Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Fate, impunity and altruism

It is pretended by some that we can destroy without consequence, that we can give without consequence and that we can separate our own fate from that of another, whether we do good or bad. This post is written as a warning, a sort of guide, and an offering of hope that if mankind can make a final and ultimate decision to do no harm, perhaps then, there is a chance for the survival of our species.

There are some who might say that there is no such thing as pure altruism. Here is the Merriam-Webster definition:
Definition of altruism
  1. unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others charitable acts motivated purely by altruism
  1. behavior by an animal that is not beneficial to or may be harmful to itself but that benefits others of its species
I happen to believe that there is no such thing as true altruism, and that it is impossible to do a good deed for another with zero reward. In this one and only respect, I actually agree with Ayn Rand who offers the following analysis:
What is the moral code of altruism? The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value.
Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others. These are not primaries, but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes impossible. The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice—which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction—which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good.
Note for the record, I'm not a libertarian or even an Ayn Rand fan. I'm simply offering her viewpoint here for analysis. What Rand misses here is that humans are built from the ground up for cooperation for their mutual survival. Cooperation is not a choice, it is a requirement for survival. All animals are built this way, but humans have taken the concept to a level that cannot be conceived by other animals due to the size of their brains relative to any other species (with perhaps exception to certain cetaceous mammals like dolphins and whales).

In the first paragraph, Rand says we're all free agents living in a bag of skin, and that service to others is not required for survival. In another, she recognizes that doing something good or nice for another being has inescapable consequences. Rand seems to have suffered from cognitive dissonance in the sense that she cannot reconcile human beings by their very design and their environment, but urges us to believe that we are indeed free agents in a bag of skin capable of acting without consequence from other humans.

Impunity is the antithesis of altruism. Impunity assumes action against others without consequence. Merriam-Webster, again:
Definition of impunity:  exemption or freedom from punishment, harm, or loss laws were flouted with impunity
Impunity assumes that harms done to another being can be committed without consequence. But as noted above, just as the consequences of good deeds are inescapable, so too are the consequences of a bad deed. For this discussion, we can find a continuum of behavior between altruism and impunity. Both terms have something in common: expressions of altruism and impunity can often be seen as attempts to do something without consequence to oneself.

Humans are motivated to do good for the feelings that come from doing good. We can feel it in our chest and gut. We sort of glow for a day after doing a really good deed. An anonymous good dead, an act of altruism, is often performed without witnessing the the receipt or discovery of such a gift. We leave a gift at someone's door, or we send something nice in the mail anonymously, or we donate to a charity without revealing our identity. No matter how hard we try to separate ourselves from the consequences of a good deed, there are still consequences.

In the same vein, when humans attempt to do harm to another, from slavery to murder, to genocide, there are consequences. Even acts of racial discrimination, collusion, frauds and other abuses, have long term consequences that at the minimum are difficult to calculate and are rarely foreseen by the abuser, yet they are there and they can persist for years if not decades later. And with every act carried out with impunity, the body is shot with adrenaline and other hormones, making ready for fight or flight. Every act of harm done to another takes away resources that could be used for the betterment of ourselves. That is the primary consequence abusers fail to contemplate in the heat of the moment.

Abusers who believe they can act with impunity believe that there are no consequences to their actions. But there are. Newton said that for every action, there is a reaction. This is every bit as true in society as it is in physics. It is true in the game of billiards just as it was true in the events leading up to the French Revolution.

In both cases of altruism and impunity, we see actors seeking to act while attempting to escape the consequences of their actions. It is simply not possible to act without consequence. We are inextricably tied to the consequences of our actions, no matter the reason or action.

I am using this line of thinking to understand what is unfolding before us, in an enormous power struggle between the wealthy and the poor, between different faiths and those with no faith at all. This struggle has always existed for the history of human civilization. Against this backdrop of a continuum of altruism and impunity, I see the actions of Congress, and their wealthy benefactors, as a strenuous effort to separate their fate from ours. To a certain degree it may seem they are or even have been successful. But as I will show below, our fates are tied and no amount of effort will untie them.

The effects of global warming, climate change, or whatever you want to call it, are real. They are worldwide and affect everyone on this planet. It is now clear that human inputs of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere play a role in the warming of Earth. Spring has been coming earlier and winter is coming later at places closer to the poles. The equatorial regions are indeed warming up and we are seeing new record temperatures across the world.

Government responses to global warming can be seen as the greatest political blunder in history. We have allowed climate change at our own hand due to the wishes of very wealthy interests to continue to profit from their efforts to extract and sell energy based on carbon. Here in the United States, we know for a fact that the average person has zero influence on public policy at the national level. This condition is a result of public policy choices made by people who already have power and seek yet more power.

The illusion is this: with power comes the ability to separate your fate from mine. Yet everyone will be affected by a warming Earth. There is no escaping that consequence.

Fanatical Christians, Jews and Muslims may believe that they can act with impunity because they believe can ask forgiveness for their sins and be absolved, but that still doesn't separate their fate from that of others, or even of others they may have injured. Atheists seem to understand this concept better because they do not seek immortality. They have compassion because they believe that this is it, their one shot at a life and that their fate is tied to others, that they cannot separate their actions from their consequences. Buddhists at least understand that we are all connected.

Every drone strike is an attempt to separate the fate of one group from another. A drone strike is a unique example of an attempt to split fates since the operator of a drone is sitting safely and comfortably in a military station while the drone is exposed to harm, and armed to harm another. Yet every drone strike is destructive and not only does it lead to the destruction of the target, it leads to the destruction of the abuser, in this case, the United States for every drone strike gives impetus to at least one more terrorist.

