Dear Russian Hackers

June 2, 2022

I’m sure it must be satisfying to be supported by the Russian government. It must give the despicable, inhumane things you do the justification of a “higher cause.” Perhaps you think your defending Mother Russia, though I can’t imagine from what. Until recently, I never gave you any thought at all. Or, maybe you believe that by hacking a national healthcare system you’re contributing the fall of western civilization, which I’m told you despise. One does have to wonder how our democracies and healthcare systems threaten you. My guess is that they don’t threaten you at all. You simply dehumanize everyone you lives differently than you. Doesn’t that make you cowardly?

In Central America, we don’t meddle in international affairs much though international affairs have certainly meddled with us in the past. When this has happened before, it has always been out in the open…an inflammatory speech, a shipment of guns, or a shipment of cocaine. These things all have their negative effects, but the root causes, the lies, the exaggeration, and the criminality can be tracked down and corrected. The people involved can be identified, arrested and prosecuted.

You folks on the other hand work in an air conditioned office block. What I imagine are rows and rows of small grey cubicles with half eaten bags of chips smashed all over the floor. Maybe there’s picture of Putin on the wall. There must be a Russian flag or two somewhere, and a few reminders of how the rest of the world has victimized Russia in the past. You can’t justify dehumanizing others if you don’t see yourself as a victim first. So, you hide behind your keyboards pecking away and looking for weakness. Then you exploit it to extort money and terrorize people in the name of Russian supremacy.

Again, doesn’t this make you cowardly? The drug smugglers and the arms dealers all know what they’re doing is wrong and they know the forces that are arrayed against them. It’s a cat and mouse game, isn’t it because somebody in the operation is actually risking capture by carrying the drugs or guns some place. You folks, ensconced in your grubby cubicles type out the magic combination of “1” and “0” and healthcare for 5.2 million people is gone. Its a kind of evil, chaotic magic.

I know something about this because I live in Costa Rica, which you are attacking at present. Yesterday morning, life got a great deal harder for all of us. Our elderly and infirm now face the possibility of death because of your cowardice and amorality. Yesterday, I had what I call the “fuck you” blood test where they stick a big needle in your hip bone and suck out a bunch of marrow. When they can’t get enough out of your hip, they go to your sternum. It hurts like hell, and I’ve done it three times in 4 years. My hematologist told me that the only reason she knew what to do during that appointment was because she had seen me a few days before. She’s a small, energetic woman who works really hard for her patients. In fact, she’s one of the more noble doctors I’ve come across in my struggle with cancer.

Because of you I now have questions about my future, which was already questionable. Will they be able to analyze the sample? Will the results get to my hematologist? Will they be able to order the drug I need to treat my cancer? Most importantly, am I going to have to do that damnable test again? I already know that the blood lab has been shut down and nobody is getting any kind of blood work done at all. Of course, blood work is where doctors start to identify serious illnesses, and you’ve taken that away from 5.2 million people. How does the very real victimization of 5.2 million people reduce the imagined victimization you labor under?

It was reported in the newspaper that shutting down the system wasn’t enough. You had to mess with people’s individual lives first by deleting their records or changing them. In the early days of the hack, before you actually carried out your plan, a woman checked her EDUS app and discovered that she supposedly had anthrax. Of course, she didn’t. How is someone whose health records have been deleted supposed to get reliable healthcare when 40 or 50 years of records are gone? I’m sure you and your buddies must gather in government hacker bars after work and share stories. Which one gets the bigger laugh, the deleted records or the anthrax gag? I assure you nobody here finds it funny at all.

I assume you expect 5.2 million victims to turn against the Costa Rican government, and force them to give in to your demands. Thereby, proving your power and dominance over the world. Can you people really be so selfish and corrupt that you think you can steal your way to world dominance? Is your conception of power nothing more than coercion? Do you expect us to cower in fear at the prospect of a future attack and thereby make Russia’s foreign policy easier to achieve? To this I say “NUTS.” You are nothing but deluded criminals following a former mafia member whose only hold on power is convincing Russians of their victimization and need for revenge.

If it turns out that you killed me. Believe my dying breath will not be give in to Russia, or bring down the Costa Rican government. I know who will be responsible for my demise, the lowest form of humanity since Hitler as I see little difference between his death camps and your hacks.

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The State of the Common Good in US Society 

Published: 9/22/2021

Note: The covid statistics were accurate at the time of publification; however they change almost daily.

“The common good … defines a wide variety of interests that are common to everyone. Those include: the interest in taking part in the most choice worthy way of life; the interest in bodily security and property; the interest in living a responsible and industrious private life; the interest in a fully adequate scheme of equal basic liberties; the interest in a fair opportunity to reach the more attractive positions in society; and the interest in security and welfare, where these interests are understood as socially recognized needs that are subject to ongoing political determination.” 

Stanford University Encyclopedia of Philosophy 

One take away from the above quote is that members of a political community have a social relationship with one another. (That’s surprising isn’t it. Despite all the animosity we hurl at each other on social media, we do have a social connection with each other because we’re human and live in the same country.) This relationship is not as intimate as the relationship among family members or the members of a church. But it is a genuine social relationship nonetheless, and it requires members not only to act in certain ways, but also to give one another’s interests a certain status when making decisions.  

The common good serves to define a pattern of decision making, a way of thinking and acting, that constitutes mutual concern among members. I cannot tell you how to make decisions that include the welfare of others, but I can give you some examples of failing to do so. For example, picking political candidates based solely on their stance on a favored issue or policy. Once politicians know what you want to hear, they know what to say, and make no mistake, they will say it no matter what it is. For example, in 2012, Representative Todd Akin of Missouri said women’s bodies can somehow block an unwanted pregnancy. Rep. Akin said this because he was looking for a way to get votes from pro-life people because he let them off the hook, and from pro-choice people because now they don’t have to worry. It was a crazy, stupid and dumb thing to say, but a politician will say anything to avoid looking bad. What we need are politicians with integrity who will govern for the whole city, state, or country based on the truth, not those who pander to the lowest common denominator by making fools of themselves.   

The common good identifies a set of provisions that citizens have a special obligation to maintain by virtue of the fact that these they serve common interests. The relevant provisions may be part of the natural environment (e.g., the atmosphere, a freshwater aquifer, climate change, etc.) or human artifacts (e.g., hospitals, schools, etc.). But the most important provisions are social institutions and practices.  

For example, the democratic principles of tolerance and institutional forbearance are the foundations that support human society and democracy and must be maintained for the common good to survive. In simple terms, tolerance means accepting that the other members of society are not the evil, deranged, demons foretold by ambitious religious leaders, self-interested political leaders or a rabble-rousing press. In politics, tolerance means accepting that those around you have the same rights you have, and in the main, want what is best for themselves and everybody else.  

Institutional forbearance refers to the practice of not using every and any means to win. Conducting politics as warfare, only leads to social stress and distrust. The most recent example I am aware of is in Michigan. The Michigan Constitution allows citizens to propose legislation directly to the legislature, where it can be voted on and not vetoed by the Governor. Michigan is a swing state in national elections, so Republican legislators are using this mechanism to propose voting restrictions, which they know will not get past the Governor, but which they can pass easily with their majority. In effect, when this plan is carried out, a few thousand people will be allowed to pass laws regardless of the feelings of the majority of Michiganders circumventing any and all democratic ideals or processes. As you can see, Michigan Republicans are taking a win at all costs approach to things, which can only escalate into more and more dire and undemocratic situations as the Michigan Democrats are forced to respond in kind, and probably represents the end of US democracy all together.  

To put things simply, the common good helps us construct a society where everyone has a choice about how they want to live their lives within the confines of a social structure. Some will say that we have that now all you have to do is work hard enough. That would be a fair point of view if we all started from the same relative position. Unfortunately, too many of us start in a hole so deep, in regards to the rest of society, that they do not have a prayer of getting anything worthwhile out of life.  

Let us look at public schools in the United States. The public school system in the US is complicated. The local public school is run by a delicate balance of State regulations and local school board decisions that determine the curriculum, graduation requirements, and how progress is measured. Financing for a large majority is determined by property taxes. This is good in the sense that local people’s taxes are supporting the local school, but bad in the sense that schools in poor areas end up with less than the required funding. As you can imagine, students attending public school in wealthy areas, or students attending private schools, are much better off from the beginning.  

The Century Foundation published a report in 2020 called “Closing America’s Education Funding Gaps” which comes in the form of an interactive map. It documents the disparities in school funding county by county in the United States. The Century Foundation estimates that US public schools are under funded by $150 billion. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) describes the social benefits of education like this,  

“Education can bring significant benefits to society, not only through higher employment opportunities and income but also via enhanced skills, improved social status and access to networks. By fully recognizing the power of education, policy makers could better address diverse societal challenges.” 

The OECD certainly makes education sound powerful, and I believe that it is a powerful force. So what benefit is there in not giving the best education possible to everyone? Could it be that real reason for basing school funding on property taxes is that the Wealthy don’t want to be involved with the expenses of the Poor?  

The Finnish school system is recognized as one of the best educational systems in the world. According to the World Economic Forum’s article, “10 reasons why Finland’s education system is the best in the world” the Finnish educational system sees itself as the foundation of society. Therefore, it focuses on the following,  

  • Education should be an instrument to balance out social inequality 
  • ALL students receive free school meals (the wealthy and the poor because it promotes social cohesion) 
  • Ease of access to health care (Because everybody needs health care from time to time) 
  • Psychological counseling 
  • Individualized guidance 

The Atlantic reported in 2011 that there are no privately owned universities in Finland. There are some “independent schools” but even they are publicly financed. There are no tuition charges for any Finnish school.  

This all sounds like an impossible dream to the minds of many of in the United States, but one fundamental idea is obvious. Fins regard the well-being of their neighbors’ kids as much, if not more, than they regard the well-being of their own. In Finland, the educational system is the first step in building a stable, adaptable and open society that provides the best possible outcome for the nation as a whole. In the United States education is tool to support class division, and prevent upward social mobility. 

Obviously then, the common good is founded on a sense of solidarity. Finns would not go to all the trouble of building a world leading public school system if they did not think they were all getting something out of the effort. The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes solidarity like this, 

“Solidarity exists among a group of people when they are committed to abiding by the outcome of some process of collective decision-making, or to promoting the wellbeing of other members of the group, perhaps at significant cost to themselves.” 

As you can tell, solidarity is the opposite of individuality because making decision based on how others benefit instead of personal gain, or loss, are polar opposite points of view.  

The 2020 election was the United States’ most recent failure at solidarity. (The important thing to remember when evaluating No. 45 as a president is that he spent 4 years encouraging rightwing violence.) When No. 45’s poll number began to slip below those of Vice President Biden, he announced that the election was going to be stolen from him. This announcement, which was made a few months before the election was the beginning of No. 45’s stolen election defense and served the immediate purpose of placing the blame for his potential election loss on somebody else. It also served as a beacon for his extremist followers.  

