It All Comes Down To This

I’ve been thinking about this John Lennon quote. How relevant it is to today’s political struggle in America. Republicans are the establishment. They are corrupt to the core, protecting a minority hold on power, and using fear, hate and division to maintain that hold. They have an advantage, not only structurally, but through their willingness to sink to whatever level of depravity necessary to further entrench minority rule.

They are trying to draw Democrats into their depravity. They want Democrats to sink to their level, because for Republicans, nothing is more critical than making ordinary Americans believe both sides are the same. That’s why Republicans don’t really care that our Capitol was attacked. That’s why they accuse Democrats of things they themselves are guilty of.

We cannot be drawn in. We cannot beat them at their game, because it would require that we become just like them. There is no guarantee we will ultimately prevail. If history is a guide, democracy and justice will ultimately prevail. But our choice is clear: stick to our values & principles and have a fighting chance, or abandon them and surely lose whatever it was we thought we stood for.

On Bias & Credibility

I’ve had many discussions with folks who draw false equivalence between right wing propaganda like FOX or Breitbart and more progressive outlets like MSNBC, CNN and the traditional print media (NYT, WAPO, WSJ). Some people don’t trust ANY source, believing they are all biased. But is bias an absolute evil or is it an inherently human trait? Is bias that is born of ignorance (say, racial or science denying) equivalent to bias informed by facts and critical thinking (such as social justice or science affirming)?
          This lack of faith in the 4th Estate is troubling, but understandable, given how right-wing media has exploded ever since the Fairness Doctrine was abandoned by the Reagan administration. It is quantifiable that FOX/Breitbart tell more lies and promote an agenda of ignorance-based bias than any other networks. And their disinformation is purposeful, designed to mislead and misinform, to feed the baser biases of its viewers. Say what you want about Rachel Maddow and her “agenda,” she gets her facts straight, and when she doesn’t she admits it. Can the same be said for Sean Hannity?
       So, are all biases equal? The answer is a resounding “No!” All biases are not equal, nor are all biases worthy of respect. If you want your bias to be respected, you have to earn it.
       So here are some pointers. If you want to find information you “trust,” you must do the work. Read multiple credible sources. How do you find credible sources? Follow journalists with a proven track record, who have established credibility over time. Dare to follow links in articles to review source data, even if some of it is hard to understand. Bottom line, if you can’t find any sources you trust, that’s on you. You haven’t done the work.
       This next one is a big deal, and perhaps the hardest for passionate people to follow. If you want to develop critical thinking skills, stay away from the fringes, especially the ones who lean your way. They will poison your ability to process information rationally through confirmation bias, which is the first step toward the kind of cognitive dissonance we see among conservatives and Trump supporters.
Most of all, recognize that sometimes even credible sources will make mistakes. Every major newspaper has had to run retractions or corrections. What’s more important is their overall track record, and how they deal with their own errors.
       Do all of that, and you will sift through the bias, allowing you to arrive at a more credible position for yourself. Note that I have not suggested that your conclusions would necessarily be the same as mine. But I’d have an easier time respecting them. Even if they are biased.

9-11 What really changed?

I hear people say “everything changed” on 9-11. If so, it’s only because we allowed ourselves to believe it and allowed our leaders to manipulate us into supporting bad choices based upon fear, lies and political opportunism. The only real winners were the military industrial complex and right wing media.

What really changed? We became a country of shallow thinkers, and allowed our government to be overrun by bigots and anti-government right-wing zealots, supported by corporate media and vast amounts of money from the filthy rich operating mostly in the shadows. We allowed arrogant, greedy leaders to manipulate us into a doctrine of aggression and wars of opportunity to line the pockets of corporate masters and war profiteers. We succumbed to blind nationalism, irrational fear, and the ideology that our “god” was the best and we could be secure in the knowledge that our actions were “righteous.”  We ruined a generation of talented and promising young men and women to futile wars that gained us nothing, for which future generations will have to pay.

In the process we lost who we were, or who whe should have aspired to be. We gave up freedoms we took for granted in the name of “security.” We handed over the keys to our government to the corporate oligarchy and allowed them to control our media and the message. The US lost whatever credibility and respect and empathy it may have had in 8 short years of American hubris and interventionism by the Bush administration. And the rich just got richer while the rest stagnated. And the house of cards that was Iraq collapsed under the weight of the smoke & mirrors it was built upon. And the rest of the Middle East followed suit.

And Americans became more and more cynical, cynicism leading to apathy and the kind of fatalism that discourages people to vote. And Russia stepped into the maelstrom with active measures designed to exploit the weaknesses created by right wing ideologies.

And now we have Donald Trump.

What did the guy in the picture above die for? What would he think of what America looks like today?

