Science and the Battle Against Dogma, Superstition and Conspiracy Theories

Scientists at work. (Photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels)

“Every great advance in natural knowledge has involved the absolute rejection of authority”
– Aldous Huxley

Science upsets things.

Science told us that man was not the center of the universe. Science then told us that man was not even the center of the galaxy. Science told us that the earth was not flat and that man evolved from a simple creature that crawled out of the mud billions of years ago. Science gave women control over their reproductive cycles. Science took us to the moon.

Science has of course done so much more, but these particular scientific achievements deserve mention because of the havoc they caused. And continue to cause. Many of these achievements are still rejected in the 21st century by people who cling desperately to dogma, superstition and conspiracy theories like a thread-bare teddy bear.

Whether the religious deniers who insist the world was only created about 6000 years ago and that dinosaur skeletons were left by a god as a kind of cosmic joke or those insist the earth is flat because that is what their eyes tell them and anything that undermines that belief is a “conspiracy” to hide the truth or those people who insist we never went to the moon because, well, we didn’t or we were just trying to fool the Soviets, they all deny science because if they accepted what science had achieved their imaginary worlds would be turned upside down.

Science asks questions. Constantly. Even about accepted science. Good science is constantly upsetting the apple cart, even among scientists.

Authorities hate questions. They prefer the known order, the ‘right’ way of thinking. Dogma. If authority tell the public this is the truth, then that is the truth, even if it isn’t.

Authorities of any political ideology hate science. The Soviets suppressed knowledge that did not conform to their communist ideology, just as China does today. Conservatives have suppressed science through the ages.

Which is why conservatives and the far-right in America have worked so hard to undermine science and knowledge almost since the beginning of the country. While founding fathers like Franklin and Jefferson were certainly men of science, the people who came after them largely were not. The men (and it was men back then and even mostly now) who controlled power and authority …and money… hated science because it so often acted as an antidote to their formulas to achieve more power and money.

Denials don’t matter

As we head further into the 21st-century science has never been more important than it is now. It has also never been under such a sustained attack from the right. Whether the issue is climate change, vaccines that have saved billions of lives, less polluting forms of new energy to replace fossil fuels, or how to combat a world-wide pandemic, science constantly fends off attacks, most of them ridiculous.

But here’s the thing about science. You can deny it all you want but that doesn’t change the data or what will happen. GOP governors and senators can hide data that blows up their lies or try to prevent scientists from speaking out. The president can lie about infection rates or try to peddle snake oil about “potential cures.”

It doesn’t matter.

The oceans will still rise. The infection rate will still grow. More businesses and people will choose new forms of energy. Discoveries will continue that show the earth’s age is about 5 billion years in a universe about 15 billion years old. Women will still continue to use contraception. Vaccines will still save billions of lives.

Conservatives and authorities can change. The Catholic Church that once jailed Galileo now not only champions his theories but accepts a “divinely inspired” form of evolution. A Catholic priest first formulated the idea of a “Big Bang” start to the universe. Things that many people once viewed as magic are now seen as everyday natural events – thanks to science.

Dogma. Superstition. Conspiracy theories. These are the enemies of humanity, which often try to masquerade as “the truth.” But they will always lose in the end. It may take a while, but science will not be denied forever.

Science is still the best bet humanity has for prolonged survival. Which is why every time authority seeks to undermine science it must be challenged and confronted. Not just by scientists but by all people who understand its value and importance.

Another Case of Constitutional Stupidity

Costco store. (Photo by ccPixs.com)

Late last week, the national retailer Costco announced that starting today, May 4, you could not go into a one of their stores without wearing a mask. This made Costco the first national chain to enact this kind of measure. In announcing the mask requirement, Costco said they were doing it to protect both shoppers and their employees. (Costco also announced limits on the amount of meat customers could buy.)

As I write this, Costco stores have yet to open, but you can count on one thing happening for sure. A potential customer without a mask will try to get into the store, loudly complaining about their Constitutional right to enter the store mask-less. This being America, one or more of these people may pull on a gun on anyone standing near the front of the store telling people they can’t enter unless masked. (It’s already happened in Ohio involving other stores.)

I’m sorry to inform these “good and patriotic” Americans but they DO NOT have a Constitutional right to go into Costco without a mask if Costco says they must. No right. Nada, Zippo, Zilch. Rein.

