Bridge Burning : Confessions from a Former Evangelical Conservative

Dickens was onto something when he suggested that the best and worst of times might coincide. Awakening the morning of my husband’s birthday, I discover that the Roberts court overturned Roe v. Wade, with an ebullient Clarence Thomas pronouncing that Griswold, Obergefell, and other SCOTUS decisions handing a crumb of dignity to the gay community, and even to those wanting access to contraception, all were now at risk. Thomas’s genius rationale per a recent biopic: Americans should get off their iPhones to defend their own liberties. Wow. We’ll pause to consider that. OK, I’m guessing you’re as confused as I am, so let’s just recognize that happy days are here again for the man who would’ve been enslaved in the 1700 and 1800s, but he’d hand victory to his own oppressors. He must derive his moral authority the same way tyrants have in the past: sexual harassment of women, cruelty towards the most vulnerable, and in his case, flagrantly protecting his hysterical wife’s illegal interventions on behalf of Trump in the violent overthrow of the United States government. Even if one could agree to the fantasy that these lifetime justices swim in a sea of logic and sanity somehow a cut above the rest, how does one ignore Thomas’s ridiculous participation in Gini’s tomfoolery, together with his utter inability to recuse himself in a case featuring her cultish meddling in Trump’s “stop-the-steal” campaign to, well, “steal-then-stop?”

I pick on Thomas in particular, but he is in no way the beginning and end of the problem. Susan Collins and Joe Manchin “believed” rapist-Kavanaugh and the understated danger of Gorsuch when they said that Roe was settled? Well bless their hearts, as we say in Texas.

The world in which we find ourselves carries with it tremendous risk and upheaval, coupled with opportunity to, borrowing from Tom Steyer, save the world and have an awesome time doing it. But something key that I feel we’re missing remains to be the inner world of evangelicalism. It’s a world with which I’m familiar, though I didn’t used to think about it much. But Roe v. Wade facing a searingly opposed annihilation, along with the outrageous constitutional maximalism undergirding it, has left me thinking more about my past. It isn’t a place I visit often, but it might help others understand why so many Americans align themselves with the GOP, what Noam Chomsky calls the most “dangerous organization in human history”. It’s taken time to work my way back to the blog, given a recurrence of illness that leaves me limited in capacity. But this is a tale needing telling. Whether you want to read it or not, the existential threat I describe herein is very real; it’s easy to discount them as kooks, alloyed by some sort of madness. One might think inexplicable, but years’-worth of reflection leads me to something my high school American literature teacher Candy Zangoei used as a prompt for our daily journals: “we hate our victims the most.” It’s funny that I didn’t understand it at the time, but living amongst a people gripped by fear, afraid of blacks, gays, baby-murderers, I understand now. Nothing says esteem like believing others covet what you have. We had little in the way of worldly wealth, but how much more it becomes when you believe others covet your pennies.

Farmers’ Four Paths to Faith and Divorce

My four grandparents and their respective journeys would be a good place to start. All four began their lives in farming families. My mother’s parents differed a little less than thirteen years in age. My maternal grandfather, Dow Slagle, had been twice divorced, lost contact with two daughters, both his parents died early, and a car accident in 1936 claimed his left arm. He met my grandmother Connie in 1942 at a restaurant where she worked. Her mother had already been married and divorced three times, so his having been divorced wouldn’t be a dealbreaker, as it often was in those days. Her grandparents raised her for the most part, so she always held the elderly near her heart. Neither were obsessive on religion, though that changed when they bore their first child, brain-damaged and permanently retarded. With this and other stressors, they turned to the faith-healing circles like the entourage surrounding Oral Roberts. They weren’t looking for judgment, cruelty, or rejection; rather, they sought a cure for their son, increasingly a burden on and hazard for their second son and first daughter. As they enmeshed themselves within the church, the church punished them for his having been married earlier. In fact, they told my grandparents that their sinful marriage was the reason God chose to retard their son. They relegated my grandparents to the back pew, all-too-eager to take their tithes, but intending to make a holy stand. My uncle recently recounted my grandmother sobbing, prone on the floor, pleading with the invisible man to spare her and my grandfather from hell. Their spiritual leaders abused them, tormented them, as though my grandfather’s missing arm and their retarded son weren’t hell enough for them. My grandfather couldn’t even join the freemasons, their policy to exclude those incomplete in body. Jesus, I’m not sure why they stuck with the whole thing, but bearing abuse from evangelicals continues, a point to which I’ll return. In any case, their second son became an evangelist, traveling the world with his wife for a few decades. Their flavor of faith differed starkly from many of their peers, and the worldview they bear these days is incompatible with established evangelicalism.

My father’s parents were second and third generation Americans, whose Norwegian forebearers settled parts of what would become North Dakota under federal land grants. My grandfather suffered from crippling depression in his early life, a travail leading him to the charismatic renewal of the same ilk my mom’s folks found. It did, frankly, radicalize him, isolating him from the churches dotting the landscape, for their ministrations couldn’t accommodate his personal piety.

My parents bitterly divorced in 1987, leading our pastor at the Gainesville Assembly of God to revoke their memberships. This would be the first of two times the church shunned my mother, sister, and myself, the latter happening maybe eight years later; but it wasn’t the first time the church elders inflicted pain on them. One of my brothers developed type one diabetes when we were young, leading our pastor’s wife to tell my mother that she had somehow angered God. This theme of God’s war on children to punish the parents isn’t all that uncommon among the professedly pious.

I digress. Following my parents’ separation, my father’s folks dropped from our radar, though the geographic separation left us with infrequent visits. The story we heard was that they couldn’t bear to have a divorced son, and thus they wanted nothing to do with us. We learned only near the end of their lives that they had been told they wouldn’t be permitted to see us.

My mother and her second husband, for their part, persisted in seeking a church amenable to their professed faith, albeit with somewhat less judgment. I learned from the beginning to ask for the forgiveness only Jesus can bestow every Sunday when asked by the pastor to do so. We were told every Sunday where unforgiven sinners would be spending eternity, and that the worst self-deception for any of us was believing we already possessed this elusive salvation. I prayed every night for my own soul and the soul of others. It wasn’t until my uncle the minister introduced us in 1994 to universal salvation that the fear around this buckled. My maternal grandmother found it a comfort in her final years. Of course, my own identity would forever separate me from the world of my youth, and I’ve since surrendered any notion of faith, beyond a fancy that there’s more to the universe than we may think.

I rehash this dimension of my past to consider some of the things we learned within the world of the evangelicals, with a bent on the goings-on behind the promotional posturing. What did we believe about abortion? Feminism? Race? Gun violence? Atheism and prayer in schools? Environmentalism? Evolution and Creationism? Science? The military? Homosexuality? Liberalism? If you don’t know anyone from this world, and you’ve always wanted to know from a former insider why the Trumpers, moderately fascist, and the crucifix-as-cudgel crowd do what they do, read on.

What We Believed About Abortion and Feminism

Abortion wasn’t something we talked about at home, aside from the dominant opposition to it. Conception was the beginning of life, and my mother often talked about the miscarriage she had between the births of my two older brothers. She tended to be more progressive than my stepfather, if for no other reason, she struggled to continue her higher education, despite obstacles, both at home and in the antifeminine world we inhabited. We were barely middle class, even when my father was still paying child support. Another degree for her would have led to a better outcome, but she confronted misogyny, spousal abuse, and more. In any case, the most she could offer on the issue was that the women she’d known who’d had abortions regretted them. Almost every Republican presidential candidate after Roe promised at least tacitly what our pastors and faith leaders kept telling us: abortion is murder, no matter the context. But I need context to explain what really was said behind the scenes, namely feminism and race.

Feminism found little favor among the faithful that I knew, for the men convinced themselves that the Bible’s duty assignment among husband and wife was clear: the boys were in charge, with the girls there to support. It’s funny that some of the greatest natural predators in the world, the lions, operate with a similar system. The maned men fight off other men and mate with their many women, and the women hunt, bear the cubs, and raise them. Somewhere there’s an art-imitates-life comment. My first stepdad tried the part as best he could, remaining unemployed, siphoning away money that ought to have gone for our care. My mom worked almost nonstop during that period, facing sexual harassment both at work and at church, while he slovenly watched the boob tube in his tacky cut sweatpants, munching popcorn and inhaling groceries. If my Facebook research is correct, this man now squats on his daughter’s property, draping his largesse in mega-sized MAGA shirts. He complained that women were too uppity, and that abortion somehow would lead to more lesbian couples. Race was an even more terrible can of worms. My father proudly sported a confederate flag on his shirt, complete with the words, “it’s a white thing. You wouldn’t understand…” I daresay even he didn’t understand. He hated black people, much like my stepfather, both concerned that interbreeding would drain the purity from the white folks. Funny that I now know from a genetic profile that north African ancestry is in our lineage! My father was (and still is) a violent, reactionary alcoholic who dwells alone in the desert. He had little reluctance in assaulting women and children, though he’s a coward when confronted by anyone else. I read a ghastly series of comments following a rant by Jordan Peterson in which he bemoans that he can’t hit a woman who criticizes him. One comment following his post read, “I think women deserve rights. And lefts.” I was speechless, but I can see my father blurting something like that.

To be clear, I’ve seen neither of these men for over twenty years, and maybe they’ve changed. I doubt it, though. In any case, the cultural narrative insisted that women belong in skirts and in the kitchen. Walter Matthau’s obnoxious rendition of “It Takes a Woman” from the film Hello Dolly! comes to mind. It might be unfair to emphasize the noisy rambles of two dysfunctional neocons, but their personal views mirrored much of what we heard at church, and even, to some extent, school. But their views were echoed elsewhere in the family. To be clear, there are very few functional males in any part of my family. My father had four brothers and one sister, three of whom found some normalcy. Divorce and abandonment are a theme, leaving grandmothers and mothers doing the work. It makes me think that people often create the world they already believe exists. Men can carouse, flirt, rob, cheat, and assault. Women find themselves cleaning up the mess.

With Roe v. Wade destroyed, the stern and spirited self-congratulations can commence, for the unborn were the only category within the issue for which they could muster advocacy. Once the unborn become the born, these would-be advocates can abandon these children to the underfunded and bullet-ridden schools, minimal healthcare, prison, and murderous cops. The conservatives of my family would seek abortion when convenient (such as reversing one’s position once they determine the unborn child to be free of Down’s syndrome), deciding afterwards to shield them from the murderers. Now, women face a not-so-new enemy, one that punishes them for carelessness and promiscuity, while men skate free.

What We Believed About Blacks and the Indigenous

Race remains a key to this. In my hometown, there was the colored section, near the interstate and state highway intersection. Readers, pardon the word choice, but to lay the cancer bare, we called this nigger town. Moffit Park was the vestigial colored park, tiny and dilapidated, compared to the more robust Leonard Park and Frank Buck Zoo. Black people simultaneously amused and terrified, for we saw them parodied on television and film, and their poverty and purported criminality frightened us. As our family grew, so did the despicable racism grow. I could go on, but there really isn’t any point. The more dovish perspective was that blacks needed to leave this country, for America just wasn’t their cup of tea. Affirmative action was a touchstone for fanaticism, faculty in my public school journey wagging tongues and fingers with rants about how hard life is for the white man. I remember a racist cousin claiming that if a ‘kickass’ black guy wants a high-paying job, he should get it, the implication being that he needs to be ‘kickass’ in order to outperform the very deserved white privilege. Nothing enraged my family more than welfare, even though we received AFDC help soon after my parents’ divorce. I remember standing in line with my mom, among many white and brown people, including handicapped, all of us awaiting the government cheese wheel. One insanely miserly relative couldn’t let it go that she saw a black woman with well-manicured nails pull out her Lone Star card at Walmart; willing to cheat her in-laws into providing years-long free childcare for her, she obsessed on these things, complaining that “too many people in this world think someone owes them somethin’.” Indeed, there are. I remember finally pointing out to some that welfare fraud was so rare, one might as well complain about dirty pennies under the couch cushions. Corporate welfare and tax breaks for the wealthy far outstrip anything happening in the bottom sector of the economy, per excellent analysis by Dean Baker. For one of the biggest recipients of public monies in our family, a sheepish and bashful smile presaged the confession, “it’s just the principle of it.” Children are at stake, but one has a principled commitment to austerity, so long as it’s those “other people.”

My grandmother parroted certain racial slurs she’d learned from her grandfather, a man named Thomas Jefferson Davis Knight. I remember in college history learning that the pseudo-intellectuals trying to justify the confederate secession and slavery would claim that they were the true Jeffersonians, to the north’s Hamiltonians, I suppose. Who was Burr, I wonder? In any case, I didn’t even connect the two until later, looking at my late great-great-grandfather. Irony was that they were so poor, they hired the black doctor when Grandpa Knight fought and lost a battle with lymphoma in the late 1930s. My grandmother always remembered that, and would tell us what a wonderful man that physician was. I should try to find his descendants, if any are living. None of this stopped my first stepfather from dissing blacks with frequency. He may’ve been a total deadbeat, perennially unemployed, and a thief who extorted from my grandmother while he worked for her, but he felt he was better than them “niggers.” A stone could fall on any human being anywhere on Earth, and that person would be, by ninety-percent, better than he was. But I heard this for years, that blacks were lazy criminals; even later, evangelical friends confided that it wasn’t the skin color, but rather the culture they abhorred. Hell, even a manager I had at one of the big firms where I’ve worked said to me that it wasn’t skin color that bothered him, but rather things correlated with it. Guh? That person is another story for another day. But the new bogeyman of the religious right is “critical race theory,” the omission of which would result in an almost perfect cancel culture. But they don’t like cancel culture when it means James Woods and Roseanne can’t broadcast whatever batshit drug-induced fantasies they imagine free of consequence. Admittedly, I don’t like them, but they’re free to spray regurgitated manure as they see fit. But deleting an overwhelming consensus of historians everywhere, reducing the black man’s travail to a footnote, works out well for the young evangelical white man seeking atonement through denial. You see, the Bible didn’t account for the cruelty and wickedness that the organized Christian church was to visit upon slaves, natives, and countless others. This is why I only remember learning in Bible school about the suffering of the Hebrews, with the history of Christianity left out. My cousin’s copy of American History: A Christian’s Perspective said it best: Lee and Grant were both good Christian men, and those who preserved slavery, namely Henry Clay and Stephen Douglas, were the “wiser, older” Christian men who preached temperance in their appetites for slavery, a civil war postponed. Nevermind Jefferson and Washington screwing their slaves. It’s so insane, I felt crazy when I studied American history in college.

Native Americans presented their own problem to the narrative. On the one hand, America was a divinely-engineered freedom factory, per the jingo jingle, yet my white ancestors murdered the people already living here. At home, we played cowboys and Indians, and among our friends and family, the talk of natives scared me to death, for who would want to be scalped, dissected, and eaten? Then again, that’s what my white ancestors did to them. I learned the word “crybully” today, a perfect description. We accuse our victims of doing what we do. I could picture a similar sentiment ensconced in a tacky gilded frame hanging above Trump’s office desk. There really is no sufficient discussion on the indigenous travail; the extirpation and extermination led to, probably conservatively, 56 million dead, and a “cancellation” of vast civilized culture. We learned as kids that the natives were not Christian, so those that died probably just resisted dedicating their souls and hearts to a white god capable of reversing their sinful tendencies. Of course, this was the public position, the dovish position, if you will. The reality is that we learned that the natives were inferior, likely incapable of thought rational enough to seek forgiveness through the cross. It was interesting, though, that we also heard about native blood in our ancestry, though my genes, according to state-of-the-art analysis, don’t touch any indigenous peoples in this hemisphere. It presents a difficulty, for why would any of my ancestors fabricate connection to peoples deemed inferior? Looking at my trace North African ancestry, my best guess, worth probably not a lot, is that neighbors could accept the native wife better than the African one, so they lied about her ancestry.

In any case, one of the most sinister of secrets among the evangelicals I knew is that they believed eternal torment awaited virtually all human beings. The free will crowd at least think people can find their way to heaven with a chance, but, as a former member of that gaggle, I can say that we didn’t really believe it. We thought, by contrast, that almost no one would ever find salvation, no matter the chances afforded by God. You can consider it similar to the LDS “mark of Cain” dogma, or, more appropriately, the predestination of Calvinism. We believed that dark skinned people mostly could not get to heaven, because eternity is segregated, even if liberals, guided by satan himself, tried to force us to mingle. It’s horrific, a cultural myopia that I don’t think is specific just to the evangelical crowd. It’s tough to imagine, so the answer is cancel culture on a scale hard to imagine. If you don’t like the history you’ve been taught, then fight to have it erased. We can vote on what happened in the past! I hate slavery, so I’ll just vote to have all history books whitewashed. Done and done. What slavery? What problem?

Guns=Guns?

Brown Bess Musket circa 1780
State-of-the-art killing machine

Another topic of frustrating fever would be gun control, given the holocaust of shootings happening year after year, depicted starkly by The Guardian in 2021. The two most recent shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas are just tips of an ocean-spanning iceberg. I can’t even finish this paragraph before another mass shooting surfaces in the news, this time a lunatic who killed at least two physicians, reported by MSN. A man didn’t like the outcome of his surgery, so he killed the surgeon. Why not? That’s the American way, to settle our differences like men, meaning one man with a gun, and several others, women and children included, without them? Though it may seem unfair to way life against life, it’s worth remembering that physicians train for years and years to become healers (I’m married to one, in full disclosure.) I may vomit, not just because gastroparesis plagues me. As I’ve written elsewhere, when I was in the second grade, my friend and classmate Jay Wilson and her older brother Kevin were murdered by their deranged mother, ostensibly revenge on their father for divorcing her. After coercing them to write their own suicide notes, she killed them, then herself with a pistol she obtained at a local pawn shop, placing her wedding ring in hock. It was devastating, and I remember our teacher Mrs. Proffer weeping hard. That was 1988, one of many thousands of murders by gun that have gripped a population already clutched hard with fear.

My mother’s parents owned at least one gun, a small pistol my great-grandmother left to her younger daughter, my grandmother. It was unregistered, and happened to be a very painful artifact in my family’s troubled history; I’ll not delve into the details, but suffice it to say the gun never did a bit of good, and plenty of evil. My father’s parents owned several guns, my grandfather becoming something of a collector. They were farmers in a time and place in which one could plausibly argue that guns would keep one’s family safe from wild animals and maybe the occasional violent trespasser. I would guess my grandfather really believed that Clinton, Obama, and pretty much any other democrat intended to take his entire way of life from him, not just his guns. So he card-carry-supported the NRA, and he boasted an autographed tin-painting of Charlton Heston. I never discussed gun violence with him, so I don’t know what he would’ve said about the shootings we see one after the other. But this was a man who would open his wallet to strangers if they had a disabled child among them; I can’t believe he’d place unrestricted access to guns above the safety of school children.

I wish I had a more satisfactory answer as to why evangelicals love guns. It ultimately has to come back to something one might love in a world where nefarious forces covet that thing one loves. Thus, the one doing the loving becomes important, a victim by definition. Just like Christ and the disciples and the Prophets and the Hebrews, the persecuted, tortured, sought by satan and his myriad groundtroops. Truly, this was what I heard growing up. If someone wants what you have, doesn’t that make you important? If satan wants to steal something, that means that something is what God wants me to have, right? I think it’s psychology, and my guess is that the science of public relations has helped political leadership figure out, at least since the late 1970s, how to stir my old crowd. Stuart Stevens’ It Was All A Lie, remains a pretty damned good expose on that part.

I’ll repeat here an argument I’ve made before about “constitutionality:” like the Bible, bumper-stickers, and flags, the U.S. Constitution often becomes the means to affirm oneself in whatever way one deems good. Chomsky often referred to the belief, at least in the 1990s, that universal healthcare guarantees were in the framer’s intent, for it was more or less self-evident. Of course, it wasn’t, but a majority of Americans, by a particular poll, believed it. The point is simple, almost a perverse divine command theory: it makes me feel good, so it is good. All of us are subject to this, whether we like it or not. It doesn’t mean we can’t strive for something approaching objectivity, but even that pursuit usually happens because it feels good to pursue it. It helps explain the social media-fueled dystopia in which Sandy Hook moms receive death threats for purportedly fabricating the very existence of their slain children, to say nothing of the shooting itself. Alex Jones would be proud, if he managed to peek out of the rubber room that is his head. Returning to the argument, even if we discard the meeting minutes of the Constitutional Convention, and we discard Scalia’s judicial activism in reinterpreting the Second Amendment to cover individual ownership instead of “regulated militias” per the amendment’s wording, and we discard centuries of careful regulation around weapons, the point screaming for attention here is that an “arm” in 1787 was NOTHING ANYWHERE APPROACHING even the smallest pistol of today. A musket of yore couldn’t be fired more than once a minute, even if the gunman were at the top of his game. The range was poor, and misfires were common. They were dangerous, but a wacko with a .22 pistol can do way more damage than one with the older counterparts. The fact is, today’s guns are NOT “arms” referenced by the aging document. It’s equivocation, but I never hear it said anywhere within the debate. A gun is not a gun, by any other name. Why can’t I own a bazooka and conceal it while I roam the countryside? The Constitution PROMISES me such a right, for it’s just as much a “gun” as is a musket, right? It’s bullshit. Since the blood of thousands of victims doesn’t mean anything to those who deify the Second Amendment, maybe the Commandments’ stringent warning about idolatry might. It makes me sick. Hearing Ted Cruz blather on about the slippery slope of “they’ll start with guns, then take everything else,” he need not worry, unless the government outlaws being ugly with a pound of creepy. Would these politicians care more if they lost their children to a deranged gunman?

My best friend’s father was a policeman when we were growing up. Robin recently reminded me that one year during field day, his on-duty dad appeared in his uniform to watch us play. Kids asked Robin why his dad didn’t have his gun with him, and it was a fair question, considering almost all the boys and some of the girls were accustomed to toy guns and violent movies; Robin couldn’t recall what he told them, but he did remember what his dad said when he asked him later: a paraphrase would be that guns and schools have no place together. He was a policeman and a Reagan Republican, and the unfettered access to firearms for all was just bananas to him.

