Sunday, February 11, 2018

Mirror America

Thank goodness that all my years of watching and reading sci fi - Star Trek, Stargate, Sliders, etc. - prepared me for this.  Otherwise, I might seriously think I was losing my mind.

It's been about 15 months since the rift happened on election night in November 2016 and the parallel universes began to diverge.  Or, maybe the process had begun years earlier, but kicked into high gear that night.  We could almost viscerally feel the lurch as Donald Trump was declared the winner, the spacetime continuum fractured and Bodhi Kitty, who is very sensitive, actually barfed, and the whole world changed. 

I don't know how I ended up on this side of the rift, or whether I am my own doppelganger, the "real me" still on the other side.  I feel like me.  Would I be able to tell the difference?

What I can tell for sure, is that other people in this reality are different.  People who were long-time dear friends on the other side have abandoned me here for the sake of Trump, whether because of their adoration or their hate for him.  I was un-friended merely for not saying enough good things about him, or failing to defend him and his followers against legitimate criticism, or defending his opponent, Madam President, against slanderous allegations that were obviously false but the people here find perfectly plausible.  Other friends un-friended me for not hating him, for suggesting that he might have any good qualities, even for saying that he is less evil than the others in the GOP leadership.  

A very dear old friend, the cofounder of the Community of Francis and Clare in which I am a Third Order Sister, despite his being a devout Buddhist who continually talked about compassion, turned his back on me just for defending beautiful Melania Trump against slut-shaming by liberals, people who ought to know better.  Liberals in my old reality didn't slut-shame women, period.  That was the job of conservatives.  And close friends didn't become enemies because of a politician.

Everyone in this reality is obsessed with Trump!  Whether they worship him or despise him, they are completely fixated on the man and everything revolves around him.  When I point out that it is really VP Pence, who is clearly undead with some photos almost showing his fangs, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a.k.a. Demonic Mayor Wilkins of Sunnydale, who are running the country behind the scenes along with their evil cohorts Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and gang, nobody will listen.  They are all totally mesmerized by Mr. Trump, as per the GOP plan.  Only one lady, JuLeah, really seems immune to the spell.  I suspect she is either from an advanced alien species, a parallel universe or maybe from the future.

And President Trump is not even the same guy he was in the other reality, where his background was strongly pro-LGBTQ rights (with a big gay fanclub!), pro-choice, pro-legalization of cannabis, non-religious, libertarian-leaning Democrat, a party guy, perhaps rude, but with a fun sense of humor.  In this parallel universe Mr. Trump is an authoritarian Republican who has allegedly converted to Christianity, with televangelists as his advisors.

Unlike the fundies back home, who were obsessed with sex and never would have rallied behind a thrice-married man who cheated on all three of his wives, had affairs with porn stars and bragged about "grabbing women by the pussy," Trump's "evangelical Christian" friends believe that material success is evidence of holiness.  According to their gospel, his wealth and having won the election is proof that President Trump is a man of God.  In my world this "Prosperity Gospel" was a heretical fringe doctrine widely known to be a scam, whereas here its proponents are respected clergy advising the President of the United States.

This religious Trump has lost his sense of humor but is funny without trying, in a way that embarrasses the country in the eyes of our allies.  And his values are completely opposite from what I remember.  He has abandoned the LGBTQ community, is strongly anti-choice and even opposes birth control.  He is allowing Sessions to overturn the law in states where cannabis is already legal, expanding federal civil forfeiture power in violation of states' rights.  When I comment on how his values and policies have changed 180 degrees, nobody believes me.  They look at me like I'm crazy and insist this is how he's always been, further proving I've fallen into an alternate reality.  It's very much like that Star Trek episode, "Mirror, Mirror" where Spock was evil and had a beard.

Reminiscent of Orwell's novel 1984, "Religious liberty" here means, "the liberty to oppress employees and/or discriminate against customers based on your religious views."  Self-proclaimed fascists marching down city streets with torches and swastikas are lauded as "patriots," while members of Antifa (literally, "anti-fascist") are called "fascists."  Feminism "degrades women" while misogynists are seen as saviors.  People are appointed to run the various U.S. government departments based on their publicly stated opposition to the job and their intention to dismantle said departments.

The legislative process is different here, too.  In addition to the Attorney General unilaterally implementing his own policies in defiance of the President's previously expressed intentions (at least those I remember from before the rift happened), there is a blatant disregard for the rule of law, e.g., there is no restriction on Presidents receiving income from foreign governments, something called "emoluments," which in the other universe was illegal but is perfectly acceptable here.  Or, maybe laws in this parallel America are just suggestions.

Very little legislation has been passed by this Congress besides a highly unpopular tax reform favoring the super rich, and when citizens went to their so-called "representatives" to voice their concerns, they were arrested, with the elderly and disabled people in wheelchairs hauled off to jail.  What I found most shocking is the fact that nobody seemed shocked about it.  Otherwise, most of the legislation accomplished thus far has been by numerous Executive Orders on the part of the President.  In this universe apparently the previous President, Obama, who was a Muslim dictator, issued the most Executive Orders in history, so nobody minds Mr. Trump doing it.

People here believe everything bad that ever happened was Obama's fault, and they may be right.  I suspect he may have inadvertently created this rift in the spacetime continuum when he used the Tardis to go back in time, put his birth announcement in the Honolulu newspaper and forge his birth certificate, resulting in the creation of this dystopian parallel universe.

Congress did finally pass a bill instituting sanctions against Russia for interfering to help Mr. Trump get elected, despite the President and the GOP leadership insisting it never happened.  Rather, in this reality it was Hillary Clinton who colluded with Russia, bribing them with uranium.  Like Uhura's evil counterpart in the Star Trek episode, this Hillary is ruthless and cunning.  She even ran a pedophile ring out of the basement of a pizza parlor, in addition to her ties with the mafia, and all the rapes and murders she previously covered up.  The GOP has found her and the FBI guilty in the surveillance of Carter Page, a Trump advisor who publicly bragged about his ties to the Kremlin.  

Apparently in this universe Russia is somehow our ally, people who work for the Kremlin are trustworthy, and the FBI is corrupt, in cahoots with Hillary's mafia.  Anyway, although President Trump did sign the sanctions bill into law, it is not being implemented.  And Republicans in Congress tried to shut down the agency which would have investigated the hacking of the electoral system to prevent it in the future.  They say it is not necessary because the hacking never happened; U.S. intelligence agencies were lying.

Besides my new friend JuLeah, I'm aware of at least one other highly evolved alien here, a brilliant fellow with the odd name of Elon Musk.  Here NASA no longer launches spacecraft; it is done by private entrepreneurs like Mr. Musk, who successfully sent a Tesla convertible into space with a sign on board from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and music by David Bowie (another advanced alien, may he RIP) blaring on the stereo.  Were this not delightfully bizarre enough, when I saw Musk's rockets return to earth and touch down gently standing upright, I knew for sure "we're not in Kansas anymore," because in my world rockets couldn't do that.  

