Remarks And Asides, Bill O’Reilly Edition

This just in from Headquarters:

“You know, am I mad at Bill O’Reilly? Yeah, I’m mad at him. I wish I had more protection. I wish this stuff didn’t happen. I can’t explain it to you. Yeah, I’m mad at him.” —God

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O’Reilly, a serial sexual predator and hero of silver-haired conservatives everywhere, once wrote:

A number of Catholics have left the church because of the priestly sins, but not me. From the beginning, in Sister Claudia’s first grade class, I understood that the Catholic Church was about Jesus, not Father Flannery. Believe me, I saw so many loons in my Catholic school days that I should be a Buddhist.

Oh, another message just in from Headquarters:

“No thanks.” —Buddha

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In 2011, O’Reilly was on a mission “to find out why so many Americans are bearing false witness against their neighbors.” He wrote:

Lying and cheating almost always comes down to betrayal, and is most often driven by selfishness. America has become a nation obsessed with immediate gratification. Public schools have embraced secularism with a vengeance, therefore Moses and his Ten Commandments have been banished.

To which Headquarters has just replied:

“Uh, you were raised in Catholic schools, Bill, not public ones. So don’t blame secularism for your lying an cheating and betrayal and selfishness and, dare I say, your “immediate gratification.” And, dammit, leave me out of this.” —Moses

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Years ago, O’Reilly also wrote:

Throughout it all, however, I stayed with the church. If you cut through all the bull, the doctrines of treating others as you want to be treated, forgiveness and redemption, and charity for all stand the test of time. Even if the atheists are right and there is no God, the philosophy of Jesus is full-force positive. Live the way he lived, and the world will be a better place.

Man. Headquarters is busy. Another press release:

“Bill O’Reilly is why the world is not a better place.” —Jesus

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Oh, finally we have some video straight from Headquarters. It’s about time:

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The Beast Corrupts

“The world that we used to know
People tell me it don’t turn no more
The places we used to go
Familiar faces that ain’t smilin’ like before
The time of our time has come and gone
I fear we been waiting too long”

—Steely Dan, Midnight Cruiser, 1972

Now that Tr-mp has done what we knew was evitable—essentially call the widow of a slain soldier a liar—we can forever rest assured we have not misdiagnosed him. He is what we thought he was: an orange-tinted beast beyond the reach of human decency. So, that’s that.

Image result for la david johnsonWe can also rest assured that former general John Kelly, widely and wrongly thought to be a moderating influence on the Beast, is not. He is an enabler. Kelly, for whatever reason, has chosen to spend his moral capital at the Tr-mp Thrift Store. I hope he enjoys the cheap trucker hats and other trinkets for which he traded his integrity and his dignity. The Beast corrupts and he corrupts absolutely, or the corrupt are attracted to him. Whatever the case, that’s also that. Kelly is Tr-mp’s ally, not ours. No one is coming to our rescue. Not Mattis. Not McMaster. Not McCain. Nobody. The Beast cannot be tamed, only caged. But he has the run of the land and no one in government is willing to hunt him down and capture him.

On to other depressing realities.

What we have to face are not just worries about a war with North Korea, a war with Iran, or more Russia-funded political outcomes. Domestically we have an all-out assault on many manifestations of human decency. Like:

The deliberate sabotage of the Affordable Care Act, which is life-threatening for many people.

♦ The hyper-partisan budget the Senate passed last Thursday—now fast-tracked for passage in the House—is powered by voodoo economics and, thus, loaded with human cruelty. And it makes possible even more cruelty to come in what Republicans like to call “tax reform.” Tr-mp, lying, calls the effort “tax cuts” for middle class Americans. As the CBPP points out, Republican priorities will enrich the rich and hurt children, the poor and homeless, schools, the disabled, and the elderly who rely on the safety net—you know, nearly everyone but Republican donors. Tr-mp said his tax plan will put $4000 in middle-class pockets. Advice to middle-class folks: don’t go on a spending spree. You won’t get four grand to spend. If you get two extra nickles to rub together, consider yourself blessed. Tr-mp also suggested his plan will be another “Morning in America” moment. He’s right about that, but he got the spelling wrong. It will be “Mourning in America”—especially for many of the dumbasses who voted for Tr-mp. Except they won’t know, or will refuse to acknowledge, who is to blame for their mourning.

♦ Our environment is now fair game for increased abuse. From the repeal of the Clean Power Plan to potential new drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to removing climate-change resources from the EPA’s website to barring EPA scientists from giving speeches about climate change, EPA now stands for Exploitation Protection Agency.

♦ Women’s reproductive rights are in extreme danger, both at the federal and state level.

♦ The Attorney General of the United States fashions himself as the general in the war on LGBT rights.

♦ The top spokesperson for Tr-mp says that it is “highly inappropriate” to question a “four-star Marine general” who actually isn’t even a general—and even if he was so effing what?

♦ The seemingly increasing open displays of white supremacy.

♦ Sitting on the Supreme Court, in a seat Republicans stole from President Obama, is a reactionary asshole worse than Antonin Scalia. And he will likely sit there longer than I’m alive.

♦ Less than two weeks ago, a man pretending to be our president actually said, “It’s frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write,” and, as far as I can tell, only one Republican, Senator Ben Sasse, has had anything to say about it. That scandalous remark got lost in the soup very quickly, which pretty much describes our biggest problem: our scandal cup runneth over.

♦ The Speaker of the House finds humor in the scandal-plagued and dangerous Deviant-in-Chief.

In the meantime, the man many misguided souls consider to be the head of the still-wounded Democratic Party, Bernie Sanders, has decided to remain and run as an independent in his 2018 Senate campaign.

Wish I had better news. I don’t.

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[photo credit: Joe Raedle / Getty Images]

Rock Bottom

Some people thought Tr-mp’s attack on John McCain in July of 2015 was the lowest anyone, especially someone aspiring to be president, could go. “He’s not a war hero,” Tr-mp said of McCain. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” 

Now, there have been plenty of political reasons to attack John McCain over the years, as far as I’m concerned. And I’ve done so. But to attack him simply on the basis of his being captured by the enemy, when he was serving in a war that Tr-mp aggressively avoided, is a low point for anyone. But it didn’t represent the bottom for Tr-mp.

Flash forward a summer after that shameful strike against McCain. In July of 2016, Tr-mp began his attack on Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whose son, Captain Humayun Khan, was killed in Iraq in 2004 and posthumously awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star. The Khans had made the grave mistake of criticizing Tr-mp’s Muslim ban at the Democratic National Convention. Khizr Khan had said to Tr-mp, as he proudly waved a pocket Constitution in front of the crowd and television audience:

Go look at the graves of brave patriots who died defending the United States of America. You will see all faiths, genders and ethnicities. You have sacrificed nothing and no one.

While all of that was absolutely true, and while it was said by a father who had lost his son in combat for this country, that didn’t stop Tr-mp from first attacking Mrs. Kahn by playing on a Muslim stereotype that Tr-mp likely saw on right-wing Twitter:

If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably, maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say.

Well, of course she was allowed to say anything she wanted. It was just that, as she had explained the day before Tr-mp’s bigoted attack, she was still grieving over her son. “I cannot even come in the room where his pictures are,” she said. But Tr-mp wasn’t finished. He compared his sacrifices to the Kahns:

I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. I’ve had tremendous success. I think I’ve done a lot.

The founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Peter Rieckoff, said of such unempathetic drivel:

For anyone to compare their ‘sacrifice’ to a Gold Star family member is insulting, foolish and ignorant. Especially someone who has never served himself and has no children serving. Our country has been at war for a decade and a half, and the truth is most Americans have sacrificed nothing. Most of them are smart and grounded enough to admit it.

Being neither smart nor grounded in anything outside his complex of disorders, Tr-mp had hit a new low. He had attacked a Gold Star family. But he still had not hit bottom. That momentous milestone he saved for his response to the death, on October 4, of 25-year-old U.S. Army Sgt. La David T. Johnson, who was, according to the Pentagon, “a part of a joint U.S. and Nigerien train, advise and assist mission” in southwest Niger.

Three other Green Berets—Army Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup, Washington; Army Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio; and Army Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Georgia—died with Sgt. Johnson. But it was the way Tr-mp apparently spoke to Johnson’s widow, Myeshia Johnson, and the way Tr-mp has responded to criticism of his attempt to console her, as well as his cynical attacks on President Obama and his inserting the death of John Kelly’s son (Second Lt. Robert Kelly, killed in Afghanistan in 2010) into the mix, that constitutes rock bottom, in terms of how low Tr-mp can go.

Simply put, he can’t go any lower. I don’t care what else he does, in terms of corrupting American norms, it won’t get worse than this.

