Capitalism is the Problem

If I look at our greatest problems, economic inequality, global warming, and President DFF, they all have one root cause, capitalism. Now I am sure you are going to say what about equal pay for equal work, or systemic racism, or rust belt myopia, or immigration, or failing infrastructure. I would say these are all symptoms of economic inequality, as well as global warming and President DFF. And the root cause of all of this is unbridled capitalism. I would also argue that capitalism has brought us many things and improved the living conditions of many in the world, but then the problems start to show up.

I am not the only one. Remember Bernie. Remember the howling from even Hillary on this was not possible. All Bernie was trying to do was level the playing field. But in an interesting op-ed this morning by Elizabeth Bruenig, she made some points we seem to want to ignore. She started by pointing out that Liberals are in a funk:

This assumption is reflected in the blindsided, startled unease of liberals in the era of President Trump: “There are moments when everything I have come to believe in — reasoned deliberation, mutual toleration, liberal democracy, free speech, honesty, decency, and moderation — seem as if they are in eclipse,” Andrew Sullivan recently lamented in New York magazine. “For the foreseeable future, nationalism is likely to remain a defining political force,” Yascha Mounk fretted this weekend in the New York Times; “liberals should strive to make nationalism as inclusive as possible,” he warned.

Ha! Liberalism incorporating nationalism is what Democrats have done over and over to their failure, incorporating failed ideas to try to out Republican Republicans, Republicans with a softer edge. It’s a journey to nowhere. Ms. Bruenig’s description of capitalism is in fact its problem for those of us who want a level playing field and social justice. She has what I call the “Bernie moment” when she realizes that moving the chairs around on the Titanic as most “liberals” do is a waste of time:

I don’t think business-as-usual but better is enough to fix what’s broken here. I think the problem lies at the root of the thing, with capitalism itself…Americans appear to be isolated, viciously competitive, suspicious of one another and spiritually shallow; and that we are anxiously looking for some kind of attachment to something real and profound in an age of decreasing trust and regard — seem to be emblematic of capitalism, which encourages and requires fierce individualism, self-interested disregard for the other, and resentment of arrangements into which one deposits more than he or she withdraws. (As a business-savvy friend once remarked: Nobody gets rich off of bilateral transactions where everybody knows what they’re doing.) Capitalism is an ideology that is far more encompassing than it admits, and one that turns every relationship into a calculable exchange. Bodies, time, energy, creativity, love — all become commodities to be priced and sold. Alienation reigns. There is no room for sustained contemplation and little interest in public morality; everything collapses down to the level of the atomized individual.

That capitalism is inimical to the best of liberalism isn’t a new concern: It’s a long-standing critique, present in early socialist thought. That both capitalism and liberal governance have changed since those days without displacing the criticism suggests that it’s true in a foundational way.

Not to be confused for a totalitarian nostalgist, I would support a kind of socialism that would be democratic and aimed primarily at decommodifying labor, reducing the vast inequality brought about by capitalism, and breaking capital’s stranglehold over politics and culture.

Welcome to the Progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Well, I hate to say the Democratic Party because the establishment still does not get it and even rejected a Progressive in the Houston primary as, well, too progressive. But they are asleep to what happened in the last election when Americans rejected status quo. Hillary got the nomination because the establishment wanted her and shunned Bernie. Republicans got their radical and he won. The urge for change is stronger than ever and the Democratic Party is trying to calibrate between moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats (read moderate Republicans in 1980) and it is a failed policy. Maybe not at an intellectual level yet, but at a gut one, most of us feel capitalism is failing us. And the reality as Thomas Piketty (Capital in the Twenty First Century) showed us, unrestrained capitalism gives us growing economic inequality.

I do have to laugh though. Ms. Bruenig in her last quote above is pining for “kind of socialism that would be democratic and aimed primarily at decommodifying labor, reducing the vast inequality brought about by capitalism, and breaking capital’s stranglehold over politics and culture.” Would that not be European social democracy as they have in say Finland or Norway or Sweden. Oh, and it works.

We have grown a culture and attitude about policy that reinforces unrestrained capitalism. We learned to hate taxes, regulations, and big government. It has been beaten into our heads by Republicans, But it isn’t working. I see massive deterioration of our infrastructure which is key to our future, and our hate for taxes keeps us from doing anything. Global Warming is already impacting us and yet we turn a blind eye to it because that would be big government and regulations. Oh, and it would upset the apple carts of who benefits by ignoring it.  Economic inequality grows by leaps and bounds and so does the concentration of political power and again we can do nothing because that would require rewriting the rules, regulation, and taxation. And yet the majority of us know it is not working. We got President DFF because Americans rejected the status quo, but he is a mindless moron who is still a creature of the 1980s.