I wonder what great things Madam President is doing back home.  I must find a way to get back, a means through the portal, before the rift increases to the point that these parallel universes part completely and I am stuck here forever.  I can't survive for long in this world, where I am considered stupid and/or delusional for not believing the government propaganda.  My job pays half of what it did before the rift began, and having only a Master's degree, I am virtually unemployable.  All the decent-paying jobs here require at least a Ph.D.  

Maybe JuLeah or Elon have the technology to get me home.  Or, maybe Barry Obama will loan me his Tardis, although I've heard that this Barry is not the nice guy I knew in high school.  He, like Hillary, is evil in this world.  Anyway, rumor has it that Melania stole the Tardis to go back in time and prevent herself from marrying Mr. Trump.  Who could blame her?  He isn't the guy she thought she was marrying.  Maybe she also fell through the rift and, like me, is shocked and horrified to find herself in this situation.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Net Neutrality and the Free Market

This blog post was inspired by a discussion on Facebook when I shared that I had contacted my so-called "representatives" in Congress regarding my concerns about the importance of preserving Net Neutrality.  Two of my friends, both brilliant, articulate and very kind gentlemen, did a great job of presenting both sides of the argument in the lively discussion that ensued.  Roger is a professor of economics, a big proponent of the free market, who has been patiently trying to teach me how stocks work and answers all my dumb questions.  Peter is a senior assistant at a law firm who describes himself as a "socially-liberal, fiscal conservative" and has generously advised me on legal matters.  Neither of these gentlemen identifies as "libertarian."  Below, I will discuss the issue from my perspective as a left-libertarian.

But first, here is Congressman Neal Dunn's reply. This is the sort of response I nearly always get from my alleged "representatives," i.e., "Thank you for sharing your thoughts... but I am going to obey my corporate masters regardless of what you and the other voters want."  It is rather subtle, but if you read between the lines, he opposes Net Neutrality by using "regulate" and "regulatory" along with "Obama Administration" as bad words:

"I understand your support of the FCC’s net neutrality rules, and I appreciate your concern that they may be rescinded. These rules were established by the Obama Administration to regulate the internet as a public utility. The internet has revolutionized how we communicate and do business, and we must keep the internet free and open so we can continue to use it to innovate and grow. As Congress continues to review the regulatory actions of the Obama Administration and in particular the FCC’s actions, please know that I will keep your views in mind."

Senator Bill Nelson, however, supports Net Neutrality! Here is his answer:

"Thank you for contacting me regarding Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal to undo the agency’s net neutrality rules.  I support the existing rules, and as a result, I oppose Chairman Pai’s proposal, which would gut the existing rules and rob Americans of vital protections that preserve our access to a free and open internet."

Now, here's what is interesting.  Read the two statements again.  Do you notice anything odd?  I'll give you a hint: "free and open."  Rep. Neal Dunn (R) wants to end Net Neutrality, while Sen. Bill Nelson (D) favors maintaining it, and yet both Congressmen clearly state that they support a "free and open internet."  How can both assertions be true at the same time?  Is this some kind of Orwellian mindfuck?  Yes, it is!  The title of the net neutrality rollback order is, "Restoring Internet Freedom."  So the question becomes, "freedom for whom?"

Rep. Dunn says, "we must keep the internet free and open so we can continue to use it to innovate and grow," while Sen. Nelson states that the current Net Neutrality regulations, "preserve our access to a free and open internet."  The key here is that "we" and "our" refer to two completely different entities!  Rep. Dunn's "we" refers to telecom corporations, which contributed $18,500 to his campaign.  Sen. Nelson's "our" refers to individual American citizens.

Former FCC commissioner Michael Copps states, "The language used to discuss Chairman Pai's plan implies the opposite of what the proposal will do, which is make the internet most free and open only to those with the deepest pockets while the industry giants rake in still more money."

Not only is Net Neutrality very important to me as a small business owner, blogger and political activist, the issue also serves as a great illustration of the difference between my own left-libertarianism, a.k.a. classical anarcho-socialism, versus the far-right modern variation endorsed by the Tea Party poseur-libertarians or "GOP lite," as I will explain below.  Let me first point out, though, that some right-wing politicians claim to be "libertarian" while having an "R" after their name.  If it has an "R" rather than an "L" it's technically not a Libertarian, but a Republican.  I can call myself a "duck" and produce some quacking noises, but that doesn't make me a duck.  So what is the difference and how does it pertain to Net Neutrality?

In a nutshell, both types of libertarians claim to want less government regulation, but of what, and to whose benefit?

Left-libertarians regard civil rights such as privacy, bodily autonomy, self-ownership, freedom of expression and association, and freedom of or from religion, as our #1 priority.  We view the proper role of government as upholding the rights and freedoms of individuals to live as we please so long as we harm nobody else.  We want less government interference in our personal lives, e.g. what we do in the privacy of our own home, what plants we may grow in our yard, whom we may marry and/or have whatever kind of sex among consenting adults, whether or when to have children, and what we choose to eat, drink, smoke, snort, inject or otherwise put into, or remove from, our own body.  We believe that government regulation belongs not in the private, but in the public sphere, to protect us against force and fraud from other persons or corporate entities, to prevent the powerful from preying upon the weak.

Right-libertarians, or those who call themselves "libertarian" while espousing a mostly Republican philosophy, don't seem to have much objection to government interference in the lives of private citizens, whom they would prefer to keep on a fairly short leash.  They have little concern for things like bodily autonomy or marriage equality, are often anti-choice with regard to reproductive rights, and support the War on Drugs.  They may even deny a constitutional right to privacy except in so far as it pertains to private property, i.e. finances.  Their focus is, rather, on removing governmental regulation of banks and industry.  They are generally ok with the government regulating wombs and bedrooms, but not corporate boardrooms.  When they speak of "freedom" it is nearly always in the context of allowing Wall Street and big corporations free reign to put profits ahead of people, even if it means mercilessly exploiting employees and consumers and/or destroying the environment.

So, while the left-libertarian philosophy of social order is the Golden Rule, with the government playing the role of referee in case people fail to abide by it, the philosophy on the right could be expressed as, "Whoever has the gold makes the rules," the government being the guardian of private property, so that the rulers may keep their gold and spend or invest it as they see fit.

My liberal friends characterize that philosophy as heartless or greedy, but there are plenty of good and generous people on the right including my own father, a Reagan Republican, who sincerely believe that so-called "free market" capitalism ultimately benefits everyone by generating wealth which then magically trickles down to enrich all households, kind of like Santa Claus bringing gifts down your chimney.  One of my favorite Libertarian authors, Dr. Mary Ruwart, explains with great enthusiasm how capitalism creates "unlimited wealth" that has lifted humanity out of poverty.  The wise and benevolent Invisible Hand of the Free Market knows what is best for us and guides our financial interactions accordingly to the benefit of society.

