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Saturday, December 23, 2017

Lemonade


This election was lost four and six years ago, not this year. They [Republicans] didn’t start thinking of the old common fellow till just as they started out on the election tour. The money was all appropriated for the top in the hopes that it would trickle down to the needy. Mr. Hoover was an engineer. He knew that water trickles down. Put it uphill and let it go and it will reach the driest little spot. But he didn’t know that money trickled up. Give it to the people at the bottom and the people at the top will have it before night, anyhow. But it will at least have passed through the poor fellows hands. They saved the big banks, but the little ones went up the flue.
--
Will Rogers, Column 518: And Here’s How It All Happened, The Tulsa Daily World, 12/5/1932



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Rich people create jobs.

That’s what the man said.

Give rich people more money, and they create more jobs.

This guy, Shane Porter, was responding to a comment I made yesterday on Twitter, which itself was a response to an article in The Hill which lamented a probable Republican loss in the House and Senate in coming elections.

 

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The article says Republicans are worried that they will lose both the House and Senate in the next election.

I suspect this is a likely scenario, given Republicans’ record low popularity and the direction of recent elections in Virginia and Alabama.

But I’m not convinced congressional Republicans are as concerned about this possibility as The Hill makes them out to be.

You see, a lot of these power brokers, old white men like Mitch McConnell, are getting long in the tooth. And as I noted in my tweet, they are very much aware of their poll numbers.

They’ve had years to do something about it.

And they haven’t.

Ipso facto: they don’t care.

They don’t care, because they’ve gotten what they wanted: A huge cash payout.

Sure.

Look here, they’re going to lose power sooner or later. They know this. That’s how it works.

Even in good times, Americans are pissed off. Americans are always pissed off.  We’ve got it better than anybody else on the planet, but we’re still mad. Whether it be a legitimate problem or whether it’s outrage manufactured by politicians and the media, Americans are always mad about something. And whoever happens to be in power gets the blame, rightly or wrongly. And so, every few years, we toss the old bums out and install new bums. And the government goes back and forth like a kid petulantly flipping a light-switch up and down. Click. Click. Click. Click. You yell at the kid, stop it! and as soon as you turn your back, click! Click! Click!

So, Republicans know they’re going to be out of power soon, 2018, 2020, they’re history. Until the next time. Click. Click. Click.

Mitch McConnell is far, far too savvy a politician not to know this.  He might or might not keep his seat, but he’s not going to be Senate Majority Leader much longer.

So he and the rest of his cronies are cashing out while they still have the chance.

And really, loss of power is a hell of a lot easier to stomach when you’re sitting on millions. Kinda takes the sting out of it, if you know what I mean.

And when it all falls apart – and it will – well, then the other guys are in power and they get stuck with both the blame and the responsibility for cleaning up the mess.

Repeat as necessary. This is the basic GOP formula since Nixon. This is the mindset of modern business, of wealth. They’re not interested in building a better world in perpetuity. They’re not interested in leaving anything behind. These aren’t the industrialists of old. This is modern business, run by the MBAs. They run the country the same way they run business: swoop in, liquidate, boost the stock, cash out to millions. Move on. They don’t care what happens to the company when they’re done with it, they don’t care about customers, or products, or employees. They’re not builders, they’re predators.

They don’t care about the consequences and they don’t care about tomorrow.

They care about stockholders – and their stock in particular.

They care about one thing and one thing only, money.

That was the gist of my snarky response to The Hill.

Which apparently struck a nerve with my audience, who spread it on social media.

Which brings us to back ‘round to Shane’s comment

Tell me whiny Einstein, who creates jobs in this country, the rich or the poor? The answer to that question is a fact of life. The more money the people who own the companies make the more likely they are to hire more employees, this is how you create jobs in a capitalist society

Who creates jobs? The rich or the poor?

Obviously from the context, Shane is pretty sure the answer must be: rich people.

And thus it follows that if rich people create jobs, then richer people must create more jobs. Right?

If rich people are richer, they’ll hire more employees. This, opines Shane, is how you create jobs in a capitalist society. And there it is: The Cardiff Giant, Reaganomics, AKA trickle-down economics, AKA the second-coming of supply-side economics. Now, Shane didn't get that from any basic economics class – or rather if he did, he slept through the rest of the semester (or got his degree from Trump University, whatever).

So where did he get it from? Who told him this?

Who keeps telling America this?

Who?

Rich people, that’s who.


If you give us more money, it’ll be good for you. Eventually.


That is literally the hook of trickle-down economics. You give us more money and somehow, eventually, down the road, it’ll be good for you.

Ironically, this is exactly how most religions work.

And most confidence games.

This is the same old warm piss wealthy conservatives have been peddling as lemonade since long before Reagan came along, since the 1930s in fact as pointed out in the Will Rogers quote that led off this article and that gives trickle down economics its name.

This is the same long con the wealthy have been pulling since the end of The Great Depression.

And it works. For them. Because there’s a sucker born every minute.

There’s a sucker born every minute.

You’ve heard this right? There’s a sucker born every minute. P.T. Barnum, yes?

Well, no. David Hannum actually. Though the quote is most often misattributed to old P.T.

And that is damned ironic. It is.

What does this have to do with trickle-down economics? Bear with me, you’ll see.

In 1869, a guy named George Hull, an atheist, created something called the Cardiff Giant after an argument with a bunch of Methodists regarding Nephilim, the supposed giants of Genesis in the Christian Bible.

Hull figured to put one over one the Christians. So he had a huge block of soft gypsum secretly carved into the likeness of a giant man (complete with enormous penis, for some reason that I’m sure Hull found hilarious). He used various chemicals and dyes to “age” his newly created petrified giant. Then he had it secretly buried on his cousin’s farm.  He waited a year, for Hull knew the secret to a good prank was patience. After sufficient time, Hull’s cousin, William Newell, who was obviously in on the scam, hired some men to dig a well. And surprise, of course, they “found” the buried giant right where Newell wanted his new well dug.

Word got around fast.  And Hull saw possibilities beyond putting one over on some gullible bible thumpers.

The cousin set up a tent and started charging admission and people came from far and wide to see a genuine petrified giant from the Bible.

Of course, it didn’t take long for science of the time, primitive as it was, to declare the Cardiff Giant a giant fake.

But predictably the preachers and the holy men and the religious nuts and the sensationalists dismissed science, just as they do today, and claimed the Cardiff Giant proof of whatever con they were using to bilk the wide-eyed suckers.

People didn’t care. They came and plunked down 50 cents apiece, which was a damned steep admission price in those days (the average wage was about $15 per month for unskilled labor in that part of the country, and remember most households were single income). 50 cents was a lot of money.

Eventually George Hull sold the giant to one David Hannum for what today would be half a million dollars.

Hannum moved the giant to Syracuse and started advertising. The resulting crowds – and profits – were so huge that it caught the attention of P.T. Barnum all the way over in New York City.

So, Barnum offered Hannum what today would be almost a million dollars for his giant.

Both men knew the giant was a hoax. But they were showman, and they considered this scam no more or less immoral than the Feejee Mermaid, the Bearded Lady, General Tom Thumb, and Jo-Jo the Dog Faced Boy, who were staples of Barnum’s American Museum.

Hannum refused to sell, so Barnum copied the Cardiff Giant in wax and had his own artisans fashion a copy. Which he promptly put on display in New York and which he declared the authentic giant and started telling everybody who would listen that Hannum’s original giant was a … well, a hoax. And given that it was indeed a hoax, Hannum couldn’t exactly prove it was an authentic giant, could he?

Hannum was none too pleased by this and retaliated by calling Barnum’s hoax a hoax, and saying of the crowds filing past Barnum’s giant, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

This being America, eventually the matter ended up in court, where both giants were revealed to be fakes – and to add insult into injury, Hannum’s quote is often attributed to Barnum. So Barnum stole not only Hunnam’s con, but his words about the theft too. That’s business.

Even after both giants were revealed to be fakes, the crowds still came and paid their hard earned money to see the hoax – and the holy men persisted in declaring the fake plaster giants proof of their particular theology. And, in fact, you can still see both giants to this very day, the original is displayed in the Farmer’s Museum in Cooperstown, New York, and Barnum’s copy at Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum in Farmington Hills, Michigan.

That’s right, more than a hundred years later, people are still paying to see a hoax.

The original crowds, they had a pretty good idea they were being swindled, but they wanted to believe. They wanted the giant to be real. They wanted science to be wrong. And that’s why the hoax worked. Because there is indeed a sucker born every minute. And by the time the crowds wised up, Hull, Barnum, and Hannum had each cashed out with their fortunes.

And that’s why the hoax of trickle-down economics works.

Because it sounds plausible, providing you don’t look too closely. Because people want to believe even though all the experts are telling them that it doesn’t work. But the difference, you see, is that rich people like Barnum and Hannum know they're pushing a hoax and they also know most people are too goddamned stupid and gullible to realize it. And even if the marks do suspect a con, they still want to believe.

There’s a sucker born every minute.

