Maybe If You Have To CHEAT To Win Elections, It Means You’re Not Actually “Winning” Them

When, oh when, did America legitimize CHEATING as a way “to win”?

Take this to the bank and prepare to get filthy, stinking rich: if anyone other than white, Christian, male Republicans tried to pull off what the Republicans were pulling off well before Donald Trump took them over but even more wolfishly ever since – they would be doing hard time in a federal prison already. If Republicans were anything other than rich white guys, we would not have given them a single one of the second, third, fourth ad infinitum “second chances” we still give Republicans. We would absolutely have put our foot down long ago and probably atop one of their more vulnerable body parts.

But, as we know, rich, Christian white men walk around America with a special dispensation that allows them and their corruption to run amok while the rest of us scratch our heads with growing unease. The GOP isn’t expressing a “political opinion” or even a “point of view”. They’re expressing the willful desire to end the greatest experiment in human self government ever because 1) they’re unwilling to share power with the rest of us and 2) they never intended, ever, to share power with the rest of us.

Take the Electoral College out of the presidential race equation and Donald Trump would never have stood a chance. Russia, for its part, would never have bothered backing Trump to begin with because the popular vote math simply was never going to be there. Russia, having studied us endlessly, understands just fine that the Electoral College (like the structure of the Senate) isn’t intended to empower the majority, it’s meant to get in the majority’s way especially when the majority’s needs conflict with corruption’s. If there’s one thing Vlad Putin gets on a cellular level, it’s corruption. He sees it writ large across conservatism. Example – why are there two Dakotas? Were there too many Dakotans for one Dakota? I bet it’s the same reason lightly populated Idaho, Wyoming and Montana are all individual states whose small, mostly white populations get the exact same amount of Senatorial representation as large, diverse urban population states like California.

Think of it: each South or North Dakotan (population a shade under 885,000 and 762,000 respectively) gets the same amount of representation in the Senate as 39.5 million Californians. That gives the North or South Dakotan’s rural concerns far more political weight than an Angleno has. Far, FAR more political weight. That’s why America feels so out of whack. The rabid, white minority have been pushing the rest of us around forever, changing the rules on the fly as needed to keep the act going. Their corruption and cynicism permeate everything. And, now that they’ve decided to throw in the towel on democracy and go balls to the wall toward authoritarianism?

The GOP has a deep, fundamental problem: they’ve always been more into corruption than they ever were into democracy. Corruption pays better apparently. And, as Donald Trump and his Republican pals keep reminding us, once you head down the road to corruption? There’s no going back. Our founders cut a deal with slavery. They cut a deal with evil. Funny thing about evil is, whatever deal you cut with it? YOU did all the compromising, not evil. Evil never compromises, least of all with silly-assed humans who think you can “cut a deal” with an evil as evil as slavery.

Let’s not forget: the modern GOP flowed from Nixon’s “southern strategy” wherein he flipped the Dixiecrats (which wasn’t hard), officially turning them from Democrats to Republicans. While all the overt racists flocked to George Wallace, the more “polite” racists flocked to Nixon. In the end, they ALL ended up Republicans. The GOP coalesced into the culture warrior Newt Gingrich set upon the rest of us. That guy had and has zero interest in negotiating with anyone (least of all the left). To bullies like Newt, the rule of law is useful when it’s useful and entirely disposable the rest of the time.

The point of the exercise is a wall between America’s diverse majority and any kind of meaningful political power. The right has, at best, played “democracy kabuki” when necessary but their ultimate goal has always been permanent minority rule.

No one in the majority, of course, is going to vote for ignorant, racist, bigoted thugs to rule them permanently. No one is going to vote for the ideas that come from such people – were they to have ideas. Fortunately, beyond permanent minority rule, they don’t have any ideas. That’s where cheating to win comes in. With cheating to win, you never have to gamble on voters liking you or your ideas. Instead, you pretty much guarantee yourself a win just because YOU like you (and any ideas if you have them).

