Religion likely killed Jerry

Jerry (not his real name) is dead. Jerry, age about seventy, died recently of covid-19. Jerry could have been vaccinated but chose not to be.

Jerry is also the first person I know personally to die needlessly of covid-19. With 800,000 deaths you would think I would know some others, and perhaps I do. I either don’t know that they died, or that they died of covid-19. In general though, like most people, I tend to associate with others who share my beliefs. I can’t think of one of my friends who doesn’t believe in the efficacy of covid-19 vaccines.

As Jerry is a friend of a friend, I only know about Jerry’s method of demise through my friend. I couldn’t call him a friend as I only met him a few times. But unquestionably he was a decent man, giving by nature and friendly. He had an odd couple relationship with my friend, who’s a flaming liberal. They worked together for many years for a Beltway bandit and stayed friends after she left the company and he retired.

They took many vacations together. My friend has been posting pictures of them from many vacations from exotic locations like Zanzibar and Guatemala. You wanted to be a friend of Jerry’s. He was a reliable guy with a big smile and a hearty handshake.

But after retirement Jerry had plenty of time. Ex-military, he was Christian by inclination. He found himself going one of these mega-churches in the Northern Virginia suburbs overrun with evangelicals and became one himself.

Along the way he also found, voted for and pushed the candidacy of Donald Trump, perhaps America’s most prominent sinner. Trump was a sore spot between my friend and him, but they managed to remain friends in spite of it. I got the feeling they saw less of each other. Anyhow, she moved to Florida and the distance between them made seeing each other a lot more problematic.

Like many of us, Jerry got sucked into an information bubble. He distrusted pretty much any media except those that told him what he wanted to hear. It appears that he grew to believe that covid-19 wasn’t real, but definitely that getting vaccinated for it was against his principles, principles repeated endlessly in his newsfeeds and among his friends. He was also conspiracy minded and became a believer in QAnon, a belief shared by some members of his family. His faith gave him overwhelming confidence that God would protect him. By being a model of that faith and his beliefs, he was confident that he was protected.

I don’t know too much about his death other than he wasn’t vaccinated and covid-19 killed him. Of course, there would have been no guarantee that had he been vaccinated covid would not have killed him, but it would have stacked the odds greatly in his favor. All we can say is that he is dead and if there is a heaven he’s doubtless there right now. St. Peter was probably surprised by his early arrival.

But his death hardly brought peace to his family. He has a pro-Trump daughter, and she is trying to push out the other daughter who stopped talking to Jerry because of his politics. His pro-Trump sister is not talking to anyone. It doesn’t sound like Jerry’s convictions are going to help his family heal from his passing and I suspect his funeral will be lightly attended.

It’s hard to say what flipped Jerry into an anti-vaxxer. But it’s not hard to see contributing factors. Ex-military people are largely conservative types. Evangelicals have extreme faith in God and a predisposition toward absolute certainty that their faith seems to require as a condition of membership. They take comfort in communing largely with each other, which tends to reinforce their shared beliefs. You don’t have to do much research on the internet to find out that there is a huge overlap between conservatives, evangelicals and QAnon supporters. If you are in one of these groups, you’ll probably find yourself in the others too.

If you ask me, Jerry’s death was aided and abetted by his evangelical church. While a few faiths like Unitarian Universalism open minds, most tend to shut them and bar the doors to rational thought. No wonder then that about thirty percent of American are now Nones, i.e. don’t affiliate with any religion. This percentage is going to only increase until we are a majority sectarian nation, as is most of Europe. Dogmatic, close-minded but otherwise really nice people like Jerry who die needlessly from a treatable disease are accelerating the trend.

Jerry did lead an authentic life and stayed true to his principles and faith. But I think it’s fair to say that they also killed him.

Up your game with an N95 mask

So I’ve taken to wearing an N95 mask. I don’t use it all the time, obviously, but I do when I’m out (or rather indoors) with the rabble. I wore it yesterday in the pet food store and also at the Costco. At the latter, I surreally saw quite a number of unmasked patrons. I’m guessing the Town of West Springfield (Massachusetts) isn’t requiring indoor masking, which is crazy.

I also picked up Chinese food the other day in nearby Williamsburg (Massachusetts). I of course was wearing my N95 mask but one of the patrons came in and picked up his order without having any mask on. I’m pretty sure it’s required in Williamsburg, so I suspect this man was one of these free-range “I don’t care if I get it and infect you too” types. You can bet I was really glad I had a N95 mask on then.

Other types of masks reduce the likelihood that you will get covid-19 but are much more about helping ensure you don’t pass it on to others. Covid-19 is typically asymptomatic for days, which is why it’s so hard to stop its spread. Thoughtless boobs though clearly don’t give a damn. Or maybe they are fully vaccinated and figure this means that can’t get it. Vaccinations and boosters definitely lower the odds, but they are designed to keep you out of the hospital, not from getting the disease.

Perhaps you read this story on Reddit, which has been widely shared. Basically, a doctor has called it quits after being assaulted by a family of anti-vaxxers, shortly after informing the family that the father had passed away. In the case of this story on Reddit, the family was deeply upset that the doctor wouldn’t save the father by injecting Ivermectin into him and giving him massive doses of Vitamin C.