But it’s not real. Trickle down economics does not work. At least not for you. Trickle down economics only works for the wealthy. And that’s by design, because these ruthless rich sons of bitches are the ones who came up with it back in the last century. And their rich descendants are the ones pushing it now.

Trickle-down economics works for them.

For a short time, anyway.

But that’s all they need. That brief moment, when all the gullible suckers hand over their money.

It's like an injection of nitrous oxide into an internal combustion engine. There's a brief burst of power, the machine surges ahead across the finish line. You’ve seen Fast and Furious, you know how this works. But that burst of power is not without cost. Nitrous can literally blow the engine apart. And nitrous is an oxidant, making it highly corrosive. That's why race car engines don't last long and why the average person doesn't have a nitrous-injected car in the family garage.


When you give rich people more money, rich people have more money.


That’s it.

That’s the whole thing.

Because the entire premise of trickle-down economics is predicated on one ridiculous idea: that greedy rich sons of bitches will use their money to improve the lot of those below them on the economic ladder solely because it’s somehow the right thing to do.

This idea is absolutely ludicrous on the face of it.

Rich people don’t reach down the ladder to help those below, they pull the ladder up after themselves and slam the door. Most of them anyway.

Rich people being richer does not create jobs. Quod Erat Demonstrandum. This is true no matter how many times you care to run the experiment and after Reagan this should be obvious to even the most obtuse, like my friend Shane up above.

But, of course, it's not.

When you give rich people more money, rich people have more money. That's it. That's the whole thing, right there. Most of them put that money in high interest investments, i.e. the kind of thing that makes them richer. But when the bubble bursts, you have to pay for it, not them. Rich people park their money in tax-havens, or otherwise lock it up where it does you no good. You can look this up for yourself, you don't have to take my word for it.

Watch for it.

Go on. Watch for it.

Every time old rich white men bring up the idea of trickle-down economics, or whatever they call this scam nowadays, the one question that never gets asked is this: Why?

Why would rich people create jobs?

Why? Why would rich people take their billions and create jobs? Because they’re what? Feeling generous all of a sudden?

Why?

Take the Walton family, their wealth is nearly unimaginable. The amount they’ll reap from this tax cut is astronomical. But they already can’t spend what they have, even if they live another thousand years. And they don’t spend their personal fortune on building new Walmarts anyway, that’s what investors are for. And if they did, well, there’s nothing stopping them from doing so now, without a tax cut, they’ve got plenty of money. But they don’t. Why? They could use their personal fortune to improve the lot of their employees, but they don’t. They could use their fortune to give their employees a living wage, healthcare, benefits, overtime. But they don’t. Why? Why should they? What’s in it for them? What’s the incentive? Altruism?  Ha ha! Hilarious.

Giving rich people more money just gives rich people more money.

Giving rich people more money doesn’t create jobs. And it doesn’t encourage rich people to make lousy jobs better. That’s not how it works.

And the only people telling you this horseshit are … rich people.

Demand creates jobs.

See: build a better mousetrap et al.

The Waltons don’t build new Walmarts just to build new stores so as to make jobs for poor people, because they’re feeling generous. They only build new stores (and thus create new shitty low-paying jobs) if there’s a demand for one in a particular area. I.e. they can make money on it. Make money, not spend money.

Demand creates jobs...

... but not necessarily in the US of A.

If you build a better (or cheaper, anyway) mousetrap, people will beat a path to your door. Or rather you can wholesale your traps to Walmart and people will beat a path there. And then you'll need to produce a whole bunch of mousetraps, which you can do a hell of a lot cheaper if you don't have to pay your employees a living wage. So you build your mousetraps with child labor in Bangladesh. Or India. Or China. Or Vietnam. That’s where the jobs are, not here. And they are shitty jobs.

And rich people could have brought those jobs back to America long ago and paid their workers a living wage.

But they didn’t.

And they won’t.

Because there’s not one goddamned thing in it for them.


But … that’s not even the real scam. No.


Jobs.

Jobs. Jobs. Jobs.

Right? That's what The Man said. The Big Giant Orange Leader, that's his trumpet call, jobs, jobs, jobs.

That’s what this is all about, isn’t it?

Except, funny thing…

…unemployment is currently 4.1% and falling.

In December of 2007, right before the mortgage industry tanked taking the economy down with it, unemployment was … what?

5.0%

And it had been at 5% or slightly lower for the previous thirty months.

And nobody was talking jobs jobs jobs. Unemployment didn’t send America into a recession and crash the global economy. There were plenty of jobs.

Just as there are plenty of jobs now.

Jobs are not the problem.

The problem is a living wage. One of the problems, anyway.

Those jobs don’t pay enough. They don’t include benefits. They don’t include enough hours. You can’t possibly make enough from those jobs to get ahead, to buy your way out of working poverty, out of the Middle Class. And why should they?

Donald Trump himself doesn’t even hire American workers unless he has to. The entire wait staff of Mar-A-Lago is foreign workers. You don’t have to take my word for it, you can look up their work visas on the State Department website.

Why?

Because the rich son of a bitch talking about jobs jobs jobs won’t pay enough to make it worth your while, unless you’re from some Third World country in Central America. That’s why.

This way to the giant! Just 50 cents, folks, step right up.

The rich don’t give up a single cent they don’t have to. Because they’re cold, greedy, ruthless bastards. That’s why they’re rich, most of them anyway. If they weren’t, if they weren’t cold ruthless greedy sons of bitches, we wouldn’t need environmental laws to keep them from dumping toxic waste from their factories into the rivers. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t need banking regulations to keep them from robbing us of every penny. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t need occupational safety regulations so they didn’t work us to death – or a Constitutional Amendment prohibiting outright slavery for that matter. We wouldn’t need unions. We wouldn’t need a minimum wage. We wouldn’t need to test food and medicine and toys for toxins and fraud. We wouldn’t have to specify they put enough fucking lifeboats on the ship for everybody, not just the passengers in First Class.

If you could trust these goddamned people to do what was right, well, you wouldn’t need the Second Amendment, now would you?

Ironic, isn’t it? The very same people, like Shane up above, who trust the wealthy to trickle down largess like manna from heaven, are the very same people who think they needs guns to protect themselves from … rich people in government.

And the real problem is that every single time the bubble bursts, the rich lose nothing. And the middle class? Well, the middle class and the poor lose everything.

The problem is that the profits are privatized, the risks are socialized. That’s the actual problem right there. When the bubble bursts, the working poor and the middle class have no choice but to prop up the rich, lest it all collapses and we all face another Great Depression. And that, ladies and gentlemen, in point of fact, is the lesson of the Great Depression. That's what the rich learned, the ones that survived. Socialize the risks, privatize the profits. Never, ever, risk your own money.

And that – that right there – that is exactly what trickle-down economics is.

This is the exact – the same exact – scam the mortgage industry pulled on you in 2007.  Interest only mortgages, you remember. You pay the interest up front, the bank makes huge profits, and hey, don’t worry about it because you won’t have to pay off the balance for, well, don’t worry about that, it’s way in the future. You remember, right? And you remember what came next. It all fell apart, you lost everything, and they made millions.

We take all the risk. We risk our jobs, our savings, our homes, our retirements, everything, and the rich get all the profits.

Trickle down economics does not work, not for you.

It never has.

It’s a scam.

All it does is give a brief momentary burst of wealth to the already wealthy.

It gives the illusion of economic power.

For a while. For a few.

But that injection of money has to come from somewhere.

The huge tax windfall Republicans just gave to the wealthy, where did that money come from?

It doesn’t come from the rich.

It doesn’t come from industry or Wall Street.

Those are the people we’re giving money to. Right?

The government doesn’t just have it lying around, you know that?

And we’re already twenty trillion dollars in debt.

So, where does the money come from?

The costs to the government don’t go down.

The bills don’t go away. We’re still at war. So where does the money come from?

Where does the money come from?


It comes from the future.


That’s right. It comes from the future.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Because it’s the same bullshit Countrywide was telling you back in 2007.

The money comes from your future, you, the middle class, the working poor.

When the bill comes due – and it will – then the money has to come from somewhere. So it comes from infrastructure, from healthcare, from Social Security, from foreign loans and a debt that your grandchildren will have to pay. 

And pay.

And pay.

The rich in that future aren’t going to pay for it. You are.

And if there is a war between now and the day that bill comes due, if the stock market bubble goes bust again, if there is another hurricane or terrorist attack or other unforeseen disaster, well, then it all falls apart. And you’ve once again traded your jobs, your homes, your retirements, your college savings plans, everything, to give the wealthy more money.  And it’s brilliant, it is, because they’ve privatized the profit and socialized the risk and sold the chumps on the idea. And you? You’re trapped. Every avenue of getting ahead is cut off, better jobs, higher wages, education, you’ll be lucky to keep your head above water while they row away in the lifeboats. The lifeboats you paid for.

You think I’m wrong?