When, I’d like to know, did our news media decide that cheating to win wasn’t verboten? When did it become “just another way to win” instead of “the thing that would absolutely disqualify your win if you dared try it”? Imagine for a moment if our news media stopped treating cheating as a strategy and started treating it like a terrible character flaw that we so don’t want it in our leaders that we’ve actually outlawed it. Imagine if we treated cheating like corruption instead of like a “choice” one always has. Imagine if we prosecuted cheaters and cheating because we grasped just how terrible cheaters and cheating are for both our political and physical systems.

How can letting a cheater get away with cheating ever turn out well for the cheated upon? Cheaters don’t put away their cheating jones. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Just knowing that we tolerate a certain amount of corruption and cheating among certain people undermines our democracy’s integrity. But then, when you couldn’t care less about integrity, maybe democracy’s not really your thing.

Depression Is Like “Thought Cancer”

Slowly — too slowly — our culture is beginning to understand that depression isn’t just one person feeling blue because their life sucks. It’s a health issue with causes and effects that can be treated and ameliorated. The human brain is, by far, the most complex, complicated organ in our bodies. It’s also the organ we understand the least. Inside our skulls, 100 billion nerve cells (neurons) [are] interconnected by trillions of connections, called synapses. On average, each connection transmits about one signal per second. Some specialized connections send up to 1,000 signals per second. Our synapses work like digital circuits; they’re either open or closed. If they’re open, electrical currents can travel across them — and information moves right along with the current. “Somehow… that’s producing thought,” says Charles Jennings, director of neurotechnology at the MIT McGovern Institute for Brain Research. As ethereal as our thoughts feel, they probably have a physical form — some kind of encoding sequence “burned into” storage areas of our brains. These storage areas — dispersed across our grey matter — link up as we think associatively — connecting immediate stimuli to memories of similar stimuli.

In a happy world where only happy thoughts filtered into our brains, our brains would (one hopes) process only happiness and happiness is all we’d feel and “know”. Alas, Life doesn’t work that way. Even getting through a morning can produce the full gamut of thought possibilities. Some Life experiences leave behind more than just their physical imprint on our neural networks They leave behind darkness. Depression.

If happy thoughts produce lightness in our heads, depression produces its opposite. And, mind you, just like with cancer, there’s more than one kind of depression. Not all darkness is created equal. What Shakespeare called “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” can leave scars on our bodies and in our minds. I was sexually assaulted twice when I was fourteen by the religious director at the synagogue where my family belonged outside of Baltimore. The second instance was especially harmful because (having kept the secret that first time), I believed I was therefore responsible for there being a second time. Somehow, this information imprinted deeply into my brain — not just that it happened but that it happened for a complicated reason for which I was responsible. That’s a lot of abstraction spread across various parts of my brain. But, that abstraction became my darkness — and that darkness haunted me even though I denied its existence.

When does a terrible incident transition into depression inside our brains? What causes that depression to “metastasize” from “sad thoughts” into increasingly self-destructive behavior? I treated this memory of being sexually assaulted like a secret only I (and my attacker) would or could know. That’s why there was a second time, remember? Despite being sexually assaulted once, I said nothing, told no one. That must have been the case — from my attacker’s point of view — since he still had a job and wasn’t in jail. As I walked in the door that second time, he knew he was safe — and knew he could do it again. So, he did.

This particular memory — this collection of information plus perspective plus all other associations connected to it — behaved exactly like a slow-moving cancer. Plenty of other bad memories become “cancerous” in that they interfere with your life in potentially fatal ways. Just like our immune system regularly deals with low level cancers all the time, our brains find ways of, if not healing the cancerous thoughts, at least containing them and the damage done. Talk therapy went a long way toward mitigating a lot of the depression caused by my sexual assault. Unfortunately, until I dealt with that cancer directly, I was never going to put my cancer into remission.

In my case, this “thought cancer” destroyed my ability to relate to other people with confidence. It’s not that I didn’t or couldn’t trust them, it’s that I had a secret that they could never know — and if they didn’t know that secret about me, they couldn’t possibly know “me”. This put me on an emotional island I didn’t even know I was on. I had friends but never close friends; that is, they felt closeness to me that I couldn’t feel toward them because, down deep, I couldn’t understand why they’d want to BE my friend when, the dark, dirty truth was, I was undeserving of anyone’s friendship. Because of what I did.

