I’m Agin It!

High tide pushed about a foot of water inland where Lockwood Drive and Broad Street converge on Monday, Sep. 21, 2020. Matthew Fortner/Staff Journal & Courier

With due respect to Time Magazine’s person of the year, they should have made the person of the year a composite image of an ‘aginer’. Someone who is against anything and everything that hints of progressivism. Vaccines that use science to prevent or moderate infections from COVID? Agin it. An extension of the child tax credit? One person may use that to buy drugs, so I’m agin it. Coming up with a way to provide incentives to use renewable energy? When God gave us all of these fossil fuels to mess up our nest? I’m agin it. Fossil fuels were good enough for my parents, they will always be there to fuel our needs.

In a way, the reason so much was packaged into a single bill was due to the intransigence of the “Aginner” party. After 10 years of total opposition to any legislation proposed by Democrats from Republicans, the Democrats recognized they had a brief window of opportunity to enact their priorities. Thus, all of the desires bottled up were packaged into a single bill, and this unwieldy device tottered through the legislative process.

But for some unexplained reason, legislators still seem beholden to Grover Norquist. Instead of admitting the faults with the trickle down philosophy governing our tax system, we seem to forget the days of balanced federal budgets coinciding with tax increases in the late ‘90’s. I still remember the wringing of hands on CNBC when they were worried about the impending dearth of treasury bills for those who needed an ever-increasing stream of debt instruments.  Of course, those tax increases were swiftly reversed during the reign of W. And thus we’ve had a string of deficits extending from the early years of this millennium to as far ahead as the eye can see. It is amazing the resistance to raising taxes which exists in our ruling class.

So we in this country value capital over labor. That is why the preference for capital is so entrenched in our tax code. I might actually be in favor of a flat tax, if it treated income from capital the same as income from labor. And if the rate were set so that it did balance our expenditures, and we were forced to change the rate annually to account for differences in spending rates. Like that will ever happen!

Meanwhile, we just keep on keeping on, leaving future catastrophes to overwhelm us in their time. Social Security being imbalanced? Well, as long as we have those fictitious bonds in the federal lockbox to balance the spending, we can continue to inflate the money supply to send money to seniors. (Full disclosure – I receive a Social Security benefit at the upper end of the benefit distribution). Climate change costing us more and more? Just let insurance cover the effects, don’t worry about the cause. All of those people living in poor countries on the margins of the seas? They never have mattered, so why worry about them now.

Ah, but those poor rich people in Miami Beach. Time to worry about blue sky flooding, where inexorable sea level rise is reflected in salt water intrusion under the expensive beach front properties. Even Governor DeathSantis is worried about flooding in Florida, enough to propose hundreds of millions of dollars to strengthen the state’s infrastructure. But none of this liberal ideology sticking its camel’s nose under the state’s tent. No, this will be good ole concrete and drainage systems that will stop the sea’s rise in its tracks.

Miami. Charleston, South Carolina. Virginia Beach / Norfolk Virginia. The locations where clear sky flooding are the harbingers of sea rise to come in this country. Still, it is apparent that Republicans will continue to thumb their nose at the true causes of sea level rise, and instead choose to spend billions and billions of dollars to fight a vain and ultimately losing battle against the inexorable enemy of the sea. Meanwhile, an attempt is being made to make the national flood insurance program reflect the costs it incurs in dealing with not only tropical storm flooding, but increased floods upstream from unprecedented storms like my state of West Virginia suffer. The areas that flooded in West Virginia 2016 and Tennessee in 2021 were not highly flood prone areas, but when you are dealing with available moisture, a few degrees of dew point rise can unleash feet of rain in single storm events. So what will happen when the flood insurance premiums rise? The howls unleashed will cause legislators to force the federal agencies to rescind the increases, and one more cost will be amortized across the entire population of the nation.

It is very likely that control of the US Congress will revert back to the Republicans after the 2022 elections. What we’ve seen to try to counter that reversion is a flurry of legislation to attempt to alter the trajectory of this country, since the Reagan administration set the people against the Federal Government. As long as one side of the political spectrum only sees evil and laziness in the lower income brackets, we will continue to have policies that favor the fortunate few instead of policies aimed at improving the lot of the many who find themselves at the lower end of the income distribution. We seem destined to continue our trip into plutocracy, where those who are the true beneficiaries of government policies, convince the masses that cultural issues are all that matters, and it is the Godless liberals who are the true enemies. One wonders how long this misrepresentation of Biblical principles will continue. But in the famous words of H. L. Mencken, “No one in this world, so far as I know – and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me – has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people”.

Even one hundred years ago, the foresight of this sage stands out as describing our current situation perfectly. One may ask, who is the Mencken of today? And would anyone listen to that person and heed their words?

