Are We Scared Yet?

Are we scared yet? No, I’m not referencing the pandemic. It’s definitely scary but we understand its elements and can apply science and technology to cope with it. No, What I’m most fearful of is our President who has unequivocally stated that he is our king, our emperor, or maybe our supreme being, the one the First Commandment recognizes. He has publicly admitted that, in his mind, there are no powers…none… that his position does not allow him. In the past it seemed like braggadocio and his supporters loved the idea of how uncomfortable it made the opposition.  But no more. It is more and more obvious that he is serious…that in his mind he is now America’s king and brags about having the power to solely make decisions regulating the lives of his subjects…us.

In the past it seemed unthinkable to make a comparison between an American President and that of Hitler, Stalin or Mao tse-Tung. But no more! What is even more distressing is that the members of his party, specifically the Senators and Congresspersons have succumbed to this imperial worship; have ignored or discarded their oath to uphold our Constitution and now cower in silence as he rants and raves, drifting dangerously from one pole to another while his supporting public hold their hands over their ears and eyes and sing his praises.

“I have the ultimate authority,” Trump told the press. “When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total and that’s the way it’s got to be. … It’s total.”  When will he become bold enough to begin arresting and imprisoning his political enemies? Or the members of the free press. When will he demand you return to work or you die? Will there be a time or an event when the Lindsey Grahams, Ron Johnsons, or Marco Rubios come out from under their respective rocks and say “ENOUGH!” or will they continue to lick his feet and pray he doesn’t really notice them during one of his fits of rage, realizing they can reap some of the spoils if they’re silent.

In time the effects of the pandemic can be mitigated and even forgotten. But if Trump and his Republican cohorts have their way there will never be another America, at least in the foreseeable future.

Does COVID-19 Spell “Republican?”

In the blink of an eye our world has dramatically changed and will never return to what it was.

In his book, Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, published in 2012, David Quammen warned that:

“The next big human pandemic—the next disease cataclysm, perhaps on the scale of AIDS or the 1918 influenza—is likely to be caused by a new virus coming to humans from wildlife.  Experts call such an event “spillover” and they warn us to brace ourselves.  The author has tracked this subject from the jungles of Central Africa, the rooftops of Bangladesh, and the caves of southern China to the laboratories where scientific researchers work in space suits and study lethal viruses.  Spillover reads like a mystery tale, full of mayhem and clues and questions.  When the Next Big One arrives, what will it look like?  From which innocent host animals will it emerge?  Will we be ready?”

That was 8 years ago.  Today, COVID-19, the so-called “Corona Virus,” is now raging across the globe from where it began in China.  It has been assumed to be a mutation potentially derived from coronavirus’s common to pangolins and/or bats. Although there are no documented cases of direct bat-human transmission, an intermediate host was likely involved between bats and humans.  Whatever the source, it has been determined it is a natural mutation of other similar viruses common in nature.

In 2016, after the formidable U.S.-led Ebola response, the Obama White House, reviewing the science and realizing that future viral outbreaks were inevitable, established the global health security office at the National Security Council.  The purpose of this was to prepare for and, if possible, prevent the next outbreak from becoming an epidemic or pandemic.  However, supported by Trump’s anti-science evangelical cabinet and Republican senate that viewed all “science” with a jaundiced eye, the Trump Administration quickly eliminated the US pandemic response team in 2018.  Recently Trump claimed that he knew nothing about the disbanded White House unit however a video has emerged of him suggesting about it shortly after his inauguration.  Was this a lie or did he just forget?  Now all we hear are excuses and rhetoric that point the finger at former elected officials and fantasy and away from the true source.

But wait!  Not to be outdone, the evangelical community is cheering the pandemic.  Evangelist Rick Wiles called coronavirus a “death angel” sent in retaliation for sin—“God is about to purge a lot of sin off of this planet,” he warned.  Wiles, a Florida minister, said the virus is a “plague” sent by God to wipe out LGBTQ people and other sinners.

Steven Andrew, pastor of the USA Christian Church has declared March to be Repent of LGBT Sin Month, and one of the reasons is the emergence of the coronavirus strain that’s so far infected 100,000 people around the world.  “God’s love shows it is urgent to repent, because the Bible teaches homosexuals lose their souls and God destroys LGBT societies,” Andrew said in a press release this week. “Obeying God protects the USA from diseases, such as the coronavirus.”  And those of us who believe that crap will be whisked through the pearly gates when the rapture occurs…right?

