Saturday, December 16, 2017

Trump Administration Censors Government Medical Researchers

I sometimes wonder what it is that Trump and his followers want. They want to get rid of anything that reminds them of Obama, of course, and they want to "lock her up." But besides that, is there something they stand for?

Now we know.

The Trump administration has issued a list of banned terms for the Centers for Disease Control, which makes it clear what they want. The Post:
The Trump administration is prohibiting officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases — including “fetus” and “transgender” — in any official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.

Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden words at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden words are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.” CDC gets list of forbidden words: fetus, transgender, diversity
Naturally, the Post reporter jumps on the "hot" news words -- fetus, transgender -- we are not surprised to see a retreat to the Dark Ages there, but it is beyond comprehension to see that "evidence-based" and "science-based" are verboten. Oh, fine, I see "magic" and "potion" are still okay. Can you imagine the executive committee that decided the CDC's research should not be evidence-based or science-based? What a bunch of geniuses that must have been.
In some instances, the analysts were given alternative phrases. Instead of “science-based” or ­“evidence-based,” the suggested phrase is “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes,” the person said. In other cases, no replacement words were immediately offered.
There's your conservative philosophy in a nutshell. It doesn't much matter what science finds, what matters is what your ordinary person thinks or wishes were true. Never mind all that algebra and all that college education, anybody can see what's going on. Everybody knows how they wish it was, and that is how it shall be.

"Vulnerable?" Can you imagine studying disease and epidemics without consideration of who is vulnerable?

And I'm sorry, but if you're looking at an epidemic, diversity is a major factor, diversity among the vulnerable population as well as genetic diversity in a pathogen. Any statistical prediction needs to account for variance, which is just another word for diversity -- that is how statisticians are able to assess the certainty of a prediction.

According to the article, the rank-and-file scientists at the CDC have not learned of these changes yet. But as one analyst said, “Our subject matter experts will not lay down quietly."

This sort of enforced ignorance has become a hallmark of the Trump administration. Still, it is jaw-dropping to see the list, to see that someone thought it was a good idea to dumb down the CDC and turn medical research into something that conforms with community wishes.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Lock Him Up

Former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has turned himself in to the FBI and is expected to plead guilty to lying to them.

Just to remind you how we got where we are today:



They are having so much fun in this video, reveling in the idea that Hillary Clinton is an evil cartoon character. Note: Clinton has never been charged with a crime.

Flynn lied to the FBI about deals he made with the Russians as US National Security Adviser. If you think this Russian investigation is not going to go right through the heart of the Presidency, think again. There is a big plea deal in action here, and Flynn is obviously talking.

Note that President Trump has still not implemented the Russian sanctions, as Flynn promised them.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Education Makes Liberals

The Washington Post this week had a front page, above-the-fold story with the headline Elitists, 'Crybabies,' and Junky degrees. The "problem" is that college tends to turn young people into liberals. A recent poll found that 58 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents believe colleges and universities have a negative effect “on the way things are going in the country.” This article represents the tip of the iceberg of the attack on education by conservatives, which has gone on for decades and is the movement's most pointed spearhead.

It is a hard point of view to explain without sounding stupid; well, they are advocating ignorance. The Post was able to find a local politician from Dragoon, Arizona, who would provide some quotes to a reporter.

I can remember as a young man sitting in an Anthropology lecture hall at Arizona State University, learning about the concept of ethnocentrism. If you are going to study another culture (which anthropologists do), you have to try to shake off your own society's assumptions and understand the target culture as the people see themselves. It is difficult but necessary to try to understand why they do the things they do, and believe what they believe. Having grown up in the (back then) small town of Phoenix, this whole concept was new to me. People have different ways of living. They aren't stupid, they're just different.

I didn't realize it at the time, but that moment of epiphany made me a liberal.

My studies taught me to see the different social groups of the world, including groups within my own country, as having ways of life that made sense from some point of view, even if I did not intuitively and instantly understand them. The concept did not only apply to exotic groups like !Kung bushmen and Australian aborigines, but to European and Mexican immigrants, local Indian tribes, jocks and hippies. I switched from thinking of out-groups as laughable and dumb to realizing they had their own kind of sense and reasons for being. My culture was one of many. I didn't appreciate it any less but the scientific perspective made it impossible to believe that our particular group had been singled out to be uniquely superior to all others. So there you have it: college made me a liberal.

