized. The problem, as he sees it, is that white Europeans are being "invaded" by other groups. He didn't care what other groups; he is opposed to all of them, unless they stay in their own territory. I think it is important for understanding the problem to note that he also didn't care that New Zealand was once Maori land, colonized by English-speaking outsiders. As long as the invaders are his own group, he is okay with it. It's all about us versus them as absolutes, all about seeing the world from your own point of view, exclusively.

If you are to take a larger view of the situation, a "God's-eye view," as they call it, it is clear that you cannot have every group of people who call themselves "us" killing off every other group of "them." Mathematically that doesn't work; the answer is zero. The beauty of the human species is that we are able to adopt the Gods-eye view sometimes, to see the other side's point of view, and to negotiate agreements where "we" get what we need and "they" do, too. Sometimes it even happens that we join together in a bigger, better "us." Individuals who are heavily invested in their own group's identity might resist such a merger, seeing it as a loss of identity or denigration of their existing in-group. For some this is such a threat that mass violence and even war seem like a reasonable reaction. It is tragic when innocent people who have never considered such perverse thoughts are gunned down randomly while living their routine lives.

A few quotes from the New Zealand murderer's statement:
We are experiencing an invasion on a level never seen before in history. Millions of people pouring across our borders, legally. Invited by the state and corporate entities to replace the White people who have failed to reproduce, failed to create the cheap labour, new consumers and tax base that the corporations and states need to thrive.

... we must deal with both the invaders within our lands and the invaders that seek to enter our lands.

... We must crush immigration and deport those invaders already living on our soil. It is not just a matter of our prosperity, but the very survival of our people.

... [I carried out the attack] to most of all show the invaders that our lands will never be their lands, our homelands are our own and that, as long as a white man still lives, they will NEVER conquer our lands and they will never replace our people... To directly reduce immigration rates to European lands by intimidating and physically removing the invaders themselves.
(I am not going to link to his manifesto.)

The word "invader" appeared fifty-five times in the assassin's statement.

Later in the day, our President adopted the killer's language in describing the us-versus-them viewpoint that white nationalists bring to the American discourse.
People hate the word “invasion,” but that’s what it is. It’s an invasion of drugs and criminals and people. We have no idea who they are, but we capture them because border security is so good. But they’re put in a very bad position, and we’re bursting at the seams. Literally, bursting at the seams.

...You can only do so much. And the only option then is to release them, but we can’t do that either. Because when you release them, they come into our society, and in many cases they’re stone-cold criminals. And in many cases, and in some cases, you have killers coming in and murderers coming in, and we’re not going to allow that to happen. Remarks by President Trump on the National Security and Humanitarian Crisis on our Southern Border
Pundits have wondered whether Trump intentionally used the killer's language, or if it was just a coincidence. It's a pretty good question, but we have no way of knowing what Trump had heard when he delivered these remarks -- I would bet that he had not read any seventy-four-page manifesto, but maybe an aide had quoted a few lines to him. His mention that "people hate the word 'invasion'" suggests he was consciously referring to the New Zealand manifesto. And maybe not, maybe Trump and the New Zealand murderer are simply two mouthpieces expressing the same ideology, and happened to pick the same easy words to describe their beliefs.

In describing a world in which "we" are being invaded by stone-cold criminals, killers and murderers, the obvious inference is that "we" need to defend ourselves. Invasion is a military term, and it calls for counterattack. Latent domestic terrorists in the United States and around the world hear his message and understand what he is saying they have to do. This is going to get worse before it gets better.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

A Civil War Would Be Complicated

The Washington Post had an article noting that a few Americans are talking about having a civil war.
At a moment when the country has never seemed angrier, two political commentators from opposite sides of the divide concurred last week on one point, nearly unthinkable until recently: The country is on the verge of “civil war.”

First came former U.S. attorney Joseph diGenova, a Fox News regular and ally of President Trump. “We are in a civil war,” he said. “The suggestion that there’s ever going to be civil discourse in this country for the foreseeable future is over. . . . It’s going to be total war.”

The next day, Nicolle Wallace, a former Republican operative turned MSNBC commentator and Trump critic, played a clip of diGenova’s commentary on her show and agreed with him — although she placed the blame squarely on the president.

Trump, she said, “greenlit a war in this country around race. And if you think about the most dangerous thing he’s done, that might be it.” In America, talk turns to something unspoken for 150 years: Civil war
The article goes on to quote other commentators who seem to be trying to stir up the violence of a civil war. Well, it does seem like the country is pretty divided.

But I have a couple of questions about how this would work. Like, the first Civil War had some geographical boundaries, for instance the Mason-Dixon line, and those above the line were fighting against those below the line. Union states, Confederate states, with borders between them. So what are you gonna do now, say, "Bill next door and I, and the guy in the house on the other side of him, and also the people across the street, are on one side, and the other people next door, the guy in the green house over there, and the family on the corner are on the other side..." I don't see that working somehow. It's not going to be red states against blue states, because the percentages are 60/40-ish in a lot of places. Never mind the Trump guy down the block with the liberal wife. What you gonna do, fight your own kids?

My other question is: what do they want? This is a serious question. I understand being against stuff, against taxes and bureaucracy and political correctness, but it does not appear that conservatives have proposed any alternative. For example, you hate Obamacare, okay, so what do you have that's better? Just "getting rid of it" sounds good on paper, the peasants with their pitchforks love the idea, but what happens when your own family member needs medical attention? Are there parts of the country where people really want the government to be one branch of a New York crime syndicate, laundering money and cheating people and lying? What is it they want?

Whatever they want, they do not seem to be able to say it out loud. Maybe it's just because of political correctness and the liberal media, but they obviously want racism back -- so why don't they say so? Why don't they just say, we want a Second Amendment for white people but not black people? We want women to be required to live as sex objects or unpaid domestic servants -- if that's what they want then they should just say so. Why not just say out loud, we want more black people in prison and more white people -- especially white collar criminals -- let out? Can they say, we want Mexicans to work in our yards and hotels and harvest our vegetables but we don't want them to have any of the benefits of citizenship (and we don't want to have to mix with them socially)? Why don't they just say, we want to be ruled by the rich, who should not be bound by the laws that apply to the rest of us? Then we would know what the alternative is that they are going to fight this civil war over.

They are willing to push the country to the point where a civil war seems possible, yet they are afraid to say out loud what they really stand for. If there is a civil war and the conservatives win, "owning the libs" does not provide guidance for running a country.

Here's where I think this civil-war idea is going to break down. I think that as we get closer and closer, conservatives will realize that they would not want to live in a country that conforms to their beliefs. The stable state for America is a somewhat liberal government that disaffected and resentful white conservatives can complain about.

Trump did not expect to win the the election, and conservatives do not really know what to do with the power they have now. Even with both houses of Congress and the Presidency they could not pass any of their favorite bills -- they did not make anything better, even by their own standards. They just want to complain. They can rebel against the government if they want, and we can have a civil war, but they will be sorry, whether they win or lose.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Shifting Left

The Democratic hopefuls are announcing their intentions, Congress has a new crop of young Representatives, and these days the news is about "shifting left."

I'm not a very political person but when I hear this sort of thing often enough it does make me wonder what it means. It seems to have started with Bernie Sanders running in the 2016 primary, calling himself a socialist. Besides being a kindly and patient old curmudgeon, he said things that everybody was already thinking. Like, for example, let's not destroy the earth. Is that really a "lefty" thing, and if it is, what kind of insane world do the "center" and the "right" live in? I saw a conservative lady in the news the other day who is pro-measles -- and I admit, I just don't understand some of it. Measles are good for us, she said. Are there people who believe in destroying the environment, just because? I know there are, but it is a crazy thing to want. Normal people want the world to continue in its natural balance. That is not a "shift left," it is obvious and sensible not to destroy our own planet.

Health insurance for all -- come on, who in America actually wants to pay to go to the doctor? Nobody else does it, in other countries. Are there actually people who say, when I get sick -- even when I'm healthy -- I want to take my hard-earned money and give it to some insurance company so they can make cheapskate, profit-driven, cynical decisions about the care I get? The rest of the civilized world has free healthcare, why is it a "shift left" to want that here, too?

Guns -- the NRA manages to get their people on the news, but really, what normal person really wants teachers to have guns in their own kid's classroom? There is a lot of industry money keeping this issue alive but ordinary people feel bad when bunches of people are killed in a school or a factory. You don't have to be a lefty to wish that people could live without fear of random bullets. There can be a balance where people who will be responsible with firearms can have them; no other country in the world has the kind of problem we do with guns. You don't have to be a leftist or a socialist to wish the world was safer for innocent people.

I mean, is it too fluffy for some people, too soft, cowardly somehow, to think you should be able to walk down the street without being shot by some random nut? Is that just too "leftist" for some people?

It does not make sense to anybody for a few billionaires to have more money than they can spend, while everybody else shops around for gas two cents a gallon cheaper. You don't have to be a lefty to see that that's crazy, it is just regular common sense. Do you know how much a billion dollars is? Jeff Bezos could end the homeless problem tomorrow if he wanted, and he'd make the money back in a week. Is that a crazy socialist idea? There is enough money for everybody to be comfortable, so why are most people struggling while a few live in incomprehensible wealth? This is not "shifting left," it's just plain common sense.