Costco is a private business, and as such can decide to do whatever the hell it wants to do. It could make a rule it will only allow customers to enter if they are wearing a clown nose. (My guess is that this would hurt business and so it’s unlikely.)

This is yet another case of Constitutional Stupidity, a condition that affects too many Americans particularly those on the right. It is the belief that you can do or say anything you want to in America and there will be no consequences. While it is true that you can do and say anything in America (if it’s legal), consequences are a WHOLE different issue.

I‘m a naturalized US citizen. In order to achieve citizenship, I had to study the heck out of the Constitution, US history and the way governments work at all levels. They really do quiz you on this stuff at your interview and they don’t only ask softball questions.

Like many other naturalized citizens, I ended up knowing a lot more about this stuff than the average American who can barely remember studying it in high school. What they do remember has been twisted in weird ways by watching too much Fox News or listening too frequently to Rush Limbaugh.

Here’s how it works (for those people who believe they have a Constitutional right to not wear a mask in Costco).

You have the right to unfettered political speech, to petition the government or to peacefully assemble (as the protesters in Michigan or elsewhere did) without the fear that (like in Russia or Iran) the secret police will show up at your door in the middle of the night and take you away, never to be seen by your family again.

You have the right to protest a government action. People who complained that Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s order for everyone to wear a mask out in public violated their rights may have had a point, which is why he probably rescinded it. Sometimes these protests don’t achieve the desired result as in Michigan (Gov. Whitmer basically ignored them), but people still have the right to protest.

However, if your boss decides that this speech or action is a deterrent to his or her business, you could find yourself out on your ear. You can sue them for wrongful dismissal, but in a suit of this kind your boss has a chance to show what they did was lawful, depending on your terms of employment or state/federal laws. But there are very few protections for workers.

While the government can’t throw you in jail for saying President Trump is a lying, misogynist, racist, phony creep, or stop you from going to the Michigan legislature with your AR-15 to protest, if your employer depended on federal government for work, for instance, they tell could you to stifle it.

At that point, the choice is yours. You can continue to protest, even if it costs you your job or your company business. Or even risk arrest if you push the point too far on private property, like a Costco store. Or you can shop at a store other than Costco that does not require a facemask and take your chances with COVID-19. Many people will.

But private business are not subject to many of the same restrictions that any level of government is. So yes, Costco can tell you that you cannot enter their store without a mask, and they are NOT violating your Constitutional rights.

It Can Happen Here

It can happen, even in a quiet place like Nova Scotia. (Photo by Geoffrey Fairchild)

If it had happened in Virginia, it would not have shocked me so much. Not that you are ever prepared for a mass shooting. But as one of my children neared the end of their high school days and there had been a couple of reports of gun-related problems in our community, I was secretly glad that school had been canceled as a result of COVID-19.

When you are a parent of a child in school in America, you live daily with the grim thought that it could happen here.

But Nova Scotia? Where I’m from? I had lived in Nova Scotia for 35 years and I never knew a single person who owned a gun. Not one. In Virginia, there are five gun shops within twenty miles of where I live.

So when I heard that a gunman had killed at least 22 people, including an RCMP officer, during a 12-hour murder spree on Sunday across a section of the province, I was honestly deeply stunned. Not that mass murders don’t happen in Canada, but they are rare and Ontario or Quebec loomed in my mind as the places where this kind of violence could happen. Not Nova Scotia.

The reality is, however, that it can happen in Nova Scotia. The individual who decides to kill people for whatever reason is difficult to stop. The knife attack at a Japanese subway stop that kills a dozen people or the terrorist attack that kills dozens of people with a truck in France are no different than a murder spree with a gun that that kills 22. Only the numbers change. People are murdered regardless of the reason.

What does matter is what you do to prevent these gun attacks from happening regularly. Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, to name just three countries are far ahead of the United States when it comes to preventing gun violence.

April may be the first month in decades that the US does not have a school shooting. The reason? Only one – there is no school. If school were still in session, you can bet there would have been at least one or more gun-related mass murders at schools in the US.

The “Sound of Freedom”?

Canada does not have the equivalent of a 2nd Amendment in its Charter of Rights and Freedoms. And it does not need a 2nd Amendment. Canadians (like the citizens of the countries mentioned above) are not obsessed with firearms. Recently someone posted in a local community online email group that the sound of someone having target practice with an assault weapon in their backyard (I hear it almost every day where I live in Virginia) was “the sound of FREEDOM!”

