Long Time Coming, This Virus Crisis

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So, we are now in the world flavored with corona. A world where many still claim that the virus is no worse than the seasonal flu, and that there is absolutely no reason to accept economic damage due to a stated need of preventing an exponential rise of cases from completely overwhelming our medical capabilities. These deniers of all things uncomfortable to them refuse to accept any evidence that hasn’t slapped them upside of their heads with a 2×4. They may be a small fraction of the total population of the US, but they speak loudly, and are prone to simultaneously demonstrate many of their rights, as they parade with placards, guns, and the incongruous mash-up of the US flag and the Confederate battle flag. The images of unmasked faces spitting their hatred towards state legislators will be engrained in the history textbooks of the future as they describe this episode in our nation’s narrative.

These bloviators are encouraged by their cult leader, who speaks in the Twitter language. This is a strange language, where thoughts are compressed to bullet points, and ….. becomes the joining conjunction. I can foresee a future library where these masterful expositions of momentary blips of what passes for thought, are portrayed as the speech form of the future. Forget writing meant to last longer than the moment. That is so elitist! Instead, we need to speak directly to the common man, bypassing the superfluous filter of the media. For too long those people have held sway over the agenda of this nation. No wonder we’ve become the laughingstock of the world, pretending that we cared about anything other than gross economic growth. For the sweet nirvana of growth is the only thing that matters,.

It is truly amazing that this nation can be brought from the “Greatest economy in the history of the world,” within two months to a basket case where people line up for miles in cars in order to access a food handout. One might say that the apparent prosperity we enjoyed was an illusion, sustained by the necessary labor of those we now celebrate as the indispensable ones. You know, those who we truly valued by paying wages that precluded any ability to save. Instead, we encouraged overconsumption by the easy availability of credit. Credit for vehicle payments, credit for mortgages, credit in the form of credit cards that ensnare millions into a life of making minimum payments, credit traps like payday lenders. All it took to pierce this illusion of prosperity has been a simple little invader, the tiniest subdivision of life.

The hollowing out of the economy has taken decades. Every so often, we saw what could go wrong with the increasing financialization of our economy. The practice of using junk bond financing in order to make hostile bids for existing stable companies got a little too brazen. Michael Milken, one of the early users of this technique, found that using insider trading in conjunction with the purchasing of a company worked even better, and eventually he was charged and convicted of securities fraud back in 1989. It is not a surprise to learn that he was pardoned by President Trump in February 2020. But it has not been the actual effect of the technique that has caused the most damage to this nation. No, it has been the modification of corporate behavior as a response to the vulnerability exposed from corporate raiders which has inflicted the damage and greatly increased the inequality we have in our nation.

Once corporate boards realized they were liable to be attacked by outside financial wizards, they took many of the actions those wizards would inflict on their victims. No longer was it beneficial to play a beneficial role in the local economy by paying more in wages, and supporting the local economy through donations. Nay, now all that matters is to reward the stockholders. When you combine that with the opening of China, and its legions of low wage workers and its ignoring of environmental restrictions, you saw company after company outsource production to this new savior of the world’s economy. This nation could survive by doing the design work, and the marketing and sales for the products returning via container ships. Component cost is the sole determinant of what is good. The lower the component costs, the more gross margin can accumulate on the final product.

The next piece in this financialization nightmare came about when computer technology made it possible to arbitrage taxation rates among the various countries. If you establish a subsidiary in a low tax location, then use it to move product from one country to another, you can take some vigorish off the top and allocate some of the supply chain profit to this new entity. Now all nations became engaged in the race to the bottom for corporate taxation rates, since all were liable to be victimized by this new technique, and were likely to see taxable profits disappear from their shores.

Then layer debt onto this structure. Not debt for new facilities, for opening new markets, but debt to directly reward the shareholders and corporate executives by enabling the buyback of shares and goosing the stock price. All are happy (except for those who lose their jobs when business does turn down and the debt repayment leads to bankruptcy of the company).

Of course, there are those people who do not fit into this new world so neatly. They are those who have to provide their labor in a single location, who cannot leverage their skills across the globe. People like those who remove our trash, and serve us coffee, and wait tables or bartend, those who provide health care services, those who are in the first responder ranks. As we’ve seen in these past two months, they are the ones who stitch together the threads of society. Without them, we unravel. That is why this original stand at living in quarantine was so important, since we saw in other nations and in New York what could happen when one essential part of this structure became at risk. When health care workers are overwhelmed, the entire health care system becomes dysfunctional at the very time it is being depended on by so many.

But in the corporate environment we live in, every action has its down sides. By closing the health care facilities to discretionary procedures, only a fraction of the personnel employed at these facilities were needed. Therefore it is the nurses and orderlies and service personnel not engaged in the ICU who became expendable, and were furloughed. So we see the extreme irony of health care workers joining the army of the unemployed at the same time as we are depending more heavily than ever on health care workers. Similarly, as assisted living facilities and nursing homes were co-opted by for-profit companies, the need for profit resulted in fewer and fewer resources being available in the front line of these facilities. For the investors, what was important is that the facilities paid their rents for their buildings, which were owned by corporations separate from the health care companies. Thus, we see deaths concentrated in these facilities as they become overwhelmed by the flood of illness.

When even pandemics are viewed through a partisan lens, it is very likely that no real structural change will happen if and when we return to “normal” lives. Even if the power in the Senate and the White House change in the upcoming election, we know that a substantial minority in this nation will never accept the legitimacy of the government. Somehow, we must break the hold of the personality cult that has poisoned the minds of so many, so much so that they ignore all signs of incompetence and mental illness in their leader. It remains to be seen whether the death and illness caused by this virus will suffice to loosen the bonds of this confederacy of dunces.