Look at this GOP tax plan, look at who it rewards most. Not you. Not the people who lost everything in 2007. No, it rewards the very people who destroyed the economy and precipitated a global financial crisis. It rewards the very people who destroyed your retirement and college funds. It rewards the very people who repossessed your house after they imploded the company you worked for and sent your jobs overseas. It rewards the very people you had to bail out with your tax dollars. Don’t take my word for it, look up the names. Look up who helmed Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, AIG. Look who led the charge on foreclosures in 2008 and 2009. Hint, it wasn’t just Countrywide (a unit of, that’s right, Bank of America). Look up who was running General Motors. Look up John Thane and his role in a disaster it took more than a decade to clean up. A decade of your sacrifice and not his.

While you were trying to figure out how the hell you were going to feed you kids, John Thane was buying a golden toilet for his office.

THOSE are the people this tax bill most rewards.

And those people, like Barnum and Hunnum, they’re going to reap millions from this scam.

And you?

What are you going to get?

You’re going to get what you always get.

And you’re going to get it good and hard.

Sure must be a great consolation to the poor people who lost their stock in the late crash to know that it has fallen into the hands of Mr. Rockefeller, who will take care of it and see it has a good home and never be allowed to wander around unprotected again. There is one rule that works in every calamity. Be it pestilence, war, or famine, the rich get richer and poor get poorer. The poor even help arrange it.
--
Will Rogers, Daily Telegram #1019, 10/31/1929

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Latter Days of a Better Nation, Part VI


I don't often agree with Mitch McConnell.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called for an immediate ethics review of Senator Al Franken in light of allegations that Franken committed sexual assault.

I don’t often agree with McConnell, but he’s right.

For all the wrong reasons, of course. But, still the allegations against Franken should be investigated.

On the face of it, the allegations are highly credible. There is photographic evidence and Franken himself has admitted that at least part of the accusation is true. The incident in question happened before Franken took office and while he was working as an entertainer on a USO tour and may in fact have no bearing on his office.

I don’t know. That’s why it should be looked into.

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What?

Did somebody have a question? Hello?

Ah, yes, I see you there in the back. Put your hand down. Let me finish before you start yelling.


Senator Franken should be investigated by the Ethics committee.

He’s a Senator. He’s a representative of the people. He should be held to higher standards.

Look here, I’m not a Democrat. I’m not a Republican. I don’t owe any politician any slack whatsoever. I’m a citizen of the United States and it's not my job to make excuses for shitty behavior by politicians of any party. Even if I was so inclined – which I emphatically am not.

Senator Franken will have to answer for his shitty behavior and accept whatever consequences result.

I don’t know how it will shake out for Franken, but that said, for Mitch McConnell of all people to make this statement while blithely ignoring Trump's massive laundry list of admitted sexual assaults is ...


What?

You again? What now?

Oh, right. Yes. I know. Please, hang on for a damned minute. Let me finish.


Sexual assault isn't relative.

Franken's shitty behavior isn't made less by Donald Trump's shitty behavior.

There may be degrees of heinousness, but sexual assault isn't a game of comparison.

But that is exactly what happens when politics are involved.

It’s human nature. We all have a tendency to diminish the failings of our own by pointing out the egregious actions of those we don’t like. It’s not a liberal or conservative thing.


No. No. Just sit down. Let me finish.


Both sides do it. We all do it.

I see liberals right now doing it.

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Well, yes. That’s true.

Comparing what Franken supposedly did to what Judge Roy Moore (or Donald Trump) allegedly did is a false equivalency.

Because there is no comparison.

But that doesn’t in any way excuse Franken. Or Trump. Or any of the Hollywood creeps that have been recently outed.

But there’s more to it than that. And it does no good whatsoever to identify a logical fallacy and then use that same error in reasoning to make another – i.e. to diminish sexual assault by attempting to quantify it in relation to other heinous behavior.

But that's exactly what's happening here.

Because that’s what always happens.

Take Fox News conservative pundit Sean Hannity today:

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"Liberal media finally sees Bill Clinton for what he is, 20 years too late."

Hannity is course predictably dredging up William Jefferson Clinton and his infamous reputation as a horn dog.

Now here's the problem:

I can point out to all of you that

  • Liberals never excused Bill Clinton's sexual misconduct or tried to use the Bible to justify it.
  • She (plural, because there were many) wasn't 14
  • Bill Clinton was held to account. He was. He was held to account in court and paid nearly a million dollars to settle the case. And he was impeached for his behavior – even if he wasn't convicted in the Senate (Yes, he was impeached for perjury, not sexual misconduct. But you're just arguing semantics here. If there wasn't any sexual misconduct, there wouldn't have been any perjury).
  • He's not running for office

I can point all that out to you, to Hannity and his followers (and did, on Twitter to the predictable result), but it doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter because it's a dodge.

It doesn't matter if what I say is true.

Hell, it doesn't even matter if what Sean Hannity says is true.

Because the whole thing is a non sequitur. Bill Clinton's shitty behavior has nothing to do with Roy Moore's or Donald Trump's shitty behavior (Yes, yes, I see you back there. I am deliberately setting aside, for the moment, the larger context of a culture that promotes, excuses, enables, and turns a blind eye to sexual assault in general. Yes. Hang on).

And while liberals' behavior regarding Clinton sure as hell isn't without fault – particularly the trashing of his accusers – the Left has always known who Bill Clinton is. What they did or did not do about it, is, well, part of the point here.

In a better world, if the Left had done more to condemn Clinton’s behavior back in the day, their condemnations of Moore and Trump et all would be virtually unassailable today.

In a better world.

But, of course, that’s not how it works and Whataboutism is a lousy argument no matter if you’re standing hip deep in the swamp or holding the moral high ground.

As I've previously noted here and elsewhere: the act of sexual assault has nothing to do with political parties.

Sexual assault isn't political. It’s not a Left, Right, Republican, Democrat, Liberal or Conservative thing. Sexual assault spans the spectrum. The ranks of both sides have more than their share of scumbags. And there are plenty of apologists to go around.

So, pointing to sexual assault by members of the other side to justify, excuse, or diminish sexual assault by members of your own side is not only a logical fallacy, it's just plain bullshit.

Whataboutism is a lousy argument.

Each individual case of sexual assault must be judged on its own merits (merits in the legal sense, not that sexual assault itself has any merit).

The damage done to the victims isn't lessened because something terrible happened to somebody else.

Those that survive rape, their pain and trauma isn’t diminished because somebody else was raped even more violently. The goddamned dumbest thing you can say to a sexual assault survivor is, “Hey, it could have been worse. Just look at…”

That’s not how it works.

Sexual assault isn't relative.

No matter the behavior of Al Franken, Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, Louis CK, et al, if the allegations against Roy Moore are true then he is unfit for office because of his own actions.  His own actions and nobody else’s.

Donald Trump is unfit for office because of his (admitted) actions and his alone.

And perhaps Franken is too. I don’t know.

The only way to find out is to look.

So, McConnell is right – even if it’s for all the wrong reasons.

And yes, before you ignore everything I just said and pull a butwaddaabout in my comments section, I do think Bill Clinton is unfit for office – and if he was running I would be opposed to him exactly as I am Roy Moore and Donald Trump and for the same reasons (the same reasons of sexual misconduct. I’m opposed to Moore and Trump for other reasons as well).

How our society regards sexual assault shouldn't be about counting coup.

It shouldn't be about balancing some political book.

It shouldn't be about comparison.

Sexual assault isn’t relative.

This should be about the behavior itself and holding each individual accountable for their actions regardless of what anybody else has done.

This should be the one thing we all – left and right, Republican and Democrat, liberal and Conservative – all people of good conscience and intent, can agree on.

But, of course, it’s not.

Of course not.

And unfortunately, regarding the world as it should be instead of as it is can also be a cognitive bias and while the act of sexual assault itself isn't dependent on political party, how we often deal with it most certainly is.

And so here we are.

Senator Franken should be investigated for ethic violations.

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Democrats should be held to high standards.

In fact, they should be held to higher standards than they are right now.

AND. SO. SHOULD. REPUBLICANS.

So should the president. So should the Judges. So should every Congressman and Senator. So should every office holder. So should every cop and Priest and dog catcher. 

So should we all.

You want a better nation? A better world? Then you have to be better citizens.

It starts right here.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Veteran’s Day 2017

The […] novel sucked. Even when I liked Heinlein I saw right through that Rah Rah Military is Awesome bullshit.
  - Facebook Comment

I met a man who despised me.

He called me fascist, murderer, and a dumb blunt tool.

I didn’t take it personally – though a younger me might have.

I didn’t meet him in the flesh, like most of my social interactions these days I encountered him online. He surfaced on a well known author’s Facebook page during a conversation regarding a certain well known classic science fiction novel.

The novel was, of course, Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.

But really it doesn’t matter which author or what novel or exactly where the conversation took place. The conversation and the novel which inspired it aren’t relevant to this essay, other than as a starting point. Suffice it to say the novel and the reputation of its author is such that fully six decades after it was written it still has the unerring ability to generate violent conflict and powerful emotions. Mention it in any conversation about government and/or military service and the sparks will fly.

It’s one of those books you either love or hate.

Very few who are familiar with the work find middle ground between those poles – including those who haven’t actually read it and are familiar with the writer and the novel only by second-hand heresy (yes, heresy, the book is nearly an article of faith to many) and a terrible Hollywood adaption.

