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A veteran journalist's take on such diverse subjects as religion and religious violence, democracy, freedom of expression, sociology, journalism, criticism, travel, philosophy, Southeast Asia, politics,economics, and even parenthood, the supernatural, film criticism, and cooking. Please don't hesitate to participate by starting a comment thread if you have an interest in any of these subjects...or anything else, for that matter... p.write@gmail.com

A Moral Choice

It’s One or the Other

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) As the US presidential election approaches, and the summer of Trump turns into the autumn of everyone’s discontent, political pundits and our audiences have much to reflect upon. It is widely acknowledged that this year’s election cycle has been profoundly unusual if not entirely choices-unique. Thanks to the ego of a deeply disturbed narcissist with too much access to money, the world has been subjected to a disgraceful display: the celebration of the very worst in human nature, and ugliness, that ought to be suppressed, elevated to become the new normal. Nevertheless, in a desperate search for a silver lining, one thing comes to mind. In the United States, the choice between Democratic and Republican candidates is now quite simple.

            What progressives, liberals, and left leaning people in general have long suspected turns out to be true. There is a demonstrable moral difference between the polarised political left and right; the intransigent right wing has demonstrated its complete dearth of moral principles. If basic human morality with or without reference to any mainstream religion is part of a voter’s character, that person simply cannot vote for a Republican candidate.

            The right has always championed toughness, and has wrapped itself in self-righteous proclamations of its own clear-eyed realism. Austerity measures are the right’s go-to solution for any austerity-measureseconomic downturn. Cutting social programmes and throwing the most vulnerable members of society under the bus is considered ‘tough love” and defended as necessary, as fair, and as encouragement to the slothful to get up off their asses and contribute. The right routinely votes down anti-discrimination legislation as intruding on religious or economic freedoms. The right has traditionally led the country into wars and then, with equally falsely justified fervor, cut veteran’s benefits. School lunch programs, food stamps, health care, Planned Parenthood are all left wing initiatives and all are constantly under siege by the party that claims fiscal responsibility as part of their DNA.

            And, of course, it’s all a crock of shit. Imposing austerity measures at a time when interest rates infrastructure investmentare virtually zero, the economy is sluggish, and when the country is in desperate need of vast public works investment, are like a medieval surgeon bleeding a patient to treat anemia. An enormous injection of cheap capital would put billions of dollars into circulation, provide countless well-paying jobs, and, not incidentally, restore the crumbling infrastructure of the United States. The investment, according to economic analysts, would be repaid within two years of its inception and would continue to pay dividends for decades.

            The economic warriors who are quick to whip out their broadaxes when they see a programme that benefits the poor or the marginalized, see nothing whatever wrong with giving tens of billions of dollars in subsidies to wildly profitable corporations who pay their employees starvation wages, forcing corporate welfarethem to apply for food stamps – which are on the chopping block because the right considers such programmes to be coddling the lazy. Bottom line? The taxpayers are subsidising corporate CEOs and their billion dollar payoffs as well as their payroll. If a company’s employees need government support to live on their paycheques, the taxpayers are covering that company’s costs of doing business, and their employees are being blamed. Republican lawmakers argue that the people shouldn’t have to support underemployed citizens; they seem to have no problem asking those same taxpayers to pay for billion dollar wages and bonuses for contributors to Republican election campaigns.

            For decades now, the Republicans have been able to lie with barefaced unabashed aplomb and wmdnever be held accountable. George W. Bush’s war was justified by a simple policy of lying. There were no weapons of mass destruction despite the administration’s assurances that they would be found immediately upon invading. There were none, and they knew it. That kind of lie, which led to the deaths of countless innocent civilians and thousands of US soldiers, is the worst kind of lie. It wasn’t fudging, or exaggerating, or shading the truth; it was a flat out, straight in-your-face made up fact. The people were deliberately deceived to gain their support for Bush and Cheney’s mercantile interests and there has never been a reckoning.

            And on the subject of barefaced statements that are precisely the opposite of factual reality, the Republican party, as noted above, somehow manages to perpetuate the myth that they are the party of fiscal responsibility while the Democrats are all about “tax and spend”. Since back when the Reagan fiscal conservativesadministration tanked the economy by the imposition of the fatuous and self evidently ridiculous “trickle down” theory of enriching the rich, Democratic administrations have consistently and successfully attacked the budget deficit and the national debt, only to see the next Republican president piss it away. Bush the Younger inherited a balanced budget and more than two hundred billion dollars in surplus from Bill Clinton. He managed to run up several trillion dollars in debt after spending the surplus in record time. But, don’t fret, Haliburton did very well out of the war, and Bush got to wear a cool flight suit when he declared “Mission accomplished” a decade and more before the US pulled out. But that deficit is the windmill that the Republican legislators pretend to tilt at out of fiscal responsibility.

            All the foregoing and a great deal more can be laid at the Republican’s doorstep, and their mendacity and hypocrisy is obvious to anyone who watches anything other than Fox News. (Here’s a little true fact that you won’t hear from anyone in the GOP: amid the handwringing and discriminatory legislation proposed by the party of “family values”, in the storm of freaking out over the possibility of a transgender citizen using a washroom that corresponds to one’s current gender identity, the truth is that, statistically, you or your children are ten times more likely to be sexually assaulted or harassed by a Republican senator than a transsexual person in a public washroom.) And as far as morality is concerned, let’s not forget the voter suppression methods employed by the GOP against minorities; let’s remember also the gerrymandering that Republican states have openly engaged in. Space and time simply don’t allow for an exhaustive list of the moral lapses that are central to Republican politics.

            But having said all that, until 2015, there was still a slim possibility that someone of decent moral character could rationalise supporting a Republican candidate. Somehow, with a healthy dose of sophistry, one could conceivably argue that a vote for the Republican candidate was not a moral abdication. But that is no longer the case.

            Donald Trump has made his entire pitch based on the most repugnant and morally reprehensible ryan racistpolicies and promises. He is an unashamed bigot of the very worst stripe. He encourages hatred and he deliberately instigates violence. Independent fact checkers have measured him as lying in 80% of the statements of fact he includes in his speeches. The very worst aspects of humanity are his calling card. These characteristics are not incidental to his appeal; they are the very basis and the raison d’etre of his candidacy. Apart from his hateful and rather malleable pledges to round up and deport 11,000,000 residents, to build his wall and make Mexico pay for it, to deny entry to an entire religion and to register and monitor those already here, he simply has no policies. He has slogans, he leads chants, but he has no domestic or foreign policy; an attitude is not policy. All he has is the hatred that he feeds off.

            And that means that if one supports Trump, one supports racism and hatred. One cannot support Trump in any way and justify one’s morality. If you vote for Trump, you vote for racism and bigotry. Not to put to fine a point on it, but if you support Trump, you are a racist.Dark side

            If you are not a racist, if you have any inclination to see yourself as a moral and decent human being you can’t vote for Donald Trump. There is no more avoiding the fact that to vote for the Republican nominee in 2016 is to choose evil. Welcome to the dark side.

ENDITEM…

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

Post-democratic Society

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) A somewhat schizophrenic attitude toward the concept and practice of democracy in America is becoming more noticeable in this, the summer of Trump. In the most bizarre presidential election campaign in living memory, the fundamental assumption of US politics and civil society – that the nation is essentially a democratic one – is up for discussion. We see one group of US citizens espousing the view that the United States is the most democratic and free nation that has ever existed, and that this aspect of American exceptionalism needs to be defended from interlopers. But average votercuriously, that same group also seems to hold that the country is riddled with corruption, that its political leaders are bought and paid for, and that what’s needed is a shakeup that would involve drastically curtailing the very freedoms that they insist make America exceptional. If asserting both positions simultaneously isn’t schizophrenic, at the very least it involves tolerating a high degree of cognitive dissonance.

