Sunday, December 25, 2016

Taking the Sham Out of Christmas

This is not going to be one of those regularly heard messages about how Christmas has become so commercialized that the true meaning of Christmas, celebrating the birth of Christ, is almost an afterthought.

You know the saying, “Every day should be like Christmas?”  While that is taken by some to mean that we should get presents all the time (hopefully only children), most take it that there should be this feeling of love and brotherhood every day.  Unfortunately, there is not even love and brotherhood on Christmas.  It is just a sham, a facade, that people put on because it’s what one does; it’s expected.

Christmas was originally established as a day to celebrate the birth of Christ and Christians’ devotion to him.   It was a holy day … which in modern times has turned into a holiday.  The change in wording speaks volumes.  Two very different things.

On a holy day, it would be appropriate to immerse oneself in the teachings of Christ and truly ask “What would Jesus do?”  Those wristbands that young people, typically Evangelicals, used to wear were a great idea.  Unfortunately, they had no meaning.  Few really asked the question seriously; it was a fad.  

And those that did usually thought only about the issues of abortion and the culture wars, perhaps feeding the homeless, and then not through the words of Christ but through the words of their local minister.  Unfortunately, I never heard an Evangelical preacher speak about these issues with a tone or with thoughts even approximating what Christ would have said.  But that’s also not the point of this post.

The point is that on Christmas we put a lot of time, effort, and money into making those close to us, our “loved” ones, and perhaps some friends, happy.  We shower people with presents as well as our presence and a good dose of holiday cheer, good spirits.

But unfortunately, as I stated above, it’s just a sham, a facade, even on this one day.  Whether between spouses, siblings, parents and children, adults and their parents, the feelings typically expressed on Christmas just don’t hold water.  There is something there, but it’s mostly passive and confused.  Instead there is a vast reservoir of active memories and feelings about lack of respect, lack of love, lack of caring, envy, and all the other emotions and judgments that make up the typical dynamic between family members.

What most people do on Christmas is, for this one day, try to paper over all these negative feelings and be pleasant and cheerful.  But papering over really never works.  Either hard words are expressed at the time, or afterwards all the negative emotions come spilling out.

If people really immersed themselves in the teachings of Jesus, you would get past all these past slights that are embedded in your ego, you would not attach to these emotions, and you would respect the basic human dignity of all members of your family.  You would understand that we all suffer and anything that someone does that pushes our buttons is a direct expression of that person’s suffering, as well as our own.  That doesn’t change the “facts” but it does open the door to not blaming, to compassion and to loving kindness.

Sometimes, though, there are situations where the facts are so extreme, so bad, so dark, so all-encompassing … and continuing … that there is no way of getting around them spiritually.  One can find compassion perhaps but no spark of loving kindness.  Then it may be best to speak the truth with equanimity, calmly, and cut off relations.  This is extremely painful.  But putting oneself through a yearly charade, and all the negative feelings that arise during the year, is even more painful because it never ends and is denigrating.

The essence of Christmas should return to that of a holy day.  If one wants to exchange simple presents, that would be ok.  But the thrust of the day should be a spiritual observance.  All the excessiveness that have become basic to the commercial success of Xmas should end; it should certainly not be encouraged.  How one could accomplish that on a large scale given the nature of our culture and economy I can’t begin to imagine.  But that is the real meaning of Christmas to me (spoken as a JuBu, a Jewish Buddhist).

Friday, December 23, 2016

Friedman Is Trump’s Most Dangerous Pick Yet!

Trump’s selection of David Friedman as U.S. Ambassador to Israel is his most dangerous to America’s national security interests to date.

His other appointees may be against the very agencies they have been selected to head or cozy with the Russians, but the damage they can cause is of a limited nature and can mostly be undone by the next administration.  They are in many ways similar to the anti-agency people Reagan appointed to head agencies.  For example, James Watt was a disaster at Interior, but the damage was not irreparable.

One could make the argument that retired Lt. General Flynn is equally dangerous given the sensitive post he will have.  I assume there will be a lot of saber rattling, that’s Trump’s style, but with the intent of intimidating, not going to war.  But there is always the danger of miscalculation and the U.S. getting pulled into a war it did not want.  That is certainly a risk if the other party does not back off of war.  And that is where the safety trigger lies; many countries like to bully, but most don’t want war.  Only rebels want war.  And so although Flynn is perhaps scarier, I don’t think he is more dangerous to our national security interests.

David Friedman, on the other hand, will in all likelihood wreak a more devastating havoc on the United States as well as Israel.  His support of the Israeli far-right will smash any possibility of peace between Israel and the Arabs, could well lead to all-out war in the area, and will be a clarion call for increased jihadist terrorist activity against the U.S. both at home and abroad.

