Saturday, September 24, 2016

#268 / The Journal Of American Greatness

Poor Peggy Noonan (pictured). Hers is an unhappy lot.

Noonan was a primary speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan, and I think it is fair to say that while the nation has moved on, Noonan has not. Politics, post-Reagan, has never quite measured up for Peggy.

To give some examples, in 2015, as reported in Salon, Noonan "sneered" (Salon's word) that "Obama’s presidency means anyone can run for president now." Well, that is what they used to teach us in grade school. "Anyone" can be president in this land of opportunity. That is what I was told. But "anyone," for Noonan, doesn't include a black man named Obama. So far, no woman, either! It's pretty obvious that Obama actually believed the hype, and then he actually did get elected president. Noonan doesn't want that kind of mistake to happen again!

In the middle of August, this year, Noonan expressed her disgust for the current presidential candidates ("disgust" is my word), a disgust that extended to the candidates of both parties. To be fair to Noonan, that is an opinion that is shared by many. Noonan, though, is unabashedly outspoken:

It is like '"Oh my God," she said. "For the American people, what is their impression of the people who populate politics when they see stories like [Trump's] campaign manager being accused of being on the take. The Clinton Foundation stuff. It looks so bad, I'm very disturbed [about] the extent to which real-life modern politics is starting to look like something out of "Scandal" or "House of Cards." They're supposed to be wacked-out entertainments that have nothing to do with reality, which is how I like to think of them, but it is disturbing, these stories.

A third example of Noonan's disdain for the current state of our politics is found in her Wall Street Journal column published in the June 4-5, 2016 hard copy edition. This column bemoans the failure of the Republican Party to deal with the outrageous inadequacy and unsuitability of Donald Trump, a theme consistent with her general feelings about the current state of our politics, as outlined above. Clearly, whatever is happening now, politically, does not measure up to Ronald Reagan and that golden age gone by. 

After bemoaning Candidate Trump in her column, however, Noonan does move on to some "good news." Listen to Peggy talk about The Journal of American Greatness:

A great party needs give. It needs a kind of capaciousness and broadness. On that, the best example of movement I’ve seen in some time is what I discovered this week: a sophisticated, rather brilliant and anonymous website that is using this Trumpian moment to break out of the enforced conservative orthodoxy of the past 15 years. 
It is called the Journal of American Greatness. Its contributors ask questions that need asking and make critiques that sting
They describe themselves as “aghast at the stupidity and corruption of American politics, particularly in the Republican Party, and above all in what passes for the ‘conservative’ intellectual movement.” Who are they? “None of your damned business.” Why? “Because the times are so corrupt that simply stating certain truths is enough to make one unemployable for life.” 
Where they stand: “We support Trumpism, defined as secure borders, economic nationalism, interests-based foreign policy, and above all judging every government action through a single lens: does this help or harm Americans? For now, the principal vehicle of Trumpism is Trump.” 
They explore essential questions. “When—and why—did free trade become a sacred ritual of the Republican right?” They give neoconservatism its intellectual due but explore the “unwisdom” of the “Middle East democracy agenda.” Neoconservatives seem “incapable of learning from their mistakes or changing their minds.” The contributors hilariously score NeverTrumpers who claim to be standing at great cost on principle while others are “in the tank” for Mr. Trump: “Of all the opinions that require little courage to express, opposition to Trump is the lead one.” In the past two decades, they observe, “a new conservative intellectual superstructure,” including magazines, journals and think tanks, was built on the new base of the Republican Party. It “routinized the production of its self-justification.” But “the base no longer wants the superstructure.” Voters have their own ideas of what conservatism is. 
I contacted JAG by social media and asked about their work. “If we had to characterize ourselves, we would like to think that our writing is informed by a mix of pragmatic experience and theory. What brings us together is our dismay at the stultification of political ideas in the United States. We see ourselves as challenging the intellectual rigidity that has come to characterize, in our view, so much of what passes for self-described ‘serious thinking’ today.” 
Their reach and the reactions they’ve received “have thus far significantly exceeded our expectations.” 
It’s encouraging they’re doing what they’re doing, and that there is a market for it.

Poor Peggy Noonan! Finally she found a group that reflects her own feelings about the "stultification of political ideas in the United States," and we find, in fact, that there actually isn't such a group and that there isn't any "Journal of American Greatness."

That's right! I checked out the group, too, just like Peggy did. Here's what I found: 

Journal of American Greatness
Notice to Our Readers 
The Journal of American Greatness began some months ago, to a large extent anyway, as an inside joke. At a certain point its audience expanded beyond any of our expectations. It also ceased to be a joke. Thus it no longer makes sense to continue it in its current form. No journal is meant to last forever, and this one won’t try to. We’ve decided to call it a day.

The inspiration for this journal was a profound discomfort with the mode of thought that has come to dominate political discourse—an ideological mode that makes nonsense of the reality of American life. The unanticipated recognition that we have received, however, also makes clear that many others similarly felt the desirability of breaking out of conservatism’s self-imposed intellectual stagnation. Should any such market for our ideas exist in the future, we may participate in it. But we will do so in a different way.

In closing, we simply want to thank our readers—we never expected so many of you—who made this extraordinary adventure possible over the last four months.

This is all kind of fun - inside baseball for the most intellectually pretentious members of the Republican establishment. 

I only have one question about The Journal of American Greatness. Is the joke ON Peggy Noonan, or is the joke BY Peggy Noonan?