In a similar vein, the people who created Social Security, Medicare and other social safety net programs understood that our fates are irrevocably intertwined. While conservatives bleat that "it's my money", they have little to say when "my money" is being used for destructive purposes, like a drone strike, or worse, a world war. Social safety net programs were created as an acknowledgement of not only the destructive forces of capitalism, but also the creative forces of the same. Visionaries like Henry Wallace, John F. Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt understood these opposing forces and also understood that men who promoted and exhibited destructive behavior could not easily be convinced of the damage they were doing to all Americans.

Another and more subtle example is the business tax break. States and cities all over the country, in an effort to prop up their ailing economies, offer tax breaks to big businesses in the hopes of creating more jobs at home. Such tax breaks are usually geared towards building upscale housing for the wealthy or tax breaks for large businesses to "come hither". Consultants who earn enormous fees for doing essentially nothing, almost always suggest a handout to the private sector. Such handouts are only enjoyed by the upper classes and yet few people in the working classes are even aware of this intervention by the government in the supposedly "free" market.

It would seem ironic then, how few cities (and states) are willing to consider offering a "community broadband" service, public infrastructure that can be enjoyed at a reasonable cost by everyone. As our economy sours in anticipation of another wave of "privatization", a nice word for transferring public monopolies into private hands, little is said in the news of the benefits of community broadband, but a new stadium subsidized at public expense is always worthy of celebration. Once again, we see in a subtle way, how the upper classes try to separate their fates from "the unwashed masses".

In his book Hegemony or Survival, Noam Chomsky took notice of work done by biologist, Ernst Mayr with regards to the prospects for finding intelligent life beyond Earth. Mayr suggested that intelligence may not be favored by natural selection, noted that the average life expectancy of a species is about 100,000 years, and that humans are pretty close to the end of their 100,000 years right about now. We could be at a turning point larger than any of us know right now, and all of us may at last realize that our fates are still irrevocably tied together.

As an intelligent species, we have a choice between acts of destruction and acts of creation. We have a choice between acts of exclusion or inclusion. Whatever we choose to do, if our species which we like to call "homo sapiens" is going to survive any longer, we must recognize that whatever we do will affect ourselves as well as another. We must take heed of the inescapable reality that when we hurt another that we hurt ourselves, and our prospects as a species for survival, and that when we do good to another, we improve ourselves as well as our prospects for survival. This concept is agnostic as to matters of faith and is supported by all of the science we know now. We ignore it at our own peril, and acknowledge it as a requirement for survival.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Hedging on a transition

For the past few weeks, I've been working against competing demands for my blogging time. Besides the normal demands like work, family and a really cold basement where my computer happens to rest, something else has come to the fore: Steemit.

If you follow me on Google+, Facebook and Twitter, you may have noticed an occasional post regarding my efforts at Steemit. I'm just learning about it and I find it a fascinating venture. Steemit is yet another blogging platform but with one big difference. It pays to write on Steemit. From blogging to comments, to following and being followed, Steemit is an attempt to capture the value of social media interaction on a blogging platform and return at least some of it to the users.

Here is where it gets interesting. Every interaction is captured in a distributed transaction record called a blockchain. A blockchain is a database with encryption that is used to verify each transaction and store it so that every transaction can be verified against another. It is distributed across many peer computers for redundancy, security and speed. Computational effort generates value in the form of Steem, a cryptocurrency very much like Bitcoin.

I've been working out the logistics and am close to the point of letting Blogger go for awhile to give me time to try this out full time, that is, for all the time that I have available to blog, I will post there. I'll keep my day job, but when I'm blogging, I'll be doing it there, on Steemit. I want to see what a full effort there can do.

Steemit is still in beta, that is, they're still testing it. Few people really know that it exists, but it's there and so far, I like what I see. I will miss the integration with Google+ to be sure, but I won't miss the tremendous efforts required just to pull a few cents out of it. Don't get me wrong. I have a passion for writing and a passion for a cause. I'd like to be able to pursue those two passions and still pay the bills.

I'm grown to love Blogger. It's simple, easy to use and integrates well with Google+. When I post my articles on Google+ the comments received show up on my blog for others to read, too. That is a feature I really like that allows me to track comments wherever I happen to post the article on Google+.

Then again, I post articles on Facebook and Twitter and really don't have any integration from there. So there isn't much lost going from Blogger to Steemit. I can still link Mailchimp to my blog on Steemit, too.

Relative to Blogger, Steemit seems to be very good at generating value for content produced. Steemit also allows for upvoting of posts like Reddit. But that costs Steem Power, a sort of influence token. It gets more complicated from there and I'm planning on spending a lot more time there just to make myself familiar with it. All I can say for sure is that I'm optimistic about Steemit and I also see that Steemit is not the only social media site using cryptocurrency to pay their users. There are already a couple more to follow Steemit.

Steemit is attempting to do something that Facebook, Google+, Twitter and a few other social media sites have so far refused to do: pay their content creators for their work, and except for Google+, they show ads at the same time. There are no ads on Steemit, at least not now. Maybe not ever. The investors who created Steemit seem to think that content creators should be paid for their work. They have a business model that I'm still learning about it, but from what I can see, ad support is not an obvious consideration.

There is something else that I like about Steemit which, I think portends of the future: people will find ways to earn a basic income from something they are already doing. It is possible that in the long term future, say, 10-15 years, much of the routine labor will be automated. Trucks will drive themselves. Trains will drive themselves. Robots will stock shelves and pick produce. It is possible for this to happen, but it's not happening yet. Steemit could be an acknowledgement that we need to prepare for that eventual future. The future envisioned by Piers Anthony in the Blue Adept may not be so far off.

