When Does the Real Storm Start?

Various of our presidents have entered office amid a great deal of controversy. It’s probably safe to say that the opposition virtually always wrings their hands in despair.

But this time is different, unlike anything that has ever happened before. That Donald Trump will actually become president astonished virtually everyone. Even many members of the Republican Party, who refused to support him during the campaign, are, with the inauguration at our doorstep, as alarmed as Democrats and other thinking people are.

On his way out the door President Obama published a 50-page article on legal matters and shorter one on science trends, both in respected journals, while Donald Trump put out insulting 140-character Tweets about his “enemies”, by which he means literally everyone who is not a strong supporter. Unfortunately, this sort of activity, completely and endlessly egocentric, is the most characteristic activity in his repertoire, and his ADD prevents his attention on anything for more than a few minutes. He could not write what I’m writing now, which is hardly Nobel material.

There is something pathologically wrong with this man. Many believe that Trump should be examined by clinical psychiatrists, because he exhibits many characteristics of the mentally ill. Trump is unlikely to do so, because his enormous narcissistic ego leads him to believe that he is extraordinarily smart, and practically perfect in every way. This braggadocio alarmed many people when he refused to attend the daily briefings that would keep him up to date on global events, supposedly because he was too smart to need them. It remains to be seen whether Congress will be forced by circumstances to either demand an examination or simply impeach him, hopefully before he does too much damage.

He is apparently smart enough to game the tax system and to routinely cheat the people who work for him, but these are legal, not presidential, requirements. He faces thousands of court cases, at least one on-again-off-again for rape of a minor. In New York, hundreds of workers he has stiffed are placing liens on the hotel they worked on without getting paid, one of thousands of lawsuits he faces.

A small group of very wealthy men (almost always men) gained their wealth from the mining and use of fossil fuels, which is the main reason the planet is in dire danger. These men cannot be convinced that the Carbon Age is over, because that’s how they made their money, and not one believes that the future lies elsewhere. They devote hundreds of millions to propaganda denying what cannot be denied. Even in the face of radical change in energy use all around them, their faith remains unshaken.

Trump, like the fossil fuel billionaires, doesn’t “believe” in the climate change that has engulfed our little planet. As if our daily experience could be a matter of belief. As if the deadly smog engulfing Beijing and Kolkata were a mere figment. As if the last dozen years or so, each year setting a new heat record, is something made up by Las Vegas bookies. While those who don’t understand that the Age of Carbon is over try to pretend these changes are not happening, smarter people are working on ways to survive. “Alternative” energy sources are fast becoming “standard” fuel sources that will leave the fossil billionaires with a new nickname, fossil fuel fossils.

A small but slowly growing list of Republicans seems to be coming around to acceptance of these realities, rather than religious faith that so many rely on to guide them through difficulties that have nothing to do with religion. Although Trump doesn’t appear to be at all religious, he can’t accept that the huge changes happening daily to our planet are real. He simply doesn’t understand that it is impossible to “not believe” in science, any more than they could “not believe” in gravity, because science is entirely indifferent to all systems of belief and human endeavors. Science is how we have been able to learn about the realities of the universe, which were always there. A star that explodes is indifferent to anyone’s opinion. It explodes whether or not someone “believes” it exploded. You cannot not believe in it because it is reality, and indifferent to your beliefs.

And so, Donald Trump Trump selects people for his administration entirely on the basis of their personal wealth and their agreement with him. Not on their expertise, not on their accomplishments, not on their openness to reality and evidence. He thinks money is the hallmark of “success” that will enable them to deal with their challenges, and cannot conceive of a more important criterion.

Worse, virtually every appointment is a person who believes in the opposite of his job’s description. They believe their goal is to dismantle their department, and kill off everything in Washington. They think the Great Free Market will be the unseen hand that will guide our nation of 340,000,000 souls to a new prosperity.

What will happen when President Trump demands something of the world that is impossible to fulfill? What will happen when he demands that rational persons believe what they know cannot occur? What will happen when the outcome of his plans is the opposite of what he believes will happen?

