Thursday, December 15, 2022

066 The Erickson Report for November 24 to December 14, Page One: The "First Thanksgiving"

066 The Erickson Report for November 24 to December 14, Page One: The "First Thanksgiving"

Gather 'round, kiddies, I'm going to tell you the real story, the based-on-actual-historical-sources story, of the "First Thanksgiving."

By which, of course, I mean the event that occurred in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts in the fall of 1621 which is the basis of our now-traditional Thanksgiving holiday.

One of the reasons I do this almost every year is that it is truly amazing just how much misinformation, mythology, and general muddle-headedness there is out there on this topic. In fact, it seems that what can fairly be called revisionist history about the events have become almost as traditional as turkey and pumpkin pie.

In fact, just two weeks ago I saw a bit on the BBC that not only treated those who settled Plymouth in 1620 and those who settled Boston in 1630 as if they were one group with identical views about religion (they were neither), but also said they settled here in order to engage in religious oppression because they could not tolerate the religious pluralism to be found in England!

Right. The England where it was required by law to be a member of the Church of England, were some of those who came on the Mayflower had spent time in prison for just that reason, where King James was saying of dissenters - including other Protestants - "I will force them to conform or I will harry them out of the land," and where, oh yeah, just 40 years earlier Protestants were being burned at the stake for the crime of not being Roman Catholic.

The basis for the claim of pluralism was the Toleration Act - which came in 1689, 67 years after the founding of Plymouth and on the far side of the English Civil War. What's more, while that act provided for freedom of public worship for people such as Baptists, they still could not hold public office and it didn't apply at all to Catholics or Unitarians. [Editorial note: In the broadcast version I said the Act was in 1682. 1689 is the correct year.]

I am not impressed with the scholarship shown.

So this traditional exercise in trying to bring some hard historical reality to the discussion.

To start our Thanksgiving tale, consider this:

    Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week.

    At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others.

    And though it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

That comes from a letter dated December 11, 1621. It was written to an otherwise-unidentified "loving and old friend" in England by Edward Winslow, a Mayflower passenger and a leader in the early years of the colony.

By the way, Winslow had a portrait done in 1651, 30 years later, after he had returned to England. It is the only verified picture of a Mayflower passenger known to exist.

As for the rest of them, we have no idea what they looked like beyond the traditional description of Myles Standish as short with red hair, a description given some backing by the fact that in a book called The New English Canaan, a nasty satire of the Plimoth settlement written in 1637 by Thomas Morton, Standish is identified by the name "Captain Shrimpe."

Winslow's letter was contained in a book published in England in 1622 under the rather ponderous title of A Relation or Journal of the beginning and proceedings of the English Plantation settled at Plimoth in New England, by certain English Adventurers both Merchants and others.

The book is popularly known today by the less cumbersome name of Mourt's Relation and consists of eyewitness accounts of various events during the first year of the settlement.

Here's why that letter is important here: It is the only contemporaneous account of what we know as the "First Thanksgiving" which is known to exist. The only other even near-contemporaneous account comes from William Bradford, long-time governor of the settlement, who wrote about it in his journal at least 10 to 12 years later. Even there he just sort of brushes by it, endorsing Winslow by referring to "not feigned but true reports." Quoting:

    They now began to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses against the winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took in good store, of which every family had its portion.

    All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc.

    Besides they had about a peck a meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to the proportion. Which made many afterwards write so large of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports.

That's it. That's all of it. That's what the entire "First Thanksgiving" story is built on. Everything else is speculation, interpretation, some questionable third- and fourth-hand accounts, and guesswork, some of it informed, all too much of it not.

Some things we can tell from the accounts: For one thing, based on other references in those same sources, we know that the event took place after September 18 and before November 9. Mostly likely, it was in late September or the beginning of October, as that would have been shortly after harvest.

Which also means, by the way, that Winslow's account was written very likely little more than a month after the event, so yes, it was contemporaneous.

In considering the event, the first thing to realize is that this was not a "thanksgiving." To someone of the period, a thanksgiving was a religious occasion, a day set aside for prayer to give thanks to God for some special and unexpected blessing.

The first public day of thanksgiving in the town actually came in the summer of 1623: A six-week crop-threatening drought had lead to a day of "humiliation," a day of fasting and prayer to beg forgiveness for whatever they had done to cause God to bring this on them. Literally that same evening, the rains came - and not a storm, a gentle soaking rain which saved the crops and so a day of thanksgiving seemed appropriate.

So no, this was not a thanksgiving. Such days would occur occasionally as the cause arose; to plan for one in advance, much less to plan for one every year as we do now, would be regarded as a gross presumption on God's will and intentions.

What this was instead was a very traditional English harvest feast, a celebration of a good harvest to which it was customary to invite those who had been helpful to you over the course of the year - which is surely why the natives were there: They had indeed been helpful, so they were invited. And yes, that is the best understanding. The revisionists would have it that the Natives simply crashed the party - but perhaps realizing that put the Natives in an unfavorable light, it got revised to a version I first heard two or three years ago where Natives who happened to be in the vicinity heard the gunfire from the militia drill, assumed Plymouth was under attack, went 30 miles back to Massasoit's chief village, where he raised a force and went 30 miles back to Plymouth to help, all in the narrow time frame available - an account that could fairly be described as utterly nonsensical especially when you note that Winslow's account shows no trace of either distress or surprise at the Natives' presence.

One other thing here: True, the settlers didn't have a good harvest, the usual trigger for such a feast - note that Bradford describes it as "small" - but they had a harvest. That surely raised everyone's spirits: It indicated they were going to make it. Reason enough for a celebration, especially considering what they had been through to get to that point, including the death by disease - probably pneumonia - of half their numbers in the first months.

I want to make a quick aside to explain a rather subtle point more clearly: Europeans of the 17th century - especially the more religiously-conservative sorts, such as those that lead the Plimoth settlement - did not make the sort of clear distinctions between what is "religious" and what is "secular" that we do today. The sense of, a feeling of, an awareness of, the "hand of God" or the "will of God" was much more central to their lives than it is to the vast majority of us now.

What that means here is that the 1621 harvest feast would surely have included prayers of thanks to God and perhaps a sermon from their religious leader, Elder William Brewster, as significant features of the event, just as prayer would have been a frequent feature of their everyday lives, from meals to musket drills to mucking about in their fields, tending the crops.

However, they would not have regarded this as "a day of thanksgiving" as they understood the term: While the prayers would have been significant features of the event, they would not have been the central features; not the purpose, not the point, not the driver behind it. Celebration was, feasting was.

Put another way, had we been able to witness the 1621 feast, to our modern eyes there would very likely have been more than enough praying, giving thanks, and singing of psalms and hymns to make it look like a religious or at least religiously-inspired event, but to a person of the 17th century it would have looked about as (for lack of a better term) secular as such a thing got.

Anyway, back to our story. As for the eternal question of what they ate, we can confident they had fowl such as duck or goose (as the governor "sent four men on fowling" in preparation) and yes, quite possibly turkey ("of which they took many," Bradford said). We can also assume they had fish, specifically cod and bass, which are mentioned in the sources, and likely deer.

