How About “Tiered Policing” As A Concept?

The people behind #DefundThePolice are guilty — of shitty sloganeering. The idea they’re trying to express isn’t bad. Hell even the people they’re fighting with right now agree with them: we need America’s police to stop beating and beating up the people who 1) they’re supposed to protect and serve and 2) who pay their salaries through their tax dollars.

Since reasoning with police departments has gotten the black community exactly nowhere, the only tool left to them is money. If they can find a way to cut off the money flowing to police departments who refuse to police themselves, maybe they’ll get the attention of those police departments.

Apparently, it works. Threatening to cut off peoples pay makes even cynical cops sit up and take notice.

It was never fair anyway to ask cops to fill so many different pairs of shoes — schoolyard intermediary, couples counselor, crime fighter, drug warrior, psychotherapist, bully-for-hire. Officially Sanctioned Racist.

Racism and policing have always had too tidy a relationship here in America. In “A Brief History of Slavery and the Origins of American Policing”, Victor Kappeler, PhD writes “Slave patrols and Night Watches, which later became modern police departments, were both designed to control the behaviors of minorities.” In the case of “slave patrols”, I bet we can guess which minority they were thinking of.

The American approach to policing — “Get The Other!” — just crashed to earth. Reacting to protests over a blatant “murder-by-cop” with violence toward peaceful protesters and the press was stupidity on steroids. It makes it imperative that we find different ways to do this.

I don’t know what percentage of policing is conflict resolution — a lot, I bet. If we took drug crimes off the table — and treated drug use & abuse as a public health issue rather than a police issue, right off the bat, we’d cut policing by a third. If we insisted that people policing a community live in that community, we would go a long way to losing the zookeeper mentality too many cops have adopted — unless their neighbors are all animals.

What if we saw policing like a three-tiered pyramid with the largest, bottom tier given over to “community policing”. Our current crop of cops would go nowhere near this tier. Disputes between neighbors, nuisance calls and everything below a certain level of marginal criminality would fall to this tier. Not only would a a group of people trained in psychotherapy and conflict resolution get hired, so would all the other social welfare folks.

Same token — we’d create a whole new justice system for this tier so that it never has anything to do with the tiers that deal with actual crime. Think of it as small claims court for the masses.

The next tier up would involve lower level criminality. Property crime, let’s say. Above that tier, atop our pyramid would be the “serious crimes” tier — homicide, violent crime and up. Each tier would have its own police, trained to do their specific area of policing, their own courts.

Punishments would be reserved mostly for crime tiers with local communities handling citizens unable to behave themselves. So long as the rules were enforced equally, citizens unable to behave could be considered for next-tier policing attention. One wouldn’t want that.

It’s disgusting to force people to pay the salaries of their abusers. Damn right, the police need to be unfunded. Those police. “Unfunding” police departments doesn’t mean we do without policing.

It means we police fairly. We police equally. We actually protect and (especially) serve as part of “policing”.

Imagine that.

Why Do Assholes Think THEIR Freedom Is More Important Than Anyone Else’s Freedom?

Have ya heard the one about the asshole who refused to wear a mask — cos “freedom”? Sure ya have. Maybe the better question is how many times have you heard…?

This happened the past few days — an asshole walks into a Costco in Arvada, Colorado without a mask. The store has clearly posted that its policy — if you want to enter it — is you MUST wear a mask. An employee — acting respectfully at all times — confronted the customer and told him store policy was he needed to wear a mask in order to continue shopping.

The asshole turned on his phone and started recording the confrontation — thinking of course that his argument would crush this young man on social media. Problem was, the asshole was being an asshole on top of which, he was 100% wrong.

The social media threat backfired horribly. Tison, the employee — whether by dint of great training or because he’s just a smart person who understands how to handle a tricky situation calmly and directly. The video encounter can be seen here — at TMZ.

First things first: Tison, whoever you are — you’re a great employee. I’m sure you’d be a great manager or a great whatever you want to do. You know how to deal with people under duress and difficult circumstances. That’s harder than it looks.

The asshole makes a remarkable (though unsurprising) assumption — only his freedom matters. The asshole is right — he IS free to not wear a mask and be as big an asshole as he wants so long as he doesn’t break the law in any way. But his isn’t the only freedom under discussion.

The Costco Company also has freedom here. In fact, their freedom is no less than the asshole’s freedom. Their freedom should be exactly equal — and, so long as they’re not violating any laws or statutes, they are entitled to allow whomever they like into their stores. That’s their right — because they’re free.

Why do the assholes think their freedom is any more important than another person’s freedom? Oh, right — because they’re assholes.

In Order For Us To Get That Cheap Pair Of Gym Socks, Some Other Human Has To Suffer

Our market-driven economy has taught us all to continue searching out the things we want for the cheapest possible price. Why not get the thing you want while keeping a few more kopeks in your pocket? Seems totally reasonable.

But, that assumes that the things we want — a good pair of white gym socks, say (currently available from Walmart at $6.99 for a package of 6) — can actually be created from start to finish and delivered to us for the price we’re paying. Obviously it can — we’re holding the package of gym socks in our hands. But what did those socks really cost — not just us — but the people who made them? What did growing, manufacturing and shipping those socks to us do to the planet? What did our cheap package of gym socks cost everyone else?

