Archive for the ‘Livin’ in the USA’ Category


About ten years ago I set up a Facebook account purely in order to get back in touch with old friends I’d lost touch with. Mission accomplished.

After that, I left the account to moulder, but for very occasional interactions with those old friends.

Now it’s time to terminate that account. And I’d urge you to do the same.

Why?

  • Facebook has poisoned political discourse in the U.S. and much of the rest of the world.

How?

There are three primary ways it’s done this:

  • Facebook feeds you “news” you already agree with. This aggravates problems with both under-informed leftist and rightist subscribers in that it reinforces established, irrational views. Facebook for the most part doesn’t expose or challenge already established ignorant viewpoints. It reinforces them.
  • Facebook promotes a “let’s you and him fight” attitude by thrusting into your face the most obnoxious opinions opposed to yours. That drives engagement (time spent on Facebook). It’ll raise your blood pressure, leave you depressed, will leave no one convinced of the rightness of your viewpoint — and increase your time spent on Facebook.
  • Facebook encourages people to think they’re informed, no matter how crazy the views it pushes at them. To put this another way, other than being spoon fed crazy conspiracy theories, how could the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist have gone in guns blazing?

Beyond that:

  • Facebook is a “walled garden” controlled by self-interested oligarchs, the exact opposite of the “open Internet” a lot of us were hoping for two decades ago. The Facebook oligarchs harvest and sell your/our data, and their purchasers use that data to sell us things we don’t need and politicians and political movements we really don’t need.

And beyond that:

  • Facebook is the ideal means for repressive governments to spy on citizens. This goes beyond direct surveillance — very easy via Facebook — to the set-up of honey traps to ensnare political opponents. “Black Lives Matter”? (They do.) The FBI (in all probability) and Russians (certainly) have set up fake “black lives matter” accounts to lure political dissidents, mislead them, and track them.

Then there’s the obvious:

  • Facebook is a huge time suck, and wasting time on it will not only pour your precious time down the drain but will waste the time you could use to do something — anything — more useful.

And after that, for the few who want to use Facebook to good ends:

  • Almost any other means of online organizing (see vpn, TOR browser) is safer than Facebook.

Here’s a link to how to deactivate or delete your Facebook account. I hope you’ll do either.

https://www.trustedreviews.com/news/how-to-delete-facebook-account-2950145

I’m now free of the near unmitigated evil of Facebook.

Please join me.

Again, your choice: family photos, cat videos, and enabling those who exploit and oppress you, or a temporary minor inconvenience. Your choice.

(There’s a great new book on the topic, Antisocial Media, that I’ll review here shortly. More details when I do so. Please stay tuned.)

 

 


GUTLESSNESS, n. According to the savvy political strategists who have guided the Democratic Party for decades, a certain route to victory.

* * *

— from The American Heretic’s Dictionary (revised & expanded), the 21st-century successor to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary. (The link goes to 50 sample definitions and illustrations.)

American Heretic's Dictionary revised and expanded by Chaz Bufe, front cover


This afternoon I was shooting the shit with a friend, swapping stories, and he related one of the better bar-gig tales I’ve ever heard:

In the early ’80s he was playing in a country band in Tucson, and they had a regular weekend job playing in a bar out in Avra Valley (west of the Tucson Mountains, and at the time still very much a part of the wild west). The clientele consisted of shitkickers and bikers, who of course didn’t mix.

As one would expect — what with the cost of a new Harley running to close to $30,000 — the bikers were a lot better off than the cowboys, and a lot of them held well paying jobs; their head honcho, for instance, owned a wrecking yard.

Anyway, there was a regular, a local who worked as a postman, who was enough of an alkie that he’d sometimes stop at the bar in his mail truck for a beer or two after completing his route before returning to the station.

That wasn’t so bad, but on weekends he’d drive his Cadillac to the bar, get tanked, and turn into all hands, harassing the waitresses.

This didn’t apparently didn’t sit well with at least some of the bikers, who didn’t like the guy anyway, but rather than resolve the situation in the normal manner (violence), they decided to teach the asshole a profitable (for them), expensive (for him) lesson.

