The Need for Real Contact

February 12, 2018

With no offense intended to those reading this blog, I have been thinking that conversations via social media are not really conversations that matter, if they are conversations at all. Sitting down in front of a computer screen and “talking” on Facebook or other vehicles is not having a conversation that matters to anyone. Some people might argue that with the web and other social media people can discuss important issues with anyone, anytime and that is a powerful tool for resolving problems. The reality doesn’t support that idea – quite the opposite.

For those of us that remember having a real conversation face to face with anther human being, the exchange of verbal and non-verbal communication can be meaningful. Having a conversation face to face with someone tends to have a moderating effect because you are not just talking to a screen. I doubt any disagreements on issues are resolved on line. Most people only talk to other people on-line who think and believe the same. The social media “bubble” corrupts the ability of people to resolve problems and disputes, and it creates an alternative reality. If you have an opportunity to witness a face to face conversation between a Trump supporter and an Anti-Trump person discussing an important problem such as climate change you can see how social media has corrupted us. Very little listening goes on. It’s less a conversation than a serial repetition of cliché, sound bites and a profound disagreement about basic science and objective facts.

Someone typing a keyboard is not having a conversation, they are watching their own words and listening to their own ideas. Press the “enter” key and in a minute they get to react to someone else talking with themselves with a personal insult, sarcasm, or some other type of rebuttal. There is no attempt to listen, to understand or to clarify. There is no attempt to find mutual agreement on any issue, or even a mutually agreeable way to end the conversation. Just change the site, delete the conversation, or sign off. There is no need to feel guilty or ashamed of the words you use or the hurt inflicted on another human being. The only thing that happens during these on-line exchanges are attempts to convince another person that you are right and they are wrong.

A blog is an attempt to share ideas and stimulate thought. It’s not intended to be a conversation. Most of the blogs I am proud about are the ones stimulated by talking with another person in person. There have been so many studies on the deleterious effects of video viewing on the human brain, including structural damage to younger children. Do we really need to have studies on the deleterious effect of social media on socialization? It’s obvious that we need to talk with our mouths, not with our fingers, and to a human being and not a video screen.

 

 

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More March Memo Madness

February 9, 2018

In a growing scandal (and growing alliteration) it now appears that the White House assisted in writing the Nunes memo which Trump claims “completely exonerates” him of any collusion and obstruction of justice charges. Yes, once again Nunes gets something from the WH to exonerate the President to bring back to the WH as proof of their innocence…

Let’s review. Nunes, who is officially recused from any investigation of the Trump/Russian investigation, conducts a secret investigation of the Trump/Russia investigation. His staff focused on the use of the Steel Dossier to support the 3rd renewal of a FISA warrant approval on a man Trump people say was never a part of their campaign as proof that the FBI was targeting the campaign. Nunes not only violated Committee rules by conducting a secret investigation, he gets help from the Trump White House to write the memo. At the same time, Russian bots, using the same methods they used to influence the election for Trump, conduct a social media campaign to release the memo. If that seems like a criminal conspiracy to obstruct the criminal investigation – it’s because It’s obvious. I wonder when Mueller will interview Nunes and his staff on when, and with whom in the WH they conspired with to undermine and obstruct the investigation?

Meanwhile the memo that was released has had the opposite effect of their intent. Even with important facts that were omitted, the one certain take away from the memo was that Carter Page was working with the Kremlin and being recruited as a spy long before the Steel Dossier was written. That makes four important Trump Campaign members who were Russian agents: Flynn, Manafort, Gates and Page. You could add a 5th Trump campaign member, Senior Foreign Policy Adviser Popadoupolis, who certainly acted as a conduit between the Russians and the Campaign. This was a campaign thoroughly infiltrated with foreign agents, and they knew it at some point. That’s why every single other member of the campaign has lied under oath about contacts with Russians. Don Jr., Jared, Sessions (among others) all testified that they never had any contact with any Russians at any time, only to change their testimony  after they were caught lying about it.

It’s like a poorly written spy novel, except the threat to our Country is real.

 


Michigan Politics

February 7, 2018

One of the more scandalous aspects of the Governor’s race in Michigan has been the attempts by the Democrats to force Abdul El-Sayed out of the race. In a dirty tricks campaign, Dems have been fueling questions about the residency status of the life-long Michigan resident, who happened to have a brief stint in medical school and teaching at Columbia University, that it is claimed disqualifies him as a resident. It’s all been behind the scenes skull-duggery complete with anonymous quotes and birther like whispering campaigns. Believe me, I know how the Dems do these things after my own run guerilla tactics run for Governor, knocking off the Establishment candidates.