However, the conflicting perspectives held by any rational citizen of a western industrialised country tend to gloss over even deeper problems with some fundamental assumptions. In play today is the assertion that (taking the United States as the most graphic example) we are now living in a post-democratic historical period. And if one were to look at it realistically rather than emotionally, democracy, as an ideal form of government, in which the people are sovereign and in which the elected legislators represent the desires, interests, and viewpoints of the citizenry, simply does not exist now, if it ever did.

winston-churchill-democrasy            The United States cannot truly be described any more as having a democratic system of government. The people of the country are accustomed to and have come to accept the reality that their congressmen and senators are far more responsive to those who finance their political careers than they are to their constituents. There is scarcely any outrage or public outcry when Congress grants billions of dollars in government subsidies to the big oil companies who have financed their campaigns; the fact that those companies are the most profitable enterprises in the history of mankind and don’t need any social assistance to thrive makes absolutely no difference to anyone. And the very same lawmakers can sanctimoniously point to having voted to cut funding for the most desperate and vulnerable of their constituents, and pat themselves on the back for their exercise of “fiscal responsibility”.chuck heston NRA

When you have party leadership that vets every initiative by checking with their lobbyists before bringing them to the floor for discussion; where the National Rifle Association has de facto veto power over any gun-related proposed legislation, democracy is not at work. When special interest groups with enough financial support can create “think tanks” to draft legislation that favours themselves, and then see their tame representatives and senators table those proposed laws without changing a comma, we are not dealing with a democratic process. When a blind eye is turned to gerrymandering, to deliberately created electoral inequalities, to state level disregard for federal laws, we are not looking at democracy.

We have to accept thCongressional BJat, in the United States, congress and the courts are not genuinely accessible or answerable to the average citizen. Laws are made by corporate interests. Well heeled anti-democratic special interests like the extreme religious right can determine a politician’s career path.  Legislators spend at least 50% of their time in office raising money from wealthy private donors and corporate interests to whom they owe their allegiance and who can threaten to withdraw support if they’re not satisfied with their purchase. The last tenuous shreds of democracy have been lost when one considers that the two big parties’ nominees for the presidency are among the most despised people in the country.

Nevertheless, Donald Trump can find millions of supporters when his campaign, on the one hand, can be based on the notion that the country has gone to hell, and that it is a laughing stock in the community of nations; while on the other hand he is selling the snake oil that the country is so wonderful that the drawbridge needs to be raised and all hands prepared to repel boarders. He can repeat, day after day, that the country has become a third world cesspool and still garner applause when he condemns an athlete for failing to show proper respect for the national anthem. Trump claims that he is defending freedom by demanding that the athlete in question be punished for exercising that very freedom.

In a world where people are encouraged to come to important decisions viscerally, where they are bought and paid for congresstaught that reason, logic, and knowledge are east coast liberal conceits, and that their own ignorance supported by intense feelings is superior to another’s facts and researched information, the mechanisms of representative democracy cannot work. The failure of democracy and the decline of expertise, education, and factual knowledge are inextricably entwined; each contributes to the other and results in an inevitable vicious cycle. The rise of demagoguery, as well as the belief in magical thinking and the increase in divisiveness are the other side of the same coin. The increase in ignorance is reflected in the decreasing respect for rational and prayer-350empirical thinking; and ignorance is always accompanied by its dark companions: fear and hatred. But democracy, particularly representative democracy, requires leadership that embraces reason and arms itself with knowledge and compassion. As things stand at the moment, reason is eschewed for gut instinct, knowledge is rejected in favour of opinion, and compassion is dismissed as weakness and seen as being taken advantage of. Democracy cannot and does not work under these conditions.

When some of the greatest intellects of the Enlightenment collaborated and drew up the Constitution of the United States, they did not design a two-party system of government; that was something that emerged spontaneously as the infant democracy found its footings. They didn’t mention parties at all in the document they produced. And when a country is as polarised, when groups are uncompromising and determined not to give an inch, but rather, inclined to harden their positions, a two party system doesn’t work. There is only a binary choice at the polls, and neither option is likely to be fully satisfying to the vast majority of voters. A multiparty system, like in a parliamentary democracy would work better because it would force compromise, it would require coalitions and working with opponents to achieve anything.

But the founding fathers believed that their constitution would be even more democratic, because therush_822 people themselves, more than any party, would be the drivers of the nation’s destiny. Because of the intricate system of checks and balances built into the constitution, they believed that the people would always be sovereign and their will would be expressed through the election of representatives in congress, and in their choice of president, who would express his understanding of their will through his judicial appointments. Nevertheless, in the Federalist Papers, Publius, (the pseudonym of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay) was clear that a rational and thoughtful population was critical to making the system work:

 “It has been frequently remarked, that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not, of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend, for their political constitutions, on accident and force. (Federalist 1)

At this point in US history, and in much of the rest of the developed world, accident and force are making a comeback as the deciding factors in political decision making. Thlincoln on revolutione Federalists were not completely convinced that democracy was a good idea; their concern was that bad, or unfair polices would be enacted by a majority and trample the rights of the minority. The Federalists were deeply concerned that democracy would be little more than mob rule. They accordingly built in those checks and balances. But mostly, their justification for opting for democracy was that they had confidence that the people of America could live up to their ideal of conducting politics with reflection, human decency, and informed thought.

In the era of Trump, that optimism is demonstrably unfounded. Mob rule is taking over and democracy is clearly failing. Can it be rescued and revived? Ask me again on the morning of November 9, 2016.

ENDITEM…

 

 

Peering Inside the Candidate’s Head

Just one question: Why?

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) The world of punditry has been thrashing around for about a year now, asking, and answering one another with speculation and educated guesses, why Donald Trump is running for the presidency of the United States. It seems strange under the current circumstances, but that’s a question that I can’t remember ever having been asked of or about any other candidate in any other its-a-mystery-500x325presidential election year. Much of the discussion about the most discussed presidential election campaign in recent memory can be distilled down to that one fundamental question: What is behind Trump’s decision to throw his hat into the ring and take a run at achieving the highest office in the country? A multitude of possible answers has been proposed, ranging from the preposterous to the ridiculous, and each answer tells as much about the person proposing it as it does about the candidate himself. As the Republican candidate’s campaign flounders, reboots, flounders again, reboots yet again, and then repeats the sequence, the question becomes less and less academic. At the time of this writing we appear to be watching the imminent implosion of the most bizarre campaign in US presidential history. Here then is a sampling of some of the answers to that question; it is far from exhaustive, but it is indicative of the inscrutability of Trump’s motives and, therefore, his endgame…if he has one.

marketing-plan

  • From the beginning, there were suggestions that Trump never expected to succeed to the extent that he has; his campaign was supposed to raise his already considerable public profile to another level, increase the value of his personal brand, and wrap things up early in the primaries. It was, according to this suggestion, another publicity stunt intended only to increase his income in much the way other Republican candidates have used their candidacies as little more than book tours paid for by their supporters; Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee come to mind. Things got out of control, though, and Trump couldn’t just walk away. Now he’s doing his level best to sabotage his own campaign by alienating every demographic he can think of, with some success.

TV land

  • Trump, clearly uninterested in actually governing, is laying the groundwork to create his own TV network. Since Trump is largely a creation of the media and his only real expertise is in its manipulation, further incursions into that world make some sense. According to this theory, his penchant for trashing the media, even Fox News, and cozying up to the bosses at Breitbart and even recruiting alt right hero Stephen Bannon to chair his campaign are all indications of his plan to start up a network that appeals to the extreme fringe right. Judging by his rallies, there is an audience for that kind of hate speech.

spy

  • Trump is a witting or unwitting pawn of Vladimir Putin. He is being pushed toward the White House by Russian apparatchiks so that Russia will effectively control the Western world by having their puppet agent in Washington. Trump’s unrelenting praise for Putin, his Russian financial connections, his previous campaign manager, Paul Manafort’s history of working for the Russian government are all supporting evidence for this hypothesis.

worried-trump-hands-headache

  • And this is the one to which I subscribe: Trump did indeed expect to increase his celebrity and drop out early in the primaries. So, not trying to be elected, he simply blurted out whatever crossed his mind. Since what crossed his mind was a fetid jumble of racism, bigotry, misogyny, paranoia, hatred, and incoherent but revolting ideas, he resonated with a group of Americans who share his xenophobia and hatred. They responded with fervour bordering on worship; Trump, being a textbook narcissist, experienced an orgasmic ego boost and found he couldn’t get enough. Although the more outrageous his rhetoric, the more support he loses; on the other hand the more fervently his hardcore supporters respond. Trump prefers rallies to any other form of campaigning because he can do no wrong, as long as he keeps whipping up the hatred. He doesn’t appear on the daytime talk news circuit; he phones it in. He hates town halls. He is trying to find ways to avoid debates. He doesn’t care about polls; he cares about the reaction he gets at rallies. He wants the shattering ecstasy he experiences when his frenzied base chants, roughs up protesters, and sings his praises.