On April 17th, 2020, according to The Detroit News, No. 45 tweeted,  

LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” Then, a minute later, the president tweeted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” Minutes after that, he added in another message, “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, …” 

Those three states all had Democratic Governors, and Michigan was an important state in the upcoming election. But what exactly were they to be liberated from? The United States was imperfectly struggling through the covid enforced lockdown at the time, so many probably took his comment to refer to liberating people from lockdown making No. 45 the president who fought against fighting covid. The darker side of the comment could be he wanted to liberate Michigan, Minnesota, and Virginia from their Democratic Governors. In Michigan, there was a plot by rightwing extremists to kidnap Governor Whitmer.

CBS News reports that Ty Garbin has been sentenced to 6 years in prison for his part in the conspiracy. During the trial Governor Whitmer filed a victim impact statement in which she said,  

‘things will never be the same.’ ‘Threats continue,’ she said in June. ‘I have looked out my windows and seen large groups of heavily armed people within 30 yards of my home. I have seen myself hung in effigy. Days ago, at a demonstration there was a sign that called for ‘burning the witch.'” 

According to USA Today, the goal of the kidnap plan was to foster civil war. The main conspirators are facing domestic terrorism charges. What we should not forget is that No. 45 did not condemn the attack, and bragged that it happened.

Maegan Vazquez and Nikki Carvajal at CNN reported on October 27, 2020,

President Donald Trump repeatedly attacked Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, during his rally in Lansing, Michigan, on Tuesday, at one point taking credit for the FBI thwarting a plot to kidnap her and then immediately downplaying the actual threat that had been posed to Whitmer. ‘Your governor, I don’t thinks she likes me too much,’ Trump joked, prompting a loud reaction from the crowd.’Hey, hey, hey hey,’ he told the audience, ‘I’m the one, it was our people that helped her out with her problem.'”

The next big event that marked the end of the solidarity of the people of the United States was the Save America Rally that led into the Capital Insurrection on January 6th, 2021. The goal of the rally, and the resulting insurrection, was to force Vice President Pence to disqualify the 2020 election results, which No. 45 had thoroughly lost by 7 million votes and was declared as the most transparent election in US history. At the rally, No. 45’s personal adviser, Rudi Guiliani, made a speech and said,  

Over the next 10 days, we get to see the machines that are crooked, the ballots that are fraudulent, and if we’re wrong, we will be made fools of. But if we’re right, a lot of them will go to jail. Let’s have trial by combat. I’m willing to stake my reputation, the President is willing to stake his reputation, on the fact that we’re going to find criminality there.” 

In light of what happened after the rally, it was the “Let’s have trial by combat” remark that stood out as a go ahead for extremists.  

Kim Chandler, of Associated Press, wrote about US Representative from Alabama Mo Brooks and his speech at the rally. She wrote on January 13th, 2021,   

Brooks has come under fire for comments at the rally in which he told the crowd that he wanted them to take a message back home and ‘along the way stop at the Capitol.’ ‘Today is the day that American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass, Brooks said at the Save America rally on Wednesday that preceded the riot at the U.S. Capitol.’” 

To those of us not connected to the rightwing amplification chambers on social media, Guiliani and Brook’s statements do not sound all that troubling. However, the British online news source, The Independent, reports that Rep. Brooks was wearing body armor at the time he made his speech. One does have to wonder why he thought that kind of precaution was necessary if he was speaking to a crowd of “tourist.”  

It turns out that the rally goers who later turned insurrectionists were armed. NPR reported on March 19th of this year, 

But a review of the federal charges against the alleged rioters shows that they did come armed, and with a variety of weapons: stun guns, pepper spray, baseball bats and flagpoles wielded as clubs. An additional suspect also allegedly planted pipe bombs by the headquarters of the Democratic and Republican parties the night before the riot and remains at large.” 

The question about whether the insurrectionists carrying guns is hard to answer because most of them were not arrested that day, but rather tracked down months later. However, when you look at the pictures of the event it is pretty obvious that the people participating came prepared for violence of some kind. They were wearing helmets, goggles, and body amor making any claim that the insurrection was nothing more than angry tourist laughable. If they were not expecting to be shooting themselves, they obviously expected to be shot at by someone else. Furthermore, carrying a gun as long be a rightwing symbol of freedom, so it is not a stretch to think that guns were there.

The events of the Capital Insurrection are well documented in the news around the world, so I will skip over it for the sake of getting back to my point.   

The foundation of all of this uproar and devastation of people’s lives was No. 45’s Big Lie that the election was stolen from him. Democracies, and social solidarity survive when political losses are not taken as moral defeats. Trying to prove his point that the 2020 election was stolen from him, No. 45 filed 60 different law suits all over the country. He lost all of them including one that appeared before the Supreme Court. Despite the fact that there was no proof to support No. 45’s case, and despite the fact that the Biden Administration is up and running, No. 45 to this day insists the election was stolen from him. He sticks to his claim, not out of the necessity of a just cause, but simply to divide the United States. 

None of the events rooted in No. 45’s Big Lie would be possible if people believed that politics is about maintaining a peaceful cohesive whole instead of extracting even the smallest amount of personal advantage. Bernard Crick wrote a book called, “In Defense of Politics,” and in his book, he describes the goal of politics as enabling the peaceful coexistence between people of differing points of view. Crick writes,  

“Conciliation is better than violence – but it is not always possible; diversity is better than unity – but it does not always exist. But both are always desirable. Perhaps it all comes down to the fact that there are two great enemies of politics: indifference to human suffering and the passionate quest of certainty in matters which are essentially political. Indifference to human suffering discredits free regimes which are unable, or which fear, to extend the habits and possibilities of freedom from the few to the many. The quest for certainty scorns the political virtues – of prudence, of conciliation, of compromise, of variety, of adaptability, of liveliness – in favor of some pseudo-science of government, some absolute-sounding ethic, or some world-picture in terms of either race or economics. Perhaps it is curious, or simply unnatural, that [people] who live with dignity and honor in the face of such endemic uncertainties as death, [who are] always so close in the normal possibilities of accident, and disease; [who survive] love, its precariousness and its fading, [who are constantly dependent] on the will and whims of others, [can yet] go mad for certainty of government – a certainty which is the death of politics and freedom. A free government is one which makes decisions politically, not ideologically.” 

Someone on Facebook once told me that the common good cannot possibly exist because it cannot be objectively defined. While hoplessly uninformed about humanity and living, he was right. The common good cannot be objectively defined, but then neither can human lives or interactions. We are not going to be able to scribble some things on a page and the draw a box around one and say eureka this is the common good. We have to talk to each other, and most importantly listen to each other. Then we have to talk and listen some more. None of this talking and listening will mean anything if we are not willing to make room in our lives for the ideas of others. You do not believe in gay marriage. Fine. You do not have to marry a same-sex partner; however, when your neighbor carries his new husband, or her new wife, across the threshold, remember that no matter how much you disagree, their new union is not a threat to you.  

Another way of envisioning solidarity is a community of people coming together when attacked from the outside as in countries going to war in the face of foreign aggression. The most recent act of aggression the world has faced is from a virus. The covid virus, and its variants, have killed 4.55 million people worldwide. In fact, as of July 2021, covid was killing an average on 8000 people per day across the world. Just imagine the population of Belleview Ohio disappearing every day. Because of our lack of solidarity, the United States leads the world in covid deaths having lost 667,000 as of September 2021, and is now experiencing approximately 2000 new cases per day. Covid has not brought the people of the United States together in any meaningful way.  

When the pandemic hit, No. 45 did everything he could to minimize the danger. He said it would be gone by spring. Spring’s a time of hope and new growth, but viruses do not care about such things, so that was a pleasant fantasy. He proposed conspiracy theory treatments with common drugs. Easily purchased drugs are reassuring because anybody can get them, and they’re cheap, but they’re also dangerous to human health when taken incorrectly. Sadly, that is still going on as some people struggle to deal with fear by taking worming drugs designed for horeses, and others hope to fulfill ambition by proposing people take it. He called the virus a Chinese plot, so nobody would be mad at him. He bullied and yelled at national and worldwide health organizations that were telling the people of the United States to do common sense things to prevent the spread of disease. Afterall, he was the president, and only he could possibly know what is best for the country. No. 45 did not tell the people of the United States the truth, and he did nothing to bring the people together against a common enemy. Instead, he left it up to state governments to do what they thought best, and many chose to do as little as possible because of a fundamentalist belief in the freedom of the individual.  

The way things stand in the United States today, New Jersey, New York, Mississippi, Massachusetts, and Louisiana lead the nation in covid deaths per 100,000. It is the rightwing politicians who are fighting hardest for individual liberty in the face of a pandemic driven need for solidarity. Governor DeSantis in Florida, Governor Abbott in Texas both have presidential aspirations, so they are following the footsteps of No. 45 as much as possible.  

When I googled “anti-mask protests” I found headlines from Texas, Kentucky, Kansas, Indiana, Florida, Oklahoma, and Ohio. These are events where people are protesting for the right to put their individual comfort over the well-being of the nation. They try to hide their selfishness by saying it is an issue of personal freedom and using the language of our founding fathers, but this kind of jingoistic patriotism is just a front. The simple truth, that any virologist will tell you, is that we cannot fight a pandemic virus as a collection of individuals making individual choices. We have to fight covid as a cohesive group and act for the benefit of others. Ideological concerns have to take second place to solidarity when fighting a pandemic virus, conducting politics, or living in peace as a nation. 

The final aspect of the common good is taking a non-aggregative point of view on things. In other words, keeping the common good means not keeping score of individual gains and losses. The reasoning here goes that if we focus too much on our personal situation, we will end up imposing oppressive losses on somebody else, which will lead to social unrest and maybe even violence.  

Going back to the political events in Michigan above, a non-aggregative point of view would be to forego the questionable tactic of digging up signatures to pass voter suppression laws to be rubber stamped in spite of the Governor, and say to ourselves. We lost. That is okay because Governor Whitmer will not be in office forever. We will wait until she is voted out and then try to pass our laws through the regular legislative process. However, what is painfully obvious is that today’s Republican Party is doing everything it can, including things that it should not, to win the 2024 Presidential Election, and taking the tolerant, non-aggregative approach to election politics might mean that the next President of the United States might be a Democrat. So, what is happening in Michigan are political calculations based on power driving both political parties farther from democracy, tolerance, and solidarity.  

So, what is to be done? First, we have to relearn an important lesson of the past …. money is power. Jane Mayer’s book, “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right” gives a good description of how wealth concentrated at the top of society has allowed billionaires and millionaires to rebuild US social and political culture to their benefit. The history of the libertarian billionaire takeover of the United States, according to Mayer, goes back to the 80s as a counter reaction to the social movements of the 60s and 70s; the Civil Rights Movement, the protests against the Vietnam War, and efforts to eliminate poverty. The London School of Economics hosts a book review written Peter Carrol, which I strongly suggest you read it to get a sense of how much political power rightwing billionaires have purchased for themselves over the decades. Of course, Jane Mayer herself would be the ultimate source of information. 

