Thursday, August 02, 2018

We don't forget the lessons of history. We ignore them.

I've come to believe that societies don't degenerate because humans "forget" the lessons of history.

Societies degenerate because people tell themselves the lessons of history do not apply to their situation.

People think that their situation is different - which it always is, usually in some trivial way - and therefore use this insignificant difference as a pretext to waive away said lessons.

For example: Nazis referred to Jews as vermin. Hutus referred to Tutsis as cockroaches. Trump referred to immigrants as an infestation. Not exactly identical so therefore lessons of history don't apply. Or so goes the self-delusion.

Except history never repeats itself exactly. The lessons of history are intended to be broad, not narrow. They are meant to be a deterrent, not to describe an exact replication.

This is related to exceptionalism. Humans tend to view themselves as exceptionally altruistic. This permits them to dismiss any negative warnings.

I think part of it also has to do with how history is taught. We learn quite a bit about the bad things in history. We're taught quite a bit about the Holocaust and the rise of the Nazis. We learn about the failures and actions that led to the rise of totalitarian regimes.

But how much do we learn about historical examples in which movements with totalitarian and/or racial/nationalistic bents, etc. were thwarted by actions of civil society?

We're often presented with negative blueprints but rarely affirmative ones that can be acted upon.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Not implementing Medicare for All is absurd

"When I give food to the poor, I'm called a saint. When I ask why they are poor, I'm called a communist." -Archbishop Dom Helder Camara.   

Recently, Senator Bernie Sanders proposed implementing a single-payer style Medicare for All system to replace our completely dysfunctional sick care system. This was denounced by Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan as "absurd."

In 2018, all health care spending is expected to total $3.5 trillion.

By 2026, such spending is expected to skyrocket to $5.7 trillion.

Sanders' plan is projected to cost $32.6 trillion over 10 years, or an average of $3.26 trillion a year.

So Medicare for All would insure far more people than the current system (everyone) for far less money. To not implement such a program is what would be absurd.

Unless you own stock in the private health insurance industry.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

#HimToo ?

Today, New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman resigned, hours after The New Yorker revealed serious allegations against him of violence toward women. Many called for him to step down immediately.

On one hand, it's good that, at least in some quarters, public revelations of violent misogyny cause the accuser to be shunned into slinking out of public life, not excused or, worse, actively embraced.
And it is fitting that Schneiderman - a vocal backer of the #MeToo - may be punished under laws that he helped pass as a state senator.
On the other hand, some of his accusers claim that they told others of his actions a long time ago and they were not acted upon.
Clearly many men in positions of power - Republicans and Democrats alike - think they are above the law - to say nothing of basic human decency - in how they treat (usually) women. Far too often, they are right.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Let's get rid of E Pluribus Unum as our national motto

I read this story in The Guardian about how Parkland massacre survivors have been attacked with hoaxes and smears.

To me, this is not really about the smearing of those kids (although I personally feel sorry for them that they have to endure this garbage after what else they've had to endure).
I am more broadly disturbed by the extent to which toxic hate propaganda - often outright lies but always malicious - has taken over our public discourse.
To use this example, criticize what these kids are saying and proposing. Sure, that's fair game. No one is exempt from that.
But to circulate malicious lies like how one of them allegedly tore up a copy of the Constitution - she did not - is downright evil. It's evil because it's sole purpose is to sow hatred and division.
People who support any form of gun control are not Nazis. People who own guns are not murderers. Neither group is homogeneous enough for such labels. And it's hardly just this one issue where such poison is flooding society. It's all of them.
I've read somewhat extensively about the Holocaust, Rwanda and other 20th century genocides and they all - WITHOUT EXCEPTION - started not with physical violence but with a rigorous and systematic hate campaign designed to demonize whichever group was being targeted. Once these groups were dehumanized with words, it became much easier to commit atrocities against them with actions.
The level of toxicity is becoming poisonous. You can be passionate and provocative without being hateful. It is truly threatening our country. We have always been a violent society, even in the best of times. There is no reason to think that, if left unchecked, this will end well.
If we consider ourselves a civilized nation, let's act like it. If we consider ourselves a Christian nation, let's act like it.

Friday, September 01, 2017

How the media feeds tribalism

American journalism has taken a beating in the last year, to a large extent by those angry that it's doing its job. "Fake news" has come to be a lazy slur toward any story that reflects poorly on one's tribe.
But what's obscured is the culpability of the increasingly large part of the media that no longer engages in journalism. The part whose sole purpose is to give microphones to divisive windbags and blowhards reading the Script of their tribe.
Most of this part of the media is stuck in the binary narrative that essentially reduces everything to a zero sum gain. It is tribalism plain and simple.

There is no more effective recipe for division than convincing people that social and economic progress is a zero sum gain.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Trumpism is a cult

Not everyone who voted for Donald Trump adheres to his cult, but Trumpism has clearly become a cult.

During last year's presidential campaign, I often noted that Donald Trump's appeal reminded me very much of the sort of naked tribalism westerners associate with the so-called 'third world.' South African comedian Trevor Noah went so far as to describe Trump as America's first African president.

His presidency has shown this to be completely accurate.

Guardian piece interviewed a number of Trump supporters at one of his recent virulent rallies. He is much better at campaigning than at governing.

One woman praised him for being "anti-left, anti-PC, anti-stupid."

She's no 'deplorable', easy for snobs to look their nose down at. She is a senator in the Arizona state legislature.

But her comment perfectly encapsulates Trumpism.

She does not state one positive (in her mind) accomplishment that Trump has made since becoming president. Not one promise kept.

