The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

See Ya

The OnCenter Blog began in November, 2006. Now, after 2,775 blog posts covering the politics of four presidents and their parties, the Congress, the media, academia, the government bureacracy, the domestic andf international scenes, and peppered with other topics of interest, it's time to take a hiatus. 

Thanks for spending the time to visit.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Pseudo-Realities

Many Democrats and virtually all of the hard-left seem unsatisfied that Trump is now gone and no longer able to effect national policy. They have now refocused on the 74-plus million people who voted for Trump, the members of his administration, and the alternative media outlets and carriers who still have the temerity to deliver views that oppose the progressive narrative. Some within the media and far too many within the progressive intelligencia (i.e., writers, professors, commentators) have called for some form of "re-education" for those who voted for Donald Trump. This call, combined with its complement, cancel culture, comes perilously close to the mindset that pervades totalitarian regimes like Cuba, North Korea, or Venezuela.

In a long, but worthwhile essay, James Lindsey comments on the "psychopathy and origins of totalitarianism." Over the years I have alluded to the Left's reliance on fantasy beliefs, what Lindsey in his essay calls "pseudo-realities." He defines the term this way:

“Pseudo-realities are, simply put, false constructions of reality. It is hopefully obvious that among the features of pseudo-realities is that they must present a plausible but deliberately wrong understanding of reality. They are cult ‘realities’ in the sense that they are the way that members of cults experience and interpret the world—both social and material—around them. We should immediately recognize that these deliberately incorrect interpretations of reality serve two related functions. First, they are meant to mold the world to accommodate small proportions of people who suffer pathological limitations on their abilities to cope with reality as it is. Second, they are designed to replace all other analyses and motivations with power, which these essentially or functionally psychopathic individuals will contort and deform to their permanent advantage so long as their pseudo-real regime can last.”

Like all things, pseudo-realities have a small element of truth to them. For example, the COVID-19 virus is dangerous (statistically) to a small segment of the population (the very old) and should be aggressively managed to protect that segment. But over the past year, a progressive media (driven by a number of different motivational factors) and progressives themselves have both insisted that COVID-19 justifies near-totalitarian government control that affects the lives and livelihoods of tens of millions. Their position is driven by a COVID-19 pseudo-reality that insists (despite clear scientific evidence to the contrary) that everyone is at risk of death (they are not), that children are in significant danger (they are not), that lockdowns stop the spread of the virus (they do not), and that somehow those who offer alternative strategies are "uncaring." 

Lindsey continues:

Pseudo-realities are always social fictions, which, in light of the above, means political fictions. That is, they are maintained not because they are true, in the sense that they correspond to reality, either material or human, but because a sufficient quantity of people in the society they attack either believe them or refuse to challenge them. This implies that pseudo-realities are linguistic phenomena above all else, and where power-granting linguistic distortions are present, it is likely that they are there to create and prop up some pseudo-reality. This also means that they require power, coercion, manipulation, and eventually force to keep them in place. Thus, they are the natural playground of psychopaths, and they are enabled by cowards and rationalizers. Most importantly, pseudo-realities do not attempt to describe reality as it is but rather as it “should be,” as determined by the relatively small fraction of the population who cannot bear living in reality unless it is bent to enable their own psychopathologies, which will be projected upon their enemies, which means all normal people.

All of this becomes particularly dangerous when those who believe the pseudo-realities gain positions of power that influence policy. A belief in pseudo-realities is a key catalyst for the normalization of hysteria. For example, if you reject virtually all scientific evidence and believe that everyone is in danger of death should they contract COVID-19, it would seem reasonable that trampling individual freedoms, arbitrarily closing businesses, and unilaterally locking down cities would make sense. Your belief in that pseudo-reality would also put a moral patina on your actions—e.g., wearing a mask is a sign of both compliance with the pseudo-reality (that masks are somehow necessary outdoors and an indication of virtue.

