Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Depth Of Republican Loyalty

                                                                                                written 24 March 2019
                                                                                            published 31 March 2019

            Republicans used to stand for something.  Though I have always voted Democratic, I share Republican pride in American democracy, and the principles of personal responsibility and basic conservatism, as it applies to conserving real values.
            The first Republican president in my life was Eisenhower, who fought against white supremacists and led American to victory over Nazi fascism.  He created the Federal Highway System, the largest socialist infrastructure investment of its time, and warned about the increasing power of the corporate "military industrial complex", though he was ignored.  
            The next Republican president was Nixon, who opened relations with China, signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Soviet Union, and oversaw the final retreat from Vietnam, ending that war.  He enforced desegregation of Southern schools and founded the Environmental Protection Agency, a model for other nations.  However, he was a flawed man: the only president to resign to avoid being impeached.  
            By 1980, the American economy had peaked.  Corporate concentration of wealth and power, which Eisenhower warned against, had become the foundation of the Republican party.  Laws supporting the environment, public health, responsible banking, and social justice, became "job killing regulations" to be repealed for corporate profits.  Foreign diplomacy shifted from the State Department to the Pentagon.  Taxes and social services were cut and the military budget expanded.  The traditional Republican concerns for fiscal responsibility and low Federal deficits were abandoned, and the debt grew by 400%, under presidents Reagan and Bush, the elder.
            President Bush, the younger, took office without winning the popular vote: the first president in 112 years.  Corporate interests were fundamental to his administration, primarily administered by the autocratic vice president Cheney.  The longest war in US history was begun, among others.  Although there were no real victories, corporate profits flourished, and the deficit increased by another 250%.  The administration ended with the largest financial collapse since the Depression, caused by the deregulated financial sector.
            Today we are experiencing the administration of president Trump, the next Republican who lost the popular vote.  While Trump has continued the tradition of placing corporate leaders in positions of power over their own industries, he seems less concerned about how competent they are, as his turnover rate is larger than any administration in modern history.  The corporate benefits of regulatory rollback are more blatant, sacrificing public, fiscal, and environmental health.  
            More than any other president, he has worked the system for his own personal gain and aggrandizement.  He refused to divest himself from his more than 500 corporations, and is being investigated for violating the emoluments clause in the Constitution which prohibits the corruption of personal financial gain from public office.  As the House investigates, it appears Trump's Ponzi financed empire has been subsidized by foreign agents and governments for years, compromising his loyalties.  People on his team have already been indicted and sentenced for being unregistered foreign agents.  Members of his family were placed in sensitive positions over the objection of security officials and he supports foreign dictators over American intelligence information.  He embodies the worst aspects of a tyrant, creating enemies lists and denigrating any press not laudatory to himself.  
            Through all this, the leaders of the Republican party give unwavering support. Misogyny, racism, white nationalist terrorism, destruction of a free press: none of that seems important. Trump recently threatened armed insurrection, claiming he "has the support of the police, and the military and the Bikers for Trump" who are "tough people" and after a "certain point it would go very bad".  Even declaration of a national emergency to subvert the will of Congress, a declaration he admits he didn't have to make, gets a Republican pass. Their only goal seems to be remaining in power, without concern for what values they sacrifice.  
            Loyalty is an honorable trait, but it is important to choose where you put loyalty.  Mendocino County hosted another group loyal to their leader.  Peoples Temple was founded with good goals and a strong leader. But Jim Jones was primarily self-serving, and violated his follower's trust.  He was crazy with paranoid thoughts, seeing enemies everywhere and punishing defectors.  Group loyalty led the loyal to drink cyanide in mass suicide.
            Is that the depth of Republican loyalty?