The Fight For Women’s Rights Goes On

It was 50 years ago that I took part in Cornhusker Boys State. Got myself elected to the legislature, too. I was told I could co-sponsor up to 3 draft bills already to go. So, this wanna-be liberal chose to sponsor bills to legalize abortion, outlaw capital punishment, and raise legislative salaries (in Nebraska those salaries were so low they encouraged bribery among the elected). Sounds pretty unrealistic for a high school junior. Unfortunately, I never got to add my voice to those few who were in favor of these positions while sitting in the legislative chamber, since I suffered a shredded knee ligament from a touch football game, and underwent surgery instead of arguing in favor of these bills. 50 years later, and the knee which suffered its first indignity will soon (COVID permitting) undergo replacement surgery as I suffer from arthritis.

Still, I was encouraged when 2 years later, the Supreme Court stamped its imprimatur on the abortion debate with the Roe v. Wade decision. For my entire adult life, I’ve seen women in the United States able to exercise autonomy over their own bodies due to this decision. It seems difficult to believe, but we are likely in the last year when this bodily autonomy is an unfettered right. We are about to back into the time when the state exercised its autonomy over all of its residents, and imposes its will against the will of a majority of the inhabitants of the nation.

Since the early 1970’s, there has been substantial change in society. Back then, the social stigma associated with an out-of-wedlock birth was severe, with many middle-class high school girls disappearing for several months while the deed was done. The social stigma has lessened, if not altogether vanished. But somehow we still have victims of rape and incest who will soon be forced to serve as indentured servants to the state, so as to ensure God’s will be done. This is especially true for the minor girls who may not be aware of their condition before their bellies swell. Everyone knows it is divinely ordained that girls are mandated to bring incestuous offspring to delivery, so that the abuse cycle can begin again.

I laughed at Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s inane pronouncement upon signing his state’s draconian 6-week limitation on abortions. You know, the one where he said women didn’t need to worry about rape, since his state was going to imprison all rapists. What a jerk! It is difficult to understand how his ilk has obtained the reins of power in his state, since he is so clueless. But it is consistent with the twisting of the American electorate towards the extreme right which has accelerated in the time of Trump. What those of us who believe in thinking for ourselves must keep in mind is that fully half of the population is below average – whether it be in strength, IQ, or any other measureable trait. If you can consistently appeal to the below average population and offer them dream fulfillment, then you can overwhelm any appeals to rationality. It is much easier to fall back upon emotion than to require thought from your supporters.

My last post had the title of Two Steps Forward, One Back. Unfortunately, in terms of social cultural warfare, we are swiftly heading in reverse, and seemingly have forgotten how to move in a forward gear. We seem bound and determined to institute a theocracy on this nation, in order to meet the rabid desires of the most vocal enemies of secularism. Unfortunately, we have seen where this type of religious conflict can lead. How many of the conflicts of humanity have been instigated by those who believed their side was divinely inspired, and thus had God’s blessing upon their endeavors. To those whose view of Christianity involves sending Christmas tweets out with their fully armed families asking Santa for ammo, a pox on you and your kin. I seem to remember an admonition to turn the other cheek to the aggressor, and forgiving your enemy not 7 times, but 70. All of the good news from the Gospels seems as though it were seed scattered across rocky ground when the current breed of Republicans trample it underfoot.

It is one thing to complain about the current political situation. It is quite another to do something about it. That is why this year I will be mindful about the charitable contributions I make, seeking not to “own the conservatives”, but instead, live what I believe is a truer sense of a Christ-centered life. And that will include a contribution to Planned Parenthood.

Two Steps Forward, One Back

Well, we now know. You can get a southern US jury to convict white folk for murdering a black If and Only If:

  • You have a video showing the conflict
  • You have a defendant who contradicts his original statements to police on the witness stand
  • You can engage the attention of the entire nation on the case

But unless you have all of these conditions, you may find it difficult to bring miscreants to justice. Before the emergence of the first condition, the existence of the video, there was literally zero desire for the judicial system in the region to even charge those who hunted down Ahmaud Arbery. Literally, it took the publicizing of the video and the outrage it generated to overcome the inertia of the local justice system. But if you combine this verdict with the one in Charlottesville, maybe you can share some optimism about the effect of race on the justice system

At nearly the same moment though, we discovered a right to self-defense for anyone who wants to appoint themselves as a junior lawman, carrying a cool military-style assault weapon. Those individuals (if they are white) can strike out with impunity, causing multiple deaths, and all that is needed is to claim the right to self-defense. One more example of the types of incident we can expect now that we’ve reached supreme saturation in weaponry amongst our citizenry, many of whom  believe weapons are necessary to advertise masculinity. If you believe Kyle Rittenhouse is a hero, then you, too, may be suffering from antifa derangement syndrome.

So we stumble into the last month of 2021. Hard to remember that a year ago, the first mentions of a vaccine for COVID made an appearance in the media. And those of us who were gathered around a table at Thanksgiving were thankful that an end to this pandemic appeared in sight, thanks to an advance in biotechnology just ready for implementation. Alas, we should have known things weren’t that easy. Politics got in the way of people reaching for the solution to our pandemic, and soon it was evident a significant portion of the population was gonna be agin’ the vaccine, because it was:

  • Scary, new technology
  • Something the evil government was in favor of, so we’ve gotta be opposed to it
  • Addressing a fake problem brought up by the fake news. All of the deaths attributed to the virus were actually due to other causes, but the hospitals called them COVID-related in order to claim those government payments
  • Something Fox news was against, so we’ve gotta be against it to.

