In trying to market to minorities, DirecTV inadvertently makes a racial slur against them

For a long time now, DirecTV, a television broadcast satellite service provider, has been making television commercials that insult their viewers by making them seem a little looney. A few years back, one spot featured a man overjoyed that he was receiving a DirecTV package worth about $350 a year as his inheritance instead of getting the business, house and bank accounts. At the time I wondered why DirecTV thought that its potential customers would want to see themselves depicted as fools.

The Summer 2018 edition of “our customers are crazy” TV spots touting DirecTV adds a disturbing element: a subtle undertone of racism that smears both African-Americans and Latinos, presenting them as bad parents who rush through the responsibilities of child-rearing to have more time to watch football games.

First a brief description of each spot, and then a discussion of why they are racist.

In the first spot that came out, earlier in the summer, an African-American father stands at the door of his young son’s room, leaned against the doorjamb, and starts spitting out homilies of advice such as “A firm handshake goes a long way” and “Nobody like a snitch.” The boy, who appears to be around eight or nine, looks more and more befuddled as his father continues. “Whatever the contractor tells you, add six months” “Never get the extended warranty.” Finally, just before fleeing the scene, the father says “Birds? Bees? You get it. Cool.” He doesn’t see the totally confused expression on the boy’s face, nor hear his short, almost apologetic “Huh,” because he’s already out the door.

Where to? The TV room, where we see the entire family watching television underneath the screen-filling caption, “MAKE ROOM FOR SUNDAY.” Meanwhile, the voice-over announcer makes the pitch: “Get every live game every Sunday for no charge when you switch to DirecTV.”

The other commercial started to air a few weeks later, at least in the New York area. It takes the same form, except the lead-up to the family watching football on TV and the sales pitch is a scene of two Latino girls—maybe 11 and 9 years old—selling lemonade outside their middle class home with a big yard. A customer asks for a glass and the mother suddenly appears with an enormous plastic cup into which she slowly pours two complete pitchers of lemonade. The customer and kids look startled, but the mother insists on pouring every drop out of both pitchers. Then she starts to gather the cashbox and other paraphernalia on the table and says, “Time to pack up.” Again, we cut to the family watching football on TV and the big headline “MAKE ROOM FOR SUNDAY.”

In both these spots, parents rush through their responsibilities to their children so that they—and the kids—have more time to watch football on TV.

Bad parents, or at least a humorous caricature of bad parenting, to be sure. But what makes these spots racist?

There is no third commercial featuring a white (or an Asian or Jewish) family. Every person in the series of spots is a minority. The only bad parents we see are minority parents. The only parents who mistakenly think quality time is watching television sports with your child are minority parents.

These spots play endlessly on cable television especially during Yankee games and other sporting events. You would think a TV ad campaign lasting as long as this one would have at least three spots, which when I had an ad agency was pretty standard for an ad series. Perhaps DirecTV and its ad agency wanted to market the dish TV service specifically to minorities who love football, using their long-term advertising brand of caricaturing the foibles of their customers. Maybe they figured since they were targeting only two minority groups that they only needed two spots. Maybe they thought they could save money that way. Maybe.

The insensitivity of DirecTV and its ad agency penetrates down to the details. Most 21st century advertisers are aware of the large number of single-parent families and so try to represent them in TV campaigns consisting of multiple spots. That explains why there is no father watching football on TV in the ad about the Latino family. But hold on a minute! Don’t they know that Latinos have the lowest rate of divorce in the United States? Maybe DirecTV thinks the father was swept up in a Trump immigration raid.

I’m not accusing DirecTV of overt racism, just of insensitivity and stupidity that led to racist undertones permeating the two spots. Clearly the company wants to expand its market among Latin and African-American populations, which is why they featured them. But not to have at least one ad in which a white mother or father models bad behavior in a comic way creates a subliminal false impression that minorities are bad parents, especially among the pro-Trump, white supremacist crowd.

Before taking convention vote from super delegates, did the Dems consider that’s what the GOP did and it helped Trump win the nomination?

Before Democrats start patting themselves on the back for curtailing the power of super delegates at the national convention to nominate a presidential candidate, consider this: If the Republicans had super delegates in 2016, Donald Trump might never have been nominated.

Super delegates are typically high-ranking party machers who until now have been able to vote for any candidate they want at the convention, which differs from most delegates, who are obliged to vote according to the results of the primary or state convention. Just 15% of total delegates, the super delegates usually include people who have worked for the party for decades, winning elections, campaigning for other candidates and raising money for the party and other candidates. Specifically, a super delegate has to be a member of the Democratic National Committee, a current governor, senator, congressional representative or a current or former president or vice president. In a real sense, they represent the continuing party establishment and the institutional memory of the party.

Super delegates became a hot issue in the 2016 primaries, with supporters of Bernie Sanders claiming they gave Hillary Clinton an unfair advantage. The facts on the ground say differently. Hillary won a majority of both voters and delegates selected in the primaries. Bernie did garner a number of super delegates. While awareness that most super delegates wanted Hillary certainly caused other elected officials to endorse her, the idea that super delegate support of Hillary translated to more primary votes is a big stretch. Voters listened—or didn’t listen—to Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, Bill Clinton and Elizabeth Warren not because they were super delegates, but because of their past actions and reputation.

Under the new rules, super delegates will be unable to vote for candidates during the first round of voting. Only if there is a deadlocked convention will they be able to cast a ballot. The last time that happened was in 1952, when Adlai Stevenson was nominated on the third ballot. The super delegates will likely never have a chance to cast a vote.

I would imagine that moving forward, some if not most governors, congressional reps and DNC members will wangle a way to be a regular delegate so that they can have a vote at the convention. The net effect will be that fewer of the obscure party workers at the local and statewide level will have votes. If a state has to reserve a delegate spot for a senator, there will be one less to give to a grass roots organizer. Thus, in a perversely counterintuitive way, the move to be more democratic may end up making the conventions less democratic.