The problem for those who believe in pseudo-realities is that large numbers of people do not. Again, Lindsey comments:

Normal people do not accept pseudo-reality and interpret reality more or less accurately, granting the usual biases and limitations of human perspective. Their common heuristic is called common sense, though much more refined forms exist in the uncorrupted sciences. In reality, both of these are handmaidens of power, but in pseudo-realities, this is inverted. In pseudo-reality, common sense is denigrated as bias or some kind of false consciousness, and science is replaced by a scientism that is a tool of power itself. 

And when "normal" people question the policies that are derived from belief in pseudo-realities, they are viciously attacked and when possible, cancelled. The reason for these attacks is that pseudo-realities have trouble standing up to serious examination, and those who espouse them have significant difficulty in refuting substantive criticism of them. So rather than trying, true believers rely on ad hominem attacks.

Lindsay asserts (and I agree) that:

... pseudo-reality demoralizes all who are pressed into engaging with it by the mere fact of being something false that must be treated as true. We should never underestimate how psychologically weakening and damaging it is to be forced to treat as true something that is not true, with the effect strengthening the more obviously false it is.

Possibly, the greatest strength of pseudo-reality is that it has amazing persistence. It is exhausting to experience the cognitive dissonance of listening to others accept pseudo-reality without question or critique. They are true believers, but the core problem for all of us is that what they believe just isn't true.

UPDATE (1-26-2021):

As a consequence of the January 6th debacle at the Capitol, the four constituencies (Dems, media, establishment GOP and deep state) have dictated that no further discussion of the anomalous results of the November election occur and (this is important) that no further actions be taken to reform our election process to make it more secure and trustworthy. They have created one pseudo-reality that suggests that the November, 2020 election was the most secure in our history, that no "widespread" irregularities resulted, and that any claim to the contrary is akin to "sedition" or at the very least, a crazy conspiracy theory.

To bolster this first pseudo-reality, they have used a second, cultivated over four years— that Donald Trump is a racist, a fascist, a Nazi-sympathizer, a white supremacist, etc. Because Trump is coarse, bombastic, aggressive, narcissistic, and rarely thinks of the consequences of his words (which are often poorly chosen), he has made it easy for the second pseudo-reality to take hold. His stupid and thoughtless actions on January 6th were just another nail in the coffin.

With these pseudo-realities as a backdrop, Dennis Prager summarizes the anomalies that did actually occur during this past election, and then writes:

So, then, here is the question: Why would anyone who sincerely believed Trump is a white-supremacist fascist dictator not cheat if he or she could prevent such a person from becoming or remaining president of the United States?

Let me sharpen this question: Isn't someone who could prevent a fascist, white-supremacist, Nazi-defending dictator morally obligated to cheat if he or she could prevent such a person from becoming president?

I certainly would. If I were in a position to cheat in order to prevent a fascist from becoming president, why would I not cheat? 

... I have never said Biden did not win the election. And even if there was considerable fraud, that doesn't mean the election result would have been different.

But there are consequences to beliefs. Unless Democrats knew they were lying for four years when they labelled Trump a fascist, racist, Nazi, dictator, etc., were they not duty-bound to cheat on Biden's behalf? So, then, when you have circumstantial evidence (not proof), combined with opportunity, desire, motive and, most important, no moral argument against cheating and a strong moral argument for cheating, it isn't a "lie," and it isn't a crackpot conspiracy theory, to wonder about the integrity of America's 2020 presidential election.

Prager asks an uncomfortable question. Belief in pseudo-reality does have consequences.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Doing Nothing

Throughout the race for the presidency, the Democrats (and their trained hamsters in the media) were effective in developing a political strategy that 'weaponized' COVID-19. It became a dominant campaign issue, with Joe Biden suggesting that he had "a plan" that was somehow superior to the one that had been executed by the then current administration. His claim worked, and Biden ascended to the presidency.

