Archive for January, 2021

Unethical, Stupid, or Cowardly?

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the majority of Republicans in the U.S. House and Senate do not want to convict former President Trump in an impeachment trial, despite his months of efforts to overthrow an election that even all Republican state election officials said was without fraud and despite his successfully inciting a mob to attack the U.S. Capitol while Congress was in joint session to certify the results.

These Republicans offer a number of excuses, ranging from the barely plausible to ones far worse. The barely plausible one is that the U.S. needs “to heal.” Who do they think they’re kidding? The only ones who need “healing” are the far-right and their supporters, and they’re not interested in being “healed.” They’re still plotting to overthrow any democratically-elected government that doesn’t support them and their goals.

The next excuse is that it’s unconstitutional. Bullshit! First, legal precedent has already been established in the case of federal officials previously impeached after they left office. Second, as a practical matter, do we let embezzlers off the hook just because they’ve left the company they looted? Or teachers who’ve been abusive because they’re no longer teachers?

The third excuse is that Trump really didn’t do anything wrong. He just got carried away. Really? Plotting and pressuring officials to overturn election results for over two months and, apparently, even after the assault on the Capitol, from recent reports from the Justice Department.

The fourth excuse is that it will get in the way of the new Administration. This one is incredibly hypocritical. Already the Republicans are signifying opposition to many of the Biden administration’s proposed policies.

The fifth excuse is that it’s just better to let Trump fade away, as if he’ll EVER willingly fade way. Not the man who treated the White House like the set for a TV reality show.

The sixth excuse is that Trump was the only one addressing the needs of the “forgotten workers.” Just because he told those workers he identified with them shouldn’t give him a free pass. Besides, as far as the neglected workers go (those pushed out of the workforce by technological and economic change), Biden’s far more likely to address their problems in a meaningful way than Trump — or most Republicans — ever would.

The real reason is that those Republicans care more about getting re-elected than they do about morality, about law, and about the Constitution. They’re either self-interested cravens or too ignorant about law and ethics to be a U.S. Representative or Senator [not that ignorance is any barrier whatsoever], and they’re still afraid that Trump will strike back at them.

All the rhetoric and all the excuses to the contrary, they won’t oppose Trump because they’re either too unethical themselves, too stupid, or too cowardly to do their ethical duty…if not all three.

Who’s Listening?

The other day, I happened to see on the satellite directory The American President, a favorite movie of mine, despite it’s being dated, its political inaccuracies, and its hokey ending. One of the reasons I like it is that it offers hope – that and the line that the President (played by Michael Douglas) levels at his ultra-conservative political opponent about the ACLU, words to the effect that, if you’re so big on the Constitution, why are you so opposed to people exercising their Constitutional rights.

But… as I was thinking about the movie, I realized that, in one very crucial way, almost all political movies are dated because they embody the idea that a candidate can change people’s minds by speaking, campaigning, or even outlining absolutely accurate and verifiable facts in an equally accurate context.

Today, most people don’t listen very much, and very few listen to anything that might change their opinion. As events in Washington, D.C., demonstrated last week, that becomes a serious problem for society as a whole when people believe in events that did not happen based on inaccurate or non-existent facts and do not listen to anything outside their “bubble.”

This problem isn’t just in the political sphere. It’s everywhere. Almost all the teachers I know report that one of the biggest problems they face is that students don’t listen well, and that even when they try, they have a hard time retaining facts and information. Part of this, I suspect, is because they want to be entertained and spoon-fed answers and resist any instruction that requires more effort on their part. This wouldn’t be such an enormous problem if it weren’t for the fact that fewer and fewer of them read, and less and less reading is required in most school systems.

“Personalized” news just magnifies the problem, as has the isolation resulting from the Covid pandemic, because people tend to stay within their personal comfort zone.

Will people ever get back to listening?

I’m generally an optimist, but this is one area that challenges that optimism.

Losing Freedoms?

One of the catch phrases used often recently by conservatives and especially the far right extremists is that they’re upset, or they’re demonstrating and attacking the Capitol, because they’re losing freedoms. But what exactly do they mean?

Cliven Bundy, who provoked an armed standoff between the BLM and armed militia types several years ago, raised that claim again this past week. What freedoms did Bundy fear losing? The BLM attempted to confiscate his cattle because Bundy had over a million dollars in unpaid grazing fees over 21 years. Bundy clearly wants the “freedom” to graze his cattle on federal land without paying for it. And the Trump Administration has continued to allow Bundy to graze federal lands without payment while claims and counter-claims clog the courts. So the taxpayers continue to fund Bundy’s grazing. No wonder he doesn’t want to lose that “freedom.”

Trump recently pardoned Phil Lyman, who wanted the freedom to ride his ATV anywhere he wanted, including in roadless areas and protected fragile archeological sites. Lyman was sentenced to jail and fined over $90,000 for the damage caused by the “protest” ATV ride he personally led. He was also subsequently elected to the state legislature, which indicates he has a number of constituents who favor those kinds of “freedom.”

