Exceptional? I Think Not!

Once upon a time, there was a country that was exceptional. It was exceptional in all things, according to its politicians. And thus there could be no discussion of any way in which it did not achieve exceptional status, either in the past or in the present. To do so would be signing your own death warrant as a politician.

At one time, the statement was true. Immense common sacrifice made the contribution of this nation possible in the early 1940’s, allowing it to emerge from the second world war with its production capacity intact, and its people supercharged through education as they returned to this nation after their overseas tours of duty. But in the decades following this common experience, more and more of the people came to expect fealty from other nations as our due, since we were so exceptional once.

So now we find it impossible to demand common sacrifice. Indeed, we abhor the concept of sacrifice, and expect all our desires to be fulfilled in real time with no delays, and at the lowest cost possible. So now, when confronted by nature and the vagaries of the natural world, we expect scientists to have the final answer to the pandemic as soon as it emerges. Once the scientists admit doubt, or change their story based upon new learnings, the scientists become an object of scorn and ridicule. Why listen to them when we have our politicians telling us we don’t need to sacrifice in order to defeat a measly virus.

Of course, all of the supply chains constructed over decades which required continuous operation of each piece integrated with its downstream steps, became disrupted once any piece of the chain failed to deliver its cargo in a timely manner. Thus we found ourselves facing shortages, and increase in prices. But that would imply sacrifice! We cannot have that! We want it, and we want it now. In many ways, we are behaving like our cats who have no concept of patience. Here is the cat haiku:

Feed me, feed me now.

Feed me, feed me, feed me now.

Why are you so slow?

So we blame the current generation of politicians in charge, forgetting how abysmal the previous generation was. Since we now face shortages, heads must roll. Indeed, we must put the previous party back in power, and forget about the disastrous administration of the past. We must be an exceptional people, since we retain no memory of the past.

And now it is a necessity to prevent the youth of today from having any chance to learn about mistakes of the past. No, the only need is to call up the mythology of John Wayne to learn about the settling of the west. And of course, since we elected our first non-Caucasian president, we no longer have to deal with the sins of racism. All that is past. Never mind that the political and economic structures of this nation still reflect the infection of racism coursing through our bloodstreams.

Of course, we smile as we witness the fulfillment of our desires coming to pass. All concepts of sexual equality go by the wayside as we ponder a future without any opportunity for abortion. And we smile as we see the logical completion of the effort to liberate guns as yet another young man finds his fulfillment in using his newly acquired weapons of war to take the lives of so many innocent children.

Exceptional! We cling to our exceptional status even though the world has passed us by in so many ways. We are repelled by someone not of this nation, trying to get one of the members of the US Senate to even admit we might not be exceptional in the light of the most recent school shootings. To think that anyone could conceive of the idea we in this nation are not exceptional causes our politicians to blame it all on liberal bias. Thus we decry the violence while refusing to attack any of the causes, since, you know, no solution proposed would stop all gun violence. We must insist that the pursuit of perfection negates any possibility of incremental improvement, since this would imply someone must sacrifice.

So we wallow in an imagined period of time where we were great. The imagery evoked by this slogan bring us back to the white picket fences of US suburbia, where the women knew their place, all minorities were placid and pleased with their shards of prosperity, and our nation was feared by all evil doers in the world. To imply that the world has moved beyond the shallowness of that dream is to call into question the authority our would-be leaders call upon, as they try once more to rule us all.

Clinging to the shattered remnants of the ship of prosperity, we refuse the idea of life preservers. Insisting we are more moral since we tie health care to a certain class of employment, instead of acknowledging basic health care is a human right. Reliant upon yet another poorly decided lawsuit (Heller), we refuse to adopt any legislation placing limits on weapon procurement, since someone would need to sacrifice by having their rights infringed. Allowing our primary entitlement programs to run out of money, since any solution will result in some sort of sacrifice. All of this in the name of retaining our exceptionalism, except that more and more, we can see the holes growing in our sails, threatening our ability to navigate the shoals of the sea of life. But I predict, even when our ship of state is sinking, there will be those who will cry loudly, has anyone sunk in such an exceptional manner?

Epitaph

Cover of In The Court Of The Crimson King. Art by Barry Godber

Confusion will be my epitaph. These words, written by Peter Sinfield, and found on King Crimson’s first album, perfectly sums up 21st Century life. All we had believed in the past is now wiped away as society changes around us.

