Fervent rage at 2020 election and the vaccine!

Like feelings themselves, the religious faith of the faithful Is not subject to debate. It is a question of faith and if you have true faith, so-called facts take a backseat to your deeply held belief. Hucksters, scammers and con men may often abuse the trust of people of deep faith, but that is not a concern to the faithful.

The New York Times, with a chilling description of the religious fervor animating the faith-based army of Trump believers. Heaven help us.

Rituals of Christian worship have become embedded in conservative rallies, as praise music and prayer blend with political anger over vaccines and the 2020 election.

The Growing Religious Fervor in the American Right: ‘This Is a Jesus Movement’

Dueling honor codes

Jon A. Shields titled his recent guest essay in the New York Times (which the NYT teased as What Donald Trump Understands About Honor) How Trump’s Brutish Code of Honor Explains His Feud With Liz Cheney. He contrasts the strict honor cultures of the orange brawler from Queens and Liz Cheney, the well-born daughter of (the embodiment of human evil) the aptly named Dick Cheney. To Trump, any defeat is a humiliation that must be avenged to the death. To Cheney, the eyes of history are watching and honor demands a principled response to something like the drumbeat of treason.

Beneath the surface of their honor feud lurk clashing understandings of political ambition. Unlike Mr. Trump, Ms. Cheney is seeking the esteem of future generations by doing what’s in the public interest even if she is cast out of office for doing so. Ms. Cheney told a Wyoming paper that just moments before her fellow Republicans pushed her out of House leadership, she warned them “that history was watching.”

Mr. Trump, meanwhile, is so loyal to his narrow code that he lacks even the theory of mind to understand Ms. Cheney’s ambition. For him, losing any contest is always dishonorable because it tarnishes his reputation as a strongman. Hence, his enduring fixation with ratings, polling and the “stolen” 2020 election. It’s also why he asked Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?” as they stood over the graves at Arlington National Cemetery, according to reporting in The Atlantic.

What Donald Trump Understands About Honor

It’s not intuitive to picture a man without honor living by an inviolable, if crude, honor code, the “honor code” of a lying, vindictive sore loser, but there you go. The guest essay provides pretty good description of dueling honor codes representing higher and lower motives for two ugly, largely similar worldviews. Two sides of a very grim honor coin.

US Covid cases down 165,000 a day in last few days, deaths still rising

This one is still hard for me to get my head around. I have to reach out to my doctor friends for some insight into how these seemingly irreconcilable counter-narratives are playing out.

Since Dec. 1, when health officials announced the first Omicron case in the United States, the share of Americans who have been killed by the coronavirus is at least 63 percent higher than in any of these other large, wealthy nations, according to a New York Times analysis of mortality figures.

Source

Somewhat characteristically, the Grey Lady makes no mention of our broken, largely privatized, healthcare system or the prevalence of a powerful anti-science party that uses a giant, unregulated mass megaphone to conflate taking a vaccination with obsequiously bending the knee to tyranny, but interesting article, as far as it goes.

Give Biden a break


Paul Waldman in today’s Washington Post pointed out an obvious fact about Senate votes in an op-ed laying out why it’s wrong to blame progressives for Biden’s failure to keep campaign promises to pass transformational and widely popular measures that include funding proven measures to decrease child poverty, billions to fund programs to slow climate catastrophe and the protection of older Americans, new parents, their children and democracy itself. Biden faces a wall of 52 obstructionists in a minority controlled 100 member lawmaking body that requires 60 votes to move anything forward — TO EVEN DEBATE A BILL.

It’s not that the filibuster simply shuts down a vote, which of course it does, it shuts down a public debate on the issues in bills the House sends to the Senate for debate and a vote to pass it into law.

Compare Biden’s razor thin majorities to those of his two Democratic predecessors, as Waldman does here:

The Senate is divided 50-50 and Democrats have just a 10-vote margin in the House. Compare that to the majorities Barack Obama had in 2009: 60-to-40 in the Senate, 257-to-178 in the House. Or Bill Clinton in 1993: 57-to-43 in the Senate, 258-to-176 in the House.

