Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Suppressed Minority

As mentioned in my last post, I finished the Lapham's Quarterly, Fall edition called "Rivalry and Feud" a few weeks ago.  The last essay from this edition that I would like to comment on was titled "Raising Cane" by Joanne B Freeman, a professor of history at Yale University.

Freeman's essay reflects on the events surrounding the "caning" of Republican Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts by Democratic representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina.  Freeman places this historic event in the context of the times, connecting it to the events that led up to the attack, while also reflecting on the changes that occurred, politically and socially, afterwards.  It is an interesting reflection, reminding us of how dramatically the positions and priorities of the two political parties have changed, as well as how integral slavery was, economically, socially and politically, at this time.

A few of the basic points of the essay which stand out, concern the stark differences between the Republican and Democratic parties then and now.  At that time, in the decades before the Civil War, the Democrats controlled the South, and was the party of slavery while the Republican party was in its infancy and represented the northern, anti-slavery viewpoint. 

While it would be best to read Freeman's article yourself, I will summarize the most important aspect.  Sumner had attacked, politically and personally, a number of Democrats for their pro-slavery stance, during his 5 hour speech to Congress in May, 1856.  One of those men was Andrew Butler, a Democrat from South Carolina and a relative of Preston Brooks.  This verbal attack by Sumner was treated as more than a political speech, but a condemnation of the South and its traditions.  It was also marked a deviation from past debates about slavery in Congress, and indeed, control of Congress itself, as the Southern Democrats were known for their stronghold on the halls of Congress and successful silencing of other perspectives. 

Freeman interprets Sumner's bold speech as being directed as much to the nation as those in Congress.  Whether one might call it the tipping point in the national discussion about slavery, or one of the events that created the impetus to wage a civil war over slavery, the speech, the caning, and the reactions on both sides eventually led to violence on a national scale within a decade.

While the battle over slavery was the main point of the time, an underlying stream of conflict was also at play:  the lack or representation by the minority in Congress.  Sumner's aggressive speech was as important to some in its attack on slavery, as the fact that a northern representative was standing up for a minority viewpoint.  Sumner seemed to be saying, hey, slavery is bad, but so is the fact that the opinions and beliefs of a large swath of the American electorate is being suppressed. 

If it is true that elections matter, that newly elected representatives feel empowered by the tilting of the political spectrum in their favor, and that mandates to govern are part of the spoils of winning, it is also true that our founders believed in and created our representative form of government, so that all voices could be heard through their representatives, even if they be in the minority.

As each party will tell you, it is important to govern for the benefit of all people on both sides of the aisle, when that party is in the minority.  Once a majority however, that tone seems to fade.

It is certainly worthy of debate to take sides on the premise, which comes first, the minority party with a strong leader who inspires a change of governance, or a minority opinion with a strong following which inspires a party to embrace this new message?  Was time ripe for Sumner's actions, reactions to his speech, and the growing power of the Republican party because the populace was already leaning towards an anti-slavery perspective?  I would imagine that many Sumner like speeches took place in the years preceding which created less than a ripple in the national conscious.  As they say in comedy, timing is everything!

That being the case, it is easy to see how the election of President Trump was inevitable.  Far too many middle class, working class people had become disappointed with the constant revision of the rules by the rich and powerful, both elected and those behind the scenes with their unlimited buying power.  This lack of representation was amplified even further during the 2008 recession when it was clear that those responsible, banks, lending agencies, Congress, and rich corporations, were rescued by the taxpayer, slapped on the wrist, and then accumulated even more resources during the recovery.  The boom and bust cycle had once again enriched those at the top to the detriment of everyone else.  The sad part, the less than democratic part, was that those who profited were the minority who had the majority of influence.  Representation was lacking, and so a populist message was all the more attractive. 

The suppressed minority has nothing to do with population, everything to do with representation.  And, when representation is defined by campaign donations linked to "free" speech, by gerrymandered Congressional districts, by voting laws which keep people off the voting rolls, and by a requirement that a large sum of money and negative campaign tactics be more important to winning an election than actual positions on the topics, then we are all a part of the suppressed minority. 

Perhaps this is the most important take away from the recent blue wave of the 2016 midterms.  Not that there was a rejection of some of the baser rhetoric associated with President Trump and the "new" Republican party.  Not that women, minorities, and the young voters all indicated the desire for a different direction.  Not even that a check in presidential power, which all of us should embrace, GOP or Democrat alike, was chosen. 

What is most important is that our democracy can and does work.  It works by presenting us with choices, general and specific, as to how we want to move forward.  It works by allowing us to choose our leaders every two years, even if those choices seem to contradict the elections previous.  And it works by giving the suppressed minority the opportunity to make its opinions heard and increase its representation in our local, state and federal legislatures.  Even, and especially, when the suppressed minority is the majority of the population.

   

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Intellectual Leprosy

Intellectual Leprosy is the title of an excerpt from Simone Weil's book called "On the Abolition of All Political Parties".  I read the excerpt in the Fall Edition of the Lapham's Quarterly called Rivalry and Feud, which I finished reading a few weeks ago.

Weil was a French philosopher and political activist of the early 20th century.  Although she died young, at age 34, and most of her writings were largely ignored until after her death, she is now regarded as an influential political thinker of her time.

The above except begins with the following quote.

"One recognizes that the partisan spirit makes people blind, makes them deaf to justice, pushes even decent men cruelly to persecute innocent targets.  One recognizes it, and yet nobody suggests getting rid of the organizations that generate such evils."

Later, she writes:

"Just as within political parties, there are some democratically minded people who accept a plurality of parties, similarly, in the realm of opinion, there are broad-minded people willing to acknowledge the value of opinions with which they disagree.  They have completely lost the concept of true and false  Others, having taken a position in favor of a certain opinion, refuse to examine any dissenting view."

From there, Weil gives examples from science, art and literature and even religion and faith which demonstrate that once an opinion of something is established, the arguments are based on for or against, regardless of facts or data.  The famous line, you are either with us or against us comes to mind.  Weil concludes that rather than ask for or against, we should simply ask what do you think?  What are your ideas?  It seems that this topic remains as relevant today as it was then.  And, let's not forget, that "then" was a time when the citizens of one European country in particular were facing the choice to be for the exclusion of people of certain heritage or against, but not just in writings or polite political discussions, but in real life decisions to identify those undesirables, isolate them, eradicate them.

Some say we are experiencing another round of global nationalism.  Many people, out of fear of all the changes that have occurred in technology and communication which have brought us closer together than ever at the same time as providing us with examples of how we are different from each other, have turned to strong arm leaders who identify for them who is right and who is wrong, making the for or against decision that much easier.  Some of these leaders are freely elected, others accumulate power, slowly, inexorably, until only one thought is possible, and the for or against is predetermined.

One might say that Weil's fears of how this tribalism can be destructive, fears which created an environment which led to the Holocaust, have surfaced again.  Whether they were temporarily suppressed due to the horrors of WW2, replaced by a new hope that we had cleansed our world of such
discrimination, or whether just redirected to appeal to a different base desire, greed, it is all conjecture.

But Wiel's main point, that intellectual leprosy as defined by a willingness to disregard any of one's own thinking or meditations, in favor of what the party or leader has determined to be the truth, is the true danger which results in humanity's complacency at best, brutality at worst.

Weil clearly concludes that political parties, among all the other tribal ways we identify ourselves, whether they be nationality, ethnicity, race or even sports team affiliation, unleashes a for or against mentality that "replaces the activity of the mind".  Her belief is that it is political in origin and that it spread from there to infect the land, "contaminating all forms of thinking."

And so she proposes, and defends in her book, the abolition of all political parties; as if, by removing the head, we eliminate the poison which threatens the body.

The question is, can it be done?  It is clearly ingrained in our DNA to form social groups.  Not only part of our make-up, but a part which has led to our evolution to be, for better or worse, the people we are now.  Is it just a matter of increasing the size of our group?  Stop thinking about us vs them on a skin color or nationality level; instead make it a planetary one?  If we can't suppress millions of years of evolution, perhaps we just expand its definition. 

From that standpoint, does each of us, as individuals, progress the development of the concept of humanity as all earthlings, or do we continue to support and applaud policies and concepts that identify and isolate those among us that we have decided should not belong. 

Perhaps the first step might be to eliminate political party affiliation in the voting booth.  No parties, just names.  Demand that the electorate know something about the person they are about to choose.  And create a national guideline that requires every state to expand voting access, whether it be early voting, extended hours, more voting days, etc.  Nothing says intellectual leprosy to me more than a country that believes it is the best in the world, in history, yet struggles to get 50% turnout in elections.

Finally, and perhaps this shows my age, perhaps some type of required course in civics in high school might be a good idea.  How does our government work, what services and benefits does it provide, how is your tax money spent, and why is democracy the worst form of government, except for all the others.  It seems there has been a successful attempt to turn the American citizens away from their  government, to see it as an obstacle, or the enemy.  If our government does not reflect We the People, then it is only We the People that our at fault by not understanding it, participating in its function, and escaping the dangers of intellectual leprosy, when thinking is replaced by following.

     

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Supreme Court Rulings

Quick note; my last post was my 400th.  As I glance through the titles and topics of these efforts, I am struck by the variety, by the persistence in continuing to blog despite the lack of exposure, by the idea that there may come a time when the inspiration falters, and by the fear that I won't make 500 for lack of topics to comment upon countered by the equally strong concern that I have only reached the tip of the iceberg in terms of discussing the events of our time which will create lasting ramifications for the future.

