Category Archives: politics

Answer the Correct Question

Last night, three men killed seven others in London using a van and then knives. Coming so soon after an explosive attack in Manchester and an earlier vehicle-vs.-pedestrians on another London bridge, people, including Islamophobic politicians, are asking, “How can we prevent such attacks?”

That has to be the wrong question. Attackers who are willing to die are nearly impossible to stop. You can’t outlaw vehicles that can be driven into crowds. Regulating larger knives and other blades might be good public relations, but smaller blades can kill, too. Explosives are so easy to create from everyday chemicals, you can’t prevent them.

Don’t stop the supply of murderous weapons; stop the demand for them. That’s the answer to “the war on drugs,” and it’s the answer to “the war on terror,” too.

The correct question may be, “Why is it so easy to motivate so many people to commit those atrocious attacks?”

I refuse to accept the premise that Islam simply has a inherent hatred against non-(Islamic)-believers. I have two reasons for rejecting that premise. First of all, it’s exactly analogous to the accusation that Christianity wants to overwhelm non-Christians by might. Secondly, if it were true, there would be a billion people or more conspiring to kill “us,” not mere thousands.

It is true that in the past, Islam has sometimes expanded by conquest, not by persuasion. The same is equally true of Christianity. If one side cites the Moors’ spread across northern Africa and into the Iberian peninsula, the other side can cite the Crusades — and later the Inquisition as well. Both religions have at time been led (or coopted by) fanatics who use religion to justify violence, and both have scripture readings that can be read as justifying conversion by almost any means. Just as Christianity no longer acts upon some of its more embarrassing verses, so, too, can many Muslims reject some of the teachings cited as proof that Islam must hate us.

It is also true that both religions have outliers who would use violence under the cover of religion even in these modern times. ISIS may be dramatic currently than the KKK or the extremists who burn the Koran or paint pictures of Mohammed explicitly to provoke outrage in the Islamic world, but ISIS no more represents the Muslims I know than the provocateurs represent me and my classmates from Catholic schools I attended growing up.


We in the West seem to have an instinctive inability to admit that our actions and philosophies might give cause to legitimate grievances. In the aftermath of almost any attack in the name of Islam against Christian or secular targets, it is heresy to ask if we in the West have done anything to earn their ire. My Google-fu isn’t strong enough to even find shreds of attempts to raise the question in late 2001, apart from a “readers’ responses” article from The Nation. I remember academics trying to ask, “Have we done anything to provoke this,” and being shouted down by, “Nothing can justify this!” I am deliberate in asking about provocation versus justification; people quickly dismissed questions about provocations by declaring that there could be no justification for such a level of hatred and violence.

This is, like so many other points in modern Western debate, a false dichotomy. Proving your opponent wrong does not prove that you are right. That a response is disproportional in magnitude does not mean that there was no provocation to begin with.

Why do people become radicalized? Why do people accept and adopt hostility and conflict while rejecting accommodation and existence? I can ask the question about violence under the banner of nominal Islam, and I can ask the question about Donald Trump’s supporters. Journalists have been writing for two years about “economic anxieties,” only to be mocked by others after displays of open racism, sexism, xenophobia, and other non-economic sins perpetrated members of the same class of people. This mocking, too, is a sign of a false dichotomy. Who says that some Trump supporters can’t be reacting to losses of jobs and industries while others are simply horrible people feeling emboldened by nationalist, xenophobic, homophobic, and other extremist forms of rhetoric?

The world has become a lot more homogenous in the past 100 or 150 years. It was more homogenous 150 years ago than it was 300 years ago, and that was more homogenous than 200 years before that. Social structures that existed in vacuums of isolation are challenged when faced with other social structures that deny assumptions present in the vacuums. Monarchies are challenged by democracies. Patriarchies are challenged by women’s rights. Slavery is challenged by the premise that slaves are people with fundamental human rights. Notions of inherent superiority (of any group or trait!) are challenged by actual experiences with the nominally inferior. And, yes, domestic industries are challenged by exports from countries with lower standards of living or fewer environmental protections.

Oligarchs of all varieties rise to power by presenting themselves as saviors of a group that doesn’t even know it’s a victim. “Men subjugate women!” “Femi-Nazis want to exterminate men!” “Straights have no tolerance of diversity!” “Freaks want to recruit your children to be like them!” “Christians want to exterminate Muslims!” “Muslims want to exterminate Christians!” “Vaccines are a plot to kill our people!” “Savages who don’t know any better will try to kill us!”