His appointment must not be approved by the Senate.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

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.

Friday, December 9, 2016

An Open Letter to President-elect Trump And the American People

For the next 4 years, you will be carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.  All the suffering, all the conflicts, all the madness will come before you in some form or other for your leadership decision as President.  People and nations will look to you to make the right decisions for our country and for the world.  That is an awesome burden.  I am writing this open letter, from a spirit of loving-kindness towards you, your family, and the American people, because I have no other avenue for speaking with you directly.

If there is one thing that is true of life, it is that we all suffer.  Whether rich or poor, whether white or person of color, whether President or average citizen, we all suffer.  Many people think that the rich and powerful don’t suffer because they have so much, “all that one could possibly imagine,” and yet as a spiritual person I know they do.  You know this as well, I’m sure.

Why is it that we all suffer?  And what are the consequences?

We all suffer for two reasons: our basic needs and the world we live in.  When a child is born, he has four basic needs:  food, freedom from pain, warmth/nurturing, and physical security.  These are the four irreducible needs of all human beings.

In particular, a baby’s need for nurturing, for unconditional love, is almost without limit.  Birth, being thrust out of the womb, has to be a scary experience.  When an animal is born, it is typically licked all over by the mother and is always next to the mother’s warmth.  When a baby is born, it is slapped on the behind, washed by a stranger, rolled up in a blanket and given to its mother to be held and fed before being put in a basinet by itself.  So from the moment of its birth, a baby finds that its needs are not met, and so the first seeds of insecurity are sown. 

This pattern continues during the baby’s formative first years.  It’s not that parents don’t love their new child and shower it with attention; it’s that the needs of the baby go beyond what most parents are able to give.  Whether it’s how they were raised, whether it’s the demands of work or home, whether it’s having their own problems to worry about … it’s just the way it is.

And as the baby becomes a young child, proceeds through adolescence, and attains adulthood, the seed of insecurity that formed at birth grows to become a huge tumor inside each of us.  Why?  The tumor grows because it is fed by much of what we experience in life … in the home, in school, at work, and in the media.  We are either told or learn that we are clearly lacking in some way.  Or if we are praised, we know how easy it is to fall from grace, and so the successful often have even greater insecurities than the average person because they have more to lose.

And so we have ended up with a world full of insecure people.  We each compensate for it, mask it in many ways, but the insecurity is still there.  What are the consequences?  In a word, it means that human relations, including the relationships between nations, are fraught with conflict.  

All the fighting, all the abuse, all the hatred, all the discrimination … whether in the home, the country, or the world … is a function of man’s insecurity.  A Buddhist monk once said to me that if someone or something pushes your buttons, what agitates you is a direct expression of someone’s suffering, their insecurity, and your button is a result of your own insecurity.

So how should this knowledge be applied?  How should it impact how we deal with our fellow humans, whether it’s a family member, a colleague, someone with an opposing point of view, or even an enemy?  

First, it means that all persons should be treated with respect.  That’s really all that most people want.

Now, many people would say, “Why should I respect him when he doesn’t show me respect?”  A very understandable question, but one which doesn’t get us anywhere and continues the destructive cycle.   Someone has to start first.  And the bigger, the more powerful a person is, the more it is his responsibility to take the first step.  After showing respect, he or she will usually be rewarded by being shown respect in return. A win-win situation.

What also helps us have respect and compassion for ourselves and all people is the knowledge that we developed into the persons we are because of all the learned experiences of life, much of which is negative.  We were not born this way; and this is not our true self.  To put it in modern techno language, we are programmed the way we are because of the inputs we have received.  That’s why Buddhists and mystics of all religions say that there is no such thing as a bad person, just people who do bad things.

Second, understanding how we came to have certain beliefs and opinions gives us the ability to respect the fact that other people come to their opinions honestly as well.  There is no one right opinion.  That understanding changes the dynamics of human interaction.  For example, I used to be a Type A person.  I was always right and everyone else was wrong.  No more.  As a result, I treat others with respect; my interactions are not combative and are more productive.

Finally, wanting only the best for ourselves, our family, our fellow citizens, and our country, and being aware of the ill will cause by “normal” interactions, we seek to rise above the fray and, looking down from above, act and respond with wisdom rather than emotion.  We know we cannot make good judgments when we are consumed by our emotions and attitudes.   

And we have been so consumed because we are used to taking things very personally.  But we learn not to because we come to know that people’s actions, including our own, are a function of deep-seated insecurities.  It really has nothing to do with us.  And that allows us to rise above the fray and not contribute to conflict. 