So we find ourselves now in a bifurcated country. One half has gotten vaccinated and reached out for a booster shot. One half keeps discounting the vaccine and is positive the vaccine will kill those who take it within a few years due to blood clotting. Besides, the virus is not worse than a normal case of the flu, but if I get it, I’m sure this remedy with zero anti-viral properties will protect me. As I’ve said, it is not normal to see evolution in action, but we are seeing it with so many folks refusing the vaccines, thus exposing themselves preferentially to death from the virus. A few more generations of this, and the surviving populations will consist mainly of science believers, instead of science deniers.

Where we find ourselves on the science continuum is likely where we are on the spectrum of belief around racial justice. What the Republicans are able to do is instill fear into the population, and they do it through pithy statements that gain traction among the portion of the population who is wanting others to do their thinking. It is easier to blame the “others” for all of our ills, when it really is a long series of choices we have made which leads to our fate.

We in the United States are blessed by many things. Primary among them is the ability for us to have evolved independently of the wars of Europe. Especially after WWII, we were able to adapt our undamaged industrial infrastructure to supply the rest of the world. We assumed that these times, when America was Great, were our due for saving the rest of the world from tyranny. And we developed our mythology, especially with the growth of television to spread these myths across America like a knife spreading white mayonnaise. For a substantial portion of the nation, they came to believe this abnormal situation was the norm. So when a politician today claimed to be able to restore this sense of magnificence, this population portion glommed onto it and clung with desperation.

All the while, the rest of the world moved on independent of our desires. A nation in the east grew into a great economic power, eventually taking many of the low-skilled manufacturing jobs Americans viewed as their birthright. Europe settled down into its typical mode of squabbling nations, with the veneer of the European Union (EU) still working to keep active conflict from emerging. Still, squabbles result in separations, and now the first nation has peeled off of the EU, with more waiting to see if the separation is successful before plotting their own secession. And then there’s those southern continents. Whatever are we to do about them, with their teeming hordes wishing to grab onto their own version of success. Many view the US as their destination of destiny, since opportunity is viewed as scanty in their own region.

The America First contingent believes the US can stand on its own, and bring back those days of splendid isolation. If we could just rerun the cold war, without the military entanglements it brought, we could do things right. Thus we see the call for a wall, symbolically separating this nation from the rest of the globe. One administration used the appeal for a wall as its ultimate goal, and the failure of it to be realized during Trump’s term only meant that globalists were able to sabotage the work of true Americans.

When you hear globalists, it is amazing how many times you also hear the name of George Soros. The worn out anti-Semitic tropes have undergone a renaissance under the last administration. By expressing support for supremacists and nationalists, and not decrying statements intended to incite racial violence, the political leaders on the right in the US seek to bring back those days when nations could wall off a section of their population and inflict horrendous punishments on that section. In that desire they are actually joining an internationalist movement, with authoritarians in many countries who try to isolate and destroy minority groups. Seems like the attitudes of the 1930’s are back in vogue.

War on Crime – We All Are Victims

So after 40 years of “tough on crime,” it’s come to this. In addition to the military-industrial complex, we have the penal system / financial complex as something to worry about. We now have perverse incentives in place to continue the expansion of incarceration as the answer to all of our societal problems. It makes perfect sense to keep building new facilities whose sole purpose is to enrich the corporate investors, who enable governments to pretend they are addressing their crime problems by locking up miscreants for longer sentences. All in the name of being tough on crime, which politicians love to tout to their voters.

In the October 15 issue of Science Magazine, there’s an outstanding summary of current research and trends in the social sciences regarding incarceration in the US. They show how the past 40 years of tough on crime has ignored secular trends on reduced crime rates (yes, homicide rates for the last couple of years have gone up). Instead, the incarceration rate keeps going up, and we are building a class of people who find it impossible to function in society after they are released from prison. Imagine you are someone convicted of a crime, maybe through a plea deal you took to prevent the possibility of being locked up for a much longer term if you decided to exert your constitutional right to a trial. You then find it impossible to qualify for almost all jobs, since the background check screams ex-con as soon as you apply. You try to comply with the terms of your release, but you find yourself falling behind on the requirements to pay all of the assorted fees heaped upon you because you were convicted of a crime. Sooner or later you find yourself unable to comply with all of the requirements, and you end up violating a term of your parole, thus triggering your re-incarceration.

The articles in Science describe how the penal system / financial complex views the poor and the convicted as sources of revenue. Whether it is a system of fees you are responsible for which greatly exceed the restitution amount, or whether it is a requirement that you pay for your own incarceration, or whether it is the ungodly fees you face to use the telephone in a prison where the phone is just another profit center, it certainly seems like the system is stacked against you.

