Archive for February, 2022

We are all Ukrainians — Humanism against the wolves

February 25, 2022

Humanist philosophy centers on humans, and our well-being. One human characteristic is tribalism. I see my tribe as humanity, a tribe I love. I love what we’ve achieved, never taking for granted how we’ve overcome nature’s limitations. People who berate us as planetary despoilers wouldn’t want to live as cavemen.

I love people as individuals, as far more good than bad. That too is our evolutionary heritage. Primordial humans who behaved well toward each other gained reproductive success, so genes for good behavior proliferated.

But that only applied within a tribe. Wariness toward other tribes is also human. Yet our ideas of tribal boundaries have been broadening, with people increasingly (like me) viewing their tribe as all humanity. And our makeup also entails a big component of human sympathy; so while people may shun other tribes in the aggregate and notionally, most behave well even toward strangers. Thus hostility toward immigrants, for example, tends to give way when people encounter actual individuals.

Humanism leads to a civic philosophy of classical (John Stuart Mill type) liberalism. Centered on the dignity and worth of every individual, thus a democratic ethos of allowing everyone to pursue the good in their own ways. Which is not only moral but also conducive to societal progress through encouraging and testing different ways of thinking.

This was the philosophy of the Enlightenment, commencing three centuries ago. It underlay the American Revolution. And in the past three-quarters of a century — with America in the vanguard — it became something of a global system — especially following the fall of Communism three decades ago. Francis Fukuyama’s 1992 book, The End of History, thus heralded liberal democracy and free markets as finally triumphant ideas.

A David Brooks column recaps the wave of good news. Freedom, democracy, peace and prosperity ascendant. I recall saluting 1989 as “golden” at the year-end fireworks; then my 1990s trips to a free Russia, the exhilarating apotheosis of my ideals.

And then . . .

“What the hell happened?” Brooks writes, seeing so much gone sour, in a 21st Century “so dark, regressive and dangerous.”

He looks back to America’s founders, who “had a profound respect for individual virtue, but also individual frailty.” Thus they did establish a liberal democracy, but with carefully constructed “guardrails to check popular passion and prejudice.” Brooks says they recognized that democracy is not a natural state, and we’d have to not only plant its seeds but do the work of cultivation so those seeds could flourish. And he draws a parallel in the global arena — where after WWII, America took the lead in building an order with guardrails against a natural state with the strong preying upon the weak.

Both sets of guardrails are under attack, with the better angels of our nature battling our worst. The assault within America is epitomized by January 6 and all it represents; in the global sphere, by Russia’s criminal invasion of Ukraine.

“Will the liberals of the world be able to hold off the wolves?” asks Brooks. “Strengthen democracy and preserve the rules based world order?” Writing shortly before the actual invasion, he was encouraged how President Biden has succeeded in rallying the collective resolve of other world leaders to push back against Russia’s depredation.

But it’s not enough. As Brooks also notes, today’s Americans are not up for such conflict if it costs us anything. We’ve announced what Putin must regard as piddling sanctions; there’s so much more we could readily do (like cutting Russia from the SWIFT international bank transfer system). And if we were really serious, how about an embargo on all trade with Russia? Was there trade with Nazi Germany during WWII? Yes, doing more would mean pain for us and our allies; our sanctions are tailored to avoiding that. But this is war. The world is burning, and all Americans seem to really care about is gas prices.

Biden has failed to draw in stark terms what’s really at stake. Many don’t see why Ukraine is our concern. The old “not the world’s policeman” chestnut is trotted out. But you wouldn’t want to live in a neighborhood with no police to protect law and order. The world is our neighborhood, and America has acted responsibly as part of its police force. Keeping its wolves at bay. Now a wolf is on a rampage. No concern of ours?

“First they came for . . . .”

Today, we are all Ukrainians.

Back at home, Brooks thinks we must restore the seedbeds of our democracy which is “not natural, it is an artificial accomplishment that takes enormous work.” To “fortify the institutions that are supposed to teach the democratic skills; how to weigh evidence and commit to truth;” recognize one’s partisan blinders; respect people you disagree with; avoid conspiracy thinking and supporting demagogues.

But we’re so far off the rails it’s hard to see getting back. Yeah, we do need more civics education. But too many Americans are blind to outright evil staring them in the face. With brains so scrambled by misdirected political passion that hundreds of thousands have let themselves die from refusing vaccination. Crikey.