And so Mr. President-elect, as you lead this great country for the next four years, I hope that you are able to have compassion for yourself and all others, that you are able to respect everyone’s human dignity and equality, and that for the good of our country you rise above the fray and exercise wisdom.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Case for Civil Disobedience

Millions of disheartened people across the country and many organizations are trying to figure out how to respond to the recent election.  The common denominator for most seems to be anger.  Some want to protest.  Some seek to prevent Democrats in Congress from working with Trump in any way, regardless the worth of the project.                                                  

I would urge a different tack in dealing with the very painful and serious situation we face.  I would make the case for civil disobedience on a massive scale in the spirit of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

The United States is a representative democracy.  Once the President and representatives are elected, the democratic tradition is for all to respect the vote and abide by majority rule.  Opposition both in the legislature and among the populace continues to play an important role in the formation of policy, but that opposition is expected to be civil and the laws obeyed.

But as Thomas Paine famously wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”  In the history of our country, we have had various times that have tried men’s (and women’s) souls.  To name just a few:  the debate over slavery, the Depression, the McCarthy witch-hunts, the Vietnam War,  the assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther King, Jr, and Robert Kennedy, and now the simultaneous election of Donald Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress.

The public has reacted differently to these various crises.  The debate over slavery ultimately resulted in the Civil War, but most of these times have been met by the public with a spirit of resignation, broken only by scattered violent outbursts.

The civil rights movement and Vietnam War were however major exceptions for two basically different reasons.   The civil rights movement was a cause against such moral injustice that it ultimately became impossible for many black and white citizens to continue to react with resignation to racism and segregation.  

Under the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr, that upwelling of spirit demanding justice became a force of dignified civil disobedience, a la Gandhi, and not violent demonstrations or riots.  And as in the case of Gandhi, MLK’s tactics worked, not in bringing about peace and harmony, but in bringing about laws that protected civil rights and made equal opportunity a priority.

With Vietnam, I don’t believe it was so much the immorality of the war or its futileness that brought about the protests, it was the direct impact that the war had on almost the entire population because of the draft.  And because the country was clearly not under attack or direct threat, unlike WWII, people felt free to oppose and protest.

But the Vietnam protests were not dignified peaceful protests in the spirit of Gandhi.  These were typically angry, ranting, often violent, protests.  And they did not bring about an end to the war.  Instead, I believe they helped Richard Nixon in his 1968 Presidential campaign.

Now we once more face a crisis because President-Elect Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress appear hell bent on striking out at various groups in a decidedly un-American fashion.  Whether it’s Muslims, undocumented Latinos, LGBT people, or women, fundamental human rights (not always legal ones) are being threatened.  Certainly the spirit of the words of our Declaration of Independence are being violated.  

And although Trump and elected Republicans have clearly not spoken out against Jews, the white supremacy groups that have been empowered by Trump’s hate-filled campaign rhetoric are unleashing violence against Jews, as evidenced by an increase in hate crimes this year reported by the FBI and the Southern Poverty Law Center.  Together with increased attacks against the groups that have been vilified by Trump, this poses a real threat to our civil order and any civilized concept of human conduct.

Given the scope of these threatened un-American and immoral acts, it is the civic responsibility of the populace to protest such actions through peaceful civil disobedience.  There is no need to wait till Trump moves forward with his plans; indeed, by then it would be too late.  The people must act now in order to show Trump and his Republican colleagues that their proposed actions and the actions of the more extremist of his supporters do not have the support of the American people … even those who voted for him out of desperation. 

A number of cities have already stated that they, and their police departments, will not cooperate with efforts by the Federal government to deport undocumented Latinos.  Many people have signed a pledge to register as Muslim, even though they are not, if Trump proceeds with a proposal to initiate a registry for all Muslims in the country.  These statements show the beginnings of a movement of civil disobedience. 

But to be effective, we need peaceful demonstrations of civil disobedience that are massive, held across the country in every state, and visibly inclusive of Americans of every faith, color, ethnicity, walk of life, gender, sexual orientation, and political party, as well as those who don’t subscribe to any party or religious faith.  Ideally they will include people who voted for Trump.  Only in this way is there a chance of convincing those in government to back off from their more extreme plans. 

This does not, however, mean total non-cooperation.  If Trump and the Republicans propose, for example, infrastructure projects that would benefit the American people, it would be irresponsible for Democrats in Congress to not support such measures.  Such support would not be incompatible with the spirit of civil disobedience.

This is a time for all 64,000,000 of us who voted for Hillary Clinton as well as the millions who voted for Trump out of economic despair and other reasons, not hatred, to come together and say to Trump, “Yes, rebuild the country’s infrastructure, create jobs, but be, as you pledged, the president of all Americans.  Respect human dignity and the equality of all.”