Now we see this rather interesting meme:


But no worries, Joe now promises that there will be 100 million vaccinations in 100 days.

That promise, achievable with good logistics and rapid production of vaccine, is, I suspect, about as good as Biden's empty promises of "a plan" during the campaign.

It's interesting that CA—the Democrats' poster child for blue governance and reference model for its neo-socialist utopia—ranks dead last in the percentage of available vaccine doses that have been administered. But maybe the draconian lockdowns in parts of CA along with school and business closures have reduced the number of COVID-19 deaths to negligible levels. Nope, the catastrophist strategy adopted in most blue states and exemplified by CA has done little to nothing to stop the spread.  

Then again, Joe Biden, after saying he has a plan to "get this virus under control" now admits that "There is nothing we can do ..." Given the Dems' rather pathetic vaccination record in most blue states, along with the economic wreckage they have caused by scientifically unsupported lockdowns, Joe's "doing nothing" might be the best thing for all of us.

Friday, January 22, 2021

"War on Terror"

Forget the 'journohacks' who populate the news and commentary desks in media outlets like the NYT, WaPo, LAT, NPR, Vox, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and the alphabet networks. Liberal author and commentator Glen Greenwald, a man who they have tried to cancel, makes them all look like the biased, dishonest, and incompetent hacks that they are. Although I don't agree with Greenwald on some issues, his commentary is always insightful, unfailingly unbiased, and undeniably accurate. That's why the journohacks hate him and won't give him a legacy media platform.

The reports of armed, right-wing violence on Inauguration Day did not pan out. [1] The media, typically incurious about such things, refused to ask why, or even spend much time noting a peaceful transition on January 20th with few protests and no riots. By they gladly pushed a narrative that set the stage what they hyperbolically called a "war on terror," suggesting the despicable neo-Nazis and KKK groups were ready to invade every city and state (think: the breathless claim that 50 state capitols were under threat). Oddly, the left-wing groups that actually did invade cities and states and literally burned things down were never mentioned as part of the Democrats' new "war." Greenwald writes:

The last two weeks have ushered in a wave of new domestic police powers and rhetoric in the name of fighting “terrorism” that are carbon copies of many of the worst excesses of the first War on Terror that began nearly twenty years ago. This trend shows no sign of receding as we move farther from the January 6 Capitol riot. The opposite is true: it is intensifying.

We have witnessed an orgy of censorship from Silicon Valley monopolies with calls for far more aggressive speech policing, a visibly militarized Washington, D.C. featuring a non-ironically named “Green Zone,” vows from the incoming president and his key allies for a new anti-domestic terrorism bill, and frequent accusations of “sedition,” “treason,” and “terrorism” against members of Congress and citizens. This is all driven by a radical expansion of the meaning of “incitement to violence.” It is accompanied by viral-on-social-media pleas that one work with the FBI to turn in one’s fellow citizens (See Something, Say Something!) and demands for a new system of domestic surveillance.

Underlying all of this are immediate insinuations that anyone questioning any of this must, by virtue of these doubts, harbor sympathy for the Terrorists and their neo-Nazi, white supremacist ideology ...

As usual, Greenwald doesn't pull his punches. If the January 6th Capitol riots—an awful event that lasted less than 8 hours—become the catalyst for a government-sanctioned "war" that lumps all opposing thought into the same pile as repugnant extremist activity, we're looking at a "threat to democracy" that is far greater than even the most repugnant right-wing neo-nazi group or the most violent left-wing "anti-fascist" rioters. Violent extremists on both the right and the left represent a tiny percentage of the body politic. They should not be used as an excuse to suppress thought that questions the preferred narrative. That appears to be what is happening at the moment.

FOOTNOTE:

[1] All true, but there is this. Leftist extremists did riot against Biden, but of course, the majority of the media looked the other way.