And that is not to single out anthro. Any science has that effect on you, any study of the literature, religion, philosophy, or knowledge of other peoples. The student learns to stop seeing himself or herself and their own "way of life" at the center of the universe.

That is why conservatives don't like education. To be a conservative means to believe their own group's norms are truly better, realer, and more moral than other groups. No matter what kind of people they are -- defined by religion, ethnic group or anything else -- conservatism is the belief that their own way of life is special and good. It doesn't mean they try to change other groups, necessarily, but they regard them as something strange, ignorant, they assume other groups' beliefs are wrong and their intentions are bad. And education undermines that way of thinking. As you learn, as you become educated, you come to see your own place in the universe in a different and humbling way. You sometimes see the aphorism, "Truth has a liberal bias," and well, it's not a joke, that's just how it is. Education will make you a liberal.

You and I think of education as a good thing. People learn facts, they learn critical thinking, and they can make better decisions, do better things, accomplish more, they understand more things. The effect of education on our society has been amazing, just look around at the technology we have, the institutions that people have made, this is all based on the ability to reason objectively about the real world. But not everybody sees that as a plus; these same skills are a threat to traditional, tribal, parochial norms.

We have a President Trump because a lot of people are not educated and do not value knowledge. His presidency is defined by ethnocentrism, that is the concept that sums up his appeal and his decision-making; he stands for white Americans and that's that. There is no regard for higher values of ethics, reasoning, no respect for facts. When you let education slide this is what you get, the once-great United States of America is now like some third-world country, dysfunctional and petty. Trump's election is a consequence of bad education and his Presidency will ensure that American education in the future is even worse.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

The Anchor

To take just a couple of paragraphs from a typical article this week, this one from The Post:
A year ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, Republicans are increasingly uncertain about keeping their majorities on Capitol Hill and are worried about how damaging Trump’s jagged brand of politics may become to the party.

“Donald Trump is an anchor for the GOP,” said veteran party strategist Mike Murphy, a Trump critic. “We got that message in loud volume in Virginia. The ­canary in the coal mine didn’t just pass out; its head exploded.” ‘Canary in the coal mine’: Republicans fear Democratic wins mean more losses to come
Funny, in another time and place, an "anchor" would be a good thing. And in fact the meaning doesn't change. An anchor is something weighty that you can tie your vessel to, to ensure that you have a steady position and don't drift.

In this case, the Republicans have tied their vessel to the most corrupt, lyingest, slimiest politician in modern American history, and suddenly they are "increasingly uncertain." Like, what, they didn't think people would notice? Did they think this was going to work? Now that anchor is holding them in place while the tide turns.

The only aim of today's Anchor President is to oppose everything and anything having to do with the black guy and the shrill woman. Ridiculous Secretaries are driving corrupt, self-serving Departments into the ground. Bizarre judges are getting appointed without a fight by the well-anchored legislature. We used to say, "Wait till there is a real disaster," and now there have been real disasters and the Trump administration was worse than useless. The guy actually picked fights with local officials who were wading chest-deep in floodwaters trying to save people. They sent Skittles, Cheez-its, and beef jerky to the starving island of Puerto Rico and sent a Cabinet Secretary's buddy's company with two employees to restore the electrical grid there. He thinks it's funny to call the crazy leader of a nuclear-armed country silly names.

Did you read about President Trump's visit with the American Indian leaders? This is amazing. Axios has the story. It happened last June, they have two first-person accounts and the White House does not dispute the story.

A group of tribal leaders met with the President to talk about the regulatory barriers to mining on the reservation. They had their Powerpoint ready to go; Trump waved it off.
He asked the tribal leaders what they needed and how he could help them. The tribal leaders told the president they couldn't get to the resources they needed quickly enough.

Trump interjected: "Why?"

They explained there were government regulatory barriers preventing them.

Trump replied:
"But now it's me. The government's different now. Obama's gone; and we're doing things differently here... So what I'm saying is, just do it."
There was a pause in the room and the tribal leaders looked at each other. One of them started to try to walk back through the barriers to accessing the energy; and Trump cut in again. "No. You've got to just do it. Just do it."

"Chief, chief," Trump continued, addressing one of the tribal leaders, "what are they going to do? Once you get it out of the ground are they going to make you put it back in there? I mean, once it's out of the ground it can't go back in there. You've just got to do it. I'm telling you, chief, you've just got to do it."
Of course everybody can relate to that. You don't try to figure out all the complicated rules, just cut through the crap and do what you have to do. This is why Trump supporters supported him, because he brushes the red tape aside and gets down to business.

