White America Seems to be Okay with Fascism.

It’s Day 3 following the election of Donald J. Trump to be 45th president of these States (cannot call them United because we are anything but). We could discuss how he is filling his coming administration with establishment types who seem to share one unifying vision: that of an America based solely on White Male Dominance. That, in itself, is bad enough. But what is worse is that a majority of white Americans based on the election results seem to believe there is nothing wrong with that.

Pundits are all telling us how everyone got it wrong about the election because no one considered the feelings of the many “Forgotten” Americans. These poor “Forgotten” Americans who don’t live on the Coasts and are made fun of by these East Coast Elites. How their way of life is dying and no one seems to care about them. About how the factories have closed, opportunities have dried up, and their precarious economic future. And so they voted for Trump because he promised to bring back jobs, to save their economies, to make sure no one forgot them.

Only that’s really just bullshit. That’s not what happened at all. Yes, certainly there was a backlash by the white working class who have seen their way of life change, but change is inevitable. And more than anything else, what many were voting for  was against the inevitability that whites will be a minority in America fairly soon.

Take for instance the New York Post story about these forgotten voters http://nypost.com/2016/11/09/trumps-voters-were-hidden-in-plain-sight/. The reporter went out to Pittsburgh and tells us they are not who we think they are, and in that she is quite correct, because the supposed forgotten voter she interviews is a doctor who makes quite a good living, has a nice house, lives in Suburbia, takes his kids to soccer practice and games, and is well-off, if not rich. Yet this doctor complains about being ignored. So he voted for Trump because he feels he won’t be ignored anymore. He voted for a xenophobic, misogynistic bigoted Fascist because he is doing so well that no one was paying him the amount of attention he wanted. Think about that for a moment.

He says he holds no malice. He says progressive policies that threaten his way of life are what made him vote for Trump. He says no way is Trump going to be “THAT BAD.” But what he is really saying is that his precious sensibilities are upset by the fact that NO ONE IS PAYING ATTENTION TO HIM! As if anyone actually needs to.

He has had every advantage throughout his life, he has achieved the American Dream, yet his response to being allowed to live his American Dream without interference is to burn it all down because he is no longer the center of attention. And we’re supposed to sympathize? Fuck that shit!

He feels it’s perfectly okay to set back civil rights, to set back women’s reproductive rights, to foster hatred of the other, to set back affordable healthcare for millions, simply because he feels he’s been neglected for eight years. Never mind that minorities in our country have been neglected for over 200 years.

Yet the pundit class is already trying to normalize this shit as if it makes sense and as if this is a legitimate complaint. Just like they normalize white men killing police officers (6 in the past week); but a Muslim does it, they are a terrorist; a Hispanic does it, they are a drug dealer; a black man does it, he’s a thug. White man does it; it’s a mental health issue.

Reading that article – and being told how important it was to take into consideration the feelings of the man in the article – outrages me. Here he is declaring I’m white. Why doesn’t any consider my feelings? A doctor, who lives in a nice house, with his nice wife and kids, and lives a nice suburban life. Yet he’s upset that he’s being ignored. Just how fucked up do you have to be to live in a bubble that fucking restricted?

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The Persistent and Pernicious Rightwing Myth of Voter Fraud (John Fund Edition)

Every election cycle, some distinguished member of the rightwing noise machine writes a piece close to the election about voter fraud and how voter fraud is making the American people lose faith in the institution of voting. This year, it appears John Fund drew the short straw with his piece in National Review published October 7, 2016, titled When Election Officials ignore Voter Fraud, We Need More Oversight.

Mr. Fund peppers his argument with statistics such as the Pew Research Center stating that 1 out of 8 voter registrations is marred by errors, that there are 1046 undocumented migrants (my words, not his – he uses the more pejorative “illegal alien) on the voter rolls in 8 Virginia Counties, and that there are 86 undocumented migrants registered in Philadelphia. He also reports on a sting operation which took place in New York where 63 undercover agents took on the names of people incarcerated, dead, or who had moved out of town and were able to vote in 61 of those incidents.

This, naturally, proves massive voter fraud. Because as everyone knows, most State Federal elections are decided by no more than 61 votes. Or 86 votes, or even 1046 votes. Not to make light of the problem that there are issues with voter rolls because rolls are not kept as well as they probably should be, but the idea that there is massive voter fraud perpetrated because of this has been debunked so many times, it beggars belief that we have to read this particular story yet again. As Mr. FUnd notes himself in his article, The Brennan Center has studied the issue and put it to rest https://www.brennancenter.org/issues/voter-fraud.