As Ms. Bruenig points out, it is time for a different approach. I hate to keep repeating this, but Republicans, all of them have to go. So do most moderate Democrats who have the same conservative ideas only kinder and gentler. Conservatism has run its course and has proved defunct. If we want change, if we want to do something about economic inequality that touches all inequality, if we want to attack our problems with solutions that work, it is time to throw off the old mantle of unrestrained capitalism. This won’t happen with Republicans because they have become radicals of the me, me, me, and captured creatures of the monied. It is time for a new approach, and the only ones who are going to get us there are today’s new progressives.

Collusion? Chaos as Policy?

Here is a report from the Daily Beast Cheat Sheet:

A new New Yorker profile of Trump-Russia dossier author Christopher Steele reports on a lesser-known memo the former MI-6 spy allegedly discussed with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators. According to the report, in late November 2016, Steele relayed information from his Russian sources that senior Kremlin officials had intervened to block Mitt Romney as President-elect Trump’s choice for secretary of State. Reporter Jane Mayer writes that Moscow had asked Trump to appoint someone who would be willing to lift sanctions related to Ukraine and cooperate with Russia’s involvement in Syria. Romney, long a vocal hawk on Russia, declined to comment for the report. The White House said the former GOP presidential nominee was never a first choice for the job, and declined to comment on “any communications that the Trump team may have had with Russia on the subject.”

Okay, they deny it.  They deny a lot of things that are absolutely. My guess is it is true and Republicans will normalize this when it comes out as consulting with our allies on a good fit.  Think about that.  Again, if this were Obama, how do you think Republicans would react to Russia weighing in on our choice of Secretary of State.  Note the guy who got the nod was unknown to President DFF and was a Russian advocate for lifting sanctions.  Suspicious?  Of course it is.  Note the story today about the State Department receiving $120M to counter Russian meddling and they have spent zero.  What does that tell you?  Again, imagine if Obama had done this.

Meanwhile as the noose tightens and Jareed and Ivanka start to unravel, in a peak of anger, President DFF issues a policy on aluminum and steel.  While President DFF’s enablers are out there trying to pretend this is the way he works and it is good for the country, the Daily Beast reports:

Donald Trump “emphatically” promised to exempt Australian steel and aluminum from import tariffs during a meeting with Australia’s prime minister last year. The vow was witnessed by senior lawmakers on both sides, including U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, Australia’s national broadcaster, ABC, reported. The promise was made in the “steel cage,” the president’s mobile secure-communications pod, on the sidelines of the G-20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, in July 2017. The Australian government has, therefore, been stunned by statements by U.S. officials that there will be no country-specific exemptions to the tariffs. The tariffs were announced in an impromptu fashion by Trump last week, when he said that he intends to impose a 25 percent tax on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum, on national-security grounds. Australia exports about $500 million of steel and aluminum to the U.S. a year. The U.K. has also been blindsided by the move; Prime Minister Theresa May raised her “deep concern” over the proposed new tariffs in a phone call with Trump on Sunday. The EU is said to be preparing retaliatory measures.

Now we can quit pretending.  He was thinking about this and it was a wild outburst.  This is not going to end well and those who try spin it, are doing a great disservice to the country.  There was clearly an obstruction of justice (why is the critical question), there was clearly money laundering and maybe pay for play by the kids, there was clearly collusion and we are just waiting to see who, we know the Russians tried to affect the outcome of the election, and we know that nothing has been done about it.  How much more do you need?

The America that President DFF and his cronies envision is a nightmare version of the American dream and an attack on the fundamentals on which our Constitution was founded upon (Enlightenment ideas).  Yesterday we watched the Oscars trying to celebrate our most basic value, diversity and the freedom for anyone to be creative.  In the meantime on the other side of the country the swamp that the Know Nothings wanted to clean up has grown exponentially and they are in denial about it.  We are in a fight for who we are, and when the realization of who and what President DFF is and represents hits home, we will enter very dangerous times as there is not telling what he might do while Republicans fiddle.  Hey, it is just Monday.

Oscar Night

It was kind of a breath of fresh air after the foul stench coming out of Washington. It was about diversity and empowering women. It was about respect and the best of America. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I try not to take too seriously who won or lost because in many ways Hollywood runs in insider streaks. But some of the stories this year were complex and powerful. I am still trying to figure out why The Shape of Water won as best picture.

There was an interesting article a few days ago in the Washington Post looking back over the years at who won the best picture award, and now with some distance for perspective, who should have. Some of the winners quickly fade into forgotten while some of the losers become standards that are watched over and over again. I kind of feel that happened last night.

Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill and Francis McDormand were perfect for the best actors. Both got me deep into the internal struggles of both characters But best picture I wrestle with. My criteria is that it leaves me wanting to watch it over and over, not for the action, but for the passion, ideas, and unresolved human experience. Darkest Hour is up there, where Winston Churchill struggles under the weight of deciding a nations fate. Finally he rejects those that want to make a deal with the devil even though the cost in human lives could be horrendous. Makes one stop and think if there was a lesson there for the French. But the lesson for us was to do the right thing, not the easy thing and I wonder if Republican politicians squirm in their seats having made their own deal with our President DFF.

