Wandering Aimlessly

Once in a while, you just have to stop and take stock, personally, professionally, and as a citizen of this United States. Well, personally, my days are numbered, and I need to be a kinder person. Professionally, well, I have kind of run the course out there too as I am retired, sort of, and consult to afford my toys. If I did not consult I would be bored to death, so there is that taken care of. So now that I am done with the personal/professional me stuff, what about our nation and our way forward?

Holy crap! We are totally adrift in a calm sea and we are out of food and water! That is actually a great metaphor for where we are today. I could mention that the captain of the ship is a raving lunatic, but that is really beside the point. We have no plan going forward, and to stay within my metaphor, waiting on a breeze (fresh air) to push us forward while we starve to death is not a plan. And that is exactly where we are today.*

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What’s the plan for growing economic inequality that is making the places where there are good jobs unaffordable to live in?
  2. What’s the plan for building cheap transportation systems so we can get to those jobs if we can’t afford to live there?
  3. For that matter, what’s the plan to fix our roads that are falling apart, and rebuild our aging infrastructure?
  4. What’s the plan for better education for all our citizens and dealing with student debt so our kids are not indentured slaves to supporting the federal government through interest payments for their whole life?
  5. Many lower skilled jobs are going unfilled and what’s the plan to make sure we have a steady stream of immigrants to grow our economy?
  6. What’s our plan for the effects of global warming and protecting our coastal cities, not to mentioning hardening our infrastructure in the interior that is susceptible to intensifying storms?
  7. What’s our plan to make sure all of our citizens get the healthcare they need without breaking the bank?
  8. What’s our plan to make sure all of our citizens can retire and not be living on the street if they have worked and contributed most of their lives?
  9. What’s our plan to deal with Syria, Korea, Iran, the whole Middle East thing in a humanitarian and thoughtful way that helps bring peace for the future? Oh, wait, I am giving away strategy that is not even agreed to.
  10. What’s our plan for dealing with the Russian incursion into our elections, the mass spreading of fake news, and their aggression throughout the world?
  11. What’s the plan for our growing deficit? Paul Ryan and the Johnny-one-note Republicans have always promised massive growth with tax cuts (that does not happen) with a secret plan to cut all safety nets to pay for the give-a-way to the wealthy, but it turns out even their supporters don’t want that, so what’s the plan?

I don’t think we have one and we certainly are not debating any. Oh wait, President DFF wants to can the Iran nuke deal and is meeting with North Korea. Okay, but what is the plan? Get there and see if it works? In North Korea are we willing to agree to his continued enslavement of his people and brutal mind control as a bargaining chip for war? What is the alternative? What comes after we cancel the nuke deal with Iran, a nuclear weapons race in the Middle East? Do we withdraw from Syria or not? Do we rethink the moronic plan of blanket tariffs? What is the plan? What is the overall guiding strategy to develop our options?

Turn on the news and none of this is being discussed. In fact we are stuck in entertainment news and belly button gazing. Is Mueller or isn’t Mueller? Is Trump or isn’t Trump? Payoffs to porn stars. Illicit affairs. Who is going to get fired next? Impeachment? What do the polls show? Was there collusion (of course there was)? Is there obstruction of justice (of course there is)? Will Democrats take back the House? Will there be a blue wave?

Now those last two questions really are the key here. But let me explain. The Republicans really got nothing. They got their tax cut. That is all they had for the answer to all questions about anything. See Paul Krugman. On most of the other questions, try to remember that the Republicans own our government (they have a majority in all branches) and they can’t agree on a policy on any of those things among themselves. So there are no proposals and no debates. The one thing they can agree on is dismantling government, but no fixes other than break it. So we really might have a Blue wave in November, but then what? A Blue wave to where?

President DFF and his Republican Party have no real ideas for the future. They are owned and controlled by those who benefited from the past. That is why they are called Conservatives. They want to conserve what they have and screw you. They got nothing, but Democrats can’t just be the sucks less party. They have to have a plan. We have to get the ship moving again. I have a solution for all eleven of the above and if I ran for office, I might get two votes, mine and my cat’s. If my Golden Retriever was still with us I might get three, maybe four if you count my wife, but I am not so sure about that one. My point is are we really ready for solutions and how do we do that politically?

Democrats are split and I thought Thomas Edsall made a great point about how the party is really split between the rich establishment elite, basically NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) Democrats, and the rest of us struggling to try to deal with economic inequality and not being able to afford to live anywhere. That latter group would be the Bernie Progressives. My take is that the establishment elite (rich) Democrats are who lost the last election because they turned their backs on the suffering in the country. In many ways they emulated Republicans in blaming the victims. Sadly President DFF connected with them, although they are finding snake oil really doesn’t cure anything and tastes bad too.

