Delta Blues — Variant that overwhelmed India threatens the West

Delta Blues

variant that overwhelmed India threatens the West

July 29th 2021

Three states totaling one fourth of the US population made up 40% of new cases of COVID-19 last week. All were in the South, all were heavily Republican, and all had very low rates of vaccination against COVID. Even more dismaying, over 80% of new cases were the Delta variant.

There is more news about the Delta variant, and most of it is pretty bad. First, there’s the matter of the transmission rate. It has an R0 between 5 and 8, which means that an infected individual can be expected to infect between 5 and 8 susceptible individuals. For comparison, the Alpha variant had an R0 between 4 and 5. A report by the Washington Post tonight suggest the R0 estimate may be revised upward, which is catastrophically bad news.

When the R0 is four, this is how it can spread: If you infect an expected four people, and each in turn infects 4 more, that’s 20 people. Those sixteen new cases go on to infect 64 more. Those 64 infect 256 more. It’s exponential growth, and the numbers grow very rapidly.

But if the R0 is eight, then one person infects 8, they in turn infect 64, they in turn infect 512, and they infect 4,096. Same number of stages of growth, but one number is eight times as high. The gaps widens exponentially. The gap is 16 times as high in the next stage.

By way of comparison, the flu has a R0 between 1.3 and 1.6, depending on the strain. In a typical flu season, millions get the flu, thousands die, although vaccines are causing a drop in those numbers. (Because of social distancing, a happy side effect was that “flu season” last winter was the smallest in at least 100 years). The common cold has an R0 between 2 and 3, and yet nearly everyone gets at least one cold in a given year. Of course, there’s hundreds of strains of virus out there that cause the cold, and it’s just a part of our lives. But those R0 rates should scare any one capable of doing simple arithmetic.

Rubella, which is notoriously contagious, has an R0 of 6 and 7, making it essentially as infectious as the Delta variant. The mumps, which used to routinely wildfire through entire school districts, has an R0 of 10-12. So does chickenpox. The regular measles has an R0 of 12-18.

It gets worse: people who have received both shots, either Moderna or Pfizer, may only have an 8-10% chance of being infected with the Alpha variant and are considered fairly low risk to carry it on. With the Delta variant, the chance of infection is higher, although it is yet to be determined how much higher. The one bit of good news is that 90% of those with vaccines will have mild or non-existent symptoms. However, they “virus load” (i.e. become as contaminated) as non-vaccinated people, and can pass the disease along to nearly all unvaccinated and an unknown but sizable number of vaccinated people.

When I was a kid, measles, mumps and chickenpox were very nearly inevitable, and sometimes killed kids. I’m glad they are part of our past, along with diseases like polio and smallpox.

The elephant in the room is “long COVID”–a galaxy of aftereffects that range from annoying to debilitating. Respiratory issues, vascular problems, “brain fog”, fatigue and susceptibility to other diseases. It is known to show up in people who remained asymptomatic in the initial stages of the disease. We have no clear idea how or even if it manifests in people who have gotten their shots and become infected. It may take years before we really do know. But the threat is there.

So if you have your shots and you’re swanning around maskless, stop doing that right now. What for you might be nothing worse than a mild cold could mean potentially significant health issues for you in the future.

You will also be a deadly threat to anyone you encounter who hasn’t been vaccinated. If you infect 8 people and they infect 64 and they infect 512, the odds are you just killed a half dozen people, and hospitalized about 24 others.

So mask up and observe social distancing. Yes, we’re all sick to death of it, and furious at the fools who won’t take steps to defend themselves and everyone else, but unless we want America to be the first country to stupid itself to death, we need to keep taking these steps and hope our social recklessness doesn’t open the door to even bigger medical problems.

Mask up. Keep your distance, and if you haven’t yet, get your shots. Over 163 million have, and it’s clear they are safe and effective. And yes, Delta variant is effective in its own way, but it sure ain’t safe.

Stay safe, exercise better sense than a squirrel on the freeway, and we’ll get through this.

The Great Hack — Is it time to burn the burners?

The Great Hack

Is it time to burn the burners?

July 20th, 2021

The news about Pegasus and NSO Group, its parent company, is horrifying. Pegasus can be used to hack into any mobile phone – Apple or Android – without the operator of the device taking any action. Without so much as a click, it can explore and copy all data on the phone—phones, contact lists, passwords, everything. It can surreptitiously turn on the camera and the microphone and record everything it sees and hears. And of course it knows the exact location of any cell phone it monitors, and can record phone calls—not just the metadata, but the conversations themselves.

The Israeli government commissioned the production of this nuclear spying software, and have been extraordinarily feckless in who they’ve leased it out to. In fact, they’ve been so reckless it’s hard to fathom if they aren’t simply trying a particularly involved form of national suicide. Among the people they’ve entrusted with this software are the United Arab Emirates (better than most middle-eastern governments, but gawds, that’s a low bar) Saudi Arabia, one of the most vicious theocracies on Earth, and Azerbaijan (I wouldn’t trust that government to feed my goldfish).

According to the Guardian, which broke the story, “A recent transparency report released by NSO Group acknowledged the company was ‘closely regulated’ by export control authorities in Israel. The Defense Export Controls Agency (DECA) within the Israeli defence ministry “strictly restricts” the licensing of some surveillance products based on its own analysis of potential customers from a human rights perspective, the company said, and had rejected NSO requests for export licences ‘in quite a few cases’.

I repeat: Azerbaijan? That renowned guardian of human rights? Saudi Arabia? The Emirates?

You have to wonder who the Israelis might consider unfit to have their nuclear spyware. Just the fact that a corrupt fascist pig like Benjamin Netanyahu had control over who got it was alarming enough. The Guardian is reporting that misuse of the spyware has roiled politics in Hungary, Mexico, Russia and other places.

NSO Group claims that it supplies the spyware to governments (51% of leases), police (38%) and intelligence agencies (11%). Given the list (both known and inferred) that the Israelis and NSO deemed fit to possess this spyware, that’s less than reassuring. Intelligence agencies? CIA, SIS or Mossad are bad enough. Russia’s FIS? China’s Ministry for State Security? Turkey’s NIO? We can assume the Ministry of National Security of Azerbaijan is in on the deal. How about North Korea? Kim likes to keep tabs on things, you know.