Organic, non-destructive farming methods are more expensive than normal factory farming methods. Our cheap pair of gym socks weren’t grown organically — count on it. The cotton in them was farmed elsewhere under environmental laws more lax than ours. We don’t know (as we pay for our socks) what sorts of pesticides were used. We don’t know how responsibly (or, more likely, irresponsibly) those pesticides were used. We don’t know if they ended up in a stream or a river — or someone’s drinking water.

Farmers and business people doing things for cheap tend to cut corners — like worrying about other peoples’ drinking water. That’s just experience and history talking.

Likewise, we don’t know what, if any, air pollution regs the factory that made our socks followed. It is entirely possible that making our socks contributed (in some small way) to global warming. Bravo, us.

The biggest cost in making our socks is the labor. Or should be. It isn’t. That’s the real problem. For us to get that cheap pair of gym socks, it’s simply a fact that the human beings who actually make them will have to get paid next to nothing. If they can be slave labor — that’s even better.

Cheap, cheaper, cheapest comes at a considerable cost.

As we all stumble forward now into our coronavirus-flavored Brave New World, we’ll have the chance to re-imagine a lot of how we did things. More people working from home all around the world will have a direct economic impact on lots of other businesses. Fewer people will now travel for business. That will mean fewer flights — that are more full (as full as social distancing will allow) — and cost more. The airlines won’t have a choice if they want to remain in business.

Fewer people commuting will mean fewer people need to buy cars. That’s fewer cars bought, financed and serviced. That will mean fewer cars made — not that people will be making them anyway.

Think about your job and what you get paid for it. None of us wants to be told that our labor isn’t worth much — that we’re lucky to have a job so shut up and do it. That’s what we’re telling every laborer who has anything to do with our cheap pair of socks.

Make my socks, bitch. Then die.

We’re going to need to readjust our thinking. Things will cost more than they do because, well, they cost more. We’re going to need to see the deep, profound connections between our economic circumstances and everyone else’s.

Greed never makes anyone smarter.

What Will Americans Do If Trump Goes For Broke — And “Makes Us” An Authoritarian Shithole?

Remember back not so long ago when wacky people on the left said things like “Russia controls Trump!” and people would laugh at us? Remember back when people would, reluctantly, compare Trump & Republicans to Nazis and other people would lose their shit because “how dare you compare anyone to Nazis!”?

What Trump & the Republican Party are doing is (trying to) turn America into the authoritarian paradise they’ve always dreamed of. Conservatives want to conserve what is, remember. And what is is what remains of the past. Conservatives want to turn America back into the White Authoritarian Paradise of their dreams — a fondly remembered slave state circa 1850 where women couldn’t vote, black people were counted as 3/5 of a white person and owning other humans was justified by the gobbledygook in their 2500 year old book of supposed wisdom.

The precedent to our problem was a decision made by the RW money — the Kochs, the Mercers — to USE their money to subvert America’s future to what THEY wanted it to be (the actual Will of the People be damned). The Koch’s saw demographic annihilation in their future and moved to do something about it. Since they couldn’t effectively stop America from becoming more diverse, they put their money into limiting any political power those diverse Americans might have for the foreseeable future.

That’s the whole point of Mitch McConnell’s mission to hijack the judiciary. To reject the Will Of The People in favor of the will of the Koch Bros.

So far, Mitch & the Republicans have managed to work in the extreme background. Now they’ve been dragged into the light. Mitch has said he won’t allow any more “rescue packages” for ordinary Americans. He wants to see Blue States all go bankrupt (never mind that it’s blue states that literally PAY FOR red states and, as we speak, red states are plunging into the very same economic chaos but without the capacity or dynamism afterwards to resurrect themselves).

Mitch will change his tune because he’ll have to or the people of Kentucky will come after him with torches and pitchforks. But even then, Mitch will try to limit the help ordinary Americans get. Mitch won’t have “socialism” in America — not unless it’s corporate socialism in which case — bring it!

The initial Republican coup d’etat relied on our reluctance to accept that the Republicans were capable of doing something so monstrous, evil and corrupt. That was just Democrats being hyperbolic and “political”. That was what the news media told us, remember? Both sides do it anyway, right?

Now we all see how corrupt Republicans are. And now that Bill Barr has stripped himself naked in front of us all, we can see just how nakedly corrupt Barr is — as is the whole Republican game plan to permanently install minority rule. Barr wiped his ass with the Rule of Law then pissed all over it for good measure. Barr just said that the history of this time will get written by the winners — meaning himself and his corrupt Republican co-conspirators.

Um, no, Bill. That won’t happen. The majority of Americans don’t want what you want. They want the opposite and have voted that way only to have their votes suppressed, blocked or not counted. While Americans are too, too slow to take to the streets, when pressed, we do and we will.

Want to know if we’re pressed enough yet? Wisconsinites risked sickness and death to vote in a primary that was mostly focused on keeping a conservative state supreme court justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court bench. They didn’t just defeat this conservative shit, they blew him away with the turnout.

In order for Mitch McConnell to have his way, every single group Republicans, their racism, their misogyny, their bigotry, their cruelty, their greed, their ignorance, their parsimony, their incompetence, their treachery and their corruption have touched will have to lie down. That’s a lot of Americans.