Oh my favorite: "regulation." Man, it sounds bad, doesn't it: government regulation. This is supposed to be an evil concept, the government regulating businesses. Yeah, it means your food is edible. It means you can drink the water. It makes it harder for your bank, or your grocery store, or your employer, to cheat you. "Deregulation" is good for corporations who want to make more money by cutting corners on safety and honesty. Other than that, it is bad for actual people. You don't have to be a lefty to see that, everybody is glad the government regulates things. Are we "shifting left" when we want dishes that don't poison us with crazy hormones, buildings and bridges that don't collapse randomly, medicine that is what it says it is?

I don't think the United States is going to have a situation where the workers take over the means of production or overthrow our government in some revolution. We're just not like that. American workers are happy to work hard for a fair salary, and yet asking for a living wage signifies "shifting left." Encouraging the formation of labor unions is "shifting left." You're a lefty if you think it is wrong for American companies to use slave labor and terrible working conditions around the world. But what kind of person wants that? Ask a Republican, would you want to be forced to work in a factory for thirty cents a day? The answer is, of course not. Everybody knows that is wrong. Even Republicans.

All of these things are just common sense. Nobody wants to work all week and get a paycheck that doesn't pay the bills -- nobody. It would be dumb to want that. Nobody really thinks it is a good idea for cops to shoot black people for having a broken taillight or for being in the wrong part of town. Nobody thinks that the government should take people's kids away from them and put them in strangers' homes, or put them in cages, or lose them. Nobody really minds if two men or two women fall in love, as long as they're happy. All this is just common sense and human nature.

Somehow the news media depict these normal, human ideas as "shifting left," and worry about going too far. The pundits talk like you're an extremist if you believe in being nice to people, fair, kind. I don't see how it can persist the way it is -- nobody wants this authoritarian stuff that's destroying our government now. What the pundits call "shifting left" is just plain commonsense, live-and-let-live, normal human nature. I'm looking forward to a vibrant and healthy primary season.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Ugly Americans in America

Park Hills, Kentucky, home of Covington Catholic High School, is 1.65% African American, according to the Census, and 96.64% white. If you do the math, there are about forty-six black people there. Oh, and it's 0.07% Native American, which means there are two Indians in that town.

The Black Hebrew Israelites are an SPLC-certified hate group found in Eastern cities. They're a rude, offensive, off-the-wall, sometimes funny and weird cult. They've been around for more than a century, if you live here you've seen them at Gallery Place or somewhere, quoting scripture and insulting passersby. It's part of the sound of the city.

Black guys on the street giving snot-nosed, privileged white Covington boys a hard time? Back home in Park Hills this is impossible. These Kentucky kids had never seen that. In the city, when this happens you walk past it or you stand back and watch to see what's going to happen. In Park Hills you would need to put somebody in their place.

I've said this before -- the problem, the reason we have a "Trump," is that Americans don't travel. There is nothing like that feeling in another country where the locals look at you like you're the dumbest person ever born. You don't know how to count the money, what the food is called, you stare like yokels when they strip at the beach. The lesson you learn is, our "way of life" is one of many.

If you lived your whole life in an isolated colony like Park Hills, Kentucky, you would not learn that lesson. Thrown into a diverse community -- and this situation was comically diverse, between the lily-white MAGA anti-abortion mob, the insult-hurling street-tough Black Hebrew Israelites, and the tom-tom beating Native Americans -- these teenagers continued to act like they were back home, like this was a skit or a pep rally or something. A couple hundred of them thought they could cheer and jeer and mock people in the foreign land of Washington DC, like an audience seated in the dark, like it didn't matter.

These boys treated our city like it was their private toilet, without learning how we live here. They were stereotypical ugly Americans in an America they did not know or respect.

Four percent of DC voters supported Trump, which rounds to zero. We are the nation's capital and are well aware of political differences, but we know where we stand individually. DC is 40.4 per cent Caucasian -- a minority, in case that math is too hard. These obnoxious boys in their stupid MAGA costumes did not know their place in the big city.

BTW, of course DC gets a lot of tourists, and they don't know where to stand on the escalator or when to talk to a stranger on the Metro, or whatever. Nobody minds that. Locals roll their eyes and try to be polite and helpful. There's nothing wrong with being out of your element, if you're respectful and a little humble about it.

The middle of the country doesn't look like DC. In the diverse, mostly coastal, cities of the US there are all kinds of people, and you don't survive if you don't adjust to encountering people from every continent, with every philosophy and religion, every belief and attitude and bizarre idea that exists. They aren't going to change to be like you in your stupid MAGA uniform, they don't even want to be like you. The locals will tolerate you, but don't try to force your expectations on anybody else, because nobody cares.

That kid should have stepped aside when the Omaha elder came through, but he could not appreciate being in the presence of a kind of power clearly superior to his own. His young-Brett-Kavanaugh smirk was disgusting. The whole disrespectful mob was disgusting. The situation was more complicated than it first seemed but in the end you have to believe your own eyes.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Lawsuit Filed to Allow Conversion Therapy in Maryland

Conversion therapy, which attempts to transform gay people into heterosexuals, is illegal for minors in Maryland. But a rightwing religious group has filed a lawsuit to allow it.
Baltimore Sun:
A psychotherapist filed a federal lawsuit Friday seeking to overturn Maryland’s ban on treating minors with conversion therapy, a controversial practice that attempts to change clients’ homosexual orientation.

Christopher Doyle is suing Gov. Larry Hogan and Attorney General Brian Frosh in U.S. District Court in Maryland, saying the ban violated his rights to free speech and the practice of religion, as well as the rights of clients “to prioritize their religious and moral values above unwanted same-sex sexual attractions, behaviors, or identities.”

Federal lawsuit seeks to overturn Maryland's ban on conversion therapy
Christopher Doyle is somebody we have seen before. In 2013 he organized a big "Ex-Gay Pride" demonstration on Capitol Hill. You might remember -- they had announced that "thousands" would be coming, but fewer than ten people showed up.

Doyle claims to have "overcome unwanted same-sex attraction" himself, but actually his story is pretty bizarre, and there is some question as to whether he was ever actually gay himself. He told PFOX that when he was ten years old his thirteen-year-old female cousin began molesting him about once a week for a year. He told PFOX, "I wasn't getting enough attention from my parents, and it felt good to be close to my cousin in this way."

Doyle also told PFOX that when he was older, "I tried to have sex with the little girls that my mother watched in her daycare, and eventually, one of the girls told her parents what I was doing." It does not appear that he was criminally charged for abusing preschool girls, or that there were any consequences.

Then, he said, through adolescence, "Any way I could receive love, with girls or boys, I would take it. I soon learned that boys, however, were a lot easier to have sex with than girls." He told PFOX that "I had girlfriends in high school" but "took every opportunity" to have sex with boys.

Doyle claims that praying did not help him but he got a job and joined a Bible study group after college and then, without explanation, his interest in male sex partners disappeared. He told Queerty, "I never really went to therapy to try and eliminate same-sex attraction, it just happened automatically."

Doyle told The Sun that the conversion therapy ban prevents him from counseling minors who have an “unwanted same sex attraction.” He told them, “If your goal is to change your sexual attraction, that’s not a goal you can have in Maryland. You’ll have to work on something else until you’re 18.”

I would say: good, and let's keep it that way. This guy is a mess, he doesn't have any business "curing" anybody in our state. I can think of lots of ways to improve our legal system; making it easier for this man to have intimate personal time with children and adolesecents is not one of them.

To be clear: conversion therapy does not change anybody's sexual orientation. It is, first and foremost, a hoax. It is, beyond that, dangerous to young gay and lesbian people who feel there is something wrong with them when there is not. Society has passed the point where we need to inflict shame on people because of their sexual orientation.

Our Maryland legislators get it, they have made this sort of fake "therapy" illegal in our state, but this character is suing to try to get the courts to allow him to come here and engage in the harmful practice. The Republicans have been packing the courts with conservative judges, maybe he will get lucky and win this case -- I'm no lawyer and don't know what the odds are or the legal subtleties. But you have to admit, these are crazy times, and anything can happen. Let's keep an eye on it.
He is represented by the Florida-based Christian group, Liberty Counsel, which has challenged conversion therapy bans elsewhere in the country. The group is opposed to abortion rights and same-sex marriage, and represented Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to marry such couples. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated it an anti-LGBT hate group.

Mark Procopio, executive director of FreeState Justice, an LGBT advocacy group, said the legislation banning conversion therapy “is based on sounds medical and psychological research and expertise.”

“Existing federal case law shows that legislation like this seeking to protect minors from these harmful practices are constitutional and do not infringe on religious freedoms,” Procopio said. “No religious belief allows state-licensed practitioners to harm children under Maryland law."

Friday, January 11, 2019

MoCo Hunkers Down

You hear the number 800,000 federal employees out of work, but it is a little more complicated than that. More than half of those are still going to work, even though they are not being paid for it. Note that being forced to work without pay is known, normally, as "slavery."