I want to believe that.  It would make things so much simpler.  I imagine that some of my atheist friends feel similarly when they tell me they wish they could believe in God - not that I myself "believe" per se, but that is a different story for another time.  I want the fair and benevolent Free Market to be true.  It would reduce the cognitive dissonance I endure as a result of the "L" on the voter card in my wallet.  But like my atheist friends, I just can't convince myself of the evidence for it.  In my personal experience as someone who has worked very hard since 1980, when I was 17, enriching other people by my labor, having also owned and managed several [failed] small businesses and ended up bankrupt in my 50s, it seems to me rather that the Invisible Hand pats the rich on the back, slaps the poor down whenever they try to climb up out of poverty, and gently but persistently pushes the middle class backwards towards poverty.

Be that as it may, what all libertarians on both the right and the left have in common is that we are strongly averse to being forced to do anything.

My right-wing friends correctly point out that corporations, unlike government, cannot force us to buy their products or services (except when the government makes us do so, e.g. the ACA).  But, what if that product or service is something that we need, e.g. water, power, healthcare, phone or internet service?  If we remove the government as referee, the corporations can charge us whatever they want, whether we can afford it or not, especially if they manage to eliminate their competition.  Or, they can simply refuse to provide services to people in less profitable areas, which is why I cannot obtain cable internet in my neighborhood on a dead-end road out in the boondocks.  I only have DSL via phone line because fortunately the government requires the phone company to provide it under the current telecom regulations.

Now, right-wing libertarians and many of those on the left, claim to support "the free market" but again, they mean different things by that phrase.  It should be noted that a truly "free market" does not exist in the United States today, if ever one did.  In fact - and here is the irony - the closest thing we have to a truly "free market" is the internet under Net Neutrality!

From the left-libertarian perspective, in a true "free market" everybody has equal opportunity to freely trade goods and services on a fair and level playing field.  But, that can only happen if everybody plays nice and nobody has unfair advantage.  The Big Boys would have to play by the same rules as the other 99% of us.  The fact that you have more money should not give you a greater right to freedom of speech or association, a right to silence those who disagree with you, or a right to crush potential competition by keeping entrepreneurs out of the marketplace.  Therefore, we on the left see Net Neutrality as an example of the proper role of government regulation, in a similar way as the enforcement of equal rights, labor laws, health and safety standards, and protection of the environment in which we all live and the air we all must breathe.

In our Facebook discussion (click on the blue link at the beginning of this article), my friend Roger explained at some length that government regulation takes away the ISPs' profit incentive for much needed improvement of internet technology which, in his view, is the main advantage of the "free market."  By removing that regulation, consumers will benefit, "like in all our economic dealings.  The internet isn't some kind of magical exception."

Ah, but it is!  Or at least it has been, up until now.  Under Net Neutrality, the internet was a magical place where everybody* was on equal footing regardless of income.  It was a place where small businesses like mine had an equal opportunity to compete with huge corporations, our websites allowed the same bandwidth and exposure as theirs, to freely trade goods, services and information with people around the world.  It was a venue embodying the essence of the First Amendment where all ideas could be expressed and discussed in blogs and forums, free associations formed and political movements organized, without restriction and at no additional cost.  Presidents, princes, peons and paupers could tweet to their heart's content and all voices heard.

The Neutral internet was also a news and fact-checking source where people could share and learn about stories not covered by the mainstream media due to disapproval by corporate sponsors.  For example, upon googling Noam Chomsky to find his insights about Net Neutrality, I was surprised to learn that he has just been awarded a peace prize, which was never mentioned on t.v. news.

And all of the above is exactly why those on the far-right want Net Neutrality overturned, so that the free market of the internet will become exactly like the crony capitalist system that exists in corporate America today, where money talks, the poor have no voice, and whoever has the gold, makes the rules as to who can buy, sell, trade, speak out or associate with one another.

Ironically, the purpose of the Net Neutrality regulation was to prevent corporations from regulating the internet.  In much the same Orwellian manner that the Trump administration's "Religious Liberty" order allows corporations to discriminate against employees and consumers on the basis of religion, the "Restoring Internet Freedom" act permits telecom corporations to control the activities of competitors and consumers on the internet, restricting their freedom of access and expression while increasing their own profits.  Whether you agree with my position or not, your opportunity to debate with me about it could disappear now that Net Neutrality is gone and AT&T will have the freedom to either censor my blog, or else make it too expensive for me to continue writing it.  

Many thanks Roger and Peter for their considerable contributions to this discussion.

*  assuming that everyone could get high-speed internet access at all, a goal of the Obama administration which unfortunately did not quite succeed, perhaps because he was distracted by other matters like war, terrorism and continual opposition from Congress.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Enlightened Self-Interest