Anywho, I watched the movie The Post a few days ago.  Very compelling story, even though the ending was well known.  Interesting portrayal of Katherine Graham by Meryl Streep, and of Ben Bradlee by Tom Hanks.  As we most frequently do when thinking about historic figures, there is often a loss of humanity, by which I mean we forget these people were human; flawed, insecure, perhaps even unaware of the importance of what they were doing in regards to history.  Streep's portrayal presented Graham as almost a victim of the times, a woman in a man's world where the men were all too aware of that fact, assuming she could not (or should not) be in such a high level position, but also illustrating Graham's own belief that those chauvinistic assumptions were her's as well, at least at first.   Hanks' portrayal of Bradlee however, seemed to indicate that he knew full well the importance of what they were trying to do and had no doubts that they were doing the right thing.

Another interesting aspect of the movie was the depiction of how much the profit motive was part of the argument against publication of the Pentagon Papers.  There is often talk today about how the journalism of the past was unaffected by the need to generate revenue.  That those who ran the big newspapers of the day assumed a loss, but placed their respect for the importance of a strong 4th estate above money.  This movie presents a stark contrast to that assumption as Graham faced a very real effort by the lawyers and bankers who represented the investors, to convince her to delay or refuse to publish as they feared a decision against the papers by the Supreme Court, a vindictive Nixon who might use his power to hurt the paper, and/or a public response that might deem the decision to publish classified documents as anti-American, by themselves or in concert could render the paper bankrupt.

That being said, I spent the next hour or two after the movie ended, researching the Supreme Court justices who rendered the decision, against the United States Government, in favor of both the Post and New York Times, in support of their right to publish those documents.  It doesn't seem that hard to imagine a near future Supreme Court case which might pit either of these news organizations against the current Administration.

So, who were the nine justices and, perhaps just as important, who appointed them.

The decision supporting publication was 6-3.  Those who ruled against publication were Justices Burger (who was Chief Justice) Blackmun and Harlan.  Burger and Blackmun were the most recent appointments, selected by President Nixon in his first term in office.  One might have pause to apply their ruling in favor of the effort by the Nixon Administration to suppress publication of the Papers to the apprehension that the recently appointed Judge Kavanaugh might demonstrate similar loyalty should a decision concerning President Trump come to the Supreme Court.  Justice Harlan, the third justice to rule against publication was an Eisenhower appointee.  In their briefs, all three justices indicated that they believed deferment to the executive branch in regards to the classification of sensitive data must be respected and defended.

Of the six who ruled for the newspapers, there appears to be two different reasons for reaching the same conclusion.  The first group, three of the six, were said to be absolutists in their belief that the First Amendment, the guarantee of free speech, was sacrosanct.  No exceptions.  Those three were Justices Marshall, Douglas and Black.  Justice Marshall was appointed by LBJ.  Both Douglas and Black were appointed by, get ready for it, FDR.  Each had over 30 years on the Court, 2 of the 14 justices (out of 114 total) in history who served over 30 years.

Of the other group of three, Justices White, Stewart and Brennan (two of which, White and Brennan eventually became members of the 30+ years served club), one was appointed by Kennedy, two by Eisenhower.  They believed that only in extreme circumstances should there be restrictions to the First Amendment, and it was their opinion that the Pentagon papers did not meet the heavy burden of that requirement.  For more than a few of the Justices, they regarded the release of the Papers as more of an embarrassment to the current and three preceding Administrations, less as an act which damaged the government's ability to keep secret that which must be kept secret,  or put American soldiers in harm's way.  (Quick history lesson; the Pentagon Papers revealed that American governments under Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, repeatedly and knowingly lied to the Congress and the American people about the details and actions being taken during the Vietnam War.)

So, for those keeping score, appointments made by GOP Presidents voted 2-3 for restricting the release of the Papers, those appointed by Dems voted 4-0.  Hmmm.
 
(By the way, of the current Supreme Court justices, 5 were appointed by GOP presidents, 1 by George HW Bush, two by George W Bush, 2 by Trump while 4 were Dem appointees, two each by Clinton and Obama.  Further, while Ruth Bader Ginsberg is the oldest of the current Justices, Clarence Thomas is the longest served).

The Post, and my subsequent research on the Pentagon Papers, the follow-up historic events which led to the Post's famous journalists Woodward and Bernstein who revealed the involvement of President Nixon in authorizing, among other things, the break-in of the DNC headquarters at the Watergate Hotel and the attempts to obtain damaging information against Daniel Ellsberg (the inside source for the Pentagon Papers), and the revelations that Nixon used various government agencies as instruments for gaining knowledge about his "enemies", put in perspective the importance of that Supreme Court ruling.  Had the Court ruled to restrict First Amendment rights and hamper the press in its investigative duty, we might live in a different world today, especially in light of President Trump's "the press is the enemy of the people" rhetoric. 

It also underscores just how much power has been migrated to the Presidency, partly as the result of a squeamish Congress more worried about re-election that America, partly as a response to world shattering events which, to many, made FDR as much a dictator as any American President, and partly, perhaps, because of an electorate that prefers the easy answer of putting one person in charge, as opposed to the much harder demand that our elected officials work together despite our differences.

I am certainly not a fan of President Trump.  And I do believe that his philosophy of loyalty (to him) over the respect for law and our democracy is clearly in play.  But, when measured against the fact that part of our First Amendment rights hinged on a 6-3 count (why wasn't it 9-0?) in 1971, the prospect of a Supreme Court ruling that excuses the President from being indicted seems paltry.  We can still vote for someone else in 2020, but there is not as easy a mechanism for reversing a Supreme Court ruling restricting the First Amendment. 

My hope is that the overriding lesson of both The Post, the Pentagon Papers, and the founder's brainstorm of creating the three branches of government, is that we, the people, understand the age old maxim that absolute power corrupts absolutely (Lord Acton, a British historian of the late 19th, early 20th century).  We showed some signs of our understanding, or was it just frustration, when we voted to give control of the House to the Dems last Tuesday.  We need to continue to be watchdog and whistle blower when we hear anyone, politician or pundit, use phrases that demean either of the three branches, or the free press as representing the 4th branch of government.  There is no room in our democracy for phrases like judicial activism, fake news, enemy of the people, or unfit to govern, when used by one branch to attack the other.  Disagreement, of course, it is the only way to guarantee that all citizens are represented and their concerns and perspectives valued.  But when one branch works to delegitimize the others, our democracy is weakened.  On a weekend when we celebrated and honored those veterans, living or dead who fought for our democracy, it would be very sad if we ignored the warning signs that might lead to a time when their sacrifice might have been in vain.



 

Thursday, November 8, 2018

More on midterm aftermath

Bad quarrels come when two people are wrong.
Worse quarrels come when two people are right.
  - quote from Betty Smith, 1948, best known for "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn"

Smith's quote seems to hit the bulls eye when considered in light of today's polarized political mindset.
Of course, in this case, both sides are doubly sure they are right and the other side is wrong, so perhaps bad quarrels have surpassed worse and moved right through to devastating.

Just to review, Tuesday's midterms gave both sides, GOP and Dems, conservative and liberal, reason to claim victory.  In the House, the Dems have flipped at least 32 seats (they needed 25) to gain control of this chamber, with a few results still to be determined.  In the Senate, the GOP gained 2 seats, increasing their advantage.  And, in the states themselves, the Dems realized a net gain of 6 Governor mansions, reducing the GOP advantage from 33-17 to 26-23 with one (Georgia) still outstanding.

What this means, is that, as past history has demonstrated, the party in the White House lost partial control of the Congress, providing a check to the danger of one party rule which can often result in a lack of representation of those who voted for the minority party.  It also means that President Trump can tout his ability to get out the vote, and that he was successful in stemming the blue wave.  Also, that his goal of refashioning the judiciary by infusing it with conservative judges, will continue with an even more GOP majority in the Senate.  It also indicates, that, at least for this election cycle, more voters lean to Democratic candidates than Republican, an advantage that seems to be about 7%, one very similar to the opposite result which occurred during the 2010 midterms.

And, of course, if you want to hear an endless litany of how your side won, just tune in to your favorite biased news source, and you will be regaled with real and imaginary reasons why you should be happy.

What is missing however, sadly, I might say, is the question; did America win?

Here is my take on this much more important question.

Extremely high voter turnout, almost 50%, is certainly a win for our country.  Sure, it means that half of registered voters did not bother to exercise their civic duty, but it was the highest turnout in at least 50 years, perhaps even 100, if we manage to eek our way over the 50% number.  So, regardless of your persuasion, a big HOORAY for the American electorate.  Let's hope this becomes the norm rather than an aberration.

A record number of women won seats in Congress on Tuesday which will increase female representation in Washington from 107 members to at least 118.  Out of 535 total, that sounds a bit slim, but if 10% more per cycle continues, we might see a more representative profile within a generation, which may also produce our first female president. 