I confess I was wondering if this was made up, but I doubt it. Health care workers are quitting in droves due to harassment like this, not to mention the stress, long hours and fatigue of taking care of those down with covid-19. The vast majority of these people can accurately be describe as covidiots, i.e. those who aren’t vaccinated from it but easily could have been. These covidiots are making life very difficult for the rest of us. For example, there are all these people that need theoretically “elective” surgery for issues like heart valve bypasses but can’t schedule them because hospitals are overwhelmed with covidiots. A lot of these people will die, not of covid, but because they can’t get the timely treatment then need.

This Omicron wave looks like it will be short but very intense. Covid-19 is getting harder to avoid. An N95 or KN95 mask, which can actually block the virus in most cases, is one of the few tools left. I had given away to a local hospital my one N95 mask at the start of the pandemic because our local hospitals were looking for donations. Other than wearing a N95 or KN95 mask, there’s not much certain about avoiding it other than staying isolated. We excel at that, which will mean just me and the missus for Christmas this year.

Given the hassle of coping with it, it’s understandable why so many of us are at wits end. Our case as a retired couple makes things pretty simple. We’re not juggling school aged children. But just throwing up your hands is stupid. The United States has over 800,000 official covid-19 deaths and reaching a million deaths is a virtual certainty. The rational person uses every tool at their disposal and is careful to judge acceptable risks.

It was acceptable for me to go on a cruise recently. The odds of acquiring the disease were not zero, but acceptable. Holland America’s ships are comparatively small, the passengers tend to be age 60+, and the testing to get on the ship was rigorous. That plus all the indoor masking and shore excursions where you were masked and in a bubble made it acceptable. I would have avoided booking cruises on large cruise ships. Perhaps you read about large outbreaks on Royal Caribbean’s Odyssey of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas because these ships are enormous and the cruisers younger.

As this pandemic keeps rolling on, I’m also developing a sense of when to chance the odds and when not to. This makes living with the pandemic easier. When we booked the cruise in early September, I judged that booster shots would probably be available and that a wave was likely to crest on or after Christmas. I bet that cases would be manageable in early December when we were to cruise. But I booked with cruise insurance just in case I was wrong.

By the time we were back in port, it was clear the Omicron wave was going to hit us shortly. That’s when I judged the odds were too high again and went to my next line of defense: the N95 mask. Wearing the mask is not that uncomfortable, it’s just harder to put on and tighter than I am used to. As it is much snugger though, it also feels safer.

I’ll let health officials judge the odds because they will be much better at it than I will be. Infection and hospitalization rates will tell me what I want to know. That the Omicron wave is likely to be sharp but brief also suggests the pandemic is winding down. More of us have been vaccinated or acquired some immunity from being infected. The virus is running out of new hosts. It is likely that toward late 2022 that it will move from pandemic to endemic, allowing life to return to some semblance of normal with periodic minor spikes.

The new best practice is to wear an N95 or KN95 mask when indoors with the public. These masks are not too hard to acquire now either. It’s time to up your game, if you haven’t already.

Inadequate to the stormy present

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”

Abraham Lincoln

This quote has been rattling around in my brain for the last week or so. This quote was sent by Abraham Lincoln in his letter to Congress on the state of the nation during the midst of the Civil War, before state of the union speeches became a tradition. A week later, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which emancipated slaves in territories conquered by Union forces. It was a brilliant but unappreciated move by Lincoln, decried of course by the South, but was likely pivotal in winning the Civil War.

We could use an Abraham Lincoln right now. What happened to Lincoln is likely to happen to others that the radical right doesn’t like. The good news is that a year ago we got rid of Donald Trump but only barely was able to keep him from illegally retaining power. The bad news is that we elected Joe Biden, not a bad man by himself, but at least so far not the sort of leader we need for our stormy present. Joe is convinced that by providing pandemic relief and funding ambitious infrastructure bills America will somehow come back together and there will be a big kumbaya moment. It makes me slap my head with a big Homer Simpson “Doh!” I really hope he’s not this stupid.

What’s going on in our country now is revenge for the South losing the civil war. Republicans area pissed beyond belief that demographics are turning against them and that those people could exercise real political power. It’s going to get much, much worse but it will probably be a slow-moving horror. But if Biden and Congressional Democrats were to think anew and act anew, it’s possible much of it can be avoided.

The horrible gerrymandering and voter suppression underway has been unfolding for decades and has reached level 11. As bad as this is though, it’s not nearly as bad as the soft coup Republicans are unfolding for the 2024 elections. They plan to win the 2024 elections through gerrymandering and voter suppression if possible. But if not many states hope to enact laws that would allow their state to choose electors at variance to the popular will, or empower corrupt election officials who will claim that fairly run elections were not, and proclaim a different result. The Brennan Center for Justice summarizes the more brazen efforts currently underway. It’s depressing reading.