The only reason he hasn’t dropped out at this point, with a landslide defeat looking probable, is that he needs the fix. He will likely tough it out as long as he can get it; he has already laid the groundwork for his excuse for losing. The system, you see, is rigged. As long as even a relatively tiny slice of the demographic pie is big enough to fill a venue and can be relied upon to speak in tongues and scream his name, he’ll stay in.

Of course, what’s missing from this brief list of possible reasons Trump is running for the presidency is the answer that applied, to a greater or lesser extent, to virtually every serious contender in US history: That the candidate has ideas and policy suggestions that he believes would be beneficial to the people of the country, and that he genuinely believes himself to be the best person to work with Congress in an effort to enact them.

DonaldTrump2Trump has no genuine economic plan; he has done nothing more than trot out shopworn and long since debunked trickle down theories and promises to cut taxes and create jobs and win in trade negotiations. No plan, no actual understanding of even the basics of economics. He has no conception of foreign policy beyond promising to get tough with foreign countries he doesn’t like, abrogate international treaties, and perhaps employ nuclear weapons in a first strike. All he has is absurd and unworkable promises to build a border wall, to round up more than 10 million undocumented residents, to block Muslims and to register them…a series, in other words, of illegal, unconstitutional, and logistically impossible proposals intended to fire up the latent hatred and prejudices of his poorly educated base. Even Richard Nixon, another mentally unstable Republican narcissist, had a plan, knowledge and understanding of the things with which a president needs to be familiar, and a conviction that he was the person to make it all work for the country.

That a desire to serve the people of his country has never been proposed as a reason for the Trump candidacy by any serious analyst says a great deal about the nature of Trump’s campaign and about Trump himself. It is clear to America, and to the world, that Trump is in the race for some motive that devolves entirely to Donald Trump. The question of the consequences to the country of a Trump presidency only amounts to opinions as to whether it would be catastrophic or merely disastrous.

apocalypse

ENDITEM….

 

 

A Glimmer of Hope

Let’s Talk About the People

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) I am trying to avoid writing entire columns on Donald Trump for a number of reasons. One is that I, like any other political writer or TV or Internet pundit, have to shoulder some responsibility for helping create the Trump nauseaphenomenon by providing him with billions of dollars of free publicity. Another is that there is very little left to say about the Republican presidential candidate; what hasn’t been said by left-leaning, centrist, and even moderate right-leaning commentators? I have never written the words “fascist”, “bigot”, “racist”, “misogynist”, or a host of other offensive descriptive nouns as frequently as I have since Trump descended on his escalator to announce his intention to vie for the presidency of the United States. But the overriding reason I want to avoid writing specifically about Donald Trump is that I literally feel nauseated when I am forced to watch him in his public address mode. What needs to be examined, given the media’s saturation with Trump, is the people who will vote for him or Hillary Clinton (or cast a protest vote) this November.

Donald Trump is one man; it is the voters who have made him into the threat to the nation and the world that he has become. He is a threat now because it is still possible that he will be elected. If he were to be elected, we go to DEFCON 1. He will represent an imminent existential threat to the nation and the world.

So who are those people who want to see that scenario play out? Why can they not grasp the deadly seriousness of their support for a dangerously unstable and clearly mentally unbalanced candidate?

For one thing, I suspect that, the polls notwithstanding, as things stand with three months to go until the election, Donald Trump is going to be soundly trounced. I also suspect that congressional and senatorial seat losses will be primarily news_election-results-1024x768those currently held by candidates who have failed to distance themselves from Trump. Republican incumbents who have denounced him or somehow stayed above the fray will be relatively safe, while his ardent supporters will face serious challenges; only the GOP’s gerrymandering will save some of them.

This may turn out to be wishful thinking. I may end up feeling like Grover Norquist and other Republican stalwarts who were gobsmacked by Obama’s re-election in 2008, and I reserve the right to flip flop on this right up until the polls close on the 8th of November. Nevertheless, my reasoning has more to do with my unscientific reading of the American people than the empirical data collected by scientific and ever more accurate public opinion data gathering methods.

Because Trump’s campaign relies on the free publicity he is able to garner by his over-the-top pronouncements, his palpable bigotry, his embracing of violent rhetoric, and his willingness to offend, he finds himself having to outdo himself each news cycle to stay in the headlines. Mexicans, women, African Americans, the disabled, veterans, Muslims; all these groups and more have been subjected to his hateful rhetoric; he is systematically alienating one demographic after another. While there are undoubtedly some outliers in each of his targeted groups who will, bizarrely, vote for him, he has narrowed his appeal down to his hardcore base: white second generation or more WASP males with lower levels of education. That block, which used to be sufficient to elect a Republican candidate in past years is simply no longer big enough on its own to elect a president.

There is, of course, another group upon which he can rely on come election day. That is the very wealthy and those who peasants-for-plutocracy-by-michael-dal-cerro2thrive as a result of the corporate control of the United States. Trump’s recent speech in which he outlined his economic plans made it clear that he has no intention of departing from party orthodoxy in this realm. He intends to push the old trickle down policies that devastated the middle class when last tried. He intends to reduce the taxation and regulation of corporations, he plans to reduce or eliminate social programs at the same time as he reduces taxes on the wealthy; nothing new here, just more screwing the working classes and further enriching the top few. The problem is that the top one percent are just that; one percent.

That demographic simply doesn’t wield enough votes to make a big difference; it is those whom they are able to influence that could be a significant voting block. Nevertheless, traditionally, the wealthy and the corporations have been able to persuade millions upon millions of working and poor Americans to vote against their own interests. As John Steinbeck wrote: “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” The have always bought into the myth of the American dream; since before the nation was formed in 1776, Americans have always believed that hard work, thrift, and diligence would be repaid with success and wealth. There may even have been a time when that was true; in 2016, however, it is painfully obvious that those who actually did achieve massive wealth have entered the castle, pulled up the drawbridge behind them, and locked, loaded, and prepared to repel intruders.

The Trump campaign has made that eminently clear. Until his unveiling of the latest soak the poor and reward the rich economic platform, the Republican nominee had offered the voters nothing but encouragement for their darkest impulses.

'I'm taking more responsibility for my actions since I ran out of scapegoats.'

He fired up people who never even think about economic policy but are angry at every ethnic, racial, or social minority they know of, and are ecstatic at finding someone who validates their suspicions. He convinces them that those people are standing between them and what they feel entitled to. He also persuades the less knowledgeable, the truly ignorant, that: A) the problem is those groups, and, B) he alone has a solution.

It has long been part of the rhetoric of the right that Democrats, if elected, would institute draconian and widespread restrictions on their civil rights. They would come for their guns, they would persecute Christians, they would create “death panels” as part of their socialised medical plan. But even the less dazzling intellects among the stalwart Trump supporters must have noticed that despite two terms in office, the Democratic president has never even proposed that sort of legislation and certainly hasn’t used his executive powers to make any such order. There has been not a single attempt, much less a successful assault on their civil rights. The black helicopters never flew, the rednecks still have their guns, and Christian churches still outnumber synagogues, temples, and mosques. But, if any of them take even a cursory glance at news that doesn’t come from Fox, they will see that the Democratic administration has been responsible for an improved economy, steady job creation, and insulating them from the economic disaster they inherited.

