Conservatives and democratic socialists are wrong about democratic socialism

By Michael d’Oliveira

Mention democratic socialism and many conservatives shriek that it’s an attack on American values; basically, the softer side of Karl Marx.

Mention it to a group of democratic socialists and it’s hailed as a system that will ultimately replace capitalism for the better.

They’re both wrong.

Democratic socialism is neither the forebearer of communist hordes, nor is it something that will bring about an end to every negative consequence of capitalism. That’s because capitalism is an integral component of democratic socialism.

Free enterprise, free markets and the private control of the means of production are key to creating an economy that can support the social programs popular with democratic socialists.

If you want proof, look to Europe. Democratic socialism governs most of Western Europe, especially Germany. Europe’s most economically powerful nation has a robust social welfare state. They also have a robust private economy where individuals and corporations control their own businesses and are free to trade, innovate and produce without any significant interference from the government.

Germany isn’t some communist hell hole. It’s a very rich nation with a very high standard of living. Its people aren’t starving. It’s an example of how you can have a welfare state that is able to financially support its welfare programs. It most certainly is not Venezuela.

Private property and free enterprise are values that a majority of Europeans believe in. They don’t want government to run and control the means of production. What they do want is a balance of government regulation which tries to protect workers and consumers while still allowing companies to remain profitable and viable.

Both conservatives and most democratic socialists believe in capitalism or some form of it. If you ask a democratic socialist if someone should be able to open a business, odds are most, if not all of them, will say yes. They may be in favor of forcing corporations to pay higher salaries and taxes, but they won’t advocate for the government taking over that business.

Real, pure, unadulterated socialism and communism don’t actually have much support here in the United States. And that’s a good thing.

But that may be in jeopardy if we keep having disingenuous discussions about democratic socialism.

If democratic socialism is constantly depicted as being the answer to capitalism, the real answer to capitalism, communism, may find more and more fertile ground.

But while conservatives are great at making democratic socialism into a boogeyman, the real experts of misrepresenting democratic socialism are democratic socialists. And right now, their leader is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – a self-styled democratic socialist who is running for Congress in New York.

In August, she detailed some examples of democratic socialism, which included café co-ops and supporting worker-owned businesses.

Co-ops and worker-owned businesses aren’t examples of democratic socialism. The first is a partnership between two privately owned businesses. That’s the very essence of free markets and capitalism. No one in the government stopped those businesses from working together. As for worker-owned businesses, again, that’s not democratic socialism because it has nothing to do with government. It was a group of private individuals owning a business together.

The economy is so important in this and every other country and we need to have real, honest, accurate discussions about what kind of policies we want to shape that economy. We can’t do that when people are pretending something is something it isn’t.

The time I met a superhero

A few of my friends grew up reading about superheroes in comic books. I found my superheroes in the pages of World War II history books and Hollywood war pictures.

But, like my friends, I never thought I would actually meet the superheroes I read about. But years after I began writing, I’ve met a few. The latest was Mr. Fred Conrod, whom I interviewed last September for the local paper I work for.

Mr. Conrod, who died last month at age 93, was a superhero right out of central casting.

A member of “The Devil’s Brigade,” the famed commando unit depicted in the 1968 film of the same name, Mr. Conrod fought seemingly everywhere in Europe during World War II – Italy, France, Norway and Germany.

Officially known as the First Special Service Force, they were given their nickname by the Germans. They got it by wreaking havoc behind the German lines and leaving their calling card on the enemy soldiers they dispatched – “Das dicke Ende kommt noch” was German for “The worst is yet to come.”

Mr. Conrod’s experience in the war could make for a pretty good movie with a lot of action, a good bit of humor and some a little luck. There was even some romance. “I had a great time in Southern France. I dated the prettiest girl in Nice,” Mr. Conrod told me last year.

In Norway, when the terror and adrenaline of combat gave way to the boredom in between battles, Mr. Conrod said he amused himself by sneaking into a German camp and stealing a motorcycle.

But, as entertaining as his story is, it’s scary to think of what the world would look like today if Mr. Conrod and others hadn’t won the war.

Thankfully, Hitler was wrong about who the real “super men” were.

They weren’t of Aryan descent. They were American boys whose parents and grandparents came from every corner of the human race. American kids of Italian, Japanese, English, Scottish, African, Russian, Hispanic, French, Irish, even German descent, to name a few, who grew up playing baseball and learning knots in the Boy Scouts.