I started off talking about the human achievement. I’ve long felt it’s all thanks to the very smartest among us. Our big brains are a fluke of evolution, an adaptation to unique circumstances. Yet ours are really not far better than chimpanzee brains. For each species, intelligence falls along a bell curve, and the two curves greatly overlap. But ours is shifted slightly to the right, so at the thin edge, no chimpanzees equal the smartest humans. And it’s those smartest humans, building upon each other’s contributions, generation after generation, who are responsible for all progress. Otherwise we’d still be cavemen.

Tragically though, for all our smarts, we’re not quite smart enough. If that bell curve were shifted just a little more, Putin’s murderousness would not be possible; Americans would have no time for a creep like Trump.

Ukraine and the Abyss

February 21, 2022

A lot of the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons were stored in Ukraine. Thus when the USSR broke up, an independent Ukraine found itself with the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal. In the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, Ukraine agreed to denuclearize — in return for a guarantee that its borders would be inviolate. This agreement was signed by the U.S. and Russia.

Russia now says, “That was then” — agreed by a different government — so no longer binding. That’s not how international agreements work. But even if there were no Budapest Memorandum, international law as commonly understood would still bar the violation of Ukrainian sovereignty committed by Russia.


Alice Green: We Who Believe in Freedom

February 18, 2022

Teenaged Alice and her best friend got summer jobs at an Adirondack resort, looking forward to bunking together. The friend was shown a lovely room in the main house. Then Alice was led to a bare cot in a barn. When the girls protested they wanted to be together, the woman running the place said “Impossible.” This was the 1950s. And Alice was Black.

So begins Dr. Alice Green’s memoir, We Who Believe in Freedom: Activism and the Struggle for Social Justice. Activism has been her whole life. Since 1985, she’s headed her creation, Albany’s Center for Law and Justice — providing “community education on civil and criminal justice, legal guidance and advocacy, crisis intervention, and community planning and organizing around criminal justice, civil rights and civil liberties issues of particular concern to poor communities and those of color.” (Alice is an acquaintance who lives on my street.)

It’s inspiring to read of efforts like hers to make a better and fairer world. Yet also depressing and dismaying to plow through such an endless litany of all they’re up against. Some was already familiar to me, indeed chronicled in my own book about Albany’s political machine. Written 49 years ago! There’s been progress since. Some (including me) would say not enough. However, though I am an optimist, I’m not a fantasist expecting progress being easy or quick. And there’s been a big setback in the last five years.

As a white person, my understanding has grown about how different it is being non-white in this country. Sticking with me is a documentary about chemist Percy Julian, whose race dogged every step of his life and career. Green’s book too conveys similar pictures. It’s hard to wrap my head around how that must feel. And surprising that resentment isn’t greater. Another activist, Kimberly Jones, has said whites are lucky Blacks seek only equality — not revenge. Indeed, many whites are more antagonized over imagined discrimination against them. But maybe Blacks are better people.

Also sticking with me is a middle-aged Black Chicago woman, when Obama’s election was announced, jumping up and down shouting “God bless America! God bless America!” Still chokes me up. I didn’t vote for Obama — yet could resonate what she felt. There has been progress. But not enough. And indeed, we didn’t realize in 2008 how strong the backlash would be.

So Green’s is not exactly a beach book. Story after story of bad stuff to be fought. One concerned prison inmates punished by being fed foul-tasting bread. Green decided to give the media a sample. Getting the recipe was a challenge; the one she finally got was for 50 loaves. But recalibrating the ingredients for just a couple, she miscalculated. Didn’t taste the result herself until the media event, and discovered it was delicious! So she pretended to grimace in disgust while chewing, but let no one else partake.

As noted, Green’s focus is on policing and criminal justice. Much to the fore nowadays, with fallout from George Floyd’s murder, and the slogan “Defund the police” (the dumbest ever?), while crime spikes. Though actually police budgets, on average, are rising, and crime rates remain far below levels decades ago. But Republicans cynically stoke fears about crime (with a racial subtext) — thus making hay about New York’s bail reform — banging their “law and order” drum. Which rings awfully hollow when public safety is so undermined by rampant gun violence, America being awash with guns — thanks to Republicans blocking any and all sensible gun regulation. “Law and order?” One’s brain explodes.