So the real sea change is if the Progressives can connect with Middle America with a plan to start addressing all our problems without scaring them off. If you get rid of Trump through impeachment (which I don’t believe is going to happen), you get Pence and Republicans that have no ideas. If you get the establishment elite Democrats back, you have a kinder gentler going nowhere at least economically. Progressives have to come up with solutions (they actually already have them) that starts to address the real malaise about our economic future across the country, not just on the coasts, and do it in a way that does not scare off those that still haven’t figured out waiting for a favoring wind is a fool’s errand (yeah, back to my metaphor).

Then we could have real debates about the eleven questions I proposed above and I could have fun writing this blog and arguing for my favored position. And as the Founder’s intended, out of a debate of the facts comes solutions and new ideas. Boy would that be a fresh breath of air and a real favor wind.

*I would like to mention that fake pee is a hot commodity in almost all states. What does that tell you about being adrift?

Prostate Cancer Update

I write this on the odd chance someone is searching the net looking for answers. Anecdotes are not answers, but they can help those who are facing advanced stage prostate cancer. First, as far as curing the disease, probably not in our life time. I have a Gleason score of 9 meaning bad and aggressive. But the good news was that while it had metastasized (the reason it cannot be cured), it was still fairly localized in my adrenal glands.

Most of us that have cancer that has metastasized and cannot be cured, regardless of type, go to some kind of delaying action therapy. In my case that is what is called ADT (“Androgen Deprivation Therapy, also called androgen suppression therapy, is an antihormone therapy whose main use is in treating prostate cancer. Prostate cancer cells usually require androgen hormones, such as testosterone, to grow.“). Now there are several sites in the body for the production of testosterone, so after you have lost your libido going after your gonads, they can use a different drug in conjunction with the first to stifle testosterone production in the adrenal glands. I have moved on to my last known treatment, Lupron and Zytiga. Right now when they fail it is chemo and radiation to add a month or two and then it is tits up time. I hate to be so direct, but that is the reality.

So far my current drug regime is working not just well, but great. I feel pretty much normal, (except that at 72 you can’t do stuff you did when you were 30), but here is the anecdotal thing you might want to think about. First understand that sooner or later the cancer cells will win. How long is unknown, but an additional five years when you are 72 is quite a gift. But what I have found with my meds was that I tended to bloat (the Zytiga ended that), and everything you eat goes on as belly fat (nothing changes that). I refused to spend whatever time I have left on this planet as a pregnant Guppy so I started to look around for a good diet (there aren’t any by definition). After a trip to Hawaii where my son Andy got me out and walking everywhere, I started to realize I could get back into really good shape, the bad times were behind at least for now if I was willing to get serious.

So on the flight home I watched a video about fasting and I was hooked. There is no simpler diet than just don’t eat. Second there were all kinds of residual benefits including cell regeneration and anti-aging effects. There is little or nothing in research that says it helps with cancer although there is some that says it helps protect you against cancer by your body going into a protect and repair state when you are fasting which may repair and replace cells that might become cancerous. There is anecdotal evidence that it greatly reduces the side effects of chemo and radiation therapy. So my thinking is what can it hurt? If nothing else, I get my fine tuned sexy muscled body back (a man can dream, oh, and on the sexy part, I know women are interesting, I just can’t remember why). My oncologist was fine with it and even encouraged me.

Now I will give you some resources here. The first is the original video I watched which I got from Amazon, The Science of Fasting. That got me really interested. Then I read The Fast Diet which gives you some of the science to date, and easy fasting options to get you started. But the guy I found most interesting was Dr. Jason Fung who uses fasting to treat patients with metabolic diseases (like diabetes), but really knew the science (not a lot of research because who invests in research on taping your mouth shut? Where is the money in that?). He has a great video out there on YouTube, and his book, The Complete Guide to Fasting which tells you just about everything there is known to date.

Dr. Fung argues that weight gain is not simply calories in, calories out, but hormonal. That if we reduce the production of insulin in our bodies, we don’t store fat. He points out that in a fasting state, our metabolism does not slow down like in calorie restricted diets, and human growth hormone is actually increased. The body, while losing fat, does a great deal of regeneration in a fasting state, hence some anti-aging benefits. Note also that if you fast long enough to get into ketosis (your liver is turning fat into ketones which your brain uses for food instead of glucose in the blood or glycogen stored in the liver from carbohydrates), you may have both feelings of well-being and improved mental processing.

I will leave the rest to you to read/watch, but why not? Could it be that cancer is hormonal also and maybe fasting could slow down the cancer? I don’t know, but I feel great. My regime is three consecutive days a week, the first 2 water only and on the third day, less than 500 calories (studies have shown for men, not exceeding 600 calories keeps you in a fasting state), usually mostly protein. I have done one five-day water only fast to push my body into cell regeneration/ketosis. I plan to do that every six months and probably push to 7-days water only. I have lost 26 pounds since Christmas, am weight lifting and doing yoga (my body is as flexible as a brick) and interval training on my spinner bike, alternate days, 7 days a week. Yes, toward the end of a longer fast you lose stamina, but you get it back quick.