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Friday, September 23, 2016

#267 / Some Sour Conclusions

On September 18, 2016, The New York Times ran a story about the problems being experienced by Citrus Pest Control District No. 2, a California public agency. The District recently got some extremely bad news from the California Public Employees Retirement System, or CALPERS, and as a retired public employee myself (twenty years of service to Santa Cruz County), I was naturally interested in the story.

As it turns out, the problems of Citrus Pest Control District No. 2, serving just six persons, is only a small example of a massive, looming disaster for public agencies all over the state, and California's problem is duplicated in almost every other state, too:

Calpers, which managed the little pension plan, keeps two sets of books: the officially stated numbers, and another set that reflects the “market value” of the pensions that people have earned. The second number is not publicly disclosed. And it typically paints a much more troubling picture, according to people who follow the money. 
The crisis at Citrus Pest Control District No. 2 illuminates a profound debate now sweeping the American public pension system. It is pitting specialist against specialist — this year in the rarefied confines of the American Academy of Actuaries, not far from the White House, the elite professionals who crunch pension numbers for a living came close to blows over this very issue. 
But more important, it raises serious concerns that governments nationwide do not know the true condition of the pension funds they are responsible for. That exposes millions of people, including retired public workers, local taxpayers and municipal bond buyers — who are often retirees themselves — to risks they have no way of knowing about.

If you are not familiar with what's going on here (and maybe even if you are), the Times' article, "A Sour Surprise for Public Pensions: Two Sets of Books," is well worth reading. Arithmetic doesn't lie, though it is possible, as the article shows, to lie about arithmetic. Keeping two sets of books is certainly one way to do that. What the arithmetic tells us is that the people of the state (and other states similarly situated) will either have to lay off a very significant portion of their workforce, or will have to reduce salaries, or may even have to try to default on their obligations to those currently receiving pensions. 

This is not only a problem for public agencies, I believe, but many private corporations with pension responsibilities are likely to be facing the same kind of problems. 

A "sour surprise," indeed, which stems from our past willingness to keep two sets of books, trying to fool ourselves!

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

#266 / How The F#%K Did We Get Here?

How did we get here?

According to Brett Stephens, writing in The Wall Street Journal, "The GOP Gets What It Deserves." Frankly, my comment is, "don't I wish!"

Stephens was writing before Donald Trump had definitively secured the Republican Party nomination, and before the polling that now shows him running almost neck and neck with Hillary Clinton. I think Stephens still had hope, back in May, that someone else would ultimately carry the banner for the Republicans.

Nope! Didn't happen!!

Stephens opined that if the Republican Party nominated Trump this fact would "all but guarantee another Clinton presidency." Stephens did not seem thrilled at that prospect, and he was not, it appears, a very good prognosticator, at least not if you give recent polls much credence. Both parties seem to be campaigning not on the basis that their candidate is particularly good, but on the theme that the other party's candidate is horrible, and the polls say that both sides have a shot:

I put the Stephens' piece in my newsprint pile, way back when, for just one reason. I think the following statement, from his column, is pretty much on the mark:

The point of democracy isn't freedom. It's political accountability.

If we don't hold our elected officials (and political candidates) accountable for what they say, and for what they do, we will all get what we deserve, and the two leading presidential candidates are NOT equal by that test. A news analysis by Jonathan Martin, appearing in the September 18, 2016 edition of The New York Times, was published under this headline: "Anything-Goes Campaign an Alarming Precedent." Here's the gist of Martin's argument: 

Routine falsehoods, unfounded claims and inflammatory language have long been staples of Mr. Trump’s anything-goes campaign. But as the polls tighten and November nears, his behavior, and the implications for the country should he become president, are alarming ....

Stephens may have been a bit off on his predictions, but Martin got that last part right!

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

#265 / Make Them Vote For War

Once I started digging into my "read it later" pile, I found lots of older material, like an editorial from the May 10, 2016 edition of The New York Times, entitled, "A Soldier's Challenge to the President." Regrettably, this editorial is still relevant. 

The 1973 War Powers Resolution, passed by Congress over the veto of then-president Nixon, requires the president to obtain "specific statutory authorization" whenever he sends United States troops into war. Guess what? Our president doesn't do that. So far, the courts have not dealt with the president's refusal to ask permission. And, as The Times editorial says, Congress is not actually trying to get the president to make the request that the law requires.

In mid-August, the president launched airstrikes on targets in Libya. Apparently, U.S. ground troops are also taking action in Libya. There have certainly been recent U.S. air strikes in Syria. Just this week, in fact, such U.S. air strikes have apparently led to the termination of a cease fire that had been negotiated.

With respect to Libya, an online CNN news report said that "Libya asked the U.S. to help fight ISIS with airstrikes." Great! Glad you asked, Libya, but according to our laws, you can't just ask the president, you need to have the elected representatives in Congress sign off on such military adventures. 

Probably, the majority of the Congress supports what President Obama is doing (see pictures above), but I think it is a lot less certain that the people of the United States are of the same opinion.

As members of the U.S. military go off to kill and be killed, in our name, let's demand that Congress do its job. 

Let's make them vote for all these wars!

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

#264 / Who Is Your Customer? #2

Back in February of this year, the California Coastal Commission voted to fire its Executive Director, Dr. Charles Lester. The picture above shows the crowd that came to the meeting. I think that about 1,000 people were there in person, to support Dr. Lester. As I recall, over 10,000 persons and organizations communicated with the Commission, opposing his termination. There was virtually no public testimony that Dr. Lester should be fired. Nonetheless, he was fired, and the Commission went into a secret session to take that action, too.

Here is a link to the blog posting I filed on February 11th, about the Commission's action. I called the Commission's action a "developer coup," and I think I was right about that.

Yesterday, I received a bulletin from a Sierra Club activist. You can read it, below. The other shoe has dropped!

