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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Latter Days of a Better Nation, Part V

"She had read several nice little histories about children who had got burnt, and eaten up by wild beasts and other unpleasant things, all because they would not remember the simple rules their friends had taught them: such as, that a red-hot poker will burn you if you hold it too long; and that if you cut your finger very deeply with a knife, it usually bleeds; and she had never forgotten that, if you drink much from a bottle marked "poison", it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later."
-- Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carrol, 1865

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We’re down the rabbit hole now, aren’t we?

Or perhaps, on second thought, it’s the sequel that is a more apt analogy here.

Through the looking glass into the bizarre incomprehensible cryptic world of the Jabberwock.

 

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Yes, that’s it, the strange back-to-front Looking-Glass Land, a place inhabited by dangerous creatures, where nonsense is spoken as if it was rational conversation and few things make any sense.  Yes, that’s the place where a public fight between a Reality TV star president and a couple of Reality TV journalists belongs. 

We didn’t know.

Oh, woe! Woe! We didn’t know. That guy in the White House, why, he’s not the same guy we knew two years ago.

We didn’t know it would turn out like this!

We didn’t know he’d turn on us when we helped him get elected!

We thought it would be ok! We thought he would straighten out and start acting like a decent human being once he got elected! We didn’t know!

I mean, how could we have known, right? It’s not like anybody warned us. It’s not like there were any alarm bells. It’s not like there was a history of horrible shitty behavior…


Right.


Look here: These people, these Republicans, these Trump apologists, they’re like battered spouses in denial.

All the warning signs were there, the sexist behavior, the tempter tantrums, the bruises and the black eyes, but they thought, you know, once we’re married he’ll come around, he’ll be okay, he’ll stop acting like this.

But Donald Trump is the very same guy today that he was yesterday, that he was two years ago, that he was a decade ago.

Donald Trump is the same horrible person he’s been his entire life.

He’s an obnoxious, ignorant, abusive blowhard enabled by wealth and privilege and if you think for one minute the power of the presidency is going to do anything but exacerbate that, then you are a goddamned fool.

Or a Republican.

But I repeat myself.

Any rational person with an ounce of sense could have seen this coming. And did. Hell, I wrote about it here. I wrote hundreds of thousands of words of warning. And, of course, I wasn’t the only one. Tens of thousands of analysts, writers, politicians, and world leaders warned America. Don’t marry this goddamned guy. Don’t do it.

And yet, here we are, six months later and Republicans like Scarborough are all black-eyed and regretfully sobbing, we didn’t know!

We didn’t know!

Someday, this story, the one where Americans elected Donald J. Trump to the Presidency despite myriad and obvious warning signs, will join Frankenstein and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as a classic cautionary tale.  Parents will use it to frighten their children into behaving and teachers will use it to show the folly of willful ignorance and whatever passes for Hollywood in that distant future will play this idiotic social media fight between a sitting president and a couple of pretend journalists for laughs in an otherwise dreary and depressing tale.

If it was just some spat between TV personalities, it would be bad enough, but it’s not.

If it was just a one time thing, a momentary lapse, it would be bad enough. But it’s not.

It’s not.

It’s every damned day. Every. Day.

Worse, it’s the entire Republican Party in denial.

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I hope these tweets cease and we can focus on moving our country forward and what the fuck, Senator?

Sullivan’s ineffectual response is typical of the entire GOP. Sullivan’s belief in magic unicorns is one of the primary reasons his home state of Alaska is in financial collapse and utter disarray. These sons of bitches just can’t seem to face reality.

We didn’t know.

We hoped he would act more presidential.

I mean, we knew Trump was an ignorant self-aggrandizing jackass with no experience in government at all, right. We knew that. We knew he was a liar, a misogynist, a con artist, an abuser, and a bully. We knew he was prone to uncontrolled rage and that there was no filter between his ego and his thumbs. We knew that. We knew all of that. Of course we did. Sure. That part was obvious. But see, we hoped – we hoped – Trump would somehow just magically become a dignified adult, suddenly imbued with reason and self-control and filled with knowledge and wisdom of how to actually run a government.

That is what they told us. That is literally what they told us. He’s just doing this to get elected. Once he’s president, you’ll see. He’ll straighten out, he’ll become…

…a unicorn.

Now, admittedly, we’re not really sure how any of that would happen, but we hoped it would.

We hoped it would.

Magical thinking.

And the worst part? The goddamned worst part is that Republicans just like Dan Sullivan are still in denial. Because after six goddamned months of this insanity, he still thinks, hopes, Trump will become the unicorn. Sure. It could happen, sure it could. Yeah! It’ll be ok. You’ll see. He’s just under a lot of stress. It’s all fine. This is fine. It’s fine. I deserved it.

Dan Sullivan. This guy was a Marine, and a damned good one. He is not in any way stupid. He’s a staunch party line conservative and his political views are not mine, but he’s not a lunatic. And yet there he is, engaged in magical thinking. Hoping for unicorns. That’s what Alaskan Senator Dan Sullivan has. Hope. That’s all he has. He’s a United States Senator, a Marine, and the worst condemnation he can muster is, gee, fellers, I hope we can all get past this and be friends.

It’s the Republican version of hiding his bruises under makeup and rationalizing away the abuse by telling himself that he deserved it.

What kind of candy-ass Marine acts like this?

What kind of Marine would follow a leader like Trump into battle? What kind of Marine, what kind of Marine, would send other Marines into battle under a leader like Trump?  What the hell? Did he take off his balls with his goddamned uniform?

They’re all like this.

All of them.

John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Joni Ernst, Tom Cotton, Jeff Sessions, Mitch McConnell, Jim Inhofe, Don Young, Darrell Issa, Duncan Hunter, Peter King, congress is chock-a-block with Republican veterans who damned well ought to know better. Who ought have the guts to put aside their partisan bullshit and side with their Democrat counterparts against this lunatic for the sake of the nation.

But just like Dan Sullivan, they keep enabling this abuse. Looking for unicorns.


On the other side of the spectrum, there’s the Left.


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Al Gore, I didn’t know.

I thought he’d be OK. 

See, what you have to understand here is, well, unicorns!

Just ignore him, they tell me.

That’s advice I get from the Left every day via Twitter and Facebook and my social media feeds. Jeebers, Jim, why do you keep talking about Trump? Whenever I write about one of Trump’s bizarre statements, that’s what the Left tells me, just ignore him. Don’t quote him, don’t write about him, don’t give him any attention because that’s what he wants. Just ignore him.

Just ignore him.

Just ignore the most powerful man in the world.

Just ignore the guy sitting on a nuclear arsenal large enough to kill every living thing on the planet and render the earth uninhabitable forever.

Just ignore the guy at the head of the largest, most powerful coalition of economic, political, and military power in not only the world, but in the entire history of the human race.

Just ignore the guy who controls nearly all aspects of the world that I’ll be leaving to my son and his new wife. My grandkids. The future. Sure, let’s just ignore that guy.

Trump has direct influence over all aspects of our society, economic, social, education, military, infrastructure, law and order, technology, the environment, labor, business, commerce, poverty, healthcare, growth, war, trade, our basic rights and freedoms, and you want me to just ignore him? 

Just … ignore him?

Because, what? Maybe he’ll go away? Maybe he’ll, I dunno, go away to wherever unicorns go.

The absolutely worst, most useless, advice I ever got as a kid was being told to just ignore the bullies. Ignore them, right? Because that’s what they want, attention. And if you ignore them, they’ll just go away. Puff. Magic.

You know what? That’s wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. No bully has ever just gone away because their victims ignore them.

When the abuser has all the power, you can’t ignore them – especially when they’re smashing your face in.

Ignoring fascism is how you get more fascism.

Ignoring hate is how you get more hate.

Ignoring abuse is how you get abused.

It is time to stop this magical thinking on both sides of the political divide and face reality.

Trump isn’t going to get better.

Trump isn’t going to go away.

Trump isn’t going to just one day wake up and decide to act like a president.

He’s not suddenly going to start acting like a rational adult.

He’s not going to be magically imbued with 70 years of education and knowledge and experience in how to run government.

Your indifferent god isn’t going to reach down and fill Trump’s fluffy head with wisdom and compassion and selflessness.  This isn’t a made for TV movie, Trump isn’t going to have some life-changing moment and realize what an ass he’s been and then devote the rest of his life to making the world a better place. That’s not going to happen.

There are no such things as unicorns.


Trump builds casinos, not nations.


Rational people learn from their mistakes.

Mistakes, no matter how terrible, don’t have to define us so long as we don’t keep making the same mistakes over and over.

The problem is that we, as a nation, keep making the same mistakes over and over.