So, it is mseeing the lighty belief that before November 8, a critical mass of Republican voters will see through the hypocrisy of promising them whatever vile and repugnant social legislation they support, while asking them to vote for economic policy that is directly and clearly intended to take from them and give to corporations and superwealthy individuals. At some point they will see that they have been sold a bill of goods. They will see that they have been persuaded by a variety of Orwellian doublespeak. They like Trump “because he tells it like it is”. The truth is that, more than any other political candidate in US history, he tells it exactly like it isn’t. His lies are becoming public knowledge. They cheer Trump when he tells them that Hillary Clinton is “unhinged”; they are beginning to see the truth – Trump is clearly mentally unfit for any public office.

Now, Trump is likely not to see this reversal of his political fortunes happening. He lives in a bubble of sycophants and yes-men and the occasional yes-woman, all of whom seem to tell him exactly what he wants to hear. He simply takes in information that feeds his ego and disregards the rest. He gets his quotidian fix at rallies where the hard, small kernel of utterly faithful, the deluded and delusional fanatics respond with hysterical chanting at his prompts, cheer his every personal insult, approve ecstatically of his dogwhistle threats of violence, and salivate in a Pavlovian manner at his racial taunts.

What I believe is happening, though, is that he managed to woo a vast number of people to his side during the primaries, but he reached a saturation point some time just before the convention. As he found his numbers leveling off, he ratcheted up the vulgar, hateful bigotry that had served him so well. The problem was that he was now starting to alienate those supporters who had thought he might simply be a breath of fresh air in Washington; they were seeing that he was dangerously unfit for the presidency and that a hypothetical Trump administration would be a terrifying and chaotic reality.

His hardcore band of enablers and codependent crazies will keep him going, but the American people are better than he believes they are. They are not as stupid as he is counting on, and when push comes to shove, they are not as hate-filled and vicious as he needs them to be to vote for him.

I hope.

ENDITEM…

Time for a reckoning

Morality, Ethics, and November 2016

Pagun

 

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Okay, that’s it; we’ve all had enough. The Trump candidacy started as a joke, got more and more serious, became a threat to civil society, and has now become something repellent and vile; something that normal people would refuse to scrape off their shoe and instead toss the offending footwear into the nearest incinerator while they try to swallow their vomit.

In just a little over a year, the monster that was cooked up over the last decade or more in the Republican Party’s frankenstein1backroom laboratory has staggered out into the daylight and done precisely what he was created to do: sow fear and hatred and viciousness across the entire country and the rest of the world. It’s alive! And its creators are astonished at the fact that they succeeded beyond their fondest wishes. Their golem is made up entirely of ingredients found on the shelves of the GOP; the disgusting creature that they have elevated to be their standard bearer has never said or done anything that is without precedent in the party’s recent history. He’s not different in kind from what the party has degenerated to; his variance is only one of degree and overtness. He blows a trumpet where they have employed dog whistles. He says what they imply; he asserts what they hint at.

And now the Republican Party stands exposed for what they really are; they can no longer get away with their customary “Gee whizz! I’m not a racist (misogynist, bigot, Nazi, white supremacist, etc.) You’re reading something into what I said that I certainly didn’t mean!” They have named him their candidate and the party aristocracy, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, havetrump-and-immigration-cartoon-darkow gone further and endorsed him, even as they try to waffle by claiming they object to his more extreme rhetoric and behaviour. Ryan, by way of example, described Trump as a textbook racist, something of which he claims to disapprove, and then says the candidate has his vote and he should have yours as well. While the inner circle has doubled down on their medieval platform of supporting the most regressive social legislation seen outside of the Nation of Islam, Trump recently made a pro forma economic policy speech that was nothing but tired, old, utterly debunked trickle-down, take from the poor and give to the rich, Republican dogma. It never worked except for the corporations and the rich and everyone knows it. The Republicans know it and their corporate and wealthy private sponsors who draft their economic policy sure as hell know it.

They get their quid pro quo: massive deregulation; across the board tax cuts on corporate profits; repeal of estate taxes; the general tax burden shifted to consumption from profit, thereby disproportionately targeting the least well off; the defunding of programs relied upon by the middle and lower income earners from veterans to the disabled. Those, of course are the main louis-brandeisitems on the wish lists of the owners of the GOP. The problem is that, to own a president as well as their representatives and senators, they need more votes than those they can rely on from their fellow members of the 1%.

That’s where the regressive social platform comes in. Less than a policy statement, it is, from the first paragraphs of the preamble and all the way through, a preciously worded dismissal of every one of the accomplishments and successes of the Obama administration as being un-American, dismal failures, betrayals of the people, overreaches of power, unconstitutional, and even illegal. Their promise to the base (not the 1%…they have the economic policy and that’s all they care about) is that when the Republicans can place their man in the White House, they will dismantle all of those initiatives. So long, Obamacare; good-bye, Roe v. Wade; hello, expanded implementation of the death penalty; adios, Planned Parenthood and the EPA. And since their corporate owners need to sell a lot of oil and gas and coal, we’ll deregulate anything that seems to recognise the scientific reality of anthropogenic climate change. It is, after all, a liberal intellectual conspiracy to hoodwink real Americans. And since we really need the evangelical vote, let’s agree that creationism, or “intelligent design” must be taught in science classes in public schools alongside that other liberal intellectual hoax, evolution. Until we dismantle the public school system, that is; education should be privatised and it shouldn’t be mandatory since that is the state interfering with a parental purview.

They pander to the Christian right by holding that life begins at conception and that therefore abortion is murder and ought to be treated as such. The only acceptable contraception is to be abstinence. Religious bodies, currently forbidden to engage in political acts or advocacy, or relinquish their tax free status, will no longer face those constraints. Of course this expanded freedom of religion also means that they can once again discriminate against the minorities of their choosing. Moreover, their religious freedom (a sacred right) means that they won’t have to see mosques or synagogues; their very existence would be a restriction of their right to something or other.

The NRA is also being well represented. The Republicans’ interpretation of the 2nd Amendment was intended to thrill the base, as it seems to be that every American should have unrestricted access to pretty much any weapon up to and possibly including tactical nuclear warheads.

So, the owners of the GOP get the economic and domestic policy that will repay their investment. But since their agenda is against self-interestexactly opposite to the best interests of the base, the GOP gives them what they want in exchange for their support at the polls. They give them all the restrictions on personal freedoms they could wish for (as long as they’re aimed at “others”). The NRA gets what it wants because the base wants guns, guns, and more guns while the NRA represents the corporations that make and sell those guns.

And the rabid, fanatical devotees of the Trump magic, those who make up the crowds at the rallies, just eat up his racism, his hatred, his promises to bring them back to a future that is supposed to resemble a past that never was. They have nothing but sheer, ecstatic worship for a presidential candidate who validates their ignorance by repeatedly suggesting that his utter lack of knowledge or understanding of the constitution, geopolitics, domestic policy, economics, or the powers and limitations of public office is somehow a good thing. His ignorance and, frankly, stupidity, validates theirs. They have been conned into supporting an economic policy that strikes directly at them and their neighbours. They have sold their birthright for a wave of cathartic anger and hatred.

But the time has come to stop pretending that we are dealing with the reductio ad absurdum of the American way of politics. This is not a contest between opposing views or competing political philosophies. The monster has exposed the ugly truth. This has become a contest between an old-school politically connected and savvy representative of Washington insider politics, and chaos, destruction, fascism, and a complete denial of all that is decent in humanity. One cannot still support Donald Trump without conceding that one is, or at least supports, a vicious, hate-filled destroyer of whatever good is left in mankind. There is absolutely no possibility of taking a position of supporting Donald Trump without copping to being a racist, misogynist, bigoted fascist.

There is an old myth that if you drop a frog into hot water, he’ll immediately jump out; but if you put him in a pot of cool water and gradually bring up the heat, he won’t notice when it gets to be a lethal temperature. Something like that may be at play froghere. Trump started out this campaign by announcing right on Day 1 that Mexicans were criminals, rapists, and drug dealers. Then he promised his famous (fatuous?) wall to keep them out. It was outrageous. It got him noticed and the pundits gave him an unconscionable amount of coverage. But each day, he brought the heat up another notch; in each news cycle, he outdid himself. Perhaps he was counting on the water reaching a boiling point just as the polls opened in November, catapulting him into the White House because his faithful hadn’t been aware of just how cooked they were.

