Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Zombification of America

 And what you might ask is a Zombie, exactly? Well, Merriam defines it thusly: “a will-less and speechless human (as in voodoo belief and in fictional stories) held to have died and been supernaturally reanimated”.  So, “speechless” Hmmm. Not so much. “Will-less”? Hmmm, yeah, seems right.  The main point, though, is the absence of thoughtful actions, people who seem to be no longer capable of independent thinking.

I recently looked at a little U-Tube video showing hordes of people running towards and jumping off a cliff into a raging fiery inferno down below. And that seemed a perfect metaphor for what we can see in America, almost every day. But why, what happened that caused people to rush headlong towards oblivion?

I have been around for a while, so I have seen America drawn to presidents who were less than perfect. George W. Bush??? Really people, we elected George W. Bush? But Molly Ivins used to have a lot of fun, making fun of Shrub. She even wrote an amusing book: “Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush”. Molly is the person who convinced me that comedy is the best approach to commentary on truly stupid politicians.  Comedians, on average, seemed smarter than your usual Joe, and they “tell it like it is”, but we are able to laugh instead of crying.  But, despite his less than stellar track record, Shrub is an intellectual dynamo, compared with Trump. Even Reagan looks competent compared with Trump. Ahhh, Molly, we need you.  

On reflection, our presidents have indeed bounced about hither and yon in terms of competence and intellect.  But Trump really stands out.  He seems dumber than your standard pet rock. And his lack of intellect reveals itself when you examine his record. Molly once offered this advice on judging a politician: "The first is to look at the record. The second is to look at the record. And third, look at the record." And Trump’s record is there for all the world to see and judge.  He has been married three times, and all three seem disasters. He keeps starting businesses, and then crashing those businesses into bankruptcy—six times by last count.  And, because he isn’t too smart, he lies all the time-20,000 so far into this term, but who’s counting?  And then we can see why Trump did not want his taxes revealed for all to see.  They are beyond shameless, revealing him to be a con man. I guess pretend-wealthy folks have different standards for the IRS than us ordinary tax-payers. Apparently, he is so bad at the business of business that he paid no taxes for over ten years running. And the republican response to this debacle? “Oh, it shows how smart Trump is.” Reminds me of that cartoon I posted on Facebook: 

But why, why do his supporters act with such rampant stupidity? I now assume it is a combination of power and stupid people.  Apparently, when power is acquired by stupid people, they act stupidly, and commit destructive acts.  Just note the reaction of Trump and his gang of thieves to the Pandemic.  Did he/they stand up and mount a defense against the virus, so as to contain its worst effects? Well, no, they sat on their asses, played the blame game (it’s all China’s fault), and also Let’s Pretend (as soon as it warms up, it will disappear).  They basically kicked aside all of the Nation’s expertise on this subject, as well as withdrawing from any international efforts—see the World Health Organization. As a result, the United States has one of the world’s worst records for containment. Over 200,000 people have died as a result. That’s the direct result of stupid people being in charge of a catastrophic event.

And then his supporters observe these effects, and do they withdraw? Hmmm, nope, they double down on their support.  How/Why? Well, they assert that the pandemic is a myth, a fiction created by the Liars of the Left. “People aren’t really dying of COVID.  They are dying of more ordinary conditions. People on the left are apparently lying about the causes of death. The COVID19 is just like the ordinary flu. Yeah, people will get sick, but thousands are not dying from COVID.  That’s a Deep-State conspiracy”.  They actually assert such stuff.  Now to be fair, Trump says such stuff, so they can either believe him, or not.  It’s the same with all of his 20,000+ lies. People have the option. Believe him when he lies, or ask yourself, “Why is he saying such obvious untruths?” I think, even when his supporters understand that he is lying, they still support him, because his statements are like slapping other smart people in the face. And that’s what they actually like.  Turns out that thinking is often hard, and believing fantasies is much easier, and somehow more satisfying because you don’t have to do anything.

But how is all of this madness possible? It was not like this when Reagan was President, or when the Bushes were presidents. Even Nixon was more straightforward.  And when Shrub lied about Sadaam’s WMDs, although he tried to escape, his lies eventually caught up with him. As I remember, his supporters didn’t gather and shout “Fake News”.  Nixon was finally done in by his lies and ineptitude, as was Bush. Reagan simply timed out. He lied, he committed stupid acts, and then he left.  But they were more ordinary corrupt/stupid leaders. They seemed not to be about destroying America, as is President Stupidhead.  So, are Trump’s supporters actually all in line with destroying America?  It would seem so.  They maintain his greatness (“Best president we have ever had”) despite all the evidence to the contrary.  Is it possible that Trump actually knew something, when he famously asserted that he could take a gun out on Fifth Avenue, shoot someone, and his support would increase? I now think he is right. His supporters would jump up and down with glee, and even more would be drawn to his side.  The Zombies are apparently here in great numbers.