It’s one of those stories where your opinion depends very much on your age and experience, and as such your opinion with regards to the story tends to change and temper over time.

To me, well, that’s what makes it a truly great work.

Love it, hate it, it is a coming of age story and it endures as a lightning rod, as a jumping off point for exploration of the human condition, of government, of service, of duty, of war and conflict, of why we fight and why we should – or should not.

I have read this novel many, many times.

I read it as a teenaged boy before I joined the military.

I read it again at various points throughout my military career, as an enlisted man and as an officer – and in fact it is required reading for students at a number of military academies.

I read it the day the author himself died, and raised a glass to yet another lost shipmate while stationed at a far distant outpost.

I’ve read it a number of times since I hung up my sword. I may, in fact, read it again today.

I don’t know that it influenced my decision to join up. I don’t know that it didn’t. The author, in this work and many others, certainly had some impact on my worldview. I do know that this novel did influence what kind of military man I ultimately became and that there were times, very difficult times, black days, moments when I didn’t know what to do next and lives depended on my decision, when I heard the words of Robert Heinlein whispering in my head, honor, courage, duty, ethics, morality, service above self, willingness to give one’s life in the cause of something greater – even and perhaps most especially when the cost is unjust and immoral and terrible.

The ideals of that book, and the veteran who wrote it, those ideals spoke to me in a very personal way.

And they still do.

As a writer of politics and military subjects, I encounter this book and discussions of its author often and I watch the resulting battles with some amusement. I’ve read hundreds of treatises on this book and its long dead author, detailed analyses from bloggers, columnists, best selling writers, noted scientists of various specialties, politicians, academics, and of course, military professionals.

All, every one, miss one fundamental thing.

And that is this: The reason six decades later this novel still generates love and hate and violent emotion is because the protagonist, Johnny Rico, a man very much like me, finds a home in the military.

War is his profession and he embraces it willingly and without regret.


And that, that right there, is the novel’s great sin.


That’s the criticism most often leveled at both the book and its author, they are pro war, pro military, and therefore somehow fascist and un-American.

To me this is like saying a fireman, one who runs towards the inferno, who is willing to brave the flames to save others, is somehow pro-arson.

There is no one who knows the terrible cost of war more than a veteran. There are few more anti-war than a combat veteran. Just as there is no one who knows the terrible toll of fire more than those who fight it. And yet, both still serve, because that is who they are. 

It’s okay in our society, at the moment, to love the soldier, to tell the story of war.

It wasn’t always so. When I was growing up, society openly despised the soldier.

But somewhere in the intervening 50 years, the circle has come full around and now again it is not only okay to love those who do violence in our names, it is nearly mandatory.

But it must be done in a certain way, you see.

It’s okay to write about war, to set novels among the conflagration and tell tales of glory and honor and sacrifice, so long as those who are caught up in its horror resent their own service. So long as they despise the conflict and the government and the utter ridiculous stupidity which sent them into the meat grinder. It’s okay to tell stories of war and conflict so long as the hero is serving only out of duty and will return to civilian life once the war ends – or die heroically, or tragically, or foolishly, depending on what kind of story you’re telling.

But to tell a story of those who serve when they don’t have to?

To write of those who find a home in the military?

That is a sin.

Those people, you see, they’re the losers. Honor, courage, duty, ethics, the morality of war, service above self, willingness to give one’s life in trace to your country, well, these things are for suckers, wannabe fascists, murderers, dumb blunt tools with nothing better to do.

This is the difference between Full Metal Jacket and The Green Berets.

This, this right here, is the difference between The Forever War and Starship Troopers.


This is the difference between the man I met up above … and me.


Today we honor those who served in peace and in war.

We honor those who came of their own free will and those who came only because they were called.

We honor those who came of age in bloody conflict, those who like me, like the protagonist of that novel, found a life, who found ourselves, in the military.

And we honor those who resented every goddamned miserable senseless minute of it.

Today wreaths will be laid. Flags will be raised to the truck and lowered to half-mast and there they’ll fly, cracking in the cold breeze, the symbol we fought and bled and died for, while below words of patriotism, duty, honor, courage, service, and sacrifice will be spoken.

The trumpets will sound their terrible call and the tears will flow – as they are down my face even as I write this.

Because, you see, I remember.

I remember those who trained and led me. I remember those I served alongside. I remember those I trained and led myself. I remember those men and women, every one of them, the good and the bad, the faithful and the faithless, the leaders and the followers, the admirable and the shitheads, those who came before me and those who came after, those who still live and serve and fight out there every day in the dark and dangerous corners of the world, those who have hung up their swords, and most of all I remember those who have given the last full measure – I remember them, each and every single one, each and every single day.

They are always with me, because they are the people who made me what I am.


Perhaps we are nothing more than blunt instruments. Perhaps we are fools. Today I am disinclined to argue the point.


Perhaps we are.

Because after the wreaths are laid, and the flags are lowered, and the trumpets sound their final mournful call, then the politicians will return to the same old divisions, the tax bill, the latest pork barrel project, or how the other party is a bunch of unpatriotic un-American bastards.

Tomorrow they’ll remember us not at all – or at best, only as a way to further their own selfish agendas.

The talk show hosts will cry their crocodile tears, and wax self-righteous and angrily demand that their listeners honor veterans. They'll take people to task for not wearing an American Flag pin, or for not having a yellow ribbon on their cars, or for not serving in uniform, all the while hoping nobody calls them on their own service, of which, most have exactly none.

And tomorrow, as always, they’ll forget all about us and go back to telling Americans to hate each other.

The Great Patriots, those Americans who think love of country is a contest and who wave the flag as if it were the cheap symbol of their favorite football team, are going to drink a lot of beer and discount liquor and pontificate drunkenly at great length about how the country is going to hell in a hand-basket because of that son of a bitch in [insert: Congress, the White House, Wall Street, et cetera here] and how we should be doing better by our “Heroes.” All the while hoping nobody calls them on their own service, of which, most have exactly none.

And tomorrow, they’ll nurse their sullen hung-over resentment and go back to fearing that the men and women they honor today will knock on their door to take away their freedoms and liberties and guns.

Meanwhile today a lot of folks who don't think much about patriotism are going to go to parades and wave little flags and quietly give thanks for those who bought their freedom at such terrible cost. Some will stand ramrod straight even though many can barely stand at all, like me they limp, or they roll, bent but unbroken, they’ll place their hands over their hearts as the American flag passes, and in their eyes you can see horrible memories of Saipan and Iwo Jima, Normandy, the Rhine, the black Ardennes forest, The Chosin Reservoir, Khe Sanh, Tet, Al Basrah, Anbar, and Bagram.

They won't talk about honoring veterans, they are veterans.

Today those with sons and daughters and husbands and wives in the service will raise a flag in their front yard, just as they do every day - and pray that those same loved ones get home alive and whole, just as they do every day.

Today those with sons and daughters and husbands and wives and mothers and fathers who have fallen in the service will visit graveyards, they'll bring fresh flowers, and fresh flags, and fresh tears.

Today, some just won’t give a good goddamn. They'll get a day off from work. They'll picnic, or party, or go boating, or hiking, or to the track. They'll paint the house, or do chores around the yard, they’ll haul trash to the dump if it's open or take the dog for a walk. Or maybe they won't, maybe today will be just like any other day. Kids still go to school, here in Florida. Teachers still teach. Stores, restaurants, car lots are all open with blowout sales. And it may be that these people most honor veterans, by simply going on with their lives, by living without having to remember the dead on some far distant battlefield, without having to worry about their security.

Without having to thank anybody.

And today, some will protest. Protest war, the military, the government. They'll use this day to burn the flag, they’ll take to Facebook and Twitter to call us fascists and murderers and dumb blunt tools. They’ll use this day to march and to demonstrate and it may be that these people are paying the highest compliment to veterans – even though that is the least of their intentions. Because, you see, it was veterans who bought them their right to despise us.

We are not heroes.

We are not heroes. Most of us anyway, we are simply people like any other, doing the best we can with what we have under difficult circumstance. We came when called and did our duty, each for our own reasons. You don’t have to understand why, just as you may not understand why a fireman would run into a burning building instead in the other direction. Just as you may never understand why Heinlein wrote what he wrote.

In our country, in a free society, the soldier should be no more revered than any other citizen.

We should respect the warrior, but we should never worship him.

There is no glory in war.

It is a horrible, brutal business and make no mistake about it.

We can wish it otherwise. We can rail against the utter stupidity and the phenomenal waste and the bloody obscenity of it all. We can declare and decry war’s terrible necessity and its terrible cost. Be that as it may, given human nature, for now war must often be done and our nation, our world, needs those who would fight, who would stand rough and ready to do violence in their name. It is a duty, a profession, a job, and a calling that must be done.

Perhaps in some distant future we will have put it behind us, perhaps we will have made war and the warrior long obsolete.  We can certainly hope that it shall be so. We can and should and must strive to make it so.

Perhaps some day we will set aside a day to honor the peacemakers and study war no more.

Perhaps.

But I wouldn’t count on it.