Existential Threats Revisited

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Back in 2018, I wrote about existential threats to humanity, or at least to the way of life we have enjoyed. In that post Where the Wild Threats Are , I highlighted seven threats that face humanity. Two of those threats are very germane to the current situation in which we find ourselves. I expanded them into separate posts that I wish to revisit now. They are The Bugs We Fear and the Rise of Willful Ignorance .

In The Bugs We Fear, it covered the overuse of antibiotics leading to reduced effectiveness of those critical medicines, and the increase in viral diseases that we may be prone to. Additionally, the post talked about the increased resistance to vaccinations from those who fear the vaccine more than they fear the disease. Even now, when the entire world is straining to develop an effective vaccine against COVID-19, you see more and more people suggesting that the whole purpose of this virus was to enable the evil globalists to activate their diabolical plots to depopulate the world, and enable a need for a new vaccine that would incorporate the “Mark of the Beast” via nanobots, or some other advanced technology. Once the vaccine is in place, all of us will be mandated to show our proof of vaccination or infection, or else we will not be allowed to participate in society. It is disgusting to see this entire episode of a global pandemic decried as a deliberate attempt to subjugate the world’s population and institute a one-world government, but that is exactly what many people are claiming at this time.

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Which brings me to the second post that is appropriate to revisit. The Rise of Willful Ignorance discusses the attitude of dismissal towards experts and anyone who dares to show expertise. Unfortunately, the actions of the US administration towards the oncoming pandemic showed how this attitude can result in orders of magnitude more collateral damage than if we had heeded the warnings of experts and actually taken effective action before it was too late. Since science presents a reality that cannot be bullied into submission by a personality cult, it has been the scientists at the Federal agencies who have had to deal with the petulance of the leader of this nation. And then when the leader ponders aloud totally ignorant ideas like using oxidizers or disinfectants internally, prompting spikes in calls to state poison control hotlines, it only shows how deeply the willful ignorance runs in this administration. Because the appearance of a disruptive pandemic would wreak havoc in the crowning glory of this administration (the best economy EVER!), the pandemic had to be hushed up. Until the actual rates of infection grew too large to ignore, that is what our leader tried to do. He tried to willfully ignore the existence of this inconvenient new truth. In a pandemic, days matter. The weeksand months that were lost in denial have borne fruit in the enormous number of infections we’ve suffered.

Existential threats are just that. They provide a threat to our very existence, or to the foundations of our society. When you combine two of them as this crisis has done, it becomes a perfect storm and the strings that have held together our society are becoming unraveled. Now we are conducting a gigantic experiment upon ourselves. Can we end up relaxing our mitigation efforts before we have the tools to quickly determine the infection status of all individuals? If we do, and the virus asserts its preeminence over humanity again by successive tsunamis of infection, then the damage done to our economy will be magnified several fold. And the original tolls of hundreds of thousands dead in this country will come true. It was only through the extreme measures we’ve taken that has caused the predictions of the number of dead to be reduced. I fear the unbridled rush towards reopening the economy will result in secondary outbreaks of the virus, and this time, we will not have the will or means to combat it. We’re already in a weakened state from the first onslaught.

May we hope to gain wisdom from our struggles against this horrible disease. And imagine how we would fare against an even more potent microbial adversary, like the ones that used to sweep over civilizations and reorder human relations and economies for decades. The economy we’ve built is too fragile to sustain many more attacks. We will all learn what is to follow in the viral aftermath.

 

July 2023 – A Possible Future

earthquake Though many things had slowed down in the past three years, the media onslaught did not. The news continued to assail its consumers, though now it teemed with stories about the Navy forcibly turning back Chinese relief supplies from reaching earthquake-stricken California. Stories ran about the ongoing fallout crossing the Pacific from North Korea, where huge areas still smoldered after the retribution for the squib nuke that landed near Seattle.

The round-up of dissenters continued apace in much of the rest of the US. Those who failed to consent to making a public profession of support to the Great Leader, awaited the knock on the door, often in the middle of the night. Many who had never seen the need for a gun, were scrambling to procure any kind of protection against the onslaught of supposedly legitimate law enforcement, and the masses of supporters in red hats who believed anyone not in complete agreement with them, was sub-human and deserving of torment and death. It was no longer a matter of winning the next election to reverse the direction of the country, it was a recognition that there would be no next election, that the current regime was instituting a measure of hereditary succession, thus ensuring that only the reality desired by the Trumpistas became the actual reality.

Still, the true realities of the economy occasionally stirred above the shouting of the party in power. Auto manufacture in the US never recovered from the supply chain disruption wrought by the original coronavirus outbreak. Indeed, the degree of economic international interdependence developed over the past few decades, became unraveled at breathtaking speed once it proved impossible to rely upon just-in-time inventory methods. Yet it was proving impossible to reconstruct the same supply chains domestically since no US based company had the resources to build the network of suppliers within this country. But the exhortations from the regime continued, and Potemkin factories were proudly displayed as being the answer for all to see.

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It was the huge quake striking California that really proved to be the death knell for the economy, and the country, to a large respect. The verbal warfare that had been waged between California government, and the Federal government, went hot immediately afterwards. An Executive Order implemented a travel ban into and out of the State of California. The POTUS declared that since they didn’t buy into his administration’s efforts, they could just recover from this disaster themselves. Pictures of the devastation flowed out despite the efforts of the administration to embargo even the knowledge of the extent of the death and damage. The worst came when international efforts to provide succor were turned back by the vessels of the Navy, firing upon the Chinese vessels. Small sailing vessels began to emerge from the coastline and headed both north to Oregon, and south to the Baja as desperate people tried to extricate themselves from the humanitarian disaster.

In Washington, one would never know of the extent of the disaster. All members of Congress had either professed allegiance in huge public ceremonies, or they were summarily dismissed and replaced directly by the President, using the façade of requesting suggestions from the Republicans of each state. The bureaucracy lumbered on, dissension crushed within its ranks. Still, all of the power, and thus the money, flowed through the government. The swamp grew larger and larger, its fetid maw swallowing all of the offerings proffered by the rest of the nation.

