Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category.

Being An Atheist

Americans have a hard time with this concept.  If you announce you are one, kiss public life goodbye.  I mean what happens to you if you don’t end every speech with God Bless America*? People expect a religious basis for your fundamental principles and if you don’t have a religious one, my God, you are rudderless. “Cry havoc and release the dogs of war!”  Nothing could be further from the truth, but that is the conventional wisdom.  One might ask, what or who was Jesus, except for his philosophy for living our lives?  One might also ask, do you need a heaven or hell so you hold to those ideas when it gets hard?  History has shown us all kinds of beliefs very similar to Christian beliefs or basic philosophy (without the God figure) that came out of reason and thinking about the human condition.

I can be just as principled and founded as the most religious person, but my basic principles are not based on faith or dogma from a book, but observation of the world around us.  And my observation is that there is no God.  Better writers than I have documented the observable problems with religion (Dawkins, Harris). That doesn’t make it true and my beliefs are not like a faith-based belief, it can be changed by observation, data, and science.  However, my experience is that my observations and science reinforce  my view that most people’s beliefs in some all-powerful being involved in their lives is not supported by everything I see around us.

Now here is another thing most Americans can’t get:  I don’t need you to be an atheist.  I don’t care what you are or what you believe, especially if it works for you.  Atheism, at least for me, is not a religion, just an observation.  It is true that once in a while when someone says something religious and remarkably stupid, I do respond, like the hurricane survivor who thanks God for their survival, forgets about the first responders who deployed to pull them out of the flood, and do not hold that same God accountable for the destruction and death all around them.  Sometimes that kind of thinking when it leaks into political thinking gets dangerous to our democracy. See my last blog.  The Constitution was trying to make us free from religious persecution, not free religion to dominate our lives.

One other thing that most Americans do not get is the difference between spirituality and religious belief.  I think we are all connected, not by a supreme being, but by nature itself and the processes that created us.  In a way, one with the force.  Now other than the fact that the very important elements that make up our bodies were created in exploding stars, I have no proof for this, except maybe we all evolved from the same genetic material, which we also have proof for.  I feel a connection to the universe, the sun, the planet, and life on this planet (sadly that includes the FF).  That is my spirituality.  We are in this together and the human condition is universal. And I observe nothing that tells me otherwise.  On the other hand, I see no God anywhere unless you define God as nature itself which is quite different from a guy who wrote a book of rules, and is checking if you were naughty or nice.

Last, let me say that a philosophy about life and the human condition is so much more efficacious than a religion.  See the problem Evangelicals are having when they find a gay person a loved son or dauther.  Reality does not match their faith. Faith makes coming to grips with reality almost impossible.  Watch the Catholic Church try to modernize to reality today about women, love, marriage, and childbirth.  Philosophy, on the other hand, is based upon logic and can be adjusted when we find it no longer reflects reality as we now know it.  It makes our belief and ideas about right and wrong, morality, and justice based upon rational analysis not a book written before the birth of Christ, and rewritten (New Testament) to be more palatable to a changing world.

So there you have it.  Atheism, at least mine, is not a religion, it is just an observation, but one based on science and data.  Your belief is just as valid as mine in the sense that we own it and have a right to it.  The problem I have is when I recognize that right, and most religions do not.  And that is what the Founders were trying to prevent in our Constituion, our intolerance that makes debate and governing impossible.  And it would appear we are losing our grip on that.

*One might also wonder what happens to you if you don’t wear you flag pin everyday.  It would appear that the flag (and flag pin) have become a religious symbol that is required in public life.  Once again we have lost our way.  It is the principles embodied in the Constitution that we can debate that are what we owe our allegience to, not some symblol or flag that has no defined meaning other than a loyalty test to something.

 

While We Sleep

NOT!

I was driving to my golf round yesterday (better titled, ball search round) and I caught some of the Sessions’ hearing before the Judiciary Committee yesterday. It is interesting that without asserting executive privilege (which only the President can do), the Republicans who control the committee allowed Little Jeffy (little in the brain, little in the heart) Sessions, the Attorney General (yeah that is how far we have fallen) to hide behind confidentiality with the President, which does not exist. That basically destroys the whole purpose of the Judiciary Committee which among other things is supposed to oversee the Justice Department. I wonder if this had been a Democrat claiming a non-existent asserted confidentiality, how that would have gone down? But I get distracted.

I think it was Orrin Hatch of Idaho pushing little Jeffy’s religious freedom memorandum which the Justice Department issued to the rest of the government about “respecting religious freedom”. I put that in quotes because what it really is, is a license to discriminate based upon religion:

In a memorandum titled “Federal Law Protections for Religious Liberty,” Sessions articulated 20 sweeping principles about religious freedom and what that means for the U.S. government — among them that freedom of religion extends to people and organizations; that religious employers are allowed to hire only those whose conduct is consistent with their beliefs; and that grants can’t require religious organizations to change their character.

Now in my little brain, I thought, “Hmm, did the Founders want us to have religious freedom or freedom from religion and its prejudices? I think mostly the latter having seen the religious wars that had roiled through Europe for hundreds of years*. And of course if you pay attention to history and the framing of the Constitution, because at that time there were state churches and smaller religious sects did not want to be bullied by the big guys, they wanted religion out of government. Note that in the Constitution itself, God is not mentioned, and religion is mentioned only twice, in the original Constitution in Article 6:

“No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States**, and later added as the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Now the intent here is clear and in fact made clear by James Madison in the debates establishing the Constitution when he said, “Religion itself may become a motive to persecution and oppression,” And that is precisely what Little Jeffy Sessions and his Justice Department are about, using religion as a basis to persecute and oppress. Does this say organizations can decide what healthcare you get (if you work for them) based upon their religious beliefs? Hobby Lobby gave us just that decision. Does that say someone can set up discriminatory hiring practices because of their religious beliefs? Can they refuse service because of those beliefs? Yes it does. If you are a religious institution and you discriminate based on that religion, can you still get federal funds? Yes you can.

