Fear the Tallest Building

“You can tell what informs a society by what building is tallest,” Joseph Campbell says. He goes on to describe how churches were the tallest buildings with ancient towns built around the church, then castles or government buildings, and finally corporate offices. We got stuck on fearing the government when corporations have become the bigger threat. This was done to us deliberately, so we would cheer deregulation and lower taxes on the wealthiest and be grateful the government wasn’t overstepping and controlling us. Meanwhile powerful corporations and the vast wealth disparity they create are ruining people’s lives. The GOP has been working for this for decades, and Trump, for all the many other flaws he has, is an unscrupulous businessman who hates regulations because they make it harder for him to rip people off and now he’s deregulating everything and signing a tax law tailor made for business people like him all while still profiting from his businesses. It hasn’t been ten years since the ’08 crash that almost wiped out everyone’s 401Ks and now we’re stripping away the bank regulations put in place to make sure that never happened again. It’s an old tactic of control: look over here where this extreme would be hypothetically scary and bad for you but don’t look over here where that extreme’s opposite extreme is causing actual damage. Our fear now should be of too powerful corporations and a government who does their bidding.

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Please Spread the Truth about the Affordable Care Act. Trump is Lying, Again

It’s not a surprise that Trump is calling the passage of the tax bill a repeal of the Affordable Care Act. He takes full credit for things he had little to do with and exaggerates them to the point of lying. I think that was a chapter from the book he had written for him, The Art of Manipulation, I think it was called. What’s stranger is he apparently thinks the money collected from people who went without insurance and paid the fine funded the ACA, which demonstrates ignorance about the law. The Affordable Care Act is still the law of the land. The thirteen million people the CBO projects will lose coverage with the repeal of the individual mandate is just that, a projection. Opinions vary. Some experts expect that the law has been in place long enough that people have learned it is a benefit. Those subsidies are still there for people who qualify for them. That’s what puts the “affordable” in The Affordable Care Act. We all have a right to purchase insurance at a price that doesn’t exceed a certain percentage of our income. Trump is lying, again. He’s telling the American people the ACA has been repealed, which it hasn’t. His hope is people will feel discouraged or outright confused and not take those available subsidies, so he can feel right, I guess. This post isn’t about how flawed Trump is as a leader and person. We know that. If you have friends and family who depend on the ACA to get their insurance be sure they understand the truth. Uninsured people are more likely to die, that’s a statistical reality. So it’s good for them to have health insurance but it’s also important for the health insurance system, the only one we have, that healthy people are maintaining health insurance. “Healthy people” should probably be “potentially healthy people.” The healthy today could be the sick tomorrow, which is why we want to be a country where more people have health insurance, so our sick can receive care when they need it.

What Tribalism Is, What Tribalism Isn’t

The idea of tribalism goes back to ancient times when bands of hunter-gatherers were following the animals they ate and searching for edible plants and fruits. Peoples clashed. They probably didn’t always clash, but if food scarcity was at levels that threatened survival, they certainly would have clashed. Compassion was enough of an instinct that killing would have troubled them, so they needed to carry a tribal god with them that told them they were a select group and other groups they ran into were not in that select group, which gave them permission to kill that other group without guilt or with diminished guilt. There are remnants of the tribal god thinking in the Western religions, which derived from the hunter-gatherer style of living. In the Bible, there are lists of foods appropriate to eat. These lists are worse than arbitrary, these were lists of the foods these people were already eating, so that when they ran into peoples eating different foods, they could kill them for violating religious law. There are other lists in the Bible, for how to sew etc. The Western religions (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism) have adapted to a more unified globe and now teach messages of peace, but this tribalism origin shows in their texts and that influence probably affects our thinking, whether religious or not, we’re all influenced by Western religion.

A close equivalent to tribalism, in modern times, might be people who take sports rivalries way too seriously and imagine the campus of a rival college team or the city of a rival team a completely other set of people, even when everything else about those two cities or campuses would point to them having a lot in common (similarly sized, same region of the country, etc.). Tribalism would be if I eat Wheaties for breakfast and I have a neighbor who easts Mueslix, and I think, What kind of an asshole eats Mueslix for breakfast? I don’t even have an issue with this neighbor, I’m just looking for arbitrary distinctions so that when the end of times comes if we’re down to one loaf of bread and one bottle of water between the two of us I can not share without guilt.