Thinking is hard and filled with consequences. Typically, when you think about serious issues, you are forced to actually have to do something. Maybe Vote, perhaps join a resistance movement, volunteer at some cause near and dear.  But you may not be able to change a Zombie back into an ordinary, thinking human. Only they can do that, so perhaps stop trying to argue with your neighbor.  Instead, buy him a beer, or a nice glass of wine and talk about how nice his lawn looks.  Even Zombies like to be complimented.

So, however annoyed or amused you are, it is likely that you can’t really change the whole world of ZombieLand. The best you can hope for is perhaps to neutralize it.  You can Vote. You can help at the Polling places, assuming you can stay safe (wear a mask). You can help an elderly neighbor to vote, either remotely, or by helping them get to a polling place. You can respond to folks who ask questions, but respond calmly and rationally.

Somehow, we all need to let go of the anger, because anger won’t solve our collective problems. Only thoughtful, rational acts can do that.  So, remember, Be Kind. But always look for truth, and facts. Trust science, and behave rationally and kindly.

And have another glass of wine. Drink on me hearties!

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

We’re All In This Together

 Sometimes I am drawn back to the 1940s. I was still a little kid, but the World was in crisis. And that fact was not lost on me, despite my tender age –6-11.  I was aware that the world at large—not all, but most nations—were united in their efforts to defeat Totalitarian Fascism.  Europe had largely collapsed. Britain fought on, with the Channel separating them from the worst of Nazi Germany’s horrors. Germany of course continued bombing Britain, but the Brits never conceded. And then we entered the horror. Finally, civilized nations prevailed. They prevailed because they worked together, and because they knew they had to succeed, or the world was finished. Civilization itself was at risk.

And, now my mind springs forward to 2020, to another horror show.  Oh, I don’t mean the horror show that is politics in the 21st century.  Well, partly I do, but I was actually thinking about the Pandemic and the horror show of COVID19. This virus didn’t creep up on us in the dark of night. Nope, it sprang full blown in bright daylight, first a little bit in a place called Wuhan, and then rapidly, it was everywhere. And we seemed to just sit on our collective asses, sucking our thumbs, and drinking our beer, while the world descended into viral madness.

Could there ever have been a clearer signal that World War X was upon us?  Because I am not quite old enough (quiet you, no I’m not old enough to remember the 1918 Flu Pandemic), I have no memory of that awful 1918 pandemic.  

According to the CDC, “The 1918 influenza pandemic was the most severe pandemic in recent history. It was caused by an H1N1 virus with genes of avian origin. Although there is not universal consensus regarding where the virus originated, it spread worldwide during 1918-1919.  In the United States, it was first identified in military personnel in spring 1918. It is estimated that about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population became infected with this virus. The number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide with about 675,000 occurring in the United States.

And also, we seem to ignore the fact that we have experienced other pandemics, even if not as deadly as today’s or 1918’s. “Since 1918, the world has experienced three additional pandemics, in 1957, 1968, and most recently in 2009. These subsequent pandemics were less severe and caused considerably lower mortality rates than the 1918 pandemic.2,3,4 The 1957 H2N2 pandemic and the 1968 H3N2 pandemic each resulted in an estimated 1 million global deaths, while the 2009 H1N1 pandemic resulted in fewer than 0.3 million deaths in its first year.3,4 

It is thought that the War and the movement of troops contributed to spreading the 1918 flu virus. In any case, spread it did, and millions died as a result.

Enter 2020, and the COVID19 virus. Now I regard this virus as a global enemy, every bit as dangerous as was Nazi Germany in 1940.  We are not even close to containing it. And not until we have a working vaccine will we be able to contain it.  But we can “manage” its worst effects. How? Well, by all of us working together as a unified force. And who do I mean by “all of us”? Well, I mean really everyone in the world.  This pandemic presents us with the best opportunity the world has seen in nearly a century for an integrated global defensive force, operating single-mindedly to defeat this virus.

Instead, what do we see?  We are playing the Blame Game.  And by “We” I mean the United States, under the pseudo-leadership of Donald Trump.  President Trump’s first reaction to the Pandemic was to deny its existence. It was ephemeral, it would disappear as soon as the weather warmed a bit. He seemed to liken it to the normal flu. He continued making light of it, even as it began to spread rapidly around our country, and even as people began dying in the thousands.

Instead of joining forces with our own public health scientists and the scientists around the globe, he shifted into his second standard game—the Blame Game. It’s all China’s fault.  But really, what does it matter if it is all China’s fault? We still need to contain it.  Even now, the actual origin of this virus is unclear. It seems to have originated as a virus among bats, and then transferred to other animals. The Wuhan province first ID’ed as the origin is at least in doubt, now, although somewhere in China seems to be the origin. But again, although that question will be important to research scientists looking to the future, and ways to prevent such outbreaks, the immediate tasks seem clear:

1.       Work on developing a vaccine; and,

2.       Combine global forces to contain the worst effects.

Instead, our President seems to have decided on ridiculing those people who are most likely to lead us to a cure—our scientists. He who seems to have learned almost nothing since about the 2nd or 3rd grade seems to get his rocks off by making fun of other people smarter than him (which seems to be almost everybody).  He seems unable to stand anyone who might be credited with giving sound, scientific advice.  Instead, he wants everyone to listen to him. But he has no advice. He just wants to imagine it away.  And he doesn’t just defame our own scientists. He has spent the last six months of this awful pandemic period moving us away from any global connections.  Of all things, he whacked away at the World health Organization.  He has slammed our own Centers for Disease Control. In fact almost everyone who has any actual expertise in this field has been tossed aside by this President.