After initially lying about President Obama’s handling of the deaths of U.S. soldiers, Tr-mp said to Fox’s Brian Kilmeade:

You could ask General Kelly, ‘Did he get a call from Obama?’”

As has been widely reported, President Obama invited Kelly and his wife to a White House breakfast honoring Gold Star families in 2011. The two sat at Michelle Obama’s table. Also, as The New York Times noted, people who worked with Kelly at the Pentagon at the time his son was killed “did not recall him expressing unhappiness with the way Mr. Obama handled the death of his son.” Purely as a logistical matter, during times when casualties are much higher than they are now, it isn’t possible for presidents to call all the families of those who have been killed in combat. The Times suggested that picking and choosing “could also raise questions about why one family merited a call but another did not.”

As for how Tr-mp handled the call to Myeshia Johnson—who was on her way to receive her husband’s body when the call came in—we will never know exactly what happened. In the car with Mrs. Johnson was a Florida congresswoman, Rep. Frederica Wilson, who first brought her version of what happened to national attention because the call was on speakerphone. The New York Times put it this way:

Ms. Wilson said that during the call, the president told Ms. Johnson “something to the fact that he knew what he was getting into when he signed up,” the congresswoman said in an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Wednesday.

“But that’s not the worst part,” Ms. Wilson said. “She was crying the whole time and when she hung up the phone she looked at me and said ‘he didn’t even remember his name.’ That’s the hurting part.”

On CNN Tuesday night, Rep. Wilson elaborated:

She has just lost her husband, she was just told that he cannot have an open casket funeral which gives her all kinds of nightmares how his body must look, how his face must look, and this is what the president of the United States says to her?

Tr-mp, of course, couldn’t just leave it alone. Or he couldn’t just say, “Hey, I’m sorry if my remarks were misunderstood.” Instead, he said via Twitter early Wednesday morning:

Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!

When he was asked a short time later about the matter by reporters (just before a meeting with the Senate Finance Committee on his ridiculous tax heist), he said—with Claire McCaskill unfortunately sitting by his side—the following about Congresswoman Wilson’s claim:

Didn’t say what that congresswoman said. Didn’t say it at all. She knows it and she now is not saying it. I did not say what she said, and I’d like her to make the statement again because I did not say what she said. I had a very nice conversation with the woman, with the wife, who sounded like a lovely woman. Did not say what the congresswoman said, and most people aren’t too surprised to hear that.

He was then asked about the proof he claimed he had. He replied:

Let her make her statement again and then you’ll find out.

He said that twice. And Rep. Wilson quickly tweeted a response:

I stand my account of the call with @realDonaldTrump and was not the only one who heard and was dismayed by his insensitive remarks.

Later, Sgt. Johnson’s mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, corroborated the congresswoman’s account via Facebook:

Yes, he did state that comment.

Obviously, there is no “proof” as Tr-mp claimed. There’s nothing but his word, and the words of those who have demonstrated a willingness to lie for him, against the words of others. It’s quite possible that an awkward Tr-mp awkwardly tried to express what he thought was sympathy. But sympathy and empathy are strangers to him. He wouldn’t even know if he said the wrong thing because he has no right thing in his mind to compare it to. But none of that is really the point.

The real rock-bottom offense here is that we have a man, pretending to be president, who has broken perhaps the last taboo that almost all Americans acknowledge: don’t disrespect those who have given the last full measure of devotion. Is it too much to ask of such a man to honor fallen soldiers by a dignified silence, even if he feels personally slighted by something a congresswoman or a family member said? Is that really too much to ask? Is it too much to ask of a man who has stupidly started a fight with black NFL players—whom he accuses of disrespecting the country by simply kneeling during the national anthem—to avoid starting a fight around a quasi-sacred duty of the commander-in chief? Is it?

Whether he was misunderstood, whether he garbled words of consolation, what he did after that is as shameful as anything he has done. He didn’t just attempt to politicize a soldier’s death, as many have charged. He did more than that. He has shredded what’s left of the dignity of the office he holds by dishonoring the sacrifice of a man who left behind a mother, a pregnant wife, and two little children.

We know Tr-mp can’t help himself. He is sick. His very presence in the White House is a perversion. But the fact that he will continue on in that job, the fact that our system seems powerless to remove him no matter what he does, is a more profound perversion than perhaps any of us want to admit.

The Man Who Never Weeps

“that’s a fucking lie. to say president obama (or past presidents) didn’t call the family members of soldiers KIA – he’s a deranged animal.”

—Alyssa Mastromonaco, former White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations

I have purposely avoided writing about Tr-mp lately. What more can be said about such a man? Recently someone said to me, “I hate him so much.” But that hate, while understandable, is misdirected.

Tr-mp houses in his head a plethora of pathetic pathologies that compel him to do the things he does. Nothing comes of hating him. The blame for Tr-mp goes to the culture that made him famous despite his failures, to the system that put him in power despite his unfitness, and that keeps him in power because of an unseemly institutional lust in the Republican Party for particular policy goals most members believe they can only achieve with the help of this historically dangerous and tragic figure.

Image result for mcconnell and trumpI watched his performance in front of the cameras yesterday, with the creepy Mitch McConnell by his side. I watched it all, as painful as it was. For almost two weeks Tr-mp has failed to even mention the deaths of four U.S. special forces soldiers in a desert in Niger. These and other U.S. soldiers were apparently part of a larger contingent of Nigerien troops who had met with some local leaders and were later ambushed by an Islamist terrorist group. Details are still unclear as to exactly what happened, but reportedly the mission these troops were on was not well supported. French aircraft rescued them, after flying from bases in Mali, hundreds of miles away. We will certainly find out more as days go by, but as for Tr-mp, we already know enough.

At a press conference yesterday, someone asked Tr-mp about the four soldiers and why he hadn’t spoken about them or why he hadn’t reach out to the families of the fallen. By now you know what happened. Tr-mp, because it comes so naturally to him, lied. He accused President Obama directly, and other presidents indirectly, of not making calls to families who had lost loved ones in service to the country. For this damnable lie, Tr-mp has received justified condemnation, but he’s also received plenty of unjustifiable defense. As always.

We have one of the nation’s worst natural disasters in history going on in Puerto Rico and Tr-mp cares only about himself and his feud with athletes or other trivia. He has been both condemned and defended for his posture toward Puerto Ricans—again, as always. When he attacked war hero John McCain at the beginning of his campaign in 2015, he was both condemned and defended. When he attacked a Gold Star family, same thing. When he admitted to sexual assault on tape, ditto. When he appeared at CIA headquarters, in front of a memorial wall that honors fallen CIA officers, he talked about the size of his inaugural crowd and his war with the press. For that inhumanity he was showered with shame, but he had plenty of people offering him an umbrella.

He recently attacked John McCain again, this time for a vote against a nasty healthcare bill that McCain, a man now ailing from brain cancer, found objectionable. Tr-mp once more was condemned—and defended. Tr-mp has now made good on a threat to put millions in jeopardy of losing their health insurance, a move that was followed by more condemnation—and an indefatigable defense. I could go on and on with the outrageous things he has said about and done to real people, all of it accompanied by necessary and appropriate condemnation and an unnecessary and inappropriate defense.

We are witnessing the behavior of a man, as I have said before, who has no soul. To put it another way, he apparently has no neurological capacity for empathy. He cannot feel, much less bear, the burden of another human being. He knows nothing of honor, of sacrifice. He is a man who cannot weep. You can imagine Tr-mp doing a lot of things, but you can’t imagine him sitting alone in the Oval Office composing a letter to the family of a fallen soldier and shedding a single tear. You just can’t imagine such a normal, human reaction coming from him. And as sad as that is, the saddest part of this deplorable drama we’re living through, the most distressing reality we face in real time, is that a large number of everyday Americans—your Republican neighbors and friends and family members—along with nearly every Republican member of Congress, will move on from this latest outrage, this latest offense to honesty and decency, like yesterday was just another day.

We simply have to come to terms with the fact—those of us who see Tr-mp as the sick, empty man he is—that a large swath of our fellow Americans just don’t give a damn that nearly every day Tr-mp assaults what’s left of the old idea of American exceptionalism, which by now is a corpse that he drags through our national streets, mocking us, mocking our country, and mocking what we used to believe we all shared, if we shared nothing else: our common decency, our democratic values, and our lofty, if not fully realized, ideals.

 

Nature’s Monsters?

Every tragedy generates questions. After monstrous mass shootings, we wonder if our gun laws are as insane as they appear. After monstrous hurricanes, we wonder if man-made climate change is making the storms worse. After a monstrous presidential election, we wonder if our cultural institutions, and too many of our people, are hopelessly lost.