The larger concern, however, is that the super delegates could serve as a bulwark against an inappropriate candidate with widespread name recognition winning a bunch of primaries in an open field with well less than 50% of the vote in any state. For the sake of argument, let’s call that candidate Donald Trump. In such a situation, the super delegates could serve as the conscience of the party and block the nominee, either at the convention or before the late primaries. Remember that, until the candidates started dropping like flies, Trump was winning early primaries with well less than 40% of the vote. He used his enormous name recognition based on his reality TV show and the false myth he was a successful business mogul to squeeze out wins over a large, fragmented field. Super delegate support of another candidate would have changed the math and perhaps stopped the autocratic and erratic Trumpty-Dumpty.

But the super delegate remedy for someone who is either a demagogue or does not represent the basic values of the party was not available to the Republicans in 2016. The Republicans ended the super delegate option some years ago. In the early months of the 2016 campaign, Republican super delegates would most likely have gone for Jeb Bush, and if not Jeb, for Marco Rubio or John Kasich. Let’s be clear: as president, these candidates would likely have supported lowering taxes on the wealthy, nominating ultra-right judges, loosening gun control laws, cutting social welfare programs including healthcare, increasing the military budget and reducing government regulations. But they would not have walked away from the Iran and Paris agreements, not have started a trade war with both our allies and most important trading partner, not have instituted senseless and sadistic immigration policies. They would not have overtly appealed to white supremacists. They would not have hurt and embarrassed the country by spewing out stupidities and lies day after day. I doubt we would be talking about impeachment for corruption or traitorous conspiracy with a foreign power less than two years into the administration of any other Republican candidate for president.

Super delegates strengthen a political party because they express the continuing will of the party. Not having super delegates fragments the party and puts greater power in the hands of the individuals running for office. It helps to turn parties, which are supposed to express collective agreement on broad principles, into collections of individuals who conveniently use the party label to run for office. The growth in the use of primaries over the past 50 years has democratized the process of selecting a presidential candidate, with the super delegates serving as a “check-and-balance” that can prevent a party takeover by a single individual. Essentially ending the role of super delegates is another step in the long-time trend for personalities to become more important than party and party platform, a game fixed in favor of the wealthy.

We won’t miss super delegates as long as the Bernie’s and Hillary’s are running for office. But imagine a rightwing celebrity or even a Democrat in name only like West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin with unlimited resources running against six or seven credible progressive Democrats in the primaries. Let’s say Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown Kamal Harris, Ron Weyden and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez split the vote, giving Manchin all the winner take-all primaries and the biggest share of votes in the other primaries. As progressive slowly drop out, Manchin gains strength and gains the backing of the essentially centrist and right-leaning mainstream media. The Dems could end up nominating someone who does not want universal healthcare, a higher minimum wage, a foreign policy based on creating partnerships not disputes, higher taxes on the wealthy and more spending on infrastructure and education or a regulatory regime that addresses global warming. All because the primary vote is fragmented and there are no super delegates to step in to assert the party’s values.

If it happened to the Republicans, it can happen to the Democrats, as well. In the name of a little more democracy at the convention, the Democrats may have perverted their broader democracy.

Look for a full term for Trump. He will never resign & the stability-loving political establishment won’t have the guts to either indict or convict him

In the 20th century, we would be entering the end game of Donald Trump’s ascendancy. His criminal conspiracy with Michael Cohen to ignore campaign financing laws would be enough to convince most voters that Trump is corrupt and has to go. Backroom negotiations between the two parties would determine whether Mike Pence would go, too, and if so, whether Trump would anoint—er ah, appoint—a traditional Republican like John Kasich or Mitt Romney as interim VP about to be president or have Nancy Pelosi or whoever is Speaker of the House take over as president. Political leaders would be relieved that they can change administrations without getting into the more destabilizing accusations regarding cooperation with the Russians to fix the 2016 election. Under extreme pressure from his closest supporters and the “wise men” (I would like to say “wise people” or “wise men and women,” but both would be inaccurate), of the Republican Party, Trump would announce his resignation.

Under normal—read: 20th century—circumstances, the resignation would occur in August because, as in 1974 when Nixon resigned in August, the Republican Party is facing a disaster in November, no matter what.  Why have the resignation affect another election cycle, when you can get all the bad stuff out of the way all at once.

But the standard model of representational democracy of the last century is not operative at the given time, for a several reasons:

  • Trump’s mental illness is of the type that will make him dig in and ignore the advice of Republican elders, believing he can depend on his loyal base to impose his untruths on reality.
  • Trump has helped too many people accomplish goals that go against the best interest of the country and its people, but do help either the ultra-wealthy or thin but well connected slices of the economy. The tax cut for the wealthy, increases in military spending, hardened immigration policies, dismantling of environmental regulations, backing out of the Paris Accord, Iran nuclear agreement and other international agreements, easing of regulations on for-profit schools, changing Justice Department policies that helped enforce the civil rights of minorities, encouraging white supremacy—all of these are bad policies, but most represent what the Republican Party stands for in the 21st century.
  • A large portion of the mass media and a large number of very well-financed independent internet voices may continue to support Trump, spewing out misleading accounts, lies and false accusations to protect him.
  • Never before has so much political discourse and policy been based on lies that go against basic proven science. Lies and disproven theories have always poisoned our political discourse, as can be quickly seen by reviewing speeches given by Southern politicians in the 19th century or by imperialists in the 1890-1920 period. From time to time, administrations have forged policies based on untruths, especially as related to the reasons to go to war or to cut taxes on the wealthy. But the quantity of lies told by this administration raises public mendacity beyond a thresh hold of decency and sustainability.

