How the Far-Right Misled the Country on Covid-19 and Cost Thousands of Americans Their Lives

Donald Trump and Sean Hannity speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo by Gage Skidmore

We all know the story by now. Voices on the far-right telling Americans in January, February and most of March that the coronavirus was nothing to worry about. It was a hoax perpetrated by Democrats in order to undermine their hero, Pres. Trump. The coronavirus was nothing more than a flu. You might get a few sniffles. Even then it was nothing to worry about.

This was the common theme across almost the entire far-right landscape.
Glenn Beck and Dan Patrick, the Lt. Gov. of Texas basically arguing it was OK for old people to die in order to save the economy. Jerry Falwell, the cretin leader of Liberty College starting up classes again against all good advice. Rush Limbaugh on his radio show, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingram and Lou Dobbs on Fox News denouncing anyone who said this was a serious crisis.

Far-right minions like Bill Mitchell or Dennis Prager faithfully following their leader down the garden path. There could be no question of their loyalty to their feckless and ignorant president.

Even to the very writing this column, the dregs of the far-right, the very bottom feeders are still at it. Representative Devin Nunes said Tuesday, March 31 that closing the schools in California was a bad idea and did not need to be done. Never mind the rising death toll in California. Nunes long ago proved himself to be little more than a boil on Donald Trump’s butt and almost anything he says on any subject is completely ridiculous. He’s even starting to make Rep. Louis Gohmert from Texas seems sensible. And who would have thought that could ever happen.

And then there’s the issue of the value of science. For many years, the far-right did everything in its power to denigrate the value of science in the eyes of the American people. Whether it was climate change deniers, anti-vaxxers, anti-evolutionists or even those who still said the Earth was flat, people with these ridiculous beliefs were often treated seriously by even mainstream media as were those scientists who had studied and researched these issues their entire lives.

Scientists who presented cold, hard facts about issues like the environment or clean air or clean water were merely elite snobs. And since the scientists often said things that the “low information voter” – let’s be honest, stupid people – did not like to hear these right-wing pariahs had a willing audience.

As Dave Roberts wrote for Grist a decade ago:

The right’s project over the last 30 years has been to dismantle the post-war liberal consensus by undermining trust in society’s leading institutions. Experts are made elites; their presumption of expertise becomes self-damning. They think they’re better than you. They talk down to you. They don’t respect people like us, real Americans. … The decline in trust in institutions has generated fear and uncertainty, to which people generally respond by placing their trust in protective authorities. And some subset of people respond with tribalism, nationalism, and xenophobia. The right … offer[s] a space to huddle in safety among the like-minded. The conservative movement in America has created a self-contained, hermetically sealed epistemological reality … designed not just as a source of alternative facts but as an identity.

How difficult it must be for them now to swallow their own bile when it comes to the value of science. Oh, they have still tried to undermine the data. They tried to depict Dr. Anthony Fauci as nothing more than another puppet of that deep state, especially ignorant know-nothings like Bill Mitchell. But he was not alone. I wonder how they’ll spin the deaths of 100,000 or 200,000 Americans in their fevered and fetid imaginations?

Let’s also look at the role of the government. I was reminded of the statement of Grover Norquist that he wanted government to be small enough that he could drown it in the bathtub. I’m wondering how Grover feels these days when the only thing that’s preventing this pandemic from killing 2.2 million Americans are state politicians and the people who work for the various levels of government that Norquist and his far-right fifth columnists tried to destroy.

I think several things will happen as a result of Covid-19 in a few months. The first will be the defeat of Donald Trump in the November 2020 election. The next will be a much greater appreciation of the role the government plays in the day-by-day lives of Americans. No one wants a huge, lumbering government that goes in the places where it shouldn’t be. We do need a government, however, that is big enough to respond nationally to things like a pandemic and deal with it efficiently and quickly.

The other important development will be a greater appreciation of for science. It won’t change much in the far-right. Those people will still have their guns, God and conspiracy theories and that’s what they’ll believe in. But for people in the middle, and perhaps the media, things will be different. They will be less likely to give the benefit of the doubt to those who would undermine science in such blatantly ridiculous ways.

And maybe the voices of those in the far-right whose actions have led and will lead to the deaths of many Americans will come to be valued less as more and more people come to see them as the grifters and charlatans they truly are.