I don’t know. I don’t particularly care. I won’t live long enough to see such a day if it ever comes.


You see, I didn’t do it for you.

I didn’t do it for you and you owe me nothing. Neither thanks nor pity.

I’ve said it before, I’ll likely say it again: If you want a better nation, you have to be better citizens. And me? I joined the military for myself. To prove something to myself. To be that better citizen in my own way.

I joined for myself, but I stayed for them.

I stayed for my comrades in arms, for those I served beside. I did it for them. I did it for all the things I found in that novel, honor, courage, duty, ethics, morality, service above self, willingness to give one’s life in the cause of something greater – even and perhaps most especially when the cost is unjust and immoral and terrible.

I did it because like the protagonist of that book, that is my sin, I found a life there among friends.

I met a man who despised me.

He despised me for who I am, a veteran.

And you know what? That, that right there, is the highest compliment I could be paid.

That, that right there, is what we were doing out there in the dark and dangerous corners of the world, defending his right to hold us in utter contempt.

I met a man who despised me.

He called me and those like me fascist, murderer, dumb blunt tools.

I can live with that.

And I wear his contempt as a badge of honor.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Giving Us The Business

You know the last eight years, they borrowed more than it did in the whole history of our country. So they borrowed more than $10 trillion, right? And yet, we picked up 5.2 trillion just in the stock market. Possibly picked up the whole thing in terms of the first nine months, in terms of value. So you could say, in one sense, we’re really increasing values. And maybe in a sense we’re reducing debt. But we’re very honored by it. And we’re very, very happy with what’s happening on Wall Street.
- President Donald J. Trump, Hannity, Oct 12, 2017


This is how billionaires think.

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A surging stock market is great for billionaires, sure it is. You’ll get no argument from me on that.


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A rising stock market sure is good for Donald Trump.

And what’s good for Trump is good for business, because Trump is business, isn’t he?, I mean that’s why he was elected. Business. He’s a businessman. Americans were tired of business as usual. Trump was going to run America like a business. And so he is. And so he is. Really giving us the business. 

And what’s good for business must be good for you, good for jobs, good for the national debt, good for the world.

Sure.

I mean, right?

What’s good for business is good for you.

Isn’t it?

Well? Isn’t it?

Right?

It’s not just Trump.

That’s what conservatives have been telling us for decades. That’s essentially the foundation of the Republican platform. If we create a country that’s good for business, well, it’ll automatically be good for all the rest of us. This is the fundamental message of the GOP. What’s good for business is good for you. This is modern conservatism. This is, at least in part, libertarianism, sure it is. Government is bad. Get government out of the way, kill government, drown it in a bathtub, and that’s good for freedom, good for America, good for business. And what's good for business is good for you.

Trickle-down economics, the same warm piss disguised as lemonade Republicans have been peddling since before Reagan.

And how’s that worked out for you?

What's good for business is good for you.

Seems intuitive, doesn't it? Seems logical. Seems to follow. Good for business, good for me.

Well, mostly…

[Pregnancy is] a wonderful thing for the woman, it's a wonderful thing for the husband, it's certainly an inconvenience for a business. And whether people want to say that or not, the fact is, it is an inconvenience for a person that is running a business.
--
Donald J. Trump

Sure, a rising stock market is better than a falling one (Caveat: unless you’re attempting to short your stock, but just go with me for a minute), but is that really good for the average American? 

Is it?

Maybe.

Or maybe not. Or maybe both.

See, the things that are good for business aren't necessarily good for people. Sometimes they are, yes, but not always.

Take John Thain, for example.

John Thain was the last CEO of Merrill Lynch. He made billions upon billions for the stock market. Literally.

Now what’s good for the stock market must be good for you, right?That’s Trump’s whole message this morning.

And John Thain was great for business, great for the stock market.

Oh yes. Yes, he was.

Until he destroyed everything.

Until that ballooning stock market he helped create imploded and precipitated a global financial collapse that vaporized literally trillions of dollars, destroyed century-old too-big-to-fail companies and brand new mom & pop businesses alike, zeroed millions of retirement accounts, destroyed the life savings of millions, and left hundreds of thousands jobless, hungry, and out on the street all over the globe.

How was that?

Was that good for you?

Max Belfort: What kind of a hooker takes credit cards?
Donnie Azoff: A rich one!
-- The Wolf of Wall Street,
2013.

No?

It was pretty fucking great for John Thain though. He made millions, literally. The company he destroyed paid him more than $80,000,000. Then Bank of America hired him for millions more to preside over the carcass of the company he destroyed (BOA acquired the wreckage of Merril-Lynch after it collapsed).

That's good work if you can get it.

After that, Thain headed up Citigroup, making millions more. Then he retired. With his fortune intact.

And how'd that work out for you? How's your retirement account? Recovered from Thain’s recession?

No?

Oh well.

Martin Shkreli made millions for the stock market by driving up the prices of certain critical drugs.

That was really great for investors.

And in fact, that was the whole point. Shkreli wasn’t a pharmacist, he was a hedge fund manager. The entire reason he got into the drug business was to make money. Which was a pretty sweet gig while it lasted. Great for stocks.

Kinda sucked if you were dying from AIDS and needed a Daraprim prescription though.

Was that good for you?

Mylan raised the price of the EpiPen to levels that literally killed people with allergies.

Mylan made billions. The company’s CEO became a millionaire. And the stockholders were overjoyed.

Was that good for you?

See, business raises its stock by becoming more profitable, i.e. by creating a monopoly like Shkreli, by creating a market and limiting availability like Mylan, by tricking people into investing by creating buzz for products that don't actually exist (see Silicon Valley et al), by risking other people’s money like Thain, by offshoring their manufacturing, by outsourcing, by rightsizing, by downsizing, by hiring cheap foreign labor on temp visas like, oh, let's say Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago for example.

That’s good for business.

That’s good for the stock market.

But is that good for you?

Maybe.

If you're invested in those companies.

Not so great if you're poor and your kid is allergic to bees though.

If any of my competitors were drowning, I'd stick a hose in their mouth and turn on the water. It is ridiculous to call this an industry. This is not. This is rat eat rat, dog eat dog. I'll kill 'em, and I'm going to kill 'em before they kill me. You're talking about the American way – of survival of the fittest.
-- Ray Kroc, American businessman, founder of McDonalds

You know what's good for business? Strip mining. Polluting. High oil prices. Shady deals. The 2006-07 US Housing Bubble was great for the stock market, really really great. Right up until it destroyed all your jobs, your retirement, and left you homeless.

You know what's good for business? Cancer.

You know what's good for business? War.

A surging stock market always benefits the wealthy. Always.

But it's the middle class and the poor who always pay the price when it fails. Always. Every time.

And the wealthy are fine with this.

Of course they are.

This was their idea.

This is how billionaires like Trump go bankrupt over and over without losing a penny of their wealth.

Sure, every once in a while the good guys win one and people like Martin Shkreli and Bernie Madoff go to jail…

..but, Donald Trump didn't lose his home when the bubble burst last time.

And John Thain made millions destroying your life.

And Martin Shkreli still has $70 million waiting for him when he gets out.

These people, their business model is simple: rape and pillage, rape and pillage, squeeze the suckers for all the market can bear plus ten percent. Then, when it all falls apart, demand those very same victims – the poor and middle-class – bail them out or suffer even worse. And if called on it, deny all responsibility and place the blame on the very same victims with a smug Martin Shkreli sneer and a supercilious caveat emptor.

And yesterday Republicans voted to make it illegal to sue these people when they blow up the economy and steal your money.

Which they most certainly will do again.


Using the stock market as the sole measure of economic "greatness" is disingenuous at best – and dangerously fatal at worst. Fatal for you.


If you elect wealthy business people to run the country, well, then you're going to get the business.

That's the one thing you can count on.

Every. Single. Time.

I love money more than the things it can buy. But what I love more than money is other people's money.
-- Lawrence Garfield, Other People’s Money, 1991

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Myth of Judeo-Christian Values

The ultimate value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival.
-- Aristotle


“We are stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values”

That was President Donald Trump addressing the Value Voters Summit in Washington D.C. last Friday.

We are stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values.

That’s what he said.


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Attacks.

On Judeo-Christian values.

What does that mean?

No, stop. Think about it. What does that mean? How do you attack a value?

Seriously. How do you attack a value?

Look here: Values are defined as those principles we hold important in life.

How do you attack that?

Values are personal. We each determine for ourselves what is important. Values are your personal ethics, morals, your standards of behavior. Values are often, but not always, the ideals imposed on us by our environment, ways of thinking learned from various examples: our parents when we are young, leaders, public figures, community, law, teachers, friends, societal groups, and so on. Because everyone’s experience is different, our values are often different in varying degrees.

A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.
--
Muhammad Ali

Our values tend to change over time as our relationships and community and experience change and indeed if your worldview is the same at fifty as it was at twenty, well, like the man said, you might have wasted much of your life. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we get wiser. There’s nothing more enlightening than listening to a fifty-year-old conservative moral absolutist describe how he was once a liberal but his values changed when he [found Jesus, joined the NRA, became a Republican, etc] and that’s why moral relativism is evil.