As a demonstration that money, and therefore, power has concentrated at the top of US society, read Jesse Eisinger, Jeff Ernsthausen and Paul Kiel’s article at ProPublica called, “The Secret IRS Files: Trove of Never-Before-Seen Records Reveal How the Wealthiest Avoid Income Tax.” In that article they describe the differing tax situations between the top 1% and the Middle Class.  

The gist of the article is this. ProPublica was given 15 years of tax returns of 25 wealthy people, which they analyzed and verified as much as possible. As a way of illustrating the income inequality in the United States the reporters compared the increase in wealth with the taxes paid, which they call the true tax rate. 

“… those 25 people saw their worth rise a collective $401 billion from 2014 to 2018. They paid a total of $13.6 billion in federal income taxes in those five years, the IRS data shows. That’s a staggering sum, but it amounts to a true tax rate of only 3.4%.” 

“It’s a completely different picture for middle-class Americans, for example, wage earners in their early 40s who have amassed a typical amount of wealth for people their age. From 2014 to 2018, such households saw their net worth expand by about $65,000 after taxes on average, mostly due to the rise in value of their homes. But because the vast bulk of their earnings were salaries, their tax bills were almost as much, nearly $62,000, over that five-year period.” 

To get specific about billionaires, the article includes this chart which I have reproduced here. 

 Wealth Growth Income Reported Total taxes Paid True Tax Rate 
Warren Buffet $24.3B $125B $23.7M 0.10% 
Jeff Bezos $99.0B $4.22B $973M 0.98% 
Michael Bloomberg $22.5B $10.0B $292M 1.3% 
Elon Musk $13.9B $1.52B $455M 3.27% 

A major difference here is that the 1%’s wealth is tied up in the things they own, stocks and properties, which are not taxed until they are sold. Whereas the Middle Class and Poor’s wealth primarily comes from their wages, which are taxed every year. Clearly what is needed is more equality of sacrifice when paying taxes. Arguments about the exorbitant amounts the Wealthy pay in taxes are a distraction from the fact they what they pay compared to what they own is little or nothing. Middle Class wages have essentially been stagnant since the 70s while Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos had their own little space race. To quote Robert Reich, “Nothing says tax the rich like a space race between billionaires.” Clearly, the wealthy are not paying their fair share of government taxes.  

The next thing we should do to rebuild the common good is strengthen our labor movement and labor unions. Caleb Cain of the New Yorker wrote a good overview article, called “State of the Unions: What happened to America’s labor movement?” He points out that the Gilded Age (approximately 1870 to 1900) was a time of increased income inequality and corporate control of society, and that both those factors exist today in the modern United States. Furthermore, in both time periods the value created by workers labor was decoupled from their compensation. He writes,  

“In both, the value created by workers decoupled from the pay they received: during the nineteen-twenties, productivity grew forty-three per cent while wages stagnated; between 1973 and 2016, productivity grew six times faster than compensation. And unions were in decline: between 1920 and 1930, the proportion of union members in the labor force dropped from 12.2 per cent to 7.5 per cent, and, between 1954 and 2018, it fell from thirty-five per cent to 10.5 per cent.” 

Furthermore, referring to Steven Greenhouse’s book “Beaten Down, Worked Up” Mr. Cain points out that the share of national income going to business profits has climbed to its highest level since World War II, while worker’s share of income (employee compensation, including benefits) has slid to its lowest level since the 1940s. Giving workers a larger share of company profits, and a larger say in national politics, would benefit the nation by reestablishing a more equal economic balance in society and rebuilding the common good.  

To achieve anything that will move us towards a more balanced society, we need to elect politicians who will govern for the country as well as their constituents. I was recently told a story on Facebook about a Zoom conference with a local politician. The topic of dark money came up, and the politician was not too interested in the topic. He issued some platitudes about free speech and moved things along. Money is power. Money is not speech. Free speech is being able to speak your mind in the press, to the neighbors, or in social media. Free speech is not using your billions to justify your political agenda by supporting think tanks, establishing social and political front groups to hide your involvement in social and political change, influencing judges with luxury conferences, supporting authors, TV personalities, and news outlets who are politically useful, and supporting politically useful educational programs at private and public universities. All of the above is documented in Mayer’s book.  

How do we get politicians who will stand up for the common good? First, we have to adopt the idea ourselves. National politics should be about the welfare of the nation not benefits to the individual. State politics should be about the welfare of the state not benefits to the individual. City politics should be about the welfare of the city not benefits to the individual. To make sure this is the case, we have to know who is spending money on politics and how much.  

In 2019, ProPublica’s Maya Miller wrote, “How the IRS Gave Up Fighting Political Dark Money Groups.” This article tells the story of why the IRS is essentially doing nothing to curb dark money spending in the United States. This tragedy IRS budget cuts imposed by Congress that have led to personnel cuts, personal intimidation imposed on the remaining IRS employees by fanatics, extremists, and Congressmen, and propaganda about government abuse in a rabble-rousing rightwing press. 

The common good requires us to use our better natures. It requires an expansive view of humanity and the embrace of words like community, cooperation, equality, and justice. The common good is destroyed by intolerance, and political warfare. The common good is destroyed by heartlessness to human suffering, the unreasonable quest for certainty, and facing the future based on fundamentalism and/or ideology. Most important of all, we must remember that the common good is the only route to peaceful living in a society that embraces the good aspects of human life.

A Moral Conundrum

In a recent social media thread about a GOP politician who has decided not to run for reelection, I came across two conflicting statements about morality. The first came up in terms of No. 45 and the Capital Insurrection. What was said was, “His conduct was disgraceful but not illegal.” The second comment addressed the moral code that the rightwing believes it is fighting to preserve. It seemed to me a good idea to explore these two ideas.   

The first comment is a defense one hears many times on social media, and it’s important to put it in its proper context. No. 45 began signaling his stolen election defense as soon as his poll numbers dropped below those of candidate Biden. Then, No. 45 lost by 7 million votes in an election with record breaking turnout, which No. 45’s own administration declared the most transparent in history. To this day, even after 60 failed law suits, No. 45 insists the election was stolen from him.   

The fall out of No. 45’s stolen election defense has been that state level Republicans are insisting that the 2020 election be investigated to the nth-degree in the swing states where No. 45 lost. Using conspiracy theories and rhetoric, Republicans are looking for anything they can find that they can claim is evidence that the 2020 election was stolen. The danger is, when they don’t find what they want, they’ll lie to prove their point. Wanting to save-face is a very human thing to do, and has justified any number of ill conceived, illegal actions in the past. At the very least, we can be sure that the GOP is making sure to replace election officials who stood in the way of manipulating the count, using claims of election fraud to commit election fraud.  

As far as legality is concerned, everything that has happened as a result of No. 45’s stolen election defense has been legal. That is to say nobody has gone to jail yet except a few of the most fanatical who were foolish enough to participate in the Captial Insurrection. On the other hand, everything No. 45 said and did related to the 2020 election, and everything the GOP has done related to elections at the state level, has been an attack on the democratic traditions that have kept the United States safe for 240 years.   

The worst example is occurring in Michigan. The current Michigan Constitution was passed in 1963, and includes a way for citizen groups to introduce legislation directly to the state legislature. 1963 was a much simpler time than today, and it is easy to imagine some citizen group in arms about an issue the legislature is ignoring, so they bring it up themselves. According to the Michigan Constitution all that is needed is a petition that has 300,000 signatures. Pertinent to today’s discussion is that Michigan also has a democrat as governor who is unlikely to sign any of the election “reforms” that Republicans have pushed through in other states into law. Michigan is also a presidential election swing state.   

The details of the procedure are this. Whatever citizen proposed legislation arrives in the legislature can be passed into law with a simple majority vote, which Republican have, and cannot be vetoed by the Governor. So, all Michigan Republicans have to do is scare up enough “citizen’s groups” to propose the legislation they want, and finance the work to get enough people to sign the petitions. Then they can rubber stamp the proposals in the Legislature and the Governor Whitmer is taken out of the equation completely.   

The tragedy for democracy of this legal end run around government is that there is so much dark money in politics that they’ll be able to do this quite easily and we’ll never know the truth of who is behind the apparently grassroots citizen’s group who appeared at just the right moment to propose legislation that is advantageous to Republicans. This Republican win-at-all-costs strategy has found a way to short circuit democratic representation and the legislative process in the name of winning elections. It’s legal, but it’s highly immoral and against all the premises that keep a democratic society democratic. So, legality wins out over morality in an obsessive drive to flip Congress in 2022, and the White House in 2024.   

The second comment I read was this, “Over the past years – liberals have legalized homosexual marriage forcing [a] Christian adoption organization to place children with unmarried couples, etc., etc. — The Right does have morals – morals that the [L]eft does not believe in.”  

The meaning here is plain and easy to see. It’s a reference to those moral issues that every society must face, gay marriage, abortion, civil rights, etc. These are all important questions that must be talked about openly and honestly, and can never be considered permanently solves because people’s attitudes change over time. What many fail to realize is that there are no perfect solutions to these questions because there are so many points of view, so the best solution is one what allows as many people as possible to get what they want while maintaining the peace. For that seemingly impossible goal to be achieved, people have to tolerate each other and their difference points of view. When tolerance of difference is abandoned the politics of democracy morphs into the politics of power; that is using politics to suppress that which you disagree with and impose that which you believe.   

The recent anti-abortion law, SB 8, passed in Texas is an example of imposing beliefs. First, let us remember that Roe v. Wade is still the law of the land and therefore is expected to be legally available. SB 8 proudly announces that it is an extension of all the previous anti-abortion laws that were never repealed when Roe v. Wade took effect. Then it prohibits abortion after the fetal heartbeat begins, approximately 6 weeks into the pregnancy. The problem here is that most women don’t know their pregnant until long after this point for a variety of reasons. For example, there are many women who appear to still have their periods after pregnancy begins. The blood flow is not regular menstrual blood, but excess blood caused by the pregnancy itself. I’m not a doctor, or a lawyer, but as I read SB 8 the only way a woman can avoid running afoul of it is an actual medical pregnancy test after each intercourse.   

The rest of SB 8 builds a defensive wall to prevent it from being made ineffective. For example, SB 8 precludes women bringing law suits against SB 8 claiming that it causes undue burdens on women in general. SB 8 law suits will be decided strictly on the merits of each individual case, and will have no implications of other women. When you are trying to enforce the laws that people object to a libertarian point of view can be very helpful, and this anti-group point of view is written into the Libertarian Party platform. Furthermore, if someone brings a law suit against SB 8, and wins, awards will not be given unless they make access to abortion more difficult. If you have the evidence and the circumstance to win a case against SB 8, the law itself will prevent you from changing anything.   

