Tuesday, July 20, 2021

The Enemy Next Door (not the movie)

Yes, I will be taking a break, but this is too good to pass up, a local example of fake news extruded onto the internet by people too lazy or ill-equipped to recognize it. Or purposefully. In any case, this one involves me.

Perhaps the reader is aware of the information-exchange website, “Nextdoor.” It’s nationwide, with regional subsets of local groups (“Everett Conservatives,” in this case) and neighborhoods, like “Nextdoor Boulevard.” A better name would be “Nextdoor Nosy,” as there’s a surfeit of complaints about loud cars, unkempt yards, teenagers, dogs, and warnings of people walking funny.

A few days ago, I was sent screenshots from a thread on the site, asking for my thoughts. It was approximately hilarious, but definitely sad. Not for myself, but for what passes for information on right-wing sites nowadays. 

Informant Jan writes, “You can google Sid Schwab and you’ll arrive at a writeup written by him. [She surmises.] He entitles himself as Doctor Schwab. He claims he received his surgery training in San Francisco but doesn’t name the institution… Then practiced for five years in Salem. Where in Salem? … 20 more years at the Everett Clinic. As what? He also said he was a flight surgeon in Vietnam during the war. How does he confirm that? … I think the Herald should vet his credentials.”

Co-conspirator Amanda chimes in: “I think I just watched his story a few days ago. A really bad doctor who maimed and killed his patients. I really did just watch a documentary that sounds a lot like this guy.”

To which Jan replied, “Amanda, I’m going to write the Herald re this creep. Think you should, also.” Then, “The Herald did not publish my letter re Sid Schwab… I will not renew The Herald.”

“Creep” was a nice detail.

There followed input from a lady who’d actually looked into it – something the outrageously outraged had chosen not to; placing, it must be assumed, righteous indignation above truth. The nicer lady posted easily-found documentation and verifications, which seems to have brought the “discussion” to a close.

Lacking admission to “Everett Conservatives,” I'd guess there were posts that preceded what was sent to me. Whatever documentary rattled around between Amanda’s ears can’t have “sounded like” what Jan said, if that’s where the deliberations began. It didn’t seem especially creepy, nor had she cited maiming and killing, the avoidance of which I’ve always considered kind of a personal credo.

The point is not to argue I am who I am, or to suggest I’m not a creep, because, well, the definition is admittedly squishy. It’s to point out how easy it is for online ill-wishers and/or the uninformed to spread falsehoods, deceive those lacking critical minds, trash reputations, and, tragically, propel narcissistic incompetents into high office.

Brewing in a “conservative” coven, it’s probable the exchange arose from enough intellectual residua to have secerned my subtle misgivings about Trump. Likely, it went no further, but it’s instructive nevertheless. Someone saw something she assumed was written by me (the publicist for my book, more likely) which didn’t include the address of UCSF or The Salem Clinic, or proof I served in Vietnam. Therefore, suspect. Also, I was born in Kenya.

A co-conspirator saw a “documentary,” which she concluded was about me. Really? Was the subject unnamed? Had he been in SF, Salem, and Everett? Otherwise, we must conclude not all bulbs in Amanda’s chandelier are LED.

Charitably, I’ll assume it wasn’t deliberate dishonesty, but just the lazy credulity Russian and other foreign entities count on when they plant their pro-Trump propaganda

Which is perfect fodder for homegrown grift, too, like Trump’s calls for “stop the steal” donations and scammers selling suckers overpriced “Freedom Phones.” 

And it mirrors what people who value truth are up against: a malignant mélange of mendacity, gullibility, sloth, and skillfully-cultivated inability to recognize falsehood. Or preference for it. Especially if it supports inaccurate beliefs that are more comfortable than accepting hard reality.

Whether I lied about Vietnam (wanna see my DD214 or Purple Heart Medal, Jan? Email your address and I’ll drop by) or being a doctor (I’ll bring my degrees, too), is minuscule solanum tuberosums compared to whether the election was stolen, climate change and Covid-19 are real, or Trump is a sociopathic liar. But, on a smaller scale, it validates the confidence of those who, capitalizing on strategically-produced right-wing ignorance, spread misinformation to the willing, to maintain power and wealth while hurting the very people they’ve deceived into voting for them. 

It’s hard to see a way out of it.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

They're Nuts. CPAC confirms.

CPAC. Once a year, it allows us to witness, compressed and packaged, the degeneration of a formerly rational political party. Lucky us: twice, this year. Time was, the acronym stood for “Conservative Political Action Conference.” Now, it’s gotta be “Christians Perverting Actual Christianity.” What a lineup of lies, victimhood, ignorance and hate. Hate for their fellow humans; for the poor and needy, for immigrants, for teaching and truth. Everything, in other words, the Bible tells us Jesus loved. Died for, briefly.

Perfectly presenting the direction their party is headed – namely, electing and showcasing nasty, dishonest, uninformed, anti-democracy, pro-autocracy, conspiratorial demagogues -- it’s more sorrowful every year. Attendees actually cheered for low vaccination rates among Republicans. “It’s horrifying,” said Dr. Fauci. “I mean, they are cheering about someone saying that it’s a good thing for people not to try and save their lives!”

New guy Madison Cawthorn, whose preexisting dishonesty, like Trump’s, first time around, didn’t keep him from being elected, warned that the next step from bringing vaccinations to homes is coming for your guns and Bibles. This is a party bereft of ideas. Not to mention morality. It’s no exaggeration: they delight in death in order to “stick it to the libs.” 

It’s even worse than that. They cheered for ending every pro-life program our government provides. This, the party of “pro-life,” which they wave like Trump flags, shout it louder than “lock her up.” Their pretense that they’re protectors of life ends when it’s those no longer enwombed. Excepting the already wealthy.

Attendees were also treated to a 7-point plan to restore Trump to office, immediately. Among others, it included getting the Congressional Black Caucus to switch to the party that would like them never to vote; that welcomed racist Proud Boys and Three-percenters to their ghoulish gathering. Cogent.

This berserk zeitgeist is who and what they’ve become. How they got there is a complicated story, the result of decades of deliberate disinformation meant to endumb and divide. The why, though, is simple.   