You say you want a revolution… Then again, maybe not

Joe Biden
Vice President Joe Biden holds an event with voters in the gymnasium at McKinley Elementary School in Des Moines, where he addressed a number of issues including the recent escalation with Iran. Iowa member of Congress Abby Finkenauer was also on hand to announce her endorsement of Biden. (Photo by Phil Roeder)

I worked an information desk yesterday for the local Democratic Party in my neck of the woods in Virginia. During the three hours at my post, I talked with voters, thanked them for voting and encouraged them to take information that detailed ways to assist the campaign in November. I was deeply struck by how many people commented to me they were worried that the future of the country was at stake.

It wasn’t just older people who made this comment. One younger woman, probably in her early 20s, was extremely passionate about how worried she was. I have no idea who she voted for, but she signed up immediately to work on the campaign in the fall.

The depth of Biden’s victory in Virginia surprised me. A closer contest between Biden and Sanders seemed in the cards. But Biden’s victory yesterday reflected what I personally saw at the polls. People were not so interested in a revolution as they were in getting rid of Donald Trump. People spoke of it with an almost religious fervor. They hate Donald Trump and the most important thing is to remove him from office.

If the results of yesterday’s Democratic primaries across the country indicate anything, they indicate that most Democrats believe that Joe Biden has a better chance of doing that than Bernie Sanders.

This leads to two observations:

1. If Sanders fails to win the nomination after such a promising start, he should not blame the Democratic establishment for his failure, but Trump himself.

If the Republicans had offered any other candidate but Donald Trump as the Republican nominee in 2020, center-left Democrats might have been more open to the kind of revolution that Sanders is promoting.

After 3 ½ years of a Trump presidency, however, Democrats are more interested in a return to normalcy (in the words of Jon Meacham) then a Sanders’ administration that might bring four more years of “revolutionary” discombobulation caused by a lurch to the left.

Not that Sanders’ ideas are unattractive. Healthcare for all is a great idea. I come from Canada. I lived in a system with universal healthcare. I know the benefits it bestows upon country. Canadians long ago stopped worrying about the government “controlling” healthcare. Universal healthcare means Canadians live several years longer than Americans and because they are healthier, this spins into other areas. Canadians enjoy a higher standard of living and a greater per capita income than Americans.

But the United States is not Canada.

Contemplating the kind of struggles that an implementation of Sanders’ policies would mean for politics in Washington and for the country looks to be too much for many Democratic voters.

The idea of Medicare for all needs to be introduced to the public as an option at first. I truly believe that once people have the option, they will choose it and the country will move towards Medicare for all.

2. Biden needs to seal the deal with Democratic voters.

People have spoken about “buyers’ remorse” becoming Biden’s next hurdle. Democrats, swept up with enthusiasm after Biden’s victory in South Carolina who then voted overwhelmingly for him on Tuesday, wonder if they made the right choice.

The withdrawal of Michael Bloomberg from the primaries and his endorsement of Joe Biden as the best candidate helps Biden. The many billions of Bloomberg will now go towards electing the former vice president.

This must scare Donald Trump. He worried about Biden in the past. Now dealing with a Biden who has a billionaire behind him – a billionaire who said he’s not afraid to spend a billion dollars to defeat Trump – will no doubt generate many tweets indicating how insecure our dear leader is feeling.

So prepare for a tsunami of social media claiming that the nomination was stolen from Bernie once again and criticizing Biden for doing the same things that Trump himself does.

Still, the campaign is far from over. We’ve seen one come back, maybe we’ll see another. Perhaps Sanders will discover some magic sauce that will refocus his campaign and regenerate his image in the eyes of Democratic voters.

Hmmm. Probably not.

Progressive Democratic voters will probably need to wait until Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is old enough to run for president before they score a decisive victory over the Democratic establishment. She already has my vote.

Team of Rubber Stamps

In her brilliant book about the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, “Team of Rivals,” historian Doris Kearns Goodwin showed how Lincoln intentionally built a cabinet filled with people who disagreed with him.

Not that Lincoln was a feather in the wind, blown this way and that depending upon the last person he whose advice he sought. He listened to what his cabinet had to say, weighed their opinions, and then made his decision. Sometimes that decision was based on the cabinet’s advice and sometimes it was a decision that went against all advice.