Lots of federal employees are not working. They are hoping their pay will be reimbursed, as it always has in past shutdowns, but there is no guarantee. A couple of weeks ago the President canceled their scheduled pay raise for 2019. And now, imagine how his base will love him when he says, "Why should they be paid for not doing anything?" They love to hate federal employees, depicted as a bunch of lazy bureaucrats burning up taxpayers' hard-earned dollars doing nothing. The President's following would be happy if he could cancel furlough back-pay.

Mortgage is due on the first, Pepco wants their share, the bank wants your car payment. You want your gas to stay on. Today is payday on the calendar but there isn't going to be any pay. The zero-dollar pay-stub is today's Internet meme.

And contractors have it the worst. In a lot of agencies contractors run all the IT, they are the programmers, editors, subject-matter experts, help desk, security, building operations and cleaning people, and they know they aren't going to be paid. This shutdown is a pure loss for most of them. Hopefully they understood the risks and put some money away when they took the gig, because they are only going to go deeper into the hole, the longer this thing drags on. I have not seen any numbers for contractors affected, so far. I don't know if anybody knows how many there are. In the past couple of decades the government has tried to save money by replacing federal employees with contractors, but I don't see the numbers out there, and they don't get mentioned in most discussions of the effects of this shutdown.

Our little county in Maryland is full of people who work for the federal government, either as federal employees or contractors. Most of us have been through this before, but this time is different. There was always a sense of process, an understanding that the two sides were going to work out an agreement and we would all get back to work and everything would be fine. You could never treat a shutdown like a vacation because, one, you never knew when they would call you back, and two, you really were not getting paid in the meantime, so you couldn't spend anything. And now three, you don't know if Trump is going to try to block pay for your furlough time. A lot of us don't have a ton of savings -- a GS job is pretty good but it's is not, let's say, the golden path to wealth. I used to say the best thing about working for the government was the stability.

So here in Montgomery County we are feeling the brunt of this foolishness. I tend to agree with those who are saying that Trump doesn't even really want a wall. He is just trying to keep the attention away from his own catastrophes. You notice the news surrounding the Mueller investigation has a lot of Russian names in it these days, and the idea that there was "no collusion" is not even mentioned any more. Trump can't do anything about the legal troubles that are about to rain down on his criminal organization, but he has always been good at manipulating the public perceptions of people who are not really paying attention. The wall, the shutdown, this will keep Mueller off the front pages. I don't think he'll make it through this term. The question now is the "President Pence" problem. Well, we'll see how tightly he is interwoven with Manafort. Maybe they'll be cellmates. I really doubt President Pelosi will pardon either of them.

Figure with contractors and other federal support, a million people are being directly hit by unemployment at this point, never mind the cascading effects of money those out-of-work people aren't spending in their communities. This is all to support the vanity of one sad man whose life of corruption unfortunately landed him in the White House. When he says he "relates" and says the federal workforce will adapt and be okay, it is clear he has no idea how widespread the damage is. His own sense of self-importance is so magnified that real people with real bills are like ants to him.

And it's not just the plight of the federal workforce -- it's also the work that they do. Right now, research projects are stopped, federal law enforcement is stripped down to a minimum, the weather models are not maintained, economic models, trade policy, the courts are running out of money, food isn't being inspected, the statistics that measure progress and decline in the population and the economy, the parks are going to hell, infrastructure maintenance, fire prevention. The federal government does a lot of things. If you have a political belief that it is too big or does too much then fine, you can vote for conservatives who will trim it down; this is not the way to do it.

[Update: Mother Jones says there are three million contractors, and that Congress is trying to arrange back pay for them. Nice.]

Friday, December 28, 2018

Drowning Accomplished

Conservatives wanted to drown government in a bathtub. Now they are doing that.

I think everybody understands: Trump is not serious, he is a troll. He doesn't know anything about running a government but knows how to amplify the resentment of ignorant people and create a populist smokescreen for international organized crime. "The wall" is trolling, it's not a grown-up idea, it's not for real. It started as a campaign skit to get crowds worked up about immigration. As Joshua Green explained in his book, Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency, Roger Stone and Sam Nunberg take credit for it:
“Roger Stone and I came up with the idea of ‘the Wall,’ and we talked to Steve [Bannon] about it,” said Nunberg. “It was to make sure he talked about immigration.”

Initially, Trump seemed indifferent to the idea. But in January 2015, he tried it out at the Iowa Freedom Summit, a presidential cattle call put on by David Bossie’s group, Citizens United. “One of his pledges was, ‘I will build a Wall,’ and the place just went nuts,” said Nunberg. Warming to the concept, Trump waited a beat and then added a flourish that brought down the house. “Nobody,” he said, “builds like Trump.” The Guy Who Thought Up ‘the Wall’ Says Trump Should Shut Government to Fund It
It is fine to negotiate and compromise on bipartisan differences, but this is not a real proposal, it is just trolling and no compromise is possible. You can't win by opposing it, by reasoning about it, because the idea of a border wall does not meet the criteria for being included in a logical argument. All you can do it ignore it.

Walls were fine in Medieval times when barbarians were shooting arrows at your castle, but the function of "the wall" as an idea in the twenty-first century is to isolate and ridicule those who still believe in objective reality, and who believe that a democratic government can be effective.

If they can't literally drown it in a bathtub then conservatives can at least mock government, ridicule it, propose absurd ways to waste tax money, and while they're at it they can mock and ridicule people who take government seriously. Drown the libs in a bathtub, too. Conservatives hope to get everybody worked up in an absurd debate while the government ignores real crises; this will prove that government deserved to be drowned. They are hoping this shutdown does it. There is no hurry to re-open, no real need to as long as they still have control of both houses of Congress and the Presidency. This is it: there is no federal government. Drowning accomplished.

The Democrats will fail completely if they attempt to debate "the wall." It would be like Elizabeth Warren showing us her DNA report -- playing the game is losing. The Democrats need to stay focused and positive; they have a bipartisan plan to manage border security, they have the votes in Congress for it, and they cannot let themselves be distracted from that. Don't argue about the strengths and weaknesses of a Medieval wall. It doesn't matter why it wouldn't work, or how tall it is, or if it has slats, or spikes, it is just a dumb idea.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Flynn Free, Trump Continues to March Off the Edge

The news is coming too fast and furious to blog about -- something posted in the morning is old news by afternoon. This morning Trump let go a series of Twitter statements that defy mental health. He is worse than an 8-year-old. It is pathetic. Later today a report is expected from Robert Mueller, new details about the crimes of the Trump mob family will come to light and it is actually frightening, as the stock market crashes with our international reputation and the lucidity of domestic policies and decisions.

It comes back to this video and the smug belief that they are better than the rest of us. There is no justification or even explanation for it, conservatives simply believe that they are good people and deserve power. Liberals are not just mistaken or misguided individuals, but criminals who should be jailed or shot, or thrown from helicopters. I have posted this before but you can never watch this video too much, and it is appropriate this week as we reflect on Michael Flynn's sentencing memo -- dark with redactions as multiple investigations continue. Here is Flynn at the 2016 Republican Convention, giving a speech supporting Donald Trump. Even while he was speaking, Flynn was a traitor and a criminal who was actively working to undermine the interests of the USA.

This isn't some schmoe sittin' in a bar somewhere complaining about the gummint. This is a retired Lieutenant General of the United States Army who would soon be appointed National Security Advisor to the US President, and was, while he spoke, actively working with foreign governments to sabotage American democracy. And don't forget, Trump knew all this when he appointed him National Security Advisor, he had been briefed by the Obama administration.



Flynn is leading a chant of "Lock her up," accusing Hillary Clinton of crimes involving her email use. Clinton, Trump's opponent in the election, had been under nearly constant political persecution by conservatives since the 1990s, and no matter how well-funded the Republicans were or how bloodthirsty they were to nail her on something, anything, the government repeatedly established that Hillary Clinton is not a criminal. If she had spit on the sidewalk once in the past thirty years they would have caught her at it, but there was nothing. The Republican Party was successful in creating a sort of aura of suspicion around her through a steady stream of accusations, but the worst they had was the fact she wore pant-suits sometimes, or was shrill and bitchy, that is, spoke her mind while female.

Flynn on the other hand was setting up backchannel deals with the Russians, arranging to undermine our presidential election and compromise our American sovereignty once Trump was in office. Things did not go as planned, and Flynn -- after being installed by Trump as the National Security Advisor -- has pleaded guilty of making "false, fictitious, and fraudulent" statements to the FBI.

The federal prosecutor recommended no prison time for him, which is incredible for someone who has been a leader in treason at the highest of levels of government. But Flynn talked, he talked a lot, and they are rewarding him for cooperating.

I know you've seen it, but watch this video again. Watch the face of nationalistic commitment, the eagle eyed intensity of a traitor who is arguing that his political opponent should be jailed for her beliefs. Look at how happy the Republicans are, chanting, cheering. Tearing down our country has been fun for them.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Democracy is More Like a River than a Rock

There is currently a Republican body of discourse, and it is nonsense. Desperate refugees are described as dangerous terrorists; video is altered to weaken journalists' ability to monitor authorities; election fraud is charged where voter suppression policies failed to protect unpopular candidates; abortion is described as, simply, bad and immoral, though more than a quarter of American women have found a need for it; as a matter of faith there need to be more guns out there; Christians need more religious freedom and other religions need to be eradicated; transgender people cost too much; they say Democrats are pro-crime, pro-terrorism, and want "open borders," whatever that is; fair access to healthcare as practiced in other civilized countries is called "socialism" and blocked; these people will tell you that climate change is a hoax by the Chinese intended to make us less competitive; "tax reform" means lower taxes for the rich; black people deserve to be killed by the cops-- well I could go on. You've heard it. All of this is nonsense. It is not intended to make sense but only to push emotional buttons.

