Tuesday, November 21, 2017

#325 / Bing Bing

Pictured is Bing Bing Li, photographed as he walks along Santa Clara Street in downtown San Jose. I read about Bing Bing in the November 1, 2017, edition of The Mercury News. Bing Bing is "walking around the world," pulling a cart with the message he is hoping that his journey will communicate: 

Equal and unconditional love for all our fellow creatures across all/space/time/matter/energy is the only way out (of the human misery).”

Bing Bing isn't taking money, and he expects to be on his pilgrimage for the rest of his life. While we might sympathize with his message, which does seem rather "on target" to me, Bing Bing is clearly "insane," right? How could what Bing Bing is doing achieve what he wants to achieve? I, personally, don't see how the means chosen by Bing Bing will lead to the end he is seeking. However, I also have another thought. 

Want to talk about what's "crazy," or "insane?" We have all heard the popular definition of insanity

Insanity Is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again And Expecting Different Results

I think Bing Bing has a lesson for all of us. 

We had better do something new (and soon) or it's going to be "game over" for the human race.

Image Credit:

Monday, November 20, 2017

#324 / Sleep And The Two Worlds Hypothesis

A recent edition of The New Yorker had an article titled, "The Secret of Sleep." Online, that singular "secret" became a plural "secrets." 

Both the online and the hard copy versions of the article reviewed two recent books about sleep. The reviewer was Jerome Groopman, who is a Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. I was particularly struck by what Groopman said about one of the books, Wild Nights, authored by Benjamin Reiss, a professor of English at Emory University.

Reiss says that the "guiding spirit" of his inquiry into sleep, and the book's "lead witness," is Henry David Thoreau, who apparently suffered from insomnia. Thoreau's retreat to Walden Pond, according to Reiss, was "driven by a desperate need for rest."

Groopman's review said something else that attracted my attention:

Reiss believes that we are victims of “the same environmentally devastating mind-set that Thoreau decried: an attitude of dominion over nature (including our own bodies) through technology and consumerism.”

My "Two Worlds Hypothesis" urges us to remember that the World of Nature is a world upon which we are ultimately dependent, and that our idea that we are the "masters" of Nature is based an erroneous premise. We are (or can be) masters of the world that we create, but we will always be "creatures," not "creators," in the Natural World into which we have been so mysteriously born. 

This way of thinking provides us with a critically important understanding of our place in the world. It may even be, if Reiss is right, that giving up our idea that we should have "dominion over nature" is our best chance of getting a good night's sleep!

Image Credit:

Sunday, November 19, 2017

#323 / Another Picture Worth 1,000 Words

The image above graced the top of the Opinion page in the November 17, 2017, edition of The New York Times. It depicts Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and his wife, Louise Linton, showing off the first press run of money with Mnuchin's name on it. 

Reading the message conveyed by the picture, these exemplars of the extremely rich are telling the American people, "your money belongs to us." This isn't just a "symbolic" statement, either. As The Times' editorial accurately reported, commenting on the tax "reform" bill that is currently progressing at breakneck speed through the Congress, a bill strongly supported by Mr. Mnuchin and his boss, the President of the United States:

This bill would take money from working families and give it to the world's wealthiest people.

If it's "our" government (and I mean if our government actually belongs to those not in the "billionaire class"), then we need to take back power from the billionaires. 

The message we need to remember is exactly the same message that Mnuchin and his wife articulate: "Your money belongs to us." More accurately, "Our money belongs to us!" 

Wealth is collectively created. A government of, by, and for "the people," can decide how to raise and spend money, and if the disproportionally rich have seized governmental control, diverting the collective wealth of society to themselves, then we (the non-rich, ordinary folks) need to regain control, and realign the paradigm.

No guns or violence needed. Just inflamed, energized, and engaged voters. 

The Times says this picture shows these representatives of the current administration as "cartoonishly evil." A column in The Washington Post says they look like "a pair of Hollywood villains."

Frankly, these folks don't just "look like" villains. They're the real thing. And whether we like it or not, the James Bond role falls to us!

Image Credit:

Saturday, November 18, 2017

#322 / In Memoriam

Jan Beautz, who was born on December 15, 1946, died on September 23, 2017. Jan served for twenty years on the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors, where she represented the First Supervisorial District. This is the District that includes Live Oak, Soquel, and the Summit Area, and part of the City of Capitola, too. 

Jan was first elected to the Board in 1988, and she served on the Board from 1989 to 2009. Yesterday, a memorial service for Jan was held at Twin Lakes Church. Members of her family spoke, and so did her successor and the current First District Supervisor, John Leopold. Rita Winings and David Reetz, her long time administrative assistants, spoke as well. Many who worked with Jan in County government were also there, including me. 

Jan's dedication to her family and to the community were celebrated. Her remarkable service to her District, and to the County as a whole, were highlighted. I want to add one thing. 

I was a member of the Board of Supervisors when Jan was elected in 1988, and the people of the First District felt, before her election, that their local government ignored them and their concerns. As those speaking at the Memorial made clear, Jan changed that impression, because she changed the reality of how government related to the residents of the First District. Jan was tireless in making sure that her constituents got a chance to speak out before the County government took any action that could affect them, and she stood up for the majority of the residents of her First District in every decision she made.