Congratulations Are Due

The Republican Party has discovered the formula for dismantling democracy in the United States. Their longstanding dream of thwarting the intent of the Founders has become reality.

There are five rules:

  1. When Democrats are in power, do nothing.
  2. Establish obstacles to voting.
  3. Create confusion and false beliefs.
  4. Create new truth by constant repetition of lies.
  5. Deny the reality of factual and scientific evidence.

The Republican Party’s entire stated goal for eight years has been to thwart President Obama. Nothing else. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said outright that his proudest achievement was to prevent anything from being done at all.

There is a concentration of ignorance and stupidity among Republicans that is not easily denied. More than a little of this derives from the weak education and poor critical thinking skills of some of them, and reliance on the Bible for all “truth”. Thus, fundamentalist Republicans are incapable of understanding simple statistics, and cannot reason critically when these deny the “truths” of their faith. Such people deny the truth of climate change because they fail to understand how science works.

Meantime, over decades, states with Republican governors and legislatures have set in play numerous amoral and illegal games to limit voting by those more likely to vote Democrat. These are not unsubstantiated claims, but recorded statements by establishment Republicans. Many of these plans are blatantly unconstitutional. But that doesn’t matter because by the time legal challenges work their ponderous way through the courts they will have already served their purpose and been replaced by newer unconstitutional laws.

Take a law that closes voter registration offices everywhere except the largest cities. Reduced registration because of great inconvenience is what Republicans want, but once offices in less populated areas are closed and their personnel dismissed, it is difficult to reopen them on court order. Mission accomplished.

Then there is always the ever popular gerrymander, which accomplishes its deed by putting most of the Democratic voters in a painfully contorted voting district that defies geographic reality. Since all the Dems are in one district, it’s easy for the state to be Republican regardless of how many Dems there are statewide.

Voting prevention goes far beyond these tricks, however. Voter registration hours become limited to, say, one morning every two weeks during the work week, so that low wage workers will find registration virtually impossible. A multi-state data base is used to remove voters from rolls if there is someone with the same name in another state. This is done late during the election season, so that it becomes impossible for a voter to challenge her removal before the election.

In spite of blatant disregard for the welfare of the nation’s people, Republicans falsely claimed that President Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was ineffective and would bankrupt the nation. Nearly 30-million Americans signed up, many gaining health insurance for the first time in their lives. Republican governors who refused to participate caused many thousands of deaths from untreated conditions. House Republicans voted some 60 times to repeal the act.

The spreading of false information became a cottage industry among Republicans. Once Donald Trump had become the last man standing among the army of fools running for the Republican presidential nomination, he took over and the entire effort shifted into overdrive.

Denial of plain reality has become a Republican hallmark. They dare not accept the fact that the universe is some 18.8 billions of years old, that humans are on course to make the planet uninhabitable, that we are not a Christian nation, and many other undeniable realities. Independent scientific reality or reality in any other form simply does not matter if it’s not what they believe.

The Republican effort often centered around the creation of confusion about various facts, and the purposeful creation of Trump voters’ false belief that they understood. Trump told his followers endless lies that shifted by the hour. Yet his true believers simply did not listen to what he claimed, only to his racist and misogynist anger and extravagant unworkable promises. This even gave rise to a new dictionary term: post-truth, meaning an era when truth became irrelevant.

Thus the decades-long effort to criminalize Hillary Clinton did not require actual evidence of criminal behavior, of which there was none whatsoever. All it took was Trump routinely referring to her as “criminal Hillary”.

Nor did they examine any of his false claims that they would all become affluent because of the wonderful things he would do as president. As the inauguration approaches and Republicans in Congress lay the groundwork for eliminating health insurance for 30-million people, their number one goal, buyer’s remorse is only beginning to occur to Trump voters.

Democrats, for their part, underestimated the degree and intensity of resentment by people who felt they had been bypassed by the affluence that everyone else enjoyed, regardless of whether they had taken steps to become educated and develop marketable skills. Most of these were angry ill-educated whites who believed their skin color alone made them superior to all other races and cultures. Thus Trump earned the endorsement of every KKK chapter and every neo-nazi and white hate group in the country.