Okay. Stop. This is pretty bad writing, right? Hyperbolic. Purple. I admit it. The thing is, the continuing rise of Trumpism is making me increasingly incoherent. And perpetually depressed. Seeing America crumble before my eyes; witnessing one so-called conservative after another, people so far beyond redemption, so demonstrably against everything for which America once stood, get up and spew their reality-averse vitriol to a cheering crowd, is becoming psychically intolerable. And it shows.

I’ve tried to tell myself, well, these are just the lunatic fringe. But they’re not. Trumpism – by which I mean making lies central to the message, absent anything positive but full of voter suppression, science denial, and selfishness – is now the uncontested mainstream of today’s Republicanism. 

Commanded by the most dishonest, divisive, and delusional “president” this country has seen, whom they can only have elected not in spite of but because of those attributes, they’re culling any member who stood for democracy in the aftermath of the most scrutinized and confirmed election, ever.

And, while feigning outrage at so-called “cancel culture,” they’re systematically canceling the history of America: from learning why we amended flawed founding documents to acknowledging what happened on January 6, and what caused it.

Lacking a positive agenda, they’re counting on riding a hyped-up, cynically-created culture war to victory. Said Jim Banks, R-Indiana, the “backlash against Critical Race Theory is real … We are in a culture war … we are winning.” 

Till now, America had tended to improve itself by acknowledging and repairing its flaws; so what Republicans are doing is worse than Stalinism. Stalin did his gaslighting without Fox “news” and Rush-like radio talkers. And CPAC.

The people cheering at CPAC are forever lost to rationality. Their disdain for democracy is irreversible. They’re the culmination of a long-term project to stupefy millions of people, based on the recognition that for a top-heavy, unpopular agenda to prevail in a democracy, voters need to be made ignorant. CPAC proves its effectiveness. Tennessee confirms.

Better writers than me, with far wider audiences, are making no difference. Polls show Republicans remain steadfast in their delusions, about the election, about Trump, about climate change and vaccines, about poverty, about education. Evidently, we’re at the point where carefully-crafted ignorance becomes indelible. No columnist can change it. 

America could save itself by outvoting idiocy. But that’s like bailing a boat with no bottom: red states are attacking education and voting rights faster than efforts to stop it. Trumpists would only awaken, if at all, when they comprehend the damage being done to them and our country, by cynical manipulators. By then, it’d be too late. I think it already is. I need a break. Again. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Break From Politics. Almost.

Soccer. I was barely aware of it until college, where I watched a game for the first time; mainly because “we” were playing Harvard, which featured a legendary player named Chris Ohiri. Somehow, I’d heard of him, even though I knew approximately nothing about the sport.

Ohiri had come to Harvard from Nigeria, where he’d been a record-breaking decathlete and an Olympic soccer star. As a freshman, he’d scored thirty-six goals in nine games, which, now something of a soccer aficionado, I find all but unthinkable. In his three years on the varsity squad he scored forty-seven.

The game I saw was perhaps the only one in which he didn’t, because we had a player whose speed matched his and whose only job was to dog him. Chris said after the game that our guy, Larry, was the best American he’d played against. I played rugby with Larry, who’d often run to the sidelines to suck on a cigarette and quaff a beer before rejoining the game. It was a club sport. Further comparisons to follow.

(Checking on Ohiri for this column, I discovered that shortly after graduation, then enrolled in Harvard Business School, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and went home to Nigeria to die. Because the ruling government saw his returning-hero status as a threat, he was arrested on arrival, and died in custody.)

I came to appreciate soccer when our son took it up, eventually becoming a striker on a championship select team. I knew I qualified as a fan when they attended an invitational tournament in B.C. Having been on call the night before, I’d missed their match against the Canadian U-17 national team. A dad told me it was the best they’d ever seen: a 0 – 0, or, as we like to say, nil - nil tie. Only true fans can say that about that.

I bring this up because I’ve been binge-watching Euro Championship and Copa America games. At its best, soccer is, indeed, “the beautiful game.” The skills required are, not to sound creepy, unnatural. For example, the first time our son received a kicked-off football, in middle school, he ran it back for a touchdown. Running with an air-filled, ovoid leather-like sack tucked under one’s arm is natural. Same with tossing a spherical object through a circular ring. Not everyone can, but our bodies are designed for it.

Dribbling with one’s feet at full speed, however, maintaining control while making balletic moves around opponents, able to fire off an accurate shot, wasn’t engineered into the blueprints. Nor was precision-controlling a ball flying at you from afar. With a shoe, not a glove.

Also, soccer is ridiculous. Because it’s very hard to score, a team can dominate play in all ways and still lose, by virtue of one sort of fluke or another. It’s not rare. Worse is that the higher up the professional ladder you go, the more the players are inclined to fake injuries, to extract a penalty call from the referee. Hurl themselves to the ground, theatrically; flail as in the agonal throes of death, though touched in the most innoxious of ways.

In my rugby days, there were no substitutions. Contact was full, forceful, and free of padding. If a player went down, it was likely for the count, helped or carried off the field, leaving his team to play a man down. Or two. Or three. Otherwise, we soldiered on, bleeding into bandages, bones poking through skin (if memory serves).

By contrast, footy-fakers pound the ground in unbearable pain, roll like British cheese-chasers, waiting for the referee’s call. If none is forthcoming, they bounce up, limp once or twice for effect, and resume playing. It’s a medical miracle, really. Homeopathic, almost. 

These rules could make the game less annoying:

1. If a player rolls more than once, he (women don’t flop) must leave the pitch for five minutes per roll, with no substitutions allowed. 

2. Players may pound the ground twice. Each additional whack triggers two minutes off the field. If the player pops right up, the minutes are doubled.

3. Faked damaged limbs will be quick-dry casted for the remainder of the game.

4. Political candidates must explain corner kicks, penalty kicks, and the off-sides rule; any that votes to prohibit teaching about racism may never use the term “cancel culture.”

5. While watching replays of consecutive nil-nil soccer games nonstop for twenty-four hours, people who believe Trump will return as “president” in August must locate the Constitution’s Reinstatement Clause and speak in public to explain it.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Under The Hoax Dome

Hoax enough for ya? In Seattle, workers watered roads that were buckling in the hoax. Because their cables were over-hoaxing, Portland’s trolleys were shut down. Olympic trials in Eugene paused as athletes succumbed to hoax-stroke. For those of us fortunate enough to have air-conditioning, going outside was like walking into a solid wall of hoax.