The only reason the now hugely popular Obamacare passed was that the Democrats had an unfillibusterable majority in the Senate. Of course, the private health insurance-based bill came out of a conservative think tank, which made it more palatable to conservative Democrats who are generally called “moderates” or “centrists,” like today’s corrupt and contemptuous autocracy-enablers Joe Manchin III and Kyrsten Fucking Sinema. Sinema and Manchin are 100% against any changes or carve outs to the filibuster, other than the one Sinema voted for last month to raise the debt ceiling, the one McConnell and more than a dozen Republicans also supported on the theory that it would leave Democrats with the sole blame for reckless spending to cover debts incurred by Trump (while preventing an unprecedented international economic crisis when the federal government shut down and the US defaulted on its debts.)

But back to Biden. He is often lambasted for lack of strength and resolve, for not twisting arms, breaking them if necessary, to get these critical voting laws passed. LBJ, Master of the Senate, did just that in 1964 and 1965 getting the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts passed over feverish opposition. Restoring the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a massively successful law that five un-elected right-wing zealots eviscerated in 2013, and a 6-3 majority beheaded last year, to give their side a partisan boost in elections, would require convincing twelve lockstep Republican senators to defy the vengeance of their famously vindictive party leader, come forward and vote with 48 Democrats.

Although we hear that 16 Republican senators who voted for the 2006 re-authorization of the Voting Rights Act (it was reauthorized 98-0 under Dubya and Cheney) are still in the Senate, times have changed. If every eligible voter was allowed to vote, and have their votes counted by nonpartisan officials, the extremist Republican party, currently in thrall to a maniac who demands fealty to a series of demonstrable lies, rightfully reasons they would be finished in national politics. The obvious answer, employed so far by 19 states since Trump was voted out, is to restrict who can vote, criminalize certain voting-related practices (no water to Blacks waiting hours on line to vote in Georgia, that’s outlawed now) and place partisan election officials as the final word on who won the election in each state, crucially each “swing state”.

Here is the Congress LBJ was working with when he got the 1965 Voting Rights Act, since nullified by the Supreme Court, passed:

Now, in fairness to LBJ, a master politician, those numbers are misleading. The solidly Trumpist/Republican former Confederacy was then solidly Democratic, since the hated Lincoln had been a Republican, as had the hated Radical Republicans who, after the war over states’ rights (states rights to own slaves) that the south never lost, briefly tyrannized the region by changing the Constitution at bayonet point and trying to force them to treat their Negroes as equals of the White Man. LBJ faced at least 22 Dixiecrats (two from each state of the former Confederacy) who’d be as dead set against a law ensuring despised minorities could vote as they were against making lynching of those same troublemakers a federal hate crime. LBJ had to use all his tools to convince several members of the Ku Klux Klan Kaucus, a powerful part of the Democratic party in Congress for generations, to risk their careers to cast the votes needed to pass the reboot of the Civil Rights Act passed right after the Civil War, and a Voting Rights Act to enforce the 15th amendment that proved effective in ending racist/partisan voter suppression practices in many parts of the country. Johnson knew that passing this law would swing the former Confederacy solidly Republican for generations, which it did, but with the Voting Rights Act in place it was a reasonable tradeoff for progress toward a more perfect democracy.

Let’s also acknowledge that the GOP today is an openly racist outfit, every elected member either loudly dog whistling it, shouting it or remaining strategically silent about it — while piously quoting a sanitized, kindergarten version of Martin Luther King, Jr. on his day every year. It turns out you can rebrand racism at law “partisanship” (as the 6-3 Trump Supreme Court did in beheading the Voting Rights Act last year) and let the games begin! Manchin and Sinema are applauded by right-wing partisans and open racists everywhere for their “bipartisan” stand against allowing the majority to overrule the will of the Trump Supreme Court.

Much of this Biden Failure has little to do with Joe Biden. The corporately funded Democratic party leadership that orchestrated Biden’s candidacy is infamously spineless and reflexively accommodating to the needs of the most powerful among us, while taking the votes of the people who wait on line for hours to actually vote them into office for granted. They are also shit at “messaging” — have nothing to compare to “Lock Her Up!” or “Build the Wall!” in terms of an idea that even morons can lustily repeat to each other, in our ad and sound byte driven polity as rationale for their “ideology”.