At the time of the firing of Lester many of us were concerned that the real reason behind his dismissal was the desire on the part of Commissioners to be able to control the staff and make their staff recommendations developer friendly. Unfortunately the document that is posted on the Commission's website as the outreach for candidates is written in a way that does just that. It calls for a change in the "culture" of the commission to one of "customer service." In other words, it considers the developers its customers and its mission is to serve them. It shows no concern for upholding the Coastal Act or the importance of the public. It also does not put into the requirements anything about maintaining an independent staff or an atmosphere that inspires staff and allows them to function. This is precisely what we were concerned about.  
I strongly suggest that you go to the website. Go to the home page, Then, scroll down to "Now Accepting Public Comments on Executive Director Search Criteria."  Click on that link and then go to August 26, 2016 and click on "Draft Recruitment Materials: Memo." 
Read the document and then send in your comments ASAP. When you do I suggest that you include your concerns, if you have them, about:
  1. Changing the culture of the commission to be "customer" (developer) friendly. 
  2. Failing to recognize that the function of the Commission is to uphold the Coastal Act and serve the public. 
  3. Failing to provide direction to maintain an independent staff and allow that staff to function in a way that they are not "captured" by the commissioners in the majority. 
  4. Failing to indicate that one of the things necessary is for the ED to provide leadership that instills confidence in the staff and results in low turn-over.
Please get your comments in quickly since they are working right now on a revised draft which will be out this Friday and discussed at the October hearing. 

The idea that those persons who apply for development permits from public agencies should be considered to be "the customer" is a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of governmental agencies in the context of their responsibility for land use regulation. I have written about this before. Click this link if you'd like to see what I said in 2012, long before the controversy about Dr. Lester. The "customers" of a public agency are members of the public. Public agencies are supposed to do what the public wants, and to carry out the rules that have been enacted by the public. It is not the role of public agencies to do what the developers demand.

Feel free to weigh in on the proposed recruitment materials, as my Sierra Club friend suggests!

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Monday, September 19, 2016

#263 / The Anatomy Of Fear

On the evening of Sunday, August 14th (no one really knows why), passengers in New York's J.F.K. Airport became convinced that there was some sort of "shooter" loose, or that some other act of terrorism was occurring or about to occur. There turned out to be no reality to justify these fears, but "unreal" fears nonetheless stimulated a very "real" panic. You can witness the reaction of travelers in the picture above. There are more pictures online, accompanying Marc Santora's article, entitled, "From False Alarm to Panic: Inside Kennedy Airport’s Chaotic Night."

The phenomenon Santora writes about is well known. Hysterical reactions among crowds, in all sorts of contexts, is a documented, historical reality. If you'd like to be entertained, as you read up on the subject, I recommend the wonderful book by Charles MacKay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions And The Madness Of Crowds

Here's my question: Isn't it possible that our current national policies related to terrorism are, in fact, a kind of hysterical national reaction to a potential, but mostly non-existing, threat? 

Isn't the "anatomy of fear" that Santora writes about in his article evident in our national policies related to terrorism, and isn't our reaction to the hypothesized dangers of terrorist incident a reaction without sufficient provocation? Isn't this a reaction we should be resisting, not feeding? Isn't this a fire whose flames we should simply let die down, rather than fanning them into a real conflagration?

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Sunday, September 18, 2016

#262 / Inspiring To Millions

The photo above comes from an article in The New Yorker, dated September 23, 2015. The article, by Allyson Hobbs, was titled, "Why Aren't We Inspired By Hillary Clinton?"

In fact, millions of people (including millions of voters) ARE inspired by Hillary Clinton. 

A letter published in "The Mail" section of the most recent edition of The New Yorker comments on this topic with respect to a different New Yorker article, not the Allyson Hobbs' article, but a commentary by Steve Coll.

Sharona Muir, of Perrysburg, Ohio (a "swing state, incidentally), complains about a "hold your nose and vote" tone of voice in commentaries about Clinton and her candidacy. Here is what she says about Clinton:

The possibilities that Clinton's nomination holds for our society's greater freedom are tremendous. It's time that Coll and The New Yorker understand the fact that, and the reasons that, Secretary Clinton's nomination is actually inspiring to millions of voters.

I completely agree that Muir is accurately reporting what millions think and feel. In my Day Three observations from the Democratic National Convention, I noted (even as a supporter of Bernie Sanders) that "any fair-minded person would have to say, after hearing that roll call vote, that Hillary did win the nominating process. Millions of voters heard their representatives express with great delight their support for Hillary Clinton."

Millions are inspired by Hillary Clinton for good reason. My advice (I've mentioned this before) is that Hillary spend the rest of her time inspiring the American people about what we can do, together, to make the changes we need to make, instead of advertising the very obvious deficiencies of her opponent.

Inspiring millions is what wins elections. The other person in that photo at the top of this blog posting is a very good example that this is true!

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Saturday, September 17, 2016

#261 / Rickrolled Again

According to The Hill, "journalists lashed out at Donald Trump on Friday after the GOP presidential nominee used his 'major announcement' to get more than 25 minutes of free airtime on major cable news networks."

Click right here to read the story in The Hill. Here is an excerpt from the article: 

Media figures offered harsh criticism for the event. 
"We got played, again, by the Trump campaign, because that's what they do...," CNN's John King said.  
"We all got Rickrolled and played," lamented CNN's Jake Tapper, referring to a popular bait-and-switch internet meme.