Four Billboards left me thinking about that movie for weeks. It is really a tale of reality. Bad shit happens and anger and revenge keep us going, but destroys who we are. The sheriff’s office is full of racism and brutality and yet the Sheriff played by Woody Harrelson seems to have come to terms with something he could not change, made even more poignant by his exit. It is a movie about living today and tomorrow and not in yesterday. It is a movie about what happens if you never get your revenge, that life is not tied up in neat little bows, how do you move forward and come to terms with the chaos of life. It is also a story about growing emotionally.

But the one I think was my favorite was Dunkirk. There were so many stories there about the human condition handled masterfully, from the desperation of the soldiers, the impossible situation, the Navy commander who stayed to get as many French off the beach as possible, The young man who just wanted to do something, to the kindness and forgiveness on the little boat given to the shell shocked soldier. There was so much going on here about the human experience that you have to watch it many times to absorb all of it. And all it all, it told us something about our better selves.

Yes Lady Bird got snubbed, and in other years might have been best picture, but this year there was so many good ones. That is why I struggle with The Shape of Water. Nice tale, but the complexity of real human experience? Maybe in a comic book. Okay, maybe I just missed it and I will get it later. But after watching those others, it was a real let down for me. I could tell you what was going to happen halfway through. Yes it was a beautiful movie, but the human story was a fantasy, not the nitty gritty reality we got in Darkest Hour, Four Billboards, Dunkirk, or for that matter, Lady Bird.

But all of them and the whole tenor of the Oscars was an in your face Donald Trump’s America. It was about what makes us great, embracing diversity, ideas, immigrants, respect, and achievement. So for a couple of hours I was transported to the America I remember before we became the Donald Trump reality show. Today is back to reality and see what they are smashing today. Maybe I can write something to make a difference.

A Third Term

Let’s just pretend for a moment. That should not be hard as I listen to Republicans pretend President DFF is normal or that their alternate reality is the real world. Let’s pretend that Barack won a third term (forget the Constitution, and that should not be hard either because Republicans forgot it a long time ago) and now he has brought his two girls into the administration (Pretend they are old enough) and he and they were involved in the same conflict of interest things we see with Jared and Ivanka.

Let’s pretend he squeaked re-election with Russian help (that is a fact for President DFF which also is no longer in question), and then as we find out, they penetrated our voting system and he looks the other way as President DFF has in fact done. Let’s review the real facts, half billion in loans to businesses by people who may be laundering money and want political favors; funding of their businesses by banks who have already been cited for money laundering; Russian incursion into our election process with no response from the White House; the White House in disarray and everyone is bailing out; and Congress does nothing? Did I forget the investigation and the attempt to fire anyone involved? Obama would have been impeached months ago. What does that tell you other than there is rampant racism in this country?

I will tell you what this tells you and no this is not partisanship we expect from politicians. It is co-opting our Constitution and they (Republicans) are long past responsible Americans. In many ways they meet the definition of traitor. What they have done rivals, no surpasses McCarthyism. None of them are redeemable. They are past redeemable and have sold their soul to power, not the Constitution. Let me move on to Exhibit B (the above was Exhibit A).

We have this amazing gun debate going on when there is no debate. I say that even though Republicans in Congress prevented any funding for research into gun violence. But that didn’t stop it, and the latest independent studies once again tells us that more guns equals more violence, and the laws the NRA favors does not reduce it, but makes it worse. Meanwhile Republicans have one answer to gun violence, more guns. This is not rational. Oh wait, let’s talk about bump stocks, arming teachers, or some other moving the chairs around on the Titanic while we do not talk about the root problem, too many guns, and military grade weapons in the hands of anyone who wants one.

Note that discussions of talking heads with he said and she said discussion of issues break down into shouting matches and there is a reason for that, shouting distracts from a rational discussion of the studies and facts. We have a whole party working on ideology (or more cynically, they are bought and paid for) denies a rational approach to finding the facts, and denies them when we find them anyway, why do we re-elect them? Arm teachers has got to be the stupidest thing anyone ever proposed. Hand gun against an AR-15? Wait lets give them their own AR-15s! We could Velcro them to the blackboard (white boards these days) for immediate access (to anyone in the school). That is the stupidity going on right now.

Exhibit C: Let’s assume as in Exhibit A President Obama was thinking about tariffs against steel and aluminum, and then without discussing it with our allies who it might hurt and they might respond, he fails to talk to anyone in his Cabinet to discuss the plus and minuses (ramifications), and did not discuss it with Republican leaders, then tweets out his policy. There are all kinds of ramifications here that could well start a trade war and hurt everyone. The market dipped, and other nations are looking at ways to respond (some have already), and there is no policy yet except a tweet. And again where are the Republicans? If this were Obama they would have their pitchforks and torches out and be marching on the White House. You think this is normal? You think this is just partisan? Then you are brain-dead.

