An Insider’s View: The Dark Rigidity of Fundamentalist Rural America

In deep-red white America, the white Christian God is king.

Source:AlterNet

Author:Forsetti’s Justice / AlterNet

Emphasis Mine

(N.B.: at the end of the day, belief in a White Christian God is the problem…)

As the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump is being sorted out, a common theme keeps cropping up from all sides: “Democrats failed to understand white, working-class, fly-over America.”

Trump supporters are saying this. Progressive pundits are saying this. Talking heads across all forms of the media are saying this. Even some Democratic leaders are saying this. It doesn’t matter how many people say it, it is complete bullshit. It is an intellectual/linguistic sleight of hand meant to throw attention away from the real problem. The real problem isn’t east coast elites who don’t understand or care about rural America. The real problem is rural America doesn’t understand the causes of their own situations and fears and they have shown no interest in finding out. They don’t want to know why they feel the way they do or why they are struggling because they don’t want to admit it is in large part because of choices they’ve made and horrible things they’ve allowed themselves to believe.

I grew up in rural, Christian, white America. You’d be hard-pressed to find an area in the country that has a higher percentage of Christians or whites. I spent most of the first 24 years of my life deeply embedded in this culture. I religiously (pun intended) attended their Christian services. I worked off and on, on their rural farms. I dated their calico skirted daughters. I camped, hunted, and fished with their sons. I listened to their political rants at the local diner and truck stop. I winced at their racist/bigoted jokes and epithets that were said more out of ignorance than animosity. I have also watched the town I grew up in go from a robust economy with well-kept homes and infrastructure turn into a struggling economy with shuttered businesses, dilapidated homes, and a broken down infrastructure over the past 30 years. The problem isn’t that I don’t understand these people. The problem is they don’t understand themselves, the reasons for their anger/frustrations, and don’t seem to care to know why.

In deep-red white America, the white Christian God is king, figuratively and literally. Religious fundamentalism is what has shaped most of their belief systems. Systems built on a fundamentalist framework are not conducive to introspection, questioning, learning, change. When you have a belief system that is built on fundamentalism, it isn’t open to outside criticism, especially by anyone not a member of your tribe and in a position of power. The problem isn’t “coastal elites don’t understand rural Americans.” The problem is rural America doesn’t understand itself and will NEVER listen to anyone outside their bubble. It doesn’t matter how “understanding” you are, how well you listen, what language you use…if you are viewed as an outsider, your views are automatically discounted. I’ve had hundreds of discussions with rural white Americans and whenever I present them any information that contradicts their entrenched beliefs, no matter how sound, how unquestionable, how obvious, they WILL NOT even entertain the possibility it might be true. Their refusal is a result of the nature of their fundamentalist belief system and the fact I’m the enemy because I’m an educated liberal.

At some point during the discussion, “That’s your education talking,” will be said, derogatorily, as a general dismissal of everything I said. They truly believe this is a legitimate response because to them education is not to be trusted. Education is the enemy of fundamentalism because fundamentalism, by its very nature, is not built on facts. The fundamentalists I grew up around aren’t anti-education. They want their kids to know how to read and write. They are anti-quality, in-depth, broad, specialized education. Learning is only valued up to the certain point. Once it reaches the level where what you learn contradicts doctrine and fundamentalist arguments, it becomes dangerous. I watched a lot of my fellow students who were smart, stop their education the day they graduated high school. For most of the young ladies, getting married and having kids was more important than continuing their learning. For many of the young men, getting a college education was seen as unnecessary and a waste of time. For the few who did go to college, what they learned was still filtered through their fundamentalist belief system. If something they were taught didn’t support a preconception, it would be ignored and forgotten the second it was no longer needed to pass an exam.

Knowing this about their belief system and their view of outside information that doesn’t support it, telling me that the problem is coastal elites not understanding them completely misses the point.

Another problem with rural, Christian, white Americans is they are racists. I’m not talking about white hood-wearing, cross-burning, lynching racists (though some are). I’m talking about people who deep down in their heart of hearts truly believe they are superior because they are white. Their white God made them in his image and everyone else is a less-than-perfect version, flawed and cursed.

The religion in which I was raised taught this. Even though they’ve backtracked on some of their more racist declarations, many still believe the original claims. Non-whites are the color they are because of their sins, or at least the sins of their ancestors. Blacks don’t have dark skin because of where they lived and evolution; they have dark skin because they are cursed. God cursed them for a reason. If God cursed them, treating them as equals would be going against God’s will. It is really easy to justify treating people differently if they are cursed by God and will never be as good as you no matter what they do because of some predetermined status.

Once you have this view, it is easy to lower the outside group’s standing and acceptable level of treatment. Again, there are varying levels of racism at play in rural, Christian, white America. I know people who are ardent racists. I know a lot more whose racism is much more subtle but nonetheless racist. It wouldn’t take sodium pentothal to get most of these people to admit they believe they are fundamentally better and superior to minorities. They are white supremacists who dress up in white dress shirts, ties, and gingham dresses. They carry a Bible and tell you, “everyone’s a child of God” but forget to mention that some of God’s children are more favored than others and skin tone is the criterion by which we know who is and who isn’t at the top of God’s list of most favored children.

For us “coastal elites” who understand evolution, genetics, science…nothing we say to those in fly-over country is going to be listened to because not only are we fighting against an anti-education belief system, we are arguing against God. You aren’t winning a battle of beliefs with these people if you are on one side of the argument and God is on the other. No degree of understanding this is going to suddenly make them less racist, more open to reason and facts. Telling “urban elites” they need to understand rural Americans isn’t going to lead to a damn thing because it misses the causes of the problem.