What a load of codswallop. I have always been puzzled why Americans so strongly link “freedom” to the right to own a gun rather than the right to vote. But here we see a fundamental difference between the US and Canada (and almost every democratic nation on the planet).

Many Americans don’t trust government. (For me, this is most obvious when it comes to health care. Americans don’t want a single payer system because they don’t want the government running their health care. That will take away their “liberty.” Never mind the other democratic nations in the world who have universal health care and seem to have as much liberty as the US.)

So American gun rights activists and far-right conspiracy theorists believe that they need to be armed to the teeth because you never know when the “deep state” will try to take over America. Conservative media outlets magnify this issue every chance they get.

The issue of gun ownership is also as cultural as it is political. Take Switzerland for example. It’s a country with very high gun ownership.

“People grow up [in Switzerland]in a very different culture around firearms. They’re taught to treat firearms responsibly,” according to University of Toronto professor Jooyoung Lee, an authority on gun ownership and gun violence. “They’re socialized into a world where the firearm is understood as part of his duty to a country. It’s part of serving the military. They take classes to work on marksmanship.”

Canadians, by and large, have a greater trust in their elected representatives and don’t seem to be so paranoid about a “secret” government take over.

Canadians do own guns. There were about 2.5 million firearm licenses given in Canada in 2018. In 2018, Stats Can reported that 249 Canadians were killed by guns, far the most by hand guns.

While there more gun violence in Canada than Switzerland, Canadians share with the Swiss a culturally responsible attitude toward guns that seems to be missing in the US.

All of which makes what happened in Nova Scotia seem so bizarre and out of place.

Sadly, we live in a world where we need to accept these risks. We can reduce them (as in Canada, Australia, or New Zealand) but we can never eliminate them. No matter where we live.

All Changed, Changed Utterly – The End of ‘Normal’

Telecommuting will become the main way to work. (Photo by Goblinbox)

I’ve been thinking of these lines from W.B. Yeats’ poem “Easter 1916” for a few days now. People long for a return to “normal,” back to the way things were before the pandemic. But we are not going back to “normal.” Not by a long shot. Whether COVID-19 plays out this summer, this fall, next winter or not until 2021, things will not be the same, some in good ways, some in bad.

What normally takes the public, both here and around the globe, time to accept or to adapt to has been rushed into acceptance. Here are a few of the changes that are probably going to last.

The expanded use of televisits to doctor’s offices

COVID-19 won’t mean the end of going to the doctor’s office, but many people will now use telemedicine to deal with less serious ailments. This may also provide a lifeline for small/rural communities who are losing their health clinics and hospitals. Rather than driving miles in a car to reach medical care, patients will first do a video call with a physician or physician assistant who could determine if they do need more serious medical care.

Universities will see a similar strong shift to online

Professors who have fought against the use of technology in their classrooms are being forced to use it if they want to teach at all. More students will see the advantages of taking online classes, particularly in terms of reducing student debt. Universities will need to up their games to keep pace.

The other possible outcome is that student tuition will disappear. Universities who want to lure students to campus to pay for room, board and extras will need to give them a financial reason to do so. Zeroing tuition or dramatically lowering it will be the best way to accomplish this.

America will have a single payer health care system within a decade

Although support for this option had already started to grow, the damaging effects of COVID-19 and the lack of proper health care among large segments of the population will make it easier for progressive politicians to sell the idea to a previously wary public.

There are detractors, of course, but the longer COVID-19 lasts and the more people it infects, the weaker the arguments against single-payer become.

Telecommuting will become the way we work full-time rather than an option

There will always be people who’ll want to ‘go to the office’ and bosses who want them to do that, but the pandemic has turned telecommuting from a part-time option to a full-time possibility. Greater telecommuting and more flexible hours for those who do want to go to the office will also ease the burden on public transport and the density of the public.

It’s also hard for controlling basses to argue that work isn’t being done when everyone is working from home. Plus the added benefits to the environment, reduced daily traffic, the price of gasoline and an employee’s bank account.