I think also of the fairly obvious need for at least a national effort to manage the worst effects of the Pandemic.

1.       Supplies—the country, the world really, desperately needs supplies of medical protective equipment—masks, gloves, ventilators, all manner of PPE. So, instead of mounting a national effort to obtain such supplies for the entire country, Trump basically backed away and forced the states to compete with one another to get the supplies, a monumentally stupid approach.

2.       Education – because the best approach to protecting one another is to enforce separation –social distancing—education has become problematic. School classrooms are crowded, and like little Petri dishes. The initial approach has been to cancel school and begin a grand experiment—education via the Internet, using a new system called Zoom.  Small problem: guess what? Not all kids are equal in the world of technology. The various underclasses have less access to both computers and to Wi-Fi Internet connections.  Plus, we really have almost no clue how to actually educate our children, especially our youngest kids, and those kids with learning problems.  So, the issue practically screams for a national, i.e., federal approach.  But our President is simply ignoring this issue altogether.  I guess he “doesn’t do” education, since it seems to have been lacking almost entirely in his own childhood.

3.       Working Environments – the world of work has altered dramatically. Some jobs can be converted into computerized Zoom laboratories, but not all.  Again, Federal, and even Global development efforts seem to be needed to develop new ways to actually work together. We cannot just sit on our asses, drinking the liquid of your choice at home until the virus goes away.  But our President remains at home watching Fox News—the Nazi News Network-- or on one of his many golf courses, sucking his thumb and occasionally hitting a golf ball. He is playing no part in solving the many problems associated with getting work done while we cannot physically/safely work together in the same room.  Once again, he seems to be steady on course with his main strategic approach in life—blaming someone for his own shortcomings.

I have never seen anything quite like this pretend-president. In my many years of life, I have at least been able to observe presidents dating back to Franklin Roosevelt. Never have I observed a president so lacking in the attributes we require of presidents. He cannot manage anything or anyone. He seems incapable of actually thinking, but he also seems to be unable to work with other thinking humans. Whenever he manages to come into contact with someone who has a working brain, he generally tries to fire that person, or drive the person to quit the job. We have never seen such turnover in important positions in our government.  While I understand that republicans seem to value anarchy over organized government, this particular crowd of republicans seems to excel at the game of destroying everything resembling order and/or intelligence.

And so we approach an election, the Election of our lifetimes, perhaps the most important election in the history of America.  And what are we seeing? Donald Trump is spending much of his public time decrying the notion of people voting at all, but especially voting by mail. And in the midst of a pandemic, and an unwillingness of people to want to stand in close proximity in long lines, voting by mail seems a reasonable alternative. But with Zero evidence, our President tells us that voting by mail is filled with fraud. This despite the fact that he votes by mail routinely.  And now, he has begun to argue that he may have to act so as to cancel the election should he actually lose.  Some source report, "[T]he Trump campaign is discussing contingency plans to bypass election results and appoint loyal electors in battleground states where Republicans hold the legislative majority.

With a justification based on claims of rampant fraud, Trump would ask state legislators to set aside the popular vote and exercise their power to choose a slate of electors directly. The longer Trump succeeds in keeping the vote count in doubt, the more pressure legislators will feel to act before the safe-harbor deadline expires."

A Trump campaign legal advisor elaborated:

"The state legislatures will say, 'All right, we've been given this constitutional power. We don't think the results of our own state are accurate, so here's our slate of electors that we think properly reflect the results of our state ... If you have this notion that ballots can come in for I don't know how many days—in some states a week, 10 days—then that onslaught of ballots just gets pushed back and pushed back and pushed back. So pick your poison. Is it worse to have electors named by legislators or to have votes received by Election Day?"

How accurate is this report? I don’t know, but it seems a small jump from what Trump has been saying for months. He claims fraud in absentee voting, yet he has zero evidence, and most knowledgeable observers report no serious fraud in absentee voting.

And so our Nation approaches this election with some serious issues before most folks have even voted.  We have a president who has done almost literally nothing to resolve the worst effects of this pandemic, in fact he has arguably made it worse by his arguments against the need to protect ourselves. He is a disaster in the making. He has already proven himself to be a disaster. We cannot afford another four years.