Lincoln had enough humility to know that he was not the font of all wisdom but also enough genuine self-confidence to make decisions he felt were in the best interest of the country even when those decisions went against the advice of all his cabinet members.

Definitely not Lincoln

Which brings us to the man who thinks he’s the greatest president the United States ever had. Donald J. Trump. Humility is a word that will never be associated with Donald Trump. No historian in the future will ever write a book one day about Trump being wise and full of genuine self-confidence. His actions in the past two weeks illustrate that he is an ignorant, insecure man, full of bluster and lies who cares little about doing the right thing.

Instead of being open to the opinions of others and unafraid to take counsel that may question his own beliefs, Trump has decided to surround himself with fawning lackeys, yes men and women who will only shower him with accolades and praise every decision, no matter how wrongheaded it is for the country.

You could say that instead of a “Team of Rivals,” Trump is constructing a “Team of Rubber Stamps.” Imagine a large group of Lindsay Grahams who support every decision Trump makes regardless how ridiculous it is. For like Graham, who once was so opposed to Trump, these people are more afraid for their jobs and for their standing among Trump supporters than they are for the safety and well-being of the United States.

The great danger in surrounding yourself with people who are afraid to question bad decisions, even when they know better, can best be seen in the Challenger shuttle disaster. In the now well-known story, scientists and engineers who worked on the Challenger knew about problems with the O-Ring caused by cold temperatures but Group Think prevented them from speaking out. The end result? The entire Challenger shuttle crew perished.

Now take that dynamic and transpose that reluctance to challenge the group on the opinions of one person, the most powerful individual in the world, the president of the United States. It is a recipe for disaster.

You can see the danger in the decision to replace the Director of National intelligence Joseph Maguire, a respected and decorated military professional who knew his job well, with a man who is basically a toady of Donald Trump, Richard Grenell.

McGuire was fired because he did his job. He gave permission for a subordinate to testify to Congress, as he was required to do. When the subordinate told the truth to Congress, Trump fired Maguire. Like humility, truth is also a word that will never be associated with Trump.

The result of being surrounded by minions

Think about how this will affect the economy, the intelligence that we need to protect ourselves against enemies foreign and domestic, the response to the coronavirus, the 2020 federal elections and the list goes on and on. With the act of rooting out “disloyal” political appointees who have failed to kiss Trump’s behind properly (and let us not forget that these were all people appointed by Trump) with every decision he makes, Trump is placing every American in danger.

Without those voices in the room who can tell this man bloated with his own self-importance that he’s making the wrong decision or that he needs to at least temper that decision, there’s no telling what damage he will do to the Constitution, to the courts, to the media and to the country at large.

Trump’s “Team of Rubber Stamps” is another indication that he is not be the best president America has ever had, but the worst.

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 Bernie Sanders Should Fear a Contested Convention

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at Desert Pines High School in Las Vegas, Nevada. [Photo by Gage Skidmore]

Wednesday night’s Democratic debate in Las Vegas provided fireworks in several ways.

First, there was the audience of almost 20 million people making it the second most-watched presidential debate for either party of all time. Second, was the evisceration (there’s really no other word to describe it) of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, especially at the hands of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Third, there was the open hostility between Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg – they were one step away from being invited to take part in an MMA contest.

There was also another revealing moment. Initially, it was overlooked by most US commentators and talking heads. Surprisingly, Canada’s national network the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) picked up on it right away. (There are reasons for this that I will mention below.)

Towards the end of the debate, the candidates were asked by host Chuck Todd for their views on how to handle a contested convention. Should the candidate with the highest delegate count be awarded the nomination even if they had not reached the 50% +1 mark or should there be a second ballot if no one has enough delegates to win on the first ballot?

Not surprisingly, only Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (considered the current front runner) supported the notion of a candidate with the most delegates being given the nomination. Every other candidate on the debate stage voted for the second option – a contested convention.

Why did the CBC pick up on this moment when it was initially overlooked by US media? Contested conventions are a regular occurrence in Canadian politics. Most recently, Andrew Scheer, the current – but about to be former – leader of Canada’s Conservative Party, was not the favorite going into his party’s convention nor did he have the most delegates. He won the leadership after the first ballot.