Several of my friends have been discussing capitalism recently. More than one person, including myself, opined that it is inconsistent with Christianity because it is based on greed and the exploitation of labor. Others disagreed, saying that capitalism is rather based on private property and self-interest and when done correctly, a free market can benefit all parties involved by creating unlimited wealth essentially out of thin air, albeit with ingenuity and a lot of hard work. This is the position taken by one of my favorite libertarian authors, Dr. Mary Ruwart, who insists that capitalism is the best system to generate wealth for everyone and allow the poor to climb up out of poverty. However, Dr. Ruwart admits that this can only happen when we have a firm foundation in the Non-aggression Principle (see below).
I've been poor myself as a result of disability, and managed to claw my way up out of poverty into the barely-middle-class only by the grace of God and the help of my family, as I'd fallen completely through the "social safety net" such as it is. After several years living well below the poverty line, my SSDI application having been denied, I finally obtained a contract working from home for a good company. But I cannot say whether my poverty and/or my eventual success was because of, or in spite of capitalism.
The question then arose, "what is the difference between greed and self-interest?" Self-interest in the classical sense held by Locke and Hume is simply the natural human motivation for self preservation and to better one's own life, but does not exclude benefiting others as well. Greed, or covetousness, is unrestrained or excessive desire to get whatever we want no matter if we exploit, defraud or hurt anybody else in the process.
A related concept which is important to me as a yogi, a Christian and an anarchosocialist is "enlightened self-interest." This term relates to the Golden Rule, "Treat others as you would want to be treated," the Non-aggression Principle, "Don't do anything to others that you would not want done to you," or as Dr. Ruwart calls it, the Good Neighbor Policy. The Dalai Lama explains this as simple compassion, the heartfelt understanding that all people share our desire to be happy and free from harm or coercion.
On an esoteric level, the yogic model says there is only one Consciousness in the universe, one supreme Self, manifesting in and through each of us, therefore we are ultimately One. This is reflected in Jesus' command to "love your neighbor as yourself" if taken literally, or if figuratively, to put oneself in our neighbor's shoes, again, the Golden Rule. Despite our many differences, deep down we all want the same things.
On a practical level, enlightened self-interest is the awareness that, simply put, everything works better for all of us when everybody agrees to play nice. This is certainly desirable in a capitalist society, to bring out the best features of the system and make it work as optimally as possible for everyone. But it would be absolutely essential for a stateless or anarchistic society based on voluntary cooperation. In the absence of "enlightenment," without a centralized government in the role of Daddy, Mommy, Nanny or Babysitter to enforce "playing nice," we would have "anarchy" in the negative sense of chaos and destruction, (which unfortunately happens to be the definition that most people think of), where greed runs rampant and the powerful freely prey upon the weak.
While classical liberals understood that in civilized society compassion should go hand-in-hand with "self-interest," it could be argued at least in the context of modern society that if we remove the "enlightened" part, the line between greed and self-interest could quickly become blurry. Examples of this include the philosophies of author Ayn Rand and her followers, and Anton LaVey, who based his Church of Satan on her writings, saying, “My religion is just Ayn Rand’s philosophy with ceremony and ritual added.” Without compassion, absolute freedom necessarily allows exploitation of others.
This is the problem I have with Tea Party capitalism. It is also the reason why I acknowledge that my ideal of anarchosocialism is currently as realistic as riding a unicorn. Society at large is not "enlightened" enough. Humanity would need to evolve into compassion. We are not there yet and frankly, I don't know if we ever will be. I'd like to think that it is possible if we can meanwhile manage to avoid blowing ourselves to smithereens whether by conventional and/or nuclear weapons in our global pursuit of greed. Maybe, just maybe, someday we actually can learn to love one another and live together on this planet in liberty, peace and harmony. But I'm not holding my breath.
That is why, although the card in my wallet says "Libertarian," I nearly always vote Democrat, usually as the Lesser of Evils, although I supported Bernie Sanders 100%. And the only reason I chose that Party when I registered to vote at age 18, being a fan of the Tao te Ching, Leo Tolstoy, Emma Goldman and Noam Chomsky, is because "Anarchosocialist" was not among the options and liberty was my #1 concern. But like I said, we're not there yet. Let's take baby steps in that direction while we learn to grow in compassion.

Another Rant About Taxes

I looked into the GOP tax plan and whether or not it would increase my taxes. Using a couple of different online calculators, it appears that my 2018 taxes may in fact decrease by between $100-400 depending upon whom you ask. However, this exercise reminded me quite alarmingly that I will owe the IRS around $6700 for 2017 and I've only managed to pay like $1300 in estimated tax thus far and the year is nearly over. In addition, my yearly property tax on this sinkhole-ridden property is around $2500, of which I still owe about $625 for the 4th quarter.  

So between federal income tax, "self-employment tax" (i.e., "independent contractor" = "de facto employee w/o benefits forced to pay the employer's share of SS tax") and property tax, I will owe the government approximately 32% of my income. That does not include our 7% local sales tax. I don't know where the $$ is supposed to come from. Despite a lifelong yoga practice I never did master the "pulling $$ out of your ass-ana." I am seriously fucked. If I can't pay either one of those (IRS or County) they will take my house.
For those who have seen fit to scold me for complaining, pointing out that I am "rich" compared to most people in the world, yes it's all relative. However, it doesn't do me a helluva lot of good to be "rich" compared to people in third-world countries if I must live in continual fear of homelessness because I can't pay my bills and taxes working full-time, with a Master's degree, in one of the wealthiest countries on earth.
I live a simple lifestyle. I don't buy new clothes or shoes. I don't go out. I don't take any vacations. I grow a lot of my own veggies and eat a mostly vegetarian diet. I have the bare minimum t.v. (DISH w/ limited channels, around $29/month). I do not own a smartphone, a Kindle, iPad, tablet, or any other fancy equipment. My vehicles are 13 and 34 years old and worth so little that the judge at the bankruptcy hearing didn't even want them, and one of them is currently nonfunctional.  My only "luxury" is wine, without which the situation would be essentially unbearable.  
I will probably never be able to retire because every penny I manage to save goes to taxes, including my "self-employed" Social Security tax.  Speaking of which, I have been paying into the system since my first job at age 17, and double since (involuntarily) becoming an "independent contractor" in 2001.  My SSDI was denied when I needed it.  Now, Congress is planning to cut Social Security benefits by around 1/3 even though we must continue to pay the full amount.  Never mind that SS is only taxed on income below about $118,000, placing a disproportionate burden on the lower middle class, especially the "self-employed."
No, this is not a "poor me pity party," because I am pretty sure that I am not the only American in this situation! But both conservatives and liberals seem to want to slap me down (for different reasons) when I speak up about it. Taxes are a Sacred Cow that must never be questioned! I am supposed to be happy about forking over nearly 1/3 of my meager income to the government to "help the poor," according to liberals, even though I only recently clawed my way up out of poverty myself, am supporting my disabled husband, and don't have enough leftover to live on.  And conservatives tell me I need to shut up and work more hours.  I guess they are right because I don't have any other alternative if I don't want to be homeless.
Meanwhile the rich complain about the poor being on "welfare" and not paying enough taxes.  The rich don't know what it is like to worry about how they are going to pay their electric bill or mortgage, or decide on a monthly basis whether to rob Peter to pay Paul, or vice versa.  They don't know the feeling of being one paycheck away from disaster.  The GOP tax plan will give the rich a nice big break.  And they don't object to corporate welfare because the Job Creators need that big tax break in order to create more low-paying jobs.  Or not.  The money might just go into their offshore bank account.  Because they can get away with it.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Riding the Storms out: Preparing for Future Hurricanes

Recently I was severely criticized on social media for agreeing with Rush Limbaugh.  It's extraordinarily rare that I've ever agreed with him about anything.  I think this is the second time it has ever happened.  Hey, "even a broken clock is right twice a day," and if something is true the source is irrelevant.  Still, people are horrified and I am a very bad, stupid person for acknowledging that he could possibly be right about anything, under any circumstances.  His previous statement that I agreed with years ago was, "If something doesn't seem to make sense and you cannot figure out why it is happening, follow the money."  This has proved to be quite useful and most often accurate.

More recently, Mr. Limbaugh made some comments about hurricanes which his critics paraphrased as: "Hurricane Irma is a hoax, fake news invented by liberals to push their Global Warming agenda and exaggerated by the media to promote panic-induced retail sales."  To be fair, however, that's not exactly what Rush said.  If you read the link above, he did not say Irma was a hoax.  And he is correct that bigger, badder hurricanes do raise awareness about Climate Change - to whatever extent influenced by human activity, or just a "natural cycle," I am not taking a stance here either way.

