Archive for October, 2019

DeRay Mckesson and Black Lives Matter

October 20, 2019

DeRay Mckesson is a Baltimorean who got activist during the Ferguson protests and is prominent in the “Black Lives Matter” movement. He wrote a book, On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope. I wanted to like it.

The opening chapters reminded me of when an opposing lawyer called my first major brief a “Proustian stream of consciousness.” It wasn’t a compliment. (I was the sidekick on that brief; the next I wrote alone, more coherently.) Mckesson seems to string together a flood of thoughts as they occur to him, with no organization or clear line of argument.

The third chapter is much better, focusing on police vis-a-vis blacks. Mckesson’s basic point is that the police have little accountability. We hire them to uphold our laws but they become a law unto themselves. The book explains this in detail, examining local police contracts, negotiated by their unions, geared toward protecting cops against any misconduct charges, by creating roadblocks for complaints.

But a point strangely missing here is that while many cops are sincere public servants aiming to do good, too often police work attracts the wrong sort. Who see the badge as a license to assert their manhood by swaggering with weapons, to be a bully, to vent what are really antisocial proclivities. Or just plain racist ones. Whites may be oblivious to this police brutality because they don’t bear its brunt.

Which brings us to the chapter on white privilege. Here again, unfortunately, the author throws together a welter of ideas, many really rhetorical non-sequiturs, with no coherent line of argument. The “white privilege” trope is polemical jiu-jitsu. It’s not that whites enjoy some special status. What they get is what everyone should get — human privilege. The problem is blacks not receiving it. A simple concept unspoken in Mckesson’s treatment.

“Black Lives Matter” is not a negation of other lives mattering. It’s black lives mattering as much as others. Recognizing the reality that for most of our history, and even now in many places and many hearts, they matter less. Mckesson never says anything so straightforward. The point, like so much else, gets lost in all his verbal gymnastics.

Nearing the book’s middle, I realized that two words in particular were weirdly absent: slavery and lynching. They finally did get a passing mention. But Mckesson first unfolds a bizarre analogy to a stolen lottery ticket, enriching the thief and his descendants, while the victim’s remain poor. As if losing an unearned lottery windfall is remotely comparable to the suffering of slavery and lynching.

A Martian reading this book would not realize that enslavement was the foundational experience of African-Americans. And that during the Jim Crow century, thousands of blacks, often (or mostly?) innocent, were lynched, often with hideous barbarity, to “keep them in their place” through plain terror. In Georgia in 1918, Haynes Turner, an innocent man, was lynched. His wife protested to authorities. She was then arrested, and turned over to a mob, stripped, hung upside down, soaked with gasoline, and roasted to death, her belly slashed open to pull out her unborn child, who they stomped to death.

It’s as though Mckesson can’t bring himself to talk plainly about such things. Odd, considering all his assertions that America isn’t truly confronting its race situation, actually one of his key themes. He ends the chapter saying this: “Whiteness is an idea and a choice. We can choose differently. We can introduce new ideas to replace it.”

What?? Maybe I’m too dumb to grasp what he’s talking about there. Or maybe it’s just meaningless word spinning.

Mckesson too often gets tangled in such rhetorical knots and convoluted concepts. He says Charleston racist killer Dylann Roof didn’t get called a “terrorist” to somehow avoid holding him accountable and to “preserve this lie” that crimes by blacks reflect racial pathology whereas white people’s crimes are “just the errant actions of individual actors.” What??

The author’s indictment encompasses most whites, few (if any) meeting his stringent wokeness test, hence being part of the problem in his eyes. Too broad a brush, methinks. Meantime, notwithstanding his mention of Dylann Roof, he says little about burgeoning white nationalist ideology, egged on by Trump, which is coming to be recognized as the nation’s number one terrorist threat. Even absent continued shootings, this poison’s spread could tear the country apart. Mckesson has no answer.

The antepenultimate chapter is a breath of fresh air. Starting it, I sat up and realized this immediately. No more cutesie rhetorical pyrotechnics but clear eloquent honesty — about his growing up gay and how he’s come to terms with it.