One Saturday night, after the gig ended, my pal was packing up his drum kit, when he and the rest of the guys in the band heard a blood-curdling scream from outside. They ran out and found the drunk postman yelling his head off.

When he went out the door to weave his way home in his Cadillac, all he found was a chassis. What was left of the car was up on blocks, the wheels gone, as were the windshield, hood, doors, and rear window.

The bikers had done this with people going into and out of the bar all night. Evidently, people disliked the jerk sufficiently that they ignored the dismantling of the vehicle or were afraid of the bikers, or both. In either case, the bikers had taken a good hour or two to dismantle the car in public view — okay, in an unlit dirt parking lot — and no one reported them.

This incident likely cost the asshole a good two or three grand and likely netted the bikers at least several hundred bucks through sales of the parts at the wrecking yard.

I hope they threw a great party with the money.

 

 


TRADITIONAL VALUES, n. pl. The bedrock of the nation: fear of the unknown; hatred of the unorthodox; anti-intellectualism; racism; sexism; homophobia; sexual repression; fear and loathing of the human body; the morbid prurience of the “moral”; enjoyment of the sadistic infliction of pain; an ignorance-is-strength, faith-not-reason philosophy; a preference for “faith” over facts; blind belief in the tyranny of the majority; censorship; gullibility; mindless support of the government, especially in time of war; rejoicing over slaughter; a sheep-like longing for “strong leaders”; the desire to make a buck at any price to the environment or to other people; toadying behavior toward one’s bosses; bullying behavior toward one’s subordinates; intolerance of anyone who deviates one scintilla from a narrow, Christian “morality”; the desire to inflict pain on the “immoral”; and the desire to force them to be “moral” through the use of violence, coercion, torture, imprisonment, and execution. Without these Traditional Values, America would not be what it is today.

* * *

–from the revised and expanded edition of The American Heretic’s Dictionary, the 21st-century successor to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary


Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure? front cover

by Chaz Bufe, author of Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure?

Over the years, I’ve written a lot about AA, mostly about the negative things that are lost in the avalanche of pro-AA testimonials.

Let’s take as a given that AA’s own statistics (AA’s 1989 triennial survey) are correct: 5% of those who walk through the door are still there (and probably sober) a year later. That’s about the rate of spontaneous remission.

My very strong suspicion is that if you’d take away the million-plus people coerced into AA attendance every year in the U.S. (mostly via DUI sentencing and employee assistance programs), the percentage who recover with the help of AA would be a lot higher — that is, if you’d only count those who voluntarily come to AA for help, the recovery rate would probably be twice, maybe three times the rate indicated in AA’s summary report on the 1989 AA triennial survey. (I have to stress here that this is only my own entirely scientifically unsupported estimate, though I suspect that my friends and family who have been in AA for decades would tend to agree.)

Why would this be? Two reasons come to mind: 1) once someone has decided to change, almost any helping hand will increase their chances of recovery; 2) there’s evidence that AA works especially well for religious people, for whom AA’s religiosity isn’t a problem, and is likely an aid.

This brings up the first way that AA could be of more help to alcohol abusers and the alcohol dependent: AA should stop aiding and abetting the coercion of alcohol abusers into AA attendance. This could be easily done by having meeting secretaries stop signing attendance slips. AA’s annual general service conference could easily declare such a policy.

The second way AA could be of more help is if it (okay, the true believers at most AA meetings) would admit that there are other routes to recovery. There’s good evidence that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) approaches are the most effective treatment option, and CBT self-help is the foundation of the second-most common alcohol self-help group, SMART Recovery.

That leads to the third way AA could be of more help: AA has an official “take it or leave it” approach (not that this reflects real-world AA), which means that AA could help more people by referring them to SMART Recovery, Lifering, Moderation Management (and other harm-reduction groups), Secular Organizations for Sobriety, Women for Sobriety, and other non-religious recovery groups. These groups can and will help many of those repelled by the rigidity and religiosity of AA.

A fourth way AA (again, the true believers at AA meetings) could be of real help is if AA would stop repeating unscientific, destructive dogma.