BUT, should the American people vote him back into office, we will have no one to blame for the ensuing chaos but ourselves.  It is all on us now. Everything from this day forward will be determined by the American people. We will soon see what this nation stands for.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Why I Oppose Trump

 Recently, I posted something on Facebook, on the order of a challenge.  I said:

Given the lack of understanding on both sides, I wonder what would happen if both supporters and opponents of Trump were asked to list the top ten actions/reasons people hold dear for either supporting or opposing Trump. Maybe we would learn something important about the American people.”

And, of course, as with most of my suggestions on Facebook, nobody took me up on it.  But I was serious. I am so tired of seeing/hearing people who are Trump supporters say things like, “well, he is the best president we have ever had”. Or, worse yet, “Well, God has sent Trump to lead our country through these trying times.”

But, to be fair, people like me rarely provide objective reasons for opposing Trump. I really thought that, if you could get folks to actually write down their reasons—why do they support/oppose Trump—we might have an objective basis for debating his presidency. So, I thought I at least should set down my reasons for opposing his presidency.  I thought maybe ten reasons for or against would be an adequate basis for a debate. So, let’s see:

1.    Lying – probably the single most negative attribute is his constant lying. By some counts, Trump has lied in excess of 20,000 times since becoming president.  Now some of the lies are just terminally silly, like telling us that more people attended his inaugural than at any time in the history of the United States.  Such a lie is just stupid, given how easily it can be revealed.  Then he simply made a fool of himself. But then, by his own admission, he tells us via Bob Woodward that he purposefully lied to the American people about just how serious was this COVID viral disease. Now he says that he lied in order to quell the panic that might well ensue a proper understanding.  Instead, his lies on the seriousness of the disease has likely exacerbated the situation and caused the numbers of people infected, and then the numbers dying to exceed any other nation’s count.  One could say that he collaborated with the COVID virus, much like collaborating with an enemy.  And, however weighty such an accusation, it seems clear that his lies about the relative utility of masks and other protective approaches, his advocacy of unproven treatments, such as Hydroxychloroquine, and even bleach, and his assertions that COVID will simply disappear and will be no worse than the Flu, have all contributed to our vast number of people infected. He basically told us that we didn’t have to take it seriously. People died as a result. So, lying is my number one problem. Oh, and his lying also means that no one—repeat no one—can believe anything he says on any subject. Think of what that means in international negotiations on War and Peace.

2.    Concentration Camps – Trump’s rhetoric about our Southern border, in his zeal to sell his Wall, led directly to policies that separated kids from their families as they tried to enter the United States, and then to housing those same kids in cages within what can only be called Concentration Camps at our border. In many cases, the families did not even know where their kids were shipped by our Gestapo-like border police.  It is hard to imagine any other president implementing such a Nazi-like policy, and his rhetoric (“murderers, rapists . . . from shithole countries”) is what we would have expected from Germany 1939.  Certainly not America 21st century.

3.    Denying Climate Change Trump withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Accord is arguably one the most globally catastrophic acts we have seen from this Administration.  But it is part of Trump’s approach to almost all of life’s challenges.  He never seems to rely on Facts or on Science. Instead, he goes with his own economic instincts, which always serve his own personal agenda.  Here we have two of Trump’s less endearing qualities—his essential ignorance, coupled with his extreme narcissism.  In virtually all matters, Trump seems uninformed at best, willfully ignorant at worst. His extreme narcissism means that he will interpret all events in terms of what it means for him personally. He seems to have no wider perspective than himself.  In this case, the very future of our planet, and all its living inhabitants are at risk.  And this is not one of those scientific challenges in which scientists are in serious disagreement. While not all the facts are in, scientists worldwide are in reasonable agreement that climate change is real, that we actually have very little time left to introduce changes to alleviate the worst effects, and that barring action, the planet may well become uninhabitable. But acting now, requires changes to industrial approaches to producing power, and that brings great risks to the fossil fuel industry that seems to be supporting Trump.  And, so Trump will not act to save the planet.

4.    Withdrawing from World Organizations – Beyond the Paris Climate Accord, Trump seems to be removing the United States from participation in other global partnerships, including the UN, the EU, and, perhaps even NATO.   He seems to be bent on labeling all other global organizations as “corrupt”, or somehow counter to American interests.  He refused to remain committed to the World Health Organization’s efforts to produce a vaccine for COVID, instead, trashing that international body.  He seems disposed to shift away from global cooperative efforts in all matters to an America-only approach. This approach seems similar to past dictators, from the prior century. Trump is arguably the closest parallel we have seen to early 20th century dictators. Instead of working hard to pursue a course in which America can help to lead the way to a safer, saner planet, Trump seems intent on demonstrating that we are not real allies to anyone in any sense of that term.

5.    Public Education – Trump’s appointment of Betsy DeVos to head up our Department of Public Education seems to demonstrate his contempt for the entire concept of public education.  Devos has never attended a public school of any kind, nor I imagine has Trump.  In fact Trump’s entire education seems to be a very large unknown area. He claims all kinds of things, including graduation from Wharton. His abysmal ignorance on almost all subjects precludes accepting him at his word, although it is a complex issue. His name is known to be associated with various schools. I continue to wonder whether daddy paid to have someone else sit in class in his name, while Trump himself doodled at home alone. But the serious matter here is that the American public needs and deserves a quality public education program, one accountable to the public. If we have problems in that system, and we do, then the solution is to ask groups of intelligent people to study the problems and to recommend new and improved approaches to improve that system, rather than abandoning the system and punting it to various unknown private institutions.