Three days before Christmas 2016 — my cancer suddenly metastasizing at an even more alarming rate — I came within literal inches of killing myself. My darkness, my thought cancer, had blocked out all perspective. I had become convinced that my family and friends — my community — would go on same as it was just fine without me. That would not have been the case at all, certainly not with my wife and kids. But, that’s the insidious thing about “thought cancer”. Like a tumor does, depression becomes part of the architecture. The body starts feeding it blood — like it belonged there. The tumor’s essence flows into you and, like a virus, sets about turning you into it.

In my case, I convinced myself that because I’d been sexually assaulted, I deserved every other rotten thing that happened. Including death. Talk about bullshit.

My path out of the darkness and back up into reality began with talk therapy. Acknowledging the need for help was essential to both getting help and being helped. But, I was still keeping that secret from myself — literally denying that such a thing had ever happened to me. I needed even more help — that was my suicide attempt. I had feared mood stabilizers because of the reasons above: we have a “guestimate” understanding of how our brains work but an even bigger gap in understanding how exactly these drugs work in our individual brains. I grew up in a medical family; my dad was a surgeon. I know the culture. I know that my GP doesn’t have a background in these meds — not their fault. Most likely, they’d prescribe whatever the last Big Pharma rep left behind last time she visited and handed out samples. I wanted to deal with my depression while leaving my hypomania alone mostly (that’s where my creativity resides — I’m bi-polar too) and had found lamotrigine (lamictil). The anecdotal information available while I was Googling back in 2014 and 2015 was scant compared to now. At higher doses (I’ve since researched), lamotrigine can impact one’s hypomania. But, I got lucky.

Boy, did I get lucky. Immediately after my attempt — knowing I needed more help than just talk therapy — I drove straight to my GP and told them everything. I told them what happened — but not why because I didn’t know that yet. I told them I’d researched lamotrigine. My GP (and the head doctor — I got a lot of attention) whipped out their smart phones to look it up for themselves. By that point, they’d asked me three times if perhaps I should be hospitalized. I assured them that if trying medication didn’t help then, yes — I’d agree to be hospitalized. They wrote the script.

I went hope, told my family what I was planning — they signed off on it (they were even more desperate than I was that I get help) and I took my first 25 milligram dose. That’s when luck really kicked in. Within 36 hours at that minimal dose, I levelled. I literally felt the darkness lose its power to control me.

My rage was explosive back then. Though usually self-directed, my rage could just as easily be pointed at something stupid I heard on the radio or LA traffic. I don’t remember what set it off that time but the rage erupted in my gut and began to funnel upward with increasing velocity. I was quite prepared for it to hit my throat and — per usual — explode out of me in waves of angry, vituperative spew. But, this time, just as the rage went to explode, instead, it dissipated like a soap bubble popping. I knew I had felt this incredible anger but, just when I expected to really FEEL it? Nada. It was gone except for the (already) fading memory of it.

This was liberating! After the exact same thing happened again several hours later, I understood exactly how the mood stabilizer was stabilizing my moods.

With my depression no longer in charge — no longer able to derail me and my emotions, I could begin the real process of healing. In my case, I could begin to address the eight thousand kiloton gorilla sitting on my chest: my secret.

Long story short: I did confront my secret and confronting it hurt like a mofo. But, confronting that secret — talking about it finally — took away literally all its power over me. Writing about it was even more healing.

I haven’t removed my darkness, I’ve disempowered it. It still lurks within and it knows the power it has over me. If this was “cancer” cancer, I’d change my diet to keep it at bay or alter my lifestyle as necessary. Thought cancer requires the same pro-active measures.

I don’t think for two seconds that I’ve “beaten” this thought cancer. I’ve just figured out how to live with it — and find happiness while living with it. That’s the good news on the subject: there is hope. Lots and lots of it.