Police agencies are a concern. I wouldn’t trust Scotland Yard with a cyberweapon like that, and they have a faintly better rep than most national police forces. I definitely wouldn’t want it in the hands of the NYPD or the LAPD. And there’s a lot of police forces that have been surreptitiously infested with Nazis and fascists and other right wing nuts. Hell, I live right next door to Oregon!

Rahul Gandhi, one of the targets of abuse by this program, said: “If your information is correct, the scale and nature of surveillance you describe goes beyond an attack on the privacy of individuals. It is an attack on the democratic foundations of our country. It must be thoroughly investigated and those responsible be identified and punished.”

Edward Snowden felt that Pegasus should be treated like nuclear weaponry because of the mass damage it can do. “If they find a way to hack one iPhone, they’ve found a way to hack all of them,”

They can break in to pretty much any cell phone. You don’t have to click on a dodgy link or call the wrong number. Pegasus does it all for you. I’m told that just turning your phone off is no defense. They can turn it on. About the only way you can ensure your phone isn’t being used to spy on you is buy taking the battery out, at which point you may as well use it as a drink coaster because that’s about all it can do.

NSO Group and Israel say they are extremely careful and screen their clients to ensure that human rights to privacy are not abused. You know. Clients like Azerbaijan. Or the vicious religious cabal running Saudi Arabia? Or India under Modi? Or for that matter, Israel under its far-right government.

What’s worse is that now it’s only a matter of time before it ends up on the dark web (if it hasn’t already) and winds up in the hands of every terror group out there. Or anyone with a nasty sense of humor and a taste for chaos? Or the flat-out psychotic. Even if NSO can safeguard the source code of Pegasus (and Windows’ source code eventually got out), people will realize that the fact that the capabilities of Pegasus exist means that it can be reverse engineered or even reinvented.

It’s only a matter of time, and time may have already run out for 99% of us.

Cell phones are hopelessly compromised. ALL cell phones. Nobody is safe.

So now is the time to start thinking about life without cell phones. They weren’t our greatest cultural advance to begin with, being flooded with spammers and providing poor quality for the price, but now they are an active danger to the security and freedom of our lives.

It may be time to trash our cell phones.

Just be sure to take the battery out and smash the unit with a hammer. That’s the only way you can be sure the personal information it carries isn’t going to Azerbaijan, or the Proud Boys.

Gleichschaltung — The lessons of history lies in the history of lessons

Gleichschaltung

The lessons of history lies in the history of lessons

July 17th 2021

By educating the young generation along the right lines, the people’s State will have to see that a generation of mankind is formed which will be adequate to this supreme combat that will decide the destinies of the world” (Hitler, 1939).

The Germans had a word for it, because of course the Germans have a word for everything: Gleichschaltung. It is, according to Webster’s dictionary, “[T]he act, process or policy of achieving total coordination and uniformity by forcibly repressing or eliminating independence and freedom of thought, action or expression.”

The Nazis keenly appreciated the truism that if you educate the child you control the thinking of the adult. With absolutely no sense of irony, they adopted the philosophy of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, who believed that that if you “Give me just one generation of youth, and I’ll transform the whole world.” and “Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.”

To that end, the Nazis transformed education in Germany. All subjects were to be patriotic, designed to instill awe, reverence and obedience to the German state. Biology taught the superiority of the Aryan race. Economics became lessons in the fiscal sacrifices children should expect to make in service to a Greater Germany. Large segments of physics were no longer taught, contaminated by “the Jewish influence” of most leading physicists. Geography studied borders in Europe in order to show how enemies of Germany had cheated the nation of its birthright over the centuries. Physical education was heavily emphasized as a strong and fit body was expected of every German child against they day he would have to fight for the state. There was no higher honor than dying for the Führer. And Hitler demanded that “A young German must be as swift as a greyhound, as tough as leather, and as hard a Krupp’s steel.

Perhaps the most transformed subject was that of history. Most history books, depicting Germany in less-than-glorious light, were burned. As were students who might agree with those books. Most of those students had already been sent off to the camps in any event.

German history could reveal no flaw or deficiency in the German characters, other than an ability to be sometimes tricked and set back by the perfidy of traitors, Jews, bankers, unions, intellectuals, and Germany’s many enemies, foreign and domestic.

As a sidenote, I’ve always wondered how, if a {country, culture, religion, etc.} was so wonderful and so benign, there was such a major problem with enemies. Or perhaps what I’m really wondering is why people being taught this sort of drivel didn’t see it for the self-serving bullshit that it actually is.

German history depicted Germans as brave, noble, resolute, Moral strength was always betrayed by cringing dissolute venality, another concept that I have Questions about.

Pretty much all of German history was turned into dualistic schlock, good versus evil, resolute versus the weak. It was all right to admit that Germany was defeated in the Great War, but not to say that they annoyed the neighbors and got their asses handed to them on a plate. No, the Germans were winning, as per God’s will, but power brokers tapped the sides of their hooked noses and evil minions swarmed out to undermine Germans, causing them to fall ill and die, whilst passing along German strategy and logistics to unfit foes who could never have prevailed without cheating.

The fascist right in America, applying their own Gleichschaltung to the lesson history has to offer about the fate of fantastical authoritarian movements, has adopted the concept for use in seizing control of America’s schools and libraries.

They needed a bogeyman to scare people into thinking that honest history was anti-patriotic, so they decided that liberals were misusing history to make children hate their own country, and in the case of white children, their own race. Sound familiar?

The bogeyman has a name: Critical Race Theory. Now, keep in mind that despite claims from the Republican party, Critical Race Theory isn’t taught in schools. No, that’s a college-level concept, one designed to examine the role systemic racism has played in America’s history, culture, economy and education. Teachers don’t sit the kids down and say, “Johnny, because of your skin color, you are an imperialist pig.”

It isn’t Critical Race Theory the fascist right wants to abolish: it’s honesty. To them, it’s utterly unthinkable that recitations of America’s glorious and morally resolute past should be defiled and debased by unnecessary references to slavery, subjugation of the native populations, or bloody wars against countries that posed no threat to America. “What do we need all that negative stuff for anyway?” they cry. “The only reason people would want to teach that sort of anti-American stuff is to make American children less resolute, weaken their morals, and make them less willing to serve the Führer.