UPDATE:

Glenn Reynolds can't resist a little snarkyness when he writes:

Nothing says, “This was a perfectly normal election, and now it’s time to come together as a united nation,” like having your swearing-in behind 12-foot-high razor wire surrounded by 25,000 troops whose loyalty you doubt. That’s what we witnessed at President Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday: a grim testament to the fundamental insecurity and fragility of the re-ascendant liberal elite.

Democrats no doubt hoped that the optics of this military-heavy presidential installation would convince ordinary Americans that the republic is in peril from the populist ferment that sent Donald Trump to the White House in 2016 and garnered more votes four years later than any GOP ticket, ever. It’s a peril that can only be addressed by, in James Comey’s lovely phrase, “burning down” the Republican Party. 

But the whole aura was less Lincoln and more bananas. As in banana republic. 

In banana republics, it's common for an incoming political party to prosecute and even imprison the outgoing leader. Heh, that's exactly what the Dems are doing and suggesting.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Chatter

Joe Biden was sworn in as President yesterday. I wish him and his administration only the best and hope that they take a different and more moderate path they promised, ignoring the leftists within the new Democratic party who want the country to become a socialist utopia.

Biden has a number of inherent advantages going in. The media, giddy as tweens at a boy band concert, are already cheerleading his every move. They will temper criticism (unless it's that his administration isn't woke enough) and protect him from any intimation of scandal. In addition, most of the heavy lifting with regard to COVID-19 has already been done, as had the difficult part of trade negotiations. The economy was remarkably strong before the virus, and although badly shaken, will recover if it isn't "fixed" by Biden. Finally, foreign policy is in a good place. All the Biden administration has to do is NOT screw it all up. We'll see if that happens.

Now, about Inauguration Day itself ... 

In the days following the January 6th debacle at the Capitol, a leaked FBI report warned that armed protests in all fifty state capitols and DC were likely based on unspecified chatter and intelligence sources. Yesterday, reporting from news sources indicates that none of that happened. In fact, these were representative headlines as on the evening on January 20th:

"Few protests, sparse crowds in DC on Inauguration Day; state capitols stay quiet" (USA Today 

"No Large Protests In D.C. As President Biden Is Inaugurated" (NPR) 

"The pro-Trump inauguration protests at state capitols were complete duds" (Vox) 

"Police outnumber protesters as law enforcement continues to guard NC Capitol on inauguration day" (CBS17 News) 

"Inauguration Day protests remain small, peaceful in California despite fears of violence" (LA Times)

"State capitols braced for violent, pro-Trump protests on Inauguration Day, but barely anyone showed up" (Insider)  

" ‘We Have One Demonstrator’: Braced For Chaos, States Report Sparse Inauguration Day Protests" (Forbes)

I'm pleased that there were few, if any, protests, that violence did not occur, and that the predictions of the FBI, the mainstream media, and the breathless warnings of both Democrat and a few GOP politicians did not come to pass. Luckily, the violent protests that occurred during the last presidential Inauguration did not occur this time around.

One plausible explanation is that the heavy police and national guard presence dissuaded people from protesting or rioting. And maybe that's all there was to it.

But it's still reasonable to ask why absolutely nothing happened when it was claimed that "chatter and intelligence" indicated that it would. Was the threat overblown? Was the leak of the FBI report an attempt to reinforce the narrative that the capitol riots were, in fact, a full blown insurrection or coup attempt? Was the massive deployment of national guard troops and police solid security policy, or was it in some part political theater? And why didn't the media investigate the provenance of the FBI report instead of simply reporting it as near certainty? 

If the four constituencies (media, Dems, establishment GOP and deep state operatives) had not tried for four years to manipulate public opinion using leaks and fake news, the questions posed above would not have to be asked. But that's not the world we live in.

I suppose one thing that can be said is that the predictions of violent protests were incorrect—and that's a good thing. 