That said, the perception that Biden is a failure is the product of a morally supple, corporate ad-fueled mass media that constantly equates things that are not equal (like unified obstruction and a willingness to compromise), offers reasonable spins on incoherent Republican arguments, gives allegations, no matter how wild and unlikely, the same benefit of the doubt it gives to proven facts, avoids discussion of the actual issues underlying policy decisions, like the moral imperative to decrease child poverty in the wealthiest nation in history, in favor of exciting horse race coverage of zero-sum electoral politics, sandwiched between commercials.

We see the world through the filter of “respectable” journalism, whether it’s the echo chamber of the far-right, where every crackpot conspiracy is carefully considered and promoted for months on end, or in the corporate “liberal media” where both sides are generally given a fair chance to influence the polls that will tell us who is the winner and who is the loser on any given issue, based on polling. And, as we all know, the polls never lie.

But also, come on, man, it’s not that Biden isn’t working his ass off. He made a big miscalculation that people, benefiting from his policies, would get behind them and move the needle back toward sanity. That ain’t happening at the moment and he should have known from day one that you can’t work to build common ground with committed Nazis bent on destroying you politically, folks who will use even safety precautions during a pandemic as a battering ram against “government tyranny”.

Politics is different now, everything is weaponized, as in Newt Gingrich’s wildest wet dream, and we have Exhibit A, Kyrsten “dagger to the throat of democracy” Sinema, filibuster absolutist (except when voting for a carve out to pay our bills) who gets most of her campaign money, 90% of it, reportedly, from lobbyists outside the state that elected her to represent them in the Senate. And as the 5-4 Supreme Court taught us a few years ago in Citizens United, to limit the dark money campaign spending of politically motivated billionaires is anathema to the First Amendment — might as well put a gag on these poor corporations and hereditary billionaires and hang them from a tree as silence their free speech in this greatest Christian, White nation ever created by the hands of men.

How all this shit is Biden’s fault? It’s not. It was reported the other day that the ten richest men in the world doubled their already record-shattering fortunes since March 2020, trillions in pandemic windfalls. Biden and 99% of the rest of us favor taxing them. That Biden can’t do it? Not strictly his fault.

You Are the Object of a Secret Extraction Operation

The brilliant Shoshana Zuboff wrote an essay published by the New York Times the other day, You Are the Object of A Secret Extraction Operation. It is worth reading and hopefully my “gift” link will allow you to read it on the NY Times website without being blocked by a pay wall. The essay begins:

Facebook is not just any corporation. It reached trillion-dollar status in a single decade by applying the logic of what I call surveillance capitalism — an economic system built on the secret extraction and manipulation of human data — to its vision of connecting the entire world. Facebook and other leading surveillance capitalist corporations now control information flows and communication infrastructures across the world.

These infrastructures are critical to the possibility of a democratic society, yet our democracies have allowed these companies to own, operate and mediate our information spaces unconstrained by public law. The result has been a hidden revolution in how information is produced, circulated and acted upon. A parade of revelations since 2016, amplified by the whistle-blower Frances Haugen’s documentation and personal testimony, bears witness to the consequences of this revolution.

The world’s liberal democracies now confront a tragedy of the “un-commons.” Information spaces that people assume to be public are strictly ruled by private commercial interests for maximum profit. The internet as a self-regulating market has been revealed as a failed experiment. Surveillance capitalism leaves a trail of social wreckage in its wake: the wholesale destruction of privacy, the intensification of social inequality, the poisoning of social discourse with defactualized information, the demolition of social norms and the weakening of democratic institutions.

These social harms are not random. They are tightly coupled effects of evolving economic operations. Each harm paves the way for the next and is dependent on what went before.

There is no way to escape the machine systems that surveil us, whether we are shopping, driving or walking in the park. All roads to economic and social participation now lead through surveillance capitalism’s profit-maximizing institutional terrain, a condition that has intensified during nearly two years of global plague.