Further effort by the Republican establishment became unnecessary after the primaries because Trump took on his own shoulders the entire effort, and spewed an endless stream of grand falsehoods so rapidly they were virtually impossible to keep up with. The mainstream press gave him billions of dollars worth of free coverage and virtually no negative press, while correction of falsehoods fell largely to the small independent internet press.

Trump is the master of the exorbitant lies that are well beyond any possibility of becoming reality. His huge wall, the length of the border with Mexico and paid for by Mexico, to prevent the illegal immigration of the many millions of criminal and rapist Mexicans he claimed, is only the most recognizable false claim. During the election itself he claimed—without the first shred of evidence—that millions of illegal voters had voted for Hillary. There are hundreds more such lies, and they haven’t stopped.

But the game has only begun.

Congratulations are due. Republicans have discovered the formula for bringing to a close the Grand Experiment in democracy. Whether means can be found to restore it remains to be seen. It is apparent, however, that the entire political seascape has been altered to one that is dangerously unstable.

Established Principles That Don’t Work

The differences between liberal and conservative principles are simple enough to spell out: the primary concern of liberals is people, all of them; of conservatives, money, stability, which are expected to help people.

Of course it’s not as simple as that. Conservatives dislike change. They want to conserve things as they are for as long as possible. Liberals realize that change cannot be retarded, it will happen one way or another, particularly in our fast changing world.

But this explains the conservative fear of people who aren’t exactly like themselves, because they are, or represent, change. Since most US conservatives are pale like me, they fear people with darker skin because they are “new”, different, and weird. Languages they speak are suspicious: those housekeepers are probably plotting something. Arabic spoken on an airplane must be about the hijacking being planned. Even German, the language of the ancestors of many US citizens, elicits fright.

“Speak English!”, some of these fearful people shout at the startled newcomer. People who speak only one language, in contrast to those they castigate. People who expect someone fresh off the boat to speak fluent English, it having never occurred to them that they themselves would be utterly baffled for years if they moved to virtually any Asian country. (But of course they wouldn’t make such a move, because that would be change.)

Liberals celebrate these differences. They make our experiences richer, with foods, art, music, and culture that are fresh and interesting. Liberals feel ashamed when they themselves haven’t mastered another language than American English.

But these are individual differences between conservatives and liberals, whereas the inoperative principles are most apparent in the practice of government, and especially of economics.

In each incoming Republican conservative administration, the president-elect spells out the goals of reducing taxes, cutting wages, reducing or eliminating bureaucracies or whole departments, and reducing taxes on the rich. The assumption is that taxes are too high, government operations are inefficient and better left to private enterprise, and that it is the rich who will build the economy if they are given the right conditions.

Each and every one of these assumptions is easily proven to be false, yet conservatives have built an unshakable faith around them that has endured for a long, long time.

The US has some of the lowest taxes in the modern world. That’s because we prevent the government from providing certain efficient services and instead entrust it to private enterprise, where the primary goal is always profit maximization. We remain the only modern nation that doesn’t have nationally sponsored health care.

If you don’t believe that the profit motive drives up our health care costs, then you must explain why these costs are so high where doctors are free to determine how many tests they order, where they profit from ordering more, yet costs are much lower where doctors do not have such a free hand. In national plans Big Pharma’s disgusting greed is not given free reign either, yet in the US it routinely crushes the household finances of families when someone has a serious disease and they have only moderate income. This never happens with national plans, yet in the US the most common bankruptcy is caused by disease.

Health care costs here are double what the rest of the modern world pays, and insurance is the primary reason. The insurance industry contributes absolutely nothing to health care, yet consumes a huge part of the cost, as much as one in three dollars. Nearly this entire cost vanishes with national health care, yet for some reason conservative Republicans continue to recite the rosary of private enterprise in the face of such facts.

The belief that government is incapable of efficient operation is equally false. Numerous government operations have been models of efficiency, including Census, Environmental Protection, Social Security, and so on. Except, of course, when Congress meddles, particularly with the purpose of proving how inefficient they are, something that is easily accomplished with big budget cuts.