But ask that same moral absolutist to provide a list of universal values, see what you get.

No, better yet, ask a room full of moral absolutists to provide a single list of human values, ordered by importance.

Then time how long it takes for the angry shouting to start.

Is there an agreed upon list of human values? Not Judeo-Christian values (we’ll get to that in a minute), just plain old ordinary every day human values?

Is there?

Quick, what are they? List them in order. What’s the most important value to you? Truth? Compassion? Strength? Altruism? Selflessness? Courage? Wait. Are those even recognized values?

Are they?

Are you sure?

Funny, isn’t it? Certain words we use. Words describe concepts. And we all think we know the definition of those concepts. Moreover, we assume that everybody else’s understanding of that concept is the same as ours.

But ask a hundred people to list the most important human values, and you’ll get a hundred different answers.

Because values are relative. Values are subjective.

I’m not the first person to notice this. Obviously. There are entire fields of study going all the way back to the great philosophers of Ancient Greece.

A lot of very smart people have devoted lifetimes of research into this very subject. One of those people, a social-psychologist named Shalom H. Schwartz, came up something called the Schwartz Theory of Basic Values. You can find a current and reasonably readable overview of Schwartz’s theory here, published by the The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Schwartz’s Theory of Basic Values has been around for a while and it’s commonly used by psychologists and sociologists and those who study ethics and human interaction as a starting point.  Schwartz said that values are “beliefs linked inextricably to affect.” And what he meant was that values are tied to emotion and goals. For example, “People for whom independence is an important value become aroused if their independence is threatened, despair when they are helpless to protect it, and are happy when they can enjoy it.” This applies to nearly any value you can name – again in varying degrees depending individual circumstance. But it’s not something you can measure quantitatively.

Basically the theory says:

  • Values are beliefs.
  • Values refer to desirable goals that motivate action.
  • Values transcend specific actions and situations.
  • Values serve as standards or criteria.
  • Values are ordered by importance.
  • The relative values of multiple values guides action.

And I think that works as a general description of what a value is. But what are actual human values?

What would you list as human values?

Schwartz defines ten basic human values based on the criteria above:

  • Self-Direction: independent thought and action--choosing, creating, exploring.
  • Stimulation: excitement, novelty, and challenge in life.
  • Hedonism: pleasure or sensuous gratification for oneself.
  • Achievement: personal success through demonstrating competence according to social standards.
  • Power: social status and prestige, control or dominance over people and resources.
  • Security: safety, harmony, and stability of society, of relationships, and of self.
  • Conformity: restraint of actions, inclinations, and impulses likely to upset or harm others and violate social expectations or norms.
  • Tradition: respect, commitment, and acceptance of the customs and ideas that one's culture or religion provides.
  • Benevolence: preserving and enhancing the welfare of those with whom one is in frequent personal contact (the ‘in-group’).
  • Universalism: understanding, appreciation, tolerance, and protection for the welfare of all people and for nature.

Hedonism. Stimulation. Power. Conformity. When you were trying to think up a list of human values, unless you are a sociologist, you probably weren’t thinking in those terms, were you? But nearly any value you can name falls into one of those categories as described by Schwartz’s theory. 

It matters.

Precision of language matters.

Because that language, the words we use, defines how we see the world around us. How we relate to each other. Words can build a society, or tear a civilization apart. Language is information. And information used as a weapon can bring a dictator to power, topple governments, start wars (or end them), or shape the worldview of a nation.

And I want you to remember that.


“We are stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values”


That’s what the most powerful man in the world said last Friday.

He was speaking to an audience made up largely of hardline conservative Evangelical Christians.

What does that audience think Trump meant by that statement? To them, to those particular people, what are Judeo-Christian Values?

Remember: Values are beliefs linked to emotion, values are ordered by importance, values motivate action towards particular goals.

Remember: Values tend to be personal, and thus relative.

Remember: Language defines concept. Terms matter.

Thus: for values to be shared, they have to be defined and we all must agree to the definition and its emotional importance. And ultimately, we must agree with the goals inherent to each value.

Also please note that when Trump said, “We are stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values,” he didn’t bother to define … anything.

He didn’t define “attack.”

He didn’t define who was doing the attacking.

And most importantly he didn’t define “Judeo-Christian values.”


And Donald Trump is not the only one.


Breitbart led off their article on the subject with,

President Donald Trump vowed to end leftist attacks on Christian values that threatened the United States.

President Trump vowed to end Leftist attacks on Christian values that threatened the United States?

Christian Values. That threatened the United States.

Wait a minute here.

Words matter. Let’s read that again.

… on Christian values that threatened the United States…

Yep, still says, Christian values have threatened the United States.

(On a side note, odd that Breitbart mysteriously dropped the Judeo part. It’s almost like their old Anti-Semite CEO is back. But again, I digress)

If Christian values threatened the United States, why would the President vow to end attacks on them? Shouldn’t all Americans attack these Christian values that threaten America? I mean…

What?

Oh.

Right. Okay. Sure. But again, precision of language matters. Particularly when we’re talking about somebody attacking the United States.  As such, somebody needs to let Steven Bannon know his editors don’t understand basic sentence structure at even the sixth grade level. I’m just saying. For clarity’s sake. Given that it’s the lede and all. Right up front and ....

What?

Fine. Fine. Moving on.

So, if I’m reading confused Breitbart grammar correctly, the basic idea here is that certain undefined “leftists” are somehow in some manner “attacking” “Christian values.” And, given the context, an attack on Christian values is an attack on America.

But see, the problem here is that the article again doesn’t define (other than in vague terms) who is doing the attacking, why they are attacking, how they are attacking, and most importantly of all: exactly what Judeo-Christian values are. Nor does the article explain how Donald Trump might end these attacks.

We are all just supposed to know what those things are.

Values change.

Morality changes.

This is the nature of civilization.

Once upon a time in America, it was moral to own other people. The measure of a decent man was once determined by how he treated his property, his slaves.

Is that a value we respect nowadays?

Is that an American value we want to bring back?

Is that a Judeo-Christian value? After all, slavery and how you treat it is integral to both the Jewish and Christian holy books.

No?

No, I suppose not.

But how do you know? How do you know if the terms are never defined? Given recent violent demonstrations in places like Charlottesville by hardcore Christian conservative Trump supporters marching under the Swastika and the flag of the Confederacy, how can I know that slavery isn’t a Judeo-Christian value?

How do I know?

I mean, I assume that’s not what these conservatives mean, but how do I know?

If the terms are not defined?

Let me show you. Fox News, in a Special Report last Friday entitled: Eagle Scout: RIP Boy Scouts of America. You were great for 100 years, laments the destruction of the once venerable organization.

We all knew this was coming. The Boy Scouts of America stood for over a century on its strong foundation of Judeo-Christian values, growing boys into young men, and young men into leaders.  However, in recent years the BSA has allowed cracks to form in that foundation.

There is it, Judeo-Christian values.

Undefined.

Unexplained.

Unspecific.

Nowhere in that article does the author list those supposed values. Don’t take my word for it, click on the link and go look for yourself.  The article doesn’t describe in any way whatsoever the specific Judeo-Christian values that Lord Baden-Powell supposedly based the Boy Scouts on, nor does the author tell you which values they’ve supposedly discarded.

The author just assumes we all know what he means.

Because, of course, we are all Judeo-Christian in America, are we not?

And all Jews and Christians are the same, with the same worldview and outlook and values. Same as the author. Right?

Right?

With much handwringing and teeth-gnashing, the article goes on to bemoan the “incredibly disappointing news” that girls – girls – will not only be allowed to enter into Cub Scouts, but the BSA organization will soon create a scouting program for older girls – girls – to advance and earn Scouting’s highest rank of Eagle Scout. The author is outraged at the idea of stinky girls – girls – being allowed anywhere near Scouting. He rages against “inclusion” and the end of “manhood” and points out how “[i]t is important for boys and young men to grow together free from the distraction of girls.”

It is important for boys and men to grow together free from the distraction of girls.

It’s important.

For boys and men.

To grow together.

Free from the distraction of girls.

The article doesn’t bother to explain why it’s important for boys and men to grow together. In the woods. Alone. Though he does point out the danger of putting girls – girls – into the same situation:

I have to wonder why any parent would want their young teenage girls camping in the woods with young teenage boys?

(this is where I politely don’t provide links to literally thousands of Christian and Jewish church youth programs across America where boys and girls do exactly that)

The article ends with this:

This is what the Left does best:  target and destroy everything good in America.  They cannot compete with us on ideas, so they have to eliminate everything that makes us who we are.  If they were truly motivated to provide girls, homosexuals, and “transgenders,” with the same experiences Boy Scouts provides, then they would form their own youth organization.  But it isn’t really about that, is it? [sic]

So, is that it?

Are those Judeo-Christian values? Exclusion? Bigotry? Segregation of the sexes? So that boys and men might grow together, free from the “distraction” of stinky girls? Alone. In the woods.

Well, is it?

But why then call it Judeo-Christian? Why not call it Islamic-Judeo-Christian values, given that devout Muslim fundamentalists forbid mixing of the sexes.