They were shaped and toughened by the Great Depression, grew into men and answered their country’s call with honor and distinction.

Super heroes save a fictional world.

The men of Mr. Conrod’s generation saved the real one.

We can never fully repay that debt. But we can remember what we owe.

You can be against illegal immigration and still want immigrants treated humanely

By Michael d’Oliveira

While racism and bigotry do underpin a lot of the rhetoric of some people who are anti-illegal immigration, not everyone against illegal immigration is a racist or a bigot.

There is nothing immoral or cruel about someone wanting to control the flow of immigration into their country. The morality and humanity, or lack thereof, of an immigration policy comes in how people and families are treated. Preventing someone from entering the country illegally is not automatically cruel and inhumane. Ripping families apart is.

A lot of people who come here illegally do so because they’re desperate to provide for themselves and their families. They only want to find work and they aren’t here to steal, smuggle drugs, or worse. We should treat these people with compassion and humanity.

Unfortunately, some of the people who come here illegally are not here for innocent reasons. Having a system where everyone comes here legally is the only way to distinguish between the two groups and keep out as many gang and drug cartel members as possible. Can any system prevent every problem or avoid mistakes? No. No system is perfect. Will people still come here illegally? Yes. People who are desperate and destitute don’t have time to wait for paperwork. No one in their right mind would let their family be exposed to a dangerous situation longer than they had to just to wait on some paperwork. Human beings are not like that. They take action to protect themselves as soon as possible. Everyone should be able to empathize with that.

No one should get mad at desperate people just because they couldn’t wait to fill out form I-140. They certainly shouldn’t use racist or derogatory language to describe them either. But no one should get mad at someone who just wants to implement a humane, fair, immigration and border policy.

Stop the hyperbole surrounding illegal immigration

No, the Democrats don’t want illegal immigrants to come here and vote, as former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee wrote on Twitter today. “Nancy Pelosi introduces her campaign committee for the take back of the House,” he wrote above a picture of what appears to be Mexican gang members.

Wanting an increase in legal immigration or a decrease in children being separated from their families does not mean you want to see illegal immigrants getting in line at polling places on election day.

And, as horrible and immoral as separating families is, comparing ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to the Nazis is not accurate. “No more pussyfooting around any more. ICE = NAZIS,” wrote the Americans for Bernie Sanders Facebook page.

There are many atrocious acts committed in this world. The scale goes from cheating at golf all the way up to rounding up human beings and putting them in gas chambers. The Nazis occupied the farthest end of the spectrum. ICE ripping children from their parents’ arms is terrible, but it’s still not comparable to the Nazis.

Speaking in hyperbole does nothing to advance the conversation. You can speak out against horrible policy decisions without resorting to hyperbole.

No, renaming schools and removing statues does not “erase history”

By Michael d’Oliveira

When the news came out that a Virginia elementary school would be renamed after President Barack Obama and no longer after Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart, a familiar argument re-emerged: the renaming was “erasing history.”

One Facebook user wrote, “At some point erasing the history and monuments is going to come back and bite you.”

It’s an argument that has been uttered time and time again, especially when local officials somewhere decide to remove Confederate statues or flags from public land or facilities. It’s also an argument that is wrong.

The purpose of statues and monuments is not to teach history. That’s what books, museums, and educational lectures, etc., are for. Pretty much anything teaches history better than a statue because history is often complicated and can’t be summed up with a few pounds of stone or marble. Not even ones with plaques on them tell the whole story. No one stumbles upon a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and suddenly learns everything about the Civil War. No one visits the Iwo Jima Memorial and suddenly learns everything about World War II.

If statues and monuments were imperative to learning about history, Benedict Arnold would be a forgotten figure. There are no monuments bearing his name or likeness. Everyone who knows about Arnold learned about him by reading a history book or some other kind of non-statue way.

Statues and monuments are not about teaching history. Statues and monuments are a direct reflection of the values and priorities of the people who erect them. Confederate statues and monuments were erected because the people who built them venerated the Confederates and the Confederacy. They saw the generals as heroic figures to be idolized. That’s why Abraham Lincoln has such a prominent and large memorial in a very prominent place in Washington, D.C. The Americans who built his memorial wanted to express to the world how much they respected and revered him.

You certainly wouldn’t put up a statue of someone you hate.

In at least one case (and probably many more) the New Orleans Liberty Place monument, before it was removed, had an inscription that read, “United States troops took over the state government and reinstated the usurpers but the national election of November 1876 recognized white supremacy in the South and gave us our state.”