At the same time, attempts at reducing the crimes police and the justice system respond to are causing societal upheaval wherever they are tried. Take the example of San Francisco, where organized shoplifting draws no enforcement activity, but the stores subject to the shoplifting are responding by closing locations. Choosing to minimize unlawful activity can have unintended consequences of greatly increasing said unlawful activity, and then the politicians can say, “See? Liberal approaches don’t work. Lock them up and throw away the key!”

Overlaid on all of this is the war on drugs which has been going on since the 1970’s. Many of the people in prison or subject to re-incarceration ended up with multiple strikes from small scale drug offenses in the past. Trying to separate out those who do represent a threat to society from those who were caught up by drug enforcement in the past is difficult. Therefore, the response from the politicians is often the same. “Lock them up and throw away the key!”

The articles in Science show the folly of using the same techniques as we’ve tried for the past 40 years and expecting better results. Now we have a vested class who have a financial incentive for maintaining the status quo. Many locations which were graced with the construction of a new penal facility, are now dependent upon the jobs these facilities provide. Especially since these are often the only jobs replacing manufacturing jobs, which have disappeared over the decades. All in all, we face a much more difficult task at trying real reform of the justice system, since so many locations and corporations are dependent upon the money provided by the penal system.

So what is the answer to really reduce crime while making it possible for those caught up in the prison system to find their way out and become productive citizens again? That is a good question. First, we need to agree on this as an objective of our justice system – we want people to emerge from prison ready and able to become productive citizens. If we agree on that as a real objective, then solutions begin to appear. Chief among these is to reduce the incentive to make prisons profit centers. Privatization of penal facilities is not good, since the dollars saved by the taxpayers, ends up getting eaten up by encouraging recidivism.

Let’s face it. We do not want a society where violent activity is tolerated. But that means we want equity for all, not just those who happen to fall afoul of the justice system as it is currently configured. There is plenty to be said about racial preferences in traffic stops, which is the entry point for many into the judicial system. When all races use drugs in roughly the same proportion, yet one race is disproportionately singled out for possession, something is not in balance.

Many who believe themselves to be conservative patriots will discount the findings in Science as namby-pamby pabulum presented by liberals to denigrate the feelings of True Americans. Yet it is becoming more difficult to ignore the consequences of our “tough on crime” approach, when so many people are being swept up in the maelstrom that is our justice system. Perhaps an outcry for change will only be heard by the politicians when more White people are caught up in the system, which must show a perpetual increase in inmates to justify the investment made in facilities. It would be a shame that our politicians do not believe the evidence already in front of their eyes, but when everything is viewed through a racial filter, it is not surprising.  

Seasons Change, and So Did I

Summer’s hold lingered on this year. Even in mid-October, we were able to enjoy our outdoor living room and had morning coffee along with the newspaper outside. But as the calendar turned to November, the mornings turned to frost. We finally had a killing frost, so the last of the basil and peppers and tomatoes turned to a wilted heap of formerly living matter. This year, though, our beech nut tree was prolific in its generosity to wildlife. So much so that earlier in the summer, we lost several large branches off of the beech full of nuts. The forester we use said it was actually the weight of the nuts causing the limbs to give way. So it was not a surprise for us as we sat outside in the early evening to see a family of deer grazing on the bountiful nuts littering our lawn.

Beech nuts are small. Only a few calories per nut, and you have to peel the triangular shell back to release the nut. Deer don’t worry about the extra roughage from the nuts, though. They just keep eating the whole thing, then depositing the remains as fertilizer on our lawn. We have learned to live with our four-footed neighbors, since we swapped out our flowers to deer-resistant varieties over the years. We do get to see sights like this year’s fawn trying to aggressively nurse from its mother. My guess is that the doe had already dried up since the fawn quit trying to nurse as abruptly as it tried to start.

This is the season of the suicide squirrels. You see their squashed carcasses decorating the roads all over this area. As you drive, you are likely to see a squirrel begin its dash across the street, then suddenly turn to go back to the safety of the grass, only to reverse course again and continue across the road. Many is the time when I’ve discovered how good my brakes are, by stopping before our car adds to the seasonal slaughter. Of course, we got to watch a squirrel score a touchdown at a recent Marshall game. The squirrel raced across the field, crossed the goal line to the delight of the student section, then eventually retraced his steps and left the stadium with humans in pursuit. Wildlife on the field is a common theme right now, though. This past weekend we were graced with the sight of a fox at the Arizona State – USC game. And I just saw footage of a moose running across the field at South Dakota State, although no football game was in progress. It is that time of year.

Photo by Zachary Hiser

Later falls and lessened tree color. Are these signs of global warming? As the statistician in me says, individual anecdotes do not a trend make. Still, one has to wonder when summer-like warmth extends later, and later into the year. Some trees still haven’t changed colors, like our cherry tree in our front yard. The only thing we can do is watch the trends, and report as appropriate. See, no one remarks when the expected happens. We only talk about it when our expectations are not met. In the case of the extended summer, it was unexpected, but welcome. Only when I reflect upon the weather do I realize that this is not normal. I am not accustomed to not needing a jacket in the middle of November. But I can enjoy it, for as long as it lasts.