If it was hoaxer than Hell around here, there’s some good news on another front: The hoaxcines have been hugely effective against the coronahoax. Numbers of new cases in our state have dropped dramatically. Here and across America, 99% of people now dying from the hoaxus are unhoaxinated. And, because so many of us have understood the need and the science, those who still refuse the hoaxine because of Hox “news” are increasingly unlikely to fall ill. “See?” they’ll say. “Told you so.”

Also, we’ve learned the January 6 hoaxurrection wasn’t orchestrated by Antifa or BLM or AOC after all. It was the FBI. Ask Trump’s rally-goers.  

Seriously, foax: why are Republican leaders so committed to making and keeping their voters stupid? That they’re doing so and are surpassingly good at it is uncontroversial. And whereas it’s not hard to understand why they do it, what’s shocking is how easy it’s been. To wit: Critical Race Theory. Letters to the editor bemoaning the “fact” that it’s taught in our schools. That’s high-class, low-information, full-frontal Hoaxification.

The question answers itself. Republican leaders need stupid voters in order to regain and retain power. Smart people wouldn’t let them. Why? Because that party has become devoid of ideas, other than tax cuts to keep their bankrollers wealthy, even as it means ignoring America’s most dire needs. Because only stupid people stand by while, in order to win elections in the absence of helpful policy, Republicans surgically neuter democracy in states it controls. Only stupid people continue to believe, undeterred by overwhelming contrary evidence, that such measures are justified, because the last election was “stolen.”

It’s not smart people who’ve put #ucker Carlson at the top of cable “news” and kept him there, even after he called the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff “stupid” and a “pig” for saying well-informed troops are more effective. Ante-upper Laura Ingraham, #ucker’s ovarian equivalent, called for defunding the military, while Matt Gaetz did the same for the FBI. Makes “defund the police” – admittedly the most stupid and self-destructive meme up with which the liberal fringe has ever come – seem almost charming, doesn’t it?

But let’s leave calling people “stupid” to #ucker. Henceforth, we’ll substitute “uneducated” and “misinformed.” The point is that educated, well-informed people understand the deathly danger of climate change. They see that ignoring it any longer is beyond irresponsible. And Republican leaders understand dealing with it would mean they couldn’t sustain the unbalanced tax structure that keeps their donors happy. They understand that most of their voters, fed the right propaganda, can be made resentful enough of changing demographics to vote their way no matter what else is at stake – even when it’s life itself. Education, then, is their gravest enemy, to be attacked unrelentingly.

So they dredged up “Critical Race Theory,” a fifty-year-old legal/academic concept, taught mainly in law schools, proposing that race is a social construct, and that America’s justice system doesn’t deal fairly with racial issues. Ask a generic Trumpist, they’ll say it’s taught in grade schools, to make all kids hate America and white ones hate themselves. How stu… sorry … misinformed

Should children know American history? Does it include racism? Can we learn from it? Might that make America better? Only st… oops … uneducated people would argue otherwise.

Trumpists conflate CRT with teaching children to be empathetic and to recognize unfairness where it exists; which, unlike CRT, is taught, and should be. Except in Texas, Florida, and, soon, all red states. PACs have even been created to get Trumpists on school boards, to keep teachers from discussing racism. Perhaps they’ll explain why they shouldn’t. And why banning it isn’t the “cancel culture” they’re encouraged to rage about.

Having supported an actual hoax while in office, the former one-term president’s Attorney General now confirms he and other advisers knew Trump’s election claims were bullstuff. He said Mitch McConnell asked him to call it out, because he, Mitch, couldn’t. Because to win Georgia they needed to keep voters st… dang! … misinformed. McConnell corroborated Barr’s statement. 

Which ought, finally, to help Trumpists recognize what’s being done to them, and why; and, for their own self-respect and our country’s future, to work to become better informed, rather than staying, well … stupid.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

#ucker Carlson, FBI, And Italian Gates

"Unindicted co-conspirators." Makes a person think. If by "think" one means "completely mischaracterize the concept." When used in a DOJ report on January's insurrection, it made Tucker Carlson "think" of the FBI. "Incredible bombshell," he called it. After which, several Republican loonies in Congress gobbled it up like orange wedges at a kids' soccer match.

To Tucker “Starts-with-T-but-there-are-alternatives” Carlson, the term could only mean Trump’s anti-American insurrection was an FBI operation. To people able to maintain contact with reality, though, it more likely refers to seditionists who laid plans but for which there’s currently inadequate evidence to indict; or to those who stoked anger to murderous levels on the morning of. Mo Brooks, Rudy Giuliani, Ted Cruz, for examples. And, of course, the outvoted “president.” That’s how Nixon was described, after all, back when gates stopped being just things that open and close.

To rationalize their anti-democracy voter suppression laws (because fair elections would doom them, R senators just blocked even discussion, much less a vote, on the For the People Act), Republicans must keep alive the myth of massive election fraud. To keep the lie Trumpophilically credible, they’re morphing the murderous insurrection it engendered into something innocent; or created by deep-state agents, or liberals; or which never happened at all.

What other explanation is there for the Republican representatives who voted against honoring the capitol police? If they didn’t honor them, it didn’t happen. If it didn’t happen, there’s no complicity for those peddling Trump’s big lie.

As to Tucker, they come for the conspiracies and stay for the lies. Who doubts that millions of the Trumpofoxified are buying his FBI connivance, after he repeated it, repeatedly?

Which raises an interesting question: if Tucker’s like-mindless Congress-dwellers believe his deep state confabulation, why vote against a commission to investigate? Wouldn’t they ride the wave of revealed, awful truth to perpetual power? To which the answer can only be, they don’t.

What they do believe, then, is that Trumpublicans can be convinced of anything; so they keep them hot, bothered, ignorant of, and distracted from their real, deep six agenda. By what evidence can anyone say they’re wrong?

They’re not. One needs no more proof than “ItalyGate,” their most recent gate swinging off its hinges, pushed, among others, by a woman sitting for an interview while squatting, unknown to the owner, in a thirty-million-dollar mansion she claimed was hers. Not far enough off, though, to prevent Mark Meadows, Trump’s former chief of staff, from asking the DOJ to look into it.

