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.  

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Nazis, the Civil War and Charlottesville



I had another one of those conversations recently which made me think, "Wow, I can't believe I really need to explain this!  Doesn't everybody know?  What on earth are they teaching the kids in school these days?!"  The conversation arose in the aftermath of the Charlottesville riot when one of my young friends on Facebook expressed support for the heavily armed neo-Nazis who marched down the street carrying citronella tiki torches from Home Depot as they chanted, "Blood and soil!  Jews will not replace us!” allegedly to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.  



My young friend posted on FB, "I support these American patriots! They are saving the statues of our Founding Fathers!  They defend the Constitution against liberals, socialists and other terrorists!" 

I hardly knew where to begin.  In my friend's defense, he is not American (but very much wants to be!) and without the benefit of a U.S. education, probably has had limited exposure to American history.  I was really shocked, though, that he would side with neo-Nazis, for a couple of reasons.

For one thing, my friend is from India, where having witnessed terrible misogyny in his own country, he has been a fierce advocate of women's rights, which would put him at odds with white supremacists both because of his ethnicity, as well as his ideology.  Even more importantly, however, he is a devout student of the Torah and a convert to Judaism! 

I've known this person, whom I affectionately call "little brother," for several years, and he is a good kid and absolutely loves the United States.  His big dream is to move here and serve in the U.S. Marines but he has not yet been able to find a way to do so.  His dream is even less likely to be realized under the current administration's immigration policies despite which, ironically, he is a big fan of President Trump.  Meanwhile he has taken an online program at Hillsdale College on the U.S. Constitution from which he graduated with honors.

When I informed him that the statues were being removed because they represent the southern Confederate rebellion against the United States which resulted in a Civil War over the issue of ending slavery, he objected, "Our Founding Fathers did not own slaves!  They were good men.  They said 'all men are created equal'!"  

I explained as gently as possible, "Well, yes they did have slaves, but it was normal back then.  And they eventually ended slavery but it took some time and a civil war because the South didn't believe 'all men are equal.'  The Confederates believed blacks were inferior and fought to keep their slaves."  I told him that the guys in the statues like Robert E. Lee are not the Founding Fathers but rather, the southern generals who rebelled against the Founders and their Constitution.  He continued to insist that the South opposed slavery and that southern patriots were champions of the Constitution.
  
Other than social media, I don't know what sources of information influenced my little brother's profound misunderstanding of current events in the context of U.S. history and politics, although I do have other young acquaintances who have expressed similar confusion.  There are several extreme right-wing religious and political propaganda organizations who target youth not only here in America but abroad as well, who could be to blame, although I have no proof. Certainly these ideas did not come from Hillsdale College, whose history program, albeit somewhat rightward-slanted, appears to be excellent and factual in its content as far as I can tell.  

In any event, this was all too complex to address in short comments on Facebook.  So, inspired by our discussion, I decided to write this blog post for the benefit of my little brother and anybody else who might gain some insight from it.  

*******

My Dear Little Brother,

Thank you so much for the lively conversation that inspired this blog post!  I dedicate it to you, for your love of the United States of America, our freedom, and our Constitution which establishes the rule of law, civil liberties and equal rights for all our citizens regardless of race or gender.  I hope that our current immigration restrictions will not hinder you from fulfilling your dream of becoming an American citizen and serving in our armed forces.

Re:  The protest in Charlottesville, the statues, etc.  You objected that the statues of our Founding Fathers ought not to be removed.  As I explained, the statues in question are not in fact the Founders, but rather, the southern Confederate generals who fought against the ideals of the Founders, resulting in the Civil War.  The northern Union, representing the United States government and its Constitution, was attempting to pass legislation to end the practice of slavery in the territories and ultimately, in the entire United States, based on the Founders' principle that "all men are created equal."  

The South argued that all men are not created equal, that whites are superior and non-whites inferior, and therefore slavery was a "social good" because it was in the best interests of society that blacks would be taken care of and controlled by whites.  They even used the Bible to support their claim.  There were economic reasons for keeping slavery as well, because they believed that the plantations in the South could not prosper without slave labor.  Furthermore, the Confederates accused those who opposed slavery of being "atheists, socialists and communists" and enemies of social order and freedom.  Interestingly, this is the same accusation that the Alt-Right, neo-Nazis, and White Supremacists make against people on the Left who strive for social justice and equality today.

The South was so determined to keep their slaves that they tried to secede from the Union and start their own country, with their own laws and flag, and went to war against the North.  The Union won the bloody war and the country was reunited at the great cost of many lives on both sides, and slavery was ended.  However, the South put up monuments to their rebel generals including Robert E. Lee, John C. Calhoun and others, and kept the Confederate flag which still flies in many cities in the South and is carried by the Ku Klux Klan today.  The KKK, a domestic terrorist group that arose after the Civil War and targets non-whites, Jews and Catholics, has a slogan, "The South shall rise again," meaning that they hope to have another chance to secede from the United States in the future and establish their own White Supremacist nation.