If you are not exactly clear about what it means to be "Rickrolled," you can read about that phenomenon in this Wikipedia article. Again, here's an edited excerpt, outlining how the scheme works:

Rickrolling, alternatively rick-rolling, is a prank and an Internet meme involving an unexpected appearance of the music video for the 1987 Rick Astley song "Never Gonna Give You Up." The meme is a type of bait and switch using a disguised hyperlink. Those led to the music video [believed] that they were accessing some unrelated material, [and were] said to have been rickrolled [when the "Never Gonna Give You Up" video appeared instead of the material they expected].

"Rickrolling," it seems to me, is an apt description of the entire Donald Trump for President campaign. What you, as a voter, might think you're going to get, by way of results, when you pull the lever for Trump, is almost certainly not what you are actually going to experience. 

And as for the media folks who keep falling for the Trump Rickroll stunt, I agree with this commentary from Alternet that a kind of continuing "media malpractice" is at work. So, just forget about your post-event outrage and stop covering this dissembling fraud!

Friday, September 16, 2016

#260 / New World Order

I think there was a time when the idea of a "New World Order" sounded kind of nice. Hopeful, even. Positive. 

This series of statements about a "New World Order," though, as presented in this video, starts to sound kind of ominous. Kind of threatening. At least, that's the way it seems to me. 

The following question really does come to mind, as I listen to this series of commitments to the forging of a "New World Order."

Who is going to be ordering whom, and to do what?

I don't really have any kind of a "democratic" feeling about what all these guys mean. They are all "guys," too, though I am betting that Hillary Clinton wouldn't have much of a problem with that "New World Order" idea, either. 

I think I'm having a big problem with that "New World Order" idea. 

Next time someone starts talking about a "New World Order," I want them to tell me exactly what they mean!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

#259 / Big Data Does Transit

Back in the middle of August, I suggested that Santa Cruz County should start working on a new approach to transportation planning. The main idea would be to solve transportation congestion problems by using our existing road infrastructure more efficiently, and by sharing rides. I suggested that modern technology should be able to help. "Uber Share" is how I titled my posting.

As it turns out, that same idea is moving towards an actual trial run in Los Angeles. The story I have just linked was written, in fact, in 2012, though I wasn't aware of the L.A. experiment when I wrote down my own ideas this August. I wasn't aware of a story in the Mercury News, either, also published this August. The Mercury News story, again, proposes a transportation solution along the same lines that I recommended. It is titled, "Cutting Edge Start-up makes sense of transit data."

There is a transportation sales tax measure on the November ballot in Santa Cruz County. Whether it passes or not, using advanced technology to get the maximum possible efficiency out of our existing transportation infrastructure makes a lot of sense, and will probably work a lot better than trying to "build our way out" of our congestion woes.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

#258 / Toffler

Alvin Toffler died on June 27th of this year. The New York Times did a very nice obituary, and published another article, as well, a week or so later. That article, by Farhad Manjoo, was titled, "The Future Toffler Saw Is Already Upon Us."

I remember reading Future Shock when it first came out, in 1970. Toffler predicted, as Manjoo wrote, that local and global crises would arrive, one after the other, and "millions of human beings will find themselves increasingly disoriented, progressively incompetent to deal rationally with their environments."

That sounds about right!

My recollection is that I quibbled with Toffler's apparent idea that "change" came upon us as an autonomous force, battering and smashing us until we succumbed, suffering from "a real psychological malady, the 'dizzying disorientation brought on by the premature arrival of the future.'"

The way I saw it, Toffler's hypothesis was that change is something that "happens to us." We observe change as spectators, and when it comes too fast, we become disoriented, even as we watch.

I was very much convinced that we must never see change this way, as spectators. I thought that we must assert, always, that we are not spectators, who watch change happen to us, but that we are actors, and must believe that we can make change happen the way we want.

I still think that.

It's our only way out.

If we can't bring ourselves to seize command, take action, and change the world, then it's not a "shock" that we will need to be worrying about.

It's a societal version of electrocution!

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

#257 / Full-Body!

Meet Dr. Xiaoping Ren. According to an article in the June 12, 2016 edition of The New York Times, Dr. Ren is planning to transplant the head of his patient, Mr. Wang Huanming, onto an available body. Here is a link to the article, which is titled, "Doctor's Plan for Full-Body Transplants Raises Doubts Even in Daring China."

Doubts? Doubts? You got doubts?

The caption on the photograph below might cause doubts. It reads: "Dr. Ren Xiaoping ... an orthopedic surgeon in Harbin, China, plans to transfer a living person's head to a new body. Photographs on the walls of his office showed his experiments with similar transplants in mice. The mice lived only for a day."

Mr. Wang is currently paralyzed from the neck down. I guess he figures it's worth a shot.

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Monday, September 12, 2016

#256 / Democrats "Wonder And Worry"

The title for today's blog posting comes from a headline on an article in The Washington PostAccording to The Post, "Democrats are increasingly worried that Hillary Clinton has not built a formidable lead against Donald Trump despite his historic weaknesses as a national party candidate." 

I’m concerned, frankly, said former Democratic Senate leader Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.). It still looks positive, and I think if you look at the swing states and where she is right now, she’s got a lead. But it’s certainly not in the bag. We have two months to go, and I think it’s going to be a competitive race all the way through. I would say she’s got at least a 60 percent chance of winning. At the same time, Daschle said, “all the things that Trump has done, the numbers should be far more explicitly in her favor, but they’re not.

If Clinton and her campaign share the worries expressed above, which I think they ought to (I certainly share them), then that would seem to argue against the kind of "run out the clock strategy" I mentioned in my blog posting yesterday. It should also mean that the Clinton campaign will be canvassing for new ideas about how to do better in getting the voters to elect her as president.