Because rural, Christian, white Americans will not listen to educated arguments, supported by facts that go against their fundamentalist belief systems from “outsiders,” any change must come from within. Internal change in these systems does happen, but it happens infrequently and it always lags far behind reality. This is why they fear change so much. They aren’t used to it. Of course, it really doesn’t matter whether they like it or not, it, like the evolution and climate change even though they don’t believe it, it is going to happen whether they believe in it or not.

Another major problem with closed-off, fundamentalist belief systems is they are very susceptible to propaganda. All belief systems are to some extent, but fundamentalist systems even more so because there are no checks and balances. If bad information gets in, it doesn’t get out and because there are no internal mechanisms to guard against it, it usually ends up very damaging to the whole. A closed-off belief system is like your spinal fluid—it is great as long as nothing infectious gets into it. If bacteria gets into your spinal fluid, it causes unbelievable damage because there are no white blood cells in it whose job is to fend off invaders and protect the system. This is why things like meningitis are so horrible. Without the protective services of white blood cells in the spinal column, meningitis spreads like wildfire once it’s in and does significant damage in a very short period of time. Once inside the closed-off spinal system, bacteria are free to destroy whatever they want.

The very same is true with closed-off belief systems. Without built-in protective functions like critical analysis, self-reflection, openness to counter-evidence, willingness to re-evaluate any and all beliefs, etc., bad information in a closed-off system ends up doing massive damage in short period of time. What has happened to too many fundamentalist belief systems is damaging information has been allowed in from people who have been granted “expert status.” If someone is allowed into a closed-off system and their information is deemed acceptable, anything they say will readily be accepted and become gospel.

Rural, Christian, white Americans have let in anti-intellectual, anti-science, bigoted, racists into their system as experts like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, any of the blonde Stepford Wives on Fox, every evangelical preacher on television because they tell them what they want to hear and because they sell themselves as being “one of them.” The truth is none of these people give a rat’s ass about rural, Christian, white Americans except how can they exploit them for attention and money. None of them have anything in common with the people who have let them into their belief systems with the exception they are white and they “speak the same language” of white superiority, God’s will must be obeyed, and how, even though they are the Chosen Ones, they are the ones being screwed by all the people and groups they believe they are superior to.

Gays being allowed to marry are a threat. Blacks protesting the killing of their unarmed friends and family are a threat. Hispanics doing the cheap labor on their farms are somehow viewed a threat. The black president is a threat. Two billion Muslims are a threat. The Chinese are a threat. Women wanting to be autonomous are a threat. The college educated are a threat. Godless scientists are a threat. Everyone who isn’t just like them has been sold to them as a threat and they’ve bought it hook, line, and grifting sinker. Since there are no self-regulating mechanisms in their belief systems, these threats only grow over time. Since facts and reality don’t matter, nothing you say to them will alter their beliefs. “President Obama was born in Kenya, is a secret member of the Muslim Brotherhood who hates white Americans and is going to take away their guns.” I feel ridiculous even writing this, it is so absurd, but it is gospel across large swaths of rural America. Are rural, Christian, white Americans scared? You’re damn right they are. Are their fears rational and justified? Hell no. The problem isn’t understanding their fears. The problem is how to assuage fears based on lies in closed-off fundamentalist belief systems that don’t have the necessary tools for properly evaluating the fears.

I don’t have a good answer to this question. When a child has an irrational fear, you can deal with it because they trust you and are open to possibilities. When someone doesn’t trust you and isn’t open to anything not already accepted as true in their belief system, there really isn’t much, if anything you can do. This is why I think the whole, “Democrats have to understand and find common ground with rural America,” is misguided and a complete waste of time. When a 3,000-year-old book that was written by uneducated, pre-scientific people, subject to translation innumerable times, edited with political and economic pressures from popes and kings, is given higher intellectual authority than facts arrived at from a rigorous, self-critical, constantly re-evaluating system that can and does correct mistakes, no amount of understanding, no amount of respect, no amount of evidence is going to change their minds, assuage their fears.

Do you know what does change the beliefs of fundamentalists, sometimes? When something becomes personal. Many a fundamentalist has changed his mind about the LGBT community once his loved ones started coming out of the closet. Many have not. But those who did, did so because their personal experience came in direct conflict with what they believe. My own father is a good example of this. For years I had long, sometimes heated discussions with him about gay rights. Being the good religious fundamentalist he is, he could not even entertain the possibility he was wrong. The Church said it was wrong, so therefore it was wrong. No questions asked. No analysis needed. This changed when one of his adored stepchildren came out of the closet. He didn’t do a complete 180. He has a view that tries to accept gay rights while at the same time viewing being gay as a mortal sin because his need to have his belief system be right outweighs everything else.

This isn’t uncommon. Deeply held beliefs are usually only altered, replaced under catastrophic circumstances that are personal. This belief system alteration works both ways. I know die-hard, open-minded progressives who became ardent fundamentalists due to a traumatic event in their lives.

A really good example of this is the comedian Dennis Miller. I’ve seen Miller in concert four different times during the 1990s. His humor was complex, riddled with references, and leaned pretty left on almost all issues. Then 9/11 happened. For whatever reasons, the trauma of 9/11 caused a seismic shift in Miller’s belief system. Now he is a mainstay on conservative talk radio. His humor was replaced with anger and frustration. 9/11 changed his belief system because it was a catastrophic event that was personal to him.

The catastrophe of the Great Depression along with the progressive remedies by FDR helped create a generation of Democrats from previously die-hard Republicans. People who had, up until that point, deeply believed the government couldn’t help the economy only the free market could change their minds when the brutal reality of the Great Depression affected them directly, personally.