Gretchen Whitmer is the establishment candidate. She is the proto-Michigan Dem: kind of liberal, kind of experienced, kind of pro-Labor, kind of careful and kind of uninspiring. Perfect for another loss? IDK. She is a kind of proto- Granholm profile, which should concern many. As much of a disaster that Granholm was for Michigan (she says Whitmer would be a phenomenal candidate), at least she was strong and could win. Running against her are several decidedly not proto typical Dems. Shri Thanedar is from a family that immigrated from one of those countries our Republican friends call a “shit-hole country” (i.e. India). He is an unapologetic liberal, intelligent and walks the walk: a single father, scientist-entrepreneur. He is a solid liberal, solid character, well qualified… and Indian-American. I’m guessing that the Dem establishment thinks that he couldn’t win in rural Michigan where they still haven’t taken down the crosses they burned in corn fields during pro-Trump rallies.

Abdul El-Sayed is another man with an immigration story – except he has an Arab name and if there is one thing that scares the Dems more than an Indian-American it is a Muslim-American. He is another man with a solid character, extraordinarily intelligent and qualified. When I say “another man of solid character” I don’t mean to be diminutive – these are rare characters in Michigan politics. They are actually inspiring as well as honest and moral. While Dems feel that they can afford to take a distance from the progressive Shri, Mr. El-Sayed is a problem for them. The large Muslim-American community in SE Michigan and the simmering conflicts between the Arab and the African-American Community is a challenge to their traditional dominance in SE Michigan. They can’t win without a large turnout here.

Maybe the apparent Dem calculation that Thanedar and El-Sayed could not win in Michigan is what is driving their birther-like campaign, but I think they are selling the voters short. OK, there is plenty of indications that out-State voters are not prone to liberals, Indians or Arabs. But Shri and Abdul are not defined by their ethnicity or names. They are non-traditional candidates in some very important regards: they are honest, intelligent and qualified. They are more American in values and lifestyle than many Republicans (or Dems for that matter). They deserve a fair chance to present their case for election, and at the very least their honesty, integrity and values will uplift the Democratic Party in Michigan.


Evangelicals

January 30, 2018

I’m as reflexively suspicious of the influence of religion on government as any of our Founding Fathers. There is a difference between being spiritual and being religious and it makes all the difference to the future of our Country. This is why the influence of “Evangelical Christians” has been one of the most dangerous threats to our freedoms. Fortunately, Trump has exposed these “Christian” leaders for what they are: transactional and not spiritual. Hopefully, the lie that Christian Evangelicals are motivated by spiritual beliefs and informed conscience has been exposed enough to shed a light on their destructive influence on our society. If Michael Steele, former Chair of the RNC, is any indication then the days of fraudulent Evangelicals like Tony Perkins are limited. Steele declared that these Evangelical leaders ought to just shut up and never, ever preach at him again. The straw that broke his chains to Evangelicals was from the leader of the Family Research Council that Trump deserved a “Mulligan” for paying for the silence of a porn star he had an extramarital affair with while Melania was about to give birth to their son.

Evangelical leaders justify supporting Trump because he is accomplishing their political agenda. His words and actions are dismissed by these leaders, who apparently fail to realize that some people actually believe the nonsense they preach from the pulpit every Sunday. Evangelicals think that doing something they like justifies doing many things that are wrong. It’s like saying a pedophile is an acceptable candidate for Senator, if he will outlaw abortions. Oh, they already have preached that gospel…

I am not a religious person, but I do believe that there is a right and a wrong, and no amount of right can justify a wrong. Not to go off on any theological tangent, but there have been heresies in Christian history similar to what Perkins and his league of false prophets are peddling. The basis of a spiritual life is the pursuit of meaning (e.g. God), not the pursuit of political agenda. That’s why these Evangelicals are not spiritual, but transactional. To them, the ends justify the means. They reject the idea that embracing sin in the service of God is an inherent contradiction.

I suppose arguing theological justifications to do what they want anyway is just playing their game. I operate by a less abstract principle that you know a person by what they do.

 

 


Modern Civics

January 29, 2018

What should the content of a contemporary text book on American Government include? If the text provides a functional knowledge of how our government works today it would have the following table of contents:

Chapter 1: Citizen’s United and the Origin of Modern U.S. Government

Chapter 2: Citizen’s United, the 1% and the Donor Class

Chapter 3: Citizen’s United, the NRA, Wall St. and Corporate America

Chapter 4: The U.S. Constitution and the Primacy of Corporate Rights

Chapter 5: The Three Branches of Government: Three Options for the Donor Class to Accomplish Outcomes

Chapter 6: The Two Party system: the Illusion of Choice

Chapter 7: Voting Rights and the Role of Elections: Endorsing the Foregone Conclusions After Restrictions and Gerrymandering

Chapter 8: Defining Individual Rights and the Role of Government in Working Around Them

Chapter 9: Local and State Government: Evolution, Function and the Illusion of Democracy

Chapter 10: Is Change Possible After Citizens United?