The question isn’t whether any of these statements are true. The question is, are there seeds of despair or oppression that give these lies and hyperbole soil to germinate in? Why are Muslims in Europe and America so vulnerable to radicalization? Why are poor whites so vulnerable to Trump’s brand of xenophobia, Islamophobia, and victimization?

Why are there pockets of people ready to hear and accept calls to violence and confrontation? 

That, I say, is the question we have to ask in the wave of Yet Another Act of Extremist Violence.

NPR, Among Others, Has Lost Its Way

I am very much a child of the Sixties and Seventies. I started first grade in the fall of 1969. The war in Vietnam was on the evening news, or so I am told. Jack, Martin, and Bobby had all died during my brief life so far. The Vatican II convocation had been over for years; I only remember masses in English, with the priest facing the congregation. The Equal Rights Amendment was still a possibility. Female lectors and soon eucharistic ministers weren’t unusual, although I never served as an altar boy with a female altar servant.

It’s not that racial prejudice had simply vanished. Even as a child, I knew that there were racists in America. I might have thought they were mostly confined to the South, but I knew they existed. I also knew they were wrong. They were behind the times. They clung to outmoded, wrong beliefs. My first political memory is from the fourth grade, watching a mock debate about the ’72 Presidential race and asking what made McGovern think he could end the war in 90 days or whatever his pledge was. So, I don’t remember George Wallace being shot, but I knew as a child that he represented that segment of society that clung to the past, to white supremacy.

The environmental movement was starting. I didn’t notice as an eight-year-old when the EPA was created, but I knew that things like Earth Day and my green ecology lunchbox meant that we were trying to save the earth. There didn’t seem to be much doubt that we had to repair the environment; pollution was awful, epitomized by burning rivers (OK, only one; I was a little confused as a kid) and public service ads on TV showing fish dead in rivers due to pollution. We might have to convince greedy corporations and greed people to do the right thing and change to prevent pollution, but there was no question that the environmental movement was at some level right and necessary.

As I grew up, things got more complicated. There were women who opposed the Equal Rights Amendment, for some perverse reason. There was opposition to school bussing to achieve public school integration — even in the North. Before I graduated from high school, Ronald Reagan was taking the contrary view that government was the problem, not the solution. He didn’t say that racism in America was bad; he just implied that government efforts to address it did more harm that good. He implied that about lots of government programs. Two years earlier, Allan Bakke had sued one of the University of California medical schools, claiming “reverse discrimination.” Some whites were starting to push back when they felt they were the ones paying the price so minorities could be given the chance to succeed.

Reagan, of course, was elected President in 1980. The ERA wasn’t ratified by enough states in the time allowed for its passage; it wasn’t brought up again, but laws about women’s rights were pursued at sub-Constitutional levels. Reagan tried to neuter the EPA, but public opinion forced him to reverse that attempt.

Before Reagan’s second term was over, I completed my education and tried to become an adult, whatever that meant. I remember watching the network evening news in the fall of ’87 about that day’s stock market crash. However, I soon acquired the habit of listening to National Public Radio affiliates. They weren’t government broadcasts, although some received a minuscule amount of public subsidies. It was enough that they weren’t owned by corporations but instead were run as non-profit efforts. If they were more liberal than “mainstream,” corporate-owned TV stations, radio stations, and newspapers, maybe it was due simply to the lack or corporate influences on their choices of news items and how they were presented. The Wall Street Journal went in my eyes from a respectable major newspaper to a paper with a specific, visible slant in favor of business over other interests. Other mainstream, respected outlets weren’t so pronounced in their biases, but I’d hear rumors that GE had killed this NBC story or Westinghouse had somehow meddled with a story on one of the stations it owned. Such accusations against NPR were less common and thus more shocking the few times they came up.

I listened to NPR during the tail end of the Reagan years and through the George H. Bush years. I kept listening during the Clinton administration with its violent tug-of-war with Republicans in Congress who refused to engage constructively with the administration. Some “reforms” were passed, such as sentencing guidelines and welfare “reform.” This was also the time when traditional broadcasting and journalism were starting to be augmented by “the Internet.” By the time the Clinton administration yielded to the Gore George W. Bush administration, American politics were becoming sharply polarized. There were new channels and publications on the right that accused the mainstream media of being too liberal, never mind NPR or its even more leftist “public” rivals, such as Pacifica Radio.