It’s the majority of us, in fact. What separates an America from a Nazi Germany is that, even though most Germans did not, in fact, go along with what Hitler and the National Socialists were doing, all of those Germans were “German”. That’s a very powerful tribal connection and, being social creatures, the last thing any human wants is to be cast off from her tribe. To be ex-communicated from it.

Americans may feel kinship with other Americans but we’re also parts of many other tribes to which we feel deep connections. Now, more than ever, non-white tribes see themselves and their tribe’s particular relationship with America in stark relief. Californians feel kinship toward other Californians. Angelenos feel kinship toward other Agelenos.

Trump & his Republican co-conspirators can’t even count on the armed forces to back them up — should they push this to that level. Trump may be “commander-in-chief” but our soldiers have already face questions of whether or not they have to follow immoral orders. They don’t.

Making America’s voting entirely vote-by-mail will deprive Republicans of a significant device they’ve used to cheat — the vulnerability to the internet of voting systems. Only hand-marked ballots are completely unhackable (though a well-monitored vote-by-mail system comes in second).

The blue voting surges that started in 2018 and continued since have only increased in size and intensity. Again – despite (or maybe because of) dangerously partisan decisions by the SCOTUS (to force Wisconsinites to vote despite the pandemic), more Americans are voting. As Trump himself has said out loud: when more Americans vote, it’s bad for Republicans.

Donald and Mitch and Bill and Mike (Pompeo & Pence & Flynn) all expect America to just “give in” to this physical assault on our democratic republic. They’re going to be in for a very rude surprise. It simply will not go down that way.

African Americans aren’t going to just “go along with this”. Neither will Latino-Americans or Jewish Americans or Asian Americans or LGBTQ Americans or female Americans or ANY American who isn’t a die-hard, go-down-with-the-ship Trumpanista. Yes, yes, yes — Americans are quick to anger but slow to flash it in the streets (doing it on social media is so much easier). But everything’s changed now.

Everything.

We were NEVER going to be an authoritarian shithole except in the minds of authoritarian shitheads.

The country will split apart before surrendering to what Trump and the Republican Party are doing. That will be sad and tragic. But the blue states that reconstitute into an American-like entity will eventually survive. The red states — formed into a blob of white rage and stupidity — will almost overnight become failed states and experiments in how not to run a country. They’ll be lucky to make it past six months with functioning electricity or running water.

What will Americans do when Trump tosses his Hail Mary in hopes of staying in power forever (knowing, as he does, that the moment he stops being potus, his legal problems begin)? Easy. We’ll (finally) step up and say “Enough is enough”. Trump-Russia, unfortunately, was complicated. Too complicated for a headlines-only news media to either get its head around or report. Trump-Ukraine was simpler.

We can all grasp what a quid pro quo is.

Trump-coronavirus is easy to understand. Trump’s corruption cost tens of thousands (so far) of American lives. It’s probably destroyed the economy for a while to come. It’s hard to vote for the guy (and his party) who killed your relatives, gutted your wallet and turned your future into bleak nothingness.

Never mind Trump’s base. It’s not about them and never was. This is about the rest of us — the Americans who genuinely care about America because we genuinely care about the wide variety of Americans with whom we share the country. At the end of the day, there simply is no conservative way out of this.

Trump may try to turn us into an authoritarian shithole — and, for a time, he may come close. But he will not succeed. There are simply too many of us and we’re waaaaay too angry.

The Failure That Is “Both Sides Do It” Journalism

When we get to the “How the HELL did this happen?” phase — after the bad actors are all safely in prison — we’ll need to turn our focus on the American news media and the myriad ways they failed us and their own Constitutionally mandated obligation to be our final check on power. American journalism failed us — repeatedly and tragically.

It all starts with an unsupported insistence that “both sides do it”.

When a Donald Trump violates the Constitution (and the oath he took to uphold and protect it), he’s doing it for a political reason: to undermine the Constitution’s integrity so as to hold onto power. Political. Nakedly so.

When a Democrat responds to Trump violating the Constitution by saying, “Hey, look — the President is doing something he shouldn’t be doing!” that is NOT a political response regardless of the “D” next to the Democrat’s name. It’s an act of patriotism. It’s an act of law abiding citizens demanding Just like an assault victim who cries out for help while being attacked does not “become” their attacker (“both sides do it”) just because they pointed out that they were BEING attacked. The attack victim, like the Democrat (who’s electoral win was stolen — and with it the Will of the American People) has been wronged. And while, in reporting the story, it’s incumbent on the press to be fair and even-handed, “fair and even-handed” does not mean giving credence to bullshit.

Both Sides Do It journalism assumes — without any evidence — that “both sides have an argument”. Both sides may have a point of view and both sides may try to explain why they did something but, if we’re talking criminal behavior, one of those two points of view is going to want to obscure the truth for obvious reasons. When the climate debate first started (before putting climate deniers on TV became verboten), news panels frequently put climate scientists up against climate deniers in a 50-50 presentation.

Understand — just like words and grammer make a language, so do images and video editing. Since the advent of motion pictures, audiences have learned a new language — the visual language. One of the things a modern audience intuits without being told — an argument presented 50-50 visually must be an argument where both sides have equal validity.