The problem with explaining the divide in America today with tribalism is that it attempts to establish a false equivalency, kind of a buzz phrase through the 2016 election and continuing after, but a buzz phrase because the tactic is used constantly. There is a tribal element to the divide in America, because those Western religion influences are so powerful, but the distinctions of tribalism exist solely so that there are distinctions. They exist to create us and not-us, other. What divides America today is where we align on actual issues and what the influence of tribalism allows us to ignore is that there are objective truths behind those issues. This predates Trump. Jenny McCarthy used a study, later determined to be based on manipulated data and fraudulent research, to convince people vaccines cause autism. Many probably still believe this. Vaccinating a perfectly healthy baby is frightening, so it can be tempting to believe someone who tells you not to do it, but read up on how terrifying Polio was before a vaccine to prevent it existed. Climate change, caused by human activity, is no fun to think about, so when someone claims we’re just in a natural warming period, it’s tempting to believe. If you’re a Trump supporter, believing, as he said, that millions of people in California illegally voted for Clinton is tempting to believe, because winning the popular vote would be a nice feather in the cap of the person you voted for. Similarly, believing his inauguration was more well attended than Obama’s.

The scientific method allows us to eliminate our biases in how we observe. It has ways of eliminating that we might like to believe Trump’s inauguration was more well attended than Obama’s with what we can clearly see in pictures, that it wasn’t. Science has ways of studying how and why the planet is warming and was able to establish an extreme likelihood that digging up millions of years’ worth of fossil fuels and releasing them into the atmosphere as a gas is, inconvenient as it is to learn, the how and the why. Science establishes extreme likelihoods because science doesn’t deal in certainties. Certainty ends the search for potential new information and our ability to integrate that new information with what we already believe or to change what we already believe completely. We seem to be in a new age where people are comfortable believing whatever they choose to believe, and those people take advantage of science not dealing in certainties and use that to create irrational doubt, which is not the same as skepticism.

Soon after Trump was elected, he made the claim Obama had wiretapped him. An interviewer made every effort to nail him down on this, as Trump tried to be oblique, as he likes to be, you might remember this clip, Trump kept saying “you can figure it out,” and the reporter said, “I want to know what you think, you’re the president.” At one point, Trump said, “I don’t stand for anything,” and then he told the reporter, “I can have my own opinions. You can have your own opinions.” This is the problem in America, and Trump is just an expression of that problem. Whether or not Obama was illegally wiretapping Trump is not a matter of opinion, it either happened or it didn’t. That clip is here; it’s hard to watch:

After Trump’s win, a lot of Americans questioned how people could have voted for him and the response to that questioning was often, “Apparently people aren’t entitled to an opinion anymore.” That’s nonsense. Of course, everyone is entitled to an opinion but respecting others’ opinions doesn’t require not questioning them. As much as people were entitled to vote for Trump and defend that vote, I was and am entitled to state that they voted wrong. Russian paid for millions of ads on facebook manipulating Americans into being for Trump and against Clinton and, more relevantly, which doesn’t get the mention it deserves, those ads were shared by American citizens millions of times. We got duped. Russia rigged our election for president taking advantage of our willingness to believe whatever we like to believe.

If we’re not allowed to challenge each other to be better voters, our democracy is threatened. I hope everyone who’s read this far reads the quote below from David Foster Wallace. What comes through even more than his wish for his fellow citizens to maintain a Democratic Spirt is his compassion at how difficult it truly is, how we all fail, sometimes, how the trap of failing to maintain a Democratic Spirit is universal. Compare how his words below try to unite us at the same time as they try to make us better. Compare that to how our current president uses that same trap to try to divide us and make us worse.

“A Democratic Spirit is one that combines rigor and humility, i.e., passionate conviction plus a sedulous respect for the convictions of others. As any American knows, this is a difficult spirit to cultivate and maintain, particularly when it comes to issues you feel strongly about. Equally tough is a DS’s criterion of 100 percent intellectual integrity – you have to be willing to look honestly at yourself and your motives for believing what you believe, and to do it more or less continually. A Democratic Spirit’s constituent rigor and humility and self-honesty are, in fact, so hard to maintain on certain issues that it’s almost irresistibly tempting to fall in with some established dogmatic camp and to follow that camp’s line on the issue and to let your position harden within the camp and become inflexible and believe that the other camps are either evil or insane and to spend all your time and energy trying to shout over them.” – David Foster Wallace, from a 1999 article, “Authority and American Usage”

The GOP Tax Plan is a Disaster

The disaster known as… “The GOP tax plan.”

Unlike our president who likes to call the Affordable Care Act a “disaster” when really he knows little about it other than that he doesn’t like it, I’m going to explain why I am of the opinion that the GOP tax plan is a disaster. Trump grasps superficially to the ideas around issues that confirm what he wishes to believe. He probably truly thinks this tax plan is great, he also probably truly knows little about it. He can just be told what about it he would like and he’ll sign it.

