Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Curse of Specialness

We have created a culture in which almost everyone is deeply dissatisfied with their lives in one way or another.  I’ve written in the past that we all suffer from a deep insecurity which impacts how we feel about ourselves and everything around us.  

Part of that derives from our early childhood experiences within the family.  Part of it comes from the culture we live in.  The images we receive both through marketing and the general media of what “happy,” “successful” people look like and what they possess are images that few of us can see in ourselves, and so the culture both feeds off our insecurity and adds to it.

There is yet another way our culture has created a dysfunctional world and disturbed our lives.  Our culture has institutionalized the need for everyone to be special, and I’m not using that word in a spiritual sense.

From the time we are children, we learn very quickly that those who are valued, who are rewarded and get ahead, are those that excel.  Whether it’s at sports, classes, or personality, the people who are valued and rewarded … often even within the family …  are those who excel or at least are perceived as excelling. 

And so each of us, virtually every moment of every day, has this knowledge hanging over our head like a dagger or guillotine.  We know that if we don’t “measure up,” we will suffer the ignominy of being viewed as “just” normal, average.  And in our society, that is viewed as a terrible fate; there is no respect in it.  And so it feeds our insecurity.

To say that this contributes to the high levels of stress felt by Americans as well as the high levels of depression is an understatement.  The felt need to be special or else plays a significant role with how we view ourselves and our place in the world.  

Even if one does feel special, it’s a no-win situation for two reasons.  It sets up expectations about what we deserve, and when we inevitably don’t get what we think we deserve we are frustrated and angry.  Also, we know that if for any reason we slip or someone supersedes us, our downfall will be quick and merciless, which feeds our insecurity.

Another negative impact is the way those who feel special often treat others.  They tend to look down on those whom they consider as not being special and often express their disdain.  This creates unpleasant and damaging human interactions, whether it’s the school bully or mean girls or the imperious diva or corporate head.

Why has this culture developed as it has?  I can’t really answer that question, but I can say that somehow the assumption developed a long time ago that people will only produce at their top ability if they are rewarded for it through their pay or status.  Even religions use heaven to encourage good behavior and hell to discourage bad … indeed that may be where this dynamic was institutionalized.  

This assumption has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Virtually no one these days does their best just for the satisfaction, the good feeling of doing their best.  Instead there needs to be a prospect of them being rewarded and acknowledged; that’s what makes them feel good, not the fact that they have done their best.  And if they have done their best and are not rewarded they either resent those who can’t see the value of what they produce or feel that they’ve been a fool or question whether what they’ve done is truly good.

For this reason, as well as a host of others, we need to return to a more spiritual society where people do good work because they take pride in what they do, irrespective of what anyone thinks of it.  And for that to occur, people must have a sense of self-esteem and security that allows them to be independent of these external influences.  And for that to happen, everyone must be and feel valued, not just those who are special.  A complex chain of events I’ve written about previously.  (See my post, “The Root of All Abuse and Violence -  Insecurity.”)

I know this seems like an impossible effort.  How can one change the world we live in even if man has created it?  

The answer is that we can change it one person at a time.  The world can go on being as crazy as it will, but you have the opportunity, both for yourself and your children, to change your relationship with yourself and the world around you.  That is indeed the only thing one truly has control over.  Not that it’s easy exercising that control, but it is possible.  (See my book, Raising a Happy Child.)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Leaks - When Warranted, When Not

The subject of leaks is very hot at the moment.   It’s easy to say that Republicans are infuriated about recent leaks because they are embarrassing and hamper their ability to govern.  But there is a larger question here.  When are leaks warranted, and when are they not?

But first, what is a “leak.”  My definition of leak is an unauthorized release of information that is not public, often it is classified.  Various dictionary definitions define it as the release of secret information or just the clandestine release of information; the point of these definitions is that the information is not public.  For a leak to be a criminal offense, it must be the unauthorized release of classified government information.

The release of the Pentagon Papers was a leak in the narrower criminal sense.  The Wikileaks release was part classified, but mostly not.  It most certainly was private.

Most of the leaks that have been talked about the past few weeks are of private information.  It has not been classified.

But does that make a difference to the question of when is a leak warranted?  I would answer, no.

A leak, whether of classified or merely non-public information, is warranted only when the public good requires that it be released.  And when does the public good require this? When the information being withheld from the public is needed for it to judge current events, often because the public has either been lied to or not told the whole truth.   If the information is classified, the bar of the public’s need to know is set much higher; it must be of critical importance.