That’s what putting a climate denier in the same-sized frame as a scientist does — it visually validates them and their bullshit. Unintentionally — but clearly and (to a modern audience) distinctly. But that’s not a problem to Both Sides Do It journalism since all that matters is that climate deniers have a point of view. And it’s not their job to “judge”. It’s their job to “present the facts”.

Ah, but what if YOU can’t discern what the “facts” are? Or, worse, what if you suck at passing what little discernment you have on to your audience? What if your inability to tell what’s real from what’s bullshit has you reporting nonsense as truth? What if that nonsense has to do with coronavirus? What if your inability to discern truth from bullshit (because journalism school taught you both sides do it) gets people killed?

There’s a voice I can’t get out of my head. It’s become, to me, the signature sound for how terrible the press has handled this. It’s MSNBC’s Alex Witt. Alex is a decent person — I’ve not a doubt. But she’s a piss-poor “journalist”. That’s mostly because she exemplified “Both Sides Do it” journalism. “But aren’t they just playing politics” is a quintessential Alex Witt question — asked not out of intellectual curiosity but out of abject intellectual laziness.

What does that even mean? Does Alex assume that both sides do things for entirely cynical reasons? Does she honestly think that both sides see power the same way and treat people the same way? Is this the world this “professional journalist” has observed for a good, long (for Alex) professional career? Of course not.

To a degree, I don’t blame Alex. She didn’t invent “Both Sides Do It”, she just does it well.

The truth is both sides wouldn’t handle our response to the coronavirus the same way. One side wants to ignore stone cold reality and “get America back to work” regardless of how many people die “to save the economy”. The other side believes in science and doesn’t want one person to die who doesn’t have to. Whole other way of thinking.

There’s nothing radical in these observations. Over the past three years, one side has consistently behaved one way while the other side consistently behaved the exact opposite. Both sides don’t “do it”, in fact, both sides “do their own thing”. That’s what American journalism should have been reporting all along.

Both sides don’t have a Watergate in their past and both sides will not have a Trump-Russia, a Trump-Saudi Arabia, a Trump-North Korea, a Trump-corruption and a Trump-Treason in their present and future. Both sides don’t obstruct justice as easily as they breathe and both sides do not suppress the other sides voters.

Both sides don’t hand proprietary polling data to the Russians (via Oleg Deripaska) and both sides don’t have secret phone calls with Vladimir Putin where even the translator notes must be destroyed.

Both sides don’t botch the response to a human tragedy like coronavirus because they’re worried about “their numbers”.

Both sides don’t see tens of thousands — more likely hundreds of thousands — of dead Americans as “victory”.

Both sides don’t shrug off things Donald Trump says or tweets (like “Liberate Virginia”) because they’re just words.

Both Sides Do It journalism breaks the first rule of journalism right out the door — it starts with a totally flawed premise. Both sides may do “things”, but those “things” are not the same. Some of those “things” are anti-democratic to their core. They’re authoritarian and cruel and must be stopped right here, right now. Both sides do not do it.

Both Sides Do It fails not only as journalism, it fails as storytelling. It fails at being good for anything.

Let’s remove it from the conversation.

Please.

American Christianity Has Turned Itself Into A Death Cult That Would Have Horrified Jesus

Though I am a hard core (I’d even say devout) atheist, I consider myself a “fan of Jesus”. I don’t know for certain if Jesus actually existed (at present, no one can prove that he did, but, I suspect someone vaguely like him did exist — heavy emphasis on the word “vaguely”) but even a humble atheist like me can appreciate and take to heart the simple teaching “Do Unto Others”. It makes so much sense. Want to be treated with respect by others? Do unto them as you would have them do unto you.

Respect them.

The problem with sacred texts in a modern setting is that the modern setting knows way more than the sacred texts do. Lots of “new information” was available to the modern setting that the writers of the sacred texts had no way to access. If the men who wrote what was assembled into the Old Testament had had access to microscopes and telescopes and the internet, would they have written what they wrote the same way? Of course not. They didn’t KNOW that pathogens cause human disease, not magic or Yahweh (the god character’s actual name — “god” is his job description as in “That Yahweh’s a pretty thin-skinned god, don’tcha think?”). Had they seen photos of distant galaxies taken from the Hubble Telescope, do ya think they’d have invented a mythology to explain everything that still put Earth at the center of all creation when all evidence says the opposite?

Jesus did not invent Christianity. He lived his whole life — and died — a Jew. For all we know, he never was called “Jesus” or the “Christ” at any point during his life. Rather, if he existed, he was referred to like every other Jew of his time and place — by his Jewish name (Joshua Ben Joseph for instance). Jesus may have been somewhat radical in his message but it was still a radically JEWISH message that did not stray one iota from Jewish thinking.

Do Unto Others is a deeply Jewish way of thinking. Of course a lifelong Jew like Jesus would have thought that way. The everlasting genius that was Jesus (whoever, however, whatever he was) comes from his ability to articulate that profound message (in English anyway) in three simple words that anyone can understand. And it’s not hard to do. It’s not hard to figure out “how to do”. You just do it.

Jesus also taught you don’t need a temple or a high priest to talk to Yahweh. Go directly to the father was how Jesus put it. Talk to Yahweh yourself.