As the so-called Sage of Baltimore, American satirist and pundit Henry Louis Mencken, once said, “democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”

America tends to get the government it deserves, and this time we are indeed getting it good and hard.

But what a lot of people are missing is this: Trump is a symptom, not the disease.


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Trump is the manifestation of all the worst aspects of modern America writ large, loud, florid, and proudly ignorant. A mindset that is shamelessly hypocritical, self-important and self-involved, wrapped in a flag waving a cross and obsessed with money at the expense of everything else, downing handfuls of Viagra not because we need it but rather for instant self gratification without effort, and a sneering dismissal of any debate that can’t be compressed into a Tweet as “Too Long; Didn’t Read.”

I’m not the first to note that Trump is what stupid people think a smart person sounds like and it doesn’t take much digging around on social media to find those who despite all evidence to the contrary still dogmatically believe in they’re going to get a unicorn – including members of Congress like Dan Sullivan.

Somewhere in the last half a century, we Americans traded Apollo moon ships for the Creation Museum and the ugly truth of the matter is that Donald Trump is a reflection of who we’ve become as a nation.

Trump is the utterly predictable result of decades of an increasingly dumber and dumber electorate. A deliberately dumber electorate, Idiocracy in action, a society that dismisses intelligence and education and experience as “elitism” while howling in drunken mirth at Honey Boo Boo and lighting their farts on fire.

Creationists don’t build starships.


They don’t build much of anything else, either.


Trump isn’t playing 4D chess.

He doesn’t have a plan.

There is no unicorn.

This was evident right from the very beginning.

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Or at least it should have been, to anybody who wasn’t a complete idiot.

There has never been any depth to anything Trump has ever said. Not once. His responses to every question – every single question – are nothing but rambling non sequiturs. Trump is not capable of critical thought at any level.  He has neither the education or experience to be president. He lacks the ability to focus for any length of time; he has the attention span of a cocker spaniel and his mind is as jumbled and chaotic as some clanging banging madcap Saturday morning cartoon.

His supporters point to his supposed wealth as evidence of leadership, of vision, of intellect. And that’s nonsense. Trump is, at best, a mediocre businessman. He was born rich and given breaks most people don’t get, those things provide a safety net for mistakes and failures that ruin others less advantaged. Those things gave Trump the ability to take risks others can’t. It wasn’t his smarts or his supposed deal making or some magical unicorn dust, it was privilege. He didn’t create his empire from nothing, he built it on a foundation of wealth and advantage and other people’s money.

Trump’s privilege and wealth are luck of birth, not evidence of superiority.

Trump’s mythical ability to make a deal is exactly that, a myth. Bullshit. Smoke and mirrors. Something he uses to con the rubes. Trump can’t make a deal unless he has everything stacked in his favor and he calls all the shots and nobody else gets to say anything. And while that nonsense might work for you when you’re building a casino in Jersey (or not), it sure as shit doesn’t work out in the real world between nations and any fool could have told you that. And did. Repeatedly.

Bluster and bombast and billions are no substitute for intellect, education, experience, quiet courage, and steady confidence under fire.

Trump skitters from one thing to another like a ADHD squirrel on amphetamines. This week he fired yet another Communications Director, last week it was the horrors of Obamacare and an amateurish attempt to shame China into doing his bidding via Twitter, the day before he was banning transgender people from the military. He can’t stay on topic, not even for a 15 minute speech in front of a bunch of Boy Scouts. And this is indicative of a much, much deeper problem.

Trump has no vision.

Trump has no strategic vision.

His administration has no vision.

His party has no coherent vision.

Trump is what stupid people think a smart guy sounds like.

But these people, this administration, they have no idea what they want to do, let alone what they are doing from one minute to the next. That’s why they can never explain anything, because they don’t really know.

Take the Affordable Healthcare Act, Obamacare. Trump goes on and on and on about Obamacare. Republicans go on and on about Obamacare. It’s terrible. It’s failing. Their plan is great.

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Except they never tell you why.

They never give you any of the details.

In the last month, no Republican including Trump, has given you any insight whatsoever as to the details of their supposed plan. Trump can’t, because he’s completely non-conversant with it. He honestly has no idea. He literally can no more describe in even the simplest of terms the Republican plan for healthcare than he can diagram the basic steam-loop of USS Gerald R. Ford’s nuclear reactor.

Trump has never, ever, described in even the most basic of outlines what “Make America Great Again” means.

Because he doesn’t know.

It’s just words. Just vague promises. Hand waving. A way to sell hats. Some nebulous idea that sounds vaguely good. Trump lives in the moment. His attention is whatever happens to be scrolling past on the Fox News Red Alert ticker at that particular point in time.  The Trump Administration’s strategic vision is the political equivalent of the soundbites and howling lunacy and clanging-banging cartoon logic streaming past in my Twitter feed.

It’s not just that that he doesn’t know enough about his own agenda to describe it in even vague terms, it’s that he’s not even interested in trying. He contradicts himself over and over because he doesn’t remember what he said from one minute to the next. Trump repeatedly shows that he has no concept of how government works, let alone how it might manage the incomprehensively vast, hideously complex, intertwined, interdependent, chaotically evolving systems of military, procurement, investment, economic, industrial, commercial, social, environmental, security, emergency, educational, agricultural, energy, health, legal, crime, law, legislative, research, planning, essential services, international relations, and historical areas of concern for 320,000,000 people in a dynamic ever changing relationship to the rest of the world.

And he’s surrounded himself with fops and toadies and opportunists who have even less vision than he does.

Worse, he’s cheered by drooling idiots who aren’t even smart enough to realize Trump has never explained anything in depth ever, because they have no critical-thinking skills either.  They cheer when Trump pushes their button, just like Pavlov’s dog.

And this is a reflection of the Republican Party itself.

It’s no wonder they hate government, because they have completely forgotten government’s purpose.

Because they have no vision.

Because they live in the moment with no regard to the future. And this is reflected in every single aspect of their political outlook, from education to the environment to healthcare to their horrible apocalyptic religion that says when they’ve used up the earth, their savior will return to spirit them all away leaving the rest of us behind to suffer in torment in the hell they created for all eternity. And they’re fine with that

They’re fine with that.

Think about that mentality.

Think about a belief system that says, “Hey, so long as I’m saved, to hell with everybody else” and you’ll understand their viewpoint on, oh, say healthcare. They don’t care about the future. They don’t care about pollution or climate change or healthcare because in their minds they’re saved and the rest of us are damned to some Bronze Age hell anyway. That is literally their belief system, they’re saved, they get to go to some magical paradise and frolic with the unicorns while the rest of us burn forever in torment. And they’re fine with that. In fact, they think it’s just great.

Now, people who believe that, who believe in that idea, who embrace that religion, well, they sure as hell don’t care if you can’t afford healthcare.

What’s healthcare against an eternity of torture in their god’s dungeon?

Trump is the perfectly predictable end result of this mindset. I’m rich, fuck you.

And Mike Pence is its poster child.

But these are symptoms, not the disease

Now, while it’s true that left untreated, symptoms can kill you just as dead as the actual infection, you have to treat the underlying cause if you ever expect to get any better.

Trump is the result of a nation, of a democracy, where only about 60% of the eligible electorate shows up to vote – in a good year.

Trump is the result of a population that not only tolerates a congress that daily treats them as the enemy, but utterly refuses to hold that congress to account at the ballot box.

Trump is the result of a democracy that daily prides itself on how their ancestors declared independence from a foreign king while at the same time mindlessly reelecting, gerrymandering, or otherwise gaming the system to such a degree that their government might as well be made up of inbred weak-chinned hereditary aristocracy.

Trump is the result of voters who can’t be troubled to learn a goddamned thing about their country, their history, their neighbors, or their world beyond what will fit in a Tweet. Trump is the Too Long: Didn’t Read president.

Trump is the result of a nation that glories in ignorance, manipulated by conspiracy theory and a primal fear of the dark, that embraces monkey violence and cowers from the unknown future with bluster and bared teeth and a gun clenched in one fist, instead of looking forward with quiet courage, head up, feet wide, braced and ready with curiosity and confident they are prepared to handle anything that might come along.

Trump is the result of a nation that traded the moon for the Creation Museum.

Trump is the result of a nation that has lost its vision and has nothing left but howling rage.


But it doesn’t have to be this way.


Countries that arrive here, where we are now, tend to end badly.

They tend to fall into totalitarianism, into war, into chaos and fragmentation. 

Don’t take my word for it. Refer to history. When a society embraces rage instead of reason and prepares for apocalypse instead of actively working to build a better future for all, it tends to fall apart into howling collapse in fairly short order.

Creationists don’t build starships.