So we are sliding backwards and forgetting the history of “religious freedom” or as I like to call it, freedom from religion. The Fat F*ck (FF) is into this big time as he made it easier for organizations to deny women access to birth control, but men can get Viagra. Really? Shouldn’t our medical decisions and health care plans be based on good medicine, not religious beliefs? Time for a single payer healthcare system so corporations don’t control our lives? Once you establish the right to discriminate based upon religion, does that not say that White Arians who believe black people are not God’s chosen have every right to discriminate? Where does it stop?

And that was the whole point of getting religion out of government, that you should have a right to believe what you want, but not use that belief to deny other’s their beliefs, and yet that is exactly what we are setting up. This is not a slippery slope, it is a greased cliff. So while you were sleeping, civilization took another step toward the abyss. Isn’t it time we take back our government and reestablish the principle of freedom from religion?

*They also wanted to remove religious absolutism from debate, and allow free and rational debate instead of religious dogma.

**This having been said, it should be noted that several state constitutions do have a religious test — specifically, they deny office to anyone unwilling to acknowledge God or a Supreme Being.)

Taking a Step Back and Reflecting

This is a long one, but lays out I think, all the connecting of dots for our way forward.  In Florida the mob is out with the pitchforks and torches over the death of elderly residents at a care facility in Hollywood Florida. There was an immediate call for criminal proceedings. Why? Certainly it was a tragedy as these folks basically died of complications from heat stroke. But other than that we don’t know what happened. Wouldn’t we want a thorough investigation before you erect your gallows? I am not here to argue who did what or did not do what, I am just using this example to show how we tend to want to blame first, and find out facts later, maybe leaving many innocent victims in our wake.

It is with this in mind that I watch Hillary being interviewed and pushing her new book. I have been clear that I just want her to go away, in a sense blaming her for Donald Trump. But as a great article in the Atlantic by James Fallows makes the case, she does have something to teach us. You don’t have to agree with her to learn something here and on many things she is direct and right. As James put it:

If you’ve read this book, with Clinton’s repeated reminders that blame for this historic disaster begins with her, you’re more likely to start yelling at the TV—or the newspaper or the website—when you see pundits, mainly male, saying that it’s time for Hillary Clinton to “step back” or “stop whining” or “get off the stage” or “stop making excuses.” She’s telling an interesting and important tale—and one with uncomfortable implications for the press among other institutions.

So as one of my friends reminds me, she still commands the respect of millions and maybe we ought to allow her her podium. I listened to the Rachel Maddow  interview on MSNBC and on many policy issues she has great insights, and unlike the idiot we have in office, actually knows their history and the players. There is no argument here that she would have been much for better the country than the train wreck we are on right now.

Her point about the press fixating on SQUIRREL! (emails) and Trump’s understanding of this to get 24/7 coverage of his lies is critical to her loss and has not been fully reconciled by the press as they continue their nonstop coverage of the Village Idiot in Charge when he or his surrogates say nonsense. The White House Press briefing has become an arrogant fuck you America and we still get it live every day, giving them a megaphone to spout lies.

But in that interview with Rachel and in her book (which I have not read yet, but will, so I am judging here from excerpts), I can find no real reckoning with the massive loss of Democrats in state and federal government positions over the Obama years. Rachel did not ask the hard one here about why Democrats could not get the vote out. And that I think is my critical criticism of Hillary and Democrats in general and why I have argued in the past that I wish she would just go away. They have not come to grips with this except as a bunch of tactical errors, not why they do not excite the electorate.

I withdraw my just go away critique and I think we can learn from her, as long as she is never a candidate again. Her advice on policy and knowledge of the players may be invaluable, but on the big issue of strategic vision, she is sorely lacking. Right or wrong there is just too much baggage and a lack of trust. It can’t be won back.  There is too much history and a history of calculating on isses and following the herd (gay marriage for one).

So why did Democrats basically get relegated into also rans? Now before I answer this question, I want to bring up one other question that has driven me nuts: Why do most Americans reside in Fantasyland? Why is it that facts became relative? They aren’t you know. If the last election were run on issues and facts, Hillary would have won in a landslide. Democrats in general would fare much better in the polls. Facts, data, and science are mostly on their side. Donald and the Republicans have repeated lies and misrepresented the facts and Donald’s White Mob (his base) is as Hillary said, deplorable. Yet he got elected and so did the Republicans. How is that?

Well there is a great book that goes a long way to explaining it called, Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500 Year History, by Kurt Anderson. Basically he gives us this great condensation:

The short answer is because we’re Americans, because being American means we can believe any damn thing we want, that our beliefs are equal or superior to anyone else’s, experts be damned.

He tells of Stephen Colbert riffing as the conservative character he created on his invented word, truthiness, and summing up that philosophy is this monologue:

Now I’m sure some of the “word police,” the “wordinistas” over at Webster’s, are gonna say, “Hey, that’s not a word!” Well, anybody who knows me knows that I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They’re elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn’t true. Or what did or didn’t happen. Who’s Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914? If I wanna say it happened in 1941, that’s my right. I don’t trust books—they’re all fact, no heart…. Face it, folks, we are a divided nation… divided between those who think with their head and those who know with their heart…. Because that’s where the truth comes from, ladies and gentlemen—the gut.

He tells us of all the mystical fanciful things we like to believe (religion, witches, Obama is a Muslim, Angels, Devils, Heaven, black helicopters, etc.) and makes this assertion about us:

By my reckoning, the more or less solidly reality-based are a minority, maybe a third of us but almost certainly fewer than half. Only a third of us, for instance, believe with some certainty that CO2 emissions from cars and factories are the main cause of Earth’s warming.

I called this faith-based thinking and I have argued in a similar vein that our religious training and beliefs gives rise to this duality of thinking, rational and faith-based, that starts crossing lines and gives us what we want to believe instead of what is.

I am in that third, solidly reality-based group.  Certainly I have my prejudices and things I want to believe, but in the end, facts, science, and data inform me.  If tax cuts for the wealthy really worked I would jump on it.  If unregulated markets are really the best solution for all things, I would be all for them.  If for profit healthcare really did give us the best system, I would fight for it. If global warming really was a hoax, I would be against legislation to recognize it.