Yet, it’s an election year, conservatives are worried about winning elections, so out comes the voter fraud myth yet again.

If Mr. Fund is worried about people losing faith in our elections, perhaps he would care to opine on the voter suppression tactics of conservative governors and State legislators that strike individuals who have voted for decades off the rolls, or those that create onerous Voter ID laws, essentially disenfranchising large swathes of the eligible voting public. See Wisconsin, Virginia, North Carolina, etc. It is important to note that many of these states with strict Voter ID laws passed these laws just after the Supreme Court decided that part of the Voting Rights Act was no longer necessary.

It is also important to note that these Voter ID laws affect people of color the most. http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-hajnal-voter-id-research-20160908-snap-story.html

Add to that voter purges, and the real reason the American people are losing their faith in voting becomes eminently clear. For instance, this year alone, Ohio has purged at least 200,000 people from the voter rolls. Georgia, over a two year period, purged 327,000 names from its voter rolls. Considerably more than the 63, 86, 0r even 1046 supposedly fraudulent voters Mr. Fund would have you believe are ruining our elections.

Other states have narrowed the early voting window, have closed polling places, and have made the procurement of a Voter ID nearly impossible. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/01/us/critics-see-efforts-to-purge-minorities-from-voter-rolls-in-new-elections-rules.html?_r=0

Indeed, in an attempt to eradicate Mr. Fund’s Voter Fraud problem, 28 states have signed on to Crosscheck, which cross checks voter lists. This would appear to be a reasonable position to take, but as Rolling Stone notes “The outcome (of the Crosscheck program) is discriminatory against minorities.” http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/features/the-gops-stealth-war-against-voters-w435890

So, if Mr. Fund really cares so much about the integrity of voting in the US and the loss of faith in the electoral process, perhaps he should focus his attention on policies meant to disenfranchise large groups of voters.

Addendum: While I did not feel Mr. Fund was acting any way other than what was customary for rightwing pundits to behave regarding these mythological voter fraud conspiracies, he needs to understand in no uncertain terms that right now this type of bullshit goes beyond the pale.

Donald Trump and his legion of supporters – who already believe they are somehow victims – are quite willing to believe the election will be stolen and that they will have to take 2nd Amendment remedies to correct this. Mr. Fund, with his cavalier attitude about what this means, does nothing but help give cover to these misguided extremists and incite violence.

How You Get There Matters…Always.

Recently, I have been having a set-to with ProteinWisdom (Jeff Goldstein*) on Twitter. Can’t really call it a debate,discussion, conversation, or even random ramblings as he resorted to the tactic of calling me a fascist nearly immediately. But the gist of our “engagement” regards the latest Supreme Court rulings for Same Sex Marriage, for the ACA, and against Housing Discrimination. Whatever one thinks of these decisions, ProteinWisdom argues, “…the process of how we interpret and apply law — and what counts as liberty, in the sense it was intended by the founders and framers and to the extent it exists in a representative republic — is crucial to the protection of the individual and a the frustration of the state, whose natural impulse is to forever increase it’s own power.” – See more at: http://proteinwisdom.com/?p=57127#sthash.XexBTpkJ.dpuf

It’s an interesting statement; one I’m not at odds with. This statement by itself is something I think most everyone would agree with. His conclusions from this point on are, however, entirely wrong.

To summarize his argument, he believes the interpretation of law requires that law always and forever be clear and essentially not open to interpretation, and that the Supreme Court, when they chose to uphold the ACA provisions providing subsidies to those not in “State” exchanges , when they chose to find for Same Sex Marriage, and when they chose to uphold the Fair Housing Act, were not just misinterpreting the law, they were making it. He argues that this court is not only misinterpreting the law, they are writing law in contradistinction to the legislature when they clarify what the law states and that this is in contradiction to what the founders  and framers wanted and intended and how dare anyone disagree. This, of course, is his opinion, and he is allowed to have it. It is, of course, wrong.

Marbury vs. Madison, anyone?

From the very beginning, our country has held that The Court has the right of Judicial Review. That The Court could and should when it saw fit protect the rights of the people EVEN FROM their own legislators(or their fellow citizens). And to argue that The Constitution and what is Constitutional is not open to interpretation is to quite simply ignore how non-specifically The Constitution is written. Contrary to supposed Constitutional Originalists, The Constitution actually is alive and does change over time. It does not cover every instance of every law, nor can it. As for its mutability, one need only to look at the interpretation of the 2nd Amendment (a position, I’m sure, ProteinWisdom agrees with) in which The Court at the beginning of our nation used to hold that the first part of the Amendment was the defining characteristic of the Amendment but has shifted considerably to hold that the second part of the Amendment is now the defining element.