They don’t build much of anything else worthwhile either and it’s time to stop chasing after unicorns.

I’m not just talking about Trump. As noted, Trump is the symptom, not the disease. It doesn’t matter if you’re a liberal or a conservative. It doesn’t matter if you’re a member of one party or the other. What matters is holding civilization together against the fall of night. What matters is building a better future for all of us, for our descendants, for the world.

What matters is being a citizen of the United States first.

You, you Americans, you don’t get to say, “We didn’t know.”

Don’t let that nonsense go past unchallenged. Don’t fall for it. Don’t enable it. Don’t let Americans get away with that excuse. Don’t let your government get away with that excuse, your Senators, your Representatives, your governors, your political party.

We didn’t know. Bullshit. Yes, you did. You knew. We all knew.

But some of you didn’t care, you were too busy lighting your farts on fire and pretending it would all be okay. It’s not. And it hasn’t been okay for a long time.

We didn’t know, that’s just a way to avoid taking responsibility. They knew. Yes, they did. We all knew. But these sons of bitches, they ignored it. They made excuses for it. They chased after unicorns and they’re still doing it.

Don’t let them.

Don’t do it yourself.

Left, right, we’re all going to go down together unless we turn things around.

If you didn’t know, if you really didn’t know, if you couldn’t see it, if you made excuses and you told yourself it would be okay even though you very well knew it wouldn’t, then you are too goddamned stupid, ignorant, and careless to be a citizen of this country.

It’s your duty as an American, as a citizen, as a voter, as a human being, to know.

You don’t get to make excuses. You don’t get to blame anybody, not the media or political parties or the rich or some horrible god or the fucking Russians or even Trump himself.

It’s on you.

You’re the citizen.

And if you want a better nation, if you want a better future, then you have to be better citizens.

The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.
-- Winston Churchill (possibly apocryphal)



The Latter Days of a better Nation, Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Fox in the Henhouse

There is voter fraud. I know there is voter fraud.
-- Stephen Bannon

Two Million

eight hundred and sixty-eight thousand

six hundred and ninety-one.

I like to think I’m the one, there right at the end.

Two Million eight hundred and sixty-eight thousand six hundred and ninety one.

That's the number of votes Donald Trump lost the popular election by, two million eight hundred and sixty-eight thousand six hundred and ninety-one.

According to the final certification of the election*:

Hillary Clinton received 65,853,516 votes

Donald Trump received 62,984,825 votes

Meaning Clinton won the popular vote by 2,868,691.

For brevity’s sake let’s round that off to 3 million.

Now, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on circumstance and your point of view) the popular vote is not how American democracy selects a president and/or vice president. Rightly or wrongly, that’s how our Founders designed things (whether or not we should change that is a discussion for another time). Thus, Donald Trump won the White House despite the objections of nearly 3 million ... well, I was going to say Americans, but that's actually the issue here, isn't it?

That’s the whole thing, right there.

Those 3 million voters.

The President of the United States says that those people, whoever they are,  they’re not Americans.

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Yes, that’s what he’s saying.

Those people, those 3 million people who didn’t vote for him, they aren’t Americans. That’s exactly what he’s saying.

You see, Donald Trump being the self-involved thin-skinned narcissistic ego-maniac that he is, he just can't accept that he lost the popular vote. He is pathologically incapable of admitting that he was beaten by Hillary Clinton – even though he ended up president anyway. 

He’s not man enough.

He’s not mature enough.

And he just can't accept it.

He can't. Q.E.D.

He's on record, multiple times, claiming that he actually won the popular vote – despite obvious and provable evidence to the contrary.

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And how does he justify this discrepancy?

The same way people like him always do.

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Even before the election Trump was banging the Republican Voter Fraud drum, boom, boom, boom.

Of course there’s large scale voter fraud. Serious voter fraud. Millions of people voted illegally. Voter fraud is her only hope. Voter Fraud! Crooked Hillary!

Just like any news article he doesn’t like must be fake news, anybody who didn’t vote for him must be a fake American.

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These aren’t the baseless accusations of some random madman … well, OK, they are, yes, but they’re also official comments from the President of the United States of America and are now part of the national archive in accordance with the Presidential Records Act.

The President of the United States believes, or officially claims that he believes, that there is widespread voter fraud in America totaling in the millions.

The millions.

If this were true, that millions of people vote illegally in our elections, then the entire foundation for our government, our way of life, would be suspect. It would mean that more than 50 different voting systems and dozens upon dozens of widely separated state and local governments were corrupted to such a degree that millions, millions, of people routinely vote illegally in our elections.

And that would be easily provable.

But, of course, this entire thing is patent nonsense.

The most fervent believer in voter fraud after the most diligent and thorough investigation can’t produce more than one or two fraudulent voters, let alone millions. And they’ve tried. Goddamn have they tried.

This whole thing is nonsense.

Just like nearly every other position the President has staked out.

It’s the same baseless bullshit conservatives in Virginia and North Carolina and Alabama (to name just a few states) have been using as justification to disenfranchise people they don't like.

It’s the same dog whistle.

It’s the same bias and bigotry and racism.

It’s the same political agenda. The same fear. The same hate. The same goal.

Yes it is.

Trump played on this unsupported conspiracy theory of widespread voter fraud before the election as justification for why he was going to lose, and then after the election in order to claim he actually won the popular vote.

And he justifies that position by simply saying that those votes, those 3 million votes, just don’t count. So therefore he won the popular vote.

Republicans might or might not like Donald Trump, but they're plenty eager to go along with this charade. They're perfectly happy to perpetuate the ridiculous myth of widespread voter fraud and to use that fairy tale as an excuse to purge voting registers of Blacks and Muslims and Latinos and Gays and The Poors and any other supposed liberal undesirable under the pretext of weeding out alleged voter fraud.

Republicans sure as hell aren’t going to dissuade Donald Trump of this masturbatory fantasy.

No, they won’t, even though they know it's complete and total bullshit, because it plays directly to their own narrative and agenda of disenfranchisement. They might or might not believe in widespread voter fraud, but if embracing Trump’s conspiracy theory helps them purge their state voting rolls of undesirables, they’re all for it.

So, anyway, what I’m saying here is …

What?

What’s that?

Oh. I see.

You think I’m engaged in a little conspiracy theory of my own, do you?

You say, hey, c’mon, Jim. It’s not like that. And what’s wrong with making sure, damned sure, extra sure, that the foundation of our Republic is intact? What’s wrong with making sure that only Americans, those legally enfranchised, are the ones voting? What’s wrong with ensuring the integrity of our elections?

What’s wrong with ensuring the integrity of our elections?

Nothing.

If you could trust them to do it.

But you can’t.

If that’s what these people were actually up to.

But it’s not.


One of the first things Trump did as president was to set up The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity via executive order.


The problems with this commission begin almost immediately.

For example, who are these people? Who makes up the commission?

The Executive Order which created the commission is listed on the White House website, dated May 11, 2017, but it only says that the commission shall be chaired by the Vice President. The rest of the committee, which may include up to 15 additional members, will be appointed by the President.

Fifteen people and Mike Pence.

But who are those people? Those 15 commission members besides the Vice President?

Well, it’s damned hard to find out.

The membership of the commission isn’t listed in any official government record available to the public.

The official White House website lists 53 official announcements regarding Administration nominations and appointments. I went through all of them (and tedious it was), but no mention of who Donald Trump has so far appointed to this commission.

There’s a link to “Elections & Voting,” but it’s just a generic blurb about the history of voting in the US.

There’s a link to various Administration offices, but the Advisory Commission of Election Integrity isn’t mentioned.

I went through the Annual Report to Congress on White House Office Personnel (all 16 pages of it) looking for any salaried position devoted to election integrity. Nothing. Nobody. (The EO says the Commission members aren’t entitled to any additional compensation, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to check).

I attempted to contact various members of the Administration, including the Office of the Vice President, since he’s the chairman of the commission. I asked for a list of commission appointees. I got form letter responses or no responses at all (so far).

I went to Vice President Pence’s Facebook page and looked for anything on this commission. Nothing. And isn’t that a bit odd, given the supposed importance of alleged voter fraud, the supposed millions of illegal voters, the supposed dire and immediate threat to our very democracy, the concerns of not only the President but his supporters as well? I mean, from the guy who’s supposed to be in charge of the investigation?

Maybe it’s just me.

Going through media reports, I come up with seven names besides the Vice President:

Kris Kobach: Republican. Secretary of State of Kansas. Immigration ultra-hardliner. Wants a national Muslim registry. Repeatedly makes public statements insisting that widespread voter fraud in the US is a significant problem. As Secretary of State of Kansas, he implemented one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country and attempted to remove more the 20,000 registered voters from the state rolls – voters that were proved to be properly registered. Kobach was instrumental in drafting Arizona’s controversial anti illegal immigrant SB 1070 law and similar legislation in Alabama. Kobach is the Deputy Chairman of the Commission.