Anyway, I am no historian and the above is just a brief summary.  You can find a much better description at this lecture from Hillsdale College which explains it all in depth.  The point is that the statues being removed represent not the Founders, but their enemies who supported slavery.  The Left, that is, liberals and/or progressives, want to take down the statues because they are an embarrassing reminder of injustice and inequality from our past.  They feel that the statues go against everything our Founders stood for, the ideals of liberty, justice and equality that we are still trying to make a reality in our society today. 

Now personally, I'm not sure removing the statues is a good idea.  For one thing, as "art" they are beautiful, and I especially love the horses, even though from the standpoint of morality the statues are ugly, because they represent slavery and civil war.  However, I believe that we must remember the past, even its ugliness, so that we do not repeat its mistakes!  To me these statues are like the Holocaust memorials.  They exist to remind us of a painful past that we must never forget.  Maybe we could keep the statues but include a plaque with detailed explanation of their history and implications.  We must never again allow racism to tear apart our democratic republic.

The guys leading the Charlottesville protest to save the Confederate statues, whom you referred to as "patriots," were neo-Nazis.  But, you may well ask, wouldn't protecting Southern historical statues be the job of the KKK?  Why would Nazis care about Southern Confederate statues?!  After all, Nazism was a European movement that began in Hitler's Germany leading up to WWII, long after the Civil War had ended and  far across the world.  

The reason that modern neo-Nazis support the KKK and often even carry the Confederate flag, is because they share the same values and the same agenda for our country, namely, White Supremacy.  This is the core philosophy which the various Alt-Right groups all have in common:  That the Caucasian or "Aryan" race is superior to non-white races and must fight to preserve its pure European ethnic bloodline and heritage against contamination by non-whites and Jews.




And this brings us to antisemitism.   One of the reasons I was shocked that you support the Alt-Right is their hatred of Jewish people.  The KKK, Stormfront, neo-Nazis and other White Supremacist groups of today are not only racist against blacks and other people of brown skin tones, but also they carry on the antisemitism of their historical past as well!  Their domestic terrorist activities include desecration of Jewish cemeteries and bomb threats against Jewish community centers.  

Christopher Cantwell, one of the organizers of the Charlottesville "Unite The Right" rally, rudely criticized President Trump for allowing his daughter Ivanka to marry Jared Kushner and convert to Judaism, saying, "The President let a Jew steal his daughter... I don't think you could feel the way I do about race, and watch that Kushner bastard walk around with that beautiful girl."  And Cantwell's antisemitism is by no means unique to him; it is a common thread running through the Alt-Right, which is why the poster advertising the rally shows a chilling image of a man preparing to smash the Star of David with a hammer and says "to end Jewish influence in America."




And this, my dear little brother, means they are not your friends and you would not have been welcome among them at the rally.  Had you shown up at the protest quietly standing by and minding your own business, or even trying to join the "patriots" in their efforts to save the statue, based solely on your non-white skin they probably would have beaten the shit out of you, and even more so, if they knew you were Jewish!

Another reason I was surprised to hear that you support the neo-Nazis is that you claim to oppose socialism.  Maybe you were not aware that another name for the modern Nazis is "National Socialist Movement."  The word Nazi is actually an abbreviation of the German word "Nationalsozialist," National Socialist.   Of course, there are several different kinds of socialism.   

The form of socialism that you have in India, which you hate so much, is called "Democratic Socialism" in the Indian Constitution, but is really a mixture of socialism and capitalism, where the democratically elected state controls some aspects of the economy but also allows private corporations to do business.  I would not technically call that system "Democratic," because although the citizens do elect their representatives democratically, industry is managed by the State and corporate CEOs, while the employees themselves have no direct control over the policies of the companies where they work.

"Libertarian Socialism" is "democracy in the workplace," a system in which the employees, not the government, own and manage the companies, which was the original concept of "socialism."  In the U.S. we have approximately 7000 employee-owned companies, e.g. Publix Supermarket, where all employees are stockholders and therefore have have some control over company policies including hours, pay and benefits, and when the company profits, the employees also profit.  Employee ownership encourages responsibility and productivity and also is good for competition in the free market because businesses compete to attract the best workers.  This is the type of socialism supported by most American liberals, including Jewish Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

In stark contrast to both modern India and America, National Socialism, or Nazism, is a totalitarian system in which the State controls everything including all aspects of the economy, supposedly for the benefit of society.  Nazi party official Gregor Strasser said:   "We are socialists, we are enemies of today's capitalistic economic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and property instead of responsibility and performance, and we are all determined to destroy this system under all conditions."  Hitler later added, "National Socialism is what Marxism might have been if it could have broken its absurd and artificial ties with a democratic order."