Another aside, this one on the issue of historical interpretation, specifically of using historical sources without running too far ahead of them, a sin of which too many of the revisionist accounts are guilty, making too much out of too little. Note that Winslow says the natives "went out and killed five deer," but he also says "which they bestowed on our governor" - that being William Bradford - "and upon the captain" - that being Myles Standish - "and others." In other words, they were given to various leaders of the community, not to the community as a whole. More to the point, we can't tell if those deer were brought to the feast and brought soon enough to be butchered, dressed, cooked, and presented as part of the feast or if they were brought afterward as a sort of thank you, a reciprocal gift in return for having been "feasted" for three days, which personally I find more likely because of Winslow saying the Natives "went out and killed five deer" rather than "brought five deer."

Bradford's mention of venison doesn't resolve things because in the period, "venison" meant "hunted meat," which obviously includes deer but isn't limited to it; in fact at the time the meat of hares was called venison. So while they quite probably had deer, either from the natives or their own hunting or both, we can't say it definitively.

Getting back to the menu, lobster and other shellfish is another real possibility; elsewhere in the letter that I quoted Winslow mentions that they are abundant in the area - as are eels, of which, he claims, they could take "a hogshead in a night." If you think "eels, eew," know that an English person of the period would have responded "They're just another sort of fish." (A hogshead is a cask holding about 63 gallons of liquid. Yeah, Winslow was likely exaggerating; he was like that.)

Beyond that, we can reasonably argue for some others foods such as a sort of pie made from squash from their gardens, sweetened with dried fruit which they would have brought with them from England, salad from other stuff from their gardens, and a sort of coarse corn bread.

Again, some interpretation here if only to show its importance in examining history: Some argue that there couldn't have been pie or bread because the settlement had no oven. It's true the primary sources covering the early several years of Plimoth make no mention of ovens one way or the other, either "we built some" or "we wished we had some," but there are a number of mentions of bread in various contexts. And with bread being such a staple of the English diet, I find it hard to accept that they got as far as harvest without having made at least a couple of ovens to make use of the grains they grew, which would primarily be for bread. But again my real point here is not so much to argue for my interpretation as to point up how much interpretation can go into judging history. We have to tread carefully.

Moving on, water would have been the major and perhaps the only beverage: Their supply of barley would be limited (Winslow says the "English grains," which would mean such as wheat, rye, and oats as well as barley, "grew indifferent good") and there is no mention of hops. No hops, no beer; no much barley, not much ale. Even if they did have some barley, there may well would not have been enough time for brewing since harvest. And while they did bring beer with them on the voyage, it is highly unlikely that there was any significant amount of that left nearly a year later. So they might have had a little ale or even maybe a little wine brought from England and reserved for a special occasion, but again is was likely mostly, and possibly only, water.

By the way, one classic of revisionism is the claim the settlers were persistently drunk because they drank a gallon of beer a day, Preferring it," in the words of a number of the revisionists, "even to water." Indeed it was preferred to water for good two reasons: One, being made from grains it provided nutrition which water didn't. In fact, beer was sometimes referred to as "liquid bread." The other is that it keeps longer. Water will spoil. Warm, even tepid, water is a good breeding ground for bacteria. Beer, on the other hand, is boiled in the course of preparation and contains alcohol, both of which serve to kill germs. The settlers knew nothing of germs, but they did know the effect: Beer keeps longer. As for the gallon a day, first, some revisionists claim it was a half-gallon a day and second, if you've been gradually introduced to drinking beer since you were weaned, that doesn't seem that big a deal. That doesn't mean nobody got drunk; it does mean it was not routine.

So that is pretty much it, pretty much everything we know or can reasonably assume about the event itself. Not much to build a whole mythology on, is it?

Even so, it drove the pap we got fed as children, marked by images of picnic tables laden with turkey, mashed potatoes, and apple pies surrounded by natives dressed like they just came from the great plains and smiling "Pilgrims" dressed in the fashions of the 1690s.

And that same sparseness of detail - and one of the reasons I go through this almost every year - is probably a good part of the reason the event provides so much latitude to those who want to replace the childhood (and childish) image of noble settlers and savage natives with one of noble natives and savage settlers, who every year, regular as clockwork, treat us to the historical revisionism that has, again, become as traditional as turkey and cranberry sauce.

In place of the happy talk mythologies of peace, love, and harmony we were spoon-fed as children we find people snarling out dark tales of drunken, murderous, bloodthirsty settlers facing off with natives "crashing the party" at the feast and doing it in such numbers because Massasoit feared he'd be kidnapped or killed otherwise. It is a vision that, as much as the earlier one, is an attempt to overwrite history with ideology. It is, in other words, pure bunk.

In point of historical fact, relations between Plymouth and the neighboring natives were reasonably good for several decades. There were stresses and strains and disruptions, yes, but for the most part they managed to keep intact the peace agreement-mutual defense pact they made in the spring of 1621.

Things gradually got worse and I won't go into all the reasons why but the biggest two were population pressure, which mostly arose out of Boston, which was established in 1630, and disputes over land that were rooted in vast cultural differences between the natives and the English.

For one specific, the native culture had no concept of land ownership. Not just they didn't own the land, or that everyone owned the land, or the Great Spirit owned the land; no, the idea of land as something you could possess just didn't exist. To own something, for the natives, meant you could pick it up and carry it away with you. How could you own something if you have to leave it behind anytime you go anywhere? Which makes real sense, especially for a semi-nomadic people who live in one area for part of the year and another area the rest of the year.

But for the settlers, for any European, land ownership, which by its nature includes the concept of exclusive use, was an everyday notion. That cultural chasm was a source of repeated conflict.

The peace finally, irrevocably, completely broke down - but that was in 1675, more than 50 years after the so-called "First Thanksgiving." The point here is that at that time, in the fall of 1621, native-settler relations were good.

In fact, the very next sentences of the Winslow letter I quoted above are these:

    We have found the Indians very faithful in their covenant of peace with us; very loving and ready to pleasure us. We often go to them, and they come to us; some of us have been fifty miles by land in the country with them.

Winslow also says that all the other native leaders in the vicinity have made peace with Plymouth on the same terms as Massasoit, as a result of which, he asserts, "there is now great peace amongst the Indians themselves, which was not formerly." He goes on to say that:

    We for our parts walk as peaceably and safely in the wood as in the highways in England. We entertain them familiarly in our houses, and they as friendly bestowing their venison on us. They are a people without any religion or knowledge of God, yet very trusty, quick of apprehension, ripe-witted, just.

Just to be certain you know, "trusty" means trustworthy, not trusting, and "quick of apprehension" does not mean quick to be apprehensive. It means quick to understand, quick to grasp the meaning of something.

As for "religion," in his later book Good News from New England Winslow says "therein I erred" and goes on the describe the native religion, as least as he understands it.

That does not sound either like bloodthirsty settlers eager to kill natives or like natives who feared contact with those same settlers or felt they had to display mass force to avoid being kidnapped or killed.

If you're still not convinced, consider that in June 1621, three or four months earlier, the town felt it necessary to send a message to Massasoit requesting that he restrain his people from coming to the settlement in such numbers. This is from Mourt's Relation, this is the heart of the message they sent to Massasoit:

    But whereas his people came very often, and very many together unto us, bringing for the most part their wives and children with them, they were welcome; yet we being but strangers as yet at Patuxet, alias New Plymouth, and not knowing how our corn might prosper, we could no longer give them such entertainment as we had done, and as we desired still to do.

That's how "afraid" the natives were of the settlers, so "afraid" the town had to ask them not to come around so much.