Summary: Who knows. Maybe it is a placebo effect. Tomorrow it could end. But losing weight and being in shape sure can’t hurt my cancer fight, and feeling good about myself certainly helps. Right now my blood chemistry is all normal with PSA<0.1. Might as well spend whatever time we have on this planet in the best shape we can be in to enjoy every moment. What else have we got for sure except today? Oh, and one last thing. You can splurge once in a while and just eat/drink what you want and enjoy the moment. There will be at least three days where you won’t eat anything. Carpe diem.

Post-Truth: What to Do About It

I finished Post-Truth by Lee McIntyre and he came up with some recommendations which I will pass on here and then recommendedWeaponized Lies:  How to Think Critically in the Post-Truth Era by Daniel J. Levitin.  The second book is really about teaching critical thinking and I will say a little more in a few moments.

Mr. McIntyre gave us a trip through postmodernism that describes how Republicans have taken this philosophical point of view and applied it to truthiness (Colbert).  Now I happen to think this whole approach is ridiculous when applied to the physical world, but here are the tenants:

  1. They believe that objective truth is a philosophical hoax, the alternative, perspectivism, states that there is no one objective way the world is, only perspectives on what the world is like.
  2. That any profession of truth is nothing more than a reflection of the political ideology of the person who is making it.

You can see how reality is defined by how you feel about something and who has the power to make you feel that way is the embodiment of the post-truth Republicans.  This is unmitigated nonsense and the reason we know that is because reality finally bites back when you get it wrong.  But it is a powerful tool that is wielded by the Right to make people doubt science, which was used on tobacco, vaccines, intelligent design versus evolution, and of course global warming.  How reality bites back is the anti-vaccine group that were getting their equal time on the media to present a “balanced approach” until we had that outbreak of measles that was once an eradicated disease and it dawn on the news media that they were aiding and abetting real damage with pseudo science as an alternative viewpoint. You know, all opinions are equal until they very much are not.

People who think like this don’t really understand science as they think the scientific method is just another partisan look at things.  Science does not engage values, only facts, proven, repeatable, and verified facts.  “The strength of science is that it embraces an attitude of constantly checking one’s beliefs against the empirical evidence, and changing those beliefs as one learns what the facts are.” That would be the antithesis to Republican ideological thinking where the world must conform their ideology.

I think of science like an engineer.  You try to find out how something works.  Then you test the crap out of it, then you build a model that accurately predicts future behavior.  If it fails in any of these things, it gets canned.  That is why the global warming thing is so unfathomable to me.  The models are predicting exactly what is happening and we are ignoring them, why?  Rhetorical (ideology) is the answer).

Okay, how do we defeat brain-dead thinking and turn this ship around.  Is truth dead?  Note that 70% of Trump’s campaign statements were judged by PolitFact to be false and two-thirds of voters polled during the campaign said that trump was not trustworthy, yet he won the election.  Do people not care anymore?  Certainly as you continue to deny reality by voting your feelings, eventually you are going to get burned.  Coral Gables, Florida, in wonderful Red country, will be underwater in the next 20-30 years.  Much of Miami will be flooded. Maybe then global warming denial will fade out.  I have always said it is about the money.  When they feel the pinch, reality comes cascading in.

It turns out there are some things we can do, again based on research.  First we can teach our kids to think critically.  Mr. McIntrye gives an example of a teacher, Scott Bedley, in Irvine California, who is teaching his class how to spot fake news.  He gives them a rubric (I like to think algorithm) to test the claims.  He gives them five or six stories and the contest is on to find the fake news and they love it.  But think about.  Once the kids have been exposed to critical thinking in a fun way, it stays with them for life (Mr. Bedly has created a wonderful monster as they now fact check everything he says).  Should that not be a required in all schools?  Oh, and my apologies to conservatives.  It is not partisan if in fact most of what they find are conservative claims that are false.  That is the world we live in.  I will get more into this in a book Mr. McIntyre recommended (see above) for the rest of us in a future blog.

But here is what Mr. McIntyre recommended:

  • One must always fight back against lies.  If you let them lie there without rebuttal to be polite or not to dignify their nonsense, they will be believed the longer they are out there.
  • Confront fake news and lies so the purveyor can’t go from ignorance to willful ignorance.
  • Start fighting false equivalence in our news and fair and balance means both sides have an equal viewpoint.  Vaccine nuts are killing people and putting our children at risk.  Global warming will (and has with more powerful storms) kill people.  Intelligent design dumbs down our kids and makes them handicapped in a world where science and math are more and more important. If you don’t understand the basis of science, you will be lost in a world defined by science.
  • And here is the big one:  It turns out that even with people in the grips of partisan bias, confirmation bias, social conformity, and avoiding cognitive dissonance, when they see something enough, they actually do change.  Couple that with the bullet above, reality will hit them right smack in the face, and what we get is that if you don’t engage and disagree, politely, you are confirming their post-truth beliefs.  We have to take them on, all of them.