UPDATE-1:

There is a somewhat darker view of the events in Washington, titularly precipitated by the Capitol riots. Roger Simon comments:

... what I caught glimpses of more than anything else was a massive display of guard troops, not quite what you would see marching through Pyongyang to commemorate Dear Leader’s birthday, but enough to make you wonder what kind of state you were in, democratic or autocratic.

The putative excuse was to avoid violence and a repetition of the occurrences of Jan. 6, but a hundred troops or so would have been more than sufficient to have blocked entry to the Capitol that day, had they been so empowered.

For the inauguration we had twenty to twenty-five thousand troops, an army of greater size than Lincoln employed to prevent the invasion of Washington during the Civil War ...

What was the purpose then of all this saber rattling on a day that was supposed to be a celebration of the peaceful transfer of power in a democratic republic other than an ominous show of force, a reminder to the unruly masses that “stability” had returned and you had better accept it?

The counter argument is that the massive show of force was necessary, because ... chatter. But in hindsight (there were few, if any protests and absolutely no rioting), it does all seem a bit much. And all of this initiated by a political party that roundly condemned the use of national guard troops to quell on-going, destructive and violent leftist rioting in cities across the United States this summer.

UPDATE-2:

Michael Yon is a respected author and war correspondent who has reported from places such as Iraq, Syria, Croatia, Afghanistan, Africa and others where violence is common. He reports from Washington, DC on Inauguration Day:

I am a war correspondent. Many years experience across the world. I am American.

Now, troops are everywhere. D.C. is locked down tighter than Beijing or Hong Kong. I got kicked out of Hong Kong last year, and greatly doubt China will let me back into Mainland, or back to Tibet without arrest.

D.C. and this mayor are like something from 1984. Which I decided to read again during pandemic 2020. Read it.

Hmmm. Just imagine the uproar if Trump had put 25,000 troops into Washington, DC during the summer riots of 2020. 

Oh, BTW, Yon has been censored on Twitter, and threatened with "violations" by Facebook. 

 

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Transition

Today, we make a transition from the chaos that swirled around Donald Trump and the GOP to an as yet unknown atmosphere that will envelope Joe Biden and the Democrats. But some things are certain.

The significant achievements of the Trump administration (and yes, there were significant economic, domestic and foreign policy achievements) will be relegated to a memory hole, soon to be forgotten or co-opted by the incoming Biden administration.

Hysterical claims (by the Democrats and the media) of ongoing "insurrection, sedition, and/or a coup" will fade quickly as relatively few protests of any magnitude have been evidenced at mid-afternoon on Inauguration Day. The nation's Capitol is quiet as are state capitols, making the hysterics look a little foolish, but still allowing their newfound "fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD)" strategy, honed during the months of the virus, to be used yet again to political advantage. 

The denizens of the "swamp" will breath a sigh of relief as business-as-usual returns. Government will grow and become even more intrusive. The authoritarian lessons learned during the COVID period will be translated to other things—more centralized control, more loss of personal freedoms, all enabled by normalizing hysteria.

The notion that opposing views are healthy will transition to ubiquitous cancel culture. Anyone who opposes the preferred Democrat narrative will be considered persona non grata and therefore dismissed from polite company. Self-censorship will inevitably result, as citizens fear for their livelihoods and their freedoms. Ominous calls for "re-education" for those who remain opposed to the preferred narrative will become louder.

The media will transition from aggressor to protector, but its primary purpose—propaganda intended to advance one and only one political narrative—will remain the same. It will ignore any news that will reflect badly on its chosen political party while trying to keep Trump front and center (even as a private citizen) so that the Democrats' political opponents can continue to be demonized.

Actions that made economic life better for the middle class and for minority populations will be replaced by words and then, more words. Those words will encourage broad classes of people to view themselves as victims and further suggest that they become increasingly dependent of government.

Trade policy will return to the status quo pre-Trump, re-instituting a playing field that disadvantages the United States but enriches those members of the swamp who are only too happy to work with our trade competitors. Foreign policy will again return to the feckless approach used during the Obama years.