We have had several recent illustrations of how inoperative is the belief that improvement occurs when money is given to the rich. Kansas under Brownback is the poster child. Tax cuts for the rich always result in a decrease in tax revenue. This is not offset with new factories, as claimed, because the very rich don’t build factories. They invest in “investments”, and send manufacturing jobs overseas, along with their hidden income. The resulting decrease in tax revenue creates budget cuts in essential services, greater unemployment, and a general decline in the quality of life.

We would all be better off if conservative Republicans occasionally took time off to consider their beliefs and assumptions. The same is true of liberal Democrats, of course, but it is the Republicans who have held us back. It was Harry Truman who said, “Even the Republicans are better off under the Democrats”.

There are many important things to debate in Congress, but nothing will improve until Republicans quit making obstruction their sole operational principle and examine their beliefs in view of the evidence.

Let us hope they do so before the country collapses.

A Little Education Might Help

As we head farther into the great Trump Cash Harvest that has already begun, we might contemplate the dwindling role of critical thinking in the US that brought us to this point. Critical thinking, the lack thereof, is behind the sheeplike mass think-less-ness of so much behavior, particularly in the US. God, look at the election!

There are probably no countries that can exceed the US in pure pride in ignorance and critical thinking. Isaac Asimov called it a “cult of ignorance”, and Carl Sagan said it was a “celebration of ignorance”. A photo of characters looking like Sunday-after-the-Saturday-night-pipe-fight claimed they like Trump because he “don’t use none of them big words”. Indeed he doesn’t. Some have rated his vocabulary at sixth grade level.

Why is this ignorance—or is it actually stupidity?—a point of pride rather than a deep shame that should make people want to stay indoors during the day? Why is the quality of these people’s thinking on the decline, particularly measured against the civilized nations?

How is it, with centuries of scientific progress behind us, that one entire political party is opposed to science? Opposed to climate change. Opposed to technology that not long ago could have saved us from now inevitable global warming. Has it not occurred to them that science explains stuff regardless of their opposition, that climate change cares not the slightest for their opinion, that the technology they apparently oppose fills every moment of their lives? Have these people never had the benefit of modern medicine? Do they not understand that the cellphone in their pocket is possible because of science research? How do they think the weather forecast is possible?

This ignorance, minus the stupid pride, is one of the main causes of individual terrorism coming from radicalized young Muslims in the West. The Daesh have learned how to exploit this ignorance to create indiscriminate murderers in the name of Islam.

Most of these people, mostly men, learn their hatred of the West by watching videos recorded by radical imams whose beliefs are more seriously outdated and false even than fundamentalist Christian preachers. These latter say the stupidest things, and make nonsense claims they say are unalterable biblical truths, but they don’t say whole segments of humanity must be murdered. The radical imams do, and these ignorant young men listen attentively. They hear no one who would tell them differently.

Unfortunately, many of these poor doomed souls don’t get an education that teaches them to think, because they attend madrases where the curriculum consists entirely of memorizing the Q’ran. No one tells them how to bring the Q’ran’s teaching into the present, or even that it’s possible.

Now, I will be the first to deny the innocence of the Western world in its relationship with Islam, but the atrocities these Daesh guys espouse are well beyond the pale. And I simply don’t understand how the intelligent and supposedly educated young Muslims of the Daesh can believe that everyone else in the world is fair game and should be murdered. Must be murdered. Because that’s basically what they believe. They even murder Muslims with slightly different beliefs. What they want doesn’t even agree with their own beliefs, not to mention that the highest Islamic scholars condemn them in no uncertain terms, and call them un-Islamic, barbaric, traitors to Islam.

The problem is that those from all parts of the spectrum fail to address the Daesh in their own mode, and so the Daesh are winning what should be a totally lost cause. The innocent naifs who become murderers for Islam don’t read scholarly articles, if they read at all. They get their info from videos of radical imams who kind of like the idea of murdering westerners. The Daesh, in spite of their barbaric practices, get their ideas across by sophisticated use of the internet and modern technology. And this is how they must be defeated.