The white supremacists are another group protesting the “loss of freedoms,” presumably, from their pronouncements and actions, the freedom to discriminate against minorities, immigrants, and women.

Quite a number of businesses, large and small, protest against government regulations because such regulations restrict their freedom to operate. Yes, they do. Environmental regulations restrict the ability to pollute air, water, and ground, and they do so because pollution restricts the freedom of the rest of the nation to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and to live on land not filled with toxic chemicals. OSHA rules restrict the “freedom” of businesses to engage in practices that endanger employees and the public. The FDA restricts the “freedom” of food suppliers/producers to sell cheaper foods that could be harmful to consumers.

And, of course, Trump insists on the freedom to incite others to violence and to support throwing out the results of an honest election.

All too often, such “freedoms” are the ability to oppress or injure others, and those who support them are disingenuous or hypocritical… if not both, a fact that far too many Republicans ignore in one way or another.

The Socio-Economic Powder Keg

Or possibly the socio-economic multi-megaton explosive device.

The other day the very conservative but very intelligent Peggy Noonan wrote an essay deploring the behavior of Trump, Cruz, and Hawley, but the aspect of the essay that was far more important will likely be largely overlooked… and that’s the underlying reason for what happened at the Capitol, a reason Noonan hinted at, but failed to pursue.

She made the very valid point that true conservatives, not demagogue conservatives, are conservative because they understand that the veneer of civilization in society can be very thin, and can be easily disrupted, and that such conservatives are leery of change for that very reason, because change always creates disruption. What she didn’t say is what follows.

Just as conservatives feel that any change may be for the worse, liberals have a tendency to believe that any change is for the better. In that respect, they’re both wrong, but that’s not the point.

The first point is that change, any change, is disruptive. The second point is that technology magnifies the pressure for change, and I don’t think many people truly understand how these factors have energized and angered the Trumpists and red-state conservatives.

For the last ten thousand years or so most human cultures have been based, if sometimes loosely, on the “agricultural model” which put a premium on brute strength. The result of that model has been a range of societies based on two factors: male supremacy and the alienation of the “other” so that those of other race, color, creed, ethnicity, etc., were either minimized, enslaved, subjected to genocide, or various other repressive measures. And, as part of male supremacy, women were also minimized as individuals and maximized as broodmares.

Technology has rendered the agricultural model obsolete, at least in developed societies, because brain-power has largely replaced brawn-power, but it hasn’t significantly changed the underlying societal “assumptions” of male supremacy and the alienation of the other.

What is now happening in the U.S. is that minorities and women, as well as those who don’t fit into gender stereotypes, are gaining real power and pushing for true equality… and they’re tired of waiting, and are pushing for what they believe they deserve… and, in the U.S., what laws also state that they deserve [largely, anyway]. Now that better education and training are more and more available to all these groups, more and more of them can compete in the workplace and professions with, in the U.S., white males.

No matter what anyone says, there are only so many good paying positions in any society, and in a world competitive economy, those better educated and trained women and minorities are beginning to advance over white (or the dominant ethnic) men of lesser ability… and, guess what, after 10,000 odd years of male superiority over women and the “others,” the less competent “dominant” males don’t like it. They really don’t like it. Put in the vernacular, they don’t like losing their “privilege.”

What U.S. politicians and policymakers seem unable to grasp is that this isn’t just a teeny-weeny reaction by a comparative handful of over-privileged and under-qualified white males. It’s the leading edge of a total societal makeover – a change which will be massive, if it occurs, and a cataclysm that could literally tear apart societies and result in massive oppression if it fails.

The Trumpists who briefly took the capital are losers, in more than one way. They’re people who are losing their position in society, a position they believe was sacred and ordained by history, and they cannot and may not ever see that their position was based upon the oppression and/or minimization of others.

Too many of the liberals who have opposed the Trumpist followers merely consider them ill-educated and prejudiced white supremacists, or possibly just misguided conservatives. Such a dismissive view fails to understand the true magnitude and costs of what this societal change will entail. The entire image of sexual/gender/ethnicity roles will be recast, along with the associated economic factors and costs. And as such changes become more apparent, tens of millions of people will resist such change, because the very basis of society will have to change.

If it doesn’t, of course, what follows will make the gulags of the USSR seem mild, because oppressors really don’t like to be threatened. Just remember the Capitol… and consider that it was disorganized and poorly planned. Other such events might not be.

The Un-Proximate Cause

The direct cause of the Q-Anon/Far Right assault on the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday is not in dispute, at least not to anyone who can think and is in command of his or her faculties and who understands facts. That direct and proximate cause was Donald J. Trump, who planned a rally for that morning and who incited fanatical supporters to march on the Capitol and to disrupt the certification of the results of November’s Presidential election, a certification that is largely ceremonial, given that the states control the vote count and the electors.

That mass assault occurred and succeeded in overwhelming the Capitol Police Force for a very different reason. Trump and other extremist groups – largely but not exclusively right wing – have succeeded in effectively brain-washing 25%-35% of the American public because public education has largely failed the majority of students in U.S. schools. The result is that far too many people cannot or will not think and will accept whatever ideology they feel comfortable with… even if every fact behind it is incorrect or flat wrong.