But today I watched him specifically and deliberately incite his rabble to assassinate Hillary Clinton should she be elected and dare to exercise her presidential duty to nominate Supreme Court justices who might share her views on gun control. He told the crowd that if she did that, there was nothing to be done about it. Then he added: unless some 2nd Amendment supporters could do something, that is. It was instructive to watch the faces of his partisan crowd when he made that suggestion; even his most dependable loyal true believers, those who were placed where they could be relied upon to fawn for the cameras, were stunned. The frogs had suddenly been made aware of the steam coming up all around them. This candidate, they suddenly recognised, was not just a demagogue; not just a narcissist with an inclination to blurt out a stream of semi-consciousness at trump restrainedthe podium. Their candidate, they saw clearly, is a madman. He is a homicidal, mentally unstable, and very dangerous man who has no business being allowed out without a keeper; that he is actually vying, on behalf of the party of Lincoln, for the presidency of the United States is a nightmare of apocalyptic proportions.

Now, nobody… NOBODY…has any excuse to support this maniac. The most enthralled and stubbornly deliberately ignorant supporters have even woken up to reality. GOP stalwarts are defecting; even Fox News has taken to disparaging him. Anyone who is left now has chosen the dark side. To continue to support Donald Trump can no longer be characterised as merely “willful ignorance”; ignorance is no longer possible. To support him is to endorse what he stands for. And we all know what he stands for. If, after today, you are able to rationalise your intention to vote for this evil man, you have sold your soul. There is no more room for dodging the issue. You have thrown in with the forces of evil, and you did it knowingly, willingly, and with full understanding of what you are doing.

ENDITEM…

The Brexit Lesson

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) In North America we woke up this morning to the shocking news that Great Britain had voted to withdraw from the European Union. “Brexit”, the movement supporting Britain’s exit brexitfrom the Union, has been pushing its far right agenda for some time; its proponents have no real argument other than their appeal to nationalism, xenophobia, bigotry, and false statistics. The rhetoric from Brexit was replete with inflated numbers – from the cost to taxpayers of membership in the Union, to the number and cost of refugees – and anti immigrant fear mongering; the impassioned claims made by Brexit proponents were repeatedly fact checked and debunked, but the claims were simply repeated and became part of the shared wisdom of the right wing. Donald Trump, of course, is solidly in favour of Brexit and was delighted at the results of the referendum.

True to form, Trump held a press conference in Scotland at which he congratulated the people in scots v Trumpattendance on voting for Brexit. However, the Scots had overwhelmingly voted against Brexit. Scotland, to its credit, had rejected the certain economic downturn that would result from a successful Brexit campaign; the Scots also rejected the politics of fear and hatred, and knew that despite the EU’s many flaws, unity and cooperation are more to be desired than the isolationist garrison mentality inherent in Brexit. Being, as usual, totally tone deaf, Trump spoke from inside his isolated bubble of high security that insured that his audience was comprised only of him, his security forces, his children, and loyal supporters; he never realised (and probably wouldn’t have cared if he did) that his speech was utterly offensive to the majority of Scots. But no matter, Trump only touched on the issue for a moment. The bulk of his remarks was a sales pitch for the floundering golf resort he was desperately trying to promote.

What I find most fascinating about the Brexit referendum’s results is the great number of Britons who have gone on record as being gobsmacked by the results; they never really thought that a Brexit win was possible. Problem, though, was that they had voted for Brexit just because they were pissed off about a host of issues; they didn’t really want Britain out of the EU. Now they are terrified of what they have facepalmunleashed.

What is becoming clear to Britain is that this may have been a terrible mistake. They recognise that as a mercantile nation, they are now going to have to negotiate trade deals with the EU, their biggest market. They are going to have to follow the same regulations and restrictions on trade items that they found cumbersome as members of the EU, because the EU simply won’t trade unless the playing field is level. They have lost all the advantages of being part of an enormous economic block and gained nothing. Already, while the ink is still wet on the reports of the result of the referendum, the Pound Sterling has lost value and is still in freefall; the London Stock Exchange’s FTSE index has plummeted, the price of gold has skyrocketed, and people are beginning to sell off British savings bonds.

So what went wrong? And what lessons can we draw from it?

Well, for one thing, it’s obvious, and for some Britons painfully obvious, that it’s not smart to vote against what you know to be the right choice simply out of pique, or resentment, or as a protest. They have learned that their single vote does matter, and it matters a lot. A corollary to that is that it’s not smart to think that one of the choices on the ballot is so self-evidently a horrible choice that people will do the right thing at the end of the day, so it’s okay to stay home, not vote, and let common sense prevail.

The real question now is whether those lessons will make any impression on American voters this November. I have long held that when the moment of truth arrives, the American people will, despite all evidence to the contrary, demonstrate that they actually do have some common sense and that they are not really a country of xenophobic bigots.clinton-trump 1 In other words, my respect for the American people has always instilled in me the confidence that the majority will see that a vote for Donald Trump would run counter to everything they claim the country stands for: justice, fairness, rule of law, equality, compassion, and reason. What’s frightening is that I always had even more confidence in the people of the UK, and look what they just went and did.

The take away for all Americans from this debacle has to be that they have to start to take their political situation and even their vote very, very seriously. No one can afford to assume that the rest of the country will do what’s right. No one can afford to vote for an utterly unfit and quite likely insane demagogue in protest. No one can afford to abstain from voting because of an antipathy to the only alternative to a disastrous and dangerous choice. If a referendum like yesterday’s can end the way this one did, there is absolutely no reason to assume that a parallel and vastly more calamitous result can’t occur in November on this side of the pond. More than ever before, those Americans of integrity and decency need to mobilise and get out and vote. Even if they hate Hillary, it’s important to pinch their noses and boston-globe-cover-pull the lever to vote against the America Donald Trump will bring. Even if Hillary doesn’t seem like their ideal choice for their next president, a vote for her is a vote against a horrifying vision of the world four years from now.

The US has a two party system. This kind of dilemma is what, from time to time, comes as part of the package. But even if one considers Hillary to be a bad choice for president, any rational and reasonably non-racist person has to accept that she would never be as catastrophically horrendous as Donald Trump. And in one thing he may just be right: A Hillary presidency might be a lot like an Obama third term. And, given Trump as the alternative, that would be wonderful.

Hillary Clinton has demonstrated her skills, her dedication, her political savvy, and her toughness over a lifetime of committed public service; you can say none of that for Trump. On the contrary; he has demonstrated time and again that he is an inveterate liar, that he is a bigot, that he is staggeringly ignorant of foreign and domestic policy, that he doesn’t understand the structure and powers of the branches of government, that he has no interest in human rights, in civil rights, or in the problems of the people whose votes he needs; he has shown that he can’t be bothered to learn even the very basics of what would be needed to govern a playground, much less the world’s only superpower. He is a very dangerous man and we must never relax and assume that he couldn’t possibly win. Don’t look at it as an endorsement of Hillary; if she were running against a Republican whose views contrasted with hers but had a reasonable vision and a clear set of skills to deploy as Commander in Chief, youBender choice would have a reasonable case for considering her opponent. It might or might not be a very hard choice.

But that isn’t the case here. In 2016 there is an easy choice. It’s easy not because one of the candidates would make such a great president; it’s easy because the other one would almost certainly tear the nation apart, probably tank the economy so severely that it would not recover in anyone’s lifetime, and would certainly turn it into a country that none of us could respect. So it comes down to this: you don’t have to vote for someone, but it is absolutely crucial that the country votes against the Republican’s presumed nominee. An abstention is tantamount to a vote for the dark side; a vote against him is what’s needed. A landslide would be even better.