As important and vital as all those questions are, what happened in Las Vegas last Sunday night, and the mystery surrounding the motive of the killer, has me asking even deeper questions. I am inviting you to explore some possible answers to those questions. This lengthy journey is not for everyone, but it represents something I believe is important for thoughtful people to do: address the hard stuff. In doing so, I do not want to leave the impression that I am minimizing the suffering involved in this tragedy or disrespecting and ignoring the victims of this horrific crime. Obviously, the victims and their loved ones are owed our sympathy and compassion. The following examination, though, is focused on other issues.

I am fully aware that most of you will not read through this piece in its entirety nor watch the lengthy video at the end. We are, after all, living in the age of tweets. But I encourage you to take the time to read and listen. You may not agree in any way with what is said or claimed. We can discuss that in the comment section. But we can’t discuss it intelligently if you don’t invest the time and your thoughtfulness in what follows. I have pondered these issues and the questions they raise for most of my life, beginning with, as a kid, asking my father why it was that random thoughts, thoughts I didn’t like, popped into my head against my will and beyond my control. He had no answers. That phenomenon was then, and remains so today, mysterious to me.

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PART 1: THE WHY

I stayed awake all night as the tragedy in Las Vegas was unfolding on television. When I found out the killer was a 64-year-old affluent white man with no apparent political or religious or even personal motive for killing innocent people, the first thing I thought of was a man named Charles Whitman, another seemingly “ordinary guy” who killed a lot of people. Since Sunday, a lot of people have mentioned Whitman and his role as the first mass-murderer in American television history, the man whose crime gave us SWAT teams.

I thought of him for a different reason.

Whitman was 25 years old in the summer of 1966, when the Marine-trained sharpshooter “decided” to ride an elevator to the top of the University of Texas Tower and use the many weapons he brought with him—all of them packed, along with supplies such as “canned peaches, deodorant, an alarm clock, binoculars, toilet paper, a machete, and sweet rolls,” in an old Marine footlocker that he moved with a two-wheeler—to kill innocent people. Here’s how David Eagleman, writing for The Atlantic in 2011, described what happened:

Front page coverage of UT sniper, Charles Whitman. Aside from standard A1 features like the brief weather forecast and a daily humor feature, the front page of the next day’s San Antonio San Antonio Express was wholly dominated by shooting coverage. The Photo: Digitized Microfilm / Digitized MicrofilmAt the top, he killed a receptionist with the butt of his rifle. Two families of tourists came up the stairwell; he shot at them at point-blank range. Then he began to fire indiscriminately from the deck at people below. The first woman he shot was pregnant. As her boyfriend knelt to help her, Whitman shot him as well. He shot pedestrians in the street and an ambulance driver who came to rescue them…

By the time the police shot him dead, Whitman had killed 13 people and wounded 32 more. The story of his rampage dominated national headlines the next day. And when police went to investigate his home for clues, the story became even stranger: in the early hours of the morning on the day of the shooting, he had murdered his mother and stabbed his wife to death in her sleep.

Now, I was almost 8 years old on August 1, 1966, and have only a vague recollection of that story as it appeared on the evening news—CNN wouldn’t come into existence for another 14 years. But I can guarantee you that plenty of people labeled what Whitman did, just as Tr-mp labeled what the Las Vegas killer did, as “an act of pure evil.”

Evil. Pure. If it were as easy as that.

Just what is evil? Why do we use the word? Do we need the concept of evil to help us live with the mysteries of our existence, the mysteries of human behavior?

I don’t recall hearing anyone refer to the series of hurricanes that have recently brought with them much death and destruction as “evil.” No one, as far as I can tell, said that what Hurricane Maria did to Puerto Rico and elsewhere was “an act of pure evil.” Why is that? Maria has killed more people than the murderer in Las Vegas killed. Why is one killer seen as evil and the other not?

It seems obvious that the reason we put what hurricanes do in a different context than what human beings do is because storms are seen as natural events that have no intentionality. We know there is no “Maria,” in the sense of a personality making willful decisions to target innocent islanders in the Atlantic. Hurricanes are complex low-pressure tropical weather systems fueled by the evaporation of warm ocean water and “steered” by environmental conditions, such as prevailing winds. They begin life as mere tropical disturbances that may or may not become “monsters” that kill and destroy. Why some do and some don’t is a matter of “organization,” the process of which is not completely understood.

People, on the other hand, are almost universally viewed as moral actors. That seems as obvious to us as the idea that hurricanes don’t have intentions. Human beings, we believe, have free will, and consequently their actions can be judged as right or wrong, good or evil, or somewhere in between. In the case of Charles Whitman, the Texas Tower killer, his actions, like the actions of the Vegas killer, clearly appear to most people as “pure evil.” As noted, Whitman stabbed both his devoutly religious mother and his wife in the heart with a hunting knife before he went to the Austin campus and began his killing spree there, including shooting that pregnant student in the stomach, her boyfriend in the neck, and another student in the mouth. Here is what he wrote in a note he left at his murdered mother’s apartment:

To whom it may concern,

I have just taken my mother’s life. I am very upset over having done it. However I feel that if there is a heaven she is definitely there now. And if there is no life after, I have relieved her of her suffering here on earth. The intense hatred I feel for my father is beyond description. My mother gave that man the 25 best years of her life and because she finally took enough of his beatings, humiliation and degradation and tribulations that I am sure no one but she and he will ever know—to leave him. He has chosen to treat her like a slut that you would bed down with, accept her favors and then throw a pitance [sic] in return.

I am truly sorry that this is the only way I could see to relieve her sufferings but I think it was best.

Let there be no doubt in your mind I loved that woman with all my heart.

If there exists a God let him understand my actions and judge accordingly.

Charles J. Whitman

He apparently wrote that note, on a legal pad, after he had moved his mother—whom he likely strangled and hit in the head with something heavy before he stabbed her—into a sleeping position on her twin bed, and after he washed his hands and knife. He placed the note on her body and covered her up with a bedspread. He left her apartment around 2 A.M. and headed home, home to kill his sleeping wife with the same hunting knife, plunging it into her chest multiple times. At that crime scene he also left a note—most of which he had typed the evening before—one that he finished in his own handwriting after the murder. Here is the entire note, beginning with the typed portion:

I don’t quite understand what it is that compels me to type this letter. Perhaps it is to leave some vague reason for the actions I have recently performed. I don’t really understand myself these days. I am supposed to be an average reasonable and intelligent young man. However, lately (I can’t recall when it started) I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts. These thoughts constantly recur, and it requires a tremendous mental effort to concentrate on useful and progressive tasks. In March when my parents made a physical break I noticed a great deal of stress. I consulted a Dr. Cochrum at the University Health Center and asked him to recommend someone that I could consult with about some psychiatric disorders I felt I had. I talked with a Doctor once for about two hours and tried to convey to him my fears that I felt come overwhelming violent impulses. After one session I never saw the Doctor again, and since then I have been fighting my mental turmoil alone, and seemingly to no avail. After my death I wish that an autopsy would be performed on me to see if there is any visible physical disorder. I have had some tremendous headaches in the past and have consumed two large bottles of Excedrin in the past three months.

It was after much thought that I decided to kill my wife, Kathy, tonight after I pick her up from work at the telephone company. I love her dearly, and she has been as fine a wife to me as any man could ever hope to have. I cannot rationaly [sic] pinpoint any specific reason for doing this. I don’t know whether it is selfishness, or if I don’t want her to have to face the embrassment [sic] my actions would surely cause her. AT this time, though, the prominent reason in my mind is that I truly do not consider this world worth living in, and am prepared to die, and I do not want to leave her to suffer alone in it. I intend to kill her as painlessly as possible.

Similar reasons provoked me to take my mother’s life also. I don’t think the poor woman has ever enjoyed life as she is entitled to. She was a simple young woman who married a very possessive and dominating man. All my life as a boy until I ran away from home to join the Marine Corps [at this point, Whitman was “interrupted” by “friends,” which he noted in handwriting in the margin; the rest of the note was handwritten after he murdered his wife] I was a witness to her being beat at least one [sic] a month. Then when she took enough my father wanted to fight to keep her below her usual standard of living.

I imagine it appears that I bruttaly [sic] kill [sic] both of my loved ones. I was only trying to do a quick thorough job.

Years before the killing began, Whitman kept a diary. After he murdered his wife, he took the time to go through some of the old diary entries before he left his home to prepare for the killing to come later that day at the University of Texas. One such entry was dated February 23, 1964, and its subject was mostly about how much he loved and valued his soon-to-be wife (they married in August of 1964). Using the same pen that he used to finish his explanation for brutally killing his mother and his wife, he jotted just above the entry:

I still mean it. CJW 8-1-66

That February, 1964, entry had ended with this:

My Darling Kathleen, I love you very much. That statement is so simple but maybe someday I’ll be able to convince you of all the emotions and feelings that it encases. My wife, you are wonderful.