Oil won’t hit $60-$80 a barrel again

While people will probably surge out of their homes after “stay-at-home” orders are lifted, it will take many years for most people to overcome the psychological fear of infection. Especially for international travel by airline or cruising. (Cruising may never totally recover.) So less oil will be used. And the oil “end game” between Russia and Saudi Arabia, made worse by COVID-19, will keep prices depressed for years.

It will be easier and safer to stay at home. Add in changes because of telecommuting and by the time people get over their hesitation to travel, alternative energies will have a much larger footprint around the world.

The end of the handshake

It’s hard to say what will replace it (a slight nod or a namaste-like greeting?) but it has gotten really bad press in the past few months. Most people will stop doing it by 2030, if not sooner.

Finally, America will no longer be the dominant nation on the planet

Things were already trending towards China. But the election of Donald Trump in 2016, the way he has handled this pandemic and the way China has reached out to nations around the world to help even as the US has dramatically stepped back its international role have accelerated this change.

China will undoubtedly take heat for the way it initially failed to notify the world about the virus, but as Obama chief-of-staff/Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel once said, ”Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

Almost as soon as Trump announced he was putting a hold on funding for the World Health Organization, China stepped in to say it would pick up the financial slack. And this is not the first time the Chinese government has done this. (For instance in Italy, China no longer thought of as the origin of COVID-19 but as a nation that reached out to help Italy. The same is true of Serbia and Poland.)

While there is little doubt that the Trump administration will spend the next few months attacking China, it will be too little, too late. COVID-19 will speed up the decline of the US as a world power and speed up the ascension of China.

Will “a terrible beauty” be born because of all these changes? Only time will tell.

A Tale of Two Countries

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides an update to the media on COVID-19 in BC. (Province of BC)

If an American wants to understand how leadership and unity make a difference in the fight against COVID-19, they do not need to look across the globe to countries like South Korea, New Zealand or Singapore. Instead, they should shift their gaze to the north of the border.

The American public has, by and large, truly done a magnificent job in the battle against this virus in the past few weeks. When medical experts first projected that COVID-19 could kill as many as 100,000 to 200,000 Americans it was based on an estimation that only 50% of Americans would observe social distancing. Instead, those same experts have been able to drastically lower the possible death count to around 60,000 because more than 90% of Americans have engaged in social distancing.

American media regularly cover the stories of the heroes of the COVID-19 battle – the doctors, the nurses, the truck drivers, the grocery store workers, the postal workers, the delivery people – who literally risk their lives to care for people or try to help the country maintain some semblance of normality.

The problem is at the top.

When you look at the differences between the way politicians in Canada and the United States have responded to the COVID-19 crisis, the differences could not be more jarring.

Let’s start with the leaders.

In the United States you have Donald Trump who relentlessly blames others for his poor response to the virus. He ignored repeated warnings. He has confused Americans with misinformation and a lack of leadership that was made plain in his statement that he takes “no responsibility” for his country’s chaotic and slapdash response to this emergency.

Trump has consistently sent out signals that he cares more about how COVID-19 will affect the stock market and his reelection than he does about the American people, and his actions and the actions of his closest advisors reinforce this belief. One only needs to read the extensive and thoroughly reported piece in Sunday’s N.Y. times to realize how badly this administration has handled the crisis.

Oh Canada

In Canada, meanwhile, there has been some valid criticism that perhaps Justin Trudeau’s government also reacted too slowly to the initial reports of the spread of COVID-19. The difference is, however, what happened afterwards.

While not the most popular politician in Canada’s history, and struggling with a minority government after the last election, Trudeau has largely been everything you want a leader to be. He has been a voice of reason and encouragement to the Canadian people.

For instance, read this speech about his government’s economic plan to help Canadians. While on the one hand it delivers information about this policy initiative, on the other hand the speech can only be described as stirring, particularly the ending where Trudeau refers to how the older generation of Canadians helped build Canada to be what it is today and that it is up to younger Canadians to protect them and that heritage.

It stands in stark contrast to Pres. Trump’s tweets about his favorable “ratings,” his jokes about “models” and his attempts to blame anyone and everyone about his administration’s problems with COVID-19.

There are other important differences between Canada and United States.