Assigning the role of angel or demon to either side is trash: Neither of these peoples were either. Neither were saints, neither were devils.

So I reject the revisionist history, indeed I resent the revisionist history. I resent it first because it’s lousy history. It's based on ideology, not information; it looks to satisfy demands of politics, not of scholarship, and it is every bit as full of false tales and mythology as the nonsense and pap that we got fed as schoolchildren.

Plymouth in the fall of 1621 genuinely was a scene of peaceful and friendly relations, of good feeling, between English settlers and their nearest native neighbors. The "First Thanksgiving" was a moment of celebration when everyone on both sides, even if they were still a little wary each of the other, believed that yes, this was going to work out.

That wasn’t going to happen; it was a false hope, even a foolish hope. It was brief enough moment, lasting by even a generous understanding no more than a few decades, and a rare enough moment in our nation's history of cruelty toward and genocide of the native peoples of this continent such that while "the First Thanksgiving" shouldn't be a source of happily-ever-after "why can't we all just get along" fairy stories, neither is there any need to co-opt it into the service of ideology-driven revisionism.

Because that moment of hope did exist. And frankly, I resent the attempts to strip away that one moment of hope in pursuit of a modern political agenda.

I remember a friend of mine some years ago talking about “the urge to find angelic forces in the world,” that is, the seeming need many of us have to fix on some group, some movement, some something that we can convince ourselves is utterly pure in its motives and behavior. In our attempts to find some better balance in our understanding of what was done to the natives of North America, the cruelties inflicted on them, the racism and bigotry which targeted them and still target them, too many of us in considering the “Pilgrims” of Plymouth have chosen to simply swap one mythology for a perhaps more satisfying but equally false one.

Balance, it seems, is still a long way off.

I'm going to wrap this up with a few quick sidebars about the time before any of what I've talked about, a few details surrounding those first months you might think worth noting.

- First, you often hear the Mayflower referred to as a "small" ship. To our eyes it is, but at 180 tun, it was somewhat larger than an average merchant ship of the period, which went around 140-160 tun, a tun being a large cask that became used as a standard measure of the capacity of a ship's hold.

- You also often hear it said the passengers came for "religious freedom." They did not. First, that would only have applied to a minority of those on the Mayflower and not only did they not believe in religious freedom as we understand the term, "freedom" being equated with anarchy, to the degree they sought what they would call "liberty of conscience," those who had been to Holland - which was that minority of the passengers - had it there. In fact, that's why they went to Holland in the first place: Because they refused to be part of "the King's Church" (the Church of England), they were held to be criminals; in fact, some of them had spent some time in prison because of it. Unfortunately for them, they not only found such liberty in Holland, they also found poverty of a degree that threatened to fracture their community, in fact they were afraid it was dissolving before their eyes. That's why they came to this continent. As for the rest, the majority, they came for that most of cliched American of reasons, a better life coupled with the promise of owning land, the very symbol of both status and security.

- It has also been asserted that the first winter was marked by starvation; I've even heard it claimed that they all would have starved to death but for the corn - which has somehow expanded in the revisionist tales to be corn, wheat, and beans - they stole from a cache while exploring Cape Cod. Okay, this is partly true. The deaths came as I said earlier from disease, likely pneumonia, spread by the necessity of living in close quarters until housing could be built. Starvation was not an issue: The ship's stores provided food for the winter, which could be supplemented by fishing. What is true is that they stole some corn, but that was for seed corn for the following spring, which makes it rather silly to imagine it was a quantity sufficient to feed the entire group for the winter. Make no mistake, that did involve disturbing some graves and that was a really scummy thing to do - and it wasn't the only scummy thing they did during those initial explorations, as they also stole some items from the houses they found because they thought they were as a modern person might put it "interesting artifacts." In fairness I do have to add that the settlers promised themselves they would make good for what they took, which they did when they were able to contact those natives - the Nauset - after the winter was over, but while that eases the wrong, it does not excuse it.

- Finally, they were not "greeted by the indigenous people." In fact, they didn't speak to a native until March and that was to Samoset, an Abenaki from what's now Maine. It wasn't until a couple of weeks after that when they first spoke to a local (Squanto, aka Tisquantum). And those indigenous people would not have called themselves Wampanoag. That is a native word that means something like "people of the east" or "people of the dawn" and it's been adopted by the Natives of what's now eastern Massachusetts as a generalized term for all the Natives of the area. But no Native of the period would have said "I am Wampanoag" because that would mean "I live to the east of where I live," which makes no sense.

So anyway, I hope you enjoy your Turkey Day, I hope you have time to spend with your family or friends or better yet both - while staying safe for yourself and others - and I hope you can understand why I celebrate the day as an expression less of thankfulness for the past (or even the present) than as an expression of hope for the future. That hope, too, may prove as foolish as that of 1621, indeed these days I often think it is - but the blunt fact is, hope is also the one absolute, indispensable requirement for any effort to make that future a better one.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

066 The Erickson Report for November 24 to December 14


066 The Erickson Report for November 24 to December 14

This is our annual telling of the story of "the First Thanksgiving" based on actual historical accounts.

Rest assured that both traditionalists and revisionists will have cause to be annoyed by an accurate telling of the tale.


Tuesday, November 22, 2022

065 The Erickson Report for November 11 to 23, Page 2: Transgender youth know who they are

Welcome to Jon Swift Roundup Readers!
If you'd like to see the video version of The Erickson Report, go to
For more of my writing on transgender rights, try
065 The Erickson Report for November 11 to 23, Page 2: Transgender youth know who they are
Now on to a topic I have talked about before and expect I will again.

First, do you remember, and it wasn't that long ago, that there was a big surge in stories about "abortion regret?" A wave of orchestrated personal testimonials from women who later regretted having an abortion, some of them describing being tortured by their consciences because "I killed my baby." Remember that? It was a campaign to stampede the public into opposing abortion by playing on fears and any shred of doubt a woman might have about having the procedure.

Well, now we're seeing the same sorts of tales, only this time with transgender youth: "transition regret," with fables of kids either being pressured by parents into transitioning or being convinced it's somehow "cool" to do it and now desperately trying to undo it.

The word "fables" is chosen deliberately because the fact is, the more data we get in, the more research is done, the more the question gets asked, the more we know that transgender youth know who they are, know what is right for them, and the manufactured fears over "transition regret" are just another tactic by the reactionaries to deny the value, indeed the reality, of trans lives.

The results of a study published in 2014 of 50 years of data in Sweden of people who applied to get sexual reassignment surgery - or the more accurate and now preferred name gender affirmation surgery - found that of 767 transgender people who had the surgery, only 2.2 percent of them expressed regret after having it.

That number is even lower for nonsurgical transition methods, like taking puberty blockers. Amsterdam University Medical Center’s Center for Expertise on Gender Dysphoria is the largest gender-identity clinic in the Netherlands. A 2018 study looked at the medical records of transgender young adults who went to a clinic there, covering 1972 to 2015, a period of 44 years. It found that only 1.9 percent of adolescents who started puberty suppressants did not go on to pursue hormone therapy, which is typically the next step in the transition process. Put another way, once they started, 98.1% continued.

And you also have to ask why those who stopped did so. In a 2015 survey of nearly 28,000 people conducted by the US-based National Center for Transgender Equality, only 8 percent of respondents reported detransitioning, and 62 percent of those people said they only detransitioned temporarily, that is, they resumed the process later. Significantly, the most common reason for detransitioning, according to the survey, was pressure from a parent, the opposite of the line the wacko right is pushing. Only 0.4 percent of respondents said they detransitioned after realizing transitioning wasn’t right for them.