I wonder if world doesn’t look a lot like what Osama Bin Laden may have imagined when he dreamed of flying jets into buildings. Thanks Mr Bush and Mr Cheney. Thanks Mitch McConnell & Paul Ryan. Thanks to every enabler of Trumpism. We will never forget.

My 9-11 Remembrance

On Thursday morning, Sept 13th, 2001, after two days of watching the devastation at ground zero on TV, feeling helpless and restless, I decided I had to do something, anything to help. I told Adele that I needed to get into the city to see what I could do. The look of concern on her face was evident, but she also knew it would be pointless to try and talk me out of it, so after stopping by work to fill a backpack with IV fluids and other essential medical supplies, I hopped on the LIRR to Penn Station.

The subways were still not running, so I had to hoof it down 8th Ave. The further south I went, the more the streets resembled an occupied war zone.

The subways were still not running, so I had to hoof it down 8th Ave. The further south I went, the more the streets resembled an occupied war zone. On every corner were police and National Guardsmen with automatic weapons and full combat dress. They were checking everyone traveling south. In addition to my drivers license, I was carrying my veterinary license, AVMA membership card, and some PBA cards. I also wore my stethoscope around my neck to help identify myself as a medical professional. There were stories circulating about veterinarians who had organized and set up medical stations to aid the canine rescue workers and my goal was to find one of these outposts and provide whatever help I could. The information was sketchy and contradictory, so I figured it was best to just keep heading south & west. On 11th Ave, somewhere around 14th St, I came upon a group of people who seemed to be somewhat loosely organized around an SPCA RV. I asked what was going on and someone told me they were waiting for the someone “in charge” to arrive. No one seemed to know exactly what to do. Meanwhile, authorities (whoever THEY were) were starting to allow people who lived near ground zero to go retrieve their pets who had been, for whatever reason, been left behind.

As I looked south, I could see people straggling back up 11th Ave

As I looked south, I could see people straggling back up 11th ave with dogs and cats in carriers. I’ll never forget the looks on the faces, the bewilderment, the concern for their pets. I decided this was as good a place as any to set up shop. I asked if there was a table I could set up on, and one appeared (there was a lot of this kind of thing around that time. Stuff would just appear, seemingly out of nowhere whenever something was needed). I emptied my knapsack on the table, hung some bags of fluid on a nail in the wall on the building and started motioning people with pets to come to me. At first, they looked confused, but then I would tell them “I’m a veterinarian, let me take a look at your pet.” People started lining up and I proceeded to examine animals, administering subcutaneous fluids. I remember feeling how little I could really do medically, but I also recognized how important it was to project calm and reassurance that their pets would be OK. I have rarely felt such raw gratitude for doing so little, for just being there. After attending to their pet, I directed people to an armory in the area which I heard was being used as a shelter. I operated my little “clinic” for maybe an hour before some middle management-types from SPCA and the Humane Society arrived, along with a media camera crew. My supplies were running low, so I though this would be a good time to move along. I packed up my stuff and walked a block or two east. After a few minutes observing a couple of National Guardsmen at a checkpoint, I was able to slip by them and continue my trek south.

As I made my way down West Street, it seemed as if I had entered into some alternative universe, a bizzarro New York where the streets were filled with people, some acting with purpose, some seemingly aimless. There were tables with all kinds of goods on display. Bottled water, food stations, clean socks & underwear, batteries, breathing masks, and so much more were on display, like some surreal open air flea market, except no cash exchanged hands. All goods were there only for the asking. There was a spirit of fierce brotherhood and oneness like I had never felt before, and can only hope to feel again someday.

Where did all these supplies come from?

I finally came upon an encampment about 2 blocks north of “the pile” on West St.  There was a Suffolk County SPCA mobile veterinary RV surrounded by tents and awnings. Under the awnings and all around the encampment were tables and pallets of medical supplies and dog food. I was amazed at how much had been delivered in so short a time.

The MASH unit was staffed with veterinarians and technicians who had set up a triage station to assist the search & rescue dogs coming off the pile. There were dogs and handlers from all over the country, some who had been put up in hotels, but many who slept in their cars. There were many different breeds of dog, from mutts to Rottis to German Shepherds. They were susceptible to paw injuries (abrasions, burns, lacerations), respiratory irritation from breathing the toxic fumes, as well as sniffing through the contaminated dust that was everywhere. They also suffered significant eye irritation. The veterinary staff was split up into teams that worked with the dogs and their handlers as they came out of “the pile,” often after 12 hour shifts. Each dog was examined, had it’s eyes flushed and paws bandaged or given booties. They were also administered subcutaneous fluids, or even IV fluids if deemed necessary. All dogs were treated prophylactically with antibiotics.

