Two Steps Forward, One Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

War on Crime – We All Are Victims

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make West Virginia Great Again!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alternative Reality? Sure, Got Some Right Here

Photo from Dan Rainville, USA Today Network

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Do We Go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Now Or Never

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

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

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

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

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

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

But at least we won’t have socialism!

And If Elected, I Promise To ….

My career choices have expanded exponentially. All I have to do now is lie unashamedly and the future is mine as a Republican elected official. It is amazing, you don’t even need to worry about those videos showing your deeds and words, all you need to do is, say, recast those events into more flattering versions of the truth. And to be sure, your version of the truth has just as much merit as any other version that just happens to be backed by video and audio.

So instead of acknowledging the medieval violence perpetrated by those in the vanguard of the storming of the Capitol on January 6, you can portray those inside of the Capitol building as normal tourists, even managing to draw (stay) inside of the lines as they took selfies desecrating congressional spaces. Why, it is impossible for white citizens to have evil intent. We all know it is those others from BLM and Antifa who were the real terrorists. Those Proud Boys and those 3 Percenters? Just patriotic tourists who happened along and shared hugs and kisses with the Capitol police.

If those mean ole Democrats propose any changes to the taxation structure of this country, thereby risking reversal of 40 years of pandering to the rich? Just portray them as unrepentant socialists, who are working at implementing redistributionist policies, taking money away from the hard relaxing billionaires whose spending keeps so many of the little people employed.

If businesses have difficulty hiring people at starvation wages, expound ceaselessly on the dignity of work, and state that America has lost its work ethic. Never worry about the lives of those who have risked their existence by working during this pandemic, just define those who are using what little power they have (their labor) as morally corrupt for not wanting to exchange an hour’s work for 8 federal reserve notes. Of course, we who hold millions of those federal reserve notes have proven our moral integrity and should never be chastised.

Yes, I can lie with the best of them. I can claim no one has ever seen this virus everyone is scared of, and all of the hospitalizations are just efforts at getting the highest reimbursements from our socialized medicine providers. I can claim that since the advice from the scientists has changed from what was given 18 months ago, then all advice from scientists should be ignored, and my anecdotal evidence about efficacy of horse dewormer out trumps your peer reviewed massive trials. I have my rights and you are not about to infringe on them by pansy-assed pleas to consider the public good.

I can even lie about what is going on all around us. Sure, we never used to have these massive fires in Australia, Greece, Portugal, and the US west coast. But it cannot have any relationship to the increase in temperatures we’ve seen across the globe. And those flooding rains we seem prone to now? Has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that higher dew points induced from a warmer climate allows for higher rainfalls. But God would never allow for his infallible creatures to be capable of inflicting harm to the environment. Therefore, all who worry about the coming climate crisis can just go on with their lives (and the campaign contributions of the vested interests keep on rolling in).

I will have to work on my ability to cry crocodile tears at the opposing political party for insisting that we take responsibility for our actions in the past at increasing the deficit. Just as long as I can feign concern for our debt when I didn’t care about increasing deficits as long as the favored classes made out from our tax cuts. I’m not really good at naked hypocrisy, so my acting skills need a little brushing up before I can stand in front of cameras and wail about the reckless spending taking us over Niagara Falls without even a barrel to shield us from the rocks below.

I can if I wish start at the state level. I can say that I’m going to change human nature, and eliminate all rapists from the streets while I prohibit any possibility of abortions. I can insist that all who inhabit our penal systems are deserving of every bad thing they get, and once someone has made a mistake, they forfeit all rights forevermore. I don’t care about offering any rehabilitation programs in prisons, all those who find themselves there are unworthy of anything other than white bread and bologna sandwiches. Bring back Joe Arpaio! He had the right ideas.

Of course, only those who see things the way I do deserve to be placed in positions of public trust. Therefore, I must manipulate the electoral system so that only I and my fellow travelers can win elections from now on. I must pick any remnant of the liberals from my clothing in disgust, so I can remain pure and unblemished.

I can hardly wait. The next election cycle is upon us, so I must hurry so I can establish myself in the minds of those we allow to vote.

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.