On the Democratic side there is not universal agreement on much of anything. There are discussions about how we should deal with refugees and other immigrants who want to enter the United States to live or work -- what plans can we establish and manage, how do we select who will qualify, how will we deal with those who violate regulations, and how can we define citizenship in a way that is fair and good for the country? There is discussion about the best ways to ensure that all citizens get to vote and that their vote is counted -- should we use paper ballots and count by hand or can we make automation secure, can we make sure voting locations are accessible and available to poor people as well as rich ones, and are there better alternatives to our current voting methods? Is journalism in a free country a competitive business where reporters should censor their questions in order to maintain access to publicly elected authorities or is it an institution that should be protected, and that forces authorities to answer questions and explain themselves? To what extent does the right to free speech mean that an organization is obligated to provide a platform for hate, and what is the best way for private citizens to respond to fascism, sexism, racism, and other forms of bigotry? How can we best provide women with the specific healthcare needs they have, including cancer screening, contraception, and abortion? Should the government regulate gender, romance, and family practices, and if so, why and to what extent? These are real questions where it is difficult to find answers that suit the society as a whole while meeting the needs of individuals in particular circumstances. But through open discussion and a full accounting of the facts, it is presumed that equitable outcomes can be reached.

In other words, we have one party that is talking nonsense and propaganda, doing what it can to instill fear and control voters, and we have another party that is divided between what are called "moderates" and "progressives," and is debating -- at times heatedly -- the best ways to provide security and prosperity to the nation.

To be fair, the Republican party does have a mission and a goal, and that is to further enrich and empower those who are already advantaged. The political goal is the installation of the super-rich in positions where they can influence the domestic economy and world markets in ways that will increase their profits even more. In a democracy this means cultivating a population of voters who are innumerate, functionally illiterate, and do not trust or follow the news except as it is served through particular plutocratic propaganda media outlets.

I am in an optimistic mood at the moment, and am willing to hope and to speculate that the oligarchs will be voted out after the current experiment, and that public debate will come to focus on the real issues that presently occupy moderate and progressive liberal thought. If there are two parties, then let one take the moderate, more conservative position (just as the Republicans are suddenly big defenders of pre-existing conditions), and let the other take the more progressive position on issues, and let's haggle out solutions from there.

When you talk to real people in the modern world, you find their opinions almost always fall somewhere between moderately and progressively liberal. Nobody at all wants to give up their house and possessions to pay their medical bills when they get sick, or wants other people to; there is almost nobody who really thinks mass murder is a fine and normal part of daily life and that the problem is that there are not enough guns on the street, or actually thinks that schoolteachers should be armed in the classroom (or rabbis in the synagogue); there is almost nobody who really thinks that only white people should be able to vote; all our hearts go out to starving children in our country and in foreign lands and we would like to help them; nobody actually believes that elected authorities should be able to do any self-serving thing with our tax dollars in secret, and without being accountable. Everybody realizes that war is hell and would do all they can to prevent it. And so on. American people are pretty sensible. They are inherently kind and caring, and do not mean to do anyone harm without justification. There are some nuts out there, but mostly those have, let's say, mixed motives.

It is possible that the US will go over the brink and follow the way of our currently governing party, and that critical thinking will simply vanish, especially if we let journalism and education die. It has happened in the past -- remember the Dark Ages? -- and there is no law of nature that says it can't happen again. Democracy is a difficult path to take, it includes a fundamental requirement that every person needs to respect every other person and make concessions to maximize everyone's freedom. This is hard, and there are people who are unwilling to do it. Democracy is a kind of steady-state dynamic system that requires constant adjustment, constant vigilance, maintenance; it is not a static thing that you put in place and it persists. It is more like a river than a rock. Our democracy will always need to make adjustments to 1.allow innovation and the introduction of new processes, personalities, and ideas and 2.prevent selfish actors from taking advantage of the need for consensus. We gotta keep our eyes open.

This week's election resulted in a strong push by the people to return to a sensible system of government. The President and his party have done lasting damage, they have plundered the treasury and undermined the budget, they have undercut civil rights, destabilized relationships around the world, and energized the darkest forces of our own society. And they are not going to release control voluntarily, that much is clear; for one thing, criminal prosecutions are a real probability once they lose power. The most powerful authoritarians in the US are not going to bend to the will of the people without a fight. So it is up to us, the people, to stand up and fight for ourselves and our democracy.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Today's News

The Washington Post sends out a daily news summary in email. Today of course the lottery is a big story. I thought the list of headlines themselves represented a pretty good snapshot of our time (though the proposed federal reversal of gender identity equality is not mentioned today). This nightmare would not have seemed possible a couple of years ago.

I split them into groups just to make it more readable.
He won Powerball’s $314 million jackpot. It ruined his life.
Check your Mega Millions tickets. Here are the winning numbers.
A single Mega Millions jackpot winner is reported, in South Carolina

‘In the service of whim’: Officials scramble to make Trump’s false assertions real
White nationalist Richard Spencer accused of physically abusing wife throughout their marriage
A 14-year-long oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico verges on becoming one of the worst in U.S. history

A quarter of college students could develop PTSD because of the 2016 election, a new study suggests
‘The President . . . says it’s ok to grab women by their private parts’: Man accused of groping woman on flight invokes Trump
‘I thought it was very nice’: VA official showcased portrait of KKK’s first grand wizard

Trump officials aggressively bypass appeals process to get issues before conservative Supreme Court
Trump says there’s ‘no proof’ that Middle Easterners have joined migrant caravan, although there ‘could very well be’
A witches’ brew of over-the-top Trump attacks

After Khashoggi’s killing, Turkey’s leader seeks to weaken Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince
Trump says Saudis engaged in ‘worst coverup ever’ as U.S. imposes penalties
Apple’s Tim Cook delivers searing critique of Silicon Valley

The world’s longest bridge-tunnel brings China even closer to Hong Kong. Not everyone is pleased.
You’ve won the Mega Millions jackpot! Time to hide.
Blue-collar men are riding America’s economic wave. Women? Not so much.

U.S. stocks rattled as two industrial giants warn of trouble
Lockheed Martin executives break silence over Khashoggi killing and their business with Saudi Arabia
iPhone XR: The best $250 you ever saved on a new phone

Money vs. morals: Khashoggi killing raises questions in Silicon Valley about Saudi investment
Amazon met with ICE officials over facial-recognition system that could identify immigrants
This CEO allegedly stole millions from low-income phone subscribers to pay for a Ferrari, a private jet and a Florida condo

Carolyn Hax: As my messy daughter’s landlord, should I evict her over cleanliness?
Many intermittent fasters skip breakfast. Here’s why that’s not a good idea.
Elle Mills is the celebrity every YouTuber wants to be. But her fame came at a price.
Megyn Kelly asked ‘what is racist?’ about blackface on Halloween. Plenty of people had answers.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Ignore High and Low

There seems to be some confusion lately about civility, and Michelle Obama’s 2016-ish idea that “When they go low, we go high.” Some prominent liberals — Hillary Clinton, Eric Holder, Michael Avenatti, among them — are having second thoughts about this lofty-sounding idea, which is, intrinsically, a losing strategy. When they hit us below the belt we are going to be nice back to them, uh huh. The problem arises when you think there are only two options, that is, we “go high” by turning the other cheek or we “go low,” like conservatives do.

Going low would mean lying, using dirty tricks such as voter suppression, manipulating the press, falsely associating your opponent with negative groups. Well, liberals could do that, we could go low. There is nothing inherently wrong with working the system to further a higher cause, except for one thing. When your cause is reason, fairness, and kindness, and the other side’s cause is to gain power for power’s sake, guess what — the power-seekers are gonna win. Winning power is conservatives' whole goal and they will be dedicated to it: winning at any cost. There is no belief system behind that, they don’t have a plan for what to do once they’ve won power, they just mean to win. Lying and manipulating people is inconsistent with liberals’ goals, and it wouldn’t work for us, anyway. So, as far as I can tell, “going low” is not a liberal option. A liberal who goes low is, technically, a "conservative." BTW, the concern with looking like hypocrites affects only one side of the national debate.

Another option is to fight back. But you can hardly do that. Here’s a term for you: Gish Gallop. Wikipedia explains:
The Gish gallop is a technique used during debating that focuses on overwhelming an opponent with as many arguments as possible, without regard for accuracy or strength of the arguments. The term was coined by Eugenie C. Scott and named after the creationist Duane T. Gish, who used the technique frequently against proponents of evolution.
You cannot “fight back” against the Gish Gallop. Trump is a troll supported by an army of trolls, and this is what they do: the Gish Gallop. They throw out accusations and ridiculous falsehoods too fast to keep up with. Trump’s lies have accelerated lately, almost every statement he utters contains a falsehood, and you simply cannot find the facts and refute every lie as fast as he can generate new ones. Never mind his supporters. The lies come so fast that you cannot in a lifetime disprove all of them. Fighting back is futile. There is also a tactical advantage for the person who makes a statement, relative to the person who counters it. So don't bother.