Okay, I will leave you with one last thing today from the introduction to Weaponized Lies about how we got here:

First, the language we use has begun to obscure the relationship between facts and fantasy [we need to call fake news lies as an example].  Second, this is a dangerous by-product of a lack of education in our country that has now affected an entire generation of citizens.

…There are not two sides to a story when one side is a lie.  Journalists – and the rest of us – must sop giving equal time to things that don’t have a fact based opposing view.

What weaponizes the lies is not the media nor Facebook.  The danger is in the intensity of that belief – the unquestioning overconfidence that it is true. Critical thinking trains us to take a step back, to evaluate facts and form evidence based conclusions,

…The most important component of the best critical thinking that is lacking in our society today is humility.  It is a simple yet profound notion:  If we realize we don’t know everything, we can learn.  If we think we know everything, learning is impossible.

Are your ears burning Senator Inhofe (Dunning-Kruger Effect)? He is the epitomy of ingnorance and being too ignorant to even understand how ignorant he is. It is why ideology is so dangerous especially when we introduce faith-based thinking into the real world.  More after I have read more and thought about it.

Just a Footnote

I am on a post-truth kick, trying to understand why people, when presented with the facts, ignore them. But here is one from yesterday. You know those tax and spend Democrats who the majority of voters think are bad on the economy and the debt? Well the numbers say it ain’t so and has not ever been. The latest tax cut enacted by the Republicans should wake you up to that. But here are the numbers relative to our deficit:

Now what does that tell you? But we don’t care because we “feel” like the Democrats are the worst stewards. But reality is a bitch and voting on our feeling has consequences when you ignore the facts. More on our post-truth, a.k.a., the Trump Administration and Republicans, in a bit.

*Note the big climb in debt was the crash brought to us by deregulation of the banks and their crash, the bailout, giant jump in safety net spending as people lost their jobs, and the stimulation bill that save us from a bigger crisis. Note how it back down as the economy healed under Obama. Oh, that couldn’t be could it….

Post-Truth

I was watching Fareed Zakaria on Sunday (Global GPS on CNN) and he recommended his book of the week (poor man does not know it takes me forever to read a book because I have to highlight everything). It was Post-Truth from the MIT’s Essential Knowledge Series. And now I am recommending it to you. If you are trying to figure out how so many people have so many things wrong, and when presented with the actual facts, reject them, here is the whole story, some of which impeaches all of us.

I have argued ad infinitum about using facts, data, and science to determine our policies and effective ways forward. For me it is so hard to understand why this is hard. I like to think that when I am presented with data that shows there is a better way, I am not bound by ideology to reject that idea and move forward. I would like to think that my training as an engineer and then as a project manager has taught me to solve problems by listening, engaging other’s, and being focused on the solution, not an ideology that only allows a certain way to see the world. What I found reading this little tome was I need to be on guard from myself. But I get ahead of myself.

The book is about why we have always had the tendency to believe what we want to believe (Motivated Reasoning and Confirmation Bias) and reject things that impact our view of ourselves as wise and smart (Avoiding cognitive dissonance), but why facts and science today are really under a total attack. The author takes us back to big tobacco and how they attacked and raised false questions about the cancer and tobacco connection and how that set up the play book for what we see today with global warming.

There is a great quote from Newt Gingrich about truth is what the majority of people feel about something, not the actual facts. This came up when a reporter challenged him on Trump’s statements about rising crime everywhere when in fact it was the lowest it has been in 40 years. Gingrich countered with that is not how people feel, and that is the real truth.

“As a political candidate, I’ll go with how people feel and let you go with the theoreticians.”

Think about that. Do we build more prisons because people feel there is more crime, but have no one to put in them? People feel, because of the tactics of false information and false equivalency arguments, that global warming is not a problem, and that is the truth even as the ocean rises and cities are inundated? That is where we are. When a poll is taken to decide if global warming exists, we have lost our way.

So we have a whole industry on the right built around the model of the tobacco companies’ tactics, a media feeling they have to present both sides (false equivalency) to be fair, and a well-funded lobby industry that casts doubt on science and data because it is in either their ideological or monetary interests to do so, and the result is a truly dumbed down population that elected a man who blatantly lies and no one cares. Now the author goes into great detail about how all this happend, but the best part is to recognize why we all are susceptible to believing what we want to and checking our critical brain at the door. I will summarize some of those processes:

