Tuesday
Mar122019

Haters Gonna Hate (A Lot)

It’s worth discussing how much the social fabric of this country has been altered — perhaps shredded permanently — by a bigoted ignoramus whose chief claims to fame before snagging the presidency were a third-rate reality TV show, gag-inducing self-aggrandizement, and boorish public behavior.

For example — in a development that Republicans will call pure coincidence — the number of hate groups in America has reached “an all-time high,” according to a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

Yes, there are now more than 1,000 U.S. organizations dedicated wholly to the abuse of people who don't look like their members, and this is “the most the SPLC has ever counted.” 

Now, it’s fair to ask if this surge in bigotry is in any way related to the current occupant of the White House, a man who, as we all know, could not get through the speech announcing his candidacy without slurring Latinos and who believes every non-European nation is a shithole.

Well, the SPLC dispels any doubt about cause and effect. The researchers state that “white nationalist groups have been particularly electrified by Trump’s presidency.” In fact, the number of white supremacist groups increased by nearly 50 percent last year. New members “are often motivated by fear of demographic changes these extremists falsely believe is causing ‘white genocide.’”

In essence, through word and deed, the president has normalized racial animus, and this has provoked mild racists into becoming active storm troopers in a theoretical race war that — if the neo-Nazis get their way — will soon be coming to a city near you.

But it’s not just angry white men targeting ethnic minorities. No, in a truly bizarre backlash, many black nationalist hate groups have used Trump’s disparaging remarks about African nations and black football players to recruit members. So their numbers are increasing as well.

However, the SPLC points out that these groups, while just as bigoted and crazy as their white peers, do not pose the same threat. Not only are their numbers smaller, but they are “very different than white hate groups” because they have “no supporters in mainstream politics.”

Basically, there are no African American Steve Kings or Tucker Carlsons spewing epitaphs and cajoling their supporters to get their hate on.

And the numbers support the idea that white nationalists are becoming stronger and more violent. The SPLC found that “domestic terrorism has also been on the upswing,” with 40 people murdered in the U.S. and Canada by radical right extremists, including the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and the killing of two black people in a Kroger's grocery in Kentucky

Of course, let’s not forget that a Coast Guard lieutenant who espoused extremist and white supremacist views was recently arrested, allegedly before he could conduct a mass killing. His hit list included journalists and Democratic politicians — basically, the enemies of his idol Trump.

By the way, just in case you thought only ethnic minorities should fear tiki-torch-wielding lunatics chanting, “Jews will not replace us,” keep in mind that the SPLC says, “rabid misogyny is [also] an integral part of America’s hate scene.”

Yeah, it’s come to this. Our country now has a “hate scene.”

 

Tuesday
Mar052019

Grotesque

So last weekend, a group of thoughtful conservatives got together to discuss limited government, business deregulation, and tax rates.

Ha — just kidding. Maybe that is what the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) used to be. 

But in Trump’s America, the conference “has become a political circus filled with conspiracy theories, cranks and far-right extremism.” Yes, it’s now a place where wanna-be neo-fascists, pissed-off lunatics, and scheming racists get together to shriek about liberals, rant about hamburgers, and slander a dead manwho was their hero just 10 years ago.

Good times.

In any case, unless you are inexplicably a Trump fan, you likely viewed the CPAC gathering with a mixture of anger, disbelief, and/or befuddlement.

But you probably weren’t disgusted — or at least not truly nauseated in a queasy, stomach-churning way.

That’s because, “numerous studies have found that high levels of sensitivity to disgust  tend to go hand in hand with a ‘conservative ethos,’ which is defined by characteristics such as traditionalism, religiosity, support for authority and hierarchy, sexual conservatism, and distrust of outsiders.”

Basically, if you get grossed out easily, you are more likely to be a Republican.

Yes, this seems silly. For starters, how could scientists possibly measure someone’s level of disgust?

Well, one study placed people in an MRI machine, showed them nauseating imagery, and then analyzed their brain scans. 

You’ll be interested to know that “just by looking at the subjects’ neural responses,” the scientists “could predict with more than 95 percent accuracy whether they were liberal or conservative.”

Other studies have found that this “disgust sensitivity is related to conservatism across a wide variety of cultures, geographic regions and political systems.”

Researchers are saying, therefore, that whether you are American or Chinese, rich or poor, love Maroon 5 or hate Maroon 5, it doesn’t influence your political beliefs nearly as much as whether or not you gag when you smell dog shit.

OK, that’s all pretty compelling. But even if someone is more likely to get wobbly kneed at the sight of vomit, why would this make them clamor for lower taxes on the rich or an end to gay marriage?