There are obvious things that urgently need to be done but little likelihood they will be done. For example, Congress could pass a law outlawing gerrymandering and protecting voting rights. We needed this months ago and some tentative rumblings in the Senate suggest something might happen, if two Democrats (Manchin and Sinema) can be coaxed to allow an exception to the Senate’s filibuster rule. Manchin is a maybe. Sinema looks like a no. Budget reconciliation rules allow avoiding the filibuster for budget bills, but don’t for something as fundamental as voting rights. But even if it can be done, there will be inevitable court challenges which makes it unlikely it could work in the 2022 election. That something this obvious can’t win the support of fifty Democrats indicates just how pointlessly dogmatic some of these dogmas of the quiet past are.

Make no mistake: Republicans are gunning for one-party control that can’t be changed because they will control the election levers that make it impossible, ending democracy, at least at the national level. It will be like voting in Russia when you know Putin will win because the ballot boxes will be stuffed and anyhow, they will control the ballot boxes. It won’t be true in all states and not all at once, but it will be enough to cement control.

The question then becomes: do Americans put up with it? It’s likely to be moot as when they have the lever of power, the crazies are likely to be in charge, so it will be retribution time. They will go after their political enemies and they will leverage as best they can the full power of the state and the courts to persecute, imprison, maim and kill those they don’t like or feel weren’t nice to them. And if they can’t do it, they will look the other way and let their vigilantes do it for them.

They say you don’t negotiate with terrorists, but Republicans are political terrorists. Bipartisanship is now a myth. Passing voting legislation is a possible way out of this but rest assured even if passed it’s likely to be stricken down by the courts on various pretexts. Even so you can count on hoodlums and vigilantes implementing de-facto Jim Crow laws to ensure whites vote disproportionately.

So essentially it’s unlikely there is any peaceful way to reach a kumbaya moment. Republican voters, egged on by hard right conservative media, won’t allow it. For myself, I hope that Covid-19 and what’s left of a functioning government, along with general disgust by enough people paying attention, that we can turn things around in the 2022 election. The odds are very long, but even if Democrats retain power, Republican states are working relentlessly to stack the deck in 2024.

Hang onto your socks, folks.

Stay calm and stop doing stupid stuff

Was my last post too alarming? I actually hope it was. But I’m hardly alone thinking the end is nigh for democracy in our country. Thanks to gerrymandering, the number of competitive House districts is now nearly nonexistent. An institute that monitors the health of democracies listed the United States as a backsliding democracy. It’s hard to ignore such blatant signs, as if virtually the whole Republican Party marching in step with Donald Trump was somehow not enough evidence.

At least I can say that the United States is part of a larger trend wherein people decide to trade in messy self-governance for autocrats. We’re hardly the only country with antivaxxers either, as recent demonstrations in Europe show.

But perhaps our institutions are stronger than they appear to be and we’ll weather this somehow. Perhaps at least the Senate will remain in Democratic Party hands after the 2022 election. Perhaps the combination of the so-called Build Back Better bill and the recently enacted American Recovery Act will tame inflation and improve things for ordinary people sufficient so that voters will reward Democratic candidates next year in numbers sufficient to overwhelm voter suppression efforts. Giving in to despair is a pretty good way to ensure the outcome you don’t like.

Meanwhile, I can at least stop doing the stupid stuff. Emotions are more powerful than reason. It’s something Republicans have figured out decades ago and have hammered home to great success. But sometimes it can be counterproductive, such as if it makes you virulently antivax.

I too am sick of living life behind a mask, but not stupid enough to go around unmasked in potentially dangerous situations. So I’m likely to still be around if the Apocalypse happens. It’s unlikely many of these antivaxxers will be. In the interim I can hope that maybe sufficient numbers of us same people will wrest control of our politics again. It’s lately led me into dark places like suggesting we encourage antivaxxers.

There is good news out there, if you look for it. Antivaxxers are a virulent minority. Most of the rest of us are sensible enough to get vaccinated. A couple of weeks ago I got a booster shot. I got Moderna shots, but for a booster I chose Pfizer. I read that Moderna recipients might get a slightly higher boost from a different messenger RNA type shot.

This vaccination business is a long slog, but it’s helping reduce covid-19’s mortality rate. Bloomberg has been tracking this stuff. Worldwide, 7.73 billion vaccine doses have been administered. 451 million doses have been administered in the United States. 1.45 million doses were administered just last week. Now anyone who had a shot more than six months ago can get a booster. In addition, children as young as five can now get a vaccine. About sixty percent of Americans are fully vaccinated and 10.6 million of us have gotten a booster vaccine dose too. All this is very encouraging and suggests that we’re beating this thing.

All this happened of course during a period of major civil unrest and protest. Americans don’t like to be told what to do, but most of us understand vaccination is both in our self-interest and in the national interest. Most of the hesitant will reluctantly get vaccinated if life becomes too difficult for them otherwise.

By President Biden pushing mandatory vaccinations where possible he is also slowly turning the pandemic into an endemic disease. We’re likely to get at least one more wave this winter, as one is underway in much of Europe. But the disease is becoming less lethal simply because more of us are vaccinated. With my latest booster shot, there is probably a better than even chance that even if exposed to the virus, I won’t develop any symptoms. If I do it’s very unlikely I will require hospitalization and with no other chronic health conditions (unlike Colin Powell), it’s extremely unlikely to kill me.