Hans von Spakovsky: Republican. Hardcore Conservative. Lawyer. Bureaucrat. Heritage Foundation manager for Election Law Initiative. Former “voting expert” for the Justice Department, and former member of the Federal Election Commission under George W. Bush via recess appointment. During confirmation hearings it became apparent that this guy has some serious issues with voter disenfranchisement – as in he’s all for it. Some of his ideas were compared to “Jim Crow era” poll taxes. While at the Justice Department this guy literally argued against reauthorization of the Voting Rights act. Think about that. Literally argued against reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act. When it comes to voting rights, this guy is one of the most controversial figures in America. Spakovsky’s was appointed by Trump just this week and his role on the Commission isn’t clear.

Connie Lawson: Republican. Secretary of State of Indiana – under Governor Mike Pence. Nothing particularly remarkable or controversial in her background with regards to voting.

Bill Gardner: Democrat. Secretary of State of New Hampshire. His claim to fame seems to be championing New Hampshire’s “100% paper ballot” elections.

Matthew Dunlap: Democrat. Secretary of State of Maine.  He oversaw implementation of the state’s Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act – an absentee ballot update that allows military personnel and Mainers who are overseas greater access to voting.

Ken Blackwell: Republican. Former Secretary of State of Ohio. Hardline fiscal and social Conservative. Despite being African American (and the only person of color on the commission so far as I can determine), Blackwell was the target of a lawsuit filed by the Democratic Party in 2004 after he established a policy widely seen as aimed at disenfranchising minority voters and in violation of federal voting law. A US District Judge ruled against the policy. Blackwell said that he would go to jail rather than comply and the case was appealed. Eventually, after a long drawn out court battle, part of the policy was upheld and part was struck down. Blackwell also oversaw the office which in 2006 accidentally published the full Social Security Numbers of 1.2 million Ohio citizens along with their business filings, resulting in a Federal class action lawsuit filed against the state. The case was resolved when Blackwell’s office removed the Social Security numbers from their website and promised to make changes to prevent such disclosures in the future. A month later, it happened again, only this time it was the names, addresses, and Social Security numbers of 5.7 million registered Ohio voters (about 80% of the state’s registered voters). And then, there’s the Diebold voting machine controversy. Blackwell oversaw the purchase of Diebold Touchscreen voting machines – after being asked by state authorities to disqualify Diebold as a supplier. Turns out, Blackwell owned stock in Diebold, something he claims he didn’t know. The Diebold machines didn’t provide useable audit records and in 2006 state officials were forced to order the hand-counting of more than 18,000 paper ballots after the Diebold machines produced inconsistent results. It took days and in at least one case caused a race to be reversed. Because Blackwell had been involved in the acquisition of the Diebold machines and because he’d owned stock in the company, and because at the time he was running for governor, Ohio Democrats demanded that Blackwell recuse himself from the resulting investigation. He refused.

Christy McCormick: (Political Affiliation Unknown) Commissioner, Election Assistance Commission (appointed by Barack Obama). Civil Rights attorney, Department of Justice. US government Rule of Law in voting matters expert. U.S. Elections Expert monitoring Iraqi national elections in 2010, providing advice to the Iraq High Electoral Commission.

Eight people (including VP Pence). Four right wing extremists with controversial backgrounds with regards to voting rights, including the Chair and Vice Chair. And four more or less middle of the road moderates.

If you squint your eyes, you could say the Commission was maybe, sort of, after a fashion, possibly bi-partisan – if heavily skewed to the hard right and with its leadership tilted towards belief in conspiracy theory, but then there’s that Executive Order.

Sec. 3.  Mission.  The Commission shall, consistent with applicable law, study the registration and voting processes used in Federal elections.  The Commission shall be solely advisory and shall submit a report to the President that identifies the following:

(a)  those laws, rules, policies, activities, strategies, and practices that enhance the American people's confidence in the integrity of the voting processes used in Federal elections;

(b)  those laws, rules, policies, activities, strategies, and practices that undermine the American people's confidence in the integrity of the voting processes used in Federal elections; and

(c)  those vulnerabilities in voting systems and practices used for Federal elections that could lead to improper voter registrations and improper voting, including fraudulent voter registrations and fraudulent voting.

Sec. 4.  Definitions.  For purposes of this order:

(a)  The term "improper voter registration" means any situation where an individual who does not possess the legal right to vote in a jurisdiction is included as an eligible voter on that jurisdiction's voter list, regardless of the state of mind or intent of such individual

(b)  The term "improper voting" means the act of an individual casting a non-provisional ballot in a jurisdiction in which that individual is ineligible to vote, or the act of an individual casting a ballot in multiple jurisdictions, regardless of the state of mind or intent of that individual.

(c)  The term "fraudulent voter registration" means any situation where an individual knowingly and intentionally takes steps to add ineligible individuals to voter lists.

(d)  The term "fraudulent voting" means the act of casting a non-provisional ballot or multiple ballots with knowledge that casting the ballot or ballots is illegal. 

The Commission’s mandate is to identify "laws, rules, policies, strategies, and practices" that both "enhance" and "undermine" the "American people's" confidence in the integrity of the voting process used in federal elections.

Enhance and undermine.

Enhance.

And undermine.

Except…

look at those two sections.

Look at the definitions.

There doesn’t seem to be much emphasis on enhance, but there sure does seem to be a foregone conclusion about undermine, isn’t there? 

Especially when you remember that at least 50% of the commission are hardline fanatical believers in supposed widespread voter fraud, including the Chair and Vice Chair.

And even more especially when you remember that the president who convened this commission in the first place has repeatedly and as recently as today advanced the idea of widespread voter fraud.

But it gets better.

And by better, of course I mean worse.

The Commission requested that each state submit its voter registration databases for examination.

Under the (non-existent) authority of the Vice President, the commission sent a letter to all 50 states and Washington D.C. last week demanding that each state turn over its “publicly available voter roll data.”

“Publicly available” sounds harmless, but there’s more to it than that.

Publicly available doesn’t actually mean the information isn’t controlled and can just be released to the public (see Ken Blackwell and Ohio up above).

The Commission is being deliberately disingenuous.

Look here, in 2016 there were just under 219,000,000 Americans who were eligible to vote.

Out of those 219,000,000 potential voters, only about 146,000,000 were actually registered to vote – and thus could legally vote.

Let’s round that off: 150,000,000 registered voters.

150 million.

Now, the commission wants a list of those names. 150 million names.

And they intend to examine that list, all 150 million names, for evidence of voter fraud.

Eight people.

Eight people are going to go through one hundred and fifty million names.

Now, let’s say that’s actually even possible … oh, hell, let’s not. It’s not possible. They’re going to have to hire somebody to process the data. Obviously. It’s impossible otherwise.

Who?

Who are those people? What’s that agency? Who has the resources to go through that data, 150 million names?

Well, conveniently, one of the Commission members, newly appointed, just happens to be a lawyer for the Heritage Foundation – a ultra-conservative think tank with deep, deep pockets and plenty of resources to crunch those numbers into any shape you like.

Perhaps Hans von Spakovsky’s role on the Commission isn’t so undefined after all.

I digress.

So, 150 million names of registered voters. And you suspect millions of them are frauds.

How do you determine if each person on that list is a legitimate American citizen who meets the criteria for voting in a federal election?

I mean, you’re gonna need more than just the name, right?

You’re going to have to have enough information about each person on that list, in detail, that you can ensure they each meet the legal criteria for voting.

And that’s not nearly as simple as it sounds (assuming it sounded simple to you).

See, voting is not spelled out in the Constitution.

In fact, the Constitution doesn’t mandate voting at the citizen level at all.

Voting is a state’s responsibility, not a a federal one.

As such, voting requirements for registration vary depending on the state. For example some states let convicted criminals vote, some don’t. Some let convicted criminals on parole vote. Some let those on probation vote. Some states don’t allow those who were convicted of a felony to ever vote again. Kentucky is one of those states, but unlike Florida and Virginia, in Kentucky an ex-con can petition the state for restoration of voting rights after completion of certain rehabilitation programs.  Some states have specific restrictions on homeless people and how they can register (establishing residency is problematic when you don’t have a residence), some don’t. People move. People change states (Me for example, I moved from Alaska to Florida during an election year and had to change my voter registration). Each state has different requirements for ID. And so on. Then there’s the Voting Rights Act which contains special provisions which apply only to certain former states of the Confederacy.

And what about the primaries?