Well, according to the researchers, “disgust sensitivity may also help shape beliefs about right and wrong, good and evil.”

Now, keep in mind that other studies have found that conservatives tend to be more fearful than liberals. 

Put it all together, and you can see how a conservative could view, for example, a transgender person as not just a rarity, but a terrifying harbinger of change, an “impure” person who provokes disgust.

But for the most striking example of how fear and disgust comingle to conjure political belief systems, look no farther than our favorite hot-button topic: immigration.

It’s undeniable that the president’s most fervent supporters are petrified at the idea of more brown-skinned people moving in next door to them. The hatred— and the fear — of Latinos is a major characteristic of the Trumpist.

Now add disgust to the mix. Or better yet, let a scientist do it for you.

Researchers found that opposition to immigration “increased in direct proportion to a participant’s sensitivity to disgust — an association that held up even after taking into account education level, socioeconomic status, religious background, and numerous other factors.”

The reasons for this have to do with “negative stereotypesabout foreigners common throughout history — the notion that they’re dirty, eat bizarre foods, and have looser sexual mores.”

The myth that Hispanics are crossing the border and bringing disease is perpetrated on multiple conservative outlets. This idea provokes a strong sensation of disgust. In fact, many “scientists think germ fears piggyback” upon a fear of immigrants, causing a powerful loop of repulsion, especially among those who are most terrified of contamination.

By the way, Trump is a well-known germaphobe.

It’s all starting to make sense now — isn’t it?

Wednesday
Feb272019

Yeah, They Made a Few Mistakes

Last week, I wrote about wealth inequality in this country, which has reached levels not seen since just before the Great Depression and which is largely unique to America among industrialized nations.

Basically, over the last few decades, the “richest Americans have reaped a disproportional amount of economic growth while worker wages have failed to keep pace.” And for some unknown, truly bizarre reason, millions of working-class Americans keep voting for people who only make this situation worse

Now, at the risk of generating class warfare, let me point out that this situation is — in the words of leading economists — completely fucked up. 

We simply cannot go on shoveling money to rich people, hoping that they will magically invest in dying factory towns and crumbling inner cities, when all they do, in actuality, is horde more shit for themselves.

Disbelieve me at your own peril, because there are historical precedents for powerful nations that adopted hero-worship of the rich, and it did not turn out well for them.

For an example close to my heart, let’s take a look at the Maya. Hundreds of years ago, their mighty empire covered parts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and my family’s homeland of El Salvador. Hey, there is at least a slight chance that I am descended from Mayan royalty.

Yes, let’s go with that idea.

In any case, between about 300 and 900 A.D., “the Maya were responsible for a number of remarkable scientific achievements— in astronomy, agriculture, engineering, and communications.” These were the people who were “producing rubber products about 3,000 years” before Americans figured out how to do it.

So yeah, they were the powerhouse of the era — the most advanced civilization on Earth at the time 

And then they were gone — just like that. 

The Mayan empire “went from bustling cities to abandoned ruins over the course of roughly a hundred years,” creating “one of ancient history’s most intriguing mysteries: Why did the Maya, a remarkably sophisticated civilization made up of more than 19 million people, suddenly collapse?”

Well, historians have pinpointed two chief reasons for the Mayan’s abrupt demise.

The first is — you guessed it — the “increasingly parasitic role of the elite” in rotting the empire from the inside out. In essence, the richest Mayans were obsessed with building wealth, and their insatiable appetites “forced peasants and craftsmen into making a critical choice, perhaps necessary to escape starvation,” which was to abandon their farms and towns. 

As a result, the rich people weren’t rich for much longer, because everybody who had knocked themselves out to serve the wealthy finally said, “To hell with this,” and took off, causing the cities to crumble.

 

Does this setup sound remotely familiar to anybody who has spent time in Manhattan or San Francisco — places that are so far beyond the means of the middle class that they have become enclaves of pure wealth? And all while the homeless population has surged, and working-class wages have stagnated?

Do you really have to think about the answer?

By the way, the other chief reason for the Mayan empire’s implosion is climate change.Even though “the Maya were no fools” in that they “knew their environment and how to survive within it,” they still “continued deforesting at a rapid pace, until the local environment was unable to sustain their society.”

Well, it’s a good thing nobody in a position of power today denies the severity of climate change— nope.

Historians point out that these twin factors caused the Mayan civilization to shatter, and that “the results are the ornate ruins that stretch across” Latin America today.

So let’s ask ourselves the following: Are these among the last ornate ruins that this hemisphere will see, or will another mighty civilization soon destroy itself? 

 

Wednesday
Feb202019

Lopsided

OK, so everyone’s tax refund sucked this year. Well, if you’re a billionaire, you did better than ever, but for the rest of us, the first year of the GOP’s so-called tax reform was a major bust.