This was my thinking a couple of months ago when we booked a cruise in the midst of a summer spike. I anticipated a booster, but also likely falling infections by the time we took our cruise which starts in eight days. Cases will likely be on the rise again by then, but by being on a cruise where everyone is vaccinated and tested, and who wear masks in most public spaces on the cruise, and by our likelihood to ward off any infection being pretty high due to the booster, it’s more than reasonably safe, much safer than our last cruise at the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

Most of the time we will use cloth or paper masks, but we’ll also carry an N95 mask for use when we are in crowds in airports and in Florida. I can still sit on the promenade deck unmasked, enjoy the open oceans and read in a deck chair. I can also do this on our balcony. And I can enjoy the company of amiable strangers over meals with little likelihood of infection. It’s not a zero risk vacation, but by remaining with a tested crowd and donning masks when needed, I can enjoy life with people again, at least for the duration of the cruise.

Antivaxxers have repeatedly ignored government recommendations at the cost of many lives. They did this under the illusion they were exercising freedom, when it’s impossible to be free if you are dead. The State of New Hampshire’s motto is Live Free or Die. By ignoring the government and the medical establishing, for antivaxxers it’s increasingly live free and die. For me and most of the rest of us, it’s live with some reasonable constraints on our freedom and you can be reasonably free to enjoy life and not die.

Sensible people realize that medical science is imperfect. Novel viruses like this coronavirus variant take a while to be understood and for sensible mitigation strategies to be figured out. You simply do the best you can with the best information out there, which will come from people who do this as a profession. Follow their guidance as the pandemic evolves. Don’t do the stupid stuff. Listen to your head, not your heart when it comes to something as fundamental as staying alive.

If you are sane like me, it’s a completely reasonable and sane way to get through this and to be around for what comes next.

Tomorrow’s unfortunate news today

I can see the future! Obviously I’ve made lots of predictions over the years and many of them turned out wrong. And while I can’t say exactly when and how things will happen in the future, I can see the future of the United States easily enough over the next decade or so. Most likely, so can you. And it’s pretty depressing.

You can see it too if you are paying attention. Republicans have given up on democracy. They actually gave up on it decades ago, but they knew the only way to get rid of it was to make it a long term project. And they have. For forty years or so they’ve been chipping away at it and they are likely to win at the project, at least in the short term. One things which is clear: if you think things are crazy now, just wait. It’s going to get much, much crazier.

And so much of this is preventable. It requires two erstwhile Democratic senators, Joe Manchin (WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ) to do something they don’t want to do: change Senate filibuster rules so national voting rules can change. Of course, Republicans won’t allow it. Why on earth would they ever vote against the self-interest of their own party?

The most modest proposal by Manchin would simply require all states to get pre-clearance from the Justice Department on their voting rules. This would presumably strip states of the ability to offer fewer polling sites in black and minority neighborhoods. House Democrats want to outlaw partisan gerrymandering, at least in federal elections. But in any event, it’s a dead idea. Even if Manchin agrees to amend filibuster rules in this case, Sinema has expressed no interest. So we’re going into the 2022 and 2024 elections with gerrymandering cranked up to an 11 in Republican states. This means Republicans are almost guaranteed to win back the House in 2022.

It’s abundantly clear that most Americans don’t really care about democracy. For decades Republicans have been stripping most civics classes from school curriculum, so it’s more than possible these now adult voters have only a hazy idea of what democracy is about anyhow. Gerrymandering and voter suppression have been going on for decades, distributing power disproportionately, and it’s left voters unmoved. What they do care about is gas prices and they will hold politicians in power accountable if they get too high. This largely explains Joe Biden’s tanking approval ratings.

Voters also have no patience. They expect everything to be done yesterday. Biden is doing a remarkable job moving legislation through a highly partisan Congress with tiny margins, but they don’t care. They are fixated on prices at the pump. Climate change? They don’t care. Climate change is an existential crisis but they are just trying to get through the day. There is plenty of evidence that voters are already ignoring plenty that Democrats have done for them, like temporary child care tax credits. They don’t see these things; they only see the price of gas at the pump.

Regardless, voting matters little if the results can be easily overturned. These red states are putting partisan hacks in charge of their election systems and are allowing state legislatures to overturn results if they don’t like the results. It’s the sort of election Vladimir Putin would approve of, and it’s coming to the USA. For sure though it will be in place in 2024 when narrowly red states like Georgia simply won’t let its voters have a say if their voters vote for a Democratic president. The state board of electors will assign them to the Republican candidate anyhow.

Once Republicans are in charge, adhering to the rule of law will seem quaint. Trump proved skilled at manipulating the Justice Department. In a future Trump or Republican presidency, the rule of law won’t mean much. In the unlikely event the Supreme Court rules against the administration, that won’t mean much either. President Andrew Jackson’s Trail of Tears was a direct result of openly defying the Supreme Court on the matter of relocating native Americans. Jackson realized the court’s authority could not be backed up by force. It depends entirely on the integrity of the president, who will have none.

So expect it: law enforcement will become partisan and selective. The president will ignore decisions he doesn’t like. The president will issue executive orders that violate the law and the constitution. With the Congress in Republican hands, and likely to stay there through a corrupt election process, rule of law and justice just become moot. The president does what he wants and we effectively have a Congress that merely salutes the president. It’s coming.

