Friday, March 24, 2017

Remember What Wyatt Earp Said

The Narrow Lot on Fremont Street
A Note about Today's Gunfight and Your Health

I was born in 1957 in the dozy days of Eisenhower, in the very month that kicked off the International Geophysical Year ---sing along, "...what a beautiful world it will be, what glorious time to be free"---and, of course, the movie billed as "The Wildest Gunfight in the History of the West."  That gunfight would star Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas playing little more than themselves.  It was The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and I bet nobody remembers that Dennis Hopper and DeForrest "Bones" Kelley were also in the movie.

The "real" gunfight happened, we are told by the website renowned for its implacable verity, Wikipedia, to have occurred not at the O.K. Corral but at close range on the narrow lot on Fremont Street.  Maybe some FB friend from Tombstone can provide the disambiguation.  I might add my father particularly loved westerns, though as a boy I never quite understood why.  I mean, we're from New Jersey.  He really liked that cowboys took a drink before everything important they do ---shoot somebody, kiss the girl--- and he liked the larger than life-ness of it all.  Today I'm feeling like that extra in the saloon, and I may need more than a shot of whiskey to make it through the end of _this_ movie.   I'm sure dad didn't want anyone to get really hurt and wouldn't like the kinds of realistic violence movies we make now.  But everything nowadays, even when it looks absurd, is so damn real.  Like it's always been.

Today Trump and Ryan are going out for the fight like Wyatt and Doc, and there's gonna be a big big shootout with the Clantons, played by their own Freedom Caucus.  The Freedom Caucus, you will be reminded, wants you to be free from healthcare, so free that you can't afford it.  Their plan is that if you are sick, poor, or old then you can just die.  They and their constituency would rather die at the O.K. Corral than give up their freedom.   We all know watching the '57 version that the Earps and Holliday win in a blaze of smoke and them Clantons, well, they go to Boot Hill. 

There is a very, very good chance that Wyatt "winning" Trump and Doc "wealthcare" Ryan will get their proper Tombstone ending.  They may very well "win." The outcome will be nothing like the movie.  We'll all die sooner and sicker if that's the case.  But I'm hoping that Lancaster's Wyatt Earp is right and that all of these guys go down just the way he says in the movie, "All gunfighters are lonely. They live in fear. They die without a dime, a woman or a friend." 

Trump, Ryan, and the Republicans would prefer we die, just as the Sheriff says.  So let's hope today serves them up their true 2nd Amendment rights.  Is it too much to ask?  Trump loses, Ryan does his pouting Eddy Munster doppelgänger, and America is given another chance in this anachronistic, fake movie that has become our O.K. country.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Two-Step Truth and Treachery

One of the advantages of being raised on the streets of Jersey and gotten beat up in front of a bowling alley for no reason at all. Really, it happened. Really, no reason at all. I can see it coming and I know a con when I hear one.  This one's a two-step.  First guy comes up to you and makes his pitch, second guy comes in and makes the mix.  It takes awhile to figure out that you've been had.
Here's the current two-step. Step one: Bannon feeds Trump the meme that the deep state conspires against him and is filled with UnAmerican treachery. Just rile up the Fox audience to take the bait and, voila, it's a done deal: "policy advisers" instead of cabinet appointments and the paranoia becomes fascism. Step two: Trump tells us that the _truth_ no longer exists but for what he says when he says it. It's not about truth and lies, it's that truth itself doesn't exist. Join in the solipsism, if that's not as absurd as the narcissism itself. The Fox Audience will cheer and wear their red hats, I guarantee it.

A Tale of Two Countries, Another Week of Worlds Apart

I don't know how many of you could bear to watch the Comey hearings. They are even more disturbing than what's going on with Gorsuch. With Gorsuch you've the feeling of being utterly ripped off. The ONLY question for this normanrockwell knockoff white guy doing his best to pretend he has a heart is, "Are you Merrick Garland? And if not, where is he?" But with Comey we witness a different kind of sordid dishonesty, one more calculating, more committed to confounding the already addled, intellectually discomposed Fox audience.
House Republicans mention only the criminality of national security leakers, Comey concurs, using the stoney probity defense, and so evades the more egregious alt-right reach into conspiracy theories. The Republicans cannot imagine that unveiling a conspiracy that involves treason and undermines democracy is as important as their parlor game. 
Then the Democrats make Comey's points for him while he does his best to rest in the shade of his own feckless indifference to the role he played in Trump's election. Fingers on the Scale Comey would rather claim moral superiority than expose the real Republican farce and its facade to protect the Russian collusion. He will certainly not risk being a real patriot. The press is lulled into somnambulance by Comey's temporary sally into sanity, such a departure from the shock and awe of dealing with Trumpkins. But this means they also cannot see his J. Edgar flimflam. Be assured too that America's lethargic citizenry won't wake up to see they just got conned. Again.
There's a vulgarity to these histrionics that drives the light further into shadows. What is truly on display is the tale of two Americas. We are divided by more than ideology and policy. We live in wholly different moral worlds, and like a yogi's bad dream, it's just déja vu all over again. That's because the ghost you hear from the hoary past is chief counsel Joseph N. Welch repeating once again, ""At long last, have you left no sense of decency?" Congressman Adam Schiff and Senator Al Franken have heard that voice and are asking the right questions. Who's listening?