Because who wouldn’t believe an Italian defense contractor collaborated with the US Embassy in Rome, to beam advanced (alien?) satellite technology into voting machines, stealing millions of Trump votes. Totally real. Real as hacking into machines that aren’t online. From outer space. Real as Jewish space lasers combusting California’s forests. 

But not as real as how close Trump brought us to losing it all. Because behind the noise, the deliberate drum of disinformation dispersed by devious deceivers, are disturbing details. Whether getting the Department of Justice to spy on members of Congress and reporters and even his own people, or pressuring it to find non-existent election fraud, he did his best to make the DOJ and, it’s being reported, even the FCC, his personal investigatory and punishment agencies. Like the KGB, Stasi, Gestapo, and OVRA, used by the dictators he so admires to keep their subjects in line and living in fear.

How close? Attorney General Barr willingly mischaracterized the Mueller Report, squelched prosecutorial investigations into Trump’s criminality, resumed the domestic data-gathering at which even Jeff Sessions had finally balked, and let Trump’s criminal enablers, like Roger Stone and Michael Flynn, off the hook. But lying about manifestly absent election fraud was evidently an abridgment too far, even for him, despite his prior eagerness to politicize his department. After failing to confirm Trump’s big lie, he was gone. His successor, pressured by Trump to appoint special counsels to find it, slow-walked it. That close.

As Trumpists keep believing conspiracies egested by their favorite fabulists, and as unscrupulous pushers of them keep getting elected, there are ever fewer people on the right with the integrity and rationality required to protect the Republic. No matter how long he’s been “gone,” Trump’s treachery lives on. Thanks in no small part to Tucker’s anti-American, self-enriching shtick, Vladimir Putin polls higher than President Biden among Trumpists.

First, Russia had Trump. Now it’s Carlson. As he and his believers tear down America, in the Kremlin it’s high fives all around. We're left to wonder if #ucker is in on it.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

God And Mitch (maybe not in that order)

On Monday, Mitch McConnell unlimbered himself of the following bit of oracular wisdom: "I think it's highly unlikely — in fact, no, I don't think either party, if it were different from the president, would confirm a Supreme Court nominee in the middle of an election." He should know. In a rational world, his picture would appear in every dictionary in every language of every country on Earth, next to their word for “hypocrite.”

I’m told there are differences of opinion on the existence or nature of a creator of this universe; and, if there is such an entity, whether he/she/it/they resemble the God of the Bible or any of the thousand or so other gods and godettes in which people believe around the world. I’m not about to weigh in on the matter; however, there’s one compelling piece of evidence against the Judeo-Christian version: Mitch McConnell has not yet been rendered into ash by a bolt of lightning. Not even as he uttered those words. It’s not dispositive, but it does make a person think.

For Mitch, politics is a zero-sum game. Any lie, any eye-popping example of unabashed hypocrisy, any full reversal of a previous declaration is justified in service of his only goal: preservation of power. What’s best for our country is of no importance. If he has his way – and, with the help of Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema, he most likely will – President Biden and Democrats won’t be able to pass any significant legislation of benefit even to his own constituents. No matter if – or, maybe, especially BECAUSE – a significant majority of Americans want it enacted.

If there’s any philosophical consistency to Mitch’s behavior and that of his party, it’s unwavering commitment to preventing a Democrat-led government from succeeding. In the states, it’s preventing a Democrat-led government from happening at all, no matter by what margin Democrats outnumber Republicans within their borders. Because, generally speaking, what comes from Democrats has always been good for the majority of Americans: child labor laws, workplace safety, health care, Social Security, and, were they to get their way, laws protecting equality of the franchise and rebuilding infrastructure.

The list is longer. Much longer than what Republicans have produced, ever since Saint Ronnie told us government is the problem. Were enough people to come to realize it, and if it came to pass that they understood what Trumpublicanism (even before Trump) has prevented or taken from them, voters would relegate that party to a historical anomaly.

So confident are Mitch and other leading lights the Republican Party of their success in befuddling and distracting their voters that they feel free to demean their greatest enemy: democracy itself. Openly. That's where we are: today’s Republicans, as far from their origins and historical icons as they could possibly be, are actively denouncing democracy while doing everything they can to eliminate its most sacrosanct protector; namely, fair elections.

Too strong? Here’s Senator Mike Lee of Utah, Tweetle-deeing: “Democracy isn't the objective; liberty, peace, and prospefity [sic] are. We want the human condition to flourish. [Really? Then how about some healthcare and anti-climate change legislation? How about helping people in poverty to flourish?] Rank democracy can thwart that.” RANK?? What does that even mean? Functioning? One in which the majority prevails?

Yep. Exactly. We know that because, not long after, along came Tweetle-dumb: “The idea of democracy and majority rule really is what goes against our history and what the country stands for.” Doctor (how embarrassing!) Rand Paul. Is who had that to say. And more: "The Jim Crow laws came out of democracy. That's what you get when a majority ignores the rights of others." It doesn’t get wronger than that. Like the voter suppression laws sprouting in red states like MAGA hats and Q flags, Jim Crow legislation was an attack on democracy, its absolute opposite, springing from fear of – what shall we call them? – RANK elections. Just more obvious and clumsy than modern efforts to protect monotone against a rising and inevitable tide of polychrome.

Much smarter and far more subtle than Trump, and still in power, Mitch McConnell understands the future of his party depends on finding ways to keep the “wrong” people from voting, and to keep “his” people from accepting the results when the majority prevails. He knows his efforts, and those of red state leaders, to disenfranchise citizens who hold the power to run them out of office will eventually find their way to the Supreme Court.

Which makes the reasons for that statement, above, as clear as those patches of empty lawn on the National Mall, January 20, 2017. 


Thursday, June 10, 2021

Meating Of The Minds

Not all Trumpublicans are brainwashed. Some are the ones doing it. It’s a question of which came first, the chicken or a horse of a different color.

Many scientific studies have confirmed that liberals and conservatives process information differently: reactions to tense situations; response to facts that disprove beliefs; which parts of the brain light up on scans when seeing stressful images. Consistently, they show that liberals tend to respond more rationally, more evidence-based.