I thought the financial crisis in 2008 would have a similar, though lesser, impact on many Republicans. It didn’t. The systems that were put in place after the Great Recession to deal with economic crises, the quick, smart response by Congress and the administration helped make what could have been a catastrophic event into merely a really bad one. People suffered, but they didn’t suffer enough to where they were open to questioning their deeply held beliefs. Because this questioning didn’t take place, the Great Recession didn’t lead to any meaningful political shift away from poorly regulated markets, supply side economics, or how to respond to a financial crisis. This is why, even though rural Christian white Americans were hit hard by the Great Recession, they not only didn’t blame the political party they’ve aligned themselves with for years, they rewarded them two years later by voting them into a record number of state legislatures and taking over the U.S. House.

Of course, it didn’t help matters there were scapegoats available they could direct their fears, anger, and white supremacy towards. A significant number of rural Americans believe President Obama was in charge when the financial crisis started. An even higher number believe the mortgage crisis was the result of the government forcing banks to give loans to unqualified minorities. It doesn’t matter how untrue both of these are, they are gospel in rural America. Why reevaluate your beliefs and voting patterns when scapegoats are available?

How do you make climate change personal to someone who believes only God can alter the weather? How do you make racial equality personal to someone who believes whites are naturally superior to non-whites? How do you make gender equality personal to someone who believes women are supposed to be subservient to men by God’s command? How do you get someone to view minorities as not threatening personal to people who don’t live around and never interact with them? How do you make personal the fact massive tax cuts and cutting back government hurts their economic situation when they’ve voted for these for decades? I don’t think you can without some catastrophic events. And maybe not even then. The Civil War was pretty damn catastrophic yet a large swath of the South believed and still believes they were right, had the moral high ground. They were/are also mostly Christian fundamentalists who believe they are superior because of the color of their skin and the religion they profess to follow. There is a pattern here for anyone willing to connect the dots.

“Rural, white America needs to be better understood,” is not one of the dots. “Rural, white America needs to be better understood,” is a dodge, meant to avoid the real problems because talking about the real problems is viewed as “too upsetting,” “too mean,” “too arrogant,” “too elite,” “too snobbish.” Pointing out Aunt Bee’s views of Mexicans, blacks, gays…is bigoted isn’t the thing one does in polite society. Too bad more people don’t think the same about the views Aunt Bee has. It’s the classic, “You’re a racist for calling me a racist,” ploy. Or, as it is more commonly known, “I know you are but what am I?”

I do think rational arguments are needed, even if they go mostly ignored and ridiculed. I believe in treating people with the respect they’ve earned but the key point here is “earned.” I’ll gladly sit down with Aunt Bee and have a nice, polite conversation about her beliefs about “the gays,” “the blacks,” “illegals,”…and do so without calling her a bigot or a racist. But, this doesn’t mean she isn’t a bigot and a racist and if I’m asked to describe her beliefs these are the only words that honestly fit. No one with cancer wants to be told they have cancer, but just because no one uses the word, “cancer,” it doesn’t mean they don’t have it. Just because the media, pundits on all sides, some Democratic leaders don’t want to call the actions of many rural, Christian, white Americans, “racist/bigoted” doesn’t make them not so.

Avoiding the obvious only prolongs getting the necessary treatment. America has always had a race problem. It was built on racism and bigotry. This didn’t miraculously go away in 1964 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act. It didn’t go away with the election of Barack Obama. If anything, these events pulled back the curtain exposing the dark, racist underbelly of America that white America likes to pretend doesn’t exist because we are the reason it exists. From the white nationalists to the white, suburban soccer moms who voted for Donald Trump, to the far left progressives who didn’t vote at all, racism exists and has once again been legitimized and normalized by white America.

The honest truths that rural, Christian, white Americans don’t want to accept and until they do nothing is going to change, are:

-Their economic situation is largely the result of voting for supply-side economic policies that have been the largest redistribution of wealth from the bottom/middle to the top in U.S. history.

Immigrants haven’t taken their jobs. If all immigrants, legal or otherwise, were removed from the U.S., our economy would come to a screeching halt and prices on food would soar.

Immigrants are not responsible for companies moving their plants overseas. Almost exclusively white business owners are the ones responsible because they care more about their share holders who are also mostly white than they do American workers.

No one is coming for their guns. All that has been proposed during the entire Obama administration is having better background checks.

Gay people getting married is not a threat to their freedom to believe in whatever white God you want to. No one is going to make their church marry gays, make gays your pastor, accept gays for membership.

Women having access to birth control doesn’t affect their life either, especially women who they complain about being teenage, single mothers.

-Blacks are not “lazy moochers living off their hard earned tax dollars” anymore than many of your fellow rural neighbors. People in need are people in need. People who can’t find jobs because of their circumstances, a changing economy, outsourcing overseas, etc. belong to all races.

They get a tremendous amount of help from the government they complain does nothing for them. From the roads and utility grids they use to the farm subsidies, crop insurance, commodities protections…they benefit greatly from government assistance. The Farm Bill is one of the largest financial expenditures by the U.S. government. Without government assistance, their lives would be considerably worse.

-They get the largest share of Food Stamps, Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security.

-They complain about globalization but line up like everyone else to get the latest Apple product. They have no problem buying foreign-made guns, scopes, and hunting equipment. They don’t think twice about driving trucks whose engine was made in Canada, tires made in Japan, radio made in Korea, computer parts made in Malaysia.

-They use illicit drugs as much as any other group. But, when other people do it is a “moral failing” and they should be severely punished, legally. When they do it, it is a “health crisis” that needs sympathy and attention.

-When jobs dry up for whatever reasons, they refuse to relocate but lecture the poor in places like Flint for staying in towns that are failing.

-They are quick to judge minorities for being “welfare moochers” but don’t think twice about cashing their welfare check every month.

-They complain about coastal liberals, but the taxes from California and New York are what covers their farm subsidies, helps maintain their highways, and keeps their hospitals in their sparsely populated areas open for business.

-They complain about “the little man being run out of business” then turn around and shop at big box stores.

