It’s now pretty much settled wisdom that the novel coronavirus pandemic has exposed deep failures in the United States. Catastrophic political failures, obviously, especially at the very top. But, also failures on the part of regular people, like an unwillingness to imagine a catastrophe of this magnitude could “happen here,” to accept the results of science, and even to give a damn about millions of other Americans.
Which of these charges are really true, and which are not so clear cut? More importantly, why do we have these political/economic/cultural weaknesses and how did they go unnoticed by so many people for so long? Or, was just no one listening?
Allocating blame for this massive, partially preventable disaster is not a gotcha game, dammit. Assigning responsibility is the linchpin of democracy. As I have quote a million other people saying the last few months, major catastrophes lay bare a society’s worst flaws and vulnerabilities. Like Pearl Harbor did for military unreadiness, or 1960s urban riots exposed the pathology of concentrated urban poverty and racism, or 9/11 revealed counterintelligence failures.
Losing 250,000+ Americans to find out that the United States is not ready for some of the major challenges of the 21st century is a hard lesson. The only upside is if we are willing to be honest about our country’s flaws and its festering problems and why they have not been addressed. Ideology and archaic cultural attitudes must not blind us to what must change. (Nor, of course, should short-term panic force us to abandon what is best about our country.)
So, let’s discuss this delicate topic using evidence and reason. Some liberal accusations about root causes are true; some may not be, and the same may hold for conservative POVs. But, getting a vaccine is not the only thing that has to start soon if we are to prepare for a better America. So does doing some deep and profound thinking about why were so vulnerable to this pandemic – much more so than most other nations. Call this topic, if you will, American Exceptionalism: The Reckoning.
I will open on Monday as I typically do, by outlining the major criticisms of what led us to the problem to be discussed. The background readings sum them up and give more details and competing POVs.
OPTIONAL BACKGROUND READINGS –
- Three flaws have been exposed, said Time Magazine in May: Failures of U.S. political leadership; widespread public distrust of science, expertise, and the news media; and a perverse view of what “liberty” really means.
— Time can’t say it, but these all have become conservative, Republican Party principles in recent years. (But they weren’t always, IMO).
— Either/both Recommended.
- Exposed: Our health care system. Recommended
- Exposed: Flaws in our childcare economy.
- Exposed, progressive POV: The real American virus = Historic indifference to large swaths of humanity, especially citizens of color and the working poor.
- Exposed, libertarian POV: Libertarianism has warped beyond what it should stand for (Niskanen Center, a reformed Libertarian think tank). Recommended.
- Exposed, conservative POV: Too much arrogance and blind belief in American exceptionalism. American Conservative Magazine.
- Harvard Business Review (!) says pandemic shows we need to reimagine modern capitalism. Recommended.
- Other countries’ successes, via Ed:
NEXT WEEK (Dec. 7th): Will Trump and his enablers succeed in sabotaging his successor and destroying faith in U.S. democracy?
See the next post down for brief descriptions of each of the 12 propositions and, in RED, who has volunteered to give us a five minute or so intro on each. If no one is listed I guess I’ll do it.
**Or: f you want to get off of the wait list just volunteer to do an available one and you’re in. **
For format, let’s just go over the props in numerical order. In the past we have grouped them by subject area, but that was mainly because some of them were dueling props, one hoping to do the opposite of another one. With no mirror-image pairs this year and because people might get confused jumping around from prop to prop in a Zoom format, let’s just start with prop. 14 and end with prop. 25.
Below are some general links on the propositions consisting of (1) Basic info and (2) endorsements by the two major partis and a few other sources. Also, I added a few articles on some of the more controversial or important props. Do your own research, but here are the questions I will try to answer when I do my 2-3.
If you care, to me it seems the most important ones are props 15, 19, 20, 21, 22, and 25.
QUESTIONS FOR EACH PROPOSITION:
- Who is behind it and opposing it?
- Why did they put it on the ballot? Did they try and fail previously, or fail in the legislature? Who/what big powers are they trying to bypass?
- What would the proposition do? Is that in dispute? How is it intended to fix/repeal/change current law/policy?
- Major substantive pros and cons.
- Major stupid/deceptive pros and cons being used to sell/defeat it.