As it happens, I have some advice on this topic, which advice actually relates to Clinton's very recent (and very ill-advised) comment that "you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables." That comment, made at an upscale fundraising event featuring Barbara Streisand, was pretty deplorable itself, in my view, and was quickly repudiated by Clinton, when it became abundantly clear that her remarks had not gone down too well. Please note, however, that in "walking back" her comment, Clinton did not repudiate the basic thrust of what she said about those supporting Donald Trump. Instead, she admitted that she spoke too quickly in saying that "half" of his supporters were in the basket. It was less than half! That was Clinton's amendment of her remark. 

Characterizing Trump supporters as being in a "basket of deplorables" illustrates a basic feature of the Clinton campaign, which has reflected a sense of self-confident "entitlement" from the very beginning. Clinton obviously believes that her background and experience provide a compelling reason to elect her, and she also believes that she is entitled to judge who is, and who isn't, qualified to lead the nation. This has led the Clinton campaign to assert, as one of its basic themes, that her opponent is "unfit" and unqualified. I do think it is fair to say that this charge, that Donald Trump is "unfit" to be president, is one of the basic themes of the Clinton campaign. Given Clinton's strongly-held view that Donald Trump is "unfit," it's easy to see how Clinton came to her recent statements. Trump is "unfit," and a "deplorable" candidate, and so his supporters go in that "basket," too.

I intend to vote for Hillary Clinton, I want her to win. I agree that Hillary Clinton is well-prepared to be president, and that she is much better prepared than her opponent. I think that Donald Trump would be a terrible choice for president, and that he is temperamentally and otherwise not the right person for us to put in charge of the country. Trump himself, and many of his supporters, do show alarming evidence that they have a racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and Islamaphobic view of the world. This was Clinton's charge at the Streisand benefit, and one of my friends sent me a link demonstrating that there is actual evidence that this characterization has merit

All that said, for Hillary Clinton to base her campaign on the argument that her opponent is "unfit" to be president is NOT a very good campaign strategy, in my opinion. Among other things, that charge comes across as elitist, because in our system of government the voters (not the Clinton campaign) have the right to decide who is "fit," or "unfit," to be president. 

Correct! And people with that mindset are the opposite of "deplorable." In fact, it may well be that more than half of the voters in the November election will absolutely fit this last description, and believe that "the government has let them down." 

As someone who has been deeply engaged in government for most of her life, and who has helped, in various ways, to get us where we are, Clinton's background and experience are in many ways a "negative," not a "positive," for Hillary Clinton. The more the Clinton campaign attacks Donald Trump as "unqualified," the more many voters conclude that he is a person who will make changes, since Clinton is such a fine representative of the policies that are now in place. 

In my opinion, this is a major reason, as Senator Daschle observed, that "the numbers should be far more explicitly in her favor, but they’re not." Campaign attacks on Trump as "unfit" actually call him out as someone whom the elite people running this country believe would make a change. If large numbers of the voters want a change, every campaign ad attacking Trump as "unfit" (according to the elites now in charge) is an advertisement in his favor.

My experience with political campaigns is that every campaign, in the end, turns out to be "about" one thing, or a very small number of things. Clinton has the experience to understand this, having been deeply involved in a successful campaign that tried to focus all of its activities on the single most pressing concern of the voters at that time (it's the economy, stupid!). 

This time around, I think the election is "about" who is going to make fundamental changes in the direction of our nation. My advice to Clinton is to recognize this. If this election is one in which many voters, including specifically voters in the so-called "swing states," will be looking to elect someone who will make fundamental changes in the economic and other policies currently guiding the activities of the federal government, then Clinton needs to be demonstrating that she is the person to do that. Naturally, she should also not use her own advertising money to make the case for her opponent, which is what I fear is really going on. 

Hillary Clinton should be running as an agent of change, not as the standard bearer for business as usual, which is how her claim to have the right "background and experience" can come across. She should also not be claiming the right to say, on behalf of the voters, who is "fit," and who is not "fit," to be president. Even if her judgement on that question is good (and I think she is right about Trump), the voters are going to reserve their own right to make up their minds, and don't want someone trying to tell them who is "worthy" and who is not. 

Hillary will win if she convinces the voters that she is going to make the changes that they desperately want, and not by challenging the fitness of her opponent. At least, that's my view. 

As a kind of postscript, here is a thought from Warren Buffet, a billionaire supporter of Hillary Clinton. According to a recent column in The New Yorker, Buffet has adopted the advice of Dale Carnegie, in his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People

Praise by name. Criticize by category.

That's good advice - even for politicians, and even in a campaign context. Attacks on Trump, by name, are only going to "promote his brand" and outrage and mobilize those who think that his election just might provide a route to getting the kind of political change they want to see.

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Sunday, September 11, 2016

#255 / Politics And The Clock

I have been paying increasing attention to the "Keep Calm" meme, which seems to be almost everywhere, these days. The original "Keep Calm" slogan, according to Wikipedia, "was a motivational poster produced by the British government in 1939 in preparation for the Second World War."

"Keep Calm and Carry On" was the government's original message. That does sound very "British," echoing the "keep a stiff upper lip" approach to adversity that is identified with the British people.

Wikipedia tells us that "the [original] poster was intended to raise the morale of the British public, threatened with widely predicted mass air attacks on major cities. Although 2.45 million copies were printed, and although the Blitz did in fact take place, the poster was hardly ever publicly displayed and was little known until a copy was rediscovered in 2000 at Barter Books, a bookshop in Alnwick."