Like their attempt to repeal and replace the ACA, the primary goal of this tax plan is to deliver tax breaks to the GOP’s wealthy donors. This tax plan is your work buying pizza “for everyone” but the managers and bosses get to eat the pizza and everyone else gets to eat their crusts. Except some of the lower level employees wouldn’t even get to eat crusts but they will have to chip in to pay for the pizza.

After McConnel announced everyone in the middle class would see a tax break, this statement was exposed as a lie. On average the middle class would see a break but depending on where you live, you might end up paying more. He later came out and admitted this.

The tax plan the GOP is putting forth is (hold your surprise) centered around the floated but never proven theory of “trickle down economics.” If the wealthy have even more money they’ll invest it in growth of the economy, which will create more, higher paying jobs, so that money will trickle down to the rest of the country. The best response to that I heard was from someone on one of the Sunday morning news shows, who said that theory would make this tax plan defensible if we were in a recession, if unemployment was high. The economy is doing well, which means the people who will see most of the breaks in taxes already have money to use to invest and grow the economy and raise wages, if they wanted to. The wealthy don’t invest because they have money lying around. They invest to capture business opportunities and increase their profit. Whatever they would be doing with the extra money the GOP is about to transfer to them, they already are doing with the profits they’re making from the economy currently thriving.

The GOP is rallying around their inability to get a major achievement passed in the first year of Trump’s presidency as a reason to feel desperation to pass this. If we don’t get something done, after not repealing and replacing the ACA, we’re going to struggle in 2018. So their plan is to push an unpopular tax plan on voters to show them they can get things done and expect that to win them votes in 2018? Do you believe that? This doesn’t smell like that. It reeks, but it doesn’t smell like that. This is the GOP appeasing their wealthy donors and they’ll worry about damage control later.

This plan will add 1.5 trillion dollars to our national debt. They claim that economic growth will make up that 1.5 trillion, but we have other resources than just the political group highly motivated to believe generous estimates they come up with to justify the bill they want to pass. Nonpartisan groups run these numbers and give more objective analyses. Those groups do not expect increased growth to be significant enough to make up that 1.5 trillion dollars. So once again the “fiscally responsible” GOP is acting fiscally irresponsible, or at least reckless, in order to deliver money to their donors. They’re funneling so much money to their donors that they failed to stay under the 1.5 trillion dollar cap, so they’re also tacking on a repeal of the individual mandate, part of the Affordable Care Act. This tweak, the CBO, says will result in thirteen million people losing insurance and a 10-20% rise in premiums. They originally didn’t intend to attach healthcare changes to this tax plan, but they have because they needed to find more money: $338 billion. And while Paul Ryan will surely talk publicly about how this is America and he’s all for people having choices, this “tweak” isn’t about giving Americans choices, it’s about that money. These will be healthy people who “choose” not to buy insurance. It’s naïve for one individual to forego health insurance in hopes they won’t get sick or injured, but that one individual might not fall injured or ill. (That doesn’t matter, with insurance you’re buying the right to care if you need it, not the care you get if you need it.) It’s egregious for the government to pass this off on us when out of thirteen million people they absolutely know some portion of that thirteen million will fall injured or ill. When they do, they’ll get worse, more expensive care in the ER, most of which will be covered by taxpayers. Shouldn’t that concern the fiscally responsible GOP? It should but those extra expenses don’t fit into the 1.5 trillion dollar mark they have to stay under to get this law passed.

This is dumb governing anyway you look at it. Having a majority across the board might allow you to shove through some stuff but that’s a short term fix. (A short term fix is all you need if your actual goal is to win the favor of your donors and not to pass functional governing policies.) The GOP has made no attempt to bring any Democrats in since gaining majorities in both houses of congress and now the presidency. Wily Mitch works around needing the two-thirds majority and tries to pass things on purely partisan lines. Is that sustainable, to have a government where the minority party is just ignored? Particularly when you’re pushing unpopular laws, you’re bound to lose that majority and have the other party undo what you’d done. (Again, if your real goal is to show your donors your homework and get paid, then that’s not a problem.) And no, Obama and the Democrats didn’t do “the same thing” when they passed the ACA. Obama tried to work with Republicans, the ACA itself was a compromise to meet across the aisle with Republicans. The ACA ended up passing without Republican support but only because the Republicans intended to obstruct. The Democrats might be in obstruct mode, too, but how would we know? They’ve been completely cut out since Trump got sworn in.