This fact was a giant change for First District residents, and Jan Beautz was beloved by those she represented because she actually did represent them! Here is the point I want to emphasize. Jan's accomplishments were not only what she did, and what County government did. She accomplished something even more important. She restored faith in self-government, because when members of a community believe that they don't count, they don't try to count. 

In this nation, today, everywhere, people doubt that their government can be made to work on their behalf, and we face a governmental crisis because of that fact. Thanks to Jan Beautz, the residents of the First Supervisorial District have a different idea about their government, and they continue to demand that it respond to what they want. 

A salute to a great County Supervisor! Thank you, Jan Beautz!

Image Credit:
From the program at the Memorial Service For Jan Beautz

Friday, November 17, 2017

#321 / Learning To Love The Electoral College?

As most are aware, and painfully so, the person who got the most votes in last year's presidential election did not get the job. The election was won, as the Constitution provides, by the person who obtained the most votes in the Electoral College. That was Donald J. Trump, and since Donald J. Trump may well be the most unsuitable and unworthy person ever to hold that office, there is a natural temptation to blame the Constitution, and the role of the Electoral College, for what has come to pass. 

Surely we should abolish the Electoral College, don't you think, so the candidate who wins the most votes, on a nationwide basis, is declared the winner? In an article titled, "The Unloved Electoral College," Amanda Foreman discusses this question, and outlines some arguments on both sides. 

There are, of course, arguments in favor of the Electoral College system. I tend to think they are  pretty good arguments, too.

If you believe Joe Simitian, for instance, the Democrats lost the 2016 presidential election because voters in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, who had previously voted for President Obama, "flipped." The main reason they flipped, Simitian says, is because the federal government wasn't paying attention to their very real economic problems. If a nationwide vote were held, and that was all that counted, political parties wouldn't have to pay attention to smaller states. Obviously, the government should pay attention to voters who live in the smaller states, and the Electoral College system rewards the candidates who understand that. That's a pretty good argument for keeping the system as is. 

In addition, if you believe Hannah Arendt, the key to the success of our democratic system comes from the many different power centers it establishes, which will often oppose one another, preventing the development of a centralized, totalitarian regime. Once again, the Electoral College system fosters that kind of independent source of political power. A system that counts votes only on a national basis undermines the federal system that our Constitution has relied upon since 1789.

Maybe, upon reflection, and despite the person who won the prize the last time around, we could learn to love our political system once again - and that would mean falling back into love with the Electoral College.

Image Credit:

Thursday, November 16, 2017

#320 / Too Fond

There has been debate, recently, about whether or not Robert E. Lee should be removed from the pantheon of Americans who deserve respect, regard, and remembrance for the role they have played in the nation's history. Should, in fact, any statutes or plaques that celebrate the life and actions of Robert E. Lee be torn down and removed from public view

In an article in The Wall Street Journal commenting on this question, and making specific reference to some pro-Lee remarks by John Kelly, who is currently serving as President Trump's Chief of Staff, I found the following quote, attributed to Lee: 

"It is well that war is so terrible,” he once said, “or we should grow too fond of it.”

For this observation, at least, let us give Lee some credit. The wars we perpetrate are not waged in our own country. They are far away. We have little idea of how terrible it is. 

War is terrible, and the picture below shows what we are helping to do to others, in other places we know little about.

War is terrible, and we have grown way too fond of it:

Image Credits:
(1) - http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2013/02/freemans-robert-e-lee.html
(2) - https://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/18/world/middleeast/three-years-of-strife-and-cruelty-put-syria-in-tailspin.html

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

#319 / Mr. Collins Makes It All Quite Clear

Chris Collins is a Republican Congress Member from New York. That is Mr. Collins, pictured above.

Yesterday, an article in The New York Times quoted Mr. Collins on the so-called "tax reform" legislation now pending in the Congress. The "reforms" involved appear mainly to involve lowering taxes for rich people. The Times' article was headlined, "Haste on Tax Measures Risks Trail of Loopholes." 

Mr. Collins was in favor of "haste." Here's how he put it:

“Slow down” is the last thing that supporters of the Republicans’ proposed tax overhaul want to hear. “My donors are basically saying get it done or don’t ever call me again,” Chris Collins, a representative from New York, said last week.

According to the way we like to think about it, Members of Congress are elected to represent voters. If Mr. Collins had said, "voters," or "constituents," his statement would have been unexceptional. However, Mr. Collins said, "donors," and in doing so, he made quite clear whom he represents. He represents those guys with money (and that specific subset of those guys with money who have given some of that money to Mr. Collins). 

Of course, no one is surprised. The "way we like to think about it" is not the way we really think it is. I doubt too many of Mr. Collins' constituents, reading the article, phoned him up to complain. Of course, they should have, but I doubt they did.

The takeover of our political system by the monied interests (the "billionaire class" as my favorite candidate for president last year likes to say) has discouraged the political participation that is the essence of self-government. 

The only antidote to the kind of politics practiced by the Chris Collins of the world (and there are a lot of them, and some of them have a "D" after their names, too), is to mobilize the voters, the people to whom our Members of Congress are actually supposed be responding. 

Let's not get discouraged. Let's remember that well-known maxim of politics I mentioned last Saturday

Don't Get Mad. Get Even!

Voters in New York's 27th Congressional District should say, "goodbye" to Chris Collins! He is selling out his constituents for the guys who give him money.