Go to almost any AA meeting and you’ll hear that without AA “alcoholics” will inevitably descend into the hell of “jails, institutions, or death.” Abundant scientific research indicates that this simply is not so: most alcohol-dependent persons (not just alcohol abusers) either improve significantly or quit entirely without participation in AA or any other type of treatment program.

So, if AA (the hardcore members) would simply stop repeating the “jails, institutions, or death” mantra, it would help huge numbers of people to take the first step to taking responsibility for their own behavior and recovery (or at least improvement). AA should admit that it is possible to recover independently or simply reduce self-harm, and that doing so is possible and important.

A fifth and very significant way AA could help alcohol abusers is if it (again, the hardcore fanatics at almost every meeting) would stop insisting that “alcoholics” inevitably lose control after a single drink (“one drink, one drunk”). There’s good scientific evidence that this is a self-fulfilling prophecy, and that those having no exposure to AA are significantly less likely to binge than those exposed to AA.

Of course, when those with alcohol problems drink it’s at least to some extent Russian roulette. So, it makes sense not to drink. But pretending that even a single drink inevitably leads to a bender is a horrible, destructive, self-fulfilling prophecy.

If AA (oookay, once again the hardcore believers) would stop insisting on all this pernicious nonsense and would instead present AA honestly as a religiously based recovery program that works for some people, AA would be a real help to people with alcohol problems.

As is, AA does more harm than good. I hope AA changes so that it helps more people, but I’m not optimistic.

 

 


(We ran two earlier, considerably shorter versions of this post in years past under the title “Nazi Germany and the U.S.A.” As you might have noticed, things have changed a bit lately, hence this update.)

* * *

REFERENCES TO FASCISM abound in American political discourse. Unfortunately, most of those using the term wouldn’t recognize fascism if it bit ’em on the butt, and use it as a catch-all pejorative for anything or anyone they dislike. But the term does have a specific meaning.

Very briefly, as exemplified in Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy, fascism is an extreme right-wing, phony-populist ideology and political-economic system (which Mussolini dubbed “the corporate state”), the key features of which are strident nationalism, militarism and military worship, a one-party state, a dictatorial leader with a personality cult, a capitalist economic system integrated with state institutions (to the mutual benefit of capitalists and fascist politicians), suppression of independent unions, government use of media as a propaganda instrument, suppression of civil liberties and all forms of political opposition, and an aggressive, expansionist foreign policy.

The racism, racial scapegoating, and racial persecution that permeated German fascism are not part of fascism per se, unless one wants to classify extreme nationalism as racism. There’s a case to be made for that, but for now let’s consider them as separate maladies. But since the topic of this post is the comparison of Nazi Germany to the U.S.A., we will consider racism as well as fascism in the following comparisons.

Getting to the headline topic, just how similar is the present-day U.S. to Nazi Germany? Let’s look at specifics:

 

Nationalism

  • Nazi Germany: See Deutschland Uber Alles, Triumph of the WillLebensraum, etc., etc.
  • US.: “American exceptionalism,” “God Bless America,” “Manifest Destiny,” “Make America Great Again,” etc., etc. From ideological justification for invasions, territorial annexations, and military interventions to everyday trivialities (Nazi armbands in Deutschland, flag worship in “the land of the free”), America gives Nazi Germany a run for its money as regards nationalism.

Corporate Capitalist Domination

  • Nazi Germany: The German industrialists (notably the Krup armaments company) were key Hitler backers, and benefited handsomely from his rule.
  • U.S.: Trump has filled his cabinet with people from the fossil fuels industry (e.g., Rex Tillerson, former head of ExxonMobil) and big banks, notably Goldman Sachs (Steven Mnuchin, et al.); Obama’s primary 2008 backers were Wall Street firms and the pharmaceutical companies; Bush/Cheney’s were the energy companies.