Yes, I know that a smaller tax refund is actually a good thing, financially, for the average person. But that’s not how many Americans are interpreting it.

For example, many Trump supporters are expressing their “feelings of anger and betrayal— some of whom are now surprised to find themselves owing upwards of several thousand dollars to the IRS.”

Personally, I have exceedingly little sympathy for those middle-class people who were naïve enough to believe that the GOP would actually help them. Today’s crop of Republicans could not give a half a fuck about anyone who makes less than million per year, and this is well-publicized news.

The bigger issue is that the Trump supporters who are complaining about their tax refunds are really saying the following: “I am ok with racism, misogyny, lying, corruption and incompetence. I’m even fine with unraveling democracy, endangering America’s security, damaging the planet, and possibly having a Russian mole in the White House. I’m good with all of it, as long as I get a few hundred bucks back at tax time.”

Never have so many people sold out their integrity for such a pathetic pittance.

Of course, many Trump supporters are not just ok with racism and misogyny, they love it, so they have no integrity to sell out in the first place.

Either way, it is not a good look, as the kids say.

Still, just because the GOP tax law was an overt scam that further enriched the wealthy and screwed over the middle class doesn’t mean that we’re doing anything to change the situation.

For example, our buddy Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has recently gotten everyone shouting and seething and swooning over her idea of instituting a 70 percent marginal tax rate on the super-rich.

Many respected economists say that she is on to something. But to the Fox News crowd, this is just another example of out-of-control leftists cramming “socialism” down the throats of good, decent Americans.

As many have pointed out, “socialism” is now anything that asks millionaires to pay a little more. 

As a side note, criticizing AOC for getting the occasional fact wrong is hilarious coming from right-wingers. After all, they feverishly support a doofus who doesn’t understand the first thing about the US Constitution, the separation of powers, the job of the chief executive, the basics of international diplomacy, the concept of global economics, or just about anything that doesn’t have to do with golf or fast food. Oh, and the guy has lied in public approximately 8,000 times in two years.  

So I would back off.

Now, regardless of whether AOC’s plan is correct on the numbers, it is clearly on the right path. After all, wealth inequality is currently at its highest point since right before the Great Depression, and several indicators of economic calamity are flashing red.

As such, if throwing money at the 1 percent and hoping for the best was really a sound policy for America, the effects would have trickled down (so to speak) by now.

Still, all this talk about wealth disparity and inequality has gotten me thinking about my Mayan ancestors.

Wait… what does all this have to do with the Mayans?

Well, to learn the answer that excellent question, you will have to wait until next week’s post. 

 

Friday
Feb152019

Emergency!

As you know, our buffoonish caricature of a president followed through on his threat to undermine the Constitution, declare himself an autocrat, and waste billions on a pointless, hate-filled endeavor that has no chance of success and is just a pathetic sop to the bigots who love him.

I mean, he declared a national emergency over the state of the southern border. That’s what I meant to say.

Yup.

In any case, we all know that Trump’s move is not based in reality, because “the influx of migrant families at the southern border does not constitute a national security crisis, much less a bona fide emergency.”

Also, it will get bogged down in the courts, if Democrats don’t outright kill it first.

And it has set a disturbing precedent for future chief executives, with liberals now hooting for the next Democratic president to declare emergencies over climate change, health care, and guns — all of which are much bigger, graver crises than a few more brown-skinned people showing up in America.

And it has put Republicans in tight spot, as they must choose between their principles of limited government and respect for constitutional authority over allegiance to —

Ha-ha, let’s not even finish that sentence. Because we all know that the meek spineless GOP will say, “Whatever you want, master” to a scatterbrained narcissist who has shown almost zealous “eagerness to undermine the Constitution to serve his short-term political gain.” 

Of course, this is the same crowd that lost its collective fucking mind when it appeared that Obama may have bowed to a foreign leader.

But they are fine with a potential double agent actively doing the bidding of a hostile despot, right down to echoing totalitarian talking points. Yes, that’s a-ok.

About this time, Republicans have to be second-guessing their embrace of an oafish loser who has accomplished few of their party’s goals, but has managed to turn the GOP into a toxic landfill that future generations will avoid like its Ebola.

That’s not much of a stretch, because we’re talking about people who are so vile that they are actively rooting for the return of deadly contagious diseases that infect children. They really want this. I’m not making it up.

But I digress.

The point is that Trump is such a brilliant negotiator that he shut down the government for a month, only to get a worse deal than he would have received in the first place. Now, that is talent.

With that kind of leadership, it’s no wonder that America is in a constant state of chaos.

Or if you prefer, more like a constant state of emergency.