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Nothing like indignation to get rid of boredom!

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For some reason the shutdown is really starting to get to me. Even though I’ve been sheltering-in-place like most of you for the better part of a year, I’m feeling the walls closing in more tightly than ever. And I’m climbing those walls in boredom.

Maybe it’s the time of year: the dead middle of winter, when daylight hours are curtailed. The gloominess of the season is heightened by the incessant clouds that cover the Bay Area in winter, bringing with them cold, pitiless winds from the icebergs of the Aleutians and—much needed—rain. On such a day as today, I barely want to venture outdoors.

But these four walls are feeling like a prison! I long for sunshine, for outdoor activity. I want to get back to the gym, to have a gimlet in a bar, to eat sushi at the counter again. But all these things are forbidden. I asked my Facebook friends the other day, “Do you think History will look back at this era of COVID and determine that the shutdown was too severe?” And the overwhelming response was, “No!” Everybody agreed that the shutdown had to happen. Everybody agreed that the COVID deniers, like science deniers in the Republican Party, are basically sociopathic assholes who are prolonging the shutdown by their insolent refusal to be part of the solution.

That’s why my heart goes out to our governor here in California, Gavin Newsom. He’s come under such nasty attack by his political opponents, who in all likelihood will succeed in their effort to get a Recall vote on the ballot sometime this Spring. Had Californians truly shut down, as he has been urging for the better part of a year, we would not have had the surges in infections and deaths; but Californians did not shut down. Many did; but many others gathered unmasked at Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Eve, the Super Bowl, weddings and church services. They got infected, and then they went out, unmasked, into their environments and infected others. I’ve found myself wishing we could be more like the Chinese. Remember when they reacted so swiftly to the Wuhan outbreak? There was video on T.V. of uniformed officers physically seizing unmasked citizens, throwing them into vans, and hauling them off to wherever these scofflaws are hauled off to. Yes, it’s not “democracy,” per se. It’s authoritarian. But maybe we could use a little more authoritarianism here in the U.S.

Did I really say that? I, who have long complained about trump’s desire for an autocratic state? Yes, I did say it, and I’m aware of the contradiction. How do I reconcile my own desire for a more law-abiding country, to be achieved even at the cost of more aggressive law enforcement, with my ideals of personal freedom? This question is especially poignant for a gay man. Our argument for decades against the christian busybodies who wished to contain us was that we are guaranteed freedom in the Bill of Rights. That’s certainly true. Why, then, do I not grant the same freedom to a man—albeit an idiot—who refuses to wear a mask, or to socially distance?

The answer is because my exercise of my rights as a gay man puts no one else in danger, while these maskless Republican morons put all of our lives in danger. Shouldn’t we be able to draw a line when it comes to public safety? “Here is the line. You have absolute freedom on that side of it. But as soon as you cross the line, your freedom will be severely curtailed by the State.” What’s wrong with that?

Well, it’s not going to happen. America isn’t China. We have a different tradition. Democracy is messy, as Churchill conceded, but it’s a better system of government than any of the alternatives. Trump didn’t like democracy, because he knew that, if all Americans are allowed to vote, Republicans would never again win another presidency. He even said as much. From his point of view, then, it made sense to practice voter suppression. From my point of view, the more people who vote, the better. But we have to educate our children, so they’ll be smart voters. We can’t leave it to the christian right to instill superstitious nonsense in the minds of kids, who are so impressionable.

Many years ago, Carl Sagan, the great American astronomer and popularizer of science, wrote, in his trail-blazing book, Cosmos, about the challenges that scientists faced in the 16th and 17th centuries. This was a time when a repressively ignorant medieval church still dominated Europe, and sought to stifle science whenever it conflicted with theology unchanged since the Roman Empire. Johannes Kepler, for example, “lived in a time when the human spirit was fettered and the mind chained; when the ecclesiastical pronouncements of a millennium…on scientific matters were considered more reliable than contemporary findings made with techniques unavailable to the ancients; when deviations…from the prevailing doxological preferences, Catholic or Protestant, were punished by humiliation, taxation, exile, torture or death.” Despite the church’s active opposition, however, such courageous men as Kepler, Copernicus, Galileo, Brahe and Newton revealed the self-evident truth of celestial matters, and our modern age of science was born.