Contested conventions, however, are like mastodons – once extremely common, now extinct. Maybe…

As scientists experiment with the idea of using mastodon DNA to resurrect this lost species, the Democratic Party seems to be experimenting with the idea of resurrecting the contested convention.

Pluses and Minuses

There are pluses and minuses for the Democrats in a contested convention.

It would attract a YUUGGEE TV audience. The four days of the convention in Milwaukee would blow all other programming off the air, even if Pres. Trump tried to counter-program it. There is something about a come-from-behind story that Americans love. The “Comeback Kid” and all that.
If it worked, the Democratic nominee would emerge from the convention with broad name recognition and a full head of steam.

On the other hand…

And this is where Bernie comes in. If Bernie Sanders wants to be the Democratic nominee for president in 2020 he needs to win enough delegates prior to the start of the Milwaukee convention to claim the nomination. If the battle for the nomination goes to a second or third ballot, he will lose.

A large group of dedicated people support Bernie. The reality of the Democratic Party is, however, that about 60% of the party is composed of center-left moderates and about 40% are progressives. So if you took all the delegate support for the Bloombergs, the Bidens, the Klobuchars etc. and put it against the delegates supporting Sanders and Warren, a moderate candidate stands a better chance.

Another important factor is the entrance of superdelegates on the second and subsequent ballots. After 2016, progressive candidates complained that superdelegates had too much power during the initial stages of caucuses and primaries in choosing the party’s representative. As a result, changes were made and superdelegates are no longer eligible to vote in the first ballot.

After the first ballot, however, the shackles are removed and superdelegates (a group of basically comprised of party officials not particularly friendly towards Bernie Sanders and his supporters) can vote. Superdelegates would comprise about 15% of voters on the second ballot, more than enough to throw the nomination to another candidate. Media reports indicate that some candidates have already begun courting superdelegates in case of a second ballot.

Unfortunately for the Democrats, this way danger lies.

Do not believe for a second that if Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders goes into the convention with the most delegates and then is denied the nomination, that his supporters will go quietly into that good night. They will not. The Democratic Party will splinter like an old piece of wood.

In the run-up to the 2016 election, my wife and I canvassed for Hillary Clinton in our neighborhood. We were not overly fond of Clinton but she was the Democratic nominee, so we supported her. At one home we stopped and spoke to a man playing catch with his son. He called himself a Democrat but said he would not support Clinton. He was a Sanders man. In a bit of bizarre logic, he said rather than vote for Clinton he planned to vote for Trump.

It’s not hard to see this scenario repeated among other Bernie supporters in 2020. The only hope the Democrats have is that some other candidate – a Biden or a Warren perhaps – will have enough delegates support prior to the convention that it is a legitimate question about who should win the nomination.

If it’s Bernie, the Democrats should just give it to him and live with it. The truth is that most moderates will support Bernie because that’s the way they are and getting rid of Trump is their number one priority. Most Bernie supporters will not support the Democratic nominee if they feel that he has been robbed of the nomination. Like the man above, they may just vote for Trump.

A Mind-Numbing Presidency

They almost got me. Almost. To be honest, they did kind of get me for about a year. But I think I’m back.
No, I wasn’t kidnapped, or held hostage… in a manner of speaking. I was a victim of the most mind-numbing presidency in the history of this country.

I’ve been writing columns for about 40 years for newspapers in Canada and the United States, for broadcast on radio, for magazines, for my own blog, or for other people’ s blogs. I prided myself on the fact that I had something relevant to say.

Well, if truth be told, something relevant most of the time.

The Trump presidency, however, has left me reeling. When I decided to write this blog, My Two Countries, I wanted to use it as a vehicle to comment on issues of importance in the two countries in which I hold citizenship, Canada and United States.

Writing about Canada was not so difficult but covering the US became a constant stream of articles about the terrible things that Donald Trump and the people around him were doing. After writing these articles for several months I reached the point where I felt I had hit a wall. Writing about the high crimes and misdemeanors of the current president, which take place on an almost daily basis, is draining. I can only imagine how tough it is for reporters like Maggie Haberman of the New York Times, or cable TV commentators like Rachel Maddow to name just two, to keep their material fresh and relevant.