So We Fight To Keep The Dream Alive

Fire hoses in Birmingham in 1960’s

Critical Race Theory. Three words that strike dread into the hearts of many who believe this theory is being forced upon their innocent children, and makes the children feel bad. Of course, most of those who protest CRT wouldn’t know it if it struck them alongside their head like a 2×4. Instead, what we have is a noisy bunch of naysayers who have been driven to protest by what has been said on their various media sources. There CRT is mischaracterized so much that any attempt at presenting a contrary view to the lily-white version of American history is seen as communistic influence aimed at making Americans feel guilty toward the inherent racism of our society.

When will we ever get to the place where we can accept that multiple versions of the truth can exist simultaneously? Sure, the settling of the American Midwest involved much sacrifice by those who tried to eke out an existence for their families on soil they had to tame themselves. But at the same time, it is a fact that this land was occupied for thousands of years before white settlers broke the soil with their plows. The conquest of the indigenous peoples of North America enabled the white settlers to take over the lands and only have to fight nature instead of the previous residents. Sure, we gave Indians great reservations, and set up residential schools for the young (where the indigenous culture was carefully extinguished). Is it any wonder that today, reservations are where you find the most entrenched poverty, along with a plethora of substance abuse problems?

When it comes to the ongoing story of Black Americans, the story keeps getting stranger and stranger. Apparently since we elected a half-African as President, all of the racism in our society magically left and we now are in a post-racial society. Or, at least, that is the bromide Fox viewers keep telling themselves. What is not acknowledged is the social rebound coming from Barack Obama’s election exceeded the push to put him in office. Once he was there, the antipathy towards his policies was not only tinged with racism, racism became the sole motivating force. Using the example of the Affordable Care Act, something that was modeled after a Republican’s approach, immediately became anathema. The requirement to pay a tax penalty if you were uninsured was viewed as onerous and tyrannical. Underlying everything was the unstated fact that this was a program developed by a Black, and therefore must be opposed with every ounce of effort. We tried to link the opposition back to our founding fathers, by calling these racists “Tea Partiers”, as if they would be washed clean by the waters of Boston Harbor through this alliance.

When the rebound resulted in the election of Donald Trump, the unspoken part often became overtly spoken. Like in the response to the death in Charlottesville, where a moral equivalence was drawn between those protesting the racism, and those who emulated a torch march from the 1930’s and who felt morally justified in using their macho car as a lethal weapon. It took the events of 2020 to really show how far these purveyors of white pride would go to maintain their power. Antifa, that paragon of anarchy, became the boogeyman for the right, and their non-existent organization was decried time and time again. Meanwhile, those who instituted real violence on January 6 were coddled since white Americans could never be a danger, even when they used mountaineering tactics to scale walls, and mob techniques to overrun police lines. Of course, it was obvious that the Antifa provocateurs were behind all of this. Everyone who entered the Capital building were peaceful tourists who would never have caused damage or defecated in the hallway.

I am old enough to remember the television news showing the fire hoses and police dogs turned on those who demanded their right to vote. The fact that we have to revisit those scenes nearly 60 years later in response to Republican malfeasance in state legislatures is horrendous. The fact that my Senator from West Virginia believes in a non-existent comity among the Senators is worth more than moving legislation along to address voting discrimination is very disappointing. And the fact that so many folks wish to return us to a previous state of Great where it was ok to subjugate anyone who didn’t fulfill the Aryan ideal is worse than disappointing, it is disgusting.

I am an example of how demography is not destiny. I am a Caucasian retired chemical engineer, who spent his entire career in a manufacturing industry. I grew up in Nebraska, and now have lived in West Virginia for more than half of my life. If anyone should identify with the Fox news archetype for my political beliefs, it is me. But I grew up detesting the evil exposed on that television screen. And I am now exasperated at how we are having to fight the battles of the 1960’s over and over again, only this time with the added burden of those who refuse to recognize the true common enemy of the virus. I hope we have enough strength to repudiate those who select evil over humanity and actually work to build a society where all can share in the great wealth we generate in this country. There are ways we can do that and encourage work and thrift and all of those virtues supposedly embodied in that mythical time when America was Great.