But we still face the opposition of truth-hating religious fanatics, the sort of ignoramuses with whom trump associated himself. These are the science-deniers, the ones who say COVID is a Bill Gates (or Obama, or Hillary) conspiracy, that climate change is a hoax, and all the rest of their rightwing nincompoopery. Fortunately, we still have brave scientists—Dr. Fauci comes to mind—who speak the truth, even at the risk of getting death threats from the insane cultists who will follow trump to his, and their, doom.

Well, I started out talking about how bored I am, and you see where it has led! Nothing like a little politics to get the blood pumping. And more good news: the days are getting longer. Even as the rain and wind lash Oakland, Spring approaches; the flowering trees here are in full bloom, and butterflies sip from their nectar. Now, all I need is for the government (or whoever it is) to get more of the damned vaccines into California, so I can get that shot in the arm!


Trump supporters are all over the place

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There are still a lot of trump supporters out there. For the life of me, I don’t know why. But I have to at least try to understand.

For example, a friend of mine, a successful New York transplant to Oakland who happens to be of Jewish extraction (same as me) and a lifetime liberal, told me his 20-year old son has been flirting with trumpism. Another friend, a LatinX guy, told me several members of his family are trumpers. Then, yesterday, I was talking with someone very near and dear to me, a person closer to me than almost anyone else, and she said, “I’m going to say something I think will make you angry. History is going to treat trump better than you think.”

Wow. A young Jewish kid, raised in a Democratic household. A LatinX family. And my good friend, whom I’ve known all my life. They all are trump-supporters, or at least inclined to see something good in him. What the hell is going on?

Well, as distasteful as it is, I have to put myself in their shoes and try to imagine how they feel and what they think. Since I don’t know the 20-year old Jewish kid or the LatinX people personally, that’s not easy. But I do know my lifelong friend. We talk a lot, and I have a good understanding of how she feels. So I’m going to try to get inside her head.

To begin with, she’s been convinced for a long time that politics is mostly bad, or, to put it more accurately, that most politicians are corrupt. That includes Democrats and Republicans. She’s very smart and has been involved in political issues, mostly on the local level, for most of her adult life. And she’s come to the conclusion that both sides lie, in order to gain power and benefit their rich donors. She said the same thing yesterday when we were talking: Republicans and Democrats both lie.

“Surely,” I replied, “you’re not comparing the Big Lie that trump told about the ‘rigged election’ with anything any Democrat has ever said.”

She hesitated. I could hear her thinking. But she did not contradict me. She did not concede that trump’s lie about the “rigged election” is a monstrous abomination that eclipses in evil anything any Democratic politician has ever said. Still, I understand how she feels. Her concern is what she sees as the unholy collaboration between Big Business and lawmakers. In her judgment, Big Business is antithetical to the needs of the American people. Concerned only with stock prices and profits, they buy and sell politicians, Democrats and Republicans, and we, the American people, suffer the consequences.

I don’t entirely disagree with my old friend. But I’m not ready to flush Democratic politicians down the toilet. I look at the things the Democratic Party has done for America—child labor laws, workers unions, Social Security, Medicare, the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, the Disabled Americans Act, marriage equality for gays, a welcoming attitude for immigrants and foreigners, the minimum wage, an internationalist philosophy that connects us with other countries through membership in international organizations, a healthy secularism and respect for science, and a million other noble battles waged at the local level in each of our communities—and I’m proud. Have Democrats too often sided with Wall Street and gigantic corporations? Yes. We can have a conversation about that. But I don’t think the interests of Wall Street are necessarily in conflict with those of the American people. A rising stock market benefits just about all of us—certainly anyone with a 401K, or who’s on a pension where the money is invested in the stock market. And profitable corporations are better able to pay their employees well, and give them benefits, than ones that are losing money.

