Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Amorality of Donald Trump - Part 2: Charlottesville

I previously wrote in a post that Donald Trump will do and say anything he feels he needs to in order to get what he wants.  He has no morality or ethics.  It’s all transactional.  The end definitely justifies the means for him.

The New York Times pointed out several days ago that the one group that Trump cannot afford to lose the support of, the one group he cannot offend or criticize, is the alt-right, be they religious conservatives or white supremacists.  Because it is the only group that he can count on for unequivocal support … so long as he doesn’t go against them.  And so he bends over backwards to stroke them.

Thus we witnessed yesterday his disappointingly weak response to the white supremacists’ marching in Charlottesville, shouting neo-Nazi slogans, and the resulting violence between them and the counter protesters, including driving a truck into a group of protestors, killing one.  He said not ONE word against the vileness of the white supremacists.   He did not mentioned them at all.

Instead, he equated both sides by condemning the violence on both sides and saying that we must come together.  Even some Republicans could not stomach the President’s lack of leadership and morality one this one, calling the marchers’ words and action “evil” and “domestic terrorism.”

In my previous post, I said that the President’s words and actions bring to mind Joseph Welch’s question to Senator Joseph McCarthy during the McCarthy hearings in the early 50s, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?”  

It is a sad day for our country.  We have had so many sad days since the inauguration.  Actually since his nomination.  I only pray and hope that masses of whites, people of all colors, will join together in public protest and say, “No, this hatred is not my America.  My America believes in the equality of all men.”  See www.americansolidarity.org.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Increase in Social Media and Autism - Coincidence or Causal?

Over the last 4 decades, the number of children diagnosed with autism and related disorders has grown at an astonishing rate.  In the 1970s and 1980s, about one out of every 2,000 children was estimated to have autism.  In the year 2,000, with a broader definition and better diagnosis, the CDC estimated that one in 150 8-year-olds in the U.S. has an autism spectrum disorder, or ASD.  

Since that time, prevalence rates have increased 10 - 17% annually.  By 2012, the ASD estimate had risen to 1 in 68 8-year-olds.  “There is no established explanation for this increase.” 

Autism/ASD is mental disorder caused by variations in the brain’s development.  These disorders are characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communications, and repetitive behaviors.  More specifically, children with autism demonstrate either “deficits in social-emotional reciprocity, deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors, and deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships.”

I became interested in this issue because a close friend of mine has custody of a grandchild who has ASD.  Recently my friend asked me, because I had written the book, Raising a Happy Child, if I had any ideas on what might help his interactions with the child.  Knowing very little about the disorder, I did some quick research which uncovered the information conveyed above.

What do we know about the cause of autism/ASD?  Prior to the 70s, autism was thought to be caused by bad parenting, “unloving mothers.”  That theory has been thoroughly debunked. 

Instead, research has shown that a number of genes are connected with autism.  Further, a number of environmental factors before and during birth, that influence early brain development and thus increase the risk, have been identified.  They include advanced parental age, maternal illness, extreme prematurity, very low birth weight, and certain difficulties during birth involving periods of oxygen deprivation.  Also, mothers exposed to high levels of pesticides and air pollution may be at greater risk of having an autistic child.

Clearly, the factors identified by science to-date could not even begin to explain this rapid increase in the rate of autism/ASD.  In looking briefly at several recent symposia on the subject, no new ideas were identified.  There was just hope in identifying “modifiable risk factors” as we better understand why the prevalence of ASD has increased.

When I first read the definition of autism noted above, I had a “duh” moment.  The definition, with the possible exception of repetitive behaviors, almost exactly tracks what researchers are finding is the negative result of compulsive use of modern technology … the internet, computer games, smart phones, social media.  

We’ve all seen the phenomenon.   Whether on the subway, in the theater, on the street … people of all ages, not just the young but older Americans as well, seem unable or unwilling to be disconnected from their technology tool, their new umbilical cord, for an unnecessary moment.  It has become an addictive behavior. 

I knew from research I had done when writing my book that “stress in the womb can affect a baby's temperament and neurobehavioral development. ‘Who you are and what you’re like when you are pregnant will affect who that baby is,’ says Janet DiPietro, a developmental psychologist at Johns Hopkins University. ‘Women's psychological functioning during pregnancy – their anxiety level, stress, personality -- ultimately affects the temperament of their babies. It has to ... the baby is awash in all the chemicals produced by the mom.’” Source: http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=51730&page=3.  So it certainly seemed possible that an obsessive compulsive social media addiction would have an impact.