And now we have another study, this one published October 20 in The Lancet, one of the most prestigious medical journals in the world. The study looked at data from the Center for Expertise on Gender Dysphoria in Amsterdam from a different angle: Researchers checked the medical records of 720 patients who had historically received at least three months of puberty blockers starting before they turned 18 to see how many continued on to hormone replacement therapy medications.

At the end of the data collection period, 98% of those patients had active hormone replacement therapy prescriptions, effectively confirming the earlier study.

And as before, you don't know why the 2 percent stopped. Indeed, most of those who had stopped had had some form of gonadectomy - that is, gender affirming surgery - and may not know they still need hormone treatment to avoid osteoporosis or other conditions. Some may have decided they are nonbinary and may not want further treatment, some may have decided to detransition, and some may have been pressured into stopping - remember that the most common reason for stopping in that 2015 survey was pressure from a parent.

It is simply a fact: Despite the screeching from the reactionaries, transgender adolescents know who they are.

According to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, there are an estimated 1.4 million transgender adults in the US. The UK’s Government Equalities Office “tentatively” estimates there are between 200,000 and 500,000 trans people in Britain and Northern Ireland.

Even if there are as many trans youth in the US as there are adults and that combined estimate is off by an order of magnitude - that is, the total is 10 times the estimate - we'd still be talking about 8% of the population.

So much hatred, so much bile, so much fear, directed toward so few people. And driven almost entirely by cruel exploitation of bigotry in pursuit of political power and selfish gain. It really is a moral disgrace.

065 The Erickson Report for November 11 to 23, Page 1: On the election results

065 The Erickson Report for November 11 to 23, Page 1: On the election results
[This is a little different from the broadcast version, which was done the day after the election. It's essentially the same, but has in a few cases been updated to reflect later results.]
So. We had us some elections.
So I'll give you my comments on a rundown of the results.
I'll start by confessing I was concerned - to be honest, fearful - coming into this election because I was afraid the Dimcrats would blow it in the same way they blew 2016. That time, they managed to lose to the most unpopular major party presidential candidate in the history of such polling, one even less popular than Hillary Clinton, whose own approval was well under water.
They did it by making the central theme of their campaign "We're not Donald Trump. He's a scumbag, a creep, disgusting, so vote for us." Not that they never talked about anything else, but that was the primary approach, forgetting (or ignoring) the fact that not enough people cared; in fact, there were people who liked Tweetie-pie because of that, who thought "That's the kind of 'I don't give a damn' attitude we need more of in our leaders."

This time, they staked it all on reproductive rights, to the point where even as the burning anger over the Dobbs decision, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, faded some (as anger naturally does over time) and it appeared people were shifting their attention to economy and crime, party campaign consultants were telling candidates to just not talk about those issues, even though Dems had, particularly on the economy, good things they could say on their own behalf.

So it came as a great relief that this time around they did better than expected, indeed they held their own and even marked a few gains as the predicted "red wave" or "red tsunami" proved to be more of a pink ripple.

One reason for that is shown by exit polls that indicated that people who voted for Demcrats had reproductive rights and threats to democracy high on their list of concerns while GOPper voters were more focused on the economy and crime.

It was claimed that this validated the Democrats' strategy, but I'm not giving up on my own analysis quite so easily: Holding your own, not getting swamped, is hardly a stirring goal or a basis on which to build. I maintain that had they spent some of their time addressing those other issues, where again they did have
things to say for themselves - even on crime, on violent crime, which yes, had gone up recently but had already peaked and was starting to come down and in any event even at the peak was way below what it had been in the '90s - anyway, if they had spent just some time on those two points, they could have done better than just hold their own. We should have learned at least by the time of John Kerry's run that you can't let those sort of attacks go unanswered for weeks on end and expect that to not affect people. This time they ran the same risk - but they got away with it. Fortunately.

Anyway. The GOPpers, as expected, retook the House of Reperesentatives, with the breakdown now projected as 221-214, essentially the same majority the Dems had before.

It easily could have been worse, part of the reason the results are being called "better than expected." In each of the last four midterm elections, the president’s party has lost an average of about 37 House seats. In 2010 (Obama’s first midterm), Democrats lost 64 seats; in 2018 (Tweetie-pie's midterm), Republicans lost 42 seats.

This time, they lost about nine or ten, depending on the results of few campaigns that are still not called.

In the Senate, they actually stand to gain a seat. With wins in both Arizona and Nevada, they are guaranteed no worse that a 50-50 split, which leaves the Dems, as the party in the White House, in control because VP Kamala Harris would be the deciding vote in the case of a tie.

Meanwhile, Georgia is set for a run-off on December. You'd have to think that Raphael Warnock is the favorite not only because he came in first in the general, almost always an advantage, but because the third candidate in that race, a guy named Chase Oliver who got a couple of percent of the vote, presented a pretty liberal platform despite being a Libertarian, focusing more on civil liberties including - something I'd really like to see - an end to qualified immunity, so I expect that many of the people who voted for him, if they vote in the runoff, are far more likely to go for Warnock.

Which means the next Senate could easily be 51-49, which delights me because it would mean that on any given vote, either Kyrsten Sinema or Joe Manchin could be told to go F themselves.

Okay, on some more general notes:

I enjoyed the tweet from Hannah Trudo, the senior political correspondent at, who said

The entire Bernie Sanders-aligned wing of the Democratic Party won tonight, from Fetterman in the Senate to the new Squad members in the House.

It's also important to note where the results came from: voters under 30. Not only did they turn out, they voted for Democrats by a net 28 percentage points, enough to offset the votes of those over 45.

As the Washington Post noted in an post-election article, voting took place against a background of increasing worry among Americans that US democracy is under threat. About 70% of voters in an exit poll said our degree of democracy is “very” or “somewhat” threatened.

Interestingly, the same poll said that about 80% of voters were "very" or "somewhat" confident that elections in their own state would be fair and accurate, which reminded me of all the polls about Congress where people would say how much Congress sucks but when asked about their own representatives, they'd say "Oh, they're okay. It's all those other ones who are lousy."

The important point, however, is that the Post looked at 569 GOPper candidates for state and federal office and found that 291 of them, 51% of the total, questioned or refused to accept that Joe Biden is the legitimate president and over half of that number, somewhere between 150 and 200, won.

A mitigating factor is that the vast majority of those who won were running for seats in the House, where they would have little involvement with or impact on the actual conduct of elections. And most of the them campaigned on a range of issues, so it's hard to say how much their wins translate into support for election denial in the general public.

They still could be an issue, however, as they will be a sizable majority within the House Republican caucus and so still could drive the selection of Speaker despite Kevin McCarthy having won an initial intra-party caucus - and the Speaker would in turn preside over the House in 2024, when the presidential vote could again be contested.

So while having those people win for the House is not as threatening, it's not non-threatening.

Better news is at the state level, where officers like governor, secretary of state, and attorney general have significant power overseeing and conducting elections. That is where the concern really is and there, happily, the elections deniers by and large lost. In Arizona, the heartland of paranoid election denial, it appears the whole slate of deniers went down.

This doesn't mean some of the deniers didn't get in, but not nearly as many as were feared.