Only a month ago. Now just a memory in green

Make West Virginia Great Again!

So this is what it’s like being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Here in West Virginia, we are being blackmailed into continuing the use of coal for electric power generation until the year 2040, regardless of the economics. And we are going to pay dearly for the privilege of using the dirtiest fossil fuel extracted from the earth in the most damaging way possible. How is this possible? Let us say when we selected a coal baron as Governor, we accepted his appointments to the Public Service Commission (PSC). And when a position came open in the 3-member commission, the Governor filled it with the recently-retired head of the WV Coal Association.

There are three large power plants run by Appalachian Power in the state of West Virginia. These plants sold power throughout West Virginia, and also to Kentucky and Virginia. All three plants face the need to upgrade their sludge handling facilities by 2028 in order to meet EPA regulations. The Kentucky and Virginia PSC’s refused to accept their portion of the costs for upgrading the water treatment facilities, so it fell to the WV PSC to make its decision. To no one’s surprise, they approved the half billion-dollar upgrade, along with the requisite costs for the utility to not only offset its investment cost, but enable Appalachian Power to earn a return on the incremental investment. The PSC stated their rationale for approval as: “Direct employment at the Plants, use of West Virginia coal, state, county and local taxes related to operating generation plants and related employment in businesses supporting the Plants and the coal industry cannot be discounted or overlooked.” I can’t wait for the first shipment of Wyoming coal to these plants, justified solely on cost. Lower cost will eventually out trump any other justification.

When I moved to West Virginia in the late 1980’s, a point of pride in the state was the low cost of electricity as it was totally dependent on coal generation. Since those days, a revolution in energy generation has occurred. Natural gas availability has increased exponentially, and the cost of renewable energy has plummeted. At the same time, the deep thick veins of coal have mostly played out in the state, and the coal industry has resorted to the extremely destructive and disruptive practice of blowing off the tops of mountains in order to expose the relatively thin veins of carbon remaining. So now we suffer from periodic explosions causing rock to rain down from on high throughout our coal fields, and then suffer from the exposure of virgin rock to the atmosphere where every metal present is leached out into our streams. All for the pleasure of allowing our neighboring cloud factories to vent their excess heat into the atmosphere.

Much has been written about how coal has held this state captive for over a century. Coal mines, and coke ovens, have plagued us ever since industry began to exploit this resource. Of course, you wouldn’t want it extracted in your back yard, since the act of extraction just may make your yard and house uninhabitable. But we are still held in thrall to the large utilities and their subservient governmental regulators, all under the massive oversight offered by our oversized Governor. It makes sense that the state suffering from rampant obesity should select an exemplar of this trait to be its leader.

So while the rest of the nation learns how to adapt periodic energy sources into a system which can handle volatile energy demands, this state will muddle along with the power system of the last century. Once more, West Virginia is insistent upon remaining a vassal state to the rest of this country, and ensuring our subordination for multiple decades to come. A state looking ahead would try to market the flattened mountains as opportunities for solar farms, since the soil won’t grow useful plants due to the dearth of organic top soil. No, instead we will continue to permit the desecration of our lands in order to fulfill our need to pay obeisance to the gods of coal.

Do we deserve to be last in almost every economic category within these states? It would seem so, since we appear destined to race backwards rather than face forward and try to improve. The state has changed from a progressive labor enclave, into yet another southern US state where the Republican party staged a takeover. Law after law is enacted aimed at hamstringing the labor movement, many straight from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) playbook. It makes you believe the legislators have no individual capacity for thought, they have to outsource it to ALEC. But those are the facts on the ground, and we have to deal with the unfortunate circumstances we find ourselves stuck in.

It may be that all politics are local. What is unfortunate is that the local variant of politics in this state consists of denigration of education, followed by an insistence on wishing for an economic rescue from the economic gods of the past, instead of realizing the facts on the ground have changed, and no longer will we thrive if we refuse to look beyond coal. There is a reason why the coal extracting regions are among the poorest in the world. Only when you think coal is the only resource you have to share, will you accept the degradation it brings. Here in West Virginia, we think we only have coal to offer to the rest of the world.

Alternative Reality? Sure, Got Some Right Here

Photo from Dan Rainville, USA Today Network

It is getting scary out here. I encounter glimpses of the alternative reality many people live in and it is horrifying. In this alternative reality, there was no pitched battle for access to the Capitol building on January 6. Instead, a lovefest occurred where hugs and kisses were exchanged between the Capitol Police, and the totally peaceful protestors who only were upset about the massive voter fraud that took place back in November of 2020.

In this alternative reality, all of us who received vaccinations for COVID 19 are living on borrowed time since we are all going to have blood clotting from the vaccine and we will all die horribly due to dire effects from the depopulation wrought by the kill shots. We have shed virus particles across our social circles immediately after we received our inoculations. There’s even a private school in Miami which forbids any student who receives a vaccination from attending school for 30 days in order to avoid inadvertent viral shedding. In the alternative reality I have witnessed, vaccinations and masks are signs of tyranny, while repeated expensive infusions of monoclonal antibodies are viewed as saving those whose regimen of vitamins, antibiotics, and ivermectin somehow didn’t prevent infection.  