This is not Marquis of Queensbury. What is needed is an army of hackers to chop up the Daesh sites in little pieces, crash them off the face of the planet. To plant quotes from the Q’ran to follow the radical lie. Cleverly disguised buttons to click on that lead to more reasonable sites. Sites of passionate reason. Sites that shout at the West and its exploitation and call for realistic ways to battle it, ways that don’t involve killing decent and innocent citizens.

It’s all called education, which doesn’t mean sitting at a desk in a classroom. We all get education whenever we learn something new. But we don’t learn something new if it’s not presented to us in a form that we recognize. We won’t learn if we don’t understand the vocabulary.

Wisdom is found in books, but it can be found elsewhere, even on commercial TV and the internet. In fact, the most effective mode of learning for many is the visual image, not the printed word. That being the case—and the dismal stats about the almost total lack of reading by large parts of the adult population attest to it—education has to find acceptable ways to show the benefits of thinking critically and questioning assertions and assumptions. Drama sounds good to me. Cartoons sound good to me. Songs sound good to me. Public service announcements don’t.

What Should We Do About the Haters?

Fifty people were dead at a gay nightclub in Orlando not long ago, and what did some of our supposedly Christian preachers say: too bad there weren’t more; the government should be killing LGBT people; they had it coming, and many more sickening and repugnant things that violate our moral sense, to say nothing of the Christian morality they claim to follow.

Donald Trump’s KKK supporters blame—well, most everything—on the Jews, whether or not Jews had anything to do with whatever they want to blame them for. Then there are those Israelis who want us to believe that they are entitled to move into Palestine, destroy what was there, build wherever they feel like it, and kill Palestinians, 10 or 20 for every Israeli killed. And the lovely imams who every week tell their followers that everyone who doesn’t follow their own particular brand of Islam to the letter should be punished with death, which of course includes maybe 98% of the world’s population.

None of this is remotely acceptable to the civilized world, but what is the best way to stifle it?

A big part of the world problem is that many who preach violence slavishly follow books that are some 18 centuries out of date. I mean, what do those books have to say about Instagram and sexting? Such books supposedly encourage love, but at the same time they prescribe death for dozens of offenses, many of which are natural manifestations of human life. Being gay, for instance, but also being left-handed.

Being gay, of course, is the “crime against nature” that gets practically everybody exercised, and is often cited as reason to murder, en mass and individually. But none who propose that remedy address the inconvenient fact that homosexual people have heterosexual parents, and not a single person in all history chose to be either gay or straight. If all gays were to suddenly vanish from the face of the Earth, in 20 years we would be well on the way to having some 250 million of them, same as now.

Now, this most recent gay-hating killer was said to become enraged by two men kissing. This sort of rage is not uncommon among people who are gay themselves, as he was. It’s similar to all the Republican Congressional members who propose law after law to punish gays for being gay, and in time prove to be gay themselves. It’s almost an axiom.

Antique religious belief is the most commonly expressed reason for the mass killings that regularly occupy the news. Even though the thinking world rejects that reason, after each mass murder there are those who wish there were more killings. These people are morally bankrupt.

The central authorities of the world’s religions are the only ones with the moral authority and the power to bring their believers into the 21st century. But they themselves must embrace liberality and modernity, and reject strict conservatism, and many do not. They may be among the authorities who believe the ancient books were actually written by God, and are therefore infallible. Given the hundreds of contradictions in each of these books, it defies reason that they should believe in their infallibility. Even the Pope says so.

But the fact remains, the central authorities are the only ones who could reasonably even try to modernize their faith. Unfortunately, some of the more important figures are also the least amenable to reason and modernization. What was true in the seventh century must be true today.

If these central religious authorities are to have any effect on those who think killing is a noble idea, they must make frequent strong statements that reject violence. Each of them, every time. They must repeatedly pound out the idea. They must strongly reject the killers, in every instance, with remarks directly addressed to the killer(s).

They need to be very public, and very angry. And brave. The utterly worthless and amoral Daesh, who regularly murder groups of people who don’t believe exactly as they do, Muslim or not, can be inspired to murder individuals who speak out. But their task becomes impossible if everyone who opposes them denounces them frequently, at least every time they commit a new atrocity.