Trump has filled his followers with four years of falsehoods and lies… and those in that mob swallowed them whole and without thinking… and attacked the Capitol.

The Capitol Police failed to prepare for the descent of the mob on the Capitol for much the same reason. They’ve been conditioned to think of BLM movements or even women equality protesters as “dangerous,” but not alt-right white supremacists – even though the FBI has been pointing out that the most dangerous extremists are white supremacists. In short, the leadership of the Capitol Police didn’t think or prepare, even though Trump made no secret of the rally.

And one of the reasons for these occurrences is, put bluntly, that the majority of students don’t know how to think, to analyze, or even to read effectively. They believe that knowing facts is irrelevant and that they can “Google” any fact they need to know… and this is true of college students as well. There are a number of factors behind this development, but one of the most important is the turn of education away from learning “facts.” Now, I’m the last person who would support mere memorization of facts as education – that’s a waste of brainpower and time – but there are certain core bases of knowledge that citizens need to absolutely “know” in their mind and hearts, and the same is true of all professionals in their field, whether that field is electrical work, plumbing, landscaping, law, medicine, engineering, or politics.

One of the reasons why two Boeing 737 Max aircraft crashed was Boeing’s failure to install multiple sensors for airspeed, but the other was the failure to understand that emergency procedures cannot just be put on paper. They have to be not only understood, but practiced – a lot. There weren’t just the two crashes that made the headlines. There were several other instances where sensor malfunctions caused the autopilot to override the pilot, but in those other instances, highly trained pilots knew what to do. One of the FAA requirements for the return of the 737 Max is more pilot training on those systems.

Right now, at least half of all Americans don’t understand the Constitution and how our government works [or is supposed to work]… but they think they do, and they’re absolutely convinced that their understanding is correct. Why? Because they never really learned the facts and the systems, largely because public education never really insisted on that. “It’s just history, and it’s old stuff that students don’t have to learn.” Most of the young women that my wife teaches honestly don’t know, for example, that U.S. women have only had the right to vote for a century… or that women still only make on average 60-80% [depending on the state] of what men do for the same position and hours worked. Many of those young women unfortunately, not only don’t know, but don’t care, even though statistics show that more than 60% of them will be the primary breadwinner at some point in their lives.

The mob that descended on the U.S. Capitol had literally no understanding of why there couldn’t have been vote fraud on the scale they were told and believed. They didn’t understand that elections are run on a state and local basis, and that roughly two-thirds of the states are currently controlled by Republicans, and at present, fairly conservative Republicans at that, and that Republicans aren’t about to allow Democrats to get away with voter fraud.

That mob also didn’t understand or care that Republican lawmakers who were contesting the validity of the Presidential vote weren’t contesting the validity of the election as far as their own re-election went, which, I submit, is a considerable failure in thinking things through.

No… those in the mob haven’t been forced to think, because our society no longer requires it, and there’s a growing culture that believes that whatever news and information appears that appeals to them must be correct… because it feels “right.”

True thinking and learning requires confronting the uncomfortable, testing one’s own beliefs against hard verified facts, and learning to discern what comfortable beliefs may in fact be wrong or not based in reality and what beliefs need modifying.

And U.S. education, for the most part, is failing in getting students to understand the importance of and the relation between facts and thinking… which was demonstrated by how many in that mob were comparatively young.

Déjà Vu All Over Again

For some reason, the way too many people are acting during this pandemic reminds me of some of Yogi Berra’s sayings. Yogi Berra – the Hall of Fame catcher for the N.Y. Yankees and later a major league manager – NOT the cartoon character Yogi Bear (who appeared in 1958, more than a decade after Berra began his baseball career and whose name was suspiciously like Berra, although Hanna-Barbera claimed the similarity was “coincidental”).

The saying of the real Yogi that struck me when I heard the news this morning was: “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” That’s because too many Americans are denying the deadliness of Covid-19 and are being stupid all over again. The highest amount of air travel in a year this past weekend? At a time when Los Angeles has issued a directive to ration oxygen to patients and for EMTs not to bring terminally ill patients to hospitals because there aren’t any beds.

Or as Yogi also said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” Exactly! This pandemic isn’t going to be over until mask-wearing, social distancing, and vaccination are actually implemented by most Americans… and if they aren’t, we well might see a million deaths before it’s truly over, if it ever is.

Why is it so bad? As Yogi also said, “We made too many wrong mistakes.” Like having unrelated individuals to parties that shouldn’t have been held. Like going to church and compounding the mistake by not wearing a mask. Like holding crowded political rallies that never really mentioned Covid-19. Or saying that the virus would be gone by last April (when it won’t even be gone by this coming April).

But people don’t seem to listen or take in what’s going on around them. As Yogi also said, “You can observe a lot by just watching.”

One other thing he said that’s also applicable to the U.S. Covid-19 mess. “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.” And, in that light, way too many Americans haven’t been careful at all.

Which is why, as the sage of baseball and life also said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.”