My NPR affiliates changed as I moved, from the Binghamton, NY market to Elkhart/South Bend to Detroit to Washington, DC itself. I felt some sadness verging on anger as Bob Edwards was pushed out by NPR and soon ended up on for-profit satellite radio, for crying out loud! But, under Bush 41, Clinton, and Bush 43, NPR remained fairly consistent in its tone. It also remained fairly consistent as I bounced through Illinois during Obama’s rise in stature into the Presidency and my moves to Austin and then back to the upper Midwest, now in Madison, Wisconsin.

Something about the rise of Donald Trump, culminating in his election to the Presidency, shook NPR, as it shook many media outlets. The mainstream media, including NPR, consistently underestimated Trump during his primary campaign and his Presidential campaign. He was such a repudiation of fifty years of concern for the downtrodden and the minorities. He was the voice for the spiritual descendants of Allan Bakke, proclaiming that they were being held back because of considerations given to minorities. Never mind that automation killed more factory jobs than affirmative action, multi-lateral trade pacts, or illegal immigration. Here was Trump proudly making statements that might have gotten him tossed out on his ass during the Sixties and Seventies and were too extreme for widespread acceptance in the Eighties and Nineties. NPR and the rest of the mainstream media kept waiting for “respectable conservatives,” to figure out how to beat Trump, for Trump’s rising support levels hit a ceiling and for normal order among conservatives to be restored. They also struggled some with the rise of Bernie Sanders. Was the declared Independent really going to upturn the Democratic primary system and beat Hillary Clinton by running from her left? How far left was her left, anyway? Was she a moderate who was too friendly with Wall Street, or was she the progressive who had pushed for heath care reform in her husband’s early years as President, only to come up short, and later had spoken truth to power at an international women’s conference in Beijing?

The Internet gave all kinds of voices ways to find their audiences. In particular, it let well-heeled corporate influences attack the mainstream media with the rise of Fox News and conservative talk radio, and that in turn led to the rise of ultra-right, or white nationalists, or whatever label you’d like to give them to the right of the visible right. The break in the streak of forty-three straight white Christian men as President with the election of Barack Obama somehow energized those fearful of minorities. Mitt Romney spoke in 2012 of 47% of America that would never vote for him because they benefitted too much from government largesse. His comments were quickly and loudly denounced by the mainstream, but surely they added fuel to those far-right activists who were convinced they were victims somehow — or that they could get rich convincing others that they were victims, not merely unlucky in the changing economic tides of the world.

Karl Rove was wrong in 2012 on election night, when he was so damned sure that Mitt Romney had more support than the press gave him credit for, that he was going to upset the incumbent Obama. However, in 2016, those making similar claims about Trump proved right when Trump in fact pulled off the upset against Hillary Clinton. The mainstream media immediately went into a frenzy worthy of the title of this blog, “Overanalysis While You Wait.” Had Trump won, or had Hillary lost? Was she a poor candidate, or was she a victim of a quarter-century of right-wing smear campaigns dating back to the Whitewater scandal in Arkansas? Had the FBI, deliberately or otherwise, sunk Hillary’s campaign by giving legitimacy to the alleged scandal of her e-mail server? Had Russia somehow sponsored the leaks about internal Democratic e-mails that made Clinton look less like a progressive hero and more like a political operative who’d do whatever it took to win?

NPR, among others, decided to take the tact that Trump had won somehow on the merits of his positions in the eyes of the voters. Even as Trump stacked his transition team and eventually his administration with Wall Street billionaires, NPR and others decided to find those voters who had turned out unexpectedly strong and possibly against their own self-interest to vote for this populist-sounding candidate. Euphemisms like “economic anxiety” were invented as the reasons all these good American folk embraced a candidate with xenophobic, homophobic, Islamophobic, misogynistic views. Never mind that so much of what Trump had claimed from the first day of his campaign was demonstrably wrong. His supporters were treated as if their beliefs and their faith in him were rational and reasonable. Never mind that xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny, and religious discrimination were un-American and in some cases specifically prohibited by our foundation documents, including the almighty Constitution. “Economic anxiety” was presented as a powerful motivator, even as hate crimes against blacks, Jews, Muslims, homosexuals, transexuals, and other marginalized people exposed the lie that this was somehow about “economic anxiety.”