6.    Personal Ethics From the very beginning of his Administration, Donald Trump seems to have decided that there is no reason for him to disclose his personal financial status, or in fact anything about himself or his family to the public.  We have never seen any president mix personal and public business, as though there were no lines to be drawn, ever.  His appointments to government work of his children practically screams nepotism, and worse, because his children have no discernible skill set for any of the issues to which they are assigned.  It suggests that he has no care for quality or performance, preferring instead personal favoritism.  Plus, of equal concern is his constant mixing of his personal financial businesses with government affairs. The golf course visits, the hotel exchanges, all deliver very substantial sums of money to his personal businesses. To anyone else, these transactions would be completely unacceptable. With Trump, it is business as usual.  And then his constant lies about why he refuses to disclose his taxes is really beyond the pale.  In this, he certainly exceeds past presidents in corrupt business practices.

R   RacismTrump’s constant rants about his Wall and our Southern border and his Imperial America vision, where no one from those “shithole” countries may gain entry shouts racist at a very high pitch. His past is rife with racist business practices, as are those of his family, dating back certainly to daddy’s business practices.  His racism seems to seep into his attitudes on almost any subject.  In an article in The Atlantic, Trump is quoted going into one of his many racist rants.So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run,” Trump tweeted on Sunday, July 14, 2019. “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. “Trump was referring to four freshman members of Congress: Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a Somali American; Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, an African American; Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, a Palestinian American; and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, a Puerto Rican. Pressley screenshotted Trump’s tweet and declared, “THIS is what racism looks like.” In the days leading up to Trump’s attack on Omar, Pressley, Tlaib, and Ocasio-Cortez, Fox News slammed the “Squad,” especially Omar. All four had been publicly sparring with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over a $4.6 billion border-aid package that they thought did not sufficiently restrain Trump’s immigration policies. Yet Pelosi promptly defended her fellow Democrats on July 14, 2019. “When @realDonaldTrump tells four American Congresswomen to go back to their countries,” Pelosi tweeted, “he reaffirms his plan to ‘Make America Great Again’ has always been about making America white again.”

    Collaboration with Foreign EntitiesIt now seems clear that Putin decided that he preferred to have Trump leading America rather than Hillary Clinton.  While we have yet to see the total evidence demonstrating Trump’s involvement, it remains unclear whether Trump was assisted by Putin without his direct involvement, or with his active collaboration.  But his role in directing the linkage of foreign aid to Ukraine to their willingness to investigate Joe Biden’s son's activities there led to his impeachment. On September 24, 2019, the House of Representatives began a formal impeachment inquiry into Trump, led by six House committees. On October 31, 2019, the House of Representatives voted to approve guidelines for the next phase of the impeachment inquiry. Trump was impeached on charges of abusing the power of his office and obstructing Congress, but was ultimately acquitted by the Senate. On December 3, 2019, as part of the impeachment inquiry, the House Intelligence Committee published a 300-page report detailing that "the impeachment inquiry has found that President Trump, personally and acting through agents within and outside of the U.S. government, solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, to benefit his reelection. In furtherance of this scheme, President Trump conditioned official acts on a public announcement by the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, of politically-motivated investigations, including one into Joe Biden, one of Trump's domestic political opponents. In pressuring President Zelensky to carry out his demand, President Trump withheld a White House meeting desperately sought by the Ukrainian President, and critical U.S. military assistance to fight Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine." In January 2020, the Government Accountability Office, a non-partisan watchdog, concluded that the White House broke federal law by withholding Congress-approved military aid to Ukraine.

9.    Rule of LawDonald Trump never seems to recognize that America is actually governed by things called Laws. In another CNN article, the dismal accounts of Trump’s abuse of the rule of law continue. They argue, “Trump's practices defy the norms of the modern presidency. Over the past three years, some comparisons have been made to President Richard Nixon, who resigned in 1974 after it became evident that he concealed his role in a cover up of the 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate building.” But Trump stands out in his broadscale attacks on legal traditions and due process. To him, the system is always "rigged." He has publicly and ceaselessly derided judges. An early 2017 example was Trump's calling a US judge who ruled against his first travel ban a "so-called judge." More recently this week, Trump targeted Judge Jackson before she sentenced Stone, asking if she was the judge who, "put Paul Manafort in SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, something that not even mobster Al Capone had to endure?" "How did she treat Crooked Hillary Clinton?" his tweet continued, "Just asking!" Trump has had startling words for those at all levels of the system. In 2017, as he addressed a group of law enforcement officers at a Long Island event, he said, "Please don't be too nice" when putting suspects into squad cars. He gestured with his hands and suggested suspects' heads need not be protected, saying, "You can take the hand away, OK?" A Trump spokeswoman said at the time he was just joking. The emerging conflict with Barr recalls Trump's pressure on his first Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, routinely humiliated with labels such as "beleaguered" and "weak." Trump appears to have taken his Senate acquittal on the House charges as permission to keep breaching norms. The US House of Representatives had impeached the President on two articles, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, related to his dealings with Ukraine. After the Senate vote, Trump fired individuals who had testified about the President's actions that tying US security aid to Ukraine on that country's investigation of Democratic adversaries.  