Unlike many Civil War era statues, which just give a wink and a nod to white supremacy and violent insurrection and treason, the Liberty Place monument, which was erected shortly after the war, comes right out and declares it without leaving any doubt.

Which brings us to why (with few exceptions, such as historic battlefields), these Confederate statues don’t belong on public land: nothing that promotes the subjugation of fellow Americans or human beings in general should be given a place of prominence on public land. If someone wants to fly a Confederate flag or build a Confederate statue on their own property, that’s their right. But seeing Confederate symbols on public property is not a right.

Symbols have a certain amount of power. They can be used as something to rally around, just like all those neo-Nazis rallied around the statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville last year. Removing these Confederate statues and monuments is not an effort to erase history. It’s an effort to erase some of the symbolic power of men who were on the wrong side of history.

Why “it doesn’t affect me” isn’t good enough anymore

By Michael d’Oliveira

Part of the reason public support for gay marriage has increased so dramatically over the last 15 years is because, unlike abortion, many people view it as something that doesn’t affect them or others.

According to the Pew Research Center, support for gay marriage was 35 percent in 2001. In 2017, it was 62 percent.

But while “it doesn’t affect me” was probably good enough to sway public opinion in favor of gay marriage, and possibly even influence the Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage in 2015, as a society, we need to do better.

“It doesn’t affect me” accurately describes the private relationship of two consenting adults. What two gay men or two lesbians do as a couple is nobody’s business but their own. Their love and commitment to each other is not going to negatively impact the ability of any heterosexual couple to have a happy marriage or raise healthy children.

But “it doesn’t affect me” also has a certain negative connotation to it. It implies that the only reason to grant someone rights is because it won’t impact yours. There’s an implied idea that one depends on the other. Nobody says, “Christians should be allowed to worship freely because it doesn’t impact Sunday football.” Christians are allowed to worship freely in this country because we all believe they have the right to do so. The same view needs to become predominant when it comes to thinking about gay marriage and other LGBT rights.

To be clear: nobody should be forced or shamed into exposing the belief that LGBT couples have the right to be married. No one should be called a homophobe or a bigot just because they say, “it doesn’t affect me.” If we’re truly going to get people to change their minds, courteous and open conversation is the only way to go.

The way to change people’s minds is to highlight the humanity of the LGBT community and hope the thinking progresses in the right direction. As open homosexuality becomes more accepted by society, that will probably be the case. But it’s not something that can be taken for granted. History shows that it is possible for societies to backslide and regress.

LGBT individuals deserve the right to get married because they are human beings. They have the same hopes, dreams, fears, foibles, flaws, and potential as everyone else. They want to love, be loved, and be accepted by their friends and family for who they are. No one chooses to be gay because, for many people, that choice means being ostracized from their friends and family.

Nobody chooses to be discarded in that way. Most human beings, if they truly could choose, would make the choice that doesn’t involve negative social consequences or the physical harm and death that befalls many homosexuals, especially in countries where being openly gay is dangerous.

It’s a lesson in humanity that has its most recent example in the lesbian couple who proposed to each other at the same exact time in Memphis.

You can see the joy and happiness on display, just as you would when you see a man propose to a woman. That’s because we’re all human beings who experience the same emotions. We’re not really different, not in the ways that really count.

I see two lesbians but, what I really see is two human beings who are in love. I wish them a long and happy life together.

In America now, anyone who gets out of line must pay the price

By Michael d’Oliveira

We’re no longer content with merely having a different opinion than our neighbor. “Let’s agree to disagree” is no longer an option for us. “Let bygones be bygones,” that’s gone.

Those days are over. Maybe they were never really here. But they’re definitely gone now, and have been for some time.

Now, whenever we’re offended, like Shakespeare’s Shylock, we want our “pound of flesh.”
And today, many of us got it with the NFL’s decision to fine teams if players kneel during the National Anthem before games.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced the new policy and said the National Anthem “Is a very important moment to all of us” and that players shouldn’t disrespect the flag or the National Anthem.

These protests have never been about the flag. They’ve been about using a national stage (is there any bigger than the NFL on Sundays?) to speak up against issues regarding the black community and local police departments. To say this is about the flag is a gross mischaracterization.

To say it’s about the First Amendment is also a mischaracterization . . . sort of.

