• Archive of "Democracy" Category

    How to Help Joe Biden Really Win the Election

    November 21, 2020 // 3 Comments »

    The Amulet of Democracy was restored as Kathy Griffin and Joe Rogan brought their halves together and matched perfectly. The Ancient One Biden was returned to the place he left what seems a lifetime before but was actually only four years ago. All across the land, masked millennials, inked and pierced progressives, liberals, and mediocre scribes emerged from their bubbles to see afresh the world they had abandoned amidst the Orange Man Dark Times. Here’s what everyone missed while Googling “What is the Reichstag fire?” for the last four years.

    We’ve become lousy at democracy. Because the guy they voted for won by fractions of a percent, roughly half of us think the voting system is just fine. The other half invoke fraud this time instead of Russians to explain the mistake voters made. Half the country’s love-hate relationship with the Electoral College just flipped. But we know if the percents were reversed then so will the people who think the system is fair and those that do not. We have fully surrendered to the end we prefer justifying the means. We have given up trying for fairness in lieu of looking the other way when it is going our way. It is more than concerning how one party is very worried about suppression and not so much about miscounts, and the other of course very worried about miscounts and not so much about suppression.

    We really need to trust elections because we no longer trust each other. We no longer have honest differences of opinion. We are only certain not only that our side is right, but that the other side is evil, immoral, wrong on an absolute level once held back save for Nazis, Pol Pot, and demons. In fact, people who disagree with us are Nazis, or maybe feminazis. Information which disagrees with us is fake news and not entitled to the 1A, or if you speak Orwellian, misinformation and deplatforming. “Let us unite” really means “Trump supporters be quiet.” There’s profit, political and otherwise, in encouraging these feelings so don’t expect things to change soon.

    We are compelled to reject results we don’t agree with. We see a vote tally not as a fact but as part of a system of belief. One of the milder versions of all that came from a NYT columnist who wrote “Like many Americans demoralized by the softness of the spanking that voters just gave President Trump, I spent the past few days in search of answers. Why were so many of my fellow citizens so content to continue spoiling him? And what happened to the comeuppance due Republican lawmakers for not giving him timeouts?” Another pundit wrote “Many Dems bought the polls because they could not imagine that half the country was not as disgusted by Trump and his Republican ‘enablers’ as they were. After four years of branding Trump a bigot, they had trouble understanding how the president succeeded in actually expanding his Black and Latino support in 2020, which helped give him his margin of victory in Florida.”

    So what do we call ourselves now — a democracy? a republic? an association? — when the fundamental system underlying what we are creates such feelings, leaves open so many doors to cheats, and requires a heavy application of partisan media lipstick-on-a-pig to convince us it is all OK as long as it ends our way? And which clause of the Constitution grants “calling power” to the Associated Press anyway?

    Read this carefully: I am not saying the election was decided by fraud or manipulation. The problem is that it is all too possible for fraud or manipulation to have taken place and that is what crushes faith in the system when we need it the most.

    During my 24 years at the Department of State when I worked on visa issues which could have been subject to bribery and manipulation, the standard was “avoid the appearance of impropriety.” Even if that visit to the applicant’s country club was just really for fun, or that big discount you got buying a car was because you really are a helluva guy, it might not look that way. We not only had to be clean to avoid people losing faith in our work, we had to look clean.

    If people questioned our honesty, they had already lost faith in us and our process. This was especially true when working in parts of the world where payoffs were almost always expected and we as Americans were supposed to be showing them a better way. Dismissing peoples’ questions as simply unsubstantiated does nothing to restore their faith, and for everything fueling questions to be dismissed as conspiracy theories brings us to the point where the other guy somehow winning becomes a “coup.” Dismissing these concerns as “yes, but too little fraud to matter” does not restore faith, it confirms fraud exists.

    An election that takes five days to a muddled conclusion with tens of thousands of ballots left uncounted, where critical numbers of votes seemed to appear on demand, where software glitches and undelivered mail even in small quantities kept entering the story, where fusses and fights over procedures by coincidence focused on Democratic machine run cities like Philly, that is all at minimum the very definition of an appearance of impropriety.

    Now overlay all that stink on a voting system involving one-party state legislatures gerrymandering voting districts, fifty different and increasing complex sets of voting laws, and a controlling census with its own set of problems done only once every ten years. Mix in a ridiculously complicated menu of rules to allow for a flood of partisan court challenges, with everyone accepting, counting, and verifying votes differently, all backed up by a broken postal system. It should not matter what kind of pen one uses to mark a ballot, but we had challenges over Sharpies. This is a dysfunctional system designed for manipulation, never mind outright cheating. That’s where we are today.

    It is hard not to be sad for our country. As a diplomat I was charged with explaining America to foreigners. It was an embassy tradition to have a big party election night, invite host country dignitaries and journalists, hold a mock vote, and then for those who stayed up late enough, a toast to whomever the actual winner back home was, with both sides coming together. Some years it was more acrimonious, some more fun (I may never have been drunker in a suit than the night First Obama won) but it was an important way to demonstrate how America more or less worked. Sure, a lot of the smiles were false — we were diplomats after all — but tomorrow was a work day and we’d be back at our desks, not at each other’s throats, because that’s how it was done.

    We did it to show the foreigners, we said, but I suspect we also did it in part for ourselves, we who served on regardless of who was temporarily president for a couple of years. Nobody talked of Resistance; what were we, WWII French saboteurs? I served from Reagan through Obama, a lot of political ground. It was not always easy to explain America, but it was usually possible. Now I have never been more glad to have retired from that job.

    Ignore Trump’s hyperbole (if you still can’t see past it by now it’s too late) but don’t ignore the underlying concern. Prove it wrong not by faux “fact checking” it into obscurity, or simply declaring it invalid as was done with Hunter Biden’s laptop, censored by Big Tech platforms as insurance. As my colleague wrote, “the fundamental reason all these claims remain ‘unsubstantiated’ is that the very people who reject them on this basis are the ones who are supposed to be substantiating them — and they have absolutely, entirely abandoned this basic duty.”

    We have to believe in those results for things to work, and anyone who believes this system is serving our country is foolish. We just spent four ugly years with a very large number of Americans believing the president was illegitimate. We are on the cusp of doing that again, with the sides reversed even as the arguments are fundamentally similar. And Joe Biden is going to need all the help he can get. Even as science sorts out the virus, Biden will have to wrestle with a weakened Democratic House and what will likely be a Republican Senate. So it will be Executive Orders, again, with the Supreme Court, again, the only real deliberative, adjudicative body left in America. Congress for another four years is unlikely to make much law. How can they, facing a United States as divided as they are, um, divided because we are, too. So the Court alone is pressed to sort the things which divide us out, from abortion to immigration.

    If you’re still adamant the election has to be over, try seeing it this way:

    Me: Doctor, I think I have cancer.
    Doc: Got any proof?
    Me: Um, no, but I don’t feel well.
    Doc: Sorry, I can only run tests if you already have proof. Otherwise, your pain is simply a medical conspiracy theory.

    Relax, it is an analogy, so it is supposed to be helpful illustrating a broader point without being 100 percent identical. The idea is the doctor doesn’t take your word you have cancer and start chemo that afternoon, nor does he kick you out of the office. He checks, does tests. Maybe the tests find a lump. Maybe the tests turn up negative and you go home feeling better knowing it was nothing.

    Not being allowed to ask questions, with the questioners themselves silenced as Russian spies, sore losers or useful idiots just for asking, is how we got the last four years of illegitimacy.  To help America (and for Biden to govern legitimately) we need to ask questions. We need to run tests. We need to rule out cancer. Call it a recount, call it an audit or an DOJ investigation, but send America home knowing that nagging pain in the neck is really nothing to worry about.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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    Posted in 2020, Democracy

    How Trump Lost

    November 15, 2020 // 2 Comments »

    The media, Deep State, big tech, and pollsters did everything they could to sway the vote, opening Brett Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook while closing Hunter Biden’s laptop, weaponizing anonymous sources to gossip on the front page, brought the FBI and CIA deep into the political process (to the point of falsifying FISA applications to spy on American citizens inside the Trump campaign), showcasing performance polijournalism (see the Cuomo Power Bottom Twins, the scrappy Jim Acosta, the righteous Yamiche Alcindor), using social media to edit the public agenda, and purposing the whole of the entertainment industry from late night “comedy” to SNL to advocacy. That includes The Lincoln Project, whose East coast elite drunk frat-boy mockery changed nothing. In fact, Trump won a bigger share of Republican voters than in 2016.

    The big takeaway is how well it was all coordinated this time; no more cowboy Jim Comey tossing an investigative monkey wrench into campaign at the last minute. Hunter’s Mac was deep-sixed faster than you could say “Anthony Weiner’s laptop.” It worked like this: something regularly leaked from inside the intelligence community or military. Another anonymous source speaking to CNN, WaPo, or NYT, whomever didn’t service the initial dead drop, “confirmed” the leak. Blue Check Twitter fluffed the story so the MSM could give it one more kick down the road running reaction pieces. On a good day AOC or Pelosi would pile on, on a bad one day laborers like Avenatti, Cohen or Scaramucci would take the duty. Proof that it wasn’t just bad reporting? How many times did the MSM make a mistake or get caught lying favorable to Trump?

    The pollsters played as well, transitioning to political operatives trying to get voters on the bandwagon. You can imagine smart guys are actually dumb (one major poll had Biden ahead in Wisconsin by 17 points) and hide behind “a massive failure of polling” again, or you can see it was part of a larger plan, right through to the premature pro-Biden “calls” as the vote count drags. The whole thing was so well organized Joe literally did not have to campaign; someone did it for him. Black ops, Mr. Garrison.

    The surprise is how little it all mattered. The much-celebrated state flips involved tiny margins, literal handfuls of votes. Democrats spent more than $315 million to decisively lose six Senate races. They also failed to generate a Blue Wave downballot at the statehouses. The races designed to smite Trump enablers Mitch McConnell, Susan Collins, and Lindsey Graham did not. Ben Crenshaw won and will be running for something bigger in 2024.

    That as uneventful a candidate Biden got as far as a tie was in the end as much about luck as anything. The election was a referendum on Trump, and the idea was to create a Not Trump narrative. Many were tried but failed to scare voters towards Daddy Democrat.

    The Trump as a Russian agent collapsed on lack of evidence not on lack of effort. Its consolation prize to the Dem base, which only thanks to Democratic midterm gains actually made it to formal impeachment, had even less substance behind it. Both ended up comically failing with Nancy Pelosi as Wile E. Coyote suspended in midair as the cliff fell away. Meep meep!

    Tried was Orange Man Bad (bad racist, bad misogynist, bad white supremacist, bad sociopath, bad narcissist) repudiated by 66 million American voters. Trump won more minority votes, 26 percent, than any Republican in 60 years. Exit polls showed Trump’s support rose among women. Actual black voters it turns out are not the same as Black Lives Matter marchers. Some 17 percent of black men voted Trump, up from 13 percent in 2016. Support among black women doubled. Latin support rose by three percent and won Florida. The 2020 electorate was more conservative than in 2016.

    Those voters may have liked Orange Man naming three Supreme Court justices, facilitating more Middle East peace treaties and fewer wars, and at least pre-Covid, growing the economy. They may not all own stocks, but the people who employ them do and the market roared. Even The Economist was forced to admit “Growth never quite reached the lustrous annual rate of four percent he promised, but it did do better than many had forecast, and his tax cut in 2017 turned out to be a well-timed fiscal stimulus. At the end of last year unemployment was at its lowest level for half a century. The wages of the less well paid were rising swiftly.” Absent COVID, this election would have likely been a Trump blowout.

    If instances of bad application of Weimar history were rain we’d all have drowned by now. But the Nazi game got so wearisome it ultimately failed to persuade: lawful border enforcement -> kids in cages -> concentration camps -> Nazi! Or racist dog whistles -> brownshirt cops -> Trump encourages murder -> genocide -> Nazi! Instead, the sky never fell. Yer gay marriage, transgender toilet, and abortion rights were untouched. Paul Krugman at the NYT wrongly predicted a pre-WWII depression/severe recession six times in the four years, nearly praying for a Kristallnacht to bring down Trump. A non-exaggerated favorite from another NYT columnist made the jump in one step: “Trump says he wants to protect law-abiding citizens -> In 1933, Hitler issued his ‘Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State.'”

    There were no militia-organized suppression, no end of democracy, no civil war, no boogaloo, no Reichstag fire. Attempts to fan the BLM flames into any of that fizzled when even Democratic mayors figured out few voters were pleased to see their cities burn. The narratives were all wrong but they were never meant to be right. They were intended to influence.

    One narrative did stick, and if Dems take the White House success will be owed to their ability to create a radically misleading version of the pandemic, dovetailing perfectly with H.L. Mencken’s advice “the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” Exit polls are clear voters had the pandemic and its economic effects on their minds. How that was translated in the vote was somewhere between mass paranoia (someone has to be to blame!) like when witches were burned following natural disasters, and crude politicization of tragedy.

    The narrative evolved. At first “flatten the curve” was about reducing hospitalizations to not overload the system. Somehow a metric that would go down got replaced with dramatic case numbers which forever go up, even as the danger of being a case decreased.

    Despite evidence from Europe and Asia of tactical steps proving effective (anyone still alive in Sweden? Yes?) Democratic governors fell into broad lockdowns to press votes toward Biden by ramping up fear of an invisible enemy. Reality was an inconvenience for like the Russians, the mass graves and two million dead never appeared. The tens of thousands of ventilators and hospital ships were never needed. Everyone in unmasked Florida did not die. Lockdowns became punitive not palliative. Democrat leaders sacrificed their economies to ensure things stayed worse and a sense of crisis was maintained; the only other explanation is leaders in California and New York were too dumb to imagine what might happen if they drove away commerce, businesses, residents, and with them, their tax base.

    The real con was while devastating political decisions were made at the local and state levels blame was leveled at Trump. The meme was established early, even before anyone was the nominee, when in February the NYT sent up the Bat Signal, titled “Let’s Call It Trumpvirus” (subtlety is not required). There’s irony in knowing  the word “influenza” comes from the Italian word for “influence” even as things reached peak fear mongering when Trump was accused of literally killing Americans via his superspreader event rallies.

    A Columbia University report claimed a better Trump response could have avoided up to 210,000 deaths, something like a 90 percent reduction. Deeper reading shows the claim is based only on a statistical model of population and deaths in several countries. Left out of the mix is how those European and Asian countries do not suffer America’s fractured healthcare system and immense health and social disparities. Poorer base health = more COVID deaths. The US also lacked those places’ central authority to nationally require masks, quarantines, open or closed schools, etc. Nonetheless, the “excess” American deaths were blamed on “politicization, leadership vacuum, and the failure of top officials to model best practices.”

    That tracked well with the original campaign meme of Trump vs. COVID. Election day would tally up the deaths with whomever was the Democratic candidate as a slightly interested bystander.

    The problem is the meme shifted from “Trump is the problem” to “Biden is the solution” as frightened strategists searched for something for Biden to stand for. So now the expectation is, if he wins, Biden, will presumably end politicization, fill the leadership vacuum, and model best practices to tidy things up. We will all be part of a mega-reveal of how much of the crisis was exaggerated. Watch for some magic improvements now that COVID no longer is needed for the election.

    Then come the real costs of the Democratic strategy — vast economic damage to major cities via the diaspora of workers, millions fewer people working than in February, barely more than one-third of pupils attending school normally, with hunger and poverty on the rise. The forces which created the narrative that will perhaps send Biden to the White House ended up gifting him a lousy starting position. He’ll need the luck of a long tailed cat stuck in a room full of rocking chairs going forward. As Biden learned when he and Obama took over the Bush financial crisis in 2008, the American people will only grant a brief pass before it becomes your crisis.

    And if any of that seems like a good thing, the better of two evils, the way you want to choose your government, message me. I hear The Lincoln Project is looking for interns.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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    Posted in 2020, Democracy

    I Voted For…

    November 4, 2020 // 6 Comments »

    I’m voting for change. But I’m playing the long game.

    Short term issues can be important — petty overseas wars tend to freeze progress at home and tax policies can feed growth or failure — but I am keeping one eye further down the road. But I believe the fundamental issue facing the United States is economic inequality. It controls or influences pretty much everything else. You know the numbers; over the last 30 years, wage inequality in the United States increased substantially, with inequality now approaching the extreme level that prevailed prior to the Great Depression. CEOs in 1965 made 24 times more than the average production worker, whereas in 2009 they made 185 times more. There are 750,000 homeless Americans. Some 21 percent of American children live in poverty. Households in the top 10 percent own 90 percent of the stock market, similar for real estate and other assets. We are two different nations.

    This is a long-term trend, untethered to Republicans or Democrats. It exists independent of Roe, LGBT rights, and while you can tease out racial and other factors (blacks remain the poorest of the poor, women fare worse economically than men) those are distractions, misdirection a magician uses so you’re looking the wrong way when he hides the card. The real action is the accumulation of capital by fewer people who acquire it from those below them. Until slavery ended human beings were considered capital resources, just like owning stocks today. Now we’re “human resources” so everything’s better. Bringing up race just hides the real story of how long this has been going on and how deeply it is a part of our way of life. The line between controlling someone with a whip and controlling someone through debt and low wages gets finer and finer over time. The perks are still better on one side of the line but the fundamentals continue to narrow the gap.

    Stock ownership was at its peak in 2002 when 67 percent of Americans owned stock. The Great Recession drove the earnings of those below the median household income down to where the typical household now owns essentially zero financial assets. Many who once owned their homes now rent. The rich got richer, and will continue to do so. We are on the threshold of a fully disengaged sub-society, one so rich it has its own schools and airplanes, lives literally hundreds of feet in the air above us in apartment towers built like castles for defense, has its own health care system and private security, and its own tailored political and tax structure. It has the ability to abandon the rest of us for self-sustaining yachts and private islands when something like COVID arrives suddenly. Absent a few hobbyist-celebrities and so-called philanthropists who emerge periodically like cicadas from their burrows to scold us, or offer solutions they profit from emotionally if not financially, what happens to roughly 90 percent of Americans is irrelevant to the other 10 percent. The ratio is headed toward 99.9 and .01 percents. They don’t know and they don’t care. That is not a democracy or even a good way to run a bowling league. It is an apartheid of dollars.

    The only mainstream modern-times candidate to emerge since perhaps Henry Wallace who understands this would have been a poor president. I voted for Bernie Sanders in 2016, and would have liked the chance to do so again; his being crudely swiped left offstage twice by the Democratic party establishment is as much proof as anyone needs to see how none of what is happening to our country is by accident. It is as scripted as a soap opera.

    Bernie might have beaten Donald Trump in 2016, and gone on to fail nearly completely. Bernie has spent his entire career being a pain in everyone’s political *ss, the guy when everyone is tired and just wants to vote and go home and the chairperson says “So if we’re all in agreement…” stands up to play devil’s advocate. Bernie had no mechanism to enact much of anything beyond maybe a piece or two of showpiece legislation along the likes of Obamacare, looks good on paper, does little in reality. Sanders would have been overwhelmed by foreign events, crushed in his midterms, tired and bitter at the end of his term. He would have been an imperfect, maybe terrible, president, but a necessary step, same as those awful nights that lead to redemption in detox.

    Instead the desire for change bubbled to the surface with Donald Trump. A privateer who knew to tell injured people who to blame, basically anyone but him or themselves. You choose, it doesn’t matter because it is all symptoms not disease. The Mexicans, or hell, all immigrants, the blacks, the liberals, the Chinese, whatever. It wasn’t your fault, and I see you out there in pain. Trump was the ultimate politician, zero ideas and 100 percent commercialization of people’s rage. In this sense he was more Obama than anyone wants to admit, albeit selling Anger instead of Hope, but selling selling selling and nothing much more nonetheless. A man of his times. Talk about being the right guy in the right place. He wasn’t a fluke, he was inevitable.

    Though the media’s abandonment of any commitment to objectivity in favor of ideological activism has clouded the reality of Trump, history will see him as remarkably mediocre. Not much happened. Not much changed. All the essays about America at civil war will be forgotten. Trump will get some credit for dialing back war abroad. Picking three Supremes may matter or may not in the long run. Perspective will show there wasn’t really all that much absent some nicer messaging anyone could have done with COVID, a global phenomenon with over 38 million cases in countries not presided over by Donald Trump. Most of the rest of Trump’s “accomplishments,” things like immigration reform via executive order, will be overturned at some point same as Trump overturned those which came before him. On the fundamental issue of economic inequality, Trump was Obama who was Bush who was… Faced with an economic crossroad, each made the rich richer and widened the gap. Every. Single. Time.

    But I can’t vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. They would not be a bad president in the sense that Trump, Obama, et al were not bad, just status quo. Biden, either by dying in his term or not really giving a whit, will allow bad decisions on feel-good identity politicals. There will be lots of posing, lots of chest pounding defenses of settled things like various civil rights, constant accusations of racism everywhere without any resolution, intellectual Sudoku to pass the time. Oh the ernest op-eds which will be written!

    But a Biden/Harris win would more than anything else confirm not changing, locking in forever the current spiral of economic inequality. A reset to 2015. One-term Trump will forever be dismissed as a fluke, a novelty act in favor of Biden, the same as it ever was pol, Harris the Gumby of not-so-strongly held beliefs and a cynical nod to identity politics. A woman! Of color! Sort of an immigrant! It’ll be a long four years for anyone still thinking about when it used to be wrong to judge people by the color of their skin. Race is just a marketing tool for votes, fruit flavored vape to bring in the kiddies. I otherwise have no idea what Biden/Harris stand for or will try to accomplish and that’s a poor grounds for my support.

    Some 60 percent of Americans tell pollsters the nation needs a viable third party but then turn around and won’t vote for one because, in a self-fulfilling prophecy, voting third party somehow means the worst two party candidate ends up winning. Third party fails because we don’t trust it enough to give it the votes it needs to succeed. I hear loud and clear Democrats, from the Obamas on down, telling me I would be wrong to vote third party again, naive, a closet Trump or even Putin supporter. The wrong guy will have the nuclear codes, so I will literally be responsible for Armageddon. Hard to build a movement around possible responsibility for ending all life on earth. We might as well write “better of two evils” in Latin on our coins.

    I guess I can stay home, the functional equivalent of hiding out in the monastery coloring in manuscripts while medieval society devolves around me. Hmm, sounds like another plague out there, better close the window. But if I vote Biden/Harris I am endorsing the trumpet call of the Democratic Party against change. It would be comfortable; as long as you don’t change channels, everything makes sense.

    When I vote Trump I am telling the Democrats they failed, again, and they may realize they must become something of a third party in 2024 or they will functionally no longer exist, pretend opponents like those teams who played against the Harlem Globetrotters years ago. A Trump win could be a wake up call to the Democratic establishment that they have to deal with real desire for change, not ignore voters, or try to scare us into abandoning our conscience and principles by trading (again) short term goals for long term progress. Dismissing such a vote as only sending a message dismisses the importance of the message.

    For those who support Biden for some perceived short term gain, please, vote that way. But don’t disparage the rest of us for believing we can do better. Too many have accepted, election after election, the long con. Give an even longer view a chance.

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    Say You Want a Revolution?

    October 31, 2020 // 3 Comments »

    So you say you want a revolution? Or a coup, or an overthrow, or just a bit of the old ultra-violence, anarchy, les barricades? Apparently so. Journalists, politicians, and academics, almost of whom haven’t thrown a punch in anger since fifth grade, are advocating, planning, and warning us soon the SHTF (look it up, but the last word is “fan.”) Stuff (not exactly the first word) that used to be exclusive to preppers, FEMA teams, and guys with only a “Joker was Right” T-shirts outside in mid-February is now openly spoken of across the country.

    There are a couple of overlapping blasts. Trump can win only by cheating, thus if he wins, that is proof he cheated and the election is unfair and he is also a witch. Trump will lose the election (apparently he isn’t good at cheating) but refuse to cede power to Biden. No one wins the election and Trump steals it using his cabal of Supreme Court justices and/or some sort of civil war breaks out. A final category are academics writing in the third person predicting pretty much the same thing but using the historical wrapping paper of Weimar (the favorite), Rome, or 1914 WWI, maybe with Kathy Griffin’s assassination in a Central Park horse carriage as the trigger event.

    Paul Krugman of the NYT Nobel prepper team says there are “substantial odds that America as we know it will be damaged or even destroyed” by the election. He tells us to “expect violence from Trump supporters, maybe lots of it, both to disrupt voting on Election Day and in the days that follow” until Trump “stops counting of absentee ballots, claims massive fraud, and probably tries to get the Supreme Court to overturn the result.” Krugman’s battle buddy in the Times’ bunker Thomas Friedman says America today reminds him of the Beruit at war with itself he covered as a cub reporter. Team Krugman are trying to preemptively discredit the election results in the event Trump does win, much as they did with his 2016 victory. The new twist is preparing us for the violence they seemingly wish will be a part of it.

    Over at The Nation, now largely serving as the antifa house journal, they skip the how-he-did-it and assume Trump simply remains in power. The writer’s concern is “we have the moral high ground. But we don’t have, frankly, the military leadership in place to direct a guerrilla campaign against an illegitimate regime. We don’t have a government-in-exile waiting to take power. We don’t have international allies. We don’t have an underground network of spies and saboteurs… but we can lay our bodies down in front of the tanks.” Any hope for the rule of law? Nope. “The Supreme Court too is, fundamentally, an antidemocratic institution run by people who are not subject to the popular will of our diverse society.”

    America, take a deep breath. Exhale slowly.

    I’m aware believing you are the only sane person in the room is a sign of mental illness, but that is the way things feel. People from Op-Ed writers to Candidate Biden (who believes Trump will not voluntarily leave office) to former colleagues I once revered for their ability to stay cool under stress are predicting or calling for riots and revolution, coups and looming dictatorships, right up to actual civil war. Almost no one seems think we are capable of just having an election. It is the expected end of four years of TDS, with the looming crisis always having to top the previous false ones.

    First, the irony. It was in fact the Democrats who refused to accept the results of the 2016 election, trying everything from self-delusion to claiming the Electoral College didn’t count to calling for recounts to writing the equivalent of Federalist Papers fan fiction trying to make up some alternate scenario where Trump lost. After all that failed, they quickly pivoted to a four year effort to throw Trump out once seated that ran the gamut from empty Emoluments Clause lawsuits to delegitimization via Russiagate to outright impeachment to demands to invoke the 25th Amendment for increasingly bizarre non-reasons. There were mini-versions of the same with Democrat Andrew Gilliam in Florida and everyone’s sweetheart Stacey Abrams not accepting the election results that made them losers. So in terms of not respecting the democratic process, it is the Democrats who have brought the gusto.

    The reality is there is no rational basis to expect Trump to act unconstitutionally. Sadly, people already delusional with a horrible track record of predicting events (that war with North Korea start yet?) have misinterpreted, exaggerated, or just made things up. One example — Trump calling for poll watchers morphed within minutes into him ordering militia groups to disrupt voting. Poll watching is a valid protection for our democratic system. Sign up here.

    It is also pretty hard to “steal an election.” Most dictators who steal elections do so by not having them, or allowing only themselves on the ballot. The intense presidential campaign now in its final stages is proof enough democracy is still quite alive. If Trump wanted to be dictator, why is he bothering with the election process at all? Why wouldn’t he just order his robot army into the field today?

    And guess what: elections are run on the hyper-local level, with yokels in small towns in charge and the Feds nowhere to be seen. Under a statute on the books since 1948, anyone who sends “any [federal] troops or armed men at any place where a general or special election is held” faces prison. Anything Trump demands along those lines would be an unlawful order troops would be required to refuse. Challenges to ballots are a part of the system, and there are long-standing procedures in place to resolve differences. More potentially manipulable things like whether to count ballots mailed before but received after Election Day are being resolved in preelection litigation at the state level. Attorney General Barr can play no role and is not. Court challenges have actually made it easier for more people to vote early and by mail than ever before. It is childishly simple to say “Trump will declare martial law” or whatever brings in the viewers, much much harder to outline in detail how many tens of thousands of people across 50 states would have to break the law to make it even begin to happen.