Published in “Science Advances,” titled “Conservatives’ susceptibility to political misperceptions,” the latest such study summarizes, in part, thus: “… Results confirm that conservatives … perform worse at distinguishing truth and falsehoods. This is partially explained by the fact that the most widely shared falsehoods tend to promote conservative positions, while corresponding truths typically favor liberals…” [think climate change, election fraud, adenochrome, vaccines, “fake” vs. fake, BLM.]

Only hardcore science and statistics nerds will plow through it. Even more improbable is that people who should see it, will; much less give it serious consideration. But, by methods careful and transparent, the findings are well-supported. Given the unabashed preference for spreading and receiving falsehoods that characterize today’s Republican Party, tightly bound to Trumpism, the findings aren’t unexpected. It’s doubtful they’re remediable. Which makes trying for “bipartisanship” a fool’s game. 

An intriguing enigma remains: is this democracy-threatening dupability the cause or effect of nonstop disinformation? Did the decades-ago founding purveyors of it, like Gingrich aping Goebbels, deliberately create gullibility by bombarding their followers with so much untruth that they became unable to distinguish it? Or, like Karl Rove, did they recognize the preexisting defect in certain conservatives’ judgment, then exploit it for power and wealth?

Maybe it doesn’t matter. But if this blindness is connate, not created, reversal is fantasy. Either way, with deception being prevalent for so long, enlightenment seems unobtainable. Weirdly, the optimistic view is that what we’re witnessing, namely the majority of Republicans believing Trump’s election lies and other laughable but unfunny falsehoods, sprang from intentional manipulation by unscrupulous, democracy-rejecting, lower-sphincter-adjacents. At least that would suggest the possibility of rehabilitation.

Among other doubtful occurrences, though, it’d require old-school, honest conservatives regaining ascendency in their party. It’d require more Republicans (and two pudding-brained senatorial DINOs) choosing country over clout. And it’d require enough Trumpists to recognize that every piece of legislation beneficial to them is being blocked by the powers behind their own party. Which, in turn, would mean overcoming their mysterious inability to discern lies. Not likely. 

For today's Republican leadership, still prostrate before Trump, afraid of the radicalized, conspiracy-believing base they so painstakingly created, there’s too much at stake to let it happen. Because they have no positive agenda, and, given Trump’s failures, particularly with but not limited to his response to Covid-19, they’re determined to change the subject, by manipulating the aforementioned vulnerability. The insurrection wasn’t. Or was liberals in disguise. Or, as described with a knowing smirk by “President” Putin, to whom Trump consistently kowtowed, the insurrectionists were simply “making political requests” for which they’re being unjustly prosecuted. Right. Putin, Trump, Fox, OAN, and Newsmax.

Because a party without policy needs diversionary scapegoats, Dr. Fauci is their latest Hillary Clinton. He, not Trump, bears responsibility for America’s nearly six-hundred-thousand pandemic deaths. Waving the fascist playbook like Trump’s Lafayette Square Bible, Junior Trump joked about murdering him. Trump himself said there’s worse coming. Let’s not only forget Trump’s lies and inattention, his mismanagement, his mockery of people who cared. Let’s also erase his pulling CDC experts out of China before the pandemic, as part of his ineffective “tough on China” posturing.  

Another example: Because President Biden’s rescue plan actually decreased economic stress and food insecurity by forty percent, Republicans have supporters focusing on people still not working. How can such unquestioning acceptance of misdirection be overcome? 

Resurrecting his “Shower Me with Adulation” claimbakes for the wool-eyed, Trump, when not lying about the man who defeated him sound and certified, teleprompted these words last weekend: “The survival of America depends on our ability to elect Republicans at every level, starting with the midterms next year.”

He’s right. If, by “America,” he means the country where not all citizens have equal access to voting. Where the needs and political preferences of the majority are quashed. Where the means of escape from poverty are repeatedly blocked, lest taxes be raised on people who never experienced it and don’t care. Where lies are truth and the mysterious inability to divine the difference is explicitly employed, by their leaders and media stars, to benefit the wealthy few who control Trump’s Republican party. 

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Prepping For The Final Exam

Pop Quiz. No time limit. Links to answers attached to each question. For purposes of self-assessment, don’t look before answering. Fair warning to Trumpic and/or Foxified Republicans: Have adult beverages handy, for you risk the shock of factuality by following the links. If none other, at least follow the first one. PLEASE. And may enlightenment shine upon you and bring you peace.

(Note for blog-readers only: you probably already know what's at the links, but click anyway. Some, you might find amusing. Also, the Herald version is moving to Fridays, I'm told.)

1. Intentionally creating distrust in elections by repeatedly lying about non-existent fraud, then forcing laws to “restore trust,” is an unprecedented, existentially dangerous attack on democracy. From within. Discuss. (Link)

2. Define Critical Race Theory. Explain its origins. Indicate where it’s being taught and where it’s not. Write a paragraph to refute its central tenets. (Link)(Link)

3. What is the 1619 Project? Explain its origins. Indicate where it’s being taught and where it’s not. Write a paragraph to refute its central tenets. (Link)(Link

4. Define communism. Give examples of where, in its pure form, it’s ever been implemented in a country. Have any countries referred to themselves as communist when, in fact, by strict definition, they weren’t? Do any official policies of the Democratic Party fit the definition? Which ones? Be specific. (Link)

5. Define pure socialism. Have any countries referred to themselves as socialist when, in fact, by strict definition, they weren’t? Do any policies of the Democratic Party fit the definition? Which ones? Be specific. (Link)

6. Define Democratic Socialism. (You may refer to it as Social Democracy.) Give examples of countries whose governance currently fits the definition. Is there a spectrum? If so, does the US belong somewhere along it? Compare happiness indexes and poverty levels. (Link)

7. In Social Democracies, government programs that provide education, health, and economic security for citizens, especially the workforce, enhance and strengthen capitalism. Refute. (Link)

8. True or false: In a fairly constituted democratic republic, the minority of voters should have a voice but the majority should prevail. Defend your answer. (Link)

9. Does gerrymandering, which allows a party to control state legislatures while receiving fewer votes than the opposition, lead to fair public policy? Is it consistent with the fundamentals of our democracy? Why or why not? (Link)