Since that rediscovery, the "Keep Calm and ..." motto has been used to sell products and to provide various kinds of motivational advice. It is, apparently, the most recent version of the "Hang In There" advisory, which many may remember. Who could forget that feline philosopher? 

As you can see from the picture heading up today's blog posting, one popular piece of "Keep Calm" advice is to "run out the clock." This is definitely a "Hang In There, Baby" idea. If you can just "hang in there" long enough,  in other words, you will probably survive (and maybe even prevail)!

One of our presidential candidates is, at the moment, apparently following a "Keep Calm and Run Out The Clock" strategy, and certain pundits think that this strategy will work. Others don't think so, or at least think it's risky. That includes a number of Democratic members of Congress.

The premise of a "run out the clock" strategy, in football, basketball, or politics, is that the other side won't have the juice to overtake you, if you are ahead, and if there isn't much time left, and if you don't do anything stupid. 

Maybe that concept is going to work for Hillary Clinton, but I agree with the pundits who think it's a risky strategy. My idea about political campaigns is that campaigns are an opportunity for each voter to make a choice about possible futures, and to select the candidate who seems most committed to working for a future that the voter finds appealing. The voter's focus, in other words, is almost always on what the candidate is going to do for the voter. 

Right now, I think most voters want fundamental (I'd even say "radical") changes in the way that this country is being run. Donald Trump is definitely saying that he is going to "make changes."

A "run out the clock" strategy can easily be interpreted as a statement that nothing further is required, in terms of political change. Just "elect me" (the other guy's so horrible), and everything will be fine. 

I think this is a very risky basis upon which to ask for a vote. At least, it doesn't appeal much to me!

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Saturday, September 10, 2016

#254 / The Obscenity Of War

According to an article in The Guardian, Facebook has refused to allow the above photo to appear on its social media site. I'll be interested to see if this edition of my Two Worlds blog is censored by Facebook, since my blog postings, which appear originally on a personal website, are automatically republished to Facebook by Networked Blogs.** 

The Guardian article says that Facebook's policy is that "any photographs of people displaying fully nude genitalia or buttocks, or fully nude female breast, will be removed.” I hope that this policy will not be used to prevent photographs like the famous photograph above from appearing on Facebook.

Miller v. California is a 1973 case that sets out what some commentators have called the "modern" test for obscenity: "After years in which no Supreme Court opinion could command majority support, five members of the Court in Miller set out a several-part test for judging obscenity statutes: (1) the proscribed material must depict or describe sexual conduct in a patently offensive way, (2) the conduct must be specifically described in the law, and (3) the work must, taken as a whole, lack serious value, and must appeal to a prurient interest in sex. What is patently offensive is to be determined by applying community values, but any jury decision in these cases is subject to independent constitutional review." 

Miller, in other words, defines pornography or obscenity by reference to "community values." This is not, exactly, a very clear standard, and echoes, I think, though in a different formulation, a famous statement by Justice Stewart, in Jacobellis v. Ohio, which was decided in 1964. In that case, Justice Stewart is quoted as follows, this being perhaps the Court's best-known judicial statement about obscenity and pornography:

It is possible to read the Court's opinion in Roth v. United States and, Alberts v. California ... in a variety of ways. In saying this, I imply no criticism of the Court, which in those cases was faced with the task of trying to define what may be indefinable. I have reached the conclusion, which I think is confirmed at least by negative implication in the Court's decisions since Roth and Alberts, that under the First and Fourteenth Amendments criminal laws in this area are constitutionally limited to hard-core pornography. I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.

In the end, in trying to define graphic depictions of obscenity or pornography, I do think that we "know it when we see it." By that standard, Nick Ut's Pulitzer prize-winning photograph, reproduced above, is not obscene or pornographic. To quote Justice Stewart, I know it when I see it, and the picture shown above is "not that."

The obscenity in the photo is not the "fully nude genitalia" of the little girl. There is no obscenity there. The obscenity involved in this photograph was in the use of napalm, by United States armed forces, against non-combattant men, women, and children. It is true, in the photograph, that the viewer's eye is drawn immediately to the agony and pain of Phan Thi Kim Phuc, the little girl in the center who has no clothes. 

But what about that little boy? Look at his face! There you can see the obscenity of war made visible (no genitalia needed to make the point):

Between the time I wrote this, yesterday, and the publication of this blog posting, today, Facebook has, reportedly, reversed its decision.

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Friday, September 9, 2016

#253 / Think Tanks

The photo, above, shows the offices of the Center for Strategic & International Studies, a think tank located in Washington, D.C. The picture illustrates an article published in the August 7, 2016 edition of The New York Times, found online under the title, "How Think Tanks Amplify Corporate America's Influence." The Times also carried a follow-up article on August 8th.

The original Times article was reprinted by the San Francisco Chronicle on August 8th. On August 9th, the very next day, a Chronicle columnist, Debra J. Saunders, who is generally known for her "conservative" or "right wing" perspectives, wrote a column titled, "Warning: dangerous think tanks ahead." Saunders put a "left" versus "right" political spin on the original story, because she sees a "danger" in left wing attacks on the studies produced by these corporate-sponsored (though purportedly independent) think tanks. Saunders thinks that it would be terribly unfair to make these tax-exempt think tanks disclose who paid for their studies, and that such a demand for disclosure is nothing more than an unfair attempt to discredit their bought and paid for conclusions.