    The idea of Trump refusing the leave the Oval Office is simply silly. Sitting in the Oval Office does not make you president. Having people throughout government act on your orders makes you president. If no one listens to Trump he is not president. Just unplug the phones. A technician invalidating the nuclear codes in the Football would likely be enough to shut everyone up. Any further problem could be solved by a decent nightclub bouncer. As for the military, the left has signaled multiple times over the last four years they’d be OK with some sort of coup, and in each instance the military explicitly stated no thanks. And how often under far more dire circumstances has the American military refused to follow lawful orders? This ain’t Bolivia, folks.

    As for people throwing themselves under tank tracks, or right wing militias battling the Secret Service to keep Trump in office, get a grip. All the macho talk misses one point: very few people are willing to die because of Trump. It seems easy to extrapolate some rioters playing rough with the cops into, whatever, the Russian Revolution, but Americans aren’t starving. Those antifa rioters all went home to apartments with Netflix. No secret police kicked down their door and the KKK didn’t come and take their babies away. A night in jail where they secretly know no real harm will come to them? Sure, street cred. But charge a machine gun? Throw themselves under a tank? Please, these are people are so worried about dying they wear paper masks in their own car enroute to buy gluten-free products. Everyone thinks they are GI Joe until the first rounds crack in.

    People are going to storm the White House? And that Secret Service sniper who trained his whole life for this moment is going to refuse a righteous order and let someone set fire to the place because of his quiet commitment to a medicare for all? The FBI was inside the right wing militia scheme in Michigan for months. It’s fun for people like the Proud Boys to do Army man cosplay, but the reason they are strutting around here is they don’t really want to stand a post in Afghanistan and risk getting killed. Sure, incidents will occur. After all, we are Americans, hateful, savage, and armed to the freaking teeth. But a revolution requires people desperate enough today that dying tonight seems a reasonable compromise. Too many journalists writing this trash still have their Che T-shirt from undergrad.

    Far too many of us seem to truly believe if Trump succeeds in taking over via some violent or unconstitutional means, that’s it for America, and most of the unbelievers who comment here will wash up in Q-Anon reeducation camps. I happen to know while the guard jobs will be outsourced to North Korea (what do you think Trump and Kim talked about?) the actual camp management will be done by vetted young Americans via a revamped Teach for America program. For each person who leaves a comment below on this article, I will personally intervene on their behalf to see they get an extra ration of Freedom Gruel, made with Ma Pence’s own recipe.

    So humor doesn’t help either? I tried straight talk, I’ve tried facts, so how about shame? A few months from now when none of this happened perhaps the people who have been abysmally wrong for four years will feel some shame for making peoples’ lives darker and feel more fragile than they needed to be. Those who predicted economic depression and caused people to wrongly sell off stocks, or those who ruined lives, jobs, and educations with politically motivated lockdowns, maybe one of them for a moment will reflect and seek some sort of moral or intellectual redemption. Yeah, right.

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    Twitter vs. the First Amendment in Social Media Censorship

    October 24, 2020 // 5 Comments »

    Twitter and Facebook are the censors the Founders feared when they wrote the First Amendment. In the 18th century, none of those forward-thinking men could have envisioned a day when technology and global corporations would overshadow the power of governments to control information. But that day is here, and @jack and his colleagues are trying to steal an election for Joe Biden in real time.
    The social media giants this week tried to disappear a story from the New York Post claiming Hunter Biden had sold access to his father Joe to a Ukrainian company. I’m afraid to include a link to the story, for fear this article too will be blocked and made to disappear. See, you can’t tweet a link to the Post’s story or send it as a direct message on Twitter and you can’t post it on Facebook without some sort of red flag. If you’re an unimportant person your message will just be blocked. If you are important, like the White House press secretary, @Team Trump, or a conservative journalist trying to report out the fuller story, your account will be locked. The NY Post, one of the largest mass circulation dailies, can’t RT its own article on Twitter. In my case, I was life banned from Twitter years ago, censored so broadly I can’t even buy a ticket for this ride. Orwell of course anticipated all this, creating the term “unperson” for someone erased from society. But he, too, did not anticipate the power of the electronic media companies or he would have likely also created the term “unthought.”
    The goal of Twitter and Facebook censorship is unthought, to make the NY Post story go away to the extent possible, and to delegitimize it as much as possible in those spaces the giants do not yet control because it might hurt Biden’s chances in the election. They have reimagined free speech as a liability to democracy. They have also crossed some border into the bizarro world by claiming the NY Post story is unproven after years of pressing untrue Russiagate stories into the public conscious, and after featuring NYT stories on Trump’s taxes based on purloined documents never made public. They have given voice to their self-created Blue Check experts who, simply based on imagination, claim the Post story has been spiked directly into the American vein by the Russians. The latter is especially insidious, using a fully disproven story (the Russians controlled the 2016 election) to support another new unproven accusation. This is sadly consistent with another blow to democracy, the media’s abandonment of any commitment to objectivity in favor of ideological activism. This election, there is a Right Candidate and a Wrong Candidate and it is the media’s job to use the tools of censorship, propaganda, and now unthought to direct your vote accordingly.
    We have no protection. For something like this to be unconstitutional or illegal, the denial has to come from the government. Facebook and others can deny  speech rights anytime they want. We now know the argument only the government is covered by the 1A has reached its limit. Technology and market dominance give great power with no responsibility to a handful of global companies even as the law hides behind the simplicity of the 18th century. That way of thinking requires you to believe that Facebook, et al, would never act as a proxy, barring viewpoints on behalf of a politician who would not be allowed to do it himself.
    We are approaching a time when the freedom to speak will no longer exist independent of the content of speech. What you’re allowed to say could depend on media’s opinion of how it will affect others, in this case, electing Joe Biden. Maybe you like Joe, but do I really have to include here “but what about the next time they use this power, maybe against something believe in?”
    For those muttering “it can’t happen here,” look how American tech companies are already employing their tools to serve the 1A-free China market’s social control needs. Companies exist to make money. You can’t count on them past that. Handing over free speech rights to an entity whose core purpose has nothing to do with free speech means it will inevitably quash ideas when they conflict with profits; it just happens to be going your way right now. Those who gleefully celebrate that the anthropomorphized @jack and good old ‘Zuck are not held back by the 1A and can censor at will seem to believe they will always yield power in the way “we” want them to. And trading away a little free speech, especially from a journalistic roach like the NY Post seems reasonable compared to another four years of Trump.

    It makes sense for them to unabashedly mainstream unthought and censorship Because Trump. Never before have a large number of Americans feared a politician more. Trump isn’t just against what you are for, he is someone literally out to kill you, via COVID, via some war, your life is in danger. He is not just bad, he is a pure strain of evil without goodness, like a pedophile.

    Google first introduced censorship in the most well-intentioned way: to stop child predators. The Internet giant tweaked its search results to block sites it believed linked to child porn. It went on to do the same for terrorist sites, and sites that encouraged suicide. But Google can skew search results any way it wants. It knows the higher an item appears on a list of search results, the more users will click on it. In a test, placing links for one candidate above another in a rigged search increased the undecided voters who chose that candidate by 12 percent. Burying an idea can have a similar effect; 21st century free speech is as much about finding an audience as it is about finding a place to speak. Censorship in the 21st century targets both speakers (example: Twitter blocks someone) and listeners (Google hides that person’s articles). There will soon be no fear anyone will lock up dissident thinkers in some old-timey prison to silence them; impose a new Terms of Service and they are effectively dead. As are their ideas.

    The argument Twitter, Facebook, and Google are private companies, that no one forces you to use their services, and in fact you are free to switch to MySpace, is an out-of-date attempt to justify end runs around the First Amendment. Platforms like Twitter are the public squares of the 21st century (seven of 10 American adults use a social media site), and should be governed by the same principles, or the First Amendment will become in practical terms irrelevant.

    Pretending a corporation with the reach to influence elections is just another company that sells stuff is to pretend the role of unfettered debate in a free society is outdated. These corporations understand their power to influence. They feel morally required in using it for partisan goals. They have exercised it for Joe Biden. When that happens, elections can be stolen in real time. Just watch.

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    Why the Dems Can’t Have Nice Things (Like the White House)

    October 10, 2020 // 3 Comments »

    Here’s why the Democrats can’t have nice things. Like the White House.

    Though by now the media has awarded Biden all 270 electoral votes and taped a transcript of his debate performance on the national refrigerator door, it is unclear Joe Biden really wants to be president. He barely campaigns and usually ends his working day at noon. Since mid-August Biden logged 22 days where he either didn’t make a public campaign appearance (during the same period Trump visited 19 states.) Biden has slept at home every night of the campaign. He has no signature policy initiative. He often appears overwhelmed. He simply presents his waxy self as the embodiment of the empty and depressing strategy of I’m the Lesser of Two Evils and marks off the days until it will all be over.

    The Democratic party itself seems to feel much the same way. After four years of complaining Trump is an old white draft dodging man linked to corruption, the best the Dem process could cough up was an even older white draft dodging man linked to corruption. On a rare Biden visit outside his own yard to Charlotte, North Carolina, local organizers only turned out 16 people to meet the candidate. The chairwoman of the African American caucus only learned of the event from TV. Meanwhile, the party insists on its own demographic illusion. Latinos, key in crucial states like  Arizona and Florida, have shown less support for Biden than for past Democratic nominees, resistant to a campaign defining them as “people of color.” Some 98 percent of Latinos don’t want to be called “Latinx” even as the Democrats continue to do so pandering to the two percent. Ideology over reality, though it may not matter: 38 percent of Hispanic voters Dem imagine they control in battleground states are ambivalent about voting at all. A Telemundo poll shows 68.7 percent believe Trump won the first presidential debate.

    The Dems ignore other demographic bad news. In Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin net Democratic registrations are down by 38 percent from 2016. More to the point, registration among whites without college degrees is up 46 percent while registration by people of color is up only four percent. Turnout looks to be in trouble as well; in Wisconsin while 79 percent of black voters participated in the 2012 general election, in 2016 it was down to 47 percent. The risk of low turnout is even greater when one factors in age.  About 78 percent of blacks age 60+ are likely to vote, compared to only 29 percent for blacks age 18-29.

    Meanwhile, in this final stretch when they should be clawing for every vote, Dems are sending out scattered messages on in-person voting (“You might die of COVID but it’s so important you guys!!!! LOL”) and planning on relying on a 19th century mail in system run by local yokels that works poorly under the best of circumstances. Plan B is to claim the system they told everyone to use didn’t work and the president needs to be selected by Netflix users.

    If Democrats really wanted to win some swing states they should have found a way to fix the water in Flint. They might have persuaded Mike Bloomberg instead of buying felons’ votes in Florida to have created the equivalent in new jobs in Ohio. Dems never talked to the voters they needed the most. In fact, quite the opposite. They stomped their feet and held their breath in a four year tantrum and called them racists and haters when unmasked Midwesterners never got appropriately offended by Trump. These people worked hard for what they have only to hear that dismissed as privilege. Dems attack people as much for who they are as what they believe and still expect a vote for Biden.  The NYT calls them “the worst of us.” Call them the missing whites on election day.

    Democrats also believe their own self-illusion. Instead of understanding social media as a winnowed, mob-enforced minority of confirmational people, Dem strategists believe it all makes a difference. They came to think listening to podcasts, wearing cute #Resistance gear, retweeting and liking, holding Pink Hat marches and flash mobs, making $25 donations to GoFundMes, signing online petitions before going on Etsy to buy snarky t-shirts about vaginas, forwarding propaganda videos from the Lincoln Project, all while talking about NPR in line at Trader Joe’s, matter. All the devices don’t add up to a single vote. It isn’t a barometer, it’s a mirror.

    Voting Dem may just be too much of an ask for thinking people. Review the near-endless emotional hemophilia, hypocrisy, cognitive dissonance, and fake news kudzu a Dem voter is asked to ignore. For example, a Trump rally, or a wedding, is a deadly super-spreader event but a BLM rally is not. Schools and businesses are open or closed at the discretion of governors and mayors but Trump is to blame. Demonstrations which devolve into riots are acceptable but a couple of rednecks open carrying at a statehouse is a precursor to civil war. BLM when the killer is a cop, a lot less so when the killer is a black gang member. The new Supreme Court will limit our rights, except if they extend our 2A rights and then more rights are bad. Kids in cages means Nazism but Biden bringing back the Obama national security advisors who created millions of refugees flowing out of Syria and Libya is no matter. Choosing a Supreme “too close” to an election is the end of democracy but Dems promising revenge by adding states, deep-sixing the Electoral College, and packing the court to jam through their own one party eternal majority is not. A Muslim woman in Congress is revered for her adherence to sexist Islamic doctrine but a Catholic woman who honors her spouse is Handmaid’s Tale in Biblical proportions. #BelieveWomen applies to accusers of Republicans but not Democrats. We must have more women in government, except if they’re Republicans. Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, claims he will block any FDA-approved COVID vaccine from his state until his own scientists check it out, fearing a dangerous chemical will be released so that Trump can win the election. We must reawaken our democracy but if you vote for a third party you are working for Putin.

    More?

    When the stock market was soaring it didn’t matter because most people did not own stock yet when it fell during COVID it was the end of the economy but when it recovered it no longer mattered. None of the desperate warnings of war — Iran, China, North Korea, Venezuela, civil war in America — came to be. No one did anything bad after the embassy moved to Jerusalem or the Iranian agreement ended. All the things which were to disappear — the ACA, Roe, LGBT rights, same sex marriage — did not. Martial law was not declared, though the MSM signaled numerous times they would be OK with a military coup to depose Trump. Puerto Rico did not descend into genocide. Trump did not launch nuclear weapons in a fit of psychosis. The Democrats over and over made insta-heroes of miserable people who then had to be disowned like Michael Avenatti, Michael Cohen, Robert Mueller, James Comey, and every former general who was going to flip and tell all but didn’t. I honestly have no idea anymore if Dr. Fauci is seen as a good guy or a bad guy by Dems. The Democratic party claimed insubordination by government officials is to be honored if it is called #Resistance. We needed to see Trump’s taxes bad enough that it was OK someone stole them and even then the NYT won’t let anyone see the actual documents. Pee tape anyone? And in the final months before the election, the principle Democratic strategy is to claim if Trump wins it was all unfair. Update: the Reichstag is still standing.

    How can a thinking person look at all that and conclude “these are the people I want running the country.”

    Too many readers will see this article as pro-Trump. Where does it praise Trump? And that’s the last point here. Democrats and the MSM (let’s call it MSDNC) have divorced themselves from earth gravity. The rules of their home planet are any criticism of the party means you love Trump, are a hater, racist, Nazi, Russian or a bot. Inquiry is not allowed, so you must accept the Dossier, Russiagate, Ukraine, whatever crazy story is “reported” by “sources” and vote Biden or else.

    Maybe if a little introspection had been allowed amid demands for conformity of thought the Democrat party would not be imploring voters to believe the end justifies the means. Maybe they would not have cried wolf again and again until only the true crazies are still listening. Maybe they would have foregone the public humiliation of the Mueller report and the failed impeachment. Maybe they’d be running a candidate that represented, well, something to vote for. Maybe they would not be so worried their voters will stay home on November 3.

    If Trump wins again, it will be safe to say Dems lost this election in 2016 when they failed to see the change the nation wanted, pushed Bernie aside, and demanded we coronate Hillary. That gave Trump his first term. But rather than learn anything in the cold morning and seek redemption, the Dems basically did the same thing in 2020, albeit with the more likeable Joe Biden. But Biden carries most of the same old school baggage, inherits the same wounds of the Obama years, and has that lasting taint of corruption after 47 years in government.

    Yes, Joe’ll win the popular vote, the Electoral College are racist cheaters, Mrs. Jones’ ballot was lost in Raleigh, PutinPutinPutin, all a rich gumbo but whenever the end of the day comes, Trump will likely have his second term. More because the Democrats lost than because he won.

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    Flyover Voters More Tired Than Angry

    October 4, 2020 // 5 Comments »

    If the word for 2016 flyover voters was “angry,” in 2020 it’s “tired.” Anger four years ago put Trump in the White House, but it is unclear if tired will work for Biden. The Democrats’ strategy — our candidate isn’t Trump — may leave too many voters staying home.

    I spent a couple of days in Pennsylvania (before RBG’s death) talking to people, as it may be the keystone of the swing states, the one to decide the election. It’s a strange place politically, once described as “Philly in the East, Pittsburgh in the West, and Alabama in between.” I visited in between, the people I chatted with consisting of those who would talk with me. Sometimes a few words, sometimes a couple of Yuenglings. But before dismissing any conclusions as too random to matter, consider in the current climate just how inaccurate polling is. I found folks slow to discuss what they were thinking, testing to see if I was going to bite them for not wearing a mask, or rant off about America being great again. It took more than “Which candidate do you support?” to learn much, especially when I felt I’d learned there are a helluva lot of shades of purple out there, and not much enthusiasm.

    In the mostly small towns I visited in, there were three types of people. Those who’d left a long time ago, those thinking about leaving, and those stuck there. Where in 2016 there was anger and passion, this year America just seems tired. The endless stream of Trump atrocities talked about on Sunday morning TV is not what voters are talking about. What neither candidate seems to address, or even be more than vaguely aware of, is how much on-the-ground economics matters to the people left in these places.

    Each town is an archaeological site, old brick buildings that used to make… what? Sometimes there are clues, a mini mall with far more vape shops than one place needs in an broken industrial cavern with the words American Ribbon still visible on the facade. Other times it’s an unused smokestack filled with echoes of small manufacturing. Look around and you can find the old train depot near main street (it’s either abandoned or a too-cute coffee shop.) The tracks themselves are buried like some ancient river.

    Nobody really believes the blue collar middle class life they remember from their childhoods, or for the young, from Grandpa’s rambling tales, is coming back, but they are desperate for a bone. Trump promised in 2016 to do something about the local economy and never really tried. Biden says he will revive things, but leaves hanging the question of why he didn’t do that during his eight years in the White House. Running on Obama’s record means just that, and people here remember more about those eight years than some nice speeches. People cringe when they hear Biden defend Obamacare. Unlike journos who tweet about it from Brooklyn while on company sponsored Blue Cross, these people tried and failed to get good health care instead of just insurance out of the plan. Like Bernie, Trump didn’t fix it, but he isn’t Joe telling people it’s all they’re ever gonna get either.

    People remember it was the Democrats who voted for NAFTA and crushed out their last wind (Biden voted for NAFTA) and while Biden claimed in 2008 it should be renegotiated during the Obama years, it wasn’t. It was Trump who renegotiated the agreement, and while that didn’t really help much here it is seen as better than nothing. People like Trump’s trade battles with China. Nobody is naive enough to think they will change much, but they like to see the pain spread around. “F*ck the Chinese” was heard more than once.

    While it is unclear if Trump will be seen as failing on his promises or just having made a weak try, it is hard to overstate how deeply these Americans despise the Obama response to the 2008 financial crisis. Many saw the values of their homes, the largest investments they will ever make, dramatically decrease. They don’t own much stock outside of flaccid IRAs, and so they benefited little from a recovery that first bailed out Wall Street. Trump certainly did his own best economic work for Wall Street, but home prices have risen over the last few years for many of the people, with even an odd twist: much of the area is within an hour or two of New York City, and city people fleeing COVID to buy homes out here have driven up prices (asking about real estate is a great conversation starter.)

    There are truths here. Social Security SSI, Medicaid, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and housing assistance are a way of life now. One can accept food stamps but still think handouts are for the lazy. People can feel cheated working for minimum wage at a Walmart full of junk made overseas without being anti-immigrant. Legitimate anger doesn’t make you a racist. Trump understands all this better than the Democrats now speaking for their party, and that makes his voters ignore a lot of the things that drive progressives and the MSM into derangement. Biden meanwhile stumbles to gain relevance, frequently mentioning his roots in Scranton, Pennsylvania, making people smile Midwest-polite knowing he hasn’t lived there since age 11, 1953, when the place was thriving.

    The entire premise of the Democratic strategy misunderstood Trump’s election as a fluke if not an outright scam. Instead, Trump stumbled onto something hidden in plain sight. Large numbers of Americans, mostly white and formerly middle class, were angry (whites without bachelor’s degrees make up 55 percent of Pennsylvania’s population 25 or older). They were getting poorer, they could not find decent jobs, and they wanted someone if not to fix it, to tell them who to blame. The Democrats tell them to blame themselves for being racist and uneducated — learn to code! Trump tells them it is not their fault. It was because of Obama, it was the Chinese, it was the Democrats, NAFTA, immigrants. Neither narrative is fully true but which one will find residuals of that anger to drive turnout? Hint: The area went for Trump in 2016. Prior to his victory, Pennsylvania voted Democrat in six straight presidential elections. Based on new registrations, Democrats lost more Pennsylvania voters in the last four years than they have gained. More Democrats also abandoned their party to become Independents compared to Republicans.

    People worry Biden is a Trojan Horse; not a single person could name a Biden signature policy initiative. They worry Democrats who don’t understand them will really be in charge. To some it seems men, old people, straight people, entire regions of the country, are being excluded or deemed unworthy. It isn’t status anxiety but a sense that what used to be a difference of political opinion now makes someone illegitimate as a person. They hear people who may soon be running the government call them haters and racists just because they are poor and white. While Trump is a known element, Biden could mean Obama without the gravitas, or he could mean a Pelosi regency, or a progressive charge of night riders lead by Harris. Like Biden, Trump is old and sick, but if not Trump you get Pence, not the deluge.

    When people are excluded from the most important decisions affecting their lives they lose faith. That bitter lived experience fueled distrust and an ideological drift that manifested itself in electing Trump in 2016 (it could have just as likely elected Bernie over Trump then.) And that distrust hasn’t dissipated enough for many to vote Democrat, even if they won’t vote Trump. Many of the people of color I met felt the same way as their white neighbors. Having started at the same place in the factories and fallen together into poverty, they ended up in the same dismal state as whites. A big difference, however, is that black frustration often shows up as low voter turnout, while whites vote Republican.

    Who wins Pennsylvania in November seems a battle of enthusiasm. Little understood by the coastal MSM is the important role of conservative talk radio in these areas. People spend a fair amount of time in their vehicles, and they listen to regional and local talk radio sometimes for hours. Nobody in New York pays much attention to these very conservative hosts, many mixing religious and political themes. They are skillful in using listener call-ins to make it seem an agenda is organic when it is driven. The idiots who draw societal trends and conclusions from Twitter have no idea who powerful a force this may be in driving a turnout which will favor Trump.

    For example, a lot of talk radio focuses on sports. Sports are a big deal out here, high school, college, and the pros. Nobody is happy to see games canceled because of COVID, and few seemed happy about the massive political tumor growing on sports, even if they supported the general ideas of BLM. Save it for off the field was what most said. Extreme loyalty toward a team has replaced a lot other loyalties in these people’s lives and should not be messed with lightly. It looks like just an affinity for the Yankees or  the Nittany Lions, but there is deeper water underneath. Trump’s role in getting the Big Ten teams back on the field was not overlooked. If many of the issues the MSM cares about come up a wash between Trump and Biden, don’t underestimate this kind of small-but-it-matters-to-me thing.

    For an exhausted electorate, tired now of being tired, that might just be enough.

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    Anonymous Sources Tell Us How Democracy Ends

    September 27, 2020 // 1 Comment »

    Watch how this is done: Joe Biden plans to resign after only one year in the White House, according to someone with direct knowledge of the Bidens’ plans.
    A senior official at Northern Virginia Community College confirmed Jill Biden reached out recently to see if she could resume teaching if her husband was elected; Dr. Biden famously taught there while her husband served as Vice President and had befriended the official. The College immediately offered Dr. Biden a four year cycle of classes. She replied, however, she wanted to make only a one year commitment. “We won’t be in Washington for the full term,” Biden reportedly explained. “Joe’ll stay in office for a year and work on some signature issues like cancer research, but Kamala will be doing the heavy lifting from day one. Joe will quietly resign and give her plenty of time to make the job her own. It’s set in stone I’m afraid. I wouldn’t let him run any other way given his health.”
    I made that up. See how easy it is? Start with a known bias, that many people believe Joe Biden won’t serve his whole term. Play off the fear he is a Trojan Horse. Tell people what they already believe, Harris is selected, not elected. Use your own credibility to overcome the lack of it in your sourcing. Include some truth (Dr. Jill Biden did teach at Northern Virginia Community College during the Obama administration) and then take advantage of the magic of anonymous sources. Allow for faux confirmation — if another journalist contacted the college, they just might have indeed recently heard from Jill about teaching.
    This comes in the context of a recent article in The Atlantic by Jeff Goldberg, where anonymous sources claim the president disrespected America’s military. Goldberg’s piece was followed by former Russiagate FBI agent Peter Strzok telling another Atlantic writer, without evidence the equivalent of an no-name source, Trump is controlled by the Russians. Then came the return of Alexander Vindman (powered by an anonymous source, er, “whistleblower”) and excerpts from Bob Woodward’s Rage claiming without examination or details Dan Coates and Jim Mattis planned “collective action” against the president. Those are a few recent examples; in a four year tantrum the media has recklessly published anything anti-Trump without concern for truth, little better than the minor celebs who take to Twitter to announce #TrumpisaPedo who craves sex with his own children. Journalism has become propaganda, its purpose not to inform but to advocate. Influence operations. Propaganda.
    It’s worth poking a lot of holes in Goldberg’s article as an example because of its exclusive use of anonymous sources in pursuit of advocacy, in this case, trying to chip away at Trump’s pro-military base. Though Goldberg’s article talks about events from as long as four years ago, it was released alongside a current Military Times poll showing Biden gaining some support among service members, and dovetailed with fuzzy reporting Trump ignored Russian bounties on Americans in Afghanistan.
    The question of motive makes the validity of the sources ever more important. How do we know Goldberg didn’t make things up, or at least allow himself to be used for his partisan end as he did in advocating for the whole false narrative of WMDs and the Iraq War? Unless you are Goldberg’s mother or the town mayor from Jaws, credibility comes from the sources, not a writer’s inner soul. Goldberg comes up lacking. As a former diplomat, I staffed overseas presidential visits from Reagan to Obama. I sat in on planning meetings, and got a pretty close up view of the Secret Service. The president exists inside a series of bubbles, forgive me, like those nesting Russian dolls. The innermost bubble, the one where someone might hear his personal thoughts, is reserved for very, very few people. The universe of people who could have physically been close enough to Trump (or any president) to overhear sensitive remarks is tiny.
    So if we know the names of the sources it will be easy to place them in that special group, or not. If we know the names, it would be easy to check photos to see if they were where they would have needed to be to overhear. It would be easy to see who else was around to confirm or deny the story (11 Trump officials deny it by name, zero confirm.)
    A real reporter would also provide context, what was said before and after the damning remarks; it is not uncommon for civilians to respectfully ask what motivates men to run into fires, to sacrifice themselves for a buddy, to stand in harm’s way. Goldberg’s sources say Trump remarked to former White House chief of staff and retired Marine General John Kelly, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?” He said this at Arlington National Cemetery at the gravesite of Kelly’s son, a Marine who died in Afghanistan. This photo shows who was there — Kelly, two family members, Trump, and Pence. This would have been the moment when Trump would have made his remark, and those are the only five people on earth who would have heard it. Trump and Pence deny it; the Kelly family has been silent from which one cannot draw any conclusion. The same photo set shows Trump meeting later with other Gold Star families, none of whom claim he made any disparaging remarks.
    There is also a sniff test to be applied. The credibility of journalism should not depend on the reader’s biases. Trump mocking Kelly’s son’s sacrifice at graveside would be among the most horrible things anyone could do to a parent. Who would say such a thing? There is no record of the worst humans in history, men like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, saying such things. There is no record of people such as concentration camp guards, men capable of killing children, saying such things. And would Kelly, a blooded Marine, stand silently with his family, accomplices in their own humiliation, then release the information only years later hiding behind the skirt of some minor journalist to score a glancing political point?
    Knowing the names of the sources also allows us to judge the credibility of the so-called confirmations by other journalists. Do their confirmations consist of nothing more than the same people who spoke to Goldberg repeating the same things to a second writer? That’s just saying the same thing twice, not a confirmation. Are the confirmations from people who heard the information second hand? The potential for circular confirmations is great and risky. It would also be easy to see who harbors grudges and deserves to have their motive to lie reviewed. It would be easy to ask a named source why he waited several years to reveal this information, just as an election is heating up. Knowing the names resolves the risk. Trust but verify.
    There are other sniff tests. Much has been made of the presumptive sources being “military men” who would not criticize the president. They are also not stupid, and if they did serve as sources knew exactly that they were attacking the president for political purposes weeks before the election. In addition, Kelly (Mattis, McMaster, et al) all took civilian positions in the Trump administration, and served out of uniform, so their refusal to comment is unjustified. The idea Goldberg would never risk his reputation as a journalist by writing a lie is silly. Goldberg and The Atlantic wholeheartedly supported the lies of the WMD story in Iraq and the lies of the Russiagate story. You can lie all you want as long as you tell people what they want to hear.
    Though it got much less attention, The Atlantic followed up Goldberg with a piece that included a named source but allowed him to simply list out baseless accusations of treason. Former FBI agent Peter Strzok sees Grassy Knolls everywhere. The Atlantic helps him along, introducing the back and to the left theory by saying “Despite multiple investigations by the FBI, Congress, and Mueller’s team, Americans have still never learned the full story about the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russia or Trump’s own decades-long financial ties with Russia.” Oh. Like what?
    Well, Strzok says he doesn’t really know, but it must be hidden in Trump’s taxes (which the IRS has reviewed for decades.) The writer feels it in her ample gut, too, stating “Strzok was getting too close to the truth” without actually saying what that “truth” might be other than it would be bad. Ah, from Strzok: “I do think the president is compromised, that he is unable to put the interests of our nation first, that he acts from hidden motives, because there is leverage over him, held specifically by the Russians but potentially others as well.” That is a straight-up accusation of treason, a capital offense.
    And there both the writer and the source just leave it, no specifics, no follow-up questions, not even a pee tape. We’re left to fill in They Are All In On It, everyone who could have blown this wide open is dummied up — FBI, CIA, NSA, DOJ, Congress. Remember Mr. X, the character in JFK played by Donald Sutherland? Strzok wants to be him. Problem is he’s not good enough for an Oliver Stone film, so he’s just out there pimping his book.
    Same for some of the gotchas in Bob Woodward’s Rage. What reveals Woodward in this case as a propagandist, not a journalist, is his lack of curiosity. For example, he quotes Mattis and Coates as talking about the possibility of “collective action” against Trump. And then drops it. You’d think Woodward would have asked “Tell me more about that, what were you thinking?” A strongly worded Op-Ed or tanks on the White House lawn? Who else would have been involved? Was this the first time this was raised or almost the last? Woodward goes on to report Coates “felt in his gut” the Russians have something on Trump. Coates was of course the Director of National Intelligence, with the full reach of the global U.S. spying apparatus at his control. He was in a position to do much more than have a gut feeling on things, but Woodward leaves it at that. Woodward purposefully allows the audience to decide what Mattis and Coates were up to, filling in the silence in whatever their worst nightmare was.
    The Atlantic articles are sucked oranges. They are a rehashed muddle of Trump’s Worst Hits, accusations, and gossip people either have believed for several years because they will believe anything bad about Trump, or which people dismiss as a muddle of unsourced Trump’s Worst Hits, accusations, and gossip. It is what comes next that matters.
    The danger is in not snapping back. If Trump wins in November, does the media just pick up where they left off? Do they simply find a new cause to drive a new impeachment, demanding the 25th Amendment in published pieces while hinting at assassination in their ALL CAPS social media? Goldberg’s article got far too much attention for how little it had to say. But it has not gotten enough review as a marker, the place we had to end up when the media wholeheartedly advocated for the Iraq War based on lies. It is where we had to end up when the media buried things of concern with Hillary and helped create Russiagate out of anonymous sources. It is where we had to end up when the MSM uses its own freedom of speech to quash dissenting voices  (deplatforming is the 2020 term), dismissing them as unpatriotic in 2003 and as “useful idiots” and Russian bots in the current world.
    In defense of what they call advocacy, journalists often cite Walter Cronkite speaking out against the Vietnam War, or Ed Murrow publicly shaming Joe McCarthy. Not only are such  gold-standard examples rare enough that the list often ends there, they ignore negative examples, the most gleaming of which was the advocacy for the post-9/11 horrors. They also ignore how Cronkite’s and Murrow’s advocacy came at the end of dispassionate study, deep introspection, and clear sourcing. They did not seek to win the argument by literally rewriting history, as in the NYT’s 1619 Project. Cronkite and Murrow broke the objectivity wall not for a favored candidate, but over issues of deep national importance. And they knew the difference.