What he did say, and I agree is largely true based on my experience living in Florida for a total of around 27 years, was that hurricanes never turn out to be as strong as predicted [at least when they hit the mainland], and the media vastly exaggerate the danger to promote panic-induced retail sales of bottled water and other supplies.   He also correctly pointed out that the projected path of the eyewall, the 20-to-40-mile diameter center of the storm carrying the greatest threat on impact, is extremely unreliable until right before it hits, often just a few hours.  This is an important fact which is crucial to understanding the logistics of hurricane preparedness.

When I said on Facebook that Rush was right about the media exaggerating the severity of storms (e.g., "Irma is going to destroy the entire state of Florida," "everybody needs to get out or you will die!") one of my friends from California objected,  "People here wish we could predict earthquakes like you can hurricanes, so we could get out ahead of time!  If you know 3 days in advance that the storm is coming, where it will strike and how bad it will be, why wouldn't you want to evacuate?  Better safe than sorry!"  The problem is, we don't really "know" any of those things.

Everyone who has watched coverage of a hurricane on t.v. has seen the "spaghetti path"  and "forecast cone" models predicting the likely path of the storm, and those of us who live in these regions know how inaccurate the models can be and how wildly the path can deviate from its projected course over the days and hours before landfall.  Given the size and shape of Florida, a typical "forecast cone" coming from the south will indeed cover much of the state, but that does not mean that the entire area under the cone will necessarily be affected.  All it means is that the center of the storm is predicted to go somewhere within that cone.  And even though the satellite radar images show a storm devouring the entire state, the biggest danger, again, is in the eyewall.  While Rush didn't specifically say so, I might add that due to the uncertainty of the projected path, evacuations which are ordered days in advance often turn out to have been unnecessary and/or in the wrong areas. 

Compared to many other storms, Hurricane Irma stayed relatively on track, just about in the middle of all the predictions but despite this, there was enough inaccuracy to thwart evacuation efforts.  Based on initial predictions of an Atlantic strike, some Miami residents fled to the northwest.  Irma, however, drifted west, devastating the Keys first and then making landfall on the southwest coast, appearing to track along the west coast with the eyewall aimed directly at Tampa.  People from Tampa then fled to Orlando, only to find the storm suddenly shifted east again and struck Orlando harder than Tampa.  But this was minor.  Other storms have made curly paths meandering all over the place, hitting land, bouncing off back into the ocean to gather strength and hit someplace else, even looping back for a second attack.

Florida has a couple of unique characteristics affecting our hurricane preparations.  For one thing, the state is a peninsula 500 miles long and 160 miles wide.  Hurricanes can hit us from the Atlantic and/or the Gulf.  We have a population of 20.6 million people, most of whom are lousy drivers even under the best of conditions, only 2 main freeways heading north out of the state, and just one east-west freeway across the panhandle.  That's an awful lot of people to move out on 2 roads, resulting in gridlock whenever a storm is still days away when nobody really knows exactly where it is going to hit.

Although one might think "better safe than sorry," and these mass evacuations do provide a regional economic boon for gas stations and inland hotels, the downside for evacuees can include financial drain, gas shortages, or even death on the road.  That is why the mayor of Houston decided not to order mandatory evacuation before hurricane Harvey.  His decision was based in large part on what happened in 2005 when over 100 people died in their vehicles while trying to evacuate a couple of days before hurricane Rita made landfall.  Let that sink in.  More people died on the road trying to evacuate, than did those who stayed behind. 

A person who claimed to be a "first responder" in hurricanes replied to my Facebook comment by saying, "People like you make me sick!"  He went on to say that I was stupid for not leaving Florida during hurricane Irma, endangering lives by stating that hurricane hysteria is routinely exaggerated, and setting a bad example for others by staying home.  He reiterated, "You make me sick!"  He further stated that if indeed there is media hype, it is necessary to save lives because stupid people like me won't leave unless we are sufficiently frightened.  I was surprised that a professional emergency responder would be unaware that the entire state was not, in fact, under mandatory evacuation and also that lives are often lost on the road during evacuations.

Note, I have not recommended that anybody else stay put.  If  my house was not built of 10-inch-thick cement walls and I lived on the coast, especially on an island or in a low-lying area like Miami prone to flooding, if a hurricane Category 3 or above appeared to be headed my way, I'd probably evacuate.  Mobile homes and most older "stick" houses are not built to withstand a Cat 3 storm, as I will discuss later.  Evacuation, though, raises other concerns that people don't talk about very much in the midst of panic on such a large scale.  They just say, "You're gonna die, get out of Florida now!"  But, where are we supposed to go?

I've already described the problem with gridlock and gas shortages during evacuations.  Another factor which may not be immediately apparent to those unfamiliar with the region, is that the southeast United States is by no means a booming metropolis, to say the least.  [Cue creepy banjo music.]  It's not like other places I've been such as California, front range Colorado or eastern New York, or the mid-Atlantic and northeastern states which, I am told although I don't have personal experience driving there, have good infrastructure and abundant accommodations for travelers.  Alabama and Georgia, to where all us millions of Floridians would be fleeing, have limited motels and gas stations.  Four days before Irma struck the southern tip of Florida, motels in Alabama were already full.  

If you are fortunate enough to find a room, you have two remaining concerns, one being the expense - can you really afford to take several days' vacation out of town every time a hurricane is in the Gulf or the Atlantic?  Speaking for myself, I absolutely cannot.  I don't even have paid vacation or sick days.  If your company stays open, which many do, will you still have a job when you get home?

The other concern is the structural integrity of the building where you are taking shelter.  Many of these little southern motels are old "stick" construction, which is not a problem unless the storm changes its course and hits the very place to where people have evacuated, as Irma did.  This happens more often than you might think.

One of the things that made me question the concept of evacuation, and ponder my long-term housing options while living in Florida, was what my family and I experienced in hurricane Ivan in 2004.  The storm at one point was a Cat 5 while out in the ocean and Mom said, "It's heading right for us!"  Every time a storm was anywhere in the Gulf, Mom would totally panic, convinced it was going to hit Panama City, but this one looked like it actually might.  My parents decided to take Miss Kitty in their motor home and head east on I-10 to an RV park near Jacksonville, as the projected track looked like it would ultimately go west.  They lived in a sturdy brick home and Dad was primarily worried about possible damage to the RV, not to mention, Mom's hysteria wearing on his nerves.  They invited me to go with them, but I declined, opting instead to stay at their house.