If you can penetrate the Chronicle's paywall, to read her column, you will find Saunders touting the observations of Cleta Mitchell, described by Wikipedia as "an American lawyer, politician, and conservative activist." Mitchell thinks that left wingers are attempting to "bully dissent." Saunders also promotes the ideas of Kimberley Strassel, a conservative columnist for The Wall Street Journal. Strassel has written a book along these same lines: The Intimidation Game: How the Left is Silencing Free Speech

As I read the original article in The New York Times, the operations of various "think tanks," whether "conservative" or "progressive" in their basic orientation, tend to dance to the drum of those with the big bucks. That is the point of the article, and the message is not surprising. The corporate oligarchy that is running our country is using its financial resources to provide the intellectual props that will help it maintain good appearances. Really, what's wrong with making that clear? 

"Think tanks" purport to  be independent of any political bias (and for that independence they get a tax-exempt status). If the think tanks are not, in fact, independent at all, and if the "truths" and the "facts" they publish are bought and paid for, then it becomes incredibly difficult for ordinary persons to discern the realities of the topic being discussed. 

Saunders has clearly bought into the Citizens United concept that money equals free speech. Proving that money has distorted the conclusions of supposedly independent reports, and demanding that those distortions be made clear, is seen by Saunders as an attack on free speech itself. 

You know, I don't think she's right about that!

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Thursday, September 8, 2016

#252 / Will Science Save Us?

Human activity, ignoring the rules, laws, and principles that govern the World of Nature, has now created a situation in which our human civilization is being placed at extreme risk. All forms of life, in fact, not just human life, are being threatened, and a massive extinction event is under way. The name of the activity causing our current crop of problems goes, mostly, under the title, "Global Warming," though with temperatures having reached 129 degrees in the Middle East, rather recently, and apparently likely to head even higher, the word "warming" is a little bit less than fully descriptive. 

As we all know (I hope we all know this), human activities that result in the release of greenhouse gases, and particularly carbon dioxide, are the cause of the global warming that is putting human civilization, and all life, both human and non-human, in peril. The combustion of hydrocarbon fuels is the main culprit, as (again, I hope) we all know.

Science, it seems, might save us! A recent online article from Scientific American is titled, "New 'Bionic' Leaf Is Roughly 10 Times More Efficient Than Natural Photosynthesis." 

Human beings have often relied on science to help solve the problems that human beings have themselves created. Perhaps this new "bionic leaf" can be deployed quickly, replacing all the trees that are dying because of the global warming processes that our human activities have put in motion. Since these bionic replacements for living trees are, supposedly, going to be ten times more efficient than the natural systems they might replace, we could all be in the clear, right?

Well, maybe. However, I would suggest that we remember that "First Rule of Holes," and leave our hydrocarbons in the ground, and stop burning those hydrocarbon fuels as soon as we possibly can (which, incidentally, could be done a lot more rapidly than we are actually doing it).

I don't think science is going to save us. If there is a salvation opportunity out there, we're going to have to implement that one ourselves. 

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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

#251 / Hired Guns

"Hired gun" is a term, I find, with a lot of different meanings. For instance, here's the definition provided by the "Free Dictionary," online:

hired gun
n. Informal 
1. One, especially a professional killer, who is hired to kill another person.
2. One hired to fight for or protect another.
3. One with special knowledge or expertise, as in business, law, or government, who is hired to resolve particularly difficult or complex problems.

The Macmillan Dictionary has a similar, but more concise, set of definitions:

hired gun
1. someone who is paid to kill someone
2. an expert who is employed to solve a problem

The Urban Dictionary (also an online resource) has a completely different take on the "hired gun" definition:

hired guns 
Attractive young women hired to work at an establishment based solely on their sex appeal. Examples of hired guns are pretty girls that work as bartenders in upscale bars, clubs and lounges. Hired guns can also be strippers or sexy young ladies that work in mens clothing stores or waitresses in restaurants. Hired guns are good at getting men to spend absurd amounts of money by simply flirting with them. It can be particularly difficult to pick up a girl that is working as a hired gun because these chicks get hit on by men on a regular basis at their jobs. Also, many hired guns are just doing their job by flirting with men and are not trying to get picked up anyway. Many of these girls may be stuck up from constant sexual advances. Many businesses, like the restaurant Hooters, are based entirely upon the employment of hired guns. As the saying goes, "sex sells."

The "hired gun" phrase came to mind as I was thinking about the United States military, and about why it seems to be so difficult to stop the military adventurism that characterizes the current operations of the United States government.

When I was in college (and the nation was in the midst of the Vietnam War), ordinary citizens (males) were drafted, against their will, to go kill other people, allegedly to advance our national interest. Some complied. Some refused, and everyone felt they had the right to engage in a spirited debate about whether or not killing other people in Vietnam was really in our national interest. The "personal" and the "political" were connected. That's what fueled the debate (and ultimately ended United States military action in Vietnam).

With the creation of the "all volunteer Army," which has now been in existence for forty-one years, and especially with the increasing use of private contractors to carry out military assignments on behalf of the government, our military forces have truly become "hired guns."

President Nixon's brainstorm (it was his idea to create the "all volunteer Army") has disconnected the "personal" from the "political," and thus has eliminated, pretty much, the kind of superheated debate about United States military operations that took place during the 1960's and early 1970's.

I'm thinking that the whole idea of "hired guns," people who get paid to go out and kill people at the behest of the government, makes it all too easy for our elected representatives to embark on the wars in which we are now so entirely enmeshed. If we, the citizens of the United States, had to "do it ourselves," I believe that there would be a lot less killing going on.

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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

#250 / Fractured

If you click this link, you'll be able to read an online version of the August 14, 2016 edition of The New York Times Magazine. This edition is unusual. There are no ads. There are no columns. It's all one story.

