Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Roe is a distraction. The real problem is much, much worse.

The United States of America has always had a somewhat tenuous relationship with its own ideals.  The disconnect between "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal" on the one hand, and chattel slavery on the other, cannot result in anything other than some pretty severe cognitive dissonance.  But despite being deeply rooted in contradictions, the history of this country has nonetheless been one of steady (albeit all too often agonizingly slow) progress towards greater personal freedom and empowerment for all of its people, indeed for all of the people of the world.

All of this social progress has been built on a foundation of material prosperity driven by industriousness and technological advancement, which, in turn, was built on a bedrock of respect for objective truth.  We were able to invent the airplane and the transistor and put men on the moon not because "We're America, bitch", but because we had people who understood physics (and political science!), an understanding which once commanded respect.

No more.

Liberals should not delude themselves: Brett Kavanaugh will be confirmed to the Supreme Court, whereupon 242 years of social progress will begin to be methodically and deliberately unmade.  It has already begun, with the recent evisceration of the power of labor unions.  Roe v. Wade will probably be next to go; even if the court doesn't reverse it outright, they will twist the meaning of "undue burden" beyond the recognition of native English speakers.  And conservatives will celebrate, blissfully unaware that they have been the victims of an elaborate con.

You see, the fact of the matter is that opposition to Roe has nothing to do with a principled stance of defending a "right to life."  It is perfectly evident to anyone who looks at conservative policies today that they don't really care about life, they only care about birth.  If they really cared about life, they would care about health care and early childhood development and public education, and not ripping children from their parents.  But they don't.  After a woman has given birth, both she and her baby can go to hell for all that modern conservatives seem to care.

What is less evident is that even the semi-plausible concern for the "rights of the unborn" is a recent invention.  Modern conservatives would have you believe that Roe was a fringe decision that was immediately controversial.  It wasn't.  It was a 7-2 decision, and it was years before anyone thought to try to get it overturned.  And even then it was not a principled stance fighting for the "rights of the unborn" (what's next, fighting for the rights of the unconceived?), it was a cynical ploy to try to unite Protestants and Catholics to get them to vote for political candidates who would support segregation and be friendly to business.

All this is academic, though, because the abortion debate has been successfully and irredeemably (and, let is be ever-mindful, falsely) framed by conservatives to advance a wholly different agenda.  But the loss of personal reproductive freedom is just the tip of the iceberg.  In order to achieve this victory, conservatives have made a deal with the devil.  In exchange for lower taxes and less regulation and less government constraints on racial gerrymandering, they abandoned the truth.  They have allowed all manner of crackpottery -- birtherism, misogyny, and a dizzying variety of denialisms, from climate change to the Holocaust -- to don the mantle of respectability.  And that will ultimately cost us much, much more than our freedom.

To cite but one example which is not, as far as I can tell, on anyone's radar screen, having been totally eclipsed by all the hysteria over abortion (which is exactly what conservative strategists intended, by the way): Brett Kavanaugh has expressed the view that internet service providers have a first-amendment right to exercise editorial control over the content they deliver, and so it is not only wrong as a matter of policy for the government to impose net-neutrality rules, it is unconstitutional.

The utter absurdity (to say nothing of the extreme danger) of this position should be immediately obvious, and it would be immediately obvious if we still lived in a society that valued truth and education, but we don't.  Kavanaugh's argument is that the Internet is like cable TV: because a cable operator can decide what channels to offer, and ISP should be equally free to decide what web sites its users should be allowed to access.

That might be a valid argument if the internet had been privately developed, but it wasn't.  The internet was developed by the government with taxpayer dollars, which is to say, by the People.  There are other fundamental structural differences between cable TV and the Internet too: cable TV providers typically have to pay for content.  ISPs don't.  Furthermore, cable TV providers are subject to government regulations on what content they carry, and have been since their inception.

Brett Kavanaugh would throw all that precedent out the window and put both cable TV and the internet forever out of the reach of public regulation by declaring both to be morally equivalent to printing presses.  Except that they aren't.  The internet in particular is not a printing press.  Web servers are (the modern equivalent of) printing presses.  The internet is not the means of producing content, it's the means of delivering it.  It is the modern equivalent of the postal service, access to which is enshrined in the Constitution as a public right.  (Originalists insist that the Constitution keeps pace with technology when it comes to weapons, but not when it comes to communications.  Originalists are hypocrites.  What else is new?)

I am able to write this blog and you are able to read it only because of net neutrality.  Yes, this blog is hosted by Google, but if Google tried to shut it down I could move it somewhere else.  That is the beauty of the internet.  It enables free speech like nothing else before it in human history, not even the printing press.  But if your ISP decides to block access to then there is nothing you or I could do about it.  That would be the very antithesis of free speech.  Editorial control is something that should be practiced by content producers, not distributors.  Editorial control practiced by content producers is free speech.  Editorial control practiced by distributors is censorship.

Brett Kavanaugh either does not understand this, or he does and is willing to intentionally disregard this truth to promote the business interests of large telecommunications companies.  Either way, it should disqualify him from a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.  But I haven't heard any politician or advocacy group advance this argument.  Everyone is acting like deer in the headlights of Roe v. Wade.

The abortion debate was never anything more than a cynical ploy by conservatives to get people who care about freedom, social progress, and truth to take their eye off the ball.  And you know what?  It worked.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Trump is a personality cult

If you want proof that Donald Trump has become a cult of personality look no further than this story in the LA Times:

Workers in this town may become victims of Trump's trade war, but they're behind him 'no matter what'

Jimmie Coffer, a machine programmer at the nation’s largest nail-making plant, voted for Donald Trump partly because he was confident he would bring manufacturing jobs back to America. 
So the 39-year-old factory worker was shocked last month when 60 of his co-workers were laid off after the Trump administration imposed a 25% tariff on the steel his company imports from Mexico. Now, as his bosses cut back hours and warn they may have to let 200 more workers go in the coming weeks, he worries he may lose his job as a result of the president’s policies. 
But Coffer is still gung-ho about Trump. 
“I support him 100%,” he said last week. “In fact, I’d like to shake his hand. He’s doing a great job.”
So... Donald Trump is enacting policies that have the exact opposite effect of what they were supposed to have; instead of promoting manufacturing in the U.S., Trump's tariffs are actually pounding the last nail into its coffin.  And yet, the victims of this economic destruction still support Trump "no matter what".  Simply because he's Trump and not Obama.  That is the very definition of a personality cult.

I try to be respectful of other people's point of view, but I am having a really hard time marshaling any sympathy for people like Coffer.  Anyone who follows a person "no matter what", even to their own manifest financial ruin, deserves what they get.

I wonder... when Coffer and all of his friends and neighbors are out of work and have depleted their life savings and are living on the street (because, you know, the social safety net is an evil liberal conspiracy), will they still be following Trump "no matter what"?  Is there really no price too high to pay to have a white guy in the oval office?

[UPDATE]: Just now stumbled across this:
Conservative radio show host Joe Walsh said Thursday that he’s “pretty damn sad” some of his callers dismiss President Trump’s “lying” because he’s “their guy.” 
“On my radio show earlier this [week], I asked Trump supporters if they were ok with Trump lying so much,” Walsh said in a tweet. “I told them that I wasn't.”  
“The consensus? The vast majority of callers said they're ok with all Trump's lying because he's ‘their guy,’ ” Walsh continued. “Their response left me pretty damn sad.”
To which I say:  I'm pretty damn sad about it too, Joe.  Now, how about taking some personal responsibility for the world you and your fellow conservative talk show hosts have helped to create?