If transsexuals really were a problem in the military, I would be for banning them.  If the Muslim ban were anything but counterproductive, I would be all for it. I could go on and on. If the poor are poor because they are lazy, well it is just deserts. But we have tons of data, facts, and science that tell us otherwise and I have written extensively about all of them in this blog with links to reliable sources, facts, and data.  None of it matters to what people want to believe.

So why is this import to the question of why the Democrats have fallen out of power?  Were the Republicans just better liars?  Let me introduce another idea, that of optimal and suboptimal solutions.  I think Thomas Friedman came up with this concept a few years ago:

But while our culture of imagination is still vibrant, the other critical factor that still differentiates countries today — and is not a commodity — is good governance, which can harness creativity. And that we may be losing. I am talking about the ability of a society’s leaders to think long-term, address their problems with the optimal legislation and attract capable people into government. What I increasingly fear today is that America is only able to produce “suboptimal” responses to its biggest problems — education, debt, financial regulation, health care, energy and environment.

The concept is fairly simple.  Take healthcare.  What we know from the rest of the world is that universal healthcare (everyone has it, not necessarily single payer) is the model that drives down costs and delivers better care.  It has been implemented in many forms from doctors and hospitals that are government owned, to single payer like Medicare.  There are even forms of it as private insurance (Switzerland) although highly regulated (no profit taking for basic well-defined benefits policies).  So what did we do here?  We went for a suboptimal Obamacare because we could get it. Now it is under continuous attack. There is a lesson here.

Back in what I like to call the semi-rational days when Republicans had not gone totally off the rails, Democrats and Republicans would compromise on suboptimal solutions, which is the very essence of compromise.  If you watch what happened and you are honest, the country went right with Bill Clinton, more like a moderate Republican than a Democrat, and conservative economic ideas took over the nation.  De-regulation and Wall Street ruled. As Democrats tried to accommodate the country’s drift right with more economically conservative positions, the real threat to our Democracy grew, economic inequality***.

During the Bush years we had disastrous tax cuts with no jobs and giant deficits, and finally through deregulation helped by Bill Clinton, the market crashed and burned.  Guess what?  Self interest did not drive wise decisions. Then when Obama came along and improved the markets, there was no flow down to Main Street, thus the birth of the Tea Party.  They were tired of suboptimal solutions that did not work for them.  The trouble with their optimal solutions, balanced budgets, slashing government spending, gutting government regulation, and blaming everything on immigrants is that it was based on what they wanted to believe, not reality, and we are back to Fantasyland.

Eight years of Obama and nothing really changed for those middle class working stiffs.  They saw the rich guys get richer and they languished, and worse, their children’s prospects languished. What arose from all this was the election in 2016 where the mood in the country was anything but the establishment that had proven ineffective to dealing with our problems.  Both sides were seen (accurately) as part of the problem. Democrats did, and you still hear it today, want to be hands across the aisle.  Working together is the goal instead of optimal solutions based upon data, facts, and science. It polled well although the reality was people never vote that way. It is a recipe for failure. You can (and I have) blamed the failure on Republican control of the media, gerrymandering, the filibuster, but in the end, Democrats failed to present a strategic vision of their way forward.

Other than on social issues, Democrats failed to really stand for anything and their economic policy (and Hillary’s) was Republican Lite. So you had a choice between Republican Lite, socially progressive, and real Republicans who stood for a grand strategy, although one built of a Fantasy world.  Voters picked the guys who stood for something, albeit all the wrong somethings.

Standing for something means standing for optimal solutions, based upon facts, science, and data.  Things that work, not fit neatly into an ideology about what should work, or politically easy.  But in that standing for those optimal solutions, there has to be a grand strategy, a strategy of how what we are proposing fits into a whole that will make all our lives better.  Hillary, at least I have yet to hear it, has not ever done this in a believable way.  For the young voter’s perspective, while she has some good policies and certainly would be better than Trump, is still part of promoting the economic establishment that is at the heart of all our problems, racial***, social, and economic.

The grand failure of the Democratic Party is that they lost what they stood for and it became working within the existing system assuming that the existing system was not fundamentally flawed. Being against what Republicans were for, but not real there, there. In trying to accommodate right trending popular politics, they lost who they were.  The book Listen Liberal should be required reading for everyone.  It’s painful, but the truth is Democrats became like Republicans, really blaming the victim, using education as the tool to innovation and a better tomorrow.  We don’t like to believe it, but we became elitists too. This last election was a giant flashing sign that the electorate was pretty much done with establishment politics because it wasn’t working for them no matter who was in power.

The Democrats tried to reinvent themselves within the establishment with their “Better Deal”.  Then they introduced some policies to support that.  It fell flat.  Better Deal connotes that the existing system just needs some fixes and everything will be hunky dory.  Donald Trump and the Obama voters that voted for him are data that says that does not work or that no one believed it.  They know the system is against them and they are right.

Bernie got that, but the Democratic establishment did not want to hear that message, and we got Trump against Hillary and this should have been a cake walk.  I thought it would be.  But I have learned from this election, and Hillary and establishment Democrats do not appear to have. Their still arguing tactics and not understanding that their grand strategy was non-existent. We are the non-Trump party did not wash when people wanted to break things.  They wanted a new way forward.

Okay smart guy, what is the way forward?  What is the strategic vision? Well remember that old document, The Declaration of Independence.  Remember this:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, …

Well change it to this:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, the pursuit of Happiness, and a level playing field. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, …

That is the strategic vision.  Money begets power, which begets the loss of equality.  Powers seeks to consolidate its favored position, and all the rest is history.  Economic inequality throughout the world is growing and is the root of all the rest.  This does not mean that meritocracy should not rule, but within bounds and be fair meritocracy, not one based upon position and power (read money).  And what the Republicans who represent the 1% forgot was that last part, “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men …”.  They defined it as securing their rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness at your expense when your life, liberty or happiness conflicts with theirs, and as wealth accumulates with the few, there are lots of conflicts.  In other words, economic inequality is the root of all inequality***.