In his book, The Republican Brain, Chris Mooney writes, “Republicans reject reality—it’s just part of who they are.  From climate change to evolution, the rejection of mainstream science among Republicans is growing, as is the denial of expert consensus on the economy, American history, foreign policy and much more.”  There has been nothing that more proves that assessment than the Republican’s initial reaction to the global COVID-19 pandemic.  Even as the infections and deaths were piling up in every state in the Union through person-to-person contact, former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes said, “If you’re healthy, you and your family, it’s a great time to just go out and go to a local restaurant, likely you can get in easily… don’t run to the grocery store and buy, you know, $4,000 of food — go to your local pub.”  Fox News, the Republican’s sole source of misinformation (where the tone has now changed as has that of the President as the bodies pile up) only last week was saying said “The more I learn about this, the less there is to worry about.” (Pete Hegseth); “The mainstream-media “doesn’t reflect reality.” (Jeanine Pirro); “It’s actually the safest time to fly” (Ainsley Earhardt); the  coronavirus as just “another attempt to impeach the president” (Trish Regan); and Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham labled the press as “panic pushers” stirring up “mass hysteria.”  Then there is Oklahoma governor Kevin Stitt who documented his “Eating with my kids and all my fellow Oklahomans,” at a local taqueria. “It’s packed tonight!” he bragged.  Then we hear from the dumbest Senator, Ron Johnson, who argues that “we don’t shut down our economy because thousands of people die on the highways…it’s a risk we accept.”  One can only wonder if the death rate was equivalent to COVID-19, one in every 30 car rides, if we’d have acted differently.  And lastly there’s the response from a member of the IAFF Union Firefighters for Trump. “I believe this is all by design. Democrats have wanted to slow down and even kill the economy. It’s the only hope they have of beating Trump. Sad and disgusting the depths of shit the Democrats will descend to in order to gain power.”

The time has come for the citizenry of the United States to come to the realization, as did I several years ago, that our political system is no longer comprised of two dominant “parties.”  It has rapidly devolved into two violently opposing entities, one a cadre of intelligent educable and accomplished science-oriented beings seeking to better the human condition for the present AND for the future.  The other, a pious cult seeking only immediate self-satisfaction and basing their values on greed and fantasy.

So, my friends, I believe it’s time—likely well past time—for the dismantling of the neo-Republican failed experiment in governance; the moving it from “Party” status into the Jim Jones wing of the American Museum of Failed Cults where future generations can gaze upon wax statues of Donald Trump, Mike Pence, “Moscow” Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, Devin Nunes, Ron Johnson, Jim Jordan and another dozen of the group of court jesters who fawn before the orange-haired oligarch sitting on his throne (when not playing golf).  The pillars of the initial party values, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and others must be turning in their graves.

Hopefully, those who formerly supported the historical values of this displaced GOP, Mitt Romney, Joe Scarborough, Tom Nichols, Andy McKean, Steve Schmidt, George Will and numerous other true patriots who left the “party” in disgust can coalesce into a new conservative party that believes in fiscal responsibility and international cohesion and who believe that defense of the country means defending everyone, not just a handful of wealthy bandits and religious fanatics.

At 80 years of age I’ve grown weary of supporting those First Amendment rights that promote “that alternative point of view,” especially, as in the past three years, that alternative has been directed to debasing and harming me, my family, my friends and the entire planet we live on through mocking facts, ignoring science and acceptance of an all-knowing oligarch and his cadre of worshippers.  In essence, I’m through with listening to their point of view and trying to respond with established facts and I will from now on respond with “BULLSHIT” and walk away.  And, to paraphrase their oft-common response that if ‘I don’t like it I move to another country to live in’, I will ask then them to locate their ass on another planet and quit destroying this one that I love.

  1. Dean Carrier

Eureka, California, USA, Earth

This Is NOT Democracy

Our states are blocks of land created by artificial boundaries almost solely by political decision.  Only two, Alaska and Hawaii, wholly represent true geographic boundaries.  Initially, the 13 colonies that became states had comparable populations, primarily revolving around urban centers.  In the six months following the enactment of the U.S. Constitution in 1788, eleven states were ratified and by the turn of the century the number had increased to sixteen. As our citizens migrated westward, new states were ratified.  Most of these states had paltry populations in comparison that of the original thirteen.