The state of Texas will not lift a finger to enforce SB 8. Enforcement is left up to the people of Texas who may bring law suits as they wish. If they win, the court is supposed to give them awards that will prevent the defendant from ever conducting abortions again, damages of no less than $10,000 per infraction, and costs and attorney’s fees.   

This is not governance. This is libertarian-inspired, vigilante justice. This is a divide and conquer strategy that pits the people of Texas against themselves with a financial incentive for those on the right side of things. At the risk of being crass, the state of Texas setting its citizens against each other might also be a good way of distracting them from the fact that the state failed them utterly and completely during worst winter storm in recent memory by not doing anything to be prepared for it, and not doing anything to prevent covid from spreading. SB 8 is an open declaration the Republicans in Texas have abandoned democracy in favor of the naked exercise of power.   

To be fair to those I quoted, they were two different people talking about two different ideas with different people. What I have written is not meant as a criticism of them. What I hoped to achieve is to show some of the inconsistencies I find in the rightwing’s position. It is fundamentally dangerous to a democracy to simply let legality be your guide. In 6000 years of human existence, no civilization has managed a legal code that could not be subverted or distorted to the advantage of a few. When Franklin made his comment about keeping the US Republic, he was not referring to simply following the written word of the Constitution as too many assume. All nations, and all human societies are more than their foundational documents. They are the sum of the qualities of their members. Enshrined in the Constitution is an attitude of tolerance and institutional forbearance that will keep any society democratic in nature and peaceful at heart. If you want proof of this, look at all the topics that are NOT in the Constitution. The founders left those up to us to decide based on morality and legality.  

Once you take the fundamentalist’s point of view that your moral code is the only one that is right, you commit yourself to conflict. By all means, accept any moral code you wish in your personal live. It will not bring you peace because sooner or later you will be confronted by someone whose moral code is different. You can each be hard-headed people of principle and reject the other for not meeting your expectations, or you can be more flexible. You can keep your code as your own, and allow the Other to live by theirs, and use politics to maintain the peace when conflicts arise.  

Bernad Crick, in his book, In Defense of Politics, writes, 

“Conciliation is better than violence – but it is not always possible; diversity is better than unity – but it does not always exist. But both are always desirable. Perhaps it all comes down to the fact that there are two great enemies of politics: indifference to human suffering and the passionate quest of certainty in matters which are essentially political. Indifference to human suffering discredits free regimes which are unable, or which fear, to extend the habits and possibilities of freedom from the few to the many. The quest for certainty scorns the political virtues – of prudence, of conciliation, of compromise, of variety, of adaptability, of liveliness – in favor of some pseudo-science of government, some absolute-sounding ethic, or some world-picture in terms of either race or economics. Perhaps it is curious, or simply unnatural, that [people] who live with dignity and honor in the face of such endemic uncertainties as death, [who are] always so close in the normal possibilities of accident, and disease; [who survive] love, its precariousness and its fading, [who are constantly dependent] on the will and whims of others, [can yet] go mad for certainty of government – a certainty which is the death of politics and freedom. A free government is one which makes decisions politically, not ideologically.”  

Newt Gingrich said politics should be warfare. He was wrong. 

Leftwing Authoritarianism

I have asked people on social media for an explanation of what they meant by “leftwing authoritarianism” hoping to gain a better understanding of what rightwing people think. I’ve never gotten even the hint of an answer. I’ve gotten lots of jokes, insults and putdowns, but no explanation about what the term means. So, I’m left with my imagination and empathy to try and fill in the blanks because of people’s inability, or unwillingness, to explain themselves.  

Many on the people resent our federal government telling them to get vaccinated. In fact, they resent being told by anybody, state governments, city governments, and  employers to get vaccinated. Now there’s all kinds of different reasons for their refusals and resistance. But the simple truth is that the strategy for fighting covid is the same for fighting polio, small pox, and measles. Everybody gets a vaccination. Humanity beat those diseases because we all worked together and got our shots. To be against vaccinations for covid, for any reason, is to be pro-death.  

Many of those fighting against vaccine and mandates say they’re not against vaccines and themselves. They’re against any and all governments forcing them to use them. For them, their rights as individuals are more important than the lives of those around them. The news periodically runs stories of people who fought against covid mandates only to later die from covid. I’ve also seen stories of people who fought against mandates, got covid and recovered, and then admitted they were wrong. But self-imposed victim status can be addicting, so the fights against fighting a disease that has killed 664,000 people in the United States and 4.5 million worldwide continue. 

Self-serving politicians add to the problem by pandering to people’s obsession for individual rights by passing laws prohibiting fighting against covid by mandating vaccinations, or masks. In fact, Florida Governor DeSantis is hoping to parley the pain he has inflicted on the people of Florida in the form of covid deaths into a run for president in 2024. Sadly, too many people cheer fighting against fighting covid as actions against government overreach and tyranny. Our authoritarian federal government is telling us what to do they say.  

Trying to prevent a disease that can kill you is government overreach and tyranny? Trying to act for the common good of EVERY and ALL people of the United States is government overreach and tyranny? I hope I’m never that selfish. I hope I’m never so wrapped up in viewing myself as a victim that I lose my ability to appreciate the circumstances, and risks, faced by others.  

There is no such thing as a society made up of a group of individuals. If the United States is going to remain a functioning democratic society that allows everyone, equality, justice, and fraternity, we have to be willing to sacrifice ourselves for the good of others. Our inability to sacrifice for others in the face of 664,000 covid dead paints a stunningly dark picture for the future of US democracy and society. 

Democracy Matters: The dangers the US democracy face

Published 8//82021

This is a quote from Cornel West’s book, “Democracy Matters,” from 2004. I think the trick to reading this book is not to read it looking for justification or with a know-you-enemy point of view. The book is not meant as a criticism, and that’s a good thing. Our political divide will not be closed through criticism as so many people on social media believe. The quote is from the first chapter, “Democracy Matters Are Frightening In Our Time,” so his goal is simply laying out the dangers as he sees them. My point of view, if that matters, is that 20 years later, West’s description of the problems facing the U.S. democracy have only gotten worse.

The greatest threats [to democracy] come in the form of the rise of three dominating, antidemocratic dogmas. These three dogmas, promoted by the most powerful forces in our world are rendering American democracy vacuous. The first dogma of free-market fundamentalism posits the unregulated and unfettered market as idol and fetish. This glorification of the market has led to a callous corporate-dominated political economy in which business leaders (their wealth and power) are to be worshipped – even despite the recent scandals — and the most powerful corporations are delegated magical powers of salvation rather than [subjected] to democratic scrutiny concerning both the ethics of their business practices and their treatment of workers. This largely unexamined and unquestioned dogma that supports the policies of both Democrats and Republicans in the United States – and those of most political parties in other parts of the world – is a major threat to the quality of democratic life and the well-being of most people across the globe. It yields and obscene level of wealth inequality, along with its corollary of intensified class hostility and hatred. It also redefines the terms of what we should be striving for in life, glamorizing materialistic gain, narcissistic pleasure, and the pursuit of narrow individualistic preoccupations – especially for young people here and abroad.  

Free-market fundamentalism – just as dangerous as the religious fundamentalism of our day – trivializes the concern for public interest. The overwhelming power and influence of plutocrats and oligarchs in the economy put fear and insecurity in the hearts of anxiety-ridden workers and render money-driven, poll-obsessed elected officials deferential to corporate goals of profit, often at the cost of the common good. This illicit marriage of corporate and political elites – so blatant and flagrant in our time – not only undermines the trust of informed citizens in those who rule over them. It also promotes the pervasive sleepwalking of the populace, who see that the false prophets are handsomely rewarded with money, status, and access to more power. This profit-driven vision is sucking the democratic life out of American society.  

In short, the dangerous dogma of free-market fundamentalism turns our attention away from schools to prisons, from worker’s conditions to profit margins, from health clinics to high-tech facial surgeries, from civic associations to pornographic internet sites, and from children’s care to strip clubs. The fundamentalism of the market puts a premium on the activities of buying and selling, consuming and taking, promoting and advertising, and devalues community, compassionate charity, and improvement of the general quality of life. How ironic that in American we’ve moved so quickly from Martin Luther King Jr’s “Let Freedom Ring!” To “Bling, Bling!” — as if freedom were reducible to simply having material toys, as dictated by free-market fundamentalism.” 

The second prevailing dogma of our time is aggressive militarism, of which the new policy of preemptive strike against potential enemies is but an extension. This new doctrine of U.S. foreign policy goes far beyond our former doctrines of preventive war. It green-lights political elites to sacrifice U.S. soldiers – who are disproportionately working class [people of all colors] and youth of color – in adventurous crusades. This dogma posits military might as salvific in a world in which he who has the most and biggest weapons is the most moral and masculine, hence worthy of policing others. In practice, this dogma takes the form of unilateral intervention, colonial invasion, and armed occupation abroad. It has fueled a foreign policy that shuns multilateral cooperation of nations and undermines international structures of deliberation. Fashioned out a the cowboy mythology of the American frontier fantasy, the dogma of aggressive militarism is a lone-ranger strategy that employs “spare-no-enemies” tactics. It guarantees a perennial resorting to the immoral and base manner of settling conflict, namely, the perpetration of the very sick and cowardly terrorism it claims to contain and eliminate. [Think about drone attacks from the victim’s perspective] on the domestic front, this dogma expands police power, augments the prison-industrial complex, and legitimates unchecked male power (and violence) at home and in the workplace. It views crime as a monstrous enemy to crush (targeting poor people) rather than as an ugly behavior to change (by addressing the conditions that often encourage such behavior). 

As with the bully on the block, one’s own interests and aims define what is moral and one’s own anxieties and insecurities dictate what is masculine. Yet the use of naked force to resolve conflict often backfires. The arrogant hubris that usually accompanies this use of force tends to lead toward instability – and even destruction – in the regions where we have sought to impose our will. Violence is readily deployed by those who cloak themselves in innocence – those unwilling to examine themselves and uninterested in counting the number of innocent victims they kill. Note the Bush administration’s callous disregard for both the U.S. soldiers and innocent Iraqis killed in our recent adventurous invasion. The barbaric abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib is a flagrant example. [All these years later, we now know that the Iraq was conducted under false pretenses, and West’s description of it as adventurous is correct.] 

The third prevailing dogma in this historic moment is escalating authoritarianism. This dogma is rooted in our understandable paranoia toward potential terrorist, or traditional fear of too many liberties, and our deep distrust of one another. The Patriot Act is but the peak of an iceberg that has widened the scope of the repression of our hard-earned rights and hard-fought liberties. The Supreme Court has helped lead the way with its support of the Patriot Act. There are, however, determined democrats on the Court who are deeply concerned, as expressed in a recent speech of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg: “On important issues,” she said, “like the balance between liberty and security, if the public doesn’t care, then the security side is going to overweight the other.” The cowardly terrorist attacks of 9/11 have been cannon fodder for the tightening of surveillance. The loosening of legal protection and slow closing of meaningful access to the oversight of governmental activities – measures deemed necessary in the myopic view of many – are justified by the notion that safety trumps liberty and security dictates the parameters of freedom.  