Worse, NPR has decided, perhaps by default, to legitimize Trumps administration despite the vast catalog of lies told by Trump himself and by his representatives, such as Sean Spicer, Kellyanne Conway, Stephen Miller, and Sebastian Gorka. They even refuse to label Trump’s untrue statements as, “lies,” claiming they can’t be sure enough of his intent to call them more than untruths or mistakes. When people like Spicer and Conway repeat Trump’s claims as if they are unquestionably true, even in the fact of evidence to the contrary, NPR continues to interview them and allow them air time, and they still don’t call them lies. This isn’t like eight years of opposition to the Obama administration. These aren’t policy arguments about whether healthcare should be universal or whether a President in the last year of his term can nominate a Supreme Court justice. The rate of self-serving lies, the number of policy changes being justified by demonstrable falsehoods, hasn’t yet caused NPR to stop treating these people as legitimate.

Journalists like to claim that their job is the pursuit and revelation of the truth. Some outlets, including the staid New York Times, have done so with enough gusto to become clear targets of Trump’s paranoid ire. If NPR has drawn Trump’s ire at all, it’s only by accident. They’ve forgotten the quote from Orwell: “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want published; everything else is public relations.”

NPR can’t be cowed by fear of criticism from the far right. They need to regain their old tone and adapt it to this age of routine deception by our incumbent administration. Challenge, challenge, and challenge some more, and for God’s sake, stop letting these liars and self-deceivers present their message directly. They aren’t NPR’s listeners, and they don’t deserve NPR’s consideration.

Immigration and Less-Than-Extreme Vetting

The idea that you have a judge in Seattle say that a foreign national living in Libya has an effective right to enter the United States is beyond anything we’ve ever seen before.

That was Stephen Miller, the sophomoric adviser to our Would-Be Benign Dictator (WBBD) this past weekend.

The foreign nationals in question are people who had already been vetted for visas. Being vetted for a visa, especially a refugee visa, is harder than being vetted for a Trump Administration position. It’s not like someone says, “I like her,” and the Republicans in the Senate promptly fall in line. There are applications, overlapping interviews by rival agencies, more forms, and lots of waiting. The ruling out of Seattle wasn’t that any foreign national in Libya could come to the United States; it was that people with approved visas could use those visas. That’s almost the same, except that it’s completely different!

These are the people who repeatedly make unfounded claims about voter fraud and assure us that Sean Spicer has been 100% correct, regardless of actual facts and published proofs that he’s 100% full of (feces).

The kid who used California state law once to force his high school to have a daily Pledge of Allegiance is now finding that laws can also be used against his (nominal) superior.

Meanwhile….

  • As far as we know, Donald Trump’s usurpation of power was directly aided by the Russian intelligence communities.
  • Our National Security Advisor-to-be conspired with a Russian diplomat, undercutting US sanctions against Russia.
  • Our President continues to make unsubstantiated voter fraud accusations, presumably to prepare us for voting restrictions designed to disenfranchise likely Democrats.
  • Our new Secretary of Health and Human Services would be guilty of insider trader if anyone bothered to prosecute him.
  • Our President’s Senior “Counselor” is guilty of illegally using her government position to endorse private interests.
  • Rick Perry, to his surprise, is in charge of the effectiveness of America’s nuclear weapons, not selling more Texas crude (that’s oil, not behavior) to anyone he can.
  • Dr. Ben Carson is in charge of Housing and Urban Development, although he may think “HUD” stands for “Helpless Urban Decay.”
  • Betsy’s DeVos’s corrections of tweets themselves need corrections.
  • The State Department is now a subsidiary of ExxonMobil.

This is week four.

Now, What?

What happens now?

A would-be benign despot was sworn in as my nation’s leader yesterday. In his inaugural speech, he spoke of ending “American carnage.” He spoke of returning power to the people, as if he wasn’t filling his government with billionaires who are philosophically inclined to dismantle the agencies they are tasked with running. Those in his Cabinet who aren’t billionaires seem to be generals and elected officials who share his pro-billionaire stances. He thinks that only he can save us from… something, like this “American carnage” that I don’t recognize.