One is the cooperation in Canada between the federal government and the provincial governments. A recent column by Peter Loewen, professor of political science and at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy at The University of Toronto, Taylor Owen, associate professor of public policy at McGill University, and Derek Ruths, associate professor of computer science at McGill University described it this way:

So far, Canadian political action around the COVID-19 pandemic has seen more cooperation between the federal and provincial governments than we have seen at any other point since 2015. Ministers are actively avoiding criticism of one another and are largely focused on the same goals. Indeed, much has been made of the camaraderie between Doug Ford [Conservative premier of Ontario] and Chrystia Freeland ( Liberal Deputy Prime Minister of Canada and federal minister of Intergovernmental Affairs], and it has overshadowed larger political concessions, like Ontario all but laying down arms in its political opposition to a carbon tax.

Public Health Officials the New Canadian Heroes

Another important difference is how Canadian politicians have deferred to the health experts and science. This is particularly seen in the role that Canada’s public health officers have played in the crisis. They have literally become rock stars.

Officials like British Columbia’s Dr. Bonnie Henry, Prince Edward Island’s Dr. Heather Morrison, Québec’s Dr. Horracio Arruda or the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Dr. Teresa Tam have been lauded by Canadians of all stripes for their clear, unambiguous daily briefings about COVID-19.

These public health officials have been free to give Canadians the straight goods – that means they are honest when things are bad and straightforward about what Canadians need to do in order to reduce the effects of COVID-19. They have earned the overwhelming support of Canadians.

Meanwhile, America’s Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has been lauded by many, was recently forced to accept protection from the Health and Human Services department because of the many death threats against him. It also appears he had started telling a little too much truth for Trump.

Finally, Canadian politicians, regardless of their political affiliation, deserves to be applauded for their willingness to stand back and let the people who know what they’re talking about have the center stage. It’s also been encouraging to see how politicians have not attacked each other but have done their very best to work together in a time of crisis.

No one is naïve enough to believe that this will continue forever. But the fact that it is happening is important.

To some degree it reflects the differences between the philosophies of Canada and the United States. In Canada it’s “peace, order and good government” while in the United States it’s “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Most of the time, people will choose life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But in a moment when our ability to work together matters if we are going to defeat the menace of COVID-19, peace, order and good government might be the better choice.

The Gaslighting of America

By Rer Isi Rer – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15986064

Gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. It works much better than you may think. Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders.

Psychology Today, November 2017

And Donald Trump.

Most people have probably heard the term gaslighting and might have some idea that it was the title of a movie. It was, in fact, a 1938 play, later made into two movies, one in 1940 and one in 1944. The ’44 version with Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman is probably the best know version. It is the story of a psychotic, manipulative husband who tries to convince his wife that she is going mad in order to seize control over her fortunes.

Here are the 11 of the tactics used by gaslighters to manipulate their victims, taken from the article mentioned above:

    They tell blatant lies.
    They deny they ever said something, even though you have proof.
    They use what is near and dear to you as ammunition.
    They wear you down over time.
    Their actions do not match their words.
    They throw in positive reinforcement to confuse you.
    They know confusion weakens people.
    They project.
    They try to align people against you.
    They tell you or others that you are crazy.
    They tell you everyone else is a liar.

It is very hard to read that list and not think, “My god, that is Donald Trump.”

Upping His Gaslighting Game

Although he has been doing it since his inauguration, Tuesday Donald Trump made his boldest attempt to gaslight America. Despite all the video and audio evidence to the contrary, he told reporters (during his daily version of the Five O’Clock Follies) that he had always known how bad the coronavirus would be.

He was just being a “cheerleader” for America.

You’ll need to excuse my language, but this is pure, farm-quality, odoriferous BULLSHIT.

A “Potsie in the White House” as Joe Scarborough put it, alluding to the Happy Days character who was a high school cheer leader. America doesn’t need a “cheerleader.” It needs a leader who will be honest with the American people and give them the facts that they need to protect themselves and their families. But Trump is and has always been a cheerleader for only one entity – himself.

Trump was no more being a cheerleader for America than Nigel Farage championed Brexit because he only wanted to improve Britain’s National Health Service. It’s not necessary to recount the number of times Trump showed little or no care about Covid-19 in January or February, despite the tsunami of warnings aimed at the White House from a variety of sources, including his own advisers.

The point is that Trump is trying to gaslight America (with the help of right-wing media) into doubting what we saw and heard and only accepting his version of events.