Image Credit:

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

#318 / Sore Winner Syndrome

A recent commentary by Robert Reich caught my attention. I read it on Sunday morning, in the San Francisco Chronicle. Reich's commentary was titled, "Trump puts his selfish aims above the nation's best interests." The column documented our president's efforts to have the FBI and the Justice Department investigate the alleged crimes of Hillary Clinton. 

Here is Reich's take on this effort:

By calling on the Justice Department to investigate Hillary Clinton, and lamenting he cannot do “the kind of things I would love to be doing,” Trump crossed a particularly dangerous line. 
In a democracy bound by the rule of law, presidents do not prosecute their political opponents. Nor, until now, have they tried to stir up public anger toward their former opponents. 
Our democratic system of government depends on presidents putting that system above their own partisan aims. 
As Harvard political scientist Archon Fung has noted, once an election is over, candidates’ graciousness to one another is an important demonstration of their commitment to the democratic system over the specific outcomes they fought to achieve.  
This helps reestablish civility and social cohesion. It reminds the public that our allegiance is not toward a particular person or party but to our system of government.

Of course, there is no legal requirement that a victorious candidate demonstrate "graciousness" to the defeated candidate. That is just the way it is normally done. As we all know, though, the statements and actions of our current president almost never exemplify what decent people "normally" do. 

I was struck by how Trump's efforts to put his former opponent in jail demonstrate what I have always called the "Sore Winner Syndrome." 

I am not the only one who has identified Trump as a "sore winner." Salon ran an article on the phenomenon last year. It's worth reading. The point Salon makes is that it wasn't enough for Mr. Trump that he won. He wants those who voted for his opponent to "stop opposing him."

I have been writing in this blog about how our politics must be "based on division," even citing Niccolò Machiavelli for that proposition. In other words, we need to acknowledge that we are, and remain, a nation that is composed of people with different views and different interests, yet all committed to a system that allows us, on a regular schedule, to decide what we should do, collectively, given our differences. 

The "sore winner" syndrome, in which the winner wants everyone else to stop opposing the winner's views and programs, is a recipe for autocracy, not democracy. 

And that's where we are right now, with our never-gracious president, who wants to recognize no will but his own. 

Luckily, the nation as a whole does not seem to be too impressed!

Image Credit:

Monday, November 13, 2017

#317 / Gift With A Twist

The Matsui family has given a gift that is reportedly worth $20 million to Hartnell College, which is located in Monterey County. Read all about it right here, in a story from the Monterey Herald. You can see the gift, outlined in yellow, in the picture above. The gift to Hartnell is 215 acres of prime Salinas Valley farmland. The estimated market value of the land, that $20 million figure, is based on the idea that the land will not continue to be farmland, but will be converted to development. 

Let's assume that this gift is totally motivated by the charitable impulses of the Matsui family, which definitely has a record of charitable giving. The Matsui Family Foundation is dedicated to supporting education, so it does seem likely that this gift, too, has been motivated by the family's charitable impulses. How could it be otherwise, you say? 

Well, if the Matsui family owns adjacent land, the development of the land they have now given to Hartnell would boost the value of their own, adjacent property. If that were true, and it would be easy enough to check this out, by consulting the Assessor's records, the gift of this land to Hartnell would derive from a mixed motive. 

Schools and colleges are often used by wily landowners to "pioneer" a new area for sprawl. The Monterey County Local Agency Formation Commission, or LAFCO, is supposed to stop sprawl, and LAFCO will ultimately decide whether or not to allow the annexation of this land to Salinas, leading to its subsequent development. LAFCO is a body that is composed of political officials, and LAFCO members would probably be swayed by an appeal from Hartnell, which could point to the public benefit of letting the college gain an annexation approval that would let it develop the land. Query whether a private landowner would get the same treatment. 

Without any reference, however, to what may have motivated the Matsui family's gift, careful consideration should be given to whether or not this land should be annexed to Salinas for development. All involved in the future decisions that will determine the fate of this land (and that definitely includes Monterey County and Salinas voters) should think long and hard about what the annexation and development of the gifted land would mean for the future of the community. This gift comes with a twist!

If the land is allowed to be developed, that will mean more money to the landowner and the developer, and if the landowner is Hartnell College, that money will be used to support local education. That's a plus! On the other hand, development of the land will also help undermine the long-term viability of the county's biggest industry, agriculture, and will lead to more water supply/seawater intrusion problems, more air pollution, more traffic, and more demand on scarce public resources. 

LandWatch Monterey County, a nonprofit organization that is trying to preserve and protect the environment, and to support good land use policy, has noted that more Salinas sprawl is NOT a good thing for the long term future of Monterey County. 

Not for most of the public anyway, with landowners and developers excepted!

Image Credit:

Sunday, November 12, 2017

#316 / Take A Lesson From Niccolò

My blog posting #295 was titled, "Our Politics Must Be Based On Division." 

It turns out that Niccolò Machiavelli made this observation a long time ago. I learned this from an article posted on the Literary Hub website: "8 Delusions of Western Democracy We Could Do Without." The article is subtitled, "Machiavelli Is A Better Pundit Than Most Of The Idiots On TV."  