Will Facebook’s digital violence finally trigger our commitment to take back the “un-commons”? Will we confront the fundamental but long ignored questions of an information civilization: How should we organize and govern the information and communication spaces of the digital century in ways that sustain and advance democratic values and principles?

source

Corporate lawyers like John Roberts (in his previous corporate gig) made formerly voidable one-sided “contracts of adhesion” (take it or leave it, chump) as good as gold in all contracts between individuals and the corporations who require our agreement to their terms of service before we may use those services. It works even for expensive products we buy, like $1,000 smart phones, our use of our own property is dictated by terms that advantage only the corporations providing these miraculous services. As Roberts clairvoyantly saw in crafting his innovative, popular, now standard arbitration clause (by clicking this button you agree to waive the right to sue us in court, no matter what, and consent to pay 50% of the cost of binding arbitration) in the contest for profits, every bit of deference must go to the canny corporation and let the unsophisticated, dumb-ass buyer beware.

As Zuboff shows, in her groundbreaking The Age of Surveillance Capitalism; The Fight for a Human Future At the New Frontier of Power, and again in this essay, the escalating worldwide harm done by the new keepers of the public commons, social media giants, must be mitigated and regulated by democratic lawmakers to protect democracy from the wild, self-regulated pursuit of vast personal fortunes at the expense of all non-market based values.

Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, two poster children for profit over everything (profit uber alles) constantly defend their right to regulate themselves and make as much money as possible while doing so. It is not their job to judge the credulous stupidity of the public when making business decisions. After all, who in their right mind would turn down a fifty million dollar ad buy, even if it was an ad to spread an incendiary lie about a stolen election, a calculated lie debunked in dozens of lawsuits, and one that would predictably lead to outrage and possibly violence? That’s strictly a business decision, something to which the Court has always granted great deference, it’s simply The Business Judgement Rule — courts won’t interfere in corporate business decisions if there is any theoretically plausible money making rationale for them.

Zuckerberg told his executives, prior to the 2016 election (when Hillary was making noises about regulating giants like Facebook) that any government attempt to regulate Facebook would be such an “existential threat” that you have to stand on principle, you “go to the mat”, you go to the fucking mat to defend your right to double and triple your hundred billion dollar personal fortune, sue the government, do whatever needs to be done. The principle? Nothing wrong with greed, you judgmental fucking losers.

Perhaps Zuckerberg is right. 99% of the world is a bunch of crying, bitter, jealous, judgmental fucking losers, doomed to die inglorious asshole deaths after wasted lives spent envying people like him. It’s people like him, the true outliers, visionaries, men of the future, who should, by force of meritocracy and the will of the Free Market, decide what is best for the world. Who would know better than a maladjusted nerd who had become, at a precocious age, one of the richest men in human history?


The South Will Rise AGAIN!

If zombies are real, that is.

Wary readers should note that these maps are from today’s New York Times, so there’s that to consider. Dark on the orange to purple map means high infection rates, the darkest are Covid hotspots. Darker on the green vaccination map means higher vaccination rates.

Please note that when I mock the former Confederacy it is their radical right wing leaders I am mocking, the ones who continue to represent, according to their time-honored ways, our Death Sentence Loving Bible belts. The average person in the former Confederacy is about is fucked as the Confederate citizen who opposed slavery during the war, but was obliged to serve in the army of the Confederacy or die by hanging or firing squad.

The correlation between the map of high Covid-19 infection rates, low vaccine rates and the former Confederacy, turf of the strongest Trump support, of course, could be purely a product of the Lyin’ New York Times, and you can confirm that with Q, or Mike Flynn, Sidney Powell, Ron Deathsantis, Kristi Noem, Steve Bannon, Mo Brooks, Lauren Boebert, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin or Roger Stone, for that matter. The NY Times, according to millions, lies more than Lyin’ Ted Cruz, or even the irrepressible Orange Polyp himself!

Check out the color of “moderate” right winger Joe Manchin’s West Virginia on the respective maps. Pale in terms of vaccine density, and going for Mr. Trump in the 70% range [1] in the stolen, fake, Chinese Communist-rigged election of 2020, they are a nice dark tone on the Covid infection map. Wait, that infection color is supposed to be… ah, never mind. THE PEOPLE REST!

beautiful head of hair, Don

[1] Damn near a million votes!