But that doesn't mean the issue goes away. Even before polls closed and many states began releasing vote counts, far-right users in Telegram channels and other fringe forums were spreading conspiracy theories and trying to declare the midterm elections fraudulent.

Consider Maricopa County, the largest county is Arizona. They had a problem which was later shown to be a printing problem with the ballots such that the tabulating machines had trouble reading them. Officials announced they had a problem, explained what they were doing about it, which involved getting tech help from the manufacturers of the machines, and assured everyone not to worry, the ballots would still be counted because they had the paper ballots which if necessary could be counted by hand.

Which prompted wacko loser Kari Lake - who really is a Karen and who still has not conceded - to point to officials acknowledging a problem and specifying what they were doing to fix it as clear evidence of fraud. And she was not alone.

In response to such inanities, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, herself the target of such claims, noted that “There are always things that potentially could be seized upon that really have no impact" and aptly called the whole conspiracy claims "a political strategy that some have chosen to pursue to the detriment of who we are as Americans and our democracy.”

Since we talking now about the state level, its a good time to note that another surprise in the elections was that Democrats also over-performed at that level, including flipping a couple of legislative houses and winning two governorships along with increasing the number of states where they control both Houses and the governorship, the so-called trifecta. They still trail GOPpers in that measure, but no longer by as much.

One area that matters to me is the progressive prosecutors movement, comprised of those District Attorneys who make reform of the criminal justice system part of both their campaign platforms and their practice in office. They did rather well in the midterms, winning in places, as said by Lara Bazelon, director of the Innocence Commission inside the San Francisco DA’s Office, "purple and blue and even red."

The right wing had persistently tried to bury the movement under a barrage of "criminals running wild" rhetoric. After progressive Chesa Boudin was recalled from his position as San Francisco DA in June, a good deal of the media, always ready to be swayed by right-wing screeching, was prepared to declare the whole movement dead. The wing nuts failed and the media was wrong.

Meanwhile, the Dems were right about one thing: Protection of reproductive rights is broadly popular. Protection of such rights was on the ballot in five states. It won in all five.

Voters in California, Vermont, and Michigan added protections for reproductive rights to their state constitutions, while reliably red Montana and bright red Kentucky rejected measures that would have added restrictions to access to reproductive care, in Kentucky's case by proposing to specifically deny any state constitutional protections for abortion.

Include the vote in Kansas is August that rejected a ballot measure that would have given the state legislature the authority to restrict abortion access through a state constitutional amendment, and you have reproductive rights going six for six this election cycle.

On another matter, legalization of recreational marijuana was on the ballot in five states. Maryland and Missouri approved their measures, while Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota said no.

As of now, 21 states and Washington, DC, have legal recreational marijuana, something polls say 60% of the public supports. It is worth noting that in all three states that rejected the idea, medical marijuana is legal.

While I support legal grass and in fact have for oh my word over 50 years, it has never been high on my list of personal political priorities. So I want to mention that even as they rejected legal grass, the voters of South Dakota did something of more importance to me: By a hefty margin, they approved expansion of Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act. Some 40,000 people in South Dakota thus become eligible for Medicaid, many of who would not afford access to health care without it.

Finally on elections for now, something of which many of us are unaware: The 13th amendment did not ban slavery outright. It says:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. [Emphasis added.]
That is, slavery can be a punishment for crime. Which is why there has been and continues to be forced labor in US prisons.

Today, such prison labor is a multibillion-dollar industry, with prisoners given the choice of working for pennies on the dollar or being punished by being denied phone calls and family visits or even being thrown into solitary confinement.

Nearly 20 states had language in their state constitutions permitting slavery and involuntary servitude for prisoners. On election day, voters in four of those states said "Not here, not any more." Voters in Alabama, Oregon, Tennessee, and Vermont approved measures to remove the relevant language from their state constitutions.

A fifth measure, in Louisiana, failed only after its backers told people to reject it because they realized they had screwed up the legalese and it didn't clearly outlaw involuntary servitude.

Max Parthas, campaigns coordinator for the Abolish Slavery National Network, said his network hopes to have this on the ballot in a dozen states next election cycle.

Monday, November 21, 2022

065 The Erickson Report for November 11 to 23


065 The Erickson Report for November 11 to 23

This episode includes my reactions to some of the election news along with a follow-up to last episode's look at transgender rights.


On the election results

Transgender youth know who they are

Sunday, October 30, 2022

064 The Erickson Report for October 27 to November 10, Page 3: The CPC letter

064 The Erickson Report for October 27 to November 10, Page 3: The CPC letter

So. On October 24, 30 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus sent a letter to the White House that in effect suggested trying to open a conversation with Russia about a potential diplomatic end to its war on Ukraine.

The result was what Politico called a "firestorm" of hostile reaction, one fueled to no small degree by how the Washington Post described the letter, as one urging Blahden to "dramatically shift his strategy on the Ukraine war," calling it a break with official policy and a rupture in the party.

The reaction was swift enough and hostile enough that by that evening caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal was issuing a "clarification" and by the next day it had been withdrawn altogether.

But it wasn't a break; in fact the letter was quite anodyne, including praise and reasserting support for Blahden and insisting that no agreement can be reached without the approval of Ukraine.

So what got it in so much trouble? It comes down to this sentiment, quoting the letter:

[I]f there is a way to end the war while preserving a free and independent Ukraine, it is America’s responsibility to pursue every diplomatic avenue to support such a solution that is acceptable to the people of Ukraine. The alternative to diplomacy is protracted war, with both its attendant certainties and catastrophic and unknowable risks.

In other words, as The Intercept put it, "That the letter was met with fierce opposition is a measure of the space available for debate among congressional Democrats when it comes to support for the war and how it might be stopped before it turns nuclear: roughly zero."

So invested have the Democratic hierarchy and particularly its hack sycophants become in the glories of war and the shimmering image of outright military defeat of Russia that simply proposing the idea of talking about the possibility of a settlement is beyond he pale.

Indeed, it often seems those hack sycophants are more intested in "decisive victory" through "overwhelming force" than that hierarchy is. Bluntly, I believe that's because they see such a victory as proper retibution for Russia's having, in their minds, been single-handedly responsible for inflicting Tweetie-pie on us.

Among the worst of those hack sycophants is Markos Moulitsas, founder of DailyKos, someone fond of calling people "tankies," a 1950s-era anti-communist smear accusing people of maintaining blind support of the Soviet Union even after its invasion of Hungary in 1954. Referring now to the letter, he charged the signers "are now making common cause with Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Green, JD Vance, and the rest of the MAGA crowd. Which Ukrainians do these ‘progressives’ want abandoned to mass murder and rape, in their attempt to prop up a flailing Russia?"

Thus in one statement accusing them both of lining up with the worst of the GOPpers and of being on Russia's side in the war - siding with enemies both domestic and foreign.

But there is another point, which is that part of the reason for the "firestorm" is not what was said but who said it, that at least part of the response was the desire of the party hierarchy to smack down party progressives, who have gradually been gaining in influence.

The letter noted that Blahden himself has echoed some of what it said, having repeatedly expressed that only negotiations can ultimately end the conflict, that nuclear war is more imminent now than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis, and that he's worried about the fact that Putin "doesn’t have a way out right now, and I’m trying to figure out what we do about that.”