Here is where we are: In any other times, President DFF would have been impeached long ago. We would have returned fire on the Russians and be in full protect our elections mode. The White House would have been hosed out. We would be having rational discussions about a simple approach to gun violence which is to remove military grade weapons from the hands of average citizens and reduce the overall availability of guns to people who should not have it. We would certainly respond to dumping of steel and aluminum, but with a well thought out response that does not alienate our allies and friends, while trying to protect workers. Instead we have Republicans trying to over-shout anyone talking since facts don’t matter anymore. Oh, and they continue to try to normalize President DFF’s racism, ignorance, and outbursts.

So here is my recommendation: It is no longer time to listen or debate with any Republican. They bring nothing to the table. When they are on TV turn them off. We need to look at data and research into various issues and then debate the way forward and there can be plenty of debate on that, but the critical point here is way forward. It is time to talk about rational solutions and no Republican brings any to the table. They are about yesterday. Democrats, if they are smart (and that may be debatable), won’t debate Republicans anymore and move the discussion beyond them to workable solutions. And until voters throw all Republicans out of office, the insanity and lack of movement will continue. It is so embarrassing to be this stupid, but here we are.

More Things

The first is Vietnam. Yeah, sometimes I am stuck there, but it is something I know deep in my gut, the lessons we have still not learned. There has been some attacks on the press for loosing the war by reporting on it and what they saw. There is a good editorial defending Walter Cronkite for his editorial against the war after the Tet Offensive. But even that misses the point. In the piece we get this:

It was not a war that could be won by firepower, even overwhelming firepower. Edward Lansdale, the country’s foremost expert on counterinsurgency, and one with long experience in Vietnam, had counseled as much from the beginning. As the military historian Max Boot writes in his superb biography of the man, “The Road Not Taken,” Lansdale told Defense Secretary Robert McNamara on their first meeting in 1961, after dumping a sample of the relatively primitive weapons and rubber sandals and equipment used by the Vietcong on his desk at the Pentagon:

“The people that are fighting there on our side are being supplied with our weapons and uniforms and shoes and all of the best that we have, and we are training them. Yet, the enemy is licking our side. Always keep in mind about Vietnam, that the struggle goes far beyond the material things of life. It doesn’t take weapons and uniforms and lots of food to win. It takes something else, ideas and ideals, and these guys are using that something else. Let’s at least learn that lesson.”

Boot has argued that the war could have been won with different tactics. I would argue that is nonsense. It was a civil war about reuniting the country and you can’t win someone else’s war for them. Sometimes, they have to solve their own problems. I have no idea how tactics solves the massive corruption in the South, or the idealistic dedication of the North. Also I would argue define winning. We could still be there today trying to change hearts and minds. In that kind of a war, we are the problem. Enough said. You can draw your own conclusions about Afghanistan.

I would like to add a little more to the fight for humanistic secularism. Science is not political. Science is not value based. Science is about a method to just find what is after removing all your biases for what you want it to be. Politics is just the opposite. People who think global warming is a hoax have no understanding of what science is or how it operatives. But the politics are clear. Se the tobacco companies for the strategy cast doubt among those who do not understand science. These are the same people who want to deny evolution because it does not fit into their ideology. Science does not care about ideology, only what is. My example here is an experiment to detect the early signs of the universe. In an amazing discovery, a group of scientists think they did, but here is then how the process goes:

To ensure their signal was real, rather than a quirk of their instrument or a fluke in their data, Bowman and his colleagues spent two years considering and discarding a range of alternative explanations. They repositioned the antenna, tested it in the lab with simulated radio sky, even built a copy of the instrument to demonstrate that the experiment was reproducible. So far, they haven’t been able to prove themselves wrong.

You see politicians trying to prove themselves wrong? You get the difference? It is never a he said/she said idea or a politicized outcome, it it a peer reviewed and sometimes viciously attacked proposition to get to the truth. Our current administration is about not just denying science and data, but discrediting it because it does not support their point of view. It is the stuff of religion and the Dark Ages of our past.

I will say one other thing about science and it shows I have a strong bias. I am alive because of it. By all measures I should be dead of advanced stage prostate cancer by now. I have had it for over two years and it was a highly aggressive form of the cancer already metastasized, hence the term advanced stage. There is no cure. Enter science in the form of medicine and new drugs. Today I am healthy, happy, and well, with few symptoms, except from the drugs themselves. It won’t last forever, maybe five years, maybe longer, but today is what is important. And in five years, well, maybe we will have a new way to attack it. A plan D as my doctor and I like to call it. Five years ago there was not the Plan C that I am on today. Science is has given me a miraculous gift. But that raises that other thing I rant about, rational thought, critical thinking. What if there is not Plan D? What if this is it?