The media tells me attendance at his swearing in was poor; the would-be benign despot (“WBBD”) railed today during a ceremony at the CIA about the dishonest media, as if we hadn’t all seen pictures comparing crowds yesterday with crowds eight years ago. Were the pictures yesterday from early in the day, before the crowds arrived? I’m waiting for the pro-WBBD media and trolls to post pictures identifiably from yesterday that show the larger crowds, presumably from later in the day. I’m also looking for something refuting reports that the National Park Service has been barred from Twitter in petty retaliation for tweeting estimates of inauguration attendance that support the smaller estimates.

Today, hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people turned out in Washington, DC and dozens of other cities in support of progressive policies, or perhaps in protest of the wbbd. I’m not sure what their appearance changes in the short term. Betsy DeVos can still gut the Department of Education. Rick Perry can still gut research into sustainable energy and try to turn the Department of Energy into the marketing arm of the petroleum and natural gas industries like he allegedly thought it was. Scott Pruitt can still still neuter the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts until he can gut the regulations in favor of industry over environment. Andrew Puzder can make a mockery of the Department of Labor, and Wilbur Ross can make the Department of Commerce the support group for robber-barons who will loot successful companies for their own profit. Jeff Sessions seems to want to redefine “Justice” in some way that Martin Luther King and Thurgood Marshall wouldn’t recognize.

In eighteen months, especially if there is relief from gerrymandering from the Supreme Court, we can start taking back the House of Representatives and the Senate from the puppets installed by right-wing well-funded special interest groups. That might provide some push-back in favor of the environment, public education, human rights, workers’ rights, and other causes we used to take for granted.

My country will now have two parallel media: the old “mainstream media,” upon whom the WBBD has declared war upon, and the cranks and foreign influences who benefit from the WBBD’s behaviors. I’ll continue to follow the old mainstream and some outlets that were distinctly more progressive than the mainstream, trying to take nothing for granted but giving them the benefit of the doubt compared to the rabble-rousers who seem to think the WBBD’s words are truthful and moral when most of us can plainly see they aren’t.

I hope “American Carnage,” isn’t something I come to recognize. I hope the undocumented workers among me in the community aren’t rounded up and deported for no more cause than their lack of legal status here. I hope my LGBTQ friends and friends of friends can continue to live their lives openly and happily, as families or in whatever form they prefer.

I am once more part of the opposition, even more than I ever was during any prior Republican administration.

I hope this is our low point, when the scales fall from the eyes of the blind and all of us are galvanized to say, “This isn’t normal; this isn’t right; this isn’t what I want.”

Use “Deplorable,” and I’ll Take You Literally

Two months ago, I vented about Matt Drudge using the term, “the deplorables,” the way others might use a term like “auto repairmen,” or “left-handed people.” I wondered if there was any shame any longer in society, as people mocked others by claiming the term, “deplorable,” as if being called a “deplorable” was similar being called a Yankees fan by a Mets fan.

Two months later, my position hasn’t changed. Even if someone purports not to be insulted to be called a “deplorable,” they should be. I can’t imagine any society I’d want to live in deciding that misogyny, racism, homophobia, or xenophobia are OK after all. If you claim you aren’t any of those things, why are you claiming the title, “deplorable”? It’s not like claiming to be a “dumb blonde” when you’re merely blonde and can show you’re not dumb. It’s not like you’re claiming Hansen’s Disease has an undeserved reputation and that you’ll call yourself a leper in solidarity with your friends with Hansen’s Disease.

So, yes, when someone tries to mock liberals by using “despicable” as a self-descriptior, I won’t feel mocked; I’ll feel warned. That person just gave away the benefit of the doubt. They may know my brother from military service, either past or current, but I no longer regard them as honorable, regardless of their classification at discharge, if any.

Government Is Not a Business

I find myself reminding myself that government is not a business lately. Some of that is due to Voldemort’s ascension to the head of government; people seem to think his alleged success means he’ll be successful at running the government. But we heard talk of running the government like a business long before he threw his wand into the ring. I think I remember hearing it during the (now only) Clinton Administration twenty years ago.

I was always amused when after people screamed about running government like a business they got upset when they found government managers paying their employees well and having lavish meetings to reward their best employees. Hey, that’s what some kinds of business do: they motivate their best people with rewards, not just praise, and sometimes they pay more to hire better people than merely competent. But, I digress.