-They make sure outsiders are not welcome, deny businesses permits to build, then complain about businesses, plants opening up in less rural areas.

Government has not done enough to help them in many cases but their local and state governments are almost completely Republican and so too are their representatives and senators. Instead of holding them accountable, they vote them in over and over and over again.

All the economic policies and ideas that could help rural America belong to the Democratic Party: raising the minimum wage, strengthening unions, infrastructure spending, reusable energy growth, slowing down the damage done by climate change, healthcare reform…all of these and more would really help a lot of rural Americans.

What I understand is that rural, Christian, white Americans are entrenched in fundamentalist belief systems; don’t trust people outside their tribe; have been force-fed a diet of misinformation and lies for decades; are unwilling to understand their own situations; and truly believe whites are superior to all races. No amount of understanding is going to change these things or what they believe. No amount of niceties will get them to be introspective. No economic policy put forth by someone outside their tribe is going to be listened to no matter how beneficial it would be for them. I understand rural, Christian, white America all too well. I understand their fears are based on myths and lies. I understand they feel left behind by a world they don’t understand and don’t really care to. They are willing to vote against their own interest if they can be convinced it will make sure minorities are harmed more. Their Christian beliefs and morals are truly only extended to fellow white Christians. They are the problem with progress and always will be, because their belief systems are constructed against it.

The problem isn’t a lack of understanding by coastal elites. The problem is a lack of understanding of why rural, Christian, white America believes, votes, behaves the ways it does by rural, Christian, white America.

See:http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/rural-america-understanding-isnt-problem?akid=14946.123424.kspCKT&rd=1&src=newsletter1068152&t=2

The Progressive Platform Gains Are Significant – But The Political Revolution Isn’t Stopping There

Now that Sanders has declared his support for Clinton, a senior Sanders campaign advisor maps the road ahead. The platform is likely the most progressive ever. The future of the political revolution, however, goes far beyond the platform, rules, convention or even the 2016 election. In the next two weeks, Bernie Sanders will begin to describe how his massive organization of millions can function beyond this moment and help build a movement for social and economic change.

Source:In these Times via Portside

Author:Larry Cohen

Emphasis Mine

A few hours ago, Bernie Sanders announced his support for Hillary Clinton for Democratic presidential nominee. It’s a moment both to take stock of our gains and to think ahead. Sanders’ insurgent campaign has made a remarkable impact, but the political revolution it started is far from over.

This weekend, the 187-member Democratic Platform Committee cleaned up some sections of the draft platform, but there is no mistaking the results for the political revolution.

The clean-up was significant, improving language on climate change, trade policy and healthcare reform. Most significantly, the demands now include Sanders’ calls for a public option, a $15 minimum wage, and free tuition at public universities for families with incomes under $125,000 a year.

Not that the initial version, produced by the 15-member Platform Drafting Committee on June 25, lacked good points. It included planks on ensuring voting rights and getting money out of politics, expanding the post office to check cashing and other financial services, and passing a modern Glass-Steagall Act to separate investment and commercial banking. The drafters also called for significant investment in infrastructure and renewable energy, the abolition of the death penalty, and expanding rather than cutting Social Security benefits (though they were vague on how to pay for that).

After a year on the road with Bernie’s campaign, I am proud of all of this, but yearn for what may have been: not just a better platform but the political revolution writ large as Sanders vs. Trump, a working-class candidate versus a billionaire.

While the platform is likely the most progressive ever, with enormous thanks to Bernie and his supporters, it will likely stop short of satisfying the tens of thousands who campaigned for him and the 12 million who voted for him.  There is no proposal to end fracking; Medicare for all was voted down; and the platform does not support an end to new Israeli settlements in Gaza or the West Bank. 

The section on trade is in many ways the most disappointing. Unlike the other platform goals, which require a progressive Congress—at best years away—trade is initiated by the president. Right now, that president is a Democrat who is counting on the Republicans to provide most of the votes for his Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, which will cost millions of American jobs and accelerate the global race to the bottom.

Increasingly it seems that President Obama, determined to pass TPP as part of his legacy despite overwhelming opposition from Democrats and skepticism from the American public, sees the post-election lame duck session of Congress as his best chance. Fast-track for the TPP, passed a year ago by the Republican Congress, allows President Obama discretion to send it to Congress and then requires an up or down vote in the Senate and the House within 90 days. That gives Obama two options: If he sends the TPP to Congress in early September, Congress will be required to vote before adjournment at the end of the year. If he waits until November, it will be up to the Republican leaders to bring it to a vote in lame duck or let the clock run out.

At this critical time, Bernie Sanders and his platform committee appointees, were determined that the Democratic Party platform explicitly express opposition to the TPP. As it turned out, the Clinton campaign honored the demands of the White House and vigorously pressured its platform committee appointees to support the president and avoid outright opposition to the TPP.  Public employee union leaders led that effort despite universal labor opposition to the TPP including that of their own unions.

While the trade language adopted on Saturday is far better than that in the initial platform draft, including general opposition to corporate-oriented trade, the failure to explicitly oppose the TPP means the president will be able to lobby Democrats to vote for the TPP without violating his own party’s platform. Since some Republicans oppose the TPP, those Democratic votes could be decisive in securing lame duck passage. Meanwhile Donald Trump can claim that his opposition to the TPP is clear and that Hillary Clinton is only talking about opposing the deal and not acting when it counts.

The Sanders delegation will now pivot from the platform to the Democratic Party rules—issues like eliminating the nominating power of “super” delegates.  The Rules Committee meets next week, and once again the debate will be about change vs. continuity and the populist moment vs. the party establishment.