For this to happen will require extraordinary leadership, cooperation among organizations, and discipline.  The leadership and cooperation necessary is obvious.  The discipline is needed to keep these demonstrations from degenerating into anti-Trump, anti-Republican rants and to keep them peaceful.  The object here is to persuade, not beat up.  If it is not done properly, it should not be undertaken at all because the result will only make the people look weak and ineffective.

The choice is the people’s.   We can either sit silently by while our fellow citizens are singled out for legal attack by the government and physical attack by vigilante mobs or we can stand together with those under attack, peacefully, massively, in a show of civil disobedience against this violation of the American spirit and in support of government’s duty to respect the human dignity of all people.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

To Republican Senators Who Rejected Trump: Don't Abandon Your Principles

Everyone assumes that Republicans have control of the Senate and that Democrats will have to resort to endless filibusters in attempting to stop those aspects of Trump’s agenda that denigrate or attack specific groups of American citizens on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity.  But there is another possibility, which strangely I have not seen discussed in the media nor regarding which I have received any petitions.

Four Republican Senators publicly disavowed Trump prior to the election … Gail Collins (ME), Ben Sasse (NE), Jeff Flake (AZ), and Lindsay Graham (SC) … saying that he was unfit to serve as President, that he would divide the country, that he did not respect human dignity, and did not represent their party.  What should they do now?

Trump is making a show of reaching out to those who slammed him, such as Mitt Romney, but it is only show and indicates no moderation of his positions and attitudes.  His true intentions are shown by the consistency of his character, the major appointments given his cronies, and most scarily his naming Steve Bannon, the racist, anti-Semitic alt right guru of Breitbart News, as the White House’s Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor.  (News Flash: Trump tells The New York Times that he disavows the alt right and that Bannon and Brietbart are not alt right or racist.  So much for honesty.)

The four have a critical decision to make now which will impact the future of this country and the welfare of their fellow citizens.  The new Senate will have 51 Republicans (including them), 48 Democrats, and 1 Independent who caucuses with the Democrats.  Thus Trump/
Republicans only control the Senate by a 2-vote margin.  The four have the power to nullify that.

Will the four have the courage of their convictions?  The most courageous position for them would be to switch their party identity to Independent (there is precedent for this).  They wouldn’t have to caucus with the Democrats, which they would probably be uncomfortable doing.  Just changing to Independent, and not caucusing with the Republicans, would deprive Republicans and Trump of a majority and thus control of the Senate and its committees.  Since they didn’t vote for him for President because they thought he was unfit, this would seem appropriate.

However, they are life-long Republicans, hold the Party (at least in its former iteration) dear, and so switching would be unlikely.  The next option, still courageous, would be for them to work with Trump and the Republican majority when they can morally support measures before the Senate, but clearly indicate, ideally upfront and in concert, that they will vote with the Democrats to block measures that are morally unacceptable.

The last option, which would show no courage whatsoever, would be to cave in to Trump’s bullying and act as part of the Republican majority regardless the measure.  To vote in lock-step with the majority leader as they did during the Obama administration.

Upon their action depends the fate of the nation not just for the next four years but perhaps for the foreseeable future.  Each of these Senators will have to decide what to do.  The issue cannot be evaded.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

How to Respond to the Election?

After the dismaying election season and the heartbreaking election results, my first response was that I needed to start planning to leave the US.  The country is broken in so many ways.  The rage unleashed by Trump against Latinos and Muslims is scary.  As is his contempt of women and the “elite,” meaning educated liberals.  Given the darkness of his campaign, I saw things could easily move in an even more unpleasant direction.  

And incoming reports confirm my fears; just since the election, hate crimes are on the rise, committed by people often invoking his name.  And the FBI just reported that hate crimes were up 6% this past year.

During a morning meditation though I asked myself what a spiritual person should do.  What did spiritual, good people do in other situations where people were persecuted?  And I thought of the people who at great risk hid Jews or helped them escape from the Nazis.  I thought of the Danish citizens who marched with yellow stars on their coats.  I thought of churches here who offer sanctuary to undocumented aliens.  I thought of what Pastor Niemöller said in Nazi Germany, “First they came for the Communists, and I did nothing,  Then they came for the Jews, and I did nothing.  Now they have come for me, and it is too late.”  I knew I had to do something.

At the same time, I was aware that millions of Trump supporters have been suffering terribly for decades as a result of jobs lost overseas and wage stagnation, their middle class world shattered.  That they rightfully felt neglected by the political establishment, and their anger was a reflection of that suffering.  They need help as well.

Each of us, in ways small and large, can act to let those being attacked as well as those who have suffered know that they are not alone.  