Whitman, again, just after he stabbed his wife to death and covered her bloody body, took the time to comment on that diary entry:

Only time has shown me how right I was in these thoughts over 2-1/2 years ago. My wife was a true person. CJW

This former Eagle Scout—at age 12 he was nationally recognized as the youngest Eagle Scout in the world—also took the time just after murdering his mother and wife to write brief notes to his brother Johnnie and his brother Pat. To Johnnie he wrote:

Kathy and I enjoyed your visit. I am terribly sorry to have let you down. Please try to do better than I have. It won’t be hard. John, Mom loved you very much.

Your brother, Charlie.

To Pat he wrote:

You are so wrong about Mom. Maybe some day you will understand why she left Daddy. Pat, Mom didn’t have any desire to harm Daddy whatsoever. She just wanted what she had worked for. She really needed that $40.00. Thanks for sending it. She’ll never know about that Grandmother or not.

Charlie

Perhaps now is a good time to say a little more about Charles Whitman and what is generally known about his life, since the point here is to try to understand how a human being could commit such murderous acts, acts that people call pure evil.

Whitman first attended the University of Texas on a Marine scholarship, majoring in architectural engineering. His IQ was reportedly above 130. He played the piano, some say “beautifully.” He took amphetamines. He had a bad temper. He was very comfortable with guns. He was apparently a domestic abuser “who expected too much from” his wife, according to a close friend of his. That friend also said Whitman was a “perfectionist,” who “would wipe his hand behind pictures hanging on the wall looking for dust.” The same friend told police that Whitman “had turned atheistic in his belief,” despite the fact that he had attended Catholic parochial schools most of his life. He also “talked frequently about his father” and how much he “hated him.” His father, who ran a successful plumbing business in Florida, was allegedly “very strict and domineering and ran the household with an iron hand.” In the spring of 1966, Whitman went to Florida to bring is mother to Texas, after she reported to him that there were “family problems.” And, as already mentioned by Whitman himself, he suspected something was wrong with him.

Whitman liked to make lists. One such list he titled, THOUGHTS TO START THE DAY.Here are the items on that typed list:

READ AND THINK ABOUT, EVERY DAY

STOP procrastinating (Grasp the nettle)
CONTROL your anger (Don’t let it prove you a fool)
SMILE–Its contagious
DON’T be belligerent
STOP cursing, improve your vocabulary
APPROACH a pot of gold with exceptional caution (look it over – twice)
PAY that compliment
LISTEN more than you speak, THINK before you speak
CONTROL your passion; DON’T LET IT lead YOU — Don’t let desire make you regret your present actions later (Remember the lad and the man)
If you want to be better than average, YOU HAVE TO WORK MUCH HARDER THAN THE AVERAGE
NEVER FORGET; when the going gets rough, the ROUGH get going!!!!!

YESTERDAY IS NOT MINE TO RECOVER
BUT TOMORROW IS MINE TO WIN OR TO
LOSE.  I AM RESOLVED THAT I SHALL 
WIN THE TOMORROW BEFORE ME!!!

Attached to that list was another list, handwritten:

Whitman
1. Grow up (think-don’t be so ready with an excuse)
2. Conduct with superiors (time and place for everything)
3. Know your status and position and conduct yourself accordingly.
4. Courtesy (Generally show respect for seniors but lets personal feeling towd. indiv. show.)
5. Organize yourself and your work so that the insignificant is not a major crisis.
6. When time permits exhaust all effort to find answers before asking the simplest of questions.

Just below that list, was another typed list referencing his wife:

GOOD POINTS TO REMEMBER WITH KATHY
1. Don’t nag.
2. Don’t try to make your partner over.
3. Don’t criticize.
4. Give honest appreciation.
5. Pay little attentions.
6. Be courteous.
7. BE GENTLE.

On the day of the murders, Whitman wrote at the top of the first list the following:

8-1-66whitman's list
I never could quite make it.
These thoughts are too much for me.
CJW

Now, what do we make of all this? What do we make of someone, widely seen as an “all-American boy,” who goes to the trouble of trying to improve himself by such measures and then, with much planning and forethought, brutally murders his mother and wife and fourteen others (one of those shot from the Tower died in 2001 and the death was ruled a homicide connected to Whitman) on a summer day on a college campus in Texas? Why did he commit such a monstrous act? Was he a monster?

Remember that Whitman had asked in his “suicide” note that an autopsy be performed on him. And I believe that Texas law, under the circumstances, required one. So, an autopsy was done. The Atlantic’s David Eagleman explains:

Whitman’s body was taken to the morgue, his skull was put under the bone saw, and the medical examiner lifted the brain from its vault. He discovered that Whitman’s brain harbored a tumor the diameter of a nickel. This tumor, called a glioblastoma, had blossomed from beneath a structure called the thalamus, impinged on the hypothalamus, and compressed a third region called the amygdala. The amygdala is involved in emotional regulation, especially of fear and aggression. By the late 1800s, researchers had discovered that damage to the amygdala caused emotional and social disturbances. In the 1930s, the researchers Heinrich Klüver and Paul Bucy demonstrated that damage to the amygdala in monkeys led to a constellation of symptoms, including lack of fear, blunting of emotion, and overreaction. Female monkeys with amygdala damage often neglected or physically abused their infants. In humans, activity in the amygdala increases when people are shown threatening faces, are put into frightening situations, or experience social phobias. Whitman’s intuition about himself—that something in his brain was changing his behavior—was spot-on.

So, can we blame a brain tumor, affecting the amygdala, for Whitman’s actions? Or was it some combination of the tumor and genes and environment? Or was he simply an evil man, with an evil soul, who made evil choices?

As Eagleman points out, there are many cases in which brain tumors are suspected to be major contributing factors to psychopathic criminal behavior. But not all psychopaths are violent criminals and not all psychopathy is caused by brain tumors (and, to be clear, there is a difference between psychopaths and psychotics, which you can learn here).

To move away from the issue of tumors altering feelings and behavior, there are other brain impairments that are connected to psychopathy.  A neuroscientist named James Fallon has been studying the brains of psychopaths for two decades. Four years ago he published a book, The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist’s Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain.” Here’s how the stunning revelation in the book was described:

While researching serial killers, he uncovered a pattern in their brain scans that helped explain their cold and violent behavior. Astonishingly, his own scan matched that pattern. And a few months later he learned that he was descended from a long line of murderers.

Those close to Fallon had known that he wasn’t “normal.” Here’s how Tanya Lewis of Business Insider told the story:

When Fallon saw that his own scan fit the pattern of brain activity he had found in the psychopaths, he started to question his theory. He thought to himself, “I’m okay, I’m not a bad guy.”

But when he went home and told his wife what had happened — how his brain resembled that of a psychopath, at least according to his theory — she reacted very strangely.

It wasn’t that surprising, she said.

But it wasn’t just his wife who reacted this way. Friends and colleagues told him the same thing, that he was “kind of not there emotionally,” Fallon recalls. Even his daughter thought so — as a young child, she painted her dad as a “dark figure.” Fallon’s psychiatrist friends described things he had done in the past that they said showed a profound lack of empathy (one of the telltale signs of psychopathic tendencies), like skipping a friend’s funeral because he thought it might be boring. His friends and family agreed. “I realized people had been telling me something for years, I just didn’t put it together,” Fallon said.

It’s important to keep in mind that scientists are still researching psychopathology and they don’t have all the answers yet. But they think that people like Fallon have a connection with the world that’s very different from others.

According to some of this research, psychopaths understand when there are people in need or in pain, but they don’t feel it viscerally the way most people do. As Fallon put it, “I don’t get the interpersonal warm and fuzzies.”

So Fallon started looking to his genetics for answers. It turns out he has a gene that’s been linked, in several studies, with an increased risk of violent and aggressive behavior.

An ABC News report continues Fallon’s story:

Two of his distant relatives were notorious: One, Lizzie Borden, was acquitted of murdering her father and stepmother with a hatchet in 1892. Another, Thomas Cornell, was the first in the American colonies hanged for killing his mother in 1672.

Fallon said he escaped the same fate because of the interplay between nature and nurture. He was raised in a loving family. Still, he had some other telltale signs, such as panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive tendencies and social anxieties.

“Looking at my genetics, I had lethal combination, but I just had the happiest childhood growing up,” he said. Fallon’s mother had four miscarriages before his birth and, as a result, he said he was, “treated well because they didn’t think I would be born.”

“There were dark periods I went through, but they didn’t bring me to a psychiatrist, but they told my sisters and teachers to watch out for me,” he said. “My mother instinctively knew there was a problem.”

Conscience and a sense of morality and impulse control lie in the limbic system and in the orbital cortex in the brain, according to Fallon.

“They connect and inhibit each other not unlike the super-ego controlling the id,” he said. “It’s the interface between the intellectual mind and the emotions attending to them.”