Of course there will be resistance. There will be inevitable court challenges, huge marches and demonstrations, etc. And because they can, law enforcement will get very heavy handed. Not just the National Guard but the entire U.S. military will be used to enforce martial law. And it won’t end there. Inevitably there will be pogroms and systemic retribution and persecution. Anyone who ever spoke up against Republicans will be targets, and you can bet they will include Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden and plenty of others. At some point they will probably come for me too.

It’s coming, it’s coming. It’s all so clear and obvious. But it’s not clear to senators Sinema and Manchin, even though this behavior is entirely predictable. They just prefer to live life with blinders on. History will be extremely unkind to them, if it can be written at all. Like so-called Critical Race Theory, the victors won’t allow it and at some point will make truth illegal.

I wish this weren’t going to happen, but I don’t see how it will be stopped. God help us. If you are a praying person, it’s time to pray. And if you’re not, it’s a good reason to pray anyhow because there simply isn’t the political will to do what much be done to save the republic.

It’s time for Democrats to encourage Republicans to be anti-vaxxers

I’ve reluctantly concluded that it’s in our national interest to encourage Republicans not to get vaccinated. Really, those of us who care about a true representative democracy and civil rights for all should be giving gobs of money to Facebook and right wing sites to make sure they keep reinforcing anti-vax messages.

It’s cruel, it’s crazy but it’s also what Republican “leaders” have been doing to their own supporters since the covid-19 outbreak began. They judged the cost the cost of killing off so many of their supporters justified the larger goal: to wrest political control and to ensure a future Fascist States of America. And true to form, the sheeple that form the basis of their party followed along, dying disproportionately, needlessly and pointlessly of covid-19.

Yes, this left a lot of grieving family members and orphans. My new suggestion for us Democrats to encourage them would leave more of the same. But desperate times call for desperate measures. If working with Republican “leadership” we can kill off enough of their voters, then maybe our coming democracy crisis can be averted.

Implicit in the idea of democracy is that the voters are well informed. It’s clear that Republican voters are not as they are largely only getting one perspective. The switches in their minds that allows critical thinking has been turned off, and appears to be permanently turned off. Most of these Republicans who get covid-19 and survive it don’t seem to regret their foolish behavior. It’s clear they have no problem at all passing on this disease in the name of “freedom”, and are highly offended at the mere idea of masking up in public places. They are already public health menaces. They are already threatening the lives of the rest of us. And they’ve been at it for nearly two years now.

Democrats have a basic humanitarian instinct built in. That’s true with me. Of course I hoped Republicans would avail themselves of highly effective vaccines for covid-19 that were available for free. I hate to see anyone suffer because I’m not a sadist, and that includes those whose political views I find repugnant.

For Republicans though, sadism is the whole point. Freedom equals sadism. Gaining disproportionate political power is justified by all means necessary, legal, illegal or immoral. “Owning the libs” is the oxygen that seems to keep them alive. They can’t wait to have a fascist state. Many of them are looking forward to civil war and looking forward to hanging a lot of people like me at the earliest opportunity that their future fascist state allows.

Given these indisputable facts, maybe by me and people like me simply encouraging their own proclivities to kill their own kind by promoting counterproductive disease management policies is something of a kindness. It’s a kindness to me, as I have some hope of surviving their obvious hopes of genocide. If there has to be genocide, let them do it to themselves.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Right now a global climate change summit is wrapping up in Glasgow, Scotland. With a Democratic administration, we are making substantial commitments to address our disproportionate share of carbon and methane emissions. It’s clear though that a future Republican administration, much like the unlamented Trump Administration, would simply ignore the issue, if not fan its fames. The effects of the climate crisis are crystal clear. Republicans in power would do everything possible to make it worse.

So it’s imperative that we kill a lot of Republican voters prior to the 2022 and 2024 elections. The easiest and most benign way to do so is simply to encourage them to double down on their own stupidity. Let’s taunt them even. “So many of you so-called Republicans are secretly getting the covid shot! You are hypocrites! You should not allow any of your neighbors to get anywhere near a CVS Pharmacy. You should demand the local CVS and Walgreens withdraw all covid-19 vaccinate shots, and the same is true with your hospitals and physicians offices! It should not happen. Form militias to make sure it can’t happen!” It’s likely this would play right into their playbook, and their “leadership” would approve. To the extent possible, we want to clear the voting rolls of these people, which is possible if they die painful deaths from a wholly preventable disease. Clearly this will help them feel as if they are owning the libs … any of them who are left anyhow.

All this feels deeply wrong to me, and goes against all my humanitarian principles. But it seems to be necessary and this is the most benign way possible to do it: by simply reinforcing their own prejudices.

So I guess make it so.

Dogmatism is our enemy

Dogma in the broad sense is any belief held with unquestionable certainty.

Wikipedia

America is being strangled by dogmatism. Happy yet?

We’re awash with dogmatism and thanks largely to social media and more specifically Facebook, most of us are living in a dogmatic virtual reality. So dogmatism was driven in part by the dogma of capitalism: that the capitalism is always good and the private sector’s innovations like social media should go unquestioned.