My friend is very active in issues related to housing development in her community. While we don’t always agree—she’s a bit of a NIMBY while I’m a YIMBY—I respect her passion and willingness to give of her time to work on her projects. And I take her point about politicians and big businessmen. It reeks of the “smoke-filled back room.” Lots of Americans are pissed off at what’s happening in this country—and lord knows they have every reason to be. Trump took advantage of that anger better than any politician in my lifetime, with the possible exception of Reagan. He saw anger and he decided to mobilize it to his own political and financial advantage.

Nothing wrong with that; it’s how politics works. But here’s my question to my old friend, and to everyone else who supports trump or is inclined to. Tell me what trump has done for average working Americans. Yes, he voiced their anger and resentment. Yes, he insulted and attacked the people they hate. Yes, he made them feel good about themselves. But aside from feelings, what did he actually do? His celebrated tax cuts went almost exclusively to his own social class: rich people. His attacks against the environment certainly didn’t help working class Americans, not even the westerners who really appreciate conservation. He didn’t create jobs: he lost them. He failed utterly to bring coal or auto manufacturing back to America. He didn’t build his “wall” and Mexico didn’t pay for the little stretches of it that he promised us they would. He managed to help kill 450,000 Americans and counting when he enabled COVID to spread. He did nothing to stop the pandemic in our country, even though he could and should have. And he has brought our country to the brink of civil war. In short, tell me one thing trump did for the average American. You can’t, because he didn’t do anything.

I’m troubled that so many people and groups who should know better are siding with trump. I got a little impatient with Biden, during the campaign and in the days following his election and swearing-in, when he insisted on bipartisanship, as if Republicans and Democrats could sit down around the campfire, hold hands and sing Kumbaya. That won’t happen. A big part of me wants revenge: on trump, on his family, on Republicans. But realizing the sheer number of trump supporters, and the fact that they’re Americans, and close to people near and dear to me, gives me pause. We do need to reach out to them. We have to be patient, and listen to their concerns, and respond to them respectfully, sticking to facts. For me, that won’t be easy, since I really want to jail them. But I realize I can’t. We need to talk.


May their names be cursed in History

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It’s a weird time in America, which is really saying something, since it’s been weird here for a long time.

But this current time is weirder than usual. We have the vaccines out—but few can get them. COVID seems like it’s winding down—but there are all those “variants” that could fuel it back up again. The economy is in a shambles; how it compares to the Great Recession, I don’t know, but I’m glad I’m retired, because if I were still working, I might be unemployed. Then there’s the drama with trump (may his name be cursed in History) and the freaks who love him.

Another Impeachment! Of course the traitorous Republican Senators will never, ever convict him (may their names be cursed in History), but trump’s name will forever be stained as the Worst President Ever. It’s the least we can do to him. And what of his family? You know, I know, everybody knows that these spawn—Donald Junior, Eric and Ivanka, in particular—are really disgusting human beings. They’re bullies. They have that entitlement that some—not all—lucky sperm kids show in such an ugly manner. I hope that they end up on the defendant side of criminal and civil cases, and oh, by the way, may their names be cursed in History.

One Republican defense of trump—his lawyers used it yesterday, but it’s often trotted out by the conservative right—is that “liberals” hate trump and have been after him from Day One. Well, as one of those liberals, I’ll ‘fess up. It’s true. I do hate trump. Everybody I know hates trump. The Republicans forget or ignore two things: (1) they invented the modern hatefest when they went after, first, Clinton and then Obama. Democrats never hated on George W. Bush the way Republicans hate on all Democrats. We opposed some—not all—of Bush’s policies, and we always said he seemed like a decent enough guy (when he wasn’t taking his orders from the evangelicals, with their hideous homophobia). The other thing Republicans refuse to acknowledge is that we oppose trump because we know what he is. The dude is bad news, always has been, always will be. It was one thing when he was just a rich real estate developer/reality show personality, but when he took over our country, we got to work on The Resistance. There’s nothing wrong with identifying a threat to your country, hating it, and working to get rid of it. That’s what the Founding Fathers did with Great Britain and George III. It’s what the Allies did with Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo. So we Democrats have plenty of glorious precedent for our hatred.