Nor, let us not forget just how Originalist these Originalists are. http://www.businessinsider.com/jon-stewart-blasts-scalia-2015-6 Even a “lowly” comedian can see just how much Originalists believe in the claptrap they spout.

Which brings us to the next part of ProteinWisdom’s rantings, in which he uses as his basis Scalia’s dissent in Obergfell as claiming a “right’ to not be lonely. Why, yes, let’s just dismiss equality as a “right” not to be lonely. That makes it so simple to  ignore ALL the laws and rights which benefit married couples. Simple things, like being able to sit with your partner when they are dying, like inheritance, like income tax filing, like taking your child to school, etc. etc. But ProteinWisdom isn’t against Same Sex Marriage, per se. Oh, no. He’s quite all right with it if your state votes for it. After all, it should be left up to majority rule. Just like inter-racial marriage, slavery, and segregation. All of which, by the way, were ended by the Federal Government and the Supreme Court. Equal Protection under the Law means just that. The motto of the Supreme Court is “Equal Justice Under The Law.” Explain how Justice is equal when you deny someone the right to marry because of whatever characteristic you dislike. The only thing Obergfell upheld is that we are supposedly all equal under the Law; your ick factor, notwithstanding.

But ProteinWisdom doesn’t just attack Obergfell. He has decided to conflate it with the opinion on housing discrimination, arguing that the Court ruled for socialism and “equality of outcome” and granting special rights to certain groups. This is just the ramblings of an idiot. Again, he ignores redlining, he ignores all discriminatory practices which in some cases may not be intentional but do occur, just so he can create some strawman imbecility that he believes he’s vanquished.

And last but not least, he takes up the interpretation of the ACA, arguing that because it is not perfectly clear, in his estimation, The Court should not have upheld the Federal subsidies. To be clear, we are back in that place where every law is perfectly transparent, never mind that The Constitution itself isn’t. His argument, by the way, rests on one piece of defense, that Jonathan Gruber made some comments about dragging Governors kicking and screaming to get Federal funds. Never mind that with a Google search one can find GOP lawmakers (Olympia Snow for one) who point out that they understood very well all along that the exchange and subsidies meant the Federal exchange as well.

As for clarity of the law? Do we now get to go backwards and unmake corporations are people? Many of us would like that.

He then goes on to point out that the Civil War Amendments (meaning mostly the 14th), was never intended to mean what The Court has decided it means, that all of us are equal under the law. He makes quite a show of pointing out how the States voted for it, ignoring again, that the only States originally for it were the ones that were NOT rebelling against the Union at the time. So about half of those that would later be bound by the 13th and 14th Amendment actually were for them. The rest were busy trying to destroy the Union until forced to vote for them to regain their federal representation.

The rest of his essay is quite literally raving. It is not worth reading, as he attempts to argue that somehow allowing people to marry is denying rights to others. I shouldn’t have to say it isn’t, but we now live in a world where up is down. Where denying someone their rights is called religious liberty.

Again,let’s be clear: no one is making ProteinWisdom have a Same Sex Marriage. No one is saying he can’t say stupid things. The 1st Amendment is still in place, and he can spout idiocy all he wants. But the 1st Amendment does not mean that we have to listen to his stupidity without him having any repercussions. The 1st Amendment is very clear: it means no government interference. It says nothing about private individuals or even corporations taking action. ProteinWisdom is upset that he can’t just spout off without someone pointing out that he’s simply making bad arguments.

So I need to ask: What rights does he believe he’s lost with the expansion of other people’s rights?

Clearly, reality does not exist in his bubble world.

*Correction: In my initial post, I incorrectly identified ProteinWisdom as Jeff Goldberg, not Jeff Goldstein. For that, I humbly apologize. As to the rest of his essay, it is still the same stupid end of civilization tripe.

That Great Conservative Public Intellectual Charles Murray is Either Stupid or Dishonest – I Go with Dishonest.