But when you look at what’s wrong here in America and in most of the world, the root issue is dogma. It’s killing us. It’s not just dogmatic capitalism, it’s the dogma in most religions and most of our political parties. Right now dogma is consuming the Republican Party. That’s the thing about dogma. If you accept a dogma, by definition you don’t have to search for the answers: they are already there. It’s right and just for you to “make it so” regardless of the cost.

Dogma shuts the mind behind a steel door. And the inside room is designed to be so super comfy you never have to leave. If you need entertainment, there is the large screen TV that watches you all day parroting the message of 1984. Big Brother knows best. You can delegate all thinking to him. Your role is to sing his praises and when needed fight to the death to make sure we are always at war with Eastasia.

What really upsets the dogmatic is when people question their dogma. The response is to not allow it to be questioned. America has never been a racist country so simply prohibit its teaching in principally southern states. Abortion is the taking of life so simply don’t allow it, even though a zygote is not even technically alive and can’t even become an embryo without a uterus attached. The world is a messy place, but we can at least pretend it’s not a messy place by simply refusing to accept reality. With enough dogma, reality is irrelevant. You make your dogma that which everyone must do and this dogma becomes reality.

Pluralism is the idea that we are a bunch of people with different perspectives so we have to work together cooperatively as best we can. Dogmatism is fundamentally opposed to pluralism. That we know how dogmatic regimes all ends up though does not seem to be enough to stop these dogmatists from requiring everyone to be dogmatic just like us. When dogmatism directs a state, it becomes tyranny. So not surprisingly, the dogmatic are rushing to create tyranny. Only in tyranny where they get their way can they find peace.

It’s just that no tyranny lasts forever. Hitler’s didn’t last much more than ten years and killed tens of millions of us. Ditto with Stalin’s tyrannical reign, and arguably he killed a lot more than Hitler. But the champ of them all was probably Mao Zedong. Somewhere between 15 and 55 million people died in China as a result of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. As so it has gone time after time for millennia. So we can predict with almost absolute certainty that if the dogmatists in the Republican Party get their way, it will happen here too.

The irony of course is the United States was founded specifically as a response to repeated lessons learned in Europe and elsewhere. Our founding fathers learned firsthand why it’s a really bad idea to merge church and state, or to have a king. We set up a republican form of government specifically to keep from happening exactly what the Republican Party now seems eager to create. Through pluralism we would not find peace exactly, but we would create a government that could peacefully work through differences between various factions. It obviously went awry during the Civil War, but the Union eventually prevailed. Now Republicans want to create a new civil war, and seem to be chomping at the bit to get it started.

So far at least they are trying to do it through cooption, rather than overt violence. If you can seize the powers of government through technically legal but dubious means, you can make it so. It’s been a project Republicans have been working at for decades that is now coming to fruition. They’ve packed our courts with conservatives. Through gerrymandering and voter suppression, they are giving themselves grossly disproportionate minority control of government. Now they are working hard to ensure they never have to relinquish power. They are giving state legislatures the power to overrule to voters choice and putting in partisan election officials to ensure that the ballots are stuffed so they can’t possibly lose. Once they control all three branches of government, with no constraints on their power, they simply take charge forever. Law that says otherwise is only meaningful if someone will actually enforce it.

Realizing all of this, I suggested that maybe we don’t want to save the republic. These states are run by dogmatists and they won’t see reason. It would be better to let them go and let the rest of us states that do believe in pluralism retain a functioning government that actually represents the will of the people. It’s unclear though whether these rebel states would be satisfied. Their goal seems to be about power and control, and they appear all too willing to institute fascism in blue states simply to “own the libs”. Somehow, fascism will Make America Great Again.

Few of these red states, in an honest election, would actually vote to secede. Alabama and Mississippi might but not even Texas would in an honest election. Leaders in these states seem to sense this which is why they want to preclude its possibility by wresting control from a democratic process. God help us.

The Fed can’t save the rest of us

It’s tempting to say there are four branches of government. In addition to the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches, there is effectively a fourth branch of government: the Federal Reserve.

Often called the Federal Reserve Bank, it’s not a bank at all. You can’t deposit money into it, withdraw money from it or take out a loan with it. Many Americans have a vague idea what it does but almost no one knows where it’s actually located (Eccles Building, corner of 20th Street and Constitution Avenue in Northwest D.C.). More often referred to as “The Fed”, it is an institution that controls the supply of U.S. dollars. It also controls the banking system in the United States and has since 1913 when the Federal Reserve Act was passed by Congress.

The Fed has seven governors, most famously its chairman, currently Jerome Powell. While you may not pay much attention to the Fed, the financial world certainly does. When the Fed chair testifies or speaks, it can move markets instantly, often severely. Your portfolio can crash or soar depending on what these seven governors decide. They indirectly affect huge swaths of the economy, including interest and unemployment rates.

The curious thing about the Fed is that unlike the rest of our government it operates largely independently of politics. It’s mostly controlled by Republicans, since Republican presidents appointed most of the governors, currently with a 6-1 Republican lean. Each governor gets a four-year term, but once appointed, there’s not much anyone can do to remove a governor. It’s basically unaccountable.

