S1, Mitch McConnell, and Joe Manchin

From a Google Image Search – Committed Conservative

When they need a picture in the dictionary for abuse of power the picture will be of Mitch McConnell. For twelve years he has been goading Democrats, gloating over victories against Democrats, obstructing Democratic policies by not allowing bills to come to the floor of the Senate. He has whipped his Republican members to vote in lockstep fashion on every Democratic endeavor and for four years he was the minion of Trump who did Trump’s bidding and got to do a lot more of that gloating he uses to “stick it to the libs.” 

Mitch McConnell has ground government to a halt because the Republicans have no bills to pass, only judges to confirm. That just one wrinkled, puny old man in granpa glasses could have so much power in America is another sign that all is not well with our American democracy as designed in our documents. When those laws and rules can be so easily reinterpreted to favor some Americans over others (rich over poor, white over black) we see that an out-of-kilter America is the result. Additionally, because of the use of media to give nuclear powers to propaganda many Americans are convinced that Republican politics favors them when it doesn’t and they are armed.

Today S1 comes up for a vote in the Senate. This vote will only decide whether or not the bill can come up for debate. There is a debate about whether the bill can come up for debate. Talk about bureaucratic nonsense. This bill is the Senate version of HR1, a bill to protect voting rights of Americans which are under attack by a minority party, the Republican Party, desperately trying to cling to power. Because it will require 60 votes to move from debate on the floor to a vote, and because Mitch McConnell is against this, the Republicans in the Senate will most likely vote no and return to the business of collecting a paycheck while plotting ways to stay in power.

Mitch McConnell is busy accusing the Democrats of trying to fix voting to favor Democrats. Democrats are the majority party. They should not have to fix votes in their favor right now. They only have to worry that voting will not be fair and free because of Republicans policies, “a tyranny of the minority.” (Senator Debbie Stabenow-D-MI) Republicans always like to accuse Democrats of doing what Republicans are actually doing. 

Recent changes to voting rules being passed in red states like Texas, Arizona, Georgia, Michigan to make sure that Republicans can control the outcome of voting in those states, even allowing judges to overturn election results if they feel they are inaccurate, attest to the need for new protections of voting rights. 

Mitch McConnell says that this bill is designed to get Democrats elected so it is a bad bill and he whips Republicans to vote nay. Since the bill gets rid of Republican attempts to fix the vote in their own favor and overturns the brazen attempts Republicans have taken to insure minority rule his point is, of course, accurate. Democrats are favored in most urban area. Our population is concentrated in urban areas. The idea of one person, one vote makes it true that urban voters give Democrats an edge over Republicans who are favored in smaller, more rural places. It should not matter where the votes originate. 

Large urban centers did not result from any Democratic Party conspiracy but for cultural reasons, employment opportunities, housing options. Republicans have manufactured a war between urban and nonurban dwellers which puts the idea of one person, one vote at risk. They want to use other standards to measure votes, such as parsing the way the electoral college results are determined in states. If votes went with the person who got the most votes rather than being divided proportionally then that would advantage small red states and offer Republicans the opportunity to keep their minority party in power. In other states the opposite might be true so let the states decide. These aberrations to our voting laws are all about power and they are twisting our republic out of shape and changing a system of voting that needed no changes.

The Democrats do not seem to be operating under any lucky stars in recent years. Political machinations of Republicans are working very well and the only referees a democracy has are the courts. Stuff the courts, fix the vote, rule the land. Even in a year when many lashed back against a ridiculous Republican President, an incompetent rude fellow, Democrats were not able to win control of the Senate. The Senate is tied with each party having 50 votes and a filibuster which requires 60 votes for most bills to come to the floor or to pass into law in the Senate. 

The Democrats don’t really even have 50 votes because Senator Joe Manchin and often, Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) will not vote for the S1 bill, or indeed any Democratic bill unless it is bipartisan and they feel that it would be wrong to kill the filibuster even though it was not a part of our original documents. 

Although Democrats need to pass bills in order to show America that their policies have merit, two members of their own party are blocking bills that could address inequities in our society that could turn most Americans into essentially hamsters walking a wheel designed by our capitalist overlords via the Republican Party. West Virginia is a state full of workers, full of folks who struggle to make ends meet. I would think that Joe Manchin’s insistence on keeping a mere legislative rule over the prosperity of citizens in the state he represents would make him a very unpopular choice for reelection. Arizona has been turning more purple for some time and Krysten Sinema may also find herself doing poorly in her next election if her people understand how her nay vote on Democratic bills will hurt them. If Democrats have given Republicans too much rope and it is too late to rein them in we may all live in a dystopian state sooner rather than later. It feels pretty dystopian already. Democratic policies could turn that around.

Biden and Putin, America and Russia

From a Google Image Search – ABC News

Our President, Joe Biden, is meeting with Vladimir Putin, who is either the Prime Minister or the President of the Russian Federation, depending on which year it is. Our history with Russia is fraught with fear, threats, intimidation, competition, cooperation (rare, but it does happen). As I write, Putin’s press conference is on my TV. Putin tells us that his people and our people will be dealing with the items that Biden is concerned about. What this means is that most of America’s concerns that involve Russia will be delegated to other lesser government entities. 

Crimea was discussed, as was control over nuclear proliferation. The Start Treaty is being considered for a five years extension. Putin denies that Russia is mainly responsible for cyberattacks and computer hacks. Hacking has been investigated by outside groups, he says, and the US and Canada are far higher on the list of active computer attackers than Russia is. He says that, in fact, cyberattacks on Russian health care that occur in some areas of Russia are originating in the US. 

When asked about Navalny Putin laughed and said he didn’t hear that question and that it was the journalist’s second question and he only was allowed one. He explained that Ukraine is operating outside of the Minsk agreements and it is obvious he does not plan to stop his activities in Ukraine. Then he did talk about Navalny just to say that Navalny broke Russian law. He says that the US is supporting policies that are against Russian laws and government organizations and that they are doing this because Russia is the declared enemy of America. It is not up to the US to decide how the law operates in Russia.