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I mean, if you’re looking at the election process from the standpoint of “enhance” and “undermine,” don’t you have to examine the whole thing? Start to finish? Including the primaries? After all, that’s where the candidates are selected. That’s the the part Trump keeps yelling about, that part where the Democratic National Party supposedly illegally colluded with Hillary Clinton to screw Bernie Sanders – something a significant fraction of liberals believe too.

So, if you’re concerned about the integrity of the election, don’t you have to look at the whole election process? All of it.

And the criteria for who can vote each state’s primary is different from the general election.

What I’m saying here is that it’s not as easy as looking at a name.

Times 50 states.

Times 150 MILLION registered voters.

So, the Commission will have to have enough detailed information about each voter to be certain that they are actually who they say they are and that they are actually qualified to vote in their registered district.

The Commission requested not just a list of registered voters, but "dates of birth, political party, last four digits of social security number if available, voter history (elections voted in) from 2006 onward, active/inactive status, cancelled status, information regarding any felony convictions, information regarding voter registration in another state, information regarding military status, and overseas citizen information."

And that’s a lot more than just publicly available information.

Right?

You’re with me? You understand what I’m saying here?

Good. Remember this, because we’re going to come back to it.


Now, naturally a number of states have balked at turning over their voter rolls to a presidential commission that has no Constitutional authority and no legal justification for asking in the first place.

Eight states have out and out said they simply will not comply, will not provide any information.

Sixteen states said they will provide some information, but only actual public information, nothing sensitive or controlled.

In Ohio, the Secretary of State, Jon Husted, a Republican, said the state will not provide confidential information to the commission:

"Voter registration information is a public record and is available online. The confidential information, such as the last four digits of a voter’s Social Security number or their Ohio driver license number, is not publicly available and will not be provided to the Commission.”

In New York, the Governor, Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said flat out that the state would not provide any information of any kind to the commission. Cuomo went further and tweeted,

“NY refuses to perpetuate the myth voter fraud played a role in our election."

Responses from other states, some Red, some Blue, were similar.

Naturally President Trump, being Trump, was incensed at this revolt.

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Leaving aside the part where I don’t think Trump actually understands the phrase “very distinguished,” note where he begs the question:

What are they trying to hide?

Because obviously, any state that moves to protect its own Constitutionally guaranteed rights and the personal information of its citizens must be hiding something. Something criminal. Right? Now, again, I want to you to remember this. Because we’re going to come back to it in just a moment, along with those other troubling points I asked you to remember up above. 

In fact, we’re going to come back to them right now.

Earlier this week, the Commission’s vice chair, Kris Kobach, was interviewed on NPR’s All Things Considered by Ari Shapiro.

SHAPIRO: Why are you requesting this information about voters around the country?

KOBACH: Well, this is publicly available information. It's just the voter rolls that any person on the street can walk into a county election office and get. It's not sensitive information at all. And the reason we're requesting it is to understand issues of voter registration fraud and things like that. You actually have to have the voter rolls.

Note Kobach apparently believes any citizen can walk into any county election office and get information on any voter to include birth date, address, phone number, criminal record, places that person has lived and been registered to vote, military status, etc.  Makes me glad he’s not my Secretary of State. Just saying here.

Note Kobach’s implied assumption: so we can understand the [foregone] “issues of voter registration fraud.”

Note Kobach makes no mention here (or anywhere in the interview) of seeking information that might enhance the public’s confidence in the integrity of our election process. Only “issues of voter registration fraud.” And things like that.

Wait. What things like that? 

What things like that?

When a politician talks about “things” and waves his arms around vaguely, you’d better pay attention (put your hand on your wallet). Especially when he’s taking about something as important as voting rights.

So, keep this “and things like that” comment front and center, because it’s important.

Shapiro acknowledged Kobach’s assertion that none of the information requested by the Commission was private in and of itself (a statement that is demonstrably not true, but Shapiro let it go).

Then, given that instead of being sequestered in 50 plus state and regional databases, all of this voter registration data would be compiled into a single federal database in some standardized form,

and given that this database would be a list of every single registered voter in the country, their names, their addresses and phone numbers, their political identities, their employment, their Social Security numbers, their criminal record, their military status, etc,

and given that this information is the highly sought after target of malicious agencies both foreign and domestic (not to mention political parties, commercial marketing firms, research organizations, and … well, you get the idea),

and given that as of this moment there is no line item in the federal budget for funding such a database, populating it (you’re going to have to compile data from at least 50 different database formats comprising at a minimum 150,000,000 records into a single coherent and useable data structure), hosting it on federal servers, managing it, analyzing it, and so on,

Shapiro wanted to know how the data would be protected. 

KOBACH: What people need to be concerned about and rightly concerned about is the security of the actual database itself because the database itself that each state has does have some sensitive information in it that is not publicly available. We're not asking for that. But one of the things the commission will study is how well-protected are the states' voter rolls against someone who's trying to hack and modify those records? And that's something the public desperately needs to know because of course there were allegations that Russia attempted to try to get into the voter rolls, that other private individuals may have tried to get into the states' voter rolls.

Note that Kobach didn’t actually answer the question.

Note that Kobach in point of fact outlined the very threat Shapiro was asking about and by definition admitted that compilation of the data into a single point of failure makes the threat orders of magnitude worse.

Note that one of the members of the Commission is the same guy who was responsible for the “accidental” disclosure of more than 6 million voter registration records including their Social Security numbers – TWICE.

Note again that one of the members of the commission, newly appointed, just happens to work for a think tank that could, conveniently, host that database and has a political agenda that would benefit greatly from such a boon.

Then once again note that Kobach didn’t actually answer the question of how the information would be secured or who would be responsible for it. Or if it would be disposed of when the Commission is disbanded (if it is disbanded).

But I digress. Again.

Shapiro then asked how Kobach would reassure people who are concerned that the federal government would use this information to “restrict, deter or otherwise disenfranchise legitimate voters from accessing the polls?”

Kobach’s reassurance?

“Well, I don't even understand the argument because how is it that taking publicly available information and just analyzing it restricts your access to the polls?”

The very first mission statement of the Executive Order is those laws, rules, policies, activities, strategies, and practices that enhance the American people's confidence in the integrity of the voting processes used in Federal elections.

Enhance the people’s confidence in the integrity of the voting process.

Enhance the people’s confidence.

Enhance.

And the guy charged with that commission doesn’t understand the argument?

Think about that. Take all the time you need. It’ll come to you.

SHAPIRO: If states do not comply with a request, does your commission have any authority to force them?

KOBACH: The commission does not have the authority to force. It's simply an ask. And frankly, if a state like Kentucky or California apparently won't provide publicly available information, one has to ask the question, why not? I mean what are they trying to hide if they don't want a presidential advisory commission to study their state's voter rolls?

And there it is again.

What are they trying to hide?

There it is again, begging the question. I told you we’d come back to it.

What are they trying to hide? And the obvious unspoken implication is that those states are hiding something. And the only thing they could be hiding is 3 million people who voted illegally for Hillary Clinton. Right? I mean, California, right? That’s what we’re talking about here. That’s what Trump is talking about.

Right.

And so, we come down to it.

All those points come together right here. Remember who’s talking, remember how that Executive Order was worded. Remember what Trump has said, what Kobach has said, remember who is on the Commission, remember who they work for, remember “and things like that”:

SHAPIRO: Finally, this commission was created after President Trump claimed without evidence that millions of people voted illegally thereby depriving him of a popular vote win. Do you believe that that is what happened?

KOBACH: I don't know. The commission's purpose is not to prove or disprove what President Trump said back in January or February. The purpose of the commission...

SHAPIRO: Every objective observer has said there is zero evidence of millions of people voting illegally. It seems striking that as one of the leaders of a commission on voting integrity, you're not willing to say the same.

KOBACH: Well, I guess it all depends on what you define as evidence, right? So you know, you don't have hard data, but it is certainly something that we may be able to see some evidence. I seriously doubt we'll have a definitive answer, but at least - why not collect evidence and just get the facts on the table? That would be a good service to the American public - period.

Do you see it?

Do you see it?

It irritates the hell out of me that Shapiro didn’t pounce, didn’t follow up, didn’t press Kobach to the wall. But such is the state of journalism in this country.

Because that’s it. That’s it right there. That’s the proof. That’s the smoking gun.

Do you see it?

That’s what the sons of bitches are up to, right there, in Kobach’s own words.

There’s no indication of a crime.

There’s no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Hell, there’s not even evidence of voter fraud on a minor scale to any degree that is even vaguely statistically relevant, let alone in the millions – and it would have to be in the millions. 

There is only Donald Trump’s repeatedly debunked and totally unsupported conspiracy theory.