Initially, two males of each state were chosen by each state legislature as senators.  It wasn’t until 1912 that the 17th Amendment transferred the election of senators to the people by popular vote.  But, the limitation of two per state remained.

In light of the unequal changes in populations in our fifty states and the U.S. Senate constitutionally having the final authority in matters regarding the most critical of our Nation’s business, we remain established in a “democratic” process regarding this body that lacks the democratic principles of equal representation.  The Senate can wage war, control federal legislation, appoint judges (and deny appointments through blocking voting), and, as now, excuse impeachable acts by a President.  Yet (as noted recently) it may not necessarily represent the sentiment of the majority of the US citizenry.

Current representation of the Senate per individual state gives the Republicans a 53% majority yet their members represent only 47% of the US population.  Even more sinister statistically, given current state population numbers, the lowest populated 26 states represent about 18% of the population and yet could control the Senate.  Such numbers should give one concern that maybe our “democratic” system is a bit out-of-whack.    And I didn’t even start on the Electoral College!

In essence, I believe the vote in Trump’s impeachment trial bears out Isaac Asimov’s assertion:

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been.  The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.

Where are the Good People?

There ARE good people in America, I know there are.  I’ve known many all my life; I meet them every day.  They are neighbors, store clerks, mechanics, plumbers, medical professionals, and civil servants.  They are caring parents, law abiders, have high moral standards, and abide by the Golden Rule.  I’ve worked with them, played with them, drank beer with them, argued with them and cried with them.

So where are they today?  Where are they when the elected President continually and purposefully reaches in their midst to bring the scum within their ranks to the surface; to support those without those values who believe their only responsibility  is to their immediate personal gratification, economically and morally.  Where are they when our government looks more favorably at the current economic and political polls than it does at the immediate and long-term health and safety of its citizens and their environment?  Where are they when their President publically blames ethnic groups for all the ills of the nation?  And where are they when they succumb to the 42 percent who approve of this philosophy?

It scares me to see them sitting in the front rows of the Trump rallies, waving placards and laughing when he condemns those of different ethnicity; different political views; different moral values; different religions because from all outward appearances they all look like the “good” people I described earlier.  It scares me more to see how many of them are accompanied by their children, obviously too young to vote but indoctrinated in the bias of hate their parents support.  And, what scares me even more is my realization that some of the “good” people I’ve known for a long time have successfully hidden from me their self-serving and ethnic prejudices and their self-serving interests over the rights of others.

We used to call them hypocrites.  No!  Hypocrites are those who believe in something but, at times, unthinkingly act oppositely.  The “good” people who scare me are like Jack Finney’s “Body Snatchers”, having taken over the appearances of rational people but professing a determination to move American society to a herd mentality, wishing a sameness in lack of morality and domination though physical and economic strength.

This has become an America I was not brought up to respect; not one where my eyes get teary when I hear the Star Spangled Banner; not one where I can continue to place my hand over my heart and repeat the Pledge of Allegiance.  This is a foreign…maybe an alien…country I never dreamed of residing in.  I’m scared!

We Are Blind

Maybe I’m just being too unassuming; too practical; too simple-minded.   But it just appears to me that if you keep poking yourself in the eye with a sharp stick you’ll go blind.  And maybe we have already gone blind; blinded by the now almost weekly mass shootings in our country. (“Oh…another one of those?  So what channel is the Raiders game on?”)  We’ve been blinded by the NRA (a.k.a. Not Responsible for Anything) telling us the Second Amendment protects us from tyranny and that we all must have our military weapons to thwart takeover by a foreign invader (who are currently using Facebook & Twitter??) or a tyrannical government when we long ago surpassed the point where a citizen army could compete against government forces.  We’ve been blinded by a do-nothing Senate who refuses to consider protections that are supported by 90% of Americans because it is against their lead party’s platform.  We’ve been blinded by a President who blames inner-city problems on the ethnicity of the mayors.  And, we’ve been blinded by our societal trend towards being only concerned over what affects “ME” at this moment in time; let the future generations fend for themselves.

It’s time to consider what the more progressive societies have done, as did New Zealand.  Ban private ownership of all military weapons; limit sporting weapon capacities to 6 rounds; require background checks and licensing of ALL firearm ownership.  I own 6 guns; two of them will have to go.  So be it.   Yes, there are hidden dangers, but minimal compared to where we are headed at this time.