What's more, on October 15, Saint Barack said during an interview on the podcast “Pod Save America,” that he is concerned about the fact that, quoting, "lines of communication between the White House and the Kremlin are probably as weak as they have been in a very long time. Even in some of the lowest points of the Cold War, there was still a sense of the ability to pick up a phone and work through diplomatic channels to send clear signals."

And precisely because Putin has so centralized decision-making, quoting again, "us finding ways in which some of that communication can be reestablished would be important."

Which is hardly different from what the letter said, just without the reference to Ukraine.

Meanwhile, just under a week earlier, retired Adm. Mike Mullen, former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during an appearance on the ABC show “This Week” that the possibility that Russia might use battlefield nuclear weapons "speaks to the need to ... do everything we possibly can to try to get to the table to resolve this thing," adding that it’s up to Secretary of State Blinken and other diplomats “to figure out a way to get both Zelenskyy and Putin to the table.”

Which in some ways goes beyond what the letter said.

Even former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, who was one of Obama’s key advisers and a staunch supporter of Ukraine, said he agreed with the idea of making the effort, doubting only it would get very far.

None of those statements - from Biden, from Obama, from Mullen, from McFaul, produced anything like the reaction seen here, in fact hardly any reaction at all beyond some tut-tutting that Biden may have overstated the probability of Putin actually going nuclear.

But no matter. It was members of the CPC that said it and they needed to be smacked down. So effective was that smackdown, so complete the capitulation, that not only was the letter withdrawn, the announcement of the withdrawal included the statement "Every war ends with diplomacy, and this one will too after Ukrainian victory." (That is, of course, my emphasis because it definitely needed to be emphasized.)

And the hierarchy smiles and the hack sycophants go back to scanning for hints of dissent.

Finally something not directly related to the letter and the reaction but something related to Ukraine and something you should be aware of.

Note that Biden said he's worried that Putin "doesn't have a way out." Well, a legitimate question is, once Ukraine didn't collapse immediately upon the invasion, did they ever want him to have one.

First, never forget that the US alone has to date given Ukraine $17.5 billion in direct military aid since the invasion. You can argue that every penny of that was fully justified, but point here is that you can't say we are passive observers of events or merely moral backers of Ukraine. The US and rest of NATO are directly involved. This is not a war of Russia versus Ukraine, it is a proxy war between Russia and NATO, with Ukraine the battlefield on which it is being fought.

With that in mind, recall that back in mid-March, as I noted at the time, there were some negotiations going on between Ukranian and Russian officials with some expressions of optimism coming from both sides. Not that a settlement was imminent but the progress toward one was being made.

Then on April 9, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a surprise visit to Kyiv, where, according to the Ukrainian news outlet Ukrayinska Pravda ("Ukranian Truth"), he brought two simple messages to the capitol:

One: Putin is a war criminal; he should be pressured, not negotiated with.
Two: Even if  Ukraine is ready to sign some agreements with Putin, NATO is not.

Three days later, Putin said negotiations were at a dead end.

Maybe the timing was coincidental, but the fact that Zelenskyy also lost all interest in negotiations right around the same time, a time, remember, well before Ukraine's recent battleground successes, gives a rather obvious interpretation at least some weight, further bolstered by the fact that at the same time - the first week of April - the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft was reporting that

there are several lines of evidence that suggest that the U.S. is inhibiting a diplomatic solution in Ukraine,
including, significantly, it's total absence from those very March negotiations, lending no assistance, offering no support.

Now, it's not certain the conclusion this points to is true but there is reasonable cause to believe it, a conclusion that creates the image not of the US and NATO causing the war, one of the US inviting or perhaps more accurately baiting Putin to attack - although that would not be unprecedented in US foreign policy - but one of the US and NATO allowing it to continue to take advantage of an opportunity to "pressure" Putin.

But "cause" versus "allow to continue" is somthing I would call a distinction without a difference. It surely makes difference to the homeless and the refugees; it even more surely makes no damn difference at all to the dead.

So we don't know if this idea is true, and in fact you have to hope it's not true because it would be quite heinous if it is.

Then again, war usually is.


064 The Erickson Report for October 27 to November 10, Page 2: Footnote

064 The Erickson Report for October 27 to November 10, Page 2: Footnote

There actually is one more reason beyond present-day gain why trans folks, particularly trans youth, are the current target of choice for the bigots and fear mongers: long-term loss.

In 2019, according to a report from the Public Religion Research Institute, more than six in ten Americans said they had become more supportive toward transgender rights compared to their views five years before. An increase in tolerance was found across all age ranges, all religious groups surveyed, and almost all political groupings, with only conservative GOPpers saying otherwise.

Note that doesn't mean that majorities were supportive of those rights, but that the trend was clearly in that direction: Support was clearly increasing. And there is good reason think that as public awareness of (and therefore more familiarity with) trans people has grown, that trend has continued.

Now consider that back in the 2004 fall election there was a whole spate of state constitutional amendments enacted to ban same-sex marriage. It was the same situation: Support for same-sex marriage was increasing, in fact had become legal in Massachusetts, and the reactionaries wanted to block progress.

Same as it ever was: On transgender rights, the reactionaries are losing. They know they are. They know that at some point the train of history is going to run them over and they are, as William Buckley famously said, "standing athwart history, yelling 'Stop!'"

In the case of same-sex marriage, it was another 11 years, but they failed, even as they still fight rear-guard actions against it - like the baker who, the court said, can refuse to make a cake for a same-sex couple because, you know, God 'n' stuff.

Even so, even as they can win a few legal victories, they have lost in the court of public perception. And in the long run they will fail with regard to trans folks, too. Keep hope alive.

064 The Erickson Report for October 27 to November 10, Page 1: Attacks on transgender youth

064 The Erickson Report for October 27 to November 10, Page 1: Attacks on transgender youth

Let's start here with a basic fact: Treatment for gender dysphoria, that is, gender-affirming treatment and care, has deemed medically appropriate by literally dozens of health-related organizations including every major pediatric institution in the country, including:

the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
the American Academy of Pediatrics
the American Medical Association
the American Psychiatric Association
the American Psychological Association
National Association of Social Workers
the Pediatric Endocrine Society
the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine
and more than a dozen others.

Despite that, using the same devotion to facts and logic that enabled them to claim COVID was "just the flu" and to encourage infections by opposing mask mandates - the current death toll is approaching 1.1 million - GOPpers and other assorted proto-fascists have over the past two years directed levels of viciousness toward transgender youth that are nothing short of barbaric.

And it's gone from sneering to attacks about school sports to witch hunts about "grooming" to have reached levels of outright eliminationism.

Gender-affirming care is banned in Arizona and Arkansas; gender-affirming surgery for minors is a felony in Alabama; in Texas, state agencies are required to consider gender-affirming health care to be child abuse and anyone who provides it or supports children in accessing it a potential abuser. A bill passed the Idaho House to sentence health care providers who offered gender-affirming care to life in prison.

Note that some of these provisions and some of those in other states have been blocked by courts from going into effect, at least not yet, but that cannot deny either the intensity or the intent, marked perhaps most clearly by South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who celebrated the passage of an anti-trans school sports bill by by directly comparing support for transgender rights to terrorism.

Meanwhile, in Congress, 50 House GOPpers, lead by QAnon butt-kisser Marjorie Taylor Greene, the brainiac who's against solar power because she thinks it doesn't work at night, are pushing a bill to outlaw gender-affirming care for minors nationwide, including a ban on any federal money for any form of such care, banning any coverage under the Affordable Care Act, and even requiring institutions of higher education not to offer any training on such care and accrediting agencies to refuse to accredit any institution or association that offers such care. Criminal penalties can range up to 25 years in the federal slammer. 