Well, that conclusion is not much of a revelation! Some of Machiavelli's thoughts on the delusions to which we are subject, however, may be less obvious. For instance, here is what the article calls "Delusion 1":

“Those who hope that a republic can be united,” Machiavelli says, “are very much deceived,” and want something harmful to freedom. Why: because one of the unalterable realities of political life is that people have different brains, interests, and values. Orderly clashes of rival political parties ensure that differences are represented and allowed to breathe freely. When one part of society—whether left- or right-leaning, traditional or progressive—tries to dominate the other and control public space, this infuriates the other parts, and threatens everyone’s freedoms.

I commend the entire article to you. By clicking this link, you can read up on all of the eight delusions. "Delusion 2," for instance, is that "democratic freedom is safe in vastly unequal societies."

"Delusion 7" is the belief that "the surest way to national safety is to build walls."

That Machiavelli guy certainly knew what he was talking about!

Image Credit:

Saturday, November 11, 2017

#315 / Politics Of The (Not) Perfectly Acceptable

Roy S. Moore, the Republican Party candidate for Senate in Alabama, is pictured at the very bottom of this blog posting. Pictured above is Jim Zeigler, the Alabama State Auditor. I will get to Mr. Zeigler later, but to give you a hint about Zeigler, I obtained the picture I have reproduced above from a website that put this headline over the image: "Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler speaks at headquarters of White Nationalist hate group the League of the South."

Before talking about Zeigler, let me first draw your attention to Roy S. Moore. Wikipedia says that "Judge" Moore, as he likes to style himself, is "best known for being twice elected to and twice removed from the Alabama Supreme Court. He also is the founder and president of the Foundation for Moral Law." 

Moore is the Republican Party nominee in the special election on December 12, 2017, to fill the United States Senate seat vacated by former Senator (now Attorney General) Jeff Sessions. Up until very recently, it has been thought that Moore was pretty much a shoo-in to win the Senate seat. However, four women have now come forward to accuse him of having made improper sexual overtures to them when they were teenagers and when Moore was in his 30s. 

The New York Times ran an article yesterday in which Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican Party majority leader in the Senate, is quoted to the effect that Moore should step aside if the allegations are true. Senator John Cornyn, of Texas, the second-ranking Republican, said, "If these allegations are true, [Moore's] candidacy is not sustainable." Vice President Mike Pence joined this chorus, in an official statement: "If true, this would disqualify anyone from serving in office." Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney is of the same mind. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican who represents Alaska in the Senate, said, "If in fact what I just read is true, he needs to get out of this race immediately. I think it's pretty clear cut."

Let's be clear; Moore says that the allegations are not true. The truth of the charges, however, is not the central question for Jim Zeigler, who is also mentioned in The New York Times' story. Mr. Zeigler is not calling for Moore to step out of the race, even if the charges against Moore are true. For Zeigler, it is definitely not "clear cut" that Moore did anything wrong: 

“There’s nothing to see here,” said Jim Zeigler, the state auditor and a longtime supporter of Mr. Moore. “Single man, early 30s, never been married, dating teenage girls. Never been married and he liked younger girls. According to The Washington Post account he never had sexual intercourse with any of them.” 
Mr. Zeigler said the account given by Ms. Corfman was “the only part that is concerning.” As Mr. Zeigler described it: “He went a little too far and he stopped.” Had the girl been 16 at the time and not 14, he added, “it would have been perfectly acceptable.”

The Washington Post was a bit more specific than The New York Times about what Moore may have done. Here is how The Post tells the story:

Leigh Corfman says she was 14 years old when an older man approached her outside a courtroom in Etowah County, Ala. She was sitting on a wooden bench with her mother, they both recall, when the man introduced himself as Roy Moore.
It was early 1979 and Moore — now the Republican nominee in Alabama for a U.S. Senate seat — was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney. He struck up a conversation, Corfman and her mother say, and offered to watch the girl while her mother went inside for a child custody hearing. 
“He said, ‘Oh, you don’t want her to go in there and hear all that. I’ll stay out here with her,’ ” says Corfman’s mother, Nancy Wells, 71. “I thought, how nice for him to want to take care of my little girl.”
Alone with Corfman, Moore chatted with her and asked for her phone number, she says. Days later, she says, he picked her up around the corner from her house in Gadsden, drove her about 30 minutes to his home in the woods, told her how pretty she was and kissed her. On a second visit, she says, he took off her shirt and pants and removed his clothes. He touched her over her bra and underpants, she says, and guided her hand to touch him over his underwear.

This is the conduct that Zeigler thinks would have been "perfectly acceptable" if Leigh Corfman had been 16-years-old instead of 14-years-old. Really?

Most would not agree. Most Republican Party leaders, in fact, don't agree, as their statements reproduced above make clear. 

All over the country, outrage about such conduct towards women is being expressed, as documented in an Op-Ed by Lindy West, which is currently one of the most popular pieces in the paper. The title of her Op-Ed? "Brave Enough To Be Angry." It's worth reading.

In politics, there is a tried and true way to deal with conduct that might make you angry. It is usually phrased as below. It is a saying that definitely fits the situation here:

Don't get mad. Get even.

Say goodbye to "Judge" Roy S. Moore!

Roy S. Moore

Image Credits:
(1) - http://restoringthehonor.blogspot.com/2015/09/alabama-state-auditor-jim-zeigler.html
(2) - http://www.al.com/opinion/index.ssf/2014/05/roy_moores_twisted_hisotry_isl.html

Friday, November 10, 2017

#314 / E Plurubus Unum [sic]

If you check out the online version of the October 26, 2017, column that David Brooks wrote for The New York Times, linked right here, you will find that E Pluribus Unum is spelled out correctly. Not so in the hard copy version of The Times that was delivered to my front porch on October 27th. There, the phrase was spelled out erroneously, as in the headline to today's blog posting.