Billions of people are engaged in social media. Steemit is pioneering a way to channel that energy into blockchain computing. With Bitcoin, you can buy rigs and run software to mine Bitcoin. Blocks on Bitcoin are created by sheer computational power. In a way, such systems are minting money.

Steem generates blocks on the blockchain by a more familiar user interface, a social media network, something that billions are already doing now. The more content you created the more you earn, based on the votes you receive. The transition from social media networks familiar to us now to a social media network that actually pays their users for content would not be that hard to make.

I can even see these pioneers like Steemit pulling the old dogs along. I suggest that the appeal of a blogging and/or social media platform that pays for content will eventually be impossible to ignore. If Steemit proves to be successful, others will have to follow or lose their users and their revenue sources: the users. Ultimately, the users generate the value and they are the revenue source that social media relies upon. I see no reason they should not be paid.

Going even one step further, it is no secret that central banks have been rigging national economies. What appears to be not very well known is who benefits from this manipulation. I can recall in the days when I used to watch TV, and I mean broadcast TV, how the markets would go nuts when interest rates were raised or lowered. The Federal Reserve Bank is our central bank. They control the interest rates in America. When they raise rates, millions are thrown out of work, and stock markets rally. That seems like a good clue as to who benefits from the way our central bank works.

Cryptocurrencies have no central bank. There are hundreds of them, all competing for your use. The more people use a cryptocurrency, the more valuable that currency becomes. Most can be traded for traditional currency like the dollar and the Euro. There are now exchanges (like this one) that allow for purchase and trading of cryptocurrencies, much like any other security or commodity. And they're growing.

Bitcoin started out small. As developers built the software to exchange Bitcoin, businesses started to see value in using Bitcoin as a medium of exchange. It's still very tiny relative to the worldwide economy, but it's there. Checking on the prices today, Bitcoin is now on par with gold. Gold is selling for $1,204 per ounce. Bitcoin is now at $1,250 per coin. I can recall one story that I saw on Steemit that tells of a man who bought $27 of Bitcoin, forgot about it for a few years and found out that his investment had appreciated to $889k. The growth is there, but can ordinary people use it? I think so.

Bitcoin is now big enough that governments can no longer ignore it. All power derives from the people. It doesn't matter what form of government you want to call it, all power still derives from the people. When the people get tired of being manipulated by the banks, it is natural for them to seek alternatives. Cryptocurrencies are that alternative until a better one comes along.

Cryptocurrencies rely upon computational power to generate value. Through personal computing, this power is distributed to everyone who has a computer. Compared to traditional central banks, cryptocurrencies are fairly democratic and not easily prone to abuse by central banks run by governments. Perhaps through a union of social media and cryptocurrencies, the people can finally gain control of the governments that claim to represent them. If not, they may have to form new governments that provide the representation they seek for their mutual benefit.

I'd say there is a peaceful revolution in process now. Most of us just don't know it yet.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

The debate over Obamacare is not a debate over economics, its really about ideology

The GOP has finally released their bill to overhaul Obamacare. Though some key elements of Obamacare will remain, it is clear that the GOP is uncertain just how to undo Obamacare without facing serious political repercussions in the 2018 mid-terms. Given the onslaught of legislative initiatives working through Congress now, it would seem to me that Republicans in Congress now have enough rope to do themselves in for the next midterm election.

The American Health Care Act, as introduced by Republicans in Congress, is the bill that the GOP has been working on for weeks behind closed doors. The key features of the bill show that allowing parents to keep their kids on the plan until age 26, banning discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, and even the Medicaid expansion will survive for now. The bill has serious changes for much later baked into it so that the current Congress has a chance to survive the midterms. That's cute.

At the Washington Post, they've noticed that opposition to the bill is fairly universal from the industry the bill purports to regulate. Organizations representing doctors, hospitals and even insurers have expressed surprise at the contents of the bill mostly because they were not invited to offer input on the bill. Afraid of offending their donors and their voters, Republicans in Congress seem to be mum about their true objectives, even in this bill.

Economist Dean Baker suggests that the GOP Congress will top 50 million uninsured once this bill becomes law. Here is one very interesting observation Baker makes about how people use Medicaid:
For example, the plan leaves in place the expansion of Medicaid through 2020. This should be long enough so that most currently serving Republican governors will not have to deal with the effect of the elimination of this provision. After 2020 people benefiting from the expansion will be allowed to remain on Medicaid, but new people will not be added. Since people tend to shift on and off Medicaid (something rarely understood by reporters who cover the ACA), after two or three years the vast majority of the people who benefited from the expansion will no longer be getting Medicaid. By 2025, the impact of the expansion on the number of the uninsured will be trivial.
This is something I did not know: people go on and off Medicaid. Once enrollment is frozen for Medicaid, the people who were on it once, will find that they cannot return after 2020. Great for Republicans in elected office who are already set with gold-plated insurance, bad for people who need the help.

Numerous critics have requested a scoring of the bill by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) for the reason that no one knows the true cost of the bill. This is interesting considering that many Republicans claim to be fiscally conservative. Why wouldn't they wait to find out? Perhaps their objective is not the repeal of Obamacare. Their objective is repeal of the taxes imposed by Obamacare that would result in a nice, tidy windfall for the wealthiest of Americans who run very large businesses, but can't wait to externalize the cost of health care for their employees.

