August 21, 2021
Remember the Ford Pinto?
If you’re wondering why I’m talking about the Ford Pinto, it’s because we’re seeing that same behavior in today’s Republican Party. It’s all about costs and benefits.
Ford discovered a potential problem with the gas tank of the Pinto in 1968, two years before the Pinto was put on the market. The problem was that the gas tank exploded when the car was hit from the rear. Ford conducted its own cost-benefit analysis and found it would cost $11 per car to make their cars less likely to explode in a fireball. It was only $11 per car; $121 million to fix the entire fleet before it went to the car dealerships.
Ford also looked at their potential liability from the faulty gas tanks. Based on car crash data and other factors, Ford engineers and accountants estimated that 2100 Pintos would burn up when the gas tank exploded on impact, causing 180 burn deaths and about that same number of burn injuries. Ford analysts assumed they would face out of court settlements of about $200,000 per burn death; $67,000 for each serious burn injury; and about $700 for each vehicle that burned up, for a total of $49.5 million in likely liabilities.
In the end, it was a purely business decision. Fixing the Pinto would have cost $121 million. Large court settlements against corporations were unheard of in the late 1960s. Paying off burn victims and grieving survivors whose loved ones had been incinerated would only cost an estimated $50 million.
It was cheaper to let people burn.
Had Ford known that a jury was going to award $125 million in punitive damages in a single case, they probably would have chosen to spend the $11. The judge eventually reduced the punitive damages to $3.5 million, but Ford’s total cost for this single landmark settlement was $6.5 million, much more than their $200,000 per case estimate. There were so many out of court settlements that it is impossible to know exactly how much Ford paid in all.
Republican politicians seem to have done a similar analysis with COVID. They know that rejecting mask mandates and telling people not to be vaccinated will cost lives, but it may have a huge political payoff in the future. Politicians like Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbot of Texas have done the math and concluded that they will get more votes by defying science than by saving lives. Lauren Boebert must have counted on her fingers, asked someone what the answer was, and reached that same conclusion. Boebert has already used her anti-health message to raise donations for her reelection campaign.
Some people will die, including school children, but the anti-government, anti-science Republican base will be even more motivated to vote for Republican candidates. For them, the deaths of several thousand men, women, and children is worth it if it means they get to “own the libs.” And just in case it doesn’t, anti-democracy Republican legislatures are busy codifying voter suppression into law.
Republican leaders decided power was more important than people when they turned masks into a political symbol. The reiterated their belief that votes were more important than children when they refused to allow local school boards to decide what was best for their students and have mask mandates. The pro-business Republican Party concluded that they could gain more from letting businesses die than they could by allowing businesses to decide whether to require masks. Republicans leaders continue to get in the way of keeping Americans out of hospitals and morgues.
We could have been through with this by now. The reason we cannot return to normal is that not enough people have been vaccinated and not enough people are wearing masks, not because of medical reasons, but by choice. In a very real sense, this is the hill they have chosen to die on.
You can thank Republican leadership for that.
Where Do We Go From Here?
November 6, 2020
Regardless of who is President, and at this point that looks like Biden, there are some hard truths that we must face.
Half of the country hates Democratic policies or the Democratic Party so much that they are willing to reelect a known liar and authoritarian and the political party that supports him. It might be more accurate to say they hate what they perceive to be Democratic policies, since most of them could not accurately describe Democratic or Progressive positions because of the aforementioned lies from the GOP and its allies. But perception is reality in politics, and just under half of America has reaffirmed that it believes in what Donald Trump stands for.
Half the country is OK with the use of potentially deadly force on peaceful protesters. Half of us have no problem with separating families and putting children in cages. Half of us think it's OK for a President to encourage and to enrage white nationalism in the name of accomplishing a political objective. Either that, or they hate Democratic policies so much that they are willing to sacrifice those lives and their values if it means defeating Democrats.
Half of us are either OK with racism, systemic and individual, or that half has decided that racism is an acceptable price for political power. Same with misogyny. Same with xenophobia, homophobia, and just general hate.
As a nation, half of us - if not more - think the continued consolidation of wealth into the hands of a select few is good, even if it means other people go without homes, food, healthcare, or education.
Half of us are OK with almost a quarter of a million deaths - so far - from a virus that could have been contained by a competent government and basic consideration for the health of others. We are not only uneducated about science, half of us are actually anti-science, preferring lies, wishful thinking, superstition, and delusions.
Instead of being informed by facts and faith, half of us only want science that tells us we're right and a religion that justifies our hatred and excuses our moral failures.
We can remove Trump. Mitch McConnell will eventually either leave office or die or whatever it is that his species does, but he will not reign forever. Democrats may even win the White House for generations after this.
How do we win over the 48% of Americans who voted for Trump?
June 27, 2020
If you don't understand why the Confederate statues must come down, then imagine a statue of The Killing of George Floyd.