In this alternative reality, it is a mortal sin on one side of the political spectrum to disavow the former President or any of his delusions. Therefore, it is obvious to them that any effort to prevent voter suppression represents an existential threat to their source of political power, and must be opposed unanimously no matter how egregious the acts of state legislatures are.

In this alternative reality, trickle-down economics works, has always worked, and always will work. Therefore, the necessity of keeping the existing bias towards capital in the US tax system is obvious, and any attempt to confuse the issue by bringing up the obscene increase in income inequality over the past 40 years is anti-growth, and thus anti-American. Note: it only took 40 years for the Israelites to discover the promised land after wandering through the desert. One can hope that wandering through 40 years of the Laffer curve would be enough for the Republicans, but seemingly any attempt at reversing course is verboten.

In this alternative reality, the moral exemplar is one who came into power by quashing any discussion from those he committed adultery with. The one who became known for running casinos into the ground was anointed by Christian ministers by the laying on of hands. The one who denigrated any who deigned to oppose him with all manner of derogatory nicknames, he was the one uplifted as a moral model by those who supposedly practice Christianity. From where I sit, these Evangelicals need a lot more practice, since their actions are the antithesis of true Christianity as I understand it.

In this alternative reality, those who have devoted their lives to the study and practice of a field of knowledge, and have also dedicated their lives through government service, are definitely not to be believed or followed by those in power. In fact, it is necessary to denounce these experts since they utter uncomfortable words to those in power. Gut instinct is so much better than any PhD’s expertise.

In this alternative reality, all moral failings of the dear leader can be obviated by nominating those who are hand-picked by the Federalist Society. Though the time in office of our dear leader is hopefully limited, the damage done by those favored by the Federalist Society and dutifully advanced to the Federal Judiciary will last long after the name of Trump has crumbled into dust. The ability to shape our judiciary is one main reason why so many Republicans held their noses and followed the past president down into his moral quagmire.

In this alternative reality, so many of his followers view him as a buff, fit man holding the weapons used to attack the deep state. The image of him with muscles rippling, riding the velociraptor with the background of red, white and blue will last for a long time. Even now, some of his most ardent supporters seem to live in a world where Joe Biden is just an image, and it is really him (the dear leader, your favorite President) who still maintains the reins of power. Somehow, the Supreme Court will recognize the errors of the past year, and restore him to his seat of power. It is evidence of the power of this alternative reality that the Constitution offers no way for this to happen. If you just believe hard enough ……

In this alternative reality. Really, we saw this at the beginning of the last administration, when the concept of alternative facts was presented and received no push back from those who are members of the cult. Having had a practice run, those who follow the dear leader are awaiting their turn to demonstrate once more that no one has gone broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. We had one bite of the poisoned apple in 2016. Remember most poisons are dose-dependent. If we take as second bite of this poisoned apple, we deserve the death it will induce to our democracy.

Where Do We Go?

I read a column in the New York Times that explains much of what has bothered me over the last few years. It was a column by Thomas Edsall. Now, reading his stuff is much like reading a research summary in Science magazine. Very dense, and you can lose yourself easily in it. But what I took out was that we now have two parties which are predicated on either intellectualism or anti-intellectualism. Both parties view adherents of the other party as evil dupes who just cannot see the virtues of their own philosophy. This is why the remark about deplorables in 2016 was such a divisive statement, and one that led inexorably to Hillary Clinton’s defeat. Instead of being taken as a put down, it was viewed as a badge of honor to many who saw the remark as a typical denunciation from the coastal elites.

One party adores anti-intellectualism. One party denies the universe exists according to scientific principles, and therefore prayer and quack pharmacology can defeat the evil cabal who are trying to force-feed medical solutions upon the unwilling. One party eyes any argument about climate change as denying the supremacy of God over our physical universe, and besides, it will cost us money and make it likely we may suffer from energy shortages if their evil green agenda ever comes to pass. One party believes women have no right to determine if they will be fit parents and will force all women to become parents if they ever find themselves pregnant. One party believes immigration is part of a globalist plot aimed at diluting the purity of essence of the nation’s true patriots (and heaven help anyone who dares to utter a version of history which doesn’t match the Hollywood image of noble men rescuing hapless women from savagery). This party cannot conceive of any value for any position held by the other party.

So the other party acknowledges intellectuals often do know whereof they speak, and are willing to give credence to the claims of scientists. The other party does look down on those less educated, since they have made a moral judgement that being educated is an indicator of more worth. The other party is willing to question their beliefs if reality does not match what they’ve been taught. The other party thinks the laws of economics are obsolete, and we can fix any problem by creating more money and spending it on revised national priorities. And the other party is unwilling to acknowledge any position held by the other party since it is obvious they are ignorant.

Then you have those who don’t hold truck with the beliefs of either party. This is the fastest growing group in the United States, the independents or others. They find themselves trapped within a political system which ignores their real concerns. Sooner or later, one or both of the existing parties will fatally fracture, and we may find the leaky block of the center becomes the glue holding this country together.