The rest of the world wept. Wept for those in California who were trying to recover from their natural disaster. Wept for those in North Korea who were killed in the initial deployment of nuclear weapons. Wept for those in both Korea’s whose lives would be forever altered due to the fall-out. But maybe most of all, wept for the country that used to be the symbol of freedom around the world, now irreversibly turned to the dark side and held under the sway of one man who believed himself better than God.

Thomas Beckett and Donald Trump

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“Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” This statement, changed slightly over the centuries, was attributed to King Henry II of England in 1170 A.D. While not explicitly ordering someone to go out and murder the Archbishop of Canterbury, that indirect request caused four knights to travel to the cathedral where they murdered Thomas Beckett. It is perhaps the most famous example where actions were brought about due to the statements of a powerful man. Yet no one could hold the King as being directly responsible for the death. After all, he did not order anyone to commit the act. Still, the statement of this monarch was directly responsible for blood to be spilled.

Over the history of civilized man, the desires of the monarch have been put into action by those who wish to curry favor with those who hold power. It has been an implicit meme in our society, made resonant with all of the portrayals of the mafia kingpin whose utterances of a desire are carried out in deadly spays of lead. Yet the kingpin could claim clean hands, since his hand did not touch the gun that applied the fatal touch.

So now, with the current administration, we have a President who excels in indirect commands. You will not find his fingerprints on a decree requiring the Ukraine to publicly announce the commencement of investigations into allegations of malfeasance by those who wished the Don ill back in 2016. You will not find his voice recording explicitly stating that if the Don heard the dulcet magic phrases referring to the commencement of investigations, the Don could make life for Ukraine so much better. No, in the manner of those Mafia Dons of the past, this Donald made his wishes known by indirection. And since he did not explicitly state his must-haves, he could proclaim that his conversations were “perfect”, and that he had done nothing wrong.

So thoroughly have his sycophants adjusted to life under the sway of this man, they race to face cameras where they chant the magic phrases of “no quid pro quo, conversation was perfect, nothing to see here, move along.” The division of the country along party lines continues, and within the chamber that will serve as jurors, no one expects enough defections to result in the removal of the charlatan occupying the office of the Presidency. The sole question is whether enough Republicans will vote to convict to result in a bare majority of Senators agreeing that the egregious acts of this President deserve the ultimate constitutional rebuke. The entire nation will get to see the leader of the Supreme Court serve in a constitutionally-proscribed role as the Chief Justice. And we will get to see whether anyone even gives a crap about what is being discussed before them.

The one statement that Donald Trump made back in 2016, that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not lose any of his supporters, still rings true. Seeing all of his adoring throngs at yet another of his campaign rallies, watching interviews of these supporters either crying at the thought of the unfairness of Donald’s persecution, or wax indignant about the unfairness of the process of impeachment, gives a glimpse into the mindset of those who still believe that this President is working on their behalf.

I never believed, as I grew up and learned about US history in school, that I would ever see an administration simultaneously so completely incompetent and corrupt. To those who believe that the unraveling of the decades of regulation is good, it is my sincere wish that you get to enjoy the fruits of environmental degradation in the years to come. I took part in the very first Earth Day. As I recall, we went around alleys in our city of Lincoln and helped to clean some stuff up. But that was back when Lake Erie was a dying, fetid pool of water. That was when a feeder stream to Lake Erie had enough hydrocarbons on its surface to burn. That was barely 20 years since deadly smog enveloped a town along the Monangahela river. My father-in-law was going to college only a few miles away from that environmental disaster. I was proud that through the combination of technology and regulation, we’ve been able to get to the point where the air and water in this nation are much cleaner than they were. But this President and this administration obviously views all environmental laws as an unjustified taking from the businesses which would flower once again if only they were freed from the dictates of Washington.

It has been said by those who apologize for this President’s behavior, that we must judge this President by what he has done rather than by what he says. So, with that in mind, let me recite a few of the accomplishments of this administration.

  • Abandoned diplomacy by leaving many positions in the State Department unfilled, and denigrating many remaining employees as not being sufficiently faithful to the President.
  • Appointing many to Federal judgeships who were either designated as being unqualified, or appointing those whose positions lie at the extreme of the conservative spectrum.
  • Abandonment of scientific principles by pulling out of international agreements aimed at solving environmental problems.
  • Allowing meat processors to undergo self-inspection, with the role of Federal inspectors reduced to oversight, thus unleashing future disease outbreaks in the consuming public.
  • Implementing simplistic and incapable policies to control immigration and asylum on the southern border, resulting in the imprisonment of families and enforced separation of family members, with no plans to enable these families to reunite.
  • Undergoing naive diplomatic efforts (since we obviously don’t need diplomats) thus worsening the situation in both Iran and North Korea.
  • Ensuring that those who were defrauded by for-profit educational institutions remain on the hook for the funds borrowed for their bogus education.

I could go on reciting the wonderful accomplishments of this administration, but at this time I do not see the point. For each of the points I list, there are some who say, yes, that is exactly what I wanted our Federal government to do. I wanted it to get out of the way of business and for us to reduce our involvement with international agencies. All I can say is that I hope those people enjoy their salmonella-enhanced diet, while former allies abandon us in future disputes, and while North Korea spreads its nuclear tentacles over the Pacific Ocean. And while the enhanced fires burn across our country, spreading smoke and dust into the lungs of hundreds of millions, those same people can dip their toes in the flooding along our eastern coastal cities that now occurs in synch with the lunar cycle. Maybe a little salt water intrusion will let them know that they indeed made the correct choice back in 2016.