But thinking about the book as a whole — this may seem strange for me to say now — what it really is is poetry. Poetry isn’t necessarily linear. It’s more about feeling than argument. I can see Mckesson performing a lot of what he wrote in a poetry slam. But as a book trying to actually elucidate a subject, it really didn’t work for me.

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Impeachment and the party of rule-breaking

October 17, 2019

Trump’s Northern Syria retreat is shredding U.S. national interests. Our longtime Kurdish allies, thrown to the wolves, are now aligning with the Syrian regime and its Russian backers, empowered together with Iran. Likewise ISIS, with thousands of its fighters, formerly imprisoned by Kurds, back in action. After first greenlighting Turkey’s attack, now Trump seeks to punish it; Europeans too denounce it. This endangers their deal for Turkey’s harboring millions of Syrian refugees. If they’re expelled into Europe, the political fallout there will be ugly. While the newly exploding Syrian humanitarian nightmare is making yet more refugees — 160,000 fleeing at last count. What a stupid unnecessary disaster.*

But Trump is being impeached for a different foreign policy travesty. Unjustifiably withholding vital military aid, voted by Congress, to extort Ukraine’s leader to help Trump’s re-election by concocting smears against an opponent. There’s no question of fact or even interpretation; Trump’s own account of the key phone call amounts to a confession. And that call, we now know, was part of a broader plot to suborn Ukraine. Giuliani played a key role; our Ukraine ambassador was fired for not playing ball.

Not only is seeking foreign help in a U.S. election flatly illegal, the Constitution furthermore specifies bribery as one impeachable offense. Trump clearly solicited a bribe — in the form of election help — in exchange for releasing the aid. Compounded by attempted cover-up, and defiance of Congressional authority. The House of Representatives has no choice about impeaching, it’s a duty. And it’s not a “coup” or attempt to undo the last election. The Constitution prescribes elections; it also prescribes impeachment for serious misconduct.

So will Republican senators vote to convict Trump? No. Over 80% of Republican voters still love him, despite everything. The Economist’s “Lexington” columnist, on U.S. politics, nods to the idea that Republican officeholders actually hate much of what Trump is about, but political cowardice keeps them in line. However, based on his conversations with these folks, it seems they actually don’t object to Trump’s behavior all that much.

Republican senators would actually be smart to unite and take the opportunity of impeachment to rid themselves of this Trump affliction. But they won’t because they’ve drunk his Kool-Aid. Lexington quotes social psychologist Jonathan Haidt that Republicans “have now dug themselves into a position that they can’t leave without admitting that they sold out morally.” A Devil’s bargain.

I used to blame our political divisiveness more on lefty Democrats demonizing Republicans. But now Republicans have proven them right after all, living up to their worst stereotypes, and repaying the demonization with a vengeance. It’s a relatively new and scary feature of America’s political landscape. The idea of politics as blood sport, and anything — anything — is justified for your side to win. Rules shmules. Laws shmaws. Truth shmooth.

This goes with the idea that the other side does the same — no, worse. An idea now implacably embedded in, particularly, Republican heads. Thus every objection to Trump administration misconduct is met with “what about Hillary? What about Bill?” or the like. There’s even a name for this: whataboutism. This kind of thinking defines today’s Republicanism.

Were the Clintons angels? Certainly not; as a Republican myself I criticized them plenty. And one might point out that two wrongs don’t make a right. Yet only a mind pathologically blinded by partisanship could equate Clinton transgressions with Trump’s monstrously greater ones. (Let alone deny the latter altogether.) The Clintons skirted rules — Trump drives a Mack Truck through them.

He’s found he can flout not only our unwritten societal norms of civic conduct, but even actual laws, with impunity. He’s done it throughout his life, and contempt for rules and standards is an organizing principle of his presidency. This does not make him some sort of admirable free spirit like a ’60s counterculture character. It’s deeply corrosive of the glue that holds society together and keeps us from barbarism. No democracy can endure this way.

It’s true that while Republicans imagine Democrats are worse, Democrats see Republicans as worse. Yet in fact there’s no symmetry between the parties here. Because Democrats do not, in their minds, justify any rule-breaking on the basis that Republicans are worse. They don’t justify it at all. But Republicans do justify it, based on that deranged notion of equivalence. They actually do believe two wrongs somehow make a right.