After I had done my initial research, I responded to my friend and indicated my hunch that the appearance of the new technology and its compulsive use during pregnancy probably has a strong correlation with the increase in ASD prevalence.  He responded by telling me that, interestingly, the ASD boy’s mother had been a compulsive computer gamer, including during pregnancy, and also didn’t take very good care of herself.  The boy is also a compulsive gamer.

With that single confirmation, I decided to delve deeper into the existing research.  The new definition and diagnostic criteria for ASD was developed in the early 1990s.  It’s probably reasonable to assume that the difference between the estimated prevalence prior to the broadened criteria for ASD diagnosis and post are mostly due to the new criteria as well as greater awareness.

However, in the period since ASD was defined, the criteria has been constant and the awareness consistently high.  So what accounts for the rapid increase since that time?

If one looks more closely at the CDC prevalence estimates, one sees a pretty stable figure prior to 1996 births, 1 in 150.  This finding is almost identical with a British study done during the early 90s.  Between 1996 and 2004 births, however, the prevalence increased to 1 in 68 children.  

More recent CDC data are not available (the report on 8-year-olds in 2012, thus born in 2004, was issued in 2016).  However a report from a 2015 government survey of parents found that 1 in 45 children, age 3  - 17, have been diagnosed with ASD.  Since the source of the data is different, though, one can’t conclude that the prevalence has increased further.  It may indicate an increase or it may indicate that the CDC data source is not as accurate and that the earlier prevalence rates were actually higher.  Either way, it’s not good.

During this period of rapid ASD prevalence growth, commercial internet and social media use took off (in the late 1990s) and grew exponentially.  A Pew Research study found that between 2005 and 2013, the use of social media by adults increased from 7% to 62%.  Since then the increase has leveled off and the last reading was 65% in 2015.  This survey, however, did not measure frequency or duration of use, which from observation appears to have increased significantly.

While the Pew data start where the CDC data leave off, we nevertheless know from it that between the late 1990s when social media started to 2005, the usage rose from 0 - 7%.  A huge percentage increase.  If I’m on the right track, the scary question is what the set of CDC data will look like from children born after 2010.

And there’s one more point.  The current research assumes that all factors impacting ASD development cease the moment one is born.  It considers no post-birth environmental factors.  Yet research has shown that a child’s brain continues significant structural development at least until age 3, with further development continuing until adolescence.  

It’s a very common sight these days to see even 2-3 year-olds staring at their little screens, watching a program or game while in their strollers, accompanying their parents at a restaurant, or elsewhere.  It’s becoming the new pacifier.  I cannot but think that it will have an impact on autism prevalence.

I cannot go any further with this line of reasoning from the available data.  However, I think that the connection, being both evident and sufficiently strong, points to the need for the CDC, or other appropriate federal agency, to gather information on the computer/social media habits of mothers during pregnancy.  And that data needs to include not just how many sites she visits (as was the case with the Pew data), but the frequency and duration of her visits.  Since it does not appear that such data would be able to be retrieved through the CDC’s ADDM data gathering system, a survey would most likely have to be employed.  Data on toddlers’/young children’s exposure to computer games/programs also need to be gathered.

Testing my hypothesis is of upmost importance.  I would even say urgent, given the ubiquitous nature of obsessive social media use prevalent today in our society.  If indeed more children are being born with ASD due to this risk factor, then every pregnant woman needs to be given a health advisory to stay off social media during her pregnancy.  This should be treated no differently than advice given to pregnant women to avoid other harmful behavior, whether it’s smoking, taking drugs, or eating fish from contaminated rivers.  And the use of devices by toddlers should be restricted.

If my hypothesis is correct but left unaddressed, this development could have more impact on the future health and vitality of our country than almost any problem we are currently facing.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Senator Murkowski as Role Model

Last week, after being harangued and bashed by President Trump, Senator Murkowski (R-AK) said what all Republican Senators should say and what should govern their actions. “With all due respect, Mr. President,” she reportedly told him, “I didn’t come here to represent the Republican Party. I am representing my constituents and the state of Alaska.”

This is the duty that all Congressmen and Senators have … to represent the best interests of their constituents and state.  That is their responsibility as elected officials.  If those interests go against the desires of Party leadership, so be it. 

We would not be in the partisan predicament we’ve been witnessing in Congress if all members acted on that responsibility of office.  Sure, some are truly far-right conservatives and know that’s why they were elected.  But many who have toed the line of Senate majority-leader McConnell on numerous issues are not hard-line conservatives.  Their fealty to the Party is misplaced and goes against the best interests of their constituents.