This election cycle also resulted in a more diverse collection of representatives, first Native American Congresswomen, first lesbian Governor, first Muslim representative, even the first person of color elected ever, from one state.  A more diverse composite means more diverse perspectives are presented, and hopefully, acknowledged, even if not always favored.  It reflects one of our core values, the melting pot of various cultures, origins, beliefs, and viewpoints into a working government that respects all its citizens, even, and especially those in the minority.  Try reaching that goal in an authoritarian or oligarchical government.  Again, kudos to us!

A step away from one party rule.  This seems to be a favorite tactic of the American electorate, put all our faith in one party, briefly, then force them to work together by sharing the duties. 

Will it work this time?  Clearly, that will be up to the Dems.  As I said in my last post, this president does not shy away from confrontation.  The new leaders of the House and its committees must certainly press forward to guarantee Mueller's investigation is completed, and the results made public.  But forget impeachment, there is no upside there.   Move forward with bipartisan legislation that the Senate will consider, while sprinkling in some priorities of the left, just to force McConnell to table them, transparently, or Trump to veto them should some emerge, perhaps watered down a bit, from the Senate.   

Also, and perhaps the best way to continue the trend towards electing Democratic candidates, push for immigration and health care reforms.

On immigration, spend some money for border security, even some on a wall if necessary, to provide a path of citizenship for those children brought to this country illegally.  Provide real leadership and ideas that assure middle America that the hyperbole of invading illegal immigrants is nonsense, by countering it with actual facts about immigrants, both legal and illegal, in terms that recognize the angst that some Americans feel about the changing composite of our country, acknowledge that those who engage in criminal activity will be incarcerated or deported, and emphasize the similarities between today's immigrants and our own immigrant ancestors.  Sure, the true racists won't listen, but those in the middle, independent voter and affiliated ones, will.  As will America.

In the area of healthcare, one which the voters seem most concerned about, demonstrate a willingness to listen to those that the Affordable Care Act helped and harmed.  Where helped, via the pre-existing condition rules, maintain that aspect.  Where harmed, perhaps by too high a bar being set on the basic coverage that everyone needed, allow for a combination of catastrophic coverage that reduces premiums while eliminating the possibility of bankruptcy, and/or other types of high deductible plans that give people more choice on what they need to cover in terms of their own health.  Also, without pushing too hard, continue the drive towards a single payer system where all Americans are included in the same pool, thereby spreading out the costs of sickness.  But this time target businesses, especially small businesses which struggle to provide health care insurance for its employees.  If we can get the business community on board by removing their responsibility (and cost) to provide health insurance, we can both free up money for these businesses to use for salaries, investment, capital projects, etc, while providing employees with the certainty that they can change jobs or even start their own company without sacrificing health care insurance.  And America wins again.

In some ways, the voters already indicated their willingness for more government participation in health care by electing those Democrats who ran on this issue, and by electing more Democratic governors who will be willing to expand Medicare for their states' constituents.  The key is too present it as a win-win for American business and all Americans.  Control costs through expanding the size of the pools with private health insurance companies providing the plans while basic coverage is paid via payroll taxes and anything required above that level is "shopped" for, by the customers, providing them a certainty that they will be getting rates which match their situation regardless of whether they work for a huge conglomerate or the neighborhood employer.  When healthcare costs are reasonable, value oriented, and fair, and when health care services are accessible to all, the very sick especially, then we will be able to boast that our health care system is the best in the world. 

If this were a sporting event, I conclude without hesitation that America is winning.  But big leads can be squandered, defeat wrested from the jaws of victory.   Cooperation and compromise will bring us to the finish line, not confrontation and rhetoric.  Great leaders bring people together, through inclusion, not division.  America wins when our leaders quarrel from the perspective that each side is right and wrong, and the debate should be to find the best of both worlds, not focus on the worst of each.  Let's hope that in two years, we look back on this week as the foundation of our turn towards understanding that America does not win until both sides root for all to win, not just their tribe.     

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The aftermath of the midterms

So, today is the day when we find out if President Trump's popularity will keep the blue wave at bay or whether, while galvanizing his base, he has lost those voters who identify as independent or moderate.

Whatever the outcome, I am sure of one thing.  Both sides will claim victory!!

There is a history of an incumbent president's party losing seats in Congress.  Despite the historic nature of Obama's 2008 election victory, by 2010, the GOP via the Tea Party movement and the still lingering effects of the recession of 2008, picked up an astounding 63 seats in the House and 9 in the Senate, a turnaround not seen since 1938 when the Democratic party under FDR lost a combined 79 seats.  The difference however, is that in 1938 the Dems retained control of the Congress while Obama and the Dems lost the House as well as their political momentum. 

In other words, should the Dems gain their 25 seats to take control of the House, it will be hailed a victory.  However, 25, or even 30 is far less than the 63 seats gained by the GOP in 2010, so there will be a reason to celebrate for the GOP as well.  Also, should the Senate remain in control of the GOP, there will also be reason for GOP celebration even if the count draws even at 50-50, as VP Pence holds the tie breaker. 

Additionally, there are 36 Governor elections today which is just as important in regards to gerrymandering.  Should a few key governor mansions change political hands, there will be reason for joy for the Dems. 

All in all, a very exciting time.  Hopefully, there will be record breaking turnout.

Should the Dems take the house, I truly hope that they win graciously, meaning that they don't bog down the government with endless hearings and indictments.  Certainly, I would like to see the president's tax returns, and I would hope that the Mueller investigation wraps up soon so we can
put to bed the Russian connection and incarcerate those who actively sought quid pro quo for voter influence and tampering.  But let the legal system handle those efforts.  Tamp down the politics of it, and present the facts as revealed, without embellishment, without hyperbole. 

I know there is some support for fighting fire with fire, heck, I have even advocated it at times in certain situations.  But there is nothing that can be revealed or implicated that will turn a true Trump supporter into a doubter.  As he has said more than once, he could shoot someone in Times Square and not lose his base.  It is the independent voters, and the moderates of both parties that we need to focus on.  They will determine this election, as well as future ones.  Gain their trust by creating bills that will bolster the middle class, continue to provide economic opportunity, address climate change, encourage entrepreneurship, improve our nation's infrastructure, address our education woes, encourage public-private partnerships when appropriate, underscore the advantages of a more diverse leadership demographic, propose immigration changes that reward American values as exhibited by the majority of the dreamers while also providing border security to identify the small percentage of immigrants who engage in criminal acts.  Most, if not all of these proposals, reflect the majority of Americans' viewpoint, for good reason. 

Pass these bills regardless of whether the Senate might let them die in committee.  Take to the airwaves and newspapers the positive message of the liberal agenda, and win back those who want leadership and progress, not division and stagnation.  And, if the Senate does pass some of these bills, with or without provisions, and the President vetoes them, double the effort to inform Americans that these ideas address the needs of those who are not just the 1%, and reflect the values that built our country.

Finally, above all, let the President continue his rallies without comment or coverage.  Let him continue his use of negative rhetoric in regards to his political opponents, the press, those of color, immigrants, Muslims, the LBGTQ community, etc.  Allow him his time in the sun for it is only in the light that we can distinguish prejudice and malice from equality and hope.  Let him win the rhetorical battle without retort or revenge, while we win the war for America's soul with love and kindness and a smile.




Friday, October 26, 2018

Civility

So, it is becoming painfully obvious that by allowing our public discourse to degrade to name calling and intimidation and an "anything to win" philosophy, we are as disunited as country as we have been in quite a while.  While the times surrounding the Civil War (civil defined as related to ordinary citizens and their concerns, as distinct from military or ecclesiastical matters), could certainly be labelled as the apex in our history of a country divided, the unrest associated with the Civil Rights movement (there is that word civil again) and the Vietnam War, also come to mind.

In reality, domestic divide on the most important issues of the day, lively debate, even rancor, heated words, and anger should be understood as the byproducts of a democracy in which everyone has a say, and is listened to, and in which freedom of speech is of the utmost importance.  It is very easy to see the alternative, nations where political adversaries are jailed or disappeared, where the press is controlled by the government, and where public dissent with the policies of those in charge is consigned to secret meetings, whispers, and underground publications.

Democracy, real democracy, is messy, boisterous, even unruly, at times.  Which is precisely why we are embroiled in so much division.  Both sides feel that the future is at stake.  Both sides feel that the wrong path, the other sides' path, will lead to ruin.  Both sides feel that the other side is the problem.

And, that is OK as long as both sides realize that neither side is always right or always wrong.  And that debating the issues, laying out the facts and reasoning for one's viewpoints, then listening while those in opposition lay out their facts and reasons, is the basis, the very foundation of our American democracy.  We seem to forget that many of the root issues we debate today, were debated just as vociferously by the founders before and after they conceived and signed the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.  State rights vs federal, business interests vs citizens, the rule of law, voting rights, the place of a specified religion in the laws of the nation, and on and on, the issues we wrangle over today have not changed as much as some would have you think, were not "decided" upon in the late 1700's by those who created this country.

Anyone who has read the views of Jefferson, Adams, Washington, Franklin, Monroe, Hamilton, etc, knows that they disagreed, sometimes fundamentally, about the issues.  But, despite those disagreements, they found enough common ground to establish the amazing set of rules that guide us today, including the creation of three branches of government, so that there are checks and balances to prevent the emergence of an authoritarian government. 