Once this reality is recognized,  that  our system is structured to increase economic inequality under the false assumption that a high tide lifts all boats, then you recognize that the system has to be changed in fundamental ways and we have look at what works effectively, those optimal solutions that get thrown away as “not politically feasible” when in fact, they are our goals.  Bernie laid it out for us, but he is a socialist so don’t listen to him, was the response of Republicans and many Democrats.

He said the obvious, the system is not working for the average guy.  It has to be fundamentally changed so that more of us share in the wealth of our nation.  That says we have to rewrite the tax code, laws that regulate intellectual property, trade agreements, property and contract laws to name a few.  We need a fair minimum living wage.  We need major investments in our infrastructure.  We need to recognize science, and fight global warming.  We need universal healthcare and a Social Security system that insures everyone with a secure retirement*.  We need to fundamentally rethink debt and investments in our future.  But all of this cannot be just policies, but a vision or structure and a systematic approach to improving our lives and our children’s live’s for the future. It has to be couched in the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and a level playing field.  

The solutions to all of the above cannot be suboptimal solutions, but optimal ones.  Does not mean you will get there on day one, but that is the goal, that is what we stand for. And with that we become a party of well-defined principles again. We will still have a capitalist solution, but one regulated to prevent monopolies, abuses, and excessive profit taking.  It will take some of the proceeds and invest them in tomorrow.  Instead of looking for corporations and CEO’s to define tomorrow, we the people will, and rewrite the rules to benefit all of us, not the wealthy few.

That is radical change.  And we already know the solutions that work, except for those who reside firmly in Fantasyland.  But that will fail too and Fantasyland looks bleak when your beliefs don’t get you anywhere.  That may be why electing Trump was probably the only way forward to see the failures of Fantasyland. And if some of  those solutions we progressives so believe in don’t work, we can change because we are wedded to science, data, and facts, not ideology. That is the key.

So the grand vision of our next Democratic Party, if they are to survive, is simple:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, the pursuit of Happiness, and a level playing field  — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, …**”  Hillary would buy into that in a minute, but not understand the fundamental changes in our economic system that has to take place because she is perceived as too wedded to the old power structures.  Then again maybe she would, but the time is past for Hillary and this is what the New Democrats have to bring to the table.

*One of the things that helps innovation and social mobility is a strong safety net.  Our European friends have shown us that with a strong safety net, people are more willing to take chances, create businesses, and innovate.  Too bad we can’t learn from them.

**Mustn’t forget that second part about “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”  Market places and competition do not secure a level playing field.  In fact they do their best as they accumulate power to do the opposite.  Government secures that level playing field.  Yes that big bad government is our salvation if we want real freedom and equality.

*** Racism wants to reserve a special place for themselves with special solutions.  That may be somewhat true when considering systemic racism in our institutions (policing), but if you believe that money is power, then leveling the playing field should also give them power. Leveling the playing filed is really an approach to all, racism, economic, social, or class.

 

 

I Can See Clearly Now

The only saving grace from the White House is their total incompetence.  The reason for the firing of James Comey is becoming crystal clear.  In spite of the memo claiming it was the outrageous treatment of Hillary, which nobody believes from this White House, White House minions were out with very different versions of Trump being unhappy with Comey for some time and had lost trust in him,  Of course that says what happened to the plot line that the new guy Rod Rosenstein who had been in office 12 days, writes a memo and the White House gets it, and then acts?  Well, nobody believes that one either. There are reports that when the White House started to lay blame on him, he threatened to resign.  We all know that was a fiction to get Sessions involved.  And it is clear Sessions’ involvement was a clear breach of his recusal.

Now the veil is slowly being lifted.  Apparently the Russia investigation was ramping up and Comey had asked for more money and resources.  Trump had been getting madder and madder about the ongoing investigation and that Comey would not follow orders to back off. He was mad that Comey had not supported his Obama had phone tapped me.  He was mad because Comey had confirmed an investigation into his campaign and administration.  And he was really mad because, as noted, Comey seemed to be ramping up the efforts.  And as now reported Comey thought Cheeto-head was mad in an insane way.  Oh, and did you see where yesterday after Cheeto-head’s meeting with the Russians (now there is a visual), he banned U.S. Reporters from the photo session/ meeting? And don’t forget Valdimir gave Cheeto-head a thumbs up for acting presidential.  That ought to count for something.

So there is no question about what is going on today.  The smoke was getting thicker and Trump ordered the hoses brought out.  No one listened.  And for an immature child, who has something very bad to hide, he went on a firing tantrum.  Republicans so far have failed to understand their duty to the country, with all of them hedging their comments, calling Sally Yates a political hack (although nothing in her testimony was political and backed up by multiple accounts) and saying the President had the right to fire Comey, which he did, but not noting that in an ongoing investigation of his administration, highly inappropriate and destructive  to our democracy and our confidence in it.  If it’s not clear at this juncture that we have a president who is out of control, has things to hide, and is a danger to a functioning democracy, then you must have voted for this dangerous moron in the first place, clear evidence of brain damage. And so far the Republicans are right there with him.

But I think the dam has broken.  There are so many lies and blame going on, that people are starting to push back.  I think what we have learned is that the political appointees cannot be trusted, Right now that is Acting Attorney General Rosenstein and acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe are suspect, Rosenstein with his part in given cover to the White House for firing Comey and McCabe for failing to answer a simple question put before him by the Senate Intelligence Committee this morning, did Comey tell Cheeto-head that he was not under investigation?  Oh, I get the privileged conversation, except the President already put it out there.  We ought to be able to know if it is true.  He did promise to report any political interference which kind of puts him on notice with career professionals.  I don’t trust him as far as I can throw him.  Wouldn’t you have given Comey a heads up call?

So between the Republicans and the political hacks, the real ones, nothing will happen.  But as I mentioned earlier, the dam is broken.  Career professionals will take their Constitution and country as more important than toddying to the Firing-in-Chief.  Expect to see more leaks and a real blow up if the Republicans and Cheeto-head try to slow walk this.  Finally, I will give Comey the same advice I gave to Obama.  Speak out.  These are not normal times and the very foundation of our democracy is at stake.

Look! He is Moderating!