The future of the political revolution, however, goes far beyond the platform, rules, convention or even the 2016 election.  In the next two weeks, Bernie Sanders will begin to describe how his massive organization of millions can function beyond this moment and help build a movement for social and economic change.  Bernie’s revolution has brought us much further than anyone expected. Who would have ever believed the stated objectives of the Democratic Party would include a public option or free tuition? The question for millions of Bernie supporters is how to keep this going both inside and outside of the party, in the Congress and state legislatures, but also in the streets.  

[Larry Cohen is the past president of the Communications Workers of America and a senior adviser to the Sanders campaign.]

Reprinted with permission from In These Times. All rights reserved.  Portside is proud to feature content from In These Times, a publication dedicated to covering progressive politics, labor and activism. To get more news and provocative analysis from In These Times, sign up  for a free weekly e-newsletter or subscribe to the magazine at a special low rate.

 

Learning From Obama

Source: NY Times

Author: Paul Krugman

Emphasis Mine

Like many political junkies, I’ve been spending far too much time looking at polls and trying to understand their implications. Can Donald Trump really win his party’s nomination? (Yes.) Can Bernie Sanders? (No.) But the primaries aren’t the only things being polled; we’re still getting updates on President Obama’s overall approval. And something striking has happened on that front.

At the end of 2015 Mr. Obama was still underwater, with significantly more Americans disapproving than approving. Since then, however, his approval has risen sharply while disapproval has plunged. He’s still only in modestly positive territory, but the net movement in polling averages has been about 11 percentage points, which is a lot.

What’s going on?

Well, one answer is that voters have lately been given a taste of what really bad leaders look like. But I’d like to think that the public is also starting to realize just how successful the Obama administration has been in addressing America’s problems. And there are lessons from that success for those willing to learn.

I know that it’s hard for many people on both sides to wrap their minds around the notion of Obama-as-success. On the left, those caught up in the enthusiasms of 2008 feel let down by the prosaic reality of governing in a deeply polarized political system. Meanwhile, conservative ideology predicts disaster from any attempt to tax the rich, help the less fortunate and rein in the excesses of the market; and what are you going to believe, the ideology or your own lying eyes?

But the successes are there for all to see.

Start with the economy. You might argue that presidents don’t have as much effect on economic performance as voters seem to imagine — especially presidents facing scorched-earth opposition from Congress for most of their time in office. But that misses the point: Republicans have spent the past seven years claiming incessantly that Mr. Obama’s policies are a “job killing” disaster, destroying business incentives, so it’s important news if the economy has performed well.

And it has: We’ve gained 10 million private-sector jobs since Mr. Obama took office, and unemployment is below 5 percent. True, there are still some areas of disappointment — low labor force participation, weak wage growth. But just imagine the boasting we’d be hearing if Mitt Romney occupied the White House.

Then there’s health reform, which has (don’t tell anyone) been meeting its goals.

Back in 2012, just after the Supreme Court made it possible for states to reject the Medicaid expansion, the Congressional Budget Office predicted that by now 89 percent of the nonelderly population would be covered; the actual number is 90 percent.

The details have been something of a surprise: fewer people than expected signing up on the exchanges, but fewer employers than expected dropping coverage, and more people signing up for Medicaid — which means, incidentally, that Obamacare is looking much more like a single-payer system than anyone seems to realize. But the point is that reform has indeed delivered the big improvements in coverage it promised, and has done so at lower cost than expected.

Then there’s financial reform, which the left considers toothless and the right considers destructive. In fact, while the big banks haven’t been broken up, excessive leverage — the real threat to financial stability — has been greatly reduced. And as for the economic effects, have I mentioned how well we’ve done on job creation?

Last but one hopes not least, the Obama administration has used executive authority to take steps on the environment that, if not canceled by a Republican president and upheld by future Supreme Courts, will amount to very significant action on climate change.

All in all, it’s quite a record. Assuming Democrats hold the presidency, Mr. Obama will emerge as a hugely consequential president — more than Reagan. And I’m sure Republicans will learn a lot from his achievements.

April fools!

Seriously, there is essentially no chance that conservatives, whose ideas haven’t changed in decades, will reconsider their dogma. But maybe progressives will be more open-minded.

The 2008 election didn’t bring the political transformation Obama enthusiasts expected, nor did it destroy the power of the vested interests: Wall Street, the medical-industrial complex and the fossil fuel lobby are all still out there, using their money to buy influence. But they have been pushed back in ways that have made American lives better and more secure. The lesson of the Obama years, in other words, is that success doesn’t have to be complete to be very real. You say you want a revolution? Well, you can’t always get what you want — but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.

See:http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/01/opinion/learning-from-obama.html?rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2Fpaul-krugman&action=click&contentCollection=opinion&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collection&_r=1

This is what climate change looks like.

 

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110109_Algeria_slashes_food_prices_amid_riots_002

Source: dailykos

Author: grumpynerd

Emphasis Mine

It’s important to express solidarity with Belgium at this time of grief and fear, but we have to also start thinking longer term about these kinds of events.  One of the overlooked factors leading to the Paris and Brussels attacks is something we’ll be living with a long time: climate change.