Charles Murray is Jeb Bush’s favorite author. You all remember who Charles Murray is: he, along with Richard J. Herrnstein, wrote the book The Bell Curve, published way back in 1994. The Bell Curve, to cut to the part that became most controversial, stated that African-Americans and new immigrants were essentially of lower intellectual capability because of their genes and their environment and this lower intellectual capacity was leading to a litany of social ills in the US and the US should do everything it could to manipulate the social order to stem this downward spiral, including reducing immigration, eliminating affirmative action, and eliminating policies that supposedly encouraged poor women to have babies. One can see that the environment part wasn’t the controversial bit. One can also imagine that The Bell Curve was and is a huge hit with a certain segment of the conservative movement. Ted Cruz comes readily to mind.

The major problem with The Bell Curve, for there are many but we will mention only one since this isn’t about that book, is that Herrnstein and Murray decided that the ASVAB, a standardized IQ test used by the US military, was a good general indicator of intelligence and used the data compiled in the National Longitudinal Study of Youth as their evidence and as the basis for their conclusions. Once they had concluded that we were on a intellectual downward spiral based entirely on the intellectual inferiority of certain groups, it was inevitable that their recommendations would be draconian, to say the least. Interestingly, raw scores on IQ tests for many populations have been rising about 3 points per decade during the 20th Century. Also of interest is that the first IQ tests were administered with the express purpose of showing how much more intelligent the French were than many of the populations of the countries they had colonized. So there’s that.

Charles Murray has come out with a new book nearly as much fun as The Bell Curve. In By The People, he argues that American freedom is being gutted by rules and regulations from the Federal Government that do not allow people to be free. Why, you can’t discriminate against someone based on your religious beliefs! You can’t speed down an empty highway! You have to make a banister railing 42 inches high! We must have limited government! The Federal Government is out of control! And so on and so forth. To be honest, I haven’t read the whole book, as I don’t have the stomach for it. It’s more of the same gnashing of teeth you get from so-called Libertarians, who believe in Liberty for themselves and no one else. It’s also the usual lament that the Federal Government is the one interfering in everyone’s every day life by over-regulating while ignoring that States, Counties, Municipalities, Cities, and Towns all have regulations of their own, in many cases more onerous than any the Federal Government supposedly is shackling us with. Murray manages to ignore those because he’s a “small-government” type, dontchaknow. Small government meaning in this sense, like-minded individuals regulating the crap out of everyone they disagree with.

Now, I don’t know why stair railings need to be 42 inches or higher, but I would suspect that this measurement wasn’t chosen simply because the person who came up with it liked the number 42. In fact, I suspect that there is a very good reason for why stair railings are meant to be at least 42 inches high. Charles Murray finds this to be an unnecessary regulation.

He also finds being pulled over for driving exceedingly fast on an empty highway to be unwarranted. How this is the fault of the Federal Government is questionable as many states set speed limits, but for argument’s sake, let’s go with it. So why should police pull you over for driving too fast on an empty highway? I mean, it’s empty, right? Except, of course, the people who made the speed limit regulation for that stretch of road, if they are the Federal Government, probably did so based on something, like maybe the fact that many people die in accidents on that stretch of road because they were driving too fast. This is, of course, assuming that the Federal Government set that limit and not the State, County, Municipality, etc. Murray, as usual, quite conveniently ignores those supposed small-government regulatory incursions.

And then there’s his prescription to fix it all – a plan only an Anti-Democratic Oligarchic Libertarian could love: Have wealthy groups or people bring nuisance suits against the Federal Government to the point where the time and effort to fight those suits becomes so costly and time consuming that the Federal Government will stop fighting them and capitulate. So Murray’s fix, basically, is to have the Federal Government have to waste tax-payer money fighting the wealthy to enforce the law. So stick it to the tax-payer, because as I’ve already pointed out, Murray doesn’t care about where most actual regulations come from – State, County, Municipality, City, or Town. No; his focus is solely on the Federal Government and their supposed meddling. And if you believe I’m making too  much out of that, remember that segregation laws were locally on the books in the last century.

But what makes Murray either the most dishonest or the stupidest single public intellectual is the fact that we already have his solution. The wealthy already buy their way out of most forms of regulation in this country. And none of that trickles down to the rest of us. When Robert Durst can get bail for murder multiple times while some poor schmuck who forgot to pay a parking ticket gets thrown in jail because he can’t make bail, then you know the wealthy have already circumvented the rules and regulations. Remember the kid who didn’t get jail time because the judge stated he suffered from “Affluenza.” Or banks that pay out billion dollar fines only to see their stock value go up because brokers know that they are now free from any other possible investigation. And let’s not forget car companies that make calculations on whether it is more cost efficient to pay whatever fines they get than to repair a malfunction that can and did kill people.