I suggest here, that the debate over Obamacare, and health care in general is not about economics. It's about ideology. Conservative rhetoric maintains that people should be responsible for their own health. In a perfect world, that might be true, but this world is far from perfect, at least with humans in it. What conservative talking points miss is that business does the majority of the polluting, while funneling most of the income generated by the business to the top 1%. 

Business creates pollution. Ordinary people minding their own affairs do not even come close to the effluvia created by business. Business sells things that pollute and people buy them. From plastic doo-dads of all manner, shapes and sizes, to electronics that need to be properly recycled, to vehicles that spew CO2 and particulate matter into the air for us to breathe, to oil spills, and coal ash spills.

All of that pollution has an effect on the health of the people who use products and services created by the very businesses that seek to escape the costs that businesses can impose on everyone else. This is the argument missing from the debate. There are a few more arguments missing, too. Like how doctors have engineered a shortage of doctors to prop up their incomes relative to everyone else. Or how drug patents now cost Americans roughly $360 billion a year. Or how lawyers game the courts with torts to increase the cost of protection for doctors.

The entire game is about shifting costs from one party to another. This is how they keep us divided. This is what the GOP plan to replace Obamacare is about. It's time to bring everyone together, into a system that keeps everyone in, everyone covered, and lets nobody out. After all, we're stronger together, right?

Enter now, the bill now in Congress that is nowhere to be seen in the news, H.R.676 - Expanded and Improved Medicare For All Act. This is a universal health care act. This requires everyone to pay in and everyone to be covered. Based on my reading so far, there is very little way that I can see, for any single group to externalize or shift the costs of health care onto another. Here is the bill summary:
This bill establishes the Medicare for All Program to provide all individuals residing in the United States and U.S. territories with free health care that includes all medically necessary care, such as primary care and prevention, dietary and nutritional therapies, prescription drugs, emergency care, long-term care, mental health services, dental services, and vision care.
Only public or nonprofit institutions may participate. Nonprofit health maintenance organizations (HMOs) that deliver care in their own facilities may participate.
Patients may choose from participating physicians and institutions.
Health insurers may not sell health insurance that duplicates the benefits provided under this bill. Insurers may sell benefits that are not medically necessary, such as cosmetic surgery benefits.
The bill sets forth methods to pay institutional providers and health professionals for services. Financial incentives between HMOs and physicians based on utilization are prohibited.
The program is funded: (1) from existing sources of government revenues for health care, (2) by increasing personal income taxes on the top 5% of income earners, (3) by instituting a progressive excise tax on payroll and self-employment income, (4) by instituting a tax on unearned income, and (5) by instituting a tax on stock and bond transactions. Amounts that would have been appropriated for federal public health care programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), are transferred and appropriated to carry out this bill.
The program must give employment transition benefits and first priority in retraining and job placement to individuals whose jobs are eliminated due to reduced clerical and administrative work under this bill.
The Department of Health and Human Services must create a confidential electronic patient record system.
The bill establishes a National Board of Universal Quality and Access to provide advice on quality, access, and affordability.
The Indian Health Service must be integrated into the program after five years. Congress must evaluate the continued independence of Department of Veterans Affairs health programs. (emphasis mine, text of bill here
Note that private insurance is effectively cut out of the basic health insurance business. An enormous, confusing bureaucracy of multiple private insurance companies will be replaced by one federal agency, with one neck to grab in November. No one gets out from paying the taxes to support the program, which means that there can be no cost shifting for profits. Increase the burden on party at the risk of increasing the burden for all, and anyone who tries to do that will be found and made known.

Taxes are imposed at numerous sources, including securities transactions like the sale of stocks and bonds. That means those with lofty incomes who engage in high frequency trading might have to do something more productive with their time and computers. Everyone pays in for their mutual benefit.

I note with interest that Bernie Sanders is not a cosponsor of the bill. I wonder if he has an opinion of it. In 2011, Sanders introduced a similar bill, but the Physicians for a Single Payer Plan liked HR 676 better.

This is our moment. HR 676 is a far better plan and does not set one generation or even one faction against another as the Republican plan does. If everyone pays in, the costs are nominal for all. Under the current system and worse, with the GOP plan as proposed, burdens are shifted and concentrated on the people who are least able to afford it.

So let your Congressperson know that you know about HR 676. Let those who oppose HR 676 explain why the people should not be united in the pursuit of quality health care that is already enjoyed by every other industrialized country, as a right. We have an alternative to the GOP plan. Let's talk about that.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

It's time to start thinking of racism as an addiction: a preventable, progressive and fatal disease of the mind

Here's an interesting story about a couple in Georgia who were sentenced to a combined 35 years in prison for participating in a parade of trucks flying the Confederate flag in front of an African American family's home while hosting a birthday party. At least, that's what we get from the headline. During the parade, Jose "Joe" Torres stopped his truck, brought out a shotgun and pointed it at the party-goers threatening to kill them. Kayla Norton, the other defendant in the couple, also made threats while at his side. Nobody was physically hurt, but the family in the home brought charges with evidence captured on video and numerous witnesses. Consequently, the couple were arrested, prosecuted and convicted.

While several other participants were charged in the incident for lesser crimes, it is worth noting that some participants, including the couple, were charged with violations of Georgia's Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act. Finally, we're starting to see racists being charged and identified as terrorists for their acts of aggression. That is a very significant turn of events in terms of prosecution and reporting.