Separation of the sexes isn’t a Judeo-Christian value you say?

Well then what is?

A guy named Michael Imhof wrote a letter to the editor of Madison Country Herald Bulletin, in Anderson City, Illinois.

It’s time to eliminate the Democratic Party. This is no longer the Democratic Party of the John F. Kennedy era. The Democratic Party has transitioned into the Marxist and Socialist Party of America.

Because apparently in this American’s mind, freedom is when the government dictates what political parties you can have. Because that’s totally not Marxist at all.

But here I am, digressing. Again.

Mr. Imhof spends a couple of paragraphs describing how everybody who isn’t just like him must certainly be an un-American commie socialist and then he gets to this:

The Democratic Party doesn’t care about the Judeo-Christian values of America, nor the Constitution. They’re the party of globalism, and they’re anti-American, anti-sovereignty. They use people and causes to promote the godless agenda of the global elitists.

There it is again. Judeo-Christian values of America.

Judeo-Christian values.

Undefined.

Unexplained.

The author just assumes we all know what he means.

Because, of course, we are all Judeo-Christians in America, are we not?

Imhof spends another paragraph describing how all liberals obviously must love Lenin, and then fetches up here:

Vote the Democrats and Republican In Name Only (RINO) Republicans out of office. Vote for candidates with tea party and Judeo-Christian values.

Tea Party and Judeo-Christian values.

Which would seem to indicate that in Imhof’s mind, those values are the same.

image

The Tea Party. Taxed enough already. I’ll keep my freedom, my money, and my guns, and you can keep the change. That Tea Party?

Is that it? Are those Judeo-Christian values? Isolationism? America first? Sovereignty? Teabagging for Jesus? Money and guns?

No?

Are you sure?

A few weeks ago, former White House hobo Steve Bannon went to Alabama to speak at a rally for Roy Moore – Alabama’s openly racist, homophobic, Christian-nationalist former Chief Justice. Moore was running for the Senate against Donald Trump favorite Luther Strange.

Moore has somewhat interesting interpretation of the First Amendment.

You have to understand it was the duty of the government under the First Amendment…to foster religion and foster Christianity

That’s what Moore told Vox reporter Jeff Stein in August of last year.

The First Amendment makes it the duty of the government to foster religion and specifically Christianity.

Got that?

I know. I know. You thought the First Amendment meant pretty much exactly the opposite. That’s why you’re not a judge in Alabama.

There’s more.

There’s so much more.

Roy Moore: There are communities under Sharia law right now in our country. Up in Illinois. Christian communities; I don’t know if they may be Muslim communities. But Sharia law is a little different from American law. It is founded on religious concepts.

Jeff Stein: Which American communities are under Sharia law? When did they fall under Sharia law?

Moore: Well, there’s Sharia law, as I understand it, in Illinois, Indiana — up there. I don't know.

Stein: That seems like an amazing claim for a Senate candidate to make.

Moore: Well, let me just put it this way — if they are, they are; if they’re not, they’re not. That doesn’t matter. Oklahoma tried passing a law restricting Sharia law, and it failed. Do you know about that?

No. No. Don’t roll your eyes, that’s not even close to the best part of Moore’s interview. Not even close. But I don’t want to spoil it for you. You can read the whole thing here – and remember, this guy was Alabama’s chief justice and he’s probably going to be one of the state’s senators when Alabamians go to the polls this December.

Moore was the leading voice of birtherism, he is rabidly homophobic and anti-Muslim, and he spends a lot of his time hanging out with neo-Confederates – you know, people who actually and openly hate America and parade about under the flag of America’s enemies.  Moore’s fanatical religious ideology has prompted his critics to nickname him the “Ayatollah of Alabama.” And despite the fact that Moore’s repeated claim of communities living under Islamic Law in the United States has been repeatedly and soundly debunked (and Moore himself can produce no evidence whatsoever and essentially admits he doesn’t really know or care), he continues to push this falsehood.

So, I suppose it was unsurprising when Steve Bannon showed up in Alabama to stump for Roy Moore. 

Judge Moore knows the Ten Commandments is the basis for the Judeo-Christian West. Judge Moore is a good man, he’s a courageous man, and more importantly he’s a righteous man.

And there it is again.

The Judeo-Christian West.

Judeo-Christian. Undefined. Unexplained. Except for some vague reference to the Christian’s Ten Commandments (which are apparently the solution to pretty much everything).  

Steve Bannon just assumes everybody in the crowd knew what he meant.

And from the cheering, everybody in the crowd assumed that they did know what he meant and their definition and list of Judeo-Christian values was exactly the same as Roy Moore’s, Steve Bannon’s, and everybody else in the crowd. But, well, look at who was up on that stage. Are those Judeo-Christian values? Knowingly pushing falsehoods and conspiracy theories? Bigotry? Intolerance? Xenophobia? I mean, don’t take my word for it, look up Roy Moore for yourself (and Steve Bannon while you’re at it) and tell me which part of his career embodies Judeo-Christian values. Tell me what those are. Hell, it’s Alabama, maybe everybody in the crowd was on the same sheet of music. Maybe those are the values of Judeo-Christianity.

No?

But are you sure?

How do you know and can you prove it?

No?

Well, what then?

What are Judeo-Christian values?

Donald Trump seems to know:

We are stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values. They don't use the word Christmas because it is not politically correct. We're saying Merry Christmas again.

Is that it? Is that one of them? A Judeo-Christian value is saying Merry Christmas?

Jews for Christmas?

Really? I admit to being a little fuzzy on the finer points of Judaism, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works.

But, there it is. Judeo-Christian values again. That’s what the president said.

Undefined.

Unexplained.

And the crowd once again cheered.

I mean, we’re just supposed to know. Right?

That is the inherent assumption whenever this term appears. Otherwise, they’d explain what they meant. Trump was speaking to the Value Voters Summit, a convention of hardcore religious nuts hosted by the Family Research Council. They define all kinds of things from traditional marriage to what constitutes “life” to what makes a real American. But they don’t bother to define Judeo-Christian values before people like Trump take the stage. And they don’t ask people like Trump to define it either.

And that – that right there – tells you something important.


We’re all supposed to know.


How about this?

Dr. Richard Lee, who according to his bio, is the Founding Pastor of the Atlanta, Georgia, First Redeemer Church. He is also the Editor of The American Patriot’s Bible:

THE ONE BIBLE THAT SHOWS HOW ‘A LIGHT FROM ABOVE’ SHAPED OUR NATION. Never has a version of the Bible targeted the spiritual needs of those who love our country more than The American Patriot’s Bible. This extremely unique Bible shows how the history of the United States connects the people and events of the Bible to our lives in a modern world. The story of the United States is wonderfully woven into the teachings of the Bible and includes a beautiful full-color family record section, memorable images from our nation’s history and hundreds of enlightening articles which complement the historic King James Version Bible text. 

Lee also authored God’s Promise to the American Patriot and The Coming Revolution, among other works.

So you figure, if anybody can describe Judeo-Christian values in detail, it’s got to be the guy who edited the Bible and slapped an American flag on it.

Right?

Right.

Lee says there are in fact seven Judeo-Christian values, or principles. To wit:

Principle #1: The Dignity Of Human Life

Lee cites Exodus 20:13 "You shall not murder” and Matthew 22:39 "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

Oddly, he doesn’t reference Jewish text anywhere – and looking back I likewise see only a reference to the King James Bible in his book blurb. That seems an odd omission right out of the gate, Judeo-Christian values wise, I mean. But hey, I’m sure he’ll get to it. Eventually.

So, dignity of human life. No murder. Love your neighbor. Sounds reasonable. I mean it does, doesn’t it? Respect human life. Not really exclusive to just Jews and Christians though, is it? And I bet you can guess where he goes with it, can’t you?

Can’t you?

See, that bit about “murder,” that’s the kicker. That’s the weasel word. Thou shalt not murder, not kill, murder. Words matter. Language matters.

Abortion, of course, that’s what we’re talking about here. Murder, you know, that’s what guys like Lee call abortion. Murder. We’re good with other kinds of killing, war, the death penalty, letting people starve to death, so long as there’s no abortion.

And respect for the dignity of human life? The dignity of human life forsooth, well, that only goes so far.

As you will see.

Principle #2 - The Traditional Family

Again, a Christian reference: Genesis 2:21-24 "And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place.  Then the rib which the LORD God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.  And Adam said: "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man."  Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh."

Lee says “The biblical view of marriage and family is the basis of our society and serves as the backbone of a healthy social order.”

So, the biblical view of marriage as defined by Genesis 2:21. Got it.

  • God creates Adam artificially from non-living ingredients, i.e. mud. Essentially life in a lab.
  • Then God makes Eve by taking a biological sample from Adam and genetically engineering it to produce a cross-sex clone (see the reference: bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh, taken out of a male, transformed into female. God could have created a completely new person from scratch, but he didn’t. Pretty clear what we’re talking about here).
  • Adam then marries what is for all practical purposes his fraternal twin.
  • Adam and Eve then proceed to break the law, become felons, and are exiled from civilization for their crimes.
  • While on the run, they produce two sons – presumably without the assistance of artificial laboratory aids.
  • At which point one of the sons murders the other – which may or may not have something to do with the fact that their parents were, genetically speaking, brother and sister.
  • A few generations later, the world is populated with Adam and Eve’s descendants, which God wipes out because they are all insane murderers, rapists, drunkards, and deviants. And you’d think God would have seen this coming given the limited gene pool.