 

Holding the Centre

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Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

W. B. Yeats wrote this in a poem 100 years ago today. His was the generation that fought, slogged, and bled through WWI. Yet the prescience of his words shine today like gems glittering on a crown crushed underneath the treads of some mechanized machine. Those who believe the world is not under the sway of evil forces and conspiracy theories are pushed aside in the public space by those who are convinced of the existence and omnipotent control of these malevolent actors. Those who are on the fringes of belief in this world are the most strident in proclaiming their thoughts, especially with the tools of the internet aiding and abetting their efforts.

Their efforts did succeed in the election of the current president of the US. He has since then worked to both confirm and fulfill the conspiracy theory beliefs. Most of the time this has caused significant damage to the world order. The one effort capable of causing the most permanent damage has been the unraveling of the international order. The institutions put in place by the US leadership in the post-war environment have undoubtedly cost much for the taxpayers of this nation. Yet the costs saved by not having destruction brought to our shores, were worth orders of magnitude more than what we had paid.

Today though, we face the hard truth that our position of privilege in the world order is at risk. Because of the misguided beliefs of the current President, his administration has systematically applied a sledgehammer to the institutions and relationships forming the foundation of the international order. Trade deficits with a country? They’re cheating us. Tack on tariffs. Self-defense organization? Show me the money from the participants. They’re cheating us, freeloading off of our hard-working taxpayers. A people fighting alongside of our troops, working to maintain a safe haven amidst a series of nations bent on eliminating their presence? They didn’t fight with us at Normandy. Therefore it is perfectly fine to abandon them to the mercies of yet another despot found in Ankara.

As we climb out of the rubble-strewn remains of the international order after this President has completed his reign, we will have the difficult task of reconstructing the structures torn down as an act of vanity. One can only hope that the shards of the political system in this country will realize that there actually are things more important than party. There are truly existential crises we face, and if we keep punting them down the field, one day we will find that we’ve run out of room to kick. Reality will attack us, the laws of physics will strike, and we will find ourselves defenseless against the onslaught we’ve brought onto ourselves. One can only hope that the world can begin to rectify the problems we face without resorting to using our most destructive weaponry, because then we will really see what rubble looks like.

Like it or not, we have to act communally as a species. We do not have the luxury of being able to pretend we are an island unto ourselves, able to withdraw into our turtle shell and avoid uncomfortable interactions with those heathens living outside of our borders. Technology and population growth have conspired to ensure that we must face our problems together rather than as separate cells.

In the past 60 years, we’ve gained a perspective on our place in the universe. Photos from space have shown our planet is just a cosmic speck, and we are truly alone in our region of space. We’ve also gained the technology to show that though we can identify hundreds of exoplanets beyond our solar system, not one has shown itself to be capable of sustaining the type of life we take for granted. We should have gained the wisdom to realize we have to fix our problems by ourselves, since there will not be help provided from afar if we muck things up too badly on our planet. But rather than generating a movement to foster common action, we seem to be splintering into self-interested corners of our globe and putting up barriers against “others”.

Damn it, we must look beyond the shallow appeal of ethno-nationalism and race-baiting. We must realize we are unique, and special, and humanity has much more in common than we differ. Let’s throw off the shackles we keep trying to apply to ourselves, limiting our vision and reach. Let’s work together to make this a truly wonderful planet, where all groups can work to achieve great things. Will it be easy? No, especially since the politics of opportunism seem to be replaying the events of the 1930’s. But what we must all realize is that shared sacrifice is better than running headlong into a wall of warfare. The culture of Ayn Rand inspired greed has infected the US and the Republican party over the past few decades, and there is less appetite for communal action. It is now past time to reverse this trend.

A study of history (I know, that discredited tool of the elites) shows societies almost never fail by being taken over from without. Overthrow happens when there is a significant underclass that develops in a nation that does not share in the benefits of the society. The underclass eventually seizes control through normally bloody means. The recent elections showed the stirring under the surface that such an underclass is forming and will not put up with their continued neglect. Having elected one president who pandered to this underclass, but has not delivered on his economic promises despite his protestations about it being the best economy ever, they are likely to reach out for unreasonable hopes on the left side of the political spectrum. It is the center, where practical solutions to real problems exist, which will be pushed aside as ever more desperate hopes are expressed on both sides of the political spectrum. The energy on the right will reach out to engage the energy on the left, and those in the middle will be caught without their own hope of escape of the carnage unleashed upon society.

 

The Silence of Sounds

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Hello darkness, my old friend

I’ve come to talk with you again

We’ve entered the darkness once again. The darkness of Mordor sprawls across the landscape, pouring out of its source in the now-fouled house of White.

Because a vision softly creeping

Left its seeds while I was sleeping

The vision that has crept across this nation over the last few years is the stale vision of white superiority, the failed belief that European civilization is superior to any other version found across the globe. The seeds have found fertile ground and have sprouted.

And the vision that was planted in my brain

Still remains

Within the sound of silence

The visions I have seen over the last few years can never be unseen. Children crying as they are separated from their family by a government that cared so little for them that they could not set up a system to eventually reunite parents with children. Humans crowded into chain-link cages. Lit tiki torches marching along Charlottesville streets, eliciting the famous “Good people on both sides” quote. And still the silence remains deafening from the Republican members of Congress.

In restless dreams I walked alone

Narrow streets of cobblestone

As in a trance, we march. No, not alone, but en masse, thousands and thousands in protest. The energy that we all had those first days. But as time passed, the momentum has slowed, while the acts of evil continue to spew from the powers wielded by this administration. It now seems that we do march alone, if at all, trying to stem the tide.

‘Neath the halo of a street lamp

I turned my collar to the cold and damp

When my eyes were stabbed by

The flash of a neon light

That split the night

And touched the sound of silence

Every so often, something so egregious manages to break through the din of the mundane atrocities littering the landscape. It might be a joint meeting with Putin attended only by the principles and an interpreter. It might be a fawning show of sycophancy in the cabinet meeting where all pledged eternal devotion to this dour denizen of denial. It might be a report of an attempt to extort the leader of a nation into doing opponent research for his next campaign. Things so brazen, so outrageous, that I cannot but believe that this surely will break through the stone wall isolating his supporters from his true nature. But each time, I turn away disappointed as his spin control succeeds in removing the outrage from the nation’s discourse.