The Fed’s special sauce is to control the money supply of U.S. dollars. It can create dollars as needed and doesn’t need to actually print them. For those few who still need paper or coins, the U.S. Treasury makes them. Lately, the Fed has created trillions of dollars in response to the pandemic. It does have a mission: maximizing employment, stabilizing prices, and moderating long-term interest rates. But really its only tool to do these things is to control the supply of U.S. dollars and then to figure out what to do, if anything, with that supply.

Before the Great Recession, its only real tool was to set a benchmark interest rate for banks to get money from the Fed or each other. In that recession they invented a new tool: quantitative easing. It gave itself permission to buy a lot of quasi-public debt, specifically U.S. housing debt in mortgage-backed securities in government managed institutions like Freddie Mac. This had the effect of flooding the market with cheap cash. The Fed hoped the money would be used to create stuff, but a lot of it was used by companies to buy back their own stock, inflating share prices without adding any value. As a result, the stock market had a slow recovery.

During our more recent pandemic recession, the markets weren’t calmed much by moving interest rates to near zero again and quantitative easing. Been there, done that. So the Fed invented new policies. This time they would use dollars it created to buy corporate debt outright, and in unlimited supply. This had the effect of flooding major companies with money, which again was mostly used by companies to buy back their own stock. It over-inflated the stock market.

One indirect effect was to push up the value of people’s portfolios, at least those who had portfolios. This gave them trickle down money to spend. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to spend it on as the economy was in the tank and most people were home, but at least there were houses to buy with the money. It caused a run on housing prices, which is counterproductive if you are a renter.

But it’s good we had the Fed. In the Great Recession, particularly after Republicans took the House in the 2010 election, the White House and Congress were at loggerheads on new spending to stimulate the economy. Sensing it was good for the party if they were obstacles, Republicans didn’t allow much of it. The Fed’s actions did allow a slow recovery, but it was needlessly slow and painful because of inaction in Congress.

In the pandemic recession, Congress was able to get relief to a lot of Americans, so the Fed’s actions were more ancillary. The Fed succeeded in calming then boosting stock prices and making money cheap to borrow again, which helped the economy. It also inflamed inflation concerns.

My point is that the Fed has limited tools at its disposal. To the extent that it can lower unemployment, its actions are indirect at best. It’s much easier for it to move markets up than it is to bring down unemployment rates. The latter is a problematic outcome of the former.

There is the perception that the Fed has saved us in the last two recessions. But mostly it succeeded in pushing up asset prices, deciding that our country as a whole was too big to fail. But the stock market is not the economy. It can’t fix the economy. That can only happen if the White House and Congress work together to take necessary actions.

We saw some of that while Trump was president: expanded unemployment benefits, rental assistance, etc. That has continued under the Biden Administration, which got additional stimulus into the economy as one of its first priorities. This is money that largely went to everyday people for things like child care. This money allowed people to avoid some poverty but also to stimulate the economy. This way, along with spending bills like Biden’s Build Back Better proposal, affects ordinary people and the economy as a whole. The Fed’s effect is indirect, at best.

There aren’t many tricks left in the Fed’s toolbox to use in the next recession. Instead, what we need is functioning government in Washington where legislation that actually meets the needs of the people occurs. But if Republicans win back one or more houses of Congress in 2022, it seems they will be more preoccupied with Biden losing a 2024 election than doing what’s in the interest of the American people.

Save the republic?

It all feels so inevitable because this is a play we’ve been watching unfold for decades. Republicans have known that long that demographics are against them. For conservatives, it’s largely always been that way because they stacked the deck so that if they lose, it won’t be very often.

Assembling this country we call the United States involved enormous compromise, mostly by Northerners to bring in the Southern states. Since the constitution was ratified, southern states have been granted disproportionate federal influence. Slaves counted as three fifths of a person for electoral voting purposes, despite having no legal rights. This allowed Southern states to mostly control the Electoral College and the presidency for our first hundred years.

In fact, the Fugitive Act in the 19th century resembled Texas’s latest anti-abortion law in that it allowed private individuals to recapture slaves in the North and bring them back to the South, usually for a nice bounty from slaveholders. To elect Abraham Lincoln, it effectively took the Southern states to secede. Some of our most progressive constitutional amendments, including the 13th, 14th and 15th were possible only because Southern states were temporarily not part of government.

So the November 2020 election should not have been much of a surprise, nor the insurrection that occurred on January 6. We’ve been leading up to it for decades, but Donald Trump became the perfect poster child for the movement. It amounts to a refusal to follow the law and constitution when it gets too inconvenient.

It’s getting too inconvenient for Southern states. Joe Biden decisively defeated Donald Trump, despite extreme gerrymandering, despite extreme voter suppression and flipped a number of reliably red states like Georgia. Our republic just barely held it together on Inauguration Day. Lately, Republicans have refused to govern. Just yesterday they refused to a person to extend our debt limit, a limit they happily agreed to ignore for a few years when Donald Trump was president because they wanted those sweet tax cuts. Red states are trying hard to find more creative ways to ensure the 2020 election never happens again. In some states they’ve given the legislature permission to appoint different electors if they don’t like the way their citizens voted.