Republicans are also supposed to be against big intrusive government, impinging on our freedoms. So why do they so love the police? After all, cops are agents of the governmentarmed, no less — going around beating on folks, bossing them, dragging them off to jail. Shouldn’t conservatives scream when police overstep their authority and violate people’s rights? Well, not when they’re Black. (Republicans didn’t love the police on January 6 — who were up against white folks. Law and order?)

Alice Green has been called a radical, for wanting armed police on a tight leash of accountability to the people they’re supposed to serve. Most cops do serve nobly; but unfortunately a job enabling one to swagger with weaponry too often attracts the wrong sort. A small fraction of police cause most of the problems. And accountability is greatly lacking; impunity is more like it, with powerful unions protecting their own. Is it radical to want police answerable to citizenry? I call it conservative.

But many whites do see police as a bulwark against Blacks — and the crime they associate with Blacks. Both evidencing racist attitudes and feeding them. As if Blacks are, like, genetically more prone to lawlessness. But as Green has argued endlessly, what really accounts for crime is not skin color but living in crappy circumstances.

That is the main reason why Blacks are disproportionately involved with police and the criminal justice system. But another reason is their seeing (and thus treating) Blacks differently. We all know this is true. It isn’t necessarily overt or conscious racial animus; just that many tend to view people of color in certain ways and make unconscious assumptions.

Thus “driving while Black” is a crime. Doing almost anything while Black can be. I run every day; run in airports. Never been stopped. When I crashed into two cars, cops didn’t even ask me to get out of mine. Duh, I’m white. And certainly gun rights don’t apply to Blacks. You could ask Philando Castile. Or Amir Locke. (If they weren’t dead.)

A big part of the picture is the insane war on drugs. Waged far more aggressively against Blacks than whites. But treating drugs as a criminal rather than a public health matter is nuts. The harm to millions of human beings, to society, defies calculating, vastly dwarfing any harm drugs themselves could ever do. Slowly some enlightenment is dawning here too. (Helped by the opiate crisis being a mostly white problem.)

But the drug war remains a key reason why America’s prison population — with Blacks greatly overrepresented — is far and away the world’s largest, both in absolute numbers and in relation to population. America has a mania for incarcerating people.

Now, I do believe there are some badasses deserving harsh punishment. But those are only a small fraction of prisoners. And while we label it the “correction” system — as if fixing what’s wrong with people — very little such rehabilitation occurs. Instead it’s mainly punishment for punishment’s sake. Rejecting the very humanity of inmates. Who often come out of prison worse than they went in. A lot of good that does for society.

We need more Alice Greens.

Our Brewing (Non-Metaphorical) Civil War

February 14, 2022

America is polarized between two tribes each seeing the other as threatening everything good and holy. That’s not news. However, the two sides are not mirror images.

Republicans’ loathing for Democrats is actually quite understandable — given the incendiary rhetoric they’re fed. As a former GOP donor, I’m flooded with Republican fundraising emails. They’re hair-raising. Here’s a verbiage sample:

“Radical left Socialists and their efforts to completely ruin America . . . tyrants who want nothing more than to strip you of your liberty . . . corrupt power-hungry radicals . . . doing everything in their power to rip Christianity from our culture . . . brutal, morally bankrupt thugs . . . dystopian wasteland . . . a party of racism and hatred attacking the very foundations of the country . . . the bloodthirsty deep state . . . wave of tyranny and oppression . . . Marxist dystopia . . . don’t care how much they have to lie, cheat or steal to achieve it.”

Our politics used to entail rational disagreements over issues and policies, altogether healthy in a free society. The over-the-top ferocity of today’s Republican talk is something new and different. And its cynical perpetrators know exactly what they’re doing.

Trump has always accused opponents of the very things he himself was guilty of. “Fake news?” Look at his “stolen election” lie. The syndrome pervades Republican messaging. It’s Biden they call an inveterate liar! And who’s “a party of racism and hatred?” Caring not “how much they have to lie, cheat or steal” to keep power?

Race is the elephant in the room of today’s U.S. politics. Many whites tolerated non-whites advancing — until a non-white president made them fear loss of caste dominance. That’s the Republican tribe. Trump’s recently saying whites are at “the back of the line” for Covid vaccines and treatment blatantly pumps their race anxiety. Even as they insist they’re not racist.