Using my ration and planning mine, I have to face that prospect. Last weekend I almost got hit by a head-on driver passing on a curve, so who knows how all this will end. I live in a state where when the end gets near, it is in my hands when to call it quits. This was brought home to me the other day when my great friend of 15 years, my Golden Retriever Sophie, just could not get up any more. She had been leaving us for some time, with long stares into nowhere, sometimes not aware we were in the room, rapidly advancing weakness in her hips, and now a large abscess on her leg that probably was not going to heal. But she had her good days too. I decided it was over and called my vet. As is her want, she kind of perked up at the vets, but she really wasn’t quite there any more. It killed me to put her down, think about this as her last day on earth, sniffing around at the vet, eating treats, and then nothing. I cried throughout. The responsibility of that decision to decide when her life was over still weighs on me.

And realistically, in this world of rational decision making, I may have to make that decision for myself. And of course that decision is really not about me, it is about the people around me. For Sophie I could play god, although it cost me. If I have to someday realistically decide that the quality of the life left to me is not worth it, I may not be able to play god with their lives. Is it selfish or kind? I would think I would like to pick the day instead of the degradation of slowly loosing what I hold so dear, my quality of life. I know for Sophie my selfish need to have her to still be here was a price in pain and rapid deterioration I was not willing to pay anymore. It was time. I wonder if I can be as sure for me. Rational choice that comes with knowledge and science also comes with a huge responsibility and burden. Back in the day it was just some mystical being. Now it is mine. I wonder if I am up to it? It just seems like every gift we have, being able to love, laugh, reason, and think, always comes as a double edged sword. It puts us in charge of our fate and some of those choices are the most painful choices of all.

Two Things

I guess you could say two things that I think really count. I could write about the chaos in the White House where we find nepotism gone awry, but that is being adequately covered. I could write about “white lies” (Hope Hicks) and her failure to answer questions that the Republicans will just blow over and now her sudden departure.  But the media is all over those items.  Guns are getting crazy, but the kids from Parkland may be taking them on and it is spreading, and guns are just the tip of the iceberg. We may have reached a tipping point and not just in global warming. See where Dick’s Sporting Goods saw the light? Walmart is now right in there. So I am going to write about two of my favorite not so headline issues, the economy and religion, and note that both issues are fraught with hidden bias.

Let’s start with the easier one, economics. Paul Krugman wrote a blog (NYT took over his blog as I guess they want to own everything he says) about what we all know to be true, the tax cut was is not a flow down to workers. That effect is negligible, most of the money is being used for stock buybacks, not investment in capital, and was as we knew it was, a big corporate give away.

The numbers we have so far show that the much-hyped bonuses are trivial – less than $6 billion, or 0.03% of GDP – while stock buybacks have been more than $170 billion. And many of those bonuses would probably have happened anyway, whereas stock buybacks are running far above historical levels.

But he made a very easy to follow (which for economists is rare) argument about how the economy works with tax cuts and the simplified model goes like this:

Whatever the number [salary increases], however, it’s about the long run. It requires a chain of events: lower taxes -> higher investment -> higher stock of capital -> higher demand for labor -> higher wages. And this chain of events should take a number of years, probably decades, to fully work itself through. Even in the most favorable analyses, there is no reason to expect any wage gains in the first few months after a tax cut.

And note this caveat: “How much of a trickle-down effect depends on a bunch of technical factors: what share of corporate profits represents monopoly rents rather than returns to capital, how responsive inflows of foreign capital are to the U.S. rate of return, what share of the capital stock is even affected by the corporate tax rate.” So why am I boring you with all this economic talk?

Well Paul, a much smarter man than I, has it right, but does not put enough emphasis on the statement “what share of corporate profits represents monopoly rents…“. Rents in economic speak are profits derived from a product that you do not improve on (no further capital investment) but makes more profit because you have cornered the market. Profits on a monopoly. Think real estate. It gets scarcer, you can raise the rent making more money by no additional investment by you. In the corporate world that means no new jobs. You are extracting money from the economy with no investment in capital or labor to create anything.

What is happening I believe, which is changing economics, is that monopoly rents, whether it be Facebook, Microsoft, or big Pharma (just examples) is where we are going and driving more and more economic inequality. That coupled with finding ways to reduce labor costs and mechanize to maximize share holder earnings (profits) dooms any tax cut to corporations to help wages or spark capital investment. My point is simple. The basic models still function, but some of the variables in that market have changed and have more impact than in the past.  The old ideas about cause and effect may have been changed so that all roads leads to more economic inequality no  matter how much you believe in your ideology and maybe it is time to change the rules.

Okay, so much for economics, what about religion? Monday I used other’s writings to slam Ross Douthat’s position on hating liberals  (make no mistake, his passive aggressive writing about liberals should not be misinterpreted) and their allegiance to humanistic secular approach to science and data.  Well today New York Editor, David Leonhardt took me on (figuratively since I am nobody in particular). It went like this:

The benefits of faith. In his Sunday column this week, Ross Douthat issued something of a challenge to secular liberals. They think of themselves as empiricists, Ross wrote, but they’re actually close-minded about several powerful forces for good, starting with religion.

“When people and societies are genuinely curious,” he continued, “they are very reasonably curious about everything, including things happening in their bodies and their consciousness and more speculative realms.”