A lot of people will try and frame this as a First Amendment issue. But it really isn’t. The First Amendment is about preventing the government from punishing citizens for expressing themselves. In some ways, government abuse of the First Amendment would be preferable to what is exemplified in this NFL issue. The handful of government officials conducting a hypothetical abuse of power could be removed with a new election and replaced with people who respect the Constitution.

This is about something much deeper and more troubling – the letter of the First Amendment lives on, but the spirit is diminishing.

That First Amendment spirit can’t be imposed by the government. It can’t even really be taught in a traditional sense. Each individual has to cultivate it within himself or herself. And it goes way beyond tolerance. It requires a deep love and understanding of one of the cornerstones of what this country truly stands for – the right to offend and hold unpopular opinions.

Of course, these players still have the right to express themselves off the field. They still have their rights. To a certain extent, we all have to act a certain way at work. At the end of the day, these NFL players are employees and they have to follow the work rules of their employer.

That brings us back to that First Amendment spirit.

Instead of being content with simply criticizing these players for kneeling or boycotting games, many people demanded they pay some kind of price. Of course, they were within their own First Amendment rights to say the players should be punished. But why do some of us demand that pound of flesh? Must everyone conform to our version of the proper way to display our patriotism?

Is this the kind of country we want to live in? Is this who we want to be as a people? Thin-skinned, overzealous, demanding conformity, and satiated by superficial acts of patriotism?

Yes, people are allowed to speak Spanish in America

By Michael d’Oliveira

“This is America, speak English” is a common response to someone speaking Spanish or another language. The person issuing the demand is half right. This is America, so speak whatever language you want. Late last year, a teacher in new Jersey told her students that the men and women of the military were fighting for their right “to speak American” not Spanish.

Putting aside the fact that American isn’t a language, the men and women of our military do serve and fight for our rights. Again, half right. But one of those rights is the right to speak whatever language we want. We can speak Spanish, French, English, Russian, or whatever other languages we want. We can even speak made up languages, like Klingon or Dothraki.

Recently, two incidents have brought the whole Spanish debate back to the forefront. An attorney in Manhattan, Aaron Schlossberg, made national headlines when he threatened to call immigration because some employees were speaking Spanish in a restaurant.

In Montana, two American citizens were questioned by an ICE agent just because they were speaking Spanish. ICE agents shouldn’t be stopping people just because they speak Spanish. That should go without saying.

As for the incident with Schlossberg, if you find yourself in a business where an employee is only speaking Spanish or another language other than English, calmly try to find an employee who does speak your language. As a customer, you have the right to expect to be accommodated. At least one employee should be able to speak English.

You even have the right to be mad about it. But, again, there’s no reason to issue blanket threats just based on language skills. Think before your act, even if it’s just for your own sake. The attorney in Manhattan has been criticized heavily and has become famous in all the ways no one wants to be famous. Clam nerves can save you a lot of hassle and heartache. That’s not to say I condone or condemn how he’s being treated. It’s just a statement of how the world works today.

Should people who come to this country make an effort to learn English? Yes. But everyone here already should exercise patience and hospitality.

A woman in the building I work in doesn’t have very good English skills. To be honest, it’s a little frustrating. But I’m not going to yell at her for it. Her English is better than my Spanish and I don’t know how long she’s been in this country. It takes a while to learn a new language in a new country. Instead of being the next angry asshole to appear on YouTube, I’m going to try and treat her like I would have wanted my Portuguese ancestors to have been treated when they first arrived in America in the 20s and 30s.

That’s something we should all strive to live by: Treat today’s immigrants like you would have wanted your ancestors to be treated when they were strangers in the home they made possible for you.

Obama is more powerful than god

Even since before he was elected, many right-wing Christian leaders and many of their followers proclaimed god had chosen Donald Trump to be the 45th president of the United States.

When Barack Obama was president, these same right-wing Christians weren’t exactly making headlines declaring Obama’s presidency was the hand of god. In fact, they were declaring the opposite. In 2014, televangelist Pat Robertson said, “We need to do something to pray to be delivered from this president. He is a disaster. An absolute disaster.”

But here’s the thing: If you follow the logical thinking that comes up with the idea that an all-powerful god is responsible for Trump’s election, you also have to treat Obama’s presidency as god’s will. You can’t have it both ways. Anyone who does try to have it both ways, who tries to basically state that Obama is not part of god’s plan, is essentially saying that Obama is more powerful than god.

