Friday, July 03, 2020

Locking Down and Masking Up is the Only Way We Get Through This. Trump is Killing Us.

WTF is the matter with people?

The entire rest of the world had managed to grasp something that we can't seem to - that the only way out of this pandemic is to lock down and mask up.

But the delusional science-hating reality-deniers are insisting that it's more important to "get the economy going again" by reopening and putting people back to work than to save hundreds of thousands of lives.

The problem with this is - reopening and putting people back to work before this pandemic is under control will NOT "get the economy going again." 

In the very short term, the economy could incrementally improve. But the cost in lives will nullify *financially* (since this is the only lens these people can see things through) any short-term financial gains. 

We will be set back *financially* much, much farther than we would if we stayed locked down. There will be less people alive, more virus roaring through the remaining population - and good luck getting a functioning ecomony going in those circumstances.

What's happening here is the same old Republican trope about lazy poors sucking up unearned money from the hard-working well-off.

It is KILLING them that there are  people who are momentarily receiving more money from unemployment and stimulus payments than they were making before the pandemic.

Every second this is happening is burning them up inside.

The idea that the government is paying people not to work is driving them out of their minds.

Some Republicans are coming right out and saying it.

Vanity Fair reports that "Senators Lindsey Graham, Ben Sasse, Rick Scott, and Tim Scott are sick with fear that the legislation will make unemployment so enticing that low-wage workers will decide to lay themselves off."

Claiming the relief package will encourage people to stay out of the workforce, Graham told reporters that the bill “pays you more not to work than if you were working,” noting that it would provide the equivalent of $24.07 an hour in South Carolina versus the state minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.“If the federal government accidentally incentivizes layoffs, we risk life-threatening shortages in sectors where doctors, nurses, and pharmacists are trying to care for the sick, and where growers and grocers, truckers and cooks are trying to get food to families’ tables,” Graham, Sasse, and Scott said in a statement. 

Somehow, they don't seem to take in the fact that sending these low-wage workers (whose wages are too low to support themselves working full time) back to work while the pandemic still rages is condemning them (and the people who interact with them) to a possible death sentence. 

These people cannot do their jobs from home. And the people who are hotly demanding they go back to work are, more often than not, people who can work from home or who can afford to stay home.

The demands to send the low-wage workers back to work and off the government teat are not accompanied by the requisite protections to keep them safe - mostly because right now, there IS no safe way to go back.

The best way to protect ourselves and even our ecomony is to literally pay people to stay home. 

Pay people to keep them from killing themselves or other people. 

Cam you imagine, if this were the bubonic plague, that it would be "freedom" to force people to choose between starving because they have no money and going to work and spreading the plague wherever they went?

This has to be done from the federal government, because their first responsibility is to keep Americans safe - to save American lives. Nothing is more important than this. Certainly, making sure poor people don't get too much money is not more important than saving hundreds of thousands of American lives.

The fact is, we have to think of the money as an investment - one that will, in the long term, truly "get our economy going again." We simply can't be so short-sighted as to be "penny-wise and pound-foolish".

The federal government also MUST make wearing masks and social distancing a requirement, not a suggestion.

Right now, Trump's politicization and personalization of mask-wearing as an insult to him is a literal death sentence to countless Americans. It needs to be understood as such.

The rest of the world has already done what's necessary to get to the other side of the pandemic. They have nationally mandated masks. They have locked down and stayed down until the numbers came down. 

They're already back to work, back to school, back to restaurants, back to a sort of normalcy that we cannot possibly achieve until we take the steps that the rest of the world have taken.

And as long as Trump is refusing - because of his own personal vanity - to do what's necessary to get us out of this, and forcing his ride-or-die supporters to choose between him and their lives (and the lives with whom they interact, i.e. the rest of us) and frame lifesaving measures as an assault on liberty, we will continue down this highway to hell with no exit ramp in sight.  

Friday, February 21, 2020

The Last Chapter of "The Price of Right" - Preaching To The Choir

This is the last chapter of my 2008 book "The Price of Right"

It seems to me that it's more true today than I could have envisioned back then.