Government exists to do the things that individuals and businesses can’t, won’t, or shouldn’t. They do things for a common good, which is very different from why a business operates. National defense is an example. All of us collectively have an interest in keeping our country safe from foreign aggression, and sometimes keeping our country safe means making alliances in which we trade the promise of other countries’ support of us in a time of need for our promise of support of them in their times of need. It turns out, we can find businesses that will provide soldiers and weapons, but they don’t offer their services to individuals or small communities; they offer their services to countries.

Fire protection is another service managed by governments. In the early days of America, fire protection was sometimes provided by insurance companies for their clients — but that caused problems as fires spread from one company’s client to another company’s client’s property. Communities recognized that fire departments were community assets and that fire protection was a community’s shared responsibility.

Law enforcement and criminal justice is another area that is — or should be — a public interest service, not a commercial enterprise. We want those enforcing the law and those prosecuting offenders to be beholden to all of us, not just those who pay for the services. While some legal matters are civil matters handled by private parties in lawsuits between each other, other matters are offenses against the state, against the collective good. Murder isn’t a crime because of the loss felt by relatives or friends of the victim; it’s also an offense against the peace shared by all of us, against our security and safety.

There are other things government does for the benefit of all of us when the will of the people is not to trust private enterprise with some goal or task.

The National Park Service and, to a lesser extent, the US Forest Service, are examples of government doing things for a collective common good instead of letting private enterprises manage those things for some combination of our common interest and their own private benefit. We the people own Yellowstone and Yosemite instead of the Disney Corporation or the Hilton Hotels chain because our collective interest is in conflict with some of their interests. Yes, they may be well equipped to collect park entrance fees and run campgrounds, but they have concerns about economic returns that we don’t want to subject natural treasures to. The Forest Service has a somewhat different mandate, focussing a little more on allowing the use of resources of managed private benefit while arbitrating among competing interests for the maximum benefit of all. So, they permit logging, for example, but in ways that will ensure the continued health of the forests, or so the expectation says.

The Environmental Protection Agency, that scapegoat for all that ails businesses, is an example of an agency that pursues goals that have intangible benefits, benefits few private enterprises would recognize, let alone make priorities. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, is another such agency, protecting workers against economic pressures that might motivate private enterprises (and governments) to act against workers’ interests. Both the EPA and OSHA were founded after public outcries arose about abuses that were too scandalous to ignore. Worker safety wasn’t a priority for business owners during the Industrial Revolution until the collective public outcry led to OSHA’s foundation and various laws about worker safety and workers’ rights. Similarly, the EPA and other government agencies with mandates to fight pollution arose because business had no economic case to care about soil pollution, air pollution, water pollution, and other forms of pollution.

This is why I don’t give much of a care about business whining about the high cost of fighting global warming, or “climate change” if you want to call it that. We know that businesses have various economic incentives to ignore long term effects in pursuit of quarterly earnings or protecting the the existence of their market. To the private individual, long term thinking asks, “Will there be a healthy planet for my grandchildren’s grandchildren?” but the long term thinking of an oil or coal executive might ask, “Will there be a market for our products in fifty or one hundred years?” You might hope there will be other uses for oil or coal that damage the environment next, or other uses for the technologies they currently use for those fields, but for those businessmen, maximizing their economic return over the time periods they care about means preserving their markets as they are, pollution be damned.

I hear interviews on the radio with voters who want this candidate or that to downsize “government.” I have yet to hear someone say, “Let’s start with not filling in the potholes on my street.” Everyone always wants to start with the government functions they don’t use. Do we really need OSHA to make sure fishing in the northern Pacific fishing fleets is safe? Do we even need OSHA to tell me how to keep my workers safe? We don’t, until someone cuts corners and cuts more corners and suddenly our worker mortality rate is climbing. Mine safety? Well, sure, profit margins are getting thin for coal because natural gas is getting even cheaper and even more widely available, but, yes, those miners’ lives matter, even if they’ve become numb to the danger.

OSHA barely monitors, let alone regulates or enforces, safety in health care. Are nurses routinely asked to risk their bodies in how they do their jobs, moving heavy loads or working with dangerous diseases? OSHA has a mandate to do that, as they do with any job in which people get injured or killed, but according to a news story a I heard a couple of yeas ago, they have no funding or staffing to fulfill that mandate.

Can the National Park Service and the US Forest Service keep all of their capital investments and improvements in good working order, or is maintenance and upkeep slipping due to budget pressures? Why would we build visitor centers and campgrounds if twenty-five years later we can’t maintain them? (Please don’t talk about capital investment compared to expenses; look at the big picture and tell me if the result is right, not how we got that result.)