That is the lead all week as Cheeto-Head flip-flopped on multiple issues.  Actually they weren’t flip-flopping as acceding to reality in foreign affairs.  But one has to ask why the obvious truths did not dawn on him sooner and is he just so ignorant that his view of reality is shaped by the ones nearest him.  And on North Korea, while he now understands a little more of the China-Korean relationship, does his twitter pugnacious brain simply further goad the situation into a show down?  And with two nut jobs, one ours, who can’t stand losing, and theirs, one who needs confrontation to survive, this could get very ugly.

Meanwhile what is happening in domestic land to show us how he is now presidential?  Well, it is not pretty:

  • President Trump signed legislation Thursday allowing states to withhold federal family planning dollars from clinics that provide abortion services, a move that could deprive Planned Parenthood and several other family groups of tens of millions in funding.”  (WaPo). Now note that federal money cannot be used for abortions and Planned Parenthood has been audited millions of times and have never used federal money for abortions, but well, screw women.  Planned Parenthood is like any other medical provider and bills the government for covered services and I don’t see how this is constitutional, but what do I know.  Also, while we seem to accept that federal money cannot be used for abortions (Hatch Amendment), why not?  Is it not a legal and in many cases a justified medical procedure? Again, what do I know?
  • With the stroke of a pen this week, Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s new education secretary, thrust the future of the government’s system for managing federal student loans into confusion.” (NYT).  President Obama had signed an order to combine the confused administration of student loans into one simplified system.  But that would hurt all those vendors who are trying to make a killing off kids going to college.  Progress is only for Progressives must be the motto.  As an aside, while I was having a basal cell carcinoma removed from my leg, I was discussing single payer with my dermatologist and she said she had mixed emotions because the government always makes things too complicated.  It is not the government, but politicians. Note that with advanced stage prostate cancer I no longer fear talking politics with those welding knives.
  • President Trump’s top environment official called for an “exit” from the historic Paris [climate] agreement Thursday, the first time such a high-ranking administration official has so explicitly disavowed the agreement endorsed by nearly 200 countries to fight climate change.” (WaPo). That is what we elected, science ignorance and they are carrying it out.
  • The Trump administration will not voluntarily disclose logs of visitors to the White House complex, it announced Friday, breaking with the practice started under former President Obama.”  (The Hill)  I wonder what they are afraid of?  Kind of like the tax thing.
  • In an interview with The Wall Street Journal this week, Mr. Trump threatened to withhold the subsidy payments [in Obamacare] as a way to induce the Democrats to bargain with him.” (NYT) Really.  He has a majority in both houses and he needs Democrats to wreck healthcare?  I know this has been beat to death, but the bad parts pay for the good parts.  There is no Republican fix and Democrats would be insane to help dismantle it.
  • “Donald Trump’s travel to his private club in Florida has cost over an estimated $20 million in his first 80 days as president, putting the president on pace in his first year of office to surpass former President Barack Obama’s spending on travel for his entire eight years.”  (CNN) Where is Michelle Bachmann when you need her.  Here is the tip of the iceberg on Republican hypocrisy as none of them see a problem and imagine what they would say (and did) if this was Obama.
  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions went to the border in Arizona on Tuesday and declared it a hellscape, a “ground zero” of death and violence where Americans must “take our stand” against a tide of evil flooding up from Mexico.” [NYT]. The beginning of the border Gestapo and prosecutions of families just trying to stay together and make a living.  No mention of a rational change in our immigration laws that would allow a free flow of workers we badly need, or treating the cause of all that drug traffic, demand.  Just another mindless day at the beach (on the Rio Grande River).
  • One of the first things this administration did was to rescind a government proposal to ban a pesticide used on much of the fresh food we eat — a chemical compound, chlorpyrifos, found to be harmful to the brain and nervous system of children. This move didn’t get a lot of attention. But when you’re throwing out a half-dozen major lies and missteps a day, it’s tough to compete for airtime.” (Timothy Egan NYT).  Yeah, we don’t need no stink’in regulations if they get in the way of profits.  Who cares who dies if it increases profits?  Unless of course it is your child.  “With his proposal to gut the E.P.A., Trump would make it much more difficult for the Great Lakes to be great again. His budget would eliminate restoration projects in the iconic waterways of America, from Chesapeake Bay to Puget Sound. Plus, he would decrease grants to monitor unsafe tap water, creating future Flints.  He also wants to cut research into harmful chemicals — some linked to breast cancer and birth defects — found in things most Americans keep in their cupboards. The tobacco companies must sense a comeback in the offing… ‘We’re doing an amazing job on regulations,’ Trump said this week. ‘We’ve freed it up. We’ve freed up this country so much.’” Nope, we don’t need no stink’in regulations. Free at last, free at last.

So if you are not paying attention, and most of our pundits are not, swept up into group think, he is becoming presidential.  If you are paying attention, he is destroying the America we all love.  Stay tuned.  Maybe he will get us in a war with North Korea and millions will die.  Maybe that will wake up the clueless.

Fake News

A friend of mine saw the 60 Minutes segment on Fake news and was alarmed.  How can we keep this off of social media or determine that it is fake?  Note that many people read stuff because it is trending, and of course hackers get this so they write Bots to cruise the internet find this stuff and make it look like millions are reading it.  My initial response is that there is nothing you can really do about, except be a critical thinker.

I also took issue with the 60 Minutes both side do it approach.  Clearly during the election we were being bombarded with this stuff by the Russians and Americans to favor Cheeto-Head.  Noting now that there is a large amount of left-wing response garbage out there now is not the same.  The conservatives amplify this stuff through their media outlets (Fox) and President Cheeto-Head himself.  You think President Obama would be repeating this stuff without fact checking it?

And I guess that is the point.  Are we so brain-dead we do not fact check stuff?  Answer yes.  My friend had a suggestion that we could add ratings to this kind of news like false, lies, true, mostly true, etc. that would get rid of the fake stuff.  I pointed out to him that it would be a simple thing to write another Bot to brand real news fake and fake news real.  The answer is a critical mind.  What is the source?  How has it been substantiated?  Are there multiple reliable sources?  Do you even know what a reliable source is?  Free speech is with us and people can make the most outrageous claims, some we might want to believe, but we have to be careful.