But on October 13, a group of Michigan Republican state representatives went all the way, introducing a bill that would see parents and health care professionals facing the treat of 25 years to life in prison for providing gender-affirming care to a minor. The bill would change the very definition of child abuse to explicitly include anyone who “knowingly or intentionally consents to, obtains, or assists with a gender transition procedure for a child.” "Procedure" is defined as including not only to gender-affirming surgery - which is very rare for teens - but also to hormone treatments and puberty blockers, even though such treatments are both harmless and completely reversible: You start to transition, decide you don't want to, just stop taking the meds and your body takes care of the rest.

GOPpers are the majority in the Michigan House and they are expected to throw full support behind the bill. The only sort of good news here is that if it passes both the House and the Senate, also controlled by GOPers, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer would likely veto it - assuming she survives the dark money-funded assault from GOPper and all-around definition of right-wing fakery Tudor Dixon.

But that's not the worst, as the bill goes beyond that. It not only bars the provision of new treatment, it mandates that trans teens in the state who are currently receiving gender-affirming medical care be forced to stop their treatments and undergo compulsory medical detransition.

This is outright eliminationism. This is saying to trans youth "You are not allowed to be that way and we will force to you not be that way. You are not allowed to exist."

This at a time when the Trevor Project’s 2022 survey on the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth determined that more than 60 percent of LGBTQ+ youth said their mental health has deteriorated as a result of these sorts of attacks. Nearly one in five transgender and nonbinary youth attempted suicide in the past year, while 42% of youth who identified as LGBTQ+ contemplated suicide - a figure that rose to 52% for trans kids in particular.

And every one of those figures is worse for LGBTQ+ youth of color.

These laws, despite all their screeching about "Protect the children!" are going to see children die.

And you know, it's always about "The children! Think of the children!" It's what this sort of moral panic seems to be always about. From the Salem witch trials right up through in my lifetime comic books, rock and roll, day care centers, Dungeons and Dragons, video games, and the Internet, it keeps being about "Omigod the children!"

But there is a difference in this case. Most moral panics seems to emerge sort of organically. Somehow, a few people get an idea about something, it gets talked about so a few more hear about it and for some reason invariably related to broader social fears and stresses, it catches on and grows by feeding on itself in a feedback loop until at some point it burns itself out.

Not this one. There is nothing natural or organic about this one. This anti-trans panic has been manufactured, created, consciously and deliberately, top-down, by right-wing and repressive forces and their associated think-tanks to create fear and then exploit that fear purely for their own extremist self-interest.

David Neiwert has looked at and followed the topic of eliminationist rhetoric - that is, the use of expressions of "You do not have the right to be here" or even "You do not have the right to exist," for reactionary political gain - for years. He says "the entire point of such rhetoric is to create permission to direct violence freely at the targeted minority group."

Or, as in this case, the targeted group plus "anyone in the general vicinity," such as supportive teachers, parents, and health care professionals - and more recently, performers at drag shows reading to children - who are all either "groomers" or outright pedophliles or predators or all three, or in the case of drag show performers, also "perverts." And do not think for an instant that the overt physical intimidation directed at those drag shows by such as the Proud Boys, whose pride lies in being right-wing thugs, is not a manifestation of this eliminationism

For evidence this is all deliberate, we can look to a report from August out of The Human Rights Campaign and the Center for Countering Digital Hate looking at the increasing anti-LGBTQ+ hate rhetoric on social media and by the way thanks to David Niewert for the link and for more background on the issue.

The groups looked at tweets containing slurs like "groomers" or "pedophiles" in the context of conversations about LGBTQ+ people between January and July of 2022. There were nearly 990,000 of them - plus an additional 130,000-plus using the dismissive smear "ok, groomer."

One key finding was that after Florida Gov. Ron DeSandTick got his "Don't Say Gay" bill through, the rate of hateful tweets more than quadrupled, apparently because, I'd say, the bill's passage was felt to somehow legitimize the bigotry.

More significant, however, is the finding that much of the hate is being generated by a handful of well-known right-wing influencers. The researchers determined the 500 hateful “grooming” tweets had been viewed the most times had been viewed an estimated 72 million times and 2/3 of that total - 48 million views - were generated from just 10 people.

The top four contained no surprises:

Marjorie Taylor ColorOfNausea-Greene
James Lindsay, an “anti-woke” activist who described the pride flag as that of a "hostile enemy"
Lauren "Pistol-packin' mama" Boebert
and Chaiya Raichik, the sniggering clown behind the “LibsofTikTok” account.

Among the rest we find Ron DeSandTick press secretary Christina Pushaw, who pulled language right out of QAnon to take the "groomer" crap mainstream, two pundits for the far-right outfit Turning Point USA, one from BlazeTV, which is where you go if you ever wonder what the hell happened to Glenn Beck, and one from The Daily Wire, the reactionary "news" source founded by poster boy for privilege and winner of The Erickson's Report Clown of the Year 2019, Ben Shapiro.

In other words, a pretty standard collection of right-wing grifters, greedheads, and gasbags, backed by the usual band of bullshitters like the cretins at Faux News, which ran a series of shows on pedophilia in March and April, which included a guest on Fox and Friends claiming children were “being ripened for grooming for sexual abuse by adults” and another on America Reports insisting that affirmative care for trans children “goes beyond predatory grooming” into “psychological torture.”

The fact is, reactionary groups and movements like Christian nationalists - including fundamentalist preachers demanding that gay people be lined up and shot in the head - and neofascist white power groups like Patriot Front, with their individual ranges of ideological focuses, have banned together to wield “groomer” rhetoric like a bludgeon for one purpose only: As put by Justin Unga, the Human Rights Campaign's director of strategic initiatives, "pure politics," adding "It is no coincidence that people have inflamed and used this rhetoric during the period of the primary elections. They are," he said, "inflaming the most extreme elements of their fan base to gain notoriety, to build a brand that they see as politically and financially profitable."

In other words, it is about what the right wing is always about: greed, selfishness, egotism, and power-hunger.

These people don't give a single flying damn about the children they claim to be protecting. They don't care about the bullying, about the harassment, about the violence, about the suicides. They don't care about the prospect of children being ripped from supportive parents precisely because of that parental support - remember, in Texas and not only there, that's called child abuse. They don't care about the increase in hate crimes directed against gender nonconforming people. They do not care.

Because for them, these children aren't real, they are just cartoons, cardboard cutouts, stage props to be named, labeled, and moved around however they think it will produce the desired result in the audience. The realities of the lives of these children don't move them, the realities of their deaths move them even less. It's all about the posturing, the pose, the play.

If Diogenes were to move among these people I expect he would be very lonely and extremely disappointed. They are, in a word, despicable.

064 The Erickson Report for October 27 to November 10

064 The Erickson Report for October 27 to November 10

This episode of The Erickson Report looks at what and who is behind the attacks on transgender youth before discussing the reaction to the letter from the Congressional Progressive Caucus about trying to talk to Russia about Ukraine.


- transgender youth

- footnote

- the CPC letter

The Erickson Report is informed news and commentary from the radical nonviolent American left. Comments and questions are welcome. Please observe rules of courtesy.