I would love to see some agency or perhaps some NGO think tank look at every branch of the Federal executive branch, at every Department, at every agency, at every bureau, and compute how much it would cost to do all of their jobs correctly. Would some park say, “We need 425 Rangers but we only have 230”? Never mind if we could find enough qualified people to do that work; just tell me how much you would need if you had access to the resources you need. Add all that up, and then tell me what the Federal budget should be. Then tell me how much more income we need than we have.

Every government agency and program exists because at some point in time, there was a compelling case to create that agency or program. Despite Tea Party intuitions, very few agencies or programs exist just because no one thought to kill them when their role disappeared. Politicians love to take credit when they can find a program that has outlived its usefulness and retire it. Government unions aren’t so powerful that there are 312 buggy whip inspectors now because we once needed 312 buggy whip inspectors.

People’s interests naturally conflict. I want the best tools at my work to do my job; my manager wants the lowest costs, unless we can demonstrate that the higher costs are justified by higher incomes as a result. I want the shortest route from Madison to Chicago, but there are small towns between here and there that don’t want an Interstate highway through their downtown and other cities in the region that want the highway to come close enough to them to be useful for them, too. Government exists to mediate among those competing interests. The rich and powerful might be just as happy without that mediation; they could just buy or bully their way to what they want, if they’re so inclined. But those limits on their ability to do that are meant for all of us, because all of us have times here or there when we can’t protect our own interests on our own.

Businesses are meant to be great in competitive situations; competition is supposed to keep those businesses honest in their dealings with customers and to encourage improvement.

Governments are meant to work in non-competitive situations, where there is a common good, regardless of whether their are tangible incentives to meet that common good. They’re also meant, as I just said, to provide balance among competing interests, to provide equal protections for all so that might and justice go to all of us, not just the most powerful or the richest.

Government is not a business. It’s not meant to be. The sooner we remember that — or admit that — the sooner we should return to a functioning, equitable government that serves us all.

When and How to Panic?

My family was raised to under-react. When all around us are losing their heads, we might be the ones assessing the threats and triaging the initial casualties before deciding how to react. Some of that comes from our dad, who was trained as a Red Cross disaster aid volunteer and a National Ski Patrolman volunteer as well. Part of that comes from having both parents having hyper-rational educations and mindsets. There probably are downsides to this, such as when people wonder if I care about something because I’m still trying to figure out how to respond rather than validating their panic and fear.

This has been a great week to under-react. Tuesday’s election results in the USA were shocking for many of us in the USA, partly because the pollsters had been so encouraging about the likely outcome, and partly because of the horror at what’s been promised by the victor and what he represents. Freedom of the press? Overrated and such an inconvenience! Prosecution of the winner for alleged crimes that have already been investigated and deemed minor or innocuous? Hey, what’s the use of winning an election if you can’t rub it in the loser’s face? Persecution based on religion? Oh, maybe it’s not a real religion, so maybe it’s fine to assume guilt and just prosecute them and exclude them! A blind trust for the alleged billionaire’s businesses? Sure (wink, wink, nod, nod)! It’s be as blind as the victor’s tax returns are transparent!

It’s eight or nine weeks until we remove “-elect” from Voldemort’s new title. Some things are being announced now, such as who’s leading certain areas of the transition team, but many things remain unknown. Sadly, he hasn’t renounced most of his stated positions, and it’s not clear what his few attitude adjustments actually mean. Worse, many of his appointments to his transition team are consistent with our worse fears. A global warming denier is heading the transition team for the EPA. Dr. Ben Carson has a role in the education area. His kids are going to be heavily involved. And a notorious science denier, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, now has oversight over the whole transition team, replacing unindicted felon and co-conspirator Chris Christie.

The Republican establishment kept control of the Senate and the House. Are they going to be a check on Voldemort after he spent so much time being disdainful of the Republican establishment, or will they try to get their patrons’ interests passed since they might align with Voldemort’s patrons’ interests as well? That, frankly, is an unknown. It’s hard to imagine veterans like John McCain rubber-stamping blatant war crimes as new American policies, but then again, it was hard to expect some of the things McCain has said in the past twelve months.