I watched the video at the head of the article to see how Norton, the female defendant, cried in court and turned to the victims to display an incredible degree of denial (from the CNN article referenced above):
Norton apologized for her role in the incident saying, "I want you all to know that is not me. That is not me, that is not him. I would never walk up to you and say those words to you. I'm so sorry that happened to you. I am so sorry."
This is the kind of denial someone might have expressed after discovering what they had done while blacked out from a drinking binge. It was all fun and games until they found themselves in cuffs in front of a judge (from the same article):
"Many people tried to make the case about simply flying the Confederate Battle Flag," Douglas County District Attorney Brian Fortner said in a statement. "This case was about a group of people riding around our community, drinking alcohol, harassing and intimidating our citizens because of the color of their skin."
Step back for a moment and consider the kind of ride these people were taking. I'm not just talking about the alcohol or anything else they might have been taking. I'm talking endorphins. Endorphins are the brain's response to threats and other intense stimuli. The most well known experience of endorphins is the "Runner's High".

Another well known endorphin is adrenaline. Have you ever been in a heated argument and felt the rise of anger? Have you ever felt fear from a threat, like a car that you didn't see behind you, but just whizzed past you? Those examples provide a very mild shot of adrenaline.

Those people in the parade were packing serious heat (at least one shotgun) and had organized a parade in front of their victim's house. The entire affair appears to be premeditated. In other words, they spent time collaborating and planning their "event", complete with giggles and anticipation. During the event, the alcohol further released their inhibitions enough for them to shout threats and throw objects at their victims, too. The acts of shouting racial slurs, throwing objects, and pointing a gun capable of deadly force, all give rise to huge shots of adrenaline.

I think we can fairly say that they really didn't think this thing through. Especially the part about getting arrested and going to prison.

The planning, the acting out and the displays of domineering behavior all arise out of obsession. Obsession is also a form of addiction and is every bit as addictive as drinking, gambling and power. From beginning to end, these people were orchestrating actions to bring about the maximum high that they could achieve. I'm not saying that was their conscious objective, I'm just saying that how it works.

These people displayed all the hallmarks of an addict, or someone in the throes of an addiction. Here's a handy definition from Psychology Today:
Addiction is a condition that results when a person ingests a substance (e.g., alcohol, cocaine, nicotine) or engages in an activity (e.g., gambling, sex, shopping) that can be pleasurable but the continuation of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary responsibilities and concerns, such as work, relationships, or health. People who have developed an addiction may not be aware that their behavior is out of control and causing problems for themselves and others.
In this case, the couple experienced intense pleasure, the high from the endorphins they experienced while threatening the lives of another. Their actions disrupted the lives of others, when they terrorized an African American family with their parade. Their actions disrupted their own lives when they were sentenced to hard time in prison. This is the power of addiction.

To put this all in terms that most people would not ordinarily use: racism is a sign of mental illness. Now that I think about it, I've never seen or heard anyone say in the news or in civil discourse that racism is a mental illness. Symptoms in this case include obsession (the websites, the Facebook posts, fantasizing, etc); acting out as in their parade, the display of weapons, shouted threats and the slurs; and the crash, like when Torres and Norton were stone cold sober as they both cried and while she apologized in court. Wash, rinse, repeat. We don't even know how many times they've done this before as this was probably the only time someone pressed charges and made them stick.

To call them addicts suffering from an unrelenting addiction is by no means a defense of their behavior. On the contrary, they are adults and they make their own decisions, but at the least, they are very confused adults. At the time of their crime, they were high on, and addicted to power.

They are not evil. I've said before that I don't believe in evil. Evil is a supernatural explanation of challenging behavior in children and adults. There is no evil and good. To put it simply, there are two kinds of people in the world: confused (what we call evil) and less confused (what we like to call good).

The couple and their cohorts are now in jail awaiting a trip to prison. They didn't plan on going to prison and sincerely believed that what they were doing was right and just, even if the people outside of their little world disagreed. That kind of bravado doesn't come from deciding one night after a game of beer pong, that they're going to act racist for a day. No, this is a result of a long line of decisions, spanning years, maybe decades, of imitating or following behavior from some authority figure in their lives. You know, like their parents.

I think they learned that behavior from their parents, and from abuse at the hands of their parents. Hitler's Germany was authoritarian and Christian, and it should be noted that Hitler suffered tremendous abuses at the hands of his father as a childAmerican racism has its roots in Christianity to be sure, but I think we'd find that racism arises from abuse in authoritarian families where "might makes right". Yet, millions of other Americans can read the Bible without making conclusions of racial inferiority based upon skin color, just as Martin Luther King did.

If the parade organizers truly believed that African Americans were inferior, and had taken the time to read their "Good Book", they might find that their purpose (according to their book) is to help those "inferiors", to lift them up, not abuse them. Here's where I get confused. Were they trying to help them? If so, how did they ever come to believe that abusing someone else is even remotely helpful?

In authoritarian families, the rule is that the child lacks motivation to do well, pay no mind to the skills the child might need to achieve the morality that is preached by the parents. Punish the child and he will do better. That's the rule.

Yet, by their actions, it would seem that Torres and Norton weren't even thinking that they would make better people out of those party-goers with their abuse. It was an entirely cathartic affair. Racism is not about superiority and most certainly has nothing to do with helping others out. I am here to say that racism is about people acting out the story of the abuse sustained at the hands of their parents. This acting out is the ritual of their addiction as all addictions have rituals in their expression.