To that end, I’ve seen some ridiculous examples of Republican-cleansed history. America didn’t want slavery—England forced it upon them! The South didn’t secede; they were just standing for State’s Rights. (Someone brilliantly asked the question the other day, “What did those States have a right to?” It’s a good question. States don’t have rights.)

All too often, history curricula are perverted to political and economic exigencies. We love to tell ourselves comforting lies. A nation’s history is far more likely to be undermined, not by its foes, but by its admirers. The greatest enemies to the teaching of history are the ones who want to glorify a nation, erase its faults and its flaws, and discount all the mistakes made.

When it is done for the direct and malevolent purpose of brainwashing, then it becomes truly evil.

This is a Reichstag moment, the gospel of the Führer,” said Gen. Mark Milley, the chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top US uniformed military commander, worried that Trump was about to try to stage a coup of some sort.

When the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is openly comparing the then-president to Adolf Hitler, then what should we say of the followers of Trump, who wish to impose Gleichschaltung on the schools? At the cost of honesty, in the futile aim of glorifying the State?

They aren’t concerned about history, they don’t have the maturity to admit America isn’t perfect. They are fascists. They live on control, and comforting lies.

Stop them while we still can.

The Great Federal Divorce — “We’re Doing it for the Children”

The Great Federal Divorce

We’re Doing it for the Children”

July 14th, 2021

YouGov.com had a poll this week that showed that amongst Republicans in the South, a full two-thirds (66%) favored secession from the United States. I didn’t find it particularly surprising (If you had asked me to guess at the number, I would have said ‘half,’ but things are becoming more polarized because of recent events), since the South, for years a victim of genial federal neglect (a neglect demanded by by the South in the name of ‘States Rights’ and in reaction to Reconstruction), became a victim of it’s own cultural blend of aristocracy and authoritarian corruption. Washington kept getting blamed for the deep flaws and corruptions of the various state governments and the power brokers who ran those governments.

Now we have the dominant party in the region steeped in the madness of a cult of personality, rife with paranoid beliefs that communists, blacks, Jews and liberals plan to open concentration camps so they can put microchips in people. The craziness is wide spread (50% of independents and 20% of Democrats ALSO support secession) and infused with the inculcated notion that secession would really, really work this time, that the South could rise again and be a gentil bastion of apartheid and corporate and autocratic manipulation.

It’s nonsense, of course. North Carolina, Texas, Georgia and Florida are the only states that would have a hope of a go at it economically, and they would immediately lose hundreds of billions in Federal dollars (just all the Federal military facilities closing!) and a great deal of their tourist trade. And they would be dragged down by the resultant pauper states that would comprise most of CSAv2. But these are people who believe Trump is a noble and heroic Christian, that COVID-19 is a sinister plot, and that Democrats are all secretly Marxists.

But while I was looking over that poll, I noticed something, Out here in the West, the same poll revealed a similar sentiment. Forty seven percent of Democrats—almost half—want to secede. Thirty three percent of independents, and 27% of Republicans also favor secession.

Those are surprisingly big numbers.

Nearly every state in the country has a secession movement of one kind or another. In fact, it’s a nearly world-wide phenomenon. Local interests believe (or fantasize) improvements or profits if they can only over throw the tyrannical interests in whatever capitol happens to be ignoring them. Where I live, near the Oregon border, we have a “State of Jefferson” movement that would create a state from the six southernmost counties of Oregon and roughly the top third of California. While culturally and financially homogeneous, which led to its appeal (a straw vote in our county back in the 90s showed 90% approval for the idea) it would have been a disaster, since even back when we had healthy forests, logging, tourism and ranching would not be enough, and we would quickly become the poorest state in the Union. The movement was funded by ranchers, loggers and other local power brokers as a way to feather their nests, but in recent years has been taken over by the Sovereign Citizen crowd and more recently, the QAnon freaks. It’s still a popular notion, but in the harsh glare of reality, it’s a terrible idea.

The Pacific Northwest has always had a secessionist movement. Clear back in 1975, there was a book, “Ecotopia” by Ernest Callenbach, that wanted to create a stable ecological paradise from Northern California, Oregon and Washington. Some of the more radical members of that movement also wanted to include British Columbia and Alaska, giving the nation monopolistic control over the entire west coast. Others, including me, suggested simply joining Canada, and inviting the rest of America that wasn’t part of the deep South. A fictitious map in the ‘90s showed such a division, with the US (and/or Canada) in blue, and “Jesusland” in red. Some included the prairie states, such as Kansas and Oklahoma.

But few took it particularly seriously. Especially since the only way Ecotopia would be a going concern would be through massive exploitation of natural resources, a somewhat forlorn hope for imagined prosperity even back when the forests still had some water in them. And given the vast economic cost to the United States such a secession would entail, it’s very unlikely the US would allow the west to break away peacefully. Few would miss Mississippi, but California is a whole ‘nother matter. That state alone is about 18% of the American economy. And almost a third of the food supply.

Secession is always a background hum in local politics. In some cases, such as Hawai’i or British Columbia, it’s an ongoing struggle by the Indigenous against the colonial cultures that invaded and destroyed their worlds. Others, such as Ecotopia, are benign fantasies of local rule, a mish-mash of idealism and utopianism. Others have a dangerous edge of anger to them, a desire to remedy wrongs that often as not, are self-inflicted, and a desire to restore a vicious and ugly past, transmogrified into a kind and just lost world but with the same underlying currents of oppression and bigotry.

The numbers are disturbing: in a healthy society, one might expect secessionist sentiment to range between 10 and 15%. But they are elevated, and in the case of America, fostered by interests that would benefit from a national breakup.

Chances that their interests will dovetail with yours are slim. Your most likely fate is to end up a serf in a third world pisspot country.

For those who want a divorce, think it over. In this case, the odds are greatly against you benefiting from it.

NOTE: Two corrections made: Georgia was omitted as one of the states that might be self-sustaining in the event of secession, and surf is now down, and serf’s up.

 

Has Manchin had His Moment of Zen? — Can he rise above the GOP?

Has Manchin had His Moment of Zen?

Can he rise above the GOP?