ENDITEM…

The Coming Dark Ages

Barbarians at the Gate

Pagun

 

I join other pundits in making the observation that, although the Trump phenomenon is astonishing in its offensiveness, we shouldn’t be all that surprised. Another thing that shouldn’t surprise us much is the breathtaking hypocrisreagan (1)y of the GOP stalwarts trying somehow to square the circle by simultaneously denouncing their nominee, The Tiny Tangerine Titan, and endorsing him. Trump’s offensiveness is merely the bombast with which he delivers the talking points that have been the Republican worldview since Reagan first blew his dogwhistle about “welfare queens”; racism and contempt for anyone who can be seen as “other” have always been at the core of the Republican message and philosophy and Trump is only saying it out loud rather than with a wink and a nod.

That’s why it really set one’s teeth on edge when the Republican House Speaker, who has (as was inevitable) recently endorsed Trump, said that one of Trump’s recent racist outrages “came out of left field”. A big surprise? The Republicans have never been in line for beatification as a result of their rigid adherence to principles of truth and honesty; but that whopper is almost in a league by itself. The GOP, the party of white working class male privilege; the party of Archie Bunker; the party whose nominee started his campaign with a promise to build a wall on the Mexican border; the party whose operatives overtly acknowledge george-wallaceethnic and minority voter suppression as a means of increasing their share of the vote; that party’s elected Speaker was surprised by one more racist remark by the most overtly racist candidate since George Wallace? Seriously?

All this hypocrisy ought to be telling us something and the rest of the country and the world should be taking it in. They will eventually, of course, but the question is whether the obvious will sink in before November. The party of Lincoln, the Republican Party, is utterly morally bankrupt; it is bereft of any claim to ethics, integrity, or honesty; it is now a dumping ground for nutjobs, bigots, racists, conspiracy theorists, and misanthropic sociopaths; it is all but done as a genuine political party.

The hypocrisy of the Republican stance with respect to their nominee is so transparent that the party’s leaders have given up even pretending that they have, or ever have had, the country’s best interests in mind. Congressman Chris Stewart, who once called Truhypocrisymetermp “our Mussolini” has now endorsed him. Party stalwart Rand Paul, who is on record as having said that Donald Trump was less qualified than “a speck of dirt” to be president, has endorsed him. And let’s not forget Bobby Jindal, ex Republican governor of Louisiana and vice chair of the Republican Governor’s Association; he said that Trump is a “madman who must be stopped”; he endorsed him too. I guess one way to stop a madman is to vote for him and to encourage others to do the same. And then there is “Little Marco”, taunted and ridiculed by Trump; he also wants you to know that you should do as he is doing, and vote for Trump. And of course there is Paul Ryan himself; outraged and shocked at the nominee’s racism and overt bigotry – he wants you to vote with him for Trump.

Apparently Trump was almost right. If he were to do as he believes he could, and shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue, I suspect he actually would lose some votes. I don’t think he would lose any party endorsements, though. The depth of the hypocrisy demonstrated by the shambolic remnants of the GOP is such that a complaint would only be heard if the shooting victim was a white male Republican. And that would only be because of the lost vote. The Republicans have put the country on notice that their degenerate party is of more significance than any other consideration, up to and including the country; the country they swore in their oaths of office to put ahead of everything else.

That on their list of priorities, the country comes after their systemic racism and their political party, was made manifest during the Obama presidency when the GOP swore to undermine the president at every turn. Their stated mission at first was deny him a second term; in his second term it was to deny him any accomplishment or victory. These patriots went so far as to hold the country at ransom, threatening to shut down the government and refusing (contrary to the Constitution) to pay bills which they themselves had incurred in Congress.  That Congress was far and away the least productive Congress in the history of the US, having done virtually nothing whatsoever except to pass a few porkbarrel bills for their own constituents and steadfastly refusing to do anything worthwhile. lazy repubNevertheless, Obama prevailed and turned the economy around, brought in a rudimentary form of national health care, tracked down and killed Osama Bin Laden, and opened the doors to greater equality under the law for all Americans. One cannot help but wonder how much could have been accomplished had the Republican Congress not filibustered, refused to hear, or simply ignored every bill, nomination, and initiative proposed by the president or any Democrat. The Obama years might well have been a halcyon period of US history.

The Republicans could not have been more clear in telegraphing their contempt for their oaths of office, their president, and, saddest of all, their country and their fellow citizens. But that message has been sent. It has been doubled and tripled down. The Republicans would rather see their country collapse into anarchy under the steady hand of a madman who previously needed to be stopped than see a non-Republican in the White House again.

They don’t care about governing. They have no coherent vision or any way of achieving it if they had one. They are nothing any more but a loose rabble of misfits, outcasts, and bewildered and angry socially marginalised leftovers on the ground beside the evolutionary ladder; and it’s terrifying that there are enough of them to make a credible run at the presidency. Nevertheless, they will not prevail. Trump and his cohort of incompetent anti-intellectual sociopaths will lose in November to a majority of the country that still has some vestige of intelligence and critical thinking skills. There are still enough people of conscience and sense in the US to reject a breathtakingly ignorant, narcissistic, racist fascist.

Barbarians at the Gate

Barbarians at the Gate

But what’s scary is this: that demographic is shifting. I think there’s a chance for civilisation to overcome the barbarians at the gate this time; I’m not so sure about 2020. And 2024 is even less certain.

ENDITEM…

 

A War Protest

Time for an armistice in the war on drugs

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) The “War on Drugs” was declared by Richard Nixon in 1971 although, like Nixon’s other favourite war, Vietnam, it had actually been going on for a number of years prior to the administration’s owning up to it. Anybody who was around during the Sixties can attest that recreational drug use was both rampant and a top priority for law enforcement years before Nixon named drug abuse “public enemy number one”, in an address to Congress on June 17. Although Nixon proposed that Congress address issues of “prevention of new addicts, and the rehabilitation of those who are addicted”, it was the phrase “War on Drugs” (and the attendant empowerment of the law enforcement community to lock and load and target the youth of the era) that really resonated. The groups Nixon hated, and nixon-war-on-drugs-quoteespecially the youth of his time were the real targets of his ginned-up, phony crusade; drugs were Nixon’s equivalent of Bush’s weapons of mass destruction – a chimera conjured up to justify a bullshit war.

Since that war has been raging for close to half a century now with no victories scored, and it having cost Americans billions upon billions of dollars to prosecute and hundreds of billions more to try, convict, and incarcerate drug users with no discernable effect on drug use, it is clearly time to re-evaluate the whole business.

It’s worth noting that weed has been around since prehistoric times and has been used as a marijuana plant_1sedative, as an herb, for pain management, and for recreational purposes for most of human history; it wasn’t until the 20th Century that it became illegal. Cocaine, opium, and heroin were easily obtainable until the 20th Century as well. The Bayer company sold diamorphine over the counter and by mail order under its trade name, “Heroin”, well into the 1920s. During the previous century, the use of laudanum was widespread as a tonic, and as a tranquiliser and sleep aid. Laudanum, of course, is a heroin jartincture of opium containing all of the opiate alkaloids including morphine and codeine. Queen Victoria used to take a serious draught every night before bed. Opium smoking had been declared illegal in the 1870s in a number of US jurisdictions, but that had nothing to do with opium itself; the laws were aimed at the Chines population, as there was some concern that white women were being seduced by the evil Chinese in their opium dens. Let us not forget either that at the beginning of the 60’s, LSD was perfectly legal; Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters on the West Coast and Timothy Leary on the East both started their infatuations with acid while it was not yet against the law.

Much of the war on drugs is a descendant of the generational warfare that characterised the 60’s. The younger generation was vocally in favour of exploring the frontiers of consciousness and the older generation was so offended and so afraid of what was happening to their society that they zeroed in on drugs as the most visible and easy to demonise target of opportunity. Kids whose grandmothers had war profiteersbaked cookies with weed or had a sip of their daily “tonic” were being thrown in jail for lengthy sentences for taking a toke or two. Since then, the effort, the money, and the human resources squandered on something that doesn’t work and most certainly causes far more damage than the non-problem of people’s access to psychotropics ever did has clearly demonstrated a need simply to stop. That’s right; just say no to the pointless and expensive waste of our society’s resources.

