Despite the many recent setbacks & the fear that Roe V. Wade could be overturned, progressives have some cause for optimism

Just about everyone with whom I’ve spoken these past few days is stunned and depressed because of the accelerating accumulation of Trump Administration actions that are against the best interests of most Americans, morally offensive, signs of a growing autocratic state or some combination of the three.

At the risk of driving half my readership to drink, dope or anti-depressants, let me review the terrible stuff to happen just this week:

  • We began to recognize the full extent of the incompetence and cruelty with which the administration is prosecuting its zero tolerance policy against refugee families.
  • The Supreme Court issued several horrible 5-4 decisions, including Janus v. AFSCME, which could gut public sector unions, and Trump v. Hawaii, which upheld the right of Donald Trump to impose a travel band even if his public comments demonstrate the ban is meant to discriminate against one religious group.
  • Trump announced a July summit with Vladimir Putin, where he is sure to give away whatever of the store is left after his capitulations to North Korea.
  • The trade war with allies intensified and we began to see analyses that show that the net effect of Trump’s tariffs even before the imminent trade war will be to create a few jobs in shrinking industries like steel manufacturing while destroying jobs in growth industries such as renewable resources.
  • Another mass murder—this one of journalists—with no federal gun control law anywhere close to being passed.
  • The kicker of course was the announcement that Anthony Kennedy was retiring from the Supreme Court allowing Trump to replace a right-wing, pro-business ideologue who was okay with gay marriage and abortion with a right-wing, pro-business ideologue who is against gay marriage and abortion. Most liberals expect and fear that Roe V. Wadewill soon be overturned and from 18-26 states will ban abortion outright.

Every week it seems we get hit by more and more of these abominations. No wonder most of us on the left are feeling a little punch-drunk right now, as if we can’t take any more of these constant hits to our body politic. Over the past two weeks I have heard more pessimistic sentiments from liberal acquaintances than over the previous two years. Friends and acquaintances are now sure that Trump will avoid impeachment and win again in 2020, with the help of voter suppression and Donald’s best bud in Moscow. Others rightfully despair that we will likely get the most politically activist right-wing Supreme Court in American history. Others seem to be suffering contact post-traumatic stress disease (PTSD), as they see the bleak images of children crying in cages and learn more about the biggest federal government botch job since the Bush II’s Iraq and Katrina debacles. We feel powerless to help ease the pain of these children, and we know the horrible truth that the psychological part of it will persist for decades after the proximate cause is removed. I can still conjure the images and emotions of several childhood traumas I suffered, but even worse are my imagined sufferings that my son never went through, but could have. I know I’m among tens of millions of parents who have transferred empathy for their own children to the innocent children Trump’s ICE took away from their parents. It’s a miserable feeling of helplessness.

(Aside: A lack of competence seems to characterize all ideological regimes, in the United States as elsewhere. Just think of the similarities between the Trump regime and the Soviet Union under the communists.  People get positions because of their ideological purity or emotional proximity to the great leader, not competence. Competent people who disagree with the party line lose their jobs. Decisions are made based on the a priori beliefs of the great leader or the ruling elite, even if those decisions ignore scientific evidence or empirical experience. The results are half-baked policies which are then implemented incompetently.)

The current emotional depression (as opposed to the economic one likely to come in a few years) deepens into despair for those who consider that the rationale for most of the policies that Trump has implemented are pure lies: Environmental protections do not hurt the economy or diminish jobs. We do not have a problem with too many immigrants, and in fact could use some more to fill the many open positions our economy now has. Immigrants commit less crime than native-born Americans and increase the jobs and income of non-immigrants. Our allies were not taking advantage of us in treaties. Iran was not ignoring the terms of the nuclear agreement. Cutting taxes for the wealthy and corporations does not lead to greater investment in new jobs. Socialized healthcare keeps populations healthier and costs less per person. Then there are the filthy lies, like the one that an overwhelming majority of government aid recipient are minorities or that minorities receive preferential treatment by schools, employees and government. Not one part of the Trumpite program starts with a factual basis.

Like patients of talk therapy, let’s pick at the open wound and dig deeper into the dismal morass of the current political situation by remembering that Trump is not a solitary figure who upset everyone’s apple cart, but only the extreme version of Reagan Republicanism. Other than tariffs, consider how similar Trump’s actions have been in office to what the rest of the field save Kasich was advocating. Just about all Republicans since Reagan have retreated to a large degree from the fact-based universe when it did not jibe with the ideology they wanted to impose on reality. Just about all have been more interested in power than fairness in government. All have supported privatization of basic services as a way to reward their contributors and business allies. All have worked almost exclusively for the interests of the wealthy and extremely wealthy, while stringing along the religious right by supporting anti-woman and anti-LGBTQ positions. All have worked to restrict voting rights. Just about all have played the race card with frequency, usually in a subtle code language.

If the Republican Party has seemed quick to embrace Trump despite his ignorance, autocratic predilections, uncivility and overt racism and sexism, it is merely because it has been moving in those directions since Reagan fanaticized about welfare queens driving Cadillacs and Americans workers vampirized of every incentive to work by cheap, free healthcare. What that means is that Republicans are happy to see us slip into fascism, as long as a white majority elects the autocrats running and ruining the country for the benefit of the ultra-wealthy.

A pretty grim situation, and yet I have hope.

My hope comes from the fact that even with restrictive voting laws, if all the constituencies of the Democratic Party come out to vote, the Democrats can still control the House and Senate and win the Electoral College. It will take a massive effort to register voters and then get them out to the polls, but it can be done.

My hope comes from knowing that groups that tend to vote Democratic are growing—college educated white women, millennials, minorities, whereas groups that have now tend to vote Republican are shrinking—whites without education, evangelicals.

I’m hopeful because millennials and minorities are pushing the Democrats left, so that when they do take power again, the Dems will more likely be emboldened to make real change—Medicare for all, a trillion-dollar infrastructure program, steep tax increases on the wealthy, legislating all the environmental regulations the Trump administration has been rolling back, responding to all the crap that’s going to come out of the Roberts’ Court with overriding legislation.

We are in the final stages of a coup d’état by a theocratic autocracy, but all is not lost, as long as we have the right to vote. But for once, we have to exercise it and do so with some common sense. Whoever the candidate for whatever the office, we have to vote for the Democrat, and not the independent, the “good Republican,” the Green Party candidate or none of the above. At the same time, we have to vote and support the most left-leaning candidate in every Democratic primary.

So in the gloom of the summer of our discontent, fellow lefties, let’s dream of November and think not just about voting but helping others to register and get to the polls.

New anti-Trump trend on TV: Say you’re sorry when you do something wrong

When one advertiser does something completely new and different, like when Budweiser put a dog named ”Spuds MacKenzie” in TV ads in 1987, you may not notice. But when every third ad has a dog in it, as what happened in the first decade of this century, you see a pattern.

So without further ado, let’s have a light drumroll and OpEdge announces the latest trend in television advertising that may have broader social implications…

Big corporations using TV commercials to apologize for past bad behavior. Currently in frequent rotation on multiple channels and cable systems are “mea culpa” ads from Facebook, Uber and Wells Fargo Bank.

