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.

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.  

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.

It’s Mine. Mine, I Tell You.

Photo by Flavio Gasperini on Unsplash

The word of the day is:  Selfishness. This is the one thread that binds many of our current social ills together. Selfishness is behind those who proclaim loudly they need not support our schools since they no longer have any students of school age. Selfishness is behind those who claim they made it on their own, and therefore have no sympathy for those who may need a hand up. Selfishness is behind those who claim their decision not to be vaccinated affects only them, they have no responsibility for the rest of society. Selfishness is behind those who believe fervently that any public policy aimed at providing a needed service is symptomatic of creeping communism.

It was Ayn Rand who popularized selfishness. Before her books hit the mainstream, it was unfathomable that people would believe it was a moral wrong to provide charity. But her memes infected many who gained power over the years. Her philosophy served as impetus for people like Paul Ryan to wield his gavel in the service of selfishness. For many years, it was not thought necessary to inveigh against her beliefs, since the predominant philosophy from mainline Protestantism was Christian charity. That some of the charity was done by government was viewed as a necessary evil, and thus many of the programs set up became infested with bureaucratic means testing which often served to demean anyone who tried to use the “free money”. So people were prohibited from accumulating assets if they used a government program, since they could “afford” to go without the money if they had any assets whatsoever.

There is no doubt that the desire to prevent people from living high off of the dole has caused many programs to be bloated with government overhead. And many folks who could benefit from the programs, refuse to be subjected to the oversight of the government masters. Even the age of technology has been an impediment, since private enterprise is able to use technology efficiently to implement things like rewards programs, while government programs such as unemployment are saddled with antiquated systems totally incapable of dealing with the surges our new economy is able to create.

So the belief that anyone who became dependent on government support was morally inferior caught on with more and more of the population. Meanwhile, the private sector kept on evolving, while the government sector kept getting throttled and prevented from adopting new technology. Well, now we have seen the effects. An economy where the number of unemployed and the number of job openings are both high. An economy where private home ownership becomes unaffordable to more and more of the population, while inadequate investment in affordable housing creates legions of homeless populating the streets of major urban areas. Will we use the disruption created by the pandemic to remake the fundamentals of this economy? Or will we jump at the chance to regain a semblance of normality, and accept the human detritus unable to climb aboard the economic ship as a cost of doing business?

Even with the increased spending aimed at maintaining private consumption, we still find it nigh unto impossible to give the IRS additional funds aimed at collecting legal taxes due. Any attempt to include additional revenues from tax collection as offsets for additional spending were quashed. Why? Because of selfishness and a misguided belief that the government is already too intrusive on our lives, we certainly should not give them additional funding. So its ok to reduce taxes on the wealthy, but not ok to ask the wealthy to not cheat and to pay their fair share. I view this as an overt form of hypocrisy from our political classes. Though the Congressional Budget office predicts that $80 billion in additional spending will result in $200 billion in increased revenues over the next 10 years, the IRS is a Republican boogeyman, which makes any effort to increase its budget problematic at best. Let’s just chalk up one more issue that is falling prey to selfishness. Please note that IRS audits have increasingly focused on potential abuse of the earned income credit, where a few thousand dollars are at stake. The IRS is outgunned on dealing with higher income folks, and cannot take on the army of accountants and lawyers the rich can employ. So the bipartisan infrastructure bill lost its IRS component, leaving a long-term plan to address IRS changes in limbo.

Sooner or later, the concept of a guaranteed basic income will come to pass. If this is enacted, with no means testing, then it will prove to be an incentive to work, since benefits will not decrease with salary. As much as people may detest the idea of folks sitting on their asses, living it up on the government’s dime, we may need this type of program to rebalance the power differential between the wealthy few and the many who struggle in today’s economy. Think of it. We can eliminate welfare departments and greatly reduce the overhead required to administer benefit programs. As more jobs are eliminated due to automation and AI, this type of floor may be needed to prevent mass starvation and mass homelessness.

At some point, those who do not share in the prosperity around them, even though they work for wages, will realize they have the power to disrupt the lives of those who are comfortable. The right decried the demonstrations of 2020, where commercial properties were looted and burned. What will they do when it is the gated communities that become the target for mass action by those who do not believe they have anything to lose? If you don’t accept programs to improve the hope of the many, you just may receive the backlash from those who have no hope.