That puts priests and the church they’re sitting in into a bind. Jesus says his followers don’t need them to follow him. That makes priests and their churches completely redundant. “Useless,” my construction worker friends used to say (I worked construction briefly during the WGA strike of 1988), “As titties on a bull”.

So where the hell did priests and a church come from if it wasn’t part of Jesus’s “plan”? It came from the same place most of the early church’s mythology came from — Paul, The Apostle. It’s a simple fact. Jesus wrote 0% of the New Testament while Paul wrote about 30% of it, give or take. 27 texts make up the NT. 13 to 14 are attributed to Paul, 7 of them with absolute certainty. Even if the rest attributed to Paul weren’t actually written by him, still they speak from Paul’s point of view; they aspire to tell Paul’s version of events.

The bulk of Paul’s contribution are the letters he wrote to the new, burgeoning Christian communities beginning to form around the eastern Roman world. In them, he describes a Jesus he never met as if he knew him intimately. He speaks for Jesus and begins to lay out the ideas that later writers — the early church fathers — would use to craft an entire mythology out of whole cloth — that springboarded from Jewish culture and custom into the fantastical world of the New Testament.

If you brought Jesus back to life today and explained modern Christianity to him, Jesus would have no idea what you were talking about.

If you did the same thing to Paul, you’d get a completely different reaction. Paul would recognize the story. He’d be taken by all the new additions to what he started (though he’d probably find Mormonism — where Jesus visits North America — a continent Jesus never knew even existed — as especially egregious). Paul started as Saul From Tarsus who “converted” on the road to Damascus after experiencing an epiphany. As Paul, he became determined to spread Jesus’s message even if the message Paul was spreading had nothing to do with Jesus or his actual message.

To that end, Paul aligned Jesus with Jewish tradition (which, being Jewish, Paul was knowledgeable about) and the mythology he created (at first), struggled hard to line up Jesus with the attributes and story precedents required to justify Jesus as the “messiah”. If Jesus was indeed the prophesied messiah, he needed to fit into a certain box with certain attributes. He needed to be related to King David… needed to be born in Bethlehem (regardless of where he was actually born)… needed to be born of a virgin (not sure where that came through but the world Jesus and Paul came from believed deeply in magic and magical powers and Paul’s was not the first version of a new god being born of an old god and a human).

Paul’s genius — the thing that gave his creation (Christianity) legs — was how he employed Jesus — as a kind of mascot — for a pretty radical idea (for then just as for now): “Want to beat Death? Believe in Jesus.”

That’s really what Christianity is all about — eternal life. It was never part of Jesus’s message because he never met Paul — and never heard the wacky ideas that Paul had in his head. As the early church fathers — the men who came after Paul and set out to finish the work that Paul started — settled in to their roles, they expanded upon Paul’s mythology.

Christianity as we know it today has almost nothing to do with Jesus. He really is just a Ronald McDonald-like mascot selling “Do Unto Others” burgers to suckers. Church buildings do more to undermine any congregation’s integrity than all the atheists combined. Buildings are expensive to build, expensive to maintain. Every church has to do that math: what does it take to have a church and what does it take to keep that church operational, the doors open & the lights on? The answer? Lots and lots of money.

Jesus, as far as we can tell from the message that filtered down to us, was deeply into the spiritual side of things. He didn’t teach how to manage a church’s finances so as to keep it in the black. Do Unto Others. That’s it.

Now — picture Jesus actually getting to have that second coming Paul and HIS followers imagined for Jesus. Finally, Jesus gets to rise from the dead for all to see and acknowledge. There’ll be no disputing it this time. Jesus comes back and sees for himself what Paul did and what sprang from what Paul did.

Does Jesus ever stop projectile vomiting?

I think not.

America’s Tax Problem Isn’t That Taxes Are Too High, It’s That We Don’t Think We GET Anything For Them…

Americans have always hated paying taxes. “No taxation without representation” was one of our first great marketing triumphs as a young nation. Wanna know who WE are? We’re the “We ain’t paying no stinking taxes” guys.

The colonists saw their tax dollars going out and nothing coming back in return.

What made it worse — the things they could point to that their tax dollars were funding included the British soldiers who, the Americans increasingly believed, were oppressing them. Americans, it turns out, HATE paying to be oppressed.

We resisted any sort of federal income tax for 140 years (caveat — the federal govt briefly imposed an income tax during the Civil War) until the 16th amendment was ratified in 1913 — that’s the one that made a federal income tax legal. Just for information’s sake, the first federally imposed tax was an inheritance tax. We knew even back then that the rich were hoarding cash.

When someone holds out their hand to you — expecting YOU to put cash in it — you kinda want to know what you’re getting for it. Even if all you’re responding to a threat with a bribe or a payoff, you KNOW what you’re getting — a few moments of relative peace until the next time they come with their hand out. You may not like what you’re getting, but at least you can identify it. Most Americans couldn’t tell you what they get for their tax dollars — other than the military and “the federal government” in all its polymorphous splendor. The problem is, aside from the military (which is mostly other people doing what they do far, far away), Americans see their tax dollars as paying for nothing.

Taxes are a black hole that mocks us relentlessly. Only a sucker pays taxes. Isn’t that what we’re taught?