At the time I was living in a mobile home, a 1996 model, on a farm with 2 horses.  It was recommended (but not mandated) that people in my area take their horses up north to a livestock facility in Cottondale.  I decided against it, and I'm glad I did, not only because of the potential dangers of trailering horses in traffic jams, but also because of what ended up happening.  I turned my horses loose in the pasture, having learned that all the horses who died in hurricane Andrew had been locked in barns and killed when the structure fell on them, whereas the free-roaming horses survived.  I made sure they had plenty of hay and water, although springs in the pasture would also provide water, and drove to my parents' house nearby.

The eyewall of Ivan made landfall just west of us in Orange Beach, Alabama, putting Panama City on the more intense eastern side of the storm.  And then a strange thing happened.  Instead of going northwest as predicted, Ivan decided to go east.  At this point I think it was a Cat 3.  My parents' brick house was well built, with roll-down shutters on all the windows, and at no time did I feel anxious about the high winds howling outside.  I even stood on the front porch with my glass of wine to enjoy the delightful fresh breeze, until it got so strong that it almost blew me over.

Meanwhile, my parents had been stuck in gridlocked traffic on I-10 for many hours and nearly ran out of gas.  Mom was a fragile type 1 diabetic whose insulin needed to be kept refrigerated and she also required meals on a regular schedule.  This would not be a problem as long as the RV didn't run out of gas, since it had a small fridge.  However, Dad could not pull off the road to help Mom with anything.  The gridlock finally let up and they made it to their destination safely, running on fumes and prayers.  Fortunately there was a gas station at that exit and a restaurant nearby, as suppertime was long past and Mom was having severe hypoglycemia.  They got set up at the RV park late that night - only to learn Ivan was now headed in their direction, and needless to say, cars and RVs are significantly less safe than houses in a hurricane!

After the storm passed back in P.C., I drove home to find my horsies perfectly fine, although muddy.  They love to roll in the mud and there was plenty of it.  A couple of trees had fallen down but the barn and mobile home were still intact.  I later learned that as the storm moved inland it spawned a lot of tornadoes to the north and east, and the horse barn in Cottondale was destroyed along with a couple of small motels nearby.  I was very glad I'd listened to my intuition and not gone to Cottondale.   Mom, Dad and Miss Kitty rode out the SE edge of the weakened storm in their RV and drove home in the rain, exhausted and stressed out, but safe.  There was a piece of loose trim but no other significant damage to the RV besides profuse barfing from Miss Kitty due to anxiety.  

Close calls with hurricanes that "almost" struck Panama City over the next few years made me seriously contemplate a better long-term plan.  Every time a hurricane was in the Gulf, we would speculate as to its target and invariably somebody would suggest, "better evacuate just in case!"  I couldn't afford to miss several days of work for every storm that may or may not hit where I live and decided to build a hurricane shelter which would also serve as my office.  I learned that permitting and building a shelter with electric and plumbing would be almost as expensive and complicated as building a small house.  Dad gave his opinion that "mobile homes aren't meant to be permanent" and encouraged me to go ahead and build the house.  He helped fund the project and also installed generators at both of our properties.  I am extremely grateful because I wouldn't have been able to do it without his help.  I'd bought the farm with the mobile home because I could not afford acreage with a real house.

I did lots of research about materials and structures, and finally settled on building the house out of Aercon block.  

I worked closely with the engineers from Aercon and also local contractors who helped install the special "hurricane straps" in the roof beams and the Lexan shutters for the windows.  They said the solid 10-inch-thick aerated autoclaved concrete walls would stand up to a midwest-style tornado (not just the little kind we have here).  Situated about 15 miles inland, with my deep well going down hundreds of feet into the aquifer and my propane-powered generator, I was all set to ride out future storms.  And some neighbors might need to join me, because - 

Here's what I find really bizarre:  
While everybody moans about "stupid" Floridians not evacuating for hurricanes, 
nobody addresses the reason
why evacuation is needed in the first place, namely:  The stupid building codes do not require mobile homes or older "stick" houses to withstand greater than a Category 2 hurricane!  

The best, newest mobile homes with good tie-downs are designed to hold up to Cat 2.  New construction homes ("stick" or otherwise), especially those near the coast, must meet strict hurricane standards, while older "stick" homes often don't fare as well as the newer mobile homes in high winds.  And yet, it is still perfectly legal for them to be sold and rented out in Florida (and in the midwest, which is even worse).  Why is this permitted, when lives are at stake?!  Simply because many people cannot afford solid newer-construction homes.  The jobs here don't pay enough.

Now, it is true that if you live someplace like the Keys, Miami or Caribbean islands, you would probably want to evacuate anyway due to storm surge and the fact that hurricanes are strongest in that area, where the water is warmest.  But what is interesting is that even when Irma's eyewall directly hit the Keys with the full force of Cat 4, the newer concrete houses remained standing!  They lost windows and roofs, but the walls were intact.  This tells us that it is indeed possible to build homes that can withstand powerful hurricanes.  We have the technology, and we're going to need it if rising ocean temps continue to feed bigger and badder storms.  As I write this, the third Category 4 storm to hit the United States in less than a month, Maria, has devastated Puerto Rico.  

If, as many scientists suggest, this highly unusual storm season is not just a fluke but an ongoing trend, maybe we need to rethink how to best handle hurricanes.  While stricter building codes utilizing newer technology are something to aim for in the future, we can't currently do anything about people living in substandard trailers and wood-frame houses without rendering millions homeless.   But, that's what we do every time we tell people to hit the road during hurricanes.  An alternative might be private shelters for people living in mobile homes on larger properties, a central shelter for each mobile home park or neighborhood, and a bigger public shelter in each county built of newer construction, all with generators.  In addition to generators, we need to change the law to allow Floridians to make use of sunshine in the days following a hurricane when the power grid is down, which is currently illegal.  Every house, or neighborhood, could be so equipped.

The other big issue obviously is water, in terms of both damage and as a resource.  Future building codes in low-lying areas like Houston prone to flooding ought to require elevated or stilt construction, and meanwhile such neighborhoods should each have their own raised shelter.  As for consumption, the bottled-water buying frenzy need not exist.  Properties like mine out in the country who get our water from deep wells have plenty of water so long as there is emergency power.  Public shelters should also have wells.  Another technology which for some reason has not been utilized much on the mainland U.S. but is popular in the islands including Hawaii and the Caribbean is cisterns to collect rainwater.  A smaller and quite inexpensive variation on this idea is rain barrels for private homes.

Yes, all of the above will cost lots of money.  But how much does the government spend now cleaning up the damage after hurricanes?  How much money do private citizens, especially the poor living in trailers who can least afford it, spend taking an unwanted and often unnecessary out-of-town "vacation" every time a storm approaches?  How much gasoline is expended?  What is the death toll on the roads during those frantic evacuations?  And assuming the storm actually does strike the predicted location, what is the cost to insurance companies of repairing or replacing the homes destroyed in their absence?  Wouldn't it make more sense in the long run, instead of everybody having to repeatedly panic and flee at great expense every single time, to invest now in infrastructure that will prepare us to safely weather future storms?  