There is only the Conservative Dog Whistle perpetuated by fanatics such as Kris Kobach.

And there it is, right there. Right there:

I guess it all depends on what you define as evidence, right?

So you know, you don't have hard data, but it is certainly something that we may be able to see some evidence.

I seriously doubt we'll have a definitive answer, but at least - why not collect evidence and just get the facts on the table? That would be a good service to the American public - period

It all depends on what you define as evidence. Remember you’re dealing with creationists here, and their understanding of “evidence” isn’t any better than their understanding of science – especially when they use cavalier dismissals such as “I guess it all depends on what you define as evidence” hi ho hi ho. Evidence is whatever they say it is.

Why not collect the information? Why not just let the cops – or better yet, the local random militia – kick in our front doors without a warrant or legal authority and search through our homes? Sooner or later, they’re bound to find some evidence of something, right?  Especially if they think you’re guilty to begin with. Especially if you’re black, or poor, or Muslim.

This commission?

It’s nothing but a goddamned fishing expedition.


In Kobach’s own words, it’s nothing but a goddamned fishing expedition.


Voting is the responsibility of the states, not the federal government. Ironic then that these small federal government and states rights conservatives would attempt to interfere in the rights and responsibilities of those self same states.

Ironic peculiar, I mean.

But irony is lost on fanatics.

Listen to me: This is the United States of America.

Our republic is based on democracy. Our very way of life depends on it.

Those who truly believe in this country, in freedom, in democracy, in justice, in truth, well, those people would be working to increase enfranchisement, not restrict it.

But this president? His political party and their cronies? These small, selfish, petty sons of bitches? They care only for their own power. And they figure if they can just get all the data in one place and if they can go through it, sorting by race and employment and political affiliation, if they can shape the data into some bogeyman of their own fevered creation, then they can find something to further their agenda of stealing this nation away from its people.

And their agenda is clearly spelled out.

In their own words and by their own actions.

They don’t think you’re an American.

They are coming for you.

And you’re looking right at it.




* US Federal Election Commission, Official 2016 Presidential General Election Results (PDF)

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Death for Fun and Profit



Ah, Twitter, the bottomless wellspring of magic unicorns.


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A Trump supporter actually said, and I quote, "Cancer ... if you don't have insurance, they don't stop treating you!"

“… and if you don’t have insurance they don’t stop treating you!”

Say that out loud to yourself.

Mouth the words.

Say them as if you mean it, as if you believe it.

Pause in the middle, give the sentence a dramatic beat.

      If you don't have insurance...

              ...they don't stop treating you.

Feel the words in your mouth, the sweet, sweet taste of magic unicorn meat like cotton candy spun from the nicotine stained tears of Ayn Rand and red-boned Republican freedom.


If you don’t have insurance, they don’t stop treating you.


How many times have you heard this?

You can always go to the emergency room if you have cancer.

They have to treat you, even if you can’t pay. Nobody goes without healthcare in America.

How many times? How many times have you heard that in this debate, in this endless shitfight about healthcare in America?

Yeah, listen, if you could get treated without insurance in this country, well, then we wouldn't be having this conversation in the first place and, actually, they do stop treating you if you run out of money.

Yes, they do.

Some specialized gene-specific cancer drugs are $15,000 PER MONTH. Or more.

In cases of aggressive cancers where all other therapies have failed, these drugs are the only options.

These drugs, they're difficult to develop.

They’re difficult to make.

They're difficult to get.

And they cost.

A lot.

Now, we can argue about the ridiculous cost of drugs in this country (and I'm sure you all will in the comments), but that's not actually the point here.

The point is this: if you can't pay, you die.

Hell, you don't even have to get cancer. It doesn’t have to be $15,000. A couple of hundred bucks is the difference between life and death for many Americans.

If you're allergic to bees and you can't afford $300 for an Epipen, well, you'd better hope somebody comes along with a clean pocket knife and some idea of how to perform an emergency tracheotomy when your throat starts swelling closed.

If you can't pay, you die.

This idiotic idea, that everybody has access to healthcare, that you can just go to the emergency room for any kind of condition and be treated free of charge, is one of the most obviously wrong and most deliberately obtuse blind spots of modern conservatism – which not only rejects the idea of universal healthcare out of hand but also thinks your healthcare should involve their religion and your employer and that the insurance you've been paying for (if you're lucky enough to have insurance) should be able to drop coverage if you get sick.

Earlier this week, Kellyanne Conway, Evil Counselor, ur, I mean, Advisor to the President, said "Obamacare took Medicaid, which was designed to help the poor, the needy, the sick, disabled, also children and pregnant women, it took it and went way above the poverty line and opened it up to many able-bodied Americans. [Those able bodied people] should probably find other — at least see if there are other options for them. If they are able-bodied and they want to work, then they'll have employer-sponsored benefits like you and I do."

If they are able bodied and they want to work, they'll have employer-sponsored benefits like you and I do.

They'll have employer sponsored healthcare.

Employer sponsored healthcare.

Like you and I do.

You. And I.

This is the kind of idiotic blather you get when you elect privileged rich people who have never actually had to work for a living at the bottom end of society.

This is the kind of ridiculous cluelessness that can only be achieved by people who never have to decide between eating and paying for a prescription.

This is the kind of smug arrogance that you get when your politics and your religion come from the same ideology of “Fuck you, I got mine.”

Furthermore, these are the same people who also reject the idea of a living wage.

They have no idea. They literally have no idea.

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I'm here in the impoverished South.

I'm surrounded by far too many people who have trouble putting food on the table and paying the rent.

They're good people, these poor Southerners. They work hard. They're mechanics who fix cars. They're yard care workers who mow lawns for rich people in the boiling heat. They run daycare out of their houses. They're students, trying to fit in classes at the junior college between shifts at the local burger joint.

Some of them, like my wife 30 years ago, might through grit and raw determination claw their way out.

But many, the majority, don’t.

I could go on and on. I could show you pictures. I could introduce you to them by name.

These people, some of them work 60, 70, 80 hours, six and seven days a week. And still – and still – they're trapped in an endless cycle of low wages and lack of opportunity, crushed by poverty and the inability to get ahead in any fashion. It’s just how it is. It’s always been like this here. It doesn’t matter if the economy is booming or has gone bust yet again.  These people, they don't own the crappy houses they live in, they rent. They don't have anything in the bank. Every couple of years a hurricane comes along and wipes out whatever it is they have managed to build up. Many of them don't even have teeth – and the cliché of the toothless Southerner is a whole lot less funny when you see an attractive young girl behind the counter at the local hardware store and her smile is full of rotten brown pegs because her parents couldn't afford even basic dental care for their children. And don't you think for one second that won't impact her future, her opportunity, her employment, her health. These people, they can't afford birth control, so they have kids they can barely feed, let alone send to the dentist, digging themselves in deeper and deeper. And the goddamned churches aren't any help, with the preachers and their useless messages of abstinence and damnation and guilt.

These people, they can't afford even random healthcare at some shitty neighborhood for-profit clinic staffed by a single physician's assistant in a dirty lab coat when their kid inevitably gets strep throat much less CANCER.

It’s not just the South, it’s the slowly decaying wreckage of Northern industrial cities, places like Flint and Detroit, Baltimore, Rome, Louisville, Milwaukee, places where manufacturing and industry and jobs long ago fled for more profitable fields. It’s New England where the fishing industry, never particularly profitable in the first place, has collapsed. It’s the Salton Sea. It’s the farms of the Midwest. It’s the coal mining towns of the Appalachians. 

It’s America, everywhere outside the gilded towers of the rich.

If you've got cancer, and you cut yourself, sure, you can go to the Emergency Room and get stitches even if you can't pay.

Of course you can.

But that is as far as it goes.

The ER doctor sure as hell isn't going to give you chemo treatments or $15,000 per dose miracle drugs based on an expensive DNA screening. You'll get a sympathetic referral to an oncologist who maybe does some pro-bono work if you're lucky, and shown the door if you're not.

Emergency rooms treat emergencies, not cancer.


If you can't pay, you die.


And there are far, far too many people at all income levels in this country who don't have access to even lousy healthcare.

There are far, far too many who don't have access to the drugs and the therapies and the doctors they need just to live.

There are far, far too many people who have to daily make a choice between eating and paying for healthcare – even when they've worked their whole lives.

And beyond that, somewhere above the poverty line, there are far, far too many people who did everything right, who got an education, who worked and did without and got insurance, who paid into Medicare for 40 years, who bought supplemental insurance, and then got sick and suddenly they got dropped, or faced lifetime caps, or just weren't covered for that illness because people who are already sick and out of resources can't fight the bottomless pockets of the insurance companies or their employer who suddenly decided covering cancer was against their religion.