Saturday, March 18, 2017

An Open Letter to Conservative Arthur C. Brooks who Wishes the Resistance Would "Just Let It Go."

I'm taking this personally. I share a surname with both self-alleged "moderate" David Brooks of The NY Times and Arthur C. Brooks, who turns up on its pages on the weekends and spends most of his time pretending to be an intellectual. This having to disclaim relationship caused by the sheer accidents of surname histories really pisses me off. And then we get to what they have to say say. Let's turn today to Arthur because what he's proposing is something we also hear among progressives or some liberals or maybe just idiots. "Just let it go." This is Arthur's advice and this is the sort of mindless bosh that inhabits far too many "yogis" ideas of yoga. So, let me reply short and long and longer:
"No way" is the short answer.
The long answer is "No f'in' way."
The longer still answer follows.

So Arthur C. Brooks, AGAIN no relation, just wrote a blithely moronic piece in the NY Times (Saturday, March 18th) that invites us all to "just let go" if you are finding politics depressing. Be assured that the ideologues at the American Enterprise Institute, which also brings you the likes of Charles Murray is filled with not so thinly veiled "social science" aka racism, and they will not be just letting go anytime soon. They will stay their course, despite whatever evidence appears to demonstrate the failure of their ideas or the shameless meanness of their policies.

These are the good folks who love that Paul Ryan wealthcare bill, socialize corporate cronyism, and lay waste to the planet for oil, think corporations are people, and tell you that however you are hurting is your own fault or God's will. No, Arthur, I won't be checking out. I'm going to follow every word that Trump and Ryan and you and the rest of your ruling 1% have to say. I'm going to be more vigilant to try to stop you, taunt you, and thwart you at every turn.

I'm was a lot less depressed, I confess, when Mr Obama was President. You see, Arthur, I was rarely unhappy with him as a person. He was smart, curious, well-informed, poised, and never vulgar. Exactly the opposite of Trump. I didn't agree with everything he did but I knew I was in the company of sanity and pragmatism. Perhaps too much pragmatism but that isn't the kind of fault that depresses you. The principal weakness of his presidency was that Republicans undermined his every idea, lied about his policies, and refused to govern at all ---even when he reached out repeatedly. Republicans never fail to bring out the downer.

It's plain to see why the Republicans acted this way. It's because they have never learned a thing, they are an intellectually incurious and ideological brand that has only one purpose: to drive wealth further into the hands of the wealthy. Their idea of an intellectual is you, Arthur "just let go" Brooks, that racist Murray, and in elected office your Eddie Munster doppelgänger Paul Ryan. Ryan is a fraud but that's what passes off as the oxymoron "Republican intellectual."

What we have further learned this week is that this brand of wealthcare Republicanism means that hungry people don't need food, older and poorer people don't need health care, and that the rest of us need to worship at the altar of personal greed on our knees to the Lords of Kleptocracy.

So Arthur, with the same sort of faux-Zen that is endemic to Idiot's Yoga, tell us to "just let it go." Not. A. Chance. Does Trump's needy self-populism and Ryan's Ayn Rand heartlessness depress me? Of course it does. It would be more than denial, it would be utterly foolish _not_ be depressed by their odious demagoguery. This government, if you can call this incompetent, chaotic mess a government, is more like Biblical plague of locusts. Rather than attribute that to a mysterious almighty, I'm inclined to hold you and your cohort of ideologues responsible, along with that 44% whose with unzipped vulgarity votes without a clue against their own interests. If it weren't a matter for the rest of us, I'd wish on them what I wish on you: you should get what you ask for. Then again, there's a world and we'd like there to still be one after you've given your best shot at killing it off.

So, no, I'm not letting it go and neither are my friends. We mean to get the lazier ones out to vote. We mean to try to persuade the purists that a compromise candidate might even have to do in order to stop you. I hope, I really hope this works because I'd like to make you have to just let it go. That is, after you are sent back to the bunker where you can go conspire with Trump about making things great again.

Yeah, if you think this is kinda' cruel, I say the thought of thwarting you and bringing this madness to an end makes me kinda' happy. If that upsets you, well, just let it go.

Friday, March 17, 2017

America’s Heroic Fallacy, Winning Isn’t Everything, It’s the Only Thing

American identity is in truth complex, rich, and defies reduction.  But when did that ever stop us?  Let's look for our monothetic marker, that one thing we share across our political, economic, and nationalist identity.  How's this one?  We think we’re great, even if we’re not willing to say exceptional.  We not only tell ourselves this story, we assert it, claim it, justify it, and vindicate our faults by it.  We’re great and mean to be again and again.