  • Avoiding psychic discomfort (Cognitive Dissonance) – Nobody wants to face the reality that they got something totally wrong. We then live in enclaves that reinforce our beliefs. “When we feel psychic discomfort we are motivated to find a non-ego-threatening way to reduce it, which can lead to the irrational tendency to accommodate our beliefs and to our feeling instead of the other way around.”
  • Confirmation Bias – We seek out only “facts” that confirm what we want to believe, and ignore all others.
  • Social Conformity – See above, we want to conform to what others are telling us to not be the odd man out
  • Backfire Effect  – This one is interesting.  When you present evidence that a politically expedient belief is wrong, that evidence is rejected and they double down.  It causes some (conservatives) to increase the strength of their mistaken belief.  I have seen this one on global warming all the time. Studies to date were unable to show a back-fire effect with liberal partisans, but they still had the same tendency to hold on to their belief, but it did not strengthen that mistaken belief.
  • Dunning-Kruger Effect – Simply stated, too stupid to know they are stupid effect.  Or said another way, “the greatest inflation in one’s assessment of one’s own ability comes from the lowest performers” (interesting study on LSAT testing).
  • Negativity Bias – Conservatives have been tested to be more prone to believe threatening falsehoods than liberals do.  This is my belief that conservative have been shown to be more fearful people and research shows that the fear-based amygdala tends to be larger in conservatives than in liberals

So we are challenged because we believe what we want to believe, we gather evidence selectively to support that view, and then our psyche is tied to being right.  There are a couple of things we can see today that multiply this, social media and news stovepipes that focus on one point of view.  We know that when people meet in groups of divergent points of view to solve a problem, they do much better than a single person because their ideas are examined and challenged.  In our increasing economic unequal society everyone is being pushed into homogeneous groups which affects our ability to challenge our thinking, and hear differing points of view (or understand and experience empathy).

The author makes a couple of statements that are probably true, but my own biases resists it.  The first is that MSNBC was just as biased as Fox.  I take this on because we were living in a time when the conservatives had taken over mainstream media by false equivalency, intimidation, and there had to be sanity thrown back into the system by the left when they were being out shouted on other channels.  The he said/she said news interview disadvantage reasonable discourse. One does have to remember that facts really do have a liberal bias, so what may seen as bias was simply ending the false equivalence.

The second thing the author alleged is that when comedy (Jon Stewart) became the main source of news for many people, it had a bias that ridiculed news and made fake news more believable.  I simply think this is nonsense.  Jon Stewart kept me sane as we lived through the insanity of the Iraq war and the manipulation of the media.  He was the first to pick off lying politicians by doing the research and showing the video.  He made it harder for either side to lie and showed mainstream news the way.  The fact that it was more about conservative lying and hypocrisy than liberal is because, while both are guilty, conservatives have taken it to a new height.

I still have a lot to read, but you get the gist and that if we want to be a more science, data, and research based society, we have to recognize our own biases and fight them.  I try.  But there is also that feeling that is supported by what we see everyday, you point out the fake news and the lies and it makes no difference.  Back to Newt Gingrich and echoed by Kellyanne Conway (feelings are more important than facts and presenting alternative facts is quite acceptable), we have a large population who can’t see the forest for the trees. I don’t know yet how to fight that, but maybe if I finish the book I will.

Fireworks as a Distraction

When I came back from my tour in Southeast Asia, fireworks made me nervous. Those last night in Syria appear to be a show for PR and nothing else. I don’t think it made anyone nervous. I know something of air warfare, at least back in the day, and the first thing you do is take out their defenses, you know Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs) and Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA). Then you have the freedom to hit targets and do real damage. I don’t think we hit one defense system. What does that tell you? Damage this morning was noted as minimal and some analysts in the Middle East say that we actually handed a win to Assad, the Russians, and the Iranians. See, America is all about smoke and mirrors.

So what was the point? What did we accomplish? Well, for the weak-minded President DFF’s base, we keep our word about red lines. See, he is tough. But did we just make things worse? And the answer to that question is what is a viable strategy for Syria. I hate Assad right up there with the best of them, but we have to have a plan of what comes after if we really want to up the ante as apparently John Bolton wanted to do. Note we have no Secretary of State or major ambassadors in most of the countries over there, so all we got is a hammer. Remember shock and awe in Iraq that got us here?

So if I am going to criticize, what would I offer as what should our strategy be? That depends. I would start strategy meetings about what should be our policy and what is the blow-back with people who know the area (and some of our allies). Should we confront Russia now or can we hope that, a la Afghanistan, they get worn out? How about Iran? If we don’t want a larger conflagration, what does our appeasement (pin pricks for show) get us? So there has to be a larger strategy here than if you use chemicals, we will hit you, but if you kill millions using conventional weapons, then okey dokey. Oh, and we care about all the innocent children killed, but we don’t accept immigrants from your area. So sad…

I think we need a strategy that makes sense, sell it to Congress to get authorization, and then have contingency plans in place so we can react immediately if that is what our plan requires. If we think Assad will eventually fall, and Russia will be drawn into warfare between the Sunnis and Shiites (that is still what this is about), maybe we do nothing but try to provide humanitarian assistance as the most efficacious way forward. If we think Russia and Iran might use Syria as a launching point to support weakening Saudi Arabia and the Sunnis, which could then result in an all out war, then maybe it is time now to confront both. Russia just seems to be emboldened with our failure to take any action.