In her eyes, and the eyes of many Trump loyalists, his best quality is how much he hates the left. How much he hates the  "politically correct." How much he hates the media.

His emphasis on hating other Americans is not a flaw, in their eyes, but his greatest virtue. If you press them, it seems to be his only virtue.

This is why they are impervious to any kind of logical argument.

They claimed to oppose Hillary because she was investigated by the FBI but when Trump is investigated by the same, it's a conspiracy. They claimed to be furious at Hillary's handling of emails but ignored Vice-President Pence's similar infractions. They denounced "crooked Hillary" but have no problem with Trump turning the presidency into an extension of his family business (very much like a stereotypical African dictator). They cheered his insistence that he would make Mexico pay for the border wall but are silent when he threatens to shut down the government if the (US) Congress refuses to fund it.

And can you imagine the rage they would launch at any "liberal" with such deep ties to regime hostile to the US? At any "liberal" who defended symbols of anti-US sentiment (Confederate statues)? At any "liberal" who attacked Gold Star families?

The reason for these apparent inconsistencies is simple. All the claims above were not sincere. They were poses. They were pretexts invented to justify what was really a vote for a worldview, far more than a vote for a particular candidate.

That is why that when, he can't deliver on his promises, it never due to any fault of his own. It's the fault of the evil media. Or the powerless Democrats. Or of venal Republicans who don't obey his orders completely.

They could only vote for him for president. They really want to install him as emperor.

Donald Trump is part of their tribe and what he actually does is fairly irrelevant to his most rabid supporters.

Partisan politics has always had a certain tribal aspect to it. But there's always been the pretense of a certain ideological basis. Trump has resorted to naked cult appeal.

This is why his poll numbers are collapsing. In a recent poll, 61% of Americans said they had low or no confidence in Trump. Only 49% of Americans voted for Hillary. Clearly, even many who voted for him are starting to see through his scam.

In a story about the 1982 New York Democratic gubernatorial primary, a Village Voice article noted: "For too many people in our tightening political economy, the family ties and values he loves have been broken or twisted so that they bear no fruit in good health or fresh opportunities. And as openness and hope become overwhelmed by fear and hatred in enough people's lives - openness curldes to bitterness and hope shrivels to a craving for revenge - hard-pressed voters turn to leaders with a streak of malevolence resembling their own - leaders who reassure them perversely by showing them where they can extract vengeance for their own diminished lives."

It is even more true today than in 1982.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Christian fanatics threaten far more Americans than ISIS

There's been much talk in recent years about "religious liberty" and "religious freedom." In general, this is a fraud. What is usually being discussed is the supremacy of a particular religion. What many want is for the US to implement the Christian equivalent of Sharia Law.
This is a grave threat to our constitutional republic, something that threatens far more Americans than anything ISIS is doing in Syria or Iraq.
Remember, if you are a soldier, politician, Peace Corps volunteer or any other kind of public servant, you swore an oath to protect the Constitution of the United States from all enemies foreign AND DOMESTIC.
The Founders of the republic intentionally devised a system where no one faith had official status. This is why no specific religion is mentioned in the Constitution.
While everyone is focused on the chaos in the Trump regime, much truly evil legislation is being pushed at the state level with far less notice.
The Texas legislature has a bill which would allow medical "professionals" to deny care to LGBT people. This is not refusing to sell someone a cake.
You could be dying and the doctor could refuse to treat you because s/he doesn't like gay or trans people. Seriously WTF?! Is this America or Saudi Arabia?
It would allow nurses and doctors to discuss a woman's medical condition with her husband against her wishes, if their religious beliefs state that a husband is the head of the household.
But theocrats should beware of this double edged sword: such a bill would also permit a Jewish or Muslim nurse to refuse treatment to Christians.
It would also let them refuse to serve you because you're a man or woman if their religion bans them contact with people of the opposite gender not related to them. Your intent may be to harm LGBT people but you risk harming yourself.
So-called Christians are plotting and, in some cases achieving, far more damage to American citizens than any Muslim extremist group. Civilized Christians need to denounce this and loudly.
If you are a medical PROFESSIONAL, your job is to help people, not to refuse to help them.
You have the right to a religion. You don't have the right to a job.
If your religion states you can't do your job helping someone because of who they are, you either need a new religion or a new job. Or perhaps a new country.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

What a racket: Crooked Donald and the family presidency

Donald Trump used a lot of rhetoric during the presidential campaign that resonated with people for reasons other than bigotry. Nearly all of his actions have betrayed that.

He talked about “draining the swamp” and taking on Wall Street, which he quickly betrayed by appointing a cabinet almost entirely madeup of Wall Street fat cats and other oligarchs.

He talked about reviving American manufacturing. Now he’s going after an American retailer for dropping his daughter’s failing line ofmerchandise which is… made in China.

The real purpose of Trump’s presidency is simple: to be an extension of his and his family’s businesses.

He bellowed non-stop about “crooked Hillary” but what he’s doing is worse. Far worse

It started with him violating the Constitution since the moment he swore an oath to preserve, protect and defend that Constitution.

It was followed quickly using the White House website topimp his wife’s jewelry line.

He hired his son-in-law to be his unaccountable taxpayer-paid advisor.

Now, he’s using his taxpayer-paid spokestools to defend hisdaughter’s private business interests.

All this and he’s only been in the job for three weeks.

Any one of these things might excusable.

But put them all together and you who is acting like some two-bit banana republic dictator.

Then again, we’ve devolved into a political culture where big business has successfully bought politicians to advance their corporate interests at the expense of the public. I guess Trump is just skipping the middle man. Maybe that’s where Betsy DeVos got the idea from.