It is right to restrain with imprisonment, such individuals as those who are willing to brandish weapons, parade in the streets and terrorize people on the basis of color, we must consider the source. People are not born racist. They are born into this world without a care about skin color, religion, sexual orientation or nationality. Racism is a learned behavior. It is taught as a set of skills designed to marginalize, minimize and enslave, others who are deemed, "inferior" only due to the color of their skin. They're not the most productive skills, but they are skills, nonetheless.

Racism is a preventable, progressively fatal mental disease, but it can be arrested. I believe that to be true because it is up to parents to set the example of how to live with others, regardless of skin color. Parents set the example by collaborating with their children to solve the problems that children might encounter, problems that if left unsolved, give rise to challenging behavior. Solve those problems with kids and challenging behavior goes away - and kids learn new skills at the same time. A model for solving those problems can be found at www.livesinthebalance.org.

Racism is a set of skills borne of religious dogma, a perversion of morality. Morality is a skill, not dogma. Teach the skills required to achieve the morality of peace, love and compassion, and racism fades away, into grey.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Last night I tweeted John Lennon's "Imagine" to Betsy Devos and Steve Bannon

I've been thinking a lot about this quote by Betsy Devos, courtesy of Mother Jones:
Asked whether Christian schools should continue to rely on giving—rather than pushing for taxpayer money through vouchers—Betsy DeVos replied, "There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education...Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God's kingdom."
Aww. She's so sweet, isn't she? She really wants to get taxpayers to pay for the indoctrination of children for her religion. Why? So she won't have to worry about her fellow Christians being persecuted by others like atheists, Muslims and maybe even Buddhists. I wrote about this fear of persecution years ago. This campaign isn't about saving other people. It's about preventing persecution of Christians. Gosh, if they weren't so incredibly vindictive against others, they might've saved themselves some trouble.

For two millennia, Christians have, at their own hands, conducted genocide and numerous lesser forms of persecution against other races and religions, all in the name of their one supreme religion, Christianity. This isn't to say that all Christians are bad people. They are not all bad. Many, perhaps even a majority of them, live and love in relative peace, wishing no harm on anyone. A few of them are my friends and they're actually pretty cool people. But God help anyone else should Christians amass absolute political and military power.

I have to say it seems quite ironic that a religion so totally dedicated to reliance upon God focuses more on believing in God without question, and following the dictates of the leaders of that religion without question. Christian pursuit of political and military power would seem an oddity then, too. This is why we engage in so many wars. Now that Congress is better than 90% Christian, with conservative Republican majorities in both houses, and a conservative Republican Administration running the show from the White House, it's time to call the "leaders" out for what they are, "jihadists", or as someone else put it, The American Taliban.

If you don't believe me, check out this article on Medium by JC Weatherby, It’s Time to Start Calling Evangelicals What They Are: The American Taliban. Here is the nugget:
Evangelicals are advocating a religious extremism that is no different from muslim extremism, which projects religious authority over all people in their domain, which limits the rights of women, controls and limits education, and enforces strict adherence to a moral code, which naturally rejects and punishes all forms of “decadence,” including; “deviant sexuality,” science, reason, and any questioning of authority. Christian fundamentalists, if given the power, will do the same things.
These people want to tell everyone else what to believe. They want to force us all to believe as they do, but at the same time, would rain hell upon anyone else who tried to do the same thing to them. I'm perfectly content with allowing others to believe what they want to believe, as long as they don't try to force me to do the same as them. Homogeneous thinking is not how humans survived for so long. It is the differences in opinion that makes humans a successful species.

The diversity and expression of human opinion is essential to human survival. Getting us all to believe in a Christian God isn't going to "save" anybody. For the leaders of our country who profess Christianity, it's about security. They want to sleep at night knowing that they'd be safe from persecution if everyone else believed as they do. That's what this is all about. It's an entirely selfish motive, and we know it because not only do they want to enforce a certain religious belief upon the rest of us, they want to keep the hierarchy, too. Funny how no one is talking about dashing that hierarchy to a trillion little pieces.

So I got on Twitter last night and did this tweet:
And this one:
I would love to see a nice million strong wave of Tweets of John Lennon's song aimed at Betsy. In his song, Lennon offers an important reminder that we're all human, we all have frailties and that we all could live in peace if we can let go of the need to get others to think like we do. He's urging us to coexist, in peace.

And then I thought about how "anti-establishment" Steve Bannon claims to be. I wonder how committed to that he really is. Would Bannon give up the hierarchy and his place in it once he's accomplished his goals? I don't think so. Absolute power is stupefyingly attractive and addictive to all humans. I sincerely doubt Bannon is an exception to this rule. So I sent him this tweet, too:
So far, no responses, no retweets, not really much of anything from that yet. I guess it's to be expected. But I've said my piece and that is enough for me. If the people in power truly believe that their actions will promote world peace, then they won't mind explaining their motives for their actions.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Note to Congress: If you're afraid of your constituents, you're probably not representing their interests

Republicans (and Democrats alike) and their viral town hall meetings are storming the news of late. Some Republicans dismiss it all as paid or organized protests. Ha, ha. And some like Marco Rubio have claimed that they aren't doing in person town halls due to their fear of hostility from their own voters.

The reports I've read of these town halls seem to provide a disturbing clue about American politics: Representatives in town halls share their views like gospel expecting the people they represent to follow. Um, I think it's supposed to be the other way around. The purpose of the town hall meeting is for elected representatives to get a sense of what the people in their district want. They are supposed to represent the interests of the people, not their own.