And we talk about the reputational costs, but in many of these cases, there no longer appears to be one. The banks continue on their merry way, committing crimes and avoiding regulations with impunity. Wealthy individuals cheat the system by declaring bankruptcy ever other week – see Donald Trump – without any cost to their reputation or their bank accounts. Others commit outright crimes – see Rupert Murdoch and family – and the worst that happens is they disappear for a little while, only to come back a year or two later and become CEO of the company. So when Murray argues that we should band together and take on the monstrous government because it is regulating us too much, what he’s really saying is that we should ignore that the rich and powerful are already destroying whatever regulations and laws there are for their own benefit and pretend that that is somehow for our own good when they foul our air, pollute our water, wreck the economy, destroy the middle class, marginalize the poor, gut education, and basically work to make the planet that much less inhabitable for regular folk. Murray is doing the bidding of the Oligarchs. If this were Russia, he’d be shilling for Putin.

THEY ARE NOT THE SAME!

The silly season has started, what with Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio announcing they were running for president (Rand Paul and Ted Cruz announcing don’t count as they are the silly silly season), and as per usual, the Media, the chattering classes, and every mother’s son with an opinion – yours truly included – have started to weigh in on what looks to be one of the longest, most acrimonious, and downright exhausting run-ups to the 2016 Presidential Election we will ever have seen in this country. The attacks have already started, with attack ads being aimed squarely at Rand Paul, Ted Cruz already becoming irrelevant as he tells us how he will do away with ACA while at the same time availing himself of it, Marco Rubio telling us all how we have to move into the 21st Century while espousing 18th Century positions, Chris Christie – though he hasn’t announced yet – telling us all how he would privatize Social Security, and everyone piling on Hillary Clinton. Add to that the Media obsession with the horse race – who’s up in the polls, who ate lunch where, what’s the latest faux scandal – and it’s no wonder the majority get burned out and just say fuck it and don’t vote.

After all, they’re all the same; right? Right? Aren’t they all the same?

And that’s where the problem starts. The Media, the chattering classes, and many among every mother’s son with an opinion have made us come to believe that the Republican candidates are all the same as the Democratic ones. That there are no real differences between the two parties, so it doesn’t matter who you vote for, you’re going to get the same outcomes. That, my friends, is an outright, bold-faced lie. And that, my friends, leads us and this country down the path to becoming some kind of Theocratic, Oligarchic, Right-wing Dystopia where everyone is a wage slave except for a favored few, and if you’re a woman or a minority, or a white working stiff, you don’t count other than as cannon fodder for the latest war that can line that favored few’s pockets.

All of those of you who keep saying they are all the same, get this through your thick skull: THEY ARE NOT THE SAME!

If you don’t believe me, look at the policies the Republicans want to or have already implemented: In Kansas, the state is hemorrhaging jobs and the deficit is ballooning out of control. It’s gotten so bad that Kansas schools HAVE TO close early because there isn’t enough money to pay for keeping them open. Governor Brownback has turned the State into a laboratory for every nutty right-wing, supply-side economic theory he can think of, and Kansas is slowly becoming hell. It’s so bad that Brownback is trying to keep everyone’s mind off of it by coming up with crazy-assed laws that make women second class citizens. Again, don’t take my word for it, take the word of the major Republican Caucus in Kansas that pleaded with the citizens of Kansas to vote for the Democrat in the last gubernatorial election. But it appears voters in Kansas are so sickeningly stupid that they would rather the Governor never had a lap-dance than have working schools, a thriving middle class, and infrastructure.

Or take Wisconsin – Please! Scott Walker has made that State a paragon of Right-wing idiocy. Wisconsin went from third in job creation to 40th under Walker. Wisconsin is dead last in job creation in the Midwest. http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/statements/2015/mar/16/mark-pocan/wisconsin-dead-last-midwest-job-creation/ Walker has cut taxes, so now the Wisconsin budget shortfall for the next two year period is projected to be $2 Billion. Yes, that’s billion with a B. And while cutting things like education and public services seems to be the way conservative Republicans like Walker prefer to go, he’s spending $1 Billion – yes, that’s right, billion with a B – on a new sports arena and entertainment complex. Seems rich people being able to take in a basketball game is more important than an educated citizenry.

And does one even need to point out Pence in Indiana? Didn’t think so.