The truth is that I don’t remember being around too many gun-lovers when I was a kid; some family in my own generation loved guns in secret, so it wasn’t a topic discussed. When I was a child, we traveled in circles of people with too little money to own such an extravagant toy with so little utility. In fact, I’ve never experienced a single moment in my life in which I was or felt safer with a gun nearby. It made no difference to my drunken father that my grandmother had a gun; he broke into the house and roughed up my mother all the same. My grandmother would’ve argued that letting insane people have guns was insane. She kept her mother’s gun more out of sentimentality, before it was stolen from her. I can only say now that the gun-obsessed in my family either enjoy using them on animals or live in a perpetual terror that they’ll have to have them. Both fall under delusion. And I don’t think millions of school children dying would change their minds.

Atheism and Prayer in Schools

I remember very starkly the disappearance of Madalyn Murray O’Hair back in 1995. I had just started the tenth grade, and though I didn’t take history that year (it conflicted with precalculus and trigonometry), my stepfather and mother talked about it quite a bit, hot on the heels of the terrorist attack in Oklahoma City. I now consider the irony that we didn’t call McVeigh a terrorist; rather, he was a criminal. Terrorists were brown, whites could only be terrorists. I digress. In any case, O’Hair was an atheist who had sued on behalf of her young son to stay mandatory Bible readings in public schools, in Murray v. Curlett. The Supreme Court later ruled in 1963 that such readings are unconstitutional. It struck me as a kid a little funny that we heard about this woman at church with ominous prognostications of assured demonic victory, yet we always prayed at school assemblies, even at my high school graduation in 1998. I didn’t pay much attention to our sports events, but I’m sure they prayed there. We had a few Jehovah’s witnesses, and since they were barred from saying the pledge of allegiance, no one forced them to do it. It remains a comedy to me that banshee wails and tooth gnashes followed O’Hair’s SCOTUS suit, yet nobody showed up to tell my principals and teachers not to lead the student body in prayer. It’s true, they broke the law, but no one cared. The First Baptist Church’s youth minister made a habit of roaming the high school campus, aiming to support the students from his congregation. I don’t recall anyone complaining, yet I could imagine some parents would’ve found this distressing. My niece’s high school graduation in 2017 was held in a gigantic Baptist Church, and prayers ran aplenty. No one cared.

Atheists were frightening to me when I was a child. Think Rosemary’s Baby: one might believe the devil had connived them into believing we were a grand accident, but often we assumed atheism to be a veil for satanism. These zombified agents aimed to rob us of our faith; they were as alien as anything out of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers. We learned that before the rapture and tribulation, (eschatological events by which the faithful rise to heaven), we would face either branding with the mark of the beast or beheading. That is, we forfeit our eternal soul or suffer a grisly execution. Mind you, church leaders told us children that this was inescapable. Theories ran amok with respect to the mark’s nature; some said it was a tattoo, others claimed it was a microchip embedded in one’s flesh, capable of killing us remotely. Others still insisted that the VISA credit card was the mark itself, VI being Roman numerals for six, S for six in the Greek alphabet, and A six in the Babylonian counterpart. You read that right: owning a VISA card meant the devil-controlled government could spy on you through the hologram in the corner of the card. Nothing so well depicted this ingrained fear than the play Heaven’s Gate & Hell’s Flames, a dramatization of the eternal divide, separated into several vignettes about death. Some went to hell, others to heaven. Those attaining salvation received horned fanfare, white light, and a stern but loving Jesus Christ. Those falling among the goats were treated to disco strobe lights and a sneering, reptilian Satan, heavy metal roaring as his minions carried the hapless unsaved screaming. It was terrifying, all the more so because we believed it was real. The final vignette featured a mother and her young daughter dying together in a car accident; the girl tried to persuade her mother to accept Jesus before it was forever too late, but she remained unconvinced. Satan tore them apart, Jesus shielding the saved child while her mother fell to the minions. Christ cried with the daughter, and the show ended. Of course, we were asked, as was the course every Sunday, to rededicate our lives to this Savior. I never felt as though I was saved and asked every time it was offered. To me, atheists were terrifying, for in my small brain, I thought that they surely could see the truth for themselves, that hell was real, and Satan wanted their souls. It was insane. But I’m reminded once more that when one believes others covet what is his, it brings an empowerment, a quickening.

Environmentalism

When I was in elementary school during the 1980s, I don’t remember ever being told that global warming was a hoax. In the fifth grade, the final chapter of our science textbook covered pollution, acid rain, and the cultural imperative my generation was to inherit with respect to Mother Earth. My teacher proudly described the chapter as a rite of passage for we fifth graders, soon to embark on the long journey that is middle school. Even then, we discussed the ozone layer, depleting with the outgassing of chloroflouracarbons, on routine. No one disputed that this was happening, nor do I remember NASA being accused of manipulating us to justify promotion of ungodly science. Then again, it wouldn’t take long for the fossil fuel lobby to mobilize evangelicals, but their public relations campaigns hadn’t hit paydirt yet, despite Exxon already distancing itself from its own research. The reapportionment of propaganda in the late 1970s took time to spread, but by the time I was in college, more and more folks in the Bible belt were drawing from the brain mushing drivel Rush Limbaugh broadcast. So it wouldn’t be so surprising to learn that a computer science teacher I had in junior college said that he hated environmentalists because they “didn’t want anyone else to be able to work.” He also decried women as “illogical,” all from a high-level reading of I Love Lucy. Even Christians dislike pollution and big pollutors, but the public relations firms have had decades to police thought among evangelicals, and more than ever does it show. For my own tribe, opponents to environmentalism without education quote generously from critical analyses funded by fossil fuel giants, decrying the topic as too ‘politicized’ to deserve serious consideration; but they do jump at voter fraud shadows, a perfect reversal of screaming at gnats while gulping camels hump over hoof. Those with more education or worldly experience brook their heads, self-describing as “not reactionary.” Discounting the overwhelming scientific consensus is, by definition, reactionary. But channeling Inhofe, God won’t allow us to destroy ourselves, right? Actually, the evangelicals don’t agree: we should hasten the end times so that the wicked can perish in eternal hell, and the wrongs are righted. This was what I heard–the sooner we can reach the apocalypse, the better. But certainly, they think the Bible is the authority, so we heard almost nothing about church history. The role the Vatican played in Hitler’s ascent, the promotion of and opposition to slavery, and so on.

Evangelicals who stump for Christ but live in terror aren’t that much of a contradiction. Most who endorse both do so because conspiracy theories, per Sagan in The Demon-Haunted World, appeal to people in a vacuum of scientific literacy. His interview on Charlie Rose, one of his final, is worth a listen. The terror comes with the belief that wickedness triumphs in claiming almost all people in the final war, the Gog and Magog lunacy I learned that even W. Bush believed.

Evolution and Creationism

Between Tucson and Phoenix, I’ve spied a handful of creationism billboards, all triumphantly pronouncing that we could not have evolved from an ancestor of the apes, namely because one book tells a different story, a story beginning with two humans from whom we all descend. But they ate a fruit, leading to widespread suffering and horror. Next, their creator drowned the whole of the earth when they displeased him. With the flimsiest of proof, we believed this. The Bible couldn’t be wrong, but the sum total of scientific expertise on geology, archaeology, anthropology, and genetics had to be in error. It may sound ridiculous, but we were frightened of this expertise, hearing that its plausibility was the devil’s temptation, and therefore its source, the scientists and their promoters, all derived their power from satan. I was afraid of eternal hell, and thus I could hear only the repeated mantra of a stepfather and the hilariously transparent faith leaders we sought.

The Reagan Raptor (unknown brilliant artist)

Creationism became the buzzword for the determination that a deity created us as we are now, perhaps only six thousand years ago. Carbon dating had to be wrong, and we continue to be the center of the universe, once mingling with the dinosaurs. Perhaps we tamed and rode the triceratops, one of my personal favorites of the reptiles. Darwin and his Origin of Species had to be wrong. Of course, he didn’t suggest that life arose all by itself; rather, he explained that all life evolves over time. But he was an agent of satan, perhaps more than Karl Marx. Nevermind hip joints in whales and snakes, or a whole host of other oddities one might discover when analyzing the animal kingdom. Everything now is how everything was, species by species, when god created the heavens and the earth. Teachers and professors feared promoting evolution. My high school chemistry teacher laughed that “evolution is a faith.” Believing hokey and demeaning tales somehow made more sense than paying attention to a scientific theory among the most heavily tested and invulnerable to rejection. I’d wager that the debate surrounding it dwarfs the importance of the issue itself; enemies abound who’d remove science from education if it ever says anything that we don’t want to believe. Christian conservacana remains at the heart of the difficulty: not only is it demonic to believe the theory, satan deems a victory even our attempt to understand the evidence for it. It’s insane, and it bears repeating: believing what’s wrong will land you in hell, but even considering it demonstrates a lack of faith in one’s everlasting poise. I remember my high school calculus teacher bringing a hardback copy of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos to his Sunday school class, only to find himself spurned by his fellow Christians.

Science

Science presents a challenge; throughout my time with evangelical Christians, I discovered an emergent theme when we discussed the expertise of others: if one can find someone who claims wisdom transcending that of an educated sect, then that person becomes super cool. For instance, charlatans claiming medical knowledge with no degree screams that the whole of medicine is a conspiracy theory. Better yet, that person holds the answers the educated just can’t nab, no matter how many years they devote to learning. This opens the door for chiropractors, nutritionists, and massage therapists to assert their superiority. It may seem ridiculous to depend upon quacks in the face of genuine experiential knowledge, but the impersonal, cold medical establishment would not want to forfeit their reputation and salaries, or so the bullshit goes. It comes back to the ‘distant centralized government’ ruling us rather than democratizing highly prized skills. You want to be a doctor? No problem! Write a book about how your special medical knowledge hidden from the monolithic order can cure every sort of ailment.

Unfortunately, this extends to pretty much everything else. If schools won’t teach your kids all the Alex Jones style hysterics, then defund education. I could write for days about the fear of science, but it’s pretty simple: if I feel threatened because of others’ specialized capabilities, I must pretend to know something they don’t, then point out how they’ve failed.

This brings me back to another point here, namely that of the fraudulent American libertarian. We boasted of being apolitical, or moderate, or whatever the hell it was in those days. We bragged that we opposed cold, undemocratic governments who crushed us with regulation. We were saints, capable of standing apart. But the reality is more complex: we would have no road on which to stand, no car with which to schlep ourselves, no internet to spout worthless drivel, and little medical care of any value, if it weren’t for massive state spending. This remains one of the best kept secrets in America, for not even the so-called liberal journals discuss this with regularity. We didn’t hear anything about federal investments when I was a child. Instead, faith leaders bombarded us with the white straight business owner’s travail: he pays taxes only to have them stolen for the lazy poor. Science becomes a literal smash-and-grab; grab everything of value and derive its benefit, but fight to make its application impossible for others, smashing its foundations in education and funding dispersion from the government. Perhaps the most striking counterexample would be the military.

The Military

Worship of the military and all its efforts would be a core to evangelical Christianity as I knew it. God wanted us to destroy the brown people in the middle east, and his hand guided us when we scalped the continent here of its native presence. The constant attack of the big bad guvmint extended to the coveting of our freedoms by outsiders, especially the non-Christian ones. Pouring money into a machine of global violence didn’t really strike my faith leaders as strange, despite Christ’s consistent pacifist stance. We feared dispensing with it, so instead we’ve deified it. God wanted us to have the biggest tanks, airplanes, and weapons, so that’s why we have them. We’re under constant attack from everyone everywhere all the time, to quote the recent film title. So therefore, we should attack others first. Gog, Magog, and so on. I’d go on, but so much of what one should say, one has already said.

Homosexuality

Clarence the Self-Loathing Thomas proclaimed in triumph that the SCOTUS decision legalizing gay marriage would be invalid, paving the road to “letting” states decide for themselves. Of course, he’d decide the opposite were it unrestricted gun access to everyone on every street corner in jeopardy–states can’t be trusted to apply his flavor of judicial activism. But we can utter “hypocrite” only so many times, before it leaves every hint of erudition nonsense. The evangelical Christians hate gays, and I know they do–I did, too. They’ll claim their love for the sinner, but it’s a lie. Exodus international provides a splendid example–humiliation and cruelty rather than compassion and healing. This of all the sociopathic pieces of the conservative platform leaves me the most wounded: I considered suicide when I was a teenager, because I couldn’t reconcile being gay with the world I inhabited. I was bullied endlessly in middle school and some in high school, and I’ve known of other gays from my high school years who’ve died in the twenty-four years since we graduated. I think about my archconservative family, and I can’t accept them or their viciously cruel, blind adherence to their platform.

We learned when I was a kid that gays were pedophiles, aiming to molest and convert all the rest of us. We knew of a few gays, and there was concern when we were around them. My first stepfather loved to parody “fags and niggers,” with a paltry comprehension of the genuine suffering of others. Gays were dangerous moral degenerates, to say nothing of deserving no protection. Cops beat a gay uncle of mine on more than one occasion. Kids bullied me, verbally and physically with teachers present, and it stood. I told an archconservative in my family that I’d fight for his right to marry. But it doesn’t matter. None of it. I remember an openly gay student a year or so ahead of me printing his essay on homosexuality in the computer science teacher’s room. He asked her what she thought, and she told him that she hated the sin but loved the sinner. And that god felt the same way. My brothers ridiculed gays. Then they wonder why I didn’t tell them.

The cost to trans and other vulnerable populations leaves me in tears. The last few years have been difficult, a chronic illness draining most of my wherewithal. My husband has cared for me, and I’ll be damned if someone tells me what we have is wrong. The only family members who cared for my elderly grandmother were gay. I spent time with my grandmother, caring for her rather than living independently, selfishly, and stupidly, like my heterosexual contemporaries. Now I’m tired.

Where We Go Next?

I started this post some weeks ago, deciding that the sneak peek into evangelical conservacana would be important for most outsiders understand. I’ve blogged in the past for several reasons, namely to promote and encourage methodical and well-documented analyses for technologists and other interested parties, to vent, to educate, and to leave behind a record of thought, however imperfect. Venting might be the chief category of this post, considering the personal and anecdotal nature of what I’ve written. But I didn’t start it that way. But I confess a weariness, a pain, an outrage with my own beautiful personal victory of marriage equality hanging by a thread. I started this article in the hopes of striking common ground with the people of my origin, but I don’t know whether it will be possible before the world ends. How does one reason with unreason? I don’t know that I could have learned what I’ve learned until the time was right. There must be a way forward together. But how? We inhabit worlds so divergent that we lose what little common history and culture we shared. I’m open to suggestions.

Reflections on Five Years and Why Numbers Matter

Numbers matter. I commenced this on December 7 of 2021, a day of intrigue for several reasons. As a child, I would have connected this day solely with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, described by Franklin Roosevelt to be “a date which will live in infamy.” More important to me is that December 7, 1928 was the day Noam Chomsky entered this world. And today marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the debut of Democracy Now!, an independent media organization devoted to covering the news of the world largely omitted by the mainstream press. I’ve just returned from the Farewell Nichelle Nichols convention in Los Angeles, and though I’d consider the execution by Atomic an utter logistics disaster, I nonetheless met some awesome folks, including an ethnics studies professor, Marcelo Garzo Montalvo, his partner Zoila Lara-Cea, along with others, including Anne Burton, a physician and woman of color from Michigan. Our discussions throughout the weekend enlightened me greatly, furnishing common ground between indigenousness, color, and sexual orientation, a topic to which I’ll return later.

Five years ago, I started this blog with the aim, as stated earlier, to inform and hopefully prompt my fellow technologists to recognize and apply their collective power to better the world about us. Of course, the election of Trump coinciding with my inaugural post is by no means incidental–he has proven to be the most dangerous person in world history, to say nothing of the worst of American presidents. I’m hardly a fan of any of them, but his was an order of more terrible than all those preceding him.

But as I reflect on the past five years, I’m persuaded of the soundness of Stuart Stevens’ central argument: Trump was an aberration only in the brazenness of the cruelty, racism, and classism. One can trace the roots, at least in the modern GOP, to Barry Goldwater’s bid for the White House in 1964. Rather a shock to party insiders, Goldwater opposed the Civil Rights Act, destroying black support for Republican politicians. Almost sixty years later, the Republicans maintain a narrow minority hold on the state sector, trumpeting exclusivism and hysteria with no articulated platform. Feral labels the party well.

Joe Biden managed to win the White House a year ago, claiming a few states typically thought to go to Republicans. It was a favorable achievement, and Biden chose to advance a saner climate policy than I ever expected. And yet the fifty republican senators represent 143 million people, while the fifty democratic counterparts represent 185 million, according to a piece in the Guardian released last March. That is, the republican half of the senate play surrogate for 44% of the population, while the other 56% contend with the democratic half. Pew Research numbers suggest that 44% of the population lean republican, while 49% lean democratic. Yet Mitch McConnell retains immense power, along with the skewed U.S. Supreme Court. I mentioned statistics on the past decades, namely forty years of presidential elections. In particular, Republicans assumed the White House in six out of the past ten quadrennial extravaganzas, though two of those elections lost them the popular vote, and the 2004 election remains rather suspicious, considering the brazen and vicious disenfranchisement of minority voting blocs in Ohio and other battleground states, a phenomenon documented exhaustively by investigative journalist Greg Palast. Palast doggedly researched racial disenfranchisement long before mainstream media decided to take interest in 2016 and 2020. I remember reading about the dilapidated polling equipment, last minute adjustments, early closures, and unreasonable wait times in poorer, generally more democratic districts. No major outlet, at least that I could find at the time, reported on this. Instead, they posed the heady question, “should Al Gore resign?” This was despite the fact that the Florida split of votes saw neither candidate with a statistically significant head. Yes, numbers matter. As a thought experiment, imagine that one hundred people participate in an election, and for greater simplicity, let us assume only two possible choices. Suppose one candidate receives 52 votes, the other 48. First, let’s consider the hypothesis that neither candidate enjoys a lead over the other among those who voted. Through the science that is statistics, we can show that the difference between votes tallied could be two or more some 68% of the time, meaning the votes leave us without a clear winner.

To complicate matters further, let’s say that eight percent of votes count the wrong direction one way, whereas only two percent count the other (the true differences are much more striking, but this example would demonstrate the quagmire nonetheless.) So the process is this–votes are tallied, then something random happens, shifting two percent one way and five the other. So in the expectation, if neither truly holds an advantage among voters, this random process, at expectation, leaves us with 56 to 44, even under the uniform hypothesis that each candidate should receive fifty percent of the votes. So it seems very clear that 52-to-48 tells us nothing about the true outcome.

This is, in fact, precisely how the system works. We know from decades of polling that people prefer, in general, progressive policy. We know that the Democratic party represents a broader coalition of voters than does the party of the space cadets. Even those from within the Republican party confess the narrowing of the tent. So numbers matter. Maybe not to everyone, but if we start from the axiom that democracy best functions among all forms of government, we cannot deem our biennial pantomimes to be true elections.

Matters are worse, to quote the pop culture bastion of wisdom, Yoda. The release of Facebook internal reports and memoranda by whistleblower Frances Haugen, reported by the New York Times, paints a frightening picture of the new national norm, something to which I can attest anecdotally from a recent visit to Texas, and to which I have long suspected. We live in a world of severely divergent narratives.

My personal experience with the narrative divergence has led to frightening discoveries. A cousin believes the world is, in fact, flat. An aunt, along with this cousin, believe that Hillary Clinton supports a child sex trafficking ring in Washington, and, newly brought to my attention, that she sacrifices and eats infants. These are not stupid people. I left my home state flabbergasted, questioning my perception of reality. I felt as though I’d never known these people. Thank goodness for the positive, spirited friends and family there.

I decided I must understand this divergence. And I think it’s pretty obvious, especially now that I’ve tested this metaphor on a few people, to applause. Consider we are living in the 1980s, and for most of us in America, we draw our news from papers, journals, periodicals, and, of course, television. Now, imagine that in 1984, a race of aliens descended, and through a series of machinations, purchased all media sources. And thenceforth, they would take the New York Times, for instance, and create two separate versions each day of the paper’s run. Half of subscribers would see one version, half would see the others. Now, the rub is that neither of two subscribers know that they’re receiving different versions. They only know that over time, people begin disagreeing on more and more commonsense and intuitive thinking. For one, it could be that Reagan was fitted with hearing aids, the other with glasses, but no mention of the other in either. These changes grow, and finally, after just a few years, people are prepared to kill one another under a delusion of understanding the world.

This is precisely where we are now. Only we replace the aliens’ collective mischief with the cancerous greed of multinationals, flush with cash while avoiding regulations. Facebook, now calling itself Meta to confuse its critics, places dwell time of its users ahead of the truth. So, if you click on links suggesting Hillary hankers for the blood of the aborted fetuses, the algorithms will feed you more and more slight variations on the topics of interest to you. This is true of all search algorithms running behind ads on the major search engines and social media. It takes little commonsense to understand this, but we now confront willful ignorance, flaunting of the elite media’s failure to deliver messages of real value to people. CNN may not fabricate as much as Fox, but it certainly neglected its duties leading into 2016.

The fearful among us find new terrors, the angry find more provocation, the hopeful more despair. The recent release Matrix Resurrections couldn’t have put it better: the Analyst, a character representing control, cheers weaponizing feelings in maintaining his ideal order over human beings. The same takes place within big technology, whether we in the sector want to believe it or not. Lana Wachowski and David Mitchell remain true to form, highlighting our frailties with blinding clarity and clever storytelling. My favorite movie remains Cloud Atlas, despite competition from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Alien, Interstellar, The Shawshank Redemption, and Twelve Angry Men.