Of late, Trump’s slavishness to the interests of the big corporations has become blindingly obvious with his dismantling of clean air and water regulations (which safeguard public health while impeding corporate profits), his attempts to open millions of acres of federal lands (including national monuments) to desecration by mining and fossil fuels corporations, his (and other Republicans’) attempts to restrict access to Medicaid, to allow the insurance industry to discriminate against those with pre-existing conditions, and his refusal to do anything about the obscene price of prescription drugs and the obscene profits of the drug companies. (Trump’s “plan” to reduce drug costs was complete bullshit designed only to string along the gullible while providing cover for the continued gouging of the public by big pharma. The fact that pharma stocks spiked immediately after Trump released the details of his “plan” tells you all you need to know about it.)

Militarism

  • Nazi Germany: The Nazis constructed the world’s most powerful military in six years (1933-1939).
  • U.S.: Last year, U.S. military spending accounted for approximately 43% of the world’s military spending, and the U.S. has hundreds of military bases overseas. With the aid of his accomplices in Congress, Trump just boosted the “defense” budget to approximately $700 billion, not including the tens of billions in the “black budget.” The figures aren’t final yet, but it’s a good bet that current U.S. military spending not only considerably outstrips any other nation’s (China’s is hard to judge because of secrecy, but may be as high as $250 billion), but could quite possibly now account for a full half of the world’s military spending.

Military Worship

  • Nazi Germany: Do I really need to cite examples?
  • U.S.: “Support our troops!” “Our heroes!” “Thank you for your service!”

Military worship is almost a state religion in the United States. Tune in to almost any baseball broadcast for abundant examples; this worship even extends to those on what passes for the left in the United States: Michael Moore, Stephen Colbert, Rachel Maddow.

Military Aggression

  • Nazi Germany: “Lebensraum” — you know the rest.
  • U.S.: To cite only examples from the last half-century where there were significant numbers of “boots on the ground,” Vietnam (1959-1973), the Dominican Republic (1965), Cambodia (1970), Grenada (1983), Panama (1988-1990), Kuwait/Iraq (1991), Afghanistan (2001-present), Iraq (2003-2011). And this doesn’t even include bombing campaigns and drone warfare. Then there’s the matter of proxy aggression enabled via logistical and intelligence support by the U.S. The most horrific current example is the brutal Saudi intervention in the Yemeni civil war.

Misuse and Misrepresentation of Science

  • The Nazis suppressed “Jewish science,” financially supported and sponsored fringe pseudoscience (into the supposed superiority of Aryans, among other things), and based government policy (including the Holocaust)  on that fringe pseudoscience. They mutilated science to force it to fit into the procrustean bed of their ideology, and millions died as a result.
  • U.S.: Here, the misleading “science” is supplied by the major corporations and their bought-and-paid-for “scientists,” who denigrate real science while promoting corporate-sponsored studies that promote corporate interests. Prominent examples include the efforts of the tobacco, pesticide, and sugar industries to present their deadly products as safe while vilifying scientists whose research demonstrated the actual effects of their products. Tens of millions have almost certainly died as a result.

Currently, the most serious such assault on science is corporate-funded climate change denial. It’s been obvious for decades that climate change is real and a deadly threat, and over 95% of climate scientists agree — and have agreed for decades — that it is. Yet the fossil fuels corporations have funded and promoted the work of a very few contrarians (whose work doesn’t, upon examination, hold up) to cast doubt on climate change science so that they can wring every last dollar from coal, oil, and natural gas.

Now, official U.S. policy is based on climate change denial pseudoscience. Trump has filled his administration with science deniers, especially climate change deniers, notably Scott Pruitt at the EPA, who are busy undoing clean air and water regulations, are doing their best to promote use of dirty fossil fuels, and are discouraging the use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. Trump has even proposed public subsidies for money-losing coal-fired power plants that utilities are planning to close.

As in Nazi Germany, government policy is based on willful ignorance of science. Millions upon millions will almost certainly die as a result, unless the government drastically reverses its course and implements evidence-based policies based on the work of climate scientists.

(For more on all this, see Corrupted Science: Fraud, Ideology, and Politics in Science [revised & expanded], by John Grant. Full disclosure: See Sharp Press published Corrupted Science.)