We live for the self-applause that congratulates and blame everyone else for what has gone wrong.  America's brand is greatness self-conferred.  It is in the excess of that greatness we more often than not find ourselves.  That this has become our collective sociopathic default is, so far, the defining feature of this current, young American century.

Allow me some examples to nuance the point, though nuance is a very unAmerican thing to do.   Unless you’re Obama, then it’s a very Obama thing to do, which you will recall was also made a benchmark for reasserting our real Americanness as anti-Obama and so rejecting all things pansy.

Amidst the strange amalgam of ideas that populate every David Brooks essay, the one in today’s New York Times (March 17, 2017, “Let Bannon be Bannon!”) includes both indefensible absurdity and some small kernel of actuality.  One is tempted to ask David personal questions about how his complicity in right wing ascendency couples to his self-branded moderation.  He seems to be working this out in every article, but I digress.  Digression is my own form of self-branded excess.  It too is unAmerican because it's prolix and refuses to get to the point.  We're supposed to be the get to the point people.

But the kernel of truth that fuels honest contemplation is David’s observation, “Donald Trump doesn’t really care about domestic policy; he mostly cares about testosterone…He wants to cut any part of government that may seem soft and nurturing, like poverty programs. He wants to cut any program that might seem emotional and airy-fairy, like the National Endowment for the Arts. He wants to cut any program that might seem smart and nerdy, like the National Institutes of Health.”

I think a great deal about America’s deep divisions and its collective ethos.  What holds together a culture that has been built on diversity and dominance?  With that comes the most commendable features of the American Experiment ---equality, the common welfare, liberty, the pursuit of happiness---and our most abject failures evident in a history rife with prejudice and exploitation.  No civilization escapes its contradictions anymore than it is likely to embrace them.  We console and inspire ourselves to be better while we reject and ignore the difficult conversations.  Nations and cultures are in this sense really not much different than individuals in relationships, but that is a matter for another day.

Not only is Trumpism built on America’s John Wayne no apologies, no excuses model, it fashions from tiny hands a smaller world built on a vocabulary of domination, strength, winners and losers, and, as David Brooks puts it, on testosterone.  This aligns the great again and winning again memes with the undeniable sexism, anti-intellectualism, and unconcealed admiration for authoritarianism that marks the Trump Administration.  But David points to a larger problem, with the usual requisite “who me?” plausible deniability that marks his process of self-denial and congratulation.

What Trump cares about is the dominant paradigm of American identity.  We exhibit a love of superiority and machismo that gives us both that can-do spirit and marks out in bold Sharpie and clumsy crayon just how primitive, tragically shallow, and fixated we are on specious muscularity.  Our favorite professional sport organizes itself around programmatic violence that features military music, uniforms that conceal vulnerable faces in favor of gladiatorial chest thumping, and all the rest.  The once national pastime too is now a game based on overpowering, well, everything that could otherwise be finessed.  But even at its best, the slow-paced rituals of baseball never allow the game to end in a tie, much less reveal too much vulnerability.

Trump appeals to his 46% currently with an 80% approval rating because he reminds them at every turn that winning negotiations are meant to establish supremacy, subordination of the opponent, and the prerogative to write the script to suit whatever the moment commands.  Everything else is girlie-man.  America’s defiance, expressed so ably on the back of pick up trucks with pissing Calvins, profane bumper stickers, and transparent symbols of crude disdain for others is our stock in trade.  We’re not a new America, we’re just more America than we have been willing to unleash before.  We’re simply more emboldened and shameless about what is quintessentially American: the six-gun cowboy, the muscle car, ummm truck, lots of beer, and a God that takes care of all the rest.

What makes our ugly American so very Trump is that a person, dare I say, a woman of accomplishment, patient fortitude, and ambition is only to commended when there is no sign of the feminine infecting our intractable obsession with America’s needy virility.  John Wayne, Reagan, and President Cheney are the true emblems that have emerged in Trump but with considerably less refinement and distillation.  Yes, that is possible and that we are surprised by the degree of vulgarity is at the very heart of the larger issue.

We Americans are still Randolph Scott and Jimmy Stewart when we want to project our soft sided masculinity but Prince is likely a step too far for at least 46% of the population.  He might also be just a bit too black but how racist we are comes with the same impenetrable certitude that accompanies narrow our hearts and minds to affirm the one true identity.  Coach played only to win and losing was only cause for whatever must be done to win again.  Losing will not be permitted.  But, more importantly, it must not be admitted except for the purposes of assigning the right blame.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Dismantling America, The View From the Slow Lane Or Why the Dog Chases the Car

