Wednesday, October 21, 2020

What Does This Election Say About Our Country?

We have two people running for President.   The incumbent is a narcissistic bully who has done nothing practical for the working-class people who supported him; who has ruined our reputation in the world; who has no morals, no ethics; who routinely debases others, whether it's critics, former aides who fell from favor, helpless immigrants, even soldiers.   A man who really has no policies other than tearing things down, especially anything accomplished by former President Obama, and feeding his base red meat.  

A man who because of his inability to think beyond himself allowed the coronavirus to devastate our country and kill more than 200,000 people.   And as a result, a man who has left the country with a ravaged economy, millions of people in terrible financial straits.   He has not made America great again; he has instead severely damaged our country.


Running against him is a man who certainly has his flaws and in the past took some disappointing positions, especially regarding race, but who is a good man, a man with humanity, a man with heart, a decent man who also has good policies.   He is a solid Democrat. 


One would think, even given the strong support he received in the 2016 election and the obeisance he has commanded since then, that this time around, Trump's support would be limited to a small band of diehards.  But the polls show that despite Biden holding a consistent lead nationally and in most states, the support for Trump remains significant. 


How can 40-45% of the population support the President?  What does it say about our country? Our values? Our intelligence?  It is sad.   But it is not surprising for a demagogue.   Look at any dictator, and the support they receive is huge even in the face of disaster.   And that is what Trump is, in style if not in fact.   The current example would be Maduro of Venezuela.   Despite all the hardship he has brought to his country and to his supporters, they still rally behind him. 


Why is this?  It is because in each case, the demagogue speaks out against something that greatly harmed the mass of people, often poor people.   He gives voice to their grievances and they are so uplifted to hear someone supporting their cause against the traditional ruling class or some perceived enemy that they support the demagogue with a fervor that is staggering.   And despite the catastrophe that has often befallen countries ruled by such demagogues, they are still revered by many. 


The fervor of Trump's support mirrors the depths of despair and betrayal middle-class whites felt and feel towards the Democratic party.  And towards the Establishment and government in general.   We, the Democratic party, have failed our own people.   Despite warnings, we were not attuned to it and to some extent still are not.


Although Trump is no Hitler or Mussolini either in terms of the harm he has caused or the violence with which they ruled, he is in terms of his basic character very much the narcissistic bully clown they were.   He particularly reminds me of film clips of Mussolini, the way he held himself, his facial expressions, while before a crowd, giving a speech. 


And so there is no question in my mind, that even after Trump's defeat (I'm keeping my fingers crossed), and even after years have gone by, there will still be millions who revere him and wish he were their leader again.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Democrats Must Vote in Person November 3, or earlier

There is substantial concern about what might happen on election night, assuming that a huge number of voters cast their ballots by mail and that they won’t be counted for days after the election.


The fears cited are that Trump voters are more likely to vote in person since they as a group seem to have little fear of the virus, don’t wear masks, don’t bother with social distancing, etc.  Thus the results available from election day voting could very likely favor Trump and show him leading.


If that is the case, the assumption many journalists are making is that Trump will declare victory that night.  And that as mail ballots are counted over the next few days and his lead shrinks or disappears, he will declare fraud and will refuse to abide by the election results.


This scenario does not seem far-fetched given the President’s personality.  Also, note that these articles are not written by left-wing activists.  Even David Brooks wrote an op-ed fearing this result.


There is only one practical way to avoid this nightmare scenario.  People should be urged to vote in person, being assured that if they wear a mask and social distance, they can vote in person, in safety.  This advice is in keeping with testimony recently presented by CDC Director Dr. Redmond.  As many people as possible must vote on election day to avoid the imagined catastrophe.

Weeks ago, I wrote this same basic post, sent it to the DNC, and sent an op-ed submission to the New York Times.  But no one gave my thought any notice.

There is still time.  While many people have already mailed in their ballots, many haven't.  The Democratic party needs to flood the airwaves and print media immediately with the positive message that if you wear a mask and social distance you will be safe voting in person, even if you are older.  And making the point that if you do not vote in person, there’s a good chance that the nightmare scenario will occur.

Democrats have only a week or two to make this appeal.  They need to start now. 


Sunday, August 23, 2020

What Should the Democratic Party Stance Be Regarding the Police?


At the start of the Democratic convention, The New York Times reported that Biden made a statement during a discussion that “most cops are good; the bad ones need to be identified and prosecuted.”  It that quote is complete and not taken out of context, it shows an unfortunate lack of understanding by Biden of the policing problem.


This is not primarily a matter of good cops or bad cops.  Of course, as Biden said, most cops are good and the bad ones must be identified and prosecuted.