     Narcissism --  Finally, it is difficult to talk about Donald Trump without consideration of his extreme narcissism. A recent article in The Atlantic is a worthy summary of Trump’s narcissism. 

“Let’s start with the basics.

First: Narcissistic personalities like Trump harbor skyscraping delusions about their own capabilities. They exaggerate their accomplishments, focus obsessively on projecting power, and wish desperately to win.

What that means, during this pandemic: Trump says we’ve got plenty of tests available, when we don’t. He declares that Google is building a comprehensive drive-thru testing website, when it isn’t. He sends a Navy hospital ship to New York and it proves little more than an excuse for a campaign commercial, arriving and sitting almost empty in the Hudson. A New York hospital executive calls it a joke.

Second: The grandiosity of narcissistic personalities belies an extreme fragility, their egos as delicate as foam. They live in terror of being upstaged. They’re too thin skinned to be told they’re wrong. Narcissistic leaders never have, as Trump likes to say, the best people. They have galleries of sycophants. With the exceptions of Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, Trump has surrounded himself with a Z-team of dangerously inexperienced toadies and flunkies — the bargain-bin rejects from Filene’s Basement — at a time when we require the brightest and most imaginative minds in the country.

Faced with a historic public health crisis, Trump could have assembled a first-rate company of disaster preparedness experts. Instead he gave the job to his son-in-law, a man-child of breathtaking vapidity. Faced with a historic economic crisis, Trump could have assembled a team of Nobel-prize winning economists or previous treasury secretaries. Instead he talks to Larry Kudlow, a former CNBC host.

Meanwhile, Fauci and Birx measure every word they say like old-time apothecaries, hoping not to humiliate the narcissist — never humiliate a narcissist — while discreetly correcting his false hopes and falsehoods. They are desperately attempting to create a safe space for our president, when the president should be creating a safer nation for all of us.

Third: Narcissistic personalities love nothing more than engineering conflict and sowing division. It destabilizes everyone, keeps them in control. Trump is pitting state against state for precious resources, rather than coordinating a national response. (“It’s like being on eBay,” complained Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York last week.) His White House is a petty palace of competing power centers. He picks fights with Democratic officials and members of the press, when all the public craves is comfort. Narcissistic personalities don’t do comfort. They cannot fathom the needs of other hearts.

Fourth: Narcissistic personalities are vindictive. On a clear day, you can see their grudges forever. Trump is playing favorites with governors who praise him and punishing those who fail to give him the respect he believes he deserves. “If they don’t treat you right, don’t call,” he told Vice President Mike Pence.”

Thanks to The Atlantic for that summary of Trump’s narcissism.

So, there. That is my list of ten reasons I oppose Donald Trump, and, really, everything he stands for.  Now you know.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Disarming The Police

 I think we are fortunate, living in Concord, NC. So far as I am aware, we have had relatively few shootings of people of color by our police force, probably none of the ilk of Breanna Taylor, or Mr. Blake.  I understand that we live in a city that is multicultural, with white, colored, Asian, and Hispanic citizens living together.  I understand too that, being white and living pretty much anywhere in America, we are relatively safe from errant police shootings.  White citizens do not have to counsel their children on how to react in any event involving the police, so as to avoid being killed.  Now that, all by itself, is a tragic statement of fact.  We are told, all the time, by parents of colored children about their fears of any interactions between themselves or their children and police forces.  And that alone seems wrong on its face.

Now it is simply not the case that all police are racists. But I am aware that, within the United States, a troubling percentage of the population appears to hold racist views. In a recent article, Steven O. Roberts begins, “American racism is alive and well.” Roberts, a Stanford psychologist, published his article during a time of heightened attention to racial injustice in the United States.

In the paper, which is available online and will appear in an upcoming issue of American Psychologist, the journal of the American Psychological Association, the scholars contend that racism is a deeply American problem and identify, based on a review of prior research published on the topic, the factors contributing to racism in the U.S. today.

People often define racism as disliking or mistreating others on the basis of race. That definition is wrong,” said Roberts, who directs the Social Concepts Lab, part of the psychology department, in the School of Humanities and Sciences. “Racism is a system of advantage based on race. It is a hierarchy. It is a pandemic. Racism is so deeply embedded within U.S. minds and U.S. society that it is virtually impossible to escape.”