As I write this, on Wednesday morning, nobody knows what the ultimate Senate vote will be on Impeachment. It should be at least 56 for Impeachment and 44 against, the former figure including the six Republicans who voted yesterday that trump can still be removed from office and prohibited from holding future elected office. The conventional wisdom is that there may be a few other Republican Senators who will side with Democrats—Richard Burr, even Mitch McConnell—but I doubt it; they certainly won’t get the 17 Republicans they need for conviction. Those Republican traitors have their heads so far down into the trump toilet, they’ll never see daylight again (and may their names be cursed in History).

Most people I know think that trump is going to fade away. Let him be the Monster of Mar-a-Lago, playing golf, summoning porn stars, gorging on junk food. As for his insane supporters—the “proud boys,” Bugaloos, Oath Keepers and the other militant cults—I will say about them what Melania Trump’s jacket said about the caged Central American children: “I don’t really care. Do U?” Let those white, rightwing fascists stew in their own juices. They exist on the fringes of decent American society; they can’t possibly keep up their anger levels much longer, as the demands of life—work, family, mowing the lawn and keeping the car running—catch up with them, as they catch up with all of us. Thank God Facebook and Twitter have banned trump. He has no public voice anymore; sooner or later, he too will get bored. He’s going to be 75 years old on June 14, and with his physical condition—obesity, high cholesterol and blood pressure and who knows what else (hemmorhoids, hernias?)—his energy is flagging. Plus, with all the lawsuits coming his way, he’s going to have to devote what little energy he has to his defense. So screw him. Screw his fascist friends. Screw them all.

Anyhow, time to watch the Impeachment Trial of Donald John Trump, may his name be cursed in History!


Warning: American evangelicals are super-busy taking over Russia

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I don’t like American evangelicals who are trying—with some success—to turn this country into their own theocratic dictatorship.

They’ve been busy burrowing into the fabric of our nation for a century or longer, but they entered their heyday when Ronald Reagan, a Trump precursor who realized the political value of southern evangelicals in the run-up to his 1980 presidential run, made common cause with them. Reagan, like Trump, was not particularly religious and wasn’t an evangelical. But he wanted their millions of votes, so he placated them, and they repaid him by electing him twice as president.

We tend to think of evangelicism as an American thing, and as a movement, it obviously was born here. But evangelicals aren’t content to keep their busybodying to a single country. Like the Soviet Communists and Al Qaeda before them, they aim for no less than to propagate their system to every country on earth. Democracy is of no use to them; in fact, it’s anathema. They don’t want universal suffrage, they want a religious hierarchy, which is the main reason why evangelicals are so enamored by the voter-suppression efforts of the Republican Party. The fewer people who vote, the better—and best yet is a system wherein only white Christians are allowed to vote. That is precisely the system they’re trying to promote in the 50 states.

But these evangelicals are busy little beavers abroad. I’ve long known something about their overseas efforts, especially in the Third World, Africa and South America being prime examples. But it wasn’t until I read this article, in the online publication Religion, State & Society, that I understood how much they’ve penetrated Russia, which explains so much: from Putin’s homophobia and authoritarianism to Trump’s embrace of Russia and refusal to criticize it for any reason.

The article, entitled “The rise of the Russian Christian Right: the case of the World Congress of Families,” explores the secretive activities of the World Congress of Families (WCF), which was founded in 1997 as a joint effort between rightwing elements of the former Reagan administration and Russian pro-Christian activists. The Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the leading anti-fascist organizations in America, calls WCF “an umbrella for a massive network of interconnected organizations, all pushing for restrictions to LGBT rights under the guise of the defense of the ‘natural family — defined as heterosexual married couples with their biological children.”