Preaching To The Choir

The cost of conservatism is one we can no longer afford. The "price of right" is far too high. But we cannot begin to change the policy of conservatism until we recognize it for what it is: a political philosophy that believes that in order to have winners, there must be losers. And in an us-against-them mindset, the losers will always be those who don't subscribe to the conservative beliefs.

It's disheartening that so many people who consider themselves conservative don't realize the neoconservatism of today is fundamentally different than the conservatism of the past. Many old-style or Goldwater conservatives have left the Republican Party in disgust because of what has happened to conservative ideals.

John Dean's book Conservatives Without Conscience, originally co-written with Barry Goldwater himself (who died before it could be finished), is a thirty-years-later sequel to Goldwater's own conservative manifesto The Conscience of a Conservative, in which the conservative icon mourns the loss of his view of traditional conservative values. Goldwater's ideals shouldn't be labeled conservative or liberal, instead, they should be seen as genuine human concerns, ones that our Founding Fathers had as their goals when they fought the Revolutionary War. "Lower taxes" is emotional shorthand for "don't steal from me." "Deregulation" is shorthand for "don't prevent me from making a living." "Smaller government" and "individual freedom" is shorthand for "let me be free."

But, unfortunately, in the neoconservatism of today, Goldwater's ideals have been warped beyond recognition.

"Lower taxes" now means giving tax breaks to the rich and corporations and offloading the decreased revenue onto the backs of those least able to afford it. It means creating a trickle-up economy with the largest redistribution of wealth since the Gilded Age.

"Deregulation," which has been the conservative battle cry since the 1970s, now means making rules that allow corporations to pollute, to sell poisonous products without being responsible for their effects, and to charge whatever they want for essential services such as electricity.

 As for "smaller government," perhaps our government has reduced in size, but it's only because private corporations like Blackwater have taken over traditional government roles. So instead of a bigger government that the people can look to and depend on, we now have a government unable to manage its own affairs, one that puts power in the hands of corporations unregulated by the public.

And "individual freedom?" One needs look no further than our administration granting itself the authority to spy on and amass personal data on its citizens.

The Bush administration, which proudly and defiantly calls itself conservative, has embraced an ideology that is anything but classical conservatism. Instead, it has produced a government that rejects democracy, self-determination, human rights, and true freedom in favor of an iron-fisted imperialistic and plutocratic rule that ignores the rights and concerns of many in favor of the interests of the few and powerful.

Freedom has become only for those who can afford it.

So, what can progressives, liberals, moderates, even classic conservatives do to take back our democracy?

There are many factors that keep our current government system in place. One factor we can't really do much about is that 23-25 percent of the population is made up of authoritarians. These people's need to accept authority for authority's sake in the manner of the strict father frame will (most likely) not be swayed by argument. It's easier to let go of the frustration of being unable to get through to these people if we understand this. It's also important to remember that all conservatives are not authoritarians. We are in a farmer society, and most of the basic rules we follow exist because they work. Change for the sake of change is just as impractical and potentially destructive as stubbornly clinging to the past. But if a leader is leading the herd over a cliff, obedience ceases to be an asset. So why doesn't most of our country realize we're heading over the cliff? Why is it that this other 75-77 percent of the population isn't up in arms about what's happening to our democracy?

One way that those in power continue to hold the upper hand is by convincing people that resistance is futile. If you feel that your vote won't get counted, that your voice doesn't matter, that there's nothing you as a person can do to change things, then you withdraw from the democratic process, become disaffected and apathetic, and nothing does change.

There are those who are critical of what is called the "echo chamber" or "preaching to the choir," meaning discussing issues with those who agree with you instead of arguing with those who don't. However, when it comes to mobilizing liberals and progressives to find our voice and our strength, preaching to the choir is exactly what's called for. This book is not written for the usual suspects - the people who are already hip-deep in progressive issues, involved in this committee or that campaign, at the front of every protest or march. They have been working in the trenches all along. The people this book is aiming far are those who believe in liberal values - in peace, in social justice, in America as it was intended to be - but have been sitting on the sidelines because they don't realize how important, how needed their voices are.

It would be great, of course, if we could be guaranteed that by following a certain course of action, we would achieve the desired results. It would be nice to know that if we called Senator X, signed Petition Y, and marched at Protest Z, that our troops would come home, that Bush, Cheney, et al. would resign en masse, that we'd get universal health care.