One thing that seems to remain from the pre-21st century political consensus is the idea that stability is more important than anything else. Our ruling elite has always solved constitutional crises by avoiding them—except in the case of the war in 1861-1865 between the United States and the 13 treasonous states that tried to leave the union and attack our country so that they could maintain and spread their slave regimes. Just think of what we have avoided since World War I: The ruling elite let an ailing Wilson remain president. Nixon didn’t contest the 1960 election. Nixon resigned rather than force an indictment. The ruling elite let a senile Reagan complete his term. Gore did not contest the 2000 election. We swept Bush II torture and lies about the Iraq War under the table rather than prosecute high administration officials. The demand for stability in the system made Republicans accept Trump instead of working to deny him the nomination at the convention or launching a third party bid. The quest for stability made the Electoral College voters decide not to follow their constitutional duty to prevent the election of someone representing, in the words of James Madison, “a number of citizens whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”

Avoidance of instability is the reason, I think, that so many constitutional scholars assert that a sitting president cannot be indicted. Nowhere in the constitution is there anything written that says that a president is above the law. The best the experts can hope to do is tease out the idea that because the constitution mentioned impeachment that implies the founding white fathers (again, an accurate, if tragic phrase) ruled out normal due process when a president is suspected of breaking the law.

If Mueller doesn’t indict, or if a rightwing court upholds the dubiously autocratic and certainly not originalist principle that a sitting president can’t face indictment, it leaves Congress to act to end this abomination of an administration. That other government officials have been both impeached and indicted undercuts this idea.

Three times the House of Representatives has considered impeachment. Nixon resigned before Congress could act on the notion. Twice, presidents were impeached, both times for political reasons more than any legal offense they committed. Don’t get me wrong—Andrew Johnson was a despicable racist who was dragging his feet on Reconstruction, but the reason he was impeached was inherently political: because he fired Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Clinton’s impeachment was most certainly political in nature, given seven years of investigation revealed no corruption and no law-breaking except fibbing about having an affair.

Assuming the Democrats win the House, it’s a safe bet that Trump will be impeached. But it will take 66 Senate votes to convict Trump, and the Democrats may not even win the Senate in November because of the rare oddity that they have so many candidates up for reelection. The central question may thus turn out to be how many Republicans will ignore the fact that Trump has delivered so much of their agenda and vote to convict? How much bad stuff about Trump’s active collusion with Russia and his ham-handed attempts to cover up his treason will it take for Republican Senators to find or relocate their basic decency?

My fear is that like always, the political elites will decide to resolve the issue in the way that maintains the greatest stability and illusion of continuity. Thus, if Trump refuses to resign—as he no doubt will do—the United States will likely have to live out a full four years of corruption, bad policies, increasing consolidation of power in the hands of the presidency and a severe weakening of both our economy and our standing in the world.

All for the illusion of stability.

Admiral McRaven’s Spartacus moment reminds us of the day the Obama Administration forgot about due process

In the latest episode of the battle between Donald Trump and the American security establishment, retired Admiral William H. McRaven, the officer in charge of the military operation that captured and killed Osama bin Laden, aggressively challenged Trumpty-Dumpty to take away his security clearance. But while we should applaud the Admiral for his guts to tell Trump off, we should also remember that McRaven was central to one of the most unfortunate moments of the Obama presidency: the killing, instead of capture, of Osama bin Laden.

In an open letter published in the Washington Post, Admiral McRaven condemned Donald Trump for revoking former Central Intelligence Director John Brennan’s security clearance. McRaven essentially threw the gauntlet down to Trump in a bold “double-dare-you” statement: “I would consider it an honor if you would revoke my security clearance as well, so I can add my name to the list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency,” he said.

McRaven was not the only public letter denouncing Trump’s latest outrage against both freedom of speech and our security agencies. A joint letter from six former CIA directors, five former deputy directors and a former director of national intelligence called Trump’s action “ill-considered and unprecedented.” They said it “has nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances — and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech.”

More than one commentator has called it a “Spartacus,” moment, referencing the scene in the Howard Fast novel and the Stanley Kubrick film when a vast army of men stand up and claim to be Spartacus, the leader of the slave rebellion whom the Romans want to put to death. Contemplating McRaven’s history, however, made me think of another fiction, A Tale of Two Cities, because it was a “far, far better thing that” McRaven did this week than he has ever done before.

“Operation Neptune Spear,” the 2011 secret maneuver to storm the Pakistani mountain compound where the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks was hiding, could have been McRaven’s and President Obama’s finest moment, a “teachable moment” moment as Obama used to say, in which the United States showed the world what “due process” and “the rule of law” were all about. We capture the monster and give him a fair trial. But instead, McRaven’s men killed bin Laden while technically usurping Pakistan’s sovereignty, which lost America the high ground in the battle for the hearts and minds of the Islamic world. We didn’t show a better way, but the same way as Al Qaida: violence.

At the time, the news media superficially investigated the key question at hand: Was the primary objective to capture bin Laden or to kill him outright? In the days following the raid, then White House anti-terrorism advisor Brennan and CIA Director Leon Panetta both essentially said that the mission was open to capturing Osama alive if he proved not to be a threat. But, as Wikipedia tells it, an unnamed U.S. national security official told Reuters “’this was a kill operation’ making clear there was no desire to try to capture bin Laden alive in Pakistan.” Another source reported that officials told the Navy SEALS who were being trained to carry out the mission, “We think we found Osama bin Laden, and your job is to kill him.”

Now I’m not condemning Admiral McRaven or his brave crew. They were just following orders. I blame the Obama Administration for not putting a greater emphasis on taking Osama alive, in stressing the importance of showing the world how a real democracy with a fair legal system operates. I understand that many at the time were concerned that a trial of Osama would result in unrest throughout the Muslim world. Maybe so and maybe no, no one knows for sure. But it certainly would have shown solidarity with the overwhelming number of Muslims throughout the world who are peaceful and anti-terrorist.