But the deck is stacked against any third party becoming a real force in the political spectrum of this country. All states are governed based upon two parties sharing legislative power. In our state of West Virginia, we have a Mountain Party which pretends to put up candidates, then complains when those candidates are ignored by all powers that be. They receive their 1-2% of the vote, just enough to keep them alive in the electoral system, then they retreat back into their den of irrelevancy.

It will really take some major event to cause the two parties to schism enough to cause a new party to arise out of the debris left behind by the fractures. One might have thought one party’s insistence upon electoral fraud followed by an attempt at holding onto power via mob violence would have been enough. But alas, what might have been a schism in the Republican party ended up healing poorly when the initial cries of presidential responsibility were replaced by scenes of groveling at the feet of the ex-President. Likewise, the progressive wing of the Democratic party misread the election as a mandate rather than as an act of revulsion against the former President. So now they are trying to go boldly where no party has gone before, and rectify 40 years of inaction on the social front with a plan to address every social ill all at once.

The Republicans may be seeding the sprouts of their own demise by ill-considered devotion to a single politician, rather than standing behind principles of their own (unless you consider mindless adoration to be a principle). But the Democrats seem destined to fulfill Will Roger’s pithy quote of “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.” Just shows that nearly 100 years later, the same disorganization seems determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and result in party cannibalism.

So what is the answer? Will we cede control to the tribal group who believe the only good election is one that they win? Or will the tribal group win who believes only equality of results will repair the ills of the nation? God forbid that we actually have some rational actors seize control of our body politic and steer the ship of state by the rudder, instead of trying to direct the ship by rushing first to one side of the ship, then the other, thinking those actions are substitutes for steering.

It’s Now Or Never

What is “vengeful taxation”? That seems to be the sticking point now for my senator Joe Manchin from supporting some version of the Democratic social safety net spending program. Note how over the years, the emphasis in discussion has changed from describing the objective of the bills, to strictly focus on the overall cost of the programs. But back to “vengeful taxation”, according to Manchin it is not vengeful to seek the correction of the 2017 tax cut bill, as long as the tax rate for corporations keeps them globally competitive. Whatever that means.

Look, we in West Virginia have benefitted from the attention paid to this small, land-locked state lacking in so much of what is valued in the US these days. Having a Senator at the fulcrum of power is useful. And I am reminded of how small this state really is when I recall we encountered Senator Manchin at a local restaurant as he came in, bereft of staff and entourage, to join a party at another table. He gave us a couple of minutes as my wife pressed a couple of points home to him, and he was able to respond in the way many politicians have mastered – clasping hands, literally backslapping, and saying nothing that could not be interpreted in many different ways.

We seem to be stuck in a do loop (as Andrew Yang noted recently, betraying his computer programmer roots). We cannot break out of the prison of the dichotomy of the Democrats, where the progressive wing says our way or the highway, while a small minority of Senators holds firm to less fiscal stimulus. What I think is being missed by both sides is we’ve had 40 years of underinvestment in both human and physical infrastructure, and this time right now seems to be the only time where it is possible to get anything accomplished. The Republicans are insistent upon their nihilism, where they lay insensate upon the governmental table, while they await their normal due of mid-term elections to anoint them as the powers in Congress. This very time is the opportunity to get something done, in order to have accomplishments to tout for the next election cycle. Maybe, just maybe, if we can get something done, and people are working next year on infrastructure jobs, we can disrupt the Republican’s expectations of mid-term gains.

So much of the political discourse recently is predicated upon who can yell the loudest. Inside of the social media platforms, it is those on the right who seem to reach for the simplistic slogans which seem to captivate the nation’s attention. Couple that with the historical illiteracy of the American populace and it is no wonder the Republicans are able to characterize the Democratic proposals as socialism. It is painful to watch the true socialism for the rich over the past 40 years ignored, while the first attempt to use government to aid the workers at the bottom of the income scale is classified as handouts to the unworthy. But you have to admit it is effective, when polling shows ongoing gains for Republican positions while polling for Democrats shows decreased support since people have forgotten the messiness of the legislative process.

Has there ever been in the history of this nation such a handicap placed in the way of one political party? Where for over a decade, one party declares its implacable opposition to any action of the other party, with zero support for even critical actions like raising the debt ceiling? We should not even have a debt ceiling based upon how it is used as a cudgel rather than as a tool to restrain excessive spending. The consequences of not adjusting this artificial limit far exceed the political gains that one party may achieve in stifling raising the debt ceiling. But who among Americans have the attention span to realize it was the Republicans who were responsible for the dismemberment of our country’s credit rating, and the consequences yet to come if we do technically default on the debt?