Recently I have been trying to learn more about Putin’s history. We already know that he was in the KGB for 17 years; that he was born in St. Petersburg, also known for a time as Leningrad; that he has changed the Russian constitution several times to allow term limits to be bypassed or changed; and that he now can legally lead Russia until 2032. What several sources mentioned was something I knew but had never put into words. Russia has no history of democracy. The Russian people have never lived in a democracy. Russia was a monarchy and then a communist state and after the heady days of victory in WW II Russia turned inward, locked its doors and came under the iron fist of Stalin with his bloody reign of terror. 

Russia and America were allies in WW II which makes our current stance as mortal enemies, sadder and more foreboding. We are enemies almost in the comic book sense of the superheroes and the villains they contend with. In fact, comic books originated as a way to have a symbolic fight against communism and authoritarianism. However, it turns out that Russia sees itself as the superhero and the US as the villain; levying sanctions, meddling in Russia’s economy. We, on the other hand, wonder how we can trust a nation that poisons dissenters, fixes elections, gives power and wealth to friends of Putin, and has to keep its borders tightly closed so that citizens will not leave. When we used to shelter under our desks in grade school in the 50’s, it was not domestic shooters we were threatened by, it was Russia. We were raised to see Russia as our adversary and I still, with fuller knowledge of our own nation’s failings, see Russia as an intimidating nation that would destroy our democracy in a heartbeat if they could do so without destroying the planet in the bargain.

It seemed as if Trump was popular with Russia and other authoritarian states because it was clear to these leaders that he had/has his own authoritarian tendencies. With President Biden we are back in our hostile corners with some incentives to try to negotiate solutions in some modern problem areas, as long as we don’t argue about what Russia can and cannot do on the world stage. Having shown the world our own civil rights transgressions, Putin feels that he is in a strong position to match evil for evil with no winner in sight. US purity is undeniably a meme of the past and we deal with the world without the hubris of our glory days. This makes us more authentic, and that authenticity is what makes us stronger than the mask of perfection that the world could see past ever made us. Both countries flaws are visible for all to see, which makes our struggles honest, at least.

The world will need Russia to fight climate change. Melting permafrost in Siberia is releasing carbon dioxide but it is also changing the climate equation in the Russia Federation. The Russia economy, almost completely dependent these days on gas and oil will need to diversify. Putin can be as proud and as rigid as he likes but at some point a lack of flexibility will come back to haunt Russia and the Russian people. The world will need Russia as a counterpoint to the rising power of China. Two authoritarian leaders with the pride and power of Putin and Xi cannot collude. Who would be the prime mover? So Russia will eventually have to team up with its old WW II allies once again to face down China’s power grabs. Let’s hope this can occur without war. 

Russia and America already cooperate in space and that relationship may also help us remain allies. If all nations could ally to save the planet and if there was a new imperialism, a kinder imperialism, in the search for resources and new land in space it would be astonishing what could be accomplished. America will hopefully continue to fight against and reject totalitarianism at home, but we may have to accept it abroad and try to make deals about the existential things, the things that could kill all life on earth. What would it take for such an alliance to coalesce and function. I would like to live long enough to see that. Meanwhile (with apologies to Steven Colbert) baby steps will have to do, any small give and take to avoid animosity so deep and rageful that it will drive us all to kingdom-come with nuclear war.

Can Biden and Our Allies Reboot Democracy

From a Google Image Search – USA Today

President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden left this morning to visit our allies in Europe. Quoting from The Washington Post’s WorldView newsletter,

“He heads off Wednesday for a week-long tour that includes meetings with Queen Elizabeth II, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and most of Europe’s democratically elected leaders. At summits of the Group of Seven nations and NATO, Biden intends to rally traditional American allies who were perturbed by the political volatility of his predecessor. Biden has cast the coming decade as a global clash between liberal democracies and autocratic powers like China, and sees the proceedings this week as the opening chapter of a new era of competition.”

Many Americans have been shocked by the last administration which seemed to rebuff former alliances that formed post-World War II in Europe, and express admiration for more recently allied nations in Europe and also in Asia and the Middle East that are trending towards authoritarian rule or have leaders who operate as dictators. As a result of the behavior of America in terms of recent foreign policy, our allies have backed off from former levels of trust towards America and have adopted a more wary wait-and-see stance. 

Biden seems confident that our allies have not given up on us completely and that they are looking forward to returning to having America as a trusted partner in global concerns.

In a Tweet (11:40 am, June 8) Biden wrote this:

“Tomorrow, I depart for Europe on the first foreign travel of my presidency. The trip is about realizing America’s renewed commitment to our allies and demonstrating that democracies can both meet the challenges and deter the threats of this new age.”

Writing in The Daily Beast David Rothkopf asks, “[b]y the time the Summit of Democracies takes place, will the United States qualify to attend? He cites an article by Zack Beauchamp writing in Vox which questions whether America any longer has the democratic chops to participate in a summit of democratic nations. 

“[A]fter coming to power in 2010, Orban rewrote Hungary’s constitution and electoral rules to make it nigh impossible for the opposition to win power through elections. Tactics include extreme gerrymandering, rewriting campaign finance rules…appointing cronies to the countries constitutional court and election bureaucracy…and seizing control of nearly all media outlets…(to) render elections functionally non-competitive.” Sound familiar?”

And it does sound all too familiar because Trump was not a democratic president. Has he done permanent damage to our democracy? Can America guarantee that Trump will not serve another term as a US president, or that another Trump-like figure will not arise in 2024? Republicans are doing everything imaginable, and a number of things that we never imaged, to take back control of the Executive branch in 2024 and the legislative branch in 2022. 

Rothkopf continues by directing our attention to a report out of the Brookings Institute about Erdogan in Turkey He says that we only need to look at the chapter headings to see the parallels to what is happening in America. The title of Rothkopf’s own article in The Daily Beast is “If America was a Foreign Country We’d-Know its Democracy is Dying.”

