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.

New York Times news staff makes up false narrative that there are extreme differences between left & mainstream Democrats, but never tell us what those differences are

An unstated but obvious unofficial policy of the New York Times is to undercut the Democratic Party in news stories, even as it pretends to support virtually all of the positions that Democrats hold in its editorials.

The game this year consists of using the heavily-charged word “socialist” as much as possible to describe the more left-leaning Democrats while playing up a supposed generational divide between more progressive millennials and their centrist-leaning elders. As we will see, it’s a completely false narrative meant to suppress the Democratic vote and drive independents to hold their nose and vote for Trump’s-boot-licking Republicans. (Begging the question: Is that “boot” or “bootie” to which servile GOP candidates have placed their puckered lips.)

This Sunday’s Times followed this false narrative to a tee. Both the front page lead story and the lead story of the national news page focused exclusively on the divide between mainstream Democrats and the charismatic Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other progressives who have won primaries. Both articles stress that Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders and others call themselves democratic socialists; sometimes the articles sometimes drop the “democratic.”

The problem is the Times never defines what a democratic socialist is and what democratic socialism stands for.

“Socialism,” of course has long been a dirty word in the United States invoking totalitarianism and complete social control to the right-wing and to the many centrists brainwashed by decades of fear of the Soviet Union’s corrupt and autocratic version of socialism. Right-wingers have long labeled such government programs as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps as “socialist” in hopes of convincing the public that because socialism was bad, so were these programs. They’ve labelled regulatory efforts as socialist. Their arguments would fail miserably unless the public accepted the premise that socialism was evil.

Which of course, it’s not. Historically, socialism referred to the government collectively owning and administering the means of production and distribution of goods. But in the real world, there’s a vast continuum of government intervention and control. Europe provides a number of models of democratic socialism: governments addressing social challenges such as health care, retirement and education; unions having a greater say in the management of companies or in the development of national industrial policy; greater regulation of businesses to protect the environment or consumers or set standards of employment and wages. The European democracies, Japan, Canada, and—let’s face it—even the United States all have mixed economies that graft various socialist solutions onto private enterprise and the free market.

By not getting into any of what constitutes democratic socialism, the Times let’s stand the decades of fear-mongering rightwing demonization of the word “socialism.”

Moreover, the Times attempts to exaggerate the differences between more centrist and more leftist Democrats by never talking about what those differences are. The headline of one of the articles says “Democrats Are Bracing for a Progressive Storm Brewing Far to the Left.” The articles quote a number of Democrats suggesting that extreme differences exist between mainstream Democrats and the candidates subscribing to “hard-left ideology.”

Yet in the two articles, which stretch across more than two pages of text and photographs, only three times does the Times mention what position any Democrat has on any issue. A phrase of text and a photo caption point out that Ben Jealous, running for governor in Maryland, is in favor of single payer health care. The other reference is this weird sentence referring to voters in Republican districts: “Across most of the approximately 60 Republican-held districts that Democrats are contesting, primary voters have chosen candidates who seem to embody change — many of them women and minorities — but who have not necessarily endorsed positions like single-payer health care and abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency.” The only way to understand that sentence in the context of the article is to assume that single-payer and a desire to dismantle ICE are extremist positions with which mainstream Dems disagree.

The Times never mentions what the differences between the “far left” and the rest of the party are, never does an issue-by-issue comparison. And there’s a good reason for it. There are few real differences, and those that exist are quibbles, at best. While I’m quite confident that large numbers of Democrats do not want to see ICE abolished, virtually all want to see it reformed. Surveys suggest that most Dems like the single-payer concept when presented to them as “Medicare for all.”

Now let’s look at the large number of issues that the Times doesn’t mention. Surveys tell us that that virtually all Democrats:

  • Want to raise the minimum wage. The quibble in the past election cycle was that Bernie wanted to raise it to $15 right away, whereas Hillary wanted to do so over a period of time.
  • Want more government support of public education, especially higher education.
  • Think the tax package passed late last year was a giveaway to the rich and want to raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations.
  • Want to give the Dreamers a path to citizenship and help refugees seeking asylum in the United States.
  • Are against the dismantling of regulations that protect the environment and consumers.
  • Support a woman’s right to an abortion and fear that Roe v. Wade may be overturned.
  • Support the Mueller investigation and want to prosecute any American who collaborated with the Russians to fix the election in favor of any candidate.

Most of all, virtually every Democrat wants to rein in Donald Trump by electing a Congress that is not afraid to overrule his actions with legislation and make certain that his appointees are competent and not irrational ideologues or thieving cronies.