Fallon’s brain scans show low activity in both regions of the brain.

“No behavior is really evil or bad — it’s all contextual,” he said. “There is a time for sex and a time for killing, when someone attacks the family. But it’s done in context. The orbital cortex adjudicates the idea of morality and interacts with the amygdala’s drive to eat, drink and screw. There would be mayhem if it didn’t exist.”

As a neuroscientist, Fallon said he always believed humans were ruled solely by their genes and not their environment in the nature versus nurture debate.

“I never took it seriously,” he said. “I was the poster boy for genes causing everything. But I had to eat crow and say I was wrong.”

I consider all these insights to be the most important scientific discoveries of our time. And the research continues. A recent Harvard study concluded:

Psychopaths’ brains are wired in a way that leads them to over-value immediate rewards and neglect the future consequences of potentially dangerous or immoral actions.

The senior author of that study, Josh Buckholtz, an Associate Professor of Psychology, said (emphasis mine):

For years, we have been focused on the idea that psychopaths are people who cannot generate emotion and that’s why they do all these terrible things. But what we care about with psychopaths is not the feelings they have or don’t have, it’s the choices they make. Psychopaths commit an astonishing amount of crime, and this crime is both devastating to victims and astronomically costly to society as a whole.

And even though psychopaths are often portrayed as cold-blooded, almost alien predators, we have been showing that their emotional deficits may not actually be the primary driver of these bad choices. Because it’s the choices of psychopaths that cause so much trouble, we’ve been trying to understand what goes on in their brains when the make decisions that involve trade-offs between the costs and benefits of action. In this most recent paper…we are able to look at brain-based measures of reward and value and the communication between different brain regions that are involved in decision making.

“Trying to understand what goes on in their brains.” That’s what scientists do. That’s what all of us should do. And while there is so much more to learn, and while some of the tentative conclusions may turn out to be mistaken, the overwhelming evidence points to the connection between the physical brain and psychopathy, a connection that only gets more complicated as we throw genetics and environment in the mix. The ScienceDaily article featuring that Harvard study elaborates on the physiology:

What they found, Buckholtz said, was people who scored high for psychopathy showed greater activity in a region called the ventral striatum — known to be involved in evaluating the subjective reward — for the more immediate choice.

“So the more psychopathic a person is, the greater the magnitude of that striatal response,” Buckholtz said. “That suggests that the way they are calculating the value rewards is dysregulated — they may over-represent the value of immediate reward.”

Buckholtz zeroed in on what appears to be the culprit. And I include his lengthy explanation here, even if we laymen aren’t familiar with the terminology, merely to emphasize that we are talking about something physically wrong with the brain:

“We mapped the connections between the ventral striatum and other regions known to be involved in decision-making, specifically regions of the prefrontal cortex known to regulate striatal response,” he said. “When we did that, we found that connections between the striatum and the ventral medial prefrontal cortex were much weaker in people with psychopathy.”

That lack of connection is important, Buckholtz said, because this portion of the prefrontal cortex role is thought to be important for ‘mental time-travel’ — envisioning the future consequences of actions. There is increasing evidence that prefrontal cortex uses the outcome of this process to change how strongly the striatum responds to rewards. With that prefrontal modulating influence weakened, the value of the more immediate choice may become dramatically over-represented.

“The striatum assigns values to different actions without much temporal context” he said. “We need the prefrontal cortex to make prospective judgements how an action will affect us in the future — if I do this, then this bad thing will happen. The way we think of it is if you break that connection in anyone, they’re going to start making bad choices because they won’t have the information that would otherwise guide their decision-making to more adaptive ends.”

The effect was so pronounced, Buckholtz said, that researchers were able to use the degree of connection between the striatum and the prefrontal cortex to accurately predict how many times inmates had been convicted of crimes.

If you have read this far, you may or may not be ready for what Dr. Buckholtz says next:

Ultimately, Buckholtz said, his goal is to erase the popular image of psychopaths as incomprehensible, cold-blooded monsters and see them for what they are — everyday humans whose brains are simply wired differently.

“They’re not aliens, they’re people who make bad decisions,” he said. “The same kind of short-sighted, impulsive decision-making that we see in psychopathic individuals has also been noted in compulsive over-eaters and substance abusers. If we can put this back into the domain of rigorous scientific analysis, we can see psychopaths aren’t inhuman, they’re exactly what you would expect from humans who have this particular kind of brain wiring dysfunction.”

That may not be what most of us want to hear after what happened in Las Vegas. And I understand the intense anger directed at the killer. If he had murdered someone dear to me, I would be out of my mind with anger. But consider that the man who killed at least 58 concert-goers in Nevada had a father who was on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list for years after escaping from a federal prison in Texas, where he was serving time for bank robbery. Just before that, the father tried to escape from a jail in, of all places, Las Vegas, where, according to the FBI, he attempted to run down an agent with his car. The FBI also noted at the time (1969) that the father had been “diagnosed as being psychopathic.” That’s the father. As for the son who would go on to become a killer, one writer noted,

It seems he was 8 when his father was convicted of armed robbery and sent to prison; 15 when the old man escaped and went on the lam; and 26 when he was re-apprehended.

No one knows what, if any, effect those experiences had on the Las Vegas killer. It is hard to imagine they wouldn’t affect him in some way, even if they didn’t contribute to his crimes. And no one, at this point, knows if the killer had any brain impairments. His brother, who is naturally upset and bewildered by all of what happened, said recently:

I hope to hell they find when they do the autopsy that there’s a tumor in his head or something because if they don’t we’re all in trouble. No one wants to hear this but I’m as touched by this.. my brother is dead who wasn’t this guy that did this. He’s dead… I liked my brother, he was a good guy. This is a horror story in every possible way.

Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo recently referred to the killer as “disturbed and dangerous,” which is a much more informative, if less satisfying, description than calling him “evil.” The sheriff also said that the killer “spent decades acquiring weapons and ammo and living a secret life, much of which will never be fully understood.” Perhaps Sheriff Lombardo is right. Perhaps the killer’s life, a life that led to such an unimaginable act of cowardly violence, will never be fully understood. After all, the life of Charles Whitman isn’t fully understood after all these years. And we must admit that there are plenty of people who have awful parents, troubled childhoods, and even damaged brains who don’t end up as record-setting killers. But there are scientists out there trying to understand psychopaths, especially those who turn to violence. And the closer we get to understanding them, the better off we all will be.

_________________________________

PART 2: THE WILL

For years now, I have been wrestling with the issue of whether human beings have genuine free will. Certainly we have the sense that we are making free choices. And certainly the idea that we are all free moral agents is socially useful, even if it isn’t strictly true. No one can argue otherwise. But do we really have free will? Is it merely an illusion? And why does it matter whether we have it or don’t?

As for me, like many others, including scientists and philosophers, I have settled on the conclusion that we don’t have free will. We are not free moral agents. Whether we have what some call a soul, which, after our physical bodies die, lives in eternal bliss or torment, is not something that I or science can speak to. But science can, and does for many people, speak to the idea that what we experience as “our will” is just our brain fooling us. Here’s the way Sam Harris puts it:

Free will is an illusion. Our wills are simply not of our own making. Thoughts and intentions emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control. We do not have the freedom we think we have.

Free will is actually more than illusion (or less), in that it cannot be made conceptually coherent. Either our wills are determined by prior causes and we are not responsible for them, or they are the product of chance and we are not responsible for them.

Now, that may seem strange to some people unfamiliar with the progress of neuroscience. And it may seem strange to categorically claim that none of us is directly responsible for what we do. But if you watch the video below, and carefully follow the argument, you will see the logical basis both for the illusion claim and how to deal with the issue of responsibility that appears problematic if that claim is true. No matter whether our choices are “determined by prior causes” or the “product of chance,” we are not morally responsible for the acts done at the behest of our illusory will, but—and this cannot be missed or misunderstood—we have to be held responsible for them in a social context. No one can have a get-out-of-jail-free card when unspeakable crimes are perpetrated. Until we solve, through science, the problem of how to fix defective brains or mitigate dangerous brain states, we have to quarantine the violent psychopaths. If they can be treated and made well, we should do that. If they can’t, we should keep searching for effective treatments—even as we necessarily isolate them.

I could write even more about the issue of free will. I could cite many learned people who don’t believe in its reality. But the video below does the best job I have seen of explaining the issues involved. If you have read to this point, obviously you are interested in this topic. I ask you to invest more time—with someone much more knowledgeable about the brain science and its implications (including the philosophical fatalism that denying free will suggests) than I could ever be—and then we can have a layman’s discussion in the comments section:

The Last And Best Word On Tr-mp’s Racist War On Black NFL Players

Nick Wright, of Fox Sports, has had no problem in the past talking beyond sports. Here is his five-minute take on Tr-mp’s racist rants against protests by black NFL players:

Theocracy And The Finger Of God

“And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon Mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God.”