As the Editor's Note says, this edition of the magazine is, "in essence, a short book [describing in both words and pictures] the catastrophe that has fractured the Arab world since the invasion of Iraq 13 years ago, leading to the rise of ISIS and the global refugee crisis."

The United States government, the government that represents both you and me, is largely responsible for the horrific destruction and etched grief that is documented so well in the pictures of Paolo Pellegrin. We are responsible, you and me, in very large measure, for the events described by author Scott Anderson.

First we need to know.

Then we need to act.

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Monday, September 5, 2016

#249 / The Biggest Threat To U.S. Sovereignty

Former United States Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, pictured above, has written an article that was published in the Sunday, August 14th edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, which is where I read it. Because the Chronicle has one of those "paywall" things in place, to make it impossible for the public to read its news without personally subscribing to the newspaper, I'm linking right here to another online source. It's an article worth reading.

Reich's article is titled, "Candidates solicit biggest threat to U.S. sovereignty" in the print edition, and "Foreign Cash Is Hijacking American Democracy," in the online version. In his article, Reich takes on Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump. Trump is always talking about threats to the sovreignty of the United States, but Reich isn't convinced that Trump knows there the problem really lies.

As a for instance, Trump sees "rapists," pouring across our borders, as a major worry. In fact, counters Reich, the real danger to our democracy and sovereignty comes from the injection of foreign money into our political process. Trump is out there hustling contributions from foreign nationals, thus explicitly putting our local democracy on the international auction block. Not cool, says Reich.

I completely agree with Reich. As I say, his article is worth reading. However, I want to suggest that Reich is, in a way, minimizing the problem he identifies. The threat to our democracy isn't mainly from non-U.S. sources of money, influencing our domestic politics. It's from ALL sources of corporate money, since modern corporations have no allegiance to, or enduring connection to, the United States.

Apple has billions stashed offshore. So do lots of other corporations. Corporations routinely move their factories to other countries, too, demonstrating that U.S. corporations aren't tied to, or dedicated to, the United States in any significant way.

Corporations control our politics with their capital. We all know that. That fact (and not the "foreign" source of some of the money that is washing our democracy away), is the real problem.

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Sunday, September 4, 2016

#248 / George Washington And The Jews

I didn't know about George Washington's 1790 letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island until I read about it an opinion piece by Sarah Vowell, which appeared in the August 14, 2016 edition of The New York Times. In this letter, Washington pledges that the country’s fledgling government “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

I recommend Vowell's article, which I found inspiring. It is printed under the online title, "Join the Army and Choose Whichever God You Like."

Washington and Hannah Arendt (see yesterday's posting), seem to have had the very same idea about what politics should be about, in a democratic republic.

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Saturday, September 3, 2016

#247 / The Truth About Free Speech

I almost always find the Amor Mundi newsletter, published by The Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College, to have something important to say about our current political life. You can subscribe, if you want to. It's free. Just click right here

The August 14, 2016 edition of Amor Mundi had an article on free speech, and it's well worth reading. 

The article was titled, "Why Free Speech?," and noted that our commitment to the concept of a "marketplace of ideas," as a way to describe the benefits of a society that is based on free speech, fails to account for the "market distortions" that are routinely produced by those who have great wealth, and who are able to use that wealth to have a disproportionate influence on "the market." 

In other words, in the "marketplace of ideas," facts and the truth are for sale, and the Golden Rule of politics applies: Those With The Most Gold Rule.

I have recently been reading articles that make the point that we are living in a "fact free" world. I am sure that I will present those arguments to Two Worlds readers in a subsequent blog posting. The "fact free" nature of our current reality is definitely related to that "marketplace" concept in which we have put so much faith. The concept that facts and the truth are found in the "marketplace" also means that the wealthy have been able to decide what "facts" and what "truths" get discussed. The "free speech marketplace," in other words, is a mechanism for suppressing the truth, not advancing it, and public cynicism about the bona fides of any claim to "the truth" is the almost inevitable result. 

Hanna Arendt did not believe that free speech was important because the exercise of political free speech would inevitably lead to the collective recognition of "truth." She did not fall into an Adam Smith-like belief that free speech will act as some sort of "invisible hand," to make clear to society what is honest, true, and just. Quoting from the Amor Mundi article, here what Hanna Arendt thought about truth and politics. This is a thought you may not have had yourself: 

Free speech, [in the realm of politics] is not about truth .... Politics is about opinions. There is never one truth to which politics strives. Instead, politics is the activity of free and equal citizens who together must build a common world, a world in which they can live together amidst their real and important differences. Politics does not aim at truth; it aims, instead, to allow unique and distinct peoples live together as they pursue their particular truths. 
Hannah Arendt was a committed defender of the freedom of speech; but Arendt did not believe that free speech is justified because it would lead to the embrace of political truth. In writing about free speech, Arendt offers an alternative justification, one grounded in the importance of plurality: “We know from experience,” Arendt argued, “that no one can adequately grasp the objective world in its full reality all on his own, because the world always shows and reveals itself to him from only one perspective, which corresponds to his standpoint in the world and is determined by it.” 
For Arendt, the freedom of speech means that we will always hear other opinions, other perspectives, and other arguments than our own. Free speech is the foundation of all expansive and right thinking. “Only in the freedom of our speaking with one another does the world, as that about which we speak, emerge in its objectivity and visibility from all sides.” 
The world is not something that can be true or false; it is plural and must be enjoyed and also preserved in that plurality. Freedom of speech is what defends that plurality.

Political claims that one person, one candidate, or one party has "the truth" are not only certain to produce a rejection of the entire idea of "truth," such claims are inherently totalitarian, and ignore the central reality of our human condition: we are truly and absolutely different, and yet we are "in this together."

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