What’s most fascinating about these potlatches of apologies is that there are many similarities between the ads these three titans of the 21st century American economy have created to seek the forgiveness of their customers and the general public. The first and most obvious similarity is that all three companies used advanced digital technology to do some very nefarious stuff. Facebook allowed fake ads from foreign governments to interfere in our election and let its vendors raid the personal information of Facebook users. Wells Fargo opened fake accounts, changed customer documents without permission and guided clients with retirement accounts into the wrong investments to get higher fees, all by manipulating customer databases. Uber’s laundry list of bad behavior would take dozens of pages to list but includes violating laws in 20 states, data breeches, illegal disruption of competitors’ operations and at least one old-fashioned crime that doesn’t always require a computer—sexual harassment.

But using computer technology to break the law or, in the case of Facebook, betray a lot of people, isn’t the only thing that these companies and their “We’re sorry” commercials have in common!

All three have produced and are broadcasting ads which completely sanitize the pain their corporate misbehavior caused. All three companies issue very clear apologies but we never learn for what. Even Facebook’s cute-as-a-Smurf rendition of what happened talks about the bad guys who got onto Facebook and not about how Facebook facilitated and made tons of money off their manipulations of data and people. Wells Fargo never tells us explicitly what its managers did without the permission of customers. Uber doesn’t even reference the badness of the past in its intense focus on how wonderful things are now.

While ignoring the past, the companies all brightly tell us how they are fixing the problem and making things better. Wells Fargo talks about changing manager incentives. Uber touts its new leader and a new corporate-wide attitude that puts good treatment of drivers and riders first. All Facebook says is that the bad guys can’t get in any more so we’re free to build our beautiful global networks of friends again. We never learn why these large companies made the changes they did, and all three companies suggest in subtle, sub-textual ways that it wasn’t their fault. The changes and the reason for them are never placed in a context, but float weightlessly is some weird corporate ether.

The styles of the spots are so similar that you might guess it’s the same ad agency that created all of them, but you’d be wrong; the fact that three different agencies came up with similarly squeamish approaches suggests an industry-wide trend. All have bright, happy music. The visuals in all depend almost exclusively on extreme close-ups, in Facebook’s case of computer screens, many of hand-held computers that also make phone calls and take photos. Oh, yeah, smart phones. The visuals in all cases communicate the same message: The company improves your quality of life. In the case of Wells Fargo and Uber, the effect creates a hyped-up, go-go feeling; the Facebook ad feels dreamier, like a bedtime story. But all three ads reside in a corporate fantasy land in which mistakes are no longer made. (And note how I used the corporate passive “mistakes are no longer made” which never tells us who made them instead of the more upright and direct “they no longer make mistakes.”)

Wells Fargo, the oldest and most traditional of these companies, has also laid out a ton of moolah on a print advertising campaign that creates a two-page spread of what is supposed to look like real news. I saw the spread in the middle of the first section of the Sunday New York Times. The seven stories detail the support the bank gives charities and how its loans help improve lives and society. Wells Fargo hits all the hot buttons: climate change, affordable housing, help to veterans, Native Americans.

The apologies seem strange and somewhat refreshing in the take-no-prisoners, never-back-down zeitgeist created by the Trump Administration. In the Age of Trump, the level of public discourse has sunk so low, so many media outlets endorse so many lies by Trump and others, and the tensions between conflicting sides has been stoked so intensely that we may have collectively forgotten how powerful a sincere, or sincere-sounding, apology is in winning over the hearts and minds of those angry at you. For Trump and Trumpites like Sarah Huckabee Sanders and the Washington State University head football coach Mike Leach, who tweeted out lies about President Obama last week, there’s never a need to apologize, no matter how outrageous the lie or how horrendous the action. Of course, if the current administration and its supporters publicly atoned every time they lied or did something that harmed our country, we would need not one but two or three 24/7 government news services that did nothing but pump out apologies!

Could the sanitized corporate “Mea culpa” ad blitz spread to other companies that have stepped in it, a kind of backside-first reassertion of basic civility by a corporate America fed up with current political rhetoric? We didn’t see the same type of formal apology issued on television when we were having all those data beaches a few years back, nor when all those airlines got caught keeping people in motionless airplanes on runways for hours about five years ago. Yes, the offending corporations apologized and promised they had made things right. But they just didn’t buy expensive national ad campaigns to repeatedly say they’re sorry in front of large national audiences—again and again and again for weeks!

Perhaps corporate America feels so bad about the current direction of public discourse under Trump that corporations want to appear to go out of their way to do the right thing.

That is, after they have been caught doing the wrong thing for years!

Reaction to breaking up families—so similar to Nazi actions against Jews—may be turning point in what Americans will stomach to protect themselves from their own unrealistic fears

Virtually all Democrats and independents and significant numbers of Republicans have joined the mainstream media and much of the right-wing media in condemning the new U.S. policy of separating children from their families at the border no matter what the circumstances. Even evangelical celebrities like Franklin Graham (Billy’s boy) who have made excuses for the past immoralities of Trump have come out against breaking up families. Interestingly enough, condemnation by religious leaders and Republicans intensified after Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders declared that scriptures demanded harsh treatment of children whose parents are fleeing their countries.

Yet if Facebook and Twitter are any indication, a significant number of people are buying into the argument that those seeking asylum from natural or man-made disasters are breaking the law, and that’s what happens to criminals: they lose their families. This anti-immigration faction buys into the brand new policy that no one should enter the United States as a refugee. One heartless Facebooker even reasoned that we don’t let incarcerated prisoners stay with their children and this situation was the same thing, equating convicted felons with victims of forces beyond their control.

In her widely condemned news conference, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen played into the fears and hatreds of those voters who want to shut our borders tight and punish those who try to enter as harshly as possible. Her statement that many drug cartel members rent children to make a better case for entry is absurd. Ever since the Clinton Administration started extreme vetting of refugees and other immigrants, vetting that was quite thorough then and enhanced by Bush II and Obama, U.S. immigration officials can usually pretty quickly ferret out the small numbers of fake families. The proof of that fact is that for decades, study after study shows that crime rates among immigrants—legal and illegal—are much lower than for the native-born population, for both violent and non-violent offenses.

Thus Nielsen builds on the network of lies about immigration that Trump and his supporters have spewed for the past few years. Despite what they say, we do not have an epidemic of violence by immigrant gangs. Hordes of criminals and low lifes are not banging down the gates to get in. But Trump, Sessions, Nielsen and others keep repeating these lies and using them as the excuse for unnecessarily cruel actions such as ending DACA and ripping children from their families at the border.