Picture a ten-foot statue of that iconic image. George Floyd’s face on the ground, the police officer’s knee on his neck, the officer's hand casually resting in his pocket. Imagine that graven image, cast in bronze and copper, sitting on a pedestal in some city center park, surrounded by elegant marble and granite walkways that look and feel nothing like the hot gritty asphalt upon which Floyd cried out for his mother as he died. There could be benches where you could sit and study the expression on the officer’s face. The smirk. The slightly arched eyebrows. The conquering hero victorious.
It’s a memorial to America’s Second Civil War, because that’s what this is.
Imagine someone defending The Killing of George Floyd– defending the statue, not the murder – because, you know, it’s not hate, it’s heritage. It’s our history.
Any state or country that would commission such a statue would probably want more than one. There are plenty of poses from which to choose. Eric Garner, with Eric’s hands in the air as one officer has him in a choke hold and another is clutching Eric’s right arm, like in the picture in the New York Daily News. There is no iconic image of the Death of Michael Brown, but there is a photograph of an officer standing over his dead body, the officer’s right hand resting on his holstered weapon. Imagine that inspiring image in front of some government building or university campus.
If you don't like those, there are others. Maybe a child-size statue of Tamir Rice and the cop who shot him. The sculptor would need to make the 12-year-old appear more threatening if he wants to make the cop look heroic.
But it’s not hate. It’s history. Do your research.
The most interesting part of this thought experiment is that those statues could be put in public place regardless of the outcome of America’s Second Civil War. If the Trump Cult wins, they will want memorials to the people who kept Blacks in their place. The Defenders of the Faith, if your faith happens to be White Supremacy.
But even if we, as a country, collectively decide that Black Lives Matter, even if Congress actually does something about judicial reform – not just police reform, but serious reform of the entire judicial system – there is nothing to prevent some outlier Red State or states from building memorials to White Supremacy’s Last Stand.
I mean, just imagine how the grandchildren or great-great-great grandchildren of those police officers would feel if the majority of Americans decided they could not have a public, tax-payer funded memorial to their murdering ancestors?
How would the statue of The Killing of George Floyd – a statue that honors the police officer, not the dying man – be any different from of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, or Confederate President Jefferson Davis, or any other man who fought for the right of one person to own and beat and rape and murder another? The only difference is that The Killing of George Floyd depicts an active scene while statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson or any other slave-owning Confederate soldier depict their subject on horseback or in some noble pose.
The first Civil War ended 165 years ago. That is not an ancient as it may seem. There are 82-year-old Americans who are the grandchildren of a former slave who became a grandparent at age 82. There are 55-year-old men and women who are the great grandchildren of former slaves who became grandparents in their fifties.
My great grandfather – my grandfather’s dad – died when I was young. I barely remember him. But I do remember him, and I have a picture of me sitting on his lap. If I was Black, that man could have been a former slave.
Where, exactly, would you like us to build the statue of the man who raped your great grandmother? Where should we put the memorial to the man who used an ax to chop off your great grandfather’s foot so he wouldn’t run away? Who beat him?
Where should we put the monument to the man who murdered them all?
Where should we put The Killing of George Floyd?
THE ASYMPTOMATIC CARRIERS OF RACISM
June 9, 2020
My White Liberal friends turn an even whiter shade of pale – thank you, Procol Harum – at the suggestion that they could be asymptomatic carriers of the racism virus. But they are. We are.
Or at least I think I am asymptomatic. I am smart enough to know that I may not be as symptom-free as I think.
This is not YANGA – Yet Another Naval Gazing Apology – to appease white guilt. We have a problem. You cannot solve a problem until you identify it. Let’s call it what it is: asymptomatic racism.
Racism in the United States is a feature, not a bug. It is baked into the original design and codified in the original text of the Constitution. It is part of our cultural genetics. It is a skeuomorph, like the QWERTY keyboard, or that clicking sound that your phone makes when you take a picture, or the rivets on a pair of Levi’s; a design feature that was an inherent part of the original item but now exists only because it is familiar and expected to be there. And because it is familiar and expected, it goes unnoticed.
It becomes asymptomatic.
You are still a carrier. You can transmit the racist virus to others, even if you don’t realize you’re infected. You are just less obvious, less overt. More nuanced, but no less contagious. But you are still on the spectrum. It's just part of the continuum of human behavior.
It’s like alcoholism or addiction, really. Both of my grandfathers were alcoholics. Alcoholism is a genetic disease. Therefore, I made the decision early in my life, after the cultural ritual of excessive drinking required of music majors, that I would not drink. For me, the benefits of drinking did not outweigh the risks. Later, as a father, I explained to my son that this predisposition was not his fault, but it was his problem. I left it up to him to decide what he would do with that information. I hope he continues to choose wisely.
That is how racism is for White people in America. It may not be your fault, but it is your problem. It is up to you to decide what to do with that information.
We cannot solve the obvious signs of racism until we admit to our own subtle, inadvertent, subconscious racist behaviors. Asymptomatic racism occurs when White people try to tell Black people how they should organize or how Black groups should protest. It occurs when White people make racism about them instead of recognizing that this is not about them at all, except to the extent that we perpetuate the problem. There is functionally very little difference between a White organizer offering unsolicited advice to Black people on how to elect a candidate and an overt racist who says that Black people don’t have the same intelligence as Whites.