10. If an insurrection occurs in a democracy, successful or not, the intent of which is to overthrow a constitutionally certified, multiply-recounted and adjudicated election, and which results in deaths and destruction within the nation’s hallowed Capitol and which overtly threatens the lives of legislators of both parties, should the roots and carrying out of that insurrection be investigated? Why or why not? (Link)

11. If one party blocks a bipartisan investigatory commission, the composition of which included all the demands of that party and mirrors the framework of the 9/11 commission, is it fair to conclude they wish to hide self-incriminating facts from the American people? (Link)

12. If the Senate leader of that party demands his colleagues block it “as a personal favor,” what’s the “personal” part? What constituents does he fear? Do they reflect the opinion of most Americans regarding an investigation? Show your work. (Link

13. Discuss: The filibuster leads to bipartisanship. Give examples from recent years. If sixty to seventy percent of Americans favor certain legislation, should forty percent of senators, representing forty million fewer voters than senators of the other party, be able to block it? Why or why not? Does our Constitution mention filibuster? Does it square with original intent? (Link)

14. What is original intent? Would the founders agree that the mass murders occurring almost daily in the country they created are simply “the price of freedom”? In writing the Second Amendment, should they have specified, unambiguously, what they meant by a “well-regulated militia,” and what they intended as its purpose? Was slavery involved in any way? Support your answer. (Link)(Link)

15. The First Amendment was written when news spread on horseback. Would the founders have anticipated media sources with instant and worldwide reach, using lies and dishonest editing as a business plan? If not, are there arguments for updating the amendment? (Link)

16. Trump hired “only the best people,” and none were corrupt. Defend. (Link)

17. Reports say Trump believes he’ll be reinstated as “president” by August. Explain: (Link)

18. Who’s tougher, rugby players like your columnist once was, or soccer players? Provide examples. (Link)

19. MAGA Republicans prefer selecting leaders by coup or overturning elections. Refute. (Link)

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Correcting A History Lesson


On Monday, the chairman of Snohomish County Republicans treated us to a letter to the editor, in which he unburdened himself of some deprecatory opinions, along with selected facts well-known to everyone with knowledge of American history. The Democratic Party, he reminded us, once included a bunch of Southern racists. Which, until several decades ago, it most surely did. 

Reaching back almost two hundred years, he wrote of times when his party didn’t. Name-checking Abraham Lincoln, he expressed pride in his party’s “rich history,” as he put it, “of supporting African-Americans.” Other than the current, dominant, southern faction of the chairman’s party, who doesn’t like what Abe did? Since then, though, along with science, equal access to voting, and preference for leaders who don’t lie about elections and pandemics, his party’s support stopped cold as a polar vortex.

The chairman’s lesson took a recess somewhere around 1965; which all but begs us to provide proper, less-selective updating. Key terms to keep in mind as we try: Southern strategy; “welfare queens”; LBJ; Voting Rights Act; Civil Rights Act; Shelby County vs. Holder.

Our lesson could be condensed, simply by pointing out it’s to the Republican Party those racist Democrats fled after LBJ powered the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts into existence; and that they were welcomed the way Democrats (not Republicans, weirdly) are welcoming vaccines. Understanding he’d be causing Democrats to lose the South, LBJ did it anyway. That kind of doing right for Americans, no matter the impact on party, has gone sadly missing from Republican leaders; especially in, but not limited to, the past thirteen years. 

After offering that Democrats should apologize for slavery, Jim Crow, and the KKK, the chairman finished with a familiar flourish of bravado, proclaiming “I will not be bullied by someone who calls me a racist.” Good. If he isn’t, he shouldn’t be. (If, in fact, he’s been called one, it’s fair to wonder why, though.) But – and this is important – one can rationalize racist policies without being racist. 

Moreover, he holds office in Trump’s party, which now considers racists part of the base it must indulge. Bullied or not, he should consider owning up. Rather than employing ancient history to distract from the present, he should be calling it out. Apologizing, even. Because, unlike current Democrats with regard to past racism, many in today’s Republican Party are active practitioners.

Nor would it hurt if the chairman were to apologize for a party trying to erase what happened on 1/6 while blocking meaningful investigation into it. And for the majority of its members who still believe the “presidential” and party-promoted lies that incited it.

White supremacists, who idolize Trump and Tucker Carlson. Proud Boys. Neo-Nazis. Oath Keepers. QAnon. “Fine people on both sides.” Calling Black Lives Matter a terrorist organization. Removing polling locations and drop-boxes in primarily Black precincts. Requiring photo ID, while closing places to obtain them, in those same precincts. Troglodyte racist Stephen Miller, centrally located in Trump’s White House. Idaho. Might the chairman address those issues? They didn’t just appear, after all, but descended naturally from the devolution of his party over the last sixty years.

Recognizing to which party the racists had decamped, Richard Nixon deployed the “Southern Strategy,” whose purpose was to make sure they’d never leave. Later, Ronald Reagan reemployed it, rather unsubtly launching his “states’ rights” presidential campaign near where three freedom riders had been murdered. Nor was there anything subtle about his well-received attacks on welfare recipients, or to whom he was referring. 

Long before he became Chief Justice of the United States, John Roberts was on a mission to cripple the Voting Rights Act, which undoubtedly factored into his appointment. Once on the Court, he greeted the lawsuit known as Shelby County v. Holder like a long-lost child. Declaring racism over, he and his Republican majority bled out requirements for federal approval of voting-related legislation in southern states.

The blood hadn’t dried when those states began the disenfranchising of Democratic constituencies – mainly the African Americans for whom Mr. Chairman professes party support – which continues, exponentially, today. A loyal Republican, Roberts pretended it wouldn’t happen. If it did, it wasn’t the courts’ business.

As policy, racism in our major political parties did a complete and lasting reversal in the century past. Confirming their abandonment of “supporting African-Americans,” sounding dishonest alarms about Project 1691, making false claims about Critical Race Theory, and legislating against teaching anything similarly related to slavery, the chairman’s party is trying hard to keep that fact hidden. 

Knowledge threatens their power, making public schools and universities only their latest scapegoat. 