As for myself, I realized that this disaster presents a once in a lifetime, perhaps once in history, opportunity for America to get past its internal problems of racism and all forms of bigotry and inequality.  And so I came up with the idea of starting a nonprofit, American Solidarity, which would, in concert with other national organizations, organize mass non-violent rallies across this country for people to stand in solidarity with Latinos, African-Americans, Muslims, LGBT people, and women, as well as the white displaced worker.  To show that you can’t rebuild America physically while leaving its social fabric frayed.  Go to  

I purposely am not calling these gatherings “protests” because that’s not the spirit I want to project.  Why?  One has to understand a basic fact regarding Trump: if you criticize him in any way, he will respond with vitriol and disdain.  And so all the ranting protests, regardless how large, will not move him an inch and actually be counter-productive.  He feels victimized by the establishment, by moderates and liberals, and so this type of protest will only feed that perception and strengthen his resolve to go his own way, supported by the alt right.   

Instead, I want these rallies to be dignified statements of solidarity with all those being attacked as well as the millions of blue collar workers who have been suffering terribly.  

What we need is a Gandhi/MLK moment.  This is a time for all 63,000,000 of us who voted for Hillary as well as millions who voted for Trump out of economic despair, not hatred, to come together and say to Trump, “yes, rebuild the country’s infrastructure, create jobs, but be, as you pledged, the president of all Americans.”

Saturday, November 12, 2016

A Better Way to Respond to Emigration Crises

Over the past several years, almost 5 million Syrian refugees have fled their battle-torn country for safety in other countries.  Most have gone to neighboring countries, overwhelming their resources.  Roughly 500,000 have fled to Europe creating, together with another 500,000 refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries, the well-reported refugee crisis there.

This is a crisis on several levels.  It is an obvious humanitarian crisis as the refugees have left their country not willingly but of necessity for their safety, and they really have no place to go.  And it’s a crisis for the countries to which the refugees flee because the large numbers both overwhelm the resources of the host country to care for and integrate the refugees and unsettle the established social context of the countries.

The current lack of anything that could remotely be called a “system” has been a disaster for all concerned.  The international community, i.e. the United Nations, needs to come up with a better system.

Prior to WWII, during parts of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th, there were massive waves of migration from various countries in Europe mostly to the United States.  These migrations did not become refugee crises because at that time the United States and other countries receiving the refugees needed them to populate their countries.  

However, by the 1930s, when German Jews tried to emigrate from Germany to other countries, most had set up strict quota systems for immigration because they were no longer open to masses of new migrants.  And so, for example, by the time my father  started trying to leave Germany in 1937, there was NO country to which he could go.  All the doors were closed, even countries such as Australia and Bolivia.  Luckily he finally managed to get his family out, but many were not as fortunate.

After experiencing the huge numbers of refugees created by the havoc of WWII, the United Nations in 1950 created the High Commission for Refugees to help care for refugees from conflict.  And it has done the best it can, given its limited mandate, to ensure that refugee asylum rights are protected and that they do not live in squalor; that they have some modicum of orderliness in their lives.

But experience has shown that what refugees need is to be resettled, not just housed someplace in temporary housing until the crisis that caused them to flee is over and they can return to their homelands.  The current problem in Europe is that, with the exception of Germany, the countries are not prepared to take in so many refugees, either politically or logistically, and so the refugees suffer.  The scope of the problem is just too large.

What is needed is a new international compact in which the signatories agree that in cases where civil war or persecution creates a mass of refugees they will accept refugees and resettle them according to an established quota system based on the country’s population/size and economy, or whatever other factors are considered appropriate.  Yes, that means that many refugees would not get to go to their country of choice, but a country cannot be expected to put its own economy and social peace in jeopardy by its humanitarian response to a refugee crisis.  European Jews were willing to go to any country that would take them.  Modern-day refugees need to be asked to accept similar conditions.

The other piece of the puzzle needed in such a new compact regards the transport of refugees to their new homes, whether from the crisis point or a neighboring country.  We have seen the horror, deprivation, and exploitation refugees suffer when they have to flee across water, whether from Vietnam, Cuba, North Africa, or Turkey.  Somehow, the compact needs to deal with this issue.

The world is a community of nations and people.  We are all ultimately God’s children.  And we all have a social obligation to care for our fellow man.  It is past time for the United Nations to fashion a system that works for both refugees and receiving countries.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

A Plea to the Conscience of Conservative Republicans and Independents

The question for you on Tuesday is:  do you vote for Donald Trump because he’s the Republican candidate and just hold your nose, or do you vote for Hilary Clinton because, although she’s a Democrat and a disliked Clinton at that, her presidency would clearly be in the better interest of the country than a Trump presidency?