And in the naked light I saw

Ten thousand people, maybe more

People talking without speaking

People hearing without listening

People writing songs that voices never share

And no one dared

Disturb the sound of silence

The cacophony emanates from the television shows. One side fawns, makes every excuse for the behavior, and claims the real villainy came from those who would deny his immense electoral victory. The other side squirms, is so eager to denounce the actions that they violate their journalistic ethics and report poorly sourced stories that are eagerly denounced by his supporters. Both sides talk over the other side, and no one is convinced or persuaded to change their opinion. Now the opposition is more interested in purity tests than it is in the nuts and bolts of selecting a candidate who can take down the tyranny spreading from its center.

“Fools”, said I, “You do not know

Silence like a cancer grows

Hear my words that I might teach you

Take my arms that I might reach you”

But my words, like silent raindrops, fell

And echoed in the wells of silence

I took up the mantle of a blog shortly after the election. I shared items of science, of daily life and the changing of the seasons, and politics. Lots and lots of politics. I enjoyed especially the pieces I put out that used satire to express a point. For a long time, I was part a forum where active discussion occurred on all types of posts. I enjoyed my “minor league forum” and was a respected poster and commenter. Then, the forum disintegrated, and I fell into a bit of a posting depression. It is difficult to continue to pour out your thoughts when you get little or no feedback. I have felt that my words were indeed, echoing in the well of silence.

And the people bowed and prayed

To the neon god they made

The neon god that took over the office of the President represented all of the glitter and gloss that a celebrity could muster. Yet when all is said and done, there is no more substance there than a bunch of gas excited by an electrical current.

And the sign flashed out its warning

In the words that it was forming

And the sign said

“The words of the prophets are

Written on the subway walls

And tenement halls

 

Maybe Banksy has it right. All art is temporary, and the ephemeral nature of a painting on the side of a building is as good and as valid as any old Dutch masterwork from the Renaissance. Yet in this day of the 4-hour news cycle, where a provocation can be answered with a response and then superseded by the next outrageous announcement or act, maybe there is a place for things that have a little more substance, and stability. Maybe things like the Constitution have a place as guidelines for our body politic to do its job and not just either fawn in supplication, or wail and bemoan in protest. Maybe, just maybe, we should place duty to the nation ahead of party and take real action.

 

And whispered in the sound of silence”

Instead of Simon and Garfunkle, let’s let William Shakespeare have the last word: It is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Words to the Sound of Silence copyrighted by Paul Simon.

 

The Making of Great America

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Once upon a time, there was a great nation. This nation was great because it told itself it was great. It reckoned it had the divine right to push its boundaries from sea to shining sea, and if there happened to be a few inhabitants who already were living on the land, well, they just did not understand the divine right to be great, and they could be pushed aside. Cordoned off onto poor patches of land, stripped of their ancestral traditions of following the migratory herds, a defeated people found solace in the white man’s whiskey, and still they suffer generations later.

Of course, it was agricultural might that first defined greatness. And in one portion of the continent, that agricultural might was lashed into existence upon the backs of the workers, descendants of those who were kidnapped and stacked in ships like cordwood, hopefully to survive the trip across the Atlantic. The fortunes of Southern gentlemen and ladies depended upon the forced labor of the original black gold. When a civil war was fought, it was only with the greatest reluctance that an appeal to morality was made to place the North on the side of the liberation of the slaves. Of course, once the war was over and slavery was outlawed, the nation’s attention to the well-being of the former chattel was limited. Politics, you know. It was easier to withdraw from an occupation, and let the former slave states reenact their social order, only now under the charade of a free black population. Never mind that those free blacks were only free to rent a plot of land owned by the original aristocracy, and live in those hovels that were cobbled together. Some of these hovels I used to drive by as late as the 1970’s, still occupied by those tied to the land by economic links as sturdy as the chains worn a century before.

Yes, we were a great nation. So great that we went a gross of years from the founding of the nation, until half of the population was allowed to vote. Even today we see remains of the sentiments against women’s suffrage resurfacing. Online forums decry the liberalism represented by women’s votes, as if white males held the absolute key to logic and reason. The attitudes that poisoned the nation’s mind in the past still bubble in the nation’s consciousness, now seasoned by those who troll the internet.

Yet, as a statement echoed by Dr. Martin Luther King shows, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” For even with the sins of the past still in living memory, this nation did do great things. It built an infrastructure linking every corner of the nation. It developed technologies that gave humanity freedom to travel across the globe. It created technologies that revolutionized how humanity communicated, and controlled the natural world. And once it became apparent that the new technologies had poisoned the air and land and water, it set about to reverse the poisoning and clean the environment. Long-standing evil was dealt with by legislation, and by applying Federal forces to oppose the remains of racism across this country. You may not be able to change the hearts of humans, but you can put in place a legal structure that limits the damage that human cruelty can cause.

This nation did mobilize and oppose the fascism that engulfed multiple continents in armed conflict in the mid 20th century. We truly became united and with the assistance of those damned Russian commies, made Europe whole again and eliminated the scourge of nationalism and ethnic purity. We also were generous in supporting western Europe in its reconstruction, developing structures that even today help to keep conflict at bay. But we found we needed an enemy in order to keep our military industries vibrant and profitable. We found it in communism, a variant of socialism deemed to be an existential threat. It was necessary to build immense inventories of incendiary devices which could rain down death and destruction on a scale unprecedented in human history. We had to build them to counter the ones that they built. Humanity’s primal urge to provide security caused us to teeter upon the edge of extinction in order to satisfy all parties who worshipped at the trough of the war machine. Still, it was not enough. We had to engage our implacable adversaries in physical battles across the ocean, where the immediate stakes were unknown, but the mythology of the domino theory drove us to commit hundreds of thousands of soldiers to these front lines. And we found it useful (no, we said it was necessary) to support autocratic regimes in other sections of the world in order to prevent the spread of socialism.