Seven years later, the news media seems to be accepting the death of Osama as an unalloyed good. In describing the distinguished career of Admiral McRaven, it seems as if virtually every broadcast reporter or commentator mentions that he “led the team that killed Osama bin Laden” with swelling pride. I must have heard at least eight or nine news anchors or pundits use those same exact words, “led the team that killed Osama bin Laden,” and all delivered them with the same confidence that all the viewers are in 100% agreement that killing Osama was an absolute positive, and not a missed opportunity. It’s true that in all cases the mainstream media wanted to build McRaven’s credentials to enhance the credibility of his words and to set the stage for this latest episode in the continuing reality series, “Donald Trump against the truth.” But beyond the effort to present the admirable admiral in a good light I believe stands an open-armed acceptance by both the mass media and most political and civic leaders that we had the right and the need to wreak vengeance on an evil menace. Once again, we have put the barbaric desire to quench our bloodthirstiness above the assertion of the rule of law.

So while my hat is sincerely off to McRaven, I want to remind everyone that his true heroism has come this week in opposing the lunatic autocrat, and not seven years ago in ending the life of the angry terrorist.

U.S. spends 40% of world’s total military budget & it’s controlled by an inconsistent & bellicose ignoramus who favors disruption over working together & shows no regard for victims

I saw a terrifying graphic on the last page of the most recent Fortune magazine: a chart of military spending worldwide since 1950 in constant dollars, based on numbers from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Surprise, surprise, surprise, military spending is at record levels worldwide when adjusted for inflation, an incredible $1.74 trillion in 2017.

The numbers are shocking. The governments of the world spend more than three times on weapons and soldiers than they did during the Korean War and about 25% more than at the height of the Cold War in the 1980s. As a species we are armed to the teeth.

Not surprisingly, like every year since 1950, the United States spends far and away the most on its military, about $610 billion in 2017, 40% of the world’s total and more than 2.5 times spent by the nation in second place, China, which laid out $228 billion for defense. And 2017 is not the peak, as the U.S. Defense Department budget for 2018 is $716 billion, an increase of about 17% in one year. This enormous expansion of spending on soldiers and weapons includes billions of dollars to develop two horrifying new weapons which should be outlawed across the globe: a new generation of nuclear bombs and robotic weapons systems that will operate without human command.

Our budgets for education, mass transit and other infrastructure improvements, healthcare and scientific research certainly did not increase by 17%. In fact Republicans and the Trump Administration want to make massive cuts to the domestic budget. While we brandish our drones and bombs on virtually every continent, our mass transit systems shrivel, our sewers and bridges corrode, our roads form so many potholes they resemble obstacle courses, our children are packed like sardines into classes, we continue to lose our edge in pure science and we have among the highest mortality rates in the industrialized world. If the trends of the past 35 years continue, pretty soon we’ll have an impenetrable defense protecting a ticky-tacky pile of garbage.

The amount we spend on arms becomes even more ridiculous when we convert it to per capita spending. Using the SIPRI numbers and population estimates pulled from various sources, I calculated that in 2017, the United States spent about $1,871 per person on our armed forces, set to increase to $2,198 in 2018. By contrast, the number two total spender on arms is China, which spent about $174 per person on its military last year, significantly below the $229 spent worldwide per person. It seems as if the Chinese are able to keep its population—four times as great as ours—safe for a fraction of what it costs us. Of course, Chinese weapons manufacturing is a cottage industry compared to the enormous and politically connected industrial behemoths in the United States.

When the military expenditures of the top 10 spenders worldwide are converted into per capita amounts, the United States stands alone with the autocratic, anti-Semitic, terrorist-supporting regime of Saudi Arabia, which spends $2,090 per person on its military. The other eight countries on the Top 10 list spend well under $1,000 a year per person on defense, ranging from $64 per capita in India to $865 per capita in France. Some countries that aren’t in the top 10 of spenders: Iran-$178 per capita; Turkey-$225 per capita; Israel-$1,951 per capita on military spending!!

(By the way, the SIPRI website is a great place to find scary numbers about the global arms industry. Besides providing the annual military spending of all countries since 1949, SIPRI has customizable databases of all international transfers of major conventional arms since 1950; the 100 largest arms-producing and military services companies; and all peace (read: armed intervention) operations conducted since 2000, including location, dates of deployment and operation, mandate, participating countries, number of personnel, costs and fatalities.

Even more frightening than the simple fact that the world is awash in guns and soldiers is that 40% of it is controlled by Donald Trump, an inconsistent, insecure and bellicose ignoramus who seems to favor disruption over working together and shows little regard for victims (and in fact may enjoy creating new victims).

Wait, wait, my esteemed readers may ask. We’re a democracy with one set of checks and balances in Congress and the courts, and another in a strong and talented cadre of career military, state, security and diplomatic personnel who transcend administrations. But these checks and balances only work when used. Congress has proven itself unwilling to put limits on the military actions of any president since Lyndon Baines Johnson. And when military misdeeds such as the Iran-Contra deal or the Bush II torture gulag are uncovered, Congress has decided against punishing the president and other decision-makers who committed the crimes. President Obama’s approach to torture exemplifies the American way: let’s sweep the past under a rug and make sure it doesn’t happen again. Meanwhile, career military and diplomatic personnel wring their hands in anguish as Trump makes outrageous statements and policy decisions regarding Russia, North Korea, NATO and Iran.