“The Brookings Institution issued a report called “The rise and fall of liberal democracy in Turkey: Implications for the West” that both illustrates how mainstream US institutions have actively attacked assaults on democracy overseas and at the same time suggest how our foreign policy specialists would be writing about America if they treated us the same way they treated our friends and allies that have followed a path similar to the one Trumpists seek to pursue in the U.S. Just the headings from the report (PDF) are enough to suggest this “Challenges to Turkey’s democratic institutions,” “Increasing powers of the president,” “Weak opposition,” “Questionable elections,” “Erosion of the rule of law,” “Drivers of democratic regression—cultural factors,” “Weakened governance in state institutions,” and so on.”

When Biden was elected it suggested an end to our flirtation with turning our democracy/republic into an illiberal democracy, following in Europe’s footsteps rather than leading. Americans would like to be hopeful. However, the push to destroy our trust in our elections, the push to document “the big lie” that Trump actually won in 2020 by ersatz recounts in red states, another “big lie” which says that Trump will be back in the Oval Office in August and Biden will be ousted, the obstructionism that continues unabated in the US Senate, although we recognize these things as mostly false narratives, are undermining our faith that Democrats can hold onto power long enough to restore our trust, and, indeed, restore global trust, in our democracy.

Rothkopf further reminds us that,

This past week saw a ‘Statement of Concern’ from 100 leading scholars of democracy. They expressed alarm about “recent deterioration of U.S. elections and liberal democracy.” They cited efforts by GOP legislatures to implement “radical changes to core electoral procedures” that would transform “several states into political systems that no longer meet the minimum conditions for free and fair elections.

We need to pay careful attention to what happens as President Biden ventures into Europe and Asia and at the G7, at NATO, and at a summit of democracies if such a meeting takes place. We need to continue to pay careful attention to the challenges to free and fair voting in our own country as attacks on voting continue. Can Democrats find a way around the obstructionism in the Senate to pass enough of their agenda to tempt Americans back from their love affair with a man who would like to be President for Life and destroy our freedoms in the bargain? Can we keep in our memory that this is a man who asked the Justice Department, that once worked for the American people, to collect names and phone numbers of journalists who criticized him, a man who used intimidation and serial replacement of our Attorney General to steal the Justice Department and make it an arm of the Presidency (as has happened again and again in emerging illiberal democracies across Europe)?

Two hundred and forty four years of a flawed democracy, and a democracy that got many things right, may be on the line right now. We may have felt that we were a generation mostly untouched by a world war level crisis, but this time the crisis may be harder to recognize. It may not resemble any previous war. But the ramifications of this war are huge. If we don’t get this right the entire planet may be at stake as the world comes under the domination of leaders who can dictate that we ignore climate change, ignore freedom, ignore leisure and time to read, think, and contemplate; leaders that can lead us back into a dark age and turn us into simple cogs in a great capitalist machine. This is not a statement against capitalism; this is a statement against authoritarianism.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/if-america-was-a-foreign-country-wed-know-its-democracy-is-dying

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/06/09/biden-west-europe-trip/

Using Roe and Federalism to Divide America

We are getting closer and closer to becoming a loose collection of individual states with a federal government that supposedly deals only with defense and international trade. The pandemic gave us glimpses of what this version of America will be like with every state having to compete for PPE’s in a pandemic, with states afraid to rile up citizens or an irrational president by requiring a simple precaution like wearing a mask. These are decisions that would have solved simple logistical problems that could have shortened the pandemic. 

In a States Rights scenario, states will be up for grabs and Democrats and Republicans will have to compete to win the most states in order to win the Presidency. Which party holds the Presidency would become increasingly beside the point, except that there is a simultaneous push to make the Executive omni-powerful, which we saw under a Trump administration that turned the Justice Department into a puppet offering unconditional support to the president. It should strike others besides me that giving state governors and legislatures power and making the federal chief executive all powerful are two goals that are at odds with each other, unless there is only one political party.

Democrats have not wooed state governments. They have followed old traditions and backed a strong federal government with three branches and checks and balances. They claim to be following our US Constitution. The problem is that Republicans also claim to be following a different section of the US Constitution that lists the rights of the federal government and the rights of the states. They say they are ‘originalists’ and want the powers of these two entities sorted out as the founders intended. 

However, even the founders could not agree about whether to make the federal government stronger and have the United States of America as the dominant face to present to the world, or whether to have a more decentralized government and give states powers to make decisions on their own and have identities of their own. This state’s rights model would turn states into entities similar to nations in Europe and our Federal government would be something like the Council of the EU. 

George Washington and Alexander Hamilton favored a strong central government. Thomas Jefferson and other southerners favored state’s rights as more important. This was all argued out in the Federalist papers. The modern Federalist Society pushes the state’s rights interpretation as more true to the constitution, thus ignoring 245 years of subsequent laws and traditions. 

There were only thirteen states when our new nation fought these battles about how to govern America. There were only about 2.5 million citizens. Of course we now have 50 states and 350 million citizens. Wouldn’t going forward in an America that is a loose collection of so many states and such a large population bring chaos? Isn’t that a greater dilemma to consider than channeling the hearts of our founders, which, as we know, were no less flawed than any human hearts?

From a Google Image Search – Gallup poll

Despite reservations, we are seeing a change in the relationship between the federal government and the states. Republicans went into states, perhaps using the issues of abortion and worker’s grievances to tip the scales in states where Christian churches had a firmer hold. They stoked anger on radio talk shows and from church pulpits. They formed power groups with corporatists, especially in fossil fuel industries and with Evangelicals. They used ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council to tailor laws to support Republican talking points. They rigged the vote with savvy use of computer data and gerrymandering. They got the pre-clearance section of the Voter Rights Act overturned by the Supreme Court. They continue to pass voting laws in states that make it more difficult for Democrats to ever win an election. They basically control the executive and legislative branches in thirty states. Democrats have control in only 18 states.

Is sneaking around behind the scenes to engineer voting and policy something that we condone in American politics? While we might admire the strategic cohesion of Republican machinations we recognize that such shifty politics is undemocratic because it relies on propaganda and even trades in threats to people’s immortal souls to achieve an end that is divisive and undemocratic. One party has planned and executed its plan to steal power and destroy the other, to turn America into a nation ruled by a single party. Can democracy last in a single party system? Not if the Republicans are that party.