Whatever the policy is, it needs to be an informed one that we share with the American people so they are not lulled to sleep by a fireworks display that does nothing. But of course, expecting a rational policy with real costs and benefits out of this administration is a pipe dream. This administration is all about the PR game, not the best interest of the country. So President DFF looked tough and talked tough, and maybe made things a lot worse, but who cares if his base is molified and it distracted from his domestic problems? That was really what all that was about last night.

Friday’s Things

You could start your morning with one of the best summaries of the collapse of the Republican Party and Paul Ryan with Will Wilkerson’s NYT article. His description of how establishment politics, and Ryan’s economic politics in general, were totally ineffectual for the heartland, and that led to the rise of Trump.

Mr. Trump spotted opportunity in the injured dignity of the Republican base and the feckless irrelevance of the establishment’s agenda. He told Republicans shaken by the reality and risk of downward mobility that they were the only Americans who counted, and that they had been cheated and betrayed.

He promised never to cut their Social Security or Medicare, and expressed admiration for single-payer health care. He took their side against immigrant rapists, murderous jihadis, plundering trade deals, dangerous city people and disloyal, condescending elites of all parties and persuasions. He promised to use his billionaire superpowers to rig the economy to their advantage. It didn’t matter that he is a transparently corrupt, bigoted, sexually abusive, compulsive liar. He offered the dignity of recognition, promised to fight, and won.

Or you could flick over to Paul Krugman, who described the reality of who and what Paul Ryan represented (flimflam man) and how we got there, as with so many disasters we have encountered in recent times, false equivalency:

Even now, in this age of Trump, there are a substantial number of opinion leaders — especially, but not only, in the news media — whose careers, whose professional brands, rest on the notion that they stand above the political fray. For such people, asserting that both sides have a point, that there are serious, honest people on both left and right, practically defines their identity.

…And let me say that the same bothsidesism that turned Ryan into a fiscal hero played a crucial role in the election of Donald Trump. How did the most corrupt presidential candidate in American history eke out an Electoral College victory? There were many factors, any one of which could have turned the tide in a close election. But it wouldn’t have been close if much of the news media hadn’t engaged in an orgy of false equivalence.

Or you could read about Jim Comey’s new book about what a lying sack of sh*t President DFF is, but we already knew that especially from his comeback, “untruthful slime ball.” Or you could look at his attack and new panel to investigate the Post Office. Or you could ponder Syria the the non-attack to teach them a lesson. Or you could ponder our new foray into the TPP when the reality of a trade war dawns on President DFF. Or you could read about the investigation of Cohen’s office and what and where the investigation might go. Timothy Egan has a great fun piece on the wasted money our taxes are paying for under the drain the swampy DFF’s administration. Roger Cohen gives another great piece about the parallels of Hitler and President DFF (I wrote the other day of Madeleine Albright’s article on the same topic).

But in all this noise and cacophony, what is getting done? Where is the great discussion about the real problems that face us and rational approaches to our future? It is all getting lost in the chaos of Trump and the nation has slid to a stop. That is the real damage as we wait on the debate for the way forward. Take Syria. So we strike, after that what? Withdraw? What is the end game and what is the strategy? Take economic inequality. How do we create better jobs and more equitably share the profits so we all prosper? Bring back coal jobs that aren’t coming back? Take the TPP, again what is our strategy? The TPP did many fine things, but also lowered environmental standards and made economic inequality grow. Think President DFF has a plan? Think he cares about those things? Take global warming. Oh, why do I bother.

We are now living in a global economy and there is no going back. Our problems are large and looming and we are lost in the chaos of the china broken in the china shop by the bull called Trump. Republicans are in disarray because their ideology has failed and the guy who promised win-lose and white nationalism is just making things worse. Democrats under Hillary (the establishment), while better, did not really face the problems we have realistically with the same old patches to a failing economic system (if you live in fly over country). Move to the coast and code was not realistic. So where is out discussion of the way forward?

No we are chasing smoke and mirrors right now thrown up by the chaos that is President DFF and his defenders, but sooner or later, we really do have to face our problems like burgeoning debt. Oh, dare I say it, we need smart programs and pay for them. No more party of free rides from flow down. Where is the discussion of that? I have offered my vision, but we have to transition and that begins when we actually debate these things with real facts and data, not ideological objections. That is what we are missing and as much as I enjoy watching the noose tighten around President DFF and the Republican’s necks, just putting Democrats back in power, while reinstating the rule of law, does not answer the big questions that we need to debate. Until then I will be waiting.

*Just a note. I will not be waiting. I will be discussing them here and all three readers can get a glimpse of what we must face. There is a new book out there that I think is an important read if you want to get ahead of me, Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism by Robert Kuttner. Really the question is how do we change capitalism so democracy can survive and flourish not just for a few, but for all of us.

The Fantasy is Over

That fantasy is the one where some of our citizens believe the Republicans, or in this case, traditional conservatives have anything to offer this country. Specifically, that we get a free ride by just cutting taxes for the wealthy. When Paul Ryan, who, make no mistake, was one of the biggest con men of all times, decided to step down, it was obvious that conservative ideology was dead. That ideology was self-discipline taken to fantasy levels. Nothing wrong with self-discipline until you get into the blame game. It was the view from Ayn Rand that as E.J. Dione put it this morning:

She identified with society’s winners and regarded ordinary citizens as moochers and burdens on the creative and the entrepreneurial.