Perhaps we saw this more clearly than ever this week when he attacked an inspector general for doing her job when she pointed out problems hospitals were having acquiring supplies, etc. If you don’t unquestioningly spout Trump’s versions of events, then you are a liar, not very good at your job or/and a member of the ‘Deep State.’

Fortunately, most Americans don’t seem to be buying his snake oil. While he enjoyed a small burst of support at first, that has flattened or decreased. While there is no doubt a group of people, the Trump cultists, who would believe him if he said the oceans had vanished overnight, it appears that other Americans trust their own eyes and ears rather than what Trump is telling them to believe.

Be assured, however, this will continue – probably long after Trump is voted out of office on November 3rd this year. As Trump turns down the gaslight a little more every day, he tries to convince us we are all going blind and mad and he is the only sane one left.

Don’t believe him.

Covid-19’s Best Friend – Religion

In Bnei Brak, a suburb of Tel Aviv, where 95% of the residents are Ultra-Orthodox Jews, as many as 40% of the residents are infected with Covid-19. Ignoring the pleas of Israeli authorities and instead listening to the directions of their religious leaders who told him there was nothing for them to fear from the Coronavirus because God would protect them, Ultra-Orthodox Jews continued to gather in large numbers and even violently protest against measures designed to force them to accept social distancing.

In Louisiana and Florida in the United States, three Christian evangelical pastors have consistently refused to stop holding large church gatherings. This even though all three men have been charged by the police with not following public orders against large gatherings. Tony Spell, of Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge not only dismissed the charges but insisted he would hold an even larger gathering on Easter. When asked by the media why he would not follow the governor’s warnings, Spell replied “We have a mandate from the word of the Lord to gather together.” Like all Trumpistas, he believes the pandemic is “politically motivated.”

Hobby Lobby, the right-wing Christian-owned arts and craft store in the US tried to evade orders to close in various states calling itself an “essential business.” David Green, the founder of Hobby Lobby, in a message to employees, said God had told his wife Barbara to push ahead and He would protect them. Hobby Lobby has since been forced to close all stores and furlough all workers…without any pay.

In the Iranian city of Qom, a group of “angry radicals” raided the shrine of Fatima Masumeh after the doors had been locked in order to protect the public against the spread of the Coronavirus. These radicals saw the closing of this shrine and others as a betrayal of their Islamic beliefs and called for an end to restrictions. They, of course, insist that their belief in God will protect them.

While organizing an all Sunni gathering in Lahore, Pakistan, Muhammad Ashraf Asif Jalali, a Pakistan cleric, insisted that “no man can get sick as per the will of God” and that if anyone did get sick at his conference the government should “hang him.”

In India, where Prime Minister Modi has imposed at least a three-week lockdown, members of his Hindu-supremacist party are still planning religious festivals.

In South Korea, a Christian evangelical doomsday church known as the Shincheonji Church of Jesus (which of course believes it is the one, true church – don’t they all) held a meeting in Daegu in early February where thousand of people sat closely packed together to pray. Their religious leaders would not let them wear face masks and told them they didn’t need to fear the disease. One 61 year-old woman, known as a super spreader, infected so many of her co-religionists, she is responsible for half of the Covid-19 cases in South Korea.

As a reporter in one Middle Eastern newspaper put it in a statement that applies to the entire world “Fundamentalist forces have a vice-like grip on the hearts and minds of large swathes of the global population.”

Misleading Their Followers

This is not a tirade against religion. While I don’t personally follow any religious tradition and don’t think that any amount of prayer will protect you from Covid-19 if you are a “covidiot,” it’s easy to see the value of religion in a time of global confusion. When people don’t know if they’ll get sick or if they’ll lose love ones or friends to the disease, religion provides an important measure of support. At a time when any port in a storm makes it easier to deal with this life-threatening cataclysm, religion can play a constructive role for many people.

It is not, however, a good thing when religion is used by unethical and despicable religious leaders to increase their power over their followers and to insist that they know better than science. Ultimately, all these charlatans fall back on the same claim – God will protect you. These religious leaders want us to believe that they have a direct line to the creator of their choosing who is giving them special instructions to hold these large gatherings or to ignore safety warnings.

Well, the Lord helps those who help themselves. It is perfectly possible to continue to practice religious beliefs by yourself in a time of global uncertainty. On the other hand, listening to these phony religious blowhards of any creed, who instruct followers to gather in large numbers, can become a death sentence for them or for others that they know and love.