Homophobia is a central pillar of rightwing evangelical politics, along with abortion. We’ve seen the anti-gay movement grow increasingly violent and hysterical since the Supreme Court allowed gays to marry and to serve in the U.S. military. Some Republicans embrace gay-bashing outright: Amy Coney Barrett and Marjorie Taylor Greene are poster children for hate-gays conservatism. Other Republicans hold their noses and tolerate homophobia: Mitt Romney and the Bush family come to mind. They tend to speak in liberal, accepting tones, but when it comes to lawmaking, they support anti-gay legislation, or at least don’t actively fight against it.

The Religion, State & Society article explains how the Christian right decided, in the 1990s, that Russia—which having survived the breakup of the Soviet Union and had turned increasingly conservative and authoritarian—was a fertile breeding ground for their brand of homophobia and white nationalism. (Newt Gingrich played a central role in this “Russian Revolution.”) After establishing a “transnational” toehold in Russia in 1997 by forging an alliance with rightwing business and political circles “and the Russian Orthodox Church,” WCF took the next big step in 2014, when, with the Russian Orthodox Church, it convened its first “Family Congress,” in Moscow. The event was a huge success, attracting conservative Christian activists, including one of Russia’s leading anti-abortion groups, Sanctity of Motherhood. So successful was this launch party that one of the Russian sponsors of WCF, Alexei Komov, told a reporter, “Our American friends couldn’t believe that there was, you know, a welcome on such a huge scale in Russia.”

One of WCF’s strategies in Russia, as here in the U.S., is “interdominational cooperation”: to forge links with other anti-gay, anti-abortion Christian groups. Normally, evangelicals and Catholics would be at each other’s throats, refighting the Thirty Years’ War. But politics makes for strange bedfellows. Among WCF’s goals, in both Russia and here, are homeschooling (religiously based, and free of pesky liberal-scientific notions), and blurring the distinction, so carefully wrought in our country by the Founders, between civil government and Big Religion. In Russia, this breakdown finds special relevance, as Mother Russia historically has perceived herself as a bulwark of Christian values, such as patriarchal authority and patriotism. According to this narrative, Russia was the “true winner” of the Cold War, since it inherited the role of chief crusader against western liberalism and cultural secularism–a role it inherited from Hitler’s nazis.

The importance of the Religion, State & Society analysis is that it clarifies the conventional wisdom that Russia’s “turn to the right” was simply a reflection of Russia’s imperial past and embrace of Orthodox Christianity. Those indeed have been factors in Putin’s grip on the country, but the full-fledged “transnationalism” of the alliance with the American Christian right proved to be the tipping point that elevated the Russian Christian Right to peerage with its American counterpart. American liberals and secularists must understand how powerful this union is. Just as here in America, evangelicals can count on huge numbers of voters supporting them in elections, so too in Russia “a large constituency of conservative Evangelical Christians” has been busily inhaling the WCF fumes, and seems ready to act when called upon to defend “traditional Russian values.”


Democrats must expel extremists if the party is to survive

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You can say whatever you want to about nextdoor.com, but one thing’s for sure: it’s an accurate reflection of what’s on people’s minds at any given time.

I value that. We need to have these conversations about important issues, especially during this pandemic. I realize that discussion can get heated, but what’s wrong with that? Lately, the number one topic in my nextdoor.com neighborhood is homelessness and the rapidly spreading tent cities that are taking over vast tracts of Oakland.

There are basically two sides: what I’ll call “pro-homeless advocates” (for want of a better term) and those who are begging the city to establish some sort of control over the camps. The advocates are essentially saying that homeless people are our unhoused brothers and sisters. They need our help, and we ought to provide them with what they need. At their most extreme, the advocates demand free housing for each of Oakland’s 4,500 homeless people, as well as healthcare, psychological counseling, job training, basic lifecare supplies and so on. The advocates never say where the money for all this should come from. Yes, they make vague sounds about raising taxes on the rich, or on corporations. They point out that America, as the richest country in the world, should be able to take care of its homeless citizens. But it seems to me that the advocates are unschooled in the realities of politics and economics. Whenever I read a comment on nextdoor.com that begins with, “Oakland should build free housing for all the homeless people,” I think: Here is a person without the slightest comprehension of how the real world functions.