American Isolation and our existential loneliness

The pandemic, and the defiant rise of the mask-free MAGA rally during the pandemic, really brought home two sides of American isolation, and the profound loneliness many feel in a society that mythologizes outsized greed and takes minimal care of its must vulnerable citizens. The enthusiasm of the crowds at MAGA rallies underscores our need to connect with others, a need to belong that is loudly expressed by fans of sports teams or musical celebrities. The loud defiance of medical advice unites MAGA nation, who believe this defiance shows their toughness.

We have never, outside of fandom, been a society that much values community (though, as the MAGA rally demonstrates, Americans long for being part of a community), or the idea of sacrificing for our neighbors, favoring instead the winner takes all myth of the Rugged Individual.

Rugged Individualism, rooted in violent competition for land and wealth in the Wild West, is an absurdity if you examine it very closely, but it exerts a tremendous influence on our culture. The myth is often expressed simply as Individualism. “I come first, you don’t come at all, asshole. Get off my land, red skin. Me and my gun give you ten seconds to skidaddle.” The Rugged Individual is ready to kill to take and defend what is his, and the mythical figure is a man, a toxically masculine man, in the “woke” parlance of our day.

The prevalence of this myth that only the truly tough, those who win the endless competition, are fit to rule the rest of us, makes us a lonely, self-doubting society. How can we ever be good enough if other individuals, competing in the same basic game, manage to amass fortunes ten thousand times greater than our own?

Charles Koch, one of the wealthiest old men in the world (he’s 85), is a classic rugged individualist. He was raised by his tough, demanding self-made father, fist fighting his brothers, and he came out on top, in court and in life. He is the surviving Koch Brother (arts loving philanthropist David having recently gone on to his reward) and arguably one of the most influential men in the USA, certainly for the last twenty years or so.

Starting with nothing more than a lucrative family oil refining business and a small personal fortune of less than $100,000,000 [1], the lion’s share of the family business wrested from his weaker brothers, Charles Koch built a multibillion dollar empire, an influential, many armed political machine, and a vast personal fortune of more than sixty billion dollars. All by himself, because of his guts, drive, brilliance and his determination to be the best.

The millions of dollars and the hugely profitable business he inherited didn’t hurt him, of course, nobody could deny that, but the myth is that he’d have done it all even if he’d been born in abject poverty. It’s all a matter of character and personal strength, goes the myth. The man famously works more than 12 hours a day, weekends too, without a need to relax.

Donald Trump, similar deal. Jared Kushner, another self-made rugged individual. Though, as opposed to Charles Koch, these two rich boys did little to actually increase the wealth their tough, wealthy, ambitious fathers bestowed on them. Never mind, good enough, their vast wealth qualifies them as among the best of the best.

I love this bit of fatherly advice, debunking that bullshit in a few seconds, offered by a longtime White House dogsbody (with a great voice) on the canceled hit show House of Cards:

We have an exceptional degree of isolationist individualism here in our Winner/Loser society. And, I suspect, an exceptional degree of social isolation and desperate loneliness. We don’t have a widespread idea of social responsibility, those who advocate for it are mocked as “Social Justice Warriors,” “Class Warriors,” “Radical Socialists,” “Woke” and so on. There are dozens of ways of summarily dismissing the arguments of those who see our fellow citizens as a community riding in the same boat we are in, making us all a little bit responsible for each other’s welfare. We see glimpses of this community spirit during emergencies, so we still have the instinct and capacity to watch out for each other, though it seems to be emergency-only in our current culture.

If you are a low income worker, the myth goes, born into a family without wealth, you get what you fucking deserve. Everyone starts with the same liberty rights Charles Koch, Donald Trump and Jared Kushner started with, and the only worthwhile social project, for the well-born, is to preserve every bit of the liberties each of us are born with. That is the essence of Libertarianism, leave well enough alone (except for police to protect private property) and if you can’t flourish, you don’t deserve to, asshole.