Lexington also cites a poll, shortly after the 2016 vote, wherein two out of three Republicans agreed that America needed a leader “willing to break some rules if that’s what it takes.” An even greater percentage today, he thinks, would say that, based on their total support for the rule breaker in chief.

Lexington furthermore suggests that Republicans, deep down, realize that with their shrinking base of older, whiter, less urban and more religious voters, they cannot maintain power through playing fair. Thus their despicable voter suppression tactics. While Democrats, in contrast, believe that in fair elections with broad voter participation, they’ll prevail.

The column concludes that how Republican senators vote on impeachment “will decide more than the president’s fate. It will decide whether theirs is now the party of rule-breaking.”

* Erdogan would not have invaded without Trump’s assent. As usual with foreign dictators, the Great Dealmaker got nothing in exchange.

 

 

Strangers in Their Own Land: Understanding America’s right

October 14, 2019

Since 2016 I’ve striven especially hard to understand what’s happening in America. Arlie Russell Hochschild is a Berkeley professor who, in the same quest, immersed herself with “Tea Partiers,” as told in her 2016 book, Strangers in Their Own Land. Every Democrat should read it.

In the Tea Party’s heyday, I was still a Republican and could understand, even sympathize with it. But how did it transmogrify into blind support for a lying con man with ruinous divisive policies? Including a trillion dollar annual federal deficit — blowing off the Tea Party’s ostensible signature issue?

Our most basic ideological divide has long been that Democrats look to government to address societal problems, while Republicans don’t want government meddling in our lives. The Tea Party — a driving force among Republicans — demonized government as an outright enemy. This was a backlash against Obama’s presidency. Yet his administration was hardly radical. His real offense seemed to be governing while black. More broadly, Tea Partiers saw government as working more for non-whites, outsiders, and moochers than for good ole true-blue hard-working Americans.

 

Hochschild went to Louisiana, to dive into the culture she sought to understand. And this is really a matter of culture. Most people tend to situate themselves psychologically within a culture and shape their personal identity from it. Politics is part of this. In fact, as told in Bill Bishop’s book The Great Sort, many Americans gravitate into communities of like-minded people, accentuating the red/blue divide.

Hochschild sought to unravel what she deemed a “Great Paradox.” That people most hostile to government are often the ones most apt to need it. She focused particularly on the environment, especially pollution, Louisiana being one of the worst affected states, with widespread human harm. Yet Louisiana Tea Partiers opposed EPA pollution regulation. Louisiana also ranks at the bottom on measures like poverty, health, education, etc. Federal money helps. This too they oppose.

But this doesn’t seem so paradoxical to me. Hochschild discusses Thomas Frank’s 2004 book, What’s the Matter With Kansas (which I’ve unfavorably reviewed). Frank was exasperated at people voting against their economic interests (as he saw them). But how often are we told (by lefties) that homo economicus is a mythical creature? While people do sometimes pursue perceived self interest, life is more complicated. Voters are often expressing values rather than interests.

So you can oppose big government despite suffering from pollution. Yet Republicans actually favor bossy government when it suits them, like prohibiting abortion. Indeed, Hochschild notes that they’re fine with thusly regulating women’s lives, but not man stuff like motorcycle helmets, liquor, and of course guns. And also keen for regulation when aimed at blacks. A local Louisiana law regulates how they wear their pants. Talk about intrusive government. Louisiana has the nation’s highest percentage of people incarcerated, and those are disproportionately black.

What right-wing Louisianans mainly dislike is the government in Washington. Not only physically distant but, more importantly, culturally distant. There’s a fundamental sense that the elites calling the shots in America lately have not been their kind of people.

Hochschild discusses one big Louisiana environmental disaster, the 2012 Bayou Corne Sinkhole. Locals felt state officials were asleep at the switch and did nothing for them. Feeding their general cynicism about government. But Hochschild sees that attitude itself as the cause of state government being weak in the first place.* They want minimalist government, yet want it doing the job. That may again seem contradictory, but only partly. There’s a sense that government can’t be trusted to do what’s right. Maximalist government that gets the job done is something of a fantasy too. Hochschild herself lists some big ways government has betrayed her liberal values, while saying her “criticisms were based on a faith in the idea of good government.” Talk about paradoxes.