So watch carefully as the Supreme Court makes its decisions this summer. If they make a decision about abortion that clearly overturns Roe v Wade will that tear our nation apart? If Congress falls back into Republican hands in 2022 will that tear our nation apart? If it happens that abortion can be decided by the states will that open the door to allowing states to have their own rules on other issues like guns? 

Will states set up borders like the ones between Canada and America and Mexico and America to enforce their own laws? Will people need passports to travel from state to state? What will happen to interstate trade? Will there be inspections at state borders? Will trucks be turned away and have to find a different route? Will citizens naturalized in one state still be illegal in another? 

How far will we take the small government lie as the presidency gains more and more power? What will happen to us if the world sees us fighting among our own states? Will we fight a second Civil War over women’s right to control their own bodies, over voting rights, over masks, over the power of the presidency, over fossil fuels and sustainability-all issues that separate states but also residents within states. Will we just live without abortion rights until we learn all over again that they are a necessary albeit sad reality of modern life.

You might like to check out this article by Ronald Brownstein from The Atlantic on the subject. My heart is breaking over our divided nation, our nation flirting with authoritarianism. Unless President Biden can pass voting rights legislation and kill the filibuster, many writers say, we are in for continued strife and possibly worse. Did the Democrats wait too long to act? Are they being too conciliatory or too meek?

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2021/06/republican-state-legislatures-changes/619086/

Veterans, Soldiers and We the People

From a Google Image Search – Military.com

There are many important stories in the world. Today is Memorial Day for example and where would America be without our soldiers. I hate war but I admire the men and women who fight for our country. Even some of our soldiers may agree that saving our own Democracy from a Party that seems intent on destroying it is worth concentrating on, even on this sacred day. Our soldiers have always fought and even died for Democracy. Democracy needs them for a different kind of war now.

Michael Flynn, addressing a QAnon crowd, called for a Myanmar-style coup in America. Many Republicans are convinced that Democrats are an existential threat to our nation because of their progressive ideas. They don’t want to see America invest in America’s social structure along with other critical infrastructure. They don’t want to set a minimum wage that offers solvency for American families. They don’t want to see a government health insurance program that allows even the poorest Americans to have health care. 

They don’t like workers banding together in unions to keep employers from abusing our workers. They don’t like consumer protections. They don’t want to pay for young people to go to a community college, even given the gauntlet of poverty, violence and drugs young people must make it through to have successful lives. 

They don’t want to pay for child care so women can work. In fact, they think women should stay home with the children and have babies because our population is getting too old. They would get rid of contraception if they could. They don’t even want social security for those who have no other pension. They do want to tax people but only people who make less than $400,000 a year. No wonder they want ‘small government.’ The taxes of Americans who make less than that won’t pay for much. Since the party insists that only a big armed force and plenty of killer weapons can keep America safe from our enemies abroad that doesn’t leave much money for social matters. 

They say that forcing all Americans to pay for social programs is undemocratic. Well, in a sense, since each individual cannot choose whether to contribute to a federal program, or to not allow their tax dollars to go towards that priority, this does constitute a kind of mandate. 

Societies do not necessarily guarantee absolute individual freedom. In fact, some societies offer little individual freedom at all. This week the leader of Belarus pretended a plane had a bomb on board so they could get the pilot to land in Belarus so that a young journalist on the plane could be arrested for trying to speak freely. There is a certain authoritarian strain in American politics on the right that wants to use fascist means to insist that America do things their way. And we are back to Michael Flynn (and Donald Trump).

Societies do have social contracts with their members. Since FDR, social programs have been part of American governance and American life. Now Republicans tell us that this was a huge mistake and that they are absolutely certain that including social programs in federal governance will kill America. So they are trying to kill democracy because they are so certain that they are right.  They are trying to kill the Democratic Party because they insist that America only spend to encourage “makers” to come back and rescue the American economy. And that is clearly not what happens when you help corporations these day. Corporations plough the money back into their own operations and shower their stockholders with dividends because they own a lot of stock, and this increases their profits without expanding their operations or hiring more expensive workers. Our corporations, grown in America, could now care less if America continues to thrive. They are not actually Americans anymore; they are citizens of the world.

Republicans who still see themselves as Conservatives have decided that they and only they hold all the answers to how America can remain first among the nations of the world. They have made sure that Democrats are unable to help the middle classes and the poor through federal government programs. They have used creative voter strategies to keep power in Congress and they have used obstruction to have their way.

Republicans point to LBJ’s War on Poverty and argue that it was largely ineffective at solving stubborn poverty or prejudice. They deliberately undermined those programs and attached a stigma or set up tough requirements to make the programs unattractive. There is proof in the data, that although such programs did not end poverty, they were helping to make changes in the poorest neighborhoods and towns. That LBJ, and indeed, the Republicans did not foresee the ravages of opioids is a burden that rests on the pharmaceutical industry and, with the enormous profits they have made, they should tackle the addiction problem and end our sorrows at this waste of human lives. Even knowing the dangers of opioid addiction these meds are being used to treat our veterans today.

For one party to ‘take the wheel’ and decide that they know best how to steer the nation so that it will be successful in having the world’s best economy and be the dominant power on the globe is not the democracy/republic we all signed on for. 

There have always been factions in American politics. That is how political parties were formed. There has always been contention. We fought a Civil War because slave owners wanted to force America to accept slavery. That was a war, not a coup. 

But Republicans are apparently tired of contention. They want a government that doesn’t have to negotiate every issue. Of course, Democrats would like that too. But Republicans have used a set of strategies to change the dynamics of American politics and to prevent a two party system from operating as it should. They have interpreted constitutional powers in ways that allow them to use these powers against compromise and they have learned the power of fixing elections in seemingly legal ways, although, desperation seems to be driving them into more unseemly election practices such as the Big Lie, recounting settled votes, passing laws in red states that allow officials to overturn elections, along with what is happening in states like Florida, Texas, and Georgia right now. 