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Chronic Stress Kills

                                                                                                written 17 March 2019
                                                                                            published 24 March 2019
            Although we live in a complex technological society, our bodies are the product of simpler times.  If a hunter gatherer was walking down the path and a mountain lion leaped out of the brush, the fear of being eaten generated a survival response to run away as fast as possible.  When a danger is perceived by the amygdala part of the brain, it precipitates a chain of biochemical responses faster than conscious thought.  The body is immediately flooded with the adrenaline hormone, which increases blood circulation and breathing rate for better oxygen delivery, and carbohydrate metabolism for access to more energy, preparing the muscles for exertion.  This all helps the body run away.  
            In addition, the body shuts down several energy consuming processes.  The frontal cortex is used for complex planning, decision making, and social behavior, none which is needed to just run away.  To save energy, blood flow is redirected from the frontal cortex to the hindbrain, to help the body coordination for running.  The energy consumptive digestive and immune systems are not needed, so they are shut down as well.  This shifting of energy and resources is an appropriate response to the immediate biophysical needs for survival in the moment.
            Once the danger has passed, the body returns all the systems to their previous balance of energy and resource distribution.  However, there is a disparity in the rate of ramping up and the rate of returning to normal. Obviously, the ramp up has to be very quick in order to successfully deal with an immediate environmental threat, where seconds can be the edge between life and death.  The return to normal is much slower, as the emergency conditions might not be gone, so being on alert it prudent.  But after some time, the body's balance is restored.  This process works well when these emergencies happen at rare intervals.  But when another trigger occurs before the body has been able to restore normal equilibrium, the body stays in this alerted condition, risking long term degradation of the entire organism.
            This emergency response to an environmental event, can be triggered by a psychologically generated event.  For instance, fear your boss is going to fire you can act as a trigger, even if this hasn't actually happened.  Our complex society creates these kinds of fear all the time, creating a population that is chronically on alert.  Studies with rats kept under constant stress shows long term decline in problem solving capacity, as their fore brain deteriorates.  General health, digestion, and immune functions decline as well.  Pregnant rats subjected to these conditions give birth to babies that have distorted large hind brains, smaller fore brains, and generally weak digestion and immune systems.  
            It is easy to see that constant stress is not good for a human society either, where it breeds people with little capacity for complex thinking, poor digestion, and compromised immune protection.  Using drugs or alcohol to manage stress may addresses some of the symptoms, but not the underlying condition, and therefore perpetuate a chronic problem.  The good news is that the psychological elements of stress can be managed, helping to restore the body to good health.   A quick search on the Internet will give you many suggestions.
            On the mental level, learn what triggers your body by sitting mediation, and cultivate an aware presence.  As a body sensation arises simply notice the response without taking any action.  The sensation plays out within 90 seconds or so, and without the mind adding to the response, the body becomes quiet again.  This helps de-program the body memory, so that next time the trigger occurs, the body doesn't respond as strongly, and over time, can have no response at all.
            On the physical level, eat healthy food and reduce caffeine consumption. Move your body with yoga, exercise, dance, or being in nature.  Laugh, listen to music, get a good night's sleep, be aware of breathing deeply, and spend time with a pet, family or friends.  At work, periodically take a moment to reflect, prioritize and take responsibility for your choices, deal with issues as they occur, and learn to say no.  Consider keeping a journal.
            The life you save could be your own!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Central Capitalist Flaw

                                                                                                written 10 March 2019
                                                                                            published 17 March 2019