Right?

Except for the nagging fact that he is the President of a country with a Constitution and laws. He is telling these community leaders to ignore the law, to break it, because now that he's in charge the government won't be able to do anything about it.

On the surface of it, this is anarchy. The President has no regard for the law -- if you don't like the laws just ignore them.

But it's worse than that, this is privileged anarchy. When you and I see something we want we can't just take it. But these tribal leaders have every reason to believe they are protected by all the weight of the office of the President of the United States of America. If they are hauled into court they can swear honestly that the highest authority in the land told them it was all right.

That's just how it is now, Trump is loading the government with criminals who are using it for their own profit while the principle of law is ignored when it is inconvenient. The Republicans have stood together in support of this guy. And wow, here was election day, and the anchor turns out to be an albatross: Republicans are increasingly uncertain.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Deleting Trolls and Bots

This blog has always been known as a place for open discussion, allowing conservatives and liberals to exchange views since 2004. Some on our side think we have been too permissive, and there have been a couple of times over the years when I have had to block people who were slanderous or were just spamming inarticulately -- sometimes conservatives, sometimes liberals. Usually I warn them a few times then block the IP. After a few weeks I usually unblock it and give them a chance to behave themselves, and that has usually worked okay.

Lately there has been a new kind of problem. Trump supporters are putting all their eggs in the "lock her up" basket. Though it has been a full year since the election, they are still ratcheting up the hate for Hillary Clinton. Having started the campaign of personal annihilation in the 1990s the vast rightwing conspiracy has a good start; almost everyone has a "bad feeling" about the woman after decades of fruitless hearings and accusations, the feeling there must be "something wrong" or people wouldn't keep saying those things. Nobody really knows what exactly might be wrong, but there must be something, y'know?

Repetition does not make a statement true. People are focusing on Hillary because their life is a pitiful comic book and the nuances of reality are too much for them. They paint her as a serial murderer, child molestor, embezzler, traitor, criminal, liar, everyone associated with her gets their reputation slimed. It is bizarre to see that people are unable to manage their intellect in an educated country, but there you go, there are lots of dumb and unhappy people out there.

It is good for group cohesiveness to have a common enemy, and Hillary has been consigned to serve in that function. The whole thing is just weird to watch. It has nothing to do with her, herself, she is just a name for Republicans to direct their hate toward.

The Internet allows everyone to have a public voice, and there are two problems with that. One is that the anonymity of the net lets people express fantasies and opinions they would never say out loud if they were going to be held accountable. Hence: trolls. These thousands of losers live to undermine serious discussion and offend for the sake of offending. The second problem is bots. It turns out it is easier to program a troll-bot than a bot that will assemble valid facts and link them together to produce a valid argument. So bots turn out to be trolls, too, except they are not human, they are just programs that generate hateful text and post it in public forums.

This blog has been overrun lately by trolls and/or bots. Our comments section is overflowing with hundreds of posts that simply copy-and-paste rightwing propaganda or string together phrases like "Clinton crime syndicate" and "shocking new scandal" and try to link ridiculous accusations to the Democrat candidate from last year's election.

The Republican Party does not have an identity of its own now. They used to be clever at implying they had an economic theory, a diplomatic strategy, a moral compass, but the rise of Trump and the subservience of the GOP to his depravity has torn the cover off all that. Now all they have left is to rally behind their mob-mentality hatred for Hillary Clinton. It is sad to see American history come down to this, but times change and I suppose it was inevitable. The Democrats have challenges too but the Republicans have both houses of Congress and the Presidency and all they can do is investigate Hillary some more.

It turns out they have no plan for governing. Literally the only thing Trump has done is to reverse anything associated with Obama. But he has to do it with executive orders, because the Republicans in Congress are unable to pass any bills. And then half the time the courts throw out his executive orders because they are unconsitutional. The Republicans really don't have a vision, an agenda other than opposing the black guy and the shrill woman; they are living in a dream world -- today Corey Lewandowski said on Fox News, "What we should be focusing on is the continued lies of the Clinton administration." And that's the Republicans' plan. No really, that's what he said.