Women being able to govern their own bodies? Sorry, that is now obsolete. It is necessary for the State to coerce women to have children with no options for surgical solutions. See, it is all about saving the life of the unborn. Of course, coming up with solutions to enable         women to combine a working life with a family life is beyond the capacity of any politician, so undoubtedly the result of restrictive abortion laws will be more child abuse, more child poverty, and an increase in those who violate the law coming down the pike in about 16 years.

Confusion will be my epitaph. I believed it impossible for politicians to repudiate their own words caught on tape. That was before the current generation of politicians found it possible to disown their own statements of the recent past. Same holds for commentators on cable news shows who preen to the camera with unparalleled ability to regurgitate positions completely in opposition to what they said a few days or weeks ago. All in order to chase elusive voters or viewers, depending on which profession they practice. In all of these cases, their disdain for the public is palpable, since they believe only their current utterances represent their beliefs. Anything they said in the past is no longer germane, or even rational, and they definitely should not be held responsible for any past comments. And if anyone took their words seriously, and acted on them? Well, the politicians and commentators didn’t actually pull the trigger, so linking their words, and the actions of others is not fair.

I had a faith that the increased ties of commerce would assist in consigning international war to the trash heap of history. That faith was shattered with the invasion of Ukraine. So we are now to believe only in the force of arms which enables those with power to impose their will through the miracle of explosives. We may marvel in the ability of the people of a country to resist overwhelming odds, in order to retain their freedom. Maybe too many of us who marvel, no longer have beliefs we would die for. And no, wearing a surgical mask is not tyranny. An invading army consisting of soldiers who have no compunction against killing civilians is true tyranny.

 Confusion will be my epitaph. I did not hear the words spoken that deemed hatred of others as a Christian virtue. I was not prepared for a society where racism was considered a virtue, fully consistent with Christian principles. I was not prepared for a society where celebrity is worshiped as the only value worth celebrating, and those who have obtained celebrity are incapable of doing bad things, since, after all, they are celebrities. I was not prepared for a society where all values are deemed relative, and only the end matters, especially when it benefits me. I was not prepared for leaders who embodied the worst human attributes, and were proud of those pitiful attributes.

I believed advances in science would always be valued. I had forgotten how bitter the struggles were in the past for new scientific truths to be accepted if they challenged the status quo. I see echoes of Copernicus and Galileo in current issues around global warming, and humanity’s role in altering our planet. I realize now how difficult it is to convince others of facts they cannot verify through their own experience.

Confusion will be my epitaph. When the original Soviet Union fell, I believed mankind had dodged an enormous threat by removing the danger of nuclear conflict. I was not ready for the rise of an autocrat, who could threaten the use of what was considered unthinkable. I now realize that even if we escape this round of conflict without nuclear detonation, it is inconceivable we will emerge from the scourge of nationalism without some exchange of nuclear weaponry. Certainly the political discourse heard in many countries leads me to believe this exchange will happen sooner, not later.

I can go on, raising other issues where the promises of a brighter future now seem dimmed by the intransigence of the human race. But I want to leave the last words to Peter Sinfield, who penned them back in 1969:

Confusion will be my epitaph
As I crawl, a cracked and broken path
If we make it, we can all sit back and laugh
But I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying
Yes, I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying

What It Takes To Get That R

The Scene: Local office of the Republican Party in Useless County, WV

The Players: Secretary of the local party Hugh Jim Becile; Applicant Seeking Office E. Ger Beaver

Secretary: So you’d like to run under our party label, right? Which position are you seeking?

Applicant: I want to run to be the dogcatcher for Big Ugly West Virginia.

Secretary: Is that so? Well, there are a few questions I have for you before we can allow you to share our label. You ready to hear them?

Applicant: Sure. I’m willing to do anything within reason.

Secretary: Ok. First, are you now or have you ever been associated with the Communist Party.

Applicant:  Of course not. Boy, I hope the rest of the questions are as easy.

Secretary: Do you believe that the Presidential Election was stolen in 2020? Do you pledge fealty to Donald Trump’s position?

Applicant: Uhm, I’m not sure. Didn’t Trump win this state by about 40%?

Secretary: We’re not going to get very far if you reject the core principles of the Republican Party. Let me ask you again, do you believe the Presidential election of 2020 was stolen?

Applicant: Sure, I guess so. If you say so, it must have been.

Secretary: Good. We can proceed with the rest of the questions. Do you think the inflation we are currently seeing is solely the responsibility of Joe Biden?

Applicant: Yeah, I can see that. Put me down as yes.

Secretary: Correct answer. Now, do you agree that LGBT is bad, and anyone who supports any aspect of LGBT is just another groomer preparing our precious children to violate their covenant with God by choosing to become homosexual?