American conservative ideology has got a certain rabid appeal, I mean it goes right after base emotions and ideas. To respond requires we get out of the passing lane and take the traffic seriously. Speeding by we say to ourselves that people should be responsible to take care of themselves. Why should the working pay for the lazy? People should be free to make decisions without others interfering. Then we get right up on the bumper of what is in front of us. Hmmm. Now what?
The conservative dog has caught the car in America. First, deep, abiding apologies to dogs. Rather than curtail their tale, the rabid Rs believe they must seize their corybantic mandate since, as Ryan puts it, it's their one chance. While in absolute power they mean to repeal and replace not merely Obamacare but the entire New Deal and Great Society. These programs and the ideologies that created them are the bastard hounds of principled liberalism. What is at stake is not merely policy but a fundamental difference in values _and_ assessments.
To fathom the dogged Rs worldview you must accept two values claims, both of which strike at the heart of civilization itself.
First, we are utterly autonomous individuals. "Freedom" means we are not responsible for more than our immediate relationships ---because we are not made by a collective greater than our own hunter-gatherer tribe. This accounts in part for their bringing back the Confederacy, racism, etc. Take care of your own. That's it. If you don't have the means, refer to the first principle. The supremacy of the individual over any collective means that all other concerns than what's in it for me can be dismissed.
Second, there is admitted to be no structural history that creates the field of opportunities, thus no long term impact of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, or other formatting that decides and creates for us. And so there is no need for remedies or one can appeal to the laws, assert that times have changed, Clarence Thomas' originalism, etc. Ironically, the Rs are impervious to the hypocrisy. These bumper biters are in explicit violation of their avowed religion and can't fathom how their embrace of corporatism makes them hacks and victims. Worst of all is their assertion that history and the American originalist's truest intentions are on their side, though the latter has some substance when we admit the slaveholder's hypocrisy. But that would require, umm, history and facts.
How do we make ourselves? How are we made by forces greater and other than just ourselves? These two questions are at the heart of all human thinking. A reply to the conservatives doesn't reject the initial questions or even their substance. But it does require we do better than chase cars only to sink our teeth into hard metal.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Priority of Profit, Wealthcare in a Nutshell

An Exercise in Two Americas, It's a Values Difference
Prioritizing Profits
I care about wealth, and we all need some. As fortunate as I have been to have a steady job, my arithmetic skills are sufficient to realize that my personal retirement plan is called "working unto death." We make our choices, I've made mine. But there are two Americas. Those who protect wealth at any cost and the rest of us. There's plenty of evidence.
I point you to two pieces worth comparing in today's NYTimes. First, there are the views of Toledo businessmen bullish on Trump.
From the article cited below: "But all 11 executives agreed: Never in recent years had they been so bullish about their businesses as they were now under a president (and fellow small-business owner, albeit a very rich one) whom they see as one of their own..." while another one takes it further, "“That guy is a junkyard dog, doing his tweets at 3 a.m. and taking on the news media — I just get strength from him,” Mr. Soltis said over a wine-soaked dinner with a large group of his small-business friends and peers from around town. “And I have to say, it makes you feel gutsy — ready to step up and start investing again.”
Here's the link:…/small-business-confidence-trump.h…
Next, read the fine piece by Charles Blow about the costs of this parasitic Presidency and the rest of the paper's careful analysis of what is happening to human rights, women, healthcare, and the environment. What Blow writes as catastrophe, the businessmen above cheer.
Take away: the philosophy of #wealthcare and its impact. My comment is NOT directed against wealth or wealthy people. There is nothing wrong with prosperity. But these businessmen are wealthcare philosophers ---and they will likely hire, invest, and make more profit---because profit is more important _than any other priority_. It's a simple priority: 1. they care more about profit than he impact of their views on human rights or immigrant lives, 2. more about profit than d the environmental impact of lost regulations, 3. prefer the short term profits for their business via tax cuts and deregulations, no matter the financial long term impact or wealth inequality issues, 4. and don't care if Trump is tragically unqualified for the job so long as they make a profit. Wealth is not the problem, it is a values argument.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Understanding Wealthcare, A Foundation of Republican Social and Economic Policy

Understanding Wealthcare
A Foundation of Republican Social Values and Economic Policy

You gotta know who you are dealing with. So here's a primer that explains how Republicans, like Paul Ryan and the rest, think about the purpose of government. Wealthcare is their interpretation of the preamble of the U.S. Constitution, it is how we "form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty."

My aim here is to summarize in this one term --- #wealthcare ---the social values and economic policy objectives of Republicans. This will explain what they mean by other memes such as "limited government" and "conservative" policy. Of particular importance is their understanding of "freedom" and how the government must promote economic policy.

Warning: just understanding this may cause you to be really, really upset that there are human beings who either explicitly commend or implicitly condone these views.  I must also emphasize that wealth and wealthy people are not the problem as such.  I'm talking about a philosophy of government and of wealth, not about individuals, businesses, or wealth per se.  Now that you've been cautioned, here's how it works:

& Wealthcare identifies the needs and benefits of society as meeting the desires of the wealthy. Simply put, wealthcare is the view that everyone will be better off when policy (law, regulations, etc.) secure the interests and increase the wealth of the wealthy. The wealthy can be as individuals or corporations.
& Wealthcare roots itself in the essential value that individuals and corporations have no responsibility for anyone or anything (e.g., the environment, safety, etc.) other than what profits or serves their interests.