—Exodus 31:18

“I’m not running for this position. I’m running to serve God and his will.”

—Judge Roy Moore

Today Republican voters in Alabama will quite likely choose Roy Moore, a twenty-four carat, lawbreaking theocrat, to be their nominee to replace Jeff Sessions in the U.S Senate. And chances are, despite Democrats’ hopefulness, Roy Moore, a twenty-four carat, lawbreaking theocrat, will be Alabama’s next senator, after the December 12th general election.

Moore is infamous for a couple of law-ignoring moments. After he installed a two and one-half ton granite Ten Commandments monument in his courthouse in 2001 (he was chief justice of the state supreme court at the time), a federal judge ordered him to remove it. He refused. He then got canned by the Alabama Court of the Judiciary. But he came back. He managed to get himself re-elected in 2012 as, again, chief justice of the Image result for roy moore and gunstate supreme court. In 2016, this lawbreaker decided it didn’t matter that his state’s ban on same-sex marriage was overturned by a federal judge. He ordered the probate judges in Alabama to keep enforcing the bogus law. He got suspended and eventually quit, after it became clear officials weren’t going to participate in his personally-enforced theocracy. (Although, interestingly and inexplicably there are still eight judges in Alabama who are honoring Moore’s dictum by simply not issuing anyone a marriage license.)

And, now the gun-toting zealot is back yet again.

Just the possibility that Roy Moore could sit in the Senate here in the 21st century tells us at least two things. One, it tells us Alabama is a very strange place. But we kind of knew that already. Two, though, it tells us that a large number of American Christians aren’t that far removed from Islamist theocrats all over the world, in terms of how much they despise genuine secularism. And make no mistake about it, we were designed to be a secular nation. Our Constitution is a secular document. It was not handed down by God, but handed down by some entity called “We the People.” And you won’t find any God-invoking language in the document. But, if it is God-invoking language you are after, you can find it in the Preamble to the Confederate Constitution. Wikipedia provides a handy comparison between the original and its treacherous imitator:

  • The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”[4]
  • The Preamble to the Confederate Constitution: “We, the people of the Confederate States, each state acting in its sovereign and independent character, in order to form a permanent federal government, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity — invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God — do ordain and establish this Constitution for the Confederate States of America.”[1]

Even though the traitors invoked Almighty God’s “favor and guidance,” that didn’t work out too well (see: Appomattox Court House, Virginia, April 9, 1865, for evidence of that). But despite that massive failure, the idea—the idea that this is God’s country and not our own—still persists. Jeff Stein, of Vox, recently wrote a profile of Moore. Stein got to the heart of the matter:

Moore’s defense in the Ten Commandments case is instructive. One conservative defense of the tablets could be that local courts should have the freedom to erect whatever monuments they want. This was not Moore’s argument. Instead, he said that the Ten Commandments should stay because they really are divine, and therefore more important than human law.

“The Ten Commandments are not only a sacred text in the Jewish and Christian faiths, as the Supreme Court stated in Stone v Graham,” he writes. “They are God’s revealed, divine law and the basis on which our morality depends.”

Few Christians, of course, can cite or name most of the supposedly vital commandments (which are presented in different versions in the Old Testament). Stephen Colbert famously and hilariously, more than ten years ago, revealed the hypocrisy of a Georgia congressman named Lynn Westmoreland (also noted for referring to the Obamas as “uppity”) and by extension the hypocrisy of most theocracy-minded Christians:

COLBERT: You co-sponsored a bill requiring the display of the Ten Commandments in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

REP. WESTMORELAND: Uh-huh.

COLBERT: Why was that important to you?

REP. WESTMORELAND: Well, the Ten Commandments is not a bad thing, uh, for people to understand and to respect.

COLBERT: I’m with you.

REP. WESTMORELAND: Where better place could you have something like that than a judicial building, or in a court house?

COLBERT: That is a good question. Can you think of any better building to put the Ten Commandments in than in a public building?

REP. WESTMORELAND: No. I think if we were totally without ’em we may lose a sense of our direction.

COLBERT: What are the Ten Commandments?

REP. WESTMORELAND: What are all of ’em?

COLBERT: Uh-huh.

REP. WESTMORELAND: You want me to name ’em all?

COLBERT: Yes. Please.

REP. WESTMORELAND: Umm. Don’t murder. Don’t lie. Don’t steal. Uhhh, I can’t name ’em all.

Funny stuff.

In any case, Sam Harris said of the Commandments (in Letter to a Christian Nation):

They are, after all, the only passages in the Bible so profound that the creator of the universe felt the need to physically write them himself — and in stone. As such, one would expect these to be the greatest lines ever written, on any subject, in any language.

Well, are they the greatest lines ever written? Let’s consider the second of the commandments (I chose Exodus 20:4):

You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.

Think about the absurdity of that for a moment. The alleged creator of the cosmos, omnipotent and omniscient, allegedly used his own finger to etch out that silly command, rather than publish some insight into, say, what causes many preventable diseases among his made-in-his-image creatures (we human beings finally began to figure that out in the middle of the 19th century, by the way). And consider the secondary absurdity that resulted from that ridiculously trivial commandment. Here is a passage from Wikipedia that demonstrates some of it:

In 726 Emperor Leo III ordered all images removed from all churches; in 730 a council forbade veneration of images, citing the Second Commandment; in 787 the Seventh Ecumenical Council reversed the preceding rulings, condemning iconoclasm and sanctioning the veneration of images; in 815 Leo V called yet another council, which reinstated iconoclasm; in 843 Empress Theodora again reinstated veneration of icons.[114] This mostly settled the matter until the Protestant Reformation, when John Calvin declared that the ruling of the Seventh Ecumenical Council “emanated from Satan”.[114] Protestant iconoclasts at this time destroyed statues, pictures, stained glass, and artistic masterpieces.[114]

All of that from essentially nothing.

There are more absurdities in the Ten Commandments, but Sam Harris deserves the last word on the last one, number 10 (don’t covet your neighbor’s house, wife, slaves, ox, ass, or anything else):

…what are we to make of the fact that, in bringing his treatise to a close, the creator of the universe could think of no human concerns more pressing and durable than the coveting of servants and livestock?

And what are we to make of the fact that a man who may become a member of the United States Senate can think of “no human concerns more pressing and durable” than pushing Iron Age dictates upon the nation and placing them above its man-made laws? As David Dinielli of the Southern Poverty Law Center put it, Roy Moore’s ideology “would allow those who think they know the unknowable and the mystic to impose their beliefs on everyone else.”

And unless a man-made miracle happens in Alabama either today or in December, we will have to deal nationally with a U.S. Senator who has a history of imposing his knowledge of the unknowable on his fellow citizens.

 

Tweet Home, Alabama

 Published 9/25/2017 @ 6:44pm

The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, where about 3 1/2 million Americans live, was assaulted by Hurricane Maria and has been in severe distress. CNN reported it this way today:

Hurricane Maria whipped Puerto Rico with Irma-level winds, drenched the island with Harvey-level flooding, crippled communications, decimated buildings and damaged a dam that puts downstream residents at risk of catastrophe.

Yet help has been slow to come, officials and residents argue.”This is a game changer,” Governor Ricardo Rosselló told CNN Monday. “We need to prevent a humanitarian crisis occurring in America.”

Many believe the humanitarian crisis is well underway, as the island has turned dark due to the loss of electricity. Many also believe the Tr-mp administration, and Congress, are moving too slowly to confront the crisis. One of those many is Hillary Clinton, who tweeted:

President Tr-mp, Sec. Mattis, and DOD should send the Navy, including the USNS Comfort, to Puerto Rico now. These are American citizens.

Another critic of Tr-mp’s response is Clinton’s former spokesman, Brian Fallon, who tweeted today:

Trump’s racist neglect of Puerto Rico is threatening lives. It is time to start caring about the crisis there.

As for Tr-mp, he’s been busy, rallying and tweeting. But not about Puerto Rico. As we all know, he has more important things on his mind: uppity blacks “disrespecting” the flag by daring to take seriously what it stands, or is supposed to stand, for. Tr-mp tried to sell his racist gobshite in Alabama, where racism, judging by the rally-goers’ reaction to his “sons of bitches” tantrum, is still a valuable commodity.

Puerto RicoI suggested on Twitter that if Puerto Ricans want immediate help, they should rename their island “Alabama.” Maybe borrow a southern dialect when they beg Washington Republicans for help. Perhaps wear a Tr-mp trucker hat and refer to themselves as part of the “white working class” when they post pleas on Facebook. Whatever it takes.