Just as I had to face the genetic facts of alcoholism, I also had to recognize that I could be an asymptomatic carrier of the racism virus. And, if I am completely honest, I am not always that asymptomatic. Nothing overt – asymptomatic contagions are by definition hard to identify – but in little things, like equating cultural differences to intelligence when in reality they are simply cultural differences. Like being more patient with some people than I am with others. I work on that constantly, especially with people with whom I have no direct personal relationship.
I work on not being racist the same way that I wish my grandfathers had worked on the alcoholism that eventually killed them.
For someone who is not into recreational chemicals, I have a lot of friends who are addicts and are in various stages of their struggle with their disease. That’s probably from my experience with my grandfathers. The most important thing I have learned from my friends who are addicts is that you stay healthy one day at a time. “I will not drink today” is a common phrase. Sometimes, when it is really hard, it’s “I will not drink right now.”
That is exactly how it is for me. “I will not be a racist TODAY.”
“I will not be a racist RIGHT NOW” means that I will not think that I know better about how to solve a problem because I am White. It means that I will not presume to understand what it is like to be a Black man, young or old, or a Black woman, or any other race other than my own. I can tell you what it’s like to be a straight White boy growing up in the South. Beyond that, I am glad to listen, but I probably have a different life experience.
Not being a racist means I will listen more than I talk. That I will hear what is being said, even when the language is not words but is something stronger. Like a protest.
Not being a racist is not about denying or ignoring differences. It’s about recognizing differences and accepting the fact that differences are OK. It's about admitting to and dealing with America's Original Sin on a personal level. It's easy to blame things on systemic racism, or social norms, or implicit bias, but those are academic terms. This is personal. This is me.
It's about making sure that this particular genetic disease is not passed along to the next generation.
October 4, 2018
Heroes are people who achieve what we wish we could accomplish, if only we had the courage, abilities, resources, or toughness to do the same.
What does it say when you say Trump is your hero?
It means you wish you had the courage to laugh at women who survive sexual assault and an attempted rape. It means that when a woman says that the thing that haunts her most about her assault is her assailant's laughter, you make sure that people laugh at her.
It means that you wish you had the ability to insult POWs, to negate their service, to claim that veterans with PTSD just "aren't tough enough" to take it. It means you insult veterans who died in the service of a cause greater than themselves. It means ridiculing and insulting families who made real sacrifices, something you cannot possibly understand.
If Trump is your hero, it means that you wish you had the resources to cheat the very country that made your wealth possible out of hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes that could be invested in defense, education, infrastructure, you name it. You had the courage to stand up against anything that might contribute to the common good.
It means being very tough on people who have absolutely no power whatsoever - the children of immigrants, parents who have given all they have to make a better life for their families, people who actually had to make it on their own because their daddy couldn't cover for their mistakes.
It means embracing a moral code that celebrates rape, mental abuse, physical torture, unjust imprisonment, lying, and the absolute abuse of power. It means withholding food, medicine, and shelter from people who work hard but have nothing. It means giving even more to those who already have more than they deserve and making sure someone else pays for it.
Trump is no hero. He's not even a man.
July 23, 2018
An actual Facebook chat conversation with a friend who still supports Trump:
Me: In the end, you're going to have stand in front of Jesus and explain why you supported Trump. Good luck with that.
Her: I don't think I will have to explain. He already knows my heart.
Before I continue, you should know that I am a recovering Evangelical. It's been 17 years since I told someone they were going to Hell. I've worked hard at my recovery, and saying "you're going to have to stand in front of Jesus..." felt dangerously close to a relapse.
Maybe you're right. Maybe you won't have to explain anything to Jesus.
But could you please explain it to the rest of us?
Explain why poor people deserve to go to bed hungry and to die when they get sick. Explain why you go to such great lengths to protect an unborn child but do nothing to protect children from poverty and disease once they are here.
Explain how being a racist is making America great again. Is America great when we're hating LGBTQ people? Is it even better when you call the police and they shoot a black man for no reason other than he is black?
You don't have to be Jesus to know what's in the heart of someone who thinks it's OK to arrest desperate people who are fleeing for their lives, separate them from their kids, and then send them back to the same war zone that forced them to leave in the first place.
I'll spare you the story of my Road To Damascus moment that ultimately turned me away from my evangelical addiction. Suffice it to say that like all addicts, I had to hit rock bottom before I could begin my recovery. "Rock bottom" looks very different for someone addicted to an Evangelical, fundamentalist religion than it does for an alcoholic or a meth user, but the underlying problem is still the same. It's all about dealing with feelings of inadequacy and trying to kill some underlying pain. Recovery begins when you realize that the pain of the behavior will be greater than the pain of ending the addiction.
The Cult of Trump is the logical extension of this same addiction. He's already managed to get Evangelicals to accept rampant adultery, sexual assault, and pathological lying. Every religion needs a martyr, and Trump is more than happy to play the victim when anyone tries to hold him accountable. The only thing left is for him to replace the Europeanized face of Jesus with his own.
Yes, Jesus already knows what's in your heart.
So do the rest of us.