Incarceration and Slave Labor

  • Nazi Germany: The Nazis built concentration camps holding (and exterminating) millions, and employing slave labor.
  • U.S.: In comparison, the U.S. has by far the highest incarceration rate in the industrialized world, far outstripping China, with only Russia’s incarceration rate being anywhere near that of the U.S. Slave labor is routine in America’s prisons.

Justice System

  • Nazi Germany: The Nazis had a three-tiered “justice” system: one for the rich and powerful (who could get away with virtually anything); a second for the average citizen; a third for despised minorities and political foes.
  • U.S.: There’s also three-tiered “justice” system here: one for the rich and powerful (who can get away with virtually anything); a second for middle-class white people; and a third for almost everyone else.

Obama’s “Justice” Department never even investigated the largest financial fraud in world history that led to the 2008 crash, let alone charged those responsible. Prosecutors routinely pile on charges against average citizens to blackmail them into plea bargaining and pleading guilty to charges of which they’re not guilty; it’s no accident that America’s prisons are filled with poor people, especially blacks and hispanics who can’t afford bail and good legal representation; at the same time cops routinely get away with murder of blacks, hispanics, and poor whites.

Suppression of Unions

  • Nazi Germany: In Nazi Germany, the government tightly controlled the unions, and used them as arms of the state.
  • U.S.: In the U.S., the government merely suppresses strikes when “in the national interest” and allows corporations to crush union organizing drives through intimidation and by firing anyone who dares to attempt to organize.  Of late, the Supremes have further crippled the unions by outlawing the collection of fees from nonmembers who the unions represent in collective bargaining. (Admittedly, the sell-out, hierarchical, visionless AFL-CIO unions bear considerable responsibility for this sad state of affairs.)

Free Speech

  • Nazi Germany: Total suppression of free speech; direct government control of the media.
  • U.S.: There’s near total corporate control of the media, and suppression of free speech when it shows the faintest sign of threatening, or even embarrassing, the government or the corporations that control the government. The Obama and Trump administrations have viciously gone after whistleblowers and reporters who have exposed their wrongdoing — Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Thomas Drake, James Risen, Reality Winner, et al.

Trump routinely attacks journalists who report anything even slightly embarrassing to him, or who point out any of his almost innumerable lies. Of late, he’s upped the ante by attacking the press as the “enemy of the American people” in a transparent attempt to intimidate the press and provoke the anger of his worshippers.

As well, Trump routinely lies about damn near everything, great and small — Politifact clasifies 69% of his statements as being “mostly false” or worse — counting on the fact that the press (e.g., New York Times) is reluctant to label his lies as lies, allowing Trump to muddy the waters and mislead the public.

Fortunately, Trump doesn’t have complete control of the media. But he does have the sycophantic tools at Fox “News,” Breitbart, InfoWars, and the rest of the right-wing echo chamber. Almost worse, 67% of Americans get at least some of their news from social media sites such as Facebook, with an unknown percentage getting all of their news from these platforms (predominantly Facebook). What makes this dangerous is that Facebook feeds them news reports that, based on their previous “likes” and other use, reinforces their existing beliefs and prejudices.

Add that to Trump’s denigration of the free press and you end up with a significant part of the population that’s woefully misinformed.

Other Civil Liberties

  • Nazi Germany: Total suppression.
  • U.S.: Suppression when individuals exercising those liberties show the faintest sign of threatening the government or the corporations that control the government. The coordinated suppression (by the FBI, local governments, and corporate security agencies) of the Occupy Wall Street Movement nationwide in 2011/2012 is the latest large-scale example.

Spying Upon Citizens

  • Nazi Germany: The government had a massive eavesdropping operation. No citizen was safe from government scrutiny.
  • U.S.: The FBI, DHS, and NSA — and let’s not forget Facebook — make the Nazis look like amateurs.

Free Elections

  • Nazi Germany: Total suppression
  • U.S.: U.S. citizens have the opportunity to vote for the millionaire and billionaire representatives (over half of Congress at last count, plus the president) of the two wings of the property party: one wing being authoritarian, corporate-servant, science-denying theofascists, the other wing being merely authoritarian corporate servants who routinely betray those who elect them. As well, the Republicans are doing their best to destroy what passes for American electoral democracy through egregious gerrymandering and voter suppression on an industrial scale.