Underlying everything is what Hochschild calls “the deep story” — the “feels as if” story — embodying these Louisianans’ “hopes, fears, pride, shame, resentment, and anxiety.” Valorizing work as a source of personal honor. The grit of enduring — including enduring the pollution harms discussed. Religion is a big factor, their endurance strengthened by believing God has their backs. This is part of the cultural divide too, vis-a-vis secular coastal liberals.

And key to the “deep story” is the idea of “line cutting.” People see themselves lined up for the American dream by working hard and playing by the rules. It’s very tough and many feel stuck; maybe even slipping back in the line. And then others are allowed to cut ahead of them. Often by government, taking from good hardworking people and giving it to less worthy ones. Especially ones “not like us.” Blacks especially, but also immigrants, and women, even animals (endangered species). Obama was seen, and the Democratic party in general is seen, as on the side of those line cutters.

While the left resents the rich, the right resents government beneficiaries. And rubbing salt in the wound is disrespect, offending their sense of honor, cultural marginalization, being called backward, racist, etc. They don’t consider themselves racist; don’t use the N-word or hate blacks. Hochschild says it’s more like belief in a natural hierarchy, with blacks at the bottom, and whites’ self-worth based on distance from that bottom.

She notes half of all government benefits actually go to the richest 20%. And blacks have not in fact jumped the queue — in recent decades, statistics show, if anything they’ve fallen further behind whites economically. Women have moved up but still lag behind males. So who are the real line cutters? Robots. (Automation and technological change, that is.)

Democrats need to make clear they’re for fairness for everyone. Not just ethnic minorities, women, LGBTs. But especially hard working Americans. Should explicitly disavow condoning “line cutting.”

Having written in 2016, Hochschild tacks on a section about Trump — who exploited the “deep story.” With Trump, they no longer feel like strangers in their own land. This is not about issues or policies so much as feelings. (Thus the deficit is forgotten.) It’s the music, not the lyrics. Trump does seem to speak their language, yet it’s less about Trump himself than the solidarity they feel with fellow Trumpers. He is a totem, a symbol. It’s really a battle of their culture against the other one they consider degenerate. “Send her back!” served as a battle cry, intensifying their sense of unity in moral superiority.

All this Hochschild likens to an anti-depressant drug, even a drug giving them a high. Which they don’t want to lose.

They’re (mostly) not bad people. Reading this book made me feel a lot of empathy for them. I can understand why they feel the way they do about Trump, and refuse to let go. Yet it’s a national tragedy that they’ve so blinded themselves to fall for so wicked a man, so bad for the country they so love. Who’s in many ways the biggest line-cutter of them all.

*She cites data showing red states generally, due to weaker regulation, tend to have worse pollution problems than blue states.

Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed: good news story

October 12, 2019

Ethiopia’s leader Abiy Ahmed has received the Nobel Peace Prize. Those prize choices sometimes seem strange, but not this one, it’s a bull’s eye. I’d been meaning to write about Abiy, as a rare good news story among national leaders; but attention gets monopolized by our own vile one.

Ethiopia’s longtime Emperor Haile Selassie was overthrown in 1974 by a brutal Communist gang (“The Derg”). They were overthrown in 1991, by less brutal rebels. Meantime, after a long insurgency, Eritrea broke away; though the Eritreans had fought together with the new Ethiopian leaders against the Communists, they soon feel out. Eritrea’s boss, Isaias Afwerki, instituted one of the world’s worst tyrannies and fought a pointlessly bloody border war with Ethiopia. Whose own regime then faced enormous protests, and responded with much repression.

Enter Abiy Ahmed, becoming Ethiopia’s prime minister in April 2018. He swiftly made peace with Eritrea, even went to meet with Isaias; this is what he got the Nobel for. But Abiy’s done far more, transforming the Ethiopian regime’s ugly repressive character, making it more open and democratic, freeing the press, and thousands of political prisoners, some of these former dissidents now even brought into government.