The column reminded me of a pattern that, as a secular liberal myself, I’ve long found inconvenient: Religion is correlated with a lot of healthy behaviors and positive outcomes. All else equal, religious people have higher educational attainment, earn more money, use drugs and alcohol less and commit fewer crimes, according to a long line of social-science studies (that have frequently been done by secular liberals).

The question about these findings is the old correlation-causation question: Does religious faith lead to these healthy behaviors? Or is something else, independent of faith, causing them?

He then goes on to describe a study where 15 weeks of classes were given to more than 6,000 very poor Filipinos, some of whom received a version that combined religious teachings with advice on health and employment and others received only the nonreligious parts. By comparing the different batches of students, the economists hoped to isolate the effect of religion. After some time the religious groups were doing better. So religion is good right?

No study is definitive. But I do find the overall evidence of religion’s ancillary benefits to be strong. That evidence hasn’t made me personally religious. I’m still quite comfortable with my secularism. But the evidence has made me more humble and open-minded about how the world can go about solving some of its problems.

I found the avowed secular liberal to be illogical. First did he read Socrate’s listing of some of the other things religion has brought us in pain, suffering, and blocking progress? If you are burned at the stake for your heresy you might not be so sanguine about religion. Certainly religion does have beneficial effects. The belief that Jesus is your savior and he will forgive you and give you strength has helped untold thousands redeem their lives. It has also created a moral certitude that has tortured or killed untold millions. I would not argue that a belief can not give you strength and comfort, but a belief is not a truth.

The other problem here is define religion. Is that a belief in some mystical fairy godfather who you should thank for your home runs, praise when you are not drowned in a flood, but nor held responsible for others who did die, or is religion really more about an adherence to a strict moral code? That last one defies explanation when you consider Trump and Evangelical Christians.

I believe that one could argue that during the development of mankind, religion was a necessary part of socializing and allowing people to live together. But science has undone many of the mystical fantasy beliefs that explained what was at that time unexplainable. It has raised real questions about some of the moral and ethical values of religious writings. What is left, I believe, is something that for our future is the only path forward, not a religion with its moral certitude and cruelty (whose God, whose truth), but a moral philosophy open to the testing of its truths, and change when they don’t stand up. Oh, if only Muslims could evolve like many religions have in the modern world. No, their religion is designed so it is almost impossible. Well for that matter, oh could Evangelicals just evolve although there are some cracks when they have friends who are gay and start wondering how they are so evil. You know, that reality thing instead of God’s law defined by who again?

Discussing religion with the majority of people is a loosing battle because indoctrination from birth provides biases that can live in deep denial. Maybe there is some Supreme Being, but that raises the question where did he come from, and who is his god. And of course the one thing we know is empirically, good people die sad deaths and bad people live on. See Trump in the White House. Good or bad is up to us, not some Supreme Being.

I would argue that if the study were done again and the religious training were substituted with a moral philosophy that included the belief that we are all in this together, kindness and charity is the guiding principle, and we are connected and give one another strength (Yo! This could be any number of religions, especially Christianity without Jesus), you would get the same result. Science, data, and rational thought guide our moral beliefs, and inform our philosophy. Maybe there is a force out there, but to assume that religion is the only path to a better society, well that is just not science or rational thinking. I would also argue that even we atheists can and do have a moral philosophy that allows us to be way more Christian than most of the Christians I see in Washington today.  Just saying.

I Think Lawrence Has This One Totally Wrong

I like Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC. He has a savvy understanding of politics and the political process on the Hill, and I find most of what he sees as insightful, but on this one, I think he got it totally wrong. He was talking about the “bipartisan” meeting with Trump today on guns. He congratulated the Democrats (Chris Murphy, Dianne Feinstein, and others) for holding their fire when President DFF said remarkably stupid things like why don’t the police just take the weapons away from anyone they judge crazy, forgetting the due process clause in the Constitution (if he ever knew it was there). Think about that one. His own supporters would be up in arms if you gave “the gov’ment” the right to just take your weapons when they felt like it because you looked crazy.  Three quarters of the people who live around me would have their weapons confiscated on the look crazy test.

Lawrence thought they were smart because they might actually get something done. Trump seemed to promise all kinds of things.  Where have we seen this before?  Oh wait, was that for the Dreamers? Then Lawrence admitted that that something would probably just be some minor improvements in background checks considering the reality of the Republican Congress and the hold the NRA has on President DFF’s supporters, but it would move the ball forward. They were being smart legislatively. And yes they were. But here is where Lawrence and I part ways. They were being tactically smart and might win a small battle here, and strategically stupid because that win could cost them the war. Let me explain.