The truth is that the disaster in Puerto Rico just hasn’t received, at least up until now, the attention it would have received if it had happened in, say, Alabama. If those Puerto Ricans were part of the white working class, a subject of much press coverage for months and months, they’d be bathing in clean water by now. And if you think that a big part of the reason they are not is because the Americans in Puerto Rico have something in common with the athletes in the NFL and NBA that Tr-mp is so preoccupied with, you are onto something. Tr-mp is, most clearly, a racist. In fact, his racial identity, and the way he used it during the campaign, more than anything else explains why he is where he is.

Ta-Nehisi Coates began his latest thought-provoking article (“The First White President“) with this sentence:

It is insufficient to state the obvious of Donald Tr-mp: that he is a white man who would not be president were it not for this fact.

The rest of that fantastic piece demonstrates why such a statement is insufficient. Read it, if you haven’t already. You won’t be disappointed. Some of what Coates has said I have tried to say for eight years now. But I can’t say it like this:

For Tr-mp, it almost seems that the fact of Obama, the fact of a black president, insulted him personally. The insult intensified when Obama and Seth Meyers publicly humiliated him at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2011. But the bloody heirloom ensures the last laugh. Replacing Obama is not enough—Tr-mp has made the negation of Obama’s legacy the foundation of his own. And this too is whiteness. “Race is an idea, not a fact,” the historian Nell Irvin Painter has written, and essential to the construct of a “white race” is the idea of not being a nigger. Before Barack Obama, niggers could be manufactured out of Sister Souljahs, Willie Hortons, and Dusky Sallys. But Donald Tr-mp arrived in the wake of something more potent—an entire nigger presidency with nigger health care, nigger climate accords, and nigger justice reform, all of which could be targeted for destruction or redemption, thus reifying the idea of being white. Tr-mp truly is something new—the first president whose entire political existence hinges on the fact of a black president. And so it will not suffice to say that Tr-mp is a white man like all the others who rose to become president. He must be called by his rightful honorific—America’s first white president.

Coates rightfully complains about those “theoreticians”—like libertarian Charles Murray, co-author of The Bell Curve—who believe Tr-mp’s rise is the fault of liberals who despised and condescended to “the white working class.” If you have read any of the post-election analysis, which is still going on, you have no doubt heard this point made. Even some liberals, like Anthony Bourdain, have fallen for that nonsense. Coates quotes him:

The utter contempt with which privileged Eastern liberals such as myself discuss red-state, gun-country, working-class America as ridiculous and morons and rubes is largely responsible for the upswell of rage and contempt and desire to pull down the temple that we’re seeing now.

Well, let’s see. Is that what liberals, whether “Eastern” or anywhere else in America, do? And even if we do, is there some truth in it? You tell me, after you read a piece published recently (“For those in the Party of Tr-mp, the Republicans—not the president—are to blame“) by Jenna Johnson, a reporter for the Washington Post. She interviewed Tr-mp voters in a small town (population: 8,461) in Granville County, North Carolina, a place she described as a long-time “Democratic stronghold” that “was one of six rural counties in North Carolina that flipped from voting twice for Barack Obama to voting for Trump last year.” (Tr-mp won by less than 700 votes.) Johnson began her piece this way:

During one of their usual morning gatherings at the Bojangles’ restaurant in this rural town near the Virginia border, a group of retirees from a local Baptist church shook their heads at the failure of Washington to repeal Obamacare, lower the national debt, build a wall along the southern border, kick people off welfare or get anything else accomplished.

Should we call these folks “ridiculous” for desiring to build Tr-mp’s ridiculous wall or to kick people off welfare? Or should we try to sympathetically address their “white working-class” mentality, which they undoubtedly carried into retirement?  How about this from the article:

“I think he’s an idiot, but I voted for him,” another church member chimed in, as others laughed and a woman sitting across from him countered with: “As opposed to what was in there before?”

Should liberals dare to call out this brand of stupidity? Should we be afraid to say critical things about someone who proudly admitted they voted for a candidate they considered “an idiot”? More than that, should we back away from saying harsh things about someone who is dumb enough to suggest Tr-mp is not as much of an idiot as Obama was? Huh?

How about this:

Many of the church members gathered at Bojangles’ last week pointed to the president’s Christian faith, saying he brought the Bible and prayer back into the White House. Even though Trump rarely attends church himself, he frequently talked about religion on the campaign trail, promising that with him in the White House, Christians would once again feel free to openly say “Merry Christmas.”

“President Trump has talked more about Christian values than any of the last two or three presidents that we’ve had,” said Wayne Overton, 79, who is retired from the Postal Service and now raises cows on a farm a few miles outside of town and tours the country in a motor home. “And I admire him for picking the vice president that he picked. If something happened, our country would be in good hands.”

I don’t care what Charles Murray thinks. I don’t care what Anthony Bourdain thinks. I don’t care what anyone thinks, if they think this kind of ignorance and irrationality and thoughtlessness shouldn’t be addressed forcefully just because it exited the lips of white people, working or retired, in North Carolina or Alabama or anywhere else white folks think they are an oppressed people. These white “Christians” are rubes and their views deserve contempt. And those who think the election of Tr-mp had very little to do with racism are part of the problem and deserve, if not contempt, at least fierce criticism. And those who argue, as Tr-mp’s press secretary laughingly tried to do today, that his remarks in Alabama about athlete-protesters—who all happened to be black—have nothing to do with race, they are either liars or don’t understand the country in which they live.

After charging liberals with some of the same sins as right-wingers, Coates quotes Bernie Sanders:

Some people think that the people who voted for Trump are racists and sexists and homophobes and just deplorable folks. I don’t agree.

Coates responded to this perfectly:

This is not exculpatory. Certainly not every Trump voter is a white supremacist, just as not every white person in the Jim Crow South was a white supremacist. But every Trump voter felt it acceptable to hand the fate of the country over to one.

You see, those white church folks in Granville County, North Carolina, or those rally cultists in Huntsville, Alabama, last Friday night may or may not be closet white supremacists themselves, but they put all of us in the hands of a man who without a doubt had no trouble sending the message of white supremacy during the campaign and who, also undoubtedly, sits in the White’s House because of that strategy. Coates notes how even Barack Obama underestimated Tr-mpism, underestimated “the power of whiteness.” He puts it in a way I can’t:

Trump, more than any other politician, understood…the great power in not being a nigger.

That’s what Tr-mp was doing in Alabama. That’s what he was doing by trashing black NFL players who have been solemnly kneeling during the national anthem. That’s what he was doing by disingenuously disinviting Steph Curry, NBA champion, from a visit to the White’s House (Curry had already said he wasn’t going). Tr-mp was exercising, in front of people who well understood what he was doing, the “great power in not being a nigger.”

It will surely come to pass that Congress will offer some substantial relief help to Puerto Rico. And it will surely come to pass that Tr-mp will visit the islanders and photo-op his way from place to place. But that rally in Huntsville on Friday, and his subsequent tweets over the weekend, demonstrate where his heart is and has always been.

And it is up to us, those of us who have seen this backlash against Obama coming, to call out all of those who prioritize the “white working class” and refuse to admit the obvious: Tr-mp is using his whiteness, as orange-tinted as it is, as a tool to keep himself in power, to keep himself where, if the ideals of America still matter, he most certainly doesn’t belong.

No, The Republican Party Is Not Splitting In Two

Ezra Klein wrote a short piece today—after a week of Tr-mp receiving some undeserved praise for his embarrassing conduct at the United Nations—that simply points out what everyone in the pundit-dominated media should, but doesn’t, know:

It’s become a joke on politics Twitter that Trump’s pivot is always around the corner, that the media can’t stop announcing that this is the moment Trump finally became president. But there will be no pivot. There will be no moment Trump suddenly and permanently grows into the job.

Most of us know this, at least those of us who don’t play the game of pretending that Kelly or McMaster or Mattis can transform an ignorant and disturbed clown into a serviceable chief executive of the country. Not gonna happen. But the media game goes on.

Another media game going on right now is an attempt to separate the Republican “establishment” from the Tr-mp cult, which pundits universally call his “base.” While media commentators have long tried to divide the GOP into those who think Tr-mp is an Orange Jesus and those who are allegedly just tolerating the Apricot Anti-Christ for “agenda” purposes, the job began in earnest recently when Tr-mp made a “deal” with “Nancy” and “Chuck” over DACA—a deal not worth the paper it wasn’t written on. Today, NBC News, through its “First Read” publication (authored by Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Carrie Dann), kept the game going with this:

How Donald Trump Is Splitting the Republican Party in Two

The article began with a confident lede:

We now have data to prove that today’s Republican Party is split in two — between a Trump Party and your more traditional GOP.