Which brings us to the other definition of civil, acting in a courteous and polite fashion.  Again, were the founders always civil in their disagreements?  Of course not, they were human, after all, with their own set of foibles and flaws.  Did they continue to write letters to each other, even after the big decisions were made, and the country began its course to marry the incredibly lofty ideals of the Constitution and Bill of Rights with the more baser drives of greed and a lust for power, that can poison those who get a taste for too much of either.  Perhaps a review of the letters written by Adams and Jefferson to each other might remind us that these two great minds still debated and struggled with the practical realization of the ideals they set forth in 1776.

It is high time we demanded from ourselves and our leaders, some civility.  No more confronting those we disagree with politically as they eat a meal with their families.  No more calling a candidate for public office wacky or low IQ.  No more referring to another political party as evil.  No more comparing an occupant in the White House with an orangutan.  No more stereotyping in which all people of a certain group, whether it be race, gender, religion or political affiliation, are judged by the actions of a few, because that kind of judgement condemns us all and frankly, if the creator uses that philosophy when she decides who is to enter heaven and who is not, we will all find a closed sign on the pearly gates.

Also, no more negative campaign literature and ads.  Let's outlaw them, not because we don't believe in free speech, but because we expect our candidates to tell us what they will do for us, what policies they will support, what their philosophy is regarding the environment, or income inequality, or immigration, or any of the important issues upon which we should be making our decisions when we cast our ballots.  (Perhaps we might consider starting a campaign whereby all negative mail is returned to sender, forcing them to dispose of it after paying for its delivery).

And, the big one, let's all take a breath, a step back, a respite even, from liking and retweeting and whatever else is done on social media with all the horrible comments about those with whom we disagree.  It is not only uncivil, it plays into the hands of our enemies, those countries that our turning our advanced freedoms against us, by implanting all kinds of divisive comments within the social media structure and watching with glee as we spread it among our fellow citizens.  Those who would see our democracy fail, are using the strengths of our country against us, and we are falling head and tails into their trap.  We are losing the battle because we are being used to fight against ourselves.

I ask this of all politicians, GOP and DEM alike.  Disagree, it is OK, and important.  But do so with the understanding that, in the end, you must work together to improve the lives of all Americas, those who support you and those who do not. 

Finally, I implore President Trump to lead the way in this endeavor.  To truly be the most important person in our country by setting the example.  By taking the high road when insulted by a liberal pundit, by allowing questions of media outlets that reflect a different point of view, by understanding that he won an election, not a crown, and that he represents all the American people, not just those who voted for him or who cheer him at his rallies.  Only then, can he achieve credibility with those that disagree with his politics and policies, and only then can he ask for others to "clean up their acts".



 

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Wedding

I wrote this story a while back, but not sure if it was before or after the 2016 Presidential election.  My thoughts, at the time, were that we needed a third party in America that represented the middle left and right as opposed to the far left and right.  That as long as we were diametrically opposed to each others' ideas, only saw the worst of each other rather than seeking common ground, then we would continue to drive away moderates from each party, and discourage only the most radical on each side to vote.

Speaking of voting, there are some new approaches being tried in various parts of the country in terms of a ranking vote system.  There are many versions of a ranking system vote count, one of which is that the electorate votes for multiple candidates, in descending order of preference, usually top 2 although top 3 could also be utilized if there happens to be 5 of more candidates.  If no candidate gets 50% of the #1 votes, the candidate with the least #1 votes is eliminated, and the person selected as #2 by that particular voter gets assigned the #1 vote.  If still no candidate has 50% of the votes, the next candidate from the bottom with the least amount of votes is eliminated and his/her #2 selected candidate gets the top vote.  This continues until someone garners more than 50% of the votes.

Regardless of the specifics, a ranking vote system encourages independent candidates to run, as well as those who may have lost a primary but think they could win in a general election.  It also encourages voters to select someone they like regardless of whether they think that candidate can win, knowing that their vote won't be wasted as their #2 choice would still be used if their candidate receives few votes.  It also encourages the electorate to learn more about the candidates as they will need to make a 2nd choice.

Another new approach being tried is to list the names of the candidates without their party affiliation.  While those who are familiar with their party's candidates may still vote a straight party ticket, those who do not pat attention to individual candidate traits and merely pull one party lever or the other would at least have had to do some research to know who is a DEM and who is GOP.  Also, if they happened to meet a candidate from a third party who was working the area and engaging the community, they might be more inclined to vote for them when they see their name on the ballot; more so if a party affiliation was attached and it was one for which the voter did not normally select.

For me, we need to encourage our citizens to learn more about the candidates than just their party affiliation, we need to inspire a confidence that it does matter who we vote for, they are not all crooks, and we need to weaken the hold that our two party system has on the system as, at least on this topic, they work well together to maintain their political power by squeezing out independents and/or party members that don't agree 100% with everything the party promotes.

My story, The Wedding, reflects my belief that our democracy needs change at the most fundamental level, but not necessarily in the way the story unfolds.  I much prefer the adaptation of some of the ideas discussed above to require the electorate to research the candidates they select with as much knowledge, reflection and passion as they discuss their favorite sports team, reality show or latest gossip. 

Complacency is our mutual enemy because it is complacency that makes the ground of our democracy that much more fertile for the bad seeds of partisanship, manipulation, and fear of the other.  The protagonists in The Wedding, if you can call them that, understand that, count on that, and ultimately use it against the first instincts of the leadership of the two parties who merely circle the wagons to protect their power rather than to do what is best for the citizens who turn to them for guidance.


                                                                The Wedding

The wedding had been in the planning stages for quite a few years. At first it was merely a joke between families. A what if, that provoked hearty laughter. But over time, the thought took on a life of its own. It grew on certain members of each family. It percolated on the back burner of various rooms ornately furnished. It lingered in the air of those meetings, sporadically producing a wafting odor that became more familiar over time. Eventually, the thought, which had always produced laughter, altered the tone of that laughter from light and frivolous to tense, with meaning. Finally, the bride’s paternal grandfather proposed what everyone had been sensing in the undertone of that laughter but none dared to speak.

A wedding to merge the families.

The families were very familiar with each other, knowing one another as only bitter rivals can. When the future bride’s great grandfather met the future groom’s great grandfather on that greatest of political stages, there was no denying the deep and mutual dislike which that campaign had fueled. Each was the epitome of all that was held in contempt by the other.

Their mutual dislike went beyond party platforms, beyond the traditional friction between old money and new. When the upstart governor had defeated the incumbent, the dislike blossomed into hatred. Everything that could be done to unseat the winner, was attempted, no holds barred. To some, it appeared that the fortune of the country was less important that the ruination of the victor.

But time and nature looked favorably on the loser’s family. When the rules of term limits eliminated another run, only one family had sons. The pendulum swung back, the power returned to its rightful place.

But time continued to march on. After a brief interruption by a surprise and historic character, the stage was once again set for a direct confrontation. Yet another son took one nomination while the spouse, who had bided her time within striking distance by occupying various other posts, grabbed the other. And again, history repeated itself, both in the name of the eventual winner, and in the historic nature of that victory.

Strangely though, and despite the intensity of the campaign, the rivalry was not without its healing. The families were beginning to sense a trend. The electorate was confused. Vitriolic partisanship had begun to erode the ability for positive leadership. Midway through the 2nd term, it became clear to the families that a new strategy was needed, to both preserve the country, and their power to run it.

The next election was a bloodbath, as both parties seemingly ran down the path of distortion and outright lies to gain votes. In retrospect, there were some who wondered aloud why the leadership of each was so foolhardy, but few knew that the strings of this disastrous set of tactics were being manipulated behind the scenes by each respective family. They had separately developed a mirror imaged, longer term perspective. It only took a few casual meetings for the families to merge their individual plans into a bigger, even bolder one.

In the next national election, the winning party had changed but the strategy still reflected the old way. Turnout was a record low, which justified the bipartisan rhetoric each had used, but sowed even more effective seeds of disillusionment in the electorate. In retrospect, there were a few victories in support of that new paradigm, but not so many that the mainstream media took notice.

But the families noticed.

They doubled their efforts while still retaining the appearance of party loyalty. Those that they admitted into their circle remained under the radar while being prepped for campaigns that reflected the families’ vision.

The next election cycle featured some wins in key places, some state, some federal, spurred, in part, by the passing within a few months, of the great grandfathers of each family, and in part to the growing dissatisfaction of the electorate with the status quo. Yet most of the political world was still in the dark about what was going on. It was a plan steeped in subtlety, and most politicians, air wave pundits and corporation bought commentators were far removed from such sophistication. The manipulation of the mainstream parties continued while the families surreptitiously built a web of candidates that reflected their grand scheme.

Until the next election, later called the watershed election of the families’ influence. Suddenly, there was a third party in play, a party with influence, not due to the number of its elected members but due to the attractiveness of its message to the electorate. In fact, that was the most ingenious part of the families’ plan; not to dismantle the two established parties but to bring them out of the darkness of their unwillingness to compromise. Of course, the families knew it would take a change in the minds of the electorate, but they also had calculated correctly that that change did not have to be profound, only noticeable. The insecurity of the two great parties’ leadership would do the rest.

Finally came the coup d'e tat. The timing was impeccable; just the right amount of surprise, mixed with the feigned “I thought so” by those who can’t accept that they were caught unawares. Clearly, the families had executed their plan perfectly; how else could such an announcement been accepted so easily by the nation.