Some Republicans might try to argue that their sworn oath “to support the constitution” overrides the interests of constituents.  That may be true when a matter truly contravenes the constitution in letter or principle, but the types of things that Congress has been debating, and regarding which Senator McConnell has repeatedly enforced party discipline, do not rise to that level of import. 

Which raises the question.  Who are the “constituents” when that phrase is used?  Is it the people who voted for President Trump or a particular Representative or Senator?  Or is it all the people in their respective jurisdictions?

Presidents often say in their inaugural speech that they promise to be the President for all Americans.  Even Trump made such a statement.  He said he would restore the promise of America "for all our people. " And that is indeed as it should be.  The President is not elected just to promote the interests of those who voted for him.  He is the President of the entire country.  Yes, he campaigned on certain themes and made certain promises, and he should live up to those, in general.  But once elected, those campaign themes need to be tempered by the best interests of the country as a whole.

Such tempering is not an example of a President selling out, any more than is the change in tone and position from the primaries, when the combat is between members of the same party and the audience are members of that party, to that of the general election when the audience is the entire country.  The same change can be often be seen in those who are appointed to the Supreme Court.  Many a President has been dismayed that the person they appointed because of his politics, legal and otherwise, has turned out once on the bench to change his respective because of the role he has assumed.  Perhaps the most famous example of this was Justice Earl Warren.

Each and every Representative and Senator should keep Senator Murkowski’s words before them when they debate a matter and feel pressure from Party leadership to vote in a way which is contrary to the interests of their constituents.  Often that pressure is nothing short of blackmail, as it was when Senator Murkowski was threatened with Alaska’s losing a variety of significant benefits from the Federal government.  She still stood her ground, as was her duty.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Why I’m Quiet on the Trump Front

I have not written anything regarding the President since June 8.  Obviously, things occur almost daily that deserve comment.  

While it is important that his daily transgressions be put before the public, he must be held accountable, I would say that at this point my comments, and indeed most comments, are mostly wasted breath in the sense that they are unlikely to change anything, to improve the situation.  They will not change the President’s mind or anyone in his circle.  They will not change the mind of his supporters.  They will not change the mind of Republican politicians who are not ardent Trump supporters but want him to sign their legislation, should they ever manage to pass any.  

They also unfortunately are unlikely to encourage the masses of politically unengaged people in the country, who would tend to vote Democratic, to become engaged and thus greatly alter the dynamic of the 2018 election.  That will only happen through a combination of good Democratic policy development and the grass roots involvement of organizations who can reach these people.

The only real reason to continue to comment on things like his latest snap decision to ban transgender people from the military is to continue the protest against both the substance of his policy decisions and the manner in which they are made.  But there are ample commentators and organizations doing that.  My voice doesn’t add anything.

The same is true for his and the Congressional Republicans’ actions on health care.  The process and substance are beyond belief.  They show a total disdain both for the historic processes and procedures of Congress as well as the American public.  

Unfortunately, what else is new!  What’s more, this administration has shown a disdain for the very institutions that form the framework of our democracy.  His Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, a poorly disguised attack on the voting rights of the poor and immigrants, is just one example.

Commentators have to write because that is their job.  I on the other hand only write when there is something that warrants a new post, when I feel that my voice adds something to the public discourse.

Rest assured, I will be heard from again on this topic.

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.”

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Amorality of Donald Trump

The recent frantic efforts by President Trump to have the Republican-controlled House pass a health care measure to repeal Obamacare, regardless what the nature of that legislation was, reveals the absolute amorality of Donald Trump.

After the initial Republican legislation didn’t proceed to a vote because it didn’t have enough support among Republicans, Trump was willing to bargain with any faction and agree to anything if they could bring the votes needed to get the legislation passed.  Regardless the impact on the public - especially poor people, the elderly, and those with previous conditions - who had come to depend on the benefits of Obamacare, all he wanted was legislation that passed.  His statements, his promises about how we would protect the public, how various provisions needed to be retained … all of that was just so much hot air.

After the House finally voted, his speech praising the passage was beyond pathetic.  While we are used to politicians using superlatives, his over-the-top, self-congratulatory, praise of both the legislation and House Republicans made me want to throw up.  

It brings to mind the famous accusation by Joseph Welch, Secretary of the Army, in response to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch-hunt of the Army during the McCarthy hearings in the early 50s:  “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?”  The same accusation should be hurled at President Trump, “Have you no shame?”