The reality is, in spite of our best efforts, we may not be able to achieve these objectives. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. If we really believe in what we say, then we have no choice but to work for what's right, even if we don't see a sure and smooth path to success. That is what morality is - doing what's right because it's right.

With action, we can bring change. No matter how small the action, it is worth doing because not taking action is giving active support to those people and positions we are fighting against. Not only is it worth doing, but it is imperative.

The word "evangelize" comes from the Greek word (eu- aggelos) for "bringing good news." We need to evangelize. We need to bring a discussion to our friends, our family, our coworkers, not the ones who already believe that whatever George Bush wants to do is just dandy, but the ones who are disaffected, who are disgusted with politics and politicians. The ones who think there's no sense in voting because their vote will be stolen anyway. The ones who think that things will get better by themselves, that someone else is going to take care of it. These people aren't going to hear the truth from the traditional media, which is all most working people have time to pay attention to these days. So we need to bring the news to them, one person at a time. Tell people what you're reading. Start a discussion. Give suggestions on practical ways to get active. Perhaps phone banking for one night for a local candidate whose positions they support, or making a call to a Congressperson about an issue they feel strongly about. Perhaps standing on a corner for an hour on a Friday night with some local peace activists. It's simply about getting involved on some level. Nothing earth shattering or life changing; just simple action.

Any action is preferable to inaction.

You don't have to be George Soros to make a difference. If you come across something that sparks your interest or you feel is deserving, kick in $10. Or $5. Any donation, no matter how small, is better than none. Not only that, but it gets you participating. Instead of throwing yourself full-time into someone's campaign, just phone bank for one night from your cell phone. Or offer some other skill you have for a couple of hours.

The point of micro-activism isn't the amount. It's involvement versus non-involvement. Physical action leads to emotional connection. Conservatives like to accuse liberals of having no common values, of being in disarray. We certainly have values, but the part about being in disarray has a crumb of merit. Liberals are, well, liberal. We believe in freedom. Not just freedom for ourselves, but freedom for other people as well. The kind of freedom we were promised as Americans in the Constitution. We are not anarchists. We believe in the rule of law. We respect authority when it deserves our respect, but not authority for authority's sake. Though we are the majority part, we are less than unified. But if we can unify, if we can bring in the people who are not ordinarily political, but who share our values, we have a chance at tipping the balance back toward sanity. To have a good choir, you need a lot of voices, not just a few screeching as loudly as they can. This is one of the points in history where every person is important. It's not enough anymore for the usual suspects to make all the noise. They can't do it by themselves anymore.

Thomas Paine wrote this on December 23, 1776:

THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. 

These, too, are times that try our souls. The cost of freedom is indeed high, but the "price of right" is even higher. So let us not allow our freedom be taken away without a fight. We owe it to ourselves, to each other, to those who came before us, and to those who will come after us.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

March of the Republican Zombie Ants

There are species of ants that have been seen to exhibit behavior straight out of a horror movie. A seemingly normal, healthy carpenter ant, going about its normal ant business, suddenly exhibits strange behavior.

It leaves its nest, staggering and stumbling like a drunken sailor on shore leave, and begins searching for a plant to climb. When it reaches a particular elevation, it climbs onto the underside of a leaf and clamps its jaws down in a death grip onto a leaf vein on the north side of the plant.

There it remains, paralyzed and waiting to die.

But that is not all.

The final horror: after three weeks or so, the dead ant, devoured from the inside, is covered in fuzz, and displays a gruesome tentacle that has burst out from its head.

They are nicknamed "zombie ants", and they seem to be compelled by some malevolent force beyond their control to destroy themselves and then once dead, to create more like themselves.

The real culprit? A parasitic fungus called Ophiocordyceps unilateralis.

This fungus replicates itself by attaching its spores to the exoskeleton of an ant. As it penetrates the exoskeleton, it infects the host ant and compels it to march to its death, where it eats the ant from the inside and then once it has grown large enough, sends a long tentacle-like stem called a "fruiting body" out from the ant's head, which has pods containing spores. When the pods burst, the spores are scattered by the wind to infect other ants, and the process begins again.