As we have seen, all Democrats pretty much share the same basic views, especially when contrasted with the Trumpublicans. The only way to conceal this underlying unity, however, is not to mention or talk about issues, something that the Times news staff has proven itself quite capable of doing.

In-country with Trump supporters: As long as there are tax cuts and a conservative Supreme Court, they’re happy

I took a brief trip to Pittsburgh this week during the two-day outburst of treasonous remarks by Donald Trump, who first said he believed Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin over U.S. intelligence services, then tried to weasel out of it by focusing on one word of one sentence of a long diatribe, but still managed to get in a dig undermining the intelligence agencies yet again.

Being in Pittsburgh meant I spent some time with two old friends who are Trump supporters. Although both are long-time Republicans, neither is a virulent racist and both are old-fashioned cold warriors, so their support of Trump in light of his denial of Russian tampering in the 2016 elections and the likelihood his campaign colluded with the Russians is both frightening and illuminating.

One of my friends is a high-level professional service vendor in his late 50s whose expertise mostly helps nonprofit organizations. He lives in a distant white suburb and is extremely Christian, building virtually all of his non-work life around his church. My guess is his family’s net worth is about like mine—upper middle class. The other friend is in his late 70s, retired from working for the government in a position in which he primarily interacted with poor people. For decades has also pursued a career in the arts that has made him prominent local presence. He lives in a diverse city neighborhood and has libertarian views on social matters, although he is definitely against a woman’s absolute right to get an abortion. He barely scrapes by on his pension and savings.

There are many things that should have offended these guys about Trump from the first. His all-too-frequent rude comments and multiple marriages and affairs should have disgusted my Christian friend. As a small business entrepreneur, he should have seen through Trump’s bluster and realized the Donald is a bad businessperson except in the narrow specialty of mass-appeal branding. He should have also resented the thousands of lawsuits filed against Trump for breaking contracts with small contractors and suppliers. The racism and treatment of women should have turned off my friend who lives in the city, who has a number of African-American acquaintances and is what I call a “true ladies’ man,” meaning he always has a lady friend because he respects women and treats them as equal, at least in public.

Both of these guys have a hard time accepting reality when it contradicts their beliefs, but in profoundly different ways. The fervent Christian is used to dealing with facts and reality and is ready to accept science, but when the facts undermine his basic beliefs, the scales seem to fall from his eyes for literally a nanosecond before forming again as he retreats into an almost catatonic state in which he keeps repeating a core doctrine. Several times over the years I have tried to convince him that lowering taxes on the wealthy and corporations does not create jobs or grow the economy. I have carefully explained that the government spends all its money, whereas rich folk and business put their extra cash from a tax break into assets that form bubbles, like real estate and secondary stock market. He admitted that he—like me—has put the proceeds from our recent tax break into the secondary stock market, meaning it doesn’t go to any company and creates no new jobs. He had this moment of realization that I was right and then his eyes glazed over and he said in an affectless, hypnotized drone, “Tax cuts are good. We should cut taxes more.” Another time, he and a group of other conservatives who all owned companies that serve nonprofit organizations were complaining that their business was down. I patiently explained that a large number of their clients depend on government contracts and cuts by federal and state governments were choking these organizations. I proposed that we raise taxes to what they once had been so the state had more money to fund these organizations, all of which deliver vital services. Again, I could see the look of epiphany in their eyes—the beam that says, Eureka, “Yes, he’s right!” Then almost in unison, as if members of a cult, they said, “Can’t raise taxes. Must lower taxes more.” My friend’s faith in the false Reaganist creed of cutting taxes is as strong as his faith in the truth of every word in the Bible.

My other friend argues from a cynicism born of no faith in anything. He explicitly states that he prefers to believe a single anecdote that supports his argument than reams of facts and studies that prove that what he thinks is wrong. Now in Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman uses extensive research to show that many if not most people are exactly the same, putting more credence in anecdotes than facts. But hardly anyone admits it as brazenly as my friend, who reasons that all research is suspect because it always reflects the biases of the people or organizations paying for it. He lives in a post-Karl Rove world in which reality is a construct of those strong enough to force their version on everyone else. It was Rove who said, “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” My friend’s argues that if all research is inherently corrupt, he might as well believe the stuff that supports his side. It’s the scholarly equivalent of fake news. All news is fake and all pursuits of knowledge are fake. If it sounds like Machiavellian rhetoric, that’s because it is. His true belief may rely on faith, but he maintains it through a cynical and amoral disregard of truth. In this, he resembles Trump.