My first reaction was: horseshit. We hear such talk all the time. We hear how there are really two GOPs. We hear talk of a Tr-mp versus Ryan-McConnell dynamic. We hear how Tr-mp despises those “establishment” leaders and how they don’t much like him either. Again: horseshit. Even if that were true, it doesn’t mean a damn thing. In politics, especially Republican politics dominated by white men, it doesn’t matter if you like the white guy you’re dealing with, so long as he will do your dealing. The real dynamic that means something in this drama is this: for Tr-mp, it is whether the GOP leaders in Congress can give him something—anything—he can sell to his rally cultists as a Big Win; for the GOP “establishment” it is whether Tr-mp will sign regressive legislation like gutting Medicaid and giving tax cuts to bazillionaires.

The truth in all this is that there really is very little practical difference between those who self-identify to pollsters as “Tr-mp supporters” and those who identify as “Party supporters.” The latest poll, upon which the article above was based, used the distinction:

This week’s NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll asked this question to Republican voters: Do you consider yourself to be more a supporter of Tr-mp or a supporter of the Republican Party? Fifty-eight percent of them answered Tr-mp, and 38 percent said the GOP.

The Tr-mp supporters are more likely to hail from rural areas and to be men, while Republican Party supporters are more likely to be women and residents of the suburbs. And the differences between them — on their views of GOP leaders, immigration and race — are fascinating.

Get that? First, almost six in ten Republican voters identify as Tr-mpers. Less than four in ten identify with the party itself. But let’s look at the “fascinating” results. Exactly how fascinating are they? Well, here’s the first result presented:

_________________________________________
Approve of Tr-mp’s job performance
Tr-mp supporters: 99 percent

Party supporters: 84 percent
__________________________________________

You tell me just how “fascinating” it is that almost all Tr-mp cultists support their cult leader? Who didn’t know that? But also tell me how fascinating it is, in terms of an alleged split in the party, that 84% of Image result for trump is the republican partysupposedly establishment “Party supporters” also support Tr-mp? That’s not much difference. Yet NBC pundits tried to make that a stunning difference, so much so that, remember, the title of this article was “How Donald Trump Is Splitting the Republican Party in Two.” Is a 99 and 84 Tr-mp approval rating result evidence of a split between the cultists and the establishment? Especially of a split in two? Huh? Of course not. But the evidence provided by their own poll was shaped to fit the narrative of the writers.

Although there are more significant differences between Tr-mp voters and GOP establishment types on some of the other issues, on the only issue that matters, whether Tr-mp is performing well, the two groups are almost in complete agreement. And so long as Republican leaders in Congress look at these polls showing such support—among all Republicans—for Tr-mp, they will be afraid to act against him—even if Robert Mueller, bless his heart, gets the goods on him. Again, fear of those who approve of Tr-mp is all that matters.

I know it is hard for some folks in the news business to admit it, but Tr-mp not only belongs to the Republican Party, what is more important is that the Republican Party, almost every bigoted square mile of it, belongs to him. When it comes to Donald the Dotard, there is no split.

Stealthcare

Republicans claim they have a “health” care plan. Oddly, though, nobody but Republicans can see any health in it. And even some of them are having trouble with their eyes.

My go-to person when it comes to analyzing these kinds of things for amateurs like me is Sarah Kliff, who now works for Vox. She wrote:

I have spent the bulk of 2017 writing about the different Republican plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Graham-Cassidy, in my view, is the most radical of them all.

While other Republican plans essentially create a poorly funded version of the Affordable Care Act, Graham-Cassidy blows it up.

Kliff features the most cynical part of the proposed legislation, cynicism so breathtaking that even in the age of Tr-mp it stuns:

The bill offered by Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy takes money from states that did a good job getting residents covered under Obamacare and gives it to states that did not. It eliminates an expansion of the Medicaid program that covers millions of Americans in favor of block grants. States aren’t required to use the money to get people covered or to help subsidize low- and middle-income earners, as Obamacare does now.

Now, that first part—that the bill steals money from states that expanded Medicaid and gives it to those that refused to do so—hasn’t received enough attention on the cable news shows I have watched. It is goddamned disgusting that Republican Senators, like Ron Johnson of Wisconsin (a co-sponsor of the monstrosity and one of the biggest creeps in the U.S. Senate), are willing to go on TV or write editorials telling people that his red state has been getting ripped off by Obamacare while other states, blue states, have been making off with the loot. In USA Today, Johnson wrote:

Under Obamacare, three states with 20% of our population — California, New York and Massachusetts — get 36% of the funding. Our bill fixes that.

Johnson was on MSNBC this morning and said the same thing—without being challenged. In fact, I have yet to hear a cable news host or interviewer confront any Republican senator, who tries to sell such bullshit to voters, with this simple question: “If you feel that way, if you believe your state has been on the short end of the Obamacare stick, why haven’t you demanded that your Republican governor expand Medicaid under Obamacare and take care of more of your people?”

The reason red states don’t generally benefit as much from the ACA is because 20 Republican-controlled states have refused to expand Medicaid coverage to their citizens, the funding of which is almost all paid for by the federal government. And now the block-granting scheme in this new legislation will essentially reward those worthless Republican governors and legislatures by giving them money, in amounts that won’t do the job ultimately, that doesn’t have Obama’s name on it—and excising the “Obama” from Obamacare means more than anything to these cynical schmucks.

And speaking of those cynical schmucks, possibly 50 of them in the U.S. Senate are willing to vote for a scheme that not only is bent on damaging or destroying Medicaid, but its stinginess will have to be reauthorized in 2026, else there will be no Image result for poor people on medicaidfederal money, not a dollar, spent on health insurance for those who need it. I have heard Senator Cassidy, a physician who forgot his oath, essentially say, “Ah shucks. Don’t worry. Nobody’s gonna get hurt. Congress will keep the spending coming after ten years. Trust us.”

No thanks. There’s too much at stake, as the chart above demonstrates.

In any case Sarah Kliff goes on to discuss more of the GOP deathcare bill:

Insurers in the private marketplace would be allowed to discriminate against people with preexisting conditions, for example. And it would eliminate the individual mandate as other bills would have, but this time there is no replacement. Most analysts agree that would inject chaos into the individual market.

Taken together, these components add up to a sweeping proposal sure to upend the American health care system. Because the Senate hasn’t seen an independent analysis yet from the Congressional Budget Office, I can’t even say for sure how sweeping, and neither can any of the Republicans who have come out in support of it.

Of course they can’t say how “sweeping” this bill will be. And they don’t want to know any of the details. The CBO is the last body they want to hear from. Besides that, they have ignored it in the past and there is no reason they will pay any attention to the CBO now. After all, Republicans don’t give a damn what the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Nurses Association, the American Hospital Association, the National Rural Health Association, the Children’s Hospital Association, the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association, the American Diabetes Association, the American Public Health Association, and other groups have to say about it (h/t to Rep. Don Beyer).

Nor do they even care what insurance groups have to say. America’s Health Insurance Plans is a political advocacy association representing 1300 health insurance companies. They don’t like this plan, even though I suspect that’s mostly because they fear it will lead to a single payer system. Blue Cross—bleeping Blue Cross, for God’s sake—released a statement full of “significant concerns” about Graham-Cassidy, saying it “would increase uncertainty in the marketplace, making coverage more expensive and jeopardizing Americans’ choice of health plans.” But more important, Blue Cross said:

The bill contains provisions that would allow states to waive key consumer protections, as well as undermine safeguards for those with pre-existing medical conditions.

Planned Parenthood and the AARP and advocates for the disabled and advocates for veterans (“A vote for #GrahamCassidy is a vote to take healthcare from veterans.”) and NARAL (“If #GrahamCassidyBill passes, ~13 mil women will lose access to maternity care. THIRTEEN MILLION.”) are all opposed to the bill. In fact, it is hard to find anyone outside of Republicans in Congress, and Tr-mp’s base of cultists (who will get hurt by this bill), who is in favor of it. But that doesn’t seem to matter.

The Sisters of Mercy, the Catholic group who advocates for the “poor, sick and uneducated,” said, “Time to Oppose Graham-Cassidy Healthcare Bill.” No, it is past time. Way past time. We can’t just blame this on Tr-mp. This is the fault of a GOP that will do anything—do anything to anyone outside its big-donor base—in order to rid the country of any traces of the Scary Negro who once sat in the White’s House. And nothing bothered them more than when he dared to put his uppity black hands on our healthcare system. They promised years and years ago they would lynch Obamacare. They meant it, even if they are having trouble finding the right rope.

Here is the number to the U.S. Capitol Switchboard, which can get you connected to the Senator of your choice:  (202) 224-3121. Besides what I included above from Sarah Kliff, there are other crappy provisions in this bill. Here is a link to a short summary of the biggest outrages and a “Sample Call Script” that you can use to help you talk to anyone who will listen.

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