This is just some of the insanity happening on the state level. When we get to the National level, Right wing Republican goes to a whole ‘nother level of crazy. Climate Change – “I’m not a scientist.” Age of the Earth – “I’ll have to get back to you on that.” Technology – “I’ve never sent an email.” Same sex marriage – “Well, if you want to discriminate because your religion says so, that’s okay.” Women’s Rights – “Women don’t need to be paid as much as men,” and “If you don’t want a baby, keep your knees together,” and “Well, just because we pay for the blue pill, why should we have to pay for contraception?”

And it gets worse. Social Security is an entitlement program! Medicare is wasteful! Food Stamps are being misused to buy lobster and Filet! We need to get the Federal Government out of education by eliminating Common Core! Yes, Social Security is an entitlement program, by the original definition of the word entitlement – a right to benefits specified by contract or law. Medicare has waste. It also provides millions of people with healthcare they could not possibly afford on their own. Food Stamps are misused at a rate of about 3%. While no fraud is acceptable, that’s a great deal lower than fraud found in the banking industry, and the people using food stamps actually need the money, what little they get. But being a good Republican, you have to hate the poor. And Common Core – Well, folks, Common Core is not a Federal program.

Add to this the attempt to derail the P5+1 Iran Nuclear negotiations, as though treating Iran as an irrational actor will somehow have a favorable outcome. Instead we get Tom Cotton and John Bolton who would rather that we bomb them, because, of course, giving the Iranian people a common enemy to rally around is really going to get us what we want.

It is as though the GOP position on every issue is how can we most hurt Americans. We don’t want them to have healthcare, we don’t want them to have education, we don’t want them to live in a peaceful world, we don’t want them to be able to love whomever they love, we don’t want them to have a secure retirement, we don’t want them to have a world that they can leave to their children and grandchildren. The list just goes on and on.

Do I want reform of the election system? Stupid question – OF COURSE! But does that mean I won’t vote for the lesser of two evils because they are both evil? HELL NO! I have a choice of choosing someone who may not be great but doesn’t think my life is worthless unless I can buy them a house, or the insane clown posse of the Republican Party that believes you and I don’t matter at all. So if I’m a good Republican voter I’ll listen to some insane fuckwad who will tell me that the earth is only 6,000 years old and that helping the poor and disenfranchised, maintaining roads, maintaining peace, having clean air and water, and keeping society from discriminating against one group for the benefit of another are all bad things for government to do and I’ll vote for the insane person who believes I don’t matter. Or I can vote for the slightly more sane one that believes I do. I know which one I’m voting for.

And again: THEY ARE NOT THE SAME!

UPDATE: Scott Walker’s Wisconsin is now 49th in Econ Outlook! Yeah! That’s what we want for America!

Save Us From So-Called “Experts”!

So about three weeks ago, I had a long and fruitless debate – and I use that word loosely, since it was mostly create a straw-man, place straw-man squarely on the person you disagree with, and then pile on – with a number of individuals on Twitter about the Habsburg Empire. The debate began innocuously enough as I pointed out that the statement that the Habsburg Empire was Benevolent and should therefore never have dissolved was similar to saying that the Colonials should never have left the British Empire. The immediate reaction was within reason though wrong, basically arguing that I was comparing two dissimilar things, Apples to Tomatoes. And while I was comparing two different empires with their own set of foibles and follies, the fact that we were comparing empires which were both for the most part relatively benevolent did not make them dissimilar. Now, if we had continued in this manner, we might actually have had a debate. Instead, as I pointed out above, one of the “debaters” decided to throw in a straw-man, which everyone else then pounced on as the actual debate. He decided that since I had stated that most nationalities within the Empire wanted self-determination, it was appropriate to point out what had happened once they had achieved that self-determination, and because of that it was correct that they had not been self-determining to that point. When I disagreed, he basically decided that I had said that the Habsburg Empire was like the Fascists and/or Bolsheviks, when I had said no such thing. Then he decided I must be a Bolshevik because I disagreed with his conclusion.

And so the “debate” continued in that vein i.e. do you know how the Jews were treated under the Habsburg Empire versus how they were treated under the Fascists; in retrospect, Hungarians preferred the Habsburg Empire to what came after, etc., etc. The prevailing tweets being that I must somehow be an idiot since I didn’t see clearly that most Pols, Czechs, Hungarians, etc. wanted to be part of the Empire. Never mind that Poland, which had saved Austria from the Ottomans, was partitioned amongst the Prussians, Russians, and Habsburgs, or that the Hungarian uprising of 1848 had had to be put down with the help of Czar Nicholas I of Russia because the Hungarians were winning, or even the constant pressing by the Czechs for their national claims. No, the Habsburg Empire was benevolent and so everyone was living in Happy LaLa Unicorn land, save for a few rogue elements.