Meanwhile, the market-driven media – fueled by our vast ideological polarization and abetted by profit-hungry monopolies – have severely narrowed our political “dialogue.” The major problem is not the vociferous shouting from one camp to the other; rather it is that many have given up being heard. We are losing the very dialogue – especially respectful communication – in the name of the sheer force of naked power. This is the classic triumph of authoritarianism over the kind of questioning, compassion, and hope requisite for any democratic experiment. 

We have witness similar developments in our schools and universities – increasing monitoring of viewpoints, disrespecting of those with whom one disagrees, and foreclosing of the common ground upon which we can listen and learn. The major culprit here in not “political correctness,” a term coined by those who tend to trivialize the scars of others and minimized the suffering of victims while highlighting  their own wounds. Rather the challenge is mustering the courage to scrutinize all forms of dogmatic policing of dialogue and to shatter all authoritarian strategies of silencing voices. We must respect the scars and wounds of each one of us – even if we are sometimes wrong (or right!). 

Voting Rights: No qourum in Texas or any place else

Published: 7/23/2021

Under the disguise of election integrity, Republican politicians are doing as much as they can to make sure that it is harder for the everyday citizen to vote. The Brennan Center for Justice’s State Voting Bill Tracker lists 389 bills with restrictive provisions in 48 states as of May of this year. These provision place restrictions on absentee voting, early voting, polling places, disability access, and make purging voters easier.  

The situation in Texas is unresolved, but the Texas Democrats who escaped to D.C. are the first nationally visible example of somebody doing something to oppose the destruction. President Biden has introduced the For the People Act, which would undo a lot of the damage done to voter rights at the state level, but the national Republican politicians have refused to support it and labeled the bill a power grab. The only hope of passing the For the People Act is to repeal the filibuster, and democrats remain divided on that issue. My opinion, for what it’s worth, is since the GOP has given up on democracy there’s no use in us tying our hands behind our backs to protect their minority position. Let the Democrats legislate and the GOP do what it can to survive as their narrative of the evil socialist Democrats falls apart.  

Ian Millhiser points out in his article, “The GOP voting bill that literally caused Texas Democrats to flee the state, explained,” that there are separate efforts at voter restriction in both the Texas House and Senate, and they contain different provisions. Both bills “forbid the state from removing partisan poll watchers, unless certain election workers witness the poll watcher breaking the law, and the poll watcher is given a warning first — although a judge may ask police to remove a poll watcher who commits ‘a breach of the peace or a violation of law.’” So, in Texas, if a poll watcher is using racist language, or disrupting the voting process, as happened in Detroit in 2020, you would probably need the word of a judge to remove them.  

For those who may have forgotten, the Detroit Free Press reported on November 2, 2020, that a man wearing a Hollywood-horror mask showed up with the proper credentials shouting about how crooked the process was. He was disruptive and was eventually asked to leave after using racist language. The 2020 presidential election was an emotional time for everyone. This man seems to have showed up to protest rather than fulfill his job as a neutral, objective observer.  

During the 2020 presidential election some of the resultant law suits were filed based on the testimony of poll watchers who were overstepping their responsibilities and claiming fraud that wasn’t there based on things they think they saw, which were not their responsibility. Ian Millhiser in his article “Trump’s bizarre, haphazard legal strategy to disrupt vote counting, briefly explained” relates an incident in Georgia.  

“Sean Pumphrey, a poll watcher sent by the Republican Party to observe ballot counting, saw an election worker ‘bring a stack of ballots from a back room and place on a table.’ Pumphrey then ‘left the room for a while and [sic] returned a short time later.’ But when he’d returned, ‘the stack of ballots were no longer on the table.'” 

Poll watchers are supposed to watch the polls. They are not involved in the vote counting process. Apparently, the fundamental idea that other people’s live continue even when you can’t see them escaped Mr. Pumphrey’s mind momentarily. He wasn’t allowed to track down the “missing” pile of votes because he was a poll watcher not an election worker, vote counter or supervisor. Nevertheless, president 45’s campaign and the Georgia Republican Party used the incident to complain about the election because when you’re trying to stir up controversy you have to take what you can get. No 45’s campaign stirred up 60 some controversies, of all sorts, after the election, and they were all rejected by federal judges including the Supreme Court.    

The Texas House bill, according to the first Millhiser article cited, makes it a misdemeanor to “intentionally or knowingly refuse to accept a watcher for service when acceptance of the watcher is required by this section.” Thus, an election worker who pushes too hard to keep a particular poll watcher out of a polling place risks being jailed for up to 180 days. As I read the situation, the Detroit poll watcher in 2020 might have been given free rein to do as he pleased under Texas law.  

Some provisions of the Texas Senate and House bills appear to be dead for the moment. Those include provisions that would allow election officials to shut down polling places in urban areas. If fewer liberal minded, urban citizens can vote because of the time required, so much the better for a political agenda supported by rural areas. Another provision that was been backed away from was that which disallowed early morning Sunday voting, which is the time when many African-American churches sponsor drives to take their members to the polls. Again, you don’t want to make things too easy for those who are likely to vote against you. 

As I said, Mr. Millhiser reports these provisions to be dead, however, the legislative process is not finished, and who knows what will happen when the Texas Representatives return. Sooner or later, they have to return, so the question becomes what will Texas Republicans do when the Democrats return and they have them by the scruff of the neck? If nothing happens in D.C., my guess is Texan Republicans will do anything they want.  

Greg Sargent reported in the Washington Post that a Texas bill would require an audit of the 2020 election results. However, Texans appear to be pragmatic people because they’re only going to audit the large urban counties that voted for President Biden. Sargent quotes Rep Steve Toth’s justification of not auditing the whole state as, “What’s the point? I mean, all the small counties are red.” Any government that takes sides is not being just or fair, and will sooner or later become tyrannical, and such obviously self-interested statements as made by Rep Toth demonstrate the hypocritical nature of Republican efforts to “audit” the 2020 election.  

Furthermore, such statements bring into question the real goal of the audit. President Biden is president, and he will remain president until 2024 because there is no mechanism to return No. 45 to office. However, all these audits do serve a purpose. By keeping the idea that the 2020 election was stolen, Republicans can keep the faithful stirred up to the point that they hopefully ignore any benefits that might come their way out of the Biden administration. This in turn will help make the 2024 election more tumultuous and more easily swayed. These audit also serve as a cover to examine which election employees and workers got in the way in 2020 so they can be replaced if possible. The moral danger of these audits is what will happen when they turn up little or nothing in terms of real fruad? Egg on your face is a very good motivation to start lying. Last I heard, the multiple audits in Arizona had turned up 200 fraudulent votes out of over 3 million, which can hardly justify the time and money spent.  

Democracy cannot survive in an atmosphere of distrust and self-interest. In their book, “How Democracies Die,” Levitsky and Ziblatt point out two requirements for keeping democracy. The first is institutional forbearance, by which is meant not using all the institutional powers available to achieve a political goal out of respect. Republicans in the Michigan Legislature are thinking about using a little know procedure in the Michigan Constitution to bypass a gubernatorial veto. Under the provision, if 8% of the population, in this case 333,000 people, propose legislation, the Legislature can enact it into law with a simple majority vote. These laws cannot be vetoed by the Governor. In effect then, the Michigan Constitution allows a few people to govern over the state in an era of political amity, rampant libertarian self-interest, and historical social division. Michigan had the closest US Senate races in the country and was a key battleground state in the presidential election, so the ability to determine how the 2024 election is conducted could be a big deal. Therefore, Republican politicians in Michigan are hoping to pass voter restriction laws in this way and get around the Democrat governor. 

The current Michigan Constitution was ratified in 1963, which was a simpler time without the internet and its modern methods of consolidation and control. It’s easy to think of this mechanism as being put in place solely to allow the people of Michigan to have a direct effect on what happens in their state. However, in the modern era of dark money, front groups, and libertarian self-interest is also quite easy to imagine a political party marshalling its resources, and donor’s money, to rustle up 333,000 votes that their legislative majority will rubber stamp with the appropriate platitudes about how this was needed to stem the tide of socialism, and protect US democracy…by restricting when and where we can vote.  

Of course there are checks and balances built into the Michigan Shortcut. They can be repealed through a referendum. A referendum requires 5% of the population, about 200,000, to sign a petition, but that’s not the point. The democratically minded thing to do is not distort the intention of the Michigan Constitution and accept things as they are. Far too many people think that legal and moral are the same thing.  

Institutional forbearance in the case of Michigan is easy to find. The Michigan GOP should skip its legal short cut and accept its political fortune. If their bills are vetoed by Governor Whitmer. Fine. She won’t be in office forever. Maybe they’ll have better luck after she’s been voted out. Everybody is voted out sooner or later, even No. 45. However, by that time, Michiganders may have prevented a Republican president from being elected in 2024. In the case of Texas, institutional forbearance would most likely look similar, understanding that Texan Democrat Representatives did what they did for a reason and that maybe their point of view should be accommodated as much as possible by taking it easy on them when they return. We all seem to have forgotten that the goal of politics is not to win at any cost, but to live in peace. 

The second requirement for a living democracy, according to Levitsky and Ziblatt, is tolerance. As far as I can tell, the rightwing distrusts everything and everyone on the left. Their political views are so narrowly defined, and the dangers of failing are so grossly exaggerated that it is hard not to see the rightwing as anything less than seeking nothing more than its own power. Certainly, that’s how rightwing leaders generally act. Reducing the number of people who are able to vote in any election can’t be beneficial no matter how you dress up the issue. The history of African Americans is built on the struggle to vote. They started in 1862, had a lot of success in 1965, but now their struggle has become a fact for all of us.   

As far as I know, none of the conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 election stood the test of time but people go on believing them. Why? Mostly, it boils down to trust. When you define your goals no more broadly than getting what you want, those who don’t help you become obstacles. When you glorify your goals as innocent, pure, and patriotic those who don’t help you become suspicious because they’re too stupid, opinionated, or evil to believe in your purity. When someone or some group is both an obstacle and suspicious, we lose trust in them. When society loses enough trust between its member its democracy is in danger.  

In the United States, social and political trust must be rebuilt. However, neither the Democrats, or the Republicans, can rebuild trust by themselves. Right now it seems too many Republican leaders are focused on consolidation of self-interested power. Take the example of the Jan 6th Select Committee that is forming now in Congress. Republicans turned down allowing having their members selected by the committee. They insisted on appointing those who would sit on the commission. Two of those selected by Republican leadership, Jim Jordan and Jim Banks, were rejected by Democrat leadership. Jordan was rejected because he has been an ardent supporter of No. 45 for a long time including the run up to the Capital Insurrection and even now during its aftermath. Banks was rejected because of derogatory statements he made about the commission he was about to join that called into question his objectivity and neutrality.  