We have to start making this point: regional political instability and the resulting export of terrorism are climate change problems. And no doubt we’ll be ridiculed for saying that. “Don’t be ridiculous,” some people will say,”the problem is radical Islam.” Well the Assads have ruled over radical Islamists for decades, and have ruthlessly but successfully put down past Islamist risings.  So what was different about 2011?  This was:

SyriaWheatProduction.jpg

Now note that by 2011 Syrian grain production actually had begun to recover from the record-setting failures of 2008, but measured against the levels of production in the first half of the decade we’re looking at a bad harvest. And by that year many people had migrated to the cities when their farms failed.  Syria had 1.3 million internal refugees — climate refugees — when the first “Day of Rage” was staged in February 2011.  160 villages had been completely depopulated. [source]

We get a better picture of what was going on by comparing consumption, production and importation of wheat to Syria:

Syria_wheat_supply_chart

Look at what the red line — the amount of consumption — does in 2010. It goes down.  Bread is a staple of the Syrian diet much more than it is in the American diet, so what you are looking at are people going hungry.  In 2009 they were able to import their way around the bad wheat harvests, then in 2010 you have a hungry year. Why? The local harvests weren’t any worse in 2010 than 2009, but imports drop precipitously because of this:

indicator3_2012_GrainPrice

In 2011, there was enough wheat in Syria, but only if you had the money buy it. In some places the price of bread had risen ten-fold.  High food prices can destabilize any country, regardless of its culture or religion.  The French Revolution began with bread riots.  So did the Arab Spring in 2011.  Any country with large numbers of hungry, un- or under-employed people is a threat to peace and international security.

Finally, consider this map:

WorldBankAgChanges

Think of this not as an agricultural map, but as a risk map.  Where an area of climate-induced agricultural failure coincides with an affluent population that can afford to source its food globally, the risk can be discounted. But other countries won’t be able to afford to roll snake eyes when it comes to local harvests and global commodity prices. Some of those countries are important US trading partners and allies.

I am not suggesting we don’t need a security apparatus response to terrorism.  Of course we do.  But ISIL isn’t an aberration; it’s the start of a long-term, climate-driven trend that will cross religious and cultural boundaries.  A security response won’t be enough; we need to get out ahead of that trend by addressing global food security.  That’ll require an “all of the above” approach: both reductions in human contributions to climate change and preparations for the changes we can’t avoid.

 

See:http://www.dailykos.com/story/2016/03/22/1504837/-This-is-what-climate-change-looks-like?detail=email&&can_id=d57025b8908d671dcc8edc84e5855f8f&source=email-arizona-officials-confirm-legal-action-in-primary-fiasco-2&email_referrer=arizona-officials-confirm-legal-action-in-primary-fiasco-2&email_subject=arizona-officials-confirm-legal-action-in-primary-fiasco&link_id=7

Cruz, Trump Could Crater the GOP: A History Lesson for a Party on the Brink of Disaster

From the beginning of the campaign, far-right nativism has defined the agenda. Here’s why it could backfire—badly.

11896117_10206397582751186_7636156920747422504_nSource: AlterNet

Author: Heather Digby Parton/Salon

Emphasis Mine

It’s been a while since anyone said “As California goes, so goes the nation” and that’s probably since that moldy old saw was never very accurate to begin with. Sure, newspaperman Horace Greely’s “go west young man” was once a common exhortation and from the time of the gold rush through the “Mad Men” era, California was seen as a place for cutting edge social change. Its politics were often in the vanguard too from leftwing Upton Sinclair’s run for governor in the 1930s to the right wing Ronald Reagan’s run 30 years later. Howard Jarvis passed Proposition 13 in California in 1978 setting off a national crusade to cut taxes and drown the government in the bathtub which continues to this day.

But in a country that is dramatically polarized between blue and red, the only thing deep blue California leads these days is fellow travelers. Still, there are some lessons to be learned by Republicans from California’s recent experiences in one specific area: immigration. If there’s one thing the golden state knows about it’s Republican politicians scapegoating undocumented workers for political gain — and what happens when Latino voters decide to fight back.

You may recall that 1994 was a big Republican year nationally. For the first time in decades, the GOP gained a majority of seats in Congress, largely running on a doctrinaire conservative message as illustrated by Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America. When the cycle started, California Republican Governor Pete Wilson was far down in the polls with little chance of recovery. But California Republicans in 1994 were a lot like Trump voters all over the country are today. That is: They were utterly convinced that a vast wave of immigrants from Mexico were pouring over the border to obtain free medical care, welfare benefits and schooling, even as they stole all the good paying jobs from real Americans. They allegedly did all this while stubbornly refusing to learn English.

 The Republicans were so worked up, they put an initiative on the ballot now known as the notorious Proposition 187. The initiative was officially called SOS for “save our state,” and the opening words of it read:

The People of California find and declare as follows: That they have suffered and are suffering economic hardship caused by the presence of illegal immigrants in this state. That they have suffered and are suffering personal injury and damage caused by the criminal conduct of illegal immigrants in this state. That they have a right to the protection of their government from any person or persons entering this country unlawfully.

The initiative was draconian, even requiring police to verify citizenship of anyone they detain and forcing school districts to verify citizenship of all students and their families. Pete Wilson ran an ad supporting it that has become one of the most famous political ads in history, in which an ominous voiceover intoned: “They keep coming: 2 million illegal immigrants in California,” over grainy black and white footage of figures scurrying across the screen like insects exposed to the light.

Prop 187 won overwhelmingly with 59 percent of the vote. And Pete Wilson won re-election handily, as did Senator Dianne Feinstein who had run on a promise to crack down on immigration when she got back to Washington. It seemed to be a rousing success.

But while Republicans were high-fiving each other over their great victory, the court issued an immediate stay of the proposition and the Latino community in California began to protest and organize. And they also began, in great numbers, to vote Democratic. The fallout from Prop 187 and a few subsequent anti-immigrant proposals decimated the Republican Party in California. In 1994 the GOP held 26 of 52 (50 percent) U.S. House seats in the California delegation. Today they hold just 15 of 53 (28 percent). The Republican nominee has not won California in the last 6 presidential elections.

According to research by Latino Decisions this is why:

Prop 187 and the Pete Wilson years had two effects that

shifted the state dramatically to the Democrats. First, the number of Latino voters grew quickly in response to perceived attacks on the Latino community. In comparison to other states that did not experience the same anti-immigrant environment such as Texas or New York, the research clearly demonstrates that Latino voter registration in California increased must faster than anticipated by population growth alone. Second, during the mid-1990s extensive research documents a increase in Latino votes for the Democratic party in California that was sustained throughout the 2000s. Not only did more Latinos start voting, they started voting heavily against the Republican Party.