In talking with the handlers, a common theme was how frustrated the dogs were becoming. They were trained in search & rescue, but they weren’t finding anyone alive. Many of the handlers had a haunted look on their face. There were stories of body parts. It was all so surreal. I got to work immediately. There was no authority on site, (FEMA had yet to arrive) just a loose organization, but everyone seemed to know what to do.

Some of patients were less than cooperative

Many of the dogs were challenging to work with. These were working dogs and many did not wish to be examined or otherwise handled. They had a job to do and they wanted to get to it!

Nala. She came with her handlers from Alabama

One notable exception was Nala, a beautiful Rotti who was accompanied by her handlers, a very nice young couple from Alabama. Nala was a very sweet, good-natured dog, and her presence seemed to lift everyone’s spirits.

I spent the rest of the day working the unit, finally heading home around 11pm. I returned the following Sunday with Christina, one of the veterinary assistants from my hospital. By this time the federal authorities had arrived and taken over the operation. There were more veterinarians than support staff! It was a completely different vibe. At one point, I noticed a colleague of mine from veterinary school standing across the street. She was a board-certified opthalmologist.

I went over and asked her why she hadn’t joined us (after all, one of the primary concerns for these dogs was their eyes!). She said that one of the guys in charge had told her to keep back! Can you imagine, a board-certified specialist sidelined because some pencil-pusher didn’t have the common sense to recognize the value! (I’m from the government, and I’m here to help!)

I remember one moment that will stay with me forever. There was a squad of Connecticut State Troopers, a K-9 unit that was coming up from the pile. As they approached our MASH unit, their squad leader had them fall into formation. They marched in formation to the MASH encampment and, in full military manner presented themselves and their dogs to us. The squad “presented arms” and saluted us. “On behalf of the Connecticut State Troopers, we would like to express our gratitude.” The squad then performed a crisp right angle pivot and proceeded to continue their march northward.

Why Do We Lose? Don’t Blame Nancy!

A few observations regarding Nancy Pelosi:

1. Some progressives don’t want her, not because she’s a bad leader or incompetent, but because she’s old.

2. Not one person rejecting her has questioned her accomplishments, or her abilities.

2. Not one person objecting to her has named an alternative who would be better on MERIT. They simply want someone shiny and new.

This reeks of mysogyny, even as the “Bernie movement” still enjoys significant support.  I suspect many who want to dump Pelosi would welcome another Bernie run in 2020.

But here’s the thing. If we take back the House in November, we better have leadership that knows the ropes. A steady hand at the helm to steer the legislative ship through what will surely be treacherous waters. Because Republicans aren’t going down easy, and they fight dirty.

There will be plenty of new blood entering Congress on the crest of the blue wave. Future leaders will emerge and be ready to assume leadership positions within the next couple of election cycles. That is a very short time. Unless you are impatient.

News flash: we ain’t getting single-payer health care any time soon. That will take years, and multiple election cycles to even get close, with Republicans obstructing every step of the way. The best we can hope for at this time is to put the brakes on the GOP agenda and slow down the backsliding. We will need to take bake State Houses and governorships so we can redraw Congressional districts, or we will be looking at 10 more years of erosion of our democracy by Republican rule.

Why do we lose? Not because of failed leadership, but because conservatives are better at the long game. They’ve been working on this agenda at least since the 1950s. (I highly recommend Bruce Bacon‘s linked essay “America’s Conservative Road to Destruction” for a deep dive on this topic).

Who’s Afraid of Nancy Pelosi -Paul Krugman

That’s Some Crazy-Ass Shit

“Plotters in the deep state tried to shoot down Air Force One and foil President Trump’s North Korea summit. A cabal of global elites, including top figures in Hollywood, the Democratic Party, and the intelligence agencies, are responsible for nearly all the evil in the world. And now Trump is going to fix it all with thousands of sealed indictments, sending the likes of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama straight to Guantanamo Bay.” –Will  Sommer, Daily Beast

This is about as far out as you can get, even for the crazy right. But here’s something to consider. There are folks on the left who fall for all kinds of misinformation & bad, lazy opportunistic “reporting.” They share demonstrably false memes, chain messages, and stories from left-wing outlets that claim to be BREAKING news, but are really just rehashed stories from more credible sources that are repackaged with the kind of left-wing spin designed to attract clicks. These sites are feeding off the legitimate work or real reporters. They dilute real journalism and erode the credibility of the progressive movement.

So before we get too high on our own horses, lets make sure we employ critical thinking and discretion. Because those high horses can make quite a mess.

Credibility is earned. It is a form of currency. If you want it, you have to do the work.


Unity Does Not Mean Homogeneity

“voters in Missouri or West Virginia are not the same as voters in Queens. So no, Sens. Claire McCaskill and Joe Manchin do not have to support the abolition of ICE. If they have policy disagreements with Ocasio-Cortez, fine. If Democrats focus on winning and manage to take control of both chambers, they will have difficulty reconciling the views of progressives and centrists. That’s the kind of problem the party should want to have, rather than its problem of utter powerlessness.