Published in: on 2016/12/19 at 11:57 am  Comments (3)  
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Our Fatally Compromised Election

There are so many things wrong with the presidential election we just had that continuation of the process cannot result in a valid government.

The fatal drop of poison is the undeniable evidence that Russia’s electronic hacking created numerous conditions over a long period that favored Donald Trump and punished the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. This interference by a foreign power itself is enough by itself to invalidate the election.

In the last few days as voters were already beginning to vote, a lethal blow was struck by the FBI director’s release of the useless information that additional routine Clinton emails were found. That, of course, was the umpteenth time that Hillary Clinton’s emails were called into question by congressional Republicans. The FBI had extensive reports on Trump and Republican activities that were never made public.

Hackers working at the highest level of the Russian government regularly violated the email system of the Democratic Party and posted confidential messages at Wikileaks. Democratic hackings were gleefully picked up by our media and published. Similar confidential material from the Republican Party was rarely or never published, almost never in the larger media, in spite of the widespread knowledge that Donald Trump’s Russian business involved many millions of dollars and that he had close connections to Vladimir Putin.

So far, recounts of the votes of several states have failed to produce results that would alter results in the Electoral College. However, these recounts too have probably been compromised, as Republican lawyers during the recount process outnumbered recount officials in several places. Among other chicanery, they managed to get many districts eliminated in whole by loudly—literally shouting so that nobody else could work or be heard—exercising arcane rules to declare entire districts’ recounts invalid because of one vote they had challenged, as well as delaying the work of some recount officials for hours while they did their dirty work.

The failure of our news media to appropriately challenge the continuous lies of Donald Trump is a scandal they may not live down for many decades. Perhaps the most ubiquitous of his lies was his constant false reference to “crooked Hillary”, used to build hatred among his nationalist and white supremacist followers. This built on the failed generation-long attempts by the Republican Party to find something—anything—that Clinton might be punished for. But Trump’s Big Lie was never challenged, and apparently large numbers of rabid Trump followers fell for his lie that he would “restore” the jobs that are clearly lost permanently. This latter assertion was proven when Trump meddled in Carrier Corporation business, supposedly saving jobs at great expense, but not really.

To anyone with any perceptive sense at all, Donald Trump is clearly unfit for the office of president. His post-election activities have only reinforced this impression. Blatant egotism, a narcissist personality, gross ignorance of government, and a school-kid attention span, lend a truly bizarre flavor to his activities. Among them is his ignorant refusal to be briefed on items of vital national importance, on the grounds that he is too smart to need them. He expects to run the government part-time, and to run it as a business.

He has only a few requirements for his cabinet and bureaucratic appointments: they must be rich, and they must represent the industries they are supposed to control. Old white males are the gold standard. He considers wealth the only significant mark of ability.

Although it is not news, let alone secret, the decades-long effort of the Republican Party to disenfranchise as many voters as possible must be mentioned. These were targeted at African-Americans, immigrants, Mexican-Americans, Muslims, and anyone else likely to vote Democrat, and involved a significant list of ways to achieve this. This has been adequately documented elsewhere. Some Republicans exclaim with false shock at the accusation, “who, me?”, while a number of others have been recorded expressing glee at having accomplished their immoral and illegal goal.

I have no idea what the next step will be. Possibly the Electoral College will act exactly as Alexander Hamilton designed the College to do, and nullify the election of a despot. If so, a repeat election is probably in order. Although the US has never done this, many other countries commonly do.

This in turn calls into question who should run for office in a new election. Republicans have created the monster that resulted from their long list of incompetent candidates who believe in magic but not science, and now they must deal with the reality of Donald Trump. Nor is Hillary Clinton an absolute shoo-in, in spite of her obvious abilities and her achievement of a significant majority of the popular vote. Many voters, and probably all Republicans, simply cannot imagine a woman as president, and even Democratic voters are unsure in view of her connections to Wall Street and Big Money. If Clinton were president, she would be hard pressed to achieve much because she would face complete Republican stonewalling and stagnation, a continuation of Obama’s experience.

These questions are everywhere, and should consume public and private debate until a new president can be elected or chosen. The only thing certain is that the November presidential election results are invalid.