What is a presidential election about?  Is it just about winning, like many things in our culture?  Or is it about something bigger … doing what is best for our country?  Clearly it is or should be the latter.

There was a time in the not so distant past when one could make a very legitimate case that the election of either the Republican or Democratic candidate would be in the best interest of the country.  They each would do things differently, have different agendas, but they were both solid, good, level-headed people who you knew without any question wanted what was best for the country.  They had strong egos, lord knows, but in their minds the election wasn’t about them, it was what they could do for the country.

Let’s look at this year’s candidates in this light.  First, Donald Trump.  Donald is as far from level-headed as one could get.  He has an incredibly thin skin and he’s a bully.  It is all about him.  Is this the person you want as Commander-in-Chief and responsible for our safety as well as the welfare of you, your children, and everyone in this country?  

Is Donald a good person?  Would you hold him up as a role-model for your children?  Donald has spent his life with only one goal … to make as much money and attract as much attention to himself as possible.  Now there’s no moral sin to being rich, or seeking riches.  But when one does so to the exclusion of concern for other people. when there is no socially redeeming aspect of your life, then that is a sin.  And that is the case with Donald.

Then there’s the question of whether he is a good citizen.  It’s probably safe to say that most rich people, hell most people, try to pay as little taxes as they can get away with.  They do not really view taxes as being a responsibility of citizenship, of paying one’s fair share to help the larger body politic, their fellow citizens.  They pay taxes grudgingly as something one has to do, or else!  

But if someone is running for President of this country, should he or she be someone who has this attitude?  Who says, “Hey, I’m just doing what the law allows me to do?”  The answer should be, no.  Someone running for President, who is seeking to lead this country, should be a role model regarding the responsibilities of citizenship.  And clearly Donald Trump is no such role model.

I could go on and on listing the reasons why a Trump presidency would not be in the country’s best interest, but I think these are really the main points.  We have had numerous candidates and presidents that were not well-disposed to people of color, just none that have been so openly hateful in their speech.  We have had a number of  candidates and presidents who were womanizers, philanderers.  Not just Bill Clinton; the list is filled with many otherwise good people.  But in each of these cases, the people were otherwise good, level-headed people who, if one took off one’s partisan hat, one would have to say acted in the best interest of the country.

Now let’s look at Hillary Clinton.  Hillary is certainly level-headed.  One may disagree with her conclusions, but she is always level-headed.  She has been prodded and provoked for years, but she has always remained level-headed (to my knowledge).  A sharp barb may escape her lips, but that’s about it.  I don’t know if she holds a grudge, but I do know that she doesn’t seek revenge.  She is not a bully like Donald.

Is Hillary a good person?  Would you hold her up as a role-model for your children?  I would answer that question, yes.  Although she is certainly ego-driven, and has made lots of money from her political-celebrity status, she has always had at the top of the list  of things driving her a concern for the welfare of those less fortunate … whether women, children, or people of color as well as working men and women.   Quite the polar opposite of Donald.   And she has worked tirelessly on their behalf.   Clearly, she’s not a revolutionary a la Sanders with her ties to Wall Street, but that does not diminish her work.  It just limits her.

Is Hillary a good citizen?   Both Hillary and Bill Clinton, while having gotten quite rich, do pay their fare share in taxes.  They are in an income tax bracket where had they so desired they could have instructed their tax planners to devise legal ways to pay much less, but they … as opposed to Donald … chose not to go that route.  She and they both understand the responsibility of citizenship.

Finally, I want to make the point that for someone of Trump’s low ethics to besmirch the ethics of Hillary is truly chutzpah!  Everyone should take whatever he says with a huge grain of salt.  Plus, LATE BREAKING NEWS, the FBI has just told Congress that they found no evidence in the new cache of Clinton emails that she was guilty of wrongdoing.

So ask yourself the question when you vote on Tuesday: which candidate’s presidency would be in the best interests of the country?  And vote accordingly.  Not according to your partisan position, but for what’s best for the country.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Unspoken Scourge of Not Feeling Respected

Much has been written and spoken about the problem of increased income inequality in this country.  It has caused huge distress in the lives of many people and has weakened the social fabric of our society.

But there is another type of inequality which is just as prevalent and perhaps even more devastating … the extent to which people feel respected, valued, acknowledged.

Everyone wants to be respected, valued, acknowledged.  It is a basic human need.  It feeds our self-respect.  And self-respect, positive self-esteem, is critical to our having a healthy relationship with ourselves, our families, and the world around us.  Without self-respect we are sitting ducks for a host of negative emotions that cause us to suffer emotionally.  