That brings me to one of my favorite subjects, why are we so susceptible to these kinds of falsehoods.  You would think we evolved to be a critical thinking species to survive.  Now we seem to want to create and live in a fantasy world that suits our political philosophies and gut feeling, but could in fact undo us when reality invades that fantasy world.  The answer is that other thing we evolved with to help us become a community and deal with chaos, religion.

Religion, and I have made this argument many times, is a non-rational way of thinking.  In order to believe, especially if you really do test reality, is to suspend your disbelief.  There are so many contradictions in believing in an all-powerful all-knowing god that it just boggles the mind.  But most have been brought up on this non-logical thinking and we just believe it because we feel it.  Just like I know the crowd sizes at Cheeto-Head’s inauguration were larger than Obama’s.  I just feel it is true.

Well this morning in the NYT was an op-ed called The Evangelical Roots of Our Post-Truth Society by Molly Worthen.  It made my point about faith-based logic (I believe it therefore it is).  It comes from teaching our children to distrust information from the scientific or media elite because “these sources did not hold a biblical worldview.”

“It was presented as a cohesive worldview that you could maintain if you studied the Bible,” she told me. “Part of that was that climate change isn’t real, that evolution is a myth made up by scientists who hate God, and capitalism is God’s ideal for society.”

…That innocuous phrase — “biblical worldview” or “Christian worldview” — is everywhere in the evangelical world. The radio show founded by Chuck Colson, “BreakPoint,” helps listeners “get informed and equipped to live out the Christian worldview.” Focus on the Family devotes a webpage to the implications of a worldview “based on the infallible Word of God.” Betsy DeVos’s supporters praised her as a “committed Christian living out a biblical worldview.”

You can read her analysis, but the gist is that we have been taught not to be critical thinkers when it comes to what we want to believe and there is the foundation for fake news.  As Ms. Worthen tells us:

We all cling to our own unquestioned assumptions. But in the quest to advance knowledge and broker peaceful coexistence in a pluralistic world, the worldview based on biblical inerrancy gets tangled up in the contradiction between its claims on universalist science and insistence on an exclusive faith.

In other words, “tangled up” means runs into the brick wall of reality.  We have a whole segment of society that wants stability in a changing world.  They throw their faith up as a wall to believe they are protected.  So if you can suspend your disbelief on religious matters, where do you draw the line?  After a while it leaks into every phase of your thinking and your gut is the final arbitrator.  Fake news that feeds it is icing on the cake to this way of thinking.

The only real solution is to learn critical thinking.  To understand what we know and what we do not know.  This requires questioning what we think we know continuously.  See the conflict with faith-based thinking?  It also requires an understanding of science as a method for acquiring knowledge and rational reasoning and logic.  Because we are a religious society, we have our work cut out for us.

As an after thought just try to keep in mind that the philosophy of religion, is different from the supernatural beliefs.  The philosophy can “learn” (gays are not evil), the supernatural cannot.  In other words, religion needs to evolve with reality and we are not good at that.

American Theocracy

Once again I am just amazed that the media has not picked up on or disturbed by our Government being taken over by conservative evangelical Christians and their march to institute their religious beliefs on the rest of us.  Maybe it is the idea that religious freedom means the right to discriminate to many of us.  Maybe it is the he said/she said nature of media coverage of anything and they don’t want to hurt ratings by addressing the dangers of a religious state.  Maybe their own religious indoctrination has blinded them to the double-edged sword of religion.  So I will help you.

As an atheist I have a kind of unbiased view.  That may seem strange to religious people as their view of an atheist is that it is just another religion like theirs, with beliefs based upon faith.  In that case, there is no God and I must convert others to this belief.  With this view in mind, an atheist has an axe to grind with religion.  Quite frankly I could care less.  You may delude yourself in any form you want if it meets your needs.  I have no need for you to give up your religion*.  But I do have a need to make sure your religious ideas do not use the force of government to legislate your views on others.

Let me ask you a question:  Where in the world has a theocracy in history lead to a free and open nation that celebrates minority rights?  Muslim countries are aflame or waiting to ignite.  Israel is pushing toward continuous warfare and the suppression of non-jews (Palestinians).  I cannot go back in history and find one that worked other than to empower the ‘right’ religion and disadvantage everyone else.  Then there were the power struggles within the religious righteous.  You know, who has the real word of God?

Our poor Founders must be rolling over in their graves along with most historians.  Does Cheeto Head and his evangelical buddies even know what the Enlightenment was about?  I doubt it.  The Founders got it big time and realized that a democracy based upon rational argument and compromise could not exist in a religious atmosphere where faith makes rational argument and compromise impossible.  Cue the riots, revolutions, torture of heretics, and mass chaos whose only respite is a totalitarian government.

So stand back and look at the whole conservative movement.  It is about totalitarian views.  There is only one right way to see the economy, economism** (Econ 101), which takes a simplified view of the perfect market place, supply and demand curves, and does not accept the complexity of the real market place.  In the same vein they are dominated by evangelical Christians (it could be called the evangelical Christian Party) who have the same simplistic rule following view of religion.  Either view is totalitarian in that debate and compromise is heresy.

Now enter Donald Trump who is championing these groups with simplified views of almost every issue.  His nomination of Betsy DeVoss is a thinly veiled attempt to allow government to fund religious schools and kill the public schools system.  His proposal to remove the Johnson Amendment, requiring religious organizations to refrain from overt politics to maintain their tax exempt status, is an overt attempt to bring religion back into politics. Note that all of his Cabinet appointees have the same mind-set whether it is birth control, or the Affordable Care Act.  They have that intolerant religious view of their politics and social policies.

So unless you are blind, our country is being taken over by religious zealots who hide their fanaticism behind a feigned moral facade.  But it is tearing down the walls of religion and government and unlearning the lessons of the Enlightenment.  It is what ignorant people do when they have no understanding of our history or the foundations upon which our Constitution is based.  It is the beginning of the end of rational government.