The new political spectrum, satirized recently by Robert Reich, raises a notion of “immodest moderation”, or appropriation of the unassuming label “moderate” to justify extreme positions. But Reich misses one of the more unpleasant realizations one can draw from the whole affair: “moderateness” has become the cult of the self. One of my acquaintances swears that Biden raped his daughter, that climate change is too politicized to lead to any reasonable conclusions, and that voter fraud is rampant. No evidence exists for these claims, but so long as one feels moderate, he need not question his perspective. After all, it means all things wise, and all things mad. It is the ultimate expression in our political economy of the obstinate misanthrope. It’s become more of a thing in recent years as we’ve watched the American political spectrum distort, as though one were examining it with a carnival funhouse mirror. I’ve heard Noam and others suggest for a long time. Returning to Reich, he has studied politics for fifty years, and his positions haven’t changed much. But the spectrum has shifted tremendously, letting the conspiracists and extremists lay their paws on normalizing labels. I think this follows from a very real human need to feel normal, to feel rational, to be correct. I would be a liar if I said I didn’t often feel the same way. To me, democracy, and commonsense economical thinking should go hand-in-glove with altruism, solidarity, egalitarianism, and anarcho-syndicalism. Are my views moderate? Are they normal? Are they rational? It can be a conceit, no matter how I might disguise it. My point is that one can find no value in thinking this way. It conveys virtually no information to proclaim my own correctness. Would I trumpet my own lies and vices? I just can’t think of a non-pathological person who professes to promote fabrications. Because of this bizarre shift in political perception, it leads to moderates opposing vaccination, something one couldn’t find in the history of such paradigm-busting medical advances. Their labels are lies, though they don’t necessarily know it. In fact, the most accomplished liars among us likely don’t know they’re doing it. To me, this self-deception sprays gasoline on an all-consuming fire, separating us, dividing us into our cult of self. Perhaps it’s just a pedantic observation, but so be it. Then again, statistician Nate Silver comments on the cult of moderation: independents and moderates believe everything. They may think of themselves as free-thinking, counting themselves among the very wise. But they’ll literally believe anything. Any conspiracy theory that affirms their claims to moderateness. Why am I not surprised?

Speaking of Noam, the man at ninety-three remains perhaps the world’s most important living mind; my uncle calls him the “secular Jesus,” a very high compliment. Few who live so long remain so productive, so dedicated to the causes he’s supported for most of a century. He could simply retire; goodness knows his many allies, myself included, would never fault him for taking the break he deserves. But instead, he continues. I’m loathed to paraphrase one of the most despicable men in the world to describe one of the most hallowed, but nevertheless, Noam persists. In recent work, he observes that anti-science evangelical fascism has never been so well-organized, despite antecedents persisting throughout American history. The RAND corporation remarks that fifty trillion dollars have been “transferred” from the bottom ninety percent of the population to the top in the past forty years. Numbers matter. Pew Research in 2020 found that one in three Americans do not believe scientists ought play a role in policymaking. The Guardian reports that one in three republicans believe violence may be necessary to save America. Social collapse is what Noam calls this. The neoliberalism has destroyed household wealth for most of the country, and thus even the slightest cataclysm leads to bankruptcy. It seems insane that during the Great Depression, a time of great suffering and deprivation for Americans, those same Americans were hopeful, chasing social democracy. Noam observes that Europe fell to fascism while America ascended to a conscientious labor class democracy, yet the opposite seems to be happening now. Distrust among Americans remains severe; almost everywhere I go, those employees willing to remain in the service industry, drawing pitiful wages, feel the weight of caustic American customer egoism: if I pay you, I may abuse you. It’s heartbreaking, despite the tremendous wealth in our nation. These people suffer. And yet simple measures, outlined in the meager Build Back Better plan Biden submitted to Congress, may never see the light of day. One hundred percent of republican senators oppose paid maternity leave, astonishing, considering the sworn adherence to family values. Blow up Planned Parenthood, but starve the mommies and babies saved for the eternal hell most evangelicals see in their future. Two democratic senators, Joe Manchin, and Kyrsten Sinema, trumpet their immodest moderation, the cult of self, honoring the lobbies flooding them with cash, oppose Biden’s ever whittled Build Back Better; they so remind me of Susan Collins’ desperately self-aggrandizing speech on why she would support confirmation of an alleged rapist to the US Supreme Court. The narcissism of the moderate’s cult of self astounds, genuinely. Millions of Americans would benefit from these social programs. But do numbers matter if no one hears about them? If we do, in fact, commit omnicide, an alien species in the future may dig through our landfills to discover how many glass bottles we wasted. Robert Reich often speaks of the cost of doing nothing, reminding the so-called fiscal conservatives (an idiot moniker, considering the giveaway grab bag of limited liability, tax sheltering, IP, and all the other flows of cash into the pockets of shareholders) cannot even discuss the cost to the world if we fail to address the catastrophic climate change occurring around us. Jesus, everywhere I’ve lived in the past eleven years, four metropolitan areas, experienced the most intense weather in recorded history, just in the years I was there. Despite the hilariously convoluted word salad of professional moron Jordan Peterson, climate change is real. Peterson may very well be the most bizarre of right wing fetishes, for he professes everything, and nothing. His attitude is essentially, “how dare you claim to be able to study microbes, because telescopes don’t work for that.” Zeugmas abound, the mother’s resentment coupled with the rustle of enemies in the bushes behind you; Nathan Robinson offers a pretty good look at the immodest moderate philosopher. Peterson finds a home in disaffected white men, offering them solace in a world that despises them. They aren’t evil, after all. In fact, they’re victims too. Everything has been taken from the straight white man, for he didn’t earn the elite advantages on purpose. Admittedly, I once felt this way, though I can thank my lucky stars that being gay forced me to think differently. That and a marvelous handful of teachers: Clyde, Candy, Pat, you know who you are. Yet my high school counselor told me that white men were having a terrible time getting into colleges, and, oddly, I believed her at the time.

Five years of blogging make me wonder whether the form reaches anyone. It’s unfair to say it is ignored, for the stats suggest something else. But early last year, I suffered with COVID cognitive fog, and I discovered one thing I could do without my once powerful memory and power to focus helping me along: fiction. I decided to write a novel. I wrote short stories as a kid, and a few stories for a creative writing course in college, but that was it. For twenty years, in fact, I’ve written only nonfiction. I thought of the best of Star Trek, a vehicle for social commentary set in a fantastic future in which humans, by and large, act upon their better angels. I decided to place my novel in said universe, sequelizing the confusing yet raw Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. What began as an idea on describing the Trump cult phenomenon in a the fictional heavenly twin golden worlds of Novis Prime and Novis Lumid became a trilogy of novels, Star Trek: The Revenant of the Soul. Of course, publishing a Star Trek novel would prove nearly impossible in a first pass, so I’ve devoted the past four months to writing another novel, one I hope to submit for publication soon; it is a book that examines the contemporary world, superimposing upon it my own conspiracy theory. Hell, it’s as plausible as anything else. The point would be that fiction may be the best means of communicating ideas. I once thought that only a well-lived life could supply the makings of a good story. Four decades and change might well be that. We’ll have to see what happens.

At the very least, I aim to cover some interesting topics this year, with interviews of my cousin Carlos Robinson, an up and coming labor leader in public education, and with my uncle Charles Slagle, the liberal evangelist, and more. The aim here is in helping sides understand one another; there isn’t going to be a shootout at the OK Corral that resolves differences between the willfully ignorant and timid optimists. Violence almost always galvanizes opposition, and our society is fraying, racing to a precipice of trinitarian maladies: nuclear destruction, civil war, and ecological collapse. All three may happen, and even one will spell doom. Five years feels like a long time. I’m hopeful that 2022 might lead to some real change.

The Sanity Plea: Trump and His Enablers Must Go

I’d like to offer a very special thanks to my dear friends S. Kelly Gupta, Noam Chomsky, George Polisner, and Dean Baker for offering feedback and promoting my article. Noam, George, and Dean are fantastic activists who tirelessly expose oppression.

Very powerful piece.  And very well documented.  Should have a powerful impact.  I didn’t know about your background.  Gives you a unique perspective to understand what is happening in the evangelical movement, now with quite considerable influence in the US and elsewhere.

Noam Chomsky
California's wildfire issues spark debate about prevention – Daily Democrat
California Burns, Trump Fiddles

Almost four years ago, I formed this blog, in a general sense, to meet the existential challenge of Trump’s seeming upstart electoral college victory; more specifically, I’ve aimed to better inform fellow technologists of the gravity and historical context of said threat. We now approach what I consider to be the most important election of my lifetime, likely more important than any election since Franklin Roosevelt’s triumph over Hoover in 1932, or even Abraham Lincoln’s victory over Douglas in 1860. With each passing year of the Trump carnival, the probabilities of descent survival for the species have dwindled: the most recent year confronts us with the most serious challenges of all. No president has ever been so woefully inadequate, lacking of moral fiber, and devoid of understanding in his own policy positions, save reversing the meager but respectable civil rights and social victories gained during Barack Obama’s tenure. Catastrophic climate change ravages the land, with fire in the west, wind and water in the east, and the slow cooker that is becoming the atmosphere offered perhaps the highest temperatures recorded on land since the beginnings of accurate measurement: 130 degrees Fahrenheit.

Trump’s own department of transportation concedes that emission standards will, in fact, partially address climate change; and the report’s recommendation? REVERSE all emission restrictions. I daresay I’ve never heard of such omnicidal whimsy from an agency in the government; yes, omnicide is very real, and very possible (I first read the word in Daniel Ellsberg’s The Doomsday Machine, a book to which I’ll return below.) Denial, yes, but never acknowledgment but insistence in destroying the world. There’s more, as Trump’s regulatory approach monumentally dismisses hard-fought victories by environmentalists and scientists, in some cases continuing the neoliberal program of laying pipeline in indigenous lands, destroying water sources, continuing a long tradition of imperialist violence. I digress.

A pandemic has massacred at least million people worldwide, with 215,000 Americans among them. Eight million Americans are infected, with the most colossally inept American response imaginable. The economy is in ruins thanks to this same ineptitude. And Trump himself pronounces victory in augmentatives one might expect to hear from a demented spoiled child. “Beautiful,” “wonderful,” “terrific,” like the sleaziest used car salesman you might meet. So who is to blame? The twenty percent of the electorate committed to supporting him unconditionally? The congressional republicans, who with little exception have enabled his every whim, despite declaring him to be a con man, fraud, cheat, liar, and so on? The DNC who ran a deeply unpopular candidate in 2016 after shafting the more popular Bernie Sanders, not once, but now TWICE, despite his actively campaigning for their pick once the contest ends? The Russian oligarchs blamed for electioneering? The debtors to whom Trump owes $400M? I’m reminded of an adage–

whom much is given, much will be required

Luke 12:48

I think the answer lies primarily within traditional power centers : concentrations of capital, a political class owned by the capital class, complicit media, and so on. Contextualizing more specifically, I believe the aforementioned neoliberal program, deregulation, and the ensuing dissolution of social and public institutions are responsible for a newfound suspicion of science, the academy, and the like. Not all of the suspicion is unfounded; the academy has left out much of the population, despite some substantive inclusive overtures on the part of university leadership. Anti-science is perhaps more organized than ever before, with a punditocracy and political elites disparaging higher education regularly. Fox News seems endlessly on the case of some liberal professor somewhere publicly dressing down students who support Trump, though one seldom hears the reverse situation. Said aversion to science has crescendoed, with Pew publishing numbers earlier this year suggesting that republicans still just don’t get catastrophic climate change; and neither party’s leadership seems to understand the omnicidal consequences of nuclear proliferation. Either danger is existential, much more so even than the coronavirus pandemic, though only climate cataclysm seems to receive any mainstream press. We’ll do one better here, with one more pass on the economy, climate change, nuclear proliferation, and badly needed affirmation of the better parts of our species. Let’s first “say it like it is,” as a late friend of my late grandmother once said, with a brief discussion of terminology.

Rather than thinking imbecilically “left” and “right,” consider a more nuanced appreciation for policy. In fact, all of these terms: moderates, liberals, conservatives, and libertarians are utterly devoid of meaning. What passes for conservative now is, in many respects, just outer space. Moderates are the conservatives of yesteryear, capable of considering the government and markets to be tools, with suitable roles in day-to-day life. Today’s so-called liberals, as Hillary may be described, is no more than a moderate in disguise. Bernie Sanders is no left-wing crackpot: his policy positions are quite compatible with the mainstream of America’s 1930s and 1940s. But the cartoonish Red Scares in 1917 and 1947 painted thinking people in America, namely socialists (recall, Karl Marx of the eponymous Marxism was a very learned and respected economist) as conspirators with Bolshevism. It’s well-understood that the U.S. government painted Bolshevism the color of socialism to denigrate the latter. Bolshevists accepted the category to legitimize their vicious totalitarianism.

Peaceful Protesters Gassed So Trump Can Do Bible Photo Op
I wonder if his tiny hand burned?

Firearms and Founding Fathers, You Say?

The Economy Was Made Great Again?

Faith-Based Corruption

Racism, Classism, Electioneering, Textualism, and Constitutional Maximalism

Catastrophic Climate Change

Nuclear Proliferation and Omnicide

Pandemonium in a Pandemic

Psychosis and Dementia

Prescription : Democracy

Firearms and Founding Fathers, You Say?

How do we begin to address the nightmarish flow of guns into our schools, parks, and churches? NRA fanatics might be surprised to learn that the organization itself began as a gun safety and use program. Now, with decades of deafening paranoia swirling about an increasingly bankrupt, increasingly unhealthy population, gun rights activists in the so-called mainstream (again, watch for changes in language) argue that a Biden victory will rob them of their God-given right to own countless guns. The latter would be laughable, were it not for the school shooting statistics, fifty-seven times that of the other comparable countries combined–288 for the US versus two in Canada. I’m reminded of Emerson’s hobgoblin when I hear these gun nuts argue that we owe our freedoms to guns, a fantasy promoted even in grammar school when I was a kid. Zinn, recently singled out by Trump in his conspiratorial histrionic denigration of American history teachers, argued powerfully that our freedoms broaden along a trajectory of victory for American labor. If guns played a role, generally they were in the hands of the National Guard, the Pinkertons, and scabs attacking mostly peaceful protests. In any case, the Second Amendment, apparently more sacred than the Ten Commandments, reads that

[a] well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Constitution of the United States of America, Amendment II

It ought be clear that the amendment doesn’t refer to anarchist gun possession, as the first clause says: “a well regulated Militia.” Then, in Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), the Supreme Court held, for the first time ever, that this second amendment magically no longer applies to regulated militias, but rather individual possession. Justices closely huddled with the Federalist Society, a self-described advocacy group for those panicky lone ranger conservatives unhappy with the imagined liberal orthodoxy of the legal profession about them, abandoned their feigned textualism and originalism with a permanent reinterpretation. Textualism, it would seem, served the late Antonin Scalia well, except when it didn’t. As Noam Chomsky often says, if we really want to understand the intent of the Founding Fathers, we can simply read the meeting minutes of the Constitutional Convention, discussed in Klarman’s The Framer’s Coup. Very few Americans would find the motivations to be anything less than repellant, as the U.S. Constitution was an instrument to retain state power for the white, male, landed gentry. The rest of the population, the focus of Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, confronted hostility in often horrific ways. Washington, for instance, ordered the slaughter of the Iroquois with the destruction of over forty villages, earning him the title “Town Destroyer,” a moniker he brandished proudly. In any case, no matter one’s interpretation of the second amendment and the more prominently leveraged tenth amendment, firearms of the 1780s could fire only once every fifteen seconds, and that’s if its wielder could reload very quickly. Contrast that with even modern handguns, and it seems impossible to believe the founders would have supported such unrestricted power.

Some People Actually Owned Set is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list Here's What Firearms Looked Like When The Founding Fathers Wrote The Second Amendment
Wikimedia Commons

Trump may believe that American history teachers ought tell only the good stories, and maybe only the good stories are true. I doubt seriously that Trump has ever had any decent historical dressings-down, not that it would matter.

Historical accuracy is essential to democracy–there have been desperately dark days in the history of America, as the continental expansion was a veritable bloodbath in the extirpation and extermination of the indigenous population, the vicious enslavement of Africans, and centuries of oppression of women, other people of color, and homosexuals, a group whose history seldom reaches mainstream press, but enjoys an excellent treatment in Eric Cervini’s The Deviant’s War. And yet the past six decades exhibit a civilizing of society unlike anything in history. Despite the occasional regression, we’ve made tremendous progress. The eye uncritical of history succumbs to the same tropes, or so the adage goes. Democracy makes sense mostly in the context of a well-informed citizenry, and denying the sins of our forefathers not only betrays the memory of their victims, but the dignity of any station we occupy.

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The Economy Was Made Great Again?

Trump inherited a growing economy still thrumming from considerable state actions undertaken by the Obama administration. I’m no Obama apologist, as I feel his reforms in saving banks and industries rather than workers was a grisly failure, but without federal intervention, the economy would have crashed altogether. Over thirty years of the neoliberal program, capital flight, deregulation, ghastly military misadventures all led to a financial crisis in 2008, a mess left to the democrats to solve. Obama’s administration managed to reverse many of the negative trends, with the introduction of some regulations and an infusion of federal revenue to salvage the financial sector, though neither banker nor broker faced any criminal charges for morally (and ultimately financially) bankrupt damage done. The International Monetary Fund actually assigns profitability of these American banks a number solely based upon the “too big to fail” government insurance policy, ridiculed by serious economists such as Dean Baker.

Trump believes he, and he alone, rescued a tanked economy–he’s simply taking credit for the work of others, and it should be as plain as that. Trump’s psychosis, something to which we’ll return shortly, is perfectly compatible with such a delusion.

More important for my libertarian conservative readers, it bears repeating again and again–the conservative nanny state, so eloquently described by the same economist Dean Baker, is essential in maintaining a robust, technology-driven economy; corporations aren’t naturally occurring agents, but legal fictions, constructed to concentrate wealth further into fewer pockets. Deregulation is a dog-whistle for “socialism for me, capitalism for you.” One cannot point to any dynamic sector of the economy whose interplay with the fed is minimal.

Trump supremely serves as a grotesque exemplar, having suckled from the government’s myriad udders for most of his life, committing likely a litany of financial crimes along the way. Of course, he’s cashed in as president, golfing gazillions of times, expensed foreign dignitaries out of his own hotels, and leveraging his position to sweeten deals with foreign markets into which he heretofore has been unable to seep his wretched corruption. Again, he owes $400M. Could it be money owed to Putin? I very much dislike the Russian interference thread for reasons I’ll describe soon, but it does make one wonder.

As you probably read this, a Manhattan district attorney is preparing a case against Trump of perhaps tremendous significance–can a former president of the United States face jail time for crimes committed? Trump admitted at a recent rally that he may “have to leave the country” if he loses the election. Good riddance, I say. Better yet, run, then face extradition.

The business community, largely behind Trump but hedging for Biden, carries the so-called “national interest,” while the rest of us are “special interests.” The reputable Brookings Institute published income numbers suggesting that the top one percent owns 29% of all wealth in the U.S., more than the middle class combined. The top permille is problematic, draining resources and exploiting labor abroad; Thomas Piketty, renowned French economist, warns that we are fast approaching a economic tipping point, as the majority of wealth will be inherited. In The Disinherited Majority, sociologist Charles Derber editorializes the progressive implications to Piketty’s more facts-and-figures approach in Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century.

Source: Economic Research for the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

The bottom line is that the widening economic chasm in this Second Gilded Age leads, not unexpectedly, to disaster. As one can see from the charts above, growing stock market numbers correlate with greater inequality, despite virtually universal claims of the opposite from mainstream press, punditocracy, and politicians. Worse yet, massive debt and no savings has poised the American workforce, the disabled and elderly, and the hopelessly impoverished, for catastrophe now that a recession is fully underway, for reasons to which we’ll return.

The middle class is an aberration in history’s global economy, owing its very life and soul to powerful government intervention in the economy, principally through New Deal legislation promoted by Franklin D. Roosevelt, with staggering public support. And even Dwight D. Eisenhower, the first republican president in twenty years following Roosevelt and Truman, whole-heartedly supported these reforms, going so far as to suggest that opponents of said achievements have no place in the political arena. And these reforms are significantly more liberal than virtually all official policy positions of today’s clintonian Democratic party. If it weren’t for Bernie Sanders’ candidacy, we likely wouldn’t be discussing the visceral cause behind the crumbling economy, the lack of healthcare, overblown and outrageous college tuition, joblessness, and catastrophic climate change–greed. “Greed is good” was a mantra suggested by Michael Douglas’s character in Wall Street, so American we ought emblemize it on the flag. With Trump hugging it, anything is possible.

I’ve heard Christian conservatives argue that 401ks are all that matters, and that capitalism is somehow God’s economic philosophy, a claim which ought ring abominable to true believers. Jesus Christ, the key figure of the faith, was a communist, plain and simple. Unbridled hypocritical capitalism, by contrast, is a vicious dogma decried as such by textile workers of the 1890s, in the tradition of Adam Smith’s “vile maxim“:

[a]ll for our-selves, and nothing for other people.

Wealth of the Nations, Adam Smith

How is this compatible with modern Christianity?

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Faith-Based Corruption

A thread of Trump mania I find most disturbing, yet perhaps retrospectively not surprising is the broad cover and support Trump enjoys from the evangelical movement. The man lies daily in his tweets and interviews, his moral failings are endless, and his fascist rallies conjure the darkest dealings of Weimar Germany. Why am I surprised? Hitler emerged dictator in 1933, welcomed by Germans as a “positive Christian” liberator. Carl Sagan suggests in The Demon-Haunted World that the danger of religion is the fundamental lack of agency into self-inquiry of an existential sort. That is to say, one cannot conduct scientific experiments into religious dogma beyond the purview of historians.

President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and faith leaders say a prayer in the Oval Office in September 2017. Several people have their hands on Trump's shoulders. Most of the people have their eyes closed.
Source: Alex Wong, Getty

Trump’s escapades include paying off porn stars, viciously attacking women, promoting and celebrating racism, taking steps to ban religion (namely Islam), banning transgendered service people from the military, and on and on. Are these truly the values of Christians? My aunt and uncle were traveling evangelists for over thirty years, with a decade of retirement work behind them. They’re still active, but they’re astonished at the support their contemporaries bestow on the most fallen person ever to hold the office of presidency. Many actually have suffered COVID, and yet their support, astonishingly enough, is unflagging. He mocks evangelicals behind closed doors, according to The Atlantic. They pray for him, despite the evil that surrounds him. It isn’t a surprise to me that leading evangelical Jerry Falwell, Jr. has epically tumbled from gauzy grace, embroiled in hilarious sex scandals involving an extra man in his bedroom. In his newly-released book It Was All a Lie, former Republican strategist Stuart Stevens argues in his book that some of the most antigay staffers in republican think tanks are gay themselves, penning histrionic letters to supporters about the dangers homosexuals pose to children. There are too many cases to consider here, but my husband assures me that closeted gays firing their internalized homophobia outward are more dangerous than the run of the mill straight homophobe, as an illusional sexual orientation becomes a fixture of the former’s identity; it’s not to say the latter aren’t dangerous, but the former become more psychologically compromised in their reaction formation.