As bad as physical suffering is … whether it’s from hunger, disease, or an accident … emotional suffering is even more debilitating.   If one is emotionally strong, one can weather most physical afflictions.  But if one is emotionally week, full of fear and self-doubt, insecure, then every day is filled with experiences that reinforce the feeling that there is no place for you in this hostile world, that you are nothing, that make one question the reason for one’s existence. 

Many people wonder why depression is such a common phenomenon.  Why alcoholism is so widespread.  Why drug addiction has taken such strong root in both the inner city ghetto and in rural areas across America.  

The answer I think is clear.  The vast majority of people are not shown respect, are not valued, are not acknowledged in their everyday lives, whether in the workplace or in the home.  Many have the constitution to keep fighting on, to keep battling the forces they feel are arrayed against them.  But for many, their energy sapped, facing overwhelming fear and insecurity, they cope instead by escaping their suffering, escaping their reality, in the only ways available to them … alcohol or drugs.  Many others are not strong enough to even seek escape … I know it sounds strange, but that does take strength … and so they wallow in depression.

What is the basis for my saying that the vast majority of people are not shown respect, are not valued, are not acknowledged in their everyday lives?  One marker is to look at how much people earn, which is certainly taken as an indication of how one is valued in our culture.

Certainly those at the top of their field, whether it’s entertainment, finance, business, or the professions, are given this mark of value … large, and at the highest levels obscene, amounts of money.  The top income category, the top 1%, would certainly fall within this group.  

I was originally going to say the top 10%, but I was surprised in doing research for this post that the cut-off for the top 10% is a household income (that’s both spouses combined) of $113,000 according to Slate; $140,000 according to The New York Times.  That’s certainly not rich by any standard.  And people with those incomes are not likely to feel very secure, highly valued or respected.  The cut-off for the top 1% is a household income of $394,000 according to Slate, $383,000 according to the Times.  Lower than I would have thought, but certainly enough to be considered slightly rich these days and probably in a position in one’s work where one feels secure. respected and valued.

That means that 90 - 99% of people in this country probably do not feel respected, valued, or acknowledged.  That is a terrible state of affairs and explains many of the problems that our society is experiencing.

This estimate meshes with the anecdotal information one hears about the extent of lack of respect shown in the workplace.  As well as my own personal observations over the decades. 

When I did research, however, to see what the data was on this, I found surprisingly that the data regarding workplace satisfaction/respect showed quite the opposite.  But the data are so contrary to what one observes in everyday life that I doubt their validity.   And so my thinking remains unchanged. 

For example,  in one survey 88% of U.S. employees report overall satisfaction with their jobs!  In another survey, 85% of Millennials say they are treated with respect at work.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 29% of employees feel valued in their jobs.     

I’ve worked in many job settings, and relatively supportive ones at that, and I would say this data is far off the mark in reflecting the reality of how people feel in their jobs.  If you take the often unsupportive or corrosive situation in many job settings, as well as the discrimination faced by people of color and women, the numbers would be even worse.  Not knowing how these surveys were conducted, I cannot explain the results.

But back to the narrative.  A reader may say, “That’s just the way life is; it’s inherent in human/societal relations that some are respected and valued and some aren’t.”  However, it wasn’t always this way; certainly not with such extreme differences and inequality.  To understand how we got this way, we need to understand where we came from.  

The Development of Cities: For 50,000 years, we - meaning all humans - were aboriginal people, like Native Americans, who lived a communal life.  Everyone in the village had their place, everyone had their purpose, everyone was valued, with of course the inevitable exception.  This is not to say that everyone was equal, they weren’t, but all were respected and valued because everyone contributed to the greater good.  

Then around 4,00 B.C. cities began to develop in some cultures and the communal aspects of life ceased to be.  Instead, a class structure developed resulting from the culture of individual responsibility and private property.  This class structure with its concomitant income inequality resulted in some being considered very worthy, some worthy but less so, and then there was the mass of people who were considered to be unworthy rabble, mischief makers, people of low or no morals.  This inequality of respect seeped into all areas of societal life.  Here you had respect inequality on a large scale.  

Immigration, Loss of Homogeneity:  The one factor that still bound people together in most countries despite large income inequalities was their homogenous nationality and often religion; the us v them factor.  This was largely absent in the United States even in the 19th century where roughly 25% of the population was equally divided among immigrants and former slaves.  There was not just disdain but much hostility towards both groups … they weren’t just poor, they were a mass of “them” and considered dangerous. 

Although there has always been much political talk (pre-Trump) about our pride in being a nation of immigrants (somehow slaves are usually left out of such statements), there has always existed among the population, at least below the surface or in private company, a great deal of negativity towards them.  That’s why political correctness is both necessary as a guideline and why it is detested by many.