May 29th 2021

Joe Manchin, Senator from West Virginia, is probably the most conservative Democrat in the Senate. In an evenly split Senate, his decisions on such things as the infrastructure bill and the filibuster can possibly make or break the Biden presidency, and for that matter, the country itself.

Manchin has opposed ending the filibuster rules in the Senate, and while there is all sorts of conjecture as to why he supports this democracy-defeating relic of the ante-bellum days, it’s safe to say that self-interest isn’t one of those reasons. With the filibuster, he’s just another pointless vote in a Senate controlled by 41 of the Senators and 28% of the voting population. Without the filibuster he’s the deciding vote on most legislative items, minor and major, including all judicial nominees. Being the deciding vote is a dream of any congressional; he can parley his vote into advantages for his district and his constituents, and if he’s reasonably straightforward and honest in his dealings, he can use his place in the sun to career-boosting things such as plum committee assignments or support for a future presidential bid. For the next 18 months, getting rid of the filibuster would be very much to Manchin’s advantage.

Until yesterday, he had adamantly opposed changing the rules to eliminate the filibuster. He argument was that if things weren’t done in a bipartisan manner, the interests of the general population weren’t being served. This is a view that required utter blindness to the behavior of Republicans who are openly contemptuous of bipartisanship and regard “reaching across the aisle” as a sign of weakness.

Manchin’s delusion may have come crashing to Earth yesterday. That was when the Senate finally voted on whether to establish a commission to study the events of January 6th. The House has already voted on it, passing what should have been a no-question-about-it resolution with the support of only 35 Republicans.

Manchin regarded a Congressional inquiry into the events of that day as essential and seemed confident that there were at least 10 Republicans with the honor and courage to vote for the bill. After weeks of intense negotiation, mentored by Manchin, it was decided that rather than the usual arrangement of majority party getting 50% +1 in membership and agreeing that tie votes would defeat a passage of a report, the Republicans reneged when the vote came down, with only 6 of them voting for what they had agreed upon.

Republican reasons for their vote varied from not wanting to anger the monster from Mar-a-Lago to covering up complicity with the insurrectionists to avoiding embarrassment to the party to the simple, savage Gingrich-type glee of simply cheating the Democrats by pretending to negotiate in good faith and then shafting them on the vote itself.

The scales fell from Manchin’s eyes. He released a statement that evening, saying in full,

Before January 6, 2021, an attack on Congress and Democracy at our Capitol at the hands of our own citizens was unimaginable. In the 240 plus years of our great nation’s history, we have never seen an attack of this nature. Not even during our nation’s horrific Civil War did this happen. This was our chance to have a bipartisan commission that would allow for an impartial investigation into the events of that horrific day so we are better able to prevent another attack on our nation. Let me be clear – Democratic leadership in both the House and Senate accepted the proposed changes from Republicans because a commission of this nature must be bipartisan to be successful.   

This commission passed the House with a bipartisan vote. The failed vote in the Senate had six brave Republicans, but that was four short of the ten necessary to advance the legislation. Choosing to put politics and political elections above the health of our Democracy is unconscionable. And the betrayal of the oath we each take is something they will have to live with.

To the brave Capitol police officers who risk their lives every single day to keep us safe, the Capitol and Congressional staff that work around the clock to keep Congress running, even the reporters who work hard to deliver Congressional news to the American people and every American who watched in horror as our Capitol was attacked on January 6th – you deserve better and I am sorry that my Republican colleagues and friends let political fear prevent them from doing what they know in their hearts to be right.”

He was later quoted as telling reporters,”This job’s not worth it to me to sell my soul.”

That doesn’t sound like a man who has any trust or respect left for the Republicans in the Senate, does it? Whatever else you might say about him, he was honestly appalled by the events of January 6, and wants a reckoning. And he’s clearly tired of McConnell’s vicious little fascist games.

Biden was expecting something like this. He simply put his infrastructure bill in the 2023 budget intact, realizing that Republican “negotiations” were in bad faith, and just coincidentally, creating a space for a different major bill to be presented under Reconciliation, such as SR1, the Voting Act. He knows what the Republicans have in mind for us, and that they must be stopped.

I believe that Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer were waiting for the Republicans to take a last big bad-faith step like this. Public outrage is high over this vote—I wrote on Facebook that if your representative voted against this committee, you were being represented by a coward, a liar, a hypocrite and in all likelihood, a traitor, I didn’t get a single negative response.

If Schumer moves this coming week to abolish the filibuster—which only requires 50 votes, ironically—I believe Manchin will vote for it. After working hard to give the Republicans full representation on the committee in order to ensure a truly bipartisan result (he hoped!) he has to feel outraged and betrayed, and like all of the rest of us, deeply skeptical of Republican patriotism and basic decency.

We are at our make-or-break moment.

A Harder Trek – They Called Us Enemy by George Takei

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei

A harder Trek

May 24th 2021

Co-written with Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott and illustrated by Harmony Becker.

Top Shelf Productions 2019, 204 pages

 

I first learned of the Canadian internment of Japanese-descended people in British Columbia—some 90% of the Japanese and Japanese-descended residents in that province—when I was 12 years old. My father told me of it. It wasn’t taught in schools. Later, I learned that it was suppressed by two sides of the quiet debate: those who felt a deep shame over the mistreatment of loyal Canadians based solely on race, cowardice and ignorance, and those who felt they should have just shipped all the “Japs” back “home” or simply exterminated them or made them slaves.

There weren’t many Japanese—either actual Japanese or Canadian descendants—in eastern Canada, but it did make one minor change in my outlook towards people. I had shied away from anyone with a Germanic name. In both the UK and Canada I had been taught that Germans were the most horrible people on Earth, who killed millions. Aside from the fact that kids in the playground who had “German-sounding” names (about half of them were probably Ukrainian) had nothing to do with Hitler and it was patently absurd to assume they killed Jews for the fun of it (and I would talk about a bad trade as having been ‘Jewed’ or ‘Gypped’ with absolutely no sense of irony), there was the realization that outrage over mistreatment of one group of people didn’t justify similar mistreatment of other groups of people. (I don’t think I actually ever mistreated any kids with eeevil surnames—I just avoided them). How could I hate Germans for what their leader did to innocent people when Canada was doing a milder version of the same thing and there were Canadians—some in military uniform—willing to say “we should have just exterminated them.”