This is what happens when healthcare isn't a right.

This is what happens when those in charge are insulated from those they govern, when they are safe in their districts and assured of their power and privilege.

This what happens when the morality of those in power is based on profit and greed and the arrogant certainty that they are better than those they govern.

This what happens when you elect a government that hires armed biker gangs to keep their own constituents away from town hall meetings – exactly as my own Representative did right here in Milton, Florida.

This is what happens when your healthcare is decided by thirteen privileged white men behind closed doors. No people of color. No women. Just thirteen rich white men.

This is what happens when religion and political ideology alike are based on the simple selfish principle of “Fuck you, I got mine.”

This is what happens when you elect billionaires to office and believe them when they try to sell you magic unicorns.

If you can't pay, you die.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Right Question

Wrong Question. Wrong questions get wrong answers.
-- Master Gregory, Seventh Son, 2014


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Is healthcare a right?

You know, a right?

With all the many ideas we Americans consider rights, you’d think we would have an answer for this.

Obviously, here in America anyway, healthcare is not an enumerated right like Freedom of Speech or Freedom of the Press. But is it one of those other rights? The ones not specifically mentioned in the US Constitution but implied by the 9th Amendment: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

In December of 2012, the United States along with dozens of other nations signed United Nations agenda item 123: Global Health and Foreign Policy, which among other things encouraged all nations to adopt “sustainable health financing structures and universal coverage” for all people. The resolution also reaffirmed all member nations’ commitment to the idea of “the right of every human being to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, without distinction as to race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.”

Do we believe that? 

Is healthcare a right?

Well, is it?

That’s the question I asked this week on Twitter.

Twitter is a weird place, the howling wild frontier of social media. But it’s pretty good for this kind of thing, polling the public mind. I have a large audience there, large enough to get a good sample across the spectrum of opinion, and so I asked: Is healthcare a right?

Not just here in America, but everywhere. Do you believe healthcare is a basic human right?

Now that seems to me a straightforward question.

And it seems to me that it’s the critical question.

Everything in America’s ongoing debate over healthcare depends from the answer to that simple question. Everything. Until you answer that question, until we agree on the answer to that question, the rest of the argument is largely irrelevant – or at least putting the cart before the horse.

Is healthcare a right? Yes or no.

That’s the question we need to settle first.

But that question is the one never put to America. Never asked. Never answered.

In all the debates over healthcare in America, from debates surrounding Medicare in the 60’s and Medicaid in the 70’s and Hillary Clinton’s efforts as First Lady in the 90’s and right on up to the Affordable Healthcare Act and the American Health Care Act, that’s the question we keep avoiding. If you look back, if you wade through all the millions of comments made about healthcare in America, that’s the one question that is never asked. The one question never debated in congress. The one question never discussed by all the talking heads on all the TV shows. That’s the one question never settled.

That’s not a coincidence.

It’s by design.

Why? Because it’s not the question we can’t face, it’s the answer.

We’re all afraid of the answer.

The press is afraid of the answer.

The public is afraid of the answer.

The politicians are terrified of the answer.

The people who don’t believe healthcare to be a right are afraid of their answer.

And the people who do believe are afraid of their answer too – maybe them most of all, because they put the most conditions on it.

The answer to that question, yes or no, has consequences, big ones. If we don’t ask the question, then we don’t have to face the answer. Not as individuals, not as politicians, not as a nation. We can just keep arguing.

Nevertheless, that’s where it all begins, right there. With the answer to that question.


Is healthcare a right?


What if the answer is no?

Look at Scott Walker’s tweet up above.

Obamacare is collapsing. If nothing changes, 28 million Americans will lack insurance by 2026 under Obamacare (according to CBO)

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Look at John Cornyn’s comment:

Obamacare has left about 30M uninsured and individual market is in a death spiral.

And it’s not just conservatives:

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Those are three examples of literally thousands of similar remarks made by politicians on both sides of the debate.

Essentially: If X happens, y number of Americans will lose healthcare.  Swap in Obamacare or Trumpcare for x and 10, 20, 30, 50 million for y. The sides and the numbers and the plans don’t matter. If x happens, y number of Americans will lose healthcare.

That’s the drum both sides, left and right, Republican and Democrat, keep beating. Millions will lose healthcare.

Millions will lose healthcare.

Millions will lose healthcare.

Millions will lose healthcare.

So?

So, they go without healthcare.

So maybe the quality of their lives is diminished.

So maybe they die as a result.

So?

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So? So what? I mean, so long as it isn’t me, why do I care? Why should I care?

As an American, why should I care?

If healthcare isn’t a right?

If healthcare isn’t a right then why should I care how many people don’t have it?

Why would any politician give a damn about how many people lose healthcare, if healthcare isn’t a right?

No, really.  If healthcare isn’t a right, isn’t a right of all citizens, then why does Scott Walker care? Why does Nancy Pelosi care? Why should Donald Trump care? Why should anybody care? If healthcare is just a privilege, something nice to have, but not a right of every American, then why should anybody care? The argument, Oh no! Millions will lose healthcare! just doesn’t hold water – unless you believe that every single person is entitled to healthcare as a right. Not deserves it. Not can afford it. Is entitled to it as a right, as an American, as a citizen, as a human being.

It is a simple black or white answer. Yes or no. Either healthcare is a right, or it’s not.

Everything else in this argument depends from that one fundamental ideal. Everything.


Either you believe people are entitled to healthcare as a right or you don’t. The rest is just details.


Now, before we go any further, let’s get something straight:  I don’t care if your answer is no.

I don’t. Really. I’m not going to condemn you for it. I spent most of my life in the military defending your right to see the world how you want. If you don’t believe that healthcare should be the right of every human being, well, I fully support your right to that viewpoint.

If you’re embarrassed or ashamed to admit your answer is no, that’s on you.

If you don’t believe that healthcare is a right, then at least have the goddamned courtesy to be honest about it.

Own it. Don’t pretend otherwise or try to make it sound like you do when you don’t. Don’t blow smoke up my ass. Don’t move the goalposts. Don’t dismiss the question. Don’t try to rationalize it.

Let me give you an example: a large number of people responded to my question by saying, well, I don’t believe that healthcare is a right per se, but I want you to know that I do believe we should have universal healthcare.

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What? How’s that work?

If healthcare isn’t a right, then why do we have a duty to provide it?

If healthcare isn’t a right, then why would society and community have any obligation to provide it?

I mean, what’s the impetus for universal healthcare if it’s not a right?

If providing healthcare is the right thing to do, if it’s some kind of moral imperative, then why isn’t it a right?

Now don’t get me wrong here. Sure, a rational civilization should obligate itself to provide healthcare for all its citizens, because healthy people make for better citizens if for no other reason. Just as a rational civilization would obligate itself to provide quality education, adequate food, clean air, clean water, decent housing, energy, and so on.

We don’t live in that rational society.

And if healthcare isn’t a right, then what’s to keep your universal healthcare system from denying healthcare to certain people? For good reasons and for bad?

That seems an odd definition of universal, doesn’t it?

Yeah, said the responders, but, see, you set up your universal healthcare system so that it can’t deny healthcare to anybody…

Can’t deny healthcare to anybody? Well, haven’t you then made healthcare a de facto right?

Stop playing games. Stop acting like you’ve thought it through when you obviously haven’t.

Look here, if the answer is no, then own it.

Just own it. All the way. And stop pretending that you give a shit about how many people don’t have healthcare. If you don’t believe that healthcare is a right, then don’t use the fact that people don’t have healthcare as an argument. Because you’re insulting not only my intelligence, but yours too. And that kind of cowardice irritates me.

If your is answer is no, that’s fine.

But I want to hear you say it.

Is healthcare a right? Yes or no. Everything else is just details.

If we all agree that healthcare is not a basic right of human existence, then we must acknowledge that healthcare is a privilege.

And not everybody is privileged.

That’s the whole definition of privilege. Some people have it, some don’t.

If the answer is no, it’s not a right, then healthcare is a privilege and we are not obligated to guarantee every person will be able to get healthcare. The privileged get it. Those of lesser fortune don’t.  Simple as that. Oh sure, we might provide some charity, some help for the non-privileged, but we are by no means under any moral obligation to do so.  If we’ve got extra money, if we’re feeling generous, sure. What the hell. But otherwise, no.

If you can afford it, you get it.

If you can’t, you don’t.

And you should at least be honest enough to admit that’s what you’re up to. I want to hear every politician, every candidate for office, go on the record, yes or no. And if it’s no, if you believe healthcare is a privilege of those who can afford it, then have the guts to look into the camera and say so. And if you’re voted out of office as a result, or stripped of your privilege by the mob, well, that’s just too goddamned bad.