American Taliban? You Decide

It’s an ill wind that blows from outside. The wind that brings disease and death to those it encounters who are not armed against it. The wind that causes schisms within towns and families, as it dismantles inhibitions for those who adamantly believe in the other side’s evil. The wind emanating from the new phenomena of the internet, with its ability to connect huge crowds only to give them faulty information to share among the most rabid.

In the end, the wind comes from ourselves. We are the ones who keep the falsehoods and lies alive through our incessant need to be proven right. We are the ones who end up yelling at each other as we encounter those who won’t follow our correct protocol. Look, I received much scientific and mathematical training during my years of schooling. I know which side of the faith / science divide I land on. It is certainly not the side of those who expound their faith that natural immunity given by God will protect them from this virus they don’t even believe exists.  It is on the side of those who believe God gave man the intelligence to assert dominion over even the lowliest near-life forms we share the planet with.

But it is a reality that the other belief system does exist, and those who adhere to this belief system cannot see the virtues of the opposing arguments. In fact, many of those people believe that the vaccine is a tool for mass depopulation by the evil ones who are inspired by Satan. It is evil these people believe they are facing down as they encounter those who favor public health measures.

In a way, it is like the belief systems exhibited by the Taliban, as they re-impose their will upon a people resistant to their beliefs. They know they are right, and if the entire rest of the world disagrees with them, they know their heavenly reward is guaranteed through their actions. At some point, folks who have a rational bone in their body would realize the rest of the world might just be right, not those few who yell the loudest and grab the most attention.

So the difficulty with defeating the viewpoints of those who deny both the virus and the vaccine is similar to changing the minds of those who adhere to the beliefs of the Taliban. Both are utterly convinced they are the only ones who are right, and they will ignore all contrary evidence in front of their faces. Thus we have the local politician who attends an anti-vaccination rally mere days after the death of his wife from COVID. Thus we have the fanatics in Afghanistan enforcing their version of Sharia law while the society they conquered falls apart around them.

Maybe we need to call the anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers the American Taliban, since they seem to exhibit the intolerance of the Afganistanian group. Both groups wish to take society back in time, to where there is no need to acknowledge anything other than the magnificence of God. It is God who governs all actions, and vaccines subvert God’s will in that they prevent God from culling those who should be culled.

In my previous writings, I discussed various existential threats facing human civilization. One of those is the rise of Willful Ignorance. As I look back at this piece of writing now three years old, it is amazing how many of those threats we are facing right now. Certainly we have seen how vulnerable we are to the risk of infectious diseases. A plague that kills only 1% of those it infects is capable of grinding economic activity to a halt. Add to that the growth of Tribalism and Denialism, and you can understand the reaction of many governments to the pandemic. After all, in their opinion, the plague is caused by outsiders, not by true citizens. And then add willful ignorance to the brace of problems we face. What I did not anticipate was the pride that those who are willfully ignorant take in their ignorance. There was no way I could expect a group of people to self-identify who wear their maskless faces as badges of honor, and view anyone who exercises caution by wearing a mask as threats and cowards.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to live in a developed country do not realize the gifts we have been given. We live lives unimaginable to the vast majority of humanity through the millennia who never could enjoy adequate (or excessive) food, comfortable living quarters, personal transportation at our beck and call, treatment for most acute diseases, and instant world-wide communication available in our hands. Many in our world today would trade places in an instant themselves, and to see our civilization ripped asunder by those who refuse to take advantage of yet another of mankind’s advances, a new vaccine therapy, leaves many throughout the world wondering about the sanity of the inhabitants of the US. Count me in their number. I too question the sanity of those who insist upon taking horse de-wormer as a way of treating this disease that in their opinion is supposedly no worse than the flu.

In the end, we will either wear down this virus through mass exposure of the population, or through sufficient vaccination to cause it to seek new vulnerable hosts in vain. Letting the virus course through the population invites still more death and disability. It also enables new variants to develop and sooner or later, one will come about that laughs at our previous vaccines while ripping through the population at a pace that even the most fervent deniers will be unable to reject the evidence of their eyes. When human powered carts roll through our streets, with someone calling out to “Bring Out Your Dead”, then maybe those who have pooh-poohed this virus will finally admit we have something to be worried about. But by then, it may be too late for this civilization to fix the problem, and our descendants will find themselves living lives much like peasants in medieval times. Only with cell phones.