So with that as a guideline, let’s look at recent leaks.  There have been numerous leaks about the process of the Russian investigation, most regarding specific actions by the General Counsel’s office, one regarding a memo from the Trump transition team.   

Regardless of the public interest in such information, in letting them have a feel for what is happening, such leaks are not warranted.  They should stop.  They do not move justice forward.  They do nothing but feed the public’s and cable TV’s desire for a constant flow of information.  It makes the actual investigation almost anti-climatic, which I don’t think is a healthy thing.

Many will disagree with me.  They feel that the President’s constant misstatement, if not conscious lying, about things is so outrageous that it is imperative to counter those lies with the truth.  It’s fact checking.  

While I totally agree with that, I think the information used should be public information, and there generally is plenty of that available to dispute the President, even his own statements.  But even if not, the point here is that this is all so much blather; no one is making any decisions or judgments based on this chatter.

Now, if someone with knowledge of an investigation feels that important information is being ignored because its truth is inconvenient, then I think the leak of the information is warranted.  Because it does move justice forward; the information now cannot be ignored by those leading the investigation.

What about Comey’s release of the contents of his memo to the press through a friend.  That clearly is not a leak because the release was authorized by the writer of the memo.  While it is true that the memo summarized a conversation with the President, which was privileged communication, and that the President did not authorize the memo’s release, the memo clearly is Comey’s memory of the conversation.  If it were a verbatim transcript of the conversation, that would be different and it would be a leak.

Given the polarized nature of our society, and the suspicion that many people have of mainstream media, it is of critical importance that the media not be drawn into an informational tit for tat.  That they remain scrupulously neutral until the facts are in, at which time they can editorialize.

Ah, but what about the fact that we now have countless “news” media on cable and the internet, and they do get involved in the tit for tat.  Does that leave mainstream organizations like  The New York Times seemingly irrelevant if they don’t join in the fray?  Aren’t these leaks scoops that they must also cover?

That’s a hard question that only they can answer.  

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Democrats' Bad Strategy

Contrary to what The New York Times stated, if Democrats are demoralized about their loss in the Georgia special election it is their own fault.  To think that this district might possibly be in play was pure illusion.  Yes, Trump did not do particularly well there.  But to anticipate that a solidly Republican district would turn on the President in a very visible election is wishful thinking.  Plus the Democratic candidate was somewhat of a light-weight.  

Thus to make the stakes so high was not in the Democrats’ best interest.  The Party would do well to not follow the demands of the most rabid elements of its base and not seriously challenge every Republican seat.  

There will be many opportunities to pick up seats in 2018 and regain control of the House, but the districts and the candidates must be chosen very carefully.  And the Party must have a clear and cohesive vision for how it would govern, what it would do for the American people.  And that vision must be articulated in a way that the people get.  See my post, "The Perennial Search for the Democrats' Mission."

Running a good campaign isn't just about raising tons of money and having a good get-out-the-vote effort.  Running a winning campaign requires having a positive message that resonates with people beyond the Democratic base.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Trump Is Lying to His Base About His Infrastructure Program

One of the main things motivating Trump’s election win was his attention to the needs of the middle class worker who was either unemployed, underemployed, or whose wages have stagnated for the past 40 years.  He promised them jobs.  During the campaign there were two main avenues through which he stated he was going to meet that promise.

The first and more direct means was through Federal financing of a massive $1 trillion infrastructure program.  It has just been revealed, however, that that plan has essentially been trashed.  Instead, the Federal government will invest only $200 billion and seek to use that to leverage the rest.  The other $800 billion will have to come from states, cities, and corporate sources.   

This is highly unlikely to work since most states and cities are just keeping their heads above water financially as it is.  And corporations will not foot the bill because it will detract from their bottom line profit, which investors will not support.  

But Trump is still deceitfully calling it a $1 trillion program and using it to rally his base.  It’s all smoke and mirrors.  Another example of Trump's mendacity.

This decision I’m sure resulted from a reality check.  Given his desire for a major tax cut for the wealthy and a major increase in defense spending, there just wasn’t money left for a big infrastructure bill, even with cutting many programs that directly help those in need, including the working poor and many of his supporters.   