Although Ryan gave warm speeches about compassion, his biggest fear was not that the poor might go without food or health care but, as he once said, that the “safety net” might “become a hammock that lulls able-bodied citizens into lives of complacency and dependency.”

…If the wealthy did best when given positive incentives in the form of more money, the less fortunate needed to be prodded by less generous social policies into taking responsibility for their own fate.

Ryan was always about two things, tax cuts for the wealthy and slashing the safety net to pay for them. Oh, and he complained bitterly about the deficit. But note he just worked hard to get that tax cut for the wealthy, while crashing the budget. His budgets, which the press corps used to swoon over (“wonky conservatism”) because he used big words, charts, and graphs, never added up without massive cuts to social programs, always with the magic asterisk for growth from tax cuts that never ever happen.

The self-discipline thing is what is at the bottom of every Republican’s little brain, you too would be rich if you just worked hard you lazy scum, which anecdotally you can find examples, but in the broader society is false. Their total approach has always been to make that proposition, just exercise self-discipline, almost impossible for the disadvantaged through tax cuts for the wealth and cutting government programs that actually might help level the playing field.

Now with Ryan claiming he accomplished what he could and leaving the House, we are left with this from WaPo writer Karen Tumulty:

Ryan’s announcement Wednesday that he will not run for reelection represents a bright distress flare illuminating the seriousness of the predicament into which President Trump has plunged his party.

No Karen, President DFF just shined a light on the hollowness of their ideas. Make no mistake, Republicans did this to themselves. It is becoming clear that there is not a conservative intelligencia that has anything to offer anyone today. Ryan shot his wad, said he could not also gut the safety net because of those immoral Democrats (and many of his fellow Republicans who got an earful when they tried to end Obamacare), and there was nothing left to do. I have argued before and I will argue again, they have no economic strategy except cut taxes, cut government, and cut regulations. In todays complex world and growing economic inequality, these ideas are a disaster for most of us.

What Ryan’s withdrawal signifies is that the fantasy at the core of Republican ideology that tac cuts for the rich works for all Americans is finally dead, and we are left with the crazies, conspiracy theorists, nativists, and racists. My what a Grand Old Party. Make no mistake, Trump was simply the final destination that the Republicans have been on for a long, long time. Once you eschew facts, science, and data to inform your ideological beliefs, reality bites back. If you are not growing and changing with new insights, you are losing ground*. To see Ryan, Republicans, and Evangelicals fall all over Trump is to see the hypocrisy and degeneracy of their beliefs.  They have no morals.

For the Democrats sake, and I think a lot of young New Democrats (Progressives) get it, the strategy is to take into account how past policies have increased economic inequality while leaving too many people behind. You don’t throw off capitalism, you harness it for all of us (just the opposite of what Ryan believes, you throw off harnesses). We have data from the Northern European countries that shows that a strong safety net (and paying taxes to support it) actually increases social mobility and innovation because people are willing to take more chances and change. It also brings more people into the competitive mix.

In that vein we can’t just blow off the survivors of the rust belt as stupid and foolish as they are for voting for President DFF. We have to have a plan to help them transition. Most people can’t or won’t move and it is government’s job to help them find their economic way forward, to become self-sufficient again. President DFF did just that with a giant con, that their jobs would be coming back. With the looming collapse of the Republicans, who have nothing to offer anyone but a fantasy about coal and re-industrializing the rust belt, it is becoming clear, Democrats and especially Progressives have to offer a new way forward. That includes responsible taxes to pay for what we need.

All that is assuming President DFF doesn’t do something really stupid to end democracy as we know it. That may be coming as Republicans show they have no stomach for impeachment and will take no action to restrain him. Like I said, they got nothing.

*This applies to many religions too. It turns out that like economic ideology, the law of god has to be updated from time to time as we find out how wrong the sand people were.

Let’s Not Lose the Thread

The part about President DFF being a con artist, sexual abuser, bully, and general low-life is not news. Well it was back in 2016, but we have so many walking brain dead people that it fell on deaf ears (or missing brains). The FBI search of Michael Cohen’s office and home is to follow crimes, probably authorized by the Con-in-Chief, but they relate to “bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations related to payoffs made to women, including a porn actress, who say they had affairs with the president before he took office and were paid off and intimidated into silence.” The thread we must not lose is the connection to the Russians.

We are starting to see how President DFF works and it may be the same way the Russians work. The real investigation is did the Russians snare President DFF with loans from oligarchs (really a money laundering operation) and then use that leverage to gain his support. Let’s face it, by all evidence, he is their boy, attacks on Syria aside. On the Syria thing, where are the attacks, and like the last time, does Russia get a pass and everyone knows what is going to be hit before he puts on his show?