*Some modern religion has evolved to adapt to reality around us.  In my mind, informed religion is really a philosophy.  Many Christians are not Bible thumpers, but people who find great wisdom in the teachings of Jesus.  The work to try to take those teachings and interpret them in light of science and reality.  The advantage of a philosophy as opposed to a faith, is that the philosophy is susceptible to evaluation and evolution.  Faith is not.  Evangelical Christians for most part are not into evolving, hence their teachings about gender choice, sexual orientation, and a woman’s choice.  This same kind of mentality is applied to economic matters and we have the intolerance and refusal to change we see today.

**Economism is a term used by Economists to refer to simple interpretations of Supply and Demand curves and then apply it across all spectrums of our political lives as fixed rules that do not adjust to the complexities of the world we live in.

Our Theocracy of Economics and Religion

Here is one thing few people are writing about*, I guess because they think Trump is not really a religious man, many of the policies that will come out of the Trump administration will be based on a very narrow view of religion.  Not only did we get conservative economic ideology (also a religion**), but in many of the social policies, they will be heavily imbued with a religious belief.  I guess because the media is afraid to point out or criticize religion and its influence in our government, this is just ignored.  The idea is that we respect freedom of religion and attacking religious beliefs is really un-American.  But what do we do when they define Government and our policies, and those religious beliefs are a narrow conservative evangelical Christianity?

Think about Betsy DeVos, nominee for Secretary of Education.  She wants to basically end public education and fund religious schools and charters that, “will continue to advance God’s kingdom.” Note that while it barely came up in the hearings, she has given generously to groups “funding Christian schools, evangelical missions, and conservative, free-market think tanks like the Acton Institute and the Mackinac Center that want to shrink the public sector in every sphere, including education.”  She has support groups who want to relax the boundary between religion and government. (Mother Jones). It’s all about getting our kids to be thinking right evangelical thoughts.

Think about the EPA nominee, Scott Pruitt.  He is another conservative Christian who “as a state senator,  proposed one of the most onerous anti-abortion laws in the country, and as attorney general, he helped lead the opposition to the recent Department of Education guidelines on transgender students using gender-appropriate bathrooms.”  As the Daily Beast implied, he comes from the evangelical groups that believe, “Earth and its ecosystems — created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence — are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory. Earth’s climate system is no exception.” In other words, What Me Worry.  Science is rubbish.

Think about the Vice-President, Mike Pence whose policies on abortion and gays is driven by his evangelical Christian views.  Then there is Ben Carson, and like Pence, a creationist, or Rick Perry who has been quoted as saying evolutionists are “out there”.  A more in-depth look at this comes from Israel’s Haaretz.com and I suggest you read it.  Basically we are seeing an evangelical religious government being put in place.  But what of the  inclusion of so many Goldman Sachs alumni former generals and billionaires?

There is no contradiction here.  The folks that come from conservative economic ideas have the same zeal as religious fanatics and approach other points of view with the same closed mind and sense of heresy.  The market place is God, deciding winners and losers. the winners are the anointed people, and government intervention is heresy.  Wealth flowing to the wealthy is a result of this system and is a system of right, wrong, punishment, and reward determined by their God, the market place which fits very nicely with evangelical Christian belief.  If many suffer under this system, it is okay because they deserve it, just as those who don’t believe as the evangelical Christians believe, are doomed to hell.  We are now living in a Theocracy of Economics and Religion.

So when you see the first policies coming out of the Trump administration, things like moving the embassy to Jerusalem, moving quickly on defunding Planned Parenthood, another round of attacks on gay rights, an attack on climate change, even defunding the Endowment to the Arts, it makes perfect religious sense.  Wait till we see what Betsy DeVos does in the Education Department.  It is about taking narrow evangelical Christian beliefs and forcing them on the rest of us (the Endowment to the Arts attack is because the arts challenges us to think about who we are as opposed to accepting scripture).

The Economic theology will come quickly enough as the attacks on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare, and of course using that money to fund tax cuts. Only the right people are rewarded. We are about to become a total Theology which has combined conservative economic ideology with evangelical religious beliefs.

The Constitution is clear about religion and government, but this flock sees no problem with using their religion to define the world and use government to inflict it on the rest of us.  Rational debate need not apply.  And that is what is happening.  What will save us is that reality will run head long into ideology and finally something will have to give.  But in the interim a lot of us are going to suffer and there could be violence and unrest as these failed ideas are put into policies around the world.  We are entering a new Dark Age.

*I found the best coverage of this from all places, Israel in Haaretz.com which is an Israeli publication.  I thank them for their work.

**I use the term religion to mean a set of beliefs not subject to rational debate, but accepted on faith.  Not all religions are like this, but in this context, that is exactly what is going on.

Why are We Watching a Church Service Right Now?

The media, instead of covering some of the things the Donald is doing to us, is covering a church service while the Donald sits there with his pouty mouth.  What does that have to do with anything?  Okay, I admit it, I am wrong.  Religion has a lot to do with the Donald and the Right’s agenda.  As one commentator said yesterday, the Donald had surround himself with religious leaders that were telling him God selected him for this job.  Nope.  The rubes in middle America.  But religion has everything to do with conservatism.  It allows them to assume their policies are what God wants and they don’t have to question themselves.  As the Nazis believed they were the superior race and that superiority allowed them to commit horrible atrocities, so too does religion assign superiority and history is replete with examples of atrocities done in the name of God.

And of course there is no God just man’s foolish need for superstition to anoint him special.  If you don’t believe that ask how if there was a fair and just all powerful supreme being, why we have Donald Trump.  There are a lot more elegant arguments to refute religion, but that may be the most salient one.  Oh, play that funky organ white man, play that funky organ white man.

Rubes

I used to call the Republicans morons, but too many people objected and it is quite clear that some Republicans are not morons, just badly either misled or in complete denial.  Rubes seemed like a better term because it indicates a level of ignorance that allows one to easily mislead them. See Trump, our media, and of course his supporters.  Our media I have discussed on numerous occasions and their ignorance of facts and issues allows Republicans to pump out their propaganda with a media bullhorn, unfiltered.  See the election of Donald Trump.  But the focus here this morning is on the rubes themselves.  Now I realize that rubes is a perjured term, and may turn off the very people who need to read this blog, but it describes where we are today.