Which leaves us with Trump, who besides riling everyone up with racist rhetoric also promised magic fixes to people struggling. Many people voted for Trump, not because of his racist rhetoric but in spite of it because they were frustrated with the struggle of living day to day. Trump promised them relief. He’s going to try to sell this as that relief delivered. Look how much I cut taxes, no one likes taxes, right? Look at how easy it will be to do your taxes on this postcard that I’m going to kiss. Have a look at the tax breaks Trump stands to receive personally and compare those to the break you’ll receive. He’s eating pizza and you’re eating his crusts. Trump is a deeply selfish human being. He’s only going to pretend to try to help you if he sees that it will help him. You missed that about him during his campaign, but don’t get married to that oversight.

Trump’s Response to Terrorism Resonates, which is the Problem

Every American is heartbroken at the announcement of the next mass killing. All of us. Then we wonder who was responsible. It shouldn’t be the first thought, the first thought should be empathy for the victims and their families, but that’s more abstract. Who did it is where we tend to first go. I recently confessed to a friend how guilty I feel for always immediately hoping it wasn’t a foreigner, who is Muslim, with ties to ISIS. He made me feel better by letting me know I wasn’t alone in that feeling. I’m still troubled by that response. It shouldn’t matter, but it does because we have a president who does the opposite. He hopes the killer is a Muslim foreigner, because it fits the narrative he campaigned on and the xenophobic agenda he’s trying to push. He “counts his hits and ignores his misses,” which is gamblers’ logic. We know because of how he responded to the Orlando shooter during the campaign and when comparing his responses to the Vegas shooter and the driver from the recent attack in New York. He’s not alone. His xenophobic campaigning got him elected. At least some of those voters think the same way. The statistics don’t lie. The majority of these like clockwork random mass murders are committed by white Americans but in these cases the same people who immediately jump to tightening our already strict immigration policies are the first to say there’s nothing we can do about our lax gun laws because that would restrict Americans’ freedoms. That is not a valid opinion, that’s flawed thinking. But what is actually a statistical outlier validates Trump’s agenda and presidency, it lets people who voted wrong for president feel what they desperately want to believe: that they voted right. This is how democracies continue down the wrong path.

The Electoral College Should Vote Clinton over Trump because They Can

Clinton won the popular vote. Trump’s supporters’ constant reminders about the Electoral College are designed, whether consciously or not, to diminish the significance of Clinton winning the popular vote but it is significant. More people who voted wanted Clinton to be president. The Electoral College was probably never a perfect system, it was probably arrived at through a series of compromises among people all dead now to balance the voting in a country that looked much different. Now we have people who work for the same 10-20 companies in identical clusters of businesses in different states whose votes have more weight by a factor of as high as five. This made sense when some sparsely populated regions made up most of the nation’s farmers or plantation owners. (Remember, the South used to count slaves, considered property, as three-fifths of a person when figuring voting influence, so clearly this was being patched together as they went along.) It makes less sense now.

This isn’t enough to seriously argue that the Electoral College vote in Clinton over Trump because that’s simply changing the rules after losing, but it’s all important context for the argument. Trump is a security risk to the nation. He is fragile and his response to feeling wounded is to attack. It appears to be his only move. His campaign demonstrated this but people still voted for him based on a combination of his lies and false promises and an attack on his opponent fueled largely by misinformation, we now know propagated, in part, by Russian interference. But here’s what Trump’s done since he became president-elect. He’s claimed he would have won the popular vote but for the millions of people in California who voted illegally. He stated this with no evidence. The CIA said they have overwhelming evidence that Russia tampered with the election to try to help him win, and Trump’s response was simply, no, they didn’t. We learned through his campaign that even little things that hurt his easily hurt feelings he claims are just made up. Now the stakes are higher. He is not holding up well to the pressure. And he’s falling back on his same character flaws and lashing out. Lashing out at the CIA of the country he’s about to lead. Again, with nothing but the fact that what they found hurt his feelings. People have said if his collusion with Russia could be proved that would be enough to prevent him taking office. Well, we all heard him tell Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails. I have a friend that likes to say “Words are important.” People want to dismiss Trump’s outrageous comments as Trump being Trump. This is the president-elect. Why are we not holding him accountable? His responses are never measured, they’re all about how he feels, and that is a gigantic security risk. Numerous checks and balances are built into our government. The Electoral College is one of our protections. The Electoral College should recognize that Trump is unfit to be president. What’s missing is public support. Trump’s supporters are cheering themselves for their accomplishment of getting an anti-establishment candidate all the way to the presidency. They view the criticism of him as criticism of them and I’m sorry for that, but an honest evaluation of Trump needs to finally be done by the people who voted not for Trump but against Hillary. A president wins the presidency and becomes a civil servant. He or she may hold the highest office in the land but still serves the citizens—all of them. Trump serves only himself. People who begrudgingly voted for him need to admit that’s true and then voice it. We need them.