Thursday, May 20, 2021

They'll Never Change

The more things stay the same, the more nothing changes. Isn’t that what they say? Whatever. The point is, everything that can be said about Trumpism and our democracy has been said. Written. Filmed. Sung. Satirized. Tweeted. By politicians, historians, pundits, celebrities, comedians, influencers (whatever that means). Yet Trumpists still believe. If the Republican Party won’t renounce Trump’s big lie, democracy’s death is inevitable.

They won’t, and it is. To secure unpopular policy, their leaders are squarely on the side of untruth, committed to ensuring that their minority views will continue to override those of the majority of Americans. And why not? From their politically-packed, Roe-v-Wade-threatening Supreme Court down to state legislatures and local elections, it’s working. Two-thirds of Republicans still believe Trump’s election lie; half favor continued jiggering of election laws over presenting compelling policy. We’ve run out of gobs to smack. 

Unless Republicans acknowledge the no-fraud legitimacy of President Biden’s win, election-related laws pullulating in red states should be understood as ways to maintain their policy-lower but electoral-upper hand, undisirregardless of what they say about “restoring faith.” Lost faith in democracy has been their goal all along; it’s their excuse for voter suppression. It’s as if… Nope. There’s no analogy to such an obvious ruse.

Their latest are laws designed to intimidate poll-workers and observers. By the preceding understanding, it’s to prevent their chicanery from being reported. The intimidation also applies to those watching ballot drop-boxes, while requiring 24/7 observation thereof. Fewer watchers, fewer boxes, already disproportionately lacking in red-state Democratic precincts. 

Those are only the most noticed attacks on fair elections. Less publicized are laws that could have Republican legislators, not voters, deciding who wins in their states. As the non-partisan Protect Democracy reported: “… In 2021, state legislatures across the country—through at least 148 bills filed in 36 states —are moving to muscle their way into election administration, as they attempt to dislodge or unsettle the executive branch and/or local election officials who, traditionally, have run our voting systems… American democracy relies on the losers of elections respecting the results and participating in a peaceful transition of power. If, instead, the losing party tries to override the will of the voters, that would be the death knell for our system of government…” 

Notwithstanding attempts to erase what happened, we came close in January. Fearing the truth, with whataboutist excuses and acceding to demands by the Instigator-in-Chief, Republican leaders are lining up to prevent meaningful investigation. Even without a 9/11-style inquiry, though, it’s easy to know the what, why, how, and who of the insurrection. All Trumpists need is to detox from Fox “news” and its replicants. Timely example: last week, Hannity showed a clip of President Biden being asked about the Colonial Pipeline hack, edited to make it appear he gave a “bizarre” answer. It’s the kind of lie his viewers absorb like a sunburn.

So what shall we expect from the Arizona “recount,” dark-money paid and subcontracted to a rightwing business with no relevant experience, whose owner believes the election was stolen? Whose rules are lax, methods constantly changing, workers untrained. Using UV light to find secret Trump-placed watermarks; concerned about 165-thousand incinerated chickens (not kidding); hunting, by looking for bamboo droppings, for forty-thousand forged ballots they believe were shipped (beamed?) from Asia. (Possibly off-point, your columnist won’t be repurchasing bamboo toilet paper anytime soon.)

If they uncover nothing, will the two-thirds of Republicans who believed the big lie be convinced? History says no. And, given by whom and how it’s being conducted, if the recount “finds” fraud it’ll be suspect. 

Committed to a lie and the damaged man who promotes it, today’s non-conservative, democracy-rejecting Republican leaders show no sign of reacquiring their decades-past sanity; nor do the majority of their voters. There’s money to be made, by Trump and the conmen and propaganda networks around him, in keeping the delusions alive, no matter the damage to America. Or their trusting followers

The only way we’ll return to a functioning, two-party Congress is if those who still believe Trump cares about them, and that he made America great (and that liberals are communists and Fox “news” is truthful), will un-scale their own eyes; unimaginable though it be. By now, it’s clear: no amount of pleading, cajoling, or Demosthenesing from without will make it happen. (Check this, if no others.)

Absent bottom-up reformation from within, no one – least of all a small-town columnist with too much love for tinyurls and creating hapax legomena – can effect the Republican awakening that America so urgently needs. Which begs the obvious question. 

Thursday, May 13, 2021

"Free Thought And Debate," He Said.

Everyone needs a good laugh. So getaloada House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s note to his caucus, shortly before he orchestrated Liz Cheney’s beheading: “… [Y]ou should anticipate a vote on recalling the Conference Chair on Wednesday… And unlike the left, we embrace free thought and debate.” 

Sorry if that forced coffee out anyone’s nose. Especially those who remember when, the day after Trump’s insurrection and before he used his wind-blown finger to dig out his own spine and replace it with cotton candy, McCarthy rightly put blame directly on Trump. Now, his people refer to it as “a normal tourist visit” by “peaceful patriots.” Not kidding. By next year, it never even happened

Liz Cheney is a hero the way someone who hasn’t strangled anyone lately is. She’s nastily slandered her Democratic Congressional colleagues, voted with Trump more often than her replacement. Since long before Trump, she’s been an active participant in her party’s departure from truth.

But she did what she did knowing it’d end her leadership role and, perhaps, next year, her job. For that, she is to be admired. Still, it’s what any true conservative should have done. Placing preserving our constitutional democracy above political self-interest, she refused to acquiesce to Trump’s big lie. In today’s Trumpublican Party, integrity begets dismissal.

Before the blade fell, she said what we’ve been saying in this column as many ways as possible: no one who supports Trump can be considered conservative. With his lies and calculated divisiveness, his power-grabbing attempts to create distrust of every aspect of democracy, his ten-fold documented obstruction of justice, his love of dictators, he’s the antithesis. 

“Ignoring the lie emboldens the liar,” Cheney said to her disinterested colleagues. “… I will not sit back and watch in silence, while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy… Those who refuse to accept the rulings of our courts are at war with the Constitution … This is not about partisanship. This is about our duty as Americans. Attacks against our democratic process and the rule of law empower our adversaries and feed communist propaganda that American democracy is a failure ... Our election was not stolen, and America has not failed.” 

After which her audience figuratively hoed and hummed. Those who hadn’t already walked out.