Returning to the Trumpian evangelicals at large, my uncle argues, convincingly I think, that the doctrine of endless punishment at the very least provides spiritual cover for the aforementioned vulgar promotion of self. Oscar Romero, a Jesuit priest, was murdered in El Salvador in 1980 for promoting within Vatican II and preaching from the pulpit the “preferential option for the poor.” The right-wing dictatorship and its backing by the Carter administration couldn’t tolerate a man so close to the heart of Jesus, an extension of Kissinger’s “contagion to be contained” in the 1973 ouster of Chile’s Allende, or rather democracy. Allende’s ouster and murder on September 11 of that same year is known in South America as the “first nine-eleven.”

I digress further, it seems. I grew up in the evangelical tradition, and save the folks in our circle, it was convenient to place outsiders in the category headed for hell. My uncle observes and promotes universal reconciliation, an increasingly popular doctrine which happened to be the framework for faith of the original church fathers, when the cross represented the poor and the wretched rather than the shield of vicious Roman imperialism, as Chomsky eloquently puts it. How is it possible these people can support Trump? Trump claims to be Christian, complete with hilariously stupid and offensive Bible photo-ops in the midst of having ordered violence upon Black Lives Matter activists protesting the brutal extrajudicial murder of black men and women by police across the nation. He actually says that he has never had to ask God for forgiveness for his sins, a core tenet of the Christian catechism–give me a fucking break! Are these people so inured and starry-eyed that they cannot detect a serpent in their midst? So why should extrajudicial killings bother Trump? He openly calls for violence against black prisoners, and tweets that the fanatics ought “LIBERATE MICHIGAN,” no doubt a partial motivation for the recent plot by right wing lunatics to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, namely for the “crime” of restricting social gatherings and school openings to protect Michigans from COVID. In response, Trump simply tweeted what a terrible governor Whitmer is. Apparently, Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia also was a possible target of the extremist group. Videos emerged of these folks practicing with their machine guns, posing in ways that would do Hitler proud. QAnon seems to figure prominently, a right wing organization utterly persuaded that pedophiles in the democratic party intend to enslave American whites and destroy Trump. Trump claimed in his recent townhall to know nothing about them, then within two sentences uttering a statement indicative of someone familiar with their work.

Christians are supposed to follow the teachings of tolerance and love, and Trump offers neither in any capacity. He is a crass, vicious, womanizing racist rending a canyon of human wreckage in the wake of his personal and business dealings, even before becoming president. In the role of chief administrator, he fans the flames of the most dangerous among the religionists, with Islam-based bans, anti-choice jurist appointments, bans on transgendered servicepersons in the military, and on and on; he ridicules these same fanatics behind closed doors, but they are steadfast, now whipped into a frenzy that Joe Biden will ban religion and rise to a position of dictator. Trump, by contrast, is the modern King David, flawed but nonetheless God’s preferred instrument. The lunacy of this comparison is laid bare when we apply Sagan’s earlier critique of religion: most of its manifestations preclude any serious contemplation of God’s will. It rains today, even if my crops drown, because God wills it. A drought is also God’s will, driving thousands to starvation. It also is his tool. Trump is good because they say he is. Why doesn’t this seem to apply to Biden? Or better yet, Obama, a man whose presidency exposed suffocating roots of racism, gnarled and twisted deeply into a nation’s soul.

Personal responsibility has long been the bugle call of the republican party, a fatuous jingle to the parody that is American libertarianism. The religious fanatics remain steadfast in their sneering cynicism at human nature, clutching Ayn Rand and claiming the world is lost; only in the purity of Christianity is one saved. And yet Trump’s modus operandi is to accuse the opposition of his own sins, repeatedly and repeatedly. And not just generally. He cites his EXACT transgressions, then casts them upon Biden. It’s astonishing to watch. Trump’s chums in the media, such as bloated Chris Chrystie and creepy Rick Santorum, lap it up, pronouncing Trump the grand victor with a strong case made. I found myself scratching my head thinking, “what case?” It is quite evident that the man cannot tell the truth, yet I hear rumblings that his policies are somehow superior to what the Radical with a capital “r” Biden intends for us. Trump joked that they’d support him even if he shot a person on Fifth Avenue; I’d add that Biden could rescue a bus of orphaned children from being hit by a car on the same avenue, and they’d still hate him. Religious icon Pat Robertson claims that God assured him of Trump’s 2020 victory, and war on Israel will follow shortly, along with an asteroid strike and the conclusion of history. I suppose we should ignore the earlier apocalyptic predictions by this modern-day Nostradamus. It’s astonishing this jack-o’-lantern retains any platform at all, and I suspect if there is a God up there, she dreads the day good old Pat comes knocking. Maybe I shouldn’t be quite so shocked. The most strident amongst the hyper-religious often fall from grace, and fall hard indeed. I’m no apologist for Christianity, and these are the merest sample of scandals about which I’ve heard. They’re likely grains of sand on a beach–claims of salvation and conversion ought be treated with the same scientific rigor we treat a new theory.

I suppose Jesus, fictional or not, said it best,

[t]he sons of the world are for their own generation wiser than the children of light.

Luke 16:8

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Racism, Classism, Electioneering, Textualism, and Constitutional Maximalism

Racism in the United States is alive and well. Blacks constitute thirteen percent of the population, yet over half of the hundreds of extrajudicial police killings here are blacks. Forty percent of persons incarcerated in America are black. What explains these skewed numbers? We’ve discussed somewhat the period of Reconstruction subsequent to the Civil War (as though there’s anything civil about war), and how the North-South Compact of 1877 essentially restored the right of states to enslave blacks. I’d refer one to A People’s History, as before, to understand better the period. Jim Crow became the umbrella policy of states hellbent on disenfranchising and torturing the black community, complete with lynching, chain gangs, theft of property, and so on. CNN recently discussed the 1921 massacre of blacks in Tulsa, an event left out of Oklahoma history books. Much of my family originated from the Red River region, about the Texas and Oklahoma border. None of them, to my knowledge, had ever learned about the tragedy, a devastating example of said Jim Crow.

Bragging of the Burn

With the incredible work of black activists, particularly in the 1930s, and with the rather massive deficit for labor following the Second World War, blacks achieved the Civil Rights Act of 1964, along with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Since then, wealthy racist provocateurs have viciously counterattacked the hard-fought gains of blacks, as we’ll discuss more below. Michelle Alexander discusses this second wave of racist policy in The New Jim Crow.

Returning to America’s “first white president,” a label suggested by The Atlantic‘s Ta-Neihisi Coates, Trump bares his ignorance rather astonishingly on October 22: “I am the least racist person in this room,” despite the moderator Kristen Welker being half-black. Biden retorted, much to my delight,

[l]isten to Abraham Lincoln over here… You’re a dog whistle the size of a fog horn.

Joseph Biden

Trump has courted racists with his attacks on black athletes, his insistence of the guilt of the Central Park Five even after a rather clear debunking, he traipses with grotesqueries the like QAnon, Proud Boy, and InfoWars, contradicting his own intelligence agencies by declaring Antifa and so-called “left” wing groups more dangerous than the right wing organizations of which he then pretends to know nothing. He defends white supremacist murderers while assassinating left-wing provocateurs with no trial or arrest, going so far as to brag about the lack of necessity of attempting arrest. Even as I write this, I simply cannot believe my eyes and ears. Extremists plot to kidnap and extrajudicially execute governors, and Trump demands that his followers must “liberate Michigan,” bashing the governor despite the frankly inconceivable cover he provides for psychopaths.

Trump insisted that his accomplishments for the black and brown community dwarf that of any American president, with the possible exception of Lincoln himself; Vox rather strongly suggests the opposite. His business dealings in the 1970s and 1980s were bitterly racist. He tacitly and not-so-tacitly supports white supremacist groups, insists with virtually no proof that Mexicans and others at the southern border are rapists and murderers, insults Black Lives Matter protestors and victims of vicious police killings, outlaws Muslims through travel bans, rips babies from mothers at the southern border, disparages the Chinese because of the origin of COVID, demands suburban women support since he “saved your damn neighborhood” by reversing anti-racist housing orders from the Obama administration, and on and on.

When confronted, true to form, he blames others for the negative aspects of his policy. Further, his appointments to the federal judiciary are far right ideologues determined to eliminate legislation and policy intended the make the life of the voter easier. For instance, SCOTUS ruled just this week that states can bar curbside voting, a method of voting offered in Texas and Alabama to aid elderly and disabled who are concerned about COVID. The majority, led by the usual suspects, offered zero (!) explanation for their decision. Their intent couldn’t be more obvious, if one considers that more voter participation diminishes chances of a republican victory. Further, two of the justices are Trump appointments, and the chief justice John Roberts has long hoped to eliminate the Voting Rights Act, as we’ll discuss below.

Over five decades, the most wealthy magnates among us rallied around the infamous Powell memorandum, assembling rightwing think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise, and the Cato Institute. These organizations, along with the aforementioned Federalist Society, have sought through judicial activism and constitutional maximalism to wrest democratic controls away from the remaining population of the country. Rightwing exclusivists faced a crushing defeat with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and, convincingly argued by Ari Berman in Give Us the Ballot to be the most significant civil rights piece of legislation in all Americana, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Together with the unusually liberal Warren Supreme Court, these elements of government weakened the influence of the ancestors of today’s antebellum hardball Mitch McConnell, and the suspiciously confirmed bachelor Lindsay Graham, his compatriot Jeff Sessions, and the hysteric from Louisiana, John Kennedy (not to be confused with the political dynasty).

Stevens argues further, convincingly I believe, that the Republican party faced a crisis of demographics in the 1960s; blacks who managed to overcome the vicious Jim Crow obstacles to the ballot entrusted themselves to the party of Lincoln, not the party of Davis. But the Great Depression broadened the coalition that was the Democratic party, entreating blacks for the very first time. Eleanor Roosevelt secured the black vote while her husband Franklin assured, disingenuously, southern white democrats that reforms on behalf of said blacks would be slight. It turns out that it simply would not have mattered, as the republicans offered no solutions to the economic and ecological crises of the 1930s. Stevens mentions that Barry Goldwater’s refusal to endorse the Civil Rights Act of 1964 cut black votes for republicans to an abysmal seven percent.

Southern democrats, sharply disillusioned by integration of the schools, increasingly successful protests by blacks long denied the franchise, the lack of a clear racist leader outside of Strom Thurmond’s unsuccessful bid for president in 1948, and other artifacts of an increasingly inclusive and open society, found a home in Goldwater’s party.

Nixon cemented this migration with his southern strategy, a program of so-called “law and order,” the far right correspondent to the alarming civil rights gains of the 1960s. Under COINTELPRO, Nixon’s espied and assassinated civil rights leaders, flimsily justified to secure us from vicious Soviet influence. Southern racists approved. By 2000, democrat Al Gore couldn’t carry his own state of Tennessee.

Stevens observes that Goldwater left the Republicans at a fork in the road, one clearly high, the other clearly low. The high road, when confronted by an increasingly diverse electorate, is to broaden the tent, so to speak. The low road is to neutralize the diversity with harmful policy. The Republicans obviously took the low road, and by now, they’re scraping the gutter. I’ve long been aware of voter intimidation and illegal purging of voter rolls, as Katherine Harris infamously purged tens of thousands of black voters from Florida rolls in 2000 for her boss JEB Bush–his brother, affectionately known as W., won the state by 541 votes after the Supreme Court, along ideological lines, illegally halted recounts on a pretext so flimsy they themselves admitted that the legal logic would never apply again. And the highly contentious reading happened in the presence of arch-textualists, or jurists sufficiently self-deluded as to be aware of the mental state of the author of the constitutional words. George W. Bush lost the popular vote, and had recounts proceeded, he would have lost the election. It seems strange to me now that the corporate media refused to inquire whether Katherine Harris had played fast and loose with election law, and that the court’s finding was accepted so swiftly. Within three years, we were embroiled in endless wars in the middle east following the worst attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor. Though I find nothing plausible in the conspiracy theory that Bush perpetrated the attack, the charge of negligence ought stick. When we learned that Bush and his cronies had lied to us about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (something I knew was a lie at the time, as every reputable intelligence agency, including our own, dutifully reported), media said, “tough shit–at least in three hundred days there will be an election.” By contrast, Gingrich and his raving mad Contract with America impeached Clinton for having an affair with an intern, despite his own ongoing affair with his intern while his wife received chemotherapy. He divorced her in the midst of her illness, marrying his mistress.

In any case, I began digging after my own frustration at the obvious tilted coverage in the media, with journalists posting misleading headlines to minimize Gore’s margin of victory. I even emailed several editorialists around the country, and the response I received was akin to, “Thanks for the interest, kid. Yes, more people intended to vote for Gore than Bush, but if they ruined their ballots, that’s tough shit; never mind we say in the headline, ‘Gore’s Victory in Category X Wasn’t So Hot’.” In doing more research, I eventually discovered the work of investigative reporter Greg Palast, and his most recent book, How Trump Stole the 2020 Election, is a must-read for anyone concerned with the ongoing election. I was aware of Diebold machine malfunctions, the higher percentage of ballot spoilage in machines in poor districts, the unreasonable polling hours, locations, vicious racist gerrymandering, and accessibility, along with the election ALWAYS occurring on a work day, but Palast unearths much, much more. From his perspective, no republican candidate has legitimately won the electoral college or popular vote since George HW Bush’s victory in 1988. And yet six of the nine supreme court justices joining the court over that same period were nominated by republicans; the number will be seven in ten if Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation takes place on McConnell’s timetable; think about that for a moment. Bush Sr.’s term from 1989 to 1993 constitutes 12.5% of the total time since his victory, but the republicans have managed the unthinkable : a 70% control on SCOTUS. The court stole the election in 2000, perfectly down ideological lines, so why not 2020? Trump admitted his plan to petition the court for an election victory, hence the need to replace centrist Ruth Bader Ginsburg with a greenhorn of despicable credentials. A common refrain here would be that I cannot imagine Obama or even Bush W. succeeding in such shenanigans. McConnell and Graham, resolute in their objection to Obama appointing to the high court his selection Merrick Garland so close to an election, that being February of 2016, suddenly offer no apology for fast-tracking Barrett less than five weeks before this election. Even more critical are the hundreds of lower court vacancies left in place by the republican-controlled Senate, intent on delivering those seats to candidates nominated by a republican president. At least the electioneering receives national press now, albeit very late in the game. John Roberts recently ruled with a tied vote that Pennsylvania ought have time to tally votes, yet his career is a crusade to destroy the Voting Rights Act with reckless abandon. Noam Chomsky, Democracy Now‘s Amy Goodman, and Palast appeared here together to survey his Palast’s findings.

Congressionally, the game is constitutional maximalism, or the maximal use of constitutional authority according to the letter, but NOT the spirit of the law. McConnell, in his bellowing repugnant drawl, suggests that “divided guhvahmint” was the obstacle then, despite clearly arguing differently at the time. Graham loves the role of hypocrite, having denounced Trump, then declaring himself a Trump lapdog after the sham that was the 2016 election.

So what’s the solution? The court represents an institution of enormous power, with lifetime terms and near unconditional and unchecked determination of the future of American democracy. Sheldon Whitehouse spent his thirty minutes for questions to Barrett instead on presenting the dark money behind a cabal of affluent conservatives hell-bent on owning the court. He makes a compelling case, demonstrating that the coming six-to-three majority is the living dream of corporate America, with increasing hostility to women’s reproductive rights, marriage equality, union and labor interests, the environmental movement, the elderly, the disabled, and the poor; the court is a darling of corporate power, presuming and furthering the doctrine of corporate personhood. Barrett, at the tender age of 48, could serve on the court for four to five more decades, factoring in the near-certain advances in senescence reversal, a lifetime legacy. It’s bad enough that one of Trump’s three nominees, Brett Kavanaugh, was accused of rape by a former classmate, and the republicans skirted the issue, just as they did in the case of Clarence Thomas way back when. Seems fitting that Bush Sr., Thomas, Trump, and Kavanaugh are all men accused of sexual misdeeds. Are they guilty? No one has stopped long enough to credibly try to investigate, and the short answer is that these men of power must ascend, with haste directly proportionate to the crimes alleged.

So what are some solutions to an institution so powerful, unaccountable, and indefinitely kinking the flow of progress? We’ll come to that below. Suffice it to say, enumerating the challenges, existential and otherwise, is nontrivial. For instance, what does our planet look like in 2060, when a Justice Barrett reaches the age of 88? We have some alarming readings in the tea leaves. Maybe there won’t be a world to worry about…

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Catastrophic Climate Change

Since the 1970s, man-made changes to ecosphere have been of increasing interest to scientists, though the precise mechanisms were becoming clear to researchers in the late nineteenth century. It should come as a great surprise that Exxon scientists studied climate warming in the 1970s, only to later bury and disavow the same research. To this day, they deny even the denial, pressing hilariously flimsy critiques of ExxonKnew, the preeminent source of many of the controversies. Al Gore argued decades ago that human-caused climate change could destroy the world, yet no administration in the forty years of very obvious warming trends have seriously heeded the call. Bush Jr. dropped his carbon regulatory promise out of the gate, with no pretext. Obama could have declared climate change a national threat, overriding Congress in allocating monies to build a green infrastructure. Hillary Clinton only took the issues seriously thanks to the candidacy of Bernie Sanders. Trump is the first person to occupy the White House to deny the science altogether. And yet his department of transportation issued a report admitting that climate change is real, and a byproduct of industrialization, but nonetheless repealed emission standards, conceding defeat literally. In a move so callous and murderous, I cannot imagine the man escaping the International Court of Justice–Trump withholds funds badly needed by California to combat the wildfires, despite California’s significant contribution to federal revenue. He claims, ridiculously, that the fires are the fault of the “forest management” rather than a lack of coherent policy on climate change. I’m reminded of his commentary on the passing of civil rights great John Lewis, as Trump stated multiple times, “he didn’t come to my inauguration.” His commentary here might as well read, “California didn’t vote for me, so I won’t help them.” Trump’s mental state is a topic to which we’ll return. Trump insists that blue states fail in all respects, despite the poorest and nearly reddest states, Mississippi and Kentucky, soaking the federal government tremendously. Stevens says forty percent of Mississippi’s state budget flows directly from Washington. In any case, denialism remains hot in Trump circles, despite an overwhelming scientific consensus that man-made climate change poses an existential threat, evinced by myriad models such as this one from MIT‘s own Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences.

EAPS Temperature Pedictions

We’ve discussed this subject at length in earlier posts, and Skeptical Science, among other organizations tightly survey the longitudinal work by climate scientists. Despite Trump’s cease and desist orders to federal agencies in their reference to climate change in public communiques, important work by the National Oceanographic Association of America (NOAA), NASA, and the EPA is ongoing. Even hawkish components of the federal government, such as the Pentagon and the CIA, connect climate change directly to global security, suggesting in the Worldwide Threat Assessment of 2019 that

[c]limate hazards such as extreme weather, higher temperatures, droughts, floods, wildfires, storms, sea level rise, soil degradation, and acidifying oceans are intensifying, threatening infrastructure, health, and water and food security. […] Irreversible damage to ecosystems and habitats will undermine the economic benefits they provide, worsened by air, soil, water, and marine pollution.

Worldwide Threat Assessment, 2019
California's wildfire issues spark debate about prevention – Daily Democrat
California Burning

Carl Sagan warned of a world in which the fantasy occult fascinate us more than the occult discoverable through science. The original pilot of the television science fiction series Star Trek featured a race of beings so preoccupied with dreams that they “gave up, forgetting how to repair the machines left behind by their ancestors.” In a world of technological wonder, it’s quite miraculous how few of us understand even the basics of the global economy, or where most scientific research dollars come from, or how rural electrification, dams, radio, automobiles, aircraft, the computer, the internet, all deeply transformative technologies, were state-supported ventures. I find myself referring back to history–how can we understand where we are now without knowing where we were?

There is a concerted effort by lobbyists, the corporate stooges holding the leashes of many senators and representatives, to direct misinformation on climate change to the population. The academy has let down the poor and the working class, often siding with the would-be liberal internationalists of the neoliberal program. In the parlance of George Monbiot, we’re missing a narrative to guide us out of the darkness. Ghosts and demons happily assume that vacuum, just as Sagan feared. So the population, goaded by modern day imbecilic Pinkertons such as Trump, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, and others, succumbs to the industrialist values of self-loathing and mutual suspicion, finding enemies foreign and domestic, distrusting science, logic, reason, and anything more than bare emotionalism. Powell argued in his memorandum that the ivory intelligentsia has designs on the business community’s private property, and that liberal intellectuals are fueling the radical socialism they place alongside Stalin (then Khrushchev)’s Soviet Russia, a totalitarian state. The hatred of scientists and educators follows a long thread from the southern whites opposed to school integration, increasingly accurate depictions of American history in stark rebuke of the many ideals held dear, such as Aryan purity, misogyny, and ownership of slaves and other property, and finally the critique science, across fields as diverse as sociology, economics, biology, climatology, and ethics, offers for unrestricted capitalism.

The science is clear, though I know educated folks who declare themselves not to be “reactionary” about it, despite the extinction rate currently hovering at one thousand times the usual background rate, wild fires engulfing the west, harsher hurricanes in the southeast, and disasters around the globe increasing. The highest temperature recorded on land, perhaps since 1931, is a 2020 phenomenon: 130 degrees Fahrenheit in Death Valley. The smoke and ash from fires have affected my own health, living close to a recent effects earlier, particularly in the northwest when northern California and southern Canada were ablaze. The sun was a blood orange, easily spied by the unprotected eye. Ashes rained on my car, evoking the horror of scenes from Schindler’s List. Instead of Jews and other Nazi victims burning, this time it’s mother nature in the oven, with an ecological holocaust well underway.

The so-called Holocene is officially the sixth extinction event. The science is beyond dispute, yet many still refuse to listen to reason. Time is running out, and it’s possible we’re already beyond the tipping point. Tom Steyer, former candidate hoping for a nomination to be president, became a “green” billionaire by making his company carbon neutral, then leaving private industry to take up the mantle of the climate change. He agreed with Bernie Sanders that a green new deal could provide high paying jobs, revamp our infrastructure, and improve quality of life for all Americans. I see zero evidence to the contrary, and much in their favor. Bernie’s influence has shifted Biden’s platform somewhat toward ecological reform, reform we badly need. The October 22 debate featured a powerful moment : Biden committed to phasing oil out, a policy choice essential to our survival as a species. Trump snapped, “Watch out Texas, Montana,” and on and on. He insisted that our environment had never been cleaner than now, thanks to him. It’s almost silly to bother repeating his more ridiculous claims here, but this speaks strongly to a powerful concern to which I’ll return.