It’s time for authorities in all countries to crack down on these religious hooligans. When we face a situation where a person’s religious beliefs can ultimately infect or kill many others, the religious belief must be superseded by the safety of others.

Democratic socialism? Me, worried? Nah.

I’m lucky enough to be the citizen of two amazing countries: Canada and the United States. I was born in Canada and spent my first 35 years there. I’ve spent the last 30 in the US.

While I value my American identity, every time I hear Americans talk about Canada it makes me want to hit them upside the head. The reality is that Americans know S.F.A. about the way Canada works.

This is especially true when it comes to issues like healthcare, guns, foreign policy, the place of religion in the public sphere, education and the role of government. Canada is a truly a different country than the United States.

Democratic socialism has become yet another topic on which I realize many Americans display a stunning level of ignorance. We’ve had Democratic socialism (or to be more technically correct “social democracy” – there is a difference) in Canada for… 80 years now. While we’ve never had a Democratic socialist federal government, the Democratic socialist party in Canada, the New Democratic Party (NDP) has at one point been the official opposition. The NDP has run numerous provincial governments from one end of the country to the other for decades.

And yet Canada hasn’t fallen under the ‘socialist yoke.’ It hasn’t fallen into the communist orbit. The Canadian economy (aside from all the bumps and hiccups suffered by any economy) is doing just fine, thank you very much.

So I think it’s important to explain to my fellow Americans that much of the nonsense about Democratic socialism emanating from talking heads on various cable-TV networks is just sound and fury that signifies nothing.

(By the way for all those of you were wondering, I am not a Bernie Sanders supporter. For my tastes, Sanders is too old, in bad health and not a very effective legislator considering all his years in public office. I believe it’s time for Sanders and Biden and people of that generation to get the hell out of the way. Enough already.)

The List

1. Democratic socialism is NOT communism. It’s not even socialism.

Democratic socialism has about as much to do with communism as Martin Luther King had to do with the Ku Klux Klan. Democratic socialists do not believe in one-party or authoritarian rule or that the government must own the means of production. They believe in democracy and fair elections. In Canada, for instance the NDP has won and lost political power on the provincial level many times. No NDP government has never refused to give up power when defeated in an election.

Democratic socialism is not what is practiced in Cuba or China or Vietnam or Mongolia or any of those other places where political freedoms are forbidden.

(I feel that I should also point out, however, that many nations that wholeheartedly believe in capitalism like Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Singapore also severely restrict political and personal freedoms. The urge to limit freedom seldom has much to do with the way the economy is run.)

2. Democratic socialism does not mean the end of capitalism

In a Democratic socialist country like the ones you have in, oh, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland (you know, all those countries that rank at the top of every poll about having the best healthcare, education, standard of living etc.) as well as France, Germany and the UK, the government does play a greater role in what is known as a mixed economy.

For instance, Sweden is thought of worldwide as a Democratic socialist country with a strong commitment to social programs like universal healthcare and an elaborate social safety net. But it also has very strong individual property rights and very little product market regulation. (Also known as the Nordic Model.)

Under Democratic socialism, unrestrained capitalism is tempered. Social democracy prefers progressive and humane reforms to capitalism. Wealth is distributed more equitably through a fairer taxation system to support ideas like improved healthcare, better education, literacy, and childcare.

You don’t have to have a Democratic socialist government to live in a Democratic socialist country by way. It would be a stretch to say that Boris Johnson is a Democratic socialist, but the UK has many elements of Democratic socialism like universal healthcare, childcare programs to help parents, pensions, and unemployment benefits.

3. The difference between any form of socialism and classical liberalism is economic equality

Both systems have their roots in the Enlightenment but socialism, which is very contextual, demands that economic inequality be included in any measure of a society’s structural health, along with personal freedoms advocated in liberalism.

4. The United States already has Democratic Socialism!

Surprise! If you live in the United States, you already live in a country strongly influenced by Democratic socialism. Where would we be without programs like Social Security, Medicare and public K-12 school education? Several US cities have elected officials who ran on Democratic socialist platforms.

Older, far-right Americans who complain about the kind of socialism espoused by Bernie Sanders would scream loudly if their Social Security check didn’t arrive on time. Then again, Americans have cornered the hypocrisy market on this issue.