Which brings us to the latest military spending bill, to which Trumpty Dumpty affixed his signature this week. While broadcast and cable news and the front pages of major newspapers have focused on Trump calling an ex-employee a “dog” and pulling the security clearance of the former Central Intelligence Agency Director who took down Osama bin Laden, buried deep in a handful of newspapers is the news that in signing the military spending bill, Trump claimed in a signing statement that he has the authority to overrule dozens of provisions that he believes constrains his executive power. What that means is that he and his cronies believe that they do not have to follow the law as written.

According to the New York Times, Trump’s signing statements claim he can :

  • Ignore a ban on recognizing Russian sovereignty over Crimea.
  • Bypass restrictions on bilateral military-to-military cooperation between the United States and Russia.
  • Ignore a provision requiring the Pentagon to develop uniform standards for counting and reducing civilian bystander deaths as a result of American military operations.
  • Disregard a restriction against reducing the number of active-duty troops stationed in South Korea below 22,000.


Judging from how Congress has responded in the past when presidents have ignored the law in prosecuting foreign wars, what the $716 billion represents is a pool of money that Trump can essentially use in any way he sees fit, as long as the military contractors get their piece of the pie.

Donald Trump’s history of developing and running hotels and casinos demonstrates that when you give this guy a few billion bucks, he screws it all up, losing money for investors and wreaking havoc for suppliers. Now he has $716 billion dedicated to warfare…excuse me…defense…so the mess he creates is bound to be bigger and more painful for its victims. Let’s hope it doesn’t result in a “Big Bang,” this one not creating a new universe but ending human life on our small planet.

Unfortunately, voting for Democrats across the board may not help change our foreign policy. This year’s mid-term is coalescing around a handful of very important issues—healthcare, economic equity, immigration, racism, and the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The Democratic position on all these issues is far better than the Republicans for everyone in the United States except for the ultra-wealthy. The Republic Party has allowed itself to be hollowed out and taken over by what pundits like to call the “Trump base” So by all means pull the lever for any and every Democrat in November.

But as usual, not much is being said about defense spending or foreign policy, and for good reason. From Harry Truman through Obama, both parties have pretty much agreed on the broad outline of defense strategy and foreign policy. Even those who have called for a reduction or eradication of nuclear weapons like Obama have approved budgets that contained increased spending for these weapons of mass destruction. Thus, if the Democrats sweep and then manage to impeach and convict the current president and vice president, the United States may return to being a more consistent alley, but we will still be a bellicose, overly militarized nation. We will still continue to rely on force to get our way far too often, even as we negotiate and enter into peace and trade agreements.

With school districts all over the country putting armed guards into schools, it’s only a matter of time before a school guard shoots down an African-American parent

Try going to Google News and entering “armed guards in schools” and you will gain access to hundreds of articles about school districts nationwide taking additional security measures for the upcoming academic year. Most often mentioned is the posting of armed guards—usually one per school, but bringing guns into schools is not the only step school districts are taking to attempt to prevent a mass murder at their facilities. Across the country, local and national news media are reporting an increase in locked doors, buzz-in systems for visitors, hand-held metal detectors, active shooter lockdown drills and staff training. Districts are mandating the use of clear backpacks, increasing student mental health services and doing random searches.

Except for expanding mental health services and placing armed guards in schools, all of these changes involve restricting the freedom of individuals. Students and visitors will have to go through security. Others will be forced to buy new backpacks or have to undergo random searches of their lockers and backpacks. It’s indeed ironic how easily American legislators are to restrict individual freedoms, except the freedom to own guns. By contrast, our leaders fear any and all restrictions on corporations, even those that protect the health and safety of individuals.

My first emotion in perusing article after article about new security measures mixes amusement with anger. I’m amused in an ironic way that school boards can so quickly find money to increase security after years of claiming poverty, but angry that the same money—and more—has not been made available for decades to improve education. The frown gets the best of the chuckle when I consider that some if not most education systems may be paying for the new guards by cutting teachers or postponing purchases of new computers or textbooks. For decades, state and federal governments have been shaving public school budgets or letting money be reallocated to the failed educational experiment called “charter schools.” We have slowly tried to starve public education, so it’s particularly unfortunate that we feel obliged to spend money on addressing a safety problem in the schools that is of our own making.

Keep in mind that it’s possible that the districts spending the most on added security are the wealthy ones that can afford it, those that haven’t seen enrichment programs and small class sizes go by the wayside in the wake of shrinking budgets. That wealthy kids enjoy both better education and better protection merely reinforces the inequity of income, wealth and opportunity that is destroying the American dream and the dreams of most Americans.

The big question is will the added security measures work? The answer will depend on how we define success. If we look just at school shootings, it’s anyone’s guess, because the various factors interact in complex ways. Which of these measures really help and which only make us feel good? How effective will the authorities be in addressing the sickos whom enhanced mental health counseling identifies? Will the primarily white Christian terrorists who commit these acts figure out ways to get around the new security measures? Can a security guard deal effectively with a crazed killer brandishing one or more AR-15s who has no fear of his own death?

The only prediction I will offer is that the sooner or later an African-American father trying to visit a guidance counselor at a primarily white school will be shot down by a security guard.

If we, however, don’t limit ourselves to schools, but ask a broader question, Will new security measures lead to an overall reduction in gun violence?, the answer is clear. No way. Because so many schools are bringing guns onto campus, the number of guns in circulation in the country will increase. An increase in the number of guns will lead to an increase in gun violence and gun deaths. Every shred of research done on the topic in the United States and across the world has always come to the same conclusion: The more guns in a society, the greater the gun violence, the fewer guns, the less gun violence. The unintended consequence of placing more armed guards at any public location has to by definition be an increase in gun violence, even if that increase doesn’t come where the guards are posted.