The other side is those of us (me included) who want the city to do a better job managing the camps. Since our current mayor, Libby Schaaf, was elected in 2014, homelessness has spread like a plague. There are camps everywhere: in public parks, blocking sidewalks, under freeways, at intersections, next to schools. I think what especially provokes some of us is the filth accompanying the camps. The homeless advocates consistently portray all homeless people as fine, upstanding human beings who have been victimized by a capitalistic system of white patriarchy, but those of us who are living with the camps all around us see the homeless people every day, and we know that they’re not all angels. One commenter on nextdoor.com called some of them “swinishly sociopathic,” a description with which I agree. Perhaps they are suffering from mental illness, and perhaps some of them are under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, but society has never recognized those conditions as allowing for individuals to wantonly destroy our neighborhoods. The piles of garbage and junk that are strewn everywhere in Oakland are insults to those of us who pay taxes and have tried very hard to make Oakland a safe, livable city.

The two sides—pro-homeless advocates and those who would control the camps—speak past each other. The advocates seem unable to accept the fact that there is no solution to homelessness. There is not enough money in all of Oakland to accomplish what they want, and there never will be. I should think that stark reality would be enough to make them accept some reasonable degree of camp management by the city, but no, they want no controls over the camps at all. To even suggest that campers keep their areas clean is, to the advocates, fascism, or racism, or elitism—they have a lot of “ism’s” they toss around, when they’re unable to deal with criticism on a rational basis.

As someone who keeps close track of the political and cultural pulse of Oakland, I sense that things are changing. The negatives of living here—not just the filth, but the soaring crime rate—are pushing even liberal people over to a more hard-edged realism. It’s one thing to be a Bernie Bro when you don’t have to fear for your life walking down a dark street at night, but when that fear becomes visceral, suddenly even the most ardent Bernie Bro starts wondering if “defund the police” is really a sane policy. More and more of my neighbors on nextdoor.com are openly expressing support for the police, and disgust with a Schaaf regime that is unable or unwilling to do anything to tackle Oakland’s real problems. What we get from this regime are platitudes about racial justice, not actual solutions to the things that bother real people.

As a white male, and as a gay American who has seen the viciousness of homophobia all my life, I’m proud to call myself a Democrat. The Democratic Party has always fought for the rights of minorities, and we should not allow the fact that there’s still a long way to go, to obscure the many wonderful things that Democratic legislation has accomplished, at the city, state and federal levels. I loathe the Republican Party for what it has become under trump: a cult of ignorant white supremacists, paranoids, religious fanatics and debased gun owners. It’s common knowledge lately that the Republican Party is trying to figure out its future—how it should deal with the insane people in its midst. Well, the Democratic Party is also struggling with an identity problem. Are we going to be the party that supports leftist anarchists burning down our cities and looting our stores? Are we going to be the party that insists homeless people have to right to occupy public spaces and trash them? Are we going to be the party that defunds police departments? Are we going to be the party that renames public schools named after Abraham Lincoln and George Washington because some leftist radicals think they were evil racists?

I sincerely hope not. Going down that road will lead to permanent minority status for Democrats. It will cost us control of the House of Representatives in 2022, and possibly of the Senate, as well as of the presidency in 2024. We Democrats simply have got to take more “moderate” positions with regard to the issues; the suburban women who voted Democratic in 2018 and 2020, and the Black women who gave us amazing victories last year, are not Antifa radicals. Just as the Republican Party must expunge the Marjorie Taylor Greenes from their midst, we Democrats must expel extremist elements from our party. They are not doing us any good, and are actually hindering progress toward the social justice and economic fairness we all want.


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