INFO SOURCES FOR THE 12 PROPS + ENDORSEMENTS –
- Ballotpedia Descriptions, who put in on the ballot and why, major endorsers and funders, and pros/cons. Ballot.FYI does same but it wasn’t up yet as of Oct. 1st (they lean conservative IMO).
- The official CA voter guide. Pdf. The one mailed to voters. Lots of info. For each prop (1) Summary and analysis + (2) Arguments and rebuttals.
- Liberal recommendations:
- CA Democratic Party.
- Conservative same:
- Orange County Register endorsements.
- CA Republican Party.
More on most important (IMO) ones –
- Prop 15:
- It would force big biz to pay their fair share for vital public services.
- It won’t fix the state’s worst property tax problem.
- Props 17, 20, 25:
- These three criminal justice props will test public’s stomach for further criminal justice/incarceration reform.
- Vote no on scaremongering, vote no on 20.
- Prop 21 rent control option:
- A similar prop failed in 2018. [Incorrect link on this point deleted.].
- Rent control in general is a bad idea leading to unintended consequences.
- Prop 22:
- Yes on prop 22 official site.
NEXT WEEK (Oct. 12): Will fearmongering win in November? What are the substantive agendas?
This one was Hobson’s idea. It’s a good one because, while COVID may delay some of the revolutionary technological changes that are coming and their impacts may play out in a less democratic and less powerful United States than anyone could have imagined five years ago, the changes will still get here. As with the steam engine, the cotton gin, internal combustion engines, and telephones, the transformation that will be set in motion by widespread adoption of fully autonomous vehicles could be profound.
These outcomes won’t just play out in the economy and jobs. Economic effects could be revolutionary, albeit at this point that’s a bit speculative. Autonomous vehicles have the potential to transform the our cities and where we live, our social relations, the environment for better or worse, the educational system, and more. We could end up with more social and economic equality. Or, as with earlier technological revolutions that occurred in a time of corporate concentration and low government involvement, the benefits could be captured by the few and the costs born by the many.
Hobson asks: How do we separate facts from fears? The basic timetable of when self-driving cars will become common and in which transportation industries is hard to gauge from reading general interest journalistic accounts. Luckily, we may have several people in attendance on Monday that know quite a bit about the industry and/or about artificial intelligence issues in general. Maybe they, and some of the articles below can help us to
- Clarify what the major obstacles are to widespread adoption of self-driving vehicles and how close they are to being solved;
- Intelligently speculate about which economic and social disruptions are most likely to occur, and roughly in what sequence; and
- Understand how to think about the broader benefits and costs of AI, robotics, other revolutionary emerging forms of labor saving devices.
There is an old aphorism about technological innovation. It says that early on people tend to overestimate how fast it’s coming but underestimate (often by a lot!) how disruptive and transformative it ultimately will be. Maybe we can debate this, too.
For this week I will skip any introduction and just ask Hobson or any other attendee with knowledge to help us frame the answers to these questions or other relevant ones.
OPTIONAL BACKGROUND READINGS –
- Autonomous vehicles’ impact will be truly revolutionary across the global economy and society. Recommended.
- A new world: The race to develop this new industry – and benefit most from it – is global. (h/t Ed)
- The ethics of self-driving cars. (h/t/ Hobson) Recommended.
- The effects won’t be all good or all bad; just immense. Recommended.
- Or: It will mostly be great because, like other tech leaps, it will make most of us more productive and free.
- But, none of these effects are automatic. We have to make them happen. And – surprise! – in USA so far few govts are regulating the self-driving vehicle industry and the Feds are doing nothing.
- On AI and how they have to teach it common sense. (long)
NEXT WEEK (August 24): New models for 21st century journalism.
One of our better-timed topics. Thank you, Wendy. The need to maintain extensive social distancing to slow the COVID-19 pandemic’s spread is widely acknowledged to be necessary. Yet it is being widely flouted, for several reasons. A major one is that some very cynical people have turned resistance to mask wearing and social distancing into a symbol of partisan political allegiance and culture war loyalty. May they burn in Hell.
