I Find Your Lack of Imagination Disturbing

Texas keeps turning ever rightward, and this last set of primary elections continues the trend. It would be nice to keep public education, but it's not a given. Imagine turning off Friday Night Lights in Texas.

I Find Your Lack of Imagination Disturbing

Major Heinrich Strasser and his Nazi henchmen are sitting with local police chief Captain Renault inside Rick's Café in Casablanca, chatting up Rick himself. "Are you one of those people who cannot imagine the Germans in their beloved Paris?" asks Strasser. Another Nazi asks, "Can you imagine us in London?" The calm, collected Humphrey Bogart as Rick brushes them off. Strasser glares at him. "How about New York?" Bogie responds, in his Bogie way, "Well there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn't advise you to try to invade."

In the real world, as well as the film, Paris WAS occupied. But in Casablanca, Bogie opts to support the Resistance and he lets the girl go, thus doing his part to ensure that neither London nor New York end up speaking German. The world is saved.

But Strasser had a point, didn't he? And in the early 1940s, it wasn't a given that New York or (especially) London wouldn't have to deal with invaders of the Nazi variety as most of Europe had. Pearl Harbor had been unimaginable, yet it was an explosive wake-up call delivered by the Japanese. Luckily, the Allies got it together (at the great cost of blood and treasure) and put a stop to a myriad of Axis threats.

In the late 40s through the early 60s during the Cold War, Americans faced the threat of nuclear destruction. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan marked the end of WWII and illustrated the unimaginable: how the splitting of an invisible atom could destroy an entire city. I remember crawling under my desk in elementary school during "duck and cover" drills. We put our hands over the tops of our heads and neck and counted slowly with the class until the drill was over. No doubt, we imagined, this defensive action would have saved us from a nuclear attack. It was a nervous time in our country. But most people had confidence in our government, our military, and our civic leadership. History would later show how close we came to a nuclear war.

...at the end we lucked out. It was luck that prevented nuclear war. We came that close to nuclear war at the end. Rational individuals: Kennedy was rational; Khrushchev was rational; Castro was rational. Rational individuals came that close to total destruction of their societies. And that danger exists today. It's almost impossible for our people today to put themselves back into that period. In my 7 years as Secretary, we came within a hair's breath of war with the Soviet Union on three different occasions. 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for 7 years as Secretary of Defense, I lived the Cold War.
-Robert McNamara, Sec. of Defense under Kennedy. from Errol Morris's documentary "The Fog of War."

"We came THAT close!" Robert McNamara, former Sec. of Defense in Errol Morris's "The Fog of War"

Most people never knew that, and over time, they grew unconcerned. The Berlin Wall came down. We were safe once again. Memories fade. Our shores are invincible. Go Team USA! Sure, our Southern border is a porous mess. Impoverished people searching for a better life cross by the thousands every week, but our superb military protects us from hostile invasion or attack from the sea. Except...

Imagine our surprise when in the fall of 2001 some very committed terrorists hijacked a passenger jet and flew it into the heart of our military leadership - the Pentagon. Two more passenger jets targeted and destroyed both main towers of the iconic World Trade Center, reducing them to rubble in New York City. The nation was stunned, as was most of the military. It seems we had built our nation's defenses to point to the sea, guarding against planes, missiles, and ships that might threaten our shores. No one, or almost no one imagined that a small cell of enemy operatives could not only attack such targets from the inside of our borders, but they could train to do so while living here. There were security experts and CIA analysts who were following the rise of Al Qaeda and saw some disturbing signs of foreign operatives in the States. Their wild warnings were mostly shrugged off or ignored completely.

Are you sensing a pattern here?

By all accounts, either or both of the last two financial crises could have ended up in a Depression at least as terrible as the one that devasted the country in the 30's. Both the recession of 2008 and the more recent Pandemic and recovery were predicted by many to collapse the economy. Both of these events were indeed tough, (and ruinous for many,) but nowhere near the total meltdown of a century ago. Smart people made courageous and informed decisions that kept the country from catastrophe. Yes, there has been some inflation, high-interest rates, and supply chain interruptions... but we're still the world's leading economy. And so we disbelieve the "experts" who try to warn us that "next time it could be worse."

The odd, pseudo-scientific film "What the Bleep Do We Know!?" suggests a spiritual connection between quantum physics and consciousness (as part of a belief system known as quantum mysticism). In a very apocryphal script point, it is suggested that Caribbean islanders couldn't see Columbus' ships on the horizon because they had no mental reference to make sense of them. They were invisible. A tribal shaman did notice the wakes and disturbances in the water from the ships. Over a period of days and much mental concentration, he was finally able to make them out. He was slowly able to share his experience with his people, and since they trusted him, they were able to make out the modern marvel of wooden sailing ships. Their inexperience with the phenomenon led them to believe that there had been nothing there.