The committee chair has stated that nothing is off the table when the committee begins investigating, including No. 45 and his roll in the horrid affair, so putting Jordan on the committee could easily turn into an act of sabotage by Republicans. The committee leadership was right to reject him. Congressional Republicans have a culpability problem, some congressional Republicans actively supported and encouraged No. 45, his actions and events that led up to the Capital Insurrection. What would happen if in the course of its investigations, Jordan was called to testify about his own actions? Would a committee member guilty of crimes allow his crimes to come to light? It seems reasonable to assume that they would do everything they could to disrupt the investigation. 

My point here is not to accuse Jim Jordan of anything. I don’t know of his being guilty of anything more of supporting an extremely bad president. My point is, by appointing Jordon in the first place, Minority Leader McCarthy is not governing for the country as a whole, but for his faction of the Republican Party. McCarthy is protecting the Republican’s secrets and reputation and not our country’s democratic roots and traditions.  

To put the Capital Insurrection behind it, the United States needs to have the causes of that tragedy identified and those responsible punished. Congressional Republicans stood in the way of having No. 45 impeached over the event. Then they stood in the way of a Congressional investigation, and now they’re trying to sabotage a House investigation. As of July 22, 2021, Minority Leader McCarthy has stated that no Republicans will participate in the committee investigation, so they appear to have shut down yet another investigation into the Captial Insurrection. This is not governance for the country as a whole, but the pursuit of self-interested power. 

https://www.vox.com/2021/7/13/22573680/democrats-texas-flee-greg-abbott-voting-election-special-session-quorum

https://www.vox.com/2020/5/22/21265163/texas-voter-suppression-age-65-ken-paxton-democratic-party-abbott

https://www.vox.com/22307937/voting-rights-georgia-arizona-voting-by-mail-republican-absentee-donald-trump

https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/state-voting-bills-tracker-2021

https://www.vox.com/22463490/voting-rights-democracy-texas-georgia-suppression-jim-crow-supreme-court-sb7

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/22368044/georgia-sb202-voter-suppression-democracy-big-lie

https://www.vox.com/2021/7/17/22580037/michigan-republican-party-voting-rights-mike-shirkey-big-lie

https://www.freep.com/story/news/politics/elections/2020/11/02/poll-challengers-removed-detroit-ballot-processing-begins/6122976002/

President Biden, Christian Communion and Tolerance

Published 6/23/2021

In October of 2019, according to CNN, Father Robert Morey, the pastor at Saint Anthony Catholic Church in Florence, told the Florence Morning News that he had denied Biden communion because “any public figure who advocates for abortion places himself or herself outside of Church teaching.” It seems that this was the action of an individual religious figure imposing his political views on others. At the time, it must have offended President Biden who has publicly stated that he disagrees with abortion but does not feel he has the right to force his opinions on others.  

Today, that same ideological battle is raging as the American Catholic Church debates making the same intolerant position a requirement in all Catholic churches in the United States. Regardless of how the debate is decided, it represents another step in the struggle of the religious right to gain political primacy. According the Kevin Kruse’s book, “One Nation Under God” the first step in that struggle took place in the 1950s, when the words “under God” were inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance and “In God We Trust” was put on US currency. Since then things have only gotten worse. The religious right has become a mainstay of the Republican Party, along with white supremacists, and that unlikely concoction of voters put president 45 in office in 2016.  

The justification for the religious right’s support of president 45 was that despite what he might say or do, he was a Christian at heart so his underlying Christian principles made everything okay. A cursory review of president 45’s administration will easily prove the silliness of that point of view. However, this does not mean that the religious right can be dismissed. In fact they are a serious threat to US democracy. For example, both Attorney General Bill Barr and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made speeches about the primacy of religion in society.  

Secretary of State Pompeo addressed his faith constantly thoughout his term of office, which not surprisingly stirred the religious jealousies of others. Unfortunately, Secretary Pompeo’s speech about being a Christian leader has been taken off the State Department’s website, but some of the reactions are still available online. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) National, a Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, said that Pompeo “shouldn’t be a Christian leader, he should be an American leader…leading a nation of people who have different faiths and no faiths.” Qasim Rashid, a Muslim state Senate candidate in Virginia, tweeted, “When do we get to see ‘Being a Jewish or Muslim or Sikh or atheist leader?'” and the former head of the National Jewish Democratic Council Aaron Keyak said that “There’s obviously no issue with the Secretary of State being a leader, nor his being a proud Christian. But it’s a problem that Secretary Pompeo thinks it’s appropriate to put those two words together and hold an official State Department event on being a Christian leader.”

Barr’s speech was made at Notre Dame University, one of the US’s leading Catholic universities, and advanced the idea of religous freedom in the United States, by which is meant allowing social and political leaders to put religious doctrine above all else when making policy decisions. Based on an interpretation of a few short phrases written by James Madison Barr concludes that only a religious people can sustain a democracy. While not stating the idea explicitly, Barr’s implication is that the more religious a nation is the more likely their democracy is to survive so by all means let us turn over the federal government to religious doctrine. In fact, when you read James Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments what you find is the idea that mankind should be free to worship any God they choose in any way that they choose, and choosing to worship no God at all is following God’s will as well.

Barr’s and Pompeos’s speeches comes after prominent Congressional figures publicly expressed their desire for a federal government that followed religious edict. For example, Rick Santorum is quoted as saying “I don’t want a government that is neutral between virtue and vice” in Andrew Sullivan’s 2006 book “The Conservative Soul: How We Lost it, How to Get it Back.” When arguing against secularism, Santorum said that its proponents “are trying to instill a different moral vision – one that elevates the self, the arbitrary individual good, above all else. And frankly, this moral vision amounts to nothing less than a new religion, a polytheistic one in which each individual is to be his own god to be worshiped.”  

The danger of Pompeo’s, Barr’s and Santorum’s words are that they are an affront to the tolerance and forbearance that keeps any democracy alive. For democracy to survive it’s member must understand that other people have different opinions and that those opinions will not get in the way of living together peacefully. It should be obvious that government official declaring the primacy of religion in their decision making signals to others that the peace is threatned. The idea that the Christian religion is somehow innately neutral and yet filled with blanketing goodness that will solve the US’s racial problems, create calm by pushing abortion back under the rug, and filling the country with gun-toting good guys really is not to be believed.  

Religion has its place in life, and I am not attempting to argue against it though there are many who do. However, as we should have learned from the example of the Middle East, putting religion in the center of a nation’s political life only leads to strive, oppression and suffering. You want to be religious and be in politics? Fine. When you cross the line of imposing your religion on others you’ve become a threat to the democracy that you claim to be serving. You cannot serve God and a democracy at the same time.

https://edition.cnn.com/2019/10/29/politics/joe-biden-denied-communion-south-carolina-catholic-church/index.html

https://time.com/6074753/joe-biden-catholic-communion-abortion/

That Might Work!

Published: 6/14/2021

I’ve Been Reading: I was reading an article, “Why Everything is Liberal,” by Richard Hannia in The American Mind, which is a publication of the Claremont Institute. The Claremont Institute is a rightwing think tank that was one of the early supporters of president 45. A link in Mr. Hannia’s article led me to the work of Professor Eric Kaufman. His article, Academic Freedom in Crisis: Punishment, Political Discrimination, and Self-Censorship, argues that US universities are predominately leftwing and therefore discriminatory against the rightwing. At this point, I’ve read bits and pieces of Kaufman’s article, but haven’t found what the basis of the discrimination is, how it is manifest, or what is to be done about it.  

At first I doubted the voracity of the article, and figured it had to be some kind of trick. I looked up Kaufman and couldn’t place this article within the context of his CV, published books and papers, or his proclaimed field of study. I was in over my head in nationalism, and national identity. It turns out that Kaufman really did write the article. I found another article he wrote on the same topic.  

While trying to make sense of things, I found “Taking back control of racial heritage: a response to Kaufmann” by Timothy Stacey. Kaufman and Stacey spoke together at the same conference, and Stacey wrote what was supposed to be a rebuttal to Kaufman’s opening speech, but it turns into a book review of Kaufman’s latest book “White Shift” With this I was able to put Kaufman in some kind of general context.  

The simple version, and simplification can be deadly, is that Kaufman argues that as US demographics change Caucasian Americans feel threatened. This seems like common sense. Caucasian Americans are going to be a minority in the US in the near future, so they have to figure out how to navigate within a “beige” environment. So, Kaufman’s idea seems to be to allow Caucasian Americans to vent while trying to include them in the new beige environment with the hope that the new resulting culture will be acceptable to everyone when it’s finished.  

With the raise of white supremacist violence and xenophobic attitudes in the US this is a very important topic to understand though I doubt Kaufman’s idea will work. If there’s one thing I get from my interactions on social media it’s that right wingers demand to be heard. However, from my point of view, the only way right wingers will admit that they’ve been heard is if their ideas are accepted.  

Stacey’s counter idea seems to be rather than giving into Caucasian American identity politics, and accepting Caucasian American’s inhuman behavior toward others, we should attempt to build a new social structure that goes beyond “racial, religious and value-based differences [and] ultimately restore[s] a sense of identity and harmony.” Since Stacey’s purpose is to rebut Kaufman, he doesn’t go into what such a social structure would look like.  

Admittedly, this is all very theoretical, and therefore, not easy to connect to our everyday lives. My idea is to frame everything within the realm of human rights. That way right wingers would be included as part of any discussion about social rights. As an example, instead of framing police brutality in the context of discrimination against African Americans, we could frame it has a crime against the rights of all humans. This would eliminate discussions over which ethnic group experiences more police brutality than others, and would take away the ability of Caucasian Americans to weaponize such discussions in their defense because they cannot deny the underlying fact that we are all human. 

This is a radical change in how we see ourselves and our relationships with others. For it to work, groups experiencing discrimination would have to take a wider view when presenting their complaints. In effect, they would have to take the discrimination less personally and express things in wider terms. As stated above, African Americans experiencing police brutality would need to express their very real discomfort in terms of it isn’t right than any human has to experience this. Income inequality, which has been growing in the US since the 70s would be reframed in terms of fairness and justice towards all humans. You have to admit that it’s easier to argue fairness for everybody over fairness for one group or another.

The other side of the coin is that people treating others unfairly, unjustly, or inhumanely will have to recognise their own shared humanity. They will have to stop seeing themselves as somehow superior either because of their wealth, their legal advantage, or the advantage given to them by circumstance. For my idea to work, the human race needs to construct a shared morality based on equality, fraternity and justice.

I don’t know what Kaufman or Stacey would think of my idea. Even as I write this it seems like an impossible dream. Apparently, I am an unrepentant liberal since my thoughts followed something new and arrived at something old. On the other hand, maybe there’s a reason that the bible includes the story of the Tower of Babel. Still what good is life if we can’t dream of something better? Dreams become realities with hard work.  