Unfortunately, we face three more extremely dangerous existential threats as we crash into this critical election, the latter two of which finally confirms how dangerous a psychopath he really is.

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Nuclear Proliferation and Omnicide

Nuclear Weapons: A Time-Lapse History - YouTube
Hydrogen bomb test

Nuclear proliferation has long occupied the other side of the extinction coin, with details emerging in more recent years of just how much of a threat the weapons pose. Peace activists such as Dave Swanson argue that first-strike nuclear war, a power reserved by the U.S. and Israel, poses an existential threat, as does war in general. Recently, the King’s Bay Plowshares Seven, an advocacy group of Catholics of conscience, defaced trident nuclear missiles in Georgia, and they received not a word of national media attention. Would that all citizens be so brave as this gentle elderly group of activists.

KBP_group_2_signs_horiz
Plowshares Seven Website

August marked the seventy-fifth anniversary of the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, effectively ending the second world war and securing America as the global superpower, with the Soviet Union a very distant second. In the years to follow, American scientists invented thermonuclear weapons, capable of destructive force many hundreds (and later thousands) of times more powerful than the Fat Man and Little Boy. Development at Los Alamos pressed onward, despite a growing concern that the ensuing reaction of such a bomb would immolate the entirety of the biosphere. Hitler apparently was most displeased at the prospect of a nuclear program under his direction destroying the very world he sought to control; though he envisioned a world free of all the undesirables (to his own vicious tastes), a world uninhabitable left little quarter for Aryans.

Enter Daniel Ellsberg, the renowned dissident, and a former intelligence officer working for the RAND corporation, who released the Pentagon papers, thereby unearthing internal documents revealing true, and nefarious, motivations of the U.S. government’s interest in South Vietnam and the surrounding region–greed. His other, less well-known role was nuclear war planning and preparedness. To his great regret, the largesse of the documents he purloined applicable to the risk of nuclear misadventure were lost to a flood. In any case, he pieced together as much as he could from memory, together with the release of official documentary records, bringing together this and that to write The Doomsday Machine : Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner.

ellsberg.net

I highly recommend the book, and though I can’t offer a full treatment of it here, suffice it to say that Ellsberg debunks many myths surrounding nuclear weapons, namely

  • the president and ONLY the president can initiate a nuclear attack—any number of levels down the chain actually can launch weapons without explicit orders from above
  • first-strike nuclear war is NOT the U.S. war plan—first-strike has always been a power reserved to the U.S. and Israel
  • nuclear weapons provide suitable deterrence—in reality, almost all military misadventure in the post-war period has involved either the U.S. or the Soviet Union, or both; the weapons seem to embolden rather than dissuade our demons
  • Hiroshima and Nagasaki were necessary to end the war—Japan was beaten, ensconced by Allied forces with all supply lines cutoff; the Japanese offered to surrender if they could retain their emperor, an offer turned down by America, then honored after experimenting with the weapons
  • nuclear readiness is tight and secure, with launch codes protected carefully—in many of the stations visited by Ellsberg, codes were posted on the safe door, or the safe remained unlocked
  • denizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the only civilians harmed by the bombs—the nuclear tests in the South Pacific destroyed island villages, poisoning the people who lived there (and later the Marines dispatched servicepersons to gather and bury the nuclear waste on Runit Island, withholding the extreme health risks and offering minimal to no protective gear
  • the major existential threat is the force of the bomb itself—it turns out that the more significant threat is the smoke and ash, kicked so far into the atmosphere that precipitation (which coalesces in the troposphere) cannot rain it down, blocking sunlight; enough of this smoke and ash will destroy plant life, unraveling the food chain and leading to mass death, on the order of two-thirds of all humans, likely a conservative estimate
  • we prevented war with the Soviet Union by discouraging their presence in Cuba—in reality, our harassment of three nuclear-armed Soviet submarines in the warm waters of the Caribbean caused two of the three commanders to believe nuclear war was already underway, as each and all already were quite addled by the high temperature since Soviet subs were intended for much colder water; the vote of one Soviet commander staying the itchy trigger fingers of his cohorts, saving all of us
  • war with the Soviets was possible in isolation—in fact, the war planners ALWAYS intended to destroy both the Soviet Union and China simultaneously, with losses they deemed acceptable in Western Europe if the winds were unfavorable

As you can see, this remains an incredibly important issue of our time. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists currently places us one hundred seconds to midnight according to their doomsday clock, the closest we’ve come so far. They plead with world leaders to heed their admonishment:

[h]umanity continues to face two simultaneous existential dangers—nuclear war and climate change—that are compounded by a threat multiplier, cyber-enabled information warfare, that undercuts society’s ability to respond. The international security situation is dire, not just because these threats exist, but because world leaders have allowed the international political infrastructure for managing them to erode–nuclear war and climate change—that are compounded by a threat multiplier, cyber-enabled information warfare, that undercuts society’s ability to respond. The international security situation is dire, not just because these threats exist, but because world leaders have allowed the international political infrastructure for managing them to erode.

Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

Unfortunately, press for nuclear proliferation remains virtually silent. Neither political party commits to nuclear disarmament, and with New START expiring in February of next year, it’s possible neither Russia nor America will feel obliged to slow the stockpile of more and more weapons. As the Bulletin suggests, catastrophic climate change may very well precipitate nuclear war, and thus it is impossible to extricate the two.

Two more global threats confront us, one that didn’t occur to me until this year, the year of COVID.

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Pandemonium in a Pandemic

The Obama administration formed a National Security Council directorate to coordinate with the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health in response to the outbreak of H1N1, a directorate Trump quickly slashed upon entering office. From the beginning of his campaign to the present, he has labored hard at dismantling each and every accomplishment of the Obama administration, from said directorate all the way to the Affordable Care Act, perhaps Obama’s most important legacy and the most progressive piece of legislation passed in a few decades. Trump, as we argued earlier, managed to obtain all but one key vote in the Republican-controlled Senate to dissolve the ACA, his nemesis and fellow republican John McCain refusing his power play. Trump promised to provide a healthcare solution for all Americans, but his tactic rather was to erase the ACA before even formulating a plan, something he still doesn’t have. The truth is, quite likely, that the plan is to have no plan. Poor people don’t deserve to live, so why bother? Trump’s vicious racist housing practices for the poor pocketed him money but wounded the poor he claims to serve.

Now, enter the coronavirus, the most disruptive predicament Americans have faced in a long time. Almost certainly a by-product of factory farming, the zoonotic virus originated in China, quickly covering the earth as travelers spread the respiratory disease. New Zealand seems a model of success in disease response, appropriately and quickly shutting down businesses and public services, save the most critical among them.

Police stand by trucks filled with dead bodies in New York
U’Haul’s in New York serve as hearses

According to investigative reporter Bob Woodward, of Watergate fame, Trump’s initial response was to concede the enormous danger behind closed doors but deny the danger publicly. From there, Trump downplayed the dangers, issuing lie after lie, each more outrageous than the last, all from a place of colossally reckless ignorance of the facts. Reading from The Atlantic, one finds Trump blaming Mexico, China, Obama, the democrats, the director Dr. Anthony Fauci of the NIH’s Allergy and Infectious Disease, and on and on, blaming Obama for leaving him a wrecked medical system, other countries for increasing U.S. fatalities, and issuing baseless claims about the presumed immunity of children and exaggerating how small the risk of death is. Trump seldom dons a mask at his rallies, and few folks in his packed rallies wear masks, and not unexpectedly, outbreaks then occur. Daily cases rise with each bungle and descend with each set of protective measures taken. With a magnanimous flow of misinformation from Trump, a quarter of Americans seem to believe the disease was manufactured to murder us. Some don’t believe the virus is even real.

Source: Worldometer

All told, Trump has plopped his fat ass on his tiny little hands, presiding over the worst public health disaster in living memory. Two hundred and twenty thousand Americans have died. To put things in perspective, as of 2018, the population of my city of residence, Tucson in Arizona, is 545,975. It’s as though my city lost forty percent of its population. Trump is solely responsible for contradicting experts in the government about how to take precautions, he’s responsible for failing to respond, with the inane claim that suicides due to COVID would exceed COVID deaths if the economy remained closed, and he’s denied relief for the millions of Americans now out of work. It’s very difficult to write these words without becoming outraged.

I recently saw a debate clip of Mitch McConnell cackling at Amy McGrath as she lambasted his unwillingness to even bring to committee the stimulus relief packages offered by the House. He’s a ghoulish fiend, basking in the near certitude of reelection in a deeply red state. Trump complains endlessly that the Democrat-controlled House has accomplished nothing, yet they’ve passed over four hundred bills in the past six months, with McConnell joyously sitting on everything, determined to undermine the will of the people.

In the final debate on October 22, Trump reiterated his nothing plan : dismantle the Affordable Care Act with no offered replacement, then somehow believe a plan into being. He’s provided no hints as to what a plan looks like, and he seems to fundamentally not understand that those who lose coverage with the evisceration of Obamacare don’t have an bridge plan while waiting for his “beautiful health care plan” to beam in from the sky.

Again, Trump is a murderer, plain and simple. He understands the cost, and persists with a destructive policy that even infected him, his wife, and his young son. It’s easy from here to address my final concern if we stay the course.

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Psychosis and Dementia

President Trump hugs the American flag at a campaign rally in Tampa, Fla., during the 2016 election.
Has a president ever hugged a flag? Never has a relationship been so one-sided… Tree hugger has served long as an epithet for environmentalist. Is flag hugger the equivalent for a jingoist psychopath?

Stuart Stevens maintains that we can distill the core of republican electorate to a coalescence of rabid sports fans, incapable of tolerating policy differences, and frankly incapable of ever thinking their team should lose. I’m no sports fan, but I’ve been around long enough to know that if a player switches teams, he instantly becomes the enemy to most of the fans of his team of origin; to a fan, category is trivially irrelevant. Don’t get me wrong, sports fans can have at it, and one can concede a useful means of entertainment. But it simply won’t do as a basis for policy and government. So it makes sense to me that Trump contradicts himself and projects his own wrong-doing onto others, principally upon Biden, all the while team Trump and media surrogates, Rick Santorum and Chris Chrystie, declare a victory for Trump in the last debate; it’s astonishing! He described no specific policy on topics raised, instead spending as much time as he could hurling mud at Biden on frankly absurd conspiracy theories. Apparently, fantasies about Biden “golfing more that” Trump carry much more significance than the principal issues of our time : healthcare, race, or climate change. His spectators cheer hysterically, many of whom refusing to wear masks in crowded places. They cheer him on, no matter how ridiculous his claims are. He also accuses Biden of hiding in basements, precisely the thing he’s been doing. It seems like a bad strategy to project one’s culpability onto the opponent, thus drawing attention to the very issue that colors him corrupt, but it isn’t hard to see in the context of a personality disorder. After all, the federal monies necessary to support him in his near weekly golfing, and hosting meetings and dignitaries in his hotels are staggering: he’s visited his properties over five hundred times during his term so far, according to Citizens for Ethics. His basement hiding led to the stunning Bible photo-op, featured earlier, one of the most ridiculous of his myriad missteps. Citizens for Ethics provide a decent list of his conflicts of interest, a number no fewer than 3,400. And he projects these corrosive conflicts onto Biden, laughably enough.

I need no therapy credentials to point to myriad lies (twenty thousand according to the Washington Post and The Guardian), his ugly mistreatment of women, his river of self-congratulations in his intellect, his perfect policies and decisions, and so on, dripping with asinine augmentatives. His obsession with outperforming Obama seems clinically significant, as he regularly issues polls asking whether he or Obama is superior, despite Obama neither being a candidate nor bearing much on this election at all. It began early, with his pressuring his toadies to edit aerial photographs of his inaugural crowd size compared to that of Obama. I suppose if he really wants to beat Obama at something, he’s more vulgar, more offensive, and more hateful.

Moving along to much more critical issues, most of which we’ve already discussed, Trump exhibits a gross disregard for others in his tweeted orders to white supremacists to kidnap and murder governors, as discussed earlier, his vicious border policies, his encouragement of further police violence, his assassination of a suspect Oregon accused of shooting a violent counterprotestor while defending a counterprotestor gunman at a Black Lives Matter protest, his doggedness in scrapping Obamacare with no regard to the massive impact on the poor and disabled, and most seriously of all, if there is a greatest sin of Donald Trump, his colossal mishandling of the coronavirus, a disease at the time of this writing having 8.5 million cases and 223,000 deaths. The man is drowning in the blood of his victims, and these particular victims are Americans.

A term of increasing prominence seems to be narcopath, or a mixture of narcissist and sociopath. Clinical psychologists and psychiatrists tend not to arm-chair diagnose, that is, surmise the psychosis of a person not in their professional care, but I’m happy to cosign arm-chair diagnoses and perhaps a mental fitness test for president going forward. According to Business Insider in 2019, 350 psychiatrists and psychologists signed a petition, arguing

[w]e are convinced that, as the time of possible impeachment approaches, Donald Trump has the real potential to become ever more dangerous, a threat to the safety of our nation,

[w]hat makes Donald Trump so dangerous is the brittleness of his sense of worth. Any slight or criticism is experienced as a humiliation and degradation. To cope with the resultant hollow and empty feeling, he reacts with what is referred to as narcissistic rage[,]

[h]e is unable to take responsibility for any error, mistake, or failing. His default in that situation is to blame others and to attack the perceived source of his humiliation. These attacks of narcissistic rage can be brutal and destructive.

Drs. Bandy Lee, a Yale psychiatrist

Suffice it to say, some mental health professionals recognize the gravity of Trump’s psychosis. Chomsky recently referred to Trump as a sociopathic megalomaniac, pointing out quite correctly that ignoring the climate crisis is suicidal. Psychology Today refers to narcissistic personality disorder as a decent explanation for Trump’s grandiosity and utter inability to understand facts or accept responsibility. Trump denies responsibility for permitting so many deaths under COVID, yet he quickly calumniates his opponents with precisely his own sins, such as insisting repeatedly that the Biden family has bilked his political connections for his own financial gain. Biden’s response was perfect: “release your tax returns.” Trump’s dirty financial dealings one day will more fully bask in the cleansing light of criminal prosecution, though even seeing darkly through the glass intimates the truth: Trump is the most corrupt president in American history, contending with the likes of Warren G. Harding, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, and Ulysses S. Grant. He’s as racist as Andrew Jackson, more crazed than Richard Nixon, and his mishandling of COVID stacks well against Ronald Reagan’s cruel reluctance to research AIDS and the myriad deaths associated therewith. In his fog of grandiosity, Trump actually seems to believe he’s better than everyone and everything. And he’s also a victim of everyone and everything. Narcissistic sociopath, psychopath, pick your poison. Not that it really matters at this point, but whence comes this painted animal?

Trump’s own niece Mary happens to be a psychologist, and she penned a timely memoir aptly titled Too Much and Never Enough : How My Family Created the Most Dangerous Man. She describes Trump as a petulant, whiny, misogynistic womanizer, gripped by voracious avarice and cruel whims. His mother, beset by illness, was cold and distant, while his father Fred was a cruel taskmaster. Perhaps Trump’s psychosis might make sense under the circumstances. Trump has never respected women or minorities, or any one else. Trump’s lurid, disgusting behavior is so well-known in New York City that it wouldn’t surprise me that stories abound of his vulgarity. I know personally a former comedic and restaurant waiter from NYC with such a story, though I’ll not repeat it here.

As though this weren’t alarming enough, it’s worth comparing Trump’s debating chops in 2015 with those of 2020, and one will note a marked deterioration in his verbiage and cognition. I know neurologists who claim he must have some form of dementia, and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised. He’s obese, he’s 74 years old, and he suffers from an extreme personality disorder. The National Center for Biotechnology Information suggests neuroticism increases while conscientiousness decreases the risk of late life dementia. Does he have it? He’s claimed repeatedly that he can remember five things, then repeat them in order. Is this the bar for the president of the United States? Border collie dogs can remember order of a small number of things. Are they qualified to be president?

A psychotic man on the precipice of dementia, who has already cost us hundreds of thousands of American lives, has access to nuclear codes, and offers according to his self-inflated intuition, as he did in October 22’s debate again, that the virus will go away and we’ll all be wonderful again. Meanwhile, he and Mitch McConnell sit on democratic legislation aimed at helping states and cities. He says it’s all Nancy Pelosi’s fault, despite hundreds of bills receiving the dead-on-arrival stamp from Mitch. When confronted, Mitch just cackles. Why are these people in government? Stevens says it best, admonishing his fellow conservatives:

[w]hat the Republican Party must realize is that it needs America more than America needs the party. And the America it needs is the one that is 320 million Americans and growing, a country of immigrants and less white every day: the real America, not the gauzy Shangri-La of suburban bliss that never existed.

It Was All a Lie by Stuart Stevens

So what can and what should we do about it?

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Prescription : Democracy

No matter the intention of the founders, no matter the wickedness inflicted by man upon others, no matter chaos and horror confronting us now, we have just one answer, and it’s much simpler than we might imagine : democracy. Democracy literally means “common people” and “power,” much like the name of my blog, Scire Populum et Potentiam. The founders never intended it, the framework of our economy and government largely oppose it through institutional stupidity in corporations and exaggerated power in the hands of the Senate, the Presidency, and the Supreme Court. McConnell concedes impending electoral defeat of republican dominance, but brags that installing Amy Cohen Barrett, another right-wing hysteric, to the Supreme Court is a very long term victory. Currently, nine people, serving for life, can make decisions of enormous impact. And they don’t have to offer any justification, as they did in the case described above. The president now, unlike when the Constitution was ratified in 1789, can completely destroy the world, something Trump seems hellbent on doing. The Senate distorts the power of small states, with filibuster rules capable of locking up any meaningful progress the people may wish. Gerrymandering, voter purging, voter intimidation, and the like ensure that likely democratic voters can’t participate. No thinking person can believe any of the aforementioned make for good policy. Magna Carta originated a western tradition of commons, justice, and distributed power.

Magna Carta (British Library Cotton MS Augustus II.106).jpg

Both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, for all their many flaws, inched us closer to democracy. Labor movements have pioneered the most free society in recorded history. And yet we still have so far to go.

The Russian interference in the 2016 election is largely known to members of both parties. More alarming to me was repeated tropes about Russia threatening our “democratic norms” and “democratic values,” and our “sacred traditions of democracy.” Utterly preposterous. Electing a man from a selection of two who is almost totally unaccountable to the electorate is NOT democracy. Very little of public will makes its way into top-level decision making. None of these norms are democratic. We must change these norms. If we did the following, our institutions would protect us even if Russia hacked Facebook until Putin and Zuckerberg are green in the face.

Timothy Snyder, a professor of history at Yale, writes in On Tyranny : Twenty Lessons for the Twentieth Century several lessons. Mine are similar, but hopefully complementary. Take a look at his book.