& Thus, all good things will follow when profit increases and the wealthy's interests are secured. This includes health, education, the environment, basically everything. Wealthcare has much in common with libertarians and religious conservatives because it asserts that voluntary actions must be the sole basis for public benefits. When the wealthy benefit then those without means will necessary benefit, as in "trickle down" economics.

& When those without means suffer, these outcomes are not the responsibility of the wealthy because when the government benefits wealthy interests then others will benefit. Again, those without means and those who do not reap the benefits of wealthcare are not a collective responsibility because there is no collective responsibility. If you are not reaping the benefits of wealthcare it is not the fault or the problem of the wealthy, it is the poor's failure.
& It is unclear how any public services (roads, airports, police, fire, etc.) are paid for except to say that these too must serve wealthcare principles. This means that the wealthy must bear no burden to meet public needs. A military that is good for wealth interests and good for wealth protection warrants tax support but, like all other matters, not at any cost to the wealthy. This is the gist of their values paradigm.

& Wealthcare means that choices are based solely on means. No one should be required to participate in any public or collective pooling of means. This eliminates support for public schools, Social Security, financial regulation, environmental regulation, or any laws that restrict private decision making based on costs. Those with means are free to do as they please but importantly are not required to subsidize others. It is not simply that as little as possible must ever be spent on "public" works, it is that those pooled costs must not interfere with wealth flowing to the wealthy.

& Everyone gets what they "deserve" and those who suffer must accept their position. Any moral consequence for wealthcare's indifference to those without means will be solved when the wealthy trickle down their needs and others obtain required jobs. No wage standard or regulation can be tolerated since that interferes with wealthcare. Wealth is inherently good and the wealthy are therefore good. There is no merit in being poor, for any reason.

So is that all clear?

For a real life example, let's turn to Ryancare and include the basic objections from the Freedom Caucus conservatives.
Ryancare repeals most of the levies used to pay for insurance coverage under Obamacare. The cost is estimated to be about $600 billion over the next 10 years. About half of that expense is incurred by terminating two taxes primarily targeting upper-income households. In other words, the wealthy receive a tax cut of almost $300 billion. So how is this tax windfall paid for? By making commensurate cuts to Medicaid.

After 2020, Ryancare turns Medicaid into “block grants.” This means that instead of the Federal government paying a fixed percentage of medical costs, the new system grants a flat per-person payment. , States that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare get less. The outcomes here follow wealthcare principles: Medicaid payments are reduced because they would take money from the wealthy to the poor. It follows too that the number of people receiving any benefits (from the block grants) is reduced because there is no responsibility of the wealthy to care for the poor.

Ryancare is an excellent example of wealthcare because low-income Americans lose health cost coverage so that high-income Americans can have lower tax bills. Wealthcare keeps the money where it belongs, in the hands of the few. Freedom Caucus conservatives object to even this redistribution of wealth because it still means that taxes subsidize the collective and this violates wealthcare values and still takes (some) money from the wealthy. So if you're really a Tea Partier, _any_ government distribution of money that is not directed towards the interests of the wealthy fails the test of common weal.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Invisible Hand and Your Rights to Healthcare

Understanding Ryan and Tea Party Healthcare

How does any adult in the 21st century believe that the radical conservative Tea Party view of health care is an option?
My focus here is on Republicans today who object even to Ryan's plan. Their view is simple: no government involvement is ever warranted, allow market forces to determine all. I have been listening carefully to King, Goumert, Paul, etc. No tax incentives, no aid to anyone, nothing. You're on your own and the Invisible Hand of the free market will do its magic. This is essentially their view of everything and your health is no exception.

Now move to where the Tea Party agrees with Ryan: _There is NO RIGHT to healthcare._ Tea Partiers object even to Ryan's Ayn Rand view that all money and resources should be aimed at the wealthy and healthy as too much interference. Ryan reserves every bit of program benefits for those who he views as valuable: younger and healthier _may_ get something but really it's simply wealth that is valued. It is the wealthy who are the real contributers to society. Everyone else can simply die when they do. Tea Partiers agree with the basics of these claims but understand that the really wealthy will benefit most from _no_ government at _all_.

How is this even an idea?
Say, you can't afford help when you need it. Answer again: You're on your own. But why? Why is this okay? Here are things to consider because there _are_ reasons why people take this stance, even when they understand what it does to people, including themselves.

*First, they really do think that the Invisible Hand of market forces will provide the best options.
*Second, if you can't afford those options and God decides all, then you must accept your lot. Providence in the old Calvinist sense of God has a plan, you don't intervene and God tells you that you are getting what you deserve, so stop asking for anything human.
*Third, freedom means that they hate government so much that they will accept the consequences of these policies because this will stop freeloaders (re: people not them) from receiving any benefits they would be paying for. This is racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. but their claim is that no one is entitled or has a right to anything that is not a specified right of the Constitution. It's a guns free for all but none of the New Deal, Great Society, and especially Obama Progress qualifies. Ask Clarence Thomas, Alito,
*Last, that these radical libertarian views are fueled by the racism, etc. that underlies the idea that "they" are getting a "free ride" that "we" are paying for is usually not concealed. That these libertarians will end up in Emergency Rooms and other care facilities and need public assistance if they are to pay their bills _matters less_ than their values. Hypocrisy will not stop them.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Disconnected, Deregulated, and Unhinged: The 44%, the President*, and the Profiteers:

America would be in free fall were the Resistance not the floor.
The sum of the polls puts the President's* popularity at about 44%. These are historic lows but we also know what the polls told us about the elections. (See 538.) What can we count on these days?