Thus, arming school personnel will contribute to a reduction of gun violence and deaths if and only if we take measures to reduce the number of guns elsewhere in society. I’m fairly certain that a comprehensive package of federal gun control laws would do more to make our children safe in schools—and elsewhere—than the best efforts of all the school boards across the country to “harden” the campus with guards, buzzers, drills and searches.

I’m the left-wing nut who wants to outlaw all private ownership of firearms and make hunters and recreational target shooters rent or store their guns at hunting lodges, gun clubs and shooting ranges. But even my radical eyes can see that there are a number of actions we can take that allow individuals the privilege of owning firearms yet keep people safe, including:

  • Ban private ownership of all automatic and semi-automatic weapons and require those who currently own such weapons to sell them to the government or face still jail time.
  • Improve the gun national registry and increase participation by the states.
  • Increase to seven days the waiting period to purchase guns and extend the waiting requirement to all gun purchases, even those at gun shows and on the internet.
  • Require all individuals to pass a rigorous written and operational test before being allowed to buy or own a gun, similar to a driver’s test, and retest every 5-10 years.
  • Require all gun owners to carry firearms insurance.
  • Ban open and closed carry at all schools, universities, downtowns, malls, theatres and other public places.
  • End all “stand your ground” laws.

I have expressed the radical form of virtually all these ideas to limit and control guns in United States. More moderate versions in all cases are approved by large majorities of Americans, including majorities of gun owner. Both surveys and my extensive anecdotal evidence find that virtually all gun owners would have no problem with longer waiting times. Most don’t see any reason for anyone to own an AR-15. Most would be happy to keep guns away from known bad actors, those with ties to terrorist organizations, domestic abusers and the mentally ill.

The only impediment in the way of reducing gun violence are our elected officials who are too frightened to oppose the National Rifle Association (NRA) or depend on NRA largess for their election. Pundits assume that Russia funneled tens of millions of dollars to the NRA to help elect the Republican candidate for president in 2016. But think about it. By fostering greater ownership of firearms and therefore greater gun violence, the NRA weakens the United States, with or without the excesses of Donald Trump.

Italy weakening its child vaccination law is a broader part of the retreat from science and knowledge that’s happening in Italy, the United States and elsewhere

More bad news this week for the children of the world. Italy is relaxing its child vaccination law, which means fewer Italian children will get the basic panel of vaccinations needed to protect them from some very terrible diseases such as polio, diphtheria and Hepatitis B.

Universal vaccination would pretty much wipe out virtually all ten of the diseases against which the Italian government wants all children to get vaccinated. A recent Italian law requires all parents and guardians to provide written proof that their children have been vaccinated against these ten ailments. The law followed an outbreak of more than 5,000 cases of measles in Italy in one year, 34% of all cases in the half billion person European Union, an outsized number: Italy’s population represents only 12% of the EU. The medical community in Europe and around the world was delighted by the new legislation.

But the new Trump-like League- Five Star coalition government of Italy has decided to loosen the rule.Now parents will only be required to confirm verbally that their children have received vaccinations against these ten scourges.  Matteo Salvini, Deputy Prime Minister and member of the anti-immigrant, far-right League, has been quoted as saying the ten obligatory vaccinations “are useless and in many cases dangerous, if not harmful….I confirm the commitment to allow all children to go to school.

With that kind of encouragement, we can be certain that lying will go up and child vaccinations will go down. Sadly, illnesses and deaths among Italian children will soar.

The ten diseases, BTW, are polio, diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis B, haemophilus influenzae B, measles. mumps, rubella, whooping cough and chickenpox.

The origin of the contemporary anti-vaccination movement in both Italy and the United States was a fraud perpetrated on the medical community and the families of the world by a British gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield in 1995. Wakefield published a study in The Lancetclaiming children who had the Mumps/Measles/Rubella vaccination were more likely to have bowel disease and autism. He followed it up with another article in 1998. But the good doctor had cooked the books. By 2004, the medical community realized that Wakefield was full of it. That hasn’t stopped anti-vaxers from spouting his bogus research ever since.

When a celebrity or politician talks nonsense about the supposed dangers of vaccination, well-meaning, uneducated parents listen and sometimes decide not to vaccinate, putting both their children and the entire community in danger. That’s why I still believe that while it came early in his campaign, perhaps the most odious, horrific lie that Donald Trump has told to the American people was when he claimed in a debate that he personally knew someone whose child became autistic after being vaccinated. Impossible. Overwhelming clinical evidence proves beyond all doubt that there is absolutely no connection, correlation or relationship between vaccinations and autism. Trump was telling a lie that, like all Trump lies, a sizeable slice of the American public willingly will swallow in one gulp. How shameful to put children at risk to pander to a disproven idea.

But Trump routinely puts children at risk, sometimes with the sadistic glee of a cat batting a mouse around between its paws. The current Nationdetails five distinct ways that his administration imposes “sometimes fatal burdens of children—especially black and brown ones.”The article mentions the separation of children from their families at borders; the travel ban which, as it turns out, has a disproportionately negative effect on children; work requirements for recipients of health and welfare aid; a rolling back of Department of Education efforts to rein in unfair disciplining of African-American children; and efforts to scuttle the World Health Organization resolution favoring breastfeeding. Bullies always pick on people who can’t fight back, so it makes sense that Trump and his followers target children for their cruelty.

The tragedy of what will happen to many children is not the only alarming aspect of this change in the Italian law. The news media is reporting that the medical and scientific community believes that the statements of government officials and the vote to loosen the law increases distrust of science in Italy.

Americans know, or don’t know, something about the distrust of science. The mass media has been sowing it for years by giving coverage to wacky theories like vaccinations cause autism; treating global warming as an open questions years after science decided the issue; giving a platform to creationists; routinely denigrating intellectual endeavors; writing in feature story after feature story that school is boring; and attributing negative traits to intelligent people, e.g. socially maladroit, physically unattractive, unathletic, unstylish and awkward.