It’s time we simply legalise – not decriminalise – all psychoactive chemicals (coke, heroin, MDA, MDMA, etc.) and natural (mushrooms, weed, peyote, morning glories etc.) products. Make it so that if I decide I’d like to indulge in a few bumps of coke this weekend, I could just drop by my pharmacy and buy a couple of grams of high quality, unadulterated blow. If I’m going clubbing, maybe pick up a couple of hits of Ecstasy. Or heroin. Or LSD. Of course everybody starts freaking out and raising the spectre of casual users overdosing and littering the streets with their drug-soaked corpses. Why do we think that’s prescriptionlikely? Like any other drugs dispensed by a pharmacist, these would come with usage and dosage instructions and a consultation with the pharmacist if there is anything unclear about how to use the drug.

Oh, but look at all the new drug addicts we’d have…how terrible that would be! Well, there are a number of problems with that objection. Ask anyone who strongly believes in prohibition backed up by legal sanctions whether he or she would be likely to start using addictive psychotropic drugs if they were suddenly made legal. Few will admit that the legal status of the drug is not the criterion upon which their abstinence is predicated. Oh, I’d never start using. It’s other people who would. How patronising is that? And in any case, if someone were to decide to experiment simply because it now is legal, what of it? Only a tiny percentage of even regular users of psychotropics actually become addicted. They can be and generally are used responsibly. It is the illegality of the drugs that creates the problems. From the spread of disease to poisoning by adulterated street drugs, it is the fact that drugs cannot be legally purchased for even responsible recreational use.

Let’s take heroin, the most demonised drug of all. Side effects directly attributed to the use of diamorphine are simply OIC (opioid induced constipation) and potential physical dependency. That’s it. And a weekend user simply cannot become addicted to heroin. It would take daily use for weeks before dependency became an issue. One almost has to set out to become a junkie. And as long as one can continue to pay for one’s heroin, even addiction isn’t necessarily a big problem; there are now some very effective treatments for OIC.

The harm that results from drug use is virtually completely the result of the illegality of the drugs as opposed to the drugs themselves. Overdoses are usually the result of unpredictable quality and potency of street drugs. Drug interactions cause some deaths; a problem that could be addressed simply by the warnings and explanations given by pharmacists at the point of sale. Look at any real problem associated with drug use and then ask whether the problem would exist if the drug was legal and readily available.

And of course the notion of abandoning our prejudices and preconceptions regarding drugs has been shown to work in countries that have adopted harm reduction measures such as creating safe injection sites and medical supervision of drug use. Heroin addiction has gone down significantly in Portugal after instituting progressive measures like that. Ditto for Switzerland. Denmark is going down that road too, with very gratifying results. Closer to home, look how successful the part-measure of legalising cannabis has been in those jurisdictions that took that tentative step. Drug related thefts and violence practically eliminated and enormous revenue streams created for citizens and the government.

value of war on drugsIf we were to take the necessary steps to create a more compassionate and enlightened drug policy, the savings in financial as well as human terms would be immediate. If we were then to take the next logical step and pardon and release all non-violent drug offenders, we would take a massive step to emptying our overcrowded prisons; perhaps the United States could move down from the top of the list of countries with the most prisoners. For absolutely certain, we could benefit from the recovery of the tens of billions of dollars currently allocated to fighting an absurd and useless war on drugs.

Surely we don’t need another fifty years to open our minds to the reality that a radical change of direction is necessary. It’s time for that paradigm shift and every day that we delay just results in more and more broken lives.

ENDITEM…

The Teflon Donald

I’m rubber, you’re glue…

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) One of the more bewildering aspects of the incomprehensible Trump phenomenon is the way that he seems to suffer no political damage as the result of his own blunders, any one of which would spell the end of a candidacy, or even a career, for any other politician. Trump is routinely caught lying through his teeth about virtually anything he chooses to talk about; his bare-faced lies are publicly expteflonosed and held up to public scrutiny. A normal person would be embarrassed and would immediately start damage control; there would be an assumption that the misstatement would cost votes that would need to be wooed back into the fold. Trump, on the other hand, not only disdains walking his falsehoods back when exposed, he usually doubles down and simply repeats the lie or even expands upon it. Alternatively, Trump simply denies having uttered the offending words even when there is video proof of his telling the lie.

But it’s not just lies. Trump also blurts out what’s on his rather disturbed mind and says and does things that are so irredeemably ignorant, so crude, and so profoundly offensive that anyone else would be shunned as a social pariah. Can any of us imagine the uproar if, say, Obama had mocked a handicapped journalist by imitating his impaired speech and movement? If Hillary Clinton htrump mockeryad expressed scorn for a war hero and former prisoner of war because he had been captured? If Bernie Sanders had made up a story for the people of California that the drought they’re experiencing is phony and that water is being dumped in the sea rather than distributed to farmers and the city of San Diego? If any other public figure had claimed to have collected 6 million dollars for and donated 1 million dollars of his or her own money to veterans and then had it exposed weeks later thtrump shrugat the million hadn’t been donated at all, and the rest was languishing that person’s bank account? The list of what for anyone else would be gaffes is virtually endless; every time Trump opens his mouth, something that would be utterly unacceptable from any other adult comes pouring out. And yet Trump apparently only increases his following, both in numbers and in fervour.

Why does nothing stick? Why can respected journalists, highly regarded academics, and revered public figures of all sorts point out Trump’s flagrant racism without, in any perceptible way, negatively affecting Trump’s numbers? Why can business people, law enforcement experts, and economists show how ridiculous Trump’s grandiose promises of walls and mass deportations are and simply watch Trump repeat the idiotic memes he created?

The simple answer is this: Trump’s racism isn’t seen by his supporters as a disqualifying character trait. On the contrary; they flock to him and, once there, show a pathological loyalty precisely because he’s a racist. They’re not concerned that the rounding up of 11 million undocumented refugees is a Lying Pinochiofarcical idea for logistical, constitutional, and moral reasons simply because they know Trump lies all the time; what they care about is that a Trump presidency would usher in a new era of white supremacy with top down bigotry as part of the new order. They don’t see Trump’s adherence to every National Enquirer scare headline and conspiracy theory as being disqualifying because they themselves suspect that the government is engaged in a conspiracy to put down white, poorly educated, working class men; why else would they and everyone like them be at such an historically low point? They even believe demonstrably false claims such as Trump’s repeated assertion that veterans get inferior health care and other services compared with illegal immigrants. They choose to believe that sort of nonsense because it reinforces their self image as long suffering victims while “others” are getting benefits that are rightly theirs.

So asking how Trump survives his own gaffes is to make an error of assumption: those aren’t gaffes at all when Trump utters them; they are siren songs to his base.

Connected to the confusing reaction of hardcore Trump supporters with respect to their embracing the very worst Trump can do or say, is their devotion to political and social policy that is clearly not in their own best interests. As noted, Trump’s base is a demographic that, within their own lifetimes, has seen their lives deteriorate from solid middle class, middle income, tax-paying citizens to the marginalised working poor. Thanks to min wage raiseRepublican doctrine which has caused the near disappearance of the middle class; has sponsored the ever increasing gulf between the vastly wealthy and the poor; and has concentrated enormous wealth in the hands of a few oligarchs while the actual working class can barely survive; the poorly educated, white men to whom Trump appeals are far worse off today than they were a generation ago. Nevertheless, that same demographic is vocal, even strident in its support for less tax on the wealthy. They are against raising the minimum wage. They are vocal in their demands for further benefit cuts to the middle class and the poor, the elimination or refusal to fund job-creating infrastructure projects, and even the repeal of Obamacare, which is, in many cases, the only way they could afford health care for their families.