First, the bright news is the 49% disapproval. One wonders how some 7% never seem to know anything. The Press is vigilant and segments of institutional government are clearly part of the Resistance since they are leaking information and acting to preserve some decency. Comey, even W have said sane things. Elected Democrats are listening to the Party's more progressive base, a base that spends a lot of time disavowing that they are Democrats at all. That latter point emerges from angry false equivalences, a measure of truth that Democrats have not worked in any interests but corporate self interests, and a perverse ability to steal defeat from the jaws of victory. The Resistance is vast, diverse, and paying attention. It remains to be seen how it can be organized to winning and if it will be paying attention on a Tuesday in November. We need more than 49% to win an election.

In the past six weeks some 90 regulations have been delayed, suspended, or reversed. Wall Street, gun sellers, polluters, big pharm, auto makers--- the list is long and the process of corporate give aways, lobbyists' interests, and kleptocracy in action is just underway. He is doing what he promised. 44% cheers.

An unhinged President* was described by aides as "enraged" because he believes his "sick" predecessor wire tapped his residence. The basis for the story is an AM talk show host best known for conspiracy theory, bigotry, and shameless grifting. Much like the President*. The FBI has called these claims false and so effectively agrees that the President* is lying or unhinged. We await a White House response. 44% watching Fox believes the President*.

The government's chief enforcer of the law has sort of recused from portions of the investigation into how a foreign government undermined our democracy. The Press has everything but the smoking gun and we will undoubtedly find out how deeply the Trump Administration is in collusion with the Russians. 44% doesn't care because he won and he "tell it like it is."
This week Congress may well pass the repeal of the ACA though we might have the Koch Bros to thank for preventing that from happening. It seems _any_ effort to keep just a few of the 20 million who received medical insurance insured is too many for the Kochs. The Tea Partists representing white, largely poor and under insured districts have their constituents cheering their effort to deny them insurance. Perhaps incompetence and ideology will slow down this collapse and the rest we've noted. Wait till they get their hand on Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, and the rest of the New Deal and Great Society progress. But 44% applaud because freedom!
The majority of voters in America are seriously appalled and are trying to distinguish themselves from deer in headlights. Perhaps their outrage will last until November 2018 and the shock of just waking up in Trump's America will cause them

But the problem with America is, in truth, Americans. The majority of our electorate, 44%+7%, welcomes the kleptocrats, tunes in to "news" sources that are as real as buying gold on the radio, cheers authoritarianism and doesn't mind bigotry, and looks forward to when fewer have medical insurance, including themselves. Business is gleeful because there is just so much profit to be made when there are so few rules to prevent the exploitation of consumers and workers. America! We're #1!

Our electorate is unhinged from reality, indifferent and disengaged, heartless even to themselves, and willingly complicit in self-deception, corruption, and pathological lies. America would be in free fall were the Resistance not the floor. 49% is not enough.

Have a good week. I'm giving midterms to my undergraduates and looking forward to writing a book, decidedly not about politics. But the truth is, if you are a living, breathing human, everything that matters to you involves politics. Unless you're in that 7%, likely "spiritual" in a cave, on a mountain top, or wandering about claiming you are not lost and that it's all the same.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Rock Solid Selfishness, Appealing to Conservative Values

More resistance strategy.
Understanding the Conservative's Rock Solid Selfishness

What's at stake in our political stalemate is a conflict of values.  We like to think that values are things we share.  But, in fact, it's on matters of value that we most likely differ, even to irreconcilability.  It's important then to try to think in terms of others' values, particularly those that are unlike your own.

There's a direct corollary between immediate self-interest and "conservative values." What _affects_ conservative voters is that the given matter touches their lives with tangible immediacy. This is what is giving pause to the repeal of Obamacare. What _effects_ them is more difficult to demonstrate. But we stand a chance if we make them feel the sting.

When Rob Portman discovered his son to be gay this caused the Senator to, you know, think about gay people a little. Yes, selfishness is how they begin to see themselves in other people. Empathy is for liberals. When stuff happens to me, well, now that matters. Notice that this is the American way. That's important too to remember. In the language of business, we fight for the bottom line, profits before people, "it's only business." In the language of the entrepreneur there are winners and losers and in a risky world you need to win.

Conservatives only imagine themselves the winners in their Ayn Rand world. This is a key to Trump's discourse: we are going to win again, bigly. So we must appeal first to their value of self-interest, their commitment to selfishness, and then try, whenever possible, show them that these issues directly effect them and they are losing, again. How's that? They gotta feel the sting. A good con game is hard to bust but there's nothing like being made the fool that tells you that the cards are marked.