Applicant: Now wait a minute. I’ve got a nephew who you could tell way back when he was 4 he was going to want to be a girl. Do you mean I have to denounce him or her to get your approval?

Secretary: Yes, that is exactly what I mean. Someone must have put that idea in that little boy’s head and turned him away from God way back then.

Applicant: Boy, I don’t know about that. Seems to me he was always that way. But if I have to in order to get approval, then yes, I agree.

Secretary: I’m not so sure I like your attitude. We’ve got a lot of folks who don’t hesitate at all in order to get our sign-off. Let’s see if you can show me how much you really believe in Republican principles now.

Applicant: Ok, go ahead and ask the rest of your questions.

Secretary: Do you agree that the media is attacking God-fearing Republicans like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, and Madison Cawthorn, and because of that bias, they should be banned from covering any Republican events?

Applicant: I’m not sure I even know all of those folks. Are they Republicans?

Secretary: I’m losing patience with you. Of course they are Republicans, they are the up and coming stars of the Republicans in the years to come. You can’t bear our flag if you don’t recognize our leaders.

Applicant:  Oh, yeah, sure. I’ve heard of them. Yeah, those media folks are real meddlers. Keep ‘em out.

Secretary: Almost done. Do you believe that Donald Trump was divinely selected to be our leader, and anything he has done in the past doesn’t matter, because he only has our best interests at heart?

Applicant: Well, he doesn’t fit in with some of the folks I learned about in church. Seems to me he has a lot to be forgiven for. But yeah, I do agree with you.

Secretary: Great. It gives me great pleasure to give you the endorsement of our Republican party to run for, uh, which office was it again?

Applicant:  Dogcatcher of Big Ugly.

Secretary:  Yes, our endorsement for this office. You can have it as soon as you write us a check for $2500 so we know you are serious.

Applicant:  I ain’t got any money. I wanted to be elected dogcatcher so I could get a pay check.

Secretary: So let me understand, you refuse to donate to the Republican party? I’m sorry, this discussion is over. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.

Applicant: I wonder if there still is a Democrat party in this county so I can get on a ballot. I need a job.

Forget-Me-Not

I really feel sorry for the memory impaired. Especially those of the Republican ilk who are having such a hard time remembering the way DJT sucked up to Putin during his campaign and presidency. This includes DJT himself, since he is confident that no one was harder on Russia than he was. Somehow the painful memories of the aftermath of the Helsinki conference, where DJT couldn’t think of any reason why Russia would have interfered with our election process, have disappeared totally from the frontal lobes of this ex-President.

But he’s not the only one suffering from near total amnesia. Let’s tale the examples of our local legislative representatives in West Virginia, who are bound and determined to continue to relive the mistakes of the past by cutting taxes on the wealthy while piling on costs to those who live on the margins. Can you imagine the cheek of those people who have lost their jobs, being upset because the 26 weeks of unemployment they used to rely upon now becomes 12-weeks maximum unless the state is suffering high unemployment? Fortunately, this bill was moved to the inactive status on the penultimate day of the legislative session. But the priorities of our legislative Republican supermajority was made clear, we have too many people who want to mooch off of the state, and I have no doubt this bill will resurface in upcoming special sessions, or no later than next year’s session. How these Republicans have forgotten the trauma our state and nation suffered at the beginning of the pandemic, when a switch was turned off and employment took an immediate nose dive.

Our legislators at the Congressional level also seem to suffer from acute amnesia. Maybe this is really a contagious disease, with carriers like Jim Jordan, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz, and Madison Cawthorn being vectors of forgetfulness. Of these, Jim Jordan is the most practiced, since he has forgotten everything that happened when he was an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State from 1987 to 1995. He would have been shocked, shocked to learn of inappropriate behavior taking place under his watch. Since he’s had so long to practice his lying, it was a bit disconcerting to see his recent performance when he couldn’t recall having called DJT, or when he called him, or anything about his phone logs of 1/6/2021. His stuttering and obvious discomfort at having to answer the questions were unworthy of someone who has practiced the art of prevarication for such a long time.

Ah, but we’re forgetting the large group of Republicans who have forgotten their purpose upon being elected to Congress. I had always thought it was necessary to make a good-faith effort to propose legislative solutions to problems of the nation. Foolish me. I didn’t realize the real purpose of being elected to Congress was to completely gum up the works if our tribe does not hold a majority. That way we can depend upon a unified party in Congress to work seamlessly towards a common goal, like the Republicans did when they replaced the Affordable Care Act with their own much improved version of health care. What? You mean they were ready to throw out the Affordable Care Act without having legislation lined up to replace it? And they were stymied by the actions of a single Senator who had his Roman emperor moment by extending his thumb down disapproval?