Oh, you could “go high.” WTF does that mean? You could talk in calm tones, stick with facts, make reasonable statements and follow through with them. Uh huh. You could bore people to death. The media will treat you like you don’t exist, people will ignore you. Picture Hillary in the debates, “going high” against Trump, talking about policies and decisions she would implement if elected, with him snorting and pawing behind her, stalking and distracting. In today’s attention economy, nobody cares about the high road. It should work, we should be able to discuss issues rationally, but in the current environment this is simply a losing tactic. You can take the high road all day if you want, to a room full of empty chairs.

Here’s a crazy idea — how about playing good, positive, assertive offense? What if liberals went out and talked about what they actually stand for. Don’t bother saying, “Tax fairness isn’t socialism,” or “My brother-in-law did not work for such-and-such borderline controversial group” or “I do not support crime,” or “I do not want an unregulated border…” or whatever. What do you stand for? A decent minimum wage? International relations? Climate issues? Gender equity? Making clear, un-watered-down progressive assertions will be controversial enough, the cameras will follow you. Wolf Blitzer's eyeballs may pop out, but they will pop out on national television and it will draw a great audience.

Say what you say, and ignore what the authoritarians say you say.

Liberal politicians, and liberal voters for that matter, should deliver their message, clearly and loudly. Act like the ridiculous accusations don’t exist. If somebody is so stupid that they think, say, that Eric Holder is literally going to kick a Republican, then they are a lost case anyway. Make a joke if you must address the issue, and move on to your own talking points. This isn’t “going high,” and it isn’t “going low.” The media will pay attention to you if you make bold and clear statements of your beliefs and your intentions as a candidate.

The truth is, most Americans hold progressive values; you might find thirty percent are haters, the rest are good, reasonable, caring people. A liberal candidate may advocate a single-payer healthcare system, and another may recommend another way to enact coverage for everyone — let that be our debate. Almost all Americans would want to have their health needs taken care of without cost, there is nothing controversial about that idea. The question should be, what approach will we take? What is the best way to do it? Who cares if pharmacy and insurance lobbyists are freaking out? Not our problem. Let them figure out what their role is in America’s better future — I am confident they will figure out how to rake a buck off the top.

Similarly, most Americans are not racists, or sexists, they may hold traditional values and stereotypes that bias their attitudes but they do not mean to block women from being successful and do not approve of rape and harassment, they do not believe that Hispanics and black people are inferior and less deserving that white people; they might not understand gay people but they don’t really have anything against them. Fairness and equality are not radical ideas, you don’t have to “go high” to say out loud that discrimination needs to be eliminated, and that there need to be programs that lend a hand up. Most people believe that. It is a winning argument. Just say it. Abortion, too. Most people know that sometimes a woman needs an abortion. If one American woman in three has had one, then that means everybody knows a woman who has had an abortion. It is your wife, your sister, your neighbor. It is legal, it is medical care, and it needs to be protected; everybody knows that. Don’t pussyfoot around, don’t let the nuts define the topic, just say what is obvious. It’s not “going low” and it’s not “going high” to say that decisions about a necessary medical procedure need to be made by a patient and her doctor, not some religious terrorists. It is saying what needs to be said.

It may seem to be a little rude sometimes to refuse to go along with the topic that the authoritarian right and their media pundits believe we should be discussing, well we can be nice about it, but firm. We don’t need to talk about giving guns to teachers — it’s a dumb idea, we don’t even have to argue why it’s dumb, the idea is not realistic and it was only suggested to throw reasonable debate out the window. People do not want to take little kids away from the parents and lock them up or put them up for adoption, there is nothing "bold" about opposing that. Nobody in America actually wants lower taxes for rich people — we all hate having to give our money to the government, but we do it because we all know we are going in together on the costs of services that only government can provide. So why are America’s oligarchs getting away with paying nothing? Liberals should not have to argue about whether they are socialists or not when they oppose tax cuts for the rich, it’s a stupid criticism and we should ignore it. Anybody who thinks it is “socialist” to expect the rich to pay taxes is a goner already anyway.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Minorities See It

If there was a movie, Brett Kavanaugh would be the bad guy. He is somebody you can't identify with, a puffy-faced drunk with an impotent whiny temper and no respect for women, he's moody and defensive and paranoid and not very smart. He would be the "spoiled rich guy" in the movie, the ex-boyfriend, and at some point the streetwise hero would punch him out and the audience would cheer. He is a creep.

But Republican Senators think he is a fine specimen, a regular guy. He's one of them. He likes beer a lot but never blacks out -- just ask him -- and so when he says he doesn't remember trying to rape this particular Holton Hosebag, it means it never happened. Not that it matters, because the Senators didn't believe her, or, really, care. They hired somebody to talk to her so they wouldn't have to, and at the end of the day it didn't matter. Kavanaugh is one of them, and now he will determine how the Constitution will be interpreted for all of us.

The Root is an online magazine with a black readership, and they make a great point, regarding a recent poll.
...what virtually no mainstream coverage of that poll mentioned, despite Quinnipiac highlighting it in their own summary of the data—is that there were steep racial divides in how people viewed Kavanaugh.

Those results would reveal that 83 percent of black and 66 percent of Latinx voters believe Blasey Ford, compared to a mere 40 percent of white voters. And that 80 percent of black and 69 percent of Latinx voters considered her honest compared to just 54 percent of white voters.

This gap persists even when you isolate out white women, a demographic some pundits believed would be outraged at how Blasey Ford was treated by Senate Republicans (her testimony—deemed “credible” by Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee—was essentially thrown out once Kavanaugh began rage-crying).

According to the Quinnipiac poll, nearly half (47 percent) of white women considered Kavanaugh to be honest. The numbers for black and Latinx voters? Just 7 percent and 34 percent, respectively. A plurality of white women did believe Blasey Ford (46 percent)—but it was nowhere near the majority, as was the case with black and Latinx voters. ‘People’ Aren’t Divided on Kavanaugh’s Confirmation. White People Are.
Black and Hispanic Americans believed the victim and saw the creep as a creep.

Trump rose to power on a message of white supremacy, and here you see how it works.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Dear FBI: Check July 1 At Timmy's House

Yesterday's hearings were remarkable. The Republicans want a conservative on the court, they want to get him (and it will be a "him") appointed while they have the majority to do it, and they don't care if he is a low-life criminal pig.

A woman claimed she had been sexually assaulted by their alcoholic nominee. Oddly, I mean, bizarrely -- there is not a word that expresses how weird and out-of-normal this was -- Republican Senators decided not to question the assault victim themselves, but brought in Rachel Mitchell, a prosecutor from Arizona who specializes in sex crimes. The questioning of the assault victim went in five-minute turns; a Republican represented by the prosecutor, then a Democrat speaking for himself or herself, and so on.

A prosecutor's job is to convict the bad guy. They want the criminal to confess on the stand, or they want to box him in logically until it is obvious to judge and jury that he did it. It is not the prosecutor's job to show that the victim is lying or otherwise make the defendant look innocent, which is what the Republicans wanted in this case. And, actually, the prosecutor's questioning did not cast any doubt on the victim Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's story. Ford was an extremely believable witness, in fact, nobody could listen to her testimony and decide she was lying. She is not a political person, she is a meek professor who has carried a terrible secret around for thirty-six years. She is very sure Kavanaugh is the assailant, and you knew, listening to her, watching her, that she is telling the truth. He did it.

This happened.

The prosecutor was not so flattering with Kavanaugh. He had brought some calendars he kept from his high school days, hoping to show that he was too busy with wholesome things to have assaulted a girl at a party. But, you know, that's not how prosecutors work.

Dr. Ford had said that she had been at a small party with Kavanaugh, his friend Mark Judge, someone named "PJ," and another boy, plus her friend Leland. There may have been others, but it was a small gathering, more of a get-together than a party.

From The Post:
Rachel Mitchell, hired by the Republican majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee to navigate the questioning of Kavanaugh and Ford, pointed to one particular calendar entry that got some attention after the calendars came out. It read:

Tobin’s House — Workout / Go to Timmy’s for Skis w/ Judge, Tom, PJ, Bernie, Squi

The reference to “skis” is apparently to “brewskis,” or beers. The entry was July 1, a Thursday. Mitchell asked him about it.
MITCHELL: The entry says, and I quote, go to ‘Timmy’s for skis with Judge, Tom, P.J. Bernie and ... Squi?’

KAVANAUGH: Squi. It’s a nickname.

MITCHELL: To what does this refer, and to whom?

KAVANAUGH: [after explaining the “Tobin’s House” part] It looks like we went over to Timmy’s. You want to know their last names, too? I’m happy to do it.

MITCHELL: If you could just identify: Is ‘Judge’ Mark Judge?