I immediately noticed the misspelling, as I scanned Brooks' column, because E Pluribus Unum is one of my favorite phrases. It has appeared in this blog six times, not counting today. The first time was on November 15, 2010:

This statement, "E Pluribus Unum," as incorporated into the Great Seal of the United States, refers to the creation of a national government out of its constituent political parts: "Out of Many, One." In a more fundamental sense, however, it is well to think of this statement as a basic piece of intelligence about government and society in general. "We" are one: we are not just a collection of individuals, but a larger whole.

Most recently, I mentioned the phrase E Pluribus Unum on both October 22nd, talking about a new book, Friends Divided, and  on October 23rd, as I discussed the "Indivisible" movement: 

My pitch, yesterday, was that our politics must not seek to smooth over or dismiss genuine differences or divisions within the body politic, but that politics is precisely the technique we use to resolve and decide contested questions. It is politics, in fact, that allows us to achieve the political goal we express in the slogan, "E pluribus unum." We become "one nation...indivisible" because we don't try to suppress our political conflicts and controversies, but seek, instead, to resolve them through political action.

Brooks' October 26th column is titled, "The Week Trump Won." Brooks suggests that the Trump takeover of our government is somewhat similar to what happened when the Bolsheviks captured the Russian Revolution, turning the Russian Revolution from its original, democratic direction, into a movement that resulted, eventually, in a totalitarian state. Here is how Brooks uses the E Pluribus Unum phrase:

The profound equality of every individual was an idea that flowed directly from the Hebrew Bible. The story Americans told about themselves was a biblical story — an exodus story of various diverse peoples leaving oppression, crossing a wilderness and joining together to help create a promised land. 
The American social structure ... was based on biblical categories. There was a political realm, but the heart of society was in the covenantal realm: “marriages, families, congregations, communities, charities and voluntary associations.” 
America’s Judeo-Christian ethic celebrated neighborliness over pagan combativeness; humility as the basis of good character, not narcissism. It believed in taking in the stranger because we were all strangers once. It dreamed of universal democracy as the global fulfillment of the providential plan. 
That biblical ethic, embraced by atheists as much as the faithful, is not in great shape these days. ...  “Today, one half of America is losing all those covenantal institutions. It’s losing strong marriages and families and communities. It is losing a strong sense of the American narrative. It’s even losing e pluribus unum because today everyone prefers pluribus to unum.…”

Whether or not you think that Trump's America has brought us to the cusp of totalitarianism, and whether or not you like Brooks' reliance on the Hebrew Bible to explain the American experiment, Brooks' final words echo what I said back in 2010. Our nation cannot prosper, cannot even function as a democracy, if we come to believe that we are fundamentally and ultimately divided. Our nation, striving for "liberty and justice for all," is not defined by the fact that we are all individuals. We are, of course, but we also comprise a community, a "Unum," that binds us all together into "One." 

When we stop believing that, democracy will, indeed, no longer provide us with an effective government, and the trip to autocracy and totalitarianism will be a pretty short trip from there. 

Image Credit:

Thursday, November 9, 2017

#313 / Did Jeff Flake?

Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, pictured above, spoke on the Senate Floor on Tuesday, October 24, 2017. Flake's speech was a direct attack on our current president. A full transcript of Flake's speech was published by The New York Times, and you can click right here to read it

In a separate news storyThe Times quoted what is probably Flake's strongest statement, as follows:

"We must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal,” Mr. Flake said. “They are not normal. Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as telling it like it is when it is actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified. And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy.”

Writing in The New YorkerAmy Davidson Sorkin commends Flake for saying what few other Republican Party politicians have been willing to say. The title of her Comment, "The Silent Majority," suggests that the majority of the Senate (who are, like Flake, members of the Republican Party) are afraid to speak out, though they, in fact, agree with Flake. They agree, but they aren't willing to say it out loud.

A failure to "speak truth to power" does damage to democracy. This is always true, and because it is true, Senator Flake deserves our thanks for being willing to speak out, and to voice his strong objections to the way the president is conducting himself, and to the way he is conducting the business of the nation.

But Davidson Sorkin is right to fault Flake for something else. The very same day that Flake delivered his powerful speech on the Floor of the Senate, pointing out how the president is abusing his office, and how Members of Congress are standing silent as he does so, Flake announced that he, himself, would not run for reelection next year. 

In order for our democracy to function, people must not only speak out, and say what they think; they must also organize effectively to put themselves, or those who share their views, in a position to counteract abusive power with an opposing force. That may mean running for political office oneself. It most emphatically does not mean giving up a political office already held, and surrendering it to those who are abusing power. 

Were Senator Flake to seek reelection, he might well lose to those who support our current president. No one can be certain of that, but by failing to run he nearly guarantees that result. He is making it easier for those who support the president to gain another Senate seat. 

I agree with what Davidson Sorkin says: 

The country needs people to speak out against Trump, but it also needs Republicans as well as Democrats to run against him. That will require people who still have something to lose to be willing to stake it by putting their names on a ballot. Democracies are meant to be noisy places. Perhaps Flake should start thinking about something beyond a series of lame-duck speeches or a lecture tour. What are his plans for 2020?