That does not mean that this blog has to be part of it. I am going to start deleting stuff. If you are conservative and want to make a point you are welcome to talk here. If you are just flame-throwing I am not going to tolerate it. As the indictments start to flow I expect the fake news will intensify, and we are going to brace ourselves and start blocking the nonsense. I don't want to spend every minute of my day deleting posts and if a troll or bot (it is hard to tell the difference) keeps being a problem I will block them altogether.

If you want to express a conversative viewpoint we don't mind that but please keep to something believable. I do not have any set of "rules," I am just going to delete what I don't like. It might not be fair but hee hee hoo haw hee hee ho ho... If that bothers you then go somewhere else. I will start with the previous post.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

"Casual Cruelty" -- Oof!

Some Republicans with nothing to lose are starting to speak their mind about our failing President.

Today Senator Bob Corker, who has nothing to lose since he announced that he is retiring after this term, said on national television that Trump was “debasing” the United States and that the President struggled with the truth. Tuesday Corker had said Trump was “absolutely not” a role model for the children in America. “I don’t know why he lowers himself to such a low, low standard and debases our country,” Corker said on CNN, suggesting that he is going to call for hearings to investigate the ways Trump “purposely has been breaking down relationships around the world.” He added, “It’s unfortunate that our nation finds itself in this place.”

Yesterday Republican Senator John McCain, who also probably has nothing to lose since he has been diagnosed with a deadly form of brain cancer, commented on the Vietnam War with a swipe at Trump: "One aspect of the conflict, by the way, that I will never, ever countenance is that we drafted the lowest income level of America, and the highest income level found a doctor that would say they had a bone spur. That is wrong. That is wrong. If we are going to ask every American to serve, every American should serve." You get the bone spur thing, right?

This week, George W. Bush, of all people, came out and said, “Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.” He went on, “We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty.” He said, “At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together.” And man, I never thought I would agree with him! Bush said, “[W]e need to recall and recover our own identity. Americans have a great advantage: To renew our country, we only need to remember our values.”

Today Jeff Flake, Senator from my home state of Arizona, gave a speech on the Senate floor where he said he is not going to run in the next election. Now that he has nothing to lose, Flake...
offered a blistering take on Republican acquiescence in the age of Trump, which Flake said represented a compromise in moral authority.

“Without fear of the consequences and without consideration of the rules of what is politically safe or palatable, we must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal,” said Flake, who has seen his approval ratings in Arizona plummet after his attacks on Trump.

Despite those poll numbers, Flake said it would be irresponsible to not criticize Trump for his behavior.

Trump’s actions “are not normal,” he said, adding that the president’s “reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has been excused.”

Flake said he was “rising today” to say “enough.”

“We must dedicate ourselves to making sure that the anomalous never becomes the normal,” he said. “We have fooled ourselves for long enough that a pivot to governing is right around the corner.”

Flake also criticized Republicans who believe that “anything short of complete and unquestioning loyalty to a president who belongs to my party is unacceptable and suspect.”

“Silence can equal complicity,” he said. Flake, Corker push Trump criticism to new level
Look, I'm not saying these guys are good people. Not one of them had the moral courage to speak out until the risk was gone. GWB was a terrible President but amazingly the new guy actually makes him look not so bad. McCain kept his mouth shut even when Trump attacked him ruthlessly, until he got sick. Corker, same thing, he zipped his lip until he had announced his departure, and even then he was circumspect up to a point, though he got a few barbs in. Now he and Trump are slinging mud at each other on Twitter every day. And Flake, same thing, he would not confront Trump if there was a chance it would come back to bite him. Flake was likely to lose the next election anyway, so dropping out saves face plus he can throw some shade on Trump like those guys in high school who yelled "Hold me back! Hold me back!" instead of actually getting into a fight.

The Republicans who remain in the political game are still afraid to speak out against the big bully Trump, who is the most disastrous President ever. You just know they can't stand him, but they have not got the courage of their convictions. It is fascinating in a way to see what they really think about what's going on, and it is even more fascinating to see what unmitigated cowards they all are.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Projection

As you know, a rich Hollywood producer who is a supporter of liberal causes, Harvey Weinstein, has turned out to be a longtime sexual predator. Conservatives are making a big deal out of this, they have taken control of the message and made sure Weinstein's behavior smears liberals such as Hillary Clinton who have been associated with him, as if they condoned or were part of his sexual crimes. (Yesterday WTOP hit a new low in carrying this message, you would have thought Hillary herself was abusing young actresses.)

@paulkrugman posted a good observation about the fallout from this on Twitter yesterday.