It was a few years later that I learned that a similar mistreatment of people based on nothing more than the shape of their eyes also occurred in America. While not quite as vicious as the Canadian internment, it was on a much greater scale—some 220,000 people, many of whom had been born in America, were American citizens. I actually felt a bit of relief when I learned that; I had treated the internment as a nasty family secret, and didn’t want my new American friends to learn what a loathsome country I was from. Obviously I still had some thinking and processing to do.

History eventually caught up to the self-comforting lies we told ourselves about how pure and noble we were in the war, fighting ultimate evil and so on, and in both Canada and America, the realization that we had done something horrible led to regret, and to some extent, redress.

One of the youngest victims of the anti-Japan hysteria in the wake of Pearl Harbor was George Takei, now the noted actor and social advocate. Not yet five years old, he and his family were rounded up and sent off to live in the horse stables of Santa Anita racetrack, their home, business and assets seized and sold. Only his father, Takekuma Norman Takei, had actually ever lived in Japan, from his birth in 1902 until he came to the United States in 1914. George Takei’s mother and siblings were all born in America and never set foot in Japan. They had done nothing wrong. In fact, nobody of Japanese descent had done anything wrong. The Attorney-General of California, future Chief Justice Earl Warren, said, “We have no reports of spying, or sabotage, or fifth column activities by Japanese Americans, and that is ominous, because the Japanese are inscrutable.” If any element of this hysteria summed up the unreasoning fear and moral cowardice of the leaders of America (and Warren went on to become a champion of civil rights despite this), that statement encapsulated it.

It was the only time blind hatred and abject fear put the victims of the internment in a Catch-22 position. Long after Takei’s family was moved from the piles of horse manure in Earl Warren’s California to the swamplands of Camp Rohwer, Arkansas, the government demanded that those they had capriciously robbed and imprisoned sign an oath swearing to fight for America if so asked, and to abjure allegiance to the Emperor of Japan, an insulting demand and an even more insulting assumption. Americans whose families had lived in America for three generations or more felt no more allegiance to Hirohito than I do to Bonnie Prince Charles. Most refused to sign on moral principles, and the Supreme Court upheld a government directive deeming such principled Americans to be “enemy aliens.” Later, when the war ended, the government announced they would tear down the camps, and the internees were free to go where they pleased—in a land where looking Japanese could and in all likelihood would get you lynched. Or, the government added slyly, admit to being enemy aliens, renounce citizenship, and eventually get deported to Japan (where over 100,000 children starved to death in 1946, so you can imagine the welcome Americans who couldn’t even speak Japanese would get). Or they could remain in the camps, safe from the lynch mobs. The Supreme Court struck down that agreement as unconstitutional two days before Takei’s mother, who was born in LA and had never been to Japan, was due to be shipped out.

Takei’s graphic novel is full of pathos and pride, dignity and assault, big and small. It’s a fantastic effort, and I would love to see it as a book to be studied in middle-grade level schools in the US and Canada. He shows the monumental injustice that happened, but more importantly, shows what needs to be done.

In a heated argument with his father, Takei, then adolescent and judgmental, responded to a remark the elder Taakei made that “…of all the forms of government that we have, American democracy is still the best.” with “Daddy, how can you say that? After all you went through, losing everything you and mama worked for?” His father replied, “Roosevelt pulled us out of the Depression and he did great things. But he was also a fallible human being, and he made a disastrous mistake that affected us calamitously. But despite all that, our democracy is still the best in the world because it is a people’s democracy.”

Fascism has corruption and cruelty built in as a feature. Theocracies are even worse. The only reason monarchies work these days is because they keep the monarchs sedated and in fancy cages. Takei Senior was right.

But horrors like the internments, mild as they may seem next to the routine horrors of fascist regimes as existed in Germany and Japan at that time, are not to be tolerated in a people’s democracy, and while it took time, it didn’t take the utter destruction of the nation and years of occupation by democratic forces to get America and Canada to admit to their crimes. Time is a poor excuse: Takei’s father didn’t live to see the eventual efforts to right a terrible wrong. Takei, I’m happy to say, has.

Takei is a social advocate, not just about hate crimes against people who look different, but against gays and the dispossessed. And while his book would be important and necessary at any time, we now face a new wave of anti-Asiatic bigotry, based on the incredibly flimsy notion that COVID-19 may have originated in Wuhan, China. Weak and cowardly people think that’s a good excuse to beat up people who look Chinese. But America has a resurgent, paranoid and angry fascist movement, one whose gullible fools believe the Chinese engineered the virus in some way and use that to justify pogroms against Japanese, Chinese, and everyone else they hate, which is most of the country.

Takei’s book, compassionate and unyielding at the same time, is a badly needed antidote to the ongoing madness.

Fighting Fascism — The GOP and the 14 signs of fascism

Fighting Fascism

The GOP and the 14 signs of fascism

 

May 15th 2021

Back in 2003, Laurence W. Britt wrote an op-ed piece for Secular Humanism magazine called “Fascism, Anyone?” The magazine wryly notes that it is “the most reprinted—and most pirated—article in the magazine’s history.” It’s better known around the web as “The fourteen signs of fascism” and it serves well as a warning against any kind of extreme authoritarianism. Of course, fascism is almost by definition extreme authoritarianism, but ever since World War 2, fascists never, ever refer to themselves as fascists. In the US, they like to call themselves “conservatives” or “patriots.” They are neither.

I’ve used Britt’s essay several times in essays since it came out as it it has become a sine qua non for defining—and fighting—fascism.

I’m going to take the titles of each of the 14 signs and give a brief description of how this is a very nearly exact match for policies and practices of today’s Republican party. Readers are invited to take any of the 14 referents and argue how they DON’T represent what are laughingly referred to as “Republican values” these days. Those who like to use the tu quoque logical fallacy (whataboutism) will be happy to know that I’ll freely admit that some points do apply to Democrats as well as Republicans, although most do not. With Republicans, the score is 14 out of 14.

Here they are in the order Britt laid them out, with my own thoughts on how they apply now with the 2021 version of the GOP.

1. Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism.