I don’t mind that Demos want to test the waters to see what they can get done, but unless they are part of something that actually makes a difference, they have lost the war. If they are associated with another whiff by Congress on guns, they have doomed themselves. I guess Lawrence thinks that if we can move the ball a little bit, then later we can move it a bit more. See Obama on that one. What he and apparently the Democratic Party are missing is that real change is in the air. There is a whole generation of new voters about to become of age watching paint dry in Congress and they are frustrated with politics in general. By paint dry I am talking about real problems and Congress does nothing, mostly stymied by the Status Quo Party (Republicans), but tainting both parties for the inaction.

The Party that stands up for effective gun control laws, whether they get them enacted or not, is the one that says to younger people, okay, we will fight the fight, please throw out the slackers. It is an attempt to stand for something and show there is a difference. If the #MeToo movement and the spreading activism of the Parkland kids has not woken you up, nothing will. To be seen as part of the group that waters down effective ideas just to get a deal is to lose the war for the future. So sorry Lawrence, but I think you got this one wrong. There is a hunger for change and action out there. Foolishly some thought electing a blowhard looked like change. Now we have a chance to show the real difference between Democrats and Republicans. Don’t blow it.

As It Ever Was

Here is from the Atlantic News Summary this afternoon:

Private Twitter messages obtained by The Atlantic show that Roger Stone, a longtime confidante and informal adviser to President Trump, corresponded with WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump hired former digital adviser Brad Parscale to run his 2020 reelection campaign. Trump son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner wasreportedly informed on Friday that his security clearance would be downgraded. During an appearance before the House Intelligence Committee, White House Communications Director Hope Hicks refused to answer questions about the presidential transition or the Trump White House. House Speaker Paul Ryan signaled he won’t support new gun-control measures, telling reporters, “We shouldn’t be banning guns for law-abiding citizens.

Nothing changes.  The will be no effective gun control until we get rid of most Republicans.  The collusion is getting closer and closer, and no surprise here, Hope Hicks refuse to answer questions.  Okay Mr. Mueller ball in your court because the Republicans will just shrug, say okay, and issue a report that says there are not facts to prove collusion.  The Democrats need to release a minority report.  Oh, and Democrats, wake the f*ck up.  There is no bipartisan gun control legislation that will be effective and to partake without laying out a Democratic plan, just makes you part of the problem in the eyes of all those kids who promise to throw them out.

You know, it almost as if we are planning for big changes in November, as the facts slowly seep out.

Today’s Wake Up Call

Did you know that it may have been a balmy 35º at the North Pole the other day? Never happened before. Gee, could it be global warming, that weather phenomenon that Republicans claim is just normal changes in the weather? But let’s deport more Dreamers and ignore all that. I read in my local paper that ICE (the Gestopo) was conducting raids in Sacramento. They are mad because we don’t cooperate with them. Why would we, they are deporting our hope for the future. In Afghanistan, the war goes on and we ignore it. And the funny thing is that it is a Civil war backed by Pakistan. Why again do we not finally pack up and go home. We could offer asylum to all the women who actually want to be free. Oh, wait, I forgot, we hate immigrants.

Meanwhile the Trumpees continue to quietly kill healthcare as the make subtle moves under the radar that will deny 9 million healthcare next year. But the best today is a comparison I found in the Washington Post comparing Mueller to Trump and noting that their battle is a battle for the soul of our country. Those that voted for him ignore the cesspool the man came out of (President DFF). Here is Mueller who is and has been everything that a Republican of old pines for:

Mueller was born to wealth and attended elite institutions — St. Paul’s School, Princeton University, the University of Virginia School of Law — but felt compelled to serve his country. During the Vietnam War, when most of his classmates were avoiding the draft, he volunteered for the Marine Corps and earned numerous decorations leading a rifle platoon in fierce combat. Returning home, he became a prosecutor and eventually ran the Justice Department’s criminal division. In the 1990s Mueller went into private practice. It was lucrative, but he hated it. Watching the spike of drug-driven murders in the District of Columbia, he volunteered to become a line prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office. It was as if a retired general had volunteered to serve as a private in wartime.

Later, as FBI director under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Mueller became the embodiment of the old-school G-man who only wore a white shirt with a red or blue tie — never a blue shirt, because that would signal dangerous frivolity. He “avoided the limelight” and “frustrated his speechwriters by crossing out every ‘I’ in speeches they wrote for him. It wasn’t about him, he told them: ‘It’s about the organization.’ ”

Mueller embodies the ideals of probity, service and self-sacrifice that trace back to the Pilgrims who came to America in search of a “city upon a hill.” The Puritans preached devotion to the Almighty and had nothing but contempt for vanity and luxury — no blue shirts for them. Over the centuries, their religious fanaticism leached away, leaving behind in American culture a residue of obligation to serve not just God but also mankind.

Here is President DFF who is everything Republicans vowed they hated until recently when they became the embodiment of all they hated:

Trump combines the hedonism of the 1970s with the bigotry and sexism of the 1950s: the worst of both worlds. His consciousness was not raised in the 1960s, but his libido was. He did not take part in the civil rights or antiwar movements and won five draft deferments — including one for “bone spurs” — so that he could devote his life to the pursuit of women and wealth. He later said that fear of catching a sexually transmitted disease was “my personal Vietnam.”