Image Credit:

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

#312 / Putting An End To Mary Poppins Politics

Commenting on the November 1, 2017, column of Andrew Malcolm seems fitting, as a follow-up to yesterday's posting about our need for a "transformative politics." Malcolm is a national politics columnist for the McClatchy Newspapers, and his November 1st column appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle under the headline, "How Washington Democrats have become irrelevant."

It is not easy for a lifelong Democrat to read what Malcolm has to say. It is particularly upsetting to  have to confront his words at a time when the Democratic Party is the only apparent alternative to a Republican Party that seems determined to do whatever is necessary to make the lives of ordinary Americans even more miserable than they already are, doubling down on any and every policy that might continue the transfer of the nation's wealth to those who are already super-rich, and throwing ordinary working families out on the street, or dooming them to cultural and economic deprivations that are making them susceptible to the destructive, racist "populism" that has become associated with our current president. Read my blog posting on Joe Simitian's trip to three different counties that "flipped" from Obama to Trump, if you want to think more about this phenomenon. 

"Resisting" Trump by supporting Democrats may not be the right prescription for what ails us. That is basically what Malcolm has to say. 

I think the column is worth reading. But be aware; Andrew Malcolm is no Mary Poppins. 

There is no "spoonful of sugar" here to make the medicine go down!

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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

#311 / It Is Time For A Truly Transformative Politics

On October 29, 2017, The New York Times published an Op-Ed by Michael Tomasky. His piece was titled, "The Silence of the Democrats."

It is Tomasky's view that the Democratic Party must step up and advocate for the future of "the Western democratic project." By that he means, as far as I can tell, the continued preeminence of the United States and its European allies in all thing affecting the world. He wants to ensure the continuance, in other words, of the global dominance of the Western democracies, as established under the leadership of the United States after World War II. 

Tomasky is worried that the United States is backing away from its global responsibilities, and he lauds former president George W. Bush for his recent warnings that the United States might be tempted to "turn inward," and to forsake its role in running the world. The result of such a withdrawal from the "democratic project" is likely to be, Tomasky says, "its erasure in favor of a reactionary, authoritarian alternative."

There is undoubtedly some truth in the point that Tomasky is making, but post-9/11, President Bush had the United States embark on massive military interventions everywhere, and specifically in the Middle East. President Obama continued, and in some cases expanded, these military involvements. It appears that President Trump is doubling down on that strategy, despite his statements, during the 2016 campaign, that the United States should look to its own problems, and let other nations shoulder more of the burdens involved in shoring up what Bush called "The New World Order."

Tomasky calls for transformative politicians, and for a transformative politics, and I think that would be great. But the transformative politics we need will require that we restore and reform our democracy at home, and cease turning Middle Eastern cities into piles of rubble. 

I'm not sure that's how Tomasky sees it. It looks to me like that "democratic project" he is so afraid we're losing is, essentially, the continued domination of the entire world through the military might of the United States.

That is not, in my view, the transformative politics we must work to create!

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Monday, November 6, 2017

#310 / Why I Love The First Amendment

Pictured above is Martha O'Donovan. She is a citizen of the United States, and a journalist who has been living and working in Zimbabwe. 

O'Donovan is now in jail, because she has allegedly insulted Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe. In Zimbabwe, insulting the president is called "subversion," and can lead to twenty years in prison. O'Donovan's actions might also support charges of "undermining the authority of or insulting the president." Here is a link to a recent news story, by Farai Mutsaka of the Associated Press, outlining O'Donovan's current problems. 

What did O'Donovan actually say, or do? In a Twitter posting, O'Donovan said that 93-year-old Mugabe is a "sick man."

Well, this is why I love the First Amendment. I have said far worse things about the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, and lots of other people have, too. Despite such insults, I do not expect to spend twenty years, twenty days, or even twenty hours in jail. That's what our commitment to free speech guarantees.

President Trump probably loves the First Amendment, too, or at least he ought to. Talk about Twitter-based insults! Our President is the Master!

Here's some free advice for President Trump: don't visit Zimbabwe when that Twitter urge hits you!

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Sunday, November 5, 2017

#309 / The Worried Billionaires

The world's billionaires are worried. What are they worried about? According to Newsweek, they "fear that the poor will rise up."

When I first saw the Newsweek article, I put it on Facebook. I provided a "Pull Quote" from the article, followed by a Question and a Statement: 

The total wealth held by the world’s billionaires rose by 17 percent in 2016 to $6 trillion, and the uber-rich are concerned that growing inequality could lead to society turning against them. 
(1) How could they ever imagine something like that?
(2) Wouldn't that be nice!

The wealth controlled by the world's "billionaire class," to quote Bernie Sanders, is wealth that was socially created. It is absolutely legitimate to consider how best to utilize that wealth for the benefit of those not personally in possession of it. The questions to be addressed are all "political" questions. We do "live in a political world," and in the United States, we believe that our representative democracy can make decisions about how to structure our economy and society. Trying to figure out how to set up a system that reduces the incredible wealth inequality now prevailing is absolutely appropriate. "Rising up," in this context, means starting to take seriously the opportunity to use our political system to make significant (even revolutionary) changes. 

Americans, we all remember, are all about revolution!