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    Reds Plot to Control America!

    September 19, 2020 // 2 Comments »

    Like me, you got most of your news from PeaceData.net. It was what you looked to to form your opinions, including the all-important one about which way to vote. What you missed on PeaceData you caught up with via Facebook memes and Tweets from people you do not know.

    Or maybe not. Maybe like nearly everyone on planet earth you have no idea what I’m talking about and have never looked at the PeaceData site. That reality should pretty much end the discussion but this is 2020. So you must know by now Facebook claims an unvisited and now defunct web site named PeaceData was actually a Russian influence operation posing as an independent news outlet targeting voters in the United States. Including in their sneaky tactics were hiring American freelance “journalists” to write about U.S. politics and racial tensions from their parents’ basements.

    PeaceData operated 13 Facebook accounts, now suspended, supposedly using fake identities and “coordinated inauthentic behavior” by people with some kind of link “to individuals associated with past activity by the Internet Research Agency,” the Russkie company which U.S. intelligence officials say was part of Comrade Trump’s 2016 win.

     

    Yep, that old story, Russians, social media, blah. To say Peacedata itself truly does not matter, especially in relation to the attention it has received in death, gives too much credit to not mattering. What does matter is how the intel community, quasi-private tech firms, the media, and the Democrats worked together to exaggerate the threat and create the narrative outcome of “foreign influence.” Pay attention; this is the magician revealing how the trick is done.

    It seems the Russians have gotten so good at influencing cow-like Americans that only five percent of English-language articles on PeaceData actually directly concerned the U.S. election, out of over 700 articles published. You’d think no one would have even noticed they existed. However, some sneaky company called Graphika nonetheless told Facebook to conclude “this facet of the operation suggests an attempt to build a left-wing audience and steer it away from Biden’s campaign.” See, the conclusion from Graphika is by making almost no impact whatsoever, PeaceData was actually “trying harder and harder to hide.” Graphika found most of the English-language posts achieved only single-digit engagement.

    Who funds net nanny Graphika? Their venture capital was raised privately, in two tranches of about three million dollars each, in 2014 and 2019. We do know who they work with. Their current “Innovation Officer” is Camille François, who once worked for Google’s analytics offshoot Jigsaw before quitting to run a secretive project for the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, alongside now Graphika CEO John Kelly (no relation to the Marine.) Their December 2018 reporting helped “prove” how the Russians used social media networks like Facebook and Twitter to influence the 2016 election. Graphika also has ties to the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Defense Department’s Minerva Initiative. If you pay look at their stuff you realize they write like spooks, talk like spooks, and snitch out news sites like spooks. So you can decide if they’re involved in all this again because they are just good at proving Russian stuff or because they are tied to a corporate-quasi government structure alongside the intel community.

    What is missing from Graphika’s work is any evidence whatsoever of any actual influence on the only thing that matters: how people vote. Graphika offers nothing quantitative, claiming only that by using American freelancers PeaceData was part of the “fabric” of communities and this made them credible. A step up from 2016 efforts, which relied on what Graphika said were foreign “trolls who typically researched American life so they could more effectively pose as U.S. citizens online. One key trick was to watch American TV shows like House of Cards.”

    One is inclined to imagine here the customer service rep with a south Indian accent who asks you to call him “Mike” and wonders “How it goes my man in that American town of Iowa?” Older readers, please substitute Boris and Natasha voices.

     

    So who are these nefarious America writers unknowingly selling out their country? The New York Times tracked down one freelancer who ended up writing for no money somehow, though PeaceData rates of $75-$200 per article fluttered below average (lots of unknown sites recruit freelancers for small payouts; PeaceData used Guru.) This particular PeaceData journalist also once played Rusty in Starlight Express before selling insurance. One of his recent articles outlines his battle with dementia. Sorry to pick on the poor guy, but the NYT profiled him and it seems using such services to influence an election may not be the best use of those rubles.

    He did write a nice piece claiming Susan Rice would have made a fine Vice President. One point in her favor was “I challenge anyone to find a video, or statement which shows Susan Rice raising her temper, shouting, acting hysterical or making comments.” Rice of course is known for her signature profanity and temper; here’s the Washington Post calling her out for describing Lindsey Graham as a “piece of sh*t.” Her f-bombs are legend. She famously flipped the bird at Richard Holbrooke, told France’s U.N. ambassador “you’re not going to drag us into your sh*tty war” and drew complaints of disrespect from allies on the U.N. Security Council.

    But before just calling a Susan Rice-like bullsh*t on this whole sad attempt to frighten Americans into believing foreigners are here to steal our precious bodily Internet fluids, let’s go have a look at some of what else PeaceData had to say.

    For example, here’s a quote from a PeaceData article about Q-Anon: “The effort to mainstream conspiracy is meant to distract from the true mechanisms of exploitation and alienation, while allowing for the continued consolidation of capital and upending norms with power grabs. As liberal institutions fail and capitalism continues to deliver uncertainty, the extension of a false mythos — that promises to yield revolutionary change and free the masses — gives allure to desperately confused people.”

    Ok, that was too easy, somebody just held on to their Socialism 101 textbook. From a PeaceData article on the post office is lifted idea-for-idea from the NYT: “One way or another, the truth always comes out and with President Donald Trump, his motives were especially apparent after a news conference in the White House Briefing Room. He admitted on Thursday he opposed additional funding for the United States Postal Service (USPS) in order to make it more difficult to deliver mail-in ballots. Trump’s desire to not expand on voting by mail further sent society into a chaotic state amidst a pandemic.” Actually the NYT said “President Trump stirred new questions on Thursday about whether he would seek to hold up new money to the Postal Service to impede mail-in voting this fall in the middle of the pandemic.” Kinda the same thing but one is Russkie propaganda and the other is the New York Times.

     

    It is very unclear any of this is illegal. Foreign organizations hire American writers all the time. And the line between “taking an editorial stance” and “influencing an election” lies closer to how paranoid you are than anything in the law. That did not stop the FBI from telling social media to act against PeaceData based on Graphika tattling. The action Facebook (and Twitter, who called Peace Data “Russian state actors” and blocked them) took against PeaceData was based entirely on so-called violations of Terms of Service. It allows the social media giants to show off how they are doing something to whatever, save democracy. If the Founders were alive today they would be editing Terms of Service instead of creating a Bill of Rights. Facebook was not asked to return the $480 in advertising money Peacedata spent on the site.

    PeaceData doesn’t matter by itself.  The real value in this fluffy jihad against a no-name site is to allow the MSM and Democrats to announce again Trump is being helped by a foreign power, that our electoral process is corrupt if Trump wins, and to revive whatever distant wet memories the faithful had in Russiagate ending the Trump presidency. A fantasy, a little day dreaming maybe the old tricks will work this time where they have failed ever before.

    No big deal, just a glimpse behind the scenes where under the cover of blaming foreign collusion, corporate America, the intel community, and the media hide their own collusion, here, in the Twilight Zone of democracy.

     

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    Fear Itself

    September 13, 2020 // 2 Comments »

    Barack Obama said at his convention you must vote Democrat even if you don’t care for the candidate as your president, out of fear for our democracy. Don, Jr. said pretty much the same a week later, just reversing the names and the politics. The messaging from all sides is one of fear. It sounds so 2020 but it as old as the modern era.
    America’s childhood fear was we were going to die at school when the Russians nuked America. We hid under our desks during drills, we huddled away from the windows with our coats over our heads (no one explained what we’d do on warm days) and waited to die. For an elementary student raised to believe what he was taught, it was a nightmare. My third grade teacher even identified Ground Zero, the cinder parking lot next to the school, and for some reason told us it would happen in the morning. Every day at lunch I could feel the tension drain away, at least until we had the first sex ed classes in fifth grade and I learned what venereal disease was gonna do to me.
    Americans were taught to be afraid even as we were the apex predator on the planet with the world’s only atomic bomb. We dutifully rewarded president after president for maintaining the most massive national security state ever known, but we never felt safe. We never saw it was all a trick, like conjuring a pandemic out of a virus which doesn’t even cause symptoms in many of its hosts and compared to most anything else, like cancer or heart attacks, has a fatality rate well below a single percent (so we count cases not fatalities to generate fear.) As with terrorism, diabetes and ladder falls harm more American lives than the Russians.
    With the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks looming like a hangover it is worth asking the price we pay for fear itself. For me, our first family plane trip after 9/11 started at a Japanese airport where security seemed about the same as before. But when we transferred to a U.S. domestic flight the world changed. The newly-empowered TSA (how did they get a new logo and uniforms so quickly?) torn into us. After shouting at my lack of preparedness to present various documents quickly enough, they pulled my pre-teen daughter away and impounded a nail clipper and some sort of medieval-looking eyebrow curling device. She started to cry, and when I tried to go to her I was held back. An incident was underway I was told. The TSA agent said harshly to her “I’m trying to keep you from dying on that airplane!” My little one started to say something, but I shouted to her to be quiet. I’d learned on an eastern European border long ago the only answer. Submit and board the plane. Submit and we can see grandma tonight at our destination.
    As the years unfolded post-9/11 we learned. Shoes off, no liquids, belts are bad. Even with a Diplomatic Passport was I screened into secondary inspection because I had flown internationally with only a carry on. Same again when I had a ticket purchased in cash, things I learned later were “profiles” of terrorists . A cabin attendant shouted me into my seat when I tried to use the toilet within a certain number of miles of Washington. Why was the person previously serving drinks now dressing me down me like a drill instructor? It seemed the wrong people were in charge. I wanted to obey but there were too many new rules. Even Winston Smith knew he had to find a way for 2+2 to equal 5 to make it all stop.
    Later, as a federal whistleblower, I was placed on some sort of list. I could fly, but my trips through the airport would be met with a firm “Sir, I need you to step over here, right now, sir!” Every time I was told I had been randomly selected, as Orwellian as things get. The protocols created to protect me from terrorists had been twisted to turn me into one. I of course could refuse to hand over my electronics, but TSA would just confiscate them so why resist? Of course I could speak to a supervisor, but I’d miss my flight. My old computer took minutes to cold boot and that angered the TSA agents and prolonged my searches. So I bought a fast Chromebook to make my surveillance more convenient.
    In a perfect melding of fears the 9/11 Memorial Museum showed us how much of this is farce. After being closed since March to protect us from COVID they will reopen to the general public on September 12. A symbolic day for sure but one with no science behind it. Why not September 3 or 24? Because it doesn’t matter, the danger was never very real. And the museum, with its cavernous interiors (it is built into the basements of the old Twin Towers) is allowed to host only 25 percent of its capacity. Same for every other museum in NYC, 25 percent whether they have state-of-the-art HVAC systems and thousands of square feet or are contained within early 19th century parlors. It doesn’t matter because it doesn’t matter; there’s no science behind it because there is no serious threat behind it.
    In New York we are told it will be the death of us to reopen restaurants for a quick meal, but from day one of the virus we have been welcome to sit in poorly ventilated subway cars. We can’t have more than a handful of customers inside a store, but we can spend six hours inside an airplane cabin. Ten people gathered for a party is a death trap but 300 massed for a BLM protest somehow isn’t. It makes no sense because it makes no sense. The less it makes sense the more it makes sense to just submit and go along, because thinking is hard.
    So it is no surprise I wear a mask outside. I alone seem to remember enough from biology class to question how a soggy piece of cloth, or a dust mask with an air escape valve on the side (i.e., your virus-laden exhaled breath goes out, dumbass) is unlikely to do much, like hanging garlic to ward off vampires. But I am allowed buy milk at the store with a mask. I am allowed to be part of society. I can avoid being scolded by the self-appointed mask Jugend. I can have a socially distanced conversation with my Democrat neighbor who believes she will literally risk her life to vote in-person, saving democracy itself after Trump gutted the post office. Like many, she has an Old Testament view of the virus; it is both punishment for electing Trump and the way of delivering us from him.
    Those irrational fears from the Cold War and post-9/11 are nothing compared to today; imagine the McCarthy Red Scare powered by social media and 24/7 news. Every week it has been something new that will destroy us — war with North Korea and Iran, Boogaloo Bois, Trump the Manchurian Candidate, not enough beds, and not enough ventilators. We’re worried a fascist government is taking away free speech and we’re worried the government isn’t doing enough to suppress free speech to stop hate. There are too many guns for us to be safe and not enough guns to protect us. After a decade of terrorists everywhere (when they were actually nowhere) we transition to live in terror of the virus. People not only support the restrictions and lockdown, they want more to feel safer, much like Americans demanded more nukes thinking they’d sleep better during the Cold War.
    It’s not to say people do not die from the virus or there aren’t reasons to take prudent action. It’s to say what we are doing in response does not keep many more alive for the price we are paying. Same story as with terrorism, the Cold War, whatever noise makes you jump in the dark. The bark outweighed the bite. The goal of conditioning through fear is always the same.
    Because submission scales. Decades-long nuclear arms race? OK. Support a war in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria and Libya and Yemen and Somalia? Patriot Act, torture, prison camps, drone assassinations? Yes is always the easiest way to imagine you can allay fear forever until the next scary thing is revealed. Yale welcomes students back to campus with all sorts of restrictions then warns them they will see death in their dorms. So in 2020, conditioned to accept being humiliated barefoot before every flight, it is easy to accept losing jobs, or to lock down whole cities, or close off state borders. It was easy for people to accept being denied saying goodbye to a terminally ill loved one, or to be blocked from attending church or their child’s birth, by the government.
    Fear is very powerful, and learned helplessness a dangerous thing. So forgive my dry heart when I am not sure I should fear for our democracy, or our safety, even as I fear for our sanity. And don’t be surprised at how quickly the virus clears away once the election is over. And don’t be surprised when it is replaced by a new thing to fear.

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    Don’t Be a Palooka, Joe

    September 5, 2020 // 4 Comments »

    Joe, I’m writing to ask a favor, a big one, for America. Don’t be a bum, a palooka. If you lose the election, lose it graciously. Don’t drag a damaged America through a long fight designed to cripple the next Trump term, the way Democrats did it in 2016. Those same voices are gonna want you to never concede, to “sue ’til it’s Blue” but you gotta resist them and do the right thing. Don’t be the guy to wreck America. You don’t appear much in public, so I hope this message in a bottle reaches you.

    I gotta tell you Joe, while two months in America can change a lot, it doesn’t look like November 3 is gonna be your night, kid. So far you got nothing to offer but you’re not Trump, and because I know you play some poker, that’s stretching a pair of twos too far. Pennsylvania new voter registrations added 150,000 more Republicans than Democrats. Trump is beating you on Latino outreach, Joe, and owns the Cuban vote (as well the formidable Jewish vote) in crucial Florida. One pollster my TAC colleagues spoke with on our podcast believes that the “shy Trump voter” effect is even stronger today than it was in 2016. You see the raw data, but I bet your pollsters are undercounting Trump support. You gotta admit, Trump’s line about you — he sent your jobs to China and your sons to war — cuts pretty deep.

    That matters  I know the way many Trader Joe Americans noodle around when they want to see if it’s OK to talk positively about Trump. They’re afraid even at my age I’m gonna blast them for admitting they are doing OK in the economy, their retirement savings rebounded since the March fall. Once they open up, they’re afraid of you, Joe, afraid you’ll lose control to the progressives nipping at the party’s heals and with that they see chaos. When Elizabeth Warren sneaks in a pro-BLM message during your convention, they don’t see the justice they titularly support, they see chaos. And the crap they roll their eyes over happening in New York is now in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Swing states, Joe, on literal fire under Democratic leadership. Trump as the safe candidate, crazy, huh?

    I know you are counting on left behind out of work Americans without 401ks as your people, but Joe, they aren’t. Those folks are in fact Trump’s base. They don’t blame him, they think he fights for them. You and I can have a lo-carb beer alongside a little Maalox, or maybe just some nice Jell-O, after you retire and try to make sense of that, but you can’t say it ain’t so, Joe.

    So whattaya got? You cried wolf more times than Mrs. Blitzer. The sky never fell. Russiagate was a lie built on falsified FISA documents, sleazy CIA-aligned operatives, and paid-for propaganda. Impeachment was so weak it collapsed. Large numbers of voters don’t blame Trump for COVID, and statistics show the worst economic damage to individual voter’s wallets has been done by Democratic governors willing to act against their own citizens to help politically damage Trump. A Democratic governor keeps kids from school and you want the parents to blame Trump? Your party Goebbels’ are down to whimpering about violations of the Hatch Act most non-Beltway American know nothing of and care less about, and the Post Office. The Post Office, Joe? That’s your big talking point two months out? You sounds like Marcia Brady trying to snitch on Greg.

    (Joe, seriously, enough with the post office. The USPS handles 472.1 million mailpieces a day. There are only 153 million registered voters in the U.S., and typically only about 60 percent of them even bother to vote. You still get your paper Lands End catalog; handling the ballots is nothing.)

    Worse yet, you aren’t the only candidate using the Not Trump strategy. Your real opponent is Stay Home; that’s where a lot of the Never Trumpers may end up. Some important number of voters are not going to vote for Trump, but they don’t see much in you. They will “vote” by staying home, again.  Last election about 42 percent of eligible voters stayed home and given they tended to be young and of color they likely cost Hillary the election; registered voters who didn’t vote were more Democratic-leaning than the registered voters who turned out. You’re strategy is based on people who think they can solve problems by changing the channel. Most of those younger “democrats” aren’t. They hate Trump a little more than they hate you, but they’re not part of your party. They’d really like a third party, for change, but until then they’ve made it pretty clear they won’t vote for crappy candidates like you just because Nancy Pelosi tells them to.

    More? You didn’t get any post-convention bounce, not even with five nights of free media and both Obamas. Nice try with Kamala, by the way, but the only people who vote based on the VP choice want you dead, Joe. And talk about a plan backfiring, research suggests the more Democrats message democracy is dead and Trump is going to win by cheating no matter what, the lower Democratic turnout will be. And that’s on top of recent polls suggesting voter enthusiasm (which drives turnout) for you lags Trump in key battleground states.

    So sorry Joe, it does not look good. I’m sure you see more sunlight than I do, and a lot can happen in the world around you and Trump in the next two months. It ain’t over, and the race doesn’t always go to the swift and the strong, but that is the way you place your bets.

    And that brings me to the favor I’m asking of you, Joe. If you really lose, concede. Thank everyone, promise Kamala will be back fighting in 2024, and affirm  democracy worked. Don’t gin up a Konstitutional Krisis. If you really really have unambiguous proof of fraud, lay it all out in one splash, no weeks of leaks and hearings, and make sure it is clear enough all but the most committed ideologues have to admit you are right and let the process continue. You will save America.

    Everybody sees instead what the people around you are planning. Even you warned Trump will steal the election. Rep. James Clyburn said he believes the president “plans to install himself in some kind of emergency way to continue to hold onto office.” The Atlantic and The Washington Post regularly run stories speculating that Trump will usurp the election or reject its results. Hillary dictated you “should not concede under any circumstances” because “eventually I do believe he will win.” Her strategy for you is “a lengthy legal battle after the election,” the Sue ‘Til Blue plan which envisions November 3 as only an opening act, followed by lengthy counts and recounts of mail-in ballots, followed by court challenges, all in hope of shifting public opinion toward not accepting the election. Hillary made a good run at that four years ago, convincing a fair number of people her popular vote win meant the Electoral College didn’t count. You’ve sat with her after a couple of glasses of white wine, Joe. She really believes she won, doesn’t she? But you and I know that’s some Third World trip, not paying attention to elections whose results you don’t like.

    The poster child for being a Good Loser, Al Gore, is teeing it up for you as well. Gore believes the military will eventually have to remove Trump from office. But pay attention to Gore’s whole statement, the part when he said “there’s no intermediate step between a Supreme Court decision and violent revolution. You can always explore the option of dragging something out, tearing the country apart, mobilizing partisans against one another in the streets and all of that, but it is not a wise course for our country.” Gore of course is talking about Trump doing all that, but I’m talking about you, Joe.

    America can’t handle it, Joe, so please don’t bring it on us. Don’t listen to the voices saying you have to save democracy by refusing to accept the election results. We are so divided as a nation that you refusing to go along with the vote, fanning the flames by claiming the popular vote is controlling, insisting racism lost you the election or otherwise playing to the divisions could set off something that will be hard to control. It could ruin whatever confidence Americans have in our system, flawed as it may be. You won’t inspire people, you will inflame them. You opponent is a predator and will fight a nasty campaign. Go ahead and fight hard back. But when it is over, don’t fake losing, own losing. The critical tool for ending of democracy is people’s conditioned readiness to believe it does not work anymore.

    Joe, we’re both old enough to love the movie On the Waterfront, starring Marlon Brando at his most perfect. You remember the key scene, in the car with his mobster brother. Brando, a prize fighter who could have gone all the way, got talked into taking a fall to make the mob money betting against him. Brando realizes giving in, doing what the dark forces wanted him to do even when he knew it was so wrong, ruined him. He made some money, and the mob guaranteed him an easy job for life in thanks. But he knew he was a bum, a palooka, when he maybe could’ve had class, could have been somebody.

    Brando’s brother failed to tell him the right thing to do. I’m here for you, Joe. Leave Hillary and Stacey Abrams in the history books as bitter losers. Fight your fight, Joe, and then do the right thing for yourself, your legacy, for America.

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    Democrats Unveil the Most Cynical Campaign in American History

    August 30, 2020 // 4 Comments »

     

    With the Democratic virtual convention history, excitement among voters ranges from lukewarm to sort of lukewarm while America deteriorates around them like a man being shaved by a drunk barber.

    The convention made it clear — the Democratic candidate is not Trump. And he is not our candidate. You can call our guy Biden if you remember his name. Either way just vote for the one not named “Trump.” It’s easy. In fact 60 percent of Biden voters say their support is more against Trump than for Joe.

    Everything else is uphill.

     

    The Not Trump candidate is an old white man, but don’t pay attention to age, gender, or race even though he’s the same as Trump. The Democratic vice presidential candidate is younger, blacker, and less male so in her case age, gender, and race are very important. Kamala Harris exists as a lure to get a few depressed prog voters to bite on Ole’ Man Biden. That voters rejected her in favor of Biden in the primaries illustrates the cynicism: it didn’t matter, any black woman without too much political baggage would do.

    About Kamala being a woman and all. Pink Hats, Hillary claiming misogyny helped defeat her. Yeah, we hit that pretty hard. Yet Democratic primary voters consistently rejected six decent women candidates to winnow the field down to two men. Harris herself was thumped badly, the high point of her failed run being humiliating Joe Biden as a racist in the first debate. We now need you to ignore all that.

    For four years Democrats chummed the water with talk about progressive issues like free healthcare, free college, college loan forgiveness, abolishing the Electoral College, you know, the Bernie stuff. Neither Biden nor Harris is into much of that and despite Bernie coming in second place twice his ideas are going to have as much influence on Biden as they are on Trump. Same for all the others hyped along the way to keep everyone’s attention, Beto, Pete, Stacey Adams, AOC, Warren, before featuring the lost John Kasich, the lonely Colin Powell, and the ghostly Cindy McCain at the convention to make it clear how little the party really cared about all that. Viewers might have expected the whole thing to shift into a commercial for reverse mortgages, or maybe adult diapers.

     

    A few more, sorry. You know how during COVID the post office delivered everything you needed? We now need you to believe the greatest election fraud conspiracy in the history of democracy is unfolding inside the same place. Yes, that post office, the one with the confusing signs about postal classes where grandpa buys those things he calls stamps. That place will likely end democracy because this election will have so many mail-in ballots and Democrats believe all those mail-in ballots will be for them and each requires its own blue corner mailbox. So Trump will win because Republicans will vote by magic laser beam or something.