History Rhymed

KENNY KEMP | Gazette-Mail file photo

Long, long time ago. Back when cave men and women huddled for warmth in rock overhangs, and I was a baby, I used to wonder about why things were the way they were. Like, why was it that black people in southern states had fire hoses and police dogs turned on them in order to keep them from showing support for voting. I wondered how this country could have the cognitive dissonance (I didn’t know what that meant at the time) to express such high, lofty sentiments about freedom, and justice, and human rights, while at the same time denying so many people a basic right like the right to vote.

Later in my youth, I encountered a book by Mike Royko, a newspaper columnist in the city of Chicago. His book “Boss” chronicled the reign of Mayor Daley in Chicago. More than anything else, that book explained how the system was used to keep minority populations in their place, and that was the way those in charge wanted it to be. I was from a small city in the Midwest. At the time, I went to the high school in town with the most minorities. I think our class was about 5% Black and outside of a few schools in Omaha, we had the most Blacks in the state of Nebraska. Since I grew up, the city of Lincoln has become a mecca for immigrants, particularly Asian. The Vietnamese refugees were perhaps the first to come there, but they have been followed by many other immigrants from many different nationalities.

I don’t live in Lincoln anymore. But what I do know is that the population of the city has grown steadily since I left, and when I visit, it seems as it is a much more vibrant place than when I spent my youth there. I can compare it to my current home in South Charleston, WV. At the time when I moved here in the 1980’s, the metropolitan populations of both areas was about the same. Since then, the West Virginia population has shrunk, while Lincoln keeps growing.

Why has West Virginia struggled to keep the population from shrinking, while a portion of Nebraska keeps on growing? Perhaps the current legislature in West Virginia can provide some clues. The West Virginia legislature seems hell-bent on maintaining cultural purity at the expense of being a welcoming state. The highest priorities are to prohibit the teaching of any sexual nature within the public schools, prohibit cities and towns from implementing any regulations that are considered as more liberal than the state requirements, and enable all parents to withdraw their children from public school, while the state aid that would have accompanied their children is allowed to be sent to other entities for tuition or class supplies. Each year we hear about the reductions in school enrollment in our county. When this bill comes into effect, not only will you have population decline reflected in enrollment decreases, but an exodus of students into private schools, virtual private schools, and home schooling will exacerbate the decline of public school enrollment.

But I’m sure coal will come back any day now, and allow for new generations to raise their children in prosperity. A new pickup in every driveway, and an ATV to boot. That’s the WV dream!

We as a nation are now facing what we have become. Instead of integrating people fully into our culture, we seem to be freshly reinvigorating the racist memes I remember from my youth. All in pursuit of some idealized memory where whites ruled everything, and the odd minority we have to encounter all know their place. After all, according to Senator Ron Johnson, those who marched on the Capitol were decent, law-abiding citizens of the correct race, who would never consider breaking the law. Not like those Black Lives Matter and antifa marchers who spread anarchy. You would be scared of the latter, but not the former. All of the chaos and vitriol shown by those who broke into the Capitol building? A few plants helped to turn the crowd violent. They’d never have done the things they did if they weren’t instigated to do them.

Those who feign ignorance of history will be sentenced to relive it. In many ways, we have never left the Good Ole Boys territory in much of this nation. We are now in this state facing a new bill that will certainly pass which prohibits any removal of civic monuments (read civil war statues), or rename any public facility without the express approval of a State entity. Meanwhile, in West Virginia, our billionaire governor’s main priority is to replace a somewhat progressive income tax with a hodge-podge of sales and sin tax increases, aimed at reducing his personal tax rate at the expense of those who will pick up the tab in consumption taxes. That is on top of all of the cultural battles that the Legislature has chosen to take on in this session. I think we are making real progress in our state (cheek hernia intended).

Our two sons have joined the youth exodus out of this state. They reside in Maryland and Virginia, and have added to the vitality of those states. Somehow I don’t think they would be influenced to come back here if the income tax rates were lowered. I think there’s a whole lot of other considerations before they ever would decide to move back to this state. But then, you’d never know there’s a problem if you rely upon the signals coming from our legislature. We’ll reap the long term benefits of this philosophy after the release of the census results, when we move from 3 representatives down to 2. Back when the Kennedy-Humphrey primary battle was a thing, we had 6 representatives in the House. Looks like the trend we are trying to reverse goes back at least into the 1950’s. I don’t expect it to change any time soon, especially since this state seems to be willingly stuck in the same miasma it has wallowed in as this legislative session grinds down to its inglorious conclusion.