The ruling class seems to think only those who can write a sizable campaign check are worthy Americans. They are near to their objective to institute a permanent oligarchy since they seem to view all opposing views as unworthy of consideration. In fact, only their votes would count in the world they wish to impose upon the majority of Americans who do recognize the problems 40 years of trickle-down economics hath wrought. We’ve gone from an America where the middle class was able to get ahead, to one where only raw wealth counts. It is an un-American country we now have. Unless you already have wealth, or unless you can count on a degree from an Ivy-league university to lubricate your rise up the social ladder, you just don’t matter as a human. The new oligarchy will deign to deal with your non-economic concerns, but really they are just laughing at those they patronize by letting them think they have political power.

But at least we won’t have socialism!

Point of Personal Privilege

Willy Mays making The Catch, September 29 1954

Today I celebrate the completion of my 67th trip around the sun. To put that number into perspective, it is 1.5 millionths of a percent of the age of the earth. Maybe of more relevance, it is 27% of the existence of the US as an independent nation. As such, I do have a few observations about the current state of things.

When I was in my formative years, I saw images of pollution, and how we were destroying our environment. The burning of the Cuyahoga river was etched upon my brain. Thus I was more than happy to participate in the very first Earth day, where a group of us went out and cleaned up alleys in my home town of Lincoln, Nebraska. Symbolic, yes. Meaningful, not really. But the human population at that time was about 3.7 billion people. Now we are roughly twice that amount. Even though in this country we have cleaned up a lot of visible pollution, we are facing the results of humans consuming much more than the planet can sustain. Over the eons, the earth stored enormous amounts of carbon in three repositories. Coal, liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons, and carbonate rock. Over an instant in geological time, our societies are releasing much of the carbon locked up in these deposits and sending it out into the atmosphere, where it helps to trap excess heat and re-radiate it back to Earth. The setpoint for Earth’s temperature system is being fiddled with, and mankind will not be pleased with the results of this experiment we are conducting on ourselves. Like many young climate activists say, there is no planet B for humanity to live on. Somehow we have to realize the invisible pollution is more harmful than the visible pollution bothering us, and more importantly, do something to change humanity’s reward system to make a real change for the better.

The very first thing I can remember was traveling in our car across country when an announcement came over the radio. It spoke of a satellite, launched by the USSR, which was orbiting the Earth. I verified that memory with my parents while they were still alive, and thus I can say I was aware at the beginning of the space age. Now, we see space exploration begin to be expanded to private citizens. Whether the resources used to launch private spaceships are the best uses of the moneys spent, it is an essential step towards ensuring humanity keeps reaching for the stars instead of hunkering down on this planet.

Of course, Sputnik also caused another reaction in our nation. We realized we were behind in what could have been an existential conflict with another nation-state. Thus came the efforts to make it possible to annihilate our opponents at the touch of a button. We entered a MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) world, and built up our military capabilities to reflect this. Along the way we discovered the limitations of conventional forces which means no longer will armed conflict consist of massed armies hurtling huge quantities of conventional explosives at each other. No, we have guerrilla warfare, where the patience of the home team can outlast any effort from an invader. And the type of warfare we now have is economic and cyber, causing more diffuse damage.

I was born on the same day as The Catch. This event is still referred to as the ultimate fielding play in baseball, and as of today, Willie Mays still is with us. Of all the sports, baseball may be the most unchanged. Yet even now, the tweaks being made may cause the nature of the game to finally change. In the minor league in my city, they have moved the pitcher’s mound back one foot, hopefully to enable hitters to have just a slight bit more time to react to ever faster pitches coming from an unending parade of super arms. The decline in starting pitching and the rise of the bullpen is otherwise the major change we are seeing in this sport. Plus, all of the pitching changes to bring in these relief pitchers have helped slow the game down. Combine this with the shortened attention span of today’s public, and there is no doubt that the long-term survival of baseball as the quintessential American game is threatened.

When I was young, the portable battery powered transistor radio was the epitome of technological progress. Radios were proud to tell you exactly how many transistors they contained, and when FM radios also came about, it enabled the youth culture to dominate popular music. Of course, individual transistors gave way to integrated circuits, and Moore’s law began to rule our lives. I have the honor to know in my lifetime I have moved from being an early adopter in high technology, into a Luddite who chooses not to participate in many of the modes of communication favored by today’s youth. My preferred mode of communication is this blog, which requires an attention span greater than the time required to digest the latest tweet from our political class.

In all of my days, it is in politics where one can sense the changes most acutely.  Maybe it is a natural result of the end of the cold war, where a common opponent helped to hide the intractable differences in our politics. But ever since the end of the cold war, emotional energy seemed to transfer to denouncing the other side politically as sub-human and definitely unpatriotic. Now we even have a party in US politics which denounces science as being fake, and seemingly wants to cause reversion towards a past where life was simpler, though much more brutish and subject to an untimely death. The difference in response between the two parties towards the treatments for the COVID virus gives a view of evolution in action. We may actually be seeing a change in the differential survival of those who believe in science, and those who don’t. Unfortunately for those of us who do believe in science, even this change may not be swift enough to affect the next election. But over time …..

Well, I am at the end of my self-appointed limit of about 1000 words in a post. I turn to you as readers to add items you have seen as changes in your lifetime, be they good or bad.