On both DACA and refuge families, Trump has told the same set of lies repeatedly: 1) A law Democrats passed forced him to do it; 2) He hates it and wants to see it end; 3) But it will take the cooperation of the Democrats and they won’t give it. What a mess of lies we have here! It was Trump alone, perhaps with the urging of racist Sessions and self-loathing Jewish Nazi Stephen Miller, who decided to end DACA. Trump alone who approved the brand-new policy to separate children and parents at the border, even in the case of refugees. Finally, with Republicans controlling every branch of government, no Democrat is needed to pass a law prohibiting separating families at U.S. borders or giving the Dreamers a path to citizenship. What they present as facts are lies. Their logic is a lie.

But the supporters ignore these mendacious arguments, because they believe the main lie: that those entering are primarily bad people who will take our jobs away and that the United States should no longer welcome people fleeing state or gang violence and natural disasters.

The breaking up of families—so similar to Nazi actions against Jews in concentration camps—may symbolize a turning point in what Americans will stomach to protect themselves from their own unrealistic fears. Remember that, when the horrifying news of the Bush II torture gulag made the news, survey after survey showed that more than 50% of all Americans were okay with torture for matters of national security. Their fears and their blood-thirst for revenge after 9/11 spoke so loudly that they didn’t hear the quiet fact that torture doesn’t work. Maybe we should be proud that only 27% of people (but 55% of Republicans) agree with the Trump policy of breaking up families, while 66% are against it. Likewise, 67% of Americans want to give Dreamers citizenship and another 8% want them to stay without becoming citizens. We may approve of torture, but not of ripping families apart.

At this tragic moment, that is small solace for a nation ashamed of itself and aching with the pain of bystanders who feel helpless to relieve the suffering of others.

Atlantic runs ridiculous article that proposes to replace NY subways with driverless hoverboards rented at market price from private companies

Atlantic’s editors must have all taken stupid pills on the same day or forgot that editors are also supposed to check the math. Or maybe they thought it was a science fiction fairy tale when they agreed to run “The New York City Subway Is Beyond Repair” by software expert Peter Wayner?

Wayner proposes to replace the New York subway system with underground paved roads on which a variety of private fleets of driverless vehicles would transport New Yorkers directly to their destinations, all guided by one central scheduling system. Prices would vary depending on the time of day and type of vehicle employed, as Wayner imagines a market for both basic transportation and luxury cars outfitted with a desk and chair. He believes it will be cheaper to convert the subway system and buy fleets of driverless vehicles than the $19 billion that Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) chief Andy Byford says it will take the fix the subways. Wayner, whose expertise in the matter seems to be that he has self-published a few books about driverless cars, prophesizes that it will take less energy to run the tens of thousands driverless vehicles than it does to run the current fleet of subways.

Wayner’s exposition has a sieve-like number of logical holes in it. First off, he never demonstrates why a $19 billion price tag means that, of necessity, we should replace the railed mass transit concept. It’s called a “pons asinorum” in Latin, or “bridge of asses”: A being true does not lead to B being true, and wouldn’t even if both were true, which in this case, they are not.

The article’s basic premise connects two ideas—privatization and replacement of trains by driverless vehicles for individual users—that don’t have to exist together. We could privatize subways or we could have the government finance, build and run the system Wayner proposes. Of course, Wayner believes that privatization will lead to a greater choice of vehicles, amenities and other features without explaining how that could be a benefit to those wanting to get to the office or the jazz club on time and cheaply. Wayner undercuts his own argument without even knowing it when he notes that the subway lines were originally privately run. Yes, they were. But he does not complete his history: Private ownership of subways didn’t work out too well, so within a few decades government took over with a pledge to provide inexpensive and reliable public transportation to 1.75 billion rides a year.

Wayner’s math never really adds up. At best, he does hasty analysis that does not take every factor into consideration; at worst, he’s purposely trying to do some math magic tricks, similar to politicians who propose that lowering taxes on the wealthy and corporations leads to greater job creation.

Let’s start with basic size, which in the case of vehicles matters a lot. The average 10-car subway train holds 1,832 people according to the manufacturer, but Wayner says 2,000 and I saw someone estimate it at 2,200. At rush hour, trains typically hold 103% of capacity, or 1887 if we use the manufacturer’s recommendation. At 1,832 per train at peak capacity, that’s 2.41 square feet per person; at 2,000, it’s 2.21 square feet. The current generation of Segways, the hoverboard I checked, measures from 5.41 square feet to 9.16 square feet, or from 2.25 to 3.8 times larger than the footprint of a subway rider. Thus, excluding the room that will have to exist between each vehicle as it rolls along the underground road, it will take from 2.25 to 3.8 times the total length of driverless vehicles to replace your average subway train at rush hour.

But wait. It’s going to be much more additional space than that. Remember that rich folk will be able to get customized luxury cars. And what about people traveling in groups, those carrying a lot of packages, or people with disabilities? Those traveling with strollers, bicycles or dogs in containers? Those who need to eat while they ride? Some people absolutely have to sit down for health reasons. A lot of the vehicles will end up being bigger than the current 5.41-9.16 square feet of a hoverboard. The bigger the vehicle, the more space needed between vehicles. That’s simple physics. Certainly the space between vehicles will be much more than the inches that separate New Yorkers on rush hour trains. Even with the efficiency of driverless vehicles under a central scheduling authority using sophisticated software, it’s hard to see how individual vehicles will be able to move the New York rush hour crowds as efficiently as an upgraded subway system with new switching systems could do.

That’s where peak pricing comes in, Wayner says. Peak pricing will influence people to select alternative times of day to travel. Let’s forget the obvious logical flaw—that a public authority can also do peak pricing for rail transit. Lots of people do not have flexible hours, and many (if not most) New York employers already stagger start and end times to accommodate the New York rush hour craziness their employees go through. The least flexible in travel times will virtually always be those who earn the least, so moving to any kind of peak pricing for mass transit will inevitably have a disparately negative impact on the poor, and thus go against the basic mission of the subway system for more than a century.

Wayner’s numbers for energy savings are just plain sloppy. He estimates that running the hoverboards will take only 20% of the electrical energy that running the subways does, but conveniently forgets to mention that he’s comparing apples to a basket of mixed fruit. He only estimates the electrical costs for running the hoverboards, whereas the MTA annual use of 1.8 billion kilowatt hours includes the electricity to power the lighting along the tracks, in the stations and outside entrances, the signal system, the toll booths and the elevators; FYI, Weyner’s plan calls for adding more lights to the roadways. Weyner also conveniently forgets to calculate how much electricity the non-hoverboard vehicles will use. Missing, too is an estimate of the total number of vehicles included in his estimate for energy use.

Let’s not forget that after a $19 billion investment, there will be fewer delays and breakdowns, meaning the subway system will use less electrical power.

The article never considers maintenance costs for concrete roads versus rails or the lifespan of hoverboards versus railcars, but he does make a big show of trying to prove it will take much less than $19 billion to convert to his vision. But when it comes to estimating how much it would cost to clean up the subways, pull up the tracks and pave them, add lights, install the appropriate software systems and buy the vehicles, Wayner is pulling numbers out of the air, with no basis. Again, he estimates the costs of hoverboards, but not of the hundreds if not thousands of bigger vehicles that will be needed for those with disabilities, groups, people with packages, those who need to sit and luxury travelers. He never tells us how he derived the figure of $8 million a mile to clean up and he never places a number on the additional lighting that will be required. His budget lacks so many crucial items that it’s essentially worthless in making a comparison to the cost of fixing what ails the subway system.