If healthcare isn’t a right, then it’s just another line item in the budget, next to bridges and warships and farm subsidies.

And the only argument is where we draw the line between the haves and have-nots – and the best part about capitalism is that we don’t have to draw the line ourselves, the free market will do it for us. Leaving our hands clean.

You just have to hope that you’re privileged enough to be on the right side of the line.

And that the line doesn’t move.

And you never lose your privilege.


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What if the answer is yes?

Well, hang on. We can’t just say yes, can we?

Not without caveat. Not without conditions.

We need to know some things first. Before we say yes.

Because as it turns out, it’s really difficult for a lot of people to say yes.


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What was it Anatole France said? The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.

They want to.

They want to say yes, that healthcare is a right.

But they need to know things first. What kind of right? Like fundamental? Inalienable? Enumerated? Civil? Human? What kind of right, man?

What kind of right?

What are we talking about here? The kind of high ideal we give lip service to but don’t have to follow up on? Well, sure, Jim, I believe healthcare is an inalienable right, like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Just like that. Nobody can keep you from pursing healthcare if you want it. Go ahead. Sure. No problem. No action required on my part, on society’s part. You have at it. Pursue away. The government can’t stop you. Pursue that healthcare. It’s a “right.” Wink. Wink. 

Like that?

As soon as you define the kind of right, you can start finding ways to weasel out of it, to find ways to deny that right to others.


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Some people seem to think rights only exist if they’re specifically enumerated in the Constitution. I don’t know if they think other countries don’t have rights, or if they even bothered to think it thought that far. And I wasn’t inclined to ask. They are also apparently unfamiliar with the 9th Amendment.

For them, the paperwork comes first, rights second.

I’m not sure how they think the Constitution was written in the first place, i.e. your basic chicken and egg problem, and more on that in just a minute.

A lot of folks were reluctant to answer the question without the exact parameters of the right defined.


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Define “Freedom of speech.”

Define “Freedom of religion.”

Define “Right to peacefully assemble.”

Define “Right to keep and bear arms.”

Those rights were enumerated without definitions by the Framers and put into the Bill of Rights.

In other words, the rights came first. And we’ve spent two hundred and forty years since figuring out the details.

And we’re going to have to keep figuring out the details and how they apply to our time.

Why? Because the details are dynamic. How we define those rights changes over time.

The limits of the rights change depending on evolving context. Society, civilization, community, are a living things and so are rights. For example: The Framers never envisioned how Freedom of Speech would apply to social media, because social media didn’t exist when they enumerated the right and they couldn’t peer across time into the future. It’s up to us, in the moment, to figure that part out.

This is the mistake gun rights advocates keep making. Rights are not absolutes.


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Of course, this being America, rights always seem to come down to … money.


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Predictably, I got hundreds of responses like this one.

If healthcare is a right, how do you pay for it – OR – essentially, we can’t afford it.

It amuses me when people explain how rights are “God given” or “natural” or some other lofty idea – then they want to hang a price tag on it.

Funny thing, these same people never say, whoa, hang on. This right to keep and bear arms, how much is that going to cost us?


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When it comes to healthcare, they always bring up money. How much is it going to cost? Then they bring up the freeloaders and start quoting Heinlein, TANSTAAFL.

They want everybody to pay for their own healthcare, which is fair enough I suppose, but like the woman in this example, they don’t want to pay people enough to afford to buy their own healthcare. Again, making healthcare a privilege of the affluent.

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It is a matter of priorities. And if you don’t believe healthcare is a right, then there’s no reason to make it a very high priority, is there?

But at least she was honest. 

Horrifyingly so.

For her, rights are about money.  For her, healthcare isn’t a right. It’s a privilege for those who can pay for it. And if you can’t pay, then you’re a cockroach.

She’s not the only one. This is by far and away the most common response I got, how are we going to pay for it? How?

As if rights were some commodity, like gold or corn or nuclear aircraft carriers.

This is the kind of thing that once led ultimately to civil war in America. Because when you believe rights are dependent on money, those that have no money have no rights. Q.E.D

And from there, it’s a damned short hop to the idea that people are property.

We went to war here in America once upon a time because the South didn’t believe it could afford to free the slaves. Because the South’s entire economy was based on the idea that rights belonged to those who could afford them, otherwise, you were property. If black people gained rights same as everybody else, the Antebellum South would be out of business. And they spent millions upon millions of dollars, and thousands upon thousands of lives, trying to maintain that economic model.

When rights depend on money, those who can’t afford rights, well, they’re just cattle. Or cockroaches – the same term the Nazis used to describe Polish Jews.

But then there’s this:

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No one says food is a right.

Well, actually, a lot of people do think food should be a right. But even if it was, shoplifting would still be a crime.

Americans have the right to keep and bear arms. That doesn’t mean you can just take any gun you happen to come across. Stealing a gun is still a crime. You still must pay for a gun and for the bullets. There’s still freedom of choice, you can choose not to have a gun, you can choose what kind of gun you want.

This argument is stupid.

But (and there’s always a but, isn’t there?), for a truly ridiculous argument you have to go full Ayn Rand:

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I got hundreds of responses like this one.

Most from self-proclaimed libertarians.

The logic goes that if healthcare is a right, then healthcare providers become slaves.

If healthcare is a right, they say, then I (for example) am entitled to the labor of doctors and nurses and they cannot refuse me. If healthcare is a right, according to these Randian libertarians, then any doctor, any nurse, any healthcare provider must provide me with their services free of charge at any time. Because it’s my right, you see?

Which is a damned good example of why Atlas Shrugged should be regarded as a tediously mediocre science fiction novel and not a blueprint for civilization.

In America, guns are a right. The right, in a lot of ways. But you can’t just walk into a gun store and demand a gun as your due free of charge – not without getting shot, probably. The government isn’t obligated to provide you with a gun. Hell, we don’t even have subsidies for poor people who want a gun and can’t  afford one. And instead of turning gun manufacturers into slaves, it made them fabulously wealthy.

Look here: in America, you have the right to legal representation. If you’re accused of a crime and you cannot afford a lawyer, then one will be appointed to you by the court. Does that make you entitled to another’s labor? Yes. Yes it does. That’s what Public Defenders do. They’re not slaves, they chose to do that job and they’re paid for it. And just because you’re entitled to legal representation doesn’t rob lawyers of their rights.

This argument is idiotic to a degree that boggles the rational mind.


I received thousands of responses to my question. The responses are still coming in a week later.


And despite all of the above, the resounding, overwhelming answer was YES.

Yes. Healthcare is a right.

Now, I don’t pretend that my survey was scientific. And I don’t pretend that my twitter feed is a non-biased representative sample of America or the world, but I’m looking at thousands of people who believe that healthcare is a basic human right. A basic human right. Without caveat, without condition, without question. Yes.

And I agree, without reservation.

How will we pay for it? I don’t know. How do we pay for every other right? For guns. For the free press? For freedom of Religion? We’ll find a way. How do we keep this right from becoming oppression? I don’t know. How do we keep guns and freedom of speech and freedom of religion from becoming oppression?

Those are just details. Big ones, sure. But just details nonetheless. Just like every other right.

If we agree that healthcare is a right, a basic human right of not just all Americans but of all people, then we’ll find a way. We’ll figure it out. We’ll keep figuring it out, just like every other right.

And it matters.

It does.

Because right now, right this very minute, as I write this, as you read it, as the world wonders at Donald Trump’s next Tweet, and Congress chases after threats to the Republic, and the crises of the day fills the headlines, right now, a handful of powerful men are secreted away from the public eye, working in confidence, working in collusion with those who profit from misery, deciding the fate of healthcare in America. 

I don’t know for certain what their priorities are, because healthcare is not a right and as such their motivations are secret and I as a citizen am not entitled to know. You are not entitled to know. They’ve locked the doors and they are deciding our fate. And from their track records I am forced to guess that the focus of this law is not my rights, not your rights, not the rights of humanity.

No, I am forced to suspect this committee’s priorities are money and privilege.

And I suspect that this law they are currently penning will reflect that when it finally emerges into the light of day.

And that is the point of this entire essay.

That, that right there, is the point of the question.

Because when healthcare is not a right, then it becomes a privilege doled out by a handful of powerful men hidden away from accountability and the consequences of their actions. You don’t even have the right to question them.

And you had better damned well hope that when it comes, you and those you love are privileged enough to be on the right side of the line.

And that those men don’t one day move the line.

And that you never lose your privilege.

Is healthcare a right? Yes or no. Everything is just details.

But some of those details will kill you.




Correction: Originally the article said Hillary Clinton was First Lady in the 1980s. That has been corrected to the 1990s.