This is perhaps partly attributable to the inclination that JoSteinbeck millionaire quotehn Steinbeck noted of seeing themselves as actually being among those oligarchs but for some temporary circumstances which will at some point reverse themselves. Against all evidence, that demographic still holds to the long since debunked belief in the American Dream, that one day soon they will amass great wealth and therefore legislation that only benefits the wealthy is a proactive vote in their own best interests. That’s perhaps why they lap up Donald Trump’s lie about being a self-made man and having built his empire by dint of hard work, brains, and audacity…oh and “a small loan of a million dollars” from his dad. That he actually inherited some 40 million dollars from his enormously wealthy father is well known, but doesn’t fit into their fantasy world. The fantasy that Trump feeds by behaving like an ignorant, loudmouthed, braggart is that they are just like Trump except for that matter of temporarily elusive prosperity. He talks like them, he says things that they haven’t been permitted to say because of mark twain fool people“political correctness”, he shares and encourages their bigotry and anti-intellectualism; he is like them and he celebrates their (and his) stupidity. He encourages them to embrace and share his lack of knowledge, his delusions of superiority, and his trademark staggering ignorance. The fit feels good; they are just like him. The only difference is that they haven’t yet made their pile. And once they, with Trump at the helm, get rid of those illegals, ban Muslims, deregulate pretty much everything, and turn themselves loose without all those restrictions, the sky’s the limit. Soon they too will be flying around in their own private jets and soaking in solid gold hot tubs with supermodels.

            But more than anything, it has become apparent as this political clown show rolls on, that what really holds Trump’s followers’ attention is his contempt for anyone who doesn’t sing his praises or is in any way “different”. Trump is vociferous in lashing out at any and all dissenters; his followers love him for being an unabashed bully and they admire his thin skin as it shows a willingness to fight back. Even, apparently, to greet simple dissent with violence. The mean-spirited contempt for Truth set you freeothers, the embracing of hostility, and the violence that is always simmering just below the surface matches his supporters’ tendency to want to harm or even kill those with whom they can’t identify.

Trump’s faithful, the true believers, have bought into the biggest Trump lie of all. They willfully and deliberately choose to believe that Donald Trump is one of them and on their side. They have persuaded themselves, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that Donald Trump actually gives a rat’s ass about anyone or anything other than Donald Trump.

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Conspiracy of Fools

Enron, greed, and capitalism

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) I’m about half way through Kurt Eichenwald’s mammoth book on the rise and fall of Enron, the American energy giant that imploded at around the same time as the collapse of the Twin Towers, bringing down thousands of corporate investors and private shareholders, and erodingKurt Eichenwald if not eliminating any remaining confidence in the US banking and business complex. Conspiracy of Fools is an astonishingly readable book, given the depth of detail into which Eichenwald goes and the sheer breadth and scope of Enron itself and the cautionary tale he tells regarding its history. Far from being of interest only to business wonks, Conspiracy of Fools goes in painstaking detail, through the creation and astonishingly rapid success and growth of Enron; it charts its course by telling the story in much the way a police or legal procedural fiction would be written. The story of Enron is told as John Grisham would have written it, if he could have imagined perfidy and greed on the scale that is reported here.

The enormous cast of characters includes the senior executives of Enron and its subsidiaries, enron_logopartner corporations, institutional investors, and auditors; but it also includes some of our favourite characters from non-fiction. We cross paths with minor characters including Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, George H.W. Bush, and George “Dubya” Bush during our immersion in the labyrinthine, yet oddly incestuous world of corporate finance and energy exploitation.

The odd thing though is that, although Enron was created as an energy corporation whose initial core business was the owning and operation of oil and gas pipelines and the production of electricity, as the story builds momentum, the reader can’t help but realise that the actual business of the corporation is incidental to what the executives and board of directors actually do at their desks and conference tables and golf courses. At this level of corporate activity, business is business, and the actual product or service in which the company specialises is almost completely irrelevant; doing deals is what they do. Any kind of deal. And the corporation, once it is successful, becomes a place where the very senior executives are doing deals, not for the benefit of the shareholders, but for themselves. They need the corporate structure, its access to capital, and the confidence of its shareholders in order to operate, though, and that’s where the unbelievable greed and breathtaking absence of ethics comes in. The principals of Enron, from its inception, were using accounting legerdemain to ensure that Enron hit quarterly and annual revenue and growth targets, despite their having done very little to actually increase revenue.

In 2000, Enron’s books showed 111 billion dollars in revenue and, before its bankruptcy, was named by Fortune as “America’s Most Innovative Company” for six consecutive years. Enron was the darling of the corporate world and attracted the best and the brightest and the greediest. Within the corporation, by the end of its run at the pinnacle of the capitalist world, there were personal fiefdoms, there were corporate CEOs, CFOs, and COOs who not only managed their own part of the company but were chief executives as well of subsidiaries and private companies. At times these executives were doing deals with Enron and engaged on both sides of negotiations between Enron and their own companies. This led to situations where someone could collect an enormous fixed personal bonus if the negotiations culminated in an advantage for Enron, or, if the negotiations went the other way, a huge personal profit

Jeff Skilling Enron COO

Jeff Skilling Enron COO

as the main shareholder of the corporate entity on the other side of the deal. Annual personal incomes of more than 20 million dollars plus huge bonuses were not at all uncommon. And much of this money was paid out of Enron profits that were largely illusory. The money had been created out of thin air.

The methods and techniques by which value was created were many and very esoteric; the criminals at the heart of the deception were brilliant at the arcane mechanisms of Wall Street. With that expertise, and the cooperation of their auditors and investment banks they manipulated their own books to show greater and greater profits and to see the share price rise so their stock options would be more and more valuable. As one reads Conspiracy, one is struck by how clearly the most occult practices of corporate financing are explained; nevertheless, it is likely to be over the heads of most non-expert readers. It doesn’t matter, though; Eichenwald is so familiar and comfortable with his subject that the book rolls along like an absurdly complex and engaging thriller. A simple example of how to create value out of thin air should suffice to give the sense of how these guys operated. Here’s how to do it:

Let’s say you and I are each the CEO of our own publicly traded company. We have no significant assets or cash. But you have a cat that I like and I have a dog that you like. I offer to sell you my dog for 1 million dollars. You agree to the price and offer me your cat at a million dollars. I like it; we do the deal. We can now report to our shareholders that we have just increased our asset base to

Andrew Fastow Enron CFO

Andrew Fastow Enron CFO

$1,000,000 from nearly nothing; we’re entitled to huge bonuses. Kick that kind of deal structure up by a few orders of magnitude of complexity and of financial value and you have an idea of the cynicism and greed of the players. It doesn’t matter that we’re not a pet trading company, it’s the deal that counts. You can see where we could go from here. We now each have an animal that we can prove is worth a million dollars and that can be borrowed against; whose future offspring we can sell now, gambling that the price of cats and dogs will increase; at the same time, we open another company (a hedge) and bet that the value of cats and dogs will decrease from the million-dollar mark (“shorting” in Wall Street jargon) and guarantee huge profits either way. It’s brilliant and it’s completely unethical and each incremental step to the multi-billion-dollar frauds was just on the dividing line between questionable and illegal.

What’s fascinating about the trajectory of Enron is that almost everyone involved in the fraudulently conducted businesses operated very slightly over the line; each tiny step brought them deeper and deeper into the dark side. As they succeeded in creating value out of nothing, they became so big, that, out of fear of losing Enron business, banks, auditing firms, and politicians found their own ethics being stretched to accommodate ever increasingly outrageous financial sleight of hand. What’s fascinating is how accumulating money justified the most egregious behaviour and how there never seemed to be an upper limit on how much these young business giants felt they had to have. Almost any one of them could have cashed out long before the collapse and had a tidy, ill gotten, nest egg of tens of millions of dollars. But like gambling addicts, they had to keep going back for another roll of the dice and a bigger slice of the pie, even though they had to know that sooner or later the whole house of cards had enron birdto come crashing down around their ears.

Lay headline

Ken Lay Enron CEO

Conspiracy of Fools by Kurt Eichenwald is a fascinating and very readable deconstruction of perhaps the greatest business swindle in history. The knowledge of how Enron bilked its shareholders and the public out of billions of dollars, ought to make us angry enough to demand to know why Wall Street continues to operate on the same principles of business with a few minor regulatory tweaks here and there. Although the very top echelon executives paid an enormous price – jail sentences, millions of dollars in penalties – very little was done to address the system that made this all possible. Knowing that all this took place before the financial meltdown seven years later has to make us ask why on earth a massive shakeup that could have prevented the mortgage market collapse wasn’t undertaken.

And then we see the answer. Remember the years between 2001 and 2008? Yup…the years of Dubya.

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