The Problem With Conservatives Is WHAT They Want To “Conserve”

I call myself a “progressive” instead of “liberal”. I’m extremely liberal in most ways but the word’s got too much damned baggage. It’s been abused and misused and neo-ed to the point where, to my mind, it’s become too imprecise to describe how my mind sees the world. I want the American commonweal to progress into the future with gusto. I want us to embrace our challenges. I want us to go as far outside the box as we need to to solve those challenges. I want America to live up to the motto on our Great Seal: “E Pluribus Unum”. Out of many, one. I want America to live UP to its ideals — even the ones it didn’t fully embrace at its creation like ALL “men” are created equal. Here’s the irony — in a way, conservatives WANT America to live up to the same ideal — but EXACTLY how the founders meant it: “all white, Christian men are created equal — so long as they’re landowners.”. That is what too, too many conservatives have in mind when they take up conservatism — America circa 1850.

A debate now rages in conservative circles, started by longtime Republican strategist Stuart Stevens. In his book “It Was All A Lie”, Stevens (who has been instrumental in crafting the messages that elected hundreds of Republicans to office) unabashedly accepts responsibility for having contributed to the deeply cynical enterprise that, he now sees, was always the GOP’s true self. Stevens even sees Saint Ronnie Reagan in this harsh, new light. As satisfying as it may have been hearing Reagan deride “welfare queens” for living off the government, what Reagan really was doing was spewing racism.

Racism and white supremacy have nested at the core of Republican intent at least since Barry Goldwater, Stevens says, and it disgusts him. He now understands: the Republican Party stands for nothing today. They exist to hold onto power however they must. If that means destroying the republic? So be it. This isn’t Trumpism, insists Stevens, it’s pure Republicanism screaming at the very top of its racist, bigoted, misogynistic, ignorant voice. This is conservatives making it crystal clear WHAT exactly they want to conserve.

Obviously, no conservative wants to conserve the future. The future’s the thing conservatives are trying to keep at bay. They want to hold onto as many of their conservative values as possible so as to slow, mitigate or prevent the future from ever happening. The conservative ideal, after all, is to make the future look as much like the past as possible. If the future could BE the past? So much the better (from the conservative POV)!

This isn’t rocket science (a thing conservatives fear because rocket science causes innovation and innovation causes change). Look at anything most conservatives want to legislate. The goal is to keep white people in power. To keep money in their hands. To give them advantages versus the rules that non-white people won’t get. Conservativism, by design, wants to maintain the status quo. To conserve it. The present contains as much of the future as a conservative can tolerate. They want to preserve as much of the past as they can in the present.

If every conservative was honest, that’s what they’d tell you. That’s why you should vote for them — because, unlike the progressive who’s unafraid of the future, they, the conservative, will take you back in time to when it was safer to be white. To when white people felt more assured that the future belonged to them just like the past did. One of the reasons to scream about Critical Race Theory is that CRT demands that we tell the FULL story about the past. The reason so few Americans even knew that a “Black Wall Street” existed (only to be wiped out by a race riot 100 years ago) is because “we” never reminded ourselves that it was part of our story. White people never want to hear stories about white people acting like monsters regardless of how true the stories are. They don’t want to see themselves that way.

That, too, is part of conservatism’s nature. Conservatism cannot look itself in the eye. It can’t self-analyze. It cannot stand being judged (judgmental as it is toward everyone else). It has no sense of humor. Oh, conservatives can laugh — but they never laugh WITH anyone (except other conservatives) while they’re collectively laughing AT someone else. Conservatism regards those not conservative with cynical distrust. It assumes the very worst about the rest of us — that we’re out to destroy the thing they love; for them, even freedom is a zero sum game. It’s not possible, they think, for others to have rights without white people “losing” rights. Power sharing just ain’t in their DNA.

And, so, conservatives gerrymander and voter suppress and even conspire with Russia in order to win elections that they know they can’t win fairly — all in order to conserve a version of America that never existed in the first place except in their minds. That’s the nutshell our problem sits inside of — conservatism can’t even be honest with itself about its intentions. About what IT wants and why.

Good thing the rest of us are here to explain it to them.

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.