Superior? It’s So Much More Than A Lake.

Inflamed Trump supporters stormed the Senate side of the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon, after the president’s rally.Credit…Jason Andrew for The New York Times

A premise of white supremacy is that the culture created by whites is superior to that of any other ethnic group. I for one do not believe that, and to prove my point, I only have to refer to what seems to be the cultural beacons for much of the nation. Reality TV. Really. This genre is aimed at the lowest common denominator among TV viewers, as it allows people to vicariously share in the lives of those who are viewed as superior. And how are they superior? Well, many on the airwaves prove their merits by being the chosen one, that is, the one among the rest of the beautiful people who end up winning the affection of the ideal mate. How do they do that? Besides the natural advantage of beauty, they are able to manipulate the emotions and actions of their competitors, and ultimately the emotions and actions of the supposed ideal mate. Stabbing in the back is not only desirable, it adds to the drama for all those who turn in week after week to see the soap opera play out. Ah, yes. The superiority of white culture.

When I was in college, wrestling was big. There were many local television stations that broadcast the regional wrestling circuit. I even had my favorites, a father/son team that used real wrestling moves to subdue their opponents. Sad (and easy) to say, they didn’t have enough pizazz to be fan favorites. I moved after college to Memphis, and there I encountered Jerry Lawler as the local king of wrestling. Very appropriate for the hometown of the King to also serve as the site where the King of Wrestling held sway. But since I first moved to Memphis, the sport has morphed and ended up as a bloated corpse, floating in the flotsam of popular culture. What’s more, the world of boxing has devolved into the world of MMA, where both men and women can aspire to be the peaks of their species by knocking the crap out of their opponents. We know so much more about head trauma than we did when I was a child, it literally hurts to watch any of this, yet so much of what we as a nation desire is more and more mayhem. If this is the epitome of culture that whites can generate, then let me be the first to say it ain’t worth crap.

The US has survived its episode with a reality TV star in charge. This was the fulfillment of H. L. Mencken’s prophecy from a century ago, where he said: “On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.” A moron who reached back into some poorly remembered recesses of his mind to a time when America was great.     I am so grateful that he is no longer in charge, and my hope is he becomes fully discredited as he wades through his morass of legal issues. But just remember, he is still the embodiment of the superiority of white culture.

What it seems to me is that America has lost its ability to self-motivate. We’ve lost the drive to succeed on our own, and because of that we do not have civic energy we need to embody greatness. Part of that is systemic, since big box stores replacing smaller establishments has reduced the opportunity to better yourself by running a small business. It becomes systemic when even the jobs offered at these establishments do not pay enough to sustain a minimal lifestyle. It is only the immigrants who still see the opportunity to better themselves by running a small business. How impoverished would our cuisine be if we had not been exposed to restaurants where local cuisines from across the world were available, thanks to the energy of our immigrant community. But we must maintain the purity of our race!

Our financial system has assumed greater and greater power over our lives. Basically, for any publicly traded company, Wall Street tries to ensure that the only consideration for that company is maximizing shareholder return. Lately this doesn’t even include profit, because so many companies borrow to enable stock buybacks enriching no one other than shareholders. I’ve seen the machinations a company will go through rather than face these individuals who try to impose their will on companies to “maximize shareholder return”. My old company ended up merging with its biggest domestic competitor, then forming three corporations out of the wreckage of the merger. Along the way it was necessary to divest many of the growth products due to anti-trust considerations. All of this was because an activist investor had targeted the company since he thought their costs were too high, and they spent too much money on research. I shudder to think of all of the wasted costs undertaken to make this misguided merger/demerger happen, costs that did nothing to improve customer service, or create new products, or reduce manufacturing waste and pollution.

This over-financialization of the business world is yet another example of what white culture has done, since the world of finance is still mainly a white bastion. Yet another case where whites are causing great harm as they run roughshod over the employees of their enterprises.

All of these are examples of why I find the arguments of those who invoke white supremacy to be faulty at best, and evil at worst. It seems that those who believe in white supremacy are willing to demean any other race and culture, all in the misguided belief that only they can solve the problems. Yeah, we saw just exactly how well that went over the past four years. Unfortunately, that attitude is not shared with many who supported the last presidency. Their only complaint was that he didn’t go far enough, just like his supporters on the January 6 picnic at the Capitol who wore attire that indicated Hitler did not go far enough. But since it was white demonstrators, at least Senator Ron Johnson wasn’t worried.