KAVANAUGH: It is. It’s Tim Gaudette, Mark Judge, Tom Kaine, P.J. Smyth, Bernie McCarthy, Chris Garrett.
Notice two things here. First, that “Squi” was in attendance at the party — someone who, we learned thanks to Mitchell’s questioning of Ford, was going out with Ford over the course of that summer. Second, notice those two other attendees, one of whom Mitchell highlighted: Mark Judge and P.J. Smyth.

Mitchell’s questioning continued.
MITCHELL: Did you in your calendar routinely document social gatherings like house parties or gatherings of friends in your calendar?

KAVANAUGH: Yes, it certainly appears that way, that’s what I was doing in the summer of 1982. You can see that reflected on several of the-- several of the entries.

MITCHELL: If a gathering like Dr. Ford has described had occurred, would you have documented that?

KAVANAUGH: Yes, because I documented everything, those kinds of events, even small get-togethers. August 7 is another good example where I documented a small get-together that summer. So yes.
During her testimony, Ford made clear that the event at which she says she was assaulted was a casual get-together before the others (who were older than her and had a later curfew) went to other, bigger parties. Kavanaugh says that the gathering at Timmy’s on July 1 was essentially that.
Immediately after that exchange, the Republican committee chair called a break, and the prosecutor was fired. She sat in her chair but did not ask any more questions.

Like many people in the country, I followed along on Twitter as I watched the hearings, getting reactions, seeing what people noticed that I might have missed. When the committee came back and the Republicans began handling their own interrogations, a lawyer who uses the handle "@emptywheel" tweeted: "I conclude from the GOP firing the sex crimes prosecutor that on July 1 Ford was sexually assaulted." I will note that I follow @emptywheel because she is usually right.

One question that came up during Ford's testimony regarded the timing of the incident. She thought it was the summer of 1982, because she did not drive yet, but she did not have a way to be sure. The one thing she remembered was that she saw Mark Judge working at the Potomac Safeway six to eight eight weeks later. So, as she noted, if we could find out when Judge worked there, we could identify the approximate date of the attack. IRS records and employment records were suggested.

Again, from another article in The Post:
There’s a better source, as it turns out: Judge’s book, “Wasted: Tales of a Gen X Drunk,” published in 1997.

In one passage, beginning on Page 92, Judge describes his time working at a grocery store in the context of his drinking problem. Emphasis added.
It was the summer before senior year, and by now, even though I wasn’t drinking every day, I was completely hooked. Going a week without getting drunk was unthinkable. I was spending between four and seven nights with the gang, either at a party or at O’Rourke’s.
Elsewhere in the book, Judge describes one of his acquaintances at the time, someone named “Bart O’Kavanaugh,” who vomited in a car after a party.

Judge continues. Emphasis again added.
Of course, alcoholics also get into all kinds of trouble because of their drinking. When they supersede their own tolerance, they suffer catastrophic hangovers. These can make getting through the day an Olympic event. This was never more evident to me than when, to raise money for football camp, I spent a few weeks working as a bag boy at the local supermarket.

My job was simple. People would leave their grocery baskets against a rail in front of the store, then pull their cars around. I would then sling their groceries in the car, sometimes get a small tip, and then wait for the next car...
Judge graduated in 1983, so this would be the summer of 1982. The Post shows Kavanaugh's August 1982 calendar with "FOOTBALL CAMP" running from August 22nd into September. Judge was working at the grocery store six to eight weeks after July 1, consistent with Ford's testimony and Kavanaugh's own calendar.

So a person trying to figure out what happened would easily form a hypothesis that Bret Kavanaugh sexually attacked Christine Blasey Ford at Timmy Gaudette's house on July 1, 1982. People present who could be interviewed about the crime include "PJ," "Squi," and Mark Judge, plus others mentioned on the calendar who seemed to stay in the background. Ford's friend Leland says she does not remember that particular party, but she believes Ford. There seem to be other issues with Leland, health issues. She has not said the assault didn't happen, or that the charges are false, as Kavanaugh repeatedly stated in the hearing. She just doesn't remember that one night when nothing unusual happened to her.

Since there was no commotion except in one upstairs bedroom, it is likely that nobody who was at that party remembers anything about it, especially those who were blackout drunk. But you can ask. Maybe somebody remembers something. It seems possible that Kavanaugh and Mark Judge remember something and will lie about it. Hopefully FBI interrogators have ways to deal with that. But as drunk as they were it is possible the boys didn't even remember the incident an hour later. This is an old case but sometimes good investigating solves those, along with good luck.

The prosecutor followed her nose to that July 1 date, and then Kavanaugh tried to lead her to an August date -- he read off all the names, all girls it sounded like -- and then there was a break. And then the Republicans decided not to use her any more. There was no explanation, no discussion about it, they just let the prosecutor sit there while they asked their own questions. This was a bizarre change of strategy but they pulled it off without attracting much comment, making sure that their preferred nominee was not literally prosecuted on the stand by the literal prosecutor they themselves had literally chosen to handle the questioning. Good ol' boy back-slapping was the order of the day.

Let's make it clear. Kavanaugh is a drunk, and has been since he was a teenager. He drinks too much and if he says he never forgets anything that happened he is either deluded or is lying. That doesn't make him an unusually bad guy but it is not what we want on the Supreme Court.

The most generous interpretation of the facts as we have them now is that Kavanaugh and Judge were drunk beyond the point of having good judgment, and perhaps beyond the point of remembering later. They dragged Ford into the bedroom and assaulted her, perhaps thinking it was a "game" or that it was funny, and when she got away they forgot what had happened, they rejoined the party, she quietly said she had to leave, and nobody paid any attention. From her point of view, she was nearly raped and nearly killed -- she felt that that was a possibility when Kavanaugh covered her mouth and nose. To the drunk boys it was just a prank, they were just having fun, but the girl was terrorized. They forgot about it, but it was a turning point for her that had consequences through her whole life.

I will not pontificate about white privilege, sexism, sexual violence, or even alcohol, here. You will see plenty of that. Kavanaugh is a pig. He is everything men in our society should not be, I don't need to explain that.

To me, the really shocking thing is the complicity of the Republican Senators. One by one they went around the dais sympathizing with this poor guy and complaining about the Democrats. Did you see Lindsey Graham's emotional outbreak? Wow. Not one of them doubted the assault victim's testimony, oh they complained about the timing of it and some gaps in her memory but there was no real question about it -- she was telling the truth. And if she was telling the truth, then he was lying. Maybe he doesn't remember, but that doesn't make him innocent. I do not think the "I was too drunk to remember" defense is really what we want in a Supreme Court justice, is it? Kavanaugh is a pig. You know it and I know it. But he's their man and they will stand behind him, no matter what. And you know what that makes them.

The Republicans want a win here. They denied Obama's nominee a hearing, because they want to stack the Court with conservatives. A guy Kavanaugh's age could serve for thirty or forty years if his liver holds out. And to get the win they would let this criminal go without an investigation, they would protect him in order to see that their so-called values are over-represented on the Court -- and this hearing gives you a very good idea what those values are.

And don't forget, other women have stories to tell. Julie Swetnick's is especially horrifying.

Will they get away with this? Probably. Looks now like the FBI will have a week to look into the accusation. You can't be optimistic about finding new facts thirty-six years later, but it's better than nothing.

It is hard to post on this topic because the news is breaking every few minutes. The Judiciary Committee has made a decision but as I post this the President has not yet given the FBI their assignment. No details are very clear about how this will proceed but I think the post as written above will continue to prove accurate even if things change.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Bladensburg Peace Cross

Occasionally we come to a point where you have to ask yourself whether you really do support the Constitution of the United States of America, or whether you think it just introduces a bunch of rules and head-in-the-clouds ideas that should be ignored or undermined.

And so we have the Bladensburg Peace Cross, a very large cross commemorating the sacrifices of forty-nine Prince George's County men who gave their lives in World War I. The forty-foot high cross was erected in 1925 and is a local landmark; it sits on a third of an acre of land owned by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, in the median of the intersection of Bladensburg Road and Baltimore Avenue in the suburb of Bladensburg, northeast of DC in PG County, near Hyattsville.

The Post oversimplifies a bit, but ... here's the problem:
A federal appeals court ruling on a challenge brought by atheists has said the Peace Cross is an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion and told a state commission that maintains the cross on public land to remove it, reshape or reassign its ownership. A World War I cross under siege
In 2015 a federal court ruled that because the purpose of the cross was not fundamentally religious, it did not violate the Constitutional provision that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The American Humanist Association appealed the ruling, and this week the Supreme Court will decide whether to take on the case.

It is not quite correct to call the American Humanist Association "atheists." The group's web site describes humanism as encompassing a "variety of nontheistic views (atheism, agnosticism, rationalism, naturalism, secularism, and so forth) while adding the important element of a comprehensive worldview and set of ethical values -- values that are grounded in the philosophy of the Enlightenment, informed by scientific knowledge, and driven by a desire to meet the needs of people in the here and now."

While many of them might not specifically call themselves "humanists," surveys show that about a fifth to a third of the American population do not have a religious affiliation. This proportion has been growing steadily since the 1990's. Most of these people believe in a higher power or spiritual force, they just don't accept the teachings of any particular religion. On the other hand, about three-fourths of Americans identify themselves as Christian with less than two-thirds belonging to a church congregation.