So we get a political party now openly devoted to protecting the interests of this wealthiest 0.01%, the truly great Americans, the generous liberty-loving citizens who fund America’s dedication to liberty and democracy. That party will block a federal living wage, because people too lazy and stupid to make more than $7.25 an hour don’t deserve a dime more. (And a big “fuck you” to Kyrsten Fucking Sinema for signing on to that). That freedom loving party will insist that stupid, lazy poor people should not be allowed to easily vote (and if they do vote, political partisans must have the final say on counting votes), since they will inevitably vote for wealth-wasting projects like good public schools (tyranny!), slowing global climate catastrophe (killing jobs in fossil fuel!), affordable healthcare as a right for all citizens (killing jobs in the private sector!), reining in gun violence (tyranny! regulation is unconstitutional under the second amendment [2]!) curbing police murder of unarmed civilians (dangerous job! split second life or death decisions!), giving qualified citizens access to an affordable college education (Communism!), making sure no American child goes to bed hungry (waste of money!), etc.

The Libertarian project to combat ‘social welfare’ programs kicked into high gear as soon as the Supreme Court belatedly ruled that public school segregation imposed unconstitutional disabilities on students forced to attend poorly funded schools, based solely on race. Charles Koch’s father, Fred, was one of the founding members of the then lunatic fringe John Birch Society, which arose in response to the brutal “government coercion” represented by this radical Supreme Court. Trumpism, the modern Republican party, the 2021 incarnation of privilege-protection, flows directly from the John Birch Society lunatic fringe, whose founders included Charles Koch’s dad, who worked for both Hitler and Stalin (before the war!).

Robert Welch (wealthy candy baron) founded the John Birch Society, incorporated as a Massachusetts non-profit educational organization, to fight the judicial activism that had reared its ugly head in the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas ruling. An Eisenhower-appointed chief justice, Earl Warren, had ruled, along with a unanimous court, that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. This “judicial activism” was felt, by Welch and his circle, as an intolerable blow to human liberty.

In an address in Indianapolis on December 9, 1958, shortly after establishing his non-profit educational far right-wing advocacy group, Welch lambasted Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles (a conservative anti-communist), as a covert communist agent and said that Eisenhower himself was also working for the Commies, though possibly unwittingly. Welch laid it all out, cogently, in black and white, foreshadowing Trump’s unhinged rhetoric from his American Carnage State of the Union address:

We are engaged in an end-time struggle between good and evil, the battle lines are drawn in a struggle from which either Communism or Christian style civilization must emerge, with one completely triumphant and the other completely destroyed.

You will recognize this as the dramatic zero-sum battle language of fascism. Hitler stressed this over and over — good vs. evil in a fight to the death. Purity vs. deadly blood pollution. Good people vs. evil child blood drinking Satanist pedophiles, etc.

It is, in many ways, one against all here in the USA — and the sides are not drawn by any rational calculation of what is right, and sustainable, and what is wrong, and destructive, but by what we might call fate and the accident of birth.

I was reminded of this by a remarkable bit of autobiography I encountered the other day. A guy whose every joke is at his gamely smiling wife’s expense, responded to a story about violence in my own family (my grandmother’s to my mother) with this:

“When my brother and I used to fight, my father would tell us to fight outside — and the winner will fight me. My father and my uncle were both prodigious bar fighters, they got in fights every day, with anybody. Their father used to run the waterfront in [I forgot which city] and he was a very tough guy, in fact, he was a crime boss. He was basically Johnny Friendly from ‘On the Waterfront’.”

Which reminded me again, you can know somebody for years, and learn a detail like this, and a light goes on. My father, a difficult character, was an unsolvable puzzle to me, until I learned how viciously he’d been abused as a child. His implacability and overwhelming need to rage suddenly became very understandable. As well as the terrible loneliness that comes from being betrayed by your primary caregiver, a loneliness he evaded only momentarily while dazzling others with his quick wit and making strong arguments to support his firm opinions.

[1] first hit when querying “how much did Charles Koch inherit when his father died?”

Charles’s brothers Frederick and Bill had inherited stock in Koch Industries. In June 1983, after a legal and boardroom battle, the stakes of Frederick and Bill were bought out for $1.1 billion and Charles and his younger brother David became majority owners in the company.

It is not easy to find out how much Charles Koch inherited when Fred died. It’s not mentioned in his Wikipedia biography, which points out that he and his brothers inherited a “medium sized” oil refining business and that Charles and David (on the Forbes top ten wealthiest list until 2018) turned the renamed Koch Industries into the “largest privately held company by revenue in the United States, according to Forbes.[6]“.

[2]

Particularly if you discard the first four words of that inartfully drafted amendment:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.