Republicans have learned how to hold onto the majority in Congress, or at least in the Senate, and they have learned the power of simply stubbornly saying no and not even allowing legislation to come to the floor. Even though Republicans have lost the majority in the Senate, the Democratic advantage is extremely slim. With the Republican Party so insistent that it knows what is best for America, and the filibuster still in place it may look like Democrats won in 2020, but the reality is that unless the Dems do some things they find unsavory, like passing bills with single party votes or getting rid of the filibuster, the Democrats are still being held at bay by a cult-like Republican party. 

Meanwhile America sinks further into a morass of poverty and violence, fueled by a belief that all will be well if we just bring manufacturing back home and build up an arsenal of ever more super weapons. When the factories come home all will turn around and America will be an engine of progress once more. But that is just another ‘big lie.’ You can’t recreate the past. 

You can move on into a future that deals with the economic realities we have now and builds on those strengths. Learning how to live in new and lighter ways on the planet offers the economic gains of the future and puts us on a path to sustainability rather than extinction. The Republican Party is wrong for these times. They made a deal with a devil but they had already sold their soul to hang on to imagined past glories. 

On this Memorial Day when Republicans offer themselves up as the true patriots who honor our soldiers far more than the ‘sorry’ Democrats, it is important to remember that warmongering is not a good future for our world’s continued existence and that promises to our soldiers have not been kept. We must remember which party is the one that is saying no to the needs of the people and that includes the needs of veterans. In the midterms please give the Democrats a chance to change the focus of the American government from the wealthy to ‘we the people’.

On Tuesday, June 1, 2021 Max Boot wrote this article in The Washington Post:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/06/01/republican-plot-steal-2024-election/

January Sixth Commission and Republicans

From a Google Image Search – CNN

The Republican Party is dead to me. If we want a conservative voice in America, which is not something I need, then conservatives who see how undemocratic the current Republican Party has become need to form that new party or join the Democrats. They need to do this now or we stand to lose our Republic and see our Constitution suspended.

One of the worst crimes of the current Republican Party is their constant attempts to use gaslighting and mind control to influence Americans. They have used their own media both on radio and tv, they have harnessed (just barely) an immoral charismatic old reprobate, and they believe that through the church they have friends in high places (God) who will preach from the pulpit telling parishioners who and what to vote for. 

Republicans use denial to drive rational Americans into fits of frustrated anger, and irrational Americans into mobs. It is the most egregious and dangerous use of power, something we would condemn in any other nation, but we cannot rid ourselves of these mind games used to hold onto power. Whenever sane people try to call these people out they are met with derision, or threats. 

It doesn’t matter how many times you have read George Orwell’s 1984 and wondered why people let somebody convince them that Big Brother was acting in their best interests, until they were under the total control of a dictator who invaded their lives right into their own living rooms. It doesn’t matter that we can see that technology now exists that works even better than spying through old tech like televisions. We find Siri and Alexis very helpful. I’m not saying these ladies are spying on us for any other purpose than ferreting out what we want or need to buy-for marketplace reasons. But a party that doesn’t mind brainwashing America is only one step away from spying on our daily lives for political reasons. Trump tried to do this several times when he asked for lists of everyone who opposed him on various issues, or in the census when he wanted to use the census to hunt down undocumented people living in America.

Brian Sicknick’s mother Gladys did something against her quiet and introverted nature; she went to Congress to try to talk the Republican members into voting for the January Sixth Commission. Evidence suggests that her son was not killed by those who attacked the Capitol, but the stress and length of the fight triggered biological weaknesses which killed him. He would most likely be alive and marrying his girlfriend, who also went along to talk to Congress, if not for the “battle” to install a president in the oval office who did not win. Republican members stood firm in their unwillingness to convene a commission even in the face of a personal plea from the mother of a Capital policeman who died defending their safety.

This feeling of hopeless anger I feel in my gut every time Republicans lie about actual events that we saw with our own eyes, the anger that makes me want to throw things at my tv, that makes me want to march and protest, that sends me to my keyboard to at least have my say, is a terrible sign that our democracy may not stand. Republicans like Rep. Andrew Craig, who tries to turn a Trump citizen army into normal tourists, mess with our minds. We carry the picture of the events of January 6 th in our brains and we know Republicans are lying. We carry the text of Trump’s speech to his peeps on that day in our heads and regardless of how the Republicans spin it, we have the evidence in our minds (just like we will carry the video of Derek Chauvin with his nonchalant murder of a man he was hired to serve, with his knee on George Floyd’s neck). 

So, when Sen. Ron Johnson gives Gladys Sicknick some bogus nonsense about his reasons for voting no on a commission to investigate the events of January 6 th, responsible for the death of her son, we see the depths of Republican willingness to deny reality, to change the headlines, to disrespect our senses, and to let us know that they believe they can lie to the American people with impunity, they can look the other way while unauthorized people recount our votes, they can devise ways to keep us from the polls, they can rule American forever if they just ignore every rule of common decency and sell their souls to a huckster because he seems to have sold his goods to almost half of our citizens. 

It’s embarrassing to be thought so little of that Republicans can twist the truth right in front of our very eyes and get away with it. What will we do, what will it take to convince these soulless men and women that we will not stand idly by and let our inaction be proof of our inertia or our willingness to let anything be done to us. One half of America has been turned into an instrument in the Republican war on reality, waged to maintain a power that will be anything but democratic. Just one little event, one plea from a mother that is refused with a lie; could that be that proverbial last straw. I doubt it, but the load is getting heavy. We all want to keep our government intact and defeat our foes through laws and reason. Whatever people want to say about Joe Biden he may be our last hope for a return to reason and civility and democracy. Trump and Newt Gingrich are teaming up. That can’t be good. While we still can, use the vote in 2022 to get rid of Republicans in Congress.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir – Book

From a Google Image Search – collectSPACE

The only complaint I have about Andy Weir’s new book Project Hail Mary is that I finished too quickly. But I had a big smile on my face most of the time. Weir’s book has upset some physicists and astronomers because they say Andy Weir doesn’t always get the science right. I am not a physicist or an astronomer, although I like to read articles about both areas so, for me, this book offered enough math to make it seem authentic, without getting too esoteric. The main character, Ryland Grace, is, after all, just an eighth grade science teacher and the math seems just about right for that level. Acceleration in different gravities, temperature ranges that support life, an alien culture that uses base 6 rather than base 10, spectrographic analysis and control screens that can offer up any missing information or do the math—all of these elements are intended for readers who are not physicists or even biologists.