No politician dares appear on a stage without a dozen or fifty American flags in the background. It long passed the point of being ridiculous, but nobody dares say so—in either party. People are obliged to refer to America as a family member or a lover, rather than just a place. The United States is a country. America is a shit pot of cows and trees and Starbucks. It’s not illegal to say so. Or unpatriotic.

2. Disdain for the importance of human rights.

Three words. “Kids in cages.” Republicans kept kids in cages for weeks and even months, and committed the unspeakably cruel crime of permanently separating them from their families, just because of the common fascist belief that cruelty equals strength.

3. Identification of enemies/scape-goats as a unifying cause.

This week it’s Asians. And transgenders. And Hispanics. And Blacks. And the Poor. And intellectuals. And about 70% of the entire country, really.

.4. The supremacy of the military/ avid militarism.

I read an article that some 120 retired line officers—generals and admirals, all retired—signed a “stop the steal” petition. Bad enough that so many of them would gleefully sign on to what amounts to an act of treason, but that there are so MANY line officers in the first place shows how bloated, inefficient, top-heavy and corrupt the military has become. The military budget is nearly as large as the rest of the world’s combined, and yet it is suicide to suggest cutting their budget. They are the most expensive under-performer in the world. Fascist fetishism of the military does not win wars. And degrades the very military it’s meant to glorify.

5. Rampant sexism.

Gawd. Where to begin? I’ll just note that Marjorie Taylor-Greene is just the latest in a shameful parade of mentally disturbed women the GOP put in the public eye to do their dirty work for them. Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Ann Coulter, Nazi Barbie…the list goes on and on. The permanent sneer that accompanies Republican attitudes toward women is their desire to ban abortion and birth control, but not provide mothers with paid time off, free child care, preschool and neonatal and pediatric care, available in all civilized nations.

6. A controlled mass media.

As with corporations and the government in a fascist country, the issue of whether the media control the party or the other way around is nearly impossible to discern. Which is the puppet and which is the master? In this case, Fox News and the GOP are two facets of the same paste jewelry.

7. Obsession with national security.

How many “crisis at the border” situations have we had since 1992? How many were real? Even after electing a president whose regard for national security was problematic at best, Republicans continue to supercharge the notion that any dissident voices, no matter how patriotic or benign, are threats to national security. Black Lives Matter is a threat. The Naziesque Proud Boys are not. Well, Brownshirts protected Germany from the Jews in the name of national security, so there really isn’t anything new under that dark sun.

8. Religion and ruling elite tied together.

Authoritarian religion and fascism always have gone hand in hand and now is no exception. People who wonder how professed Christians could possibly align with a moral and ethical wastrel like Donald Trump haven’t read history. These people don’t worship God; they worship Power. And fascism is all about the power, baby.

9. Power of corporations protected.

Have you ever wondered why the Republicans seem to be on the wrong side of nearly all major social and economic positions? A decent minimum wage? Sick leave for all? Child care? Universal health care not tied to employment? Decent drug prices? That represents corporate power, which wants a weak and dependent labor force.

10. Power of labor suppressed or eliminated.

See #9. This isn’t a battle between capitalism and socialism; this is a war between the bosses—corporations and the aristocracy—and the workers.

11. Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts.

The coronavirus pandemic highlighted the anti-science stance of the GOP. Intellectuals tend to ask awkward questions about such sacred cows as the role of gods and businesses in society, and scientists figure stuff out rather than making shit up, which angers the churches.

12. Obsession with crime and punishment.

The GOP have actually gone a bit quiet on this in recent years since Trump forced them to abandon the pretense that they were anything other than an organized crime cartel. They don’t mind calling for the death penalty for political dissidents such as BLM or the largely imaginary ‘antifa’ (and what political movement would hate a group for being antifascist, you ask?) but they have to remain resolutely silent about the criminality of Trump and much of his administration, or well-known figures in his circles such as Matt Gaetz or Jeffery Epstein. Many turn to conspiracy theories and projection, which allows them to remain resolutely ‘tough on crime’ whilst still stealing with both hands.

13. Rampant cronyism and corruption.

Two words: Trump family.

14. Fraudulent elections.

If the GOP has any central principle at all, it is that of stealing elections whilst loudly shouting that it’s the other guys who are stealing elections. From draconian Jim Crow-type laws to to gerrymandering efforts to overthrowing election results through manipulation of the electoral college through outright insurrection and threats of violent overthrow of the government, the GOP, who hate 70% of all the people in America, have realized they cannot win free and fair elections so they are doing everything in their power to prevent free and fair elections from interfering with their self-assumed right to rule.

Fascism attracts vicious autocrats who bend normal human reason and values in their lust for power. Even without the monsters of the second world war, fascism, with its authoritarian nature, have the same evil reputation that theocracies and other dictatorships have, and for the same reason. Power isn’t from the people: it’s power OVER the people, and it is without exception ugly and vicious and corrupt on all levels.

The GOP are authoritarian and anti-American. They ARE fascists. Do all you can to fight them.

Biden’s Speech — Not the SOTU—better

Biden’s Speech

Not the SOTU—better

April 28th, 2021

After listening to Joe Biden’s address to some of Congress (COVID, don’t you know, but it was amusing watch the expressions on Boehler’s and Cruz’ faces as Biden spoke) I caught Tim Scott’s genial but largely delusional paean to America and how those nasty Democrats were preventing Republicans from rushing to embrace the policies that Biden would present to Congress if he had policies, which he didn’t, and proved it by presenting the policies to Congress.

I followed that by scrolling through the comments section on our local Sinclair Broadcast station, and encountered gems like, “I can’t believe this is America. No one is safe under the democratic regime of evil! We are all in terrible danger, you should be afraid, be very very afraid. Save yourself! Save democracy!” *

Well, OK, then. Tim Scott may have not sounded overly coherent, but at least I didn’t feel any need to shoot him with the tranquilizer dart. Typically of comments sections, nobody there seemed to have actually watched or even read about the speech. I think I could have posted something about Biden congratulating Mitch McConnell on their groundbreaking agreement to sell white babies to China, and nobody would have contradicted me. Those comments groups are bad for your mental health.

One of the most remarkable things about Biden’s speech was the sheer oratorical capacity the man showed. Any idiot can rile up an audience with stentorian exhortations to do Noble Things, and most do, but I watched Biden hold the House Chamber, and much of the nation, spellbound with just a friendly whisper. He spoke with an earnestness and compassion, qualities lost in the hoarse brays of self-pity and truculence we had to deal with for the previous four years.