But the problem goes further.  It goes to the institutional racism present in many police departments.  It goes to methodologies of subduing a possible suspect that go beyond reasonable force.  It goes to the virtual free rein given police officers as they go about their jobs.


I would not argue for defunding or even reduced funding for police departments.  They have a valid function to perform and they need the dollars and manpower to do it.  But how they go about that function must be cleansed of all racism and toleration of excessive force.


There is a valid reason why the police are often considered the enemy by people of color.  The police must serve and protect all citizens equally so that this conflict between the police and those they are sworn to serve and protect ceases to be.


If Biden has gotten boxed into defending the police status quo because of progressive calls to defund, that shows a lack of analytic thinking on his part and his staff.  There is a middle ground.  As I stated above, I am not for defunding the police, but I insist on effective, practical police reform. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Making America Great Again? Trump Fails His Own Test

We of course are familiar with the Trump slogan and the red MAGA caps.  Trump certainly claims that he has.  But has anyone in print or otherwise bothered to systematically ask the question, “Has Trump made America great again?”  Not to my knowledge.  And so that is what this post will assess.

In doing so, I am not going to get into the philosophical discussion about what made America great or whether it was no longer great, as Trump claims, under Obama.  That’s another article.  This is just taking the phrase at its most simple, straight-forward Trumpian meaning.

Has America become stronger militarily?  Have we become stronger economically?  Have we become more respected among the world’s nations?  Have we become stronger geopolitically.  Has the average American citizen become better off financially, more secure?  Is the average American citizen closer to obtaining the Rights due him under the Constitution?  Is the average American citizen more physically secure now?

These are all stated components of Trump’s goal of making America great again.  Sadly, both for the country and for his followers, just the opposite has occurred in almost every area.  Trump has failed his own test.

Weaker Militarily:  While Trump has increased the Defense Department budget, military strength is only partly a numbers game.  It has more to do with effectively being able to deploy troops as needed and defeating the enemy.  While troops have been deployed effectively, though no better than before, our record of defeating the enemy has actually gotten worse.  Whether in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, or Iran, our position vis a vis the enemy has either weakened under Trump or stayed pretty much the same.  Trump’s bluster aside, we are not stronger militarily.

Weaker Economically:  Even before the pandemic we were not stronger economically.  The stock market may have been going gang-busters, but the economy was growing at a slow pace and the average American had not felt much of an improvement.  Yes, unemployment was down, but most of the new jobs created were lower paying than the ones that were lost.  And of course because of Trump’s disastrous handling of the coronavirus, his total lack of leadership, the American economy is now, despite the once-again soaring stock market, in a very weakened state.

Certainly on the world scene, we were even before the pandemic not stronger economically;  China is the big bully, and while Trump stood up to China, America lost more than it gained in the trade wars.  Since the pandemic, we are way behind other countries in economic recovery. 

Less Respected:  America has probably never been so little respected among the world’s nations as under Trump.  He is a laughing stock to most of the world, and by association, so is the country.  We are not even respected by our allies.  Trump’s failed response to the pandemic has made matters worse; the greatest nation in the world with its great health system and capacity is at it’s knees, the virus is winning.  It’s probably safe to say that we aren’t even feared by anyone, except in the sense that Trump is so unpredictable that he capable of doing almost anything if his ire is aroused.

Weaker Geopolitically:  Our strength and respect in the world militarily, economically, and politically is has made America strong geopolitically.  Under Trump, there can be no question that America is less strong geopolitically.  In addition to the factors already discussed above, Trump’s “America First” perspective has resulted in a shrinking of our presence and impact around the world, which has in turn made us weaker geopolitically.  We are no longer either in actuality or perception the leader of the “free” world.

Average American Weaker Financially:  Trump in his Inaugural address talked of the forgotten men and women who suffered greater economic inequality.  Yet as mentioned before, despite the lower unemployment rate before the pandemic hit, the average American was not stronger financially, was not more secure financially.  The huge increase in wealth resulting from the stock market boom and the bulk of benefit from Trump’s tax cuts went to the top layer of American society.  And now the pandemic has resulted in a huge downturn in the economy and with it the financial status of millions of unemployed American workers.

Average American’s Physical Security Not Improved:  Trump made a major issue out of what he saw as the crumbling physical security of the average American from crime, especially in our cities, and the threat to our physical security from illegal immigrants.  Again in his Inaugural address, he said that “this American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”  

While he has sent more money to the police, our security is pretty much as it was before Trump.  While Trump has enacted draconian measures against illegal and other immigrants, that has not improved our physical security.   The reason why nothing has really changed is that Trump does not understand and so has not addressed the real factors that continue to make crime a major issue in the inner city.