No, while Manafort and others wait prosecution on sleazy money laundering and illegal lobbying, and a little bit of the swamp gets exposed, the real investigation is where Manafort played in President DFF’s election and what collusion went on with the Russians. Manafort has not flipped, so behind the scenes Mueller is following the money trail. And that, I think is where the real story is. President DFF has always been a con artist, capitalizing on bravado, threats, litigation, and bankruptcy to further his “empire”. Now none of that is supposition, but based on following his “glorious” real estate business and how he stiffed his contractors and workers.

And in the end it was never about making money off properties by their income, but borrowing for the next venture, in a way a giant Ponzi scheme (Not proven, but will be if we ever see his tax returns). And in that giant Ponzi scheme was the crack the Russians could exploit. Again not proven yet, but coming. We do know that starting back in the late 90s, banks cut off President DFF and his family’s supply of loans and they turned to the Russians for fresh cash. At that point I think the Russians were looking to launder money and had as the intelligence community calls them, a useful idiot on the hook. From there, I think it just got deeper. Again, not proven yet, but there are certainly bread crumbs.

So the trick here is to find the money trail, connect it to President DFF and then all the rest follows, the rest being collusion with the Russians during the campaign, his failure to take a true hard stand against the Russian aggressions, and then of course, obstruction of justice which at this point is obvious. As an aside, it is interesting to note that the NRA was also played as useful idiots, as they laundered money for the Russians in support of Trump. Greed and lust for power creates multitudes of useful idiots.

So that is the real thread in all this. We already know President DFF is a total sleaze and should be nowhere near the Presidency, but the idiots in Red States, having their brains eaten by Fox News and Right wing radio, put him in power. The real question is whether Republicans, when the real Constitution Crisis comes, will do anything. I don’t believe they will. With Paul Ryan now out of the Congressional race, November could be a land slide for Democrats who will do something about him. What that says my friends, is that we are entering really, really dangerous times when desperate men will do desperate things.

I would like to add one aside here. Some people truly terrified by Trump have suggested violence to solve this problem. It is the lesson of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Trump was elected by our democratic process, albeit swayed by the Russians and a misguided FBI Direction James Comey. That in itself should require us to have a new election, but there is no process for that. To remove him by any other means than those afforded to us by our Constitutional system is to destroy the Constitution itself, or as Mark Antony said in Julius Caesar, “Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.”

Brain Dead and Proud of It

Paul Krugman this morning was describing the fact that there are no real conservative intellectual economists in any positions of influence with Republicans. He points out that to curry favor with the conservatives, they have to take positions that are not supportable by data and research. As he likes to call the search for intellectual conservative economists, “Unicorns of the intellectual right.” Then he shows that the ones that Republicans pull into the fold to support their failed economic ideas are charlatans, and cranks, Kudlow being the latest.

I will leave it to you to follow the rest of his argument about the intellectual decadence in the economic world in order to serve conservative ideas and be part of the in crowd. As an example in another related piece in the WaPo, the author points out that the conservative Hoover Group at Stanford University put out a study showing we are going to have a deficit problem:

None of that is in dispute. But the Hoover economists then go wrong by arguing that entitlements are the sole cause of the problem, while the budget-busting tax bill that was passed last year is described as a “good first step.”

Entitlements are growing, but that is primarily a result of an aging population. So we throw old people out on the street. Yet our growing deficit is based upon tax cuts and unfounded wars. The author then runs through the actual facts including that the reforms in the tax code were further budget busting moves. It is again the conservative sycophantic response to the power structure and what they want to hear, instead of a true conservative intellectual approach to tax cuts that bust the budget.

But it isn’t just conservative economic dogma that has driven us off the rails.  Consider the re-institution of the War on Drugs, a failed policy, and Attorney General Jeff’s Session’s push to incarcerate more people, not less.  He even commented that our prison population has gone down so we have room to put more in prison.  Forward looking countries like Denmark and Sweden that have decreased their prison population, shortened incarceration times, and focused on rehabilitation, and guess what?  They have reduce crime.  But we are back to stupid failed ideas from conservatives.

Trade, immigration, global warming, pollution?  It is all the same backwards looking failed policies.  I am amazed at farmers who voted for President DFF and then are unhappy with him doing what he said he was going to do on trade.  Sure it is stupid, but so was almost everything he promised to do, and a reality check on all of it told us it would be a disaster and they voted for him.  Now they are shocked, shocked, shocked, I tell you.

So here we are in a world where those who pretend to be experts and intellectuals push failed conservative ideas because they are toadying to power.  They want to be in the in crowd so they justify intellectual dishonesty.  Our news organizations, as Paul pointed out, have not figured this out yet as they want to present both sides of an issue, and there really isn’t both sides and they legitimize nonsense.  At this point most of what we have been doing is failing, whether it is their misbegotten economic ideas, to their getting tough on crime and drugs.  The question I keep asking myself is why can’t most people see this?  Why are we backpedaling into disaster?