The paragraph on the great new money-making opportunity that an underground road with driverless vehicles will create makes me wonder if Wayner has ever ridden a New York subway. He sees untapped wealth in placing advertising billboards along these underground roads. He never answers the question why companies are going to want to pay more for ads along the underground roadways than they now pay for ads in the subway cars; nor does he estimate how much more ad space will be available on these underground billboards than already exists inside current subway cars. The only way not to chide him for these omissions is to assume he has never seen subway car advertising, which means he has never ridden in the New York subway.

Another sign that Wayner has never actually ridden the subway extensively is that he never addresses what to do with the 40% of the subway system which is at ground level, or more frequently, dozens of feet above the ground. Does he propose to enclose the elevated lines or place safety rails on their sides, and how much is that going to cost? I can tell you one thing: it will take a ton more money to dig new tunnels to replace the els than it will to complete the MTA’s $19 billion laundry list of current needs.

Subway systems in general are a product of 19th century thinking, just as Wayner accuses them of being. But big deal! That does not mean subways are obsolete, as Wayner declares at the beginning of the article. The idea that dedicated mass transit systems are the ideal way to transport large numbers of people in urban areas is a lot younger than the idea that we should do unto others as we would have others do unto us, or that wheels encounters less friction than blocks in moving a weight over a surface. There are lots of old ideas and technologies that are still valid, many of which have undergone improvement over time; stereo amplifiers than play MP3s, electric screwdrivers, refrigerators that make ice, cars with electronic systems and batteries, and computers that take photos and make phone calls that you can carry with you in your pocket all immediately come to mind. Nothing in this mess of an article should convince us to abandon subways or the $19 billion improvement plan the MTA has developed.

And therein lies the real harm of this article and the real disservice that Wayner and Atlantic have done to New York and the entire country. Right-wingers everywhere will wave the article in the air and declare piously that it’s a waste of money for the state or the federal government to help fund the MTA’s ambitious but necessary improvements. And that has the potential to devastate the New York economy, and therefore the national economy, which is intimately tied to the economic well-being of its largest city. With all due respect to Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco-San Jose, Houston and Atlanta, New York has been the heartbeat of American commerce and finance for almost 200 years now. The New York subway system—like the tunnels taking rail traffic from New Jersey to Manhattan and like the Washington subway system and like our system of roads and bridges and sewer systems everywhere—are living on borrowed time. We have spent the past 30 years cutting infrastructure spending to line the pockets of the wealthy through deep and steady tax cuts. It’s time to invest in our country’s public infrastructure again, not spin pie-in-the-sky free market science fiction fantasies.

Why does Trump keep acting against U.S. interests in foreign policy? Stupidity? Narcissism? Or maybe it’s money from Russia & elsewhere

Let’s take a bird’s eye view at the foreign policy accomplishments of Donald Trump in the past 500+ days:

Trump has insulted our allies and made nice with long-time adversaries, showing a decided preference for autocrats such as the Philippine’s Duarte and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un over democratically elected leaders, especially those who happen to be women.

He has walked away from multilateral agreements that were working such as the Paris Accord and the Iran Nuclear agreement. He has also threatened to blow up other trade agreements and kept the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has given the Chinese an opening to dominate Pacific trade.

Trumpty-Dumpty has inflicted trade tariffs on our allies, who have always played by the international rules of treaties, while helping out a Chinese company ZTE, which was found to have broken trade sanctions multiple times.

He pissed off most of the world by making an unnecessary and totally symbolic move of the U.S. embassy in Israel and he took sides in a dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar that we had no business poking our noses into.

Trump has weakened the U.S. foreign policy capability by shrinking the State Department, forcing out career diplomats and not filling open positions. Meanwhile, with the help of Congressional Republicans, he has increased the military budget and approved further development of robot weapons that operate without human intervention and the next generation of nuclear weapons. He has also jacked up American use of military power in a number of global hotspots. The net effect of these policies is to tell the world that America is turning its back on the idea of multilateral diplomacy in favor of pushing its military might around.

Even the one move that might work out in favor of the United States could end up backfiring, an instance of losing by winning. That’s the Korean peninsula. While the world would be safer from nuclear attack if the North Koreans dismantled their nuclear capability, de-escalation of tensions between the two Koreas would curtail the need for so many U.S. troops and weaponry in South Korea, military assets which are directed at China and Russia as much as at North Korea. A peace treaty could also enable China to build a pipeline through North Korea to provide South Korea with natural gas, something that will help both China and Russia. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to broker a peace and thereby denuclearize the Korean position. I’m merely pointing out that to truly contribute to world peace, the United States must in a sense “thread the needle,” i.e., construct a nuanced deal that seems beyond the capabilities of the broad-brushed, bad-with-details Trump to engineer. The result then could be a lopsided deal that while stabilizing the Korean peninsula also destabilizes representational democracy throughout the globe.

Many of Trump’s foreign policy moves, such as the help to ZTE and the bullying of Qatar have seemed to be connected to his private business matters. The move against Qatar followed Qatar denying the Trump organization some loans, whereas the help for ZTE came after the Chinese delivered a massive loan to a Trump partner. If it’s true that the Trump Administration has made deals with countries based on how well those countries treat Trump’s business interests, it will be unconstitutional (the “emoluments clause”), unethical and unheard of. Throughout American history, politicians such as Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Averill Harriman, John Foster Dulles, George W. H. Bush and others have conducted foreign policy to help American businesses, but it’s never been their own business!

Of course, virtually all of the foreign policy actions Trump has taken have help Russia in one way or another, providing at least circumstantial evidence that Trump is the “Siberian candidate,” bought and paid for long before the 2016 elections.

What kind of person sells out his or her own country for money? Some would say a self-centered narcissist. Or perhaps a ruthless power seeker, much like David, son of Jesse of Bethlehem, who used the troops of his country’s enemy to take control. Or perhaps like several British communist spies, Trump thinks his country is unjust or wrong, and has thrown in with a country pursuing a superior way of life. Based on the body of evidence made in his public statements, for Trump a superior way of life would be an ethnically cleansed white country whose autocratic government tries to control the mores and beliefs of its citizens. It doesn’t, however, matter much why Trump would have sold his soul to Putin. It still makes him the same thing: a traitor.

We should also consider the possibility that there is a basic miswiring in Trump’s brain, something that compels him almost always to make the wrong decision. I once tried to teach someone chess who, when presented with overwhelming evidence that one move was strong and another weak, would repeat with a great deal of cognizance the facts and then always make the wrong move. Always. You could see this disconnect in the person’s approach to math, too, so it was a basic miswiring in the brain, a kind of defect that made this person make the wrong choice. Perhaps Trump has a similar disability. That he also tends to take the side against evidence in immigration, environmental, healthcare and gun control issues provides additional support to the idea that his brain doesn’t work quite right, as does his past failure in every business except branding and entertainment.