I don't see any ships. From What the #$*! Do We Know!?

Are we too dimwitted anymore to look beyond the "usual"? Can we not bother to imagine something that we're not familiar with? Have we lost all critical thinking skills? We tell our dull selves that we're on the "cutting edge." We work for companies that want us to "think outside the box" and then they cage us in office cubicles.

We are living in a time where "normal" is anything but. We need, more than ever, to imagine the ships on the horizon. The shamans are around us, trying to convince us that these ships are going to transform our world, and most likely not for the better. Still, we twist our heads like puppies hearing a shrill whistle.

For more than a century now, scientists from around the world have warned us about climate change. Researchers have produced mountains of data to back up their claims. The oceans were warming, slightly and slowly. But what does a couple of degrees difference make? Phhhht. "Well," explained the well-educated scientists, "even small changes can be devastating to the survival of species." Disruptive global weather patterns are resulting in more frequent and severe weather events: catastrophic storms, droughts, and floods. This, in turn, has affected crop production, ranching, fishing, sea levels, and animal and plant extinction.

A huge portion of the U.S. economy is of course based on petrochemical production. Much of global warming can be attributed in one way or another to our burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas. The resulting emissions blanket the earth and create a warming greenhouse effect. There is massive pushback from those with a financial interest in fossil fuel production to do nothing. It was Upton Sinclair who said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” Denial is extremely profitable, in the short term. Almost as long as there has been a debate, there have been industry-financed campaigns to refute that there is any change in our climate. The public has been easily manipulated. "Climate change" has become politicized and thus talk of cataclysmic weather has not made an impact. Until recently.

Just this week, more than 2,000 square miles of the Texas panhandle went up in flames. Around 3600 head of cattle were killed, and more will be euthanized due to burns and related injuries. Valuable ranchland is still burning in this fire that is the largest in Texas history and one of the largest in US history. It is estimated that 2 million acres will be lost before it is fully extinguished. The fire comes on the heels of flooding, less than a year ago. The floods supported grass growth, recent dry conditions and heat dried the vegetation into an excellent fuel source, and high winds and more heat lit up the countryside.

Some of the locals shrug and insist that it's always been this way. Boom and bust, drought and flood. But to many, these cycles grow more intense. "Other weather extremes had already tested farmers in the region. Drought caused recent cotton crops to fail, Char Miller IV, a professor of environmental analysis at Pomona College said. Poorly timed downpours and hail last spring and summer meant there were hardly any tomatoes harvested in the region, and some farmers were limited in how much sweet corn they could plant, said Adrianne Brockett, manager of the Hutchinson County farmers market."

In the very same week, a series of blizzards hit the Sierra Madre range in southern California, dumping several feet of snow in the area. The snow started on Feb. 29, and fell at rates of 2-4 inches per hour or more while fierce 60-80 mph winds blew around Lake Tahoe, and gusts near 200 mph were recorded on nearby mountain peaks.

Fewer and fewer Texans scoff at the notion of climate change, it's in their face every year. Tropical storms are growing more powerful and pound the Gulf Coast more frequently. Flooding is more severe. The entire state is on fire watch for longer periods. Cold snaps have threatened to take down the state's electric grid. There is no shortage of people willing to argue about the reasons for or extent of climate change, but there is very little left to imagine about it. We're neck deep.

Here are a few threats that, like climate change, seem to some to be ridiculous. Impossible. A bunch of fake news drummed up by elites and Democrats and woke troublemakers.

The dismantling of public education.

Governor Abbott has made it his mission to establish a system of "school choice" aka "school vouchers." He has the backing of in and out-of-state billionaires, demanding that he do so. In the primary elections this week, Abbott and his puppetmasters sank millions of dollars into races... to defeat fellow Republicans! The ones that had voted against his promise to deliver vouchers to the evangelical/private school community. He largely succeeded, with a few runoffs left to go. (Patrick and Paxton were also on a vengeful tear, campaigning against any GOP candidate that had voted to impeach Paxton.)