“What Republicans fear when they see the likes of Ocasio-Cortez is the rise of a new generation in the Democratic Party. They fear that Trump’s outrages have opened new political space on the left, and that this space is being filled by smart young men and women who have fresh ideas — and who don’t mince words when expressing them.” -Eugene Robinson, Newsday 2017-07-03

I have argued that Democrats should be pragmatic and work to gain every seat they possibly can. I have argued that candidates like Conor Lamb or Doug Jones may be the best we can hope for in the districts/states they represent, and that the greater good is ultimately served by making sure we regain a majority. The same holds true when voters elect a candidate that carries the banner of democratic socialism in a district that will support such political ideology.

This is what the “Bernie wing” of the Democratic party often fails to understand, or at least acknowledge, even as their hero persistently refuses to be a part of that party.

I  believe Democrats should elect the most progressive candidates possible, wherever and whenever that possibility presents itself. In NY14, it’s Ocasio-Cortez. In PA18, it was Conor Lamb. Those are the hands we have been dealt. Let’s play them with as much skill and guile as we can muster, and remain united as a party toward the immediate goal, taking back the House.

First stop the bleeding. -cc


Out With The Old…

The Millennial Socialists are Coming!”

This is what the old white guard is terrified of. This is why Republicans will do everything and anything to tighten their minority grip on power. Why they will lie, cheat, steal SCOTUS seats and work to undermine voter rights.

On this day, July 1st, 1971, the 26th Amendment was ratified and the voting age was lowered to 18. Young people have the power to affect massive change in this country. We need them to engage and to exercise that power.

Why? Because the current ruling class has demonstrated a profound unworthiness to control the levers of power.

White baby boomers, who, on this day in 1971 were granted the opportunity to join the national franchise, dropped the ball. We were the first “coddled” generation, raised by post WWII parents who understood what sacrifice was and who did everything in their power to shelter us from any kind of hardship.

For too many of my generation, standing up for social justice took a back seat once we came of age, once we acquired a level of comfort our parents could only have dreamed of. We started to believe we were not only worthy, but entitled to those comforts, even as we ignored the fact that what made it possible for us to ascend was social programs like the GI Bill. And too many of us were willing to turn a blind eye to the direction our country was headed, because, as members of the priviliged class, we allowed ourselves to be convinced that we were worthy and entitled, that our socio-economic status was a product solely of our own virtue.

Yeah, we bought that conservative claptrap hook-line & sinker. Because it validated us and provided cover for us to ignore the the widening gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” Here on Long Island, white flight from the city created white working class enclaves, while black and hispanics who wanted the same were red-lined into less desireable neighborhoods, not afforded the same opportunities.

We allowed ourselves to be conned that “those people” were not as deserving as we were, that their condition was not a product of systematic institutional racism, but of some inherent failure on their part. And segregation prevented us from recognizing our common humanity.

We white Boomers had our chance to create a better, kinder country. We squandered it in favor of our own comfort. Now, we need younger generations to step forward and bring empathy back.

Not that we’re worthy of it.

Are we done shooting ourselves in the foot yet?

Justice Anthony Kennedy is retiring. Donald Trump gets to pick his successor. While the Senate engages in a debate about hypocrisy and whether or not to bring that nomination to the floor for a vote, nothing less than the character and identity of America is at stake.

So, yeah, we are pretty screwed at the moment. November is truly our only shot to stop the bleeding.

The only way out is for opposition to remain united. Problem is, progressives spend as much time arguing with each other as they do attacking the right. Then there are people who simply remain in the dark because of the usual pitiful excuses “I have a job,” or “I’m just trying to raise my famly,” and other such tripe. Or they have no confidence in government (a conservative goal all along).

Lower your expectations. Let not the perfect be the mortal enemy of the good (or, in this case, the “not horrifyingly bad”). America is in a traumatic state. Our democracy is bleeding. When treating a trauma patient, you must first stop the bleeding. Trying to repair the broken bones before you stem the flow of blood and you will wind up with a dead patient.

And if you manage to save the patient, and splint those broken bones, don’t expect the patient to run a fucking sprint any time soon. Healing takes time.

Forget “Medicare for all.” We are staring down the barrel of “Medicare for none.”

Forget funding for Planned Parenthood, we are facing the criminalization of abortion in multiple states.

Until progressives wise up about those, and other matters of ideological purity, we will continue to be outmaneuvered by the right.

So I don’t care if the candidate is the next coming of Bernie Sanders or a guy like Conor Lamb. We need every single blue seat we can get.

First stop the bleeding.