In the past, when writing about or covering politicians (which I’ve done most of my lifetime) you would get two or three scandals a year during an administration and two or three important policy issues a year that you could focus on. In the meanwhile, other events would occur outside of the realm of politics that lent themselves to commentary.
But the Trump administration is like a constant fire hose of 24 x 7 lies, misinformation, scandal and questionable activities that literally leave your mouth agape. Every day. Sometimes three or four times a day. It was just too much. And so I stopped.

Which, I now realize, is exactly what Trump wants us to do. Just stop and let him do what he wants. To give the devil his due, Trump knows how to manipulate the media and public sentiment. It’s hard to stay angry or astonished or stunned all the time. Yet this is what Trump wants Americans who oppose his… well, I guess you would call it quasi-authoritarian rule… to feel like. Totally numb. That you can’t make a difference. That no matter what you say, it will just be overwhelmed by the next Trumpian outrage.

I don’t know what made me snap out of my stunned silence. It may have been something I read. It may have been the realization that four more years of this presidency could significantly damage this country I love and that we’re running out of time to do something about it. It could be, to paraphrase the great line from that classic movie Network, I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.

I’ve come to realize that even if you must point these things out every day it still needs to be done. Our silence is what Trump and his minions crave. Even if we sound repetitive, we still need to say it every day.

Donald Trump is truly a cancer at the heart of the presidency. He is a liar, a philanderer, a cheat, a grifter, a bully, a racist, an ignoramus, a know-nothing, a bigot, a misogynist, and a crook. (Did I miss anything?) And the more we say it the better.

Ilhan Omar Has a Point About AIPAC

It’s long past time that we moved towards the position that it’s okay to criticize the government of Israel. You can totally support the right of Israel to exist, as I do, and yet criticize a far-right government that’s used racism and has perhaps engaged in war crimes to maintain its position. Nor should we hesitate to criticize its leader, an individual unafraid to use racism to remain in power, nor it seems is he afraid to use allegedly corrupt actions to maintain that position either.

After all, we’re doing it in America about our leader right now.

It should not be something we dither about. Or worry about being called anti-Semitic by far-right individuals who want no criticism of the Israeli government. If this was any other country in the world, criticizing that government would not be seen as a hate crime.

Yes, we should also criticize the actions of corrupt and cruel organizations like Hamas, who has ruled the Gaza Strip with a relentless and brutal thirst for power of its own. Hamas hurts more than helps the Palestinian people. Its actions against the people of Israel also deserve to be condemned.

But it takes two to tango. And many the actions of the Netanyahu government and the Israeli Defense Forces are also relentless and cruel and if they are not war crimes they are very close to being so.

Nor should criticism of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) be off limits either. Which is why Democratic representative Ilhan Omar has a point. AIPAC is one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington along with the NRA and the energy lobby. To deny this is to stick your head in the sand and ignore reality. And it should be noted that Ilhan Omar is not the first person to make this point. The Mearsheimer and Walt report of 2007 presented a strong case of how individuals and organizations work very hard to push US policy in the direction of Israel.

But I would argue that one step farther. I don’t think AIPAC pushes American policy towards “Israel” in a broad sense. I believe they want to push US policy in the direction of a certain kind of Israel, basically one run by a far-right Israeli government. I don’t think AIPAC has much interest in a more liberal form of government in Israel, as it would undermine many of the views AIPAC has promoted or the years. One only has to read Thomas Friedman’s piece in the New York Times this week, critical of both Omar and AIPAC, that outlines many of the actions taken by AIPAC that sought to undermine an American administration that it saw as “unfavorable” toward a far-right Israeli government.

Representative Omar and I may have different reasons for criticizing AIPAC and the actions of the Israeli government and perhaps she needs to learn to hone her criticism so that she does not open herself up so easily to charges of anti-Semitism but I am glad she has moved us in a more open direction. Criticizing the government of Israel or an American lobby group that promotes a far-right agenda does not mean that you “hate Jews.” In fact, one of the most encouraging signs that things are changing was the number of American Jews who actually defended Omar’s right to criticize AIPAC and pointed out how the far-right tries to smear anyone who makes the kind of comments that she did.