5. We have nothing to fear but fear itself

Let’s be blunt. Even if a Democratic socialist like Bernie Sanders was elected president, the United States would not turn into Sweden or Norway overnight. It might, however, find ways to promote economic stability for more Americans like an improved minimum wage or, God forbid, universal healthcare.

Again, don’t hold your breath. This is America were talking about.

Why Amazon Failed in New York


HQ2: Understanding What Happened & Why

This piece, written by Barry L. Ritholtz, the co-founder and chief investment officer of Ritholtz Wealth Management LLC, is the best piece I’ve read yet about the real reasons that Amazon ditched its planned New York HQ. The fault lies not in ours stars but in mistakes made by Jeff Bezos.

A fascinating and comprehensive read.

The Death of Shame in American Politics

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away but in a time that seems many years ago, when a politician or some other public figure was caught acting in a reprehensible manner, the shame of being caught would normally lead them to step aside. While they might not do so willingly, they eventually did so.

It was only a decade ago when former Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig was arrested at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport for disorderly conduct. The disorderly conduct involved allegedly seeking sexual connection to another man in an airport restroom.

Although Craig initially denied he had done anything wrong, claiming that he only had used a “wide stance” while in the restroom in regards to his foot touching the foot of the police officer who had stationed himself in the stall next to Craig, the shame of this act, and other questionable activity that emerged from Craig’s past (which might’ve been excused if he had been openly supportive of the LGBTQ community instead of so harshly critical of it) led to his resignation and decision not to run for reelection. The shame of the incident effectively ended Craig’s political career.

Republicans have not been the only ones to fall victim to shame. New York Congressman Anthony Weiner, he of sexting infamy, comes to mind. And who can forget Democratic Congressman Wilbur Mills in 1974, intoxicated, bruised from a fight with stripper Fanny Fox, jumping into the capitol’s Tidal Basin trying to escape the police. Although he did not resign immediately, and in fact won reelection in his Arkansas district, his second intoxicated incident eventually led to his resignation.

Growing up in Canada, I can remember several prominent politicians and public figures resigning their posts as a result of shame. Often these resignations had nothing to do with sexual activity but had to do with lying to the public or some form of public corruption.

That was then. This is now.

Now, shame seems to be a thing of the long forgotten past. It is become the political equivalent of the eight-track tape or the typewriter. It seems a quaint relic of bygone days.

It’s not hard to trace the absence of shame in American politics, because it can be traced to one person in particular: our president, Donald Trump.

Trump doesn’t feel shame about anything. Trump will make racist, bigoted, misogynist, homophobic comments, topped off by more lies than you can use a calculator to count and he doesn’t feel one iota of shame. Not that he ever has. He can cheat on his wive(s) and shrug it off. But when Trump was a minor celebrity in New York, his shameless behavior was smiled at by the media and others in public. “Oh, that’s just Donald,” people would say.

Now that Trump is president, however, his lack of shame is on display for all to see and many others have followed suit. Three that come to immediate mind are Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. None of them seemed to show any pronounced signs of shame for their alleged misdeeds.

Technological giants like Google and Facebook openly lie to our faces about how they use our personal data and when confronted with these lies, show few if any signs of shame. They occasionally mumble something about “making improvements,” and then find some new way to steal our information. The shame of being caught means nothing to them.

Large corporations which have been victimized by sweeping hacker attacks that steal millions of files on credit card information and other personal data don’t release news about these hacks until months or even years after they happened. If they had felt any shame that they had failed to neglect our personal information, it is overwhelmed by the need to keep shareholders happy.

No, instead of feeling shame public figures and corporations now hire public relations resuscitation teams. Instead of admitting fault or relinquishing power, the goal becomes holding onto it all costs. Resurrecting one’s brand or media image is now more important than holding oneself accountable for one’s behavior. Often they feel it is better to to pretend it never happened and full steam ahead.

Which brings us back to Trump. Whether we like it or not, the president of the United States set a tone that worms its way into the public consciousness. Sometimes that tone is good: the resilience of FDR, the courage of JFK, the optimism of Ronald Reagan. In Trump’s case, the tone is bad. Never feel ashamed about anything, anything that you do, no matter how deviant or mendacious.

It’s just another way that Donald Trump is changing America in a bad way. When we lose the ability to feel shame, we lose the ability to hold ourselves and our politicians accountable. And that means problems for America.