It seems to me it would be better, especially on the mainland, to keep people off the roads and in sturdy local structures that don't require evacuation.  We could focus future evacuation efforts on the islands as necessary, meanwhile rebuilding to better standards in the wake of the current devastation.  

Call me cynical, but I doubt such a plan is going to be implemented anytime soon, despite the fact that it would save lives, create jobs and be good for the economy.  Congress hasn't been keen to invest in infrastructure anywhere, including here in the hurricane zone.  The powers that be would rather people who live in trailers and stick homes flee for their lives, spending money they don't have, every hurricane season while the rich ride it out in their concrete homes with generators, or perhaps fly to their other residences elsewhere.  It's easier to blame poor people for being stupid and tax the hell out of the middle class to clean up the damage, than it is to actually do something constructive about the situation.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Charlottesville, Part Two: The Statues

In my previous blog post about the Charlottesville protest I didn't discuss the Confederate statues themselves very much, despite the fact that the alleged purpose of the "Unite the Right" rally was to protest their removal.  Frankly, I was less concerned with what to do about beautiful old historic statues, than I was about heavily armed neo-Nazis marching down the street chanting, "Blood and soil.  Jews will not replace us!"  I mean, if it had been just the KKK carrying the Rebel flag and chanting, "The South shall rise again," or singing, "Dixieland," "Sweet Home Alabama" or "Swanee River," that would have been a bit alarming, given their past terrorist acts, but at least it would make sense, since they would be defending their Southern heritage.  But, why on earth would neo-Nazis care about Confederate statues, and what the hell did the Jews have to do with it?!

Of even greater concern to me was the fact that one of my young friends, a wannabe immigrant Jew from India, expressed support for the neo-Nazis, calling them "patriots" who defend the Constitution and the values of our "Founding Fathers," for whom he mistook the Confederate generals portrayed in the statues.  Clearly he was not alone in thinking this, based on numerous FB memes he shared with me, and therefore I wrote Part One to provide my friend and anybody else who didn't know, a short review of American history, particularly the Civil War, who the guys in those statues were, what happened in WWII and why Nazis were, and still are, bad.  I also explained that the thing which the various groups in the Alt-Right including the neo-Nazis and KKK have in common is White Supremacy, namely, the philosophy that non-whites and Jews are inferior.  Perhaps that was why the neo-Nazis supported the KKK re: their Confederate heritage.

While my young friend claimed to have read the article, comments he made to me thereafter clearly indicated that he had no knowledge of its contents and/or the links provided in it.  He further insisted that Muslims were behind the movement to take down the Confederate statues, which was something I'd never heard.  I assumed it was just another crazy rumor and didn't think much more about it.  A few days later, however, the same theory was advanced by an elderly retired veteran, a friend of my father, so I decided to research more, to find out where this idea originated.  

At first I couldn't find anything.  Then, after googling strenuously for some time, "muslims Confederate statues" turned up an article in The Blaze which said, "America’s largest Muslim civil rights organization is asking state and local governments across the country to remove or change the name of anything named after Confederate sympathizers."  The article did not explain why CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) wanted this to be done; their executive director merely said it would be a "fitting response" to the violence in Charlottesville.

I found one or two more articles on the subject from far-right-wing media sources, basically saying the same thing, in The Daily Caller and WorldNetDaily, the latter referring to CAIR as "the Muslim Mafia," allegedly a "terrorist organization founded by Hamas."  No further details were provided.  Note, I take these sources with a grain of salt, because they also promote the rumor that Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim and other conspiracies.  The articles state that CAIR joined the debate about the statues only after the Charlottesville protest in August 2017, i.e., there was no indication that Muslims started the movement to remove the statues in the first place. 

In any event, I still couldn't understand why Muslims would particularly care about Confederate monuments or U.S. Civil War history.  They weren't even here then, right?  And that is when, in the course of googling, "why do muslims care about u.s. civil war?" I stumbled upon the answer in this article about Muslims in America:  It turns out that actually they were here since at least the 1600s, before the founding of the United States, if not sooner.  Some early explorers of the New World from the 1300s to 1400s were believed to be Muslims from Spain and Portugal, as mentioned by Columbus in his memoirs.  And, more pertinent to this discussion, about 10% to 30%, depending upon whom you ask, of the African slaves brought over here were Muslim!  

Oh, wow, I have an American university education with a postgraduate degree, how could I not know this?  I don't remember ever hearing about African Muslim slaves in history class.  As far as I knew, the Africans were animists and/or practitioners of Voudon.  In the course of researching this topic I came across several very informative articles describing slavery in the New World in some detail from resources including the Smithsonian Institute and PBS.  I learned that many of the Muslim slaves fasted in observance of Ramadan while performing strenuous labor, even though practicing their religion was usually forbidden on most plantations.  George Washington was among the slave owners who did not mind which, if any, religion they practiced, as long as they were "good workmen."  Now I understand why Muslims would care about the Confederate monuments - because the history of African slavery in America is also their history!

No doubt some readers will be quick to point out that Muslims also had slaves and in fact, Arabs sold many Africans into slavery, including those who had been captured by other Africans, and to this day, people are still enslaved in the Middle East.  While true, that is a different topic for another time.  This blog post is not about Islam or the Middle East.  So, having taken this side-track in order to understand the history of slavery in the U.S. and who was involved, let's get back to the Confederate statues, what they represent and what, if anything, we ought to do about them.

As mentioned in Part One, I was ambivalent about the fate of the statues at first, being more concerned about the upsurge in modern-day fascism than Civil War history.  From the standpoint of art per se, the statues are beautiful.  I am especially fond of the horses, and liked the skit on the Stephen Colbert show where it was suggested, "Why don't we just remove the riders and keep the horses?!"  Being an equestrian myself, I can't help noticing that some of the riders appear heavy-handed on the reins.  It would not surprise me if in another 20 years people will be protesting the statues based on a moral objection to the oppression and enslavement of horses.  But, we can worry about that if and when it happens down the road.  Our current complaint with the statues is their glorification of the Confederacy which was founded on the enslavement of human beings.

There are those who argue that the Civil War was not about slavery but rather, states' rights.  In essence, however, it was specifically the right of white men in those states to own African slaves which led to the South attempting to secede from the Union.  In opposition to the Founding Fathers' declaration that "all men are created equal" and their intention to gradually end the institution of slavery in the United States, Confederate leaders, like White Supremacists today, believed that all men are not created equal.  They held that the non-white races were mentally and morally inferior, and that their proper place in society was to serve and be protected by their white superiors.   Further, they believed that bringing African slaves to the New World to live under the "civilizing" guidance of their white masters and converting them to Christianity, was actually in the Africans' best interest.