Responding to a Post-Literate World

Responding to a Post-Literate World
Trumpspeak is Easy, What About Talking to Trump Supporters

Why do we in the factual world find the alt-factual so impervious to argument or to, you know, facts? We need a language to reach them because they are expert at creating their own memes. I don't mean Trumpspeak. There are apps that can reproduce that word salad of believe me incoherence easily enough. Sad! Rather, I mean the Fox News and Breitbart followers whose steady diet makes us the enemy of the people and declares all we say "fake news." How can we speak to them?

Our first recourse might also be our last conclusion. We discover that we can't actually communicate with each other, our alt-universes don't even collide. So our best choice is get out the vote and get them to the margins. This doesn't solve the problem of that "friend" on Facebook from your past or the relative you thought you knew.

We may first have to admit that, despite what we thought we knew, we may not share the same values. What we mean when we say "patriotism," "morality," or "respect," may not be what our opponents mean when they use the same words. The values within words require awareness. We are also working with an ideology that uses facile dismissal as a coping mechanism and the method of false equivalence. Trump is corrupted by the Russians? "All politicians do it, look at Pelosi and Schumer." Call Trump a sexist abuser and the response is that when he calls out Rosie we can't hear our own "political correctness." As my pop used to say, they got an answer for everything. And then there is our language, memes that use "inclusion," "equality," and even "compassion," promote more deafness, derision, or dismissal. We're not operating from the same foundations of meaning, and our words don't match and certainly don't mend. So what to do?

The task is to appeal to their feelings and try to fathom their values. The "values voter" doesn't like it when Trump's values crash their claims. How about: "Trump's values are not really yours. If that were your daughter how would you react?" True that the Values Voters have proven capable of looking away because they value controlling women more than respecting them, but the language must appeal to values that they claim to value.

Trump's pathology of lying also seems not to penetrate. Why? His supporters have been fed a steady diet of distrust, conspiracy, and alt-facts on 20 years of Fox and AM-Radio. Rather than counter their views, we have to appeal to them. Nurture their distrust. So, point to a fact, like Building the Wall. "Do you trust him now that he says we will pay for the wall and Mexico will not?"

Trump's bigotry provides so many examples we're tempted to go down the list of things he's actually said --- about immigrants, Mexican people, Muslims, African Americans, the list. But that's a non-starter too. How about "Hard working people doing hard jobs deserve our respect," or "We need to protect religious liberty. What if your beliefs are next?"

We know that Trump is prodigiously unqualified for the job of the Presidency but somehow our binders full of data fall on deaf ears because he's there to change things, not do "business as usual," and is "a businessman, not a politician." Of course he is a politician and the problem is that checks-and-balances politics is not business and cannot be. So how about this, "Now that Trump is President, he's got to deal with those politicians. It looks like he's been ineffective. How is that business expertise helping you?" Politician is a dirty word to Republicans. It's time to make "businessman" a disqualification for running the country. No small task in a land where profit is king. "Do you think the stockmarket can withstand the uncertainty Trump is creating in the world? What about the last bubble? How'd that work out for your retirement funds?"

Last, "we need to act together, Trump's calling for unity, right" "Does it help when the President* calls the press the enemy of the people? So there are individual 'troublemakers', but are all his enemies really your enemy? Remember Nixon?"

Okay, so all this seems inadequate or lame. I've reached once again my own first conclusion. It may be utterly futile and pointless to engage the Trump supporter. Instead we must rally the 92 million who did not vote, peal off the few, and most of all create as much fracture and friction among Republicans as possible to splinter their votes, gum up the works, and hope we defeat them next time bigly.