And so, the biggest news that spring was splashed across tabloids and newspapers alike:

                                              Bush - Clinton Announce Fall Wedding

                                                                  Epilogue

The following year, the newlyweds announced their intention to run for president and vice president. While not universally accepted, the families’ had planned so assiduously that the idea of a married couple serving in the highest offices of the land struck a chord with the electorate. Some psychologists posited that the willingness for such a power structure reflected a secret desire by Americans for a king and queen. Some thought the new atmosphere of cooperation, after such an extended period of partisanship and governmental deadlock, lent itself beautifully to the thought of husband and wife as leaders.

But finally, if one were to ask the patron and matrons of the families, they might answer that is was all the result of a desire to provide effective leadership to a country they loved, even if that leadership had to be contrived by such a plan as theirs. And it was this plan that enabled the United States to begin an era of peace and prosperity that reached all income and social levels of the country and lasted for the entire reign of the Bush-Clinton dynasty that followed The Wedding and the election of the first husband and wife presidential ticket.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Switch Back

Just finished watching the recently released movie about Bobby Riggs and his challenges all women in general, and the women's pro tennis tour during the 1970's in specific. 

Of course, it was a movie so there is not any real way to know how factual and how fictional was the depiciton.  Still, after seeing the recent Kavanaugh hearings and the rally-around-the-male attitude of the GOP Senators, it was a bit disturbing that gender equality had not progressed as much as we would like, not to mention LGBTQ rights, and the ability to love who you love without government interference and societal judgement.

Towards that idea, and because I forgot to refer to this story in my post about the recent Kavanaugh hearings, here is a story I wrote a few years back.

                                                            The Switch Back


The day before was like any other day. People went to work, got married, had babies. Athletes and actors performed on TV, the mail was delivered, school was in session. Trains and planes ran on time, dogs were walked in the parks, children played in schoolyards and in the streets. Armies waged war, politicians did, whatever it is they do.

Then came the Switch.

In fact, as a percentage of the world’s population, it was barely 10%. But, for those who experienced it, the shock was devastating. And, as if it was controlled by a purposeful hand, it effected the rich and powerful at an alarming rate.

The Switch barely touched Africa. The Polar Regions and most of Indonesia were spared. Few people in South and Central America were changed, but many in North America, especially the United States experienced it. Europeans were also inordinately altered. Oddly, every United Nations representative, every head of state, every religious leader (excepting the Dali Lama), almost every person of influence was switched overnight.

But this wasn’t a science fiction inspired alien body snatching plot. This switch involved individual race and gender. Those that were white became black and vice versa. Those that were male became female, and again, vice versa. Overnight, the make-up of the world’s movers and shakers changed from white male to black female. On the outside. Internally, those who were changed were the same person as before. The same experiences, the same background, the same ambition and intelligence, just a new exterior.

The first few days after the Switch, the world paused. What did this mean? Was it a message from God? Explanations were offered, everything from an end of the world precursor to an environmental cause to an alien plan to disrupt the fabric of humanity. But, as the days became weeks, then months, it became clear that there was no explanation that would suffice; it was time to take stock, adjust and move on.

Then, slowly, proposals for change began to emerge. The hidden biases of the financial world were brought to light. The income gap between genders was addressed. The percentage of poverty among minorities and women was prioritized. The dominance of history that had been justified as resulting from the natural superiority of the white male was redefined as the consequence of better education, better opportunity, better resources.

As time passed, the world settled into a new paradigm. Certainly, there were some who merely exchanged the belief in their new appearance’s supremacy for their old. Why were they picked for the Switch, they argued, except due to the fact that they were more loved, more special in the eyes of the Creator. But for most, the new dominance of those decidedly not white, not male, was seen as an opportunity to rise or fall without obstacles, on the merits of their hard work, integrity and perseverance. Skin color, gender, became less important, less cared about.

And then came the Switch Back. Again, it was as sudden as the Switch; overnight. Everything was as it had been. The white male was back in charge, the majority of those in power, those with influence.
Again, the world paused. Had it been a global hallucination? Did it really happen? It quickly became obvious that no pictures, no physical evidence of the Switch existed. It was if the lessons learned in the past nine months were meant to be remembered via faith alone, without tangible proof.

Without hard evidence, there were some who preferred not to remember. They introduced bills and trumpeted calls to reverse some of the changes that had transpired, changes that had almost eliminated the prejudices of race and gender that had plagued the world before the Switch. There were even some religious leaders that claimed the Switch Back should be interpreted as a return to the normal, an admittance that the experiment of the Switch was unsuccessful.

Now, a mere 30 days since the Switch Back the debate continued. On one side, the forces of those who chose to ignore the lessons of the Switch. Those who were more comfortable with their age old belief in the preeminence of the white male. On the other side were those that had internalized the changes that the Switch inspired. Those who believed that the Switch was meant to nudge humanity towards a true equality.

Only time would tell which side would prevail. And whether the lessons of the Switch would be maintained or ignored by the reality of the Switch Back.




Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Future of Politics

Last night I finished reading "Thank You for Being Late" by Thomas Friedman after a marathon session, in a few parts, during the day and evening.   There is much to discuss, far more than I can summarize in a few hundred words.  In fact, it is most likely a backwards step for me to review all that made an impression on me as I could not possibly retell what I read in any way that would convey Friedman's book with even a fraction of effect.  In other words, read it as soon as possible for yourself.

The point of this post is to imagine a time in the future when the politics of America reflects the real needs of our citizens, regardless of their party affiliation.

Of course, that will also require the citizens of America to become far more involved in their democracy, to research the candidates as people not representatives of one party or the other, to understand when our government works to advance or regress our country, and to vote in every election as if our freedom depends on it, because it does.   

In the future, there will be far less money poisoning our political process, whether the Citizens United ruling is reversed or the electorate has finally realized that its representatives should be more like them, economically, by gender, by race, by perspective. 

In the future, campaigns will present positive messages about programs and policies which will improve the lives of the citizenry, not attack ads paid by special interest groups.  And these campaigns will begin in March and end in November, so that the winners can return to their local halls, state capitals and Washington DC to do the people's work, while continuing to listen to their constituents in addition to those who did not emerge victorious because despite falling short, they too represent the viewpoints of the voters.

In the future, civility will be the rule, not the exception.  This is not to say that debates won't be heated or contentious, and that strong words may not flow.  But it will mean that once the vote is taken, the losers will accept defeat graciously, while the winners will acknowledge the concerns of the losers, both understanding that the next round may produce the opposite result and each will need to accept and respect the other when on the other end of the tally.

In the future, the three branches of our government, that special triad conceived by the founders to provide stability and balance in our government, will be aligned more equally so that power is shared but also checked.  Ideally, the electorate will come to realize that no party or ideology should control too much of that power, which will force our public servants to work together, knowing that when they don't others will be elected.

In the future, politicians will spend less time "governing" and more time communicating with their constituents.  This does not mean that the House or Senate will not be session, but it does mean that those elected will be held accountable for their votes because they have heard it directly, or have gained the trust of those who chose them, to be able to explain a vote that may not necessarily reflect a majority of the votes; in other words, to lead the voters when they need to be led.  And, should the occasion arise, to accept defeat at the next election for doing what is right, even if not popular.

In the future, pro-business laws and rulings will not be to the detriment of the environment.  Our leaders will have either proven to us, or us to them, that a thriving economy can exist with a respect for the environment; that both are necessary and achievable. 

In the future, short term benefits will be desired only after the long term benefits are calculated.  We so often see the harm of boom and bust when in the throes of the bust, yet pretend each boom will last forever.  Long term security, which is what every financial adviser recommends for their clients as they look towards retirement, seems lost on us when we discuss our communal security. 

In the future, there will be a need for less government regulation because more and more people will embrace the understanding that being responsible is a reward in itself, which removes the need for laws to remind us to do what is right.   We will finally realize that immoral acts cannot be excused because "it is not against the law", which means our leaders, in business and in government, will know they must act legally and morally, the latter being more important. 

In the future all of these ideals, and much more, are possible, if we demand them.  If we raise the bar on our personal participation in our democracy, raise the bar on our expectations of how our leaders govern our country, and reflect on the priority of money and possessions in our personal lives and judgement of others.       


Monday, October 8, 2018

White Male Backlash

This past Friday night I, I watched the latest edition of Bill Maher's Real Time on HBO.  I have been a fan of Maher for quite some time, even remembering his original show Politically Incorrect.

At one point during the show, there was a interlude between two of the guests related to the Kavanaugh hearings.  The white, male guest, Andrew Sullivan, is a frequent panelist on the show, representing the conservative perspective.  Over the years, he has been both booed and cheered, booed when he defended conservative values and policies, cheered since the election of President Trump as Sullivan is among many old school republicans who are not fans of the president.  For those of you who have never watched a Real Time episode, there is an obvious attempt to allow for time for opposing viewpoints to Maher's mostly liberal perspective by having what he calls "returning champions" on the show, meaning those who represent opposing viewpoints with wit and intelligence, while handling the general disagreement of Maher's other guests, and the audience, with aplomb.

The other guest in this particular instance was Soledad O'Brien, an American journalist who anchors her own nationally syndicated political show called Matter of Fact.  I can't say I have seen her on Real Time before, but I am familiar with her from watching a few episodes of her show and on other politically oriented panel discussions.