We spread seeds across many different countries. The resulting crops have caused many of the problems we face today. From Iran, our support of the Shah grew a crop of religious fanatics who overthrew the existing order, and expressed their implacable enmity against us. Even today, forty years later, we cannot reconcile with the proud people of Iran due to the resentment we fomented by our support of a hated regime. In Central America, our support of those who opposed socialistic parties made it possible to counteract communism without spilling American blood. The crops that grew there though, have come to fruition in the weak regimes of the existing governments, and the growth of criminal gangs, directly resulting in a flood of migrants we struggle to contain. In Afghanistan, the band of religious fanatics we supported in the 1980’s to oppose Russian invasion, still works against us as they strive to purify their country. Everywhere you look, this nation’s acts of the past are brought back to us as the problems plaguing us in the present.

The veneer of civilization is thin. This nation is only about a week away from total chaos if our electric infrastructure is damaged. Yet our current administration believes we can and must abandon the interconnectedness of the world that offers the only hope of stitching together a global fabric of peace. It is long past the time when we could pretend that we could go it alone and maintain and yes, improve our standard of living. Yet the electorate fell for a bogus promise to return us to a state of supposed greatness in the past. And when that sentiment was released, we also released the barely buried racism and misogyny and ethnic nationalism that our veneer of civilization kept contained. Those who now call for a return to normality will be upset at how deep the damage the cult of Trump has inflicted.

There are signs of hope. Some politicians have called for sweeping change in order to address a host of interconnected problems. But since that change challenges the status quo, it is denounced and ridiculed. What is obvious is that we are in real danger of completing the bifurcation of this nation into warring camps, incapable of understanding each other, and not wanting to show any empathy for points of view other than their own. We will not become a great nation until we deal with the underlying flaws that we’ve buried over the decades. Seeing some of those flaws exposed in the past few years has been scary. This coming electoral cycle will show us which way this nation will go. May we choose the side offering hope for the future, instead of the side offering fear and division, just like we selected back in 2016.

 

The Peril of Outrage Exhaustion

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I’m afraid we are suffering from outrage exhaustion. Even when we think his inhumane policies (like family separation) were ended due to the outpouring of criticism a year ago, we now find out that the practices are still continuing due to the strict interpretation of family. Only genetic parents and their children are considered to be a family. A young child in the company of an older sibling, or an aunt or uncle or grandparent, is not considered to be part of a family, and thus is separated from the only people he or she knows. What’s worse, due to the increased influx of those seeking asylum, the facilities being used to warehouse these children are totally inadequate. And no one working in the system seems to be concerned about either the physical or mental health of these innocent victims of Trump’s war on brown people. Only when a photograph of a father and his daughter washing up dead on the shores of the Rio Grande do we see any evidence of empathy emerge.

Meanwhile, a respected magazine columnist recounts her lingerie department moment with a younger but still randy Donald. I can just hear the old elevator attendant say, “Fourth floor. Ladies intimate apparel and sexual battery. Watch your step.” We hear yet another person with incredible credibility recount the story of her debasement by a certain real estate developer back in the ’90’s. I’ve seen posts showing how 4 of the New York boroughs accounted for most of the popular vote margin nationwide for Hillary Clinton, and saying that in no way can the leftist enclave of New York City represent the will of the nation. What I see in his home city’s repudiation of its native son is the revulsion felt by the people who knew this charlatan the best. Those who lived over the stretch of decades with the headlines and antics fomented by Trump were the ones who voted by an 85% to 15% margin against him. The rest of the nation, who knew him only through his carefully crafted public persona, and aided and abetted by the culture of celebrity worship we suffer through, were taken in by this con man. So it is no wonder that one more accusation of illegal sexual contact is shrugged off by so many. For those who are and were against him, it is outrage exhaustion. For those who are with him, it is just more of that unjustified harassment and criminal persecution of the man. “Why can’t they just let him do his job?” they ask.

The problem, for those of us paying attention to his actual job performance, is that in every way we see how his incompetence, flavored with his brand of illogical beliefs and personality quirks, is unraveling the fabric of the standing of this nation in the world’s eyes. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the mess in the Persian Gulf. We were apparently minutes away from launching a significant military response after our drone was shot down, when seemingly at the last moment, it was brought to the President’s attention that a significant number of Iranians would die in the attack. He stated that he did not feel the number of casualties would be proportionate to the downing of the “unmanned” drone. But a few days later, when questioned about his plans on Iran, he exclaimed “You’re not going to need an exit strategy. I don’t need exit strategies.” We’ve known for some time that having Donald Trump in charge of our military forces could provoke an existential crisis. Now we see the evidence of his personality and lack of basic knowledge drawing us up to the precipice, only to stand down. If he continues in office, one day he won’t stand down, and we will be engaged in military conflict that could result in the release of the nuclear genie from its containment flask.

I will always remember the statement of a former member of our church choir made the week before the 2017 inauguration. He said, “At last we get to have an alpha male in charge again.” Why he said that to me, I will never know, but I quickly made him aware of how little I thought of this supposed alpha male. I’ve known alpha males, those who are able to lead by their force of personality. They were not bullies. They were not insecure, constantly seeking reinforcement by their inferiors subordinates. They could see through attempts to gain their approval through flattery. They are the antithesis of the thin-skinned, narcissistic ego-maniac running roughshod over every norm of civility we have developed over the course of human civilization.