  1. Vote for Biden and all Democrats. This couldn’t be more self-explanatory, as Trump and McConnell will otherwise further destroy our country and our world. Don’t accept that polling means you ought not vote. This was likely a factor in Trump’s theft of the office in 2016. Further, vote for democrats up and down the ballot; republicans might insist that local policy is apolitical, yet they provide a mechanism for republicans to organize more effectively. Sure, Biden and I disagree on several policies, and though Bernie’s ideals more closely approximate mine, we disagree on a few things (such as the dispensation of Edward Snowden.) It’s frankly unsophisticated to expect we’ll agree with everything a nominee or candidate offers on her/his political market. Paralyzing cynicism will not suffice to indemnify those of us in more privileged sectors. See the next point.
  2. Assume accountability for our world. Taken from Snyder, we as Americans wield more power than most anyone else in the world. That factor of influence increases dramatically for the technologists amongst us. It’s not enough to surrender responsibility just because the person we didn’t choose happens to win the election. Chomsky correctly points to intellectuals bearing responsibility. I point also to technologists. We have only one earth, and soon we may have none.
  3. Study and listen to science. Become aware of the facts. Find books, like the many I list here, which are largely peer-reviewed and sensible. Scientists study for years and years to become experts. They’re probably not wrong, but the scientific method is the best tool we have in discovery. Catastrophic climate change is real, and our timer has almost buzzed. Nuclear winter could and likely would follow as resources become increasingly scarce in dangerous places. Pakistan and India are both nuclear states, and they both cope with diminishing fresh water flowing from Kashmir.
  4. Learn our history in all its many dimensions. My high school American history course concluded with the atomic bomb in 1945, despite my taking the course in 1995. Pat Ledbetter, now a candidate for the Texas senate, taught me so much more in college. She transformed my perspective. We’re accountable for our history. Blaming others for their problems when our ancestors, and thus we ourselves, have benefitted tremendously from their enslavement, both before and after the Civil War. Read A People’s History. Read Chomsky’s How the World Works. Learn about Israel/Palestine. Watch Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now. Read Palast’s articles and reports on voter disenfranchisement; no matter your position on the spectrum, you cannot support simultaneously democracy and the horrific and illegal purge and intimidation of voters documented in his works. Democracy Now offers a marvelous reading list.
  5. Learn economics. Unlike theoretical economics, a field obsessed with implausibly simple game models, the real story is much simpler. Read Piketty, Baker, Derber, Chomsky, Monbiot, Robert Reich, and so on. Good data exists. Corporations and their public relations surrogates thrive in darkness. Anticommunist tropes abound, but America is much more socialistic than is understood. We’ve discussed this topic extensively in past posts. Understand when markets work and when they don’t. Read The Conservative Nanny State. Let’s illuminate the absurd; it may wail and gnash, but it’ll wither and die in the presence of knowledge.
  6. Talk to black friends about racism. Understand the talk black parents have always given their kids to protect them from racially-motivated violence, particularly by police. Talking to them openly about their concerns will stun you. Take Harvard’s racism and bias test. You’ll be surprised and disappointed, likely. Research slavery, Jim Crow, the chain gangs, and the vital role enslaved blacks played in the oft-celebrated industrial revolution.
  7. Celebrate pacifists rather than warriors. War is unnatural, according to peace activist and philosopher David Swanson. We celebrate murderers with statues and icons and holidays, but how many national holidays celebrate something unrelated to religion or war? Labor Day comes to mind. Read Dave’s works, and support him in his activism. What he has to say will blow your mind.
  8. Pressure Biden to support the Green New Deal. Our future hangs in the balance. A Biden victory is insufficient to guarantee good policy. Obama could have declared climate change a national emergency, circumventing any hostile obstructionist congresspersons in addressing the problem. Biden can do the same.
  9. Pressure Biden to support Medicare for All. A public option is an excellent step, but expanding Medicare to all Americans, permitting some to opt out if they like their private insurance, is easily accomplished with a slight tax, a tax tremendously lower than current premiums. I hear the refrain of anecdotal failures in Britain, New Zealand, and the like, but the failures in our own system are far worse, well-documented in Michael Moore’s documentary Sicko. We can have as good a system as we demand; nothing is free, including democracy.
  10. Pressure Biden to commit to nuclear disarmament treaties. We’re facing, below the media surface, incredible danger from nuclear weapons; pressure, pressure, pressure.
  11. Demand funding for education. Educators are suffering terribly, and this economic stress long precedes the pandemic. I believe educators are among the most important people in our society, as they shape the youth, safeguard science, and research the universe around us to expand our global consciousness and conscience. My heart and love go to out to E. Clyde Yeatts, Dr. Pat Ledbetter, Candy Zangoei, Joybell Schalk, Dr. Gerald McDaniel, Dr. David Jorgensen, Dr. Michaela Vancliff, Dr. Hristo Kojouharov, Dr. Venkateswaran, Dr. Santosh Pande, Dr. Lance Fortnow, Dr. Guy Lebanon, Dr. Ashok Goel, Dr. Danny Dyer, Dr. Tie Luo, Dr. Moysey Brio, Dr. Joe Watkins, Dr. Misha Chertkov, and Dr. Noam Chomsky.
  12. Demand infrastructure reform by American industry. Our auto technicians, fracking and oil engineers, and anyone potentially displaced by sane climate policy can easily be retrained to design and build high speed rail, badly needed. They also can engineer clean energy solutions.
  13. Call your representative and senators. They’re yours. Call them everyday. Get others to do the same. Make it part of your routine. Write emails, letters, and so on. You’ll be surprised how many friends you’ll find around you with similar inclinations.
  14. Organize peacefully. A Biden victory won’t assure us of anything more than restoring sanity to the executive office. We must organize with petitions and protests to compel and coerce his administration and Congress to fight for us, including economic and social justice, and civility. Democracy, like most objectives, is largely a local phenomenon. You can organize to get a traffic light put up, or you can organize to end the Muslim ban. America, at least for now, offers freedom of speech, perhaps the most important freedom of all. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Henry David Thoreau depict civil disobedience quite well. Leverage the advantages afforded to us. Trump and his predecessors have often punished and sometimes violently attacked peaceful protests. It takes courage. The next two suggestions makes this a little easier.
  15. Cultivate a robust private life. Appropriating this from Snyder, a healthy inner circle is a refuge, or at least it has been for me. I love my family here in Arizona, and I owe them my life.
  16. Reach out and talk to each other. Our people are highly atomized, now so worse because of the pandemic. Americans are brave and believe in democracy, but we don’t know each other. For centuries, exchange programs have existed to acquaint students with new places in sister city reciprocity. Americans need to talk to each other. It’s not enough to blame others. Reaching out begins with me, today. I’ve almost never failed to engage another in talk; we’re social animals, badly in need of each other, now more than ever. The old admonishment to avoid religion and politics in discourse I believe is at least half wrong: politics determine our national and cultural norms, and we should have the courage to discuss them with each other. I suspect we’ll discover we have more in common than not. Virtually all of the aforementioned are topics we can discuss with anyone. I’ve spoken with hundreds of working class people through the years, and no matter the age difference, they listen in child-like wonderment when you demonstrate a deep knowledge of the history.

To this list, I’d like to propose loftier but still achievable deep and specific structural changes.

  1. Automatically register all citizens to vote. One has to be either an imbecile or a fascist to disagree with this. Every citizen has a social security number issued through the federal government. One person, one vote seems rather obvious.
  2. Migrate voting to the internet once and for all. We entrust security protocols online to safeguard our medical records, our banking, our mail records, our online purchases, and our genealogy in many cases. How would this be any less safe? This would eliminate most of the means by which thuggish republican officials have tried to disenfranchise Americans. The reasons so many are early voting in this cycle distill to fear of COVID and concerns about irregularities barring them from voting on election day proper. Currently, Indiana, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Texas permit no voting by mail, an outrageous restriction. It’s time for an election overhaul.
  3. Dissolve the Electoral College. This is a no-brainer. The electoral college’s only purpose was to ensure that a demigod couldn’t become president. They failed. More importantly, they’re undemocratic, rendering it possible for men to win elections without the popular vote. Then the media and the government celebrate this as the “will of the people.” Give me a fucking break.
  4. Weaken SCOTUS and POTUS. Among the programs we should seek are significant reductions in the power of SCOTUS and POTUS. The president is an administrator, not a dictator. Yet he can act unilaterally in opposition of the will of the people whenever he likes, with only a few constraints. They have no business making decisions more powerful and significant than COTUS, the Congress. Said Congress has ceded power, in some cases gradual, others rather incredible, to POTUS in the post war period. For instance, they’ve not declared war officially since Pearl Harbor, though we’ve been embroiled in war in all the years following 1945; POTUS has deemed these skirmishes necessary, for one reason or another. Further, it’s expected now, across the ideological spectrum, that POTUS set the legislative agenda for his term, despite this clearly being the Constitutional responsibility of COTUS. Why? My own interpretation is dark: Congresspersons would prefer not bearing responsibility for controversy, as this is tantamount to forfeiture of one’s political livelihood.
  5. Institute term limits. We’ve already suggested this for members of SCOTUS. If representatives remain in the House for a fixed upper limit of terms, it follows that long-term political survivability will no longer influence their judgment. Of course, the risk is that they no longer have to consider the will of the people, at least during their final term. This is easily rectified with a weighted voting system, or the recognition that one’s political party may not retain power otherwise. In any case, it seems clear that evergreening political terms has partially led to broken government. And that leads to the next point.
  6. Cut dark money and PACs out by federally funding elections. Following a long tradition of empowering corporations by the preposterous bestowal of personhood, a gushing river of dark money strangles nearly every piece of government in America. Citizens United may be one of the latest court decisions permitting limitless, unaccountable money to sway campaigns and lobbies, but the full story begins much earlier: the court held, rather incredibly, in 1886 in Santa Clara County v. South Pacific Railroad Co. that corporations ought receive equal protection under the eponymous clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The SUN PAC decision in 1975 solidified means by which corporations can influence election, formalizing the legality of the political action committee. More recent cases protect corporations under the first amendment, such as Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., protecting their “right” to restrict healthcare options based upon the company’s religion. I’ve never seen a company in church, but then again, stranger things have happened. In any case, we could easily solve much of this quagmire through federal funding of elections.
  7. Broaden the House. The House of Representatives is the most democratic part of the federal government. 436 people can’t represent 330 million. It’s just ludicrous. We need a representative for every thousand people, with a hierarchical house. You should get to know your representative personally.
  8. Eliminate the Senate. The Senate serves no obvious purpose, other than to retard democracy. Popular bills aren’t while unpopular ones are passed. The Senate distorts the power of smaller states. They complain that they’ll receive no representation otherwise. I could say the same thing about myself. I’m only one person. Why doesn’t my vote count ten times as much as yours?
  9. Add many more referenda to federal and state ballots. More people vote when referenda appear on the ballot. More to the objective of democracy, people can actually decide policy rather than vote for a surrogate who will or will not (and more often don’t) carry out the design of the voters. Wouldn’t it have been nice to prevent the Iraq War, or to ensure that Americans crushed by the financial crisis in 2008 receive a bailout rather than the avaricious banks? Americans would feel greater accountability if we could sway policy.

I’ll close with a quote from Sagan.

File:Earth from Space.jpg

Human history can be viewed as a slowly dawning awareness that we are members of a larger group. Initially our loyalties were to ourselves and our immediate family, next, to bands of wandering hunter-gatherers, then to tribes, small settlements, city-states, nations. We have broadened the circle of those we love. We have now organized what are modestly described as super-powers, which include groups of people from divergent ethnic and cultural backgrounds working in some sense together — surely a humanizing and character building experience. If we are to survive, our loyalties must be broadened further, to include the whole human community, the entire planet Earth. Many of those who run the nations will find this idea unpleasant. They will fear the loss of power. We will hear much about treason and disloyalty. Rich nation-states will have to share their wealth with poor ones. But the choice, as H. G. Wells once said in a different context, is clearly the universe or nothing.

Carl Sagan, Cosmos

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Update : Bernie, Trumponavirus, Chomsky, Arizona, Back Home, Teaching Troubles, Research Rewards, and a Nice Note

It has been some time since my last article on either Algo-Stats or its companion activist site Scire Populum et Potentiam.  Since leaving Microsoft last August, I’ve relocated to Tucson, Arizona to reduce the proximity to family and to return to graduate school, hopefully for the last time this century.  I’ve been extraordinarily busy with teaching and coursework, along with qualifying exams, so much so that I’ve neglected a few book reviews I’ve intended, as well as a more critical analysis of the Democratic primaries, debates, and caucuses.  I would, however, highly recommend Democracy Now, David Swanson’s continued exceptional critical work, and the ongoing articles and tweets from Dean Baker on the Center for Economic Policy.

Democratic Races : Burying the Hatchet… Deeply in Bernie’s Back

I very much would like to comment more on the coalescing of Democratic candidates to defeat Bernie Sanders, despite the fact that Pete Buttigieg was performing decently leading up to Super Tuesday, only to resign the night before, joining Beto O’Rourke in an astonishing about-face, both candidates celebrated for following Bernie’s campaign strategy in accepting no PAC nor corporate donations.  My best friend back from my hometown, like many Beto supporters, was heartbroken, scraping bumper stickers off of his and his wife’s vehicles.   Buttigieg made a decision, the likes of which analysts such as Michael Moore quoted in Newsweek, decry as fear-mongering and unheard of in primary politics.  As Bernie has repeated, he has won the ideological debate, yet two now unemployed young Democratic politics, Mayor Pete and Congressman Beto seem to have betrayed the grassroots movements propelling them into their positions.  What did the DNC say to coerce Buttigieg, who claimed on NBC how he loved Bernie before “it was cool“, to about-face claim that Bernie wanted to “burn down the system.”  Salon labels the logical fallacy we can associate with Buttigieg’s absurd claims, the straw man argument.   The majority of Americans have a desire for a return to New Deal government (anti-socialists need take note that democratic socialism is nowhere near the cartoonish totalitarianism advertised in circa 1950s McCarthy brochures.)  But Democrats voting in the primaries fear Biden is the better candidate–yes, a misleading sounding sentence.  If you’re interested in misleading coverage, search for Bernie on Google, and all so-called “liberal” media, excepting a few genuinely progressive journals, all are dripping with “get the hell out of the way of the big man on campus”,

and so on and on and on.  When the reverse was true, and Bernie seemed like he could form a coalition, the best we could get was constant attacks (and attacks) on Medicare for All by CNN, with very little attention to where we could find endless money, namely, runaway military spending and endless war, described in a piece by Common Dreams.  The Physicians for a National Health Plan have long described all the relevant numbers one consider, and if we had such a plan in place now, we could expect a smaller death toll from COVID, a topic to which we’ll return.  The paucity of pro-Bernie articles such as Columbia Journalism Review’s “Coverage of Bernie Suffers from a Lack of Imagination require some internet digging.  Speaking of Common Dreams, they appear to be the only journal I’ve found so far which asserts a simple argument that CNN and NYT, for all their fantasy liberalism, seem utterly incapable of speaking this central truth: Bernie performs much better with independents and progressive-independents.  And as a strong and long-time supporter of Bernie’s, I receive a good deal of communication from the campaign arm, and as of a week ago, Bernie began asking for contributions NOT for his campaign, but for COVID relief.  That’s class.  Bernie’s fireside chats and speeches of late channel Franklin Delano Roosevelt, easily most important president in American history, with the obvious neck-in-neck Abraham Lincoln; we need Bernie’s socialism (or just New Deal policies) now more than ever.  I could go on and on about Bernie’s monumental role in reshaping the Democratic platform (Biden suddenly seems to be embracing everything Bernie embraces, but with the wink and nod that he’ll fold unnecessarily  to “scorch-the-earth” Republicans (even Paul Krugman agrees) once he steps back into the White House.)  Don’t get me wrong–a Biden administration, or an administration of any suit-wearing primate one might choose perhaps, would be better than the nest of oozing, craven, ignorant, festering, collusive cronies.  (And no, I’m actually holding back on my words here.)

Trump : He Knew He Was Right In Being Wrong, or Something Like That…

We can slacken blame on Herbert Hoover for policy ineptitude–he was a brilliant engineer, but a without a wonkish grasp of economics, say after the brands of John Maynard Keynes and Harry Dexter White, he was only minimally able to mitigate the crisis of the Great Depression, his .  Trump, by contrast, loathes studies and knowledge.  He believes he knows everything, and that his actions have created the stock market gains since he assumed office.  And in the space of a few weeks, this one metric is  I saw in a gone.  Peter Wehner, a Republican who served in the administrations of Reagan and both Bushes, wrote in The Atlantic that “the Trump presidency is officially over“, as COVID leaves him badly unprepared after a gutted several agencies specifically in place to manage disaster and needed relief.  But never fear, I noticed a ticker on CNN last week or so that Jared Kushner, magical expert in all policy things, was “advising President Trump,” a president who wanted the world to know that coronavirus is the fault of the Chinese, not of the Americans.  Phew–for a moment there I was worried what we ought place on our headstones.  Trump, along with his enablers in Congress and the disgraceful far right organizations masquerading as media, has consistently downplayed the coronavirus outbreak, with references numbering too far to recite here.  A decent rundown appears in Rolling Stone, leading to his recent claim that he always knew it was a “pandemic.”  If the consequences weren’t so dire, I’d insist on laughter at Republican lawmaker Matt Gaetz mocking the outbreak by wearing a military gas mask during the relevant House votes, only to contract the virus a few days later.  These corrupt government officials ought be in jail.  How about global warming is a Chinese hoaxScientists are evil, per terminally ill hatemonger medal of freedom recipient Rush Limbaugh.  I read a copy of his book The Way Things Ought to Be several years ago, and his siding with the infinitesimal minority of scientists in denial was a retread of his debate with Al Gore that atmospheric chlorine released in a volcanic eruption dwarfed all possible chlorine since the industrial revolution.  Of course, the whole book read like talking points, mostly false.  I doubt he surrenders that he dodged the Vietnam War draft with an in-grown hair on his wide rear-end.  He never corrected that volcanic chlorine is water soluble, yet chlorine released through factory processes is not.  Rain won’t help us, it would appear, as weather is now much more extreme thanks to catastrophic climate change, but at least he’ll get out early.  I daresay when he passes, I’ll feel the urge to channel Gore Vidal, or maybe with more gentility, Noam Chomsky on the passing of William F. Buckley.

University of Arizona : The Home of Noam

Speaking of Noam, I’ve had the unique and special privilege of sitting in two of his courses at the University of Arizona, and, for reasons too inexplicably wonderful to imagine, I had my first sitdown discussion with him on a research aim near to his heart.  I won’t offer any details now, as he and I don’t want the let the cat out of the bag yet, but it’s a dream I couldn’t have ever envisioned.  Unfortunately, due to the outbreak, he is rightly quarantined, as the nonagenarian is robust, but nonetheless a nonagenarian.   I’ll have more to offer in the days ahead, depending on how the work goes.noam_neil One can note the large image of Bertrand Russell, a leading antiwar and progressive intellectual and activist in the United Kingdom, jailed for his iron opposition to the so-called “Great War,” later renamed, much like Star Wars IV: A New Hope, to World War I.  Speaking of Star Wars, I recall Yoda admonishing Luke that “wars don’t make one great.”  In any case, I’m seated next to the man in whose very large image I’ll have in my office, academic or otherwise, in the future.  A half-century of life experience sits between us, and I’m honored beyond words.

Arizona

I certainly have lost clarity around faith over the past several years, not, strictly speaking, because the evangelical tradition in which I was raised obviously would ostracize or mutilate me for my homosexuality, but rather because I simply could not reconcile a good-willed deity who would permit the ghastly, overwhelming third world suffering most of us in the western, or first, world will never know.  The story of Job offers nothing but confusion, as God and Satan bet on Job’s faithfulness, the story resolving with Job beckoning and thus foretelling the coming of the Intercessor, or Christ.  My aunt and uncle are (sort-of post)-evangelists who traveled about the world for many years.  I accompanied them on many spiritual meetings, and I’ll confess I’ve seen many, many things leading me to conclude that there’s much more to the human mind than we can imagine.  I’m in the process of helping them prepare a semi-exhaustive list of what you might think of as miracles, mind-reading, and the like, which I can promise you very well could be an extension of what little we understand about the warm goop between our ears.  John Cleese, a steadfast agnostic such as myself, discussed a series of studies during his fascinating interview at Google which demonstrate that the brain has predictive power over certain randomized experiments as conducted by Dean Rabin at the Institute of Noetic Sciences and other researchers at Cornell.  Whatever the case is to extrasensory perception, my aunt and uncle are the honest kind of ministers–they have only the long list of friendships they’ve cultivated, but no golden toilets or other Robert Tilton-styled frivolity (though sometime I’ll tell an interesting story involving their past interactions with him.)  I say all of this to point out that moving to Arizona to improve health conditions, return to school, volunteer music work with and be supportive of my aunt and uncle, be closer to my husband’s family in Scottsdale, and actually have this opportunity to work with Noam is incredible.  And in light of COVID, this is exactly where we should be.  But university work isn’t without its share of pitfalls, a topic to which we’ll return below.

Back Home for Tragedy

It’s rare I would delve into so much personal material in this venue, as I would rather keep to the title, the power and the people, but this is a time of personal challenge for us all, and the stories are common.  I returned home  to north Texas following the passing of my Uncle Allan, a successful businessman in Boston, Chicago, and Texas.  I brought my Uncle Charles along to surprise his sister Dowleen, Allan’s now widow, as I figured she would need some emotional support.  It was a grueling and terrible month of waiting and watching after Allan underwent emergency surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm, an operation from which he didn’t recover.  It gave me the opportunity to see my mother, her husband Tony Shotwell (a red town Democratic council member so beloved they named a center in his honor), sister, and my best friend Robin, his wife Molly, and my godchild Samantha.   Below from right counter-clockwise: sweetest of sweet little red-headed Sam (grinning with new teeth!), Molly, me, Uncle Charles, my sister Lindsey, Tony, my mother Tisha, her sister my aunt Dowleen, and Robin.)

Gainesville_Dowleen (2)Further, I had the blessed opportunity to see some of my favorite schoolteachers, my calculus teacher from high school E. Clyde Yeatts, and my college US history professor Pat Ledbetter.  Sadly, my other notable teachers from that region are retired and relocated (Candy, I’m thinking of you) or have passed on.  See below for our reunion picture–I reminded my former professors  that they are the good guys, and we need to stick together through this mess of political recklessness.  Both Clyde and Pat are amazing folks, so generous with their time and stewardship, and Pat is still teaching at North Central Texas College, where she helped to utterly transform my world-view.  Clyde has fully retired after an incredible career of teaching high school and college courses. Gainesville (2)

Teaching Again : The Migration Online, Shock and Reshock with Neither Awe Nor Aww

I had planned originally to do a more in-depth post on my return to the teaching clique after a five year mission to tech in the northwest, but other issues came up.  It seems like a good time to bring it up now, as the COVID pandemic leaves university leaders scrambling to relocate academia into cyberspace.  My teaching philosophy is actually relevant here, though I haven’t posted it before.  Before considering the current mess, I should pause to comment on my initial impressions in returning to teaching last semester.

To give a little context, I’ve worked in mathematics instruction either as a tutor, a teaching assistant, a teacher, a supervisor, or mentor since 1994.  I tutored my mother when she took elementary statistics from Clyde in the photograph above back in 1995.  I’ve very much enjoyed most of my teaching and mentoring experience, and coworkers know I’m happy to explain, perhaps in excruciating detail, artifacts of some oddball mathematical model.  And it’s something I do well.  A student of mine from Georgia Tech told me I was the best teaching assistant he’d known in all his four years of undergraduate study.  It was very, very touching to hear that.

Bear with me, as I should point out that most of what I’ll say here is pretty negative.  But if you’ve already read my political commentary earlier, this might not even surprise you.  And I probably wouldn’t have bothered to post about it had it not impacted me personally; I was, I suppose, expecting something of a song and a dance, as it was an opportunity for them to have a teacher return from the “real world” of industry to impart wisdom.  Ha.  What a narcissist I’m becoming.  On the contrary, I’ve come away feeling quite dissatisfied with the monolithic bureaucratization in the twenty-first century.

But it is worth mentioning a couple upgrades since I last dabbled in instruction.  On the side of light, the powers that be (or one single power, it would seem) here in the University of Arizona Department of Mathematics have (has) evolved the more basic classes into mostly participatory labs.  Students discuss problems and try to reach solutions.  It’s a cool idea with much promise, but it slows progress a bit.  One might think an extra credit hour is needed.  There also is an online tool the students must use something called ALEKS, though this part of the grading occurs outside of instructor or teaching assistant oversight.  Now on to what isn’t working.

It is apparent now that one person largely controls all teaching assignments, and chairs of the sub-departments aren’t willing, at least not to me, to asking for exceptions.  This is a conscious decision on the part of academic faculty to cede power to non-academic administration.  I don’t believe I’ve ever experienced this, nor did I know it was a thing.  I do recall when I was a graduate student at the University of Texas at Arlington that professors were quite unhappy with departmental proceedings on uniformity across classes.  And in those cases, it was faculty and some academic oversight.  I find this new norm to be curious, as I was permitted, as a TA, to teach my own classes any way I saw fit, including managing graders and crafting homework, lesson plans, and exams.  It’s the extreme opposite here–despite years of experience, one must do as one is told, and that includes other faculty who have much more on-hands teaching experience than myself–literally, when I asked to teach my own class, the explanation I was given was that, “you need to learn about our student population.”  I still don’t know what that means.  Perhaps I should have asked for clarification.  Instead, I accepted the beginning role, expecting things to change after they observed my work with my students.  What happened instead I won’t say explicitly here, but human resources is now involved.  It’s hard not to think that expressing my opinions, generally in a nicer version than you’ll see them here, is the culprit behind any difficulties I have with administration.