Have you ever wondered why the urban areas lean blue and the rural areas are red.  Well one explanation is rather simple, people who live in cities are exposed to diversity and different ideas.  People who live in rural areas are in a conservative bubble.  Now I guess one could argue that in cities one could be in a liberal bubble, except cities for the most part are much more balance in political representation than rural areas and even if say for instance you hated gays, in a city you are much more likely to be exposed to them and all the stereotypes get challenged.  It is that way with many issues.  Global Warming is one of those issues that in this light is hard to explain since rural areas that depend on whether for much of their economy would seem to notice.  The obvious explanation is that if you admit you are wrong about Global Warming, then what else do you have wrong.

There is a level of ignorance in our voters today that defies logic.  Electing Donald Trump defies logic.  I want to give you some quotes I read today from “rubes” on the two big items, healthcare and what Trump voters really think about liberals that appeared in the NYT on Thursday.  Let’s start with healthcare.  The point of the article was what voters really want from Healthcare who voted for Trump:

The Kaiser Foundation organized six focus groups in the Rust Belt areas — three with Trump voters who are enrolled in the Affordable Care Act marketplaces, and three with Trump voters receiving Medicaid. The sessions, with eight to 10 men and women each, were held in late December in Columbus, Ohio, Grand Rapids, Mich., and New Cumberland, Pa. Though the participants did not agree on everything, they expressed remarkably similar opinions on many health care questions. They were not, by and large, angry about their health care; they were simply afraid they will be unable to afford coverage for themselves and their families. They trusted Mr. Trump to do the right thing but were quick to say that they didn’t really know what he would do, and were worried about what would come next.

…But asked about policies found in several Republican plans to replace the Affordable Care Act — including a tax credit to help defray the cost of premiums, a tax-preferred savings account and a large deductible typical of catastrophic coverage — several of these Trump voters recoiled, calling such proposals “not insurance at all.” One of those plans has been proposed by Representative Tom Price, Mr. Trump’s nominee to be secretary of Health and Human Services. These voters said they did not understand health savings accounts and displayed skepticism about the concept.

…There was one thing many said they liked about the pre-Affordable Care Act insurance market: their ability to buy lower-cost plans that fit their needs, even if it meant that less healthy people had to pay more. They were unmoved by the principle of risk-sharing, and trusted that Mr. Trump would find a way to protect people with pre-existing medical conditions without a mandate, which most viewed as “un-American.”

So let me summarize here:  They trust Trump to do the right thing, the did not like Republican Plans “calling such proposals not insurance at all,” and were unmoved by the principle of risk-sharing, and trusted Trump would protect people with pre-existing conditions without a mandate, which they viewed as “un-American”.  Rubes.  They voted for a guy who has a history of screwing the little guy, but he will do the right thing, hate Republican plans (where do they think the plans are going to come from), and sharing the cost across all plan holders, you know, the very basis of all insurance, is un-American.  Is automobile or home mortgage insurance that work on the same principle un-American?  Oh, and when they get sick and their rates go out of sight, maybe they might then understand the problem.  Their ignorance is astounding.

Okay let’s try the other article entitled Why Rural Americans Voted for Trump:

One recent morning, I sat near two young men at a coffee shop here whom I’ve known since they were little boys. Now about 18, they pushed away from the table, and one said: “Let’s go to work. Let the liberals sleep in.” The other nodded. …They are part of a growing movement in rural America that immerses many young people in a culture — not just conservative news outlets but also home and church environments — that emphasizes contemporary conservative values. It views liberals as loathsome, misinformed and weak, even dangerous.

Hmm, so all liberals are lazy, misinformed and weak?  I never was and most of the people I know are not and this is a bias from ignorance living in a bubble.  Mr. Robert Leonard who wrote this goes deeper and points out a basic philosophical difference that allows no bridges, these rural Republicans see liberals as naively believing people are good, while they know we are born bad and made good (by discipline and God I assume):

The difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Republicans believe people are fundamentally bad, while Democrats see people as fundamentally good,” said Mr. Watts, who was in the area to campaign for Senator Rand Paul. “We are born bad,” he said and added that children did not need to be taught to behave badly — they are born knowing how to do that.

“We teach them how to be good,” he said. “We become good by being reborn — born again.”

He continued: “Democrats believe that we are born good, that we create God, not that he created us. If we are our own God, as the Democrats say, then we need to look at something else to blame when things go wrong — not us.”

Mr. Leonard finishes with:  “Rural conservatives feel that their world is under siege, and that Democrats are an enemy to be feared and loathed. Given the philosophical premises Mr. Watts presented as the difference between Democrats and Republicans, reconciliation seems a long way off.”

Step back a minute and look at this.  It is really about feeling threatened and making the other guy the devil.  It is not about thinking, or data, or logic, it is about making someone so evil you don’t have to listen to their arguments.  It is an excuse to be arrogant and ignorant.  There is a level of ignorance that is permeating from rural America that has normalized a Donald Trump.  There is no excuse for this.  And the kind of faith-based reasoning we see coming out of rural America is dangerous to everything we stand for.  If you really believe we are born to be bad, why have innocent until proven guilty and why allow free speech?  We have reached a very sad and dangerous times and the rubes have brought us there.  Of course the Democratic establishment helped create them with their own arrogance and complacency. Now we have to live with the result.

UPDATE:  Apparently I am not the only one who has settled on the term rubes.  From Krugman this morning:

Consider, by contrast, the story that dominated several news cycles a few weeks ago: Donald Trump’s intervention to stop Carrier from moving jobs to Mexico. Some reports say that 800 U.S. jobs were saved; others suggest that the company will simply replace workers with machines. But even accepting the most positive spin, for every worker whose job was saved in that deal, around a hundred others lost their jobs the same day.

In other words, it may have sounded as if Mr. Trump was doing something substantive by intervening with Carrier, but he wasn’t. This was fake policy — a show intended to impress the rubes, not to achieve real results.