Trump, of course, has taken this anti-truth, anti-science crusade to a new level. This failed businessman turned celebrity routinely lies and uses those lies to develop and implement policies that flaunt science and scientific research. He and his administration make up lies about immigrant crime, the unfairness of current trade agreements, climate change, the renting of children to allow bad guys to cross borders, the benefit to the economy of tax cuts, the reasons behind epidemic of mass shootings, and just about everything else.  The latest addition to the hit parade of mendacity is the claim that dropping the gas mileage standards on trucks and car will benefit the economy. Trumpites have a deep distrust in experts of all kinds, especially experts who speak against their cherished beliefs, superstitions and prejudices.

The death of newspapers. The rise of the irrational as a force in social media. The decline in the number of people reading books. The gutting of scientists and other professional experts from key government positions. The continued decline in government support of public schools and colleges. Everywhere we see signs of a retreat from knowledge.

It’s happened before in world history, for example in Western Europe after the death of Charlemagne when most intellectual endeavors retreated to monasteries under the auspices of a superstitious church or during the later years of the Song dynasty when the examination system to decide who would run the country was corrupted by wealthy people wanting to make sure their children were well-positioned. Willful ignorance of the facts on the ground is probably a significant factor in the decline of all civilizations and countries. Decline always comes with extreme pain, and those who suffer most are almost always the children.

The real tragedy of separating children from their parents will come years from now when the kids suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

These past few days, I’ve been feeling a special empathy with the children whom the United States government ripped from their families at the border and sent to special facilities. My empathy comes from knowing in the most intimate way possible some of the emotional challenges that these children will face throughout their lives.

You see, I’ve been having one of my occasional bouts of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) caused by traumatic events I suffered during my childhood. My PTSD manifests itself as sudden feelings of unexplained anxiety or full-blown panic attacks in which I lose all control of my ability to focus, have hot and cold flashes at the same time, feel as if I’m going to burst out of my skin, and am unable to focus on anything. I’ll spend hours alternatively pacing and trying to remain still long enough to get some work done or sleep. I sometimes also experience sudden feelings of guilt, shame and anger, all typical of survivors of war, natural disasters, epidemics, famine, family suicide or childhood trauma.

My occasional symptoms are not the only manifestations of PTSD that inflict sufferers. Far from it. Here are some worse ones: Substance abuse, flashbacks, bad dreams, extreme depression, sleeplessness, loss of memory, sudden bouts of aggression, an inability to form relationships and a lack of trust in others, even loved ones. Everyone can experience these problems from time to time, but when they last more than a month and someone has been involved in a shooting war, raped, escaped a flood or lost their home, it’s a safe bet that they have PTSD.

Experts like to estimate the percentage of people who have had a specific trauma who end up suffering from PTSD, e.g. only (only!) 30% of Vietnam War veterans will display PSTD symptoms during their lives. Overall, the medical community believes that about 10% of the population will have PSTD, with the occurrence more common in women. I think all the official percentages of those experiencing traumatic conditions who end up with PSTD are low. Lots of people just suffer in silence, or they present symptoms that are poorly understood, e.g., the horde of men who came home from World War II and turned into distant, unemotional fathers and focused their waking hours solely on their careers and/or hid their fears and anxieties inside a bottle. As significant as underreporting is under-diagnosis: society has a vested interest in minimizing the psychic damage to those who fight wars; women who suffer sexual abuse; and the poor, usually minorities, who face food insecurity or have been moved out of their neighborhoods by urban planning or gentrification.

Whatever the unalloyed numbers are, only a fool or an ideologue would deny that a large percentage of the children torn from their families at border crossings will be scarred for life, unhappy, unable to achieve their potential, prone to depression or substance abuse, perhaps always feeling like a lonely outsider. These are human tragedies that didn’t have to occur.

But wait, the cynic among us, will say. These children were refugees from natural disasters or violence, so they already have undergone much trauma. These self-serving apologists seem to forget the special bond between children and their parents. Before the teen years, children’s lives revolve around their parents, who protect them, shelter them, feed them, love them, teach them basic values and provide them with models of human behavior. There’s a lot that parents do to protect children from trauma. They can do without so their children get what they need. They can turn a flight from terror into an adventure. They can articulate a rosy vision of the wonderful future in their new home. They can hug them and tell them they love them and that everything is going to turn out fine.

War, famine, terror, flooding, food insecurity, a sudden plunge into poverty—all children or young adults will handle any trauma better when part of a loving (or even not so loving) family when they face these evils.

But to do it without a parent? To be alone in a large cage inside a windowless building, being herded around by ominous-looking strangers, not knowing if and when you’ll ever see your family—the center of your life—again, not knowing where they are? Why were you torn away from them? When will you see them again? Why won’t they come get you? Don’t they love you anymore?

No matter how horrible a child’s life has been, it gets worse when it is taken from its family. Always.

The Trump Administration has tried an odious argument in favor of parent-child separations, stating that in many cases, the adults aren’t really the parents, but drug dealers who bought, borrowed or stole the children to make it easier to get through border control. Oh, sure there are. Just as there really was at least one woman on welfare who drove a late-model, fully-loaded Cadillac in the late 1970s. And I’m sure that Willie Horton really did commit a violent crime while on parole. But like Reagan’s welfare queen and Bush I’s paroled violent offender, the child who is part of an elaborate ploy to gain illegal admittance to the United States is a statistical anomaly. Studies show that there has never been very much welfare fraud and that most cons on parole say clean. And I’m quite certain that virtually all children who arrive at the border with adults are coming with their parents or another close family member, and not a drug dealer.