The second means was by drastically renegotiating NAFTA and other trade agreements which had been a major factor in the loss of American jobs to other countries.   While he withdrew American participation in the TPP (which had not yet taken effect), he has not moved boldly on NAFTA.  He has signaled that he wants to renegotiate, but his intention as communicated to Congress amounted to no major changes. (see New York Times, “Trump Sends NAFTA Renegotiation Notice to Congress,” May 18).  All he has done is cudgel executives to bring back jobs with the promise of major tax cuts.

Thus he is reneging on his promise to create jobs through a major Federal infrastructure program.  He is cutting programs that provide a vital benefit to many of his supporters.  And he is not making major changes in NAFTA.  Plus we cannot forget the impact on his supporters if Trumpcare passes.  

This will be a huge betrayal of his supporters.  One can only hope that they will finally see him for the fraud that he is and remove their support.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Trump’s Simplistic Parochialism

It’s one thing to say, “America First.”  It’s another to be simplistic in its application and have no understanding of what that phrase really means.

"America First" raises two issues regarding Trump’s action of taking the U.S. out of the Paris climate accords.  The first is, even assuming for argument’s sake that our participating in the accords was in some narrow way against our economic interests, does the significance of the issue for the world, and ultimately therefore for the U.S., mean that the U.S. should do what is best for the larger community?  Is our national interest something larger than our economic interest?

There are several ways of looking at this.  If the U.S. wishes to continue to be a leader, if not the leader, on the world stage, then without question we need to do our part to insure a safe planet not just for our children and their children, but for the children of all people.

The leadership issue aside, from a moral perspective, how can a country which expounds on its exceptionalism at every opportunity as well as the centrality of its faith in God act in a way which even arguably is destructive of the planet’s environment to such an extent that it impacts the heritage we leave our children?  

It’s one thing to say that you don’t believe that climate change is man-made (although Trump’s emissaries when questioned have said they don’t know whether he believes in it or not), it’s another to say that the argument that it is has no credence.  When we’re talking about the upheaval of the climate-based order of the world and possibly the viability of Earth as a human habitat as we know it in the future, do you want to take any risk, however small?

And finally, yes, our national interest is larger than our economic, certainly our corporate, interest.  When we have lost sight of that in the past, troubles have ensued.  It is probably safe to say, although many would disagree, that the Bush administration got us into the Iraq war not because of our national interest, or even national security interest, but because of corporate interests.  Even the Vietnam War was more an expression of our corporate interests … the big corporations wanted to halt the spread of communism … than our national security interests.

The second issue is, is our commitment under the Paris accords even in a narrow way against our economic interests?  The answer from a broad cross-section of business leaders, economists, and academics is a resounding, “no!”

First, the future of the coal industry and of coal miners is being primarily impacted not by the prospect of carbon caps and other measures but by the superior cost effectiveness of natural gas and increasingly that of alternative sources of energy.  Our Paris commitments do no further harm to the coal industry.

Second, by not just taking the U.S. out of the Paris accords but also removing efforts to stimulate development of alternative energy sources, Trump is not only depriving U.S. workers a source of new and lasting jobs, but we are ceding to China and other countries the leadership in the development of this technology which will be an economic engine for decades to come.

Third, by taking the U.S. out of the Paris accords, it will hurt our export industry.  People will retaliate against the U.S. by choosing to purchase competitive products from other countries, a Renault v a Chevy, Adidas v Nike.

So Trump's action is actually contrary to the policy, "America First."  Trump makes it sound like he’s standing up for the U.S. and protecting our economy, and that is certainly what his base and, according to a recent New York Times article, small business owners think.  But the reality is that taking the U.S. out of the Paris accords will hurt our economy, which will ultimately hurt everyone, including small business owners.  And It will have a negative impact on our broader national interests.  

Thankfully, the process of leaving the Paris accords will take several years.  Before that process is over we will have a presidential election.  Unless the citizens of this country have lost all common sense, we will have a new president who will rescind Trump’s decision and keep us in the accords.  

Saturday, May 20, 2017

What Does the Democratic Party Stand For?

If I see another article saying that Democrats have got to find a message to win back Congress and the White House, rather than just being anti-Trump, I’m going to scream.  Today in The New York Times and in a recent New Yorker, the call was for Democratic candidates with “the ability to articulate what the Democratic Party stands for.” 

How sad, yet how true.  Last December I wrote a post, “The Perennial Search for the Democrat’s Mission.”  I  reprint that post here again.  I have been making the same arguments since 2004 when I wrote my book, We Still Hold These Truths.  When will the power-brokers in the party get it?