Roberts, an assistant professor and co-author, Michael Rizzo, a postdoctoral fellow at New York University and the Beyond Conflict Innovation Lab, write that “just as citizens of capitalistic societies reinforce capitalism, whether they identify as capitalist or not, and whether they want to or not, citizens of racist societies reinforce racism, whether they identify as racist or not, and whether they want to or not.”

Given that definition of systemic racism in America, we could argue that it seems unlikely that police departments would be immune to this issue. Given that likelihood, I would argue that we might well need to reduce the probability of violent interactions between citizens, especially citizens of color, and our police forces.  Surely, one way to effect such a change is to reduce the weaponry involved in any interactions.  Britain’s experience certainly suggests that unarmed police can function effectively, as is illustrated in the following BBC article:


 And Britain is not alone in deploying unarmed police. In another article, by Time, the authors state:

While the 19 nations in the world that do not arm officers vary greatly in their approach to policing, they share a common thread. “What we can identify in these countries is that people have a tradition—and an expectation—that officers will police by consent rather than with the threat of force,” says Guðmundur Ævar Oddsson, associate professor of sociology at Iceland’s University of Akureyri who specializes in class inequality and forms of social control such as policing.

Countries with a philosophy of policing by consent, such as the United Kingdom, believe that police should not gain their power by instilling fear in the population but rather, should gain legitimacy and authority by maintaining the respect and approval of the public. This model of policing maintains that uses of force should be restrained and success is measured not in how many arrests officers have made but rather, by the absence of crime itself.” (https://time.com/5854986/police-reform-defund-unarmed-guns/).

The statistics alone suggest stark differences in results, using armed or unarmed police.  In the US, deaths associated with police shootings exceed 1,000 per year, while in countries that deploy largely unarmed police experience fewer than 100.  Partly the difference is simply the absence of guns, but in the main, police in countries that do not arm their police also train their police to respond differently. Better training produces better outcomes.  Now, it is also the case that the population at large in the US is heavily armed, compared with other countries.  So, more guns per capita logically produces a relatively higher threat level to the police, when responding to potential violence. 

Still, the level of deadly force within the US, arguably associated with armed police, is remarkable, and should have long ago caused us to at least question this tactic.  It causes me to wonder whether we might engage in an experiment regarding police armaments. Suppose, for example, that we carried out a literal experiment, in which we engaged sets of similar cities, and we maintained the current armament level in some cities and disarmed police in another set.  It would be useful of course to compare cities of comparable size. Perhaps one could envision cities basing armament level depending on the function being carried out. Routine traffic duty, for example, might be assigned no guns, whereas units responding to higher threat levels—robberies in process, for example, would be armed.  The police themselves would need to be involved in constructing the terms of the experiment, so that its ultimate results would be deemed credible by police forces.  It might well be needed also, to carry out more training of officers in those forces that would be disarmed. It is my understanding that police forces in Britain, and other countries that do not routinely arm their police, provide greater training of their officers, especially in reducing threat levels.  Again, police operate by consent rather than by force or the threat of force.

Data on fatalities per 100,000 are interesting. Data for the period 2000 – 2018 reveal vastly different levels of fatalities by city size, and, of course, by race. An article cited here, reveals the following patterns:


 By City:

St. Louis – 36.3/100,000

Orlando – 28.1/100,000

Chicago – 10.1/100,000

Washington, DC – 10/100,000

Portland – 8.2/100,000

Charlotte – 4.19/100,000

New York City – 0.2/100,000

And by race, of course, the differences paint the picture that give rise to the protests around the country;

African-American – 96/100,000

LatinX – 53/100,000

White – 39/100,000

Asian – 16/100,000

So, maybe we really do need to at least consider an experiment in which we explore the possibility that having fewer armed police might lead to less overall violence and fewer deaths in America.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Why Do They Support Him?

I read an article recently, examining why Trump supporters continue to support him, despite his bizarre, and even illegal behavior and utterances. While the articles provide explanations, none of the explanations seem especially convincing. Or at the least, the explanations often themselves seem so bizarre that another explanation of the explanations seems required. 

For example, one explanation is associated with something called the Dunning-Kruger Effect.  The Dunning-Kruger effect explains that often when people seem misinformed, the problem isn’t just that they are misinformed; it’s that they are completely unaware that they are misinformed. This creates a double burden. In effect, they do not know that they are ignorant of reality. Thus, explanations to correct their biases may not work, since they believe they already know the facts.

Another explanation is that some people seem to react more viscerally to terror, i.e., the kind of thing Donald Trump spews daily. And when such people are faced with terror, or some assessment thereof, they tend to side with those whom they believe already hold beliefs they also hold.  In Trump’s case, he associates terror with people of a different color, or with people who are trying to cross our Southern borders, and he paints pictures in which he is the protector of the folks being terrorized (by him).

And then there is a group of religious believers, e.g., Evangelicals, who feel that their entire belief structure is threatened, especially by government of a Left-Wing orientation. The fact that he IS Government, seems irrelevant, since he again paints a portrait of himself as their savior.  These are threatened people, and only Trump understands them and will save them and their way of life.