Naturally, there are, and should be, debates about what to do, and what is fair, but when 1% of the population controls something like 35% of the total wealth of the society, it is probably time to see if putting that wealth to work for a greater percentage of the population wouldn't make sense. 

What is the point of this posting?

Not to urge violence against billionaires. I am against that. If that kind of "rising up" is proposed, please count me out. I think there is a better way. 

This is a plea to my fellow citizens to understand that we are, in fact, "all in this together," and that our political system needs to marshal the resources of our society to deal with the crises of our time: a natural world that is moving towards the massive extinction of species, from bugs to humans, and a situation in the nation in which hard working men and women can no longer find a sheltered place to sleep at night, and are homeless under bridges. 

What am I worried about?

I am worried that we are going to continue to let the billionaires take it all, and that because of this our world, a world that does belongs to all of us, rich and poor alike, is going to come apart.

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Saturday, November 4, 2017

#308 / Short Term Or Long Term?

President Trump is all for tax reform, but he does care about your 401(k). NO changes to that, he assures the country. You can see his powerful tweet, providing such assurances. It's available online

Of course, if  you read my blog posting on November 1st, you will remember that I noted (with respect to the release of the JFK assassination documents) that what our president says about something, and what he actually does about it, are "often" two different things. I am tempted to say, "usually," instead of "often," but since I have a personal 401(k), I am keeping my fingers crossed. I don't want to jinx the chances that this "great and popular middle class tax break," as the president calls it, will survive the Republicans' tax cut fever. 

What about that tax cut fever? The Republicans' objective is to cut taxes for billionaires, so why should the middle class get caught up in the drama? Well, the Republicans in Congress want to show they're serious about balancing the budget, so they are thinking that they do have to raise taxes on somebody. Why not on all those middle class, over-saving holders of a personal 401(k)?

I got to thinking about 401(k) retirement planning because of an article appearing in the October 29, 2017, edition of The Mercury News. Retirement planer Steve Butler advised readers on "How slashing your tax-free 401(k) contribution cap could affect you." If you have a 401(k), or want to think a bit about how tax policy affects public policy, I commend the article to you. 

The 401(k) tax break allows taxpayers to defer some of their taxes until a later date. Obviously, when the government tells you that you don't have to pay taxes now, if you save up for your retirement, then the government gets less revenue. Reducing taxes on billionaires also reduces governmental revenues, but the financial wizards in the Republican Party believe that if you cut taxes on rich people the economy will boom. Hence, the supposed rationale for the billionaire tax cut. 

What about effectively raising taxes on the middle class, which is what reducing the scope of the 401(k) program will do? Why wouldn't that impair the economy? Well, the money that middle class taxpayers are putting away for their retirement, because of the 401(k) program, is not going to be spent now; that's the whole idea. Thus, eliminating or reducing the 401(k) tax break will not, in fact, have any immediate impact on middle class spending. The impact will be to increase current governmental revenues, and that's always attractive. 

However, the great thing about the 401(k) program is that it stimulates middle class taxpayers to save money for their retirement, and even provides a possibility that the investment of the money can, by the time the taxpayers retire, have turned into a significant amount of savings that can support the taxpayers after they are no longer working. If those savings aren't available, then the taxpayers are much more likely to be impoverished in their old age, and they will definitely be looking to the federal government to help them out, one way or the other.

Abolishing or reducing the 401(k) tax break will advantage short-term governmental revenues, to the detriment of the long-term, both for individual taxpayers and the government itself. 

A governmental commitment to the long-term, instead of the short-term, is generally accepted as good public policy, which is why the president's tweet makes so much sense. 

Did I just say something nice about President Trump? 

Let's see what he does, instead of judging him by what he says!

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Friday, November 3, 2017

#307 / Hoover, Roosevelt And Self-Help Democracy

A  book review by Nicholas Lemann appeared in the October 23, 2017, edition of The New Yorker magazine. It was entitled "Manager-In-Chief." At least, that was the title in the hard-copy edition. Online, the article was titled, "Hating On Herbert Hoover."

Lemann's review in The New Yorker discussed two different books, The Rise and Fall of American Growth, by Robert Gordon, and Hoover: An Extraordinary Life in Extraordinary Times, by Kenneth Whyte. Of course, after recounting the prodigious personal and managerial accomplishments of Herbert Hoover, as outlined in these two books, Lemann was compelled to compare Hoover to his successor, Franklin D. Roosevelt:

It turns out that managerial excellence doesn’t assure Presidential success in this country—though we’re still tempted by the thought that it might. If you asked people, in the abstract, whether they’d rather have a President who was a superbly charming professional politician or one who had come from nothing, built a successful business, and accomplished astonishing feats of altruism, they would probably choose the latter. We think that we don’t need politicians; we even think that we’d be better off without them. The truth is that in a democracy, especially during a national emergency, they’re the only people who can get things done.

Hoover was very reluctant to create a federal government that would assume direct responsibility for individuals. Roosevelt was not. While I have always been in the Roosevelt camp, and a member of the "Roosevelt Party," I am now wondering whether the antidote to our current problems doesn't require a return of political action "to the States, or to the people."

That is language from the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, the last listed Amendment in our Bill of Rights. A federal government unwilling to act in the face of a giant economic dislocation lost the confidence of the people in 1930. But today, the federal government has assumed responsibility to run everything, and we have just elected as president someone who is the very opposite of both Hoover and Roosevelt. Our current president has no apparent managerial talents and no sympathetic identification with the people whom he represents.