The Weinstein affair is giving us an object lesson in right-wing projection. I keep seeing outraged demands for liberal condemnation 1/

"Will liberals condemn Weinstein the way they condemned Ailes and O'Reilly?" they ask, presuming that the answer is no. But actually ... 2/

Everywhere I look the answer is, in fact, yes. What we should ask is: "Did cons condemn Ailes/O'Reilly the way they condemn Weinstein?" 3/

And the answer, mainly, is no. Excusing evil behavior by people on your side is what THEY do; they're just projecting it onto libs 4/

And they're outraged in advance over the false assumption that liberals are just like them 5/
Weinstein appears to be the worst kind of person in his abuse and exploitation of women. He is like Ailes and O'Reilly and other conservatives who have turned out to have treated women terribly. I have not seen any liberal person say otherwise. The stories that have come out are revolting, and it's been going on for years.

Weinstein is a donor, a wealthy guy who supports causes and contributes to campaigns. He hasn't run for office, he isn't the liberals' candidate. Many politicians are giving his donations back, or sending the money to charities, nobody is calling this "rightwing fake news" or trying to justify it. The guy might be rich, charming, and take policy positions we agree with, but there is no excuse for some of the disgusting things he has done to traumatize women. Donors play an important role in politics -- too important, most of us think -- but we don't vote for them.

Projection in modern political discourse is where you accuse the other side of doing what you yourself are doing, and Krugman has this point about projection right. The conservative way is identity politics, us against them, you stand up for your side and oppose everything the other side wants. That's why they have to undo every Obama success, not because our healthcare system is bad or the Iran deal is bad or transgender people have caused any problem or anything else, but if Obama supported something they are obligated to oppose it. That is how the Republican Party came to be known as "the party of No" during the Obama presidency; if he was for it, they were against it, even if it was their idea originally.

And they assume everyone is like that. But actually, that's the difference between liberalism and conservatism. Liberalism is not fighting for your own group, against another group; liberals argue for inclusiveness, equality for all, and that includes people who are unlike themselves. Take for instance this week's news articles about Jeff Sessions promoting "freedom of religion." By this, he means the Christian religion that he himself practices. He would laugh at the idea of freedom for Islam or some other religion, that Sharia should be protected under the Constitution the same as the Ten Commandments. Liberals though believe in freedom for all religions, even ones that they are uncomfortable with.

The paradox is that this makes liberal views vulnerable; for instance, we end up giving freedom of speech to people who want to take our freedom of speech away. White liberals will take up issues like oppression of blacks, exploitation of migrant farm workers, discrimination against LGBT people, even if they are not part of those groups. White conservatives take up issues that are good for white people. They think everybody is taking sides based on their own identity, and watch for examples that can support that conclusion, but the core difference between conservatives and liberals is the difference between defending your own group and defending the rights of all.

Looking back, liberals did not defend Anthony Weiner's behavior -- I remember hoping it was not true but it was true and we accepted that and he is getting his punishment and nobody is calling it a false flag operation or defending him for doing stupid and bad things. I liked Anthony Weiner, he was bold and articulate, funny and on-point, and guess what, he was doing stuff on the Internet that disqualifies him from representing his party and leading people. Weinstein too, I never heard of the guy before but apparently he took the Hollywood "casting couch" thing to the nth degree, he is a creep who is going to pay the price in his career if not in criminal court. Liberals are not obligated to apologize for him -- I am sure most people he dealt with politically had no idea what was going on. He said the right things in public, donated money to the right candidates and causes, and he was a merciless sexual predator when he got a woman alone. Those women were afraid of him, afraid of his wealth and power and what he could do to destroy them professionally; they were afraid to speak out, so only his victims and a few of his immediate business associates had any idea until very recently.

The current President of the United States is known to be a sexual predator, as well, the Republicans knew that before they elected him. This is a different story altogether, because this is their candidate, the representative of their view. Their support of him reveals the GOP's talk of morality and judgment of others on the basis of their sexuality for what it is. They make excuses for Trump, accept his violations as boys-being-boys, and line up with him against "political correctness," which tries to tell men they can't grab women's pussies in this day and age and kiss them without consent, even if you are famous and they let you.

And also, because it is sure to come up, let me quote Monica Lewinsky here, regarding her affair with Bill Clinton: "Sure, my boss took advantage of me, but I will always remain firm on this point: it was a consensual relationship. Any “abuse” came in the aftermath, when I was made a scapegoat in order to protect his powerful position."