We've Always Had Alt-Facts

My Morning with Breitbart
NPR is for Facts, What You Need Are Some Alt-Facts
Because I study religion for a living, I'm used to alt-universes, alt-facts, and other scams that direct hearts and minds to whatever people prefer to believe. You develop a tolerance for a special kind of impenetrability that can lead you to take beliefs seriously, even sympathetically, even with empathy. Careful. That can be fatal to your critical awareness. Remember too that no one jumps out of foxholes for Chaucer and that religion, like politics, doesn't have to be true to be important. Religion teaches you not to underestimate what people will believe or do. Don't read about the the Congregation of the Sisters of Bon Secours in County Galway, Ireland this morning unless you are prepared for what people can do.  Did we mention that sink hole in Iraq that is an ISIS playground?  If nothing people do surprises us, we're in big trouble.
Here in the world where facts are still real we tend to overlook the alt-fact world. Critical thinking requires us to take language seriously since everything is in the meme. An important term this morning on Breitbart is "Deep Statist," which in their alt-understanding refers to entrenched bureaucrats undermining at every turn the President's popular agenda. The Deep Statists treasonously pilfer and leak classified material to the likes of Rachel Maddow. They need to be uncovered, investigated, and imprisoned. Speaker Ryan agrees. Some in Breitbart Land, however, think it's liberal fake news and that Rachel is using false documents to mislead us. So you see, what isn't treason is conspiracy. Start there.
Wait. There's more. The President* tweeted that Obama had Trump Tower wiretapped. This will light up their media sources. Memes have a life of their own, that's important to remember. An electoral majority of voters get most of their information, when they are paying any attention at all, from these sources. Allow me to translate: elected Republicans who control nearly every lever of power that could move an investigation forward will do absolutely nothing until their walking dead are stirred. Not to worry, Fox has them alt-covered. Every serious article in The Times today makes plain the incompetence, corruption, and horror that is befalling us. Well, all except what we hear from that genius Scott Walker who is determined to turn Wisconsin and the rest of the New Confederacy into every thing as hopeless and stupid as Kansas. This reveals the real problem: Republican are incapable of learning. Or are simply happy to profit, however they can, including in collusion with Russian mobsters. Follow the money. Praise the factual reality of the real Fourth Estate.
What's the good news? First, they bungle over their own incompetence and the wheels of dismantling government are turning very slowly for them. We should encourage their entropy and gum up their works. Next, we should flood their phone lines to make their lives a living misery ---with inveterate politeness and, you know, facts. Last, we NEED to create language that will pull off just enough of their walking dead from pulling their levers, maybe even realize the scam. That might be asking too much. Don't give up. "Resistance Fatigue" is what they want more than all. Stay in the game, relentlessly.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Candide’s Can-Do Advice and The Gift of the Red Worm, or How to Swallow the News in the Age of Trump

Candide’s Advice and Gift of the Red Worm or
How to Swallow the News in the Age of Trump

I’m well known for my immoderate indulgence in words and irritating syntax.  When I don’t know what will quite else suffice to soothe my inner beast, I dulcify myself with literary desserts.  Then I inflict the whole jumbled confection on others.  This is the shameless prerogative of a college professor assigning on the pretext of intrinsic merit and edification the very work that he needs in order to mollify his own inner monsters.  Currently, my students, in the course I call “Advice and Dissent,” are charged to read Volatire’s most requisite work, “Candide, or The Optimist.”

That 1759 looks a lot like 2017 is a credit to more than Voltaire’s resilient wit. Voltaire’s capacity to laugh and indeed to mock our shared human folly to look for the bright side when we are surrounded by a horror we cannot wholly attend is every bit as relevant today as it was during Le Révolution.  L’accent aigu has also never seemed more requisite to make it through my day.

Like you, I routinely wake to read the next untroubled lies from Donald J. Trump who received enough votes to be President*.  And like the vandalized majority I’m torn between dread of his repugnant ubiety, strewn as it is across every news source, and the deeper consternation that his electoral victory continues to win wistful approbations of unyielding, thoughtless support from half of our witless country.  When he appeared this past Tuesday before Congress to present an hour of exceptional temperance masking the same detestable and chilling racist vision of ethno-nationalism, the American commentariat, from the dark bastille of their own forlorn hopes, pronounced him “Presidential.”  None with even a verisimilitude of sanity knew that would last.  As Durkheim reminds us, nothing of value will endure based on lie and deceit.

Candide himself disabuses us.  He says, “Optimism is the madness of insisting that all is well when we are miserable.”  Who knows better than the French how to make themselves miserable?  Camus anyone?  Lest we overstate the case, let us embrace the paradox that this same culture gave us le joie de vivre as well as le croque du monsieur.  And where would we be without recourse to gauzy cheese and thinly sliced peccary?   My inner bon vivant repines in celebration of any gastronome who can digest even the most lean collation of Trump’s daily fodder.  I find myself attempting to desist from dyspeptic attitudes that diminish even my irresistible penchant for alliteration and allusion.  Voltaire surely spins a graveyard’s worth of hauteur for that last sentence.

So how do we retain a semblance of animate geniality in this age of earnest gloom?

Yesterday that same Fourth Estate, the one that detoured to declaim Trump’s momentary foray into banal lucidity Tuesday night, recovered its marbles.  They are, at least at the Times and Post, doing the work that only they can do.  Determined journalists are usually fraternizing introverts who cull, cumulate, and coerce information with all the aplomb of sharks chummed to dinner.  Bless them.  Sessions may indeed be forced from ghd stage and, if Republicans have scrap of decency left among them, well then there’s far more to fall.  I realize I just said “Republicans” and “scrap of decency” in the same sentence and I can hear you snickering at my gelastic simplicity.

It is a far easier route to assert only the worst in us and somewhere under this drizzly rainbow there must be enough waggish encouragement that all is not yet lost.  We await a more honest mirth.  In the meantime, read Voltaire and remember what the great Chuang-tzu also said: “One good laugh is worth ten thousand serious thoughts.”  Unless of course you read the news.  Then go back to Voltaire and be sure to make yourself a croque du monsieur that you can wash down with a tall shot from Oaxaca.  Get some of that fine mezcal before they build The Wall and don’t forget to have gusano rojo for dessert.  The French will applaud that too.  Maybe.  If that doesn't appeal we can try lobscouse and spotted dog, but that's a whole 'nother story.