When I asked them why they continue to support Trump, I get the same answer: Trump has done more good than bad. They mention they like the tax breaks, the Supreme Court justices and placing the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. They also point out that they don’t like the tariffs. No mention of the treatment of immigrants or the massive rollback of regulations that protect the environment and consumers. In a real way, my friends reflect the attitude of Republican leadership, which forgives anything Trump does or says, as long as they get their tax breaks, relief from government regulation and a conservative Supreme Court. If Trump delivers those things, they’ll overlook all of the man’s failings. And that includes treason.

The Trump Administration is never afraid to hurt children in its never-ending quest to create markets for its cronies

There always have been a limited number of ways for companies to sell more goods or services. The most obvious are to develop new products or to sell in new territories or to new markets, the latter being the point of global trade. Just as significant is to the creation of new needs for an existing product or service—new reasons to buy the same product from the company or industry, as when a pharmaceutical company finds a new use for an existing prescription drug. Sometimes, the economy or society itself creates the new need. A few old examples should suffice: In the 19th century, once states required many professionals to pass rigorous examinations that tested knowledge of standardized but highly specialized information, there was a new need to educate lawyers, physicians and other professionals which led to the rapid expansion of universities. During the same century, the consolidation of regional companies into national corporations created a new need for advertising. The rise of the fast food industry in the 20th expanded the market for throwaway plates, bowls and utensils enormously.

Most lobbying of legislatures and the administrative offices of the executive branch of state and federal governments is intended to make sure government either helps to create a new market or doesn’t do anything to shrink an existing market. An example of the former is to enter into an agreement with foreign countries that lowers tariffs on the products a company sells. An example of the later is to ban the use of a certain material, say lead in paint or gasoline. These governmental decisions result in companies and industries gaining or losing business. Almost since the founding of the United States, companies, especially larger ones, have made sure that elected officials understand that.

Unfortunately, all too often, our elected officials listen and respond with laws, regulations and policies that reward a few, typically contributors, at the expense of the many.

And all too often in the Trump Administration, the actions that create a new market for their cronies and contributors involve directly hurting children. We can see this most obviously in the recent policy to break up families that are seeking refugee status in the United States from countries south of the border, sending parents to one center and children to another. It is now well-documented that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has depended heavily on private organizations to process, house and feed the tens of thousands of refugee men, women and children nabbed at border crossings. Estimates of how much it costs to house each child range from $600-$900 a day, most of which goes into the hands of private companies that have courted Trump and Pence for years. Considering the accommodations, the profit margins must be phenomenal.

This week’s brouhaha over the United Nation’s World Health Assembly statement on breastfeeding is a virtual repeat of the decision to imprison everyone who tries to enter the country and take their children from them. Trump attempted to bully the UN and the rest of the world to help companies selling infant formula. But that policy hurts children. Virtually every expert agrees that breastfeeding an infant produces healthier and smarter babies who have fewer health problems later on and tend to live longer. But of course every baby who is breastfed is one less family buying infant formula, which, while a good substitute when breast-feeding is impossible or harmful to the mother, should for most mothers be a distant second choice to breastfeeding. We may not see the horrible photos of traumatized children and parents, but policies and advertising that steer mothers away from breastfeeding are nonetheless harmful to large numbers of children.

When the UN wanted to issue a strong statement recommending that mothers breastfeed, Trump officials went bat-shit crazy, pushing their weight around and threatening trade sanctions and withdrawal of military aid if any nation dare support a resolution at the United Nations. America officials wanted to water down the resolution by removing language that called on governments to “protect, promote and support breast-feeding.” The administration’s threats made Ecuador back down from introducing the resolution.

To quote the New York Times, “Health advocates scrambled to find another sponsor for the resolution, but at least a dozen countries, most of them poor nations in Africa and Latin America, backed off, citing fears of retaliation, according to officials from Uruguay, Mexico and the United States.” The reason the administration didn’t like full-hearted support for breast feeding was obvious to everyone from the beginning. The Trump Administration wanted to avoid narrowing the market opportunities for Abbot, Nestles and other makers of infant formula.

Unlike the fiasco at the border, the latest attempt to ignore science and put the interests of business first even though it directly hurts thousands of children, has a somewhat happy ending. One nation proved fearless enough to agree to introduce the resolution in its strongest version. For some reason, this nation didn’t fear retaliation from Trump. For some reason, Trump feared pissing off this nation and refused to threaten it in any way.

That country was Russia.

Yes, Russia became the hero of the moment, defending both science and the right of families all over the world to get accurate information and the best nutrition for their children.

Meanwhile, America continues to lose the respect of the rest of the world.