Obama, of course, is not more powerful than god. Which is why it’s both silly and dangerous to credit him with the outcome of an election. But that hasn’t stopped Christian leaders from claiming to divine the choice of divinity. To be fair, at least one of those leaders, Paula White, is consistent on the matter.

“And with that said, do I believe that God raises up authority? Do I believe that he sets one up and he pulls one down? When I read from Genesis to Revelation, I do believe that. So I don’t believe that just for President Trump. I would believe that for President Obama, I would believe that had Hillary [Clinton] been in [office],” she said in an article by Newsweek.

But she seems to be the only one.

Franklin Graham, the son of the late Billy Graham, has emerged as one of Trump’s leading worshippers. In an interview regarding his new book about his father, Graham said of Trump, “I think somehow god put him in this position.”

He also said, “I think some of these things, that’s for him and his wife to deal with. I think when the country went after President Bill Clinton, that was a great mistake. That should have never of happened. I think this thing with Stormy Daniels and so forth is nobody’s business.”

In a 1998 op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Graham was one of the people in this country who did go after Clinton for his personal conduct and sexual activity outside his marriage. “If he will lie to or mislead his wife and daughter, those with whom he is most intimate, what will prevent him from doing the same to the American public?” asked Graham. To those who like Graham, this probably looks like a sincere change of heart. To people who dislike him or are a little more cynical, it looks more like Graham changing his position to give rhetorical cover to Trump.

America’s first black president is much like America’s first black baseball player, Jackie Robinson. Robinson knew he had to be impeachable when it came to his personal behavior, on and off the field. He had to be better than the white ballplayers because people were looking for any excuse to kick him out of baseball and keep other black players out. It’s the same with Obama. There are things America’s first black president could never have gotten away with. Meanwhile, Trump can commit every sin in the book and people like Graham won’t ever speak against him.

Liberals and conservatives are turning boycotts into exercises in stupidity

Boycotts have become the stuff of stupid.

Before social media reared its head and gave everyone an unlimited number of opportunities to make fools of themselves publicly, boycotts were generally sane ventures. People got mad at some company and pledged not to further support them. Of course, not everyone participated, but we all understood the intention.

Not just content with denying a company future profits, people have started destroying things they’ve already bought and posting it on social media. Beyond a little attention for themselves and perhaps some negative attention for the company (which is almost always fleeting and forgotten within days) this doesn’t seem to have been rationally thought out.

And it’s not an exclusively liberal or conservative practice. People on both sides now seem to like literally throwing away perfectly-good products in some misguided attempt to stick it to whomever they’re angry with at the time.

Most recently, it was conservatives who flushed their money down the toilet (I can’t wait for a toilet manufacturer to get people upset) by protesting YETI, a cooler manufacturer.

YETI got into hot water when it stated it would be eliminating some “outdated discounting programs” for NRA members and other gun organizations.

Despite YETI’s insistence that it still supports the Second Amendment and the rest of the Constitution, NRA members were unconvinced. To show their disapproval, they used their YETI coolers for target practice. The NRA even spotlighted the reaction by posting a video on its NRA TV YouTube page titled “Let Yeti Be a Lesson: Don’t Mess with NRA Members” It features various videos of people shooting their coolers. One person blew their cooler up. In the comment section of the video, one person wrote, “Yeti who? Spit on my rights once, that’s all it takes. Big middle
finger to them and anyone else who would do that.”

But miserable boycotts love company.

In November of 2016, anti-Trump individuals got upset at shoe maker New Balance for comments its vice president made about Trump’s election. The Wall Street Journal reported the comment. “New Balance: The Obama admin turned a deaf ear to us & frankly w/ Pres-Elect Trump we feel things are going to move in the right direction,” wrote Sara Germano, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal.

Just like YETI, New Balance issued a statement. “We believe in community. We believe in humanity. From the people who make our shoes to the people who wear them, we believe in acting with the utmost integrity and we welcome all walks of life.”

New Balance customers responded with photos of New Balance shoes being set on fire or thrown in the trash. Twitter user Mario Guzman wrote, “@NewBalanceUSA is publicly supporting @realDonaldTrump. No more #NewBalance shoes for me. Garbage.”

There’s an episode of The Simpsons where Krusty gets people worked-up about government and politicians. At one point, he burns a dollar bill. Not long after, in another scene, Lenny says to Homer, “I brought a bag of money in case he wants us to burn it again.”

We’ve now become a Simpsons episode.