So many followers of Donald Trump still fervently believe he is working diligently on their behalf, working behind the scenes to dismantle the deep state conspiracy exercising dominion over their pitiful existence. Any day now we will see the hordes of agents coming to arrest those who ran the child trafficking ring out of the nonexistent basement of the Comet Ping Pong pizza restaurant. Q will attain cult-like status much like Deep Throat did decades ago in Watergate. Meanwhile, one person (Jeffrey Epstein) who did use his money and influence to game the legal system and get a sweetheart deal from the Justice Department, his former prosecutor is now Secretary of Labor. When will the hordes who believe in Comet Ping Pong conspiracies turn their anger against someone who really did let one of the evil people preying on children, off the hook. Given the extreme credulity shown by many of Trump’s followers, my guess is never.

Outrage exhaustion is a dangerous condition. It means that we are growing numb to the ever-increasing instances of deviant behavior shown by this administration and those held under its cult-like influence. We should have known what we were in for when we saw the display of supreme sycophancy shown in that cabinet meeting in June of 2017. Person after person giving extreme unctuous praise to the supreme leader, who sat with his arms folded in his posture of insecurity. Since that time, it has only gotten worse. The President feels emboldened to contradict statements he made only days ago, insisting the only version of the truth that matters is what is coming out of his mouth this very minute. All evidence to the contrary, including video of him saying the opposite, is hereby decreed null and void. Yet still his adoring postulants shout hosannas of support each time he gathers them together for yet another Nuremburg-styled rally.

We must avoid outrage exhaustion. We must never let the actions and attitudes of this aberrant leader become the norm for future political discourse. We must call out the despicable nature of his intentions, and we must enunciate each example of incompetence in the execution of his policies. More than any of these though, we must present an opposing viewpoint, one that replaces fear and loathing with a desire to aspire to make the future better than the past. Only then will we have a chance to Make America Great!

Hiding In Plain Sight

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Now the evidence is in front of the world. The first response that came from the unhinged mouth of Donald Trump in response to the questioning of George Stephanopoulos reflected his true thoughts. Yes, he would accept information from a foreign source if he believed it would benefit him in his electoral quest. And his FBI director was wrong if he claimed that such activity was illegal. Even though his answer has been spun by others in his sycophantic circle as being not as bad as it appeared, and even though Donald Trump has qualified his answer with a claims that of course he would contact the FBI if approached by foreign actors, it is obvious that his first statement reflected his true belief. The laws concerning foreign interference in US elections are invalid, no one follows them, and everyone else is doing bad things. The belief system of Donald Trump was laid bare for all to see.

Except that a sizeable fraction of the US population refuses to see this. What seems to have happened is that amorality has taken hold of the American psyche, and enough people believe the ends justify the means to ensure that the abomination in office retains enough political influence to prevent his being removed from office. How is it that the party of the moral majority has become the party that accepts rampant corruption, moral depravity in its leader, and a foreign policy that is governed by how well a country is able to flatter this insatiable narcissist?

The problems that were supposed to be addressed by this President have instead grown worse and festered. Meanwhile, problems created by this President (pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal) or made worse by this administration (increased deficits in a time of relative economic strength), are sapping the strength of this nation and eliminating the willingness of the rest of the world to support our actions. Instead of increasing the respect for the US, the actions of this administration have caused our standing within the international community to be drastically weakened.

Still, a significant minority of this nation cling to the mantle of this toddler who holds the reins of power. They are still under the delusion that he is fighting for them, and cannot see the reality of his failed faux populism. Are there cracks in the façade? Perhaps. Even his stalwart broadcast partner Fox News has deigned to offer reality in their programming, providing polling results showing his trailing in the early race results. Of course, the Denier-In-Chief claims that he is leading in all of the polls in battleground states, but he doesn’t use polling very much. Still, he’ll fire his pollsters for good measure.

Well, it is far too early to place stock in the horse race aspect of the next election cycle. There will be ebbs and flows on the Democratic side, with prognosticators breathless in their analysis of whether the Democratic party is heading towards either socialist heaven, or staying smack dab in the centrist position, depending upon those all-important polling results. Unfortunately, no one seems to be addressing some of the major problems we do face as a nation. Instead of a credible plan for rebuilding our infrastructure, we will argue over the morality of college debt forgiveness. Instead of serious discussion about ways to reduce our ongoing deficits, we will only be talking about paying reparations for slavery and/or a basic income for all. Instead of discussing the crisis in the breakdown of ecological systems, we will argue over progressive ideals.

Look, I want someone to come out publicly and lay to bed the supposition that employer-provided health care is morally superior to that of government supported health insurance. I want someone to describe the existing subsidy that the tax codes provide already for employer-provided health care. The thousands of dollars already given to employees and their employers from the government due to the failure to consider insurance premiums as income, that is nearly as much of a government subsidy as are the subsidies given in the Affordable Care Act. Yet what do we have for this largess from the government? A system where the insurance middlemen serve in the role of death panels keeping recommended treatments away from the individuals who need them. A system where we pay almost twice what most other nations do in per capita expenditures and still suffer from horrendous deductibles that prevent usage of our morally superior insurance.

Yet so many of Trump’s supporters still are invested in the myth of his working for them. They cannot see the chaos of his personality cult spilling out into inchoate international interactions, where unintended actions will sooner or later result in military action. The conspiracy theory believers refuse to accept the evidence of their eyes and ears, since they stopped listening when he told them to not believe what they see from anyone except the President. The personality cult has proven effective at closing the minds of so many of the President’s followers. How can you effectively refute anything that goes against this administration when his follower’s eyes and ears are closed? I saw an interview with someone who had finally heard someone enumerate the acts of obstruction laid out in the Mueller report. She admitted to having listened to only conservative media, and had never heard any word about the report other than it exonerated the President. You just cannot reason with people who are members of a cult.