The tone could be summed up in one anecdote, told late in the speech. “I spoke with Gianna Floyd, George Floyd’s young daughter. As I knelt down to talk to her so we could talk eye—to—eye, she said to me, Daddy changed the world.’” Politicians, with rare exceptions, like to be shown relating to children. But the line that caught my eye (and heart) was “…I knelt down to talk to her so we could talk eye-to-eye” That speaks to a humanity that transcends the usual political rhetoric. Joe is a good guy who genuinely cares about people. That’s not something I believe because I am a liberal; it something I feel because I am a human being.

As for content, the basic message was actually summed up in Biden’s opening remarks. “The worst pandemic in a century. The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War. 

Now, after just 100 days, I can report to the nation: America is on the move again.  Turning peril into possibility. Crisis into opportunity. Setback into strength. Life can knock us down. But in America, we never stay down. In America, we always get up.

He then spoke of the progress America has made against the pandemic, and the early signs of an economic recovery that is likely to turn into a roaring boom. He talks about the vast, ambitious plans he has to ensure that we do come out of this stronger and better: child support, in the form of cash-back tax breaks, universal child care, universal health care. He spoke of the amazing results of the American Rescue Plan—well over 200 million vaccinations, and hunger greatly reduced just in the first few months. He spoke of the difference the child credits would make for working families by the millions. It has already created 1.3 million new jobs in the past 60 days, an amazing record.

He then spoke of his infrastructure plan, The American Jobs Plan, which he described as “a once-in-a-generation investment in America itself, the largest jobs plan since World War II.”

Sounding like FDR, he spoke of the millions of good paying jobs regular workers would see from this plan, and said, “Wall Street didn’t build this country. The middle class built this country. And unions build the middle class. “

Defending the plan further, he said, “I’m calling on Congress to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize Act – the PRO Act — and send it to my desk to support the right to unionize. 

By the way – let’s also pass the $15 minimum wage. No one should work 40 hours a week and still live below the poverty line. And we need to ensure greater equity and opportunity for women. Let’s get the Paycheck Fairness Act to my desk for equal pay. It’s long past time. 

Finally, the American Jobs Plan will be the biggest increase in non-defense research and development on record.  We will see more technological change in the next 10 years – than we saw in the last 50 years. “

He’s right, of course, and the Republicans are going to be twisting themselves in deep knots figuring out how to oppose Biden without opposing the plan.

My own takeaway, following the speech, is that Biden was his own best friend tonight in his goals of getting these policies enacted.

 

*Perhaps the comments “Save Democracy” reads better in Russian. “Я не могу поверить, что это Америка. Никто не находится в безопасности при демократическом режиме зла! Мы все в ужасной опасности, вы должны бояться, очень, очень бояться. Спаси себя! Спасите демократию!”

OK, maybe not.

DecPop — It’s been 70 years since 1950

DecPop

It’s been 70 years since 1950

April 27th 2021

Back in 1974, when the average number of births per woman was 3.65, Phillip José Farmer wrote a novella, “70 Years of DecPop”. The premise was that a mad scientist released an aerosol that rendered 99.999% of all humans sterile (world population was about 4.5 billion at that time) and from there studied the devastating effects the immense drop in population would have over the ensuring 70 years.

It was a bit of a gloomy read. Humans didn’t react well to forced sterilization, and few economies were equipped to deal with shrinking markets and less demand on resources.

At that point, the birthrate had already declined significantly from its peak in 1964, when it was at 4.65. Much of the decrease was credited to a decline in religious oppression, the increased availability of birth control, and in a rebuke to Malthus, improved living conditions with greater food and shelter security. People in poor nations no longer had 12 children in hopes that one of them might live to take care of them when they got old.

At that time, sociologists expected the birth rate to climb back up, and there was even a book by Paul and Anne Ehrlich, The Population Bomb, that forecast widespread famine and war as a result of population outstripping resources such as food and clean water.

Didn’t happen. Food production soared, outpacing population growth. And the Ehrlichs hadn’t realized that most famines aren’t the result of actual food shortages, but of politics. The rich stockpile and the poor starve. Nearly all famines were easily avoidable back then. They still are.

And the birth rate continued to decline, against all expectations. By 1993 it had dropped below 3.0. By 1997 it was at 2.5.

This year it’s expected to reach a magic number: 2.1 Two point one is the birthrate at which population stops growing, known as Zero Population Growth, or ZPG.

Many developed nations had already reached that mark in the 1990s and first decade of this millennium. Almost all of western Europe, Japan, and Canada had native birthrates below 2.1. Population growth came solely from immigration.

In the United States, immigration drove population growth until 2015, but since then immigration has dropped below the level of the birthrate, which means that the next decennial census might show a population drop for the first time in American history.

The preliminary results of the 2020 census show the second smallest rate of growth in American history, with only the 1930s being (slightly) lower. For ten years, population growth was just 7.4%.

A lot of reasons have been given for this. Trump and the Republicans actively messed with the census, hoping to undercount the poor, minorities and anyone else who might be a threat to Republican power. While there’s no doubt that they tried, it’s not clear that they were particularly effective at sabotaging the census. A 2017 projection claimed the 2020 census would show 332,639,000, The actual census was 331,500,00, a shortfall of 1.16 million. Further, the growth rate drop was part of a trend, 7.4 in the ‘10s from 9.7 in the noughts, and from 12.34 in the nineties. Republican buggery had an effect, but a relatively small one. Independent surveys show that the growth rate was under 0.6% for the past three years.

Sorry for all the numbers, but they make a case. Population growth has not only slowed, it has stopped. Even in the US, where population growth came mostly from immigration, is seeing a dramatic decline in immigration, despite the fearmongering from the Nazis on the far right. It’s well under half what it was twenty years ago, and the percentage of non-native-born in the general population has leveled off at 14%.

And it’s the same world wide. Japan is in the early stages of a population crash that may see their population drop by 60% by 2100. Russia had a massive population drop following the collapse of the USSR, brought about by initial chaos and followed by an Ayn Rand gangrape of the country by western corporations during the Yeltsin years. Then Putin came along and turned Russia into an autocratic and repressive nightmare. Russia’s population is down nearly 40% from 1990.