    Before she woke up Kamala was a prosecutor, a person whose job it is to put young black men in jail. She liked the police. Harris specifically did not adopt what is known as a “Brady Policy” under which she would disclose past misconduct by law enforcement in order to help ensure defendants received a fair trial. She hid misconduct instead, at least until she received a judicial reprimand and had 1,000 criminals released as unfairly convicted by her. Joe Biden sort of helped, too, authoring a  law making it easier for prosecutors like Harris to put young black men in jail. We know it kind of sounds like they were on the wrong side of Black Lives Matter until they wanted black votes but trust us, we’re not going to talk about it ever again. We’re certainly not going to replay Tulsi Gabbard weaponizing Harris’ prosecutorial record against her in a later debate which ended one of their careers.

    On that same list of things not to talk about, we know everyone enjoyed saying President Bone Spurs. Yep, his pug faced rich daddy got a doctor to pretend little Donny had bone spurs and so was exempt from dying in Vietnam. Well, fuggedaboutit.

    See when Uncle Joey was younger he too did not go to Vietnam. Joey got five student draft deferments during the Vietnam War, same as Trump. And in 1968, when his Joe’s student status was wrapping up, he was medically reclassified as “not available” due to asthma. Asthma can be nasty stuff or it can be a bone spur. In Joe’s autobiography he described his active youth as a lifeguard and high school football player, and lied (note to fact-checkers doing their research: Biden lies are called gaffes) about being on the University of Delaware football team. His vice presidential physicals mention multiple aneurysms. Asthma, no. And Joe said “You have somebody who thinks it’s alright to have somebody go in his place into a deadly war and is willing to pretend to be disabled to do it. That is an assault on the honor of this country.” Almost vice president Senator Tammy Duckworth, who was wounded in Iraq because she did not have asthma, called Trump a “coward.” But not Joe, got it?

    Same thing with sexual harassment. Fun for awhile, but Biden’s treatment of women means it’s a no-touch zone from now on. Go Google “Anita Hill” and you’ll get it. Same for “Tara Reade.” Tara’s been telling people since the 1990‘s Biden stuck his fingers in her private place unwanted, which is the same as Trump “grabbing them by the pussy” but maybe not. This will all get a little harder to pretend away when we spend the autumn replaying Kamala pounding #BelieveWomen into Americans’ skulls and tearing into Brett Kavanaugh for being a rapey high school kid but we pulled it off with Bill Clinton in 2016 and we can do it again.

    Kamala, wasn’t she fierce and nasty in cross-examining Brett Kavanaugh! And she tore new ones when Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr had their confirmation hearings, too. A street fighter! Let’s say that and not focus on the fact that she failed and all three men were confirmed, sort of like in her old world criminals were released back on the street because the prosecutor sounded good on the teevee but actually failed to make a real case as if she was doing it more for her than you which we acknowledge sounds sorta bad when you say it that way.

    Corruption used to be a good one to use against Trump. Unfortunately, after leaving the Obama White House, Joe and his wife made more than $15 million, mostly via sweetheart book deals. In fact, Joe and his wife made nearly twice as much in 2017 as they did in the previous 19 years combined. The University of Pennsylvania gave Joe $775,000 to teach, and then was nice enough to offer him indefinite leave of absence from actually teaching. And sure, Biden charges the Secret Service $2,200 a month rent for a cottage on his property so they can protect him which sounds like Trump but well, isn’t. And there’s all that business with Joe and his son in Ukraine, and Joe and his son in China. But it’s not like Trump in any way. So talk about Beau, the dead soldier son, not the other one.

    And even though it was individual state governors, mostly Democrats, who closed your schools, threw you out of work, closed the bars, restaurants, bowling alleys, stores, beaches, gyms, and churches, and banned football, graduations, funerals, last visits with terminally ill loved ones, fathers at their child’s birth, and interstate travel while allowing BLM protests which did not in any way spread the virus, we need everyone to blame Trump. Simpler? OK, if Trump wins you are going to die.

     

    The Democratic vision is the most cynical of any in American history. It says “we have no vision” but you all need to square up and vote for a mediocre candidate with a AI-chosen running mate anyway. No real details of betterment through policy, no hope and change, no American dream, but a threat. As Michelle Obama said “If you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can.” In other words, vote for us or else.

    We’re about to really find out whether anyone would really be better than Trump. The Dems dangled Bernie and Warren and delivered a candidate from when Luke married Laura in the same voice a waitress uses when she says “Um, sorry, out of Coke. Diet Mr. Pibb OK?” Joe Biden is so old he’s lost the race for president twice already and comes off like grandpa putting himself out there for one last fling after Grandma Obama passed away. But think how hard this all was; the Democrats only had four years and couldn’t even get rid of Hillary in that time.

    But stay positive. Biden-Harris have four clean aces: 1) maybe Obama will come back for policy cameos; 2) Joe will probably die in office and Democrats will finally check the box with a backdoored first woman president; 3) Despite his drooling on his tie, Joe’s cognitive decline is no worse than Trump’s and 4) no matter what, he’s not Trump. The Democrats, who could have swung for the fence this time, are instead betting the house on that last one.

     

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    Economic Disparity and COVID in New York City

    August 23, 2020 // 2 Comments »

    The separateness in this city, New York, and by extension much of the nation curled around it from America’s eastern edge, stands out. There are the hyper-wealthy and there are the multi-generational permanent poor. New York has more of each than any other city in America. In writing about them it has been easy to stress how far apart they live, even though the mansions of the Upper West Side are less than a mile from the crack dealers uptown. The rich don’t ride public transportation, they don’t send their kids to public schools, they shop and dine in very different places with private security to ensure everything stays just far enough apart to keep it all together.

    But that misses the dependencies that until now have simply been a given in the ecosystem. The traditional view of this applied to New York has been the rich need the poor to exploit as cheap labor, textbook economic inequality. But with COVID as the spark, the bomb of economic inequality may soon Beruit America’s greatest city. Things are changing and New York needs to ask itself what it wants to be when it grows up.

    It’s simple. New York is populated by the incredibly wealthy and the incredibly poor. The wealthy and the companies they work for pay most of the taxes. The poor do not work, or are underemployed, and consume most of the taxes through social programs. COVID is driving the wealthy and their offices out of the city. No one will be left to pay for the poor, who are stuck here, and the city will collapse in the transition. A classic failed state scenario. The new social contract.

    New York City is home to 118 billionaires, more than any other American city. New York City is also home to nearly one million millionaires, more than any other city in the world. Among those millionaires some 8,865 are classified as “high net worth,” with more than $30 million each.

    They pay the taxes. The top one percent of NYC taxpayers pay nearly 50 percent of all personal income taxes collected in New York. Personal income tax in the New York Metro-Region accounts for 59 percent of all revenues. Property taxes property taxes amount to more than billion dollars a year in revenue, about half of that from office space.

    Now for how the other half lives. Below those wealthy people in every sense of the word city has the largest homeless population of any American metropolis, to include 114,000 children. The number of New Yorkers living below the poverty line is larger than the population of Philadelphia, and would be the country’s 7th largest city. More than 400,000 New Yorkers reside in public housing. Another 235,000 receive rent assistance. The Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City is North America’s largest housing project with 3,142 apartments.

    That all costs a lot of money. The New York City Housing Authority says it needs $24 billion over the next decade just for vital repairs. That’s on top of a standing cost approaching $4 billion a year just to keep current housing operating. A lot of the money used to come from the Federal government before a multibillion-dollar decline in federal Section 9 funds. Today there is a shortfall and repairs, including lead removal, are being put off.

    NYC also has a $34 billion budget for public schools, many of which function as distribution points for child food aid, medical care, day care, and a range of social services. Costs for unemployment payouts are up dramatically because of COVID. The budget for a city as complex as New York is huge, a mess of federal, state, and local funding sources, multi-year grants. It can be sliced and diced many ways, but the one that matters is the simplest: the people and companies who pay for New York’s poor are leaving. The city is already facing a $7.4 billion tax revenue hit from the initial effects of the coronavirus. The money is there; New York’s wealthiest individuals have increased their net worth by $44.9 billion during the pandemic. It’s just not here.

    New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo has seen a bit of the iceberg in the distance. He recently took to MSNBC to beg the city’s wealthy, who fled the coronavirus outbreak, to return. Cuomo said he was extremely worried about New York City weathering COVID if too many of the well-heeled taxpayers who fled decide there is no need to move back. “They are in their Hamptons homes, or Hudson Valley or Connecticut. I talk to them literally every day. I say. ‘When are you coming back? I’ll buy you a drink. I’ll cook. But they’re not coming back right now. And you know what else they’re thinking, if I stay there, they pay a lower income tax because they don’t pay the New York City surcharge. So, that would be a bad place if we had to go there.”

    Included in the surcharge are not only NYC’s notoriously high taxes. The recent repeal of the federal allowance for state and local tax deductions (SALT) costs New York’s high earner tax filers some $15 billion in additional federal taxes annually.

    “They don’t want to come back to the city,” Partnership for NYC President Kathryn Wylde warned. “It’s hard to move a company… but it’s much easier for individuals to move,” she said, noting that most offices plan to allow remote work indefinitely. “It’s a big concern that we’re going to lose more of our tax base then we’ve already lost.”

    While overall only 5 percent of residents left the city as of May, in the city’s very wealthiest blocks residential population decreased by 40 percent or more. Across the city the higher-earning a neighborhood is, the more likely it is to have emptied out. Even the amount of trash collected in wealthy neighborhoods has dropped, a tell-tale sign no one is home. A real estate agent told me she estimates about a third of the apartments in my mid-range 300 unit building are empty. The ones for sale or rent attract few customers. She says it’s worse than post-9/11 because at least then the mood was “How do we get NYC back?” instead of now, when we just stand over the body and tsk tsk through our masks.

    Enough New Yorkers are running toward the exits that it has shaken up the area’s housing market. Another real estate agent describes the frantic, hypercompetitive bidding in the nearby New Jersey suburbs as a “blood sport.” “We are seeing 20 offers on houses. We are seeing things going 30 percent over the asking price. It’s kind of insane.”

    Fewer than one-tenth of Manhattan office workers have returned to the workplace a month after New York gave businesses the green light to return to the buildings they ran from in March. Having had several months to notice what not paying Manhattan office rents might do for their bottom line, large companies are virtually leaving. Despite the folky image of New York as a paradise of Mom and Pop restaurants and quaint shops, about 50 percent of those who pay most of the taxes work for large firms. More Fortune 500 companies, 71, have their headquarters in NYC, than any other city in America. They are keeping their employees working from home. Conde Nast, the publishing company and majority client in the signature new World Trade Center, is moving out. Since the coronavirus hit the office has largely been vacant anyway and the publisher has given no indication when workers will return.

    It is no better in other sectors. A third of NYC’s small businesses are closing. On Madison Avenue in the ultra-rich 60s and 70s blocks most lux stores are closed. Retail foot traffic is down 85 percent from a year ago. The former customers are in Connecticut and the Hamptons, and so major art galleries have shuttered their city locations to open branches where the rich have relocated. Neiman Marcus is closing its flagship store in Hudson Yards. Tourism, once worth $70 billion a year, has fallen to near zero.

    Meanwhile, progressive Mayor De Blasio has lost touch with his city. After years of failing to address economic inequality by simply throwing free money to the poor and limiting the ability of the police to protect them, and us, from rising crime, his COVID focus has been on shutting down schools and converting 139 luxury hotels to filthy homeless shelters. Alongside AOC, he has called for higher taxes and more federal funds, neither of which is coming. As for the wealthy who have paid for his social justice experiments to date, he says “We don’t make decisions based on a wealthy few. Some may be fair-weathered friends, but they will be replaced by others.”

    What others? The concentration of major corporations once pulled talent to the city from across the globe; if you wanted to work for JP Morgan on Wall Street, you had to live here. That’s why NYC has skyscrapers; a lot of people once needed to live and especially work in the same place. Not any more. Technology and work-at-home changes have eliminated geography.

    For the super wealthy, New York once topped the global list of desirable places to live based on four factors: wealth, investment, lifestyle and future. The first meant a desire to live among other wealthy people (we know where that’s headed), investment returns on real estate (not looking great, if you can even find a buyer), lifestyle (now destroyed with bars, restaurants, shopping, museums, and theatres closed indefinitely, coupled with rising crime) and…

    The future. New York pre-COVID had the highest projected GDP growth of any city. Now we’re left with the question if COVID continues to hollow out the city, who will be left to pay for New York? As one commentator said, NYC risks leading America into becoming “Brazil with Nukes,” a future of constant political and social chaos, with a ruling class content to wall itself off from the greater society’s problems.

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    Nothing is Fun Anymore (MAFA! Make America Fun Again)

    August 9, 2020 // 2 Comments »


     
    Nothing is fun anymore.
     
    And this isn’t nostalgia, some 1500 words which amount to get off my lawn. Lawns used to be fun. You’d sit on them, play lawn games on them. Now they’re part of the defensive perimeter around your home to help protect your family. But having a family is no fun; America ranked second to last among industrialized nations, behind even Bulgaria and Chile, as a place to raise children.

    Maybe it’s more fun where you are. I don’t know because like in the Middle Ages travel is no fun. America is the world’s largest leper colony. What’s open? Is the local custom masked or unmasked? Can a stranger find a place to eat inside if it’s raining? States restrict travel with quarantines which must violate the boring commerce clause parts of the Constitution somehow. We rely on the odd sojourner to bring us information from the outside. Check the news; is the Middle East still around?
     
    The news hasn’t been fun for a long time. Now even the old standards like the Washington Post produce what is basically tattle fodder for social media. I don’t know who Anonymous Source is, but he seems to be behind most of the articles. We’re treated to tales of what Trump says on the phone, inside the Oval Office, in private to his wife, as if the reporters are fused to the man’s back. Nobody seems to ask “how could they possibly know that?” Of course the reporter made it up, or they allowed themselves to quote the friend of an intern who made it up and call that “journalism.” Op-Eds opinion were fun before they all flopped into undergrad quality work announcing it’s Weimar, or Rome, or Hitler, or 1984 when at worst it’s closer to a bad Fellini movie.

    Journalism is no longer fun. Whatever bit of it was objective has been swept away by people who are so certain they alone understand the great Rights and Wrongs that reporting is now aspirational writing, using manipulated droplets of fact to drive events. “Journos” see their job as manufacturing reasons for Trump to resign, to fail, or to press Democrats to impeach, or trying to persuade slack-jawed yokel voters they otherwise hold in contempt that they don’t know what’s good for them. After four years of the sky not falling, it is exhausting to still have to wade through articles headlined with words like bonkers, meltdown, owned, trolled, canceled, boycotted, destroyed, shames, and sociopath which bark about defeats and collapses and failures. Everything is about fixing the blame on someone (Trump, usually) and little about fixing the problem. Apocalypse Now articles such as “We Do Not Have a Real Democracy,” which warns “Trump and his regime are engaged in a white supremacist counter revolution against the civil rights movement,” are repetitive resistance porn. There are only so many positions, so many scenarios, and they no longer impress, never mind shock.

    Where once the senior staff at the New York Times reminded reporters they were “not part of the f*cking resistance,” NYT editor Bari Weiss’ resignation letter confirms that today in fact the Times is indeed part of the resistance. “Truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else,” she writes of her former colleagues. On the slightly hopeful but not fun side, the editors of the Wall Street Journal announced to their whining staff via social media “We are not the NYT… our opinion pages offer an alternative to the uniform progressive views that dominate nearly all of today’s media.”
     
    Social media isn’t fun anymore. We used to complain it was too much of someone’s aunt posting cat pictures. Now it’s work for many; someone has to be staying up photoshopping Jeffrey Epstein into shots of politicians they don’t like. I guess that’s what “bots” do, make all the bad stuff for other bots to forward around until it bumps into a real person and, I don’t know, makes that person into a unfun Russkie zombie who must vote Trump. Everyone else on social media just spends their days seeking out contrary opinions so they can reply with what they think is wit. “You suck” is now an allowable thesis defense.

    Arguing used to be fun. We once enjoyed stayed up late drinking warm beer and arguing politics with actual living people (our ancestors referred to them as friends. Friends used to be fun, people even, not a scrolling list of unknown followers.) You could disagree with what someone said without having to destroy him as a human being. Once you could talk about ideas over a drink at a bar without having to swipe the smudge off your face of being called a fascist by a complete stranger. So we clam up. Some 62 percent of Americans say the political climate prevents them from saying what they believe. It’s especially true for conservatives, 34 percent of whom are worried their political views could get them fired. Which is why political polls aren’t fun anymore.

    Listening used to be fun because you heard new ideas. Listening now means waiting for the other person to pause and then you shouting “Mansplaining!” into the void between you two. Or typing “Whitesplaining!” We argue mostly online anyway and it sounds like third graders trying to prove which ice cream flavor is best. Like this: “56 percent of the government leans left.” “Source?” “Here’s a link.” “I don’t trust them.” “You suck.” And that’s from your mother. She’s now an Old White Person you’d like to see sent off for re-education.

    Education used to be fun. Who are we and how did we get here? Do old books have anything to say? What happened in China a couple of hundred years ago that might be handy to know before I read another “The East is Red and They’re Coming for You” article. Truth was arrived at via a complex process involving the naked search for facts. Now education seems mostly about pronouncing a conclusion — literature is a construct of patriarchal bastards who hate puppies — and filling in the justification with anecdotes of lived experience appropriated carefully among female, POC, and disabled scholars.
     
    The term POC is less fun because it really means black folks with a couple of “Hispanics” thrown in as statistical garnishes. The word Hispanic seems about as racist as they come but we can’t talk about the cultural goosestepping lumping people from Puerto Rico, Bolivia, Salvador, Cuba, and a dozen other places but not Spaniards (who were racist conquerors) together as if various Pantones of brown skin and a common enjoyment of spicy food negates everything unique. Never mind the “Asians” who are dipped in and out of the POC hopper as needed. Look at New York, where the best of the magnet public institutions, Ivy League procurer Stuyvesant High School, is seen as a racist demon because it is 73 percent “Asian” and only one percent black. Isn’t it good enough there’s only a few white kids? Not that the Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, and Thais who make up the bulk of the student body have much in common except they know the black kids call them all chinks.

    Even capitalism used to be more fun when they just lied to us through advertising about sneakers made by slave laborers in Asia instead of pretending to support social justice to sell sneakers made by slave laborers in Asia.

    Elections used to be a lot of fun. You had the 19th century spectacle of conventions with goofy hats, and rituals like rich WASPy candidates being forced to eat corn dogs at the Iowa State Fair and talk about hogs before spiking Purell right into their veins. Now it’s just a referendum on which candidate is further into cognitive decline. They used to at least try to distinguish themselves; now Biden’s entire campaign is based on him being one of several billion people who are Not Trump. No Morning in America, no Hope and Change, just Not Something, all the appeal of the smell of dead insects.

    Election Night itself also used to be fun, the Superbowl of politics, years of campaigning coming down to one big night. It was fun to stay up late. Now we know we won’t have results of days or weeks because we cling to an 18th century balloting system because in the 21st century we don’t trust computers. We’ve also been acclimated to one or both sides insisting the results are unfair because the Post Office is part of a vast conspiracy, so that actual voting is only overture, raw material for the propaganda fight that proceeds the court fight that ends with half of the country insisting the popular vote counts for something because they all failed 8th grade civics. The kids who didn’t pay attention in 8th grade civics weren’t any fun, even then.

    Years ago it was fun when my wife said she wished I looked like Billy Joel and, fat and bald, now I do. Robert De Niro and Johnny Depp used to be fun. Working from home used to be fun, like a snow day from school. Human Resources used to be fun, calculating your vacation days, before they became the Diversity Daleks waiting to get you fired for mispronouning. Thanksgiving used to be fun, a holiday without expectations that devolved into a yearly political Thunderdome. Groundhog Day used to be fun before it became real summerbating away months. I used to be fun until I was morphed by virtue seekers into a supervillain, Caucasian Man. My evil superpower is a conformity ray I blast at POC and women. Everything was more fun before community organizer, activist, social influencer, and YouTuber became actual jobs. Sports was fun when it was about sports. America was more fun when the national pastime was not “raising awareness.” Tequila used to be fun before it became an obligation.
     
    I accept America has suffered from a four year episode of PTSD and we all need to weather out another couple of months. But we’re the only nation who wrote pursuing happiness right into our foundational documents. You don’t see that from, meh, Canada or Sweden, so how come they’re happy and we’re not? So if Biden wins in November, can we agree to just forget this whole ugly era like a drunken makeout session? Or if Trump wins, will it be another four years of being told democracy is dying, every day day-to-day in Code Red until you just give up and have to laugh at it all. And that would be no fun at all.

      

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    My Reparations

    August 2, 2020 // 4 Comments »


     
    My great grandfather was a slave. He died May 7, 1943 alongside most of his loved ones in the Sobibor concentration camp, about 120 miles from Warsaw. So I’ve been thinking a lot about reparations.
     
    One son and his family escaped  years earlier to America. Ernst and Julinka (pictured) arrived with no special skills, and proved to be imperfect people, with their marriage falling apart not long after arrival in New York. About the best we can say is they brought their five-year-old son with them. My father. He naturalized as a teen, making me the first native born American in the family and later, the first to get an advanced degree. Immigrants, we get the job done, right?

    Through a happenstance discussion with a former German diplomat, a change in German law dealing with loss of citizenship under Nazi persecution may mean I am a German citizen by birth, transmitted through my father. The adjudication process is complex and success not assured decades after the fact, but as the diplomat said, “We cannot undo the past. We cannot raise the dead. But we can offer you this, citizenship, something we hold dear.” A reparation.

     

    Nazi reparations, with well over $60 billion paid out, are the gold standard, and fall into three broad categories.

    The first leg of reparation was financial support to the Israel. By 1956 Germany was supplying over 87 percent of Israel’s state revenue.

    The second leg was direct payments. There are multiple programs, established through the ongoing NGO-like Claims Conference, to payments to elderly survivors, those needing medical care, payments to children swept up with their parents, payments to victims of medical experiments, claims for looted art, and more. The payments vary, but are modest, thousands of dollars. The amounts are unlikely to change many lives economically, but they are symbols. As one head of the Claims Conference said, “It has never been about the money. It was always about recognition.”

    These payments are directed at those who directly suffered.  Though payments continue for the life of the victim, they are not given to later generations (though in some cases surviving spouses continue to be paid.) So I have no claim to Holocaust money. Reparations went to the individuals harmed, not to the dead and not to the living generations removed. My extended family got nothing; they were all dead.

    The final leg of German reparations is what might be called atonement. Germany’s postwar Constitution outlawed hate symbols, specifically the swastika. In 1952 Germany officially apologized for Nazi crimes. The explicit story of WWII is taught in schools and memorials and museums expose the horrors of the Third Reich. Modern Germans know their history. And for me, the possibility of being extended German citizenship makes for a small part of all that.

    Another important element of the financial side of Nazi reparations is much of the money comes from direct perpetrators of the crimes. French and Swiss banks had held funds deposited by now dead Jews seeking to hide them from the Nazis. After the war the banks tried to keep the money but were forced to pay it into reparation accounts. Insurance companies that refused to pay beneficiaries on the specious ground that premiums were not kept current while policyholders were in concentration camps were made to contribute. Hundreds of German and Austrian companies that employed slave laborers paid up. It was an imperfect process; in 1999, class action lawsuits against slave users Deutsche Bank, Siemens, BMW, Volkswagen, and Opel failed, though the German government and industrial groups agreed separately to compensate former slaves for forced labor they performed during the war. Again the amounts were small, in the thousands of dollars.

     

    And so we come to America, where BLM and others are demanding reparations for slavery reaching back as far as 400 years. Unlike the Nazi system, as well as the reparations the U.S. paid to Japanese-American internees (payments went to survivors and a very limited number of descendants) and to victims of horrid syphilis experiments at Tuskegee University (payments went to survivors, spouses, and children), financial reparations are envisioned on a broad scale, as wide as paying something to the 37 million blacks in America, not a single one of which is closer than multiple generations to enslavement. The majority who believe they are descendants of slaves do so based on family lore; how many can documentarily connect back 400 years to a slave without a last name who was told he’d be called “George” after he waded ashore in Virginia?

    The scale of slavery reparations and the amount of time passed since enslavement also means unlike Germany, 100 percent of America’s reparations would be paid out of the general pool of Federal taxes collected from 21st century relatives of slave owners, recent immigrants, minority business owners, and ironically from descendents of slaves themselves. Does anything say “white supremacy” clearer than forcing modern blacks to pay for their own reparations? The money large or small otherwise has about as much meaning to those from whom it is taken as a spoonful of hot spit. Divided among so many descendants with vague connections to their distant enslaved relatives, it is like figuring how many inches of interstate highway your taxes paid for. Modern reparations are as separated from the reality of ownership and of being owned as 400 years will allow. If reparations are symbolic, these would be near meaningless.

    There isn’t space here to discuss the reparations inherent in the Civil Rights Acts and the Great Society, trillions spent on benefits to blacks, as well as existing racial preferences in federal contracting, affirmative action, job quotas, and educational admissions. There isn’t space here to talk about the massive practical problems of raising additional reparations money and creating a distribution system for payments. Nor is there room to enlarge the story as it needs to be and ask what amends are owed by Arab, African, and European slavers, shipping companies, and banks, never mind the European textile manufacturers who profited mightily off cheap cotton. Few are ready to talk about the slave trade of the Portuguese supported by American and European companies, which sent forced laborers into the cane fields of the Caribbean and South America to profit in part American sugar refiners and rum makers. Less than five percent of African slaves went to the U.S. Slavery was a massive interconnected global system.

    In reality any reparations for slavery will need to be of the atonal kind we see in Germany. Much of this is already hard on the ground. We have the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall. America’s commitment to free speech makes it unlikely hate symbols, such as the Confederate flag and swastika, will ever be banned outright (the Supreme Court consistently refuses to create a “hate speech” carve out in the 1A) but clearly a cultural corner has been turned which will see those symbols have less and less place in mainstream society.

    An apology is overdue; just words of course, but words are sometimes all we have. President Reagan apologized to Japanese-American internees in 1988. Bill Clinton in 1997 apologized to the people affected by government medical experiments conducted at Tuskegee University in the 1930s. Though nine states, including Alabama, North Carolina, and Virginia, have formally apologized for slavery, during the Obama administration the House and Senate passed bipartisan resolutions of apology but failed to reconcile the two versions. Obama, a coward when courage called, chose not to apologize without that political support.

     

    So the question is: does BLM want to move forward or remain in the past? Financial reparations at this point accomplish nothing. They do not compensate the victims, they do not punish the slavers, they would be in any amount too little too late, an almost shallow act. The form reparations must take, atonement, is partially underway and will someday include a formal apology. The problem is that such actions are meant to — their actual purpose is to — provide closure, an endpoint to allow a new starting point. One never forgets the past, the dead are always with us and we build memorials and tell their stories to ensure that, but we accept some sort of ending to empower the living to shoulder the responsibility of going on.

    Will BLM do that, or is there still political fodder in ensuring slavery remains a scab to be picked as necessary, crisscrossing the same lines like a figure skater, to be blamed for everything from COVID deaths to low SAT scores, to forever remain a collar? Are they ready to stop being victims, responsibility of their fate outside their control? Reparations carries with it an agreement to heal; the line is not never forgive, it is never forget.

    It will be a long time before I hear whether I qualify for German citizenship. Nothing will replace an extended family I will never know, nothing will displace the dark spaces inside my complex father, but I am anxious to see what does change if I become a German citizen. So I’ve been thinking a lot about reparations.

      

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    How Much Do Black LIves Matter?

    July 18, 2020 // 4 Comments »


     
    James Powell was 15-years-old when one hard summer the NYPD killed him.
     
    He’d been sitting on a apartment building stoop with some other black teenagers when the building superintendent grew frustrated and sprayed them with a garden hose after the kids refused to leave. A cop arrived, claimed Powell had a knife, and shot him twice. No one saw a knife but the cop. A quick ambulance response might have saved Powell’s life but ambulances don’t arrive quickly in that part of town. The cop was cleared by a grand jury. He’d previously shot two other people in the line of duty.