But that is not the only reason. Freezing our economy to allow social distancing has caused great suffering, too, via mass unemployment, business failings, etc. We may end up losing entire industry sectors. Practicing personal social distancing is not just a mild inconvenience. Over time and especially for some vulnerable populations (like the elderly and young children) it is harmful, as the articles below describe. Social distancing can lead to mental and physical health problems, some of which may endure long after the crisis is under control.
We have to figure out how to keep social distancing going, say the experts. Maybe as far as 2022 or even beyond.
So, condemning people that refuse to wear masks because Trump or Tucker say so is well-deserved and emotionally satisfying. But, we as a society also will have to bring attention and resources to bear to combat the ill effects of social distancing itself, like its effects on individuals’ mental health, social relationships, and livelihoods – no to mention the entire economy. If we don’t, and given that the propagandists will never stop, this whole thing could fall apart even more than it already has.
On Monday I don’t think we will need to rehash all our country’s recent social distancing failures. Maybe we could focus on a few of these discussion questions. If you have any time to read, maybe focus on recommended links.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- Who is refusing to wear masks and properly social distance?
- Why? Selfish, ignorant, victims of propaganda, young and invulnerable/dumb, believe BLM/anti-racist protests have to come first, etc.?
- Are any other countries seeing this level of refusal, or is it just the USA? What would that tell us?
- How can people be persuaded/forced to do the right thing?
What arguments should we use with non-compliant people?
Long-run effects –
- On individuals’ mental health.
- On social relationships: Friendships, love lives, family dynamics, etc.?
- On vulnerable people: Elderly, disabled, children losing education,
- The economy and jobs.
- Business sectors hit hardest by virus and social distancing.
- Workers same.
- U.S. politics: Are Trump/GOP doomed in Nov.? Longer term effects, like political realignment, more support for govt activism – or less because of huge budget deficits?
- Rest of the world, esp. its already-festering problems/places. On U.S. credibility. On spurring global cooperation – with or without USA?
OPTIONAL BACKGROUND READINGS –
- Social distancing:
- Why does only the USA have a huge con-compliance problem? Mask protestors distort the true meaning of freedom. Recommended.
- Social distancing is necessary, but comes with a psychological fallout. Recommended,
- And, social distancing’s costs are not borne equally – poor and marginalized folks hurt the most.
- It’s not all bad: Eight new life habits that may be worth continuing post-crisis.
- Overall impact: How COVID-19 might reshape our country. Recommended.
- Civil liberties:
- Education: Huge topic. Some good articles here. A progressive POV here.
- Politics: Huge topic. Is pandemic rewiring both major parties?
NEXT WEEK (July 6): Cede more power to multilateral organizations to solve global problems? Realistic? Would they do a better job?
We’re back! I hope you are all doing well. To attend our first virtual CivCon meeting, you will need two things: The link to the specific Zoom mtg. That URL will be the same for every Zoom mtg CivCon will have (courtesy and thanks to Z and her Zoom Pro account!). Second, you will need a unique password to get you in to this specific mtg. If you are signed up as attending Monday’s mtg go to that 4/6 meeting on Meetup and the Zoom URL can be seen on the right hand side of the page.
The password unique to each mtg is NOT on our meetup page, for security reasons. It will be emailed to all 15-16 of you (along with the meeting ID URL so you can have both in one place) on Sunday night. On Monday at 7pm you can open the email or go to the Meetup event page, click on the Zoom URL, and then enter the password. At that exact moment you will join the mtg via video or just audio and everybody else will be in little rectangles. To turn on your video so people can see you too just click on the Start Video icon on the lower left-hand corner of the zoom page. There’s more to learn; a curve steeper for some of us than others. Consider this first one as much practice as substance.
(I will manage the mtg like always except technically I am not the host; Z is and has graciously set this up for us to bypass the 10-person, 40-minute maximum of a free Zoom account. She may log on for a few seconds and make me a host or co-host and then leave.)
It’s a good mtg to practice on because we all are presumably following this crisis closely so there is no need for an opening lecture by me and I found only a few readings I thought might be useful. They are below, along with some discussion questions. All the links relate to the long-term consequences this pandemic may have on our society, economy, politics, etc.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- How are you holding up? Any tips you think others probably don’t already know?
- Why were we and the world caught so flat footed? Who is to blame and – more importantly – what lessons should we already have learned for the future?
- How and when will this thing end?