Of course, Trump’s problem could be in his head, not mental, but emotional. In his extreme narcissism, perhaps Trump believes that the power of his will can overcome the reality of facts. As the superior man, he can bend the actions not just of other humans, but of nature itself. He wouldn’t be the first to mistake Schopenhauer’s “will to power” for an advantage the superior man has over others. Hitler and his crew beat Trump to the punch in trying to will the world into their own base and debased image. In saying that he dominated the most recent G-7 summit, in not seeing that he embarrassed himself and the United States, we see signs of the narcissism that makes some people believe they can shape, change or twist reality to their own liking.

So yes, it’s quite possible that the Trump foreign policy derives from a small brain malfunction, his emotional illness or even just his unfortunate but almost laughable combination of ignorance and low intellectual abilities.

But I’ll bet on the money. He has sold out his country for a bag of gold coins, like Benedict Arnold or Judas Iscariot.

One group cheering the separation of children from their parents at the border is the private prison industry

Many of us remember the feeling of needing to wash off the collective sins and corruption of torture when the news first came out in 2006 of what American soldiers and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operatives had committed in the name of freedom in Abu Ghraib and other detentions centers around the world.

We are feeling the same sickness, the same heartache and the same shame this week in learning that under the current administration, Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) has routinely been separating children from their families, even if the family is legally seeking asylum as a political, wartime or natural disaster related refugee. These children, already burdened by physical displacement and whatever impelled the family to seek a new country must now also suffer the additional trauma of separation from their parents and housing in prison-like conditions. Even if treated with kindness, most children would be terrified by the separation. Their time apart from their mothers and fathers would be lonely and insecure. It’s enough to scar most people for life, the kind of insecurity that the latest research shows lowers our intellectual abilities.

There can be no doubt that Trumpty-Dumpty and his crew take a special pleasure in inflicting pain on those unable to defend themselves. They believe that it’s part of the get-tough image that communicates that the United States has ceased being the door mat that we supposedly were during the Obama Administration, and specifically that we no longer welcome immigrants, at least from certain “s***hole” countries, and will make the lives of those attempting to come here as miserable as possible.

But when you follow the money, it turns out that greed is the main motivation for this horrific new policy which is causing so much unnecessary human misery and harming the America’s international reputation as a beacon of freedom and opportunity.

The money leads directly to private prisons, which already collect about $2 billion a year from ICE to run detention centers. Private prison corporations have contributed mightily to the political campaigns of Trump and Sessions. Once threatened by their own incompetence and the Obama Administration order to phase out the use of private corporations to incarcerate prisoners, the private prison industry is making a strong comeback since the new administration took power. They sit with defense contractors and developers of nuclear weapons and other sophisticated war machinery at the round table of death that the Trump has assembled. This modern incarnation of what Dwight Eisenhower called the industrial-military complex brings together a number of economic players united by their essential mission to help create additional human misery and their dependence on government for funds for their existence.

The math is simple for the private prison industry. The more people who are criminalized, the more people private prisons get to detain, house, feed, control and abuse, and the more money their shareholders and executives make. The more people swept up in ICE raids, the more people can be fed to the private prison leviathan. And separating children from their parents creates the need for more guards, another business opportunity for private prisons. The calculus that leads to pulling children as young as under a year from their parents starts with the need to goose a market to reward political cronies.

As usual, Republicans prefer privatization even when it has been proven not to work. And virtually everywhere, private prisons have proven to be a failure. Over the past few years, the news media has reported fraud, cost overruns or mistreatment of inmates in private prisons in many states, including Idaho, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky. But the private prison lobby has clout, especially among Republicans. So, just like the defense industries, elected officials seek to expand the market for its cronies.

But in a racist society, the math only works when the victims are considered less than human. While fear may serve as the rational for locking up families, racial superiority prevents the perpetrators from feeling guilt for their actions. We are after all talking about lesser creatures, “animals” as Trump recently put it. It’s easy to separate, process, herd and mistreat lesser beings. And in the case of the victims of our bombs and drones, to kill and maim.

Thus a nation that can’t afford to provide adequate healthcare for all its residents, that begrudges poor people food, shelter and other basic necessities and that pretends not to be able to afford to offer quality public schools, free access to higher education, research and development of new technologies and the fixing of its crumbling infrastructure of mass transit and sewage systems nonetheless can dig deep into its pocket to create cruel and mean-spirited opportunities to promote death, destruction and suffering.

 

The contrast between Kaepernick & Barr demonstrates that the free speech argument is often a bogus substitute for the real issue—racism in America

Should supporters of the right of National Football League players to take a knee during the national anthem also raise their hackles about the cancellation of Roseanne Barr’s situation comedy?

Of course the question could be posed the other way. If Facebook is any indication, there are large numbers of conservatives supporting Barr but not the players, just as there are large numbers of liberals supporting the athletes but not the entertainer.

Roseanne’s situation, like that of the two NFL players reportedly under league boycott, Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid, raises the bar because the “punishment” for the exercise of free speech was not a fine or a lambasting by an ignorant and crude autocrat, but the loss of a very lucrative job, and in the case of the players, a career.

No one disputes that Barr had the right to make the ugly racist joke she did about Valerie Jarrett, whereas many argue that the players’ actions were taken while on the job and therefore subject to the policies and regulations of their employer. Technically, however, anyone with an employment contract that includes what used to be called a “morals clause”—a stipulation that the employee stay out of trouble and conduct themselves always in a professional, ethical and legal manner—is always on the job. A morals or behavior clause restricts speech and actions as much as a league policy does. These clauses are standard in employment contracts and must be in the one that Barr signed. No has the right to restrict free speech, but both the NFL and Disney thus probably have the right to punish their employees for the exercise of free speech under certain, highly defined circumstances. Both Barr and the players on the field probably fall into those circumstances.

But free speech is not the only issue involved. The other issues are racism, truth and civil discourse. When we analyze the actions of Barr and Kaepernick from these perspectives, I think it’s easy to favor labor (Kaepernick) in one instance and management (ABC/Disney) in the other.

Kaepernick was trying to bring public attention to the fact that not much has been done to address the racial bias nationwide in the killing of civilians by police officers. He was speaking a truth and he did so without insulting anyone directly. True enough, those who believe that anything other than standing at strict attention at the playing of the national anthem are traitors were offended, as were those who believe that any criticism of police is always wrong. Let’s remember they and their predecessors also expressed outrage when Barr sang the national anthem in the character of a crude baseball player at the 1990 All-Star Game; her comic version offended their sensitivities. Kaepernick used a tool of free expression called civil disobedience and a platform that would be certain to attract attention, a televised football game. Yes, he pissed some people off and made lots more uncomfortable, but he insulted no one directly, told the truth and behaved in a civil manner. Moreover, he spoke on the side of the angels, unless you believe that the moral imperatives of any religion leave room for unequal treatment of anyone because of race.