Now, what does that have to do with experts, you might be asking. Let me say here that I have read this particular “debater’s” writing and often find it to be interesting, if nothing else – and I’m sure he doesn’t give a damn about my opinion anyway. But on more than one occasion, I have seen him resort to the tactic of stating “I have a PhD, I’ve written books; what have you done” as the argument as to why he’s correct and you’re wrong; as if this were some sort of dick-swinging contest to see whose was bigger. In other words, he’s resorted to basically saying he’s an expert and as such his opinion carries more weight. And when one points out that that doesn’t actually mean that he is correct, he just repeats it. It’s not an argument so much as it is a mantra.

And then the rest of the crew comes and piles on, presenting such wonderful evidence as this by Tom Nichols: http://thefederalist.com/2014/01/17/the-death-of-expertise/. Which proves that Tom Nichols can string a bunch of sentences together and can condescend like the best of them. He’s an expert, don’t you know. And he goes into laborious detail about how there are just so many stupid people out there who just don’t understand what their betters are telling them.

Don’t get me wrong: there are some valid points in that post. The issue isn’t that he doesn’t make any valid points; the issue is that he acts like he’s the only person who’s ever thought of them and that he somehow has a lock on knowledge. It is this idea that somehow being Tom Nichols or someone who agrees with Tom Nichols gives you a lock on knowledge greater than everyone else that is downright insulting. It is the same position that other “experts” debate you from. It is a narrow-minded orthodoxy.

That’s not to say that there are no experts. There are doctors, engineers, scientists; hard science people who are experts. Yes, they make mistakes; yes, they behave like human beings and get peevish and stubborn and wild-eyed. But in the end, they are swayed by facts and evidence. And really, most good scientists are trying to prove themselves wrong. They are trying to make their theory fail, to see if it holds up to scrutiny, to see if it has merit. Not so with the “foreign policy experts.” No; they come up with the theory, then fit the evidence to that theory. We have seen it time and time again. And yet, those same Foreign Policy experts are called on to tell us what we should do, even though they were wrong the last time and the time before that. You get rewarded for being wrong.

And they are usually wrong. We’re not talking some of the time wrong; we’re not even talking slightly wrong. No, we’re talking coin flip wrong. You are as likely to get a right answer from picking heads or tails as you are talking to an expert. Don’t believe me; believe Philip Tetlock http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_E._Tetlock. He studied experts for twenty years and found that they were no better than a coin flip. What’s worse is no one holds them accountable for when they screw the pooch.

When they’re wrong, they’re rarely held accountable, and they rarely admit it, either. They insist that they were just off on timing, or blindsided by an improbable event, or almost right, or wrong for the right reasons. They have the same repertoire of self-justifications that everyone has, and are no more inclined than anyone else to revise their beliefs about the way the world works, or ought to work, just because they made a mistake.

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/why-experts-are-almost-always-wrong-9997024/#VOcPO4xDzkUgeBhc.99

And while Nichols tells us about how his work is peer reviewed, he ignores the huge elephant in the room that he is writing for an audience that already agrees with him or comes at the problem with the same biases and prejudices he does. Again, there are study after study that show that peer review is NOT the be all and end all that Nichols would have you believe they are. The one thing we can say with certainty about any of this, is that some of it will be wrong.

So the problem is that these “experts” argue that their expertise should never be questioned. Naturally, if you are unwilling to argue against them based on proving your credentials, that means that you don’t have any and so therefore how dare you question their position. How dare you ask them to stoop down to your level and actually explain where their position comes from, how they came to their conclusion, and why you should accept it as correct. After all, you’re not an “expert.” You’re beneath their contempt since you’ve brought into question their conclusions without trying to use your credentials as a means of crushing any debate.

Look, there are loonys out there who believe crazy things. No one is arguing there are not. And no, this isn’t arguing that your brain surgeon shouldn’t be an accredited physician. But just because your brain surgeon has been doing lobotomies for twenty years, that doesn’t mean the lobotomy is the only means of treatment for your illness. And just because you wrote a book about something, and yes, did the research, doesn’t mean that every bit of your conclusion is the only one that’s right. So if you are an “expert,” it might do to get off your high horse and put your conclusions to the question. Because even Einstein wasn’t right all the time.