I don’t usually read reviews before I write about books but The Washington Post kept dangling one in front of me so I finally opened it but I tried to just lightly skim it. Another thing the reviewer found annoying was the use of coma amnesia by the author as a device to prevent information overload. We learn everything in flashback mode. If our reluctant astronaut only remembers info as needed we learn about technicalities as he relearns them or remembers them. He wakes from his coma alone and has lost the team of true experts that were supposed to keep the mission on track. This device did not bother me, it seemed useful, but it might bother some readers.

Earth has a pressing problem. For some reason the sun’s energy is being diminished and it looks like the culprit is Venus. With a probe scientists are able to collect samples from the place where the ‘Petrovian’ line heads from the sun and hits the atmosphere of Venus. We learn that the true culprit is a tiny organism called an ‘Astrophage’ and that it goes to Venus to breed because it needs carbon dioxide to reproduce, which cannot be found in the sun. It then returns to the sun to collect more energy for a return trip. Each trip increases the Astrophage population. So, as if climate change were not enough, now our own sun will get so dim that we will starve to death. 

When Grace (corny name or perfect?) finds himself alone in space he hears a Tap, Tap, Tap and finds he has a neighbor, an alien spaceship is nearby. He makes a leap of faith and allows his neighbor to connect the two ships with a tunnel. “Rocky” and Grace cannot share the same spaces or they will die. Rocky requires an atmosphere heavy on ammonia and he lives in extreme heat. Thank goodness for xenonite. Rocky’s planet is also being attacked by Astrophage, but Tau Ceti, the sun they are both visiting is infected with Astrophage and yet it is not losing energy. Why? Grace and Rocky find ingenious ways to figure it all out.

When my friend’s daughter was four she saw a movie over and over, as children love to do. The movie was called The Land Before Time. There was a character in the movie, Ducky, who would always say “yup, yup yup” or “nope, nope nope,” three times. It was so catchy and we all heard it so many times that summer that it has stayed with me all these years, although I never even watched the movie. Rocky and Grace also talk in threes after they learn enough of each other’s language. “Bad, bad, bad” they intone, or “good, good, good.” Rocky is a really lovable little alien engineer with a can-do attitude and a pretty even disposition. Does he make the book childish? I don’t know. That WaPo critic claims that the book is written like a movie script rather than a novel. Maybe. But Ducky prepared me well for a space engineer that looked like a turtle on top and a spider underneath, who had the lovable habit of saying things three times.

What is relevant about the book is not an imminent Astrophage attack on our sun, but the way humans come together to solve the problem quickly and efficiently. It is reminiscent of the way The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson tackles climate deniers by just finding ways to develop strategies that bypass them, right down to the leader of the Ministry, Mary Murphy, a strong woman who doesn’t take no for an answer. Dr. Eva Stratt is just such a strong woman and she leads the group of scientists from all of earth’s nations in getting a mission ready to travel to Tau Ceti as soon they see that earth will die if they don’t figure out why that other sun is not losing energy. 

Mary Murphy had a male counterpart who used the most aggressive and unethical approaches. Dr. Stratt plays both roles. She does not mind getting down and dirty. But this idea that humans, even humans and aliens, can let go of jealousy and animosity when the survival of their species is at risk is present in both books. It is cooperation, even enforced cooperation, that solves existential problems. We end up with the question of whether our problems are existential enough to get us to work together towards a common goal, which just so happens to also be  related to carbon dioxide. What do I have to say about Project Hail Mary? It was good, good, good!

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen – Book

From a Google Image Search – itsaphanlife.com

The Sympathizer reads as if the author was there at the fall of Saigon, except that the author, Viet Thanh Nguyen, although born in South Vietnam, was born after those events. His parent were there, the authors of the source materials he read either were there or had used journalistic methodologies to research Vietnam history, the Vietnam War, the fall of Saigon and the aftermath. He may have learned about the war second hand, but he writes about it very much as a first hand observer/participant.

Others have written about those harried days when the U. S. admitted defeat and had to get out of town fast, but here is a new voice. And, although the book is fiction, it is immersive. Until I read the end notes I was convinced that V. T. Nguyen had been in Vietnam throughout the war. Our narrator remains unnamed and the use of first person is consistent throughout. This novel offers us an expert’s use of point of view. 

Our unnamed main character is both simple and complex. He is the “man with two faces,” “the man with two minds.” The child of a culturally unacceptable liaison between his Vietnamese mother and a French priest, he’s reviled by villagers–his mother shunned and very poor–he is labeled a bastard. He is also handsome and bright and is sent to a Californian college where his views become more global. He has made a blood pact with two other guys, Man and Bon, and they are the only two who command his loyalty. They are communists.

Back in Vietnam during the war years, our narrator is imbedded in the South Vietnamese Army, but he is a spy who sends off reports to Man in North Vietnam. He appears to be a shallow, somewhat cynical guy, his voice is irreverent and politically ambivalent. He works as an aid and driver to the Commandant of the Vietnamese troops in the South. His grasp of English makes him valuable to both the Vietnamese and the Americans. He doesn’t seem to have any real ideological attachment to communism and certainly, given his deceptions, doesn’t even think in revolutionary rhetoric. He tells us on the very first page that he can see both sides.

Our narrator escapes the fall of Saigon with a General and others, including his sworn brother Bon, whose wife and child are killed during the escape. Our narrator may not have many values that demand his absolute allegiance but he is determined to keep Bon from despair and suicide.

The book is masterful, so well-written, evocative of what we already understand as the senselessness of war, combined with the truth that we seem unable to end our apparent love affair with wars. 