And then finally, there is Trump the Entertainer. It would seem that many folks out in the Neverlands of America all watch reality TV, and Trump is their entertainer. They have short attention spans, and the Hillary’s and Joe Biden’s of the world cannot capture their attention for long. But Trump laughs and guffaws and yells, and threatens people they already hate, and behaves like the clown he is, but they love every minute of it.

Now all of these explanations have a ring of truth associated with them. But, in my mind, they seem conveniently oversimplified.  They also lack any obvious solution. Some of the authors simply punt on the question of how these behaviors and views can be overcome.  In the short run, i.e., between now and the election, they cannot be overcome.

And I also begin wondering, why did these strange views and behaviors not manifest themselves during, say, World War II? Or even, why did we never observe such behavior when Ike was running against Adlai Stevenson, or when JFK faced Nixon in 1960.  Then economic issues seem to hold sway more than racism or invasions from Mexico or other “shithole” countries.  One assumes that FDR held onto his leadership because of the war and his management of the economy after the disaster created in part by Hoover.

It does seem clear that American elections seem susceptible to economic issues, or to outright threats from a war, or the perception of a war threat (see Bush and the Iraq war).  Vietnam served to divide the country as perhaps never before with those favoring and opposing that war demonstrating as never before.  But at least, one could understand what was driving those opposing views. And despite the highly questionable nature of the Iraq invasion, including its dubious claims about Iraq weapons of mass destruction, Bush managed to win a second term, perhaps illustrating that wars provide an actual advantage to the presidency.

Now something different may have entered the landscape when Barack Obama entered the presidency.  Seemingly because he is a person of color, claims began almost immediately about his legitimacy. He was born in Hawaii, but his father was Kenyan. Now it turns out that Trump was behind many of the dubious claims about Obama and his citizenship.  So, maybe the fact that we had a black president, coupled with the fact that we then had a racist, Donald Trump, running for president can be viewed not unreasonably as the starting point of the current psychodrama called the US Presidential elections.

It may be that, just as Ronald Reagan was said to be the president who made it OK again to be a racist, Trump may be the first president who capitalized on that fact.  Maybe racism (and Nazi-ism is just another form of racism) really is the driving force of this election and the primary explanation for why Americans support Donald Trump, despite his abundant inadequacies. If you hate government that somehow seems to support anti-racist sentiments, and a government leader comes along and promises to eliminate such bizarre tendencies, then you will be drawn to support that leader, even if he is a demonstrable fraud.  Racists, it seems to me are often people who are enraged that life has treated them badly, or at least less well than other people.  And such folks seem to need someone to look down upon. People of color satisfy that need. I mean, such people of color come from ancestors who were slaves, so they must be inferior, right? Or even if they don’t come from a slave history, it can be assumed that all people of color are inferior . . . right? And should things go wrong in the country, economically for example, it is far easier to blame those you look down upon than the bankers, or stockbrokers who might actually be the root cause of problems.  It’s so hard to look down upon your bankers.

But wait, what about all those Evangelical believers. They’re Christian right? Surely they’re not racists. Well, they have other issues. It would seem that Christianity is not a major actor in the anti-racist camp.  And Evangelicals often feel as though the country has been moving away from them. And so, they too need someone to voice their grievances. And who better than a Con Man, who never attends church, cheats on his wives, neglects his children, and is corrupt to the core.  But, he is also willing to promise you the moon in exchange for your support.  So, why not? Oh, and he also isn’t running with a VP who is a woman of color. Heaven forfend!

And finally, there is this issue of paying attention. Trump is the ultimate Reality TV star, and who doesn’t watch reality TV. He is “entertaining” right?  I mean, in everything he does, he plays "The Apprentice”.  “You’re fired” he keeps yelling, and his base gets all orgiastic.  He fires them up, whereas the opposition is boring. They keep talking about reality, whereas he yells REALITY-TV. They’re different don’t you know.  So he keeps getting their attention. I mean can you even imagine Joe Biden suggesting that he could take a gun and go out on Fifth Avenue and shoot someone, and his supporters would applaud?  See, they really love that Bullshit. Love it.  Can’t get enough of it.  Government is boring, and he keeps entertaining them. And they need to be entertained, because they are otherwise so miserable, and so angry about their lives.

I know I said “finally”, but there seems one other thing that keeps his supporters close by his heels. And that is, the armed supporter thing. He is not just rallying political supporters. He is raising an actual armed camp that he plans to use should he not win the election. And they, his supporters, are that armed camp. He is willing to wage another Civil War to regain his seat, should he lose the vote. And his supporters seem to understand that and love it.  He is the leader of the American Taliban, and they are willing to go to war for him. See, that’s really different from “I like Ike”.

And so, we will see. Mostly, I am curious as to whose side the United States Armed Forces will be on. They seem quiet, but somehow, I doubt they will support Old Commander Bonespurs. We’ll see.