    If you don’t recognize the name James Powell it might be because he was killed in 1964, just two weeks after the Civil Rights Act passed . His death lead to Project Uplift, which you also are unlikely to have heard of, a War on Poverty program to create jobs in Harlem. A few years later the streets not far from where Powell was killed were renamed for Adam Clayton Powell, Malcolm X, and Dr. Martin Luther King. In 2020 “Black Lives Matter” was painted in bold letters on one of the streets nearby. You can now even ask Alexa and she will respond, “Black lives matter. I believe in racial equality.”

    That black people’s lives matter isn’t debatable, but how much do they really matter is a real question. It would be beyond cynical to make a Groundhog Day remark out of James Powell’s life and aftermath but not beyond the truth.

     

    The rioting and protests across New York City has in a way succeeded in one of its specific goals, to defund the police. On June 15 the city closed down the NYPD’s plainclothes anti-crime unit, 600 cops tasked with preventing violent street crime. Once described as elite by Mayor Bill de Blasio, the unit responsible for the choke hold that killed Eric Garner was seen by the black community as a left-over from the stop-and-frisk era. They were the successor to the Street Crimes Unit closed down in 2002 following the fatal shooting of Amadou Diallo. A federal probe found they profiled people of color along the road to ending the destruction of the city during the 1980s.

    Two days after the latest unit fell victim to BLM, party DJ Jomo Glasgow was gunned down at a house party in Brooklyn. His shooting was part of a 205 percent increase in shootings in NYC so far in 2020, the bloodiest toll since 1996.

    Adding to the current day carnage are two other fulfilled BLM demands, the mass release of prisoners due to COVID risks in city jails and the ending of bail for most misdemeanors and non-violent felonies. Persons released under bail reform went on to commit 299 additional major crimes. The shootings in NYC are in predominantly black neighborhoods. And there lies the failure of BLM successes: they take black lives that matter.

     

    Other BLM demands center on money for food, housing, and justice. Over the last 50 years (federal, state and local) governments spent more than $16 trillion to fight poverty. In 2012 that amounted to $20,610 for every poor person in America. Here in NYC, one out of every 14 people already lives in public housing, with the average resident staying 18 years. In a city where the overall population is 26 percent black, 45 percent of those in public housing are black. Food aid? Predominantly in black areas. More than 70 percent of black children are born to single mothers (the average for all other groups is 41 percent.) Children in a single parent family are five times more likely to be poor than children growing up in married‐​couple families. Black lives matter of course but maybe not to many black fathers. Poverty levels among blacks are largely unchanged over decades. The money didn’t help because it was supposed to be a helping hand, not create a victim’s lifestyle, and no one wants to admit the cash outlays from the Great Society and War on Poverty are the only reparations which will ever be paid.

    The modern case for more reparations is made by Nikole Hannah-Jones, a hero of BLM after her work in the NYT’s alt-history 1619 Project. Hannah-Jones, where those before her stumbled, has found the specific thing reparations is going to fix: economic inequality for blacks. In What Is Owed she writes “While unchecked discrimination still plays a significant role in shunting opportunities for black Americans, it is white Americans’ centuries-long economic head start that most effectively maintains racial caste today.” To fix that means to her reparations.

    Hannah-Jones is going to need a helluva lot of money. There are some 37 million blacks in America. Offer each $20,000 in reparations. That’s $740,000,000,000, about a thousand times the current defense budget. And it won’t pay much rent in NYC, where the median household income is $63,000, never mind close any gap in economic inequality. There is no case for reparations resolving any real-world problem except maybe white guilt.

     

    The basic ideology of BLM is flawed. Blacks killing blacks is called a distraction. Single families are irrelevant. Mountains of money spent just seem to mean more money is needed. But the biggest flaw is BLM removes responsibility from the black community. Nikole Hannah-Jones inadvertently sums it up best: “There are no actions that black Americans can take unilaterally that will have much of an effect on reducing the wealth gap.”

    The BLM narrative is following the Civil War systemic racism was willfully instituted across the nation to keep blacks oppressed. The splay of problems, especially multi-generational poverty and crime, is not the fault of black people. It is something created (and thus the “fault”) of white people and it must be resolved by white people. BLM is a “to do” list of things white people must do. Protests are designed to get whytepiople working on that.

    Coupled with the lack of personal responsibility is the BLM emphasis on pranks and symbols.  Streets are renamed, BLM painted on murals, Gone With the Wind sent down the memory hole, and every TV show, movie, and ad seeded by boycott threats with an ever-growing palette of POC. Go ahead, keep going: show us videos of Karens calling 911, teach history from Broadway musicals, cancel all celebrities, tear down all the statues, rename Columbus, Ohio to Wakanda, rename everything. History shows it all means nothing because it has changed little. James Powell was killed in 1964.

    The BLM narrative is a sweeping view of 400 years of history where the parts fit together like Legos from that first slave wading ashore in 1619 to killing in Minneapolis in 2020, some sort of Protocols of the Elders of White Bread. It ignores how an alleged white supremacist society has over time made its peace to accommodate and promote other minorities, Asians, people from the Indian subcontinent, Cubans and Hispanics among them, albeit unequally, and overcome waves of hate and racism against, in no particular order, the Irish, the Jews, the Catholics, the Italians, women, gays, and streams of refugees, never mind comfortably elect a black president twice and give him two black attorneys general. If we are white supremacists with systemic armor, we have done a really bad job of it.

    One would think a fundamentally racist society worried about losing majority control would not be so generous. The argument that none of those groups grandfathered into the American Dream were ever slaves — the supposed one thing which sets blacks apart — depends on all of us believing a society of immigrants recreates racism anew with each generation, holding a grudge for 400 years over something none of their relatives had anything to do with.

    In NYC, Spanish Harlem is full of warm mom and pop cuchifritos restaurants while black Harlem is infected with corporate fast food. The corner store bodegas which straddle neighborhood borders were once owned by Eastern European Jews who gave way to the Italians, then Indians, Koreans, and now Yemenis. Whole Dominican families run dry goods shops in black neighborhoods. Are they all racist? Is everyone in on it? The whole BLM narrative rejects Dr. King’s dream of insistence on content of character. Skin color is everything and race goes from being one important issue to something that matters more than anything else. Being black becomes so controlling of destiny it can only be fixed by whites.

     

    The horrors of slavery are endless, made worse because no matter how many times retold, history frustratingly cannot be changed. Discrimination is part of American society as it is in every society and must be fought. But a narrative that says black people have little personal responsibility when a random white guy with no historical or family connection to slavery does, one which demands someone else fix things (mostly with free money), one which is so childishly and regularly diverted by ultimately empty symbolic gestures, cannot succeed.

    James Powell was killed in 1964 and everyone is still saying and doing the same thing expecting different results. That’s what matters.

      

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    Notes from the American Cultural Revolution

    July 11, 2020 // 1 Comment »


     
    Is America on the edge of a cultural revolution? After the failure to change so many times (say their names for a complete list) is society ready to take action against racism? Or is it just about statues again?

     

    I’m ambivalent about statues being torn down per se, but terrified of the thought process behind the destruction. Decisions should never be made by mobs. That happens alongside the rewriting of history to fit a narrative (see The 1619 Project) and the banning of books which challenge the conformist view of Blue Check Twitter. To hell with the statues of J.K. Rowling, but fear the thought which destroys them.

    The historical namesake and obvious parallel for all this is the Cultural Revolution in China, 1966-1976. Its stated goal was to purge capitalist and revisionist/traditional elements from society, and to substitute a new way of thinking based on Mao’s own thoughts. The epic struggle for control and power used the currency of the way people thought, seeking to emulsify meaning by waging war against anybody on the wrong side of an idea.

    To set the mobs on someone one would only have to tie him to an official blacklist like the Four Olds (old customs, culture, habits, and ideas.) China’s young people and urban workers formed Red Guard units to go after whomever was outed. Violence? Yes, please. When Mao launched the movement in May 1966 he told his mobs to “bombard the headquarters” and made clear “to rebel is justified.” He said “revisionists should be removed through violent class struggle.” The old thinkers were everywhere and were systematically trying to preserve the elements of their power, subjugation of the people through culture being one of them.

    Whetted, the mobs took the task to heart: Red Guards destroyed historical relics, statues, and artifacts, and ransacked cultural and religious sites. Libraries were burned. Religion was considered a tool of capitalists so churches were destroyed, and even the Temple of Confucius was wrecked. Eventually the Red Guards moved on to openly killing people who did not think as they determined. Where were the police? The cops were told not to intervene in Red Guard activities. Enforcement hardly mattered; the national police chief pardoned Red Guards for their crimes anyway.

    Education was singled out, as it was the way the old values were preserved and transmitted. Teachers, particularly those at universities, were considered the “Stinking Old Ninth” and were widely persecuted. The lucky ones just suffered the public humiliation of shaved heads while others were tortured. Many were slaughtered or harassed into suicide. Schools and universities were eventually just closed down and over 10 million former students were sent to the countryside to perform hard labor in the Down to the Countryside Movement. A lost generation was left to fester, uneducated.

    The Red Guard pogroms eventually included cannibalization of revisionists in Guangxi. After all, as Mao said, a revolution is not a dinner party.

     

    The Cultural Revolution destroyed China’s economy and traditional culture, leaving behind a death toll ranging from one to 20 million. Nobody really knows. The Revolution was a war on the way people could think, and the Red Guard a mob set loose as its warriors. It failed. One immediate consequence of the Revolution’s failure was the rise in power of the military when regular people had had enough and wanted order restored. And oh yeah, China became even more of a capitalist society than it ever imagined in pre-Revolution days. Oh well.

    That’s probably a longer version of events than a column like this would usually feature. A tragedy on the scale of the Holocaust in terms of human lives, an attempt to destroy culture on a level that would embarrass the Taliban and titillate BLM, this topic is not widely taught in American colleges. I had the honor of speaking to an elderly Chinese academic who had been forced out of her classroom to the countryside and made to sleep outside with the animals during the Revolution. She recalled long forced self-criticism sessions which required her to guess at her crimes, as she had done nothing more than teach literature, a kind of systematic revisionism in that it espoused beliefs her tormentors thought contributed to the rotten society. She also had to write out long apologies for being who she was. She personally was held responsible for four thousand years of oppression of the masses. Our meeting was last year, before white guilt became a whole category on Netflix, but I wonder if she’d see how similar it all is.

    And small world — students in China are again outing teachers, sometimes via cellphone video, for “improper speech,”  teaching hurtful things from the past using the wrong vocabulary. Other Chinese intellectuals are harassed online for holding outlier positions, or lose jobs for teaching novels with the wrong values. Once shunned as anti-free speech, most UC Berkeley students would likely now agree such steps are proper. And in Minnesota To Kill A Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn are banned because in historical settings fictional characters use a racial slur sadly common then.

    There are no statues to the Cultural Revolution here or in China to trigger a discussion. Nobody builds monuments to chaos. But it’s never really about the statues anyway. In America we moved quickly from demands to tear down the statues of Robert E. Lee to Thomas Jefferson to basically any Caucasian, including “White Jesus.” It was never going to stop with confederate generals because it was not really about racism, any more than the Cultural Revolution was really about capitalism. This is about rewriting history for political ends, both short-term power grabs (Not Trump for 2020!) and longer term societal changes one critic calls the “successor ideology,” the melange of academic radicalism now seeking hegemony throughout American institutions. Author Douglas Murray is more succinct. The purpose “is to embed a new metaphysics into our societies: a new religion.” The ideas — centered on there being only one accepted way of thought — are not noble. They are a cynical tool of control.

     

    It remains to be seen where America goes next in its own nascent cultural revolution. Like slow dancing in 8th grade, maybe nothing is going to come of it. These early stages, where the victims are Uncle Ben, Aunt Jemima, someone losing her temper while walking a dog in Central Park, and canceled celebrities, are a far cry from the millions murdered for the same goals in China. Much of what appears revolutionary today is just Internet pranking and common looting amplified by an agendaized media. One writer sees “cancel culture as a game, the point of which is to impose unemployment on people as a form of recreation.” B-list celebs and Karens in the parking lot are easy enough targets. Ask the Red Guards; it’s fun to break things.

    Still, the intellectual roots of our revolution and China’s seem similar: the hate of the old, the need for unacceptable ideas to be disappeared in the name of social progress, intolerance toward dissent, violence to enforce conformity. In America these are well-set in our universities, and spreading outward so that everywhere today — movies, TV, publishing, news, ads, sports — is an Oberlin where in the name of free speech “hate speech” is banned, and in the name of creating safety dangerous ideas and the people who hold them are not only not discussed, they are canceled, shot down via the projectile of the heckler’s veto, unfriended, demonetized, deleted, deplatformed, demeaned, chased after by mobs real and online in a horrible blend of self-righteousness and cyber bullying. They don’t believe in a marketplace of ideas. Ideas to the mob are right or wrong and the “wrong” ones must be banished. The choices to survive the mobs are conformity or silence. In China you showed conformity by carrying around Mao’s Little Red Book. In America you wear a soiled surgical mask.

    The philosophical spadework for an American Cultural Revolution is done. Switch the terms capitalism and revisionism with racism and white supremacy in some of Mao’s speeches and you have a decent stump speech text for a Black Lives Matter rally. Actually, you can actually keep Mao’s references to destroying capitalism, they track pretty closely with progressive thought in 2020 America.

    History is not there to make anyone feel safe or justify current theories about policing. History exists so we can learn from it, and for us to learn from it it has to exist for us to study it, to be offended and uncomfortable with it, to bathe in it, to taste it bitter or sweet. When you wash your hands of an idea you also lose all the ideas which grew to challenge it. Think of those as antibodies fighting a disease. What happens when they are no longer at the ready? What happens when a body forgets how to fight an illness? What happens when a society forgets how to challenge a bad idea with a better one? Ask the dead in China.

      

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    Will Trump EVER Leave?

    July 3, 2020 // 3 Comments »

    I’ve got a list of bookmarks as long as my fave drug store receipts declaring threats to the republic, end of democracy, and the arrival of dictatorship. When I turn on cable news, the end of America as we know it — the literal end, as in North Korean-style lives for us — is nearly a regular feature alongside weather and sports when we had sports. I’ve tried to make a little career out of debunking that fear mongering. But now I’m scared.

    Joe Biden announced his plans: Biden (who despite appearances is the Democratic candidate for president) said he is “absolutely convinced” the military may have to remove President Trump from the White House if he refuses to leave after losing November’s election. Joe warned “This president is going to try to steal this election… It’s my greatest concern.” Asked whether he’s thought about what would happen if he wins but Trump decides not to leave the White House, Biden responded: “Yes I have.” After mentioning the high-ranking former military officers who spoke out about Trump’s response to BLM protests, he went on: “I’m absolutely convinced they will escort him from the White House.” Biden has been saying this now for months.

    It’s one thing when for clicks goofy Michael Moore, Donny Deutsch or Bill Maher muse Trump will not leave if he loses, or an Op-Ed worries Trump will unleash nuclear apocalypse in some Strangelovian bid to stay in office. Nearly everyone on Autonomous Free Twitter knows the voting will be rigged. Some knucklehead wrote a book about it based on a fan fiction reading of the 12th Amendment. TDS poster child Lawrence Tribe even said it about the midterm elections two years ago. Democrats have voiced “concerns” Trump would use the coronavirus crisis to delay or delegitimize the election.

    But this is Joe Biden saying it: Trump will attempt some sort of unconstitutional coup. Joe Biden who was vice president twice. Joe Biden, Lion of the Senate, and for several centuries the gray representative of the credit card industry. Joe Biden who is not stupid, naive or dramatic.

     

    Biden is, however, just a pawn in the game. They’re setting it up, aren’t they?

    The NYT, as is its role, already fired several signal flares. They characterize Trump as a cornered despot, capable of anything to avoid losing. In another one article the Times announced “Trump Sows Doubt on Voting. It Keeps Some People Up at Night,” quoting a Georgetown University law professor “reactions have gone from, ‘Don’t be silly, that won’t happen,’ to an increasing sense of, ‘You know, that could happen.’” The professor even convened a group to brainstorm how Trump could disrupt the election and to think about ways to prevent it. They speculate Trump could declare a state of emergency, maybe COVID-related, in battleground states, banning polling places from opening. Or Attorney General Barr could Comey-like announce a criminal investigation into Biden.

    The online comment responses to the NYT articles were amazing. People are ready for this. They are convinced Trump is defunding the post office so no one can mail-in absentee ballots (which the left somehow imagines will all be for Biden), and that Trump is sending out coded signals to his militias to take to the streets if it looks like he is losing. One reader is more confident: “We have a National Guard to deal with Trump’s 2nd amendment people” though more than a few claim what happens in November “will depend on where the military’s loyalty lies.” Many think the Supreme Court is a tool in all this, with Kavanaugh a grateful lickspittle linchpin to enable a November coup through some sort of judicial invalidation of the election. Many seem certain Trump will face jail if he leaves office and thus will illegally stay in office to stay out of jail; one says “DJT knows that once voted out he will still have to answer to Putin.”

    That Americans think this way is scary enough. But here’s my nightmare.

    After a long October of rumors from sources about some Surprise (war with Iran, martial law in Seattle) fails to produce a surge in Never Trump voters, the media pivots to the cheating narrative. Trump is doing something with mail in ballots, black people can’t get to the polls in Georgia, the Attorney General in Kentucky will undercount urban areas. The media will explode like a ripe zit, splattering fake news, exaggerations, and experts, all with a single point to make: the results on election day will not be valid if Trump wins. Academics will fan the flames, bleating on about the importance of the popular vote and rehashing old arguments from 2016 about the invalidity of the Electoral College.

    All will be forgotten faster than Robert-What’s-His-Name-Mueller if Biden wins. But if by pre-2016 standards Trump is the winner, boom! The media will refuse to concede. The Dems will put a little lipstick on it with strident local court challenges, demands for recounts, emergency hearings in the House, but keep it out of the Supreme Court. Democrats don’t want a conclusion, they want a crisis. Trump will fulfill his standard role as his own worst enemy and hold rallies to re-declare victory over and over. But the story everywhere else will be Trump is not the president-elect, the election was not legitimate, and that orange bastard’s presence in the White House after January 20 will be a Konstitutional Krisis. Privately the Democratic power brokers will whisper something remarkably undemocratic other than accepting the results of the election has to be done to save our democracy.

    What happens after that is beyond guessing. A best case scenario is some party graybeards get through to an exhausted and befuddled Biden and talk him out of it. A bad scenario has Obama emerge under the guise of being a neutral party to negotiate a (Democratic Party) conclusion. A very bad scenario has the same third party actors who whipped Black Lives Matter protesters into a looting mob repeat the performance. By that point nearly everyone will demand the military step in for different reasons. A very, very bad scenario will have a real-world event intervene, like an enemy abroad taking advantage of the chaos. The need to act expeditiously will slip a “temporary” military government into place faster than CNN can play the Breaking News music.

     

    You believed Trump was a Russian sleeper agent but you’re calling me paranoid? In 2016 learned scholars tested legal theories the Electoral College was invalid, and created a Constitutional Frankenstein where the electors voted for Hillary based on the popular vote. The idea the election was invalid due to foreign influence sullies discussion still today, and one political writer continues to place an asterisk next to the term “President Trump*” to denote questionable claim to the title.

    For nearly four years the same forces that may declare 2020 invalid tried very hard to convince us 2016 already was. There are plenty of Hillary people (including Hillary) who have not accepted 2016. Has Stacey Adams really accepted her defeat yet? Think back to everything that happened during the last election, the gaming done by Comey and the FBI to influence results. Remember how the intelligence community manipulated Russiagate. Why wait for November 2020 to have a coup? We’re been in what Matt Taibbi calls a permanent coup for years. They’ve been practicing to declare 2020 illegitimate, trying out the arguments, teeing them up, trial balloons.

    Any of the those things would have been considered crazy talk only a few years ago. None would have ever passed into the mainstream. Compare Russiagate to the Great Obama Birth Certificate kerfuffle. The idea Obama was ineligible for office festered in right wing talk radio. It was dismissed as factless by just about everyone else. Fast forward to 2016+ and America’s paper of record is happy to front a story the president is subject to blackmail over a pee tape based on nothing but desperate hope it might be true.

     

    The critical tool for a potential end of democracy is peoples’ new conditioned readiness to believe almost anything. The media tells the world what’s important using a very narrow range of truth if available, or just makes things up if truth is not around to be manipulated. When outed, the MSM switches to something else, and though the specific previous topic no longer exists as fact, it devolves into as one part of a broad idea — Trump is bad. Like summing up a range of experiences to say “Yeah, good vacation to Italy.” The people remain on call to be upset about whatever the news says to be upset about next, such as “Trump stole the election.” It’s really very easy. Remember literally overnight the media had people convinced  protesting during lockdown was deadly and then (whoosh, silence=violence) not protesting during lockdown was deadly.

    We end up living exhausted, on knife’s edge, neck deep in cynicism, decline, and distrust. And scared. There are no facts anymore, only what people can be made to believe. That power was not well understood in 2016 and clumsily applied. Today it is ripe for exploitation far beyond generating clicks and ad revenue. I don’t think Trump will try to stay in office if he loses. But there are people who will tell us that to try and play on our fears to steal this election. That’s why I am finally scared.

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    Am I a Racist? Are You?

    June 27, 2020 // 4 Comments »


     
     
    Am I a racist? Are you?

    People tell me I sort of have to be a racist, it’s really not my choice. Today if you’re old, white, from the midwest, a bit conservative? Racist. Maybe you don’t say racist things specifically, and maybe you never did anything to disadvantage a black person yourself, but you’re by original sin part of “systematic racism.

    Now maybe your immigrant parents arrived in the U.S. 75 years after slavery, or you as a white racist have trouble finding a privileged job that pays a living wage. No matter, you’re still privileging from a system going back 400 years whether you like it or not. You can’t change what you are and people hate you for that. That’s the systematic part, defined as “not something that a few people choose to practice. Instead it has been a feature of the social, economic, and political systems in which we all exist.” Dang, ya’ caught me.

     

    I’d like to say most of that was from the news, but in the past days I heard most of that from a close relative, and the rest from a friend of many years, neither of whom want to interact with me anymore. I sent one checks since her birthdays were in single digits. I grew up alongside the other in our education. They have both taken themselves from my life because the Internet told them I am a racist and we all are more alone.

    Crowd-sourced (what old timers call a mob) leftist fundamentalism has given us a country where everyone can be called a Nazi, er, racist, and dismissed. Once the red line was only those damn Nazis, so no “Thank you, Elie Wiesel for that moving account. Now in rebuttal, Hitler’s deputy, Martin Bormann…” But you had to be an actual Nazi to hold an opinion outside the boundary of legitimacy.

    Not any more. Racism scholar Ibram Kendi says one is either racist or anti-racist, there is no room for such thing as a “non-racist.” The NYT said white allies should “Text your relatives and loved ones telling them you will not be visiting them or answering phone calls until they take significant action in supporting black lives.” Another article described my own situation, claiming “BLM protesters are breaking up with their racist, Facebook-addled relatives.” A Twitter thread about one such family dissolution had over 800,000 likes. HuffPo ran an article from a biracial woman eviscerating her white mother for being too white.

     

    High school debate clubs used to propose a topic in advance but not assign a “side” until just before the match. The idea was you would vigorously support or attack a position you may not personally agree with. You were supposed to learn something intellectual from all this along with the ability to see things from another point of view. It is a vision of the world a long way from calling someone a witch, er, racist, and dismissing them whole.

    We don’t understand debate, or its cousin compromise, anymore. There is no longer any tolerance for others’ views because the current fascism of the left does not see views and opinions as such; they are not acquired thoughts as much as they are innate to who we are, the inside and the outside fixed by color and class. You can’t change, only apologize, before being ignored at family gatherings, unfriended, and canceled. From the NYT firing an editor for running an op-ed by a Senator to me wondering about the practicality of defunding the police and losing a friend over it, there is no legitimate other side. So I can’t speak, I can only whitesplain (used to be mansplain.) People arbitrate my intent before I open my slack jaw. It’s even a job title — a writer at a black news site calls himself a “wypipologist.”

     

    I am unsure where all these woke white people came from. The world around me, since George Floyd’s death, is flooded with overzealous sympathy, the media a waste can for guilt, and people who never heard of the idea a week ago pronouncing themselves deeply committed to defunding the police.

    Companies are stumbling over each other like those who only just found Jesus at an AA meeting to add Black Lives Matter to their web site just above the Sale banner. WaPo reports African Americans have said they’ve been overwhelmed by the number of white friends checking in, with some sending cash because guilt is an expensive hobby. White celebs are swarming to confess their past ignorance on race. In what may be the ultimate expression of shallowness, someone who calls themselves an influencer and life coach posted an Instagram guide on “how to check in on your black friends.” Which corner was everyone standing in solidarity on last week?

    The Slack for a hospitality company I worked for pre-Covid exploded last week when a benign HR data request went out on #BlackOutTuesday. The almost all white staff went insane with accusations of racism. Of course the blind-sided (and now racist) HR drone didn’t think about Tuesday being some private racial Ramadan when we all fasted from reality; she doesn’t follow the right people on Twitter. The mob, in words which sounded like they’d drunk a human growth hormone and Adderall smoothie, barked until the company to issue a sort-of apology. They celebrated as if they’d brought George Floyd back to life.

    It shouldn’t have caught HR so off guard. The unemployees live in a world where “journalism is a profession of agitation.” They were taught nothing matters more than starting a sentence “As a… (woman, harassment survivor, deep sea diver)” because no argument, and certainly no assembled historical fact could be more important than a single lived experience. They were brought up on TV shows that juxtaposed white and black characters like someone was stringing magic diversity beads. They made the boss apologize even though nothing really was different except that made-up racial “holidays” are now on the list of things where there is only one allowable opinion. Soon enough we’ll all be asked over the P.A. to take a knee for the national anthem at sporting events.

     

    The harsh self-righteousness oozed. It sounded very much like people wanted to imagine they were on the cutting edge of revolution, the long-awaited (well, for four years) Reichstag fire. So what makes this moment into a turning point and that $25 donation to a bail fund them into a freedom fighter?

    Not much. Less like taking a stand, it feels more like radical chic from people who have been cooped up for months, cut off from bars and the gym. They don’t seem to know we’ve had this week before. The deaths of Rodney King in 1992, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown under Obama. The protests like the last round of BLM, Occupy, Pink Hats, March for Our Lives, even Live Aid in 1986 when Queen sang for everyone’s racist parents to end hunger forever. Remember in 1970 when Leonard Bernstein threw a cocktail party for the Black Panthers Defense Fund and Tom Wolfe wrote about it? That changed everything; I mean, people used to say “Negro” back then. But I’m pretty sure a year from now there will still be funded police departments.

    It took some rough nights to work out the rules and root out the looters, but even as the protests fade the whole thing became a set piece: the protesters arrive with water bottles to stay properly hydrated and healthy snacks as the route is established with the police a long way from “by any means necessary” boulevard. As long as everyone enjoys their revolutionary cosplay inside the white lines the cops don’t have to spank anyone with pepper spray. The AP describes the once violent protests outside the White House now as having a “street fair vibe.” See, it got complicated explaining how looting beer from a convenience run by Yemeni refugees was connected to racial justice.

    It all reveals itself as hollow because this fight isn’t between racism and anti-racism. It’s Black Rage versus White Guilt. The cops quickly quiet down the former and the media slowly wears out the latter. That means little of the action will have much to do with the real issues but everyone will feel righteously better. Until next time.

    Along the way, however, the collateral damage of wokeness is producing the totalitarianism it purports to challenge by denying any view that challenges it. Ideas are redefined by one side as the bad -isms of racism, sexism, fascism and pulled out of the marketplace along with the people who want to talk about them. No invite to the barbecue, no seat at the Thanksgiving table. In a political system built on compromise I’m not sure how we can get things done in a world like that.

    For me, I’m a good enough man. I am not a racist. I’ll get over my problem with lost friends. America, I’m not so sure.

     

     

     

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    The Search for Heroes

    June 13, 2020 // 9 Comments »

     

    These are your new heroes: people who invoke the grace of Dr. King to label riots as lawful protests, looting as reparations. To be fair, most of that labeling is not by the thugs themselves, but by the media who elevate them to hero status hoping once again this will bring Trump down. Citing the freedom fighters in the streets, former labor secretary Robert Reich proclaimed “Trump’s presidency is over.”