While it's no secret how education is severely underfunded in the state, rural districts are in many places, barely surviving. Between continued tax cuts that strip their budgets and inflationary cost increases, they can't afford to have more of their budget stripped out as a subsidy for wealthy families to send their kids to elite private schools. Some districts must deal with an influx of immigrants that eat up resources (bringing little tax base with them,) other districts face the pressure of teacher shortages. It is never certain what industries or businesses may relocate to another town and further erode the tax base. These rural schools are almost all in red districts, and their representatives are desperate to support them - local schools are one of the few things holding these communities together. And now the threat to their survival is coming from their own party. It's hard enough to find the funds for a school nurse, a contemporary computer lab, or basic aging infrastructure.

Glenn Rogers Pens Response to Election Loss - Mineral Wells Area News
Rogers Pens Thoughts After Losing District Race

A small-town Republican tears into his party for itching to destroy public education at the demand of a couple of Christian Nationalist billionaires. Read it when you get a minute.

It's hard to imagine small-town Texas losing its Friday Night Lights.

School safety breaking down even further.

Texans' imaginations run wild over their guns. A symbol of all things masculine. The legacy of our frontier mentality. And of course, a failsafe source of protection. Except when they're not much protection at all.

With every school shooting, the gun crowd pivots to a new and needed solution, the one that will stop all future school shootings. Usually, it's "more guns." Never is that solution, "limit access to guns." The Uvalde shooting at Robb Elementary School where 19 children and two teachers were slaughtered is a case and point. The school had social media monitoring software, watching for threats. They had new locks and controlled access. (The shooter got in a door that had been left open.) The district had active police patrolling the school, and they were on the scene within seconds. Eventually, around 400 law enforcement personnel from 20 agencies were on the scene, and most of them had been specifically trained in active shooter situations. Yet it took them over an hour to confront the gunman and kill him.

They had it all thought out, and none of it worked. The experts had put a protocol together. They imagined every scenario, except the one that killed 19 third graders. "Investigations" are ongoing. Better "safety plans" are being devised. Teachers are now allowed to carry guns. (Give that a minute, will you? Can you let your imagination run wild and think how that might backfire, so to speak?) The phrase "mental health" is tossed about whenever these shootings are discussed. As in, "this is the result of an individual with mental health problems, and we need to address that." No one had reported that the Uvalde shooter had any previous mental health issues.

We'll get this investigated and solved. We'll get a newer, even more foolproof plan. More locks. More security guards. More guns. We'll make every school a little fort unto itself. A cluster of classrooms behind a high wall, maybe with guard towers in the corners.

from the classic Clint Eastwood film, "Dirty Harry." Will we armor every school bus?

But it might require some imagination to realize that school is more than a handful of classrooms. Kids have to line up to get into that fort. Or wait for their rides home. Or sit in a large group on a school bus. (Didn't anyone see Clint Eastwood as Inspector Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry? I assure you every cop in the world has... yet somehow none can remember how vulnerable school kids are on a bus?) Will every school sporting event have controlled entry? Armed guards? I can assure you how little imagination it takes to find the many vulnerable scenarios that school children find themselves in throughout the day, often NOT within a prescribed path to their classroom.

The further erosion of women's rights.

Who imagined for a second that Roe v Wade would be struck down? Or that the reddest states would impose immediate measures to make abortion illegal? Or that there would be an actual bounty for turning in women, or doctors, or anyone who helps a woman get an abortion? That the so-called "morning after" pill would come under attack. In Texas, there are almost no exceptions to abortion restrictions, including rape. Already, over 26,000 women have been forced to deliver babies conceived from rape in the first 16 months of the ban. Imagine, 26,000 rape babies. The Alabama Supreme Court recently ruled that a frozen embryo was a child and to destroy such an embryo would be murder. All in vitro fertilization procedures were halted in that state for fear of legal action against providers. (After a tremendous outcry, the governor of Alabama signed a law that protects providers from lawsuits and criminal prosecution for the "damage or death of an embryo" during IVF services. Doctors and patients are still unclear what their rights are regarding these recent rulings.)

Scene from "The Handmaid's Tale."

Republicans in various states have also signaled that they are willing to look at birth control access. When a bill was hastily drawn up in Congress to guarantee women's access to birth control, only a very few Republicans voted to protect that right and ensure there would be no government restrictions.

For the past several years, when women's issues come up, the rather over-the-top reaction has been to frame the GOP's attitude towards women in terms of the book/TV series, "The Handmaid's Tale." Many considered that hyperbole and a meme too far. Yet now birth control is on the table? The old "Keep 'em barefoot and pregnant!" jokes seem to be returning among the red set. And no one is laughing.