The infected ant will look and act normal for a while as the fungus incubates, which is another brilliant move by Cordyceps because normally if an ant appears sick, the other ants will eject it from their colony in self-preservation. But once the infection develops enough, the fungus apparently invades the muscle bundles of the ant, interferes with its nervous system, and controls its movement. 

It compels the ant to climb to a certain height off of the ground, with the right amount of light and humidity that the fungus needs to grow and reproduce. Then it takes over the mandibles and forces the ant to bite down on the vein of a leaf on the specific side of the plant and paralyzes it so it can't unlock its jaw.

Then, after devouring the ant from the inside, it forces it to infect other ants.

One interesting thing about Cordyceps and related fungi is that, while an insect-pathogen itself (which kills and eats the ant, and then uses the corpse for its reproduction) it uses what is called a "secondary metabolism", which acts to immunize the ant from other pathogens, thus ensuring it is healthy enough to stay alive for the necessary amount of time to complete the fungus' reproductive cycle.

I can't help but see a parallel with the Republican party as it exists today with the infection known as Trumpism (or in the Latin, Trumpyceps republicanis).

Once-seemingly normal Republicans exhibit a puzzling and bizarre turnabout from ideas and principles that once were a hallmark of the Republican Party - fiscal conservatism, personal and fiscal responsibility, Russia hawkishness, respect for the rule of law, law enforcement agencies, and national security - and have replaced these with a march to self-destruction and the annihilation of the democratic process, replacing it with blind loyalty and support of a venal, lawless, cruel, dictator-loving would-be autocrat whose goal seems to be the elimination of the principle of government of, by and for the people in favor of a classic tinpot totalitarian state ruled by him, his family and his toadies, using the coffers and the power of the government for their own personal benefit and enrichment.

There was a time when Republicans were fiercely opposed to these things. There was a time when they would excoriate Democrats for being insufficiently supportive of law and order, too skeptical about the CIA and FBI, for being too soft on Russia and North Korea, for deficits and spending without balancing it with budget cuts.

Many of these Republicans whose mandibles are now permanently clamped to Trump's posterior were his most strident critics before the election. They raged about his immorality, his vicious invective towards anyone who he didn't like, his shady business practices, his complete and utter unfitness for public office of any kind, let alone the Presidency of the United States.

Now, they enthusiastically defend his every vile word and action to the death. They cheer while he insults our allies and destroys our relationships with them; they cheer while he grovels before Putin; they cheer while he encourages white supremacy, religious bigotry and lawless aggression; and they cheer as he attacks immigrants and cages children.

They defend his looting of the government coffers for his own enrichment; they defend his blatant nepotism and cronyism; they defend his dismantling of the State Department and rejection of diplomacy in favor of his secret plans to benefit himself and Russia at the expense of our own national security.

They support his outright rejection of legal subpoenas, they support his crazy claims of complete and total privilege - not just for himself but anyone he wants to keep quiet - and immunity from oversight and even of investigation of wrongdoing.

"Donnie is just all right with me!"

These Republicans, who had conniptions over the color of a suit that President Obama wore, have given Trump the green light to do whatever he wants. Overturn the conviction of a war criminal? Sure! Overrule security experts to give highest-level security clearances to his spectacularly unqualified daughter and son-in-law and many other people with no business being anywhere near a classified document? Go right ahead! Have secret conversations with our adversary Vladimir Putin and refuse to disclose the contents as required by law? Why not? Handing out his private number to have unsecure cellphone conversations and talking about important national security issues with world leaders surrounded by random paying guests at Mar-a-Lago? No problem! Bribery, witness intimidation, you name it - it's all good!

This is literally insane.

I'm no Republican and I do not support the bulk of the Republican agenda, but it seems there are some basic things here that normal Republicans in any other era would have howling fits about - even if (I would hope) another Republican president had done them.

There seems to be some kind of bizarre pathology that changes law-and-order, fiscally conservative, national-security-hawk Republicans into gibbering sycophants who will fight to the death for Trump's right to do anything he pleases, even things that are clearly illegal, even things that endanger the founding ideals on which our country was built.

The Trump fungus' "secondary metabolism" has immunized its victims against any other influence that could move them from their death march. Trumpyceps republicanis seems to have infected an entire political party, and it appears to be 100% fatal for democracy.