            I write from a perspective of unity reality, in which any separate "part" is an illusion, entirely context driven, with limited validity.  The assumption of absolutely separate parts, particularly within economic accounting, is the flaw at the heart of capitalism.
            Let's examine sugar: "a food nobody needs, but everyone craves". Trade in sugar cane began 3500 years ago, and processed sugar appeared in India 1000 years later, arriving in Europe in the 13th century as a rare and expensive spice.  To feed a growing European sugar craze, in the late 1500's the Portuguese established large plantations in Brazil to cultivate and refine sugar, which expanded into the Caribbean in the 1600's, using more than 12 million African slaves as labor.  
            The sugar industry today has replaced human slaves with fossil fuels, toxic chemicals, and genetically modified crops.  Global sugar consumption is increasing, now constituting20% of the caloric content of food.  The third most valuable crop after cereals and rice, sugar accounts for 9% of the world's agricultural monetary value and 6% of the world's agricultural yield.
            In capitalism, one way to maximize profit is to market something in great demand, and produce it at the lowest possible cost.  Our bodies evolved without sugar, which is a concentrated form of biochemical energy.  With more sugar in our diet, our biochemistry can shift and become addicted, which insures demand.  
            The health consequences of a high sugar diet have become obvious as consumption has increased.  Global, the overweight or obese population has tripled since 1975: 36% of adults are now overweight and a 1/3 of these are obese, as defined by Body Mass Index (BMI).  The numbers in America are worse: over 60% of adults are overweight and 2/3 of these are obese.  To calculate your BMI, divide your weight in pounds by your height in inches, divide again by your height in inches, and then multiply by 703 (trust me!).  A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered healthy.  A BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight, and a BMI above 30 is considered obese.  
            The obesity epidemic is associated with serous health risks including cancer, dementia, heart disease and diabetes, and annually contributes to 300,000 deaths in the U.S. alone.  30 million Americans have type 2 diabetes, and 84 million are pre-diabetic, at risk of becoming diabetic within the next 5 years.  Annual American health care costs of obesity exceed $120 billion, more than the gross income of the global sugar industry.  This doesn't include the diminished quality of life associated with obesity.  The cost of this epidemic affects every part of our economy, including expanding airline seats, and hatches and ejection seats in the military.
            None of this information is new, and serious efforts have been made to educate the public about diet and regulate sugar content in foods.  One year after enacting a soda tax in Berkeley, California, a study showed reduced consumption of sugar sodas.  Society could save lives and dollars by reversing this obesity trend, except for the massive economic and political resistance to this kind of change from the sugar industry.  None of these huge health costs affect the profitability of the sugar industry because they are "externalized costs".  Since someone else has to pay these costs, there is no feedback in the accounting.  The suffering of people in our country and the planet isn't the business of the sugar industry, and they spend millions keeping it that way.
            For 50 years the link between sugar, heart disease and other major illnesses has been known to the sugar industry, but they have denied their complicity, diverting attention to fat consumption.  Using the same techniques as the asbestos, tobacco and fossil fuel industries, they fund and publish research that supports their position, and organize attacks on researchers that suggested their product kills people.  Whenever public action threatens their profits with legislation or taxes, the industry lobbies heavily to kill these efforts.  The industry successfully funded a 12 year ban on new soda taxes in California last year.
            This might make sense if the world was discrete parts, each in lethal competition, but in the real world, their flawed economy is killing us for their profit.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Good And Mad

                                                                                                written 3 March 2019
                                                                                                published 10 March 2019

            I have been a reader and student most of my life, wanting to know what is going on in the world around me, and generally feel well informed.  But the more I learn, the more I know there is to learn, and occasionally I am reminded of how ignorant I am.
            For example, author Rebecca Traister was a guest on "Real Time With Bill Maher", which opened my eyes to the cultural oppression of women.  She notes that most woman are alert to sexual assault all the time, and live their lives accordingly, while men are mostly unaware of the issue. Sexual harassment isn't about sex, it's about power and oppression.  Respect for the other is the essence of democracy and equality.  If half the population justifiably fears the other half, that's tyranny, not democracy.  After seeing the interview, I read Traister's 2018 book "Good And Mad: The Revolutionary Power Of Women's Anger", where she describes the angry response to Donald Trump's election as the third wave of feminine political action.
            The Declaration of Independence in 1776 asserted "That all men are created equal".  This radical social experiment was in contrast to the inherited power of nobility in Europe, but equality was still limited to white men, and women were considered property under the law.  
            The first wave of feminine activism began with the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 and produced a "Declaration of Sentiments" asserting "that all men and women are created equal".   "... when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce (women) under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security."  Most of these pioneers did not live to see the results of their activism, as the 19th amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote, was not adopted until 1920, culminating this first wave.
            However, social oppression of women persisted in the culture and laws covering divorce, property rights, employment rights, and pay equity.  After two generations of women voting and holding political office, the second feminist wave emerged in the 1960's.  Inspired feminist writing, the civil rights movement, environmental concerns, and the Vietnam war, led to a surge of social legislation, including voting rights and clean air and water laws.  The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which barred sexual discrimination, was passed in 1972, and the Supreme Court affirmed a woman's right to an abortion in 1973.
            The American economy peaked in 1972, and the economy stalled due to rising inflation and corporate concentration, distracting attention from social issues.  Conservative social backlash killed the ERA in 1982 when it failed to be ratified by the necessary 38 states.  This marked the end of the second feminist wave.  
            In the following 38 years, opposition to birth control and abortion has unified the right wing of society, and the Republican party consistently legislates voter suppression, which served to disenfranchise poor women, among others.  The election of Trump, an unrepentant misogynist who defeated the first female candidate for president, unleashed a third wave of feminist activism.  Traister's book articulates the rage felt by women and describes how this rage empowered women politically in ways not seen for decades.  "They thought they could bury us, but didn't know we were seeds".  
            The #MeToo movement expressed this rage, bringing the culture of sexual harassment out of the closet and into prime time.  Men are now afraid that their actions might be misunderstood, meaning for the first time, men experience what women have lived with for centuries: a wary regard for the opposite sex, which might bring about cultural changes of equal respect.
            The third wave increased voter registration of women and election of more women to office.  After the 2018 election the House of Representatives is 29.2% women (127 of 435), the most ever, and the Senate is 23% women, a good start.  Men have ruled the world for millennium, waging endless wars, bankrupting the planet, bringing us to the brink of destruction in the sixth mass extinction.  This is National Woman's Month.  It's time to let them run the show, they can't do worse!