It may just take military conflict with Iran to bring home the reality that this toddler is beyond his ability, and this incompetence will cost the lives of thousands or millions of lives. When the blood flows unnecessarily, the images of bodies mangled by ordinance – on both sides – just may convince Trump’s diehard supporters that continuing their support could actually result in their dying hard.

 

If You Can’t Beat the Swamp, Join the Swamp

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The spring sun warmed me as I sat on a park bench along the tidal basin. Too early for the cherry blossoms, when these environs would become overrun with thousands of rubberneckers admiring the gift of the Japanese in a simpler age. I wondered if my friend Slimey would make an appearance, but so far he had not showed himself, and I was about to leave myself.

Before I could get up, though, a tall gentleman in an expensive suit stood before me and stopped. It was obvious that the suit had to be extensively altered to allow the huge tail purchase to stick out through the back of the pants. “Slimey” I said, as I leapt to my feet to greet my friend.

“Well met,” he said as he lurched over to sit on the end of the bench. “How do you like my new attire?” he asked.

Frankly, I was amazed. Having grown used to exchanging pleasantries with an 8-foot tall naked reptile did not make me immune from the surprise now at seeing him clothed, in a Saville Row suit. I managed to say, “You look ….. amazing. But why? And how?”

Slimey did not answer right away, but instead reached into his briefcase, where he extracted a fish filet wrapped in plastic. He shredded the plastic with a dainty swipe of his claw, then took in the tilapia whole. Licking his lips, he said “Those are so much better than the ones I used to find out there.” He extended his claw towards the basin which was still and reflected the Jefferson Memorial across the water. Smiley continued. “I finally decided that this was my one chance to better myself. With this administration, if I couldn’t fit in now, I never would. So I took a chance and submitted a resume, and, well, you can see the rest.”

“But who? Who hired you? Where are you working?” I was still taken aback by the image of my friend who had invaded my above-water world.

“What was it they said in that old movie? Follow the money? Well, I did. I’m working for a lobbying firm.”

I just had to let out a laugh. I felt comfortable enough around Smiley that I didn’t fear his razor-sharp claws. Sure enough, he joined in rather than taking offense. “I just have to ask” I said. “What did you put in your resume to make them hire you?”

Slimey seemed to actually smile as he went into his briefcase again. He pulled out a single piece of paper that he handed over to me. I began to read:

“Single cold-blooded reptile accustomed to mucking about in the mud and mire of the Tidal Basin. Experienced in mud-slinging and dragging my opponents through the mud. Native born. Willing to get dirty as needed to get the job done.” That was it. No educational references, no work experience. It was as close to a perfect resume as I had ever seen for the K Street crowd.

I said, “I can see why they would hire you based upon your credentials.

“True that,” Slimey said as he picked at some morsel caught in his teeth with a sharpened claw. “But now that I’m on the inside, I must admit, I’m a bit disappointed.”

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Well, I thought I was one cold-blooded monster. I found out they’ve got me beat six ways to Sunday. I have never seen such willingness to toss over a friend if someone else offers to pay more.” Slimey stretched his arms in his grey suit. It was as if a field of flannel had taken flight as it moved past my field of view.

“What sort of jobs does your firm do?” I asked.

Slimey tossed back his head for a minute, then lowered it and answered. “Right now, I’m involved in trying to deregulate the entire meat industry. We believe it is only right for the meat producers to be the sole judge and jury as to whether their product is wholesome and fit for consumption.”

Wow! Not only had he adopted the attire of K Street, he had internalized the arguments so that he now could recite the company line verbatim. I had to respond. “Don’t you think there is any role for government oversight over such operations? I mean, isn’t history replete with examples of meat packers who skirted the rules and caused all sorts of illnesses? And aren’t the meat packers the biggest sources of worker injuries?”

Slimey was ready for me. “This is where I am so perfectly placed to serve my clients. You see, I can take the worst of their slop that comes out of their plants. It can have salmonella, it can have listeria, it does not matter. I can eat that stuff raw and clearly demonstrate that there is no adverse impact to consume their product. Actually, it tastes a lot better once it is sitting out in the hot sun for a few hours.”

He paused for a moment. “It is true that there are a lot of worker injuries in the field. And you might have noticed that these plants seem to attract a lot of alien workers. Well, my clients are working on ways to reduce both of these problems.”

Slimey reached into his briefcase for a heavily-laminated sheet. Before he showed it to me, he swore me to secrecy. “You must not reveal what I’m about to show you. You could take this information and make a bet on the stock market and make a fortune. It’s that good.”

“All right, I swear that I will not reveal this to anyone. I don’t have enough money to even make a bet on Wall Street anyway.” I used my finger to cross my heart.

Slimey turned the sheet over, and I saw the meat packing plant of the near future. At the front was a robot that killed the animal entering the facility by slicing off its head with a laser. The decapitated corpse tumbled onto the line, where another robot hoisted it up and hung it on a hook, dripping blood onto the floor. From that point on, pictures revealed a totally automated process, where what came in was a living being, and what left was packaged meat products, along with various offal offerings for non-human consumption. Plus a lot of skin ready to turn into leather. I was truly impressed.

Slimey was watching my reaction closely. Finally he asked, “What do you think? You get rid of the people, you get rid of the problems.”

I realized where this discussion was heading, and even though I felt uncomfortable asking, I had to. “What’s to prevent this type of facility to be used against people?”

Slimey paused for a moment, apparently intent on a piece of tilapia caught back in one of his molars. Then he turned his ponderous girth towards me, and smiled that reptilian grin that showed no true emotion. “You can’t fight progress,” he said.

I sat there, dumbfounded. My friend was now part of the deep state whose true purpose was to lead to the depopulation of the entire world. But, being the pragmatist I am, I said to Slimey, “If I were to make a wager on the future I’ve seen, how would I make that bet?”

Slimey slowly blinked one eye, slipped me a business card, and left.