Barr’s tweet was a racist insult of Obama-advisor Valerie Jarrett meant to incite the Twittersphere. She resurrected an old and ugly insult of African-Americans—that they are like apes, less human, or as Donald Trump recently described Hispanic immigrants, animals. She also managed to tie Jarrett to the Muslim Brotherhood, the kind of smear that keeps on smearing, because not only is it false, but it also assumes that there is something bad about the Muslim Brotherhood, which in this case is a transparent stand-in for all of Islam. As when people called Obama a Muslim, the denial can be construed as agreement that Islam is bad. We don’t really know why Barr tweeted. Was it because she was under the influence of Ambien (and why should that matter?) as she claims; or attempting to get attention for her show; or suffering the momentary boiling over of anger and frustration from a myriad of sources. It matters not. It was ugly and had only one goal: To use racism to insult another public figure. Barr had no thought of public betterment. She did not behave in a civil manner. And she expressed a thought, Black person = ape, that is completely racist and cannot be excused.

Thus, while we should “support” the right of free expression exercised by both Kaepernick and Barr, only Kaepernick’s conduct was right, as in correct.

Which brings us to the institutions. The highly public nature of the actions turned each into a minor point of skirmish in the continuing culture wars. Like it or not, both the NFL and Disney ended up taking sides, pissing off millions and gaining the admiration of millions.

But what did the side-taking say about the organizations? Disney’s cancellation of “Roseanne” said that the organization cannot and will not abide overt racial ugliness, even if it costs them a little money. And I do say, a little. “Roseanne” was slotted to make about $60 million for Disney next year; even if the replacement show does half of that, the $30 million loss would be five one-hundredths of one percent of the company’s 2017 revenues of more than $55 billion—a suitcase on the Queen Mary, as the expression goes. For Disney, spending $30 million to tell international and youth markets that it hates obvious virulent racism sounds like a pretty good investment in damage-control public relations. And like the best crisis PR, it turns a negative into a positive.

By contrast, what could the NFL possibly be saying? I know that it wants to say that it believes politics should not enter the game or the playing arena in any way, ever, but it’s making a lot of other messages. It says that the NFL still has the plantation mentality that characterized all sports leagues before free agency. It says that the NFL agrees with the rigid, easy-to-anger patriots who will broach no action that could be construed as flag desecration. It says that the NFL subscribes to the same authoritarian stances regarding civil disobedience as Trumpty-Dumpty does. And, unfortunately, it says that the NFL sides with those who either don’t believe the statistics that show blacks suffer more violence in arrest and incarceration than whites do, or that it doesn’t care. Or that it thinks it’s a good thing.

More than anything else, the contrast between Kaepernick and Barr demonstrates that the free speech argument is often a bogus substitute for the real issue—racism in America. Racism is what the quarterback protested and racism is what the comedian was spouting. Yes she has a right to do it, but I’m happy as hell Disney fired her, and disappointed that the NFL is trying to control its plantation hands.

In light of Trump’s remark about “animals” here is a new definition of human beings: “Animals who kneel.”

Whether Donald Trump meant his “they’re like animals” remark to refer to all immigrants or merely to members of the MS-13 gang, everyone understood his intent: To say that a group of human beings of a certain ethnicity are less human than we full-blooded Americans, and perhaps not even human beings at all. In this sense, even if Trump really only meant MS-13 gangbangers, MS-13 served Trump as a synecdoche, which is a figure of speech in which a part represents the whole. Just as we understand that “a strong arm” or a “piece of ass” refers to an entire body, so do we realize that Trump was saying that all immigrants from Latino (and African and Islamic) countries are animals.

The essence of racism involves the belief that certain human beings are better than others—by virtue of their skin color, DNA, family history or whatever factor is being used to distinguish individuals by race. In the West at least, humans have traditionally considered animals to be lesser forms of life put on earth for the benefit and use of human beings. To call someone an animal is virtually always used in a pejorative sense, except when referring to football players or boxers, and even in the sporting context, our admiration for an animal is for her/his less than human qualities.

To call a group of people animals is always racist.

Of course, most Americans nowadays would be appalled if we treated animals, especially dogs, how we treat immigrants and refugees. Far more was made in the news media of Michael Vick killing dogs he trained to fight than in the separation of families by the Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE). Without a doubt, America loves its pets more than we love the human beings whom we have defined as “others.” In the mass media and advertising and in our streets and living rooms, we see dogs pampered and treated as members of the family, referred to as children, given holiday gifts, preferred over human beings for companionship. The composite message we should infer regarding the totality of television advertising for food and what are called food products is that human beings give their pets a healthier, more nutritionally balanced diet than they themselves eat.

Thus many, if not most, of the people who embrace Trump’s demotion of groups of human beings to animal status routinely elevate animals to the status of “human beings.”

Defining people as less than human makes it easier to treat them badly. It used to justify slavery, segregation and Jim Crow laws. Today, it justifies an ungenerous, mean-spirited immigration policy—to use violence when dealing with them, to turn them away even though they are suffering refugees, to split families, to send people well-established in this country to the countries of their parents.

Trump’s animal comment is one set piece in a large campaign he and his allied are waging to divide America into “us-and-them” armed camps, with ”them” defined by color and ethnic background. Another theme in this long-term propaganda war is Trump’s constant labelling of behavior by blacks, Hispanics and Muslims as horrific while condoning or remaining silent about similar white behavior. The most obvious example of the Trumpite double standard is Trumpty-Dumpty’s reaction to mass murders involving whites versus people of color. When whites go postal, mental illness is to blame; anyone of color and it’s terrorism.

Contrast, too, Trump’s comments about “the good people” marching with the Nazis in Charlottesville versus his condemnation of Colin Kaepernick and other professional athletes for taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem before sporting events.

Which brings us to the unfortunate decision of the National Football League (NFL) to fine players and their teams when the player genuflects during the anthem. Like Trump and his minions, NFL owners have decided that taking the knee is inherently unpatriotic and thus antisocial, even if the players are asserting a right that defines Americans to protest a flaw in the American way of life that supposedly makes the United States a superior place to live—the unfair treatment of African-Americans and other minorities by the criminal justice system. The NFL owners put themselves on the side of Trump and his minions, which is why Trump is praising the announcement.

In attempting to explain why NFL owners didn’t decide to affirm the right of all Americans to engage in peaceful protests by doing nothing, we face another set of bad options, caught between a symbolic Scylla and Charybdis with no ship to navigate us safely between the two: Either pressure from rightwing politicians and the large numbers of NFL fans who are racist or Trumpite has coerced a craven NFL to submit to their un-American, and covertly racist, agenda OR the NFL owners sincerely believe that saluting the flag is more important than a basic civil right.

Or maybe they just like the idea of controlling the players, like a sheep herder controls the flock.