And too many seem unable to distinguish trustable information sources from unscrupulous manipulators, getting this diametrically wrong. Thus believing the likes of Alex Jones, not The New York Times. Rejecting true facts about Covid, in favor of rubbish from charlatans (often costing their lives). And failing to see the obvious: Trump’s “stolen election” lie was concocted simply because his diseased psyche couldn’t accept losing.

Recently when I sent out a January 6 meeting announcement, noting the anniversary, a friend emailed “Didn’t happen! Was set up by ANTIFA and the FBI — video proof all over the internet !!!!!!!!”

And this guy has a Masters in history. Such conspiracy theory crap is indeed “all over the internet.” But tons of genuine footage, eyewitness testimony, and other documented evidence show the true story. It’s not rocket science; just common sense. How can otherwise intelligent people think like my friend?

Confirmation bias is a well-known pathology — lapping up information bolstering one’s pre-existing beliefs while shunning anything contrary. The internet enables wallowing in cocoons of ideological reinforcement. Confirmation bias on steroids.

But while Democrats retain a grip on reality, Republicans marinate in an alternate universe. And while you can argue about Democrats’ policies, they’re advocated honestly and sincerely. Contrast Republican efforts to supposedly protect ballot integrity — a dishonest ruse to achieve their actual aim of keeping Democrats from voting. Few serious Republicans actually believe the last election was rigged, but are using that pretext to rig the next one.

So while rhetoric about Democrats threatening America is ludicrous, the threat posed by Republicans is all too real. January 6 was not some ANTIFA head-fake. Nor “legitimate political discourse” (as the GOP National Committee has officially voted to declare). January 6 was a bloody attempted coup by Trump and his cultist mob to overthrow a democratic election.

A recent analysis in The Economist quotes political scientists Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein that “[t]he Republican party has become an insurgent outlier — ideologically extreme, contemptuous of the inherited social and economic regime [the very antithesis of “conservatism” — FSR] . . . unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

And that was written in 2012! The pathology has since intensified dramatically. The Economist says “Democrats have also grown more hardline,” but their “shift is so much more modest” — quoting Mann and Ornstein again, calling this “asymmetric polarization.” And another political scientist, Matt Grossman, that “[w]hile Democrats see politics as an opportunity to implement policies,” Republicans “see it as an existential battle.”

Thus though Republicans long crusaded to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, when push came to shove they had nothing. Their “natural state” being not governance but “angry opposition.” Which they’re very skilled at. Right now all signs point to their recapturing Congress, and Trump could well win in 2024. Despite all their lies and culpability for January 6 and for the pandemic’s persistence.*

Yeats wrote, “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Democrats are not convictionless, though still mostly moderate; but Republicans are indeed full of passionate intensity, inversely proportional to the badness of their cause (and leader) and the irrationality of the lies propelling them. That emotive asymmetry between the parties helps Republicans win elections.

And because they do see themselves in an existential battle (race again a key subtext), their willingness “to lie, cheat, or steal” feels justified to them. In polls a third even say violence may be necessary to return Trump to power. Numerous election officials, especially Republicans, have received death threats (scaring many into quitting). Likewise many public health workers trying to do their jobs to combat Covid.

Add into this combustible stew the Republican gun fetish. With ideations of using guns to “resist tyranny.” Making all the “tyranny” rhetoric in those quoted messages especially scary. A further irony being that it’s so clearly Trump who threatens a fascistic regime that would destroy American democracy.

It was perhaps surprising that the “brutal, morally bankrupt thugs” storming the Capitol on January 6 were not far more numerous — with many more guns. But that was only a dress rehearsal. A lot of Republicans actually seem itching for a literal civil war, to fulfill their Gosar-like fantasies of physically destroying opponents. Our last civil war was a geographic division. The next would unfold everywhere — a much bloodier recipe.

Is that a real threat? Yes, argues a new book, Barbara Walter’s How Civil Wars Start. Reviewing it, The Economist disagrees: “No country as sophisticated, modern, liberal and democratic as contemporary America has ever descended into civil war.” Its military and police are professional and apolitical. Another January 6 “would have no chance of success.” Yet consider some other words in the review: “What matters is . . . whether politics revolves around identity.” And “political leaders who stir up fear of another group to win support are especially dangerous . . . the most effective grievance mongers are creative liars . . . Another risk factor arises when a large group fears it is losing status . . . the most disgruntled members of an aggrieved group may take up arms. At first they are too [few] to pose a serious threat — but social media can accelerate the descent into bloodshed.”