Why do this — unlike so many African leaders? Most humans act, one way or another, to serve their own well-being. Dictators dictate because they can; power and wealth and all it can buy, a fleet of Rolls-Royces (and women), people licking your boots, provide undoubted satisfactions. But, for a different sort of person, there can be different and actually greater satisfactions. Like actually doing good. This can serve one’s psychological needs better than power, wealth, and sycophancy. An Abiy can enjoy a more rewarding life than a Mobutu or a Mugabe. Maybe it’s surprising more leaders don’t see this.

I am realist enough to know how often good news goes bad. A former Nobel laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, was a hero of mine, until she wasn’t. But I’ll take good news where I can and root for Abiy to keep up the good work.

Not everything in Ethiopia is now perfect, nothing ever can be. And with Abiy doing so much so fast, inevitably there’s pushback; a lot of people who had power are losing it. There’s a lot of ethnic tension and violence. Recently there was an episode of armed revolt. But Abiy seems to be riding the storm, continuing to make Ethiopia a better place.

Can America follow its example?

Trump ends U.S. protection of Kurds, inviting slaughter by Turks

October 9, 2019

A Kurdish army (originating from Iraqi Kurdistan) has occupied an enclave in Northern Syria, as key allies of the U.S. in the battle against ISIS, in which they’ve lost 11,000 men. We’ve been backing them up with U.S. troops.

Kurds are also a big ethnic group in Turkey, persecuted by its dictator-president Erdogan, who labels all critics “terrorists.” The situation in Turkey is ugly. Erdogan sees the Kurds in Syria as potential allies of their Turkish brethren, so wants them crushed.

Trump tweeted that Turkey better behave itself in Syria or he’ll destroy their economy — while at the same time ordering our troops out of Syria and thereby actually giving Erdogan a green light for his military invasion, now underway, to slaughter our own Kurdish allies.

This Trump action was preceded by a phone call with Erdogan, but no consultation with national security officials, or other allies, nor even prior notice to the Pentagon. Also no thought about the thousands of ISIS fighters held prisoner by the Kurds in Syria.

It suits not only Turkey’s dictator, but also Russia’s and Syria’s, helping Putin and Assad in their effort to destroy all Assad’s foes and consolidate his regime. Turkey will be doing their dirty work; further destabilizing the area, and bringing on a new bloodbath. There will be many civilian victims, and not only Kurds — including Christians. Trump now says he doesn’t endorse the Turks’ assault and again cautions them to be nice; but everyone knows by now his words mean nothing.

There is no plausible story for how Trump’s action could serve America’s interests. It certainly undermines them, and our national security. A monstrous betrayal of our allies that shreds our international credibility, and makes us complicit in atrocities.

This shocking travesty corroborates the fact that the president is literally insane. And while he shamefully spews the word “treason,” he’s proven he himself is the treasonous tool of foreign dictators. It’s exactly why one of them, Putin, subverted our 2016 election to get Trump in office.

Republicans love calling themselves “patriots.” History will judge harshly.

The Bible: a book of fiction

October 8, 2019

Adam and Eve. Cain and Abel. Noah’s Ark. Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Joseph and centuries of Egyptian slavery. Moses, Passover, the Red Sea, forty years in the desert. The tablets from Mount Sinai. Joshua and the conquest of Canaan. Kings Saul, David, Solomon. And so on.

Possibly there was a “King David,” though just a chieftain of a minor tribe. All the rest of these Biblical stories were fictional, resembling nothing that might have actually happened.

That’s archaeology’s conclusive verdict. Generations of Bible-obsessed searchers (like the ridiculous Ron Wyatt) have scoured the terrain, grasping for some shred of confirming evidence. Their claimed “finds” have always proven to be misinterpreted or simply faked. While proper archaeology has actually turned up loads of proof that the Bible’s “history” never occurred.

The Hebrews were never in Egypt. The pyramids were built long before, anyway. The Egyptians left massively detailed chronicles that mention no Hebrews (let alone the Bible story’s vast horde). In fact, no Jews existed that early.

They only emerged somewhat later (in the 1200s BCE), as one tribe among many quite similar in Canaan; they grew apart religiously. The Bible’s bloody conquest tale — a monstrous crime against humanity — fortunately never happened.