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Beyond Deplorable

The President's comments this weekend about Puerto Rico are breathtaking. He has been insulting the mayor of San Juan, who is begging for help as the island is immersed in what is probably the worst disaster ever to hit the United States. Millions of people are suffering, there is no water or electricity or gasoline, cholera is starting to break out. Thousands of people are still unaccounted for. Many are dying. The President clearly does not understand the situation, and yet he is going out of his way to deliberately make it worse.

It is hard to read the news since Maria hit -- well for most of the week there was no news, Puerto Rico was a black hole in the information space, with no telephones, no radio transmitters, no way in and out. Now there is some word from there, some video from San Juan, but the smaller towns are still unknowable. As news begins to leak out, the scenery is horrific. Hurricane Maria has devastated the entire island. The pain is hard to imagine, you want to jump in your car and go there to help, but you can't.

They speak Spanish there, and you know how he feels about Hispanics. Today Trump said, "Such poor leadership ability by the mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help." Because you know how lazy those people are. He said, "The mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump." Because, you know, it's all about him. He tweeted this from the golf course. "They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort," Trump said. Because, you know, those lazy bad-hombre-sort-of-like-Mexicans are just sitting in their cars for nine hours a day waiting to buy gasoline instead of putting their houses back on their foundations with non-electric tools.

And what is this? He outdid himself on Twitter:
To the people of Puerto Rico:
Do not believe the #FakeNews!
What in the world can that mean? He is tweeting to an island of millions of people who do not even have electricity. They do not have news. They do not care about the news. This is not a political game to them. They are the news. Their own houses are destroyed, they are drinking sewage, their cars are out of gas, there is no food. By "fake news," does the President mean "real news?" Yes, of course he does. He means, don't believe it when you read that we are not rescuing you. This communication fails on so many levels, it is hard to imagine that it is not something out of a satirical dystopian novel. He really does not understand what is going on.

This morning Trump called the people of Puerto Rico "politically motivated ingrates" and tweeted: "people are now starting to recognize the amazing work that has been done by FEMA and our great Military. All buildings now inspected". The governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló, told CNN "I'm not aware of such inspections, there are areas of Puerto Rico where we really haven't gotten contact." Just yesterday, Mother Jones reporters visited the 19,000-person town of Ciales, 45 minutes from San Juan, and found that not a single federal worker had been there.

You knew he would let them down. His Presidential campaign first got real attention with his comment about Mexico sending their rapists and bad hombres to our country. His biggest selling point has been his distaste for foreigners and people who are different from him -- women, LGBT people, blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, just about anybody. That's what his supporters like about him, that's what "MAGA" is all about. If something bad happens to those non-real-Americans, they deserve it. People in Puerto Rico speak Spanish but they are American citizens. This is where your attitude about Americans should come into play, not your attitude about Hispanics. Or imagine caring about people just because they're people, and helping them because you can, and they need it. Or because it is your responsibility.

These new comments leave "deplorable" in the dust. This is depraved. If this is how one of America's two major political parties feels then this country is much worse off than I ever imagined. How can someone see what is happening in Puerto Rico and not feel empathy and a sense of panic? How can you not want to help? You and I can't do anything about it beyond maybe donating, but he's the President of the United States, he can literally save the day. This was a huge hurricane, we saw it approaching for days, and there was no federal preparation. It hit, the island was decimated, and the President went golfing. He picked a fight with protesting athletes. He didn't say anything about Puerto Rico or do anything for days.

Since the election everyone has known he will fail when he faces his first real crisis -- it has been a cliche to say that. But nobody -- even those with the lowest opinions of him -- believed that, given a catastrophe with millions of Americans' lives destroyed, he would actively, intentionally try to make the situation worse. We thought he'd be incompetent, but it never occurred to anyone that he would taunt those who were dying and begging for help, that he would go off and golf and pick a fight with some black guys protesting police violence when a huge number of American lives are in jeopardy.

There is one little piece of irony here. Puerto Ricans are Americans, so when they move to the continental US they are not "immigrants" and Trump can't ban them. And they are coming to Florida by the tens of thousands, fleeing the disaster. Trump won Florida in 2016 with only 49 percent of the vote -- in that state the winner gets all the electoral college delegates. You can bet these Puerto Ricans aren't going to support him next time around. It could make the difference.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Coiled Spring

Steve Bannon said something weird in that interview this week with Charlie Rose. He said, "The left, all they try to do is identity politics... The more you play identity politics and we focus on economic nationalism, we will win. We will roll you up... Identity politics is a loser."