Are Religious People Moral?

So, not to put too fine a point on it, but I’ve decided to find out just how many people can become outraged when I choose to talk about Religion, Agnosticism, Atheism, and Morality, as you can see from the title of this post. Notice, also, that I state religious people, including your garden variety religious person.

Basically, religious people break down into two groups with variations throughout: your garden variety religious person who believes in God and believes in the tenets of their religion but isn’t fanatical about it, and highly religious people, who are different from your garden variety religious person, and by those I mean those who believe their religion is not only a part of them but also determines the outcomes of their lives. You know, like football players who tell you that God won the game for them, as though God gives a shit about football (Though, considering he is God, he doesn’t give a shit about anything, because, let’s face it, God doesn’t shit). They are a separate animal from the garden variety religious person, and I’ll deal with them first.

So are highly religious people moral? Short answer: No. But that’s being flip about it. The long answer isn’t really that much more but begins to point out the flaws in their beliefs.

You can be moral and highly religious; so, yes, there could be highly religious people who are moral, but they are not moral because they are highly religious, as being highly religious is not a pre-determinate of being moral. The idea that you have to be religious to be moral is a bunch of hockum. And, no, I’m not going to go into the history of religion and the atrocities committed in the name of religion to prove what has been proven over and over again. Suffice to say Daesh believes itself to be highly religious and therefore moral. And before you jump all over me that I’m singling out Islam, The Westboro Baptist Church believes much the same thing. Not to mention all the other fringe religious fanatics out there, who seem to be multiplying hourly (The Duggars are a fine example of their own little island of religious insanity).

And this is where the whole thing falls apart. After all, what is the justification for morality in this instance other than religion and God. God makes you moral, either through punishment or reward. You do good, you go to Heaven. You do bad, you go to Hell. With fanatics, it’s not just doing good or bad, it’s doing good or bad the way they describe those terms, add onto that their belief that they must act upon those beliefs of what is good and bad. It’s not enough that they denounce you for your behavior, they are here as God’s crazy-eyed right hand to meet out his vengeance should you do what they consider bad.

Which isn’t that far off from what the garden variety religious person believes, really. It’s just a matter of degree. Your garden variety religious person believes pretty much what the fanatic does. You do good because of God; you do bad because you choose to defy God. The difference is is that your garden variety religious person simply is too lazy or too non-committal to take their religious belief to the extreme their religion, if they were to follow it precisely, demands. So today’s garden variety religious person is just a few steps away from your religious fanatic.

But does that in any way make them moral? Again, the short answer is No. If your only reason for behaving in a positive manner with your fellow beings is because you fear the external inducement of going to Hell or crave the external inducement of getting into Heaven, then clearly you are not moral. You behave the way you behave based solely on these external inducements. By contrast, the Agnostic or the Atheist who behaves magnanimously with his fellow beings without these inducements is considerably more moral. All she/he receives is inner well-being and adherence to her/his own code of conduct.

That’s not to say Agnostics and Atheists don’t do bad things. They just don’t have a ready-made outside justification for their behavior like the religious do. What’s more, they are in essence less hypocritical simply again by the nature of their lack of belief in a God, because, unlike the God-Fearing or God-Loving, when they behave badly towards their fellow beings, it is out of their belief system. When a religious person behaves badly towards his fellow beings, it is antithetical to the teachings of their belief system i.e. hypocritical or their belief system is so distorted that it is used as justification i.e. hypocritical.

None of this is new. Certainly Sam Harris,Richard Dawkins, and others have touched on these arguments. It’s just that it seems we are coming around again to this foolish belief that the religious are somehow more moral, even as they deny that we are killing the planet, they deny children education and welfare, they start wars based on their conviction that their God is greater than the other loony’s God, and that it is perfectly all right to believe in a loving God who tells you to help your fellow beings and then not help your fellow beings.

The religious are delusional. In many cases that delusion is mild and comfortable and even admirable. But in a growing number of cases that delusion is violent, hateful, and downright destructive, all couched in the language of morality, when all it truly is is a selfish fear of a wrathful, jealous being who demands complete fealty even as it destroys wantonly. If, on the other hand, you believe God to be merciful, loving, and kind, then you behave the way you do either because you believe he will reward you for your good behavior or you think he’s a pushover and it will not matter what you do, he will reward you.

Either way, religious people are not any more moral than anyone else. They simply have delsuions which allow them to claim to be so.