We laugh at Europeans because they pay such high taxes — Just above 60% in Denmark, for instance. The sub headline from this article (from US News & World Report, 2016) says it all: “People in the European country see taxes as an investment in their quality of life”. They’re laughing at us a lot harder than we ever laughed at them. By virtually every metric — other than self-delusion — Northern Europeans like the Danes (the ones paying the highest taxes) are far, far, FAR happier than we are.

They’re far healthier than we are. As is said — they work to live. Americans, OTOH, live to work. Yeah — the ones paying the higher taxes are far happier than the ones begrudging every tax dollar spent.

But then, Europeans like the Danes can point to things they GET for their tax dollars. They GET health CARE from cradle to grave.

That’s especially foreign to Americans because we think in terms of health INSURANCE, not health CARE. That’s because our system evolved out of an historical anomaly that arose during WW II. The first employersponsored hospitalization plan was created by teachers in Dallas, Texas in 1929. These were small, very localized health plans that were meant to deal with catastrophic situations. Hospitalization. In the absence of any sort of “national health system”, every locality did what it did in its own way.

During WW II, the federal government directed every possible tax dollar its way. It was illegal, during the war, to give employees raises (or to raise a salary so as to attract talent to a job). But fringe benefits like, say, “health insurance” didn’t count as salary. Big companies (they could afford to) offered “health plans” instead.

Then the war ended — and these health plans should have ended right along with it. From Wikipedia: In his November 19, 1945 address to the nation, President Harry Truman proposed “…a national system that would be open to all Americans, but would remain optional. Participants would pay monthly fees into the plan, which would cover the cost of any and all medical expenses that arose in a time of need. The government would pay for the cost of services rendered by any doctor who chose to join the program. In addition, the insurance plan would give cash to the policy holder to replace wages lost because of illness or injury.”

Americans liked the idea — a lot. But the AMA hated it. So did the Chamber of Commerce and The American Hospital Association. They denounced it as “socialism”.

And that is where America’s shot at Universal Single Payer Health CARE died.

The people who opposed it did not oppose it on medical grounds, they opposed it for monetary reasons. Greed mattered more than medicine. FACT.

If Truman had done what Obama did — muscled his way past the greed as best he could — we wouldn’t be laughing AT the Danes and the Swedes and the British and the Germans and the French and the Canadians. We’d be laughing with them.

These systems aren’t perfect. Not by a long shot. Nothing is — can we please accept that fact? But — the data’s pretty conclusive — if you want to measure a health care system by its successful health care outcomes? We’ve got it all wrong. We pay far more and get far less.

Ah, but — what if we payed less (our individual piles of money are the same pile whether we pay taxes with it or out-of-pocket health care costs like deductibles & co-pays) and got a whole lot more for those very same dollars? What if — in addition to cradle to grave health CARE — we got the knowledge that we could NEVER go broke or lose our houses because we or someone we love got sick?

What if Americans — instead of merely seeing a deduction already taken from their paycheck or a check written to the US Treasury in blood — got an itemized bill that showed 1) what they themselves owed but (more importantly), 2) also gave them a detailed breakdown of where every single penny went. And what if some of those things their every tax dollar funded was good health care with the doctors they like?

Caveat — it’s not just the tax system that needs overhauling. It’s the whole nature of the health CARE system. In a universal single-payer system, every physician who wants to have a license to practice medicine will have to take part. Part of our “you know what you’re paying for system” would now include your education. Want to be a doctor? We’ll pay for it — you’ll pay for it (via your taxes). But then you won’t leave college/university hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. You will have to spend your early years as a doctor inside the National Health CARE System. You’ll learn a ton. You’ll be well compensated — but you won’t be overly compensated.

Health care cannot be a wild, wild west of greed. It simply can’t be run that way — otherwise you get what WE have where people get billed $3200 cos they caught coronavirus. That should be a joke that we all laugh at because it’s so incomprehensible.

That’s our reality. It’s why people like the Danes laugh their asses off at us.

There’s no such thing as a “rugged individual”. That’s a bullshit myth “rugged individuals” (men — almost exclusively men) tell themselves to justify their greed.

They’re the ones benefiting from our tax system.

Dear Pundit Class — You Don’t Get Why Bernie Is Succeeding Because You Still Think Everything’s “Politics”

Say what you will about Bernie Sanders, one thing he is — consistent. I think of myself as a socialist — well, a social democrat in the European sense. That’s what Bernie Sanders is, too. A social democrat who believes government’s biggest responsibility (outside of defending us from outside harm) is to level the playing field so that as many citizens as possible can realize their full potential — which will benefit us all in myriad ways.

Democratic socialism is very aspirational. It wants something better than what is. Will it cost more than what we’re doing now? It depends on how you total it all up.

The average middle class American — even with a half-way decent employee-provided health INSURANCE plan — still spends a small fortune out of pocket to get the actual health CARE they need. And nothing in their insurance will save them if they get really, REALLY sick and blow past the insurance coverage’s caps. Hello, bankruptcy. When that average middle class American’s kid gets out of college or university (they’ll need a degree still to compete both here and abroad), they’ve got a whole mountain range of debt to get past before their lives can really begin.