Returning to my rant, coordinators are very insistent about grading policies, requiring 2000 (!) fall students to take tests at exactly the same time on exactly the same day, with a logistical nightmare to assign rooms, proctors, and an essential guarantee of a late evening exam time.  And why?  They’re certain the students will cheat.  Smart phones and email and yada yada make it so easy to cheat on a twenty question multiple choice test.

Now I just listened to Carl Sagan mention in Cosmos that the human genome perhaps could express more individuated humans than can ever live in the history of our civilization.  But we can’t randomly permute questions on a multiple choice test so that answers don’t line up, nor are they the same on corresponding questions?  With twenty questions and four answer choices each, even if you had exactly the same questions, there are simply too lazy (they admitted this to me themselves) to generate different tests, or, heaven forbid, take the extra step of trusting students not to cheat, or for that matter trust instructors to run and grade their own classes the way they see fit.  These tests are unavailable to the instructor of record, as though even he/she is considered untrustworthy.  Hmm, we’ll return to that word later.  And the histrionics around student dishonesty is quite ingrained–the coordinators require a sitdown meeting preceding every midterm to repeat the same drivel about correct proctoring.  It seems like more thinking goes into preventing cheating than into nurturing learning.

From a game theoretic perspective, there are easy answers that don’t require factory solutions : I read an interesting experiment in which students were permitted to take tests unsupervised, and of course it’s immediately obvious which students cheated.  A similar strategy could work here.  Or perhaps simply have several versions, maybe individualized to each student but with essentially the same concepts.  Again, we can randomly generate these tests.  If they cheat with outside help, does it really matter?  The onus on extremely large classes to catch cheaters seems unfair, as it’s much easier to notice in smaller classes.

Further, they require the students stay in the room until half-way through the exam, and when I queried whether they understood that we probably couldn’t legally require they remain, I was told that these students are used to doing what they’re told, so threatening them was fine.  Other policies are shockingly broken–we were advised during teaching training that if a student expresses suicidality, we ought more-or-less personally take them into custody ourselves to take them to student health services.  I put my foot down in the orientation, explaining my opinion the very real danger in coercing kids, mostly 22-26 years-old with no psychiatric or counseling training, to assess the risk in attempting something so stupid.  I insisted that you call the police, period.  My husband is a psychiatrist, and that is his strong warning.   On the altruistic front, you don’t permit this suicidal student the opportunity to harm oneself or others, and purely from the perspective of protecting the university, you let professionals immediately take over the situation.  The half-hearted response was that students’ records could be tarnished if you require a police escort, so the risk is worth it.  Sigh.

Moving on, technologically, they’re required to buy a TI-83 calculator, evidently because anything with symbolic manipulation is a bridge too far, while graphing and performing mild-to-moderate calculations are too hard but symbolic manipulation isn’t.  I’ve reminded them that I have worked extensively in math and science since buying my TI-89 some years ago, and I never used it after school.  Because of path dependency, they compel the students to use the same technology I used a quarter century ago in high school algebra, trigonometry, and calculus.  Wow, am I really that old?   In any case, this would have been akin to my having to use a slide rule while in those courses, as one could argue that button mashing somehow left more to the machine than to the man.

Perhaps it’s better to ask what the goal is in requiring all the students to learn college algebra, when they’ll forget the material in the months to follow?  A class in logic would be far more useful for many if not most of the students required to take this class, as it is the last math signpost in the road.  Fact is I couldn’t even get a straight answer from what the coordinators believe the students should be learning and retaining.

I suppose the reader can sense me baring my own frustrated narcissism, but I can report that the lecturers to which I’ve been assigned very much have appreciated my jumping in to help them teach.  Yet the powers that be don’t bother to observe this interaction.  And I’ve received praise from my students for teaching them concepts in a uniquely clarifying style. Can you imagine my frustration when someone young enough to have been in grade school when I managed these very classes myself telling me that I was not trustworthy to the department?  Furthermore, to my knowledge, no one has taken complaints I’ve flagged seriously.  My cynicism tells me that my offering advice on how to run the ship better was very poorly received.  I get that–it’s human nature, as is my reviling against unfair criticism.

My sincere hope is that if anything positive comes out of COVID, it forces most business and classwork to more easily migrate online; this is the future.  Rich corporate executives might think otherwise, but work-from-home is a very good idea, and admits less stress.  We’re very much unprepared for this scenario, so it’s no time like the present to invest resources centrally into solving all of these problems across the board.  And it seems that may be happening.  I’m discovering that the powers that be are having to adopt suggestions  I made during orientation, as students may or may not have access to printers or their TI machines.  So we migrate to a paperless, online experience with exams proctored through the Zoom tool.   (Incidentally, Zoom stock has ballooned at the time of this writing.  Another missed opportunity to get rich, I suppose.)  And I’m helping students edit PDFs using online opensource tools since the department has no obvious solution, and their expectation in the past was that students would print out worksheets, write in their answers, then scan them into PDFs.  This, of course, was another component for which I had suggested we provide an end-to-end digital solution.  Can you imagine, even before this crisis, how badly that had gone with every assignment?  Badly.

So what’s the lowdown on all of this?  Is it that I feel insulted and not heard?  Or is it the overall risk to and effects on my students?  And they are my students, are they not?  Education is less and less what I recognize.  A university course is a sacred trust, a bond between the teacher and the taught, the scholar and the students.  You and your teacher work together to succeed.  I think the answer is both and all.  I feel insulted, and I don’t mind commenting publicly when the effects are deleterious to my students.

It is a deep shame, and many other educators, current and retired, have shared similar stories with me.  Junior college and university level instruction, to say nothing of that of secondary and below, seems to be fraying, and though I’ve always cared about teaching a great deal, as my teaching_philosophy clearly indicates, hope is waning, as we have many, many other battles to win in the days ahead.  So let’s now turn to the rest of the good news about returning to school.

Research Opportunities Everywhere

I’ve joined the department at a good time, certainly.  In the department of statistics, we confront the immense growth and demand for statistics.  My chair Joseph Watkins recently netted the university an immense grant for a data science foundation, an operation which will transcend the many research departments across the campus, including astronomy, biology, epidemiology, genomics, optical sciences, engineering, computer science, applied mathematics, and so on and on.  It’s an incredible grant he, Helen Zhang, and many others had quite a hand in creating.  I’m very honored to have the rare opportunity to offer a little bit of input here and there, and I plan to put my industry experience to good use.  I’ve noted how data science, statistics, and machine learning finds application across logistics, operations research, technological performance, market and ads testing, and community operations.  This is indeed exciting.

And another incredibly important piller here is the newly-appointed chair of applied mathematics, one Dr. Misha Chertkov, a faculty member from Los Alamos with an impressively varied research pedigree and an inslakable thirst for ground in the most fertile and forward reaches of applied mathematics, statistics, computer science, engineering, machine learning, and the like.  I think it’s safe to say I may have discovered my advisor.  Other interesting possibilities include astrophysics research, and of course, the project I mentioned earlier with Noam.

So I would argue, obviously, that returning to school was the correct decision for me.  And I’m incredibly blessed to be here.  So I’ll end on some more inspirational themes.

“Look for the Helpers”

As the late great Mr. Rogers said, “look for the helpers”, and you’ll know there is hope.  There are many good people out there doing good work to help each other.  This is a time through which we can demonstrate our resolve, both as Americans and as a species.  We can join together with countless others to look for the new political narrative, perhaps one like that described by George Monbiot, to ease our passage through this critical junction in our history.  COVID demonstrates how much alike we all really are, and, like the more ominous catastrophic climate change, how little discrimination and division makes any sense in today’s world.  Looking for something gentle to watch last  night, we returned to the original Cosmos series, and I was actually quite surprised at how moved I found myself in listening to Carl Sagan’s gentle words in the opening and closing pieces of the episode.  In closing to said series, he offered the following inspiration, and I’d invite you to listen.  I genuinely believe our species is worth saving, and maybe this is our opportunity to move forward.  With that, please, please be safe.  Here’s a beautiful sunset in Tucson right outside my door–enjoy.

sunset

On The Third Day of Chomsky

chomsky_booksToday is the ninetieth birthday of Noam Chomsky! Though impossible to summarize such an incredible life with a few short articles, I hope that our conclusion of commemorations is icing on the cake for the Chomsky aficionado while a pique to the interest for newcomers.  Today’s selection of videos glimpses his many discussions on geopolitics, activism, and history.  And I conclude with a very special gift for Noam, so please read on.

Manufacturing Consent : C-SPAN

Noam appeared on C-SPAN some years ago to discuss Manufacturing Consent, a media critique, his seminal media critique co-authored with the late Edward Herman.  Central to the book, the propaganda model identifies means through which corporate media must serve power in contravention to the stated purpose of a free press.  The book itself is a good deal more technical than most of his later analytic books, so it might serve just to watch the documentary.   Here, we present the book review.

Noam and Howard

Chomsky’s very close friend Howard Zinn was a titanic American historian who, to his professional peril, articulated the appropriately named A People’s History of the United States.  Having met in the 1960s while working within the civil rights movements, Noam and Howard appeared in many interviews over the years, and here’s a great one from April of 2007 appearing on Democracy Now.

In September of 2004, Chomsky and Zinn together in Boston discussed whether there was “Hope in These Times” for Spare Change street paper and the Homeless Empowerment Project.

Chomsky chatted about Zinn not long after his passing.  His reflections evoke heart-wrench, as Howard was a close personal friend.  The world is lesser without him.

1995 : Contract with America, NAFTA, and Other Idiocies

Noam spoke on campus in 1995 to Doug Morris for an hour on contemporary American politics; NAFTA, Gingrich, and other topics of the day dominated the discussion.

Self-Destruction of the Species?  Institutions versus People

Chomsky spoke in April of 2001 at MIT on the question of species self-destruction, arguing the crucial role of institutional stupidity.  See the section below on Daniel Ellsberg for more.

What is Anarchism?

At a philosophy forum at the Czech Palacký University Olomouc, elder Chomsky discusses his take on anarcho-syndicalism and possible latter forms.  One uppity whippersnapper argues that he’d prefer to be told what to do, with Noam’s response a rather clever one.

Chomsky on Dershowitz : “Just A Comic Figure”

Alan Dershowitz has recently indebted jingoists everywhere in his zany legal defenses of Donald Trump on Fox.  Chomsky  has debated Dershowitz several times through the years, describing him to me as “just a comic figure, desperate to defend his two clients, himself and the State of Israel, but smart enough to know that both are guilty as sin.”  This was a reference to particular points of contention he and I were discussing regarding Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank and Dershowitz’ often ludicrous defense of it.  “All this smoke that was blown…” is a great derogation Chomsky uses in the following debate in 2005 at Harvard’s John Kennedy School of Government.

Dan and Noam

Daniel Ellsberg was a government analyst working within the RAND corporation during the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations.  He met Noam while working within the peace movement in the late 1960s.  Here’s a picture of Noam, Dan, and Howard together in the 1970s.

ellsberg_zinn_chomsky

In 1971, Noam defended his friend Daniel Ellsberg publicly after Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers, the hidden, vicious history of the Vietnam War.  This release significantly contributed to the growing public discontent with the negligent, criminal actions of the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations.  Be prepared to be annoyed as hell at the Buckley-esque cross-examiner, clearly more interested in hearing his own voice.  I don’t even care enough to look up his name.

Noam and Daniel met at the University of Arizona this past spring to discuss Dan’s latest book, The Doomsday Machine, a book I hope to review here soon.  These icons don’t pull punches in their scathing condemnation of nuclear proliferation.  Don’t be depressed.  This is a call to action!

9/11 and the “Rebel Without a Pause”

In 2005, filmmaker Will Pascoe produced Rebel Without a Pause, a documentary detailing the sharp uptick in Chomsky’s speaking requests after the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York (not to be confused with the September 11, 1973 terror attack in Allende’s Chile.)  Chomsky discussed his book on the former attack at the fifteenth anniversary of the Fairness in Accuracy and Reporting (FAIR).  Almost overnight, institutions, agencies, citizens spanning America and beyond expressed desperation in understanding what would motivate a group of criminals to murder thousands of civilians, killing themselves in the process.  Listen for the most plausible explanation available, a summary and analysis of intelligence data and the historical, documentary record.

Bernie and Noam

Bernie Sanders is the most favorable political figure today, according to the far right news media Fox.  Though Bernie’s 2016 campaign for president didn’t reach out to Noam for analysis, commentary, and so on (Noam told me this himself), they’ve crossed paths throughout the years; in 1985, Chomsky delivered a talk called “Deciphering Foreign Policy Jargon” at Burlington City Hall.  Millennials will cheer when Bernie introduces Noam.

Noam and Gore

Noam and gay hero and activist Gore Vidal only occasionally appeared together; on the passing of Gore, Noam told me,

We were on similar paths,
but they didn’t cross 
much.  Moved in different 
circles.  We did have a 
long videotaped 
discussion once, arranged 
by Jay Parini, a novelist 
who’s a common friend.  
Don’t know what happened to it.
A fine person, in my view.  
And outstanding novelist, and 
honest and often discerning 
analyst.

Well, it just so happens I found that video for him.  Yesterday, we included Gore later recounting how no American media organization would release the video, not even in “San Francisco on a Sunday morning at four a.m.”  In other words, not even the most “liberal” district featured mainstream media brave enough to challenge the recently deceased George H.W. Bush’s criminal aggression in Iraq.

Requiem for the American Dream

A very recent work of Noam’s called Requiem for the American Dream  considers principles of wealth concentration in the post-industrial, neoliberal era.  Documented in the same-named compilation of interviews with him, the instant classic was quite hard to find in theaters, even in the tolerant urban sprawl of Seattle.  My husband and I could find only one venue, somewhat distant, and a cash-only operation.  So much for the bastion of liberalism.  One can find the full-length documentary here.

Randall Wallace and Chomsky Speaks

Randall Wallace, grandson of former vice president Henry Wallace, believes Chomsky to be perhaps the most important intellectual of the past century.  To that end, he founded Chomsky Speaks, a project aimed at capturing as much of this incredible man on film as we can in Noam’s time with us.  I’d invite you to take a look for yourself.

My Friendship with Noam

nps_anc_2_cutWhile studying computer science and the Georgia Institute of Technology, I came across Noam’s work repeatedly in courses on the theory of computation.  In a purely academic pursuit, I searched the internet for discussions of his professional work; I then stumbled on his activist work, finding for the first time an author and thinker who spoke my language.   Encyclopedic, diligent, and driven by integrity, his powerhouse talks became a significant time drain on me.  I began ordering his books by the satchel, eager to consume every detail-packed tidbit he had to offer on geopolitics, critical analysis of foreign policy, and prescriptions for a better future.  We began corresponding in 2012, remaining pen pals for these years since.  I believe there isn’t a man I respect more, past or present.  And it isn’t hero worship, as I, like Noam, stringently object to gladiators and saviors.  Noam’s role as activist has been, and continues to be, an analyst, a curator of history, and a staunch defender of victims everywhere.  Though he’d never admit it, it actually gratifies him to hear how his works have inspired generation after generation of activists.  It isn’t immodesty.  Each of us need validation that what we’re doing is meaningful, however minor or however impactful.

nps_anc_cutHere was my eager first meeting with the man himself.

So as Noam enters his tenth decade, let me close these three days of celebration with a song I composed and performed just for him; here are the lyrics.  And the recording is below.

 

 

Happy birthday, dearest Noam!!!

 

Marking a Solemn Week in A Sea of Solemnity

This week marks the seventy-second anniversary of an event showcasing both the ascent of the human species to the top of the evolutionary ladder and its descent into what could be the darkest and final chapter of our roughly 200,000 year run on this planet : the bombing of Japan by the United States with nuclear weapons.

On August 6, 1945, the United States Air Force deployed the atomic bomb over Hiroshima, incinerating a few thousand acres of densely populated city, killing anywhere from 70,000 to 100,000 people in the blast; perhaps another 70,000 died from exposure.  On August 9, the U.S. continued by dropping a plutonium bomb on Japan over the city of Nagasaki, killing maybe 40,000 instantly and another 40,000 from the aftermath.  American apologists offer that these mass murders were essential in ending the Second World War while minimizing Allied casualties.  Certainly, that’s what I learned growing up, the pertinent question being whether this is true; it wasn’t until I took world history under Dr. Pat Ledbetter, longtime activist, jurist, and professor, that I ever heard the decision to deploy the atom bomb against Japan come into question.

Quite relevant today is Donald Trump’s quite harsh rhetoric toward the nation of North Korea as reported by the New York Times.  His outrageous words,

[t]hey will be met with fire
and fury like the world has
never seen[,]

as usual exhibit the uncensored, grotesque gaffes we’ve come to expect from him.  They also eerily echo similar words by Harry S Truman, president at the conclusion of the Second World War :

[the Japanese can] expect a
rain of ruin from the air,
the like of which has never
been seen on this earth.

The parallel may have been on purpose, as Trump seems to fancy himself the most accomplished president of our time, and Truman, in Americana, is widely regarded to have successfully ended the single most destructive conflict in history.  Trump can rest at ease spiritually, according to “faith leader” Robert Jeffress : contravening Romans chapter twelve’s directive to refrain from repaying evil for evil, he suggests that God’s instructions don’t apply to the government, and thus this same, loving “god” has bestowed upon Trump license to obliterate North Korea.  Certainly some hearts, are indeed, “desperately wicked.”

Though the philosophies of extremist devotees of Trump might not be all that surprising in their rapacity and blood-lust, the the claim that the atomic bombs were necessary to save American lives at the conclusion of the second world war, is, in fact, propaganda.  It turns out that the Japanese had suggested a surrender months before the bombs landed, asking only that they keep their emperor, largely a figure head and cultural symbol.  Washington refused, despite General Eisenhower, among others, urging Truman that

it wasn't necessary to hit them
with that awful thing … to use
the atomic bomb, to kill and 
terrorize civilians, without even 
attempting [negotiations], was a 
double crime[.]

Additionally, Admiral William Leahy, Truman’s chief of staff, apparently argued that

[t]he use of this barbarous weapon…was
of no material assistance in our war
against Japan[;] [m]y own feeling was
that in being the first to use it, 
we had adopted an ethical standard common 
to the barbarians of the Dark Ages [...] 
I was not taught to make wars in that 
fashion, and wars cannot be won by 
destroying women and children.

The Nation suggested in an investigative report released on the seventieth anniversary of the bombings quite accurately that we Americans need to face the ugly truth that the war was ready for a bloodless conclusion before Truman ordered the mass execution of hundreds of thousands of people.  Military head after military head uniformly agreed that the bombing was unnecessary, raising the more serious question of why one would wreak such horrendous havoc unnecessarily on civilians, and why no one exacted a political price for it.

One can easily point to an incredible misinformation campaign demonizing the Japanese as subhuman, feral monsters, documented by Anthony Navarro in A Critical Comparison Between Japanese and American Propaganda during World War II.  He offers a critique of both sides, but the imagery is striking.  Lingering resentment about Pearl Harbor eased propagandizing Americans, despite the attack being retribution for America freezing supply lines in Manchuria and conducting war exercises a few hundred miles off the coast of Japan, facts conveniently missing from the American consciousness.  We Yankees, perhaps, simply didn’t think the Japanese deserved to live.

It’s reminiscent of the euphoria when Barack Obama announced that Osama bin Laden was dead, murdered by a special operation in Pakistan which incidentally risked nuclear war; elite media and governments alike believed murder of a suspect without a trial was a monumental achievement, documented on Wikipedia‘s summary of official statements.  It seemed lost on interested parties that constitutional protections, inherited from Magna Carta, simply don’t matter in certain cases where the state deems them unnecessary.  I myself was stunned at the hysterical outpouring of happiness on Facebook and other social media.  I found myself nearly alone asking whether the dissolution of basic human rights in the case of a defenseless suspect made any sense.  It’s true that if he were actually guilty of masterminding the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, his was a vicious, malevolent crime.  But then again, Harry S Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush committed atrocities, uncontroversially, so far off the spectrum by comparison that it’s impossible to even imagine, documented by Noam Chomsky.  Standing next in line are Barack Obama with the drone assassination campaign, Bill Clinton in Serbia, and, yes, even dear Jimmy Carter in complicity in the Indonesian invasion of East Timor under Suharto, documented by Joe Nunes.

In any case, historian Hanson Baldwin argued in The Great Mistakes of the War that Washington’s “unconditional surrender” demands needlessly cost lives and lengthened the duration of the war; he wrote

[b]ut, in fact, our only warning
to a Japan already militarily
defeated, and in a hopeless
situation, was the Potsdam demand
for unconditional surrender issued 
on July 26, when we knew Japanese
surrender attempts had started.

Even the conservative Mises Institute editorializes that the bombing was one of the greatest crimes ever committed; John Denson argued in The Hiroshima Myth that the bombing was knowingly unnecessary.  In a more recent article, Ralph Raico continued the critique with a quote from physicist Leo Szilard, one of the originators of the Manhattan project :

[i]f the Germans had dropped atomic
bombs on cities instead of us,
we would have defined the
dropping of atomic bombs on
cities as a war crime, and we
would have sentenced the Germans
who were guilty of this crime to
death at Nuremberg and hanged them.

Dr. Szilard was making the obvious point that what evils others do seem to resonate while our own crimes either languish in the vat of forgotten history or simply cease to be crimes.  I’ve long argued that if Hitler had won the war, we would have eventually either forgotten his crimes or exalted them; after all, isn’t this precisely what we’ve done with Truman and the atomic bombs, Jackson and the Trail of Tears, Washington and the extermination of the Iroquois in the Sullivan expedition, and so on.  At worst, state apologists would argue that these events, like the tragedies of the Vietnam and Iraq Wars, were perhaps strategic blunders rather than the more deserved casting of “fundamentally immoral,” a description with which 52% of Americans surveyed in 1995 by Gallup agreed; that of course requires the events to even remain in public consciousness.