The standard ancient belief system entailed multiple deities. Tellingly, the Ten Commandments did not say Yahweh was the only god — rather, the only one Jews should worship. Originally, he seems to have been married to one of those other deities, Asherah, and it took a while to ditch her.

Some see the move from polytheism to monotheism as some kind of advancement. But it was just going from one variety of superstition to another. Though at least getting closer to the true number of gods.

Then there’s Mormonism, whose book depicts ancient Israelites sailing to America, leading to huge empires and thunderous wars, in what would actually have been relatively recent times. Not a single artifact has turned up. And then it says Jesus had his second coming in America.

We know Joseph Smith was a consummate con artist who wrote the book for self-aggrandizement. Multiple wives may always have been part of his plan, or maybe the happy thought was inspired by his unexpected initial success. Exploiting religious power for sex seems always to go with the territory.

And why was the Old Testament written? Those human authors weren’t trying to record actual events, they were consciously making the stories up. Which people are always doing — we call it literature. And the Bible was not necessarily written as a sacred thing, as we think of it today. Ancient people did not have our concept of a clear distinction between the secular and religious realms. For them it was all just part of life, mashed up together in their storytelling. Which typically featured superhuman characters; Yahweh was just another.

They also had a different mentality toward violence. The Canaanite genocide story is just one example. Another is when some kids mock an old man’s baldness and are punished by being torn apart by bears. The “good book” is full of such horrors. Richard Dawkins called Yahweh the most unpleasant character in all fiction.

The Old Testament apparently first came together, as a book, during the “Babylonian captivity,” in the 6th century BCE, when some of the Jews were in exile and cut off from their ancestral roots. It was not surprising that they’d latch onto these stories as a cultural glue, a collective mythos, to hold them together and sustain a connection to those roots. But that’s very different from believing in the book’s literal truth. They probably had more sense in that regard than modern evangelicals.

(Some points in this essay recap one by Neil Carter (“Godless in Dixie”), reprinted in the CDHS newsletter.)

Defining deviancy down and Trump’s reality inversion storm

October 5, 2019

“Defining deviancy down” was a Daniel Patrick Moynihan trope. When something once deemed intolerable becomes tolerable. Like births outside marriage. And anything Trump.

His presidency has been a national blow-out of defining deviancy down, shredding previous standards of civic propriety and decency. It’s been sent into overdrive as Trump lashes out against impeachment.

He was always the biggest liar ever. Now he’s unleashing a reality inversion storm. To give his backers something — anything — to say. Irrespective of reality. (While some Trump-loving fools regurgitate his garbage, few Republican officials do. Most are hunkered down cringing in silence.)

Trump’s crime is unarguable: subverting U.S. foreign policy for illegitimate personal aims: unjustifiably holding up Congressionally-mandated military aid to Ukraine to extort help in smearing a political adversary. Seeking such foreign involvement in a political campaign was illegal even without the added element of screwing with our foreign policy to get it. (It’s also emerged that Trump demanded a Ukrainian promise to “investigate” Biden in exchange for his meeting President Zelenskiy.)

But Trump’s war cry is that the real criminal is: Biden! (With his typical penchant for extremist rhetoric, he’s even said Biden deserves the electric chair.) He’s got his claque of defenders braying Biden! Biden! Biden! Never mind no shred of evidence of any Biden misfeasance. It’s simply yet another Trump fraud: reality inversion.*

Russia was proven to have unlawfully subverted our 2016 election. Trump had just finally wriggled out of culpability (thanks to Mueller being an ass before Congress). You might think he’d take care to avoid repeating the ordeal. Yet the day after Mueller’s testimony, Trump’s on the phone to Ukraine, unabashedly soliciting more foreign election interference.

And when that blows up, bigly, what does he do? Publicly asks yet another country, China, to interfere in our election by “investigating” Biden. That too is part of his reality inversion storm: doing this rotten thing so openly makes it seem not criminal but mere business as usual. Defining deviancy down.

By the way, if Biden really were guilty of anything, is it Ukraine or China we should trust to investigate? Rather than American law enforcement — which Trump has conspicuously not mobilized? More upside-downness.

Let’s look at the rest of Trump’s reality inversion regarding impeachment:

1. The whistleblower’s report was hearsay, second-hand, he didn’t personally hear the Ukraine call. But the White House’s own memorandum of the call’s content confirms exactly what the whistleblower reported. It’s the smoking gun.