A symbol such as the Peace Cross creates a sort of dilemma for patriotic Christians; while they themselves may find the symbol to be consistent with their personal beliefs, their commitment to the Constitution and to the comon good of the country leads them to conclude that such a symbol should not be placed on government-owned land. As the humanists point out in their complaint, "[One of the plaintiffs ] believes that the Bladensburg Cross associates a Christian religious symbol with the State and gives the impression that the State supports and approves of Christianity, as opposed to other religions, and that the state may even prefer Christians and Christianity over other religions."

This is of course obvious.

It would be easy, though intellectually dishonest, to typify this dispute as if one side was less patriotic or less spiritual than the other, or as if one side values the sacrifices of fallen soldiers more than another. I don't see anything on the humanists' web site that says they are pacifists, or are opposed to traditional American values in any way, there is nothing here about honoring servicemen. The situation brings into focus a very specific violation of a very specific requirement of the Constitution, which is the founding document of the principles and laws upon which our civil society depends. The question is simple: do you support the Constitution, or not?

There can be no question that a forty-foot cross on government land in the middle of a busy intersection is a violation of the Establishment Clause, and I doubt that anyone is going to try to argue that. The cross is a Christian symbol, it has Christian wording on it and Christian services have been held there. I don't recall that the New Testament has any special comment about the mortality of soldiers, but the symbol of the cross suggests that the citizens hope that the soldiers who died in war will go to heaven and enjoy a Christian afterlife. There is no argument to be made that the humanists have misinterpreted this.

The question simply forces a choice. Are we as a nation committed to following the framework of the Constitution, or are we not? The Establishment Clause, and its counterpart the Free Exercise Clause, are clearly the result of some hard thinking and debate by the Framers. Though most of them went to church on Sunday and many would be described as Christians, they realized the danger that religion could have if it were able to insinuate itself into the processes of government. When they added a Bill of Rights to the Constitution, this was put into the very first amendment. There are lots of countries where religion is central to the government, and while it might work here and there it is intentionally and explicitly not the way we do it here. The ideal we call "freedom" or "liberty" is at the core of our understanding of what it means to be Americans. Our freedom is constantly under threat, and that threat almost always comes from within our borders.

Seems like there are two obvious solutions to this problem with the Bladensburg Peace Cross. They could knock it down, or they could transfer its ownership away from the state. There have been some legal ambiguities in the past about who actually owned that land, settled in 1960 with a judgment that the state of Maryland owned it. The cross was conceived and implemented by the American Legion, and they still have an interest in it. Why not give it to them, sell it for a dollar or something? I'm sure volunteers could work to keep the monument in good shape.

The humanists are not complaining because there is a cross. Clearly there are religious symbols everywhere you go, and religious expression is protected by the Constitution -- just not religious expression by government. Humanists don't care if people are religious. They are complaining because the state of Maryland is making a statement that favors one particular religion, in violation of the First Amendment.

There is a uniquely poignant irony in commemorating the lives of men who died to preserve our freedom as written into the Constitution by erecting a monument that violates that freedom.

No facts are under dispute. The cross is just what the Constitution forbids. Until now people have been willing to look the other way, but now the court will almost certainly be forced to rule that the law is being violated. Because it is.

I am hoping the American people are smart enough to work out a solution here. Everybody supports a monument honoring fallen soldiers. And even humanists can live with a big cross in the median, it doesn't hurt them in any way. The Constitution is a good idea and should not be treated like an imposition or an obstacle. The First Amendment is truly a cornerstone of our society which has offered Americans the freedom that makes this country what it is. You don't want to blow it off here.

I am hoping that the state and the citizens figure out a way to sell that little patch of land to a private investor. This cross is a prominent feature of the local landscape, with deep significance in respecting those who have lost their lives in service to their country. But it does violate the Constitution, when it is owned by the state.

This could become another polarizing moment in our turbulent time, and it probably will. Or it could become an occasion for people to work together, to see if there isn't a way we can make a small adjustment that lets the people of Bladensburg keep their monument.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Trolls All the Way Down

Trump is a troll. Everybody understands that. He doesn't stand for anything, he just wants attention. His followers are trolls. They don't have constructive ideas, they criticize decent things and support mean and stupid things, all with the intent of getting attention by offending liberals. Their philosophy, their system of beliefs, is "owning the libs," period. It's like a two-year-old with his tantrums, where the whole point is to get attention without earning it.

Running a country is, actually, hard. There are a lot of details to keep straight, promises to keep, deals to negotiate, allies to cooperate with and enemies to oppose and no clear distinction between them. There is no set of rules for new situations, and almost nothing will be universally agreeable. When you run a country you have to consider the facts and your goals, get advice from experts, weigh the advice against your own principles, you have to consider short-term effects as well as building a strategy into the future. It is just hard, that's all there is to it. It requires rigor.

On the other hand, complaining about how someone else runs the country is super-easy. Anytime the leader does something, your reaction can be that what he or she did was wrong. There is always -- not figuratively, but literally, always -- another way to do things, and you can always make the alternative sound like the better way. Especially if you only talk to people who agree with you.

Most people don't have what it takes to deal with the details, the compromises, the short- and long-term views of a decision. It is too hard. There are very few people with the brains, willpower, and charisma to run a country. It is not a criticism of anyone, to say that running a country is too hard for them -- I sure couldn't do it.

But amazingly there are millions of people who think it is easy to run a country. They don't just have opinions, they actually believe that their ideas are better than those of people who have all the details and understand the implications of every choice option. Their wisdom is never put to the test, so it cannot be validated or disproven. You can say, "We should blow the crap out of ISIS and get it over with," and nobody can prove you wrong, especially when they have no idea what groups are involved, how paramilitary forces are integrated with civilian populations, what local public opinion is in the Middle East, which groups are on our side and which oppose us. You can say, "This president is a coward who is afraid to hurt ISIS's feelings by bombing a few of them," and nobody can prove you wrong. You can say, "This president is actually a Muslim who is on the side of the terrorists against the USA." Nobody else sitting at the bar knows if that is true or not; they are a bunch of losers, too, and don't know how to look something up. So -- maybe it is true.

When Obama was president, Trump criticized him for everything. Great example -- he complained on Twitter about Obama playing golf twenty-seven times. Well, Obama did play golf sometimes, and, once it was pointed out, it might look like he was goofing off instead of working for the taxpayers. Something like Twitter is perfect for this because you can just post a statement without elaboration or explanation. Typical Obama-era Trump tweet: "@BarackObama plays golf to escape work while America goes down the drain." It was easy to say that Obama should get off the golf course and get back to work, and hard to prove that Trump was wrong. Of course the president should work harder and play less.

But obviously Trump cannot live up to this standard. He golfs a lot more than Obama ever did. He has made many objectively terrible policy choices, has offended friends and romanced those who would harm us, appointed the worst people to important positions, profits unapologetically from his position in government. It is a lefty Twitter cliche, whenever Trump does something, to bring back the tweet where he criticized Obama for doing exactly the same thing. I mean: exactly the same thing. But he will tell you, he is doing a great job. And he even still has some Republican fans who agree with that. Lindsey Graham, for one.

Liberals are annoying because they believe that governing is complex and they believe that you have to follow orderly, if sometimes inefficient, processes to reach big goals. Conservatives believe that you should "just do it," a conclusion that follows from the belief that running a government is easier than it looks (this is why they love to talk about "small government"). Liberals are also annoying because of their fancy head-in-the-clouds ideas about equality and fairness and following the Constitution, which only make sense when you realize that liberals hate America. Also they tend not to like ignorant people. Therefore the highest form of pleasure is to annoy liberals.

The easiest way to annoy liberals is to say something stupid and act like you're serious. Say, "The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive." Suggest that there should be more guns in schools. Pretend the Second Amendment is the most important part of the Constitution, and that the flag has blue stripes. Assert that immigrants bring an increase in crime. The stupider the better. And act like you're serious about it.

The great thing about this is that it's so easy. You don't even have to read the news or find out the facts. You already believe that government is rigged and politicians are bought off, and so it doesn't matter how stupid your ideas are, government is just going to do what it's going to do anyway. And the media are in on it, so you don't know what to believe. Conservative troll behavior is based on impotence, on nihilism, they know that nothing they do matters so for kicks they do the dumbest stuff they can think of. Then they can laugh at those suckers who take things seriously.

This all went off the rails in 2016. When Obama was president, and when Hillary was running, the trolls started making up stupid stuff like never before. Even Democrats felt that Hillary might be "untrustworthy," because of ... well there were just a lot of questions. Maybe she had not committed a few of those murders, but still... there were so many. And those emails. And she coughed, see, she's dying. Obama was dignified, poised, intelligent, all the things that conservatives hate in a black person, and so it became a sort of game to make up the craziest stories about him and pretend you believed them. And then you realized other people actually did believe them, and you started believing them yourself.

Next thing you know, enough people believed enough crazy stuff and the US elected a troll for president. It was supposed to be a joke but at the last minute the states stayed red and Trump won. All he knew how to do was complain. He was totally unprepared to govern, and did not have any interest in it.

So he has turned his presidency into the grandest trolling operation ever. He offends liberals every day, enriching himself and his friends, breaking the law left and right and then just not enforcing it. He treats our government like reality TV, which liberals don't even watch and don't understand -- they find it annoying: perfect. (Literally, Kardashians in the White House.)