OMG!  Let’s not mention the “P” word.

In his definitive essay on population, Tragedy of the Commons, published fifty years ago, Garrett Hardin wrote, “A finite world can support only a finite population; therefore, population growth must eventually equal zero.“  He goes on to assert that Bentham’s principal axiom to achieve “the greatest good for the greatest number” cannot be realized because it is not mathematically possible to maximize for two (or more) variables at the same time. Secondly, Hardin points out that for humans to maintain life, sustenance of 1600 kilocalories a day is essential (providing one just lie on their back and gaze into the sky). If one is expected to do any activity; work, play, etc. additional calories are required. Yet we, as a purportedly educable species, believe we can ignore these undisputed math and scientific facts and that through technology and, even worse, religion, we can continue to breed, occupy space and utilize finite resources.

In the recent letter to the editor (CNR July 18), Beau Grosscup made the argument that expanding populations are only a problem due to food being restricted by the capitalists to those who are starving.  Hmmm, interesting concept.  So, let’s look at two countries of equal area, Somalia and France.  Somalia’s arable lands are less than 5% of the land base and mostly relatively unproductive due to drought, lack of natural water and over-grazing. With a population of 15 million, today over 2 million are in peril of immediate starvation yet Somalia’s birth rate remains over 6/woman.  Conversely, France’s population is 4X that of Somalia, however, 33% of its land base is arable land, unaffected by drought.  Starvation is unheard of.  And, France’s birth rate is less than 2/woman.   Is Beau is proposing all would be well if France was sending its agricultural surplus to Somalia so that they can continue to exponentially increase their population?

In 1985 in a paper, The Heresy Trial of Richard Lamm, given to the Globescope National Assembly, Dr. Richard Lamm, then Governor of Colorado, speaking on population control stated, “I live in a world as I find it, not in a world as I wish it to be.  I urge solutions not because I want to, but because I have no other choice. A world without vision leaves only tragic choices. Truly, where there is no vision, people perish.  Whether or not ethics are relative, it is clear that solutions are time specific. The house fire that initially can be put out with a garden hose or even a pitcher of water cannot be put out by the entire fire department ten minutes later.”

Both Hardin’s and Lamm’s predictions resulted in tired yawns from the general public.  Even the environmental community buried these truisms under a barrage of politically and scientifically solvable issues such as saving California condors and desert vistas in Utah.  The proverbial three wise monkeys of “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” continue to rule the day because addressing this as an issue might be contrary to someone’s frail religious beliefs.

I maintain the laws of physics will continue to prevail no matter what the politicians and evangelists say and it will continue to be physically impossible to put a gallon of glass marbles into a quart jar.  But I guess I can find solace in the probability that the “adjustment” is unlikely to occur during my lifetime.

End of Game Reverie

Sunday morning on Meet the Press a statement of a panelist during the End Game segment struck me personally. Speaking about the split in our nation’s citizenry it was noted that we had become a nation “where politics is our primary focus.” That statement hit home as I realized it had become almost all I think about, write about, follow on television. Gone were the lazy days of jogging after work; parties with neighbors; weekend picnics with the kids; watching Cheers, All in the Family and Seinfeld in the evening on tv and laughing until my sides hurt. I now only watch the news and political programs, and very little of that and then go to bed angry. I only read non-fiction, primarily history and haven’t read a good spy novel in 10 years. No wonder my blood pressure is high.

I ask myself, how did this happen? How did I not see the majority of American citizenry moving from a cohesive society with a multitude of humanitarian values and bent on doing good for the world into a society where only the “bottom line” was important and then, really only for “ME.”. My neighbor recently admitted me that, “The primary thing I base my vote on is how well my 401-K is doing!” Well, that about sums it up for much of our society, doesn’t it? Our citizenry writes it off in saying:

“So what if foreign parents are divested of their children somewhere along the border because it doesn’t affect me personally and it’s likely they deserve it.”
“Too bad about the hurricane in Puerto Rico, one of our protectorates but I like Hawaii better anyway. People there speak American (English)”
“What? Our voting processes have been attacked by the Russians. Well, It doesn’t affect me because I don’t vote anyway.”
“And our President lies on a regular basis to us and cheats on his wife? So, doesn’t everyone? Well, I hear he goes to church now on occasion.”
“Another school shooting? I sure wish those teachers could pack guns so as to stop these crazies before these things happened.”
“Not to mention those damn liberal scientists making up stories so they can get more grant money. God would NEVER let that phony global warming occur and…now where did I put that damn iphone? I need to check my Facebook account.”