The Joe Simitian "tour" of areas in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Michigan - areas that "flipped" from Obama to Trump in the 2016 presidential election - indicated to him that the voters who made that "flip" were tired of a federal government that has assumed a gigantic role in the society and economy, but hasn't helped them at all.

Real political, economic, and social change is what is being demanded. It is what is needed! The federal government, first under the direction of the Democrats and then under the direction of the Republicans, is not achieving what is required. It is time, I think, for a little self-help!

Image Credits:
(1) - http://www.history.com/topics/us-presidents/herbert-hoover
(2) - http://www.history.com/topics/us-presidents/franklin-d-roosevelt

Thursday, November 2, 2017

#306 / A Little Lesson In Federalism

Kathleen Parker, commenting on the indictments recently handed down by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, has provided us with a little lesson in federalism. Her October 31, 2017, column, which appears first in The Washington Post, and is then syndicated from there, includes this important observation:

Speculation that Trump would pardon Manafort and Gates is probably irrelevant. Manafort and Gates’s alleged federal crimes almost certainly could not have happened without committing state crimes. State attorneys general could build cases off of Mueller’s investigation and effectively neuter Trump’s power. A president can only pardon federal crimes.

The fact that government in the United States is not based upon a unitary and national system of political power, but that the nation is composed of fifty-one, independent states, makes our national politics complex. Governing our nation has never been easy. The complexity of our political structure, however, while it does make governing more convoluted than we sometimes might wish, also makes autocracy difficult, on a national scale. 

Hannah Arendt, my favorite political thinker, makes very clear in her book, On Revolution, that the "genius" of American democracy is a Constitution that ensures that power is fragmented and contradictory. The three branches of the government "check and balance" each other, and the state governments provide numerous opportunities for local power to "trump" any national effort. 

A careful reading of the Constitution (and particularly the Bill of Rights) will demonstrate that our political system is not one in which the  state governments derive their power from the federal government. Quite the opposite. Check out what the Tenth Amendment says: 

Amendment X
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

Our current president likes to think that he is "in charge," and there is some truth in that. The President of the United States has been vested with tremendous executive powers. But in our federal system, the states always come first, which means that the president will not be able to "pardon his way out" of the situation in which he finds himself. 

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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

#305 / You Always Have A Choice

Donald Trump said he would release all the secret files on the Kennedy assassination. Then, when the time came to release them, he didn't do what he said.

Were you surprised by this reversal of position? Probably not! Most of us have noticed, by now, that the president often says one thing and then does quite the opposite.

In fact, most of us would probably agree that using the word "often" in that last sentence is actually a substantial understatement! It is also noteworthy that the president is known to say one thing, then say the opposite, and then go back to the first thing he said. On October 30th, The Wall Street Journal carried an article indicating that the release of the files was "back on track." 

When I read an article on October 27th that said that the president had decided to renege on his earlier promise to release the files, I was struck by how the president expressed himself. Here is how the Associated Press reported on the story:

Just before the release Thursday, Trump wrote in a memorandum that he had "no choice" but to agree to requests from the CIA and FBI to keep thousands of documents secret...

Just to be clear, Mr. President, we always "have a choice" about whether to do something, or not. And a government that refuses to let the public know what it's doing (or what it has done) is making a choice that diminishes our power as citizens.

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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

#304 / Spooky

On Halloween, a "spooky" title seems just right. And there has been a lot of talk, recently, about experiments that seem to prove, or at least "bolster," the idea that what Einstein called "spooky action at a distance" is actually a real thing:

The term "spooky action at a distance" refers to the idea that "two physically separated particles can have correlated properties, with values that are uncertain until they are measured." The phenomenon  is often called particle "entanglement," and suggests that two separate particles, found at opposite ends of the universe, can be "entangled" in a way that lets them, essentially, "communicate," or transfer information between themselves, despite their vast physical separation. That does, indeed, seem pretty "spooky" to me, or maybe "weird," or "unbelievable." 

Naturally, if Einstein said it was true, I would tend to believe Einstein, but despite what The Atlantic headline would seem to indicate, I am not so sure that Einstein ever agreed that "spooky action at a distance" is a real thing. The PHYS.ORG website reports, in fact, that Einstein was "dubious" about this theory. He gave it a name, but had his doubts.

If you type, "Einstein, Spooky Action" into a search engine, you'll find lots more articles on this subject, the ones I have listed being among the most recent I've found. The latest experiments, as indicated above, appear to indicate that the phenomenon Einstein named is, in fact, a genuine reality. 

Despite my reading on the topic, I really don't get how "particle entanglement" would work, or what that even means. That, however, is just exactly why I am fascinated by this topic.

If the "entanglement" theory is true, then our conventional ideas of time, space, and reality probably need to be reevaluated, and it seems to me that my "Two Worlds" idea could, quite possibly, be related to the subject.

We are born into a world that we did not create ourselves. Where it came from, and why it exists, is totally mysterious, but we are continually trying to assert our own dominion over this World of Nature - including by efforts to assert that we understand it (or at least can understand it).

If it turns out that the reality of the World of Nature cannot, in fact, be explained in the terms that we have always used to make sense of it, then maybe we should start accepting the idea that we are subject to the mystery, instead of being in charge of it. 

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