    Not quite yet. So the MSM report on fires outside the White House with a wink; maybe they’ll burn the place down. The Trump family taking shelter in their bunker was met with articles calling the president a coward for not facing down the mob shouting “Get off my lawn!” The implied hope was there — if we can’t impeach him, maybe we can just have someone kill him. They will deny it, but the media encouraged violence. They hoped for it, they egged it on. “Destroying property which can be replaced is not violence,” NYT’s Nikole Hannah-Jones said. “I think any reasonable person would say we shouldn’t be destroying other people’s property. But these are not reasonable times.”

     

    Meanwhile the media met the prospect of the military’s arrival on mixed ground. The big story was not the standard “order will be restored but my God at what price?!?” but that Trump had “declared war on the American people.” Though 58 percent of voters support the deployment of the military to respond to protests, with only 30 percent opposing, the web is awash in uninformed fear mongering over martial law, posse comitatus, the Insurrection Act, and whatever else a Wikipedia search churns up.

    But underlying was a subtext: you know, maybe a military coup, maybe via martial law, would be OK. We’ve heard that actually for four years, with hopes expressed one of the ex-military men in the White House, maybe Mad Dog, John Kelly, or H.R. McMaster would hero up and assume control. If not directly, then maybe by running the country as the patriot behind the throne. Upon General Mattis’ departure, the The New York Times asked “Who will protect America now?” juxtaposing the warrior-monk with the Commander-in-Cheeto.

    The search for Trump-smiting heroes has strayed far from anyone deserving the title even as the qualification for the job remained hilariously low. Felon Michael Avenatti was a contender, anal porn star Stormy Daniels, and felon Michael Cohen, too. Along the way James Comey, John Brennan, Michael Hayden, Christopher Steele, and James Clapper were all given some hero time, and of course the run by Robert Mueller as Savior-in-Chief. There was the anonymous whistleblower and a handful of State Department drones at the impeachment hearings whose names are so long forgotten they might as well have been anonymous. Even the virus was given the chance at hero status if it would have been horrible enough to end this presidency.

    There were also the mini-heroes like Colin Kaepernick or the women’s soccer team, whose minor protests were turned into national moments by the MSM. They do keep trying for relevancy; pink haired soccer starlet Megan Rapinoe is threatening to run for some office, and joined other minor celebs in signing a petition to defund police forces. Kaepernick started a defense fund for protesters, quoting Malcolm X to warn “Concerning nonviolence, it is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks.”

     

    The hero-seeking media partnered them with every Democratic black candidate of any type or plain white woman who could check boxes (single mom, lesbian, HIV+, veteran, etc.) The high point of this low point was reached with AOC and her Squad, whose only real accomplishments have been relentless self-promotion and helping push Nancy Pelosi into an impeachment process that squandered the Blue Wave.

    But rioters as the new heroes? That’s who is left? No one wants bad cops, and every day America suffers for its original sin of slavery and 200 year failure to find repentance. The only answer the country seems to have come up with is to allow rioters to run amuck every few years to let the pressure reset. Pick your favorite — the TV version following Rodney King, the blast from Ferguson, or something old school from the 1970s out of Watts or the Bronx.

    In New York City we face an 8 pm everyone-off-the streets curfew, the first in 75 years (the COVID lockdown is also concurrently still in effect.) But the protests continue, with several hundred people last night closing down streets adjacent to my apartment building. Many stores in this part of America’s richest city had already been boarded up; the men putting up the plywood coming in from white working class neighborhoods in nearby Queens said to me they’re grateful for the work post-COVID, “but if I ever have to do this for my own neighborhood some mf is gonna suffer.”

     

    The protesters themselves were about two-thirds white, uniformly in their mid-to-late twenties. People wearing Bernie t-shirts outnumbered those still practicing social distancing by about 6:1. Everyone who would tell me where they lived said Brooklyn but if you live here you would have already guessed that. The blacks in the group appeared to be joining spontaneously from the surrounding public housing blocks and not mingling. Their chants weren’t the organized ones of the white kids, mostly “f*ck the police” accompanied by gang signs or middle fingers, just rage cleansed of politics.

    None of the black protesters would speak to me, but the white protesters wouldn’t stop. They knew media and my notebook drew them like shadows to a lamp. Asked what they wanted, everyone had their lines down — it was justice and peace — but no one really had an answer to how this demonstration would help create those things. What law could Congress pass to fix any of this? Raising awareness seemed to be the closest anyone could get.

     

    Some apartments in the area have hired private security, those beefy guys you usually see checking IDs at night clubs. One hotel employee said his five-star place had former SEALS at the door. Two NYPD helicopters were overhead for almost two hours, top cover Baghdad-style, watching the rooftops. People living nearby are angry and afraid, and such people will defend themselves, and that will be a terrible, terrible thing. It seems leaders on all sides are setting us against each other and we are embracing that as a new way of life. When was your last pleasant but intense political discussion with friends?

    It was hard to connect the odd collection of images and impressions from the street with a new theme among the righteous but uneducated on social media. They seem to think burning a Target is the modern equivalent of the American Revolution against the British. I listened to the Hamilton score twice now, and even read the Klassic Komics version of Federalist Papers, and can’t find anywhere the American side whined about the British being too rough. Instead, they understood a revolution meant risking their lives, their honor, and their sacred fortunes. Denied representation under an undemocratic system, they fought.

    The Founders took to the streets with none of the protections of the Bill of Rights. It was only after they won those early heroes created a Bill of Rights. It came as a package deal, because the Founders wanted to create a society where peaceful change was written into the law and so another bloody revolution was something their children would not have to undertake.

    That fundamental message was missed by the Democratic Party of Fairfax, Virginia. They tweeted (now deleted but the sentiment is widely shared) “Riots are an integral part of this country’s march towards progress.” No. Riots are not a vehicle for political change in a democracy. They are the antithesis of democratic change, change by force with no desire for compromise.

    It was only a week ago people said protests against government (specifically COVID restrictions) were wrong and dangerous, we should listen to the authorities, and were glad the cops were out there enforcing social distancing and masking. The people I saw at yesterday’s protest looked a lot like the people hissing at me in Whole Foods for not wearing a mask. They likely believe the 1A protects their protests but not those of the rednecks at the statehouse. To them every offense is a lynching, every day the apocalypse, every Tweet another final blow to democracy, every misunderstanding another example of systematic racism if not sexism, every non-white non-male non-straight American another victim.

    Once you understand how shallow and and tiresome and hypocritical such views are you will understand the 2016 election, and in about 150 very long days from now, the 2020 election. No heroes, or Russians for that matter, necessary.
      

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    The Neverending Trump Story

    June 6, 2020 // 5 Comments »


     
    If you get to the end of this and think all it’s doing is defending Trump, you’ve missed the point.

    For the first time in months there is no front page COVID story. The replacement is the police killing in Minneapolis and chaos everywhere else. But the repurposing is familiar: blame Trump for the tragedy to defeat him in November.

    For months there were ran charts and tickers of COVID infections, deaths, missing ventilators, anything countable that made things look bad. When the stock market was hemorrhaging money those numbers were in red up front. Today, if it’s COVID info you seek, look for it where it started, before it was rebooted from Wuhan’s Virus to Trump’s Virus, back in the business section. Somebody else’s blood is going to have to rescue Biden.

     

    The precipitating news peg is the death of another black man at the hands of another white cop under another set of dubious circumstances. If 100,000 COVID deaths can’t shake your faith in Trump, maybe one more of these will. In the eyes of the media, it is of course all Trump’s fault. The problem with that is former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, now charged with murder in the death of George Floyd, previously shot one suspect, was involved in the fatal shooting of another, and received at least 17 complaints during his nearly two decades with the department.

    Nobody prosecuted him for any of that, including never-gonna-be-VP Amy Klobuchar, as a county prosecutor. Klobuchar also did not criminally charge other cops in the more than two dozen officer-involved fatalities during her time as prosecutor. She punted those decisions to a grand jury. Current Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who was a lawyer and state legislator when Klobuchar was prosecutor, defended Klobuchar’s record as “a practice that was common at the time.” That’s another way of saying systematic.

    One person Klobuchar systematically declined to prosecute was today’s villian Derek Chauvin. In 2006 he was one of six officers who shot Wayne Reyes after Reyes aimed a shotgun at police after stabbing two people. Small world. And that’s before anyone looks again at Biden’s own record on these things, from Cornpop on forward.

    See, this week happened before. George Bush had Rodney King. Under Bill Clinton it was Amadou Diallo shot 41 times, remembered in the Springsteen song American Skin (41 Shots). For George W. Bush, it was Sean Bell. Eric Garner was strangled by police during the Obama term, alongside the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.

    Barack Obama said what happened last week in Minnesota “shouldn’t be normal in 2020 America” when in fact it has been normal for some time now, including under his watch. After the police killing of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland in 2015, Obama called the protesters “criminals.” Oops. But the media has him covered now; Vox jumped in this round with “being a former president is different. Now that he is out of office, Obama is more free to try to lead the social change his candidacy once promised.” Change? Leadership? Obama’s Justice Department did not prosecute Eric Gardner’s killer. Obama’s Justice Department did not prosecute Michael Brown’s killer. So today there is still no justice, no peace. Blame Trump.

    If that Minnesota cop was a violent racist, he certainly didn’t take the red pill from Trump’s hand, not with two decades of personal complaints and two decades of signature national violence and two decades of prosecutorial somnolence behind him. Remind us again, who was the black Democratic president of the United States during most of that time? Who was his black Democratic attorney general? And someone is trying to use racism in 2020 to take down Trump?

    Wait, breaking news! Trump is threatening to kill Americans! In what the New York Times characterized as “an overtly violent ultimatum to protesters,” Trump tweeted the phrase “When the looting starts, the shooting starts” and threatened to deploy the National Guard to Minneapolis.

    Now of course the Times knows but didn’t let on to the rubes it knows that it is very, very close to impossible for the president to federalize the National Guard for domestic law enforcement (we slogged through the explanations two years ago in another faux-panic Trump was going to order the Guard to enforce immigration laws.) The Guard generally answers to its state governor, and in the case of Minnesota, Governor Walz already called for full mobilization. It was just a tweet, carrying the weight of a feather. So it’s fitting the punishment is a tagged violation of Twitter rules and not impeachment this time.

     

    The problem with COVID as the Trump Killer was the wrong people ended up dying, and not enough of them. Had the early predictions of millions of deaths sweeping across the nation had any truth in them, that would be hard to ignore. Had the early predictions of COVID zombies using their last strength to fight  over the remaining ventilators come to pass, that would have landed a knockout punch.

    COVID also killed the wrong people. One can imagine Democratic strategists shouting “Find me some white cheerleaders in Wisconsin who will never realize their dreams, dammit!” Instead, the dead were a majority poor and black, with about half of all COVID deaths in the U.S. in ravaged and neglected parts of the New York City area no one really cared much about before all this. You can see some of those areas on TV today, filled with protesters fighting cops. A few efforts at trying to tie COVID into a greater tapestry of economic inequality didn’t get very far; nobody had much concern for Amazon warehouse workers when they themselves were out of work and waiting on packages of Nutter Butters.

    COVID was fundamentally a crisis of economic inequality; the bodies in New York City are the proof. If it was a failure of leadership, then that failure must be traced back some 50 years, and has less to do with a lack of PPE in 2020 than it does with a lack of national healthcare and a living wage contact traced from Nixon to whoever the next guy turns out to be, because both candidates have promised to do nothing new enough to fix those things.

    It is sad and cruel and horrible to say no one cared in the end enough for the virus to beat Trump but that is what happened. Remember it in a few weeks when the news has forgotten George Floyd.

    The failure of Trump not failing as a leader during COVID, or with police violence, follows a long string of similar stuff, beginning even before his inauguration. For three years we were told the president was literally a Kremlin agent doing Putin’s business out of the Oval Office based on blackmail. Then there was something about the Ukraine that rose to the level of actual impeachment that is still hard to explain and seemed to implicate Biden as much as Trump. Trump will kill us all was a meme Democrats threw against the wall multiple times, with various North Korean and Iranian wars and of course the virus. And now, forget all that. It’s racism, stupid.

     

    Former cop Derek Chauvin didn’t wait for Trump to send out a tweet, or even take office, before becoming violent. He’d been at that for two decades. The systematic racism in Minnesota has roots deep into (d/D)emocratic governance, and wasn’t enabled by a few tweets. This is the same answer for the virus; the economic inequality which drove the virus in places like New York City has very little to do with Trump or his supposed lack of leadership, same as it had nothing to do with the made-up ventilator shortage. It is no surprise in 2020 two leading causes of death among the poor and black are police shooting and COVID.

    These things run deep within our society. How obvious does it need to be, it’s not Him, it is Us. The media trying to bundle the latest crisis up and slap a “Trump” label on it, like before with Russia, Ukraine, war, and COVID, will do little to hurt his election chances, and do much to make it clear everyone continues to look the other way. If it is just a Trump problem (or a he’s on Twitter problem), it lives and dies with Trump, whenever that is. That assures us following Biden or Trump this year, or Donald Duck in 2024, there will be another virus which reapers through the poor, and long before then another street killing in a place that should be as far away as Minnesota.

    If all we do is play politics with tragedy that’s all we’ll ever do toward resolving tragedy. Resolution lies in looking forward to seeking fundamental solutions over looking backward to assign blame. People in the comments below will claim this is defending Trump. That is as wrong as it is irrelevant. If anyone thinks more violence is the answer, or that this will elect Biden, or that his administration will change things, you’re missing the most important point: the revolution has been televised. You’ve watched it already, you just don’t realize which side won.

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    Letter from New York

    June 1, 2020 // 1 Comment »

    New York City remains locked down while America seeks the bloom of spring.

    No wrinkles then around my eyes the first time I saw her, and she wasn’t just a bubble tea shop then. When people could roam the streets of New York City without harassment for failing to tie a talisman of a mask across their face, I used to walk regularly, often without specific purpose, past the old San Remo Cafe in Greenwich Village.

    In the 1950s and 60s the regulars included giants like James Agee, Tennessee Williams, James Baldwin, William S. Burroughs, Miles Davis, Allen Ginsberg, Frank O’Hara, Jack Kerouac, Jackson Pollock, William Styron, Dylan Thomas, Gore Vidal, and Judith Malina. Imagine the conversations, the dirty jokes, the warm beer.

    If you don’t recognize all the names, Google a couple. James Baldwin. A black, gay man, he wrote about victims without victimizing. Because he was a black gay man he understood the failings of humanity not just towards black gay men, but towards men. Modern writers in his genre always seem to start off their work with “AS a ____” demanding your sympathy on line one. Baldwin was better than that. He saw hope, not profit, in anger.

    Woody Guthrie played in the neighborhood around the San Remo and certainly must have stopped in, as did Bob Dylan.

     

    The cafe closed long ago. The property was most recently a bubble tea shop and its clientele about 99 percent Asian tourists who I do doubt ever read James Agee. Irony is a character in this story. Do history a favor and skip the abomination of the tea; just down Bleecker Street is Fiore’s Pizza, named after a New York firefighter killed on 9/11. It’s hard not to remember those sharp blue September days when we took care of each other, briefly, before we became so afraid. Heat can forge, or it can melt. Men who ran into a fire were NY’s heroes instead of people who, however necessary, stock shelves.

    Bob Dylan lived nearby on West 4th Street, having come to the neighborhood in large part because he wanted to meet Woody Guthrie. Neither man would be newly successful today. Both were in their primes imperfect men, perfect for #MeToo entrapment by those who have likely since graduated into masked tattletales (irony again; they hide themselves with facemasks while judging you.) The poets made you pay attention to the words because they wrote prayers, not songs. The words mattered because words once mattered as more than sounds that just rhymed well to a beat. Dylan wrote “Hey Mr. Tambourine Man” in this neighborhood about some NYC-type who often kept him awake at odd hours wandering around like we once could do. The sleepless Dylan never imagined what we see now when he wrote the lyric “the empty street’s too dead for dreaming.”

    The last war had been fought up the street, at the White Horse Tavern in the 1930s with the reds, and the place would make a comeback in the later gasps of the 1960s. At San Remo were the children of World War II too young to have experienced the bloodshed but damn aware of the price war took on their fathers, awake in the affluence of the 1950s and 60s alienated by the Cold War. Americans never really made peace with all that. It’s quite a neighborhood.

     

    The cafe can’t be there anymore, nor the Asian tourists, and neither can I because a good idea to implement social measures to slow the virus in line with our capacity to deal with it morphed into a fear driven shelter in place mania until we achieve zero-death plan. New York City has a dirty little secret it isn’t talking about. Arbitrary standards have been set for the whole of the place (available hospital beds to reopen the city must be 30 percent; it’s now at 29 percent. Number of hospitalizations misses the market by two-thirds of a person) , some eight million people. But there is little of the virus in Manhattan, including near the cafe. Most of the deaths are clustered in in the Bronx and distant Brooklyn, separated by class and money. The rich areas are held hostage in lockdown now to the poor areas. Yet to go out for milk now I have to look like Billy the Kid about to knock off the 10:15 train.

    I miss New York, the idea of New York, because the real place barely ever existed. The city always goes too far — too many handouts, too much poverty displaced by too much wealth, too much real art pushed aside by garbage, too much multi-generational public housing. Everybody knows the city always goes too far, and periodically it has to be culled back like weeds out of control.

    The 1970s and early 80s saw it turn into Beruit, with hard lines those stuck here learned to navigate. There is OK during the day, up there never, over near the park only if you had a good reason and some street smarts. The Bronx burned, the cops windshield wipered between giving up and turning vigilante. We did it again not too long later, with stop and frisk and broken window policing. Then back down to where a year ago or so the mayor ordered the police to stop arresting people of color for what he defined as minor crimes in the subway and then declared the subways safe (again) while minor crimes enmassed into just crime. Again. Each of those cuts through life here and the city walks around with the scars.

    The deal with New York was that you put up with stuff like that, grad school liberal poli-sci think pieces actually acted out (free methadone to replace cheap heroin, what could go wrong when a “clinic” replaces a grocery store in a neighborhood) in return for the old San Remo Cafe you could not get in South Bend or Allentown in return for putting up with what you did not have to navigate in South Bend or Allentown. The city is like a sunset, you don’t expect it to admire you back.

     

    Then it all went to hell in 2020. Those same political think pieces said they needed to put the city into a medically-induced economic coma to top the virus. The solution hit hardest on the poor. They need to become poorer to save them, that irony thing again.

    The public school system, which in another social experiment gone too far had been largely turned into a massive outbox for free meals, free daycare, free menstrual products, free birth control, and free medical care, just gave up education as a function completely and closed. The one single only solitary thing that has any chance of helping someone do better than their parents, education, was shut down. The city’s “public advocate” even wants penalties waived for skipping online school. So that’s OK. One imagines the immigrants on the Lower East Side a hundred years ago working extra hours on top of a 60 hour regular week to send one of their four kids to school to give the whole family a chance. Thanks, Grandpa.

    A good friend taught public high school in the deranged and ravaged South Bronx for several years under “Teach for America,” another grad school project which theorized anybody in front of a classroom was basically better than nobody, and hoped if you rolled the dice enough and stuck enough privileged kids in front of enough poor kids something decent might come of it. My friend eventually quit, realizing how much time he spent in his classroom on things not related to teaching science. His conclusion — you can’t fix the schools in the South Bronx until you fix the South Bronx — isn’t anyone’s current project. One imagines the minimum wage Amazon frontline worker thinking about the flyover honoring him about the same way he thought about people thanking him for his service after Afghanistan.

    Somehow Bill Gates is now deeply involved. What does he know, but he means well and he is a rich tech prince, about what in New York passes today as civic virtue. It reminds me of my nation-building days in Iraq, when any dumb idea could find a sponsor only the people in NY care even less about the results.

    New York is generally content with the system it has, a bizarre mashup of pseudo-socialism inside the greatest concentration of capitalism ever known enforced by near-fascist decree to enact the social experiments while the cops keep the rich and poor safely apart. Extreme forms of mitigation can have diminishing returns, but only in real life. The virus saw New York in the name of a liberal experiment to save New York from the virus shut down the jobs and the schools. Projections are more comfortable. Charter schools, no grades, more computers, more African history and art, free college for all, lockdowns, quarantines, masks, let’s try it. A virus will crush an already broken society faster and more efficiently than a working one. What’s happening now is a culmination not an event.

     

    We are most certainly not all in this together. Across the rest of the city, people are here without being here, with the richest areas about 40 percent empty. They have other homes to retreat to, suburban panic rooms from which to see how long this time it will take NYC to surface again. You can track their flight by the drop off in garbage collected in certain neighborhoods. Less people, less trash. The real rich toughing it out with the proles have private speakeasies to ease the pain.

    One thing the rich will be watching is where this time the economic (and thus safety) fault lines will settle in. On my side of town, the bad streets had receded above 96th. They’re working their way back to 93rd now. Google up real estate values and statistics for burglaries of old people and street assaults and you’ll know. The rich abandoned the public school system long ago. They also had the comfort of closing their public schools earlier to protect themselves from the early days of the virus (their schools being used primarily for education not as charity distribution centers; a mega-irony was that the schools still being part of the last social experiment meant they had to stay open longer until alternate food distribution could be worked out) and will exercise the option of reopening their private schools sooner, as the virus statistically is far away from them.

    Heat can forge, or it can melt. New York’s mayor is a goofball, a knucklehead, a jaboni who imagines himself a Caucasian blend of Cesar Chavez, Obama, and Dr. King. He wanted to be president even. Nobody really likes him, but the people who vote (by mail, from their second homes) generally endorse his policies even as they wish for someone a bit more elegant. They like the idea of feeling good, and so love the idea of a handful of “lower income” apartments mandated into billion dollar residencial towers. They tolerate a population of several thousand human trolls living homeless in the subway system because it adds “grit” to their city while they take Uber. Quaint shops and bars needed for Instagram are kept alive via GoFundMe and tax breaks, not customers. They mandated a city without public toilets, customers only!, and then seem surprised everything smells like urine. Can’t they eat cake? They act like they discovered the vaccine against irony long ago.

     

    Of course no one talks much about how the good ideas never seem to improve the lives of those they are aimed at. Despite the lockdown, plenty of people keep getting sick and dying in New York. The South Bronx is still poor. Despite the economic coma NYC still has a higher death toll per million in population than any other state in America. New York City also has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country yet we tolerate the death toll which persists. Most of those who die by gunfire are in the same category as the virus deaths, poor and of color and from another part of town walled off by street signs as plain and easy to understand as that wall across the Mexican border.

    The virus takes its victims, but much more of the harm is self-inflicted. It will take researchers years to sort out where the Venn diagram circles overlap among social distancing, natural processes like herd immunity, and just plain exaggeration, but it is clear today the virus is not the most dangerous thing here anymore. This is a dismal city to be in today, ravaged by a virus of bad ideas and self-delusional political experiments that laid in wait for a trigger event, COVID for now, to land some body blows. New York is a place now that misses its younger, happier self. Hard to imagine the poets at the old San Remo Cafe like I am now, wishing away a lovely spring and summer to hurry it up until November.

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    Requiem for the U.S. Department of State, Part I of II

    May 20, 2020 // 1 Comment »


     
    Saying “Mike Pompeo” out loud feels odd, like mouthing the name of an old girlfriend, or shouting out your GMail password. It just feels wrong in your mouth, because what’s Mike or the State Department done lately? As the Trump administration wraps up its first term focused on domestic issues, it occurs the United States has passed almost four years without a foreign policy, and without the need for a Secretary of State or a department of diplomats behind him.
     
    On his first anniversary in the job Pompeo told assembled diplomats “We needed everyone in their place, working on the mission, if we were going to achieve this mission on behalf of the president” but never actually said what that mission was. A Google query shows “Searches related to Mike Pompeo Achievements” include “mike pompeo weight – mike pompeo net worth.” One can easily imagine Pompeo, even pre-COVID, slipping out the side door at Foggy Bottom shouting “I’ll be working from home, check with my deputy if anything comes up” while his wife is waiting in the car for him, Ferris Bueller-style.

    We had high hopes for Mike. He and John Bolton (as National Security Advisor) were the Bad Boys who were supposed to start wars with Iran and North Korea, outdo Cheney and even challenge the legend himself, Henry “Bloody Hands” Kissinger. Pompeo watched as not much happened between the U.S. and North Korea. He watched as the ending of the Iran nuclear treaty caused not much to happen. John Bolton, who liberals expected to see on a throne in Tehran rolling a mullah’s bloody head around his lap, instead sits by the phone hoping a think tank will offer him an intern to listen to his stories, or maybe Dancing with the Stars will ring needing a last-minute. That show on Fox?

    Prior to Pompeo, the Secretary of State was Rex Tillerson. Tillerson couldn’t even come up with an elevator speech of his accomplishments when asked, listing as he left office North Korean sanctions which achieved nothing, alongside his own mea culpas for failing to make progress in Afghanistan and Syria and Iraq, where with a straight face he noted there was “more to be done.” A bit hard to blame him, as Trump chose a policy of stasis, not wanting to withdraw the last trooper and forever be the man who lost Afghanistan. Imagine if the U.S. had followed similar political caution and still garrisoned Vietnam?

    Commentators wrote Tillerson would be remembered as the worst secretary of state in history. Wrong. He made no significant blunders, gave away nothing. He just didn’t do much at all. His actual only real accomplishment was a humiliating apology tour of Africa meeting with leaders on the periphery of U.S. foreign affairs grouchy over the president calling their nations sh*tholes.

     

    It would be easy to blame Trump, his open mic night style of making decisions, his decrees by Twitter, sucking all of the diplomatic air out of the room and suffocating up-and-coming diplomats like Mike and Rex before they even had a chance to try on their plumed hats. Unlike his predecessors, Trump never took advantage of his get-one-free foreign incursion along the lines of invading Grenada, occupying Lebanon, or an adventure in Somalia, never mind the big ticket items like Iraq Wars I-III. Sure, Trump did bomb Syria (who hasn’t?) and nipped at Iran, but the tumescence was over before the media could even declare the end of the world again.

    One can imagine meetings with friendly foreign nations in the Age of Trump: “Anything new from your side? No, you? Nah, something on Twitter from POTUS about armageddon, misspelled. Say, Crimea still giving you trouble? A little, whatever, you watching Tiger King? Pretty funny. Quite.”

     

    So turn the page backwards to John Kerry, Obama’s second term Secretary of State. Kerry imagined himself a Kennedy-esque man of action, Flashman at the ready, and had the State Department keep an online tally of how many miles he had traveled doing diplomatic stuff. The Nation called him “One of the Most Significant Secretaries of State in the Last 50 Years,” heady company when you realize the list includes Acheson, Dulles, Rusk, and Kissinger.

    OK, but… Kerry’s signature accomplishment, the Iran Nuclear Agreement, faded quickly. As negotiated the thing was only for ten years anyway, and would be about half over even if Trump had not walked away. And that’s giving Kerry full marks for getting an agreement where the National Security Council did much of the heavy lifting, and one which the Iranians wanted badly enough to help their economy they were willing to trade away a lot of Wonka tickets. Kerry’s work with the TPP and Paris Agreement also showed good effort. We’ll put them up on the fridge next to the one song Ringo got onto each Beatles album. Kerry’s muscular efforts came to little substance (albeit through little fault of his own) but the legacy business is harsh.

    After that, you have John Kerry helping muck up Syria. Kerry floundering in the Ukraine and Crimea. Kerry failing to move the ball forward in Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, Palestine, or blunting China as it assumed a pivotal role in Asia in every way except militarily (they’re working on it.)

    That Nation article praising Kerry also cites as achievements “the military retaking of Mosul, the sponsorship of an Oceans Conference, the strengthening of the Gulf Cooperation Council…” all of which mean what in 2020? Kerry did sing Happy Birthday to Vladimir Putin at the APEC conference in the midst of a U.S. government shutdown. Kerry’s most significant achievement was leaving many Democratic voters secretly wondering whether the country dodged a bullet in 2004 when George W. Bush beat Kerry to take on a dismal second term.