Reagan, Bush I and Trump all argued from anecdote and not from fact. The fact is that the United States started doing the “extreme vetting” Trump called for during the 2016 presidential campaign long before Trump demanded that we build a wall along the Mexican border. The proof of it is in the fact that immigrants—legal and otherwise—commit far fewer crimes per capita than native-born Americans. Under Clinton, Bush II and Obama, we developed a state apparatus which is quite good at keeping out bad actors. Breaking up families has not helped fight drug smuggling. It has done nothing but increase misery and assure that perhaps thousands of children will have emotional problems later in life. There was never any reason to automatically separate children from their parents at border control points.

Except of course, to assuage the base urge to be cruel to the downtrodden.

The cruelty of creating thousands of future PTSD sufferers is part of the greater cruelty of turning away refugees at the border. It reminds me of the cruelty with which southern sheriffs enforced Jim Crow laws or attacked Civil Rights protesters. It reminds me of the cruelty with which German soldiers treated Jews, white masters treated African-American slaves, and conquerors have treated the conquered throughout the ages. It’s as if the perpetrator of pain took—and takes—a special sadistic pleasure in hurting others.

In all cases, the underlying reason for the cruelty may have been humanity’s essential bloodthirstiness, but the excuse was that these were lesser people or not people at all—animals as Trump sometimes calls non-European immigrants.

But human beings are not animals. Those who think that some people are animals or no better than animals or want to treat them as animals are despicable human beings. The real deplorables, to take a phrase from the winner of the 2016 presidential popular vote.

American policy at home and abroad should not be to create more victims of PSTD, but to reduce the circumstances that lead to this psychic ailment.

Will Catholics follow Pope Francis and clamor against the death penalty? And will the Church now campaign against state execution like it has against abortion?

By making the opposition to capital punishment part of church law, Pope Francis cited a moral reason to oppose the death penalty: because “it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.” Of course, morality is the first victim when people feel threatened. Fear stokes a certain American blood-thirstiness that made a majority of Americans approve the mass incarceration laws of the 1990s and the Bush II torture regime. Fear-induced bloodthirstiness has swayed large numbers of Americans to support the current administration’s mean-hearted treatment of immigrants and refugees.

Pew studies show that currently 54% of all Americans and 53% of Catholics favor the state killing people convicted of certain crimes. Only 39% of all Americans and 42% of Catholics oppose the death penalty. Will the Pope’s announcement change minds? Past experience suggest the answer is, “not many,” unless the Catholic Church engages in an aggressive campaign to promote the new position. Even that might not work, considering how many rightwing politicians depend on fear-mongering about crime, drugs, immigrants and terrorism to get elected.

Catholics in westernized nations, like their Jewish and Muslim cousins, find it an easy matter to reject religious teachings when it’s convenient for them to do so. A year ago, the Gutmacher Institute reported that 98% of all Catholic women will use birth control methods banned by the Church sometime in their lives. Another Gutmacher study showed that about 24% of all women who have abortions are Catholic. An older Gutmacher survey found that about 2.2% of Catholic women have an abortion each year, compared to 1.8% of Protestant women. About eight years ago, the National Center for Health Statistics reported that 61% of all American women will live in a sexual relationship with someone without the benefit of marriage sometime in their life; based on how Catholics compare to others when it comes to capital punishment, birth control and abortion, we can safely assume that the percentage among Catholics who cohabitate is about the same as the overall population. Thus, Catholics are used to using a “just say no” approach to the teachings of their religion.

We can only hope that the Catholic Church throws at least as many resources behind advocating against capital punishment as it has to oppose a woman’s right to control her own body.

Morality is just one of several reasons to oppose capital punishment. Here are some of the others:

  • It doesn’t work as a deterrent. The preponderance of the evidence from the studies done on the deterrent effect of capital punishment show that the fear of being executed does not stop murders. And it turns out that, as with a lot of research supporting rightwing positions, many studies claiming to show that capital punishment does deter people from taking the lives of others have severe methodological and mathematical errors. One researcher reran the numbers used in a survey supposedly proving that capital punishment works as a deterrent and found that it actually increased the murder rate!
  • Capital punishment is irrevocable: Juries make mistakes all the time. When the mistake is uncovered, the wrongly convicted person usually eventually gets out of jail. But society can’t reverse an execution.
  • Our adversarial legal system makes executing someone an expensive process. Executing an inmate on death row costs much more than sending an inmate to prison for life without the possibility of parole. Those sentenced to death are guaranteed by the Constitution to a very long, thorough and expensive judicial process before taking the needle. It costs states millions of dollars for each execution.
  • It is unfair, or at least will remain unfair as long as racism and poverty exist. The racial bias to capital verdicts in the United States has existed since record-keeping of such matters began. Wealthy people can afford expensive attorneys, whereas poor people often have to settle for overworked public defenders. The unfairness of capital verdicts reflects and magnifies the unequal treatment of minorities and the poor throughout the judicial system.
  • Virtually all other countries have abolished the death penalty: About 140 nations worldwide, including the vast majority of countries in Western Europe and the Americas, have abandoned capital punishment. The United States remains in the bad company of Iraq, Iran, China and other human rights abusers as countries still engaging in state execution. In the 21st century global village, capital punishment may have become “cruel and unusual punishment” and therefore inherently unconstitutional.
  • It demeans society. Capital punishment reduces society to the level of the murderer. As a society, we are supposed to be better than our worst elements.  Sparing the killer’s life makes us more human and more humane than the killer, and increases the value that our society puts on human life. Sparing the killer is an affirmation of our social contract to live in peace. Sparing the killer tells him or her, and the world, that when we say that human life is holy we mean it.

Of course, what the Pope is saying supersedes all these reasons. Even if capital punishment served as a deterrent, it would still be immoral. Even if it were no longer expensive for society or biased against racial minorities and the poor, it would still be immoral. Even if every country in the world allowed state executions, it would still be immoral.