As Liz’s head thudded into the basket, young Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), as despicable a being as haunts the halls of Congress (among Gaetz, Boberg, Greene, et. al., that’s something special), tweeted, “Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, goodbye Liz Cheney.” Of such stuff are Republican Representatives now made, and actual conservatives should admit it. One hopes for follow-through from those who’ve promised to form a sane conservative party; and that enough people might join to save conservatism – and America – from Trump. 

On the other hand, a self-described conservative emailed me last week. Among other things, he agreed President Biden won, the election wasn’t rigged, and that Trump has responsibility for the insurrection. Yet he’d voted for him. Yes, the insurrection happened post-election, but Trump was ginning it up long before. His rejection of Congressional oversight, his dismissive pandemic response, his claims about mail-in voting that every Washingtonian knows are false, were well-known. One assumes, therefore, this saner-than-most conservative won’t be joining any new parties.

With faces straight, Republicans decry “cancel culture.” If you need more proof of their hypocrisy, if you’re ready for another laugh (put down your coffee), the trainer whose Derby-winning horse was full of illegal drugs and is therefore disqualified from future races, went on Fox “news,” where truth and the meaning of words go to die, and called it cancel culture. (Need a napkin?)

The effectiveness of such cynical rightwing propaganda makes it hard to be optimistic, even though recent polling has shown that, among swing-state Republicans, Trump is seen unfavorably. Unsurprisingly, in a retreat with Republican leaders boosting Trump, the RNC hid the numbers. Tell us again about “Free thought and debate,” Kevin. 

Speaking of Trumpic damage to America, the Cleveland Clinic just published a paper showing that since January, over 99% of their patients requiring hospitalization had been only partially or not-at-all vaccinated. Another report stated that 82% of hospitalized patients suffered neurological symptoms, which conferred a six-fold increase in the risk of death.

Vaccines save lives. In addition to their unrequited loyalty, Republicans ought to rethink their majority refusal to be vaccinated. Trump doesn’t care if democracy or his cultists die, but we do and so should they. 

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Lie Or Leave

Last week’s column began with a quote from an actual conservative. Here’s another, from Michael Gerson, former adviser to George the Second: 

“… The GOP is increasingly defined not by its shared beliefs, but by its shared delusions. To be a loyal Republican, one must be either a sucker or a liar. And because this defining falsehood is so obviously and laughably false, we can safely assume that most Republican leaders who embrace it fall into the second category. Knowingly repeating a lie … is now the evidence of Republican fidelity…”

He’s referring, of course, to the perpetuated prevarication that, but for rampant fraud, Trump won the election. “Laughably false,” indeed. Yet believing or pushing it is now the standard by which Republican politicians are judged. Leave the lie, live lurched and languishing like Liz. In the United States of America, exceptional exemplar of democracy and integrity, it’s inexplicable. So let’s try. 

Republicans’ descent began long before Trump; otherwise, he’d have been laughed out of contention. Now they’re desperate to maintain the delusion. Why? The pandemic. It’s revealing truths about current conservatism so indisputable that the only available responses are lies and attacks on democracy. As in Arizona.

The pandemic has floodlit the falsehood of fundamental post-Reagan dogma; namely, that government is the problem. True enough, about bad government, of which we’ve seen plenty. And now we’re seeing the good kind. In differing responses to the pandemic, that truth is writ larger than Trump’s name on a bankrupt building. A wholly-owned subsidiary of multi-sued Trump, Inc., today’s Republican Party is doing its best to obscure the writing.

In that, they’ve had a head start for decades. But it’s been a struggle to rationalize more than half a million deaths and the incompetence, dishonesty, and contumacious denial that caused them.

Yes, the ground-breaking mRNA coronavirus vaccines, for which federally-financed research and development began years earlier, became available during Trump’s “presidency.” We acknowledge his big-government spending on final production, which any president would have ordered. But then he stopped.

Because of absent planning, misinformation, and what’s been described by taskforce participants as Trump’s disinterest, distribution lagged, while he deliberately sabotaged other efforts to stop the spread. When leadership in (mild) sacrifice was called for, he provided the opposite. Someday, psychiatrists might explain why.

But it supports the hypothesis: without government, the vaccines might never have been created; and had there been better government, distribution would have been wider and faster. For that, it took President Biden. Had Trump not spent months lying about or ignoring the virus, had he not hired sycophants and liars, had he not ridiculed protective measures, experts say, half the deaths wouldn’t have occurred. The contrast couldn’t be greater, the lesson more easily learned.

For Republicans, the consequences are monumental. When people were hurting, the economy in ruins, systems overwhelmed, Trumpublicans did next to nothing. Worse than nothing, after Biden took office, as they voted, unanimously, against his measures to restore the economy and help the desperate; laying down an unmistakable marker. (Unbelievably, as benefits arrive, they’re touting them, implying they deserve credit.) People needed good government, and are grateful for it. The pandemic brought recognition of current, effective leadership, and of its previous lack. Bad news for those voting “no.”

Or so you’d think. Never hesitant to dissemble, Republicans answered President Biden’s speech to Congress with plenty of it. A tale of two ditties, the best of words, the worst of words. What our president proposed were policies any functioning, democratic society should expect from a government of, by, and for its people. As he spoke of addressing child poverty, Republicans sat, stony. When he spoke of internal threats to democracy, of the value of government, tax fairness, education, healthcare, Ted Cruz nodded off. Seventy-percent of listeners, however, liked what they heard. Republicans represent the thirty-percent. 

Knowing the implications, their response warned of “socialism” and government takeovers. Understanding the threat to their rich-people-first agenda, they’re committed to blocking any progressive (i.e. helpful, popular) legislation “one-hundred-percent,” as Mitch McConnell just said. Lacking attractive alternatives, they’ll prevent as many Democratic voters as possible from voting, while ensuring their voters will distrust any lost elections.

The preceding thoughts are fact-based. Now for speculation: Perhaps what’s behind Republicans’ pathological push to forestall mask-wearing and vaccine-taking, now said to have made herd immunity unlikely, is discrediting President Biden’s people-positive leadership, which Republicans haven’t provided for decades; and, mainly, keeping his example of competence from taking hold among voters, even if it kills them.

Far-fetched? In today’s GOP-Q, we’re already seeing destructive anti-democracy treachery in abundance. 

[Image source]

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