Everybody has an "identity." You are who you are, and if you belong to a group that is perceived and used to interpret your behavior, you may "identify" with that group. That is fundamental human nature. In the jostling of political forces, some identities get a better deal than some others. Politicians tend to pass bills that they can relate to, that is, that are compatible with their identity -- they are not necessarily racists, they just see the world the way they see it. Identity becomes policy, and the result is inequality and unfairness. Trying to get a fair deal for the underdog is, I guess, "identity politics," to Breitbart readers.

A few decades ago white identity was transparent, it would just be referred to as "ordinary" or "normal," because white people ran everything and whiteness was assumed. "Our way of life" meant white people's way of life. The media were full of white people, state and federal officials were white. As various minorities grew in number they began demanding more of the privileges that white people had, and in the national dialogue white people had to justify why they deserved more than the others. Spoiler alert: there is no such justification.

A recent poll found that 39% of Americans agree that "White people are currently under attack in this country." If we assume that the 39% was all white people, and 62% of Americans are non-Hispanic whites, then nearly two-thirds of white Americans feel that way. It's probably a little lower than that, but it's a bunch.

Bannon's statement was clever and also duplicitous: Trump's campaign was nothing but identity politics. Of course Trump could not campaign with slogans about "white rights" or "white pride" without revealing the racism inherent in his viewpoint, and even out-in-the-open racists would be embarrassed to vote for him. But if Hillary would make statements favorable to minorities -- black people, LGBT, Muslims, Hispanics -- then, Bannon understood, this would trigger an identity reaction in the white population which would be enough to elect a candidate. When you have two-thirds of a group thinking they are under attack, then you have a huge amount of potential energy waiting to be released. You have a coiled spring under pressure, and the Trump campaign only had to release it.

Most white people in America's past were able to live comfortably ignorant of the problems that other groups were having, because it didn't affect them much. There was no conscious "white identity" you could put your finger on. If you grew up in a white neighborhood, went to school with white kids, worked with white people, you were only dimly aware that there was anything else. White people referred to themselves as "people," not "white people." Ordinary people, normal Americans. Other groups lived across town, they shined your shoes or cleaned your house, they knew their place, they played their parts like characters in a white people's cartoon, and there was no reason to give a thought to them as actual, real, live people. This is the origin of the slogan "Make America Great Again." Racism was easy in the good old days, you didn't even have to think about it.

But the numbers have shifted, and white people are having to give up some of their prestige. Most of us are okay with that, we realize that it's fair and actually those other groups have some pretty cool treats to bring to the party. But even though white Americans are still getting a larger piece of the pie than everybody else, it is slightly smaller than it used to be and some of them are feeling sorry for themselves. Nothing will create a sense of identity quite as efficiently as being under attack.

Bannon explained to Charlie Rose that the Trump campaign talked about economics while the Democrats brought up racial and ethnic topics (like, sure, he never said anything about Mexicans or Muslims or black people). Even today a lot of the commercial media analyze Trump's appeal in terms of economics, without evidence, because that is more comfortable for white journalists and their white readers, who do not like to have to talk about their own tacit prejudice. You can kill and imprison blacks, deport Hispanics, ban Muslims, but you can't send 'em all back where they came from, because there are just too many of them. You can't Make America White Again. You can't take your country back. You have to share it.

In the meantime, self-pitying white people have elected the most incompetent leadership ever, just to make a point. They wanted to end political correctness and piss off liberals and, well, I guess they did that. Now what? How long can they chant "lock her up" before even they realize how stupid that is? Now that they have won the election, they have to do the job. But Trump didn't run to do the job, he ran to make a statement about racial identity, and identity politics is not a job description. He is the least qualified person in the world to actually be President, and is doing a terrible job at it. But they got him into office, so that makes them the winner.

A couple of really good articles on this topic came out this last week. I definitely recommend reading Ta-Nehisi Coates' poetic unrolling of this theme, as well as Greg Sargent's thoughtful follow-on to it. These are "interesting times," as referred to in the Chinese curse, and it is important for us to figure out how we got into this situation, so we can figure out how to get out of it again.