Average American Not Benefiting More From His Rights:  Despite all the fuss about the 2nd Amendment Right to bear arms and the Right to Life, and in general talking about Rights in connection with the pandemic, we are further from our basic Rights now than previously.  The most essential element of our Constitutional rights is to be free from government intrusion, except when necessary to protect the greater good.  

But under Trump, an even greater percentage of our citizenry and many in the halls of government seem to have no concept of the greater good, of the American social contract.  It’s all about me, my rights.  And they’re angry about it.  There is a lack of understanding that no right, even the 1st Amendment, is absolute; the exercise of one’s Right can never damage the greater good and in certain cases cannot negatively impact another’s Rights.  And with regard to the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness noted in the Declaration of Independence, we are far from protecting that Right, certainly for people of color and the poor.

So even judged on Trump’s own terms, how he would define what would make America great again, he has failed miserably.  Worse, he has taken a large portion of Americans and Republican politicians down his dark path and so damaged, perhaps irretrievably, our democracy.  Ironically, in his Inaugural, he spoke of “ignorance stifled dreams.”  Truly, ignorance has never had a higher place of honor in our country than at the present moment.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

The Universality of Spiritual Truth

I have been a practicing Buddhist for 25+ years.  During that time, my practice has deepened, I am one with the true Buddha nature inside me (well, almost), and I share my faith and knowledge with others through my Buddhist blog, www.thepracticalbuddhist.com, and through the several books I have written.

It has been reaffirming for my faith to learn that the mystical traditions of all three Abrahamic faiths and great religious thinkers all basically teach the same thing as Buddhism: that suffering is universal and that we suffer because we have fallen away, out of touch, with the divinity that is within each of us; consumed instead with the ways of the world and the lessons it has taught us.  And that is is our responsibility, and possibility, to reconnect with that divinity and thus end our suffering.

Most recently, I found that reaffirmation in reading an article in The New Yorker, about Søren Kierkegaard, the 19th century Danish anti-establishment Christian thinker.  The article notes that he said that everyone is in despair and that if someone thinks they are not, they are lying to themselves.  Interestingly, in a recent video of mine, “The Mind - Suffering Connection,” I begin by noting that many viewers will say that they don’t suffer.  After asking them some questions, I say, “You may be in denial, but you suffer.”

Kierkegaard says that only by acknowledging our suffering can we begin to understand that suffering is “defiance of God,” or in modern theology, defiance of the divinity that is within each of us.  And that we can be freed from that despair or suffering only by giving ourselves over entirely to God.  The Zen monks who taught me put the same point this way, “by surrendering your ego-mind to your true Buddha nature,” or in the language of 12-step, “by turning your will and your life over to the care of your true Buddha nature/higher power.”

He wrote, as the monks taught, that the responsibility of choice - to believe or not believe, to act or not act - is always individual.  This is beyond difficult: to overcome our training, our life experience.  But it is possible and the responsibility is ours to do so.

He also said that life can only be understood backward, but it has to be lived forward.  In Buddhism, we learn that we do what we do because of our learned experience: the emotions, judgments, cravings, and attachments that form our ego-mind.  This is the past that for most people not only explains their current lives but controls their future.  Only if one frees oneself from the past, from the intervention of the ego-mind, can one move forward in a way which is one’s best interest, free of the burden of the past.

The last point I will make in this comparison is that Kierkegaard says that one begins the spiritual path complex and then becomes more and more simple.  That is the experience I have found in my Buddhist practice.  As the practice deepens, as my connection with my true Buddha nature deepens, life becomes more simple because I am not pulled this way and that by the past, by my ego-mind.  Instead, I know that life is just the way it is. There is no obsession with future; only the present moment is real.  And I know I will be safe regardless what life throws my way because I have returned home, and will always return home, to my true Buddha nature.

And so how sad, how proof-positive of the fallen nature of man (including the men of organized religion) that instead of focusing on these universal truths and the fact that all religions at their core teach the same thing … and that we thus are all one … man and organized religion has used religion as a divisive instrument, a way to control their followers and gain and maintain power by creating an us v them world view.  How opposite of true spirituality is this!  How perverse and dark.  Our religious leaders are an obstacle to our spiritual growth, not the light they should be.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

In Trump We Trust

It has been apparent for most of Trump’s presidency that regardless what he does or says, regardless how outrageous, how unprofessional, regardless whether he is fact-checked and shown to have lied, and certainly regardless what the mainstream (non-conservative) media say, Trump’s core base of support believes him, and Congressional Republicans either aggressively support him or stay silent.  So much so that one could say that his base believes in him.

A new poll published in The New York Times verifies this fact, but shows that his infallibility among his core base is weakening.  The poll shows that the vast majority of all Americans trust medical scientists and the CDC to provide accurate information about the coronavirus.  90/83% of Democrats, and 75/71% of Republicans.  