Most of that referred to other countries. Yet its applicability to today’s America is jarring.

If Trump loses again in 2024, Heaven help us. And if he wins, that goes double.

* Which (another inversion of reality) Republicans actually blame on Biden — rather than Trump’s prior idiotic bungling — and their own war on masks and vaccination.

The Pandemic of Unvaccinated Fools

February 11, 2022

Every day the local paper reports on the county’s Covid numbers — cases, hospitalizations, deaths. Rarely does the word “unvaccinated” appear. As though hiding that this is now a pandemic of the unvaccinated.

Vaccines don’t completely block Covid, but greatly reduce risks. And vaccinated people who do get “breakthrough” infections are far less likely to suffer and die.* Those now filling hospitals, and graves, are overwhelmingly unvaccinated.

A February 2 New York Times story highlighted that America’s Covid death rate far exceeds that for other wealthy nations. Not until the fifth paragraph was this connected to our lower vaccination rate. And look at the language used: “The country has failed to vaccinate as many people . . . the United States has fallen even further behind in administering booster shots . . . the country’s faltering effort to vaccinate its most vulnerable people . . . “

All making it sound like it’s the government mainly at fault. Well, our health system does have a lot of problems that have hampered our Covid response. But at this point jabs are easily available for all takers. The real problem now is not a “faltering effort” or with “administering” shots, but so many fools who refuse them. Something the article weirdly sidesteps.

The Times also recently reported a poll showing vaccinated people worry more about Covid than do the unvaccinated. Even though it’s the latter in much greater danger. Yet it’s actually logical. People who fear Covid get vaccinated. Those who don’t don’t. (They are heavily Republican.)**

And both sides actually get things wrong. Those fully vaxxed and boostered face minuscule danger; they can dial down the worrying. Their fearfulness has driven policy mistakes, especially school closures, likely harming kids (causing mental health and education deficits) more than Covid would. The other group not only refuses vaccination but also opposes masking and other precautions, thus aggravating risks. Suicidally dumb — hundreds of thousands of them dead.

This is a tragic reflection of America’s political polarization and related epistemology crisis. Too many losing the common sense to discriminate between trustable information sources and liars and quacks. Those falling for all the anti-vax nonsense out there are largely the same fools suckered by Trump’s “stolen election” lie. And so much other nonsense — it’s a whole alternative-reality bizarro world.

Canada is convulsed by truckers protesting against sanity. Dear Abby recently had a letter from a woman whose wedding was ruined by family members stomping off angrily when masks were distributed. That’s how far the craziness has gone.

Some jerks refuse vaccination by invoking “natural bodily immunity.”*** Biologists they are not. Millions died like flies from a host of diseases (like smallpox) before vaccines were developed. “Natural immunity” my ass. Or some simply insist God will protect them. I recall a woman relating that her parents trusted in Christian Science rather than mainstream medicine. “How’d that work out?” I asked. “Badly,” she replied. “They died young.” America nears a million Covid deaths.

And I’ve had it with all the “freedom” nonsense. I’m a goddamned libertarian. But I stop at red lights — even though that restricts my driving “freedom” — because it avoids endangering people, including me. A society of laws and rules protects everyone. Those anti-vaxxers might as well be demanding the “freedom” not only to go around spreading infection, but also to ignore traffic lights — and, for that matter, to kill, steal, and rape.

These idiots are not only infecting others, they’re also crowding out hospital care for non-Covid problems — another cause of needless deaths. But meantime, there’s growing sentiment for kissing off the unvaccinated, and opting for a policy of going on with life, without restrictions, living with the virus.

* It seems the booster is what really fights omicron; vaccine protection otherwise wanes over time.

** The poll also showed younger people fear Covid more than older ones, even though the latter are more endangered. But they’re also more likely “conservative,” and that political stance drives attitudes toward Covid.

*** Though many take annual flu shots and other routine jabs without a second thought.

Ukraine: Nearing September 1, 1939?