     

    But Hillary! Never mind “one of,” Google chair Eric Schmidt called her “the most significant Secretary of State since Dean Acheson” (suck it, Kerry.) Secretary of State was only the first half of the prize Hillary got for clearing the way for Obama in 2008 (Barack shooing Joe Biden aside for her in 2016 was the second) and Clinton made the most of it. For herself. Ignoring America’s real foreign policy needs (or was she being ignored?) she turned the State Department into an arm of her Foundation, projecting “soft power” on things like women’s issues and AIDS to match her eventual platform, all the while generating B-roll for the campaign like a chunky Angelina Jolie. She also had the Department obsessively document her constant travels, with formal photos of Secretary Clinton alongside world leaders as well as selfies of Hil letting her hair down among her own diplomats. “Texts from Hillary” predated Instagram. Not a pair of dry panties to be found over at the Council on Foreign Relations.

    But in the tally of history, Hillary Clinton accomplished… not much. Time Magazine listed her key accomplishments as “the liberation of Libya, establishment of diplomatic ties with Burma and the assembly of a coalition against Iran.” In a summary piece, USA Today singled out “Clinton convinced Chinese leaders to free blind dissident Chen Guang Cheng,” who returned the favor by joining an American think tank opposing abortion and gay marriage.

    From the horse’s mouth, quoting Hillary Herself, key accomplishments were “hosting town halls with global youth, raising awareness for religious minorities, protecting Internet freedom and advancing rights for women and the LGBT community around the world.” Not resume items as momentous as forever changing the Cold War balance of power by opening China like Henry Kissinger or assembling the first Gulf War coalition like James Baker. Meanwhile, the world owes Hillary for her significant contributions to the failed state of Libya and the subsequent refugee flow, the human misery of Syria, the missed chances of the Arab Spring, and failing to end other wars she helped start or voted for.

    A generation before Hillary we have Colin Powell and Condi Rice, whose only accomplishments as Secretary were to march America into the desert and abandon her there (Colin) and march the State Department into the desert with the guaranteed-to-fail mission to create democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan and abandon her there (Condi.)

     

    The good news is the U.S. is experiencing a peace of a sorts not by sweating out the sins of diplomacy, but just by not going around the world throwing matches into buckets of gasoline. Trump has made little use of his Secretaries of State and their Department. No recent president made much use of those diplomats either, so they are unlikely to be missed.

    The next Secretary, whether working for Trump or Biden, will find themself in charge of a Cabinet agency is search of a mission. They may very well end up somewhere between the traditional ceremonial role of the Vice President, attending conferences and funerals, or perhaps simply overseeing a network of embassies to serve as America’s concierge abroad, arranging official visits for fact-finding Members of Congress, and hosting senior Washington policy makers in town to do the heavy lifting of international relations.

    If the U.S. government had to downsize into a smaller capital, the State Department would likely end up on the curb, alongside those boxes of the kids’ elementary school drawings. Cute, sentimental, good times, but why did we keep them all these years?

    How did this happen? In Part II of this article, we’ll look at the factors internal to State and the United States, and those external, global changes, that left the Department adrift.

      

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    I Can’t Do It Again: Hypocrisy, Tara Reade, and Joe Biden

    May 10, 2020 // 12 Comments »

     

    Tara Reade says Joe Biden once grabbed her privates and demanded sex. Will it change the election in November?
     
    The Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings were a turning point, where the presumption of innocence was thrown out in favor of a new standard, “credible accusation.” Evidence was replaced by #BelieveAllWomen. Fierce justice then, but now it’s Biden’s turn. Imagine the same type of proceedings directed at him. Amy Klobuchar repeats her accusations Kavanaugh, er, Biden, is a drunk, with just about as little evidence now as then. Senator Dick Durbin demands Biden demand an FBI investigation into himself on live TV. Durbin fires at Biden as he did to Kavanaugh if he has nothing to hide he has nothing to fear, a line often attributed to Joseph Goebbels. Kamala Harris goes in as bad cop, righteously shouting down whatever is said to her by Biden. The truth? You can’t handle the truth.

    After that show, imagine a second one where Elizabeth Warren, long-shot Biden VP pick Florida Representative Val Demings, Kirsten Gillibrand, Stacey Abrams, and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer all show up to stand by Biden, not believe Reade, say Reade deserves to be heard before she is dismissed, and/or remain silent when asked. That TV show will be shorter.

    To flesh things out maybe on that short TV show women voters could call in to ask those women Democratic leaders how the very serious business of #MeToo got turned into just another political tool by the “party of women.” Alyssa Milano, famous for the #MeToo meme and whose take on the Kavanaugh hearings was she believed all women without the need for due process, could be brought out to explain how now “the notion that this should be disqualifying to Biden in a race against Trump is patently ridiculous. Anybody who claims otherwise is using sexual assault as a political football.”
     
    Well, yes, that is the point. Dems made sexual assault a political football. Problem is now they find themselves on defense for the first time (having ignored successfully Bill Clinton’s hands-on approach.) One article does what I just don’t have the breathe to bother with, pull up exact quotes of what was said about Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser then and compare it to what is being said about Biden and his now. It unveils the total hypocrisy of the #MeToo positions, and how self-righteous Dems are when these techniques were used by them, versus used against them. Watching people force themselves to support Biden under these conditions is what I imagine the Beach Boys look like backstage trying to mix up Viagra and meth so they can get through “Surfin’ USA” one more time.

    Meanwhile, more and more women are realizing Democratic hypocrisy is setting back women’s rights, making it clear women’s concerns are useful and valid only as political weapons, victims only of use to tee up a media storm. The impact on the election will be…

     

    Sorry. I just can’t do it again. It’s the same thing. Isn’t it obvious? Isn’t the false narrative plain? But isn’t it likely very few people care, again? The pattern is beyond the obvious, the addition of new player Joe Biden the only change. I can’t get away from it. People just believe what they want to agree with.

    I even started a story on Politico’s fully debunked claim Trump was beholden to the Bank of China because of some loan. That one fell apart faster then I could type it up. Too many believe when the Democrats and MSM tell us these things. They are all wrong. Why is anyone believing them now? I am tired of being lied to. I am tired of being manipulated in the most obvious ways. After Kavanaugh, the Democrats simply announcing “Biden didn’t do it, nothing to see here, folks” is beyond insulting. I am weary of talking people off the ledge, even more weary of living among people who are convinced they are going to die freedomless in the dark from a new cause each day. I am tired of this:
     
    Trump didn’t win the election.
    The Emoluments Clause will stop Trump from being inaugurated.
    The economy will descend into a depression after he was inaugurated.
    There is a pee tape.
    Trump is a Russian spy, an asset, Putin’s puppet.
    Michael Cohen met with the Russians in Prague.
    (Mohammed Atta met with the Iraqis in Prague.)
    Trump sold out the U.S. to build a hotel in Moscow.
    Trump wants to buy Greenland to build a hotel.
    Trump left the Saudis off the No Fly Muslim list because he had a hotel there.
    Trump will start a war with Iran over moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.
    Trump will start a war with Iran over the nuclear treaty.
    Trump will start a war with Iran to distract from COVID.
    The Kurds will all die in a genocide.
    We have to take out Assad (and earlier, Saddam, and Qaddafi,) or there will be a genocide.
    Trump’s trade war with China will bankrupt us.
    Trump will start a nuclear war with North Korea.
    Trump’s peace overtures with North Korea are dangerous.
    Kim Jong Un is dead.
    Trump will invade Venezuela.
    Trump will withdraw from NATO.
    (Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.)
    James Comey will change everything.
    Robert Mueller will change everything.
    SDNY will change everything.
    Michael Avenatti will run for president.
    Papadopoulos, Manafort, Flynn, Cohen, will flip and bring down Trump.
    Beto, Cory Booker, Mayor Pete, Kamala, AOC, Stacey Abrams are the new Obama.
    Diversity is the key to Democratic victory in 2020.
    The rule of law ended in America.
    Democracy died in America.
    It’s Weimar.
    It’s the fall of Rome.
    Impeachment will end Trump’s time in office.
    The 25th Amendment will end Trump’s time in office.
    The Whistleblower will end Trump’s time in office.
    Marie Yovanovitch will end Trump’s time in office with her testimony.
    John Bolton will end Trump’s time in office with his book.
    Ronan Farrow will end trump’s time in office with his book.
    The Parkland Kids will change everything.
    The Covington Kids are racists.
    Two million Americans will die of corona.
    Blocking visitors from China is racist and ineffectual.
    There are not enough ventilators.
    There is not enough PPE.
    There are not enough ICU beds.
    The Chinese supply chain will stop and no more iPhones.
    Trump is going to defund the Post Office to block mail-in ballots so he can steal the election.
    Trump is going to fire Mueller, Barr, Rosenstein, Mattis, Jared, Ivanka, Pence, Bolton, Fauci.
    Trump avoids the press and hasn’t held a briefing in a year, bring him out.
    Networks should not air Trump’s open mic night briefings.
    People will die if my neighbor doesn’t wear a paper mask but lukewarm delivery food is safe.
    People in NYC will die if Starbucks opens but it’s OK for the subway to run.
    The stock market’s historic rise doesn’t matter for Trump’s reelection because most Americans don’t own stock.
    The stock market’s historic decline will destroy Trump’s reelection chances.
    If we end the lockdown too soon everyone is going to die.
     
    Those who fetishize Trump’s lies want to stand on their record above without irony. Lies are truth, what is really true doesn’t matter if people (can be made to) believe it because truth is moral only when it supports the correct side. Hypocrisy just mens choosing the lesser of two evils. Maybe that’s the best we deserve in a world where “do your research” means Google something and accept the first headline you agree with.

    Accountability takes a seat to agenda. The end justifies the means over and over but never leads to good. “Oh, it’s OK, he beats me less than my previous spouse.” Trump’s hidden taxes are bad but Biden’s hidden Senate papers on Tara Reade are acceptable. Ivanka and China? Hold my Tsingtao beer, says Hunter. “You think I’ve got dementia? You should see the other guy!” Never mind Biden mare-nuzzling women’s hair on numerous occasions. Then there’s Anita Hill. Did being Obama’s VP baptize away those sins?

    Same thing in the end, just purposed toward what are sold as radically different ends, Gray Man instead of Orange Man. Choose Joe, he harasses women, gets health draft deferments, plagiarized in law school, cheats on his taxes, is corrupt with his kids’ money, but less. It doesn’t matter what happened to Tara Reade, anymore than it matters what happened with Russia. It wouldn’t matter if Biden sexually harassed someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue. As one editorial summarized, “He’s not perfect, but he’s not Donald Trump.”

    I once wrote in reference to the lies we told ourselves about success in the Iraq War if “b.s. was water we’d all have drowned.” Now it appears Democrats and the MSM have not only learned to adjust to a new environment like some prehistoric amphibian but are politically wallowing in it, at least prior to choking come November.

     
     

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    Time to Get Back to Work

    May 8, 2020 // 2 Comments »


     
    If America has a fast forward button on it someone should push it ahead to November. We won’t be done with the virus until we’ve done with the election. Between prudence and overreaction lies politics.

    We bleat about wanting decisions based on science. Then we do the same dumb red-blue thing, even counting the corona dead differently (nothing left certain but taxes now) to make the numbers seem better or worse depending on the shifty politics of better or worse. Something that should not be about Trump at all is All About Trump.

    There is no other country in the world so driven by politics so devoid of science. It’s killing us. Other countries have good leaders, some not so good. But look at us. Our nation is held hostage to protests and counter-protests, lockdowns and open bowling alleys. There is no other nation where so many are convinced their leader is actively trying to kill them with his virus response, even imagining he wants them to drink bleach.

     

    The MSM portrays protesters against government restrictions as dangerous, Trump death cultists who’d rather end up in an ICU that skip a haircut. It is an echo of the things that lost 2016 for the Democrats. The people don’t want haircuts. Such flippancy insults the righteous anger over lost livelihoods. They want to feed their families. They want thought-out targeted restrictions instead of politically driven over-reaction and fear mongering. It’s about deep emotional waters, sense of self, a whole lot more than just how the economy will help Trump win or lose. Many also are concerned that their lives, including the right to assemble, to worship, and to protest, are being controlled by leaders they don’t trust while a media they abandoned years ago mocks them. Beaches open in a red state are #FloridaMorons; in a blue state it’s #SurfsUp.

    But they see this time the Brooklyn elites are going a step further, beyond the deplorable label, to wishing them to catch the virus, figuring the infection will teach them a lesson before they vote wrong again. Wishing death on people you disagree with. It’s almost like cheering for a guy who drives his car into a crowd of BLM protesters.

     

    Elsewhere, medical professionals say the protestors have no right to put others’ lives at risk, and think it is just more than OK to physically stop the rallies. That’s called “the heckler’s veto” by the Supreme Court and is not allowed under the 1A, even if you’re a hero ER nurse or just an abortion protester blocking the door to a clinic. Stopping someone from protesting by shouting them down, driving a car into their crowd, or otherwise trying to stop them from exercising their rights (including the right to hold a dumb opinion or one you disagree with) is disdainfully unconstitutional.

    The medical professionals and their Muppet chorus of journalists sound like some soldiers who felt their sacrifice was made cheap by people who protested the war. Thank you for your service. It does not however allow you to choose which people can exercise their rights. When you choose to serve you serve those you define as worthy and those you don’t. It’s bigger than you, doc.

    Government is not supposed to be able to take away freedoms, even if it’s for “our own good.” Governments always invoke safety and security when they are taking away rights (see the Patriot Act.) The invoke the majority over the minority. It’s an old playbook, joined in this century by our 1A nannies on social media, who electronically block efforts to organize. If you’re screeching about how rights don’t matter when lives are at stake, the same old safety vs. liberty argument people always use, you’ve got company. The KKK used that argument to block blacks from marching, claiming it was a safety issue.

    Protesting against the government taking away your right to assemble is about as fundamental a civil right as you can get. The argument restrictions are needed to keep us safe (“we’ll get the virus!”) are about as fundamentally wrong as you can get. Yet authorities in California will no longer issue permits for anti-lockdown protests at any state properties, including the Capitol.

    Agree? Just remember what you’re saying now about these redneck inbreeding gun nuts the next time someone claims a march permit can’t be issued in the interest of public safety to a group you support. Hint: It’s the same thing. Rights are rights. Because you know what else can spread rapidly if “left unchecked?” Tyranny. Justice Louis Brandeis held free speech is not an abstract virtue but a key element of a democratic society. He ruled even speech likely to result in “violence or in destruction of property is not enough to justify its suppression.” In braver times when Americans challenged the safety vs. liberty argument, the Supreme Court consistently ruled in favor of free speech, reminding us democracy comes with risk. But that was another world ago, before we measured human worth in RTs.

     

    There is science which should be informing decisions. The irony is that while claiming a small rally in Denver will cost lives, or Florida will kill people by opening its beaches, the same voices remain silent as NYC keeps its subway running 24/7. The timing of the public beach versus public transportation debate came as a new study detailed NYC’s “multitentacled subway system was a major disseminator — if not the principal transmission vehicle — of coronavirus infection,” “seeding” the virus throughout the city. Without a superspreader like the subway it can be contained locally. It is tragic when the virus rips through a nursing home or meatpacking plant (it is a virus after all, it will go viral), but all of those together barely touch a week’s body count in New York. Shut down mass transport.

    We can put most people back to work with limited risk; the protesters are right. The virus kills a very specific patient. About half the dead are over age 65. Less than one percent of deaths were under age 44. Almost 94 percent of the dead in any age group had serious underlying medical issues (about half had hypertension and/or were obese, a third had lung problems.) The death toll in NYC under total lockdown: 22,000. Death toll in much more densely populated Tokyo with “smart” lockdown: 93.

    About 22 percent of New Yorkers already have the virus antibody and thus expected immunity. A logical conclusion — large numbers already have or had the virus, and that it is harmless to them — is simply ignored. Quarantine/social distancing is for those most vulnerable so we can stop wrecking all of society with cruder measures. Hospitals should separate patients by age. No need to keep kids from school, especially if that means isolating them inside a multigenerational household. Let them wear soggy paper masks to class, even tin foil on their heads, if it makes things easier. Online classes are lame and America doesn’t need a new generation dumber than the current one.

    The New York-New Jersey area, with roughly half the dead for the entire nation, practices full-on social distancing while Georgia was one of the last states to implement a weaker stay-at-home policy. Yet as Georgia re-opens, the NY/NJ death count is over 27,000. Georgia is 892. NY continues adding around 500 bodies to the pile every day, even with its bowling alleys closed.

    We judge risk versus gain for every other cause of death. We wear condoms. We watch our diets. Time to do the same for the virus. As for lockdowns, we may not even be judging them accurately. Some 22 states have had fewer than 100 deaths. Only 15 states had total deaths for the entire duration of the crisis higher than NYC’s current 500 a day. The original goal of lockdowns, to buy time for the health care system (and most resources were never needed due to over-estimates of the viral impact), has passed. If the new goal is Virus Zero it will never come. If the real goal is harm Trump we’ll have to put up with this without serious discussion until November.

    A Stanford doctor nails it: “Strictly protect the known vulnerable, self-isolate the mildly sick and open most workplaces with some prudent large-group precautions. This would allow the essential socializing to generate immunity among those with minimal risk of serious consequence, while saving lives, preventing overcrowding of hospitals, and limiting the enormous harms compounded by continued total isolation.”

    We are fretting and frittering away our national muscle watching TV about a bigamous tiger keeper. There are too many who want this isolation to continue indefinitely, a pathetic nation whose primary industries for its young people are camming and GoFundMe. We focus on the virus deaths, but the Reaper keeps a more accurate tally: deaths from despair, from hunger (two million new people became food insecure in NYC since the virus), financial losses (26 million Americans have filed for unemployment), mental health issues, and abuse (domestic murders during the viral months in NYC  outstripped the total from 2019.) In some ultimate irony, parents are postponing vaccinations for fear of bringing their kids to medical facilities.

    It is the reaction to the pandemic that exhausts us, not the pandemic itself. So when someone claims it is Money vs. Life they miss the answer: It’s both. It should not be taboo to discuss this. The debate needs to be about human life in full.

     
     

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    Where Have You Gone Joe DiMaggio?

    April 18, 2020 // 11 Comments »


     

    The talk in New York is about when to return to normal. But that misses the point; normal never really left, it just changed clothes. We traded economic disparity expressed through poverty for economic disparity expressed through viral death. The real problem isn’t when we’ll return to normal, it is that we will.
     

    All the energy that made this city more than livable, made it desirable, is gone. It’s just a big, empty place now, all the seams showing. The closed stores still have St Patrick’s Day decorations. Time stopped in March. I am a native New Yorker by birth, seven years now returned. I don’t know how many times we can all stand on the ledge and not jump. From 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis, Super Storm Sandy. This feels more like the gray of post-war East Germany than the white hot panic of late WWII Berlin.

    New York state has more corona cases than any other country in the world. About half of all U.S. deaths are here in the broader New York area. Sure, there are other hot pockets but while NYC counts the bodies in the thousands there are some states still in single figures and most others in the hundreds. The stars may soon again hold benefit concerts for us, echoing post-9/11’s “ferocious tenderness of how desperately America loves New York.” When the city talks in its sleep what many remember most is the kindness people showed toward one another that blue September, little courtesies of holding doors and allowing someone to cut the line, half smiles from total strangers in a place where such vulnerability could previously have made you prey.

    Not with the virus. We snap at each other, enemies now, each a potential carrier. This is a not a city which lends itself to personal space without a flash of aggressive eye contact. Walk without a mask and someone will snap at you. Two guys hissing something in Spanish at an Asian woman. Lines to enter the food store with everyone watching like North Korean border guards for sneaks. SNL and late night never mocked Bush in the immediate 9/11 aftermath. If we ever were one we are not now. Because we are for certain not all in this together as Governor Andrew Cuomo said: “Everyone is subject to this virus. I don’t care how smart, how rich, how powerful you think you are.”

    That is not true. The virus is highly concentrated in the poorest Hispanic and black neighborhoods of Queens and the Bronx. The viral death rate for Hispanics is 22 people per 100,000; for blacks 20 per 100,000 while the rate for whites is 10 per 100,000. For whites even that is deceptive, given the hot spots in the isolated Hasidic Jewish enclaves of Brooklyn versus the paucity lack of white deaths in the high-income areas. Poorer people are more likely to die at home than in a hospital, and so the surge in at-home deaths, most never tested, suggests the death rate for the virus is being under-counted. Overall the virus is twice as deadly for Hispanics and blacks than whites in NYC.

    In New York we speak hundreds of languages but not to each other. A map of viral cases neighborhood-by-neighborhood tells the tale. America’s most diverse city, America’s most sanctimonious city about that, is also one of her most segregated on the ground.

    New York City is also the most economically unequal city in the country. It is home to 70 billionaires, more than any other American city. Living among those billionaires (NYC is also home to nearly one million millionaires, more than any other city in the world) the city also has the largest homeless population of any American metropolis. The number of New Yorkers who live below the poverty line is larger than the population of Philadelphia or Phoenix, and would be the country’s 7th largest city. The billionaires fund the social services and the poor clean the homes and scavenge the trash of the billionaires.
     

    The reasons are the same reasons. Poor neighborhoods are served by the city’s miserable public hospitals, not its world-class private ones. A virus patient in the ravaged Bronx is twice as likely to die as one in a “nice” neighborhood. The problem is the quality, not the quantity, of healthcare. “We are watching, in real time, racial disparities and the pandemic of poverty,” one assemblyman said.

    Poor people suffer from comorbidities (86 percent of the dead have one), particularly the ones of bad diets like diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. Hypertension is 3x more prevalent, and diabetes 5x more, in the South Bronx than in well-to-do lower Manhattan. Influenza, which has already killed about twice as many people this season as COVID-19, follows a similar pattern.

    The Elmhurst neighborhood in Queens is “the epicenter within the epicenter,” according to the mayor. Some 64 percent of its residents are Hispanic, and the median household income is three-quarters of that of the metro area. Nearly 11 percent of households there are multigenerational. The grouping of young (who carry the virus without symptoms) and elderly together helps drive the higher infection rates.

    Park Slope, Brooklyn, has some of the city’s lowest rates of COVID-19, 56 percent below average. Two-thirds of its population is white and the median household income is one and a half times greater than average. Less than two percent of households are multigenerational. But when the Surgeon General specifically admonished people of color to stop drinking and using drugs during the pandemic to power up their immune systems he was called a racist.
     

    This is the normal. The economic disparity driving the viral load in NYC was here long before the virus; COVID-19 was superimposed on that sordid base. What is happening now, the deaths, was always happening, albeit slower. This mocks what pundits are calling the big question, how to balance the city’s health and the city’s economic needs, when to re-open for business. Economic inequality has been killing people all along, and keeping poor people from working by decree only makes them poorer and eventually sicker. It is a slow death as opposed to the quick countable deaths from the virus.. Tom Hanks will thank the food delivery guys for their service on SNL but we still won’t pay them a living wage.

    One of the things blamed in NYC was the late decision to close the public schools. Many wealthy private schools closed on their own in early March. The mayor kept the massive public school system open until the middle of the month not for educational reasons, but because it doubles as a social service center for poor children, including 114,000 who are homeless.

    More than half of all public students get their meals at school, and for the homeless kids it is the only place they can wash clothing and clean themselves. Birth control and STD testing for kids from strict Hispanic Catholic homes mostly happens surreptitiously through the schools. The schools provide daycare so poor people can work, and are the last hope to keep a few children out of gangs and offer them a break from abusive homes. “Given the alternatives, schools are a safer place for many kids,” one teacher said. Closing the schools was a “last resort,” judged a better option than hiding from the virus at one point. The uptick in child violence and domestic violence in general New York is experiencing now was understood to be coming, collateral damage.

    The city made up its mind a long time ago. During the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic which killed 30,000 New Yorkers, the Health Commissioner demanded public schools be kept open, believing the risks of gathering kids together were outweighed by the benefits of giving them a break from their crowded and unsanitary tenement apartments. The Commissioner also noted working immigrant parents had no time to care for their kids, better to have them looked after at schools. As he put it, sick people don’t go to the theater when they feel bad but they do go to work.

    Same for the subway system, still running 24/7, a remarkably effective way to spread the virus. As in 1918, poor people can’t work remotely. NYC kept the public schools open, and keeps public transport running, then and now, knowing it would spread the virus, because the alternative hardships seem worse.
     

    I’ve lived in the developing world and you get used to this. You have and they don’t, way it is, beyond one man’s blame and seemingly any man’s fix. The biggest barrier to some sort of “re-opening” in NYC is to figure out how to express that in palatable terms for 2020. Not that we weren’t already already doing it for the last hundred years, but now we need to make rules to govern our apartheid of dollars that sound OK in the Sunday Review section. The rest is just logistics.

     

    BONUS

    New York is not alone. In Chicago, more than 70 percent of the deaths related to the coronavirus were among black residents, though blacks make up only a third of the city’s population. In Michigan, black residents make up just 14 percent of the population, but over 40 percent of the COVID-19 deaths.

    It was always sort of this way, but maybe a slightly better version of it. Up until the 1970s or so, New York had always been about The Deal. You put up with the filth, the crowding, the lack of empathy, and she’ll throw you a bone. If you really make it, the luxuries of the world are available at your fingertips. In the middle, for the plumbers and the clerks, a spring afternoon at the stadium with a hot dog and a beer (or nowadays more commonly, a churro) reached at heaven. For the immigrants, from the 19th century Irish, Germans, Jews, and Italians to today’s Dominicans and Vietnamese, work until you’re running, burned, and near blind, and we’ll educate your kids so they don’t have to.

    We did away with The Deal when we switched to more disposable workers. A janitor I know tells the tale. His father came to New York from Puerto Rico a few Americas ago. Dad worked nights until he bought a house in Queens. Miguel’s brother is out of work with a high fever, but the real worry is dad, diabetic and elderly and living downstairs. Miguel cleans for rich people and “can’t get sick” because he’s now holding the family purse. He’s angry his kids have to “online school,” because he wants them to make the move, third generation, up and out, and online isn’t going to be enough.

     

     

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    The Virus Comes for the Bernie Campaign

    April 15, 2020 // 5 Comments »


     


    RIP the Bernie Campaign. We’re left with Joe Biden, and that means the real race is now between Trump and the Virus (capitalized to include the actual virus and the panic and political opportunism surrounding it.)

     

    What will be missed in the post-Bernie analysis is the key flaw since Inauguration Day 2017, the Democratic Party and their media lickspittles telling Americans they need a savior, a hero, a bear daddy, a rescuer and then serving up… Joe Biden. That strategy eliminated Bernie because whatever Bernie was, he was not a hero. He said it himself many times – “this is about a movement, it was never about one man.” The rest of them, the Beto’s and Pete’s and Kamala’s, were props, K-Pop media creations to satisfy a desire for diversity the media itself had mostly created.

    Twitter isn’t real life, and an important rule of the con is never believe your own bullsh*t. The Dems will ignore this and hope like hell some VP choice will negate all of Biden being Biden without realizing they never should have picked Biden.

    If Bernie ever had a chance in 2020 (and that is very unclear, his moment was in 2016 though the Democratic establishment ignored the yearning he represented because it was Her Turn, the big pay off for sticking with Bill, the second half of the pay off for standing aside for Barack) to move his ideas out of his Facebook friends’ circle into the mainstream. The Virus drove a dying progressive movement off the campaign battlefield. New ideas are scary enough in good times. Nobody wants to reform capitalism or talk about reparations in the middle of the war for survival the MSM told us we were in. AOC who?

    And now Joe Biden stands alone. Usually being the last man standing at the end of a fight means you won. But Biden is a black hole for enthusiasm, a dishrag (can you name one signature Biden proposal?) , a stand-in a candidate who through no fault or promise of his own will be the guy in the right or wrong place come autumn (that’s also how he got to be VP.)

    With Trump big footing his way into prime news time with daily press briefings (remember when the MSM chastized Trump for not holding briefings?) Biden is smart to not be saying much now. Whether he has anything worth saying in the autumn is a good question, when it all may be too late.

    There’s the major problem of by choosing Biden Dems took healthcare reform off the table at a time when it might have had a real audience. If the Virus exposed anything, it laid bare our system’s shortcomings. Well, nobody plans to do anything about that. If voters’ big takeaway in November is the healthcare system sucks, you know, the system last tinkered with by Obama-Biden and which Biden sees no need to overhaul, well, so much for Biden.