Racism

  • Nazi Germany: Do I even need to cite details?
  • U.S.: (We’ll restrict ourselves here to the present.) The “justice” system imprisons blacks at a rate over five times that of whites, and hispanics at a rate about 30% higher than whites. Cops routinely get away with murdering poor people, a disproportionate number of them blacks and hispanics. Median household wealth for whites is 13 times that of blacks. And median household income for whites is 60% higher than that of blacks and hispanics.

As well, the Republican Party’s longtime “southern strategy” — and its largely successful attempts to disenfranchise black voters — was and still is designed to appeal to racists.

Donald Trump’s hateful rhetoric and racial scapegoating of Mexicans and other hispanics is merely the cherry atop this merde sundae.

Victimhood

  • Nazi Germany: Hitler and the Nazis whined constantly about the German people being victims of the Jews (under 1% of the population at the time) and the supposedly vast Jewish conspiracy permeating all facets of social and economic life, even depicting Jewish people in propaganda films as vermin: rats. In short, Hitler stirred up hatred of a powerless minority by presenting them as victimizers rather than victims.
  • U.S.: Trump whines constantly about an “invasion” of Latin American immigrants — fleeing horrific violence and political and social repression — who he portrays as rapists, murderers, drug dealers, and gang members endangering the nation through a supposed crime wave. (In reality, per capita criminal activity by Latin American immigrants is lower than that of Americans as a whole.)  In short, Trump stirs up hatred of a powerless minority by presenting them as victimizers rather than victims.

Personality Cult

  • Nazi Germany: Again, do I even need to cite details?
  • U.S.A.: Trump worship is rampant on the evangelical right, who see this steaming pile of viciousness, hypocrisy, and narcissism as the means to their theofascist ends. And Trump encourages such sycophancy. The cringe-inducing filmed cabinet meeting last year in which cabinet secretaries heaped fulsome (in both senses of the word) praise and thanks on the dear leader is but one example. Another example: Last July presidential aide and Trump toady Steven Miller said on Fox “News” that Trump — who would likely flunk a fourth-grade English test — was the “best orator to hold that office [president] in generations.” All hail the Glorious Leader.

 

Yes, there still are significant differences between Nazi Germany and the U.S.A.  But they grow smaller with every passing day.


In the face of the almost daily morally loathsome actions of Donald Trump and his regime — most prominently, forcibly separating small children from their parents, locking them in cages, and using them as bargaining chips in Trump’s extortion of Congress for $25 billion in border-wall funding — Trump and his cult-like followers have been whining about the lack of “civility” by those decent enough to be outraged by Trump’s sheer viciousness.

To put this in perspective, The Onion recently ran a piece titled “Tips for Staying Civil while Debating Child Prisons.”

Given many of Trump’s other callous, mean-spirited statements and actions — e.g, support for torture, mass incarceration, stripping away clean air and clean water regulations, stripping healthcare coverage from millions — it’s easy enough to think of other possible pieces:

  • “How to Remain Civil with Torturers and their Enablers”
  • “How to Remain Civil with Those Poisoning Your Kids with Pollution”
  • “How to Remain Civil with Those Destroying Your Reproductive Freedom”
  • “How to Remain Civil with Racists who call Nazis “Fine People”
  • “How to Remain Civil with would-be Dictators”

The list could go on and on.

Why are the incessantly, personally abusive Trump — to cite a single example, remember his mocking of a disabled reporter? — and his minions now prattling on about “civility”? The answer seems obvious: they want to normalize all of the extraordinarily odious things that Trump and his cronies are doing to damage America, to damage the environment, to damage and sometimes kill the rest of us.

These things are not normal. And to treat those responsible for them with “civility” rather than anger and outrage is in some measure to acquiesce to them.

So fuck Donald Trump. Fuck Sarah Sanders. And fuck Fox “News” and all the others who repeat their bullshit talking points about “civility.” If you agree, please let these assholes know how you feel.