The Perennial Search for the Democrat’s Mission:

It’s sad to see Democrats once again thrashing around, after November’s defeat, trying to figure out where there message failed and what they need to do in the future.  (Everyone that is but the Clinton campaign, who apparently doesn’t think there was anything wrong with their message, but that’s another problem.)  Some advocate focusing on youth and minority voters … the “Obama coalition.”  Others argue that attention must be paid to the white middle class worker.  Others, rural America.  And from reports, these groups seem to be at odds with each other.

It’s not unreasonable to analyze this question, Republicans certainly do the same.  The problem is that Democrats seem incapable of seeing the light.  This is a familiar pattern.  After the 2004 loss, Walter Mondale said, “We really need to work on what we are for.  Unless we have a vision and the arguments to match, I don’t think we’re going to truly connect with the American people.”  Similar thoughts were voiced by many party leaders at the time.

As I said in the forward to the 2005 edition of my book, We Still Hold These Truths, “How sad and beyond belief that after a long and intense campaign, the quadrennial defining moment for the Party, it did not know the essence of what it stands for, what its vision is. How then could the American public?”  The same holds true today.

The problem does not arise because there is a conflict between the interests of the white middle class workers on the one hand and the interests of minorities and youth or rural America on the other.  The problem arises because Democratic leaders seem to think there is a conflict … they are trapped in identity politics.  I know the saying, “You can’t be all things to all people,” but in this case I don’t think it applies.  Let me explain why.

It comes back to the question of just what the Democratic Party’s mission is.  Mostly it’s been absent, at best implied.  Instead, the party has had a grab-bag of policies, the platform. But that is not a mission.  It makes it seem the party is just pandering to a bunch of different interests.  

They have presented no cohesive vision, no umbrella for all its policies.  And I don’t call Clinton’s “Stronger Together” slogan - cooperation is better than conflict - a vision.  John Kerry kept on saying that the 2004 election was about voting for change … but from what to what?  Obama certainly made clear what the change was, but he also had no clearly enunciated vision for the Party.  In response to Clinton's weak effort, I suggested the slogan, "Economic Justice for All," (see my post of that title, 7/24/16).

I wrote We Still Hold These Truths because I felt, as did many others, that the 2004 election could not be won on the basis of a negative, anti-Bush vote. The same held true for 2016 and a negative, anti-Trump vote.  To regain the White House and Congress, the Democrats had and still have to come up with a cohesive vision – an ideology – and communicate it forcefully in a way which resonates with the American people. 

Such a vision has not been forthcoming. My hope continues to be that my book will provide a new/old perspective with which to define what the Party stands for, a perspective at once so simple and familiar yet profound that it would be immediately grasped by the American people … the stirring words of the Declaration of Independence.

I therefore propose the following Mission Statement for the Democratic Party which will appeal to Americans rural and urban, regardless of faith, race, social status, gender, or sexual orientation, in red states and blue; a vision that reclaims the moral and spiritual bona fides of the Party (attacked by Republicans):

"To bring to life the promises set forth in our Declaration of Independence.
To build a country of greater opportunity where:

* each and every American has the best chance to experience the promise 
‘that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with 
certain unalienable Rights … Life,  Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness’;

 * government meets its responsibility as set forth in the Declaration …  
 ‘to secure those rights’,  within the constraints of fiscal responsibility; and

* all citizens have a shared responsibility to support the government’s efforts 
to secure those rights and promote the public good, each according to his ability.”

These words from the Declaration of Independence are the moral philosophy, the heart, the soul of American democracy. This is America’s common faith.  This is America’s social contract.  To further that promise of equality and opportunity with fiscal responsibility should be the clear mission of the Democratic Party.

All the policies of the Party naturally flow from this mission statement.  All American men, women, and children are owed the support of government policies in education, health care, civil rights, security, the economy, the environment, and taxation that provide a foundation of equal opportunity for all.  That is the American social contract. 

It is these policies that make the Democratic Party a “life-affirming” force. It affirms the profound value of the lives of all living beings.  It acknowledges the suffering of millions of citizens … their lack of work, their lack of health insurance, their lack of enough food to eat, their lack of equal opportunity to acquire a good education … sometimes caused by economic forces, often simply the result of being born on the wrong side of the tracks.  It is these policies that make the Democratic Party a “pro-family” force. How can a family be strong, healthy, and viable without meeting these basic needs?