Trolls are losers, by definition, they are the ones that the world has left behind. They have no power because they don't have any ideas of their own. Their deepest motivation is to feel sorry for themselves, and they try to get even with the world by offending people who are not losers. They call liberals "the elite," and love to suck them into a nonsensical argument, because the troll has no commitment to facts or logic. It is fun to offend liberals, because they think they are better than conservatives, because they foolishly do believe that government is important and also they naively rely on, you know, facts and logic.

But this only works if the trolls are losers. Once they win, they are the ones who get criticized, they are the ones who have to come up with the ideas, and they are not capable of that. A lot of people are going to spend a lot of time in prison at this rate, they are simply in over their heads.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Biasing Google

Trump is on the front page today alleging that Google searches are biased against him and against conservatism in general. This tears the scab off the deeper wound, which has to do with "fake news" and rightwing conspiracy theories.

Consider Pizzagate. Conservatives by the millions believed that Hillary Clinton was running a pedophile ring out of a DC pizza joint. They had a list of clues and a cast of characters that involved every prominent liberal you can think of. Plus murders by the dozen -- they were sure the Clintons were killing people right and left. Well, they still believe that.

Pizzagate hit a brick wall when a guy started shooting up the pizza place and discovered there were no children hidden there, but it morphed into the even-more-unlikely QAnon conspiracy theory, where Trump is actually secretly running the Mueller investigation in order to convict Hillary and others of pedophilia-related crimes. This is mainstream conservative stuff -- Trump has even invited leading QAnon proponents to have their pictures taken with him in the Oval Office.

So, to be clear, stories about Hillary Clinton's pedophilia ring are fake news. There is no evidence for the belief. Someone has imagined the worst thing they can think of, and then they pretend it is real. It doesn't really matter if Russian bots are involved or not. A certain kind of people think the stories are true, and they forward them to one another. CNN, the Washington Post, are not fake news: they are "news." They can be wrong, and they can even be biased, but at the end of the day they are accountable for accuracy, that is, what they print has to reflect objective reality or they will lose their readership.

Normally this wouldn't be a big deal, without the Internet. The newspapers are not going to print Pizzagate and QAnon stories because they are false. Without the Internet some rightwing AM radio shows might talk about it, a few extremely nutty people might fixate on it but they would not be invited into the White House.

The Internet has several big hubs -- Google, Facebook, YouTube, and a couple others -- and each of these hubs has to filter and prioritize information for users. Google can't give you everything at once, it has to put something first. That's what makes it useful, when you ask about a subject it gives you the information you want. Google puts a lot of effort into figuring out how to do that. The problem is not "the Internet," which contains all kinds of stuff, the problem, if there is one, lies with these companies, which select items for the user.

Now these companies face an ethical issue. For example, if you ask Google "How old is the earth?" it comes back with the answer "4.543 billion years." That is the right answer, or as close as science can figure, and for sensible people that is the actual answer. Then it gives you some links to web sites that talk about the earth and how old it is.

But if you looked at a conservative web site, Conservapedia, for instance, you would read that "All verifiable evidence indicates that the Earth is about 6,000 years old." This is what conservatives believe. This belief is not correct, but they have convinced one another that it is, and as far as they are concerned the Internet should reflect their views, not the liberal opinion. Conservatives believe the big companies like Google and YouTube should place their false belief on equal priority with the scientific one, or give it higher priority.

Oddly we now live in a world with two competing realities. The liberal reality encompasses an objective world that can be understood by scientific methods, and the conservative reality is formed out of beliefs that are consistent with one another and are vaguely connected to biblical theology.

Trump is complaining because Google searches return negative information about him. That is because he lies all the time and is a racist and does not know how to run a government -- relying on "Fox and Friends," for instance, rather than his own intelligence agencies. There is not really much good to say about him, and so when you Google you get some current news stories, which are almost certainly about some stupid thing he has done; you get his latest tweets, which are almost certainly idiotic; and you get some videos which are mostly of stupid things he has done. True, the results are negative, and that is because most people hold a negative view of him, most of the things he does look bad -- he is a great reality-TV personality but he does not look good in a neutral search for information.

So should Google wait until Trump learns how to use the speakerphone, and then post that video at the top of the page, instead of the one that is there now, where Trump is pushing buttons and saying "Hello?" to nobody, with cameras clicking? Should they wait for him to say something intelligent, or to make a policy decision that is not hateful or ignorant? I don't see how Google can provide the service they do, giving people the information they want, if they let themselves become a rightwing propaganda machine.

Just as he has taken the phrase "fake news" and turned it around to mean real news, Trump is accusing Google of bias against him, and he wants to force them to introduce a bias in his favor. White House people are thinking about "regulating" Google, so that search results are more favorable to Trump -- that is a chilling thought. It almost certainly violates the First Amendment, for one thing, and it is a step toward dictatorship that Americans should not permit.

What they should do is set up their own "Conservoogle," a search engine that will provide the user with conservatively-biased results. And then, just like Conservapedia, nobody would use it. Because it would be wrong.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Hate Is Not Anger


Tomorrow some racists will have a rally near the White House. It's a year since their greatest moment in Charlottesville and they want to make a statement. DC only expects a few hundred of them but they are taking extraordinary precautions to protect them, shutting down traffic, flooding the area with police -- in a face-off last week in Portland between nazis and anti-fascists, the police attacked the anti-fascists, so this could go any way. WMATA was going to give the white supremacists their own private Metro cars to get to and from the demonstration, but the Metro employees' union pretty much made that a non-starter. It would have been hilarious though to see them get stuck in a sweltering tunnel somewhere. Schedule adjustment, moving momentarily, suckers.

I think we have difficulty with the word, and the concept, of hate. To a kid, hate is related to anger; you are so angry at someone that you can't stand them, don't want to be around them, you think they are a bad person because they did something that made you so mad. But as adults the concept becomes more in-the-head, the temperature comes down a bit. Grown-up hate is not necessarily personal, it is more likely applied to groups of people, especially people you don't know. I do not think kids have this in their lives; they hate when they're angry and then get over it. Adults rationalize their hate. They treat their judgments as facts.

We reveal it by attribution, by assigning qualities to a group. You may say that a certain kind of people are evil, or stupid, or lazy. Greedy, whatever, often the attributed qualities are related to a group stereotype that is spread by innuendo and even direct instruction at times -- friends pick it up from friends, parents teach it to children. Anger is not a visible component of this grown-up hate, it is conceived and presented as thought only, as if these beliefs were conclusions inferred from some knowledge about a group. And so you often see dangerous bigots responding in surprise when the word "hate" is used, like, me? I don't hate anybody -- my beliefs are just common sense.

Perfect example: on Fox News this week Laura Ingraham seemed to think she was stating facts as she talked about how "Massive demographic changes have been foisted on the American people, and they are changes that none of us ever voted for, and most of us don't like." First, her use of the pronoun "us" suggests that there is some group who feels this way, collectively. Clearly, "us" refers to white people, the kind who watch Fox, because this doesn't make sense to anyone else. It would have ruined her message to define the term, if instead of "none of us ever voted for," she had said, "no white people who watch Fox ever voted for" these demographic changes. It would wreck it. The vague first-person plural pronoun lets Fox viewers imagine that they are in with the in crowd, that "people like us" are reasonable and never voted for these changes, and don't like them.

And as for the demographic changes that have been "foisted on the American people?" See, there are "the American people" and then there are those "demographic changes," which are not real American people. Okay, sure, well white people are losing their majority status in this country, and that is about all you have to know to understand the whole Trump, alt-right, authoritarian phenomenon that has poisoned these historical times. Some people feel it is important for someone of their own racial type to have the privilege of making all the important decisions. All you need to know, right there.

And why in the world would there ever be a vote on demographic changes? (If there is going to be one you'd better hurry up, or somebody else will win it!) And what is it that we "don't like" about it? It would never occur to most of us -- and here I mean "us" patriotically, I mean the totality of people living in this country -- to dislike the diversity of America. Only certain people are predisposed to seeing it that way, and that predisposition is what we call hate. If you support democracy then you believe that all the people should be invited to participate in it, not just the pale ones -- if only a selected subset gets a vote then it is not democracy, it is something else. And if you do not support democracy, I would recommend picking a nice country on some other continent and moving to it, something with a strong dictator and the military enforcing his will. There are lots of those. America is not one of them, we are a democracy.

It feels odd to have to make a statement explaining why I oppose racism. If you think of human beings as some kind of apes living in groups and warring with rival groups, then yeah that is just the way it is. Once the species has developed language and the ability to agree about the reality of the objective environment, once we are able to distinguish truth and falsehood and are able to use scientific techniques to know truths with high certainty, once we are able to empathize and to articulate feelings of empathy -- once we figured out the profound practicality of the Golden Rule -- it seems to me the rival-ape-group perspective becomes background noise: now we can be civilized. We can have things like respect, fairness, kindness. The human species has much more interesting things to do than fight about whose ancestors came from the best continent. But there are those among us who believe that the ape-groups are the most important thing. They are now running our country, and tomorrow they will wave their flags and chant their slogans in the heart of the nation's capital.