 

Political observers tend to characterize the term “backlash” as applying to white voters upset by equal rights being extended to women and minorities. But California’s experience shows that backlash can also come from minorities in reaction to bigotry. California’s Latinos knew where the hostility was coming from and fully understood the political cynicism which led Republican politicians to exploit the prejudices of their voters and the result is that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is the only Republican to win a California gubernatorial, senatorial, or presidential election since 1994.

This lesson has not been lost on the national GOP. Having no chance to win the nation’s largest bundle of electoral votes in California is an ongoing frustration. But the danger posed by a base that is hostile to the growing national Latino constituency is a problem of epic proportions — the political equivalent of climate change. It’s not that Latinos have the kind of electoral clout across the nation that they have in California as yet. But there are some very important states in which they are pivotal, like Nevada, Ohio, New Mexico, Virginia, Florida and Colorado. Indeed, won’t be long before even Texas could become a challenge.

The GOP “autopsy” after the 2012 campaign was explicit on this point. As Florida GOP strategist Sally Bradshaw, one of the authors of the report said:

“The GOP is continually marginalizing itself and unless changes are made it will be increasingly difficult for Republicans to win another presidential election in the near future…Many minorities think Republicans don’t like them or don’t want them in our country.”

Another said:

“If Hispanic Americans hear the GOP doesn’t want them in the U.S.A.,they won’t pay attention to our next sentence. It doesn’t matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy. If Hispanics think we don’t want them here, they will close their ears to our policies.”

But the party’s grassroots didn’t care about any stinkin’ autopsy report. They obstructed Comprehensive Immigration Reform and scare the hell out of any GOP office holder who seemed to even consider a path to citizenship. Just to make sure they were understood, they even took out the House majority leader, Eric Cantor, in 2014, for the crime of whispering one time that he thought some undocumented workers might someday be worthy of citizenship.

And then came Donald Trump with his wall and his deportation raids and his approval of “Operation Wetback” and his assertion that Mexico is “sending us their worst” and insisting that the undocumented workers are rapists and murderers. The rest of the field has followed with increasingly harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies. What was supposed to be a race between two youthful Hispanic Senators and a seasoned Spanish speaking ex-Governor who is married to a Mexican immigrant has turned into an ugly panderfest for the votes of bigots and xenophobes.

This week Trump outdid himself by releasing to great fanfare his first ad — an homage to Pete Wilson’s greatest hit: A grainy, black and white television spot showing people scurrying across the screen like insects. (The footage was of Morocco rather than the Mexican border, but nobody cares.) Ted Cruz followed with a more stylized,  pretentious version of the same, pretending the issue is all about jobs and not about bigotry.

Nobody knows how this will play out in the election. It’s always possible that the Democrats will fail to turn out the Latino vote in those places where it can make the difference. But you can also be pretty sure the Republicans won’t be able to do it, and according to the autopsy report, they need to attract over 40 percent of the Latino vote nationally to win.

Meanwhile in California, Cruz and Trump are neck and neck in the polls. It’s been 20 years and California Republicans still haven’t learned their lesson. If the old saying, “How California goes, so goes the nation,” has any truth in it today,  that means the national Republican Party may spend years in the wilderness before its voters realize this toxic anti-immigrant sentiment is killing them.

Heather Digby Parton, also known as “Digby,” is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

 

See:http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/cruz-trump-could-crater-gop-history-lesson-party-brink-disaster?akid=13860.123424.6IROpA&rd=1&src=newsletter1048604&t=6

Bill Gates: The Private Sector Is Inept

The world’s richest man doubts that the private sector is up to the most important job.

Source: alterNet

Author: Janet Allon

Emphasis Mine

Bill Gates, still the world’s richest man after all these years, does not have a lot of faith in his fellow billionaires or even capitalism when it comes to doing the right thing. It turns out he thinks the private sector is too selfish and inept to tackle the dire climate change situation, and relying on it would be courting disaster. Better to take a quasi socialist approach and remove the profit motive altogether from this important work.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Atlantic recently, Gates tacked pretty hard to the left. “There’s no fortune to be made,” he said, when it comes to developing clean energy sources and mitigating climate change. Besides, he pointed out, “the private sector is in general inept. How many companies do venture capitalists invest in that go poorly? By far most of them.”

The tech magnate, who has pledged $2 billion of his own money for R&D (which seems like a lot until you consider that he is worth $79.2 billion, according to Forbes), said he was pleasantly surprised when he dug into the history of government research into big scientific questions.

Since World War II, U.S.-government R&D has defined the state of the art in almost every area,” Gates told the Atlantic. “When I first got into this I thought, ‘How well does the Department of Energy spend its R&D budget?’ And I was worried: ‘Gosh, if I’m going to be saying it should double its budget, if it turns out it’s not very well spent, how am I going to feel about that? But as I’ve really dug into it, the DARPA money is very well spent, and the basic-science money is very well spent. The government has these ‘Centers of Excellence.’ They should have twice as many of those things, and those things should get about four times as much money as they do.”

Gates is doing a solo world tour to convince the world’s richest nations to commit to innovating their way out of catastrophic climate change, a tall order. Germany has generatGermany and China are already pointing the way to green energy with some of their socialist policies, and Germany has generated as much as 78 percent of its electricity through renewable sources, and regularly generates about 30 percent, twice what the U.S. does. China’s $80 billion green energy investment dwarfs that of both the U.S. and Europe.

“I would love to see a tripling, to $18 billion a year from the U.S. government to fund basic research alone,” Gates said. “Now, as a percentage of the government budget, that’s not gigantic… This is not an unachievable amount of money.”