The dialogue in question surrounded Sullivan's statement that a portion of the tone of the Kavanaugh hearing and the more liberal media coverage surrounding the alleged sexual assault, seemed to equate all white males with sexual aggression.  A stereotype attack, if you will, that Sullivan found both alarming and insulting.  This is not to suggest that he was defending Kavanaugh's behavior, if one were to believe he was guilty of attacking Ford, just that it seemed that there were many who automatically considered Kavanaugh guilty, merely because he is a white male, as if that is how all white males behave.  Sullivan found this disturbing in the same way that all minorities, blacks, women, Native Americans, Muslims Mexicans, immigrants, etc are disturbed by the automatic prejudice that they have endured throughout history. 

O'Brien countered that the hearings and investigation into Kavanaugh's past, had nothing to do with his gender or race, but that it was all about his ability to perform the critical duties, impartial duties, of a Supreme Court Justice.  She denied Sullivan's claims that the hearings were distorted to resemble an indictment of all white men.

I think that at this point, it behooves liberals and democrats to ignore the "feelings" of the white male.  Yes, they have ruled the world, pretty much from the beginning, but especially over the last 500 years when humanity moved from a mostly agrarian society to an industrialized, mechanized, urban one.
And yes, they have worked tirelessly to enhance their dominance, through sheer brute force, divine right claims, old boy networks, and actual laws which denied every minority from the Native Americans to the slaves brought to work their plantations, to the women who bore their children, to have access to the same opportunities that they claimed for themselves.

Still, despite and because of those facts, we need to be sensitive to the angst the white male is feeling today.  We ignore it at our peril, just as Hillary did in the 2016 election because the fact is, we need the white male to continue to believe he is the center of the universe, even as that center evolves to be more inclusive.  Just as every minority, both individual and as a group will recount, it is not just about the reality that stands in their way to gain equal opportunities, but the realization that no one cares, that there exists a denial that both they deserve the same opportunity, and that they are capable of taking advantage of it when provided.

It is not easy being king of the hill for virtually, forever, and then to face the real possibility that that status is waning.  That real, fair competition for success and riches might soon replace the automatic rewards that the past has bestowed upon them by virtue of the birth lottery.  That dominating business and politics will take more than just having a Y chromosome which has mutated from the second X chromosome. 

And, even worse for the privileged, white male, the prospect that going to the right schools paid for by parents who made sure no bad behavior could not be excused or made non-existent, that fighting for one's country in a war zone is easily avoidable, and that their path to the top of their chosen profession will be made smoother by donations and campaign contributions, might still not be enough if the decisions became a matter of blind evaluation, must seem horrifying.  In a world where so many white males bemoan entitlement when referring to those who receive Social Security, Unemployment Compensation, Disability payments or some other type of government funding, it must be horrifying to think that their programs of entitlement, private prep and high schools, legacy enrollments at the best colleges, social and business contacts handed down from mom and dad, might also be at risk.

With all due respect to Ms O'Brien, she should have agreed with Sullivan that there was some unfair bias at work against the white male during the hearings.  That a white male prejudice is one of the many factors powering the MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements, among others.  That she is sensitive to Sullivan's concerns, because we need to be better in our assessments of people than merely judging them by their white skin, male gender and blue blood pedigree.  That prejudice, no matter from which side of the aisle, or gender, or race, should not become the main component of any debate.

She should have said all those comforting things perhaps while touching or holding his hand so he felt more at ease and understood.

Then, and only then, she should have looked deeply into his eyes and said

"Doesn't feel good, does it?  Now you know how we have felt, forever."

Perhaps that is the only path towards a return to civility in our public discourse.  To acknowledge each other's pain and discomfort, share out stories in non-judgmental ways, listen to the other sides' anxieties and fears, marry them with our own stories, and work together to create a world where no one is ignored, no one is made to fell second class, and where we all benefit, together.



 


Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Kavanaugh nomination

As the nation collectively takes a breath from the emotional testimonies of Dr Ford and Judge Kavanaugh, I wanted to share some thoughts on the process we have witnessed, the credibility of the story as recounted by Dr Ford, the current FBI investigation and the possible outcomes of this very important nomination.

First, as most people have expressed, Dr Ford's testimony was compelling, believable and heart wrenching.  She displayed courage in coming forward despite her inability to remember specific details surrounding the alleged attack knowing her reputation would be forever altered.  Most importantly, she has provided a powerful example for other women who have experienced, but not reported, their deepest secrets of past assaults, as well as for women who will experience future attacks from men who they know casually or intimately.  Our record in supporting these women in the past has ranged from actually blaming them for their situation to disregarding their charges as lies or mistakes.  Of course, we saw similar responses during these past few weeks, but there also appears to be a majority of public opinion in support of her story in that we believe she believes an attack occurred.

Whether the attack emanated from Judge Kavanaugh, however, is not as readily accepted.  And therein lies the problem.  We seem to believe both of them.  Is this possible?  That both are telling us the truth?
If you were to call your friends from 35 years ago and ask them about a specific party or event on a particular day, I imagine you would get inconclusive and contradictory stories from your friends.  If that day featured nothing special, just another day of swimming, or camping, or partying, with no significant events to distinguish it from any other day, there would be very little chance of finding consistency in your friends' recollections.  And so, some of those who have been asked about the attack do not remember it happening or even if they were at the party, because, for them, there was nothing special about that day. 

However, if you were to ask someone where they were on 9/11, most people knew the exact events of their day.  Where they were when they first heard the news, what they did to stay up to date of the events as they transpired, perhaps even what they ate for dinner as they watched the horrible event unfold on TV.  As Dr Ford stated, it is implanted on our hippocampus. 

For Dr Ford, the attack is implanted in her memory.  She will never forget the details, especially the laughter of the boys in the room at the time.  For everyone else in her circle of friends who were not aware of her victimization, there is nothing comparable to call on for a strong memory.

Judge Kavanaugh, one might think, would also have a strong memory of the time if this was an extraordinary event in his life, but not if, for him, it was not a big deal.  And certainly not if his alleged inebriation interferes with his memories.  It is hard to imagine that Kavanaugh had a history of "rough play" as some have said to defend him, as, not withstanding the other accusations that have surfaced, there does not appear to be a pattern of reported assaults or other examples of he said, she said encounters. 

At this point, I tend to believe Ford's story, and that Kavanaugh was responsible for the attack, but that he does not remember, or has convinced himself to only remember what confirms his opinion of himself.  He more than once demonstrated that trait by dismissing his obvious habit of drinking beer to excess by responding how hard he worked as a student, how many sports he participated in, and how loyally he attended church.  What is ironic, is that he identified with so many of the groups from high school, the smart ones, the athletic ones, the religious ones, who so often turned out to be the ones who were the worst offenders of actions that were "bad", but were always defended by those who had a reason to ignore their missteps; parents who did not raise them that way, teachers who enjoyed them in class, coaches who gained a bit of respect through their athletic achievements, pastors who used them as examples of a "good" boy or girl. 

As for the FBI investigation, I don't expect any surprises.  There may be evidence that Kavanaugh was in the area of the attack, or perhaps even evidence that Ford has incorrect memory of the location.  I expect that the third party in question, Mark Judge, will again be interviewed.  Chances are, he will add no new information other than that he does not recall the event.  Chances are, the investigation will not be able to prove or disprove either story, which means we are back to he said, she said.  Which means we are back to support for Kavanaugh by the GOP who want him confirmed to tilt the Supreme Court towards a more conservative philosophy, and support for Ford by the Dems who are against his nomination for fear he will tilt the court to rule against women's reproductive rights, rule for presidential immunity from prosecution, rule against regulations to address climate change, rule for big business over worker rights, and enhance corporations' status as citizens. 

Still, and despite the GOP having a majority in the Senate and that fact the President Trump supports his nominee, there could still be a surprise result.  Perhaps Senator Flake or Collins or Murkowski or one of the other 3 GOP female Senators will alter their vote.  It will take two of them though, as if only one votes against the nomination creating a 50-50 tie, VP Pence will then have the deciding vote.

For me, Kavanaugh's responses raised a flag against his nomination beyond my disagreement with his judicial philosophy.  He seemed very aggressive with Democratic Senators, not just in defending himself, which was OK, but in attacking them as to why the hearings were extended.  He seemed anti-Democratic party/pro President Trump when his demeanor should reflect much less politics, much more respect for the law.  And the law says that the Senate must evaluate him before recommending him for nomination. 

Is there politics involved in this process?  Of course, but that is part and parcel to the process, especially when it was only last year that the GOP refused Obama's nominee after the death of Judge Scalia.   Do I expect a Supreme Court Justice to be a member of one party or the other and support that party at the polls?  Of course, but I do not expect a Supreme Court nominee to be so obvious in his support of that party, and so antagonistic against the other.   I already questioned whether his future rulings might hurt the middle class, the environment, women's rights, and the balance of power between our three branches of government, but now I also wonder if he may rule against cases merely for political reasons, not legal ones.  Hopefully, should his nomination be approved, Kavanaugh will get over this process, his perceived attack of his family and reputation by the Democratic party, and conduct himself on the highest court in the land as a true arbiter of the law, without party preference.