Cyndy A. Matthews provides some insight from a local town hall in a district in Ohio hosted by Representative Jim Jordan:
The questions about the Affordable Care Act revealed Jim Jordan's position for better or worse on health care. He stated at one point that "health care is bad for business." Business people making big profits are more important than saving lives or preventing the suffering of his fellow Americans in the representative's opinion. He also stated he did not like how his able-bodied 27 year old son had to pay higher private health insurance premiums because other people's young adult children are sometimes sicker with diseases like M.S. or cancer. It wasn't "fair" since his son is "healthy" and shouldn't have to subsidize other "non-healthy" Americans' health care.
Mr. Jordan provides the same rationale that I often see in this debate: "Look, we're all just free agents in a bag of skin. Why can't we get along without being forced to subsidize each other?" Never mind that nobody chooses to get cancer or MS. Nobody chooses to drink or shower in polluted water, either.

Matthews goes on to report how Mr. Jordan gave someone sympathetic to his views the podium and ignored the others. It would appear then, that Mr. Jordan, like many politicians of late, have mistaken a forum where all views should be given a voice, for a campaign whistle stop. It's as if he really wanted to make it all about him rather than the people he claims to represent.

The Huffington Post reports that, Rep. Marsha Blackburn [was] Besieged By Boos At Tennessee Town Hall. One member in attendance yelled out, “We are not stupid. Stop this," in response to Blackburn's praise of Betsy Devos. The article goes to describe several incidents where Blackburn is booed by her audience. As a one time comedian, I know how it feels when I bomb and I always learned something when I did, but Blackburn doesn't seem to be learning as this exchange suggests:
Pratik Dash, a Franklin High alumnus, asked the representative to comment on Trump’s statement that he wants to prioritize refugees who are Christian.
“Is it right to prioritize people based on their religion?” he asked, to applause from the crowd.
Instead of answering the question directly, Blackburn launched into a discussion of refugees and the need for more vetting, prompting Dash to ask again, “Do you think it’s right to prioritize people based on their religion? Yes or no?”
“I know that Christians have seen incredible persecution,” Blackburn replied, prompting another chorus of boos.
It is clear that representatives are trying really hard to steer the conversation to fit their own narrative rather than listening to their constituents and airing their views. The two examples above are just a few of the many that I've seen strewn across the internet. The political climate has gotten so bad for Republicans and politicians in general that even Bernie Sanders chimed in:
I think he only goes halfway in his statement. I replied and took it a bit closer to the truth:
I qualified my tweet with the word "might", but I think it's fair to say that Congressmen and women who face angry crowds at town halls must know that their constituents are angry because their interests are not being represented in Congress. It's plain to see when Republicans can claim 26% of voter registration and Democrats 30%. Both parties have done a pretty lousy job of representing America. They both gave us Trump and Clinton as choices for president last November.

Incredibly, The Atlantic has found some politicians willing to admit that the concerns brought up at town halls are real and that the crowds are not manufactured. They are acknowledging that people are taking time out of their busy lives to attend and air their fears and worries. But that doesn't necessarily mean that Congress will actually listen and act on their concerns:
Even if some GOP lawmakers adopt a sympathetic tone toward angry town hall crowds, that isn’t necessarily an indication that they’re changing course. When Cotton told the crowd on Wednesday that he wouldn’t deny Obamacare has helped people in the state of Arkansas, he quickly added it has also “hurt many Arkansans.”
Cotton seems to be misdirecting his constituents around the real problem, a problem that no one in Congress is talking about: big money in politics. Scientists have figured this out long ago, but too many people in Congress don't like scientists (they be like, "Republicans"). Harvard law professor Larry Lessig has been giving speeches with plenty of examples to choose from to be found on YouTube. I guess Congress has not taken notice of him yet, either.

People are finally waking up and noticing that Congress has been listening to big business and big money rather than their own constituents. Apparently, many members of Congress seem to think that money from big business is what keeps them in office, and that addressing the concerns of their constituents is an afterthought.

Bernie was right. If you don't have the guts to face your own constituents, you shouldn't be in Congress. He just left out the part about why that's important: if you're not representing the interests of your constituents, you shouldn't be in Congress.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

If there is a single issue emerging to unify our country, it's probably universal health care

I can recall how in the primaries last year, there were many attempts to brand Bernie Sanders as a single issue candidate. I can't recall exactly what that issue was, because whatever that issue was, it was a matter of opinion, and that was depending on the source. But one thing I can say for sure, there is a reason mainstream media wanted us to avoid single issue candidates: they can unify the American people.

Harvard law professor Larry Lessig tried this by running as a "referendum candidate" running on the single issue of restoring democracy to the American people by getting big money out of politics. Instead of finding acceptance, Lessig was roundly bounced away from the debates and ignored by the press. Lessig admitted that he had made a mistake by stating that if elected, he would hold a referendum on the Citizen Equality Act and when that was done, he'd resign as president. His cause and heart were pure, but they were deemed too toxic by and for a corrupt permanent political class and the mainstream media that supported them.

Bernie Sanders ran on the same primary issue of getting big money out of politics and lived by it on small donations averaging $27 and managed to raise more than $222 million for his presidential campaign. But he wasn't actually a single issue candidate. Another big issue he ran on was Medicare for All, the public option. That too, was just too much for a corrupt permanent political class and their benefactors in the health insurance industry.

Adding to the alarm of the health insurance industry, polls are starting to show that people across the political spectrum can get behind it once they understand how it works. Bernie is a great communicator and could explain how universal health care, or Medicare for All, could work in practice.