Sunday, October 09, 2022

063 The Erickson Report for October 6 to 19, Page 4: Brief comments on Iran and Ukraine

I am not going to try to cover news about Iran. It's one of those cases where events change too quickly and there is no way a show on once every two weeks could keep up. Anything I say here would be obsolete even before you hear it.

But I did want to take a moment to express my profound respect and admiration for the massive crowds whose nonviolent protests have shaken the grounds of Iranian society and even government. They have braved beatings and bullets - over 150 have been killed, hundreds more injured, thousands arrested - and while they may not achieve their goals of a more open society in the face the proven willingness of the Ayatollahs to unleash even greater violence in the face of a challenge, still they stand as evidence that Iran will change.  

As put by Kasra Aarabi, the Iran Program Lead at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, "unrestrained violence against unarmed civilians [may] quash the protests this time around," but

the mood on the streets is explicitly revolutionary. They don't want reform, they want regime change. Of course, no one can predict when this moment will happen: it could be weeks, months or even years. But the Iranian people have made up their mind."

Believe it: As even the Ayatollahs must know in their hearts, change will come.

The other thing I'm not going to discuss, for the same reason (events changing too rapidly), is Ukraine.

But I do want to make one observation: There has been much discussion about the danger of Russia - that is, Vladimir Putin (or, as I call him, Pukin') - to escalate to nuclear weapons if things continue to go badly for him. But there is another danger that should be considered, this one coming from Ukraine, specifically from Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has specifically barred any negotiations to end the war so long as Putin is in power.

I said before the war started that given nations' unfortunate historical preference for war over humiliation, the reality is, if in a confrontation you don't want a war, you have to give the other side a way to back out without appearing to back down. The same applies to ending a war.

I'm sure Zelenskyy is happily envisioning a coup overthrowing Putin, one lead by a group eager to offer Ukraine concessions up to and including forswearing any claims to Crimea. But I wonder if he is really giving full consideration to the increased risk to which he is subjecting his people with such an uncompromising attitude along with the question of what there is still to be gained that is worth the predictable cost.

The Ameerican pacifist A. J. Muste once said "The problem with war isn't with the loser but the winner. Who is going to teach them that might does not make right?" Now that things appear to be going his way, that's a question Volodymyr Zelenskyy should be asking himself.

063 The Erickson Report for October 6 to 19, Page 3: False claims about the future of Social Security

Oh, guess what! It's "Social Security is going bankrupt!" Season again!

At least every couple of years we experience a spate of articles on how Social Security is on the verge of some sort of catastrophe. It's running out of money! Or it will in a few years! It's unsustainable! Huge benefit cuts are just around the corner! We have to DO SOMETHING! OMG OMG OMG!

And it's always the same old, same old: the same old arguments and the same old predictions and the same old false comparisons. Several years ago someone said debating some climate change deniers was like debating a well-trained parrot that had learned about a dozen phrases it would spew out at random. It really is much the same here except there is even less variety in the arguments.

Our latest example comes from one John Csiszar, a financial planner writing on the "10 biggest problems facing Social Security."

Several of the problems are, frankly, temporary and based on conditions of the moment - for example, low interest rates. Those that aren't, are those same old, same old things that sound drastic but really mean little or nothing. But it's worth going through them so you can arm yourself against them when they come up, which they will because they always do.

One is that "life expectancy is rising" - actually, it hasn't these part few years, but let that pass as another hopefully temporary phenomenon - which makes for longer retirements and a bigger drain on the system. Except that greater life expectancy has also lead to people working longer and even putting off retirement voluntarily, not due to economic need. And many retirees work part time - I do - and so continue to contribute something to the system even during retirement and may even, if they earn more than a certain amount, see some of their benefits taxed back, as some of mine are.

A really deceptive argument is the one that goes "too many beneficiaries" due to the baby boomers. But the demographic bulge represented by that group was seen coming and in 1983 the tax rate for social security was raised specifically to create a surplus to deal with that coming bulge. Baby boomers were in effect pre-financing their own Social Security benefits.

So when you hear about the SS account "going to zero" around 2034, it's that surplus that will have been spent, returning SS to the pay-as-you-go status it has been on for most of its existence, which now extends back over 80 years.

And let me here address something subtle: The talk about looming "massive benefit cuts" that are always part of these discussions. Your social security benefits are calculated on a number of your highest-earning years, which for most people are ones nearing retirement, simply assuming they have been getting raises during their working years. When you hear about the benefit cuts, they are cuts from projected benefits. But over time, wages tend to rise a little faster than inflation, which in turn means that over time, the initial benefits for new retirees, measured in real terms, that is after accounting for inflation and so a measure of how much stuff you can actually buy, those initial benefits gradually provide a somewhat higher standard of living that the initial benefits for previous retirees.

Which means that by the time these benefit cuts come, the result could easily mean that new retirees have the same standard of living - can buy as much stuff - as people retiring now can. That's not something to be welcomed, certainly, but it is even further from the disaster it's intended to sound like by making you think they are cuts from the current level of benefits, not from the higher projected ones.

Getting back to the arguments in this article, another deceptive one is the "not enough workers" claim. This is that the worker-to-retiree ratio is shrinking. Sixty years ago there were five workers for every person receiving SS.  More recently it had been down to 2.8 workers per beneficiary and now, according to Csisza, it's down to - gasp! - just 2.1.

Sounds dreadful - except that the figure itself is useless. Workers don't just support retired people, they support all non-workers, including their children and their spouse or partner if they don't work and in some cases others. Even as the number of retirees is growing, family size is shrinking. So over these decades, even as the ratio of workers to retirees is expected to go down, the ratio of workers to non-workers is expected to go up: more workers per non-worker.

Sixty years ago, there were 1.05 workers per non-worker; by 2030, demographic trends say there will be 1.27. So by the logic of the argument, we will be better able to support Social Security in the future than we are now!

The burden on workers will be much that same, it's just that in effect, some portion of that burden will have shifted from supporting their children to supporting their parents.

But then of course, the real issue is Congressional stalemate, the refusal of politicians to do what's needed to fix this!

It is true that there hasn't been significant Social Security legislation since the 1980s, but a good part of the reason for that is that the only solutions usually offered - and the only ones offered here - are ones that just dump the burden on workers: Raise the retirement age (which in fact has already been done)! Cut benefits! Raise the payroll tax!

Want to know how to protect SS for the next 75 years, which is as far out into the future the trust fund managers' projections go? And do it without harming the interests of workers? First, remove the cap on the SS wage base. Right now, any earned income you make over $142,800 a year is not subject to SS payroll taxes. So someone making, say, 1.4M a year pays the same SS tax as someone earning one-tenth as much. Such a move would only affect the richest 8% of Americans. Which is why, of course, it hasn't been done.

But I'd go even beyond that. Remember, that tax applies to earned income. Income from passive sources, such as dividends, interest, pensions, or income from a business in which you don't have an active role, are not subject to payroll taxes. Frankly as far as I'm concerned, if you can spend it the same, it can be taxable the same. Which again would primarily affect the richest among us - which is why it isn't even on the table.

Bottom line - an appropriate expression here - SS may need some tweaks and fiddles - and it has been tweaked and fiddled with a number of times over its history - but it is not going bankrupt, not about to collapse, not in need of major surgery, and for young folks, yes it will be there for you when the time comes so long as we don't let the economic elites screw you over.

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