In the early 19th Century Alexis de Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill both wrote on the notion of the Tyranny of the Majority. It refers to a situation in which the majority enforces its will on a disadvantaged minority through the democratic process. We have witnessed this in so many ways recently: The Senate’s refusal to have hearings on Merritt Garland; the ramrodding of Justices Gorsuch and Kavanah through the system; widespread voter suppression in red states; ignoring public demands for gun legislation; etc. It appears that we have rapidly moved toward an oligarchy supported by the majority with a fascist dictatorship close behind and staring us in the face.

Another issue brought up on the Meet the Press segment by the conservative panelist was, “We had to suffer through 8 years of Obama’s trashing the Republicans!” What? Hello! During his term I never once heard him rally his party to hate Republicans, their elected officials, etc. He spoke of our differences but he never resorted to “Pocahontas” or “Dirty Hillary” comments and, remember, for the last 4 years he had a Republican House and Senate that made certain that NOTHING got done. And what’s this about giving Kavanah, Mueller and MBS the good ol’ American judicial standard of being innocent until proven guilty while he is whipping up his followers to chant “Lock Her Up!” directed at Hillary and Pelosi…they haven’t even been charged with a crime, have they?

A year ago the 20 top world political scientists met to discuss what appears to be the decline of democracies world-wide. They pointed to breakdowns in social cohesion (meaning citizens are more fragmented than ever), the rise of tribalism, the erosion of democratic norms such as a commitment to rule of law, and a loss of faith in the electoral and economic systems as clear signs of democratic erosion. Hey, look around you…isn’t this what’s happening?

So how did I let this happen to me? I’ve always voted…sometimes for a Democrat. sometimes for a Republican, sometimes for an independent. I’ve always paid my taxes on time, sent my children to swimming lessons and college, and paid the veterinarian to care for my dog. I’ve always felt I was an average Joe. For my entire life, both recreational and professional my focus was on making the world a bit better. Things that mattered were cleaning up the air with The Clean Air Act (I grew up in the Los Angeles Basin where we regularly were prevented from playing outside due to the unhealthy condition of the smog); protecting our lakes, rivers and ground waters with the Clean Water Act; protecting and preventing the degradation and/or extinction of our native species through the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and The Endangered Species Act; protecting our natural resources, parks, monuments and natural heritage sites from destruction through the National Environmental Protection Act, the Antiquities Act.

I was proud that my country was known worldwide for its compassionate focus on the down-trodden; the first to set aside national parks that so many other countries followed; generous donations of foreign aid in the face of natural and unnatural disasters; supporting human rights world over; and knowing that everyone wanted to be like us.

I’ve watched all that disappear in two short years. Environmental protections have been trashed; our world leadership is a joke in many other countries; truth and compassion; and the application of the Golden Rule have been shoved under the carpet. I’ve seen how gerrymandering and voter suppression has become the primary tool of the governing party and now witnessed two recent presidential elections where the loser of the popular vote was inaugurated. What has happened to democracy?

Maybe I should I just say “That’s Life!” or, as my father used to caution me, “Things will turn around and get better, they always do.” Or maybe I should I be pissed and take it out on everyone else. Do I just want to wait until global warming so changes our planet that life as we now know it is an irretrievable memory and then gloat as I say, “I told you so!” Do I want to accept bankruptcy and eventual starvation if I have to use all my resources to treat a grandchild who acquires a serious illness? Do I want my grandchildren to face global chaos? That looks like the path we are taking but the sad truth is I’m becoming relegated to the fact that there’s nothing much I can do about it. It’s very likely my ashes will be mixing with the soil in some Sierra forest when the last coral reef expires or the Arctic becomes ice-free.

Most people I know really never thought much about abstract principles like free speech, the freedom of the press or jurisprudence (unless, of course, it affected them personally). They more or less expected that was just part of American life. But people have lost faith in the system. The social compact has been shattered. We’re left to focus on our racial and cultural resentments, which have paved the yellow brick road for a demagogue like Trump. We have become the Jedi versus the Galactic Empire.

But, whatever…my 401-K is doing great (if, indeed I really ever had one