Still, given the current make-up of the U.S. Congress, and its funding from the climate-change denying Koch brothers, Gates will likely face his hardest fight right here at home.

 

 

 

 

See: http://www.alternet.org/economy/bill-gates-private-sector-inept?akid=13608.123424.Wx49mM&rd=1&src=newsletter1044792&t=6

America’s Newest Political Curse: Ben Carson, the Neurosurgeon Who Can’t Think

Along with Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson is way ahead of the pack for the Republican presidential nomination.

Source:AlterNet

Author:Marty Kaplan

Emphasis Mine

(N.B.: An issue which the author does not address is that we don’t actually know what Dr. Carson believes, only what he says, perhaps pandering to the GOP anti-science base.)

What does it say about higher education, that you can graduate from Yale and still believe that the devil made Darwin do it?  What does it say about medicine, that you can both be a gifted neurosurgeon and also declare, “I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away”?

Along with Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson is way ahead of the pack for the Republican presidential nomination.  When Trump, an alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, says that climate change is a hoax, I can believe it’s a cynical lie pandering to the Republican base, rather than an index of his ignorance.  But when Carson, a retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon, denies that climate change is man-made, or calls the Big Bang a fairy tale, or blames gun control for the extent of the Holocaust, I think he truly believes it.

It’s conceivable that the exceptional hand-eye coordination and 3D vision that enabled Carson to separate conjoined twins is a compartmentalized gift, wholly independent of his intellectual acuity. But he could not have risen to the top of his profession without learning the Second Law of Thermodynamics (pre-meds have to take physics), without knowing that life on earth began more than 6,000 years ago (pre-meds have to take biology), without understanding the scientific method (an author of more than 120 articles in peer-reviewed journals can’t make up his own rules of evidence).  Yet what does it mean to learn such things, if they don’t stop you from spouting scientific nonsense?

This hasn’t hindered his campaign.  Participants in focus groups of Republican caucus and primary voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, conducted in recent days by Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, used these words to describe Carson: “deep,” “thoughtful,” “intelligent,” “smart,” “brilliant,” a “top mind.” I get this.  According to a recent Public Policy Polling report, 46 percent of Carson supporters (and 61 percent of Trump supporters) think President Obama was not born in the U.S., and 61 percent of Carson supporters (and 66 percent of Trump supporters) think the president is a Muslim.  Carson’s being called brilliant by that base ain’t baffling.

What I don’t get is how his rigorous scientific education and professional training gave Carson’s blind spots a pass.  Was it, in George W. Bush’s memorable phrase, “the soft tyranny of low expectations”?  Or was it the tyranny of fundamentalism over facts?

In the humanities, the equivalent conundrum is the failure of a deep appreciation for masterworks of art, literature and music to instill virtue.  I first came across this disturbing indictment when I was an undergraduate at the chief rival of Carson’s alma mater.  My field of concentration (Harvard’s pretentious term for “major”) was molecular biology, and I would have quickly flamed out if I’d maintained that science was consistent with creationism, or any of the other canards that survived Carson’s education.  But I was also in love with literature, and ended up with a doctorate in it.  On the way there, what troubled me about my studies was an essay called “To Civilize Our Gentlemen” by George Steiner. Its thesis ran so counter to the bedrock of an elite education – the belief that the humanities humanize – that I went to England for two years to study at Cambridge with Steiner, as passionate an embodiment of academic high culture as could be, in order to reconcile my love for humanistic learning with its apparent inability to prevent barbarism.

My copy of the essay, and the book it appeared in, “Language and Silence,” is full of a 20-year-old’s underlining and marginalia (“right on!”).  These are some of the passages that jangled me:

“We know now that a man can read Goethe or Rilke in the evening, that he can play Bach and Schubert, and go to the day’s work at Auschwitz in the morning. To say that he has read them without understanding or that is ear is gross, is cant…. The simple yet appalling fact is that we have very little solid evidence that literary studies do very much to enrich or stabilize moral perception, that they humanize…. Indeed, I would go further: it is at least conceivable that the focusing of consciousness on a written text… diminishes the sharpness and readiness of our actual moral response…. The capacity for [moral response]… is not limitless; on the contrary, it can be rapidly absorbed by fictions, and thus the cry in the poem may come to sound louder, more urgent, more real than the cry in the street outside. The death in the novel may move us more potently than the death in the next room…. [S]urely there is something terrible in our doubt whether the study and delight a man finds in Shakespeare makes him any less capable of organizing a concentration camp.”

When Wolf Blitzer asked Carson if he wanted to amend or take back his comparison of Obama’s America to Nazi Germany, he replied, “Absolutely not.” Am I comparing Carson to Nazis? Absolutely not. I’m comparing the compatibility of a scientific education and intellectual ignorance with the compatibility of a humanistic education and moral ignorance.

The simple yet appalling fact is that we have at least some solid evidence that a top scientific education and a distinguished career in medicine does not make a man any less capable of believing untruths to be true and truths to be false.

I don’t know how I’d react if a shooter opened fire in my classroom.  Maybe I’d risk my safety to protect others. Maybe I’d be too petrified do anything. But I do know the feeling that would devastate me if someone I loved became “a body with bullet holes”; it would not be the feeling that the Second Amendment is in jeopardy. It is at least conceivable that the clinical detachment required by a doctor to deal with the deaths in this room makes the deaths in the next room less urgent, less real.

I know plenty of physicians of whom that is not true. But when Ben Carson blames a mass murderer’s victims for failing to foil him, I know of at least one man of science whose capacity for moral response has been absorbed by fictions.

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

See:http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/americas-newest-political-curse-ben-carson-neurosurgeon-who-cant-think?akid=13565.123424.bvGefb&rd=1&src=newsletter1043830&t=2