Some of their crazies are angling for a new civil war and are praying for a nice right-wing dictator to do away with our constitutional democracy, which is clearly hanging by a thread. In short, they seem to want to end our republic. They can’t abide with the idea of majority rule unless they are in the majority.

It’s all quite naked and dispiriting. Increasingly, I ask myself if there’s a way we could just have a nice, civil divorce. But I can’t see something like a gentleman’s agreement along the lines of Czechoslovakia splitting into the Czech and Slovak Republics. Southern states aren’t that civilized. Their idea of a civil divorce would be if they get everything, like all the nukes and armed forces. They would leave Blue states bankrupt. And that’s the best scenario.

It’s like trying to negotiate with a terrorist. That’s increasingly what these Southern states resemble. They believe in Barry Goldwater’s maxim that extremism in the defense of “liberty” is not a vice. Only their idea of liberty does not extend to non-whites, and increasingly not to women, at least over their reproductive rights.

The irony in all this is that if Democrats had sufficient backbone they probably could solve a lot of this problem, or at least put it in abeyance. Consider what could happen if two Democratic senators put the filibuster in abeyance just to pass a civil rights bill that ensured equal access to the vote to all citizens and impartially drawn congressional districts. But that of course would allow all voters to be equally enfranchised, something Senators Sinema and Machin don’t seem to want to do. At best they are naive. At worst they are acting as Republicans.

I do know I am tired of it and scared for our future. I have a feeling that ten years from now our nation will resemble nothing like what it resembles now, and it’s plenty bad now. It’s going to get much, much worse. I can feel it. So if there was a way to do a quickie divorce on states like Texas, Alabama and Mississippi, I’d be all for it. The “leaders” in these states are incorrigible,

There are plenty of anti-vaxxers on the left

It’s tempting to put all the blame for the pandemic on Republicans. At least when it comes to anti-vaxxers, blame can be allocated on many Democrats as well.

This is because there are plenty of “all natural” Democrats out there. While I hate to generalize, you will find a lot of them shopping at Whole Foods and attending yoga studios. They are busy eating organic, going vegan, eating whole grains and living minimally.

These are not bad things in and of themselves. They feel clean and wholesome by going all natural, which is why many times they prefer herbal supplements and holistic healers over prescription and non-prescription drugs and board certified physicians.

They believe they can become effectively immortal, or at least live to see 100, by going all natural. With this mindset, it can be hard to see something like a manufactured vaccine as something that you should let into your body. So they spurn vaccinations for themselves and their kids on principle.

These otherwise generally liberal people make strange bedfellows with many on the right who are also anti-vaxxers. At least these anti-vaxxers on the left seem to have at least the fig leaf of a rational explanation for their behavior. For those on the right, it seems to be about owning the libs by playing Russian Roulette.

I actually agree with a lot of their positions. Inarguably, eating vegan is better for the planet. Avoiding pesticides and other chemicals used in making food is also noble, if impractical for a lot of people. Nutritionists recommend whole grains and generally have no problem with people substituting vegan sources of protein for meat and fish. There’s generally nothing wrong with yoga either. If everyone were a vegan and lived sustainably, unquestionably our planet would be a much healthier place.

The problem is any philosophy can be taken to an unhealthy extreme. The assumption that if everything we ingest is clean we can live to be 100 and avoid disease is, well, bunk. In fact, there was a time when most of us were vegans, not out of choice but out of necessity. If you were a serf, you likely never ate any meat, unless there was a party at the manor and they let you in.

Meat was prohibitively expensive. Most people back then didn’t make it to age 30, and that was largely because there was little sanitation going on and diseases could run rampant. Modern medicine didn’t really come into being until late in the 19th century, and it was not available to most people as it was beyond their means. The history of diseases is they don’t discriminate: they infect and kill everyone equally, at least until you know enough about the disease so that you can improve your chances of not getting it. And that’s only possible through science.

There’s plenty of proof going on right now. About 1800 Americans are dying daily in this latest covid-19 wave, caused this time by the double whammy of a bare majority of people being vaccinated and an incredibly virulent delta covid-19 variant. One of 500 of us American is an official fatality from the pandemic, and number will doubtless keep rising. These days, if you are unvaccinated you have an eleven times higher likelihood of dying from covid-19. Plenty of these fatalities come from all-organic, all-vegan anti-vaxxers.

While their heart is in the right place, it sometimes overrules their heads. Survival belongs to the fittest, and while it may seem that the more fit and healthy you are the more likely you should be to ward off diseases, there’s little evidence to support this.

The evidence against it is plain to see in the statistics, but it requires you to engage the left side of your brain long enough to get vaccinated. Ideally, you can also engage that part of your brain long enough to allow board certified physicians to treat you instead of (or at least in addition to) holistic healing practitioners.

I admire many of these people and count some of them among my friends. I sometimes wish I could become a vegan, or at least a vegetarian. I eat a whole lot more fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains than I used to. I’ve experimented with holistic medicine from time to time too, and found chiropractic care particularly useful. It’s going all in on anything that tends to be dangerous, as it clouds your thinking and makes it hard to see beyond your implicit biases.

The saddest part is that these people really don’t want to acquire or spread disease, but do in part because their thinking has become too muddled and dogmatic, allowing that vector that allows diseases like covid-19 to get in.