Right now, the Democrats are no different than the Republicans, in that they have allowed the actions of two Senators to hold up a legislative agenda. At least the Democrats have an agenda, instead of the Republicans who failed to put forth a platform in the 2020 election. It’s “whatever he’ll have, that’s what I want.” He, of course, being DJT. The subjugation of an entire party to the whims of an individual who has never known the common good stands as one of the most abysmal failures in governance since the inception of this nation.

So we are left to suffer. Nay, not suffer in silence, since we still have the freedom to speak out about our beliefs and feelings in this nation. At least we are not like Russia, where standing in a public place with a blank piece of poster board can get you trundled into the 21st century Russian version of a paddy wagon, likely your first stop on the way to a gulag. We can and should celebrate the rights we still have, before the wanna be autocrats decide to remove the uncomfortable nature of dissent from our nation’s shores.

Stale? No I Won’t Believe the Act Is Stale!

Still the unwashed hordes celebrate the words of their master. Those who are absolutely convinced shenanigans were used to make it appear their savior had lost the election, when it was clear in their minds it was impossible for him to lose. After all, if all you hear day after day is an insistent drum beat about cheating, sooner or later you become convinced there was cheating. So as of today, he still can announce a campaign style event, pass out some t-shirts with pithy yet stupid slogans (Blacks for Trump), convince some of the few members of minority groups to don this new apparel, and direct them to sit in a photogenic position where they provide a totally unrealistic vision of the true diversity of the crowd, then he can recite the greatest hits of his displeasure (the election was STOLEN), and maybe intersperse some new statement like he’d pardon the January 6 Patriots, and his crowd will go home satisfied.

Yet now and then, around the fringes of the crowds, some are beginning to peel off. Maybe the human cost of standing around for hours, when the age of the average attendee is nearing 60, is testing the devotion of the true believers. We will see whether later in the year if he can keep drawing these overflow crowds, where those who are willing to drive for hours just to set up and camp somewhere so they too can see their savior. Will there be enough of them to keep coming and feed the large man’s swollen ego?

Perhaps some of those he has anointed in primary races end up losing, and the stain of their losses starts to stick to their endorser. Perhaps it is when the parade of prosecutions results in indictments against the man, his family, and his company. Although the veiled threat to his true believers to march against anyone who would dare to accuse him of illegalities stays above his prosecutor’s heads like a sword of Damocles.

There will always be a core of believers who are willing to overlook any physical evidence as being tainted, brought about by biased individuals who don’t drink the cult water. They are numerous enough to cause disruptions in multiple cities when the indictments are announced. And I do believe the indictments are coming. You can only do so many illegal things in plain view before the remnants of uncorrupted justice systems react. For four long years, he had immunity from prosecution, since the Justice Department believed it improper to charge a sitting President. That immunity has long gone, and the last shreds of it will vanish in the wind when final rulings are made about the lack of Presidential immunity in his conversations around January 6. I have a vision of the man dissolving into shards like Voldemort did at the end of the Harry Potter series.

Then, finally, we can deal with the fallout from this period of incivility caused by the lout. There is no doubt about the causative correlation between the era of hostility brought about by his words, and the actions of mobs at school board meetings across the country where the parents who do not want their children to feel discomfort are more than willing to threaten the lives of anyone who disagrees with them. We can appropriately deal with the human vermin who self-identify as Nazis and taunt society perched overhead on an overpass. We can actually deal with the humanity wishing to enter our country, and come up with an immigration system that works.

But until we get the human blob to exit the stage, we cannot deal with the problems he either created, exacerbated, or ignored. So however we need to proceed to let him know his act has gone stale, we must act and make that happen. Of course, he will never believe his act is stale just like he cannot accept that 80+ million voters repudiated him in the election. So unfortunately, he must forcibly be removed from the stage (unless we can figure out a way to cause him enough embarrassment so he voluntarily leaves). Once and for all, we need to figure out how to make the label of loser to stick to him, and by extension, to all who still stand by him. I’m not optimistic it will be possible to humiliate the man, and as long as his echo chamber only recites the greatest hits, many of his followers will remain willfully ignorant of his flaws.