Returning to the atomic bombs dropped in 1945, Japanese historian Tsuyoshi Hasegawa summarized a lengthy search through official Japanese records, communiques, and memoranda in a 2007 article appearing in The Asia Pacific Journal, titled The Atomic Bombs and the Soviet Invasion: What Drove Japan’s Decision to Surrender?“,

what decisively changed the views
of the Japanese ruling elite was
the Soviet entry into the war [...]
[i]t catapulted the Japanese
government into taking immediate
action [...] [f]or the first time,
it forced the government squarely to
confront the issue of whether it
should accept the Potsdam terms.

That is, the overwhelming evidence is that the Japanese military elites acceded to the Potsdam requirements because of fear of Soviet aggression, further undermining the assertion that the nuclear bombs ended the war.  The hideous irony is that the Allied forces permitted Japan’s emperor to remain in place at the time of surrender, the only condition the Japanese leaders required in their earlier attempts.

The historical question is whether the Japanese really would have surrendered; I’ve unfortunately seen monstrous commentary online to this effect, suggesting that hundreds of thousands of lives were easily forfeit next to a demand made by the Allied leadership eventually tossed by the way side.   If there were even a chance for peace by accepting what really was a trivial request by comparison to the massive loss of life to follow, shouldn’t we, as activist David Swanson often suggests, give peace a chance?

Establishing that the dropping of the bombs wasn’t necessary to end the war seems academic; further, we know now the architects of said wanton decision were even aware it was unnecessary.  So why carry out such an action, as we asked earlier?  It turns out that the answer is akin to why a child might pull wings of of butterflies : just to see what happens.  Echoed later by Deputy Chief of Mission Monteagle Stearns in Senate testimony about escalating the bombing of civilians in Laos after Lyndon Johnson ordered a halt on the bombing of North Vietnam in 1968, the rationale boiled down to

[w]ell, we had all those planes
sitting around and couldn’t
just let them stay there with
nothing to do.

Further, Truman felt a display of force was necessary to place the tenuously-held alliance with Moscow on notice, intended to restrict the Soviet sphere of influence once the spoils of the Second World War became available, as Howard Zinn argues with much historical evidence in his final book, The Bomb.

The myopic jingoists over at The National Interest argue otherwise, suggesting the savage butchery of hundreds of thousands was an understandable price to pay :

would even one more Allied
death have been worth not dropping
the bomb, in the minds of the 
president and his advisors, after
six years of the worst fighting
in the history of the human race?

Tom Nichols goes on to argue that Truman would have faced impeachment if he’d revealed the existence of the bomb later to war-weary Americans, and that they would have thirsted for blood if they learned of a more expedient conclusion.  His argument is approximately the same as that from a propaganda piece from The Atlantic published in 1946, seventy years earlier : physicist Karl Compton argued, seriously if you can believe it, that the Japanese wouldn’t have ever surrendered, as a “well-informed Japanese officer” told him

[w]e would have kept on fighting
until all Japanese were killed,
but we would not have been
defeated[.]

Both arguments are absurd, as Americans can easily learn that a more expedient, less destructive conclusion was available as of May 1945, and yet only a few of us in the margins believe Truman should have faced a war crimes tribunal.  In a similar vein, the Taliban in Afghanistan offered to hand over Osama bin Laden, provided we offered him a fair trial and not continue to bomb their country.  Would they have?  We’ll never know, as Bush scoffed in his repulsive drawl, “We know he’s guilty.”  But then again, what is a couple hundred thousand Afghans, or 200,000 Japanese lives to America-first chauvinists, a question now coming to haunt us with Trump’s incisive, menacing rhetoric?

As we’ve discussed previously, nuclear war is one of two existential threats looming over human civilization, both of which the Republican party has committed to accelerating : escalate both ecological catastrophe and the growing atomic maelstrom.  Trump’s threats toward a small nation with whom we can genuinely pursue peace imperils millions of lives and risks war with both China and Russia.  Our series on Cuba aims to demonstrate that harsh sanctions, imperialism, and aggression universally backfire, as one can see with one example after another in our history, and to further expose the many near-misses the nuclear age has wrought on a hapless species, many of which appear in The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, gatekeepers of the Doomsday Clock.

So during this solemn week, let’s remember that history can repeat itself if we allow it.  We Americans can stop Trump and the warmongering political elites, if only we organize and resist.  Some decent references on getting involved to move us to a nuclear-free world are Waging Peace, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and the Simon’s Foundation.

We’ll close with words from the only officially recognized survivor of both nuclear blasts, Tsutomu Yamaguchi :

[t]he only people who should
be allowed to govern countries
with nuclear weapons are mothers,
those who are still breast-feeding
their babies.

 

The Conservative Nanny State : A Book Review Part One : An Introduction

In a series of posts, we’ll be analyzing and reviewing Dean Baker’s The Conservative Nanny State, an excellent discussion of the mythology of conservatives with respect to the government, corporations, and economics.  Instructive is how this mythology can apply in recent events, a review of which follows.  Donald Trump may serve an ideology of nothing more than “me first,” but behind the scenes, the nanny state machine continues to perpetuate a heavily propagandized mythology of markets, capitalism, and government..

All in a Day’s Work : Conservative Market Mythology

Donald Trump’s recent tantrums around the Republican failure to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act adorn the craven, viciously insipid strategy of the Paul Ryan / Mitch McConnell crowd : for eight years, they’ve vowed incessantly to supplant Obamacare with a better version upon gaining both majority power in Congress and a rubber stamp in the White House, yet in those eight years, they’ve managed to formulate absolutely nothing in the way of a cogent substitute.  This bears repeating : despite more time than is necessary to complete a doctorate in the most abstract, difficult theoretical fields in mathematics, the devout acolyte of Ayn Rand that is the vapid Paul Ryan has formulated absolutely no solution to our healthcare quagmire, aside from the tired, intellectually bankrupt admonishments of impotency about poor people being lazy and workers not trying hard enough.  Subject to the market fanaticism they worship so completely, they should be fired immediately for such astonishingly blatant incompetence.  Trump, by slight contrast, seems to care nothing for the details, wanting only to piss all over every last accomplishment of Obama; never mind all the campaign promises of universal healthcare.  He prefers to destroy Obamacare now, perhaps unaware of the malevolence and cruelty in destabilizing the exchange and kicking off coverage at least twenty to thirty million people, a estimate reported by NPR.  He’s apparently too busy

and so on.  His character assassination of Sessions for attention seems to be the last straw among a mountain of bundles, drawing ire from his shrieking media base of support (documented in The Atlantic) since Sessions is an alternative right folk hero.  Noteworthy is a quote from an arch-conservative writer for The American Conservative, Rod Deher, who didn’t support Trump but bears rather preposterous ideas :

I believe the Democratic Party today wants to
do as much damage as it possibly can to social
and religious conservatism. I believe the
Democratic Party would empower some of the worst
people in America. But at least you know what
they’re going to do. Trump really is an unstable
lunatic whose word means nothing, and who sees no
higher obligation than serving himself.

Certainly, the fact-free fantasy land of the conservative establishment is nothing new, ranging from the Powell memorandum discussed in earlier posts, to Reagan’s supply-side blather denounced even by George H.W. Bush as “voodoo economics”, to Trump’s mind-numbingly stupid insistence of widespread voter fraud by illegals, to Mike Pence’s insistence that smoking isn’t harmful,  to Pat Robertson’s claims that Trump represents God’s will, and the list continues.  Supply-side economics, like the young earth hypothesis, seems immortally immune to the colossal three-decade record of failures, long documented by the Center for American Progress.  Take the recent shenanigans in Mississippi and Kansas : both state governments slashed taxes with the promise of economic boosts, and both states have subsequently slashed services, some with disastrous import, such as curtailing of medical school faculty salaries.  Astoundingly, the party of so-called “fiscal conservatism” seems not to understand why less water flows when one turns the faucet down.

Big Government and the Poor : Supervillains

Conservatives and so-called new Democrats have long argued that so-called “big government” is universally a bad thing, indicative of avaricious largesse at best and vicious totalitarianism at worst; from my early life, I’ve heard conservatives in my home state of Texas bemoan the overwhelming burden of government regulation and taxation asphyxiating an otherwise highly efficient, wealth-and-job-creating small businesses. They argue further that welfare, otherwise known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) poisons the resolve of potential workers and feeds a lazy, repulsive underclass always in the market for cheating hard-working business owners out of their hard-earned profits.  So deep was the racism and disdain for welfare recipients that we greatly feared the marginalized black community in my hometown, despite having been on the welfare rolls ourselves soon after my mother and father divorced back in 1987, the irony being that we as poor whites had more in common with the poor blacks than we did upper middle class Texans.  Despite my college curriculum lifting partly the veil of ignorance, at least with regard to history, I nonetheless took my first “big-boy” job at a defense contractor believing, rather naively, that the conservatives there really were serious about eliminating government waste and pursuing honest efficiency to benefit the organization.  Imagine my surprise to discover that almost the exact opposite is the case : with some notable exceptions (see my LinkedIn connections), the organization was rife with effete, wasteful protectionists, all-too-willing to bend contractual obligations with the U.S. government to butter their own bread and conceal their incompetence.  Supplanting genuine concern for the government customer was a sneering cynicism at even their most sacred public institution of all : the military.  They held contempt even for arch-conservative Dick Cheney himself, as he had a long history of opposing the Osprey V-22 program in the first Bush administration.  In the more religious pockets of my social sphere of those days, welfare recipients were the target of ire, with the lobotomous justification that “the heart is desperately wicked… who can know it?”  That is, the innate wickedness of the human creature discussed in the Bible suggests that helping a poor person ever is a mistake contravening the will of the Most High; only the filthy rich deserve a second thought.  Then again, local faith leaders in my home community offered social commentary on a vast array of topics, including dubious claims that Santa Claus, in fact, is a woman masquerading as a jolly old man (Santa somehow sounded female), that Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, is in fact an alcoholic (owing to a condition known as telangiectasia), and perhaps most intriguing, that devotees of Catholicism are, believe it or not, addicted to cats.  Serious analysis aside, ahem, Pat Robertson would no doubt explode with pride, as wealth is godliness in his refined estimation; after all, why else would Operation : Blessing feature more return shipments of diamonds from than food shipments to impoverished Zaire?  His cozy relationship with bloodthirsty Mobutu Sese Seko clearly paid dividends.  All of this seems underscores a profoundly destructive paradigm in which we measure a person’s worth, exclusively, by her capacity to generate capital.  Whether the means by which she raises the capital is good for society is largely irrelevant, but if she fails to generate said capital, she’s discounted.  The industrial revolution heralded this cruel dogma; Noam Chomsky suggests that though feudalism and slavery were horrendous, brutal tyrannies, the intrinsic value of a person in each caste at least wasn’t taken for granted; the caste values were viciously low,  but the value wasn’t questioned.  Post-industrial revolution and with the abolition of slavery, industry leaders discovered more profit in shrinking compensation for workers below that of a living wage.  Though the natural knee-jerk response to such a statement is understandable, one must bear in mind the effects of our state capitalist system on the global population, not just those in our own country.  Also bear in mind this is in no way an endorsement of either of the aforementioned antiquated, monstrous frameworks, but it’s worth noting the shift in values and its origins, something we’ll discuss later in this series.

Enter Dean Baker, Economist

It turns out that laissez-faire market ideology and small government are, in fact, grand hoaxes, the former of which we’ve discussed in a little depth previously as we referenced American-flavor state capitalism.  Quite instructive on the latter topic is The Conservative Nanny State : How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer, written by Dean Baker, economist and co-founder of the Center for Economic Policy and Research.   Weighing in at just over one hundred pages, the book is a treasure trove of powerful evidence-based arguments targeted at refuting the myths surrounding what he calls the conservative nanny state, an apt and resonant depiction of big government in support of the overclass.

He discusses in awesome detail

  • the sly yet devastatingly powerful protectionism for upper-income earners such as doctors, lawyers, and technocrats accompanying the better-known globalization and immigration policies leading to downward wage pressure on lower-income earners,
  • the union-busting governmental muscles flexed to diminish collective bargaining in America,
  • the skyrocketing CEO pay in the United States stemming from the corporation, a legal fiction conferred enormous power by the government,
  • the government supplied monopolies on inventions and creative work through patents and copyrights,
  • the government punishment of debtors down on their luck accompanying happy-go-lucky freedom from debt corporations enjoy, both a product of a thing dubiously labeled “bankruptcy reform,”
  • the government crackdown on individual’s capacity to sue run-away corporations and the decidedly one-sided nature of the two-way street of eminent domain and government investment,
  • the government protections for small businesses which are actually quite harmful to the economy and the environment,
  • the government coddling of high-dollar tax evaders while systematically demonizing recipients of the safety net,

among many others.  In this series of posts, we’ll analyze his arguments, addressing additional points and more recent evidence.

Why the Democrats Keep Losing

Donald Trump is arguably the most disliked president in the history of modern polling, according to Five-Thirty-Eight.  Haphazard, mean-spirited (even by Trump’s own admission) healthcare proposals, blatantly racist travel bans, and the growing Russia scandal leave Trump in a very weak bargaining position with respect to Congress.  Or perhaps the intention is to distract with whatever vulgar offering Trump and Bannon provide on Twitter away from the Paul Ryan/Mitch McConnell plot to eviscerate social programs and keep the rich rolling in the fat, as suggested by Noam Chomsky in an interview with Truthout.  Whatever the Republican strategy (or lack thereof), Trump’s extreme unpopularity has heralded close calls for Democrats in a few of the four special elections held this year which would otherwise be very strongly Republican.  Yet their strategy is broken.

Jon Ossoff very slightly lost a heavily Republican district very close to where I lived some years ago, and his defeat has predictably emboldened the hopelessly flat Trump to proclaim a landside 100%+ mandate for himself and his stupefying agenda.  More appropriately, the closeness of the race in Kansas, to which we’ll return shortly, demonstrates profound dissatisfaction with Trump, something no doubt imperceptible to the mad king in his choking fog of self-congratulatory reverie.  Georgia’s is the fourth special election in the months since Trump has become president, and this is the only one the Democratic National Committee cared to notice.  Vox noted rather cleverly that Ossoff’s loss occurred because of a lack of substantive policies, permitting sleazy, establishment career politician Karen Handel to smear him on where he lives, who’s funding him (mostly small-time donors through Act Blue), and the like, despite his being raised in the district and her not and her receiving heavy donations from the corporate Republican machine.  The issue becomes, rather strikingly, the simple fact that Ossoff, like Obama in 2008, ran only on the “I’m not Trump/Bush and never will be,” rather than actually offering strong policy.   One can visit Obama’s 2008 campaign website to find rather scant policy content, mostly platitudes about changing politics and rhetoric.  Obama, unlike Ossoff, won because of the previous increasingly frustrating years with warmongering liar Bush in charge, and that McCain, a fresh(ish) departure from Bush, was probably unelectable with Sarah Palin on the ticket.  Of course, if Obama had run for the House against McCain and Palin, or McCain and a gorilla for that matter, in Georgia’s sixth district in 2008, he would have walked away with a striking defeat.

The other, and perhaps most significant issue in many urban/suburban districts is a systematic, widespread campaign of voter suppression, long documented by investigative journalist Greg Palast of Democracy Now and of course in outstanding work by Ari Berman in Give Us the Ballot.  These two analysts unearth mountains of evidence of persistent voter suppression in the United States against minorities, quite remarkable in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections in that they very likely cost the Democratic candidates Al Gore and John Kerry, respectively, the electoral college.  Forms the suppression take are

  • extreme gerrymandering to weaken or dilute minority districts, such as a drawing ruled unconstitutional in North Carolina in May and likely unconstitutional in Wisconsin soon (interestingly the defense before the court was “partisan advantage”, a euphemism for racial discrimination, much like the role the term “states’ rights” has served with respect to various forms of local tyranny),
  • purging voter rolls because of fuzzy matching of voter names with those of convicted felons,
  • deceptive polling location announcements,
  • dilapidated voting machinery,
  • insufficient staffing, paper ballots, or machines,
  • early polling place closures,
  • legal yet highly unethical barriers to voter registration (see Kasdan below),
  • persecution of volunteer registrars, a widespread form of suppression documented by Diana Kasdan of the Brennan Center for Justice (an instructive read, as it turns out many state and local governments prefer for voting drives not to happen),

and so on.  Earlier, more hostile tactics included barring entry of African Americans to polling places at gun point, unbelievably difficult literacy tests, violence, murder, intimidation, and the list goes on and on.

Returning to strategy, the fundamental issue is that the DNC seems to think the pretty people with Hollywood money and empty platitudes will persuade heartlanders and southerners to pull the lever for a tepid return to establishment politics.  Despite Trump’s shriveling popularity, it seems unlikely that they’ll abandon him for an outsider with a shallow platform.  And though the Citizens United decision makes the Republican attack ads about outside money all the more absurd and hypocritical (after all they happily gobble up contributions from outside corporations and tycoons, as Think Progress has pointed out), public relations experts in the Republican camp certainly know how to twist that knife by portraying Ossoff as a “San Francisco candidate.”  The DNC’s push to moderate Ossoff’s position essentially tied his hands with respect to combating the unremitting propaganda machine, as he’s left largely silent on policy while being forced to defend its outlandish accusations.

The DNC had an excellent opportunity in filling the seat left by CIA director Mike Pompeo in Kansas : James Thompson lost to Ron Estes by four points in a district Trump carried by 27 points, despite virtually no underwriting from the DNC but a strong, populist anti-establishment message.  If there was an opportunity to be had, this was it.  Kansas folk likely felt at home with Thompson, a local civil rights attorney with deep community ties.  Ossoff’s defeat, by contrast, was by a larger percentage margin than Hillary Clinton’s in that same district.

The DNC continues to favor centrist, establishment figures, neither of which Trump’s working class base wants.  Bernie’s ascendancy and Trump’s slight electoral victory last year indicated a strong preference among younger and working class people from both parties for an attempt from outside the Beltway.

Though Trump is extremely unpopular, bland establishment shills won’t tempt moderate Republicans, even if they dislike Trump.  Though Trump may compulsively pat himself on the back for the victories, they’re actually quite revealing of his unpopularity, as Republicans have atypically only slightly held their seats with a new Republican president in office; Democratic leadership has yet to discover how to leverage it.  True upstarts who challenge politics as usual with authentic advocacy for constituency is much more likely to convince people to abandon party and energize activists; as usual, they begin locally.

We’ll return to Cuba next time.

The Spanish Pearl Part One: Trump’s Gambit

Donald Trump, with modest pomp and circumstance from American media, honored a campaign promise this week in reversing the Obama administration’s 2014 decision to begin normalization of relations with Cuba, surrounded by a militant cadre of Republicans hankering to hurtle us back to the good old days of the Cuban missile crisis.  From a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted last year, we have that a majority of Americans support lifting the decades-long embargo imposed on Cuba, yet Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered the tough guy stance on continued human rights abuses within the island nation.  Aside from the official response from Cuba reported by CNN  detailing the myriad human rights abuses within the U.S. going on right now,  one need not look far for the craven double standard present not just in Trump’s bungled, clumsily heavy-handed foreign policy, but in American foreign policy generally traversing the (narrow) political spectrum of post-war administrations.   For example, despite myriad internal abuses documented over the years by Human Rights Watch, perpetration of massacres in Yemen, generation of radicalized ISIS militants as documented by Patrick Coburn of the Independent, the murderous tyranny Saudi Arabia’s monarchy enjoys broad American dispensation; Trump gleefully boasts, disingenuously according to the Brookings Institute, of multi-hundred billion dollar Saudi arms deals after a visit featuring a sword dance and a strange glowing orb.  Cuba, by stark contrast, somehow continues to draw the ire of extremists both inside and out of the American political aristocracy.  Though we may face temptation to hypothesize that

none of Trump’s foreign policy, though perhaps unusually egocentric and idiotic, is particularly shocking when placed in proper historical context.  When George W. Bush delivered his first state of the union address in 2002, he thumbed his nose at Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, declaring them to be an “axis of evil,” reversing the meager efforts by his predecessor Bill Clinton in thawing relations with Pyongyang in the so-called Agreed Framework.  Bush, like Trump to follow and Reagan to precede, seemed to have only a very slight understanding of geopolitics or the incredibly dangerous, malevolent game of poking-the-bear that is harsh sanctions and embargoes.  Indeed, this unique combination of ignorance and possible malevolence is worth examining, notable resource being Neil Buchanan’s recent discussion in Newsweek.  But returning to Cuba, fully appreciating the gravity of Trump’s intention to frustrate normalization requires investigating the deeply intertwined history with the rest of Latin America, the United States, the Soviet Union, and indeed the European imperialists who conquered it 500 years past.  Over the next handful of articles, I’ll detail the post-colonial history of what was once called the “Pearl” of the Spanish Empire in the hopes that of sharing the moral and ethical legacy demanded of us as citizens responsible for our government’s deeds.

In 1492, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, on behalf of the Spanish monarchy, landed in Hispaniola and Cuba searching for a shorter trade route with the East Indies; upon arrival, he immediately set to the task of conquering and later exterminating the Taíno, the native peoples, installing a colonial government to oversee crop cultivation, resource extraction and, a very, very distant priority, Christianization of the fast-dying peoples.  An aside, one can find an instructive first-hand account of Columbus and his initial expedition in Howard Zinn’s Voices of a People’s History of the United Stateswith thematically familiar vignettes of generous, open-minded natives offering succor and sustenance to their strange European visitors, only to be repaid with savagery, rape, pestilence, and butchery.

For over two centuries, Spanish dominance remained in play despite frequent attempts at usurpation by other European powers, but for a brief interlude in the eighteenth century during the Seven Years’ War in which the British claimed Havana, introducing tens of thousands of African slaves to the island.  Demographically, non-white Cubans constituted roughly forty percent of the population in 1775, cresting at fifty-eight percent in the first half of the nineteenth century.  Liberation movements stirred, partly due to the French revolution and independence of the thirteen British colonies to the north; contributing perhaps more resonantly was a slave uprising in Haiti in 1791, together with independence efforts by both whites, blacks, and so-called mulattos, or mixtures.  Under pressure to close the slave trade (Britain had outlawed slavery in its colonies in 1807), Spain weakly complied, spurring uprisings throughout the middle decades of the 1800s.  Of particular note, documented by Jose Canton Navarro in his History of Cuba, was the Conspiración de La Escaleraa vicious campaign to quell slave revolts with torture, murder, and exile owing its name to torture involving a ladder and a whip.

Instructive is the influence beginning in the nineteenth century of the independent thirteen colonies to the north on Cuba, to which we’ll return in subsequent articles.