My goal here is to document what I’ve read, what I took out of it, and how my new knowledge might be used.

The Tyranny of the Majority?

May 28, 2021 

The other day, I came across a Facebook thread about democracy, and one of the commenters talked about the tyranny of the majority. His point was that if a decision is made by, as an example, 50.1% then the losing side is being forced into doing something they don’t believe in or want to do. Let me clarify that the general topic of the thread was democracy as it relates to social issues not the election of representatives. Further, it was a philosophical discussion that was not grounded in the realities of US democracy. What was obvious from the whole thread is that the commenter thought of himself as a minority of one and therefore any decision that was not his own was forcing him to do something he had no interest in.  

What struck me about the idea of the tyranny of the majority is its immediately obvious selfishness. Democracy is not about getting what you want. It’s about getting along with everybody else. Whatever the democratic result might be, if we look at it solely from our individual perspective, we are separating ourselves from the result and the rest of society. Democracy can only live within a group willing to accept 1) that whatever the majority decides is good enough, 2) that if the majority decided against you then you might be wrong. Needless to say, the guiding principle of democracy is trust.  

In a living democracy, there must be tolerance, which the historians Levitsky and Ziblatt describe in their book, “How Democracies Die” as a pickup basketball game that the players want to play indefinitely. In such a game strict enforcement of the rules is counterproductive because it increases the risk that one of the players will get mad and go home. It is better therefore to forgive the small infractions and focus on playing the game.  

They give two examples of what they mean by tolerance in democracy. The first is the Spanish Civil War, which gave rise to the Franco dictatorship. The start of the war was preceded by lengthy period of worsening relations between Spanish political parties. As things got more and more polarized the government became less and less functional until things fell apart completely and war broke out. I find dire warnings of the value of tolerance in this story.  

The second example involves the period of reconstruction after the United States’ Civil War. Levitsky and Ziblatt state that after the Civil War there were attempts to secure the civil rights of the newly released slaves. However, they failed in part because southern politicians resented them tremendously. The moral thing to do would have been to assure African American civil rights then and there, but that was not done in part because doing so would have put southern politicians in a position where working with the North was impossible. In Levitski and Ziblatt’s view the choice to put politics over morality is one of the things that allowed the United States’ union to come back together despite its cost to morality.  

From what I have read in other sources, Levitsky and Ziblatt’s description of the politics of the reconstruction is overly simplified. President Johnson was a white supremacist as was most of the northern politicians in the federal government, so I don’t believe necessarily believe that it was tolerance that kept northern and southern politicians working together. However, their point is clear and believable. More important than whether US society approves or disapproves of abortion is that we all continues to talk about it and understand that we can always talk about it. If we keep the discussion going after many ups and downs the nation will settle on a solution that the majority can live with.  

A more recent example of democratic intolerance, which occurred after the publication of Levitsky and Ziblatt’s book, is president 45’s firing of 46 US attorneys appointed by President Obama in 2017. Presidential appointees expect to lose their jobs at the beginning of a new administration. However, so the alarming fact is not that president 45 decided to appoint other people the Department of Justice. To assure that the work of the DoJ is not interrupted, presidential appointees were never fired as a group. Instead, as new appointees were name, the old appointee was asked to resign. In that way the work of the DoJ could continue uninterrupted. By firing 46 attorneys at once the flow of work must have been disrupted as jobs remained vacant until new appointments were made. The mass firing was apparently done to appease rightwing factions who were worried about leaks to the press. President Obama had been the whipping boy of the rightwing since he was elected in 2008. So the firing of a group of people labeled “Obama appointees” would make the rightwing base happy. In fact, Sean Hannity had called for the purging of Obama appointees shortly before it was done. The administration’s explanation that they were trying to ensure a smooth transition of power defies common sense.

It is easy to dismiss this event as whinning on the part of the losers, the appointees were going to lose their jobs anyway. The effect of president 45’s intolerance was that it showed a lack of respect to the appointees, and when you show disrespect in politics it tells the opposition that you have no interest in compromise or peace. It is important to remember that president 45’s action was not the cause of anything. However, it was the cumination of all the slights, on both sides, going back to the Republican Revolution in 1994. That firing was another brick in the wall of political division that is destroying the United States’ democracy.

In a living democracy there most also be institutional forbearance. Levitsky and Ziblatt do not actually give a definition for what they mean, but they do give an example. That example is presidential term limits. Washington was elected president and made the personal decision that he would not seek a third term. That became the norm for quite a long time. There was nothing that said you could not be president three times. It was just something that you did not do. Eventually, that norm was broken and a law was passed to enforce it. We can infer from this story that institutional forbearance is patient self-control or the action of restraining from exercising a legal right. To put it in more philosophical terms, institutional forbearance is avoiding actions that, while respecting the letter of the law, obviously violate its spirit. 

Ever since the Republican Revolution of 94, the Republican Party has increasingly abandoned tolerance and forbearance. They conduct their politics as warfare. The most obvious example is Mitch McConnell who has spent all his time under democratic presidents making sure that nothing gets done, and doing everything he can to consolidate republican power at the state level. When tolerance and forbearance are abandoned what takes its place is a politics based on constitutional hardball, which drives people apart and makes the government ineffective and useless. These are exactly the political conditions of the present day United States.

A further danger to democracy is individualism. Focus on the individual, which is instilled in us through a great many aspects of modern life, means that every political defeat is an existential crisis. In the case of the commenter above, a satisfactory outcome was only 0.2% away, and rather than go along for the good of everyone, he chose to see himself as a theoretical victim because he lost. He expressed his theoretical victimization by labeling those who won tyrants. When we take political setbacks as moral crisis, we erode social cohesion and trust.  

It is important to remember that even with our emotions under control individualism is dangerous. We are the United States of America and judging what goes on from the perspective of how things affect me puts the larger entity at risk. You cannot keep a society together that is based on satisfying the individual. It simply cannot be done as sooner or later the more powerful individuals will start using their power for individual goals instead of the wellbeing of the nation. 

There is a very real case to be made that this is exactly the state we are in today. The United States has 8 out of 10 of the world’s wealthiest people and third world poverty. Middle Class and Poor wages have not gone up in real terms since the 1970s. Taxes of the Wealthy were reduced under the president 45’s administration under a do it or else mandate from the rightwing donor elite while everyone else’s taxes went up. Social protections are restricted at every turn under the guise of instilling personal responsibility despite the fact that this plays into the hands of employers who want desperate, compliant workers who will take any job offered. Even a worldwide pandemic could not convince many politicians that workers deserve respect and opportunity. Republican governors are making sure their citizens do not receive federal aid they are entitled to so that workers are once again face with no choice about when and how to reenter the job market.  

Is the commenter above a rightwing, libertarian billionaire conspiring to confuse everyone with disinformation? Could he be a Russian troll tasked with tearing down US democracy? There is no way to know. He is probably just someone who is uncritically spouting off things he has learned from the internet and social media. Whoever he is he has put our democracy in danger by refusing to believe that other people’s points of view are just as valid as his own. We can make him feel better by deciding that decisions have to be agreeded upon by 60% or 70%, but the philosophical ideal of the tyranny of the majority could still be played out by those who wish to push for individual rights. In short, if we cannot agree that we are all part of the same society, and the use of phrases like the tyranny of the majority suggests that we cannot, then our country and our democracy are under a very serious threat Perhaps, it is a threat even greater than that present by president 45’s administration.

Politics without Romance

Published: 5/5/2021

Based on Siva Vaidhyanathan’s book, “Antisocial Media.”

“The intellectual roots of the rejection, or at least retreat, of the state from the political imagination lie in public choice theory, a branch of economics and policy analysis that subjected the functions of the state to many of the same assumptions of self-interest to which private sector actors were put. Once public choice theory impressed economists and political scientist, it became awkward to profess the idea that public servants, even low-paid social workers and teachers, were chiefly motivated by a commitment to public service. They were considered operators who would work the system and play games just like any other self-interested rational actor would. James Buchanan, who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1986 for his work on public choice, wrote that he hoped his work would refresh and clarify debate about policy and politics. His main target was the idealized version of the state, one that offered answers to all problems and often seemed to be described as both omniscient and benevolent. It certainly did. Public choice was not the only influence that significantly altered how voters, leaders, and writers viewed the prospect of state action since 1980. But it certainly worked its way into the speeches and policies of both Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.” 

“While the influence of public choice theory offered scholars, legislators and regulators some important and bracing lessons by making them aware of real problems such as regulatory capture and rent-seeking, it contributed to a steady reduction of life into a matter of games and rewards. It undermined concern about market failure, when commercial actors and systems cannot provide for an important public good such as education, law enforcement, national defense, parks, basic research, or art. In the 1960s, before public choice and other market fundamentalist ideas gained currency, the United States could create the National Endowment for the Arts because Congress decided that the public deserved such things and the market clearly was not capable of supporting symphonies, composers, poets, and educational children’s television. Once market fundamentalism rose through the 1980s and 1990s, market failure arguments grew rare.” 

Mister Vaidhyanathan’s goal in these two paragraphs is to describe a large and fundamental change that has taken place in the United States. Academics, in order to study how people made decisions, simplified things by reducing their motivations to self-interest. For academics this is fine. However, academic ideas lead to practical applications. Practical applications lead to people using academic ideas without a complete understand of their implications, which leads to simplifications. As word of mouth increases things get simplified even more as people try to understand this new idea and apply it to their own lives. This is the nature of human society and how it changes. After all, there is no point in learning new things if you do not allow them to change your life. 

Unfortunately, we have taken that useful simplification and gone too far with it. One of the problems with present day politics in the United States is that everybody assumes everybody else is out for their own means and ends. One of the consequences of this frame of mind is that people are seen as inflexible and adversarial. Since my goals are different than your goals, there cannot be any common ground between us. Another consequence is that people are expected to be more and more responsible for their own actions and conditions. We have made this mistake of going too far with things before.  

When the biologist Charles Darwin came out with his theory of evolution it was revolutionary to scientists of the time, 1859. In fact, one fellow biologist, Thomas Henry Huxley, after reading Darwin’s “On the Origins of the Species” said, “How extremely stupid not to have thought of that before.”  

Darwin’s theory says, according to Wikipedia, “that all species of organisms arise and develop through the natural selection of small, inherited variations that increase the individual’s ability to compete, survive, and reproduce.” This idea spread through scientific minds, then the minds of social elites and finally to the popular culture of the day. Along the way, it got simplified to “survival of the fittest.” 

As a description of life for the evolution of animals and plants, including humans, on the unfathomable time scale of evolution, survival of the fittest is a fair description of what goes on in Nature. However, people went too far, applied Darwinism to society and came up with social darwinism. Interestingly, social darwinism is one of the founding principles of both laissez-faire capitalism and political conservatism of the day. 