I gotta be honest with you, maybe this isn’t the best example.

Lee goes on to say, “Since the joining together of Adam and Eve, marriage has been defined as a holy union between one man and one woman.” Except, the very reference Lee uses, i.e. the Christian Bible, provides numerous examples of marriages that are not just one man and one woman.

Numerous.

Principle #3 - A National Work Ethic

Another reference to the Christian bible: 2 Thessalonians 3:10 "For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat."

We didn’t even make it two values past “Dignity for Human Life” before we got to the part about why poor people should starve.

Also, how is a national ethic a personal Judeo-Christian value?

I’m going to speed this up and give you the last four without commentary.

Principle #4 - The Right To A God-Centered Education

Principle # 5- The Abrahamic Covenant

Principle #6 - Common Decency

Principle #7- Our Personal Accountability To God

You can read the whole thing for yourself here at Sermon Central. Again, note that Jewish text isn’t referenced – though I suppose Lee would weasel out by suggesting his Old Testament references apply. Still, seems that if you’re going to use the term Judeo-Christian, Jews should maybe get equal time. Just saying.

Well?

What do you think. Are those Judeo-Christian values?

Are those the Judeo-Christian values?

I suspect many people in Trump’s audience last Friday would agree that they are – even if they couldn’t name them off the cuff.

But … they can’t be.

Words matter. Language matters. Context matters.

“We are stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values”

Which of those values are under attack?

For those to be the values Trump was talking about, they’d have to be under attack. By definition. That’s what the man said. That’s what they all said.

So, show me a single Jew or Christian in America who was prevented from respecting the dignity of human life.

Go on. Do it. I’ll wait.

Show me any Jew or any Christian who was denied a traditional marriage license.

Show me any Jew, any Christian, who was prevented from working hard or was prevented from attending the religious school of their choice.

Show me a single Jew, a single Christian, who was prevented in any way from adhering to some supposed contract with their deity – a covenant, I note, that was specifically between the Jews and their God and nobody else, an agreement that Christians are apparently attempting to horn in on.

Show me a single Jew, a single Christian, who was attacked for Common Decency, right after you explain why one group of Christians gets to define what “common decency” means for all of us.

As to that last one, your personal accountability to your god, I would love to see Donald Trump explain how exactly anybody would go about waging an attack on that.

None of these values apply to the other examples either – though I admit to a chuckle at the thought of Lee attempting to explain to my Boy Scout troop how Adam married his Sister (I learned to drink and swear in the Boy Scouts, skills that served me well in the Navy. We would have gotten a good laugh at Adam’s expense. Alone. In the woods. Far from the distraction of girls). 

I’m afraid I don’t buy it, even if Dr Lee did write his own bible.


No. After weeks of research, I don’t have any idea what those values are.


And I bet you don’t either.

So, I asked.

A quarter of a million people follow me every day across various social media platforms. Jews. Christians in various and assorted flavors. Muslims. Non-believers. Sort of believers. Atheists. Some that don’t fit well into any category. So, I asked. What are Judeo-Christian Values? What are they? Give me a list. It doesn’t even have to be exhaustive, just give me the top three.

Now, you’d think that a quarter of a million people could come up with something.

Three Judeo-Christian values. That’s all I’m asking.

Far and away the most common answer was: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I got hundreds, thousands, of responses that said that. That’s THE Judeo-Christian value.

That one, right there.

The Golden Rule.

Apologies, but I can’t accept that.

Treating people decently is hardly a uniquely Judeo-Christian value and …

You again? What is it this time?

Oh, I see, you’re upset by the qualifier “unique.”

You feel that’s unfair. You think I should have specified that up front.

I did.

And I mentioned it up above, you should have seen it coming.

Language matters. Precision of language matters. Context matters. Judeo-Christian values. It’s right there in the label. And that specific label matters.

See, if we were just talking about values, human values, universal values, those values defined and enumerated by Schwartz up above, well, then you would have no need for the qualifier. Would you?

But there it is: Judeo-Christian values.

That’s what those examples up above were talking about.

President Donald Trump vowed to end leftist attacks on Christian values that threatened the United States

The Boy Scouts of America stood for over a century on its strong foundation of Judeo-Christian values […] This is what the Left does best:  target and destroy everything good in America […] they have to eliminate everything that makes us who we are.

The Democratic Party doesn’t care about the Judeo-Christian values of America, nor the Constitution. They’re the party of globalism, and they’re anti-American, anti-sovereignty. They use people and causes to promote the godless agenda of the global elitists.

…The Ten Commandments [are] the basis for the Judeo-Christian West.

We are stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values. They don't use the word Christmas because it is not politically correct. We're saying Merry Christmas again.

Seven Principles of the Judeo-Christian Ethic

They were quite specific about it. Go back and look, follow the links, read those words in context. Look for your own examples. The people who use that term, Judeo-Christian, use it to highlight that those values are special, unique, and specifically foundational to the United States itself. This is clear from the context.

Just as those same people and media outlets define “American values” as uniquely American and by definition not something you’d find in any other country.

That’s what “exceptional” means.

And we are exceptional, America, are we not?


If these were universal values, human values, we wouldn’t have to caveat it.


This term, Judeo-Christian values is used purposely by conservatives to identify values specific to their religious and their political ideology.

But more importantly the term Judeo-Christian directly and deliberately excludes all other political and religious beliefs – and this is the point where I remind you that the people who use this term are also the people who daily denounce multiculturalism and diversity, racial mixing, cultural dilution, and often going so far as to insist that everybody speak the same language. So, by definition, by context, by omission, when these people say Judeo-Christian values, they mean values that are exclusive to their ideology and that specifically exclude all others – which is why you don’t see these values labelled Judeo-Christian-Islamic values, or even just referred as American values, or human values.

The exclusion is on purpose.

So, when I asked the question, I set specific limits on the answers. Because when you say that your values are unique – and moreover, that uniqueness specifically makes you better, exceptional, correct, righteous – but when asked to describe that uniqueness, you proceed instead to describe the same values that can be found universally and that are not in any way exclusive to your political party or religion or nation, well, then you’re full of shit.

So if you insist on using the term “Judeo-Christian” to identify your values as superior to others, then I will require you to show your work.

And so I set limits on the question.

  • The value must be uniquely Judeo-Christian, it cannot be common to any other value system, secular or non-secular
  • The value, whatever it is, must be common to both Jewish and Christian belief systems, i.e. it must be Judeo-Christian.
  • Be specific. Show your work. Don't make vague hand-waving pronouncements.

And out of a thousand answers, from Christians, from Jews, Muslims, atheists, agonistics, from Rabbis, from Preachers and Shit Shakers and Holy Rollers, I got … nothing.

No definitive answer, not even a vague answer.

I got bible quotes and guesses and a lot of sarcasm and a bunch of hand waving. I got links to Wikipedia articles – an article, I’m at pains to point out, which does not in any way provide any kind of definitive list of Judeo-Christian values.

I would like to note that I got a polite and reasoned discussion among thousands of people on my various Facebook pages, which is either a testament to the personal values of those particular people or a testament to my screening criteria. Maybe both.

But for a list of values that we’re all just supposed to know, that we all assume everybody else knows, that our leaders insist are the very basis of our country, well, there’s absolutely no consensus at all.

None.


image


Many responders threw their hands up in the air and said given the limits I placed on the question, an answer was impossible. Some of them got angry about it. One person left the Stonekettle Station Facebook Group in outrage, thinking that I was mocking her religious beliefs because she could not answer the question as asked.

But…

Words matter.

Definitions matter.

Concepts matter.

Precision matters.

Because that language, the words we use, defines how we see the world around us. How we relate to each other. Words can build a society, or tear a civilization apart. Language is information. And information used as a weapon can bring a dictator to power, topple governments, start wars (or end them), or shape the worldview of a nation.

When the president of the United States tells Americans that their values – their Judeo-Christian values – are under attack, it matters.

The limits matter. Because these are the conditions set by those who would use their values as a weapon. As a club. As a flail. As a cudgel to beat the rest of us about the head and shoulders.

These are the conditions set by those who would claim that their values are exceptional and thus should be the values of the nation and us all. By force, if necessary -- even if they themselves are unable to detail exactly what those values actually are. 

These are the limits set by those who would use some imagined martyrdom to justify theocracy and fascism and to put their boot on our throats.

And so I asked.

But the answer, given the limitations placed on the definition by those who use the term, is impossible.

And that – that right there – was the point.

One thing I didn't understand in life was that I had $100,000,000 in the bank and I couldn't buy happiness. I had everything: mansions, yachts, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, but I was depressed. I didn't know where I fitted in. But then I found family and friends and I learned the value of life.
-- Vanilla Ice