How do we know that there is so much support for universal health care now? In his article, Single Payer on The March, Lambert Strether of Naked Capitalism has found the numbers (courtesy of Pew Research) and has shown that universal health care has supporters across the board. He is encouraged about this trend by two events:
What encouraged me? Two things: First, Jessi Bohon’s advocacy of Medicaid for All from a Christian perspective at a Tennessee town hall; and California’s introduction of a single payer bill, with the support of National Nurses United. I’ll look at those two topics, and then turn to consideration of how the Women’s March and the Resistance Manual’s prioritize single payer as a policy issue.
The first example can be found here, on YouTube:



It's almost 3 minutes long and well worth the time to watch. This video has gone viral and keeping it going can help to bring the Christian Right along with liberals on the left together on at least this one issue. So please share the video far and wide to break the stereotype of conservative Christians not being in favor of universal health care - they are - but that is masked by a stereotype that is consistently promoted by mainstream media.

The second example Strether cites is the introduction of a universal healthcare bill in the California legislature just days ago. Strether points out that this bill would also cover undocumented citizens and that California has the economic muscle to pull it off:
In other words, the best defense against Trump is a good offense. (I view including illegal immigrants in the program pragmatically; if that’s what’s needed to secure passage, then so be it. If it’s a dealbreaker, dump it. Separately, it makes sense to get illegal immigrants into the system for vaccination, transmissible diseases, and to manage epidemics.) Of course we’re going to need to see the details, but California’s GDP is about the size of France’s, so there’s absolutely no question of scale, as there was with Vermont (and possibly Colorado).
A national issue like this can unify the vast majority of Americans because we're all affected by the high cost of health care. Granted, the universal health care proposals I've seen so far don't deal with one of the causes of the high cost of health care, namely, a shortage of qualified doctors engineered by the AMA, but universal health care is still a highly visible issue which can bring many people together, from across the political spectrum. If the shortage of doctors alone were addressed, we might not even be having a discussion about universal health care.

Note also that National Nurses United (60,000 members), a union of nurses and Physicians for a National Health Care Program (20,000 members) are on the same side of this issue. To see doctors and nurses together, on the same page is encouraging.

There is another way to bring more conservatives in to support universal health care. Present day conservatives who like to cite F.A. Hayek seem to have selective memories. Turns out that Hayek actually promoted the idea of universal health care for wealthy countries, even the warn torn UK of 1943. Unfortunately you won't hear that from modern conservatives like Hayek's biggest fan, Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. But we can at least point out that a well known conservative icon has found favor with such a plan.

Recall also how Iron lady Thatcher resigned over a single issue, the poll tax. That single issue united millions of Brits in opposition to the tax, and they worked together to make the tax unenforceable and noncollectable. Universal health care may not have the galvanizing effect of an unpopular tax, but the lessons learned in the UK show us that millions of people can unite over a single issue with national effect, contrary to what we've been told during the election last year.

I want to point out one other issue of concern: target fixation and/or the law of attraction. Millions of Americans are protesting, and creating content including articles, memes and art, expressing how much they don't like or don't want Trump. I see it every day, in the news and in my social media timelines or feeds. It's all about what we don't want for many people. The problem with this mentality is that the brain doesn't really understand "no".

This is easily demonstrated with small children. If you tell a small child not to do something, like using a remote control as a hammer rather than to control the TV, they don't hear "no". If you leave the remote control within reach, the child will continue to grab it and practice the art of hammering. Even if you punish the child for touching the remote control, the child sees more punishment rather than restraint on the part of the parent.

Alternatively, if you speak in the affirmative rather than negative, you can get the child's attention and hold it. You can then direct their focus to what you want by making positive alternative suggestions. And you can keep the remote control out of the child's reach.

Adults are much the same way. When adults focus on what they don't want, they tend to get more of it. Republicans in the White House and Congress seem to understand this, so they've moved quickly on what liberals perceive to be negatives, immigration bans, noxious nomination picks, and expensive travel arrangements. Most of what we see in the news is negative in that regard and continues to distract us from what we want.

Now that we see people across the political spectrum and the country are expressing support for universal health care, we have a moment in time when we could strike. Some are calling for a general strike. In a general strike, the vision is to pick a day for millions of people to not show up to work, and to have a "buy nothing day". It is a strike across many industries and can be paralyzing to a nation, particularly for anyone who should happen to be in power. Unfortunately, most are calling for strikes or protests against something or someone they don't want, that would be Trump. An organized protest on such a massive scale is exactly the sort of thing that people like the Koch Brothers don't want to see. What if we directed all that energy towards something we want, instead?

As momentum builds, and it is building, I think it would be wise for all of us to consider the thing we want the most and make an open demand for that thing. Consider the way support is building for universal health care. There is ubiquitous organizing and focusing all of these various movements, strikes, protests and what have you, all against Trump. If we could focus all that energy and attention on just a movement for universal health care (instead of "against everything Trump"), we could conceivably break a log jam that has festered for decades. Demand for universal health care may now be at a point that is too large and widespread to ignore, even for Republicans intent on ignoring it.

Diverting our attention from something we don't want to something many of us do want, in this example, universal healthcare, resolves the issues of focusing attention and attracting what we want instead of don't want. We could just ignore Trump while he does his thing and still organize and demand universal health care. That might actually grab his attention in a positive way since such a campaign is not an attack on Trump, it's a demand for something we want. Besides, Trump and many Republicans are already thinking in "universal" terms, but they're just talking about universal access, not a single payer plan.

I sense that we need to unify around something, for something, at what seems to be a critical juncture. I am certain that all of this energy is going to come to a focus and I'd rather see it in a movement for something rather than against something. I suggest that our best shot at effecting positive change is to focus all that energy into a movement for universal health care.