In interpreting this data, since Trump’s core base is usually said to be about 31% of the electorate, and self-described Republicans have recently wavered between 25 - 30%, one can say that virtually all Republicans are in his core base, meaning they have strongly approved of his performance.

The poll verifies that the trust of Trump among Republicans is still high.  Although Republican say their trust in medical scientists and the CDC is high, their trust in Dr. Fauci, who has openly contradicted Trump on many occasions is only 51% while their trust in Trump’s providing accurate information about the virus is 66%.  Their trust in information from the national news media is a dismal 7%.

Since medical scientists, and the CDC, routinely dispute Trump’s statements about the virus and the government’s response to the virus, it indicates that for a large percentage of his base, they believe in him regardless what their mind tells them.  The explanation for Fauci getting a much lower trust score that medicate scientists, is that he openly, albeit tactfully, disputes Trump’s statements, often right after Trump has said something, and on the same stage.  He’s in Trump’s face.  Many in his base don’t like that.

The good news in this otherwise bleak report is that a good chunk of Trump’s core base (34%) do not trust him to provide accurate information.  This is in sync with various national polls that show that Trump’s support is slipping within his base.  For example, in a recent Economist/YouGov poll, his“strongly approve” job performance rating is 65% of Republicans.  And given the importance that the pandemic will have in people’s decision making process come election time, this will hurt Trump even as he tries to stoke the fires of his base.

The election is still more than 4 months away.  But the facts on the ground and the polls give one a reasonable basis for hope that the election will be decisive and not a cliff-hanger.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Will George Floyd’s Death and the Protests Finally Lead in a National Discussion of Racism in America?

Over the years, I have written several posts about the necessity for this country to have a serious discussion about racism in order to free not just Blacks* but all Americans from this terrible curse at long last.  For example, in April 2019, I wrote a post, “We Need a National Discussion on Race and Racism.”

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death and the nationwide protests, while the subject of racism is in the air, most of the action agenda proposed has to do with how to reform police departments.  While this is much needed and will undoubtedly be helpful, it does not touch the underlying problem.

This is not just a police issue.  This is a national issue that touches almost everyone and certainly impacts Blacks in all aspects of their lives.

Most fundamentally perhaps, because of its lasting impact, is the issue of the disparity in the education received by Black youths relative to whites.  While there are numerous factors that impact this disparity, and yes, one is what the family provides the child, a major factor is the disparity of education funding received by inner city (and rural) schools based on the residential tax base of the school district.  The other major factor, less often spoken of, is the bias of many teachers against the potential of the very children they are charged with educating.  Can we not all agree in the motto of the United Negro College Fund that, “a mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

There have been numerous studies that have shown what a school with proper resources, and even more importantly proper attitude, can do with children from the worst parts of the inner city.  To quote from one study, “In light of significant relationships that exist between teachers’ sense of efficacy [the belief that they are able to affect student performance] and higher student achievement and test scores, and in order to improve America’s schools, teachers’ low sense of efficacy in low performing urban schools should be seriously reconsidered.”

Another study titled, “Unequal Opportunities: Fewer Resources, Worse Outcomes for Students in Schools with Concentrated Poverty,” by the Commonwealth Institute, found that, “Students in high poverty schools have less experienced instructors, less access to high level science, math, and advanced placement courses, and lower levels of state and local spending on instructors and instructional materials.”

But even if there were a national will to address these issues, that would still leave untouched the underlying issue of the breadth and depth of racism in this country.  That is the legacy of slavery and it still impacts both whites and Blacks.  Economically, it keeps our country from maximizing its potential.  Spiritually, it keeps us from achieving our full humanity.

We must use the opportunity of masses of whites coming together to protest the treatment of Blacks by police, and predominantly white legislatures responding, to focus attention and discussion on the much more difficult issue of acknowledging and undoing the continuing destructive impact of racism in America.  

This may be our last chance to truly transform and reenergize our country so that the statement in the Declaration of Independence becomes based in reality, not just aspirational: that, “All men are created equal.  That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.  That among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  That to secure these Rights, governments are instituted among men.”  Our last chance to achieve Martin Luther King’s dream that all of us will be able to join hands and say, “Free at last!  Free at last!  Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
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* I should note that I use the term “Blacks” rather than the possibly more politically correct “African-American” because I don’t approve of these hyphenated euphemisms.  We are all Americans; that should go without saying.  The hyphenated form, by qualifying people, whether African, Latino, or Asian, seems to connote a less than full American.  I also capitalize “Blacks” out of respect for the defined group of millions of Americans, citizens with a powerful history and culture, that it represents.