Life will begin to return to normal, post-Covid, but it won't be the same "normal" that we encountered from 2017 to very early 2020. That normal encompassed significant employment opportunities and wage growth for those who hadn't seen any in a decade or more. Bidens promise of higher taxes, more regulation, and an anti-business stance will all ensure that.

The transition is now here. I just hope that its managers look back on their failures during the time of the virus (e.g., blue state lockdowns, school closures, business chaos) and remember that above all—do no harm.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Normalizing Hysteria

Throughout 2020, catastrophists ruled the day. Their hysterical 'we're all gonna die!!!' warnings about COVID-19 led to government mandated lockdowns, mandatory business closures, and the shuttering of schools. Cities became ghost towns, businesses closed never to reopen, citizens looked on other citizens with suspicion, travel stopped. The catastrophists insisted that those actions would "stop the spread" but that did NOT happen. A recent major study out of Stanford University assesses the efficacy of more restrictive non‐pharmaceutical interventions (mrNPIs) and least restrictive non‐pharmaceutical interventions (lrNPIs):

Implementing any NPIs was associated with significant reductions in case growth in 9 out of 10 study countries, including South Korea and Sweden that implemented only lrNPIs (Spain had a non‐significant effect). After subtracting the epidemic and lrNPI effects, we find no clear, significant beneficial effect of mrNPIs on case growth in any country. In France, e.g., the effect of mrNPIs was +7% (95CI ‐5%‐19%) when compared with Sweden, and +13% (‐12%‐38%) when compared with South Korea (positive means pro‐contagion). The 95% confidence intervals excluded 30% declines in all 16 comparisons and 15% declines in 11/16 comparisons.

Conclusions

While small benefits cannot be excluded, we do not find significant benefits on case growth of more restrictive NPIs. Similar reductions in case growth may be achievable with less restrictive interventions.

Yet for 11 long months, the Democrats and now their incoming president kept telling us that mrNPIs were not only necessary but backed by "science." They implemented draconian restrictions (mostly in blue states) that ruined lives and livelihoods and ironically, did NOT stop the spread of the virus. Even some lrNPIs (e.g., masks everywhere for every reason) have been proven to provide only "small benefits" (i.e., in the 2 - 3 percent range), yet are viewed as a powerful amulet that somehow wards off the virus. They've also become a mechanism for virtue signaling among the Left.

But something else happened. The catastrophist narrative normalized the hysterical reactions that drove near authoritarian rule by some state governors. And that resulted in the selective assessment of reality based on a preferred narrative, and worst of all, the death of common sense. So we closed schools when children are basically immune from serious illness due to the virus and transmit it at very low percentage levels; we shuttered cities and destroyed economies, even when early data indicated those actions would not work, and mostly Democrats demanded isolation, even as the health affects of that demand forced people into their homes where 70+ percent of case transmission has been found to occur.

And sadly, the normalization of catastrophist thinking has now seeped into other areas. The propagandists in the main stream media have learned that a catastrophist patina sells any narrative that they alone deem worthy, so they promote catastrophist thinking, regardless of the truth. Politicians have learned to use the catastrophist narrative as a bludgeon. Government officials have noted the same thing, learning that a catastrophist narrative can encourage citizens to accept an assault on their most fundamental rights—all to avoid a "catastrophe."

Let's spend a moment exploring that.

The events of January 6th were a travesty and should never happen again. Donald Trump has been justifiably disgraced because he set the stage for them. But characterizing those events in catastrophist language—an "insurrection," a "coup," "sedition"—gives those events the power to drive bad decisions, just as catastrophist language regarding COVID-19 drove really, really bad decisions that will haunt us for years. 

By the way, the COVID decisions led to actions that made things worse, not better. I suspect that political decisions associated with January 6th debacle at the Capitol may also lead to actions that make our politics worse (if that's even possible). At some level, I'm beginning to believe that is the intent.