It is these policies, which respect the value of all human life and the environment, that make the Democratic Party a party of faith – not Christian, not Jewish, not Muslim … but deep religious faith. And because we respect freedom of religion, as well as the right to have no religious belief, we strongly support the Constitutional policy of the separation of church and state created by the Founders to insure the freedom of all to live according to their creed and conscience. The Democratic Party respects the valued and important place that religion has had and will always have in the fabric of American life.

But we must remember that no right, not even those in the Bill of Rights, are absolute.  For no person in the exercise of his or her rights can infringe on another person’s rights.  That is indeed the basis of all laws that control the relations of citizens in a civilized society, whether it be the criminal law, civil law, or government regulation.

In approaching our fellow citizens, we do ourselves and the people of this great country a disservice if we do not recognize the purity of their hearts and beliefs, their natural desire to provide for themselves and their families, and their basic desire to do what is just in the eyes of God.   Democrats must make the case to all Americans, not assuming that any American is ill-disposed to its vision, that their best interests and the best interests of the country lie in policies of the Democratic Party, not the Republican.

This focus on respect and equality must inform all of our actions.  If Democrats do not show that we practice what we preach, how can we expect anyone to believe us?  Legislators must voluntarily reduce the undue influence of lobbyists, big business, and the wealthy from our policy deliberations.  They deserve a place at the table, but they cannot displace or overwhelm the voice of the majority of citizens who have no realistic way, other than the vote, of expressing their point of view.  

Legislators can and should hold more town meetings with their constituents; they can survey their opinion on matters before Congress.  It is important that constituents know they are being listened to.

But because of the practical logistical limitations, constituents cannot compete in presence or volume with the voice of industry and wealth.  And so each legislator must in the end, on each matter before Congress, ask him- or herself what is in the best interests of average Americans, his constituents, versus the interests of industry and privilege.  Sometimes those interests will converge; sometimes they will not.  If they do not, it is the interests of the public that must prevail.  That is who legislators are elected to represent.

The message of We Still Hold These Truths is that Democrats must hold true to the heart of American democracy as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and further elaborated in our Constitution … to the American social contract. We Still Hold These Truths presents an overarching vision that will resonate with the broad American public in red states as well as blue and win their hearts and minds. It is a vision that will successfully counter the radical Republican Conservative movement and reclaim the moral and spiritual bona fides of the Democratic Party.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Trumpgate - The Firing of FBI Director Comey

Something smells about the firing of FBI Director Comey.  If you look at the sequence of events, the facts do not seem to support the reason given for the firing, but instead more strongly argue that it was done to stop or influence the FBI investigation into Trump campaign officials’ contacts with Russians regarding Russia’s attempt to throw the election to Trump.

The actions by Comey regarding the Clinton investigation are old news.  They happened prior to the election, more than 6 months ago.  Add to that Trump’s statements at the time supporting Comey, saying that he thought Comey was showing guts.

Why the change in sentiment?  A hint is given in the firing letter from Trump to Comey in which he doesn’t refer to the handling of the Clinton investigation at all, but he does say that although Comey assured him three times that he was “not under investigation,” he was following the recommendation of the Attorney General.  That statement can only refer to the Russia investigation; we know from his Tweets that that has been very much on his mind, and probably Attorney General Session’s mind as well.

This perspective has gained traction with the revelation that just days before the firing, Comey approached the Deputy Attorney General … the same man who wrote the detailed memo in support of the firing … asking for increased resources for the Russia investigation.  This would have quite understandably ratcheted up White House concern that Comey was taking the investigation very seriously and would follow it wherever it lead.  He was after all not a Trump appointee and clearly independent.

If in fact this was the true reason for firing Comey, then several questions are raised.  If the campaign officials, and by extension Trump, did nothing improper then why fire Comey?  They would have nothing to fear from an investigation.  It makes one take more seriously the possibility that either there was indeed collusion as legally defined or if there wasn’t, that the evidence would show an appearance of collusion which in itself would be devastating. 

If Trump’s action was an attempt to prevent a thorough, unfettered, investigation, then regardless whether there was in fact collusion, the firing was not just an abuse of power, it was an obstruction of justice.  And thus an impeachable offense.

Given the facts already available, a select committee of Congress needs to investigate the firing.  This has the potential of truly being Trump’s Watergate.  As one Senator commented, the firing was “Nixonian.”