Will the Civil Service acquiesce to Voldemort’s desires, or will they slow-walk all changes in an effort to simply outlast what may be a short attention span? The political appointees will try to do their master’s bidding, but the career government workers may know why things haven’t happened that way before and why they shouldn’t, such as international laws or federal laws and regulations that can’t just be waved away. Admittedly, Pence as the replacement in case of impeachment gives us no reason to believe he’d roll back most of Voldemort’s notions, perhaps with the exception of some of the most radical ideas, such as leaving existing multi-lateral trade agreements or embracing war crimes as a way to secure der Fatherland.

So, the inner core of the new administration looks as corrupt and wrong-headed as we feared. The Congress being Republican means it won’t be as strong a check on the Executive Branch as a Democratic Senate would be. What about the courts, especially the Supreme Court?

Everyone’s waiting to see who will replace Scalia eventually on the bench. I’ll remind you, though, that Scalia never opposed any of the Right’s favorite goals. It wasn’t Scalia who found a way to upload the Affordable Care Act, and he never embraced reproductive rights over “right to life.” Yes, some decisions will be 5-4 instead of 4-4 as they’ve been since Scalia’s death, so that may resume some of the national slippage to the right, but it won’t accelerate it. That will wait until one of the reliably progressive voices on the Court dies or steps down. I can’t imagine Stephen Breyer or the Notorious RBG voluntarily stepping down, knowing that they’re replacement would change the Court’s philosophical make-up, but Scalia didn’t step down by choice, either. Death comes to us all.

Worse, the Republican Senate of the past two or three Congresses has left many Federal court benches partly empty. Those may now all take a sharp turn toward reactionary positions. Interim decisions on issues doing eventually to the Supreme Court will sooner take positions repressing diversity and civil rights in favor of business interests and theocracy. I don’t see the Senate being too nuanced in which conservatives they consent to to fill those positions. Whoever has talked to Voldemort last will get a lot of judges the like in lasting positions of power.

Finally, there are The People. A narrow minority of them, located in precisely where Voldemort needed them to be, supported his bid for the Presidency, so Voldemort can’t say he was supported by a majority of voters or even a plurality, let alone a landslide. Still, there are already reports that some Death Eaters, especially younger Death Eaters, are being emboldened by his ascension and are already threatening and trying to intimidate the mudbloods’ counterparts in our world: Muslims, Latinos, and members of the LBGT community. There certainly have been several well-publicized cases so far, but in many cases less extreme Death Eaters are rebuking these acts of intimidation and hatred, perhaps waiting for when laws and policies will inflict similar indignities under the cover of authority. It’s also clear that many progressive groups and traditional civil rights advocacy groups are preparing for a long series of struggles to protect the gains of the past sixty years in the face of the revival of opposition to those gains.

I don’t follow British domestic news closely enough to know if their surge of Death Eater activity after the Brexit vote has continued. That’s where the safety pin was first taken as a symbol of tolerance and acceptance directed as those who might otherwise worry about tolerance and acceptance. Is it needed now in Britain all those months later? Is it needed here, or is it just a quick way for some people to feel like they’re doing something in response to this horribly upsetting election?

I’m still in under-react mode. The composition of Voldemort’s transition team tells me that concern is warranted, that the initial calls for national unity were errant or at least simplistic. I would never united behind a science denier running the EPA, even on a transition team, and it has nothing to do with things we fear but haven’t seen yet. Seeing the charlatans who will be choosing those who will set and enforce policy is enough to say, some reaction will be required. What I’m not sure about, yet, is where I’ll need to focus my support, financial and otherwise, to do the most good. I can see why Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and anti-poverty organizations like Oxfam America are ramping up fund-raising activities. I just don’t know to direct my support among them, yet. I will; it’s clear that private efforts will have to replace existing programs or counter Federal and state efforts to roll back protections.

I fear that in a year, all of those asking for my support will in fact be in positions in which my support would have been well deserved; it may be a multi-front, multi-cause debacle in our near future. However, I need more certainty than “may,” so I’m trying to wait. I live in a “red” state, one that has elected and re-elected a Koch Brothers disciple and twice now sent a tea party moron to the Senate. Will Death Eaters from the surrounding rural areas come to Madison and try to purify it of its multi-cultural, progressive nature? I hope not, but if they do, resistance begins at home. If we’re spared that particular battle, when I’ll look beyond for which causes that I support most need my support.

Keep the powder dry, but make sure “they” know we haven’t put the powder away.

No metaphors were hurt in the writing of this essay, but several were mixed poorly.