     

    This is now a one-issue race, the Virus. After more than three years of trying the Democrats (absent Bernie perhaps) have put few ideas forward. They remain cemented at the buttocks with the MSM to auto-criticize everything Trump, while the public remains unmoved as they have through the sagas of Russiagate, Ukraine, emoluments, taxes, wars that never happened, ending of democracy that never happened, etc. Democrats presented no alternatives during the stimulus process, just taking their share of the pork. In a gesture as limpingly sad as it was predictable, Nancy Pelosi did announce an investigation into the coronavirus response. The problem is by November there won’t be much to investigate.

    Long before anyone votes the Virus is going to be some version of “over.” One can always play (as we long did with Russiagate) “but just wait!” blunting every rational argument with an irrational one hoping for a turn for the worse, but as this is written New York City is reaching its Virus apex. Estimates of millions of Americans dead seem silly in the rear view mirror, and scientists are backing off even milder doomsday modeling. Governor Cuomo’s threat Trump would have blood on his hands if New York did not get 30,000 ventilators (it got about 7,000, many still unused) should embarrass him as only a few days later he admitted the state had adequate supplies.

    As time passes the many mini-crises of not enough tests then tests caught up, not enough masks then masks caught up, then not enough ventilators then ventilators caught up, etc. will demand perspective. Hydroxychloroquine, the MSM’s current stalking horse, will either have been shown to help or not and half of us can tell the others “I told you so.” Trump scores a win, or he says “the media never gave me a chance but we tried while they just whined it won’t work.”

    The end result is many people will return to sanity and understand, again, disaster management is a process not an event. Logistics take time. Mistakes get made. A response starts at zero with the disaster at something more than zero. The two curves compete while the media preternaturally assigns blame until mitigation catches hold. Don’t forget the Dems failed with this gambit once before, Trump the lousy crisis manager who will kill everyone after the hurricane in Puerto Rico, and even had the female mayor of San Juan in the current Andrew Cuomo role.

     

    After Russiagate, impeachment, and the imploded primaries, the Virus is the Dems’ last swing at Trump. There won’t be time for another round. It will be a tough sell come November for Dems to get people to vote Biden when all they have to offer is a mistelling of events nine months earlier. Few will remember and even fewer will care because the response will be judged in full, not based on the daily name calling passed off as journalism. Fauci, Cuomox2, the Hero Docs and Nurses, and whatever still-to-come good guys the media will have created so they don’t have to credit Trump with any success won’t be on the ballot. All the faux controversy, like the impeachment hearings, will be forgotten as something that hardly mattered then and certainly does not weigh heavy months later, a whole pandemic having passed specter-like through America.

     

    This measuring of events in full will be exacerbated if the trend we are seeing plays out. There are actually two pandemics in America, one tearing into New York and New Jersey, the other scraping past most of the country. More than half of all cases and deaths nationally are in the New York City area.

    Even that image of the pandemic may be too generous, because at present the Virus is not a pan-New York City phenomena per se. It is instead highly concentrated in the poorest neighborhoods; a Virus patient in the ravaged Bronx is twice as likely to die as one in a “nice” neighborhood. What if the pandemic ends being mostly a passing inconvenience for most of America, and not largely even a NYC-centric tragedy, but a poor-centric tragedy? Throw in California and Detroit if you’re a fatalist, it doesn’t change the basic equation. Other hot pockets will flash, but the draconian quarantine measures won’t last long in places like Ohio and Iowa if things stay steady.

    When nobody in the Heartland cares about all this in November pundits will blame it on racism, the convenient tar baby of all bad things (that will also help blame Trump for a mostly localized disaster without smearing Democratic pin-up Andrew Cuomo.) But the explanation which will elude strategists is that people vote for themselves.

    Looking back to Vietnam, much of Middle America was agnostic toward the war until the draft started sending bodies home to Bloomington, Dayton, and South Bend. Even then many held to their patriotism and sucked up the sacrifice. As long as most people in Iowa think of the Virus as an Other problem, Trump is secure. If they start to realize they all know someone who died of the virus, things get a little more competitive. So don’t be surprised to see desperate liberal pundits rooting for an autumn viral wave as this year’s October Surprise.

    All elections are in the end local. Votes are personal things, big picture issues rendered small. People vote their own experiences, and judge what a vote means for their future. For every game changer you think you see happening now, remember it will be judged by what happened after that on the road to Election Day. Imagine a July 4 Trump rally, him congratulating the crowd for having beaten back the Virus as they shout USA! USA!

     

    The election is between Trump and the Virus. If by November the public concludes he did a good enough job however that ends up being understood he’ll be reelected. Election day will be about adding up the smiles and cries from the coronavirus, with Joe Biden as a slightly interested bystander.

     

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    It’s Trump vs. The Virus in November

    April 14, 2020 // 1 Comment »

     

    There’s a new variant on an old joke. Trump and Biden are in the woods and see a bear racing toward them. Trump starts to run. Biden says “You can’t outrun a bear!” Trump replies “I only have to outrun you.” The election is between Trump and the Virus. If by November the public concludes he did a good enough job however that ends up being understood he’ll be reelected. Approval ratings only measure how fast one guy runs, and miss that’s it is a two-man race. Election day will be about adding up the smiles and cries from the coronavirus to see who the virus, er, bear gets.

     

    The Virus (capitalized to include the actual virus and the political panic and opportunism surrounding it) drove the progressive movement off the campaign battlefield. No more Parkland Kids, no more Pink Pussy Hats, Beto who? Mayor Pete who? Got a Plan for That who? Articles in HuffPo about how the publishing industry is especially unfair to left handed LGBT disabled Muslim people with eczema seem like Olde English. AOC is an artifact reduced to demanding free stuff from the government not from her ravaged district in the Bronx, but broadcasting from her DC luxe condo. When Bernie finally quits he’ll be lucky to make the “And in other news today…” part of the broadcast.

    Biden is a dishrag, through no fault or promise of his own the guy in the right or wrong place come autumn (that’s also how he got to be VP.) By choosing Biden Dems took healthcare reform off the table at a time when it might have had a real audience. If the Virus exposed anything, it laid bare our system’s shortcomings. Well, nobody plans to do anything about that. If voters’ big takeaway in November is the healthcare system kinda sucks, you know, the system last tinkered with by Obama-Biden ten years ago and which Biden sees no need to overhaul, well, so much for Biden.

    With Trump dominating the media, big footing his way into prime news time with daily press briefings (remember when the MSM chastized Trump for not holding briefings?) Biden is smart to not be saying much now. Whether he has anything worth saying in the autumn is a good question, when it all may be too late.

    The key flaw since Inauguration Day 2017 has been the Dems telling Americans they need a savior, a hero, a bear daddy, a rescuer and then serving up… Joe Biden. They have put few ideas forward on the road to making this a one issue election. They remain cemented at the buttocks with the MSM to auto-criticize everything Trump does, while the public remains unmoved as they generally have through the sagas of Russiagate, Ukraine, Emoluments, taxes, wars that never happened, trade crisis that never happened, ending of democracy that never happened, ending of abortion rights that never happened, ending of LGBT rights that never happened, etc. Democrats presented no alternatives during the stimulus process, just taking their share of the pork to include appropriating an additional $25 million in salaries and expenses for the Dem-controlled House. In a gesture as limpingly sad as it was predictable, Nancy Pelosi did announce an investigation into the coronavirus response. The problem is by November there won’t be much to investigate.

     

    Long before anyone votes this is all going to be some version of “over.” One can always play (as we did with Russiagate) the “but just wait” game of blunting every rational argument with an irrational one hoping for a turn for the worse, but as this is written New York City is reaching its Virus apex. Estimates of millions of Americans dead seem silly in the rear view mirror, and scientists are backing off even milder doomsday modeling. Governor Cuomo’s threat that Trump would have blood on his hands if New York did not get 30,000 ventilators (it got about 7,000) should embarrass him; a few days later he admitted the state had adequate supplies.

    As time passes the many mini-crises of not enough tests then tests caught up, not enough masks then the masks caught up, then not enough ventilators then ventilators caught up, etc. will demand perspective. Hydroxychloroquine, the MSM’s current stalking horse, will either have been shown to help or not and half of us can tell the others “I told you so.” Disaster management is a process not an event. Logistics take time. Mistakes get made. A response starts at zero with the disaster at something more than zero. The two curves compete while the media assigns blame until mitigation catches hold. Don’t forget the Dems failed with this gambit once before, Trump the lousy crisis manager who will kill us all after the hurricane in Puerto Rico, and even had the female mayor of San Juan in the current Andrew Cuomo role. George W. Bush was reelected despite Katrina.

    So it will be a tough sell in November for Dems to get people to vote Biden when they mostly have to offer a mistelling of Trump calling the virus a hoax nine months earlier. Few will remember and even fewer will care because the response over those nine months will be judged in full, not based on the daily name calling the media passes off as journalism. Cuomo, Fauci, Birx, Cuomox2, and whatever still-to-come good guys and bad guys the media will have created won’t be on the ballot. Might as well recycle those pleas for Michael Avenatti to run for president.

    All the faux controversy as the media tries desperately to create gossip (Are Trump and Fauci fighting?), what did or did not happen “fast enough” in January, like the impeachment hearings that took place alongside that, will be forgotten as something that hardly mattered then and certainly does not weigh heavy months later, a whole pandemic having passed specter-like through America. At what point might the numbers matter? For comparison, here are causes of death in America (2019) not being blamed on Trump as corona reaches 12k: cancer 606k, car accidents 39k, regular flu 34k, and in 2009 due to H1N1, 12k. Some states still have corona deaths in single digits. Now imagine Trump thanking and congratulating all those spared for their sacrifices and efforts at successful social distancing. USA! USA! We did it, together!

     

    This measuring of events in full will be exacerbated if the trend we are seeing plays out. There are actually two pandemics in America, one tearing into the New York-New Jersey area, and the other scraping past most of the country. Some half of the cases and deaths for all of the United States are in the New York City area. Hot pockets exist across the nation but there are only relative handfuls of cases in many states. The draconian quarantine measures won’t last long in places like Ohio and Iowa if that stays steady. This could be a NYCish problem, like Super Storm Sandy, devastating but isolated. By September rock stars may be again holding benefit concerts for The People of New York. Think Springsteen revising The Rising (“Come on up for the nurses, come on up wash your hands with mine.”)

    The thing is that even that image of the pandemic may be too generous, scrapping what one writer called post-9/11 “the ferocious tenderness of how desperately America loves New York.” Because at present the Virus is not a pan-New York City phenomena per se. It is highly concentrated in the poorest ethnic and black neighborhoods of Queens and the Bronx, along with mini hot spots in Hasidic Jewish enclaves of Brooklyn. NYC is fighting like hell to hide the demographic data, but studies suggest a Virus patient in the Bronx is twice as likely to die as one in a “nice” neighborhood. What if pandemic ends being mostly a passing inconvenience for most of America, and largely not only just a NYC-centric tragedy, but a poor-centric tragedy? Throw in California and Detroit if you’re a fatalist, it doesn’t change the basic equation.

    When nobody in the Heartland cares about all that in November pundits will blame it on racism, the convenient tar baby of all bad things (that will help blame Trump for a mostly localized disaster without smearing Democratic pin-up Andrew Cuomo.) But the explanation which will elude strategists is that people vote for themselves.
     
    Looking back to the Vietnam era, much of Middle America was agnostic toward the war until the draft started sending bodies home to Bloomington, Dayton, and South Bend. Even then many held to their patriotism and sucked up the sacrifice. As long as most people in Iowa think of the Virus as an Other problem, Trump is secure. If they start to realize they all know someone who died of the virus, things get a little more competitive. So don’t be surprised to see liberal pundits rooting for an autumn viral wave as this year’s October Surprise.

    All elections are in the end local. Votes are personal things, big picture issues rendered small. People vote their own experiences, and judge what a vote means for their future. For every game changer you think you see happening now in April, remember it will be judged by what happened after that on the road to Election Day.

      

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    The Monsters Are Due on Pennsylvania Avenue

    April 11, 2020 // 3 Comments »


     

    “There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own…”
     

    That’s the closing narration to a classic Twilight Zone episode, The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street. A summer’s day turns darkly paranoid as a group of neighbors convinces themselves strange doings are part of an alien invasion. Worse yet, one family among them may be aliens in disguise. Their fears escalate until a neighbor is shot and the former friends descend into a mob. The episode ends on a nearby hilltop where real aliens are watching the riot on Maple Street while manipulating the neighborhood’s electricity to encourage the violence. They comment on how simply fiddling with consistency leads people to descend into paranoia, and that this can be exploited to conquer Earth. The message is clear: while there is a real threat, the worst damage is done by ourselves, driven by the search for someone to blame.
     

     
    And oh yes in 2020, in what the NYT calls this “land of denial and death,” we search for someone to blame. Paranoia does not require much grounding in real life. So while a global pandemic unfolds, affecting over 150 countries, the blame for what is happening rests with one man. China, Spain, Canada, wherever, have no Trump. They don’t have America’s grossly commercialized medical system, or the economic inequality, or the the presence/lack of border controls, to exacerbate the virus. Yet they have the virus, statistically flexible enough to be worse than the U.S. where needed (China and Iran, they lie) or better than the U.S. to prove some point (South Korea tests more, Denmark has socialized medicine.)

    The Boston Globe has it clear: Donald Trump “Has Blood On His Hands” over coronavirus. The idea that a global pandemic is not “anyone’s” fault is unthinkable and Trump is a ready foil. The MSM has spent three years seeding our thoughts Trump is deadly. He was a Russian spy selling our secrets even as the #Resistance lead by Alec Baldwin practiced shouting “Wolverines!” He brought us to the brink of civil war, or nuclear war with North Korea, Iran, and China, enroute to climate change death. So what if the MSM got the details wrong — it wasn’t Russiagate or white nationalism or Ukraine — it was, we found it, this.
     
    Look, Trump did away with the “Pandemic Response Team” in 2018. If we had had that Team they would have swatted the virus away. Except there was no Team. What was fired was one man, Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer, who was actually only a bureaucratic coordinator on the NSC. Ziemer was originally a George Bush anti-malaria appointee after his naval aviation career, an evangelical Christian, with little real-world experience with a pandemic. Not a doctor, not a specialist. No matter his team and its duties were reassigned inside the NSC to a new biodefense directorate. And no matter Ziemer still works for the government, at USAID, in case anyone needs his expertise. And no matter he and his position did not exist in 2009, when by most MSM accounts the U.S. successfully handled the swine flu virus.
     
    Well, maybe it is because Trump cut funding to the CDC and NIH! Except that did not happen. The president’s budget proposals called for reducing funding even as Congress said no every time. Joe Biden claimed Trump “tried to defund the NIH” even as lawmakers enacted increases. Not that it matters much, but Trump never called the virus a hoax, though he did call Democratic efforts to tar him with inaction a hoax. And a Johns Hopkins study in 2019 ranked the U.S.  the best-prepared country in the world to handle a pandemic.
     
    But Trump didn’t test! Of course testing has ramped up quickly to the point where the U.S. has tested more people than other countries and is leading the world in deploying the new, faster, antibody test. But blame requires focus on an initial couple of weeks, mid-impeachment proceedings, when testing was not available in large quantities. One typical headline claimed, “The U.S. Badly Bungled Coronavirus Testing.” But the problems were old news almost as soon as the stories were written. Within a week, nearly a million tests would be available. The initial testing rollout of a CDC-designed test kit to state and local labs was unsuccessful because it contained a faulty reagent. CDC quickly backed away from a policy position limiting full testing to its own labs for statistical and quality control purposes, and commercial, university, and state labs gained approval to use their own tests.
     
    The CDC’s actions were standard procedure, and for good reason. When a new disease emerges CDC normally gets the ball rolling because it has the expertise and the biosafety laboratories to handle dangerous novel pathogens. Typically there are few confirmed viral samples at the outset, which researchers need to validate their tests, and CDC has the capability to grow the virus for this critical quality assurance step. You lose that if you allow everyone to test simultaneously. It’s not a “blame,” it is science.

    As for the technical problem with the original CDC kits, here it is: “The key problem with the kits is what’s known as a negative control. CDC’s test uses the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay to find tiny amounts of the SARS-CoV-2 genome in, say, a nose swab. To make sure a test is working properly, kits also include DNA unrelated to SARS-CoV-2. The assay should not react to this negative control, but the CDC reagents did at many, but not all, state labs. The labs where the negative control failed were not allowed to use the test; they have to continue to send their samples to Atlanta.” The CDC has been supplying reagents through the same place for a decade. So if you want to blame Trump for stirring in the wrong DNA in the kits, whatever, go ahead.
     
    Oh, you want someone to really blame? Well, there’s two pandemics’ worth of it to go around.

    But what about the ventilators? The U.S. tried to build a new fleet of ventilators, but the mission failed, leaving us in the present situation. Left out of the discussion was that the failure took place under the Obama administration, following the H1N1 pandemic. It was understood then some 70,000 ventilators should be stockpiled. Yet through a failure of oversight by the Obama administration the project ultimately produced zero ventilators. Last year the Trump administration approved a new design to kickstart the project, with deliveries to start in the summer.

    But didn’t we once have more ventilators? Yes, in California, but Governor Jerry Brown sold them. In 2006, citing the threat of avian flu, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had the state invest $200 million in a powerful set of medical weapons. He created a truck-borne system of some 50 million N95 respirators, 2,400 portable ventilators, and 21,000 patient beds. Then in 2011 the new Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, cut off the money to maintain the stockpile. The ventilators were given to local hospitals and health agencies without any funding to maintain them. Many were resold to dealers who shipped them abroad. The N95 respirators were allowed to expire without being replaced.
     
    New York, once again Ground Zero for a national tragedy, may not have enough ventilators. After learning in 2015 the state’s stockpile of medical equipment had 16,000 fewer ventilators than New Yorkers would need in a severe pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo could have chosen to buy more ventilators. Instead, he asked his health commissioner to draft rules for rationing the ventilators they already had.

    Governor Cuomo also recognized, but failed to do anything about, a shortage of masks and other protective gear. On March 6, weeks before Trump raised the issue, Cuomo stated people were stealing the equipment out of hospitals in New York. “Not just people taking a couple or three, I mean just actual thefts of those products,” Cuomo said. “I’ve asked the state police to do an investigation, look at places that are selling masks, medical equipment, protective wear.” There is no evidence he or the police ever followed up, directly resulting in a shortage today. Cuomo did not restate his order to investigate even after a warehouse with pallets of black market masks was reported.

    Despite the crisis, Cuomo continues to pursue $2.5 billion in Medicaid cuts to NY’s hospitals alongside limiting their expansion to save more money. That will end up being a lot of ICU beds missing if needed.

    Elsewhere in New York, city mayor Bill De Blasio’s decision to keep public school open through mid-March, well into the pandemic, is seeing its gruesome legacy play out in Queens, the Bronx, and Brooklyn, where multi-generational households are among the hardest visited by death.
     
    What about Congress? Public health experts testified on in 2018 and 2019 asking for over a billion additional dollars as part of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, explaining programs created after 9/11 to ready the nation’s health system for any kind of disaster had since been stripped down to dangerously low levels. Congress cut the funding. That decision is “among several key moments over the last few years where experts warned of the likelihood of something like current pandemic and government leaders did not do enough to prepare.”

    The point is not to absolve Trump. The point is not to blame others. There exists among too many an ugly need for things to fail, so we can blame someone. That glee cruel because the desire for a scapegoat coincides with much suffering.
     
    You never defeat a disaster, whether a hurricane in Puerto Rico or a virus. You mitigate it. Success is measured by how well those natural processes are pushed back beyond civilization’s walls and by how much suffering is relieved along the way. The process almost always follows the same path: recognize the disaster (easier with earthquakes, harder with a virus), determine what is needed (time consuming and ever-evolving with the goal being the right help to the right places in order of priority), procure and transport (can take time), and allow the mitigation efforts to go to work. Disaster management specialists know it will never be fast enough, as the response starts in deficit. But a tipping point will take place, and people will start to receive the help they need.
     
    The press conferences, clogged with ritual passive aggressiveness, grow wearisome, do not inform and entertain only in the way slowing down at a car wreck does. It’s not Weimar, it’s not Rome, but it is time to grow up; we’re all on the Diamond Princess now. We’ll have an election soon enough, and the people can decide for themselves what the MSM and Democrats have been trying to force on them for more than three years. Until then, focus on fixing the problems for our neighbors, not the blame.
     
     

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    What We Lost in the Pandemic

    April 4, 2020 // 11 Comments »


     
    A lot of change has taken place in a very short period of time in America, almost all of it undebated and unchallenged, in response to what still has a long way to go to justify it. But the virus is killing us all! Stop. It is not only possible to hold two ideas in mind at once, it is vital. The virus is a threat. At the same time we are immersed in making fundamental changes to society willy-nilly that will outlive the virus.
     
    Only two weeks ago I had an hourly-paid part-time job, my hours subject to my boss’ needs and whims. That made me a lot like the 60 percent of the American workforce who are also hourly employees, not to mention those working as independent contractors, adjuncts, and the massive undocumented labor behind our farms, hotels, and restaurants. The government ordered most of us to stop working and we did. Nobody is entirely sure if “the government” can actually just do this, but it did. Almost none of us can work from home. We wait like baby birds for the government to drop checks into our mouths. Overnight we went from workers, albeit workers at the failing edge of economic inequality, to dependent on government handouts. As the balance of power between Americans and their government changes dramatically, 60 percent of us approve of Trump’s handling of the crisis.

    Perhaps the clearest example of what just happened took place among teachers. Teachers from K-College worked frantically on their own time to eliminate the need for classrooms and move instruction online. Something that might have been rejected as unacceptable six months ago, or expected to take years under normal circumstances, was done at no new cost overnight. No consultants, no arguments from parents or unions, just worker bees radically transforming the American educational system. It won’t take long after this is done for institutions to realize they don’t need so many teachers, classrooms, janitors, etc. anymore. The infrastructure now assembled can be used so one teacher can instruct hundreds or thousands of kids. Why have ten math professors to teach ten sections in ten rooms when one person online can more or less do it? So teachers, thank you for your efforts to iron out the bugs in a mass proof-of-concept experiment. Don’t worry in the future when you’re out of work; there are always alternatives in the free market system. A porn site is offering the unemployed big bucks as cam girls during the pandemic.

    A live classroom teacher (doctor, therapist, consultant, etc.) may someday become yet another luxury available only to a select few. Quality will be what you can afford. That is part of what corona is doing, helping people adjust to a new standard. Remember once most white collar jobs came with a private office with a door, a dedicated secretary, and a formal lunch hour, never mind a pension. Manufacturing jobs paid a living wage, with union benefits and a picnic each summer to honor the American worker. Stuff happens, ya’ know?

     

    For the second time in about only a decade, we are seeing our homes endangered. Rent payments are hard. As mortgage payments slip the banks are sniffing around like hyenas. Some people will fail on rent payments on the same homes they used to own. Occupy Wall Street? No, occupied by Wall Street.

    Like good boys and girls a lot of us did invest our money after the 2008 economic crisis, yet anyone contemplating retirement or college in the near term just saw 20 percent of all that go away. Again. The bailouts are here, in the trillions, again, for the airlines and other businesses. Of course the stock market will go back up, it always does. What occurs in the space between it going down and going back up is the wealthiest Americans, having money in reserve, buy cheaply once-expensive stocks you were forced to sell at the bottom to feed your family. In a few years you’ll start buying in again, you know, when you get back to work, to push up prices and fuel the rich folks’ gains. The wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-2008 financial crisis growth while the bottom 80 percent, whose wealth was in their homes not stocks, became poorer as their missing homes did not “grow.” Their wealth, such as it was, was a Potemkin vision in the form of their homes which they actually did not own. The last recession represented the largest redistribution of money in a century.

    What about 2020? Since over half of all Americans now own no stock, the wealth in 2020 will be sucked out of the so-called 10 percent, the remains of what was once the upper middle class. They are the only ones who actually have money for the hyper-wealthy to take. The bottom 90 percent are basically too poor to steal from (except our labor; see above.) A month ago the richest 10 percent of Americans owned 84 percent of the total value of the market. The One Percent are in the process of taking from the Nine Percent below them right now. Fair enough in a way; much of the Nine Percent’s wealth was harvested out of the 2008 crisis.

     

    At least in 2008 it was just our money they took. I sit here in NYC under a multi-layered federal, state, and city state of emergency. I am still sort of free to go out, but since most stores, bars, restaurants, theatres, gyms, etc. are closed by fiat, freedom of movement is an illusion, like prisoners circling the rec yard. Adding to the people who now tell me what I can and cannot do, the manager of my local grocery has made up his own rationing rules, choosing which products and which quantities he allows us to purchase.

    Freedom of assembly is gone. No more questions about whether Milo can speak on campus. No more Pink Pussy Hat marches. A month ago if anyone said that to a BLM group, the riot would have been followed by a Supreme Court First Amendment case. In 2020 only three people nationwide have legally challenged anti-assembly orders. Before the virus we made fun of George W. Bush, who in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 seemed to downplay the severity of it all by telling Americans to go shopping, to visit Disney World. That seems generous to a population now cowing in their bedrooms. We are being conditioned to reject the comfort and solidarity of being in the presence of others; one media outlet explains to little JoJo’s and Yorki’s how to report large gatherings to the authorities via an online form.

     

    Politically the progressive movement disappeared with the proverbial whisper, not a bang. Is Bernie still in? All that talk about a brokered convention, third party stuff, whatever, it is gone. Frightened people (they were scared about Bernie’s ideas long before the virus but the end came quick once the virus arrived) want to pull the blanket over their heads. Joe Biden’s campaign slogan seems to be “I Won’t Do Much,” or more succinctly, “Better Things Aren’t Really Possible.” Joe is the political equivalent of an Obama tribute band. You’ve seen them, imitators who look a little like the Rolling Stones. They play only the best hits, competently but not skillfully, showing how wide the gap is between someone who can pull “Honky Tonk Woman” from the ether and someone who can just play the cords with enthusiasm. It’s a way to make a living and for Joe Biden telling everyone things will look like the 1958 it might just be enough. Protip: don’t wager too many dineros on the political future of AOC and The Squad. Even Tulsi endorsed Biden on the way out.

     

    Orwell in 1984 never really explained how it all came to be. He wanted to shock readers with a dystopian society whole on page one, something that felt like it always was and thus always will be. For us, however, living in this time, the evolution is of some interest. Orwell was also an amateur. He imagined freedom as something people would fight for. He did not envision how easy it would be to manipulate fear into learned helplessness such that Americans would in the space of a week voluntarily give up most of their freedoms, along with their actual jobs. Orwell envisioned the need for a Ministry of Truth when in fact all it took was a handful of deaths, some prolefeed — worthless entertainment for the masses about whether calling it “Chinese flu” was racism — and a dash of sky-is-falling articles for the majority not only to go along with the new authoritarianism, but to demand more. Fear is the problem and empowering government is the solution. You have to give some things up for a safe good society. If not, you’re selfish, a thought crime.

    Of all the bell curves, the one of interest is when the cure becomes worse than the disease. When do we as a society cross the line where measures of social control are no longer affecting the spread of the disease but are damaging the life we live. Of course many of the draconian steps taken these past weeks will be pulled back. But some will stick. And the lessons learned by the darkest corners of American life will be jotted down. The same thing happened after 9/11, when frightened by terrorism, Americans gave up their rights to privacy and freedom from search with great enthusiasm. Somewhere Dick Cheney is saying to himself “we could have taken it so much further, we just didn’t realize it would be so easy.”

    Hey, Dick, check it out — we have voluntarily given up our livelihoods and jobs, freedom of assembly, and transferred most of our speech to social media monsters who can edit or block it as they wish. We are heading toward more dependency on government money to eat. Access to medical care, once limited by having “good” insurance, is now limited by medi-bureaucratic decisions — committees who will decide who gets to see a doctor. Remember how even the rumor of such “death panels” under Obamacare set people afire? We understand better now, sorry grandma.

    Unintended consequences? Doubt that. This did not just happen, our governments made it happen near enough to overnight and we wanted them to do that. No one wants to die. But think ahead to how we are going to live.
      

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