It’s a sad day for this country.  Of course, almost every day since the inauguration has been a sad day for the country.  But at least for the most part he was doing pretty much what he said he was going to do, except for some foreign policy reversals.   Yes, he’s always guilty of grand-standing, but that’s the way he is.  And with the signing of his many executive orders, he made it sound like he was doing something great for his base, whereas in truth the orders typically resulted in very little.  

The nature of the negotiations on this legislation, however, and his speech reveal something far worse:  the President has absolutely no commitment to anything other than making himself look good, as he sees it.  He will sacrifice anything to that end.  He is totally amoral.   

One can run this country as a conservative, even a right-wing conservative.  I may very much disagree with their point of view, but typically they are men and women of conviction.  Donald Trump has no convictions, no commitments, other than to himself.  Besides being a sorry example of a human being, this leaves everyone guessing about where the country is headed, both in a macro and micro level.  This lack of stability is not good for any aspect of our country’s well-being.

In 2018, Democrats must succeed in engineering a massive turnout of voters, and not just those who normally vote, to change control of Congress and put a stop to the damage Trump is wreaking on America.  In the meantime, we have to hope that his badly divided party will not support what the more radical right-wing elements want.  It seems at the moment that Senate Republicans are going to take a very different tack when they get the Trumpcare legislation.   Let us hope!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Climate Disorder = Global Upheaval

Recently, the Trump administration made it clear that the U.S. does not intend to live up to its commitment made as part of the Paris Agreement to slow climate change.  As the second major source of climate change pollution (after China), this is significant.  This retrenchment has been met with howls from environmental organizations and the international community, but the U.S. public has been mostly silent.

This post seeks to examine this issue and the U.S. public’s apparent assumption that the impact, on us at least, will be slight and that technology can be depended upon to allow us to adapt to any changes.

Our Earth is undergoing changes.  We have been having a conversation about this using the phrases “global warming” and “climate change.”  Given the facts I will present in this post as to what is already happening and the predictions, I think the terms “climate disorder” which results in “global upheaval” are more accurate and appropriate.

The result of these conversations has not been significant.  Yes, there is a global commitment now (all countries, even China, are still committed despite the U.S. pullback), but it is at such a low level that while it may slow the process, it will not stop it.  Indeed, there is serious question whether we have passed the tipping point and there is nothing that could be done to stop it.

There are several reasons why our response has been so weak.  One reason is the persistence of those who deny that these changes, these disruptions, are man-made … they're just part of the natural cycle that the Earth has experienced over the ages.  This has found a receptive audience in many people owing to their habit of being in denial of inconvenient truths.

There are many ways to challenge that position.  But assuming for the moment that the deniers are right, wouldn’t it still be advisable to take whatever action we can to minimize the changes?  The problem with that question is that the changes have been presented as so non-threatening to us if not most of mankind that the answer is, “no.”

The next reason is that any action we could take to significantly reduce CO2 emissions (and thus slow or halt these changes) would involve such an alteration both to our lifestyle and to the operation of our industrial base that it has minimal support from either the public or industry.  From a cost/benefit analysis, the benefit just doesn’t seem to be sufficient to warrant the cost.

Which brings me to the last and most important reason:  the presentation of the issue - the facts marshaled and its packaging - have been woefully understated and ineffective.  Even the more dire predictions, even slick media presentations like Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, seem almost irrelevant to most people.  The common reaction is, “So what?  So some people will be displaced by rising oceans and we’ll have to adapt to warmer temperatures.  No big deal.”  The general feeling is that the change will not be significant, and what change there is can be dealt with through adaptive technology.  Bottom line, no disruption. 

What we must therefore attempt is to accurately ... there is no need to exaggerate or embellish ... and clearly present the facts and predictions in a way which makes them relevant to people in the U.S. and around the world.

1.  What is happening already?

The enormous weight of the Greenland ice sheet impacts the axis of the Earth’s rotation and the location of the poles. As the Greenland ice sheet melts, as it is doing with increasing speed … each year the sheet is loosing 287 billion tons of ice … the axis and the location of the poles will change.  How much no one knows, but the loss of just a fragment of the Greenland ice sheet, as well as Antarctic and North Pole ice, is already having an impact with the North Pole moving ever so slowly towards the UK.  This will without question impact worldwide weather and climate, but in ways unknown.

The seas have risen 2.6 inches since 1993 and are rising at an increasing rate. In low-lying places around the world, from Miami Beach to islands in the South Pacific, the water at high tide is routinely covering land that was only flooded during serious storms in the past.