Those are two examples of what we currently think is “acceptable”. Funny thing? Most other modern, industrialized, democratic countries? They don’t agree.

One of the things that never gets mentioned in the apples to kumquats comparisons we get of democratic socialism vs what we have now is that although Europeans pay more in taxes than we do, they GET a whole lot of things that they WANT & NEED in return. Things they can point at. Things that they know make their lives better.

Reminder — no one in a country with that boogeyman “socialized medicine” ever goes bankrupt or loses their family home because they or someone they love dared to get sick.

My opposition to that isn’t “political”, it’s moral. Our system is flat out IMMORAL. Fight me on that — I double dog dare ya.

The idea of giving every one of our children either a (public) college education or technical training “for free” (it’s paid for by tax dollars) isn’t a political idea, it’s a philosophy: we educate our children because it makes US better & smarter as a society. Billing ourselves exorbitantly to accomplish that is stupid on steroids.

That’s why other countries don’t do it. That’s why other countries are competing better than we are. We think it’s all about money and politics.

For us, it is. For all those European Democratic Socialists? It’s a philosophy.

The notion of the “rugged individual” is a fabulous fiction. A very MALE fiction at that. Rugged individuals “alone can fix it”, right?

Bullshit. Even as a philosophy — that’s bullshit. But, ironically, in order to make that philosophy a reality “I alone can fix it” — you have to get political. Because THAT’S a philosophy no one believes and no one (with a brain) will buy. So you have to turn to politics — manipulation (that’s the goal of politics — to manipulate towards an end) — in order to have your way.

Our pundit class still thinks the House Democrats impeached Donald Trump because of politics. That was not the case. Though the Democrats are, indeed, a different political party — and were acting as a group — what motivated them was NOT politics. Yes, Democrats oppose Trump on political grounds, but the actions the Democrats were citing were violations of the law and the Constitution. They weren’t reacting politically, they were reacting patriotically. Not the same things.

Keep in mind — if it’s so that Russia impacted the OUTCOME of election 2016 in in any way (and we KNOW that Republicans not only accepted MILLIONS from Russia into their campaign accounts but handed Russia proprietary polling data on top of it all) then we have to ask — for real — whether we can accept the outcome of an election that was neither free nor fair. Worse — the election’s outcome was Russia’s desired outcome. They put their choice into the White House and have had full control of him ever since.

Between now and the election, Trump’s Russia problem will not go away — no matter what Bill Barr does or tries to do. There will never be a day when Trump gets good news on that front — unless it’s Bill Barr successfully obstructing justice. The PR horse is out of that barn and it’s not coming back.

Our pundit class — like the news media that feeds them — still can’t get the idea that Trump isn’t a normal POTUS out of their heads. They can’t get it INTO their heads that lies and truth don’t have equal weight. When a person lies to you, you IGNORE what they say. You don’t ask “But, what if that’s true…?” because it ISN’T true. It was NEVER true.

You’ve just wasted your time — and our time — running down a rabbit hole you should have avoided. Because it was complete bullshit. A person (a reporter even) who calls out a lie in real time, isn’t acting politically. They’re calling a lie a lie.

Can Bernie accomplish everything he says he wants for America? Probably not. But aspirationally, it’s a far better direction than where Donald Trump and the Republican Party want to take us — permanent minority rule. At least Bernie’s version of America doesn’t divide the way Trump’s America does.

At the end of the day, what Bernie’s really selling — it’s what Obama sold — is HOPE. Hope for something better than what is (and aiming for the middle of the road is aiming for a slightly better version of what is). Bernie’s not selling “Hope Adjacent”, he’s selling full on Hope — while Trump sells the diametric opposite.

Ya see, Pundits — it ain’t about politics. It IS about philosophy, And it is about darkness vs light.

If you don’t think even the dumbest Democrat on the planet can sell that? You’re blinded by politics.

Of Chaos Theory & Corner Kicks (And American Politics)

We all knew LIfe in the Age Of Trump was going to be challenging on a thousand different levels. I’m not sure we factored in the constant state of chaos Trumpism thrives on. That, it turns out, is what makes all the other challenges work — it’s almost impossible to attack any one of them while so many others are flaring up. The chaos stymies us. It frustrates us into cynicism — and inaction. Result? The chaos worsens, becoming unstoppable.

Chaos is a state of total unpredictability. Almost anything can happen — good, bad, indifferent. The study of chaos — Chaos Theory — attempts to find ways to predict chaos — to identify enough quantifiable elements inside the chaos so as to make prediction possible.

As Wikipedia puts it: “Chaotic behavior exists in many natural systems, including fluid flow, heartbeat irregularities, weather and climate. It also occurs spontaneously in some systems with artificial components, such as the stock market and road traffic.” Chaos exists in just about any system where human behavior pokes its nose. Like a soccor pitch…

I’m a Tottenham Hotspur supporter. That’s both a lovely experience — being part of a large, world-wide clan — and eternally crushing in its chronic “almost-ness”. Spurs have been top four or five in the English Premier League for years but never THE top. That consistency keeps a fan base happy but it never gives them the cathartic Big Win they crave. Last season, Spurs made it all the way to the Champions League Final against a superior Liverpool side. Another second place finish. So close… so far… .