Cynical? Less so than accurate. Few people who pay attention doubt that since the Citizen’s United decision, money has controlled the purpose and the function of government. Big money elects politicians that pass laws to make more money for the donor class. Big money elects the judges to affirm and reinforce the primacy of corporate rights over individual rights.

It’s a shame. Maybe we can revive the American dream. But at this pint in our history, it is just a dream.


Shut It Down

January 22, 2018

Its pretty simple. Trump says he would approve of any bi-partisan bill on DACA. He said on camera that he would provide the political cover. A bi-partisan proposal was agreed upon – and Trump promptly said “no” along with a racist rant.

After the metaphorical “sh#t storm” subsided and work began anew on another compromise, Trump Tweeted another killer comment. Mitch McConnell complained loudly that they are still waiting on what the White House will approve to sav DACA. A third compromise was evolving to keep the government open, a continuing resolution that restored funding for CHIP – a program to help poor children to get vital health care.  Funding for CHIP was held hostage by the GOP (which is to say that these children were held hostage) as leverage to get additional tax breaks for the insurance industry. Once again, Trump vetoed the idea in another incendiary Tweet. So why did Trump sabotage the bipartisan attempts to address DACA and bring us to the verge of a government shutdown?

One theory is that Trump is doing some hard ball negotiating to get funding for his Wall. The idea is that even if the Wall is not funded as part of a DACA deal, he will swoop in at the last minute and be the hero keeping the government open. I have another theory. Trump wants a government shutdown. He said so himself in a 2017 Tweet. He publicly speculated that a government shutdown because the Senate could not generate a filibuster proof would be good for the Congress because it would end the filibuster. The GOP would only need 50 votes to pass any Legislation. This becomes even more important as the GOP majority in the Senate has been whittled down to 1 vote, and likely to change with the midterm elections. Yes… there is a method to his madness, though the method means an end that could be a disaster for the Congress (and the country).

We are only a few hours from the deadline, and the odds seem 50-50 for a shutdown, if the Dems show any spine. It’s a made for reality TV drama, ala Trump style of governing. Which means that the policy and economic implications of the manufactured chaos are secondary to the attention Trump needs. Its another reason why our country has become the laughingstock of the world while simultaneously a source of international angst.


Truthiness

January 19, 2018

I think that a lot of people blame Trump for the acceptance of lying or “alt.facts” in politics, but the reality is that Trump is just a manifestation of the real problem. Trump could never become President or stay President without a willingness to accept flagrant lying and denials of reality. Somewhere along the way to Trump winning the Electoral College vote, the importance of facts and reality was lost to the importance of feeling right. When large parts of the population refuse to accept scientific facts, or the clear evidence of reality, then no solutions to any problems will ever result. Observing verifiable facts and using them to define the problem is the essential prerequisite to solving problems.

We seem to be at an important point in our country’s history. When an individual fails to distinguish between what they want to believe from reality it is often diagnosed as a psychiatric problem. What happens when an entire country has the same problem? This not only scares us, it scares the heck out of allies who depend on our leadership.

When confronted with reality, Trump supporters go through a predictable, if infuriating, process. They deny the fact initially claiming it is “fake news”. When confronted with irrefutable proof of what Trump said (e.g. an actual recording of the comments), they will say he meant something different. If that fails, they claim someone else did something else (usually Clinton or Obama). There is a tolerance for a pattern of lying that defies reality and common sense. That is a far greater threat than any lie from Trump. This problem began long before Trump ran for President.

Rush Limbaugh has been denying the scientific evidence on climate change for over a decade. Sean Hannity has been talking about the “shadow government” for years. Not to pick on Fox Cable News, but people who listen to Fox and Friends exist in a universe of alt.truth.

Certainly, the devolution of the news media into corporate shills marketing to consumer groups contributed. People who watch Fox Cable News exist in a different universe from those who watch MSNBC. The lack of information being reported absent commentary by the reporters is amazing. News is less news than a few facts, in or out of context, used to become a platform for commentary. It seems like even those traditional news outlets have adopted a concession to alt.truth by qualifying each report by offering the alt.version from the other side, no matter how divorced from reality. Qualifying facts with political spin, or diluting reality with a false sense of fairness to the non-reality is now the journalistic attempt to assuage people who want to believe non-reality?

The media program is clear though: generate fear and outrage (facts or the truth is not necessary – rumors or even outright fabrications will do (e.g. the alleged Bowling Green Massacre). Once fear and outrage is accomplished it becomes easy to placate with false explanations and solutions. Conspiracies are one of the tools of media fear mongers and the enemy of reality. Conspiracies rooted in fiction becomes convincing to people confused by fear. The more facts come into conflict with a fake conspiracy, the more people cling to the conspiracy it seems.

As tempting as it is to blame the commercialization of the news media, the reality is that we are all vulnerable to fear and confusion. Its then that our values have to be the anchor. If we value facts, if we value solutions based on facts as more important than our comfort level, we would be more comfortable in general.