“…our revolutions had gone from being the vanguard of political change to the rearguard of hoarding power. In this transformation we were not unusual. Hadn’t the French and the Americans done exactly the same? Once revolutionaries themselves, they had become imperialists, colonizing and occupying our defiant little land, taking away our freedom in the name of saving us…Having liberated ourselves in the name of independence and freedom—I was so tired of saying those words!—we then deprived our defeated brethren of the same.” (pg. 326)

Nguyen dazzles as he traces the occupations of Vietnam back to its origins, starting from the origins of his character.

“…if history’s ship had taken a different tack, if I had become an accountant, if I had fallen in love with the right woman, if I had been a more virtuous lover, if my mother had been less of a mother, if my father had gone to save souls in Algeria instead of here, if the commandant did not need to make me over, if my own people did not suspect me, if they saw me as one of them, if we forgot our resentment, if we forgot revenge, if we acknowledged that we are all puppets in some one else’s play, if we had not fought a war against each other, if some of us had not called ourselves nationalists or communists or capitalists or realists, if our bonzes had not incinerated themselves, if the Americans hadn’t come to save us from ourselves, if we had not bought what they sold, if the Soviets had never called us comrades, if Man had not sought to do the same, if the Japanese hadn’t taught us the superiority of the yellow race, if the French had never sought to civilize us, if Ho Chi Minh had not been dialectical and Karl Marx not analytical, if the invisible hand of the market did not hold us by the scruffs of our necks, if the British had defeated the rebels of the new world, if the natives had simply said, Hell no, on first seeing the white man, if our emperors and mandarins had not clashed among themselves, if the Chinese had never ruled us for a thousand years, if they had used gunpowder for more than fireworks, if the Buddha had never lived, if the Bible had never been written and Jesus Christ never sacrificed, if Adam and Even still frolicked in the Garden of Eden, if the dragon lord and the fairy queen had not given birth to us, if the two of them had not parted ways, if fifty of their children had not followed their fairy mother to the mountains, if fifty more had not followed their dragon father to the sea, if legend’s phoenix had truly soared from its own ashes rather than simply crashed and burned in our countryside, if there were no Light and no Word, if Heaven and earth had never parted, if history had never happened, neither as farce nor as tragedy, if the serpent of language had not bitten me,…” (pg. 307-8)

Nguyen leaves us, like Bon, in despair that we will ever find ways to suppress the flaws in our blighted human condition. It’s depressing but the narrator’s rather amoral and insouciant patter takes some of the sting out of some really dreadful things.bppl Viet Thanh Nguyen is an excellent new voice in both American and global fiction.

Impunity, No Consequences, No Repercussions

From a Google Image Search – Art Jewelry Forum

If there are no consequences for “bad” political behavior, “bad” economic behavior, or “bad” public health behavior, then “bad” actors will always be winners. Does that make the earnest compliers, the empathizers, the pragmatic problem solvers chumps?

Matt Gaetz said that bringing earmarks back is worse than child trafficking. Earmarks were brought back to grease the wheels of bipartisanship, most likely. They are a part of politics that we find distasteful and that people fought to end. Will they work to win votes from the adamantly inflexible and lockstep Republicans in Congress? I doubt it. If Republicans can find a way they will continue to withhold any participation in Democrats’ approaches (stall or kill bills) and still ‘take the money and run.’ 

I don’t think I even need to discuss the other half of Gaetz’ cynical analogy, an obvious attempt to belittle the serious anathema of child trafficking in order to minimize the consequences of his probably real lack of values. The question of whether a man who draws such a revealingly amoral analogy should participate in our national government should have only one answer, a resounding “no”. However, there will most likely be no consequences.

Trump’s approach to the pandemic was to constantly downplay the virility of the disease. He focused on his “beautiful economy,” even as the entire world was shutting down. Can America ignore the rest of the globe and conduct a good economy all by itself? The answer is “no.” Does America want a leader that values the economy more than American lives (well, he says, they were old people, they were poor people, they were people of color, they were disposable people)? There seem to be no consequences for a President and a Party with such questionable values.

Health guidelines told us that masking would help us avoid catching the virus and allow Americans to go back to work and yet, oddly, a president who cared only about economics made wearing a mask a political test. Half of Americans turned masking into an attack on their personal freedom and therefore, the US Constitution. They were willing to take away the personal freedom of other Americans to wear masks even up to and including using bullying and violence to attack the “mask nerds and traitors,” as if we were all on the playground at school, or at a Nazi rally. There were few if any repercussions for this behavior except possibly being asked to leave a Walmart. There were a number of governors who legitimized ignoring common sense health rules. Yet there is no data to show that these unmasked states suffered more deaths than masked states because the cause-effect threads are difficult to trace.

Did a defiant, or Trump-compliant governor like Ron DeSantis bring any calamity down on Florida? He refused most of the advice of health experts and Florida actually gained in population. Did he skate? It looks like he won by ignoring science and common sense. It has us wondering if there are any consequences at all for choosing economics over human lives. It’s difficult to tell how many deaths resulted from DeSantis’s disregard of health precautions because people traveled to the state to party and went back to homes all over America to spread COVID-19. DeSantis looks like a winner, right down to the arrogant grin on his tiny round face. Why is he winning? It makes bad behavior look good. Small wonder that half of America is shocked and mystified. Even if there are repercussions there is a media that puts a positive spin on every negative outcome.

Now half of America has decided to believe that the vaccine designed to end this pandemic will kill them, or have unknown future ramifications, and they are most likely the same Americans whose rights were offended by wearing masks. While accusing the left of anarchy, their behavior is far more likely to lead to the defiance of laws. But now the non-maskers and the non-vaccinators are stuck with each other. Still no repercussions? We’ll find out, but it may not bring anyone any happiness.

No consequences for inciting violence, no repercussions for sedition, for denying science, for betraying the integrity of free and fair elections, for trashing truth, and stealing tax dollars and so many “bad” behaviors carried out right out in the open and then denied by brash lies. Impunity was the word in the media today. Impunity is kissing the ring of the worst President America has ever had, a President we ought to shun. Half of America still wants this man who insists that evil is good back in the Oval Office. All we seem able to do is plead with the Universe to bring on the consequences please. The Universe, however, does not seem to intervene in human affairs.