Let’s keep in mind that the NFL, more than any other professional sport, has maintained the plantation owner attitude towards players that all sports used to have before the days of free agency. No other league is as preoccupied with its public image as the NFL, and the owners insist on that image being corporate, conservative and dedicated to the values of small-town white America. No other league has as many rules of behavior that have nothing to do with playing, e.g., the extensive regulations dictating proper behavior after scoring a touchdown. Now the NFL wants to take away the player’s right to free speech, or at least make them pay for the right through fines (which is in keeping with the essential rightwing idea that people with more property should have more of an influence on social policy, as if the NFL is saying, “If you want a say, you have to pay.”). The racial makeup of the NFL reinforces the plantation metaphor: The league is about 70% black, but there are few blacks in management and no black owner.

In organization and physical infrastructure, the old slave plantation had many similarities to contemporary immigration collection centers, Japanese internment camps during World War II and German concentration camps. Moreover, in all these instances of herding people into confined quarters and controlling their every movement, the people in charge openly expressed a superiority to those under their control. The evidence of that superiority was and is racial in nature and usually color-based.

Thus the NFL’s decision to try to prohibit political protest during the national anthem and Trump’s “worse than animals” remark are profoundly connected, not only as different arrows in Trump’s quiver of racism, but as manifestations of the continued persistence of the belief that whites of European decent are superior to others. Both Trump’s comments and the NFL action are highly calculated moves meant to exploit the virulent racism that still distorts American values.

During the last few centuries, science has undercut the notion that certain groups of humans are superior to others, or that all humans are superior to animals for that matter. Science’s inexorable refutation of revealed religion removed our inherent superiority to other creatures as much as its dismissal of inherent differences between the races has refuted racism. Moreover, over the past 40 years, anthropologists and paleontologists have found evidence of all kinds of behavior in animals that humans once cited to assert our superiority, including the development of language, use of tools, social organization and hierarchy, altruism, morality and even religion. The more we learn about the natural world and ourselves, the more like other animals we seem. Even as American whites wrongly believe that they are losing their status economically and socially to “others,” all humans are losing their status of uniqueness among the animal kingdom.

While respecting all life (except maybe rats and cockroaches), I still believe that humans are different. Other animals may use tools, but not to the degree we do. Other animals may communicate, but they haven’t built the widespread and sophisticated communications networks we have. And while altruism and morality exist among other animals, none have yet banded to together to protest the mistreatment of others. Your typical alpha male or alpha female among social animals doesn’t threaten its own existence by trying to raise awareness about how creatures in other groups suffer. And that’s what Kaepernick, the quarterback—the quintessential human alpha—did. In standing up for the civil and judicial rights of people of color, Kaepernick performed a uniquely human act. He could have defined himself as a privileged football player or a member of the economic elite, much as Trump and the NFL owners do, but instead he chose to identify with the downtrodden, and by implication, the entirety of humanity.

In a profound sense, then, those who protest and work for human, civil, judicial and economic rights are the most human among us. That’s certainly what Christ and the early Christians thought. They knelt before the concept of a god who helps the poor. Kaepernick knelt before the secular concepts of equality, equity and human solidarity. Either way, they elevated themselves—made themselves more human and less like animals—through the devotional act of kneeling. Perhaps when considering definitions of human beings, we should simply say, “animals who kneel.”

My hope is that the NFL edict will incite more football players and other professional athletes to become “animals who kneel.” I would like to see entire teams either stay inside the locker room for the national anthem or all take a knee in unison. I would like to see fans stay seated during the national anthem to protest this new restriction on civil rights. I would like to see a class action lawsuit by the players that upends this obnoxious new regulation. In short, I would like to see Americans collectively tell Trump and the NFL owners that we are not animals, but human beings.

 

The terrible consequences of the largely symbolic move of U.S. embassy: At least 61 dead & 2,700 injured, plus U.S. credibility in international circles sinks lower

The demonstrations and killings in the wake of the United States moving its Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem reminds us again of the power of symbolism: People are willing to put themselves in harm’s way and other people are willing to kill them for a symbol, in this case the symbolism of recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The move encourages extreme Zionists, enrages Palestinians and rankles most other countries.

But the embassy move doesn’t change a thing in the Middle East.

It doesn’t alter the situation on the ground and it shouldn’t disturb the dynamics of any negotiations. Why should Jerusalem be off the table now in discussions of a peaceful settlement, be it a two-state solution or something else? It was so easy to move the U.S. embassy. All it took was money. Why can’t a future deal require the United States to move its embassy back to Tel Aviv, or elsewhere? It’s even possible that one day this new U.S. facility could be the U.S. embassy in a democratic Palestinian state that is allied with its neighbor, Israel? A peacenik can always dream…

Trump’s lunacy does have both immediate and long-term consequences. Short-term, it increases tensions and violence in Israeli and the occupied territory. Trumpty-Dumpty and his advisors must have known that the opening ceremonies would kindle demonstrations. But did they know that Israel would react with such brutality? Only among American evangelicals and hardliners in both Israel and the United States will the Israeli reaction to the demonstrations not seem blood-thirsty. Sixty-one dead and about 2,700 injured by a superior force that as of this writing reports no injuries or deaths is what the Latins used to say was res ipsa loquitur, a thing that proves itself. What it demonstrates is that the Israelis could have figured out a way to deal with the protesters and rioters without killing anyone, inflicting minimum injury. Fire hoses. Loud acoustics. Reinforcement of the fence. There are lots of ways to deal with protesters short of firing bullets and teargas.

The long-term implication of moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem is that it provides further proof that the other nations of the world can no longer trust the United States to abide by treaties and that the United States has little interest in collective decision-making on issues of global import. Trump has already walked away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris Accord and the Iran nuclear agreement, and raised tariffs that threaten to start a trade war. Now he has ignored the United Nations agreement not to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel until a peace agreement is reached. U.S. credibility is at an all-time low among our allies.

And for what? A symbolic move about a symbol.

As a secular Jew in diaspora, I am befuddled by the big deal that Jews make about the symbolic import of the city of Jerusalem. I’ve never been there, but I have seen ancient Neolithic, Greek, Roman, Carthaginian and Islamic ruins and experienced the expansive swell of religious joy and connection with past civilizations and peoples, the oneness with humanity, or a portion of it, that comes from knowing that values, ideas and artifacts persist in time. And yes, I did feel a special, Jewish tug when viewing the old synagogues of Prague and Spain. I get it.

But let’s consider the real symbolism of Jerusalem. It is called King David’s city, the city that King David conquered and made his capital, the city that King Solomon grew, the city of the temple of the Kings.

Kings. Royalty. The idea that certain people have a divine right that is passed down by birth, a right to command others, to mess with the lives of others by forming armies, fighting wars, deciding who should pay what taxes, and building monuments, often to their own glory. Royalty is the most autocratic and least democratic system of government. Royalty is the ultimate expression of racism: my blood is so much better than your blood that I’m always in charge. One could make a case that the kings weakened ancient Israel to the point that the Babylonians could take over the country. Why would Jews want to have anything to do with royalty? Most Jews everywhere in the world today believe in representational democracy and reject the very concept of kingship and royalty, yet worship Jerusalem, forgetting that the city is not just a symbol of Judaism, but of Jewish royalism.