According to the BBC: “Japan’s population is projected to fall from a peak of 128 million in 2017 to less than 53 million by the end of the century. Italy is expected to see an equally dramatic population crash from 61 million to 28 million over the same timeframe. They are two of 23 countries – which also include Spain, Portugal, Thailand and South Korea – expected to see their population more than halve.”

It’s only a matter of time before capitalists, who depend endless unsustainable growth, will realize that their consumer base is both shrinking and aging. (One of the darker elements of that DecPop story is the small number of young people trying to cope with the billions of elders who outnumber them by hundreds to one). Capitalism is ill-equipped for this coming change.

Climate change, disease and war will accelerate the drop in population. Some people believe the population drop is propelled by pollutants—forever chemicals, micro plastics, and the like. If true, that could be an existential threat to humanity.

Remember, this census doesn’t even include the nearly 600,000 dead in America from Covid, and it’s becoming clear that this pandemic will have over 10 million dead before it runs its course world wide.

Population drop is a good thing—the Earth is able to sustain perhaps three billion people comfortably, assuming those billions aren’t as wasteful and foolish as we have been. But the economic and political repercussions led by people unwilling to take a hit in profits, also make it a risky time for humans. We normally spend all our efforts fighting greed and corruption, but capitalism celebrates greed and corruption, and is very willing to be very destructive in preserving such.

Our numbers will drop, but we’ll ensure that it won’t be pretty.

,

The Master Race — A Nice and Precise Historie of Britain and its well-known suburb, Europe

The Master Race

A Nice and Precise Historie of Britain and its well-known suburb, Europe

April 17th, 2021

Marjorie Taylor Greene and a couple of the more ignorant racist oafs in Congress have decided that what America really needs is an “Anglo-Saxon” caucus in the government to represent the needs and wants of the poor, downtrodden Angles and Saxons. Yes, Greene is the new White.

I guess the first thing they need to do is tell the Normans to get out. They invaded Great Britain, quite illegally in the eyes of the Britons, back in 1066, and proceeded to subsume the regional culture over the ensuing 400 years until “Anglo-Saxon” was a quaint (and inaccurate) term used by historians to give a blanket description of the people who lived on the islands prior to and for a while after the invasion.

When William the Conqueror finished consolidating his takeover in the ensuing twenty years, the culture of the country had been utterly transformed. The dominant language was now the more-or-less Germanic Anglo-Norman, and the largely French-based Saxon tongue was relegated to peasants. Slavery was abolished, a new currency established, and the Angles and Saxons who had the resources to flee had left, most to the Byzantine, and a handful to Gaelic and Celtic regions, where they weren’t particularly welcome.

The Scots and Irish term for Saxons to this day is “Sassenach,” broadened to include all English people, and it is not a term of affection.

One of the weirder things the racists embrace is the notion that “Anglo-Saxon” is basically a Scots and Irish culture. It’s a bit like saying the dominant culture of the United States is Cherokee, and will offend respective groups in much the same way. English relations with the Scots and the Irish ranged from uncomfortable marriage to flat-out rape. Telling the people to the north and west of England that their culture is based on a group that got their asses kicked and obliterated a thousand years ago and replaced by non-Sassenach Sassenachs won’t win you any friends.

Assuming Scotland and Ireland are just suburbs of England is a dire mistake. Trump gave a good demonstration the day after Brexit won, warmly congratulating the Scots on voting for it. Scotland voted heavily against it, and is likely to leave the UK as a result, and Americans widely broadened their vocabularies in a unique and dark way by reading the Scottish responses to Trump’s blunder.

When racists talk about “European culture” they don’t know what the hell they are talking about. Italy and Norway, to pick a random pairing, do not have much in the way of cultural homogeneity. You may as well say that the Serengeti and Keewatin are pretty much the same climate. Most individual countries in Europe have several different and often conflicting cultures. The Basque and the Normans (yes, the Normans, they’re still around) both live in France. And are none too happy about that. And despite having invaded Britain in the 11th century, present day French Normans feel little affinity for the resulting dog’s breakfast of a land they call Angleterre. Yes, that means “land of the Angles.”

About the only definition of white supremacy that is sillier than “Anglo-Saxon” is “Caucasian.” This refers to the Caucasian range, which separates European Russia from Asiatic Russia. The majority of the inhabitants of the region are called Caucasian, but they aren’t the Hitler wet dream of blond hair and blue eyes. Most look Turkish or Semitic, having interbred cheerfully with both groups with whom they share the region. Most of them have been invaded and massacred by the Russians (and others) over the past few centuries, particularly the Chechens, the Armenians, the Kurds, the Semites and the Georgians.

When racists say “Caucasian” they usually refer to people some 1,500 miles north and west, such as the Danes, the Swedes, the Germans…basically, the Vikings. Except DNA evidences show that even amongst the Vikings, brown (or black) hair, brown eyes, and copper skin were abundant. There is no common tongue amongst these groups. Nor a common culture, or a common religion, or even agreement on what “Nordic” means.

“Nordic” bears the same relationship to Europe that “Los Angeles” does to Californians: the further away you are from it, the wider its borders, and the less desirable a neighbor it becomes. I live in far Northern California, and LA is seen here as beginning around Bakersfield/San Luis Obispo and going straight to hell from there south. From Rome, “Nordic” is pretty much anything they didn’t invade back in the glory days of the Empire. What they did invade includes large chunks of what the racists like to call “Nordic” now. Including Angleterre, but not Scotland or Eire.

In other words, the whole “white heritage” thing is nothing but a bunch of bloody nonsense. They are celebrating a history that didn’t exist, or if it did, existed thousands of miles from where they like to pretend it was. The mythology raises the level of subjugated and subsumed cultures to the level of movers and shakers on the world stage. Nobody has even seen a Pict in 300 years, and nobody can pronounce a single word of their language. Nonetheless, they are seen as an apotheosis of white supremacy.

Well, Hitler pretty much invented the history and culture of “the master race,” and he was a whole lot smarter and better educated than the right wing clowns who are trying to puff themselves up into a position of superiority today.

And Hitler was a vicious and self-defeating fool. These clowns won’t do any better.