Large areas of Asia and Africa have experienced terrible drought; desertification is increasing.  California has experienced a severe multiple year drought.  Yes, they’ve recently had lots of rain and snow, but that does not signal the end of the drought; just a brief respite.

Due to flooding and drought and other natural disasters, areas of the world have been made uninhabitable and so there have already been masses of climate change refugees.  In 2014 more than 19 million people from 100 countries were forced to flee their homes (how many of these were just temporary evacuations is not available).

Warmer winter temperatures have already extended the range of a variety of pests with devastating impact on pine and other forests.  Moose in Maine are dying because ticks are not being killed by winter cold.  Alfalfa crops in areas of California have encountered a new disease due to climate change.  This is just a sampling.

2.  What are the current predictions?

Sea levels could increase anywhere from a conservative 3 feet up to nearly 10 feet by 2100, depending on CO2 concentrations in the air and the speed at which polar ice melts.  Even a 3’ increase will mean huge areas will become uninhabitable.  In the United States, almost 40 percent of the population lives in relatively high-population-density coastal areas, where rising sea levels will play a major role in the extent of flooding, shoreline erosion, and hazards from storms. Globally, eight of the world's 10 largest cities are near a coast, according to the U.N. Atlas of the Oceans.

In the US, the south-west and the Great Plains will likely face decade-long droughts far worse than any experienced in recorded memory, including recent droughts.  The risk of drought from 2050-2099 rises to 96% in both areas compared to only 45% in the plains and 62% in the south-west from 1950-2000.  The will mean the end of U.S. food production as we’ve come to depend on it.  One quarter of all US food production occurs in the central valley of California; the great plains is the bread basket of the country.   Food production in those areas would suffer a major decrease.  

As for the rest of the world, most of Europe, the Middle East, large parts of Africa and parts of South America are at high risk for extreme drought.  The most serious impact for most people will again be on food production and water, which will be significant.

It is impossible to predict how many climate change refugees the combination of drought, increasing desertification, floods, and other natural disasters will bring in the future.  The estimates range anywhere from a low of 25 million to a high of 800 million.  But whatever the figure, the resettlement of these refugees will pose huge stresses on countries as so much of the world will be suffering.

There are no predictions on the change in insect infestations and plant diseases as a result of climate change.  But there is no question that the impact will be significant, given what we see happening already at the beginning of this century.

Then there are the national security questions.  In recent Congressional testimony, Defense Secretary James Mattis called climate change a national security threat, impacting stability in areas of the world where U.S. troops are operating.  Nations under stress from climate disorder will be subject to internal unrest and conflicts may erupt between nations to gain control of diminishing resources.  It also presents logistical problems for the military.  The extent of these problems are unknowable, but they will certainly occur.

Note that, to date, all the best scientific predictions have been significantly off in that greater change has occurred within a shorter period of time.  Whether it’s the loss of ice at the poles and Greenland, or the bleaching death of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, scientists keep saying we didn’t think this would happen for another 20-30 years.  So it would be wise to take these predictions as low.

Why is it so hard to make accurate forecasts even with sophisticated computer modeling?  All elements of nature … the water we drink, plants growing, weather patterns … are dependent on a multitude of interacting factors.  The water we drink is the product of a complex interaction of meteorological, geologic, and chemical forces.  Plants are dependent on so many things - light, water, nutrients - which are in turn dependent on a variety of natural forces.  Weather patterns are again dependent on a complex interaction of meteorological and geologic forces.

The answer to the above question is that even the most accomplished scientists have an incomplete understanding of the interaction of the forces of nature that impact the changes we have already seen and will control what happens in the future.  Since the value of computer output is based on the value of the inputs given the computer, the computer cannot produce accurate results.

Clearly, this issue should be a big deal for everyone.  These are not things that one can just adapt to through improved technology.  The human dislocation will be massive.  Our food production system, which has developed over the past century, will be devastated; we will have to make changes, start over again in new places and perhaps in new ways.  And this at a time when the world’s burgeoning population needs a constant increase in food production to prevent disaster.   Pests of various types will appear in areas where they never have and wreak havoc on the native vegetation and animal life. 

The more accurate phrase to describe what is happening and what will happen in the future is not “global warming” or “climate change,” but “climate disorder” resulting in “global upheaval.”  We must do whatever we can, at whatever cost to both convenience and finances, to slow down this process so that our children and their children don’t inherit a hell on earth.