True enough, both holy temples were located in Jerusalem, but the first was fruit of the evil seed of royalty. Remember, too, that the temple was the place of animal sacrifice, a practice that Jews gave up centuries ago. There are remarkable and religiously uplifting antiquities all over the state of Israel.

Giving up the obsolete is something Jews are used to doing. We replaced animal sacrifice with prayer centuries ago. Most branches of the Jewish religion have gradually ended or are in the process of ending the many sexist elements in ancient and medieval Jewish religion and custom. We’ve made changes to the liturgy—prayers and melodies. Isn’t it about time that we turn our back on the concept of royalty and thereby de-mythify Jerusalem? If I were involved in the negotiations, I would be willing to trade political control of Jerusalem in return for a real lasting peace that included economic cooperation with a Palestinian state, as long as Jews were allowed to visit and live in Jerusalem. Hell, yes.

The equations sometimes produced by symbolic actions like moving an embassy are as macabre as they are tragic. Ask yourself, if it were your children, parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews, nieces, friends and neighbors, how many dead would be worth the symbolism? It shouldn’t be difficult to understand that Palestinians feel the same way. Of course, to believers in royalty, some people are worth more than others. The essence of royalty—as conceived of and practiced throughout recorded history—is that the better people can sacrifice or kill the lower orders. That military representatives of “the chosen people” should kill and maim so many as an almost necessary aftermath to Trump’s Jerusalem symbolism is the ultimate expression of the obscenity that is the concept of kingship.

Now for the latest installment of the mainstream media’s favorite game: Blame the Democrats!

It wouldn’t be a Sunday New York Times opinion section without a couple of articles blaming liberals for their supposed inability to capture the hearts and minds of mainstream America. It’s always the liberals fault for putting up the wrong candidate, being self-righteous, being too smart or wonky, focusing too much on identity politics, not articulating the message in bold terms, or not understanding the soul of middle America. In going through this list of Democratic “failures,” note how many descriptions could be coded language for “not being racist enough.” Then there are the special criticisms leveled at Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren and Nancy Pelosi’s political liabilities, which have always struck me as patently misogynistic.

This week’s edition of “Beat the Liberal” featured a piece by Gerald Alexander, an associate professor of politics at the University of Virginia whose research suggests a right-wing bent. In “Liberals, You’re Not As Smart as You Think” the not-so-good professor claims that liberals “may be more effective at causing resentment than in getting people to come their way.” Alexander never proves his point. He doesn’t even bother to offer up one study or survey to demonstrate that when liberals talk, they turn off large numbers of people. Interestingly enough, his article is a mild revision of a piece he wrote for the Washington Post eight years ago. Bashing liberals is never out of style!

And what does Alexander think liberals do that piss people off so much? They publicly call racist behavior racist. What’s more, they do so self-righteously, with an “I’m better than you are” tone. Earth to Alexander: People who call out racism are better than the racists. That is, assuming you buy into Alexander’s shoddy premise that Democrats are self-righteous about their morality. Now maybe it’s my self-righteousness coming through, but as parent, I found that shame works wonders in getting people to do the right thing.

Frank Bruni joined in the “Beat the Liberal” game, too, this week, with another of a long line of columns by mainstream media pundits advocating that the Democratic Party can win if they become more like Republicans. The headline says it all: “Renounce Pelosi, Ignore Trump—and Win?” Bruni advocates for Democratic candidates who are less strident and project a less partisan image. In particular, Bruni touts the Democratic nominee for the seat in North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District, white male Dan McCready, who claims to have center-right political views. Of course he never gives examples of Democratic candidates who are too strident or too partisan, leaving us to guess who they are. I sincerely hope Bruni means something other than the coded message I receive from his article—that he wants more white males and fewer women and minority candidates. It would help if one of the candidates he lauds in his article was not all white male.

Bruni’s article quotes Massachusetts Representative Seth Moulton, as saying “If we actually want to be a majority party, then we better embrace more Americans.”

What is he talking about? Democrats won way more votes than Republicans in 2012, 2014 and 2016. Clinton wiped out Trump in the popular voting. Survey after survey on education, healthcare, aid to dependent children, criminal justice reform, environmental policy, abortion and yes, even gun control, show that majorities of American—and sometimes overwhelming majorities—support the views of Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and other liberal Democrats.

The game of blaming Democrats for their failure to take the reins of government conceals the real reasons Republicans today control the presidency, both Houses of Congress and most state governments:

  1. The current shape of Congressional districts, gerrymandered to structurally favor Republicans after the 2010 census.
  2. The raft of voter suppression laws that have swept the country, also since 2010.
  3. The natural electoral bias in states and nationally in favor of rural areas, built into our system by the Electoral College and geographic representation.
  4. The influx of money to support right-wing candidates and think tanks, especially since the Citizens United
  5. The constant anti-Democrat slant of the mainstream and rightwing media, which includes covering Republican primaries more closely than Democratic ones, using Republican premises when formulating coverage, conflating real scandals of Republicans with Democratic non-scandals and issuing a constant stream of these silly articles about Democrats shooting themselves in the foot.

Of these five factors, only one can be remotely blamed on the Democrats: the gerrymandering of Congress. Democrats assumed they were going to lose seats in 2010, since a new president usually sees his majority eroded in midterm elections. They therefore did not aggressively spend money on 2010 mid-term elections, while the Koch brothers and their billionaire buddies saw the historic opportunity created by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that freed corporate spending on elections and ramped up their support of not just Republican, but ultra-right candidates. The news media helped out the Republicans in 2010 to be sure by ignoring Democratic primaries, focusing most political coverage on the new “Tea Party” movement, ignoring the progressive alternatives to the Tea Party, and providing inaccurate and misleading coverage of the key issue of the day, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. There was certainly a lot going against the Democrats in 2010, but by not aggressively contesting the election, they did a pretty good imitation of a pro basketball team tanking the season to get a high draft pick.

We can find no fault with the Democrats in the development of the other four factors leading to Republican control of an ostensibly democratic country in which a majority of citizens support the views of the party out of power. The voter suppression laws have come in states controlled by Republicans. The rich white men who founded the country established the rural bias in the Constitution more than 200 years ago to placate the many slave owners among them.

In one way or another, Ronald Reagan is responsible for the other two factors. Reagan started the movement to allow single companies to own many media outlets in the same town and nationally and ended the Fairness Doctrine, which made all broadcast stations air the views of the other side when they gave an editorial. These moves more than anything else enabled the fringe right-wing media like mega-giants FOX, Clear Channel and Sinclair Broadcasting to emerge as powerful voices in the marketplace of ideas. And it was Reagan who nominated two of the five justices who voted that the constitution prohibited Congress from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations in Citizens United; he also gave important career promotions to the other three voting to unleash the Koch money machine on the political system.

But pundits will continue to blame Democrats for their current status in state and federal governments. It’s easier than doing real analysis and telling the truth: our country has been taken over by a small but very well-heeled minority who have used their money to manipulate our political system to their own end and to pursue their own interests, even to the detriment of overwhelming numbers of their fellow citizens.