February 8, 2022

On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Britain and France immediately went to war. It ended badly for Hitler and Germany. Will Putin, knowing that history, invade Ukraine? The risks of war are always huge. Sensible prudence says back off.

But why gear up for invasion and not follow through? Maybe Putin thought the threat alone would exact concessions. It hasn’t. Or he sees his manhood at stake now. Or believes his propaganda about restoring Russia’s “great” empire. He’s apparently surrounded by yes-men egging him on. May miscalculate the risks.

The supposed casus belli is concern over Ukraine someday joining NATO. Why should Russia have any say about that? And why would it threaten Russia’s security anyway? NATO is a defensive alliance. Ukraine joining would hurt Russia only if Russia actually fancies attacking Ukraine — which it still denies. But arguing such points is playing Putin’s damned game.

Actually, we should have brought Ukraine into NATO in the ’90s, as a fait accompli. Russia under Yeltsin was not our enemy. Indeed, we should have done much more then to enfold Russia itself securely into the community of decent nations.

Another thing that should have been done — after Russia’s 2014 aggression — was canceling the Nord Stream 2 pipeline (not yet in operation), for delivery of Russian natural gas to Germany and Europe (bypassing, and harming, Ukraine). Giving Russia such a hold on Germany’s balls was foolish (especially after Germany rashly closed its nuclear plants).

Germany has lately been wobbly toward Russia, actually blocking some weapons for Ukraine. But President Biden yesterday, meeting with German leader Scholz, said that if Ukraine is invaded, NS2 won’t go forward. And Scholz seemed to agree.

Cutting off Europe’s Russian gas supplies would hurt both sides; costing Russia many billions. But fears about this have meantime driven up oil and gas prices — gaining Russia many billions.

Russia invading Ukraine would be a monstrous crime, a holocaust of suffering and death. And Biden has said it would change the world. Back into one ruled by the law of the jungle, where might makes right.

Fox’s Tucker Carlson defends Russia and Putin. Showing how far off the rails American “conservatism” has gone.

Conventional wisdom predicts Russia would roll over Ukraine. Part of the offensive will be cyber warfare, to cripple Ukraine’s defensive infrastructure. However, as War and Peace illuminated, what counts most in war is troop motivation and morale.

Ukrainians will be fighting for their country and its future as a modern democratic nation. That’s what Putin really fears: Ukraine as a model for what Russia could be, but isn’t. And despite Ukraine’s ancestral links with Russia, now most Ukrainians hate Russia as an enemy.

Russia’s army, on the other hand, is mostly reluctant conscripts, treated wretchedly. Morale must suck. Will they throw away their lives for Putin’s grandiosity?

We must do all we can to defeat the evil now facing us. There are things worth fighting for.

But this needn’t mean all-out war with Russia, or even sending troops to Ukraine. We must fully equip Ukraine with missiles and drones to kill tanks and shoot down planes. Make Russia pay the biggest possible price. No stinting; no squeamishness.

American Dystopia: Inverted Trumpian Reality

February 4, 2022

We’re heading into a “systems collapse,” of the societal structures underpinning our very way of life. The culprit? “Hard Left ‘woke’ ideology.” So says Victor Davis Hanson in a syndicated column. It’s scary — scary that anyone could see things so upside-down.

Hanson is not obviously a nut job; a right-wing “public intellectual,” with a seemingly impressive resume. And his column might resonate, if you knew nothing of reality.

He asserts that “wokeness” is making the U.S. fall apart like Venezuela (whose socialist dictatorship has crashed GDP by 75%). “Crime soars. Inflation roars.” Law enforcement defunded. “Millions of impoverished foreigners” allowed to enter illegally. U.S. global credibility shattered. Politicized health bureaucracies discredited. Et cetera.

And, Hanson says, “after decades of improving race relations, America is regressing into a pre-modern tribal society.”

Most of this is overblown or outright false. America is enjoying stonking economic growth, with unemployment nearing record lows and wages rising. Police budgets, on average, are increasing, and despite recent spikes crime is still way below levels decades ago. Border policies remain very restrictive. Health authorities are demonized by fools.

We do have problems — but blaming them all on “woke ideology” is just silly. I’ve criticized it harshly myself, yet in fact wokism doesn’t hold power (outside academia). While conspicuously absent from Hanson’s screed are the words “Trump” and “Republicans.” As if they did not rule for four of the last five years; as if the world began on January 20, 2021.