Saturday, August 19, 2017

Hoods Off


Think of it this way: the Ku Klux Klan has the atom bomb. This week our new President came out in the open about supporting the Klan, the Nazis, and even the Confederacy. During the campaign there were signs of it, but now that Unite the Right has revealed itself -- without hoods -- in Charlottesville, the President has dropped his pretense, as well. He accused the liberals there of protesting without permits, claims they attacked the "nice people" of the racist right with clubs, and in general takes the racists' side of the matter. At his most conciliatory he admits there are "many sides" to the issue. Many sides. You have to say it twice.

We are happy that the rally in Boston today was a big flop, 20,000 [Edit] 40,000 protestors and less than fifty actual racists, but other events are scheduled for the upcoming days and weeks, and another Charlottesville is just a matter of time. It is not just a little group of weirdos any more, these people now have the Presidency and, it appears, Congress. Good people have to get their walking shoes on, need to hit the streets and show their faces and express their views, this is snowballing toward a state of chaos that we may not be able to recover from.

Obviously it is hard to have a government that gives rights and benefits to all kinds of people, including people who are different from us. I get it that everybody wants to be at the head of the line, and that the nasty old Constitution pretty much requires that everybody gets a fair place in the queue.

It can be frustrating, I guess, though it is hard to imagine that being white is too hard for some people.

I'm going out on a limb here: kindness and respect are the high road, in any place and at any time in history. There is nothing further to debate about this. We don't want the Ku Klux Klan in our society, or the Nazis who our fathers and grandfathers died to stop, and "alt right" is a fake label for marketing hate. It is a fundamental moral position to assert that people deserve respect unless they do something to lose it. You might even call it The Golden Rule. Guy a long time ago thought it up.

A year ago, in August 2016, Hillary Clinton gave a speech where she warned us about this. It is strange to look back now and see how it was received. She was "shrill," calling someone a racist was a low blow, it was a cheap shot, some kind of wimpy liberal name-calling. Imagine this: she had used an email system that was not run by the government. She couldn't be trusted.

Or rather, to put it another way, the vast rightwing conspiracy and fake news painted a picture of her that influenced almost all Americans. Most Americans felt she must have done something illegal, or sketchy, or dishonest; even though all Americans understood that her opponent in the election was a liar, a sexual predator, and a mobster, there were a lot of people who believed that she was worse. She had been slandered and criticized since Whitewater, at least, investigated and questioned and pursued. Google "Hillary" and "scandal" and you will get thirteen million, six hundred links. And yet every investigation has found nothing. Every minute of her life and the lives of everyone she knows has been dragged out into a courtroom or committee hearing room, stern Republicans have asked accusing questions, and in every case the result is ... nothing. But that much slime can't be scraped off, the effect on her reputation is there.

[ Edit: Here is a perfect example from yesterday, in Newsweek: HILLARY CLINTON’S LINK TO FORMER KKK LEADER ROBERT BYRD SURFACES AGAIN AFTER CHARLOTTESVILLE ]

[Another Edit: Here is an example from today: A Preemptive Review Of Hillary Clinton’s Shameless New Memoir “What Happened” This is a review where the reviewer has not even seen the book yet. This stuff is going on still, half a year after the election. ]

Here are a couple of minutes from her speech last year in Reno, Nevada.



"He is taking hate groups mainstream." You were told this a year ago. And what did we do as a country? We cringed, because it is shrill and liberal to say that about somebody. "Helping a radical fringe take over the Republican Party." Woo, she's gone too far now, saying those things. "This is not conservativsm as we've known it, this is not Republicanism as we've known it, these are racist ideas." You can't be surprised after Charlottesville when Trump proves that these words were absolutely correct. You knew this a year ago.

Hillary is not a gifted speaker but she had a clear vision and vast and detailed knowledge of the global political landscape. You can ask someone why they didn't vote for her and they almost surely won't have an answer. They just didn't "feel right" about her, after millions of dollars had been spent to destroy her reputation over several decades of time.

America chose, instead, an unhooded Klansman. You knew during the campaign what you were voting for. You knew there would be no "pivot," this guy would never be "Presidential." I am heartened today by the turnout in Boston. This is what we will need, good people have to stand up for what is right, and Nazis, the KKK, racists, haters need to be sent home. Their AK-47s and crashing cars into helpless crowds of people will not win them acceptance in this country. They have the right to their beliefs but when they have the codes to the atomic bomb, when they are running the United States of America, we have an actual emergency on our hands.