The people of Israel deserve far better than the government they have now which has only served to isolate them from the world and undermine their image as one of the great democracies. Open and honest criticism of a far-right Israeli government and of an American lobby group that support it is a step in the right direction.

Conservatives and “Socialism”

Most Americans have probably never heard of Tommy Douglas. He was never prime minister of Canada, a big hockey star or a well-known entertainer. A few Americans might know him as the grandfather of American action-star Keifer Sutherland.

Yet in 2004, when the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) did a national show on who was the greatest Canadian of them all, Tommy Douglas won.

And he was a democratic socialist.

Born in Scotland, his family immigrated to Canada when he was six. When Douglas was a child, he injured his right knee and doctors thought they would have to amputate his leg. His family was poor and couldn’t pay the medical bills. It was only because a famous surgeon said he would treat Douglas for free if medical students could observe, was his injury treated successfully.

The experience changed him forever. Years later, Douglas said: “I felt that no boy should have to depend either for his leg or his life upon the ability of his parents to raise enough money to bring a first-class surgeon to his bedside.”

Eventually he became a Baptist minister but was horrified by what was happening to people during the depression. He became an activist and got into politics – as a democratic socialist.

In 1935, he was elected to parliament as a member of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) the forerunner of Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP). Eventually he switched to provincial politics and became the leader of the CCF in Saskatchewan. In 1944 he was elected premier and the head of the first democratic socialist government in North America.

He introduced a provincial bill of rights and was the first Canadian leader to call for a national bill of rights. (Which eventually happened in 1982 with the Charter of Right and Freedoms). He was the first politician in Canada to create a government-run utility that spread electricity into many rural areas of the province. And his party, which was re-elected five times, introduced the first program to offer free health care to all citizens of the province.

In 1961 he stepped down as premier and became the first leader of the newly formed NDP. Although never elected prime minister, he party held the balance of power during the terms of Lester Pearson who took many of Douglas’s ideas, like universal health care, and made them available to all Canadians.

For his many efforts to improve the life of all Canadians, Douglas was constantly dubbed a “communist’” or worse by the country’s conservative politicians and media pundits. It all became a joke to Douglas. There is a wonderful documentary showing Douglas debating a conservative, who is standing at the microphone using all the worse scare words he could think of to describe Douglas, while Douglas sits quietly sitting in the background, with a delightful smile on his face, looking over his notes, preparing to demolish this pompous idiot who had no idea of what he was talking about.

And speaking of pompous idiots with no idea of what they are talking about, that brings me to CPAC, the conservative gathering of Trumplodytes that happened this past weekend in DC. “Socialism” is their new bug-a-boo word designed to scare Americans into supporting their repressive, anti-democratic agenda.

Speaker after speaker ranted about “socialists” like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others who they say want to turn American into a Venzuela-like nightmare. They used almost the same words that the enemies of Tommy Douglas used back in the 30s and 40s to denounce him. That’s the thing about conservatives. Their lack of imagination means their vocabulary rarely differs from country to country, from era to era.

Here’s the thing about democratic socialism. The key word is democratic. Countries like Sweden or Norway use a combination of the best ideas of socialism (free health care, free or very cheap education, etc.) and strong market economies. The result is that they regularly record the highest standards of living in the world. The same for Canada, which led the OCED index of growth for many years.

And let’s not forget Germany, France, Denmark, Great Britain, Japan, Australia, Spain, Finland, Ireland, Belgium, New Zealand, Austria, Switzerland or the Netherlands – all countries that have achieved a balance of democratic socialism and capitalism.

Democratic socialism argues that there is an important place for the role of government along with private industry. I find it amusing that so many Americans conservatives denounce the horrors of democratic socialist programs, when so many count on two of them – medicare and social security.

Unbridled capitalism is a lovely system for the top 1%. The gap between rich and poor in this country continues to grow larger and larger. If people are afraid of a Venezuela happening here, that will be the cause not democratic socialism.

The far-right twist words and ideas beyond all recognition and try to shove them down people’s throats to scare them. (For instance, the other day a Republican state representative in Arizona compared mandatory vaccination for measles to “communism.”)

The day when democratic socialism and capitalism work side by side in America is not far away. And America will be a much better country for all its citizens as a result.

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.