“Systems collapse?” With Trump the bottom fell out of our civic culture. Shredding rule of law, presidential accountability, norms of public civility, and our global standing. Trump’s handling of the pandemic was idiotic; vaccine refusal by his cultists remains a huge problem. And particularly outrageous is Hanson’s saying it’s “critical race theory” that has wrecked “a once tolerant, multicultural nation.” Forgetting Trump’s ugly racial divisiveness, pumping up white supremacism, grievance, and caste anxiety. A far bigger accelerant for tribalistic antagonism.

And get this. “Strangest in 2021,” Hanson writes, “was the systemic attack on our ancient institutions.” Does he mean January 6, when a violent mob stormed the Capitol as part of Trump’s attempted coup? And his big “vote fraud” lie, propelling Republican efforts to undermine voting rights and public confidence in our election systems? Of course not. Those go unmentioned. (Instead it’s the left assaulting the time-honored electoral college, the filibuster (!), and even, Hanson says, our “50-state union.”)

He finally speaks of “a tragically bewildered, petulant, and incompetent president . . . who seems to believe his divisive chaos is working.” A perfect description of Trump? Yet Hanson is talking about Biden! Elsewhere, he has likened Trump to a hero of ancient literature sacrificing himself for the greater good. (If he evokes anyone in ancient lore, it’s Narcissus.)

You may have reasons to be a Trump supporter. And Biden has his weaknesses. But Hanson’s ridiculous inversions of reality bespeak a brain blinded by partisanship.

However, he’s right that America is in deep trouble. Its democracy is endangered — by people like him. Returning Trump to power would be its destruction

* * *

Hanson’s column was reprinted by the Albany Times-Union, perhaps mindful of right-wing bias accusations. But freedom of speech does not include the right to an audience. Press efforts like this to appear even-handed help spread and legitimate Trumpist propaganda. Thus mainstream media is accomplice to its own destruction, an ultimate Trump goal. The T-U should not have run Hanson’s atrocious piece.

Fake vaccination cards

February 1, 2022

Two Long Island nurses have been charged with scamming over $1.5 million selling forged vaccination cards. Reading about this, a few things struck me.

They charged $220 for adults, and only $85 for children. Why such a big discount for kids? How about seniors?

Doing the math, they must have sold at least 7000 cards to net $1.5 million. Now, I do mail order business myself, but have never managed to sell 7000 of anything (except cheap bulk coins). How did they succeed in connecting with so many buyers? Especially given that sales promotion obviously couldn’t be public. They must have been much savvier businesspeople than me. Imagine putting such talents to legitimate enterprise!

However, my wife remarked that they couldn’t have been so smart because they got caught. I’ve written about how often small time crooks do get busted; many bookkeepers embezzling from businesses through phony checks. It’s surprisingly common.

The nurse case reminded me about a local business genius who, at the pandemic’s start, imported 100,000 masks costing $1 each, and tried to sell them for $10. He was criminally charged with price gouging. Didn’t sit well with me; if buyers were willing to pay $10 for something wanted and needed, where’s the crime?

But anyway, the story was weird, because this guy operated a little pizza place, and it was a mystery how he imagined moving so many masks. In the event, he apparently sold almost none, getting stuck with the rest — losing most of his investment. So his crime’s chief victim was himself.

But back to the fake vax cards —

What really puzzles me is the mindset of someone paying $220 for a fake card when you can get a real one for free. Of course that requires vaccination, which some people oppose. For that foolishness many thousands have paid with their lives. But put even that aside. While it’s true that cards are occasionally required for some venues, if you’re anti-vax, where’s the logic in falsely posing as a vaccinated person — which you’re against being?

And for those calling this a “freedom” issue, engaging in such fraud surely undercuts any notion of a principled stance. The freedom claims are anyhow rubbish — nobody has freedom to endanger others. And those nurses, by aiding people faking vaccination status, are likely culpable for resulting Covid infections and deaths.

But maybe using a fake vax card is really just about giving a middle finger to the vaccine-promoting establishment.

A final note: looking at my own vax card, it’s not much to forge. Dates of jabs just handwritten, with no sort of certification. My daughter, in Jordan, got a card there with a QR code on it, now widely required internationally. Who’s in the third world country?