 



Monday, September 24, 2018

A Global Perspective

I had a few minutes to read a few days ago, and jumped to the back of the book "Thanks for Being Late" which I have been reading off and on for a few months.  At the back, I found an extensive Acknowledgements section.  To be honest, when I envision myself writing a book someday, the acknowledgements section is short.  I always considered writing an individual endeavor.  Perhaps this is just my nature, more comfortable working alone, or perhaps it is just the reality that I express my opinions about topics which interest me, with research that is available at the click of a mouse, without much interaction with others.  Anyway, whether it be the stories I have written or the almost 400 posts on this blog, I do not often give credit to other people.   Even now, as I concoct this post about a gaining a global perspective, I imagine it will lean towards my own tendencies in perceiving this topic, without commenting (much) on someone else's viewpoint.

Anyway, the author in question acknowledged dozens of people for aiding him in the creation of his book.  Of course, his book did require a lot of research, and Friedman (the author) spent countless hours accumulating the information that he used to develop his "optimistic" viewpoint in this age of accelerations.  Hopefully, should I write such a book someday, I will employ a similar process that will both, enable me to write something informative, and alter my personal limitations when it comes to working with and learning from, others.

But the real point of this post is to comment on the diverse nature of the people with whom Friedman met and who contributed to his book.  I would not be exaggerating if I were to guess that he traveled to multiple countries, and interviewed people representing a dozen different nationalities.  Clearly, the author is an exceptional writer.  But his skill transcends his ability with words.  He is willing to seek out information from whatever the source, whether it be the most advanced technological organization on the planet or the least advanced hamlet in southeast Asia.  Friedman acknowledges some of the greatest minds alive today, as well as people who may never see their name in print again.  He shows a true global perspective because he understands the scope of what we know, what we are learning, and what we are seeking to know, and most importantly, that ALL people, everywhere, are engaged in the same mission.  It is this leveling of the field through a respect for each person's story and contribution that makes his book so compelling and worthwhile.

And, it is the lack of this type of perspective, or perhaps I should say the turning away from this perspective, that is harming our nation and our world.   Certainly, a little bit of xenophobia is alive in all of us, whether that fear is based in race, gender, religion, nationality or sexual orientation.  To put it another way, we are generally more comfortable with people who are like us, even though it is far more likely that we will be harmed, physically and emotionally, by someone we know as opposed to someone we don't know.  It is safer to seek an environment that is predominated by those who live, worship and think like ourselves.  It is why the various social media platforms have contributed so mightily to the partisanship that embroils virtually every big topic of discussion.  Whether our physical world is diverse or not, we can build our online world to be as homogeneous as we like, with one accepted view above all others.  And, with plenty of feedback to reinforce that view, and discard all the rest.

Without a bigger perspective, we stop learning. 

Freidman's book might still be good, had he only interviewed people he knew or discussed information he already had gleaned, but it is so much better because he sought out other opinions, experts as well as everyday folks, and pushed his knowledge base far beyond what he had already learned.  He states, more than once, that it sometimes took more than one interview with a person to fully integrate their knowledge into his words so he could inform his readers.  Rather than pretending to know the subject, and passing along info that most of us would not have known was incomplete, he broke through his own limitations to better understand and communicate. 

When we seek to interact with people unlike ourselves, we learn about ourselves.  When we seek sycophants, we become immersed in our own perspective, unable to see when we are wrong or on the wrong path.

It is normal to be afraid of the unknown.  I often hear people say that the world is moving faster and faster, and that it is becoming a challenge, even a hardship, to keep up.  While it is something that has probably been stated for many generations, Friedman documents how it is actually true, to a degree, for us, now.  Whether it be a graphed depiction of the advances in medicine, transportation or communication, those graphs always show a mostly straight line for long periods of time, then a sharp upswing to what almost seems to be an infinite point, suggesting that the advances are not over yet.

How we react to these changes, whether by circling our proverbial wagons to keep out anything new, or by opening up our minds and hearts to our differences, knowing that these differences are being expressed in the form of other humans, fellow travelers, and creations of the God we all say we believe in and trust, is what will determine if we survive the accelerations that are buffeting us, or become the dinosaurs of the future.

The good news is that once we embrace diversity, the cycle feeds itself.  We become more comfortable with new perspectives which allows us to be open for even newer people and ideas which leads to moments when we our awareness of our differences is positive.  Or perceived with the understanding that the differences are what adds up to what makes Earth unique in the universe.

Will it take alien life to come to our out-of-the-way home in the Milky Way for us to begin acting as a family of man?  And, if so, will that start anew our fear of those who differ from us?  At least that  difference might originate from a new species perspective rather than the 0.1% difference there is currently among the various peoples of our planet. 

In the end, perhaps our creator will judge us solely on how we handled that 0.1% difference.  With understanding and love and cooperation, or with guns and hatred and walls.



Thursday, September 20, 2018

A Visit to DC

My wife and I recently spent an extended weekend in Washington DC.  Our reason to go was sad as those who are a part of my family know the unfortunate situation of one of our cousins.  While the outflow of love and support was uplifting, it is an upsetting turn of events when someone who worked hard his entire life to support his family, someone whose unsung work assisted all Americans, someone who has a new granddaughter in his life, now faces the inevitability of his mortality, only a year after retirement.  For him, his lovely wife, children, daughter-in-law, extended family and countless friends, my thoughts are with you.

After spending this precious time with my cousin, we spent two days visiting the Smithsonian museums and the monuments.

The first day we focused on a few museums, one which we had never visited before, some old favorites.  We spent time in the American Indian Museum, the Art Museum, the Air and Space Museum, and the Natural History Museum.  Even though we had visited the last three museums before, there was some major changes to them, especially the Air and Space and Natural History museums.  At times, we felt our age, as the changes seemed to target a younger age group, more glitzy and colorful.  This is not to say that the information presented wasn't clear and educational, but it made us feel that we were not the audience in mind when the displays were conceived.  Understandable but disconcerting, as my age continues to be reminded to me in these past few years. 

However, I also must note that we noticed many examples of emphasis on some science that is less supported by the current administration and those who helped elect our current president.  Information about evolution and climate change were very prevalent in Natural History.  At one point I even wondered if Vice President Pence had recently visited one of the most popular museums in his town, given his expressed belief in the bible as more than a religious guide.  The realization made me feel more positive about America and our future, thinking that science is still king in the DC museums despite the popularity of a party and a president that ignores the science behind climate change.

But the real star of the day, for us, was the American Indian Museum.  Unique building style. Straight forward depiction of the atrocities committed in the name of America's westward expansion.  But also personal stories demonstrating today's Indian culture which has somehow survived to this time despite our overt prejudicial treatment of the natives of America.  Information that reminds us that American Indians are still born in this country, everyday, that their cultures still exist, and that their leaders are still active in our country to both remind us of the various treaties signed (and still in effect) between various Indian nations and the US government, and to participate in the continuation of these cultures.

The second day we visited monuments.  Again, some familiar, some less so.  We started at the grand daddy of the monuments, the big pointy one named after our first president, then spent some quality time at the WW2 monument which was very impressive and moving.  A walk in a slight drizzle brought us to the Lincoln Memorial which reminded us again of the horrors of the Civil War, the bloodshed, loss of life and harm to so many families who were torn apart by varying loyalties in that war, but even more so the effect that slavery had on our country, both then and for the next century. 

Lincoln certainly did not place freeing the slaves about the fate of the nation, but also found it hard to believe that a nation founded with the phrase, "all men are created equal", could not continue to pretend to believe in freedom while slavery existed.  Unfortunately, we live in a time when there are those who prefer to believe that the Civil War wasn't about slavery, and the free labor that this odious institution  provided to drive the engine of the South's economy.  Even more insidious, there are those among us who continue to believe that African Americans are less "equal" than their white counterparts, just as so many people still, to this day, believe the lie perpetrated on the American people by then private citizen Donald Trump who questioned the birth nation of Barack Obama.  Of course, Lincoln paid the ultimate price for his beliefs, saving the Union but not his own life.

From there we walked past the Korean War monument which was very interesting, featuring life size statues of men as they trudged through a field with the shadows of the faces of those lost in the conflict on the wall.  I was impressed with it, simple yet effective.

From there we walked in a steady rain past the DC memorial to those who had lost their lives in the service of their country and a simple monument for the WW1 veterans.

Lastly, we walked to the Martin Luther King memorial.  First time.  Very powerful.  Large, full size statue of the man, eyes focused across the basin at the Jefferson Memorial.  Various quotes engraved on the wall surrounding the memorial.  Uplifting, but again a reminder of the sad fact that, despite the passage of 100 years since the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King still needed to give his life to end the decades of Jim Crow laws and push our country to recognize the need for another round of laws to affirm that "all men are created equal". 

All in all, a good weekend.  Family power, relaxation, and reflection on those who have helped make our country strong and free,  a reminder of the obstacles that we have faced, failed to face, and continue to face, and an affirmation that those who promote unity are the real heroes of America, and those that promote blame and disdain cooperation are the enemies of our great country.   

 

Monday, September 10, 2018

More on Water

I finished reading the Summer Lapham's, entitled Water.  As I said in my recent post about this edition, there were not many articles that struck me individually about the subject, but that they all in aggregate made an impression.