German National Socialism opposed democracy, liberalism and capitalism, demanding strict obedience by the citizens under the dictatorial rule of Hitler.  The citizens sacrificed their own economic and civil liberties for the sake of their nation.  Another word for this is "fascism."  In Italy, fascism also involved the collusion of the State and corporations, or "corporatism" under the dictator Mussolini.   

At the risk of stating the obvious, for anybody who didn't get the memo, or in case the kids these days are no longer being taught history in school, [in the voice of Mr. Mackey from South Park]:  Fascism is bad, umkay?!  

In the same way that "Nazi" is short for "National Socialist" (Hitler's party), the name "AntiFa" is short for "anti-fascist."  The Nazis were the enemies of America and our ideals of liberty, justice and equality.  Some conservatives have accused liberal counter-protesters opposing the neo-Nazis, especially the group "AntiFa," of being anti-American.  Commentator James Woods tweeted that liberals may destroy the WWII U.S. Marines Iwo Jima Memorial celebrating our victory over Japan.  Well, probably not, since Japan was on the side of fascist Germany and Italy.  

Ironically, in WWII the United States and our allies were the "anti-fascists"!  Many brave American soldiers gave their lives in that war, we won, and we don't want to give fascism a foothold in our country today.  

That is why WWII veterans and Holocaust survivors are horrified to see neo-Nazis marching down our streets in cities like Charlottesville.  Our troops did not risk life and limb so that fascism could take over here in America.  It already somewhat threatens our democracy due to the huge influence of corporations on our elections and legislative process, reminiscent of Mussolini's Italy.

But, getting back to the reasons for my surprise at your support of the Alt-Right, this brings us to their treatment of women.  Little brother, I have always known you to be extremely respectful of your mother and to treat all women as your sisters.  You explained to me that in Judaism men respect and listen to their wives.  Israeli women, just like their American sisters, have equal rights and participate alongside of men in education, business, science and technology.  And it cannot be denied that the Israeli female soldiers are among the most formidable military officers in the world!  

The Alt-Right views women as mentally inferior beings whose only real purpose in life is to service men's sexual desires, have babies, raise children, cook and do housework.  They say that a woman's worth as a human being is determined solely by her "sexual market value," regarding us as prostitutes, broodmares and house slaves.  They believe that women cannot be good scientists, engineers, computer programmers, college professors, doctors, lawyers, politicians, bankers, CEOs, accountants, architects, soldiers, or most other professions with the possible exception of nurses and elementary school teachers, and for the most part should not work outside of the home.  The Alt-Right says women should never have been allowed to vote.  They do not want white women to have access to birth control because the White Supremacist goals cannot be achieved if brown people are out-breeding the whites!

I first discovered the Alt-Right on Breitbart News (whose former editor Steve Bannon was a top advisor of President Trump) about a year ago when a friend shared with me articles by the flamboyant and very funny writer Milo Yiannopoulos.  I found Milo quite offensive until I learned that he is, in fact, a comedian.  However, I was frankly astonished to read Breitbart's serious articles proclaiming their blatantly racist, antisemitic and misogynist philosophy.  After spending some time on Alt-Right discussion boards where I invited them to share their thoughts with me, I eventually became convinced that it was no exaggeration.  These people really, sincerely, unapologetically do believe such things, as far as I can tell based on what they told me.  They also informed me that I am worthless as a human being and might as well die because I  am childless.  

Which is how Alt-Right "Daily Stormer" website editor Andrew Anglin defended the killing of Heather Heyer, who was run over at the rally:  "... she is the definition of uselessness.  A 32-year-old woman without children is a burden on society and has no value.” She worked as a paralegal for a Charlottesville law firm, where she was dedicated to standing up for justice and helping the poor.

So no, my dear little brother, these Alt-Right guys are not "patriots" and they are not your allies.  They are racist, sexist, antisemitic, National Socialist/fascists whose philosophy goes against all the values of our Founding Fathers.  They don't believe in liberty and democracy, nor that all men are equal.  In their opinion, you and I, an Indian Jew and a childless white woman, don't even deserve to live.  If they get their way you will never be allowed to immigrate, serve in the U.S. military or become an American citizen.  And I don't believe they cared about that statue in the first place.  The rally was just an opportunity to promote their White Supremacist agenda.  I pray they will not succeed in destroying our country.

And btw, the reason they are called "Alt-Right" is because the "normal old right" of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. was too liberal for them.