Especially appalling—and depressing—is that direct harm to children is the end result of so many efforts by the Trump Administration to create business opportunities for its cronies. Trump doesn’t seem to care if he creates a generation of PTSD sufferers by ripping children from their families. He doesn’t seem to care if millions of babies around the world could get inferior nutrition, which will shorten their lives. Trump and his Education Secretary Betsy DeVos don’t care that all the studies show that well-funded public schools produce better educated students than do private schools or charter schools. In all three cases, the Trump Administration believes the best interests of industry far outweigh the health or educational needs of children.

We celebrated the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, but we live every day by a Constitution that the Supreme Court says favors property over people

Whether grilling hamburgers, attending a parade, watching fireworks, playing softball or zoning out to the Dirty Hairy binge-a-thon on Sundance TV, our celebration of July 4th commemorated an obsolete document.

All the fuss about Independence Day celebrates the signing of the Declaration of Independence, easily recognized by its key passage, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The idea that animates the Declaration of Independence is equality of rights and opportunity for all men (which at the time meant white males but has since been expanded to include people of color and women). This ideal, however, was superseded by the Constitution, which as interpreted by the Supreme Court almost from its first case onward, holds as government’s primary function the protection of private property. “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America” is how the Constitution begins. Sounds like a contract between large corporations, which, as it turns out it was, and is.

I have been reminded of the predominance of property over people in U.S. law reading We the Corporations: How American Corporations Won Their Civil Rights, Adam Winkler’s breezy history of Supreme Court decisions that have gradually recognized and expanded the rights of corporations. As Winkler notes, one strand of legal thinking shared by many of the rich white merchants and slave owners who wrote the Constitutions “understood the Constitution largely in terms of protecting private property and private economic relations from majority rule.” This theory predominates the thinking of the Reagan Era right wing. It is a guiding principle of the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, Mercatus Center and other 21st century right-wing propaganda mills. It animates the political contributions of the Koch brothers. (see Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains.)

One ramification of the industrial and financial revolutions after the Civil War was that vast amounts of property (wealth) were transferred from the hands of individuals to corporate control. Even though individuals controlled corporations and other individuals owned them, a corporation was something different from the sum of those individuals. In essence, a corporation comprises its tangible and intangible assets and its debts (which are negative forms of property) and thus is nothing more or less than a piece of property, no less than land, furniture, equipment or the right to use an image.

Early on, the managers and owners of corporations wanted to assert corporate rights, while governments and reformers wanted to restrict them. It was up to the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution and decide what rights corporations—compositions of property and property rights—had. According to Winkler, the “corporate rights” movement developed alongside the Civil Rights movement, and was more successful earlier on.

From the turn of the 20th century to just before World War II in what is known as the “Lochner Era,” named after a 1905 case, the Supreme Court distinguished between property rights and liberty rights. The court gave property rights to corporations, but not liberty rights, such as the right to free speech. In fact, it was in this era that the first laws were passed limiting the ability of corporations to give money to support candidates. But the Court in the Lochner Era also invalidated state and federal legislation that constrained corporations, such as minimum wage laws, federal child labor laws, and regulations of the banking, insurance and transportation industries.

After World War II, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren focused much more on protecting the rights of individuals, but to the degree that these included property rights, Court decisions also helped corporations.

Since Nixon replaced four Supreme Court justices with pro-business conservatives in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Court has gradually recognized that corporations—again, collections of property owned collectively by individuals—have liberty rights, too, in decisions such as First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, in which the Court ruled that corporations had a First Amendment right to speak and spend freely on ballot referenda. The coup-de-grace for corporate liberty rights was, of course, Citizens United, which has enabled corporations to give unlimited amounts of “dark money” to support candidates.

By giving corporations that same rights as individuals, the Supreme Court has enthroned property as more important than “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” It has also created a number of asymmetries which give large corporations overwhelming advantages over smaller businesses and individuals. While corporations can’t cast votes, they have greater influence over elections than individuals because they have more money to spend. Once de facto limits are removed from campaign contributions, as Citizens United did, those with more money have more votes. Likewise in employment: the corporate entity has the power not to hire someone who doesn’t accept an arbitration agreement.

Most Americans like to think that the great arc of history—and in particular American history—bends towards freedom and justice for all, as Martin Luther King once said. The freeing of the slaves, the gaining of the right to vote, minimum wage, child labor and overtime laws, the end of legal segregation, gay marriage—these are all milestones in the American pursuit of liberty and equal opportunity. But Winkler’s conclusion in We the Corporations is that over the course of time, corporations have won more constitutional rights than have individuals. And every win for corporations is a win for property over people. Remember, we live by the Constitution, not the Declaration. Our right to pursue happiness—enshrined by the Declaration of Independence—exists, but it’s not as strong or as meaningful as the rights of a corporation to pursue profit for the rich folk who own it.

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.