2. The whistleblower is partisan, a hack, a spy, a traitor. The person is a CIA professional, whose sober detailed report bespeaks that professionalism and civic responsibility. Trump’s own national intelligence chief vouched for its propriety and the urgency of the concerns it expressed. And anyhow, see #1 above. (Also note that Trump’s threats against the person probably violate the federal whistleblower protection law.)

3. The whistleblower’s report incorrectly characterized the phone call. See again #1 above. Trump and his creep squad have actually never identified one thing incorrect in the report.

4. There was nothing improper in the call anyway. So why did White House officials immediately scramble to cover it up by moving the records from their normal repository to a highly restricted server? Which Trump and company have neither denied nor explained.

5. There was no quid pro quo. If Trump didn’t explicitly mention the hundreds of millions of dollars in aid that he’d just suspended, this might seem bizarre given its critical importance to Ukraine. But he did stress America does a lot for Ukraine before saying, “Do us a favor though.” President Zelenskiy surely got the message.

6. Adam Schiff lied about what Trump said in the call. Schiff was clearly not purporting to give a verbatim recap, but an interpretation of what was really going on: extortion. Which was accurate. (See #5 above.)

7. Schiff knew about the whistleblower before it became public. If so — so what? How does that exculpate Trump? In fact, the complaint’s public revelation was delayed because the administration tried to bury it — another violation of law.

8. Democrats seek to undo the 2016 election. This has been a constant whine against every criticism of Trump. (And a ridiculous one — as if Hillary could somehow be installed as president.) Meantime, the Constitution prescribes impeachment for presidential high crimes and misdemeanors. That has nothing to do with the prior election. Or do Republicans believe that, once elected, a president is unaccountable for anything he does? Trump’s denouncing a constitutional procedure as “a coup” is a direct assault upon our democratic institutions.

Moynihan also famously said everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts. If we cannot cut out this cancer from our body politic, we’re dead.

* Trump also seems to believe a wacky conspiracy theory that Ukraine had some convoluted role in “fake news” about 2016 election hacking, mentioned in his Zelenskiy call. His own reality is inverted.

 

No more presidential primary “debates”

October 3, 2019

These are not debates. A debate entails a question argued by two opposing sides. These presidential primary “debates” are joint interviews, yet with candidates given too little time to seriously answer. More like mud wrestling.

In theory, democracy is served when voters get an opportunity to assess candidates. However, these sorts of “debates” incentivize candidates to showcase their differences in all the worst ways, that don’t actually help us select a leader. The leadership qualities we should seek, and those that shine on the debate stage, are very different. In some ways even antithetical.

Perhaps this is what we should expect in this infotainment age; in 2016 it seemed voters were actually picking a celebrity reality performer. Not a joke — it’s really the only way to make sense of Trump’s election in light of the two main candidates’ respective debate performances.

The same dynamic has operated in the Democratic debates thus far. They are structured to reward “gotcha” bullying tactics. Exemplified by Julian Castro’s hit on Biden. Castro was gotchaed on his own petard when the facts vindicated Biden.

(Reminds me of Messala in the chariot race with Ben Hur.) Good for that, but it doesn’t negate what pushed Castro into it.

If the aim were really to inform voters about candidates, we should ditch this debate stage thing in favor of a series of in-depth one-on-one conversations with well-versed journalists. Of course that would be boring TV. The true aim is not to inform viewers but titillate them into staying tuned through the commercials. With the equivalent of chariot races.

I’m talking here about a multi-candidate field. Debates between two finalists for the November elections stand differently, and it does make some sense to size them up side-by-side. I would not want to lose that. But that assumes voters are capable of properly evaluating what they see, with a sense of civic responsibility. Again, 2016 makes that doubtful.

One focus for Democrats has been assessing which candidate(s) could go toe-to-toe with Trump in debates. As though Trump won in 2016 thanks to formidable debating skill. And why assume such debates will occur in 2020? No law requires them. They used to be customary, but so were candidates releasing tax returns. Trump would actually have far more to lose than to gain from debates, not needing them to convey his message. He will come up with some bullshit pretext to avoid debating.