Those who hate footie — Americans mostly who need constant action to engage them — don’t grasp the slow build drama of a soccer match. In England, every year, there are tournaments (the FA Cup, the Carabo Cup) where lesser teams from the lower leagues get to play against teams from the EPL Occasionally, the lesser teams flirt with jaw-dropping upsets. If a team can play solid, organized defense, they’ll always stand a chance. Keeping a clean sheet guarantees you at least a tie.

If you can score on a counter attack — then you have a chance to win, too. That’s the gamble. There’s another tool in the underdog’s belt though — chaos. For all its organization — with players keeping their shape and knowing where they need to be — a soccer game’s outcome can rely on the pure chaos unleashed when a corner kick gets taken.

Provided the attacking team’s goalie stays in his or her goal, that puts ten players trying to put the ball into the net against eleven players trying to stop the ball — and, hopefully either clear it out of the box to buy some time to regroup or initiate a counter strike because the attacking team’s defense is, for the moment, out of position. As much as teams may practice set plays, the circumstances at the time of any particular corner kick are unique to that game and everything that led to that corner kick.

If the player taking the corner kick lofts the ball into the box, here’s what happens: 21 bodies suddenly go into motion in 21 different directions. The kick could be well taken or not well taken — that, too, is part of the chaos. Weather conditions also impact what’s happening inside the box. Rain, for instance, can make getting traction harder. It can change the purchase a player going for a header gets as he digs his spikes into the turf and leaps. Wind can knock a ball down fractionally, change its arc just enough to impact all the players’ timing.

Anything can happen. A lesser player can score a goal just by being in the right place at the right time. He or she doesn’t even have to put the ball goal-ward with a drop of skill. The ball can reflect off them and into the net. It can hit them — then hit another player (altering the ball’s flight) before slipping past the goalie. The ball can even bounce off a defender and into the goal.

For all the skill and talent moving through those 792 square feet of space (the penalty area is 18 feet X 44 feet), it’s not uncommon for one of those talented, highly paid football soccer players to put the ball into his or own own net. Shit gets that chaotic.

You play the soccer game because anything can happen.

Metaphorically speaking (and I love me a good metaphor), the Age Of Trump is like a giant corner kick. We have lots of bodies in motion, all heading in different directions. Some want to put the ball into the goal — end Trump’s presidency — while others defend if not furiously then with total desperation.

There’s another player in the box though — us. We The People. We’re on this pitch to be sure. We’re the biggest bunch of players there actually. The game’s outcome will determine our future. That’s what makes it galling that, as usual, the Republicans are cheating at the game. But then, it was always an illusion that we started the game on a level playing field.

That has never, ever been the case.

Edward Norton Lorenz, creator of chaos theory (he “…established the theoretical basis of weather and climate predictability, as well as the basis for computer-aided atmospheric physics and meteorology”), also theorized “The Butterfly Effect”. Lorenz used a butterfly’s wings as a metaphor for how a minor perturbation — like a single butterfly flapping it’s wings on one part of the globe — could result in a tornado on another part of the planet several weeks later.

If Lorenz is right — and our ability to predict weather says he is — then even small disturbances can, in time, produce gigantic effects. It’s just the nature of chaos. That means that our political situation — as profoundly chaotic as it is — is not set in stone. Change any of the elements flying through the penalty box and we don’t know if or how the end will change.

But then, how the end “ends” is a lot more up to us than we realize. That’s the point. If enough of us butterflies out here in the public start flapping our wings — voting, attending marches and rallies, speaking up — we don’t know whether or not we’ll make a difference. But we could — the math days we absolutely could.

Who wins when the chaos ends? Who knows? Chaos is chaos is chaos.

And that’s why we have to show up.

Human Beings Can’t Help Being Tribal; The Trick Is To See As Many Other Humans As Possible As “Your Tribe”

I’m an Angeleno. As crazy-making as living in LA can make you, I love living here and I feel a very real kinship with everyone else who loves living here. Hell — I feel a kinship for those who DON’T love living here. I get it. I understand them and feel those same tugs. If you’re an Angeleno — period — I think of us as the same tribe.

Now, some of my LA tribe-mates are Clippers fans. Me? I’ve always been a Lakers fan. I was out of my head with Lakers Love during the Kobe Bryant years (lost it all during the post Kobe fiasco) and saw members of the Clippers tribe as unworthy. If that same person stepped outside of Staples Center and put down their Clippers merch? We’re Angelenos standing proudly together again.

I’ve been an east-sider most of my 35+ years in LA. Everyone who lives west of La Brea is a Martian. Unless they’re a Lakers fan. Or a Angeleno.

That’s the point. Every time I pull the camera back — and see my kinship in wider terms — I SEE kinship. Angeleno though I am, I also take great tribal pride in being a Californian.

I take great tribal pride in being an American. I take great tribal pride in being a Jew. And a Progressive. And a lover of reading. And a graduate of Vassar College. And a graduate of Pikesville High School in 1977. And a classmate at Fort Garrison Elementary School. And anyone who was ever born in Rome, New York (where I was born while my father was in the Air Force).

But I also take great tribal pride in being a human being.

We ARE all in this together. The more of us who get that fact — who see our common purpose and tribal kinship — the better.