Sunday, March 3, 2019

We Are All Socialists

                                                                                                written 24 February 2019
                                                                                                published 3 March 2019

            To sell their agenda to the population, Republicans use focus groups to craft sound bites, regardless of truth.  "The smoking gun could be a nuclear cloud" was used to generate fear, and support our 2003 Iraqi invasion, which destabilized the region, cost trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives and created ISIS.  No weapons of mass destruction were ever found. The current Republican sound bite distraction is "Freedom or Socialism".  
            Capitalism prioritizes money and competition, while socialism prioritizes people and cooperation.  All advanced countries have a combination of both.  Not all socialist economies are state-owned Soviet tyrannies, and not all capitalist economies are Nazis fascist tyrannies. 
            Capitalism facilitates the flow of goods and services by converting specific physical values into a more negotiable form called money, much like fire changes potential energy into useful kinetic energy.  Since money has no inherent value, social regulation is needed to develop a healthy civilization.  Regulated capitalism is like regulated fire, which provides social value by heating our homes, cooking our food, and powering our industry.  Unregulated "free market" capitalism is like the firestorm that destroyed Paradise last summer, a short-term event leaving toxic waste in the aftermath.
            Numerous American socialist structures already benefit the general public welfare and help society thrive.  For example, Ukiah's citizens have owned their electric power system for over 125 years.  There are no executives making million dollar salaries or bonuses and no shareholders, yet we get reliable power at 2/3 the cost of the bankrupt private utility that serves the rest of the county.  Most cities have publically owned sewer and water systems.  Everyone drives on publically owned roads, paid for by county, state, and federal taxes.  Social Security and Medicare are two very popular socialist programs at the federal level.  
            Life has a socialist bent.  Our bodies operate on the cooperative socialist principle "to each according to its needs, from each according to its ability".  A healthy body requires that every cell and organ be nourished and the structure is organized to nurture that cooperative goal, as should a healthy civilization.  We are biologically hard-wired to feel the experiences of others.  Mirror neurons in our brain generate sensations that mimic what we observe happening to another.  This is the physiological root of empathy.
            An individual with little or no empathy will exhibit antisocial behavior, typified by disregard for the rights and feelings of others.  This is called sociopathy or psychopathy.  There is evidence that sociopaths are created, and psychopaths are born, but there is a spectrum to these distinctions.  Sociopaths are generally less educated, and have some awareness of their emotional limitations.  They make up about 4% of the general population and 25% of the prison population. Psychopaths are generally better educated and better able to pass in normal society as they have little or no conscience.  They make up about 1% of the population, but as much as 10% of corporate executives, and 20% of the prison population.  These highly functional, antisocial individuals are disproportionally attracted to the economic power of capitalist corporations, therefore society must regulate capitalism in order to protect itself.
            Capitalism tends toward monopoly as it matures, which is socially unstable.  Today, 2200 global billionaires own the majority of everything, and the rest of us scramble to survive.  When the system crashes, capitalists expect society to bail them out.  After unregulated capitalism crashed the economy in 1929, decades of social reform and regulation were required to rebuild our country.  In the last 70 years, most of these regulations have been dismantled by capitalist interests, allowing the greed of the financial industry to destroy the economy again in 2008.  The Republican government used more than a trillion taxpayer dollars to save the banks, but not the thousands of foreclosed homeowners.  Profits are capitalized, but capitalists legislate laws to pay little or no taxes, thus hindering the funding of social programs that help citizens who suffer under this distorted economic structure.  
            The next time you hear someone chanting "Freedom or Socialism", remember that they may not be mentally ill, but they are certainly willing to sacrifice the welfare of you, your family, and your society, to make a profit for the highest bidder.