John C. Calhoun (one of the men portrayed in the offending statues) said that slavery was "a positive social good... indispensable to the peace and happiness of both whites and blacks... I appeal to facts. Never before has the black race of Central Africa, from the dawn of history to the present day, attained a condition so civilized and so improved, not only physically, but morally and intellectually."  James Henry Hammond, another southern pro-slavery theorist, stated that any efforts towards racial equality would undermine the stability of society and the rule of law, leading to class warfare and the downfall of civilization.  This paternalistic theory was similar to the argument against equal rights for women, who were likewise regarded as mentally and morally inferior and whose liberation would destroy the family, the foundation of society, a view also held by modern White Supremacists.

The ideological clash between the North and South over racial equality did indeed, as Calhoun predicted, result in tearing America apart.  The South was so committed to the institution of slavery that they were willing to kill their own countrymen and secede from the Union to found their own white supremacist nation, the Confederate States of America, with their own flag and Constitution.  The Confederate flag, also called the "Rebel Flag" because the South did literally rebel against the United States, has remained very popular in the South in modern times and was the first Civil War icon to be protested.  The movement gained strength after the 2015 murder of nine African American worshippers at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina by Dylann Roof, a White Supremacist who displayed the Rebel Flag on his license plate and on Facebook.  The Confederate flag was soon thereafter removed from the State House in Charleston, followed by other government buildings in the South over the next couple of years.  Journalist Jack Jenkins calls the flag "a point of profound embarrassment for many South Carolina residents," especially after this incident.

The statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville at Emancipation Park, formerly named "Lee Park," was subsequently scheduled for removal, prompting the August "Unite the Right" rally in which heavily armed neo-Nazis and other white supremacists marched down the street in protest, arguing that the flag and statues should be preserved as "symbols of our American heritage."  But as Jenkins explains, "It’s easy to recount the multiplicity of historical explanations as to why the Confederate flag has absolutely no place anywhere near the South Carolina State House. It doesn’t make any sense, for instance, to fly the flag of the United States of America next to the flag of a failed state that actively tried to secede from the union, sparking a war that resulted in the deaths of more Americans than any other armed conflict  - including World War II."

Interestingly, After the Civil War ended, the South having been defeated, Robert E. Lee considered Confederate symbols treasonous:  "So strong were Lee’s feelings,” RedState’s Teri Christoph added, “that he refused to have Confederate flags at his funeral and was not buried in his Confederate uniforms; his soldiers also didn’t don their uniforms at the funeral.  Lee’s daughter said that having those symbols present would almost be ‘treasonous,’ as her father had take an oath to support the U.S. Constitution the day he took office as president of Washington College (now known as Washington and Lee University).” 

Southern white liberals say that they want to remove the Confederate monuments because they cannot in good conscience display on public land statues that implicitly glorify slavery by memorializing the men who fought against the Union to keep their slaves.  The statues are a painful reminder of terrible past injustice that they would rather forget.  The Civil War is indeed part of our historical "heritage" - a part which understandably embarrasses many Americans.  I get it.  However, the more I think about it, this is all the more reason that we ought to keep the statues.

Yes, the glorification of Confederate generals and sanitizing of the Civil War and slavery is a whitewash of American history.  In a speech that gained national attention, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu argued that the statues had originally been erected in an effort to “rebrand” the Confederate cause, saying: “These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.”  And he is right, of course.

But, while Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum would disagree, IMO removing or covering up those monuments is itself a form of white-washing history.  If we don't have to confront uncomfortable reminders of an ugly past, we can pretend like it never happened.  Is that really the goal, to put ourselves in a state of denial?  Personally, I view these statues in a similar way as the Holocaust memorials.  They are painful to look at and they should be.  We must never forget!  As Winston Churchill said in 1948, "Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it," paraphrasing George Santayana's 1863 statement, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."  We cannot learn from a history that we refuse to acknowledge ever happened.

I've actually met people who tell me the Founders of the United States did not own slaves, the Holocaust never happened, and the Confederates and Nazis were Patriots.

So this is what I propose:

We won't fly the Confederate flag on U.S. government buildings, because it is an enemy flag and that would make no sense, but we can put the flag in museums, educate people about the history of it, and allow private citizens to display it if they wish.  They will only brand themselves as racists, helping other people to identify and avoid them.

As for the statues, they can remain standing, but only with the addition of plaques explaining in blunt detail who they were and what they represent, e.g.:
Joseph Wheeler: "A leader of the Confederate cavalry who fought in many campaigns against the Union and oversaw the massacre of hundreds of freed slaves at Ebenezer Creek in 1864."
John C. Calhoun: "The 7th VP of the United States, turned rebel to lead the South into the Civil War.  He was a major proponent of slavery as 'a social good' and believed that the Founders' ideals of liberty and equality were destructive to the social order."
etc.  With our modern technology we could also provide computer screens at these historical sites with lengthier and more detailed information.

In addition, I agree with the idea of putting up new statues of civil rights leaders and of African-Americans whose contributions to our history are too often overlooked.  They don't need to replace the existing statues, but stand across from them in stark contrast to tell their side of the story, staring at the Confederates with expressions of disdain and condescension, or perhaps with tears in their eyes.  Many such statues have already been proposed.  Let's put our talented American artists to work!  It will be good for our culture and the economy.

On a related note, the issue of Free Speech and censorship has been raised, and I agree that all sides have a right to be heard, no matter how ignorant, rude and offensive they may be.  I am sorry if peoples' feelings get hurt.  I don't believe in censorship of art or speech.  If it's not free for everyone, then it's not Free Speech.  If we censor the neo-Nazis today, then tomorrow it may be the anarchists or Democrats, or whichever group you happen to support.  Censorship is counter-productive, both because offenders can (justifiably) whine that they are being censored, playing the martyr, and more importantly, if we censor offensive speech, people won't know the horrible things that have been said.

For example, shortly after the Charlottesville "Unite the Right" rally, one of the organizers, Andrew Anglin, posted on his neo-Nazi website, DailyStormer, a couple of very disturbing articles.  One entitled, "Heather Heyer, Woman Killed in Road Rage Incident, was a Fat, Childless, 32-year-old Slut," said that Heyer deserved to die "because a 32-year-old childless woman is a drain on society."  Another article had the title, "The Jewish Problem," which I couldn't read because by the time I got around to it, DailyStormer had been censored and could no longer be found on the internet.  So, when I was trying to explain to my young admirer of neo-Nazis just how vile these people like Anglin really are, he didn't believe me, and I could not prove it because the website was gone and the articles unavailable - as if they'd never existed.

People need to be informed.  The truth will speak for itself.