- Economy/Society: Will/how will U.S. society change as a result? Anything lasting? Anything brand new? Anything accelerating trends already occurring?
— Economy broadly: Growth and full employment returning, monopolies get even more powerful, accelerated use of automation and loss of permanent employment, etc.
— Changes to specific industries: Education, health care, retail industry, restaurant/hospitality, travel, others?
— Family/daily living: More telecommuting, more family time, push for more govt support for working families, etc.)
- U.S. Politics: How might U.S. politics change when this is over – or before it’s over? (e.g., 2020 election is Trump doomed or saved; will xenophobia/anti-immigrant sentiment rise, push for universal health care and more appreciation of govt’s role or the opposite – even LESS trust in govt; etc.?)
- World Affairs: How ghastly will outcomes be in developing countries? Is USA’s global leadership role over for good? Will climate efforts be abandoned to shore up public health instead, etc.?
OPTIONAL BACKGROUND READINGS –
- How the Trump govt failed so spectacularly. WashPost. Non-WP excerpt here.
- UPDATE: Before Trump – Why US health care was a public health disaster waiting to happen.
- The GOP principles that paved the way for massive suffering. Fair or unfair?
- How will this pandemic end? Recommended. h/t Penny.
- Impact: Is THIS probably the right answer? Recommended. Or…
- Will most of the retail and even restaurant sectors collapse? What else will change permanently, per Q4-6, above?
- OTOH, maybe some of us can lead better, less stressful lives after COVID-19.
- The 2020 election:
- How to save our elections from a pandemic. Recommended!
- UPDATE: GOP is going to fight every effort to make Nov. voting easier, even in this pandemic. It’s who they are now.
NEXT WEEK, Date: April 13: U.S. Military-Industrial Complex – Worse than ever or exaggerated like usual? Nile’s topic that got cancelled.
The topic, which I made up since we’re beyond our old list, will be:
- COVID-19 pandemic: How’s it going and what will be the long term effects?
For more details on how to access the Zoom mtg, see our Meetup site OR wait for the weekly email, which will contain a link to zoom to click on.
I may add a few readings later this week. But we all have been following events closely, so maybe there is no need.
NEXT WEEK, 4/13: Nile’s topic on the military industrial complex, since it got cancelled.
An exciting science topic! And, thanks to Wendy, here are some excellent background readings on why and whether to rebuild the human brain using technology.
Wendy will also moderate the meeting and some of our members with some science experience will be there.
OPTIONAL BACKGROUND READINGS –
Brain Implants & other technologies –
- What Is A Brain Computer Interface? Recommended. For a longer read: How Brain-computer Interfaces Work.
- What Are Brain Implants and What Are Their Future Uses? – Overview of technology. Provides an introduction to Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) and to memory boosting.
- Researchers grapple with the ethics of testing brain implants – who pays for maintenance once the trial is over?
- Neuralink – Elon Musk is making implants to link the brain with a smartphone. Recommended. The company’s website
- The “Genius” drug: Modafinil – The Rise of Work-Doping.
Ethical and philosophical topics –
- Overview of our topic: Q&A: The Ethics of Using Brain Implants to Upgrade Yourself Recommended
- We Need to Unlock the Brain’s Secrets—Ethically: 3 ethical gaps in neuroscience. Recommended.
- Military: ‘Supersoldiers’: Ethical concerns in human enhancement technologies for the battlefield.
- Crime Prevention:
- Neuro-interventions and Crime Prevention – Should these technologies be used to influence the human brain to prevent recidivism?
- Use of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) in Spanish prisons.
- Broader overview of tDCS.
- Basics of Neuroethics: Study of implications of neuroscience for human self-understanding, ethics, policy. Recommended.
- What is Transhumanism? – The premise that the human species in its current form does not represent the end of our development but rather a comparatively early phase.
- Godlike ‘Homo Deus’ Could Replace Humans as Tech Evolves: blurring the human-machine boundary. Or: Ray Kurzweil: In The 2030s, Nanobots In Our Brains Will Make Us ‘Godlike’.
Art & Entertainment
- Stelarc – performance artist who has visually probed and acoustically amplified his body. Plus look at his art.
NEXT WEEK: Has public shaming for youthful indiscretions gotten out of hand?