If all the negative consequences of Trumpism are unknown until some future time, if we don’t want to play his game by fighting back and digging into the real present day repercussions of “bad” political behavior, if we have no stomach for the battles we obviously face, we will become a majority party with no power, pounded into dust by a fascist sensibility fostered by a media without a conscience, and America will exist in name only. Those who should have lost the “game” will win and the new game will be rigged against morality and against “we the people,” perhaps forever. Winning matters, but how you win also matters in the long run or it should. How reassuring is ‘the long run’ to short-lived humans anyway?

Shots or No Shots, That is the Question

From a Google Image Search – Forbes

When I was in my early 20’s I spent a year working for a grant program funded to the Psychology Department of a local university. This was one of a number of grants to study the effectiveness of Head Start in helping underprivileged preschoolers prepare for kindergarten. Head Start was fairly new, but had been around long enough to be able to see if there was value in continuing the program. We worked in teams that tested 4-year-olds at the beginning of a year and then again at the end of a year. We used the Preschool Inventory, a modified version of the Stanford Binet IQ test (modified to allow for nonverbal responses), and a sociometric test to look at socialization between children (who was popular, who was socially well adjusted, who was socially isolated). Everything was scored and coded and sent off to Washington. DC. Data proved that Head Start was quite effective at doing what it was designed to do. 

But, I want to talk about one little boy we met in Utica, NY when we gave that sociometric test. To give the test we had a Polaroid camera and we took a picture of each child in the Head Start class. We arrayed the photos on a table in front of the child and we asked them to pick out their best friend, their second best friend and their third best friend. We tabulated all of the answers and came up with a graphic showing the connections between the children in the classroom by posting the pictures on poster paper and drawing arrows to show the children’s choices. The child with the most arrows was obviously the most popular, the child with the least arrows or no arrows was the child with social difficulties, the loner or the shunned. Interesting stuff.

One little guy was afraid to have his picture taken with that Polaroid camera. The teacher told us that the children had been given shots the day before. She also told us that this child was abused at home and seemed to have few verbal skills, which suggests that he did not get much positive parental attention. In fact the child’s abuse had been documented and the child removed from parental care for a time. This little boy refused to have his photo taken so we pulled him aside. We had him watch each time we took a photo. We showed him each photo when it finished developing. Although he watched every child as his or her picture was taken and he saw each picture after it developed, he could not bring himself to let us take his picture. He was certain that despite the fact that every child got a photo, he would get a shot. We had to wait several days, until the fear of the shot wore off and the children’s pictures were displayed in the classroom and admired by all before he would let us take a picture and do the sociometric test properly. I have never forgotten how strong the distrust was already in such a young child.

So when grown people say they won’t have the COVID vaccine because of the wrongs done to black folks at the Tuskegee Institute I hear them. They seem to believe that white people will be given valid vaccines and that there will be some kind of switch up when a nonwhite person gets inoculated. Or they believe that the vaccines were somehow only tested on white folks. Some people say they are waiting to see if the shots work or if there is a bad reaction coming somewhere down the line. And why wouldn’t they. The Tuskegee experiments, if you could call them that, began during the Great Depression in the 1930’s and weren’t exposed or ended until 1972. Being in the study was basically a death sentence and resulted in the spread of syphilis as well. This is an all round disgusting bit of American History.

https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/history/40-years-human-experimentation-america-tuskegee-study

Now we need those who were once abused and are most at risk for serious outcomes from COVID to get inoculated and they, like that little four-year-old in Utica, NY, are reluctant. It is true that the vaccines were rushed into use without the kind of longitudinal study that would have been optimal. It is true that those of us who have been inoculated are guinea pigs, in a sense. It appears the shots won’t kill us and they do offer some protection from the virus, but we don’t know for sure how much protection or for how long. Perhaps we will see future side effects, although most likely they would have appeared by now. 

To get to normal, health officials would like everyone to get vaccinated. We have the example of the polio vaccine which ended polio around the world. This current virus has been so virile that our economy is suffering and could continue to suffer until we can feel safe working, shopping, schooling, and socializing as we did before COVID. With so many at-risk people worried that the shots involve some kind of bait and switch the economy is likely to be slowed for some time. Travel, events like concerts and weddings, races for charity, entertainment venues, restaurants and bars are all slowing their roll because vaccinations have not reached herd immunity levels. Infection rates are down, so it is possible that enough people have been vaccinated to make a reset possible but everyone worries that if we let down our guard their could be another surge in cases ahead.

Clearly we need to inoculate the world, which capitalism seems to make more difficult. Profits will be lost, patents will become worthless; what is a pharmaceutical company to do? But this dilemma of people who refuse the vaccine even when it is available is vexing. Despite understanding the distrust of some, it makes you just want to give people a shake, to say that this is different, to ask them to please, please, please get vaccinated. 

A reaction to former abuse does not explain the reluctance of all Americans either. We have Tucker Carlson saying on Fox that the number of vaccination deaths is higher than is being reported. He tells us that over 3000 people have died from the vaccine which is not what the data says. 

https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2021/may/06/tucker-carlson/tucker-carlsons-misleading-claim-about-deaths-afte/

He gins up fear on the right, in people who were already convinced by officials that the disease was always exaggerated and that masks violated their civil rights, so that now they join the ranks of anti-vaxxers who plan to refuse all vaccinations. Why would a man with a big megaphone twist data and offer bad health advice? What payoff does that have for the right? Why doesn’t someone this dangerous lose his job? 

The wall we have hit in this country; the wall stopping progress with getting people to get vaccinated is obviously a strong one. It’s built of complicated truths and falsehoods. I do hear some good ideas being discussed for reaching those who are not vaccinated, but it is looking like we will have to resume normal life under less than great conditions and hope that there is not another spike in COVID infections in the Fall. We also have to worry that the longer COVID rages elsewhere around the world the greater the danger that a variant will make us start all over with the search for an effective vaccine. This has been a serious pandemic, long lasting, a killer; and it interrupted every part of our lives. If a simple vaccine will help us put this disease behind us we can only beg those who are reluctant or who refuse to please get over yourselves or America’s bad history and get your shot/s.

As I publish this I am watching #VAXLIVE