On the other hand, his narcissistic delusionality may extend to imagining himself handily crushing any debate opponent. Maybe he even believes he did win the 2016 debates. But on the third hand, that 2016 history may show debates don’t matter after all.

Greta Thunberg is wrong

October 1, 2019

Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate warrior, berates the world (“How dare you?”) for pursuing a “fairy tale” of continued economic growth — putting money ahead of combating global warming. A previous local newspaper commentary hit every phrase of the litany: “species decimation, rainforest destruction . . . ocean acidification . . . fossil-fuel-guzzling, consumer-driven . . . wreaked havoc . . . blind to [the] long-term implication . . . driven by those who would profit . . . our mad, profligate  . . . warmongering . . . plasticization and chemical fertilization . . . failed to heed the wise admonition of our indigenous elders . . . .”

The litany of misanthropes hating their own species and especially their civilization.

Lookit. There’s no free lunch. Call it “raping the planet” if you like, but we could never have risen from the stone age without utilizing as fully as possible the natural resources available. And if you romanticize our pre-modern existence (“harmony with nature” and all), well, you’d probably be dead now, because most earlier people didn’t make thirty. And those short lives were nasty and brutish. There was no ibuprofen.

This grimness pretty much persisted until the Industrial Revolution. Only now, by putting resource utilization in high gear, could ordinary folks begin to live decently. People like that commentator fantasize giving it up. Or, more fantastical, our somehow still living decently without consuming the resources making it possible.

These are often the same voices bemoaning world poverty. Oblivious to how much poverty has actually declined — thanks to all the resource utilization they condemn. And to how their program would deny decent lives to the billion or so still in extreme poverty. Hating the idea of pursuing economic growth may be fine for those living in affluent comfort. Less so for the world’s poorest.

Note, as an example, the mention of “chemical fertilization.” This refers to what’s called the “green revolution” — revolutionizing agriculture to improve yields and combat hunger, especially in poorer nations. It’s been estimated this has saved a couple billion lives. And of course made a big dent in global poverty.

But isn’t “chemical fertilization,” and economic development more generally, bad for the environment? Certainly! Again, no free lunch. In particular, the climate change we’re hastening will, as Thunberg says, likely have awful future impacts. Yet bad as that is, it’s not actually humanity’s biggest challenge. The greater factors affecting human well-being will remain the age-old prosaic problems of poverty, disease, malnutrition, conflict, and ignorance. Economic growth helps us battle all those. We should not cut it back for the sake of climate. In fact, growing economic resources will help us deal with climate change too. It’s when countries are poor that they most abuse the environment; affluence improves environmental stewardship. And it’s poor countries who will suffer most from climate change, and will most need the resources provided by economic growth to cope with it.

Of course we must do everything reasonably possible to minimize resource extraction, environmental impacts, and the industrial carbon emissions that accelerate global warming. But “reasonably possible” means not at the expense of lower global living standards. Bear in mind that worldwide temperatures will continue to rise even if we eliminate carbon emissions totally (totally unrealistic, of course). Emission reductions can moderate warming only slightly. That tells us to focus less on emissions and more on preparing to adapt to higher temperatures. And more on studying geo-engineering possibilities for removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and otherwise re-cooling the planet. Yet most climate warriors actually oppose such efforts, instead obsessing exclusively on carbon reduction, in a misguided jihad against economic growth, as though to punish humanity for “raping the planet.”

Most greens are also dead set against nuclear power, imagining that renewables like solar and wind energy can fulfill all our needs. Talk about fairy tales. Modern nuclear power plants are very safe and emit no greenhouse gases. We cannot hope to bend down the curve of emissions without greatly expanded use of nuclear power. Radioactive waste is an issue. But do you think handling that presents a bigger challenge than to replace the bulk of existing power generation with renewables?

I don’t believe we’re a race of planet rapists. Our resource utilization and economic development has improved quality of life — the only thing that can ultimately matter. The great thing about our species, enabling us to be so spectacularly successful, is our ability to adapt and cope with what nature throws at us. Climate change and environmental degradation are huge challenges. But we can surmount them. Without self-flagellation.