A number of articles expressed water as a living entity with a history, and a place in time.  I found this very intriguing, to think of a particular body of water, a river or ocean, or even a local tributary, and how it has altered its path over the years in response to human or natural activity.  How it has been used for recreation, from the simple pleasures of fishing from its banks or diving into its coolness from a tree rope, to the more complex rewards it provides via food for entire communities or its navigable pathways which bolster our economies.  Or the simple fact that water, especially in its ocean form, separated cultures and civilizations from each other, enabling, in part, the rich diversity of humankind that we find so rewarding, and so challenging.

The edition made me think about the unique qualities of water, as opposed to other liquids, which have inspired all the great religions to view it as more than a necessity for life on Earth, but as a pathway to eternal life.  Water has been perceived not only as being endowed with divine and curative powers, but as a way to quench fire, whether it be the fire that destroys our homes and fields, or the fire we dread that represents an eternity of pain.

This edition reminded me of the preciousness of water, despite the fact that 70% of our planet is covered by it.  Its necessity for life is easy to understand, but what about our requirements for water in the area of sanitation and hygiene.  I had an interesting conversation with a family member about why we live as long as we do after centuries of dying in our 30's and 40's, and she pointed to the advancements in medicine, which is certainly true.  But there are still areas of the world where too many children die before the age of five, and where people still struggle to reach 60 years of age.  And yes, the medicines do not always reach them as they do in the developed world, but it is also the lack of clean water that the medicines are not there to heal that leads to the diseases that kill these people and reduces their life expectancy. 

And, unfortunately, this edition reminded me that as we tend to do with so many of the resources that we have been blessed with, we tend to use water as a weapon.  We divert its flow to address the needs of our fields, while reducing its flow for those downriver, threatening their survival.  We dam it to provide energy to mega cities, while eliminating the culture or lifestyle of those whose land is now underwater.  We pollute it in our chase for more profit, while forcing the neighborhoods to drink tainted water to the detriment of their children or spend money on bottled water rather than some other necessity.

As my wife has often reminded me of late, we fear the future will abound with water ownership battles, whereby the water distribution systems of communities will be the legal and protected property of large corporations who will treat water as just another commodity to improve its balance sheet.  And where countries will go to war over water access rights, as they do now over precious metals and energy sources. 

And, finally this edition makes me think that our quest for more and more material possessions, regardless of the price, might extend past water, which is clearly now a marketable item, despite the fact that it occurs naturally, and next touch on air. 

Is it possible that, just for the vast majority of the human existence on Earth, water could be consumed right from its naturally occurring source without having to be cleansed of man made pollutants and toxins, air will next fall victim to our insatiable need to control and profit from nature?  The fact of the matter is that bottled air is already available online.   It is sold to provide a higher concentration of oxygen, or as "country" air for urban residents, or as a source of air that comes from northern climates where the air is "purer".  While these enticements to buy might sound foolish to most people, today, imagine how foolish paying for bottled water would have sounded to your grandparents.  When we make conscious decisions to mortgage our future for today's dollar, we open our country, and our world to the possibility that fresh air may become a commodity as fresh water has become today.

If it is not too late to return to a time when water was treated with respect, respect for its effect on the quality of our lives, and respect for the need for it to be universally accessible, regardless of income or nation of birth, it is certainly not too late to avoid making the same mistakes in regards to air.  It is our complacence with the ease of which we can turn a faucet and have water, that has blinded us to the realization that water is no longer a free flowing liquid which descends from the air via rain or from the mountaintops via snow melt, feeding our streams and rivers to allow us to eat, and move, and transport goods to other parts of the world, but is now a way for man to establish dominance over other men.  If such a travesty should occur to air, if a future Lapham's edition called "Air" is printed which reminds of past times when air was naturally pure, and not stacked in neat rows on a supermarket shelf, it will surely mark another example of man's greed ruining the environment, and destroying our one and only home planet.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Impeachment

I thought it might be time to talk about the "I" word.

I am not all that confident that impeaching President Trump is the right course of action.

Surprise!!

Don't get wrong,  I did not like him as a businessman, did not like him as a reality TV star, certainly did not like him as a candidate, and think his record so far as a president is dismal.  He is the epitome of the selfish American, doing anything and everything to amass his fortune, taking credit for the successes and blaming someone else for the failures.  He represents the worst of our prejudices, inflames divisiveness, and appears to be amoral and unethical in all his actions, from his early real estate dealings through his personal relationships and marriages to his current attack on anyone who disagrees with his opinions, whether they be representatives of our judicial system, legislative system or media.

But to me, impeachment is becoming a cure all for democrats/liberals.  As if, once Trump is removed from office, everything will be right again.  Donald Trump is the manifestation of the decline of our American democracy, not the cause of it.   Not just because our leaders have failed us, repeatedly, seeding the ground for a populist wave that tells us what we want to hear, preys upon our prejudices, and offers simple answers to complex problems, but mostly because we the people have ceased to take responsibility for a healthy governmental system, pulling the levers based on one issue agreement, evaluating candidates based on their party not principles, or worse, preferring to stay home on election day with a self-righteous cynicism rather than spending even the most basic time to research the candidates towards making a choice that reflects the majority of one's list of important issues.  Impeachment only removes the result of the refusal of our electorate to first, participate, and second, make informed choices.

The good news is that, without the blue wave that so many democrats are hoping for in November, impeachment will not even come to a vote in the House of Representatives.  And, even should the Dems take control of the House, 67 United States Senators must vote to impeach him.  That would require all 49 Democrat and Independent Senators plus 18 GOP Senators.  Even should the Dems gain 3 or 4 seats in November, not automatic considering that 24 of the 33 Senate races in November are currently held by Democrats or Independents, that would still require upwards of 15 GOP Senators to vote to impeach. 

Of course, the results of the Mueller probe could contribute to the eventual success or failure of an impeachment effort.  I have no doubt that President Trump has lied often, and about a plethora of issues, and has engaged in obstructing justice in countless ways, so if lying and obstructing justice are enough to start impeachment procedures (as it was with Clinton in late 1998), then the possibility exists,.  But politics has as much to do with the impeachment process as actual criminal activity.  The House and Senate were GOP controlled after the midterm elections of 1998, but not as severely as some GOP strategists predicted, and so while very few Dems voted to impeach, enough GOP representatives voted to send only two of the four counts for impeachment to the Senate.  And, despite the GOP holding 55 seats, the two articles received only 50 and 45 votes respectively, which means that not even all the Republican Senators voted to impeach.  So, while there is the possibility that the gravity of Trump's offenses in that they are related to interfering with the operation of the justice department, not to mention the possibility that members of his campaign, including his family, sought help from a foreign government with the candidate's blessing, as compared to Clinton whose crimes were related to sexual harassment and affairs, politics is not always driven by a search for the truth. 

My fear, therefore, is that if impeachment fails, Trump is emboldened even more so to tout his relentless attack against the FBI and judicial system, the anti-American liberals and progressives who were politically motivated to impeach in the first place, and the mainstream press who will assuredly support the impeachment process.  In short, failure to impeach will be a disaster.

But will success be better? 

Perhaps, but only if a successful impeachment is due to an overwhelming vote.  A close vote based exclusively on partisanship, meaning all Dems vote for impeachment with few, if any GOP reps, voting alongside them, will exacerbate the divide between pro-Trump and anti-Trump sentiment.  Also, we must remember that Mike Pence will assume presidential duties, someone who does little to inspire me to believe he will reverse the harm done by the anti-environmental decisions that Trump and the GOP have passed so far, not to mention the anti-worker, anti-equal pay, pro corporate philosophy that has become the foundation of the GOP party.  Nor do I see him ever standing at a podium and acknowledging Trump's crimes. 

Yes, at least those type of policies will be blocked with a Democratic controlled House and/or Senate, but I don't see much progress made in reversing the harm already done with Pence in the White House.  Not to mention the fact that, should the most recent Supreme Court nominee be confirmed, Trump will have already positioned the ultimate court to continue ruling in favor of reducing women's reproductive rights and workers' rights, while expanding the rights of corporations as if they are actual people. 

So, what is to be done?

First, if you are in agreement that America is being led in the wrong direction, vote.  In fact, even if you are OK with what is happening, vote.   We need to send a clear message to our current and future leaders that the electorate is in control of our democracy, not the few with the most money.  We need to break all the records for midterm election turnout, which, regardless of the results, let both parties know that the American voter is involved.  Should a blue wave come to pass, then we can at least halt the damage. 

Also, and I cannot put too fine a point on this, it will send a message to our president that we have tired of his agenda.  I am sure he will still have his rallies, attended by the faithful, and will continue his assault on all that disagree, but, if the voters send a clear message of rejection, he will be talking to less and less of the public.  From there, we can only hope that in 2020, should President Trump not cancel the election, the voters of the United States decisively reject his re-election, especially if the Dems can come up with a strong candidate.  (Are you listening Barrack Obama?). 

To be honest, I don't see Donald Trump disappearing from public like Sarah Palin has done.  He is too shred to let his popularity fade away before he makes full use of its advantages.  His presidential brand may be harmed, but his personal brand will continue with the help of his friends at Fox, along with those forces that hide behind patriotism when promoting their anti-immigrant, anti-government policies.
He is and has always been about promoting Donald Trump, and will continue to do so, president or private citizen.  Removing him from office is paramount, but how we do it, is just as important.

Direct voter rejection of the Trump agenda, not impeachment, is be the most effective way to quiet his popularity, and remove some of his bluster.    Let's hope the Dems see the forest for the trees and have a realistic back-up plan to the "I" word.