Social darwinism applied to the national economy means that you do not regulate businesses because doing so interferes with the national economy developing to its strongest. To say it another way, anything that cuts into corporate profits, environmental protection laws, labor relation laws that protect workers, etc., are bad for the country’s economy and thereby society in general. This means that wealth concentrates at the top of society. Any time you allow wealth to concentrate at the top of society you get entrenched poverty, the inability of people to improve their lives, and a repressive government that caters to wealth not the people. social darwinism applied to society means that helping the Poor or Middle Class is also interfering with their “natural development,” so human suffering increases. 

Eventually, cultural and economic realities undermined social darwinism and it fell out of favor though it survived through the 19th-Century and into the 20th-Century. I do not think it is a coincidence that during the “rein” of social darwinism the United States experienced its Gilded Age, a time of extreme economic inequality, worker repression, and social stagnation. 

We are making the same mistake by taking the idea of the self-interested actor too far. Human beings are capable of a great many wonderful things, and at their best when they follow all the human motivations, love, friendship, compassion, consideration, etc. Of course, these fly in the face of self-interest, so what is useful for scientists and academics can be detrimental when applied to society in general.    

To its detriment, US politics has become based around self-interest. We no longer judge politicians, or their policies, on their ability to serve our city, state or nation as a whole. Instead, we judge them based on how well those policies serve our individual needs. If a policy matches what we believe then is good. If it does not, it is bad. We have forgotten that the needs of society may very well be very different from our own. So, while one person believes that abortion is wrong. That does not mean that the rest of society must think the same thing.  

We all face the internal struggle between what we believe and what those around us believe, which very often can be very different. However, we have no right to force our beliefs on others, and the fact that abortion is available to those who desire or need it does not in any way require anyone that disagrees with the procedure to have one against their will. It is only our self-interested desire to make the world around us conform to our beliefs that makes us impose on others. There is comfort in knowing that we live in a group of “like-minded” individuals even if the similarity is legally imposed.  

The problem with looking out for ourselves in politics is that it allows politicians to tell different groups different things and thereby hide what they truly believe and what they intend to do in office. Elsewhere in Mr. Vaidhyanathan’s book he says that the proprietary data collected on social media is used to tailor ads that say specific things to specific people, and that because political campaigns know so much about us, they can easily find the single issue that will outrage people enough to make them vote. This seems to me one way that the Republican Party ended up with white supremacists and evangelicals in the same party. They are not there out of discussion that generated a broad-based consensus of the things they have in common. They are there because each is responding to a message custom tailored for them, and they aren’t really interested in who else is in the party. Each is only responding to their own self-interest.   

Above, Vaidhyanathan also mentions market fundamentalism, which is a term that a lot people will be unfamiliar with. Market fundamentalism is the belief that the unhindered market will solve all of our social problems. One of the things that many forget when discussing economics is that the fundamental goal, making money, is an expression of self-interest. What a twisted bit of logic we have here then, the idea that someone pursuing their own self-interest will solve social problems. It’s like having your cake and eating it too. 

Because of market fundamentalism, we have turned many of what use to be social functions of government over to corporations hoping that business efficiency would somehow improve their effectiveness. For-profit schools, according to Brookings Institute, are more expensive and provide a lower quality of education. Speaking about the financial side of for-profit education, they say, 

“For-profit colleges only enroll 10 percent of students but they account for half of all student-loan defaults. 71% of students in for-profit colleges borrow federal loans, as compared to only 49% of students in 4-year public schools. The average amount borrowed by students in for-profit colleges is nearly $2,000 higher than the amount borrowed in 4-year public schools. These differences in borrowing can’t be explained by demographic differences among the student populations; instead, they are mainly caused by the fact that the average tuition at a for-profit college is over $10,000 higher than at a public community college.” 

About the quality of education, Brookings Institute says,  

“Across a wide range of metrics, for-profit colleges underperform their peer institutions. When controlling for socioeconomic differences among students, study after study finds that the earnings and rates of employment of for-profit college graduates are lower than (or at best similar to) those of public college and non-profit college graduates. Even when compared to high school graduates that did not pursue a postsecondary education, there is no evidence that for-profit college graduates with associate’s degrees have higher earnings.” 

Shane Bauer, in his book “American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment”, besides describing his experiences as a prison guard, delves into the history of economic exploitation associated with prisons and prisoners going all the way back from present day to the 19th-Century. The circumstances describe by Bauer in one corporate run prison include, overcrowding, insufficient healthcare, hunger, random violence and abuse, and constant and severe staff shortages, which lead to dehumanizing tensions in the prison. Furthermore, there were no functioning rehabilitation programs in that prison. They were sacrificed to budget cuts for the sake of profit.  

Clearly self-interest is a poor way to manage a school or a prison. From the perspective of human dignity and respect, overpriced, substandard education, and human abuse disguised as corrective punishment are more expressions of the self-interest of the corporation’s owners than they are of the corporation’s mission. The company that runs to prison Bauer worked in has since changed its name. Last year, 2020, that company had a profit of $54.2 million. 

And yet, there are those that claim self-interest will fight climate change. Here, the general theory goes that as climate change worsens the economic viability of corrective technologies improves. Therefore, at just the right moment, some dashing, self-interested entrepreneur will come along, save the day, or at least improve the situation, and make a profit at the same time.  

Climate change, just like the covid virus, will not negotiate with us. The implacable chemical reactions that are weather and climate will continue, with or without us, based on the random mixing of molecules irregardless of what we want to happen. We can only take what we know and use it in a preventative fashion to hopefully save what we can of things we know and love. Adapting a society to the coming ravages of climate change is a moral, not an economic decision that will affect everyone, and everyone should participate. Climate change (Some prefer the term climate catastrophe) is going to reorder human society all over the world in a random fashion if we do not confront its effects.  

Some sectors of our society, for example the extractive energy industries, are going to have to give up their social prominence and wealth. In a world governed by CO2 production, we don’t need people refining petroleum or mining coal to be used as power. By extension, the Wealthy, who own these industrial complexes, are going to face the situation where their wealth and social position is seriously threatened if not eliminated. This has been obvious since the evidence of climate change was first reported in the 1950s.  

It is not a coincidence that at a time we need moral action to address climate change our politics is flooded with market fundamentalism. According to several authors, as a counter reaction to the liberalism of the 60s and 70s, the Wealthy have been spending their money trying to change US culture so that market fundamentalist ideas, which nobody entertained before, have now become prevalent. According to Jane Mayer, they achieved this by funding think tanks that produced research to justify their political views, they established political front groups to stage protests to make their objections appear to be a grassroots movement, they held luxury seminars for judges to impress upon them the value of a probusiness decisions, and they have established “academic” entities, attached to public and private universities, who are really political activists operating under the supposed cover of academic objectivity. If these activities are not an expression of self-interest, I do not know what is. The result of this spending, which has been going on since the 1980s, has been the installation of market fundamentalism as one of our guiding political principles. In turn, that has allowed wealth has concentrated at the top of US society thereby creating a society where the government is responsive to the Wealthy and not the People.  

Our federal and state governments have always had a specific role in US society. Their jobs are to correct the “market failures” that Vaidhyanathan mentioned. I do not like Vaidhyanathan’s use of the term market failures because it contributes to the idea that everything is in some way an economic decision.   

Private companies cannot provide quality education to a nation because the requirement for profit gets in the way. For any society to provide equality of opportunity to its members there must be some basic equalities and equality of education is one of them. In this regard, I would follow the Finnish example and ban all private education while focusing the nation’s educational resources on a free public educational system open to all. However, the truth of the US political system is that its bottom-up organization makes such an idea nearly impossible.  

Putting aside the history of exploitation of judicial prisoners in the United States, Bauer’s book makes a serious case against corporate run prisons. At the end of his book, Bauer tells the story of a former prison employee that he talked to after his book was published. She explained why she left her job. One day a prisoner came into the prison who had been shot by the police, and was still recovering from his wound. Shortly after he arrived, he was found dead in his cell. Rigor mortis had set in, which means that he had been dead for at least eight hours. Part of her job was to collect evidence that the company could use to defend itself whenever something accusatory happened. During her investigation she spoke to other inmates who told her that the dead man had been calling for help all night long and nobody came. She asked the inmates to write out statements, and took the reports to the warden’s office. When she asked him to read the reports, he said, “Why would I want to read inmates’ statements? You can throw those in the trash on your way out.”  She summed up her experience by saying, “The part I struggle with is, is that the dehumanization of one man, or is that the company? Is that a systemic issue in this company, or is it bad apples who are in charge?” 

To me it does not matter whether the dead man was dehumanized by one man or the company. The fact that he was allowed to die from lack of care, and died alone calling for help that was denied, calls for serious, permanent and moral change. There is no morality in profitability.  

One of the reasons that people break laws is that they do not feel sufficient connection to society in the first place. Poverty, hunger, and authoritarian law enforcement tells people that those around them do not care about them, and they show their disgust, anger, or frustration by ignoring the law. Our present focus on reducing people to self-interest hides these things from us. The simplification that they robbed a store because they wanted the money, hides the idea that they robbed the store because they were hungry, felt it was the only way they could get ahead in life, or they were just plain angry at the world around them. Perhaps one of the reasons that focusing on self-interest is so popular is that it also absolves people of the blame associated with allowing poverty, joblessness, and authoritarian zeal to erode society.  

One further point that Vaidhyanathan makes about self-interest is that by emphasizing market fundamentalism we put ultimate responsibility for everything on the individual. Talk to your parents and grandparents about how US society has changed over the last 100 years. What is obvious to all is that it has become much more complicated. Technological changes create social changes that are not always obvious as in the case of Facebook’s proprietary data. As an individual, there is nothing I can do about the social and political problems it causes. I can delete my Facebook account, but all that achieves is that I am not contributing to the problem. Facebook is still collecting, and selling, data about people all over the world. Political campaigns are still using that data to manipulate people rather than persuade them. It is only the collective action of people in the form of their government that can force Facebook to change. One of the first changes should be to require Facebook to consider its users as clients and then require Facebook to do nothing harmful to their clients. In this way, allowing political campaigns to persuade people not to vote would be illegal.  

It is currently fashionable to regard the US federal government as more in the way than it is useful. There are some valid reasons for thinking that, Congress is only in session 3 days a week, and many Congressmen and Congresswomen become rich while serving. However, if we curtail the Wealthy’s ability to use their billions to push US culture in their direction by making them spend their money on charity instead of politics, we can solve a lot of problems by removing the corrosive influences of money from Congress, our elections, and society. If we give up on market fundamentalism, we will realize that one role of our local, state, and federal government is to arbitrate between the top and the bottom of US society, to make sure the top does not get too wealthy, and therefore too powerful, and that the bottom does not get too poor and therefore suffer. We will also realize that by reducing everything to individual responsibility, we give license for the most powerful to take control and remake society to their benefit.