You hear talk about an upcoming civil war enveloping the US. It is difficult to believe this could happen, but when one group of people believe anything they see on the air or on their Facebook feed, and willingly ignore all evidence to the contrary, you find the difficulty is in reasoning with those whose minds are closed. So the only hope I see is that people will come to their senses in ones and twos, unable to swallow the falsehoods and fantasies peddled by Fox, and Newsmax, and Q. The false beliefs must begin to lose traction, else we may indeed find ourselves with a simmering insurgency. Think about the violence at the end of the Vietnam war, only an order of magnitude worse. That to me is the danger we are seeing with the ongoing schism between those who see the world as it is, and those whose eyes have Trumpian scales tainting all they perceive.

Looking Back One Year

First floor plan for the US Capital as of 1997

It was the Sunday immediately before the inauguration in 2017. A fellow church choir member totally misread my leanings and said, “I’m sure glad we’re about to have an alpha male as President.” I don’t remember the exact words I said, but I left no doubt that I believed we were about to undergo rule by an Epsilon man, someone who was as far from alpha as it was possible to get.

Shortly after the inauguration, this choir member left our church. It may have been related to a dispute about him playing his bagpipes for a service intended to honor Ireland, but no doubt his disillusionment at finding himself in an ideological isolation ward was a piece of his motivation for leaving.

How did this nation get into the situation where so many were bamboozled into believing the bully in the White House represented the apex in evolution? Why is it that serial business failure and serial philandering were converted to symbols of strength and resolution? I guess PR is capable of overcoming just about any fault if the opposite is proclaimed often and loudly. At least there were enough credulous people to blindly support anyone who promises to bring back things the way they were, and they managed to overcome the will of the majority and install their favorite.

What is worrying is those who were on the short end of the stick in 2020 are feverishly working to prevent the “wrong” election results in the future. Wrong is defined as any election won by the liberal faction of the electorate. Supposedly the followers of Donald Trump are insistent upon attempting to reverse the course of history in order to bring us back into an age where women and minorities knew their places, and only right-thinking, alpha males glom onto the levers of power and wrench society back into its former trajectory.

So now any attempt at teaching facts about race and how it has affected the history of the US is viewed as brainwashing of innocent children in public schools. Never mind that most of the white population in the South withdrew their precious children from public schools back in the 1970’s when a challenge to white supremacy was made by integration and busing. Most of the children who were educated in religiously affiliated southern schools never gave up their view of their own superiority because they never had to face diversity. They now insist their children could not ever learn any facts about their country that were not passed through the John Wayne filter, lest it give their children distress.

One of the great benefits of living in the United States is the inclusion we offer. That inclusion is often far too gradual for the benefit of the original immigrants, yet it is true that the work ethics of immigrants often greatly exceeds that of native Americans of the correct race. Why is it so many restaurants are founded and staffed by immigrants? Small businesses form the springboard into the middle and upper classes, a path still largely unavailable to those in countries who provide these immigrants. We’ve had a little bit of exposure to a country where the flow of immigrants is suddenly cut off. The staffing shortages at many service industries is a taste of what life would be like without new residents filling the jobs deemed below the dignity of “true Americans”.

Supposedly this country gave away our manufacturing jobs in the previous decades. The anger of those who believe they are owed a living at a now rusted-out hulk of a factory is palpable, and helps to fuel the grievances of Trump nation. Nowhere is it acknowledged that the decline of international conflict allowed for money flows across borders, and it was the necessity of showing a profit which drove manufacturers to abandon the high wage and high regulations of this nation in favor of less restrictive and less expensive locations. If those who bemoan the current economic environment really wanted to improve their lot, they would mount an attack against those in the system who benefit from high return on investment. But instead, they have been coopted into believing an attack on the wealthy represents an attack on them, and thus they universally believe higher taxes equals communism.

It is the need to wave the cultural flag that drove the mindless hordes who attacked the Capital on January 6 of last year. So many of those hordes have now adopted an attitude of “we did nothing wrong. We were invited into the building.” The media facilitators go along with this farce, leading to a self-reinforcing do-loop of inane insanity. So when the House committee goes public with their hearings and report, it will make not a whit of difference to those who are fully invested in the fake universe they live in. No minds will be changed. No momentum will be gained by those who still view reality as something we have to adjust to. Well, now the reality we live in includes a minority who refuse to accept facts, and have proven a propensity to violence aimed at imposing their will onto those who disagree with them.

Will those of us who see the events of January 6, 2021 as symptomatic of a grave infection in the body politic of the US, be able to hold off the crazed minority aimed at domination of the US? Only if we are willing to share our perspectives across the political spectrum, so that those in the minority really do believe they are on the losing end of the arc of history.

The Fight For Women’s Rights Goes On

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Steps Forward, One Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

War on Crime – We All Are Victims

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.