Last week I was assisting an associate during some communications training with employees at an international energy company. One of our last subjects was in the management tier and had wanted to discuss some distinct ways to talk to the employees that she managed vs. how she addressed her colleagues in the C Suite. She was a no-nonsense but approachable woman, and we had worked with several of her underlings during the week. Many had mentioned the respect they had for her, and how they relied on her leadership. We were still making some introductory small talk when she asked us how the sessions were going. One of our running gags is, "well we haven't made anyone cry, yet!" (In a session at another company many months ago, an extremely nervous new employee had burst into tears, totally afraid of public speaking.) We chuckled when we told her that no one had yet cried, and we turned around to see that tears were running down her cheek. And we hadn't even started yet! We all took a breath and gently asked her if she was OK?

It seemed that she had felt a great deal of pressure lately with her young charges. Several of the young women that she was managing/mentoring were worried about modern politics, specifically the Roe decision and its implications. The political news in Texas had also been discussed. She felt the weight of these women's worries fall on her, and she'd been trying to put on a brave and calming face. But it was beginning to take a toll on her. Only recently, when she was pregnant, she had learned that the US branch of her company (which was usually seen as fairly progressive in many areas) did not have a maternity leave policy. She had brought it up several times, but since she was usually the only female in the management circle at the time, it was never followed up with policy. Through some clever machinations and some deft politicking, she was able to do an end-around run on the boys' table and establish a very generous maternity leave policy for all of the US branches. She said that it felt good to be able to do that, especially knowing it would be in place for all of those who followed her. But still, it took some subterfuge and brute force to accomplish. She felt the weight of Texas and the GOP in general, reversing so many things that she and others had fought for.

The rollback of gains made by the LGBT community.

It is pretty obvious that if the GOP is willing to tear into women's rights that have been established for decades, they won't hesitate to go after any protection offered to the LGBT community. We're back to "marriage is between one man and one woman." Don't imagine for a moment that they won't let up as they try to claw back that one. And as far as transgender protections, fuhgetaboutit.

Cutting Social Security, Medicare, and other earned social safety nets

Usually considered the "third rail of politics," meaning - touch that one and you die! The drumbeat to cut or even eliminate Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid can be heard in the distance, and it's growing louder. These programs are considered extremely, if not universally popular. Most politicians speak of cutting or reducing benefits at their own peril. Still, the wealthy don't need them, and they control the conversation. The Republican megaphone calls them "entitlements," implying that they're simply given away and not earned. They make specious arguments that the undeserving receive benefits and that the system is somehow being cheated by folks who don't need it. Finally, they claim that to keep up the programs will bankrupt the country. Never mind that there are easy solutions to keep the programs solvent: pop the caps on earnings (take away the upper-income limit.) Note that there are never proposals to shut down military waste, halt Congressional pay raises, or raise taxes on the uber-rich.

There is always a movement to raise the age of retirement, thus limiting earned Social Security benefits. "People are living longer." Not quite true, life expectancy in the United States is dropping. And just because we're living to a ripe old age, doesn't necessarily mean we can work as we ripen. Perhaps being a fatcat in Washington is not physically demanding, but working as a floor nurse, a teacher, a barista, a truck driver or a warehouse worker doesn't seem practical or even physically possible into your late sixties up into your seventies and eighties.

Afraid no longer of that third rail.

Bill Maher, the curmudgeonly comedian and TV show host, used to ask his guests back in 2019 and 2020, "What if Trump doesn't leave? What if he refuses to leave office?" Almost to a person, his well-informed, intelligent, and thoughtful guests laughed at the very notion. Some belittled Maher for suggesting it at all. (I think maybe filmmaker/provocateur Michael Moore threw in with him when no one else would.) Looking back, it's as if we were willfully blind to the possibility.

Texas keeps turning ever rightward, and this last set of primary elections continues the trend. It would be nice to keep public education, but it's not a given. The great majority of women would like to have the same rights that their mothers did. Parents would love to stop living in daily fear that their children will not survive the school day. The LGBT community, non-Christian religious communities, and the black and Hispanic communities would like to live free from persecution. As many are at or are approaching retirement, we would like to stop fearing that the investment we've made all of our working lives won't be there on the day that we can no longer work.

Hardly anyone imagined that half-rate TV show host and professional conman Donald Trump would become president in 2016. Fewer still thought he would try to steal the election in 2020 and foment an insurrection.

Yet he is now the presumptive Republican "nominee," and polls suggest that he will be reelected as president once again. What do you think his second term would look like?

Use your imagination.

Chris Newlin worked around Tee-Vee stations before he went out on his own and continued to work in the world of video and multi-media production. Then came iPhones and YouTube accounts, so now he sits around full of self-pity and too many Keystone Lights. He still enjoys sunsets, long walks on the beach, and a good bowel movement, at least every now and then.