Trump is the embodiment of what Christopher Lasch in 1979 called the “new narcissist” who “praises respect for rules and regulations in the secret belief that they do not apply to himself”; whose “emancipation from ancient taboos brings him no sexual peace”; and whose “cravings have no limits,” because he “demands immediate gratification and lives in a state of restless, perpetually unsatisfied desire.” A product of the “me decade,” Trump is a “me first”— not “America first” — president whose speeches are full of exaggerated or falsified self-praise.

Mueller is the best of America; Trump the worst. All you need to know about the diseased state of today’s Republican Party is that it reviles Mueller and reveres Trump.

The worst of America is now in charge of America and nothing will change and nothing will get done as long as we leave Republicans in charge. It really is as simple as that. Teenagers in Florida are calling bullshit. As they say, they are coming for them. They will finally hold them responsible for their votes. I hope the rest of us will do the same. I know I will. I would also like to hold responsible the people who voted for Republicans and Donald Trump. It was no secret who and what he was long before he became President on a rigged election. they have one chance to redeem themselves in 2018.

Ross Douthat and Steven Pinker

This morning’s editorial by Ross was an attack on Steven Pinker and his new book, Enlightenment Now, showing how much the world really has improved although we have the idiot in chief in the White House and how Enlightenment values of science, reason over religion and mysticism have brought the world great and wonderful improvements. Douthat says this:

Which is why if Pinker and others are genuinely worried about a waning appreciation of the inquiring scientific spirit, they should consider the possibility that some of their own smug secular certainties might be part of the problem — that they might, indeed, be stifling the more comprehensive kind of curiosity upon which the scientific enterprise ultimately depends.

I am not even sure what he is talking about, but others apparently got it. One of my favorite thinkers and critiques of some of this mishmash, who writes under the pen name Socrates gave us this:

In the interest of fair and balanced smug certainties, here are a few words from our religious sponsors:

“AIDS is not just God’s punishment for homosexuals; it is God’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.”-Jerry Falwell

“The right of holding slaves is clearly established in the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example.”-Richard Furman, Baptist Leader and Slavery Champion from South Carolina

“The doctrine that the earth is neither the center of the universe nor immovable, but moves even with a daily rotation, is absurd, and both philosophically and theologically false, and at the least an error of faith.”-Catholic Church’s decision against Galileo

“God gave the savior to the German people. We have faith, deep and unshakeable faith, that he [Hitler] was sent to us by God to save Germany.”-Hermann Goering

“Evolution is a bankrupt speculative philosophy, not a scientific fact. Only a spiritually bankrupt society could ever believe it. … Only atheists could accept this Satanic theory.”-Jimmy Swaggart

“The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians.”- Pat Robertson

“To assert that the earth revolves around the sun is as erroneous as to claim that Jesus was not born of a virgin.”-Cardinal Bellarmine, 1615, during the trial of Galileo

Douthat then said this:

Which is why in many instances the interests that Pinker dismisses as irrational hugger-mugger, everything from astrology to spiritualism, have tended to strengthen during periods of real scientific ferment. It’s why Isaac Newton loved alchemy and the Victorians loved séances; it’s why charismatic Christianity has spread very naturally with economic development in Africa and Latin America and why the Space Age coincided with the spread of all those health food stores.

To which another reader replied (and this one really made me laugh):

We don’t remember and revere Isaac Newton for his interest in alchemy. We regret the countless people who have died for lack of proper medicine, or who are currently sick and dying from the flu because they don’t believe in vaccination.

There’s no limit to what people will believe in. If we spent time worrying about those who are in the thrall of some religious nonsense, or reading tea leaves or worried about astrological signs, we would be living as people did before the Enlightenment. If they were given a view of our world today, we might forgive them for thinking it worked by magic.

There’s a place for belief in nonsense, in that it encourages the embrace of actual knowledge when nonsense doesn’t work.

Unfortunately, we can’t dismiss this tendency for woo-woo beliefs. Our brains have the ability to intuit what’s in the minds of others. This gives us a powerful advantage over other creatures, but it also lets us imagine that human-like agency is behind everything.

We can’t shake this belief, which puts gods in the sky and monsters in the closet and allays fear of death by imagining a Disney World afterlife. All we can do is get off of our knees and look for a cure that actually works.

So mutter Latin if you must, but if you’re going to gorge yourself at the buffet of wonders that science and rational thought have created, and that Steven Pinker reveres, at least have the courtesy not to talk with your mouth full.

I think that last one is about how I feel. It is akin to when she who must never be mentioned here listens to those who rail against a single payer health care system and then calmly asks them if they are going to turn down their Medicare which is of course something they earned according to them. We are living in an age where a minority of morons have put the moron in chief in charge and along comes Pinker to remind us of the light, and somehow Douthat feels that is an attack on his conservative values. Think about that one. Rational thought is an attack on conservatism. I been making that argument for years.