Modern Capitalism:  Then there is the factor of modern capitalism.  After the industrial revolution, capitalism developed into a system in which everyone except management was a fungible cog in the production process.  Every employee was there to be made use of, exploited, to enlarge the profits of the employer.  The resulting hostility between worker and management, even after the introduction of labor unions and the improvement of workers’ conditions, was part of the whole.

Adding to the feeling of use and abuse is the continuing presence of discrimination against people of color and women.  And whereas in former times job security was something one could count on, in recent years loyalty between management and workers, both blue collar and white, has almost evaporated.  As a result, even those who are making a “decent” salary often do not feel respected or valued.

Modern capitalism and the industrial revolution also introduced the phenomenon of rising expectations for those less well-off.  Now most people feel that they are entitled to and should have the means to acquire most of the accoutrements of contemporary life.  And so everyone tries to make it.   Of course, the vast majority don’t, which sets up frustration and anger at the larger society and government for propagating this illusion that everyone can make it, but doing little to ensure it.  Another reason for people not feeling respected and valued.

I have not spoken thus far in any detail about the problem of lack of respect in the home.  There appears to be no data on this, but certainly anecdotal information would indicate that whether between spouses, parents and children, or children, feeling that one is not respected or valued is not uncommon.  

Family life was probably never idyllic once we moved from communal to independent/competitive societies.  But modern capitalism has undoubtedly increased problems in the home in at least two ways.  First, the strains that work places on the psyches of men, and women, have to be felt in the home resulting in parents being more self-absorbed and less understanding of and available to their children.  Second, the ascent of the “me” generation in the early 80s has likely resulted in a home life which is less communal, less respectful of others.  Finally, while probably more a function of modern society than capitalism, it’s reasonable to assume that the lack of respect for authority that has taken hold in the U.S. has increased the lack of respect felt by children towards parents.

Is there a way back from this precipice we’re standing on?  We cannot return to pre-capitalist or pre-historic communal life.  But the answer is yes.  One major factor in the extent to which people don’t feel respected is discrimination.  In earlier posts, for example “Our Failed Economic/Social/Political System,”  I wrote of the need to develop true equal opportunity to live up to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence.  That is also what’s needed to bring the nation back from its current state of serious polarization.  Because one can only create true equal opportunity if all the vestiges of racism, bigotry, and misogyny are put behind us.  And with that would come an increased feeling of respect by those who have historically been discriminated against.

That would, however, still leave the broader issue of a lack of respect, or value, or acknowledgement of others that is part of our modern capitalist system and society.    To instill a culture of respect will require training at all levels, from schools to corporations, of the need even in the midst of competition to treat all fellow human beings with respect, to show them they are valued, and to acknowledge their work.  To be aware that most people do the best they can and so deserve respect for their intents, regardless how well they do.  This is true both in the workplace and at home.  Capitalism/competition and employee respect are not inherently mutually exclusive concepts.  Respect within families is inherently natural.

Until we have both true equal opportunity and true respect in the workplace and in the home, America will be at great risk for becoming a failed nation, torn apart by its internal divisions.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Presidential Election: Where Is Our Country Heading?

The purpose of democratic government, as stated in the Declaration of Independence, is to secure the rights of the people to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  We may have never pursued this perfectly, certainly not for all the people.  But we have now, unfortunately, reached a point in our history where the best interests of the people, securing their inalienable rights, is no longer the driving force behind government.  

Our government has stopped being “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”  Instead, it has become a government which, while elected by the people, primarily serves the interests of corporations and the rich.  

This is true of Congress.  Legislators, both Republican and Democrat, have become so dependent on the financial donations of corporations and the rich to run their election campaigns that they provide a ready and willing ear to corporate lobbyists.  (It should, however, be noted that while Democrats have fallen into the same trap, they do still promote the public interest, just not as unequivocally as they should.)  

It is also true of Federal regulators.  These government employees are supposed to protect the interests of the public but instead, as we’ve learned, often become so close to the corporations they are supposed to regulate that they are more interested in protecting them than the public.

A result of this perversion of government’s purpose can be seen in the increased income inequality that we face today.  There has always been and there will always be income inequality.  It’s in the very nature of things … some people will be rich and others poor.  But from the end of WWII to the early 1970s, incomes grew rapidly across all income groups. 

Beginning in the 1970s, however, income growth for the middle and lower income groups either stagnated or slowed sharply while incomes at the top continued to grow strongly.  For example, average real wages for the bottom 90% of working Americans only rose from $28,500 in 1979 to $33,200 in 2014 (a 16% increase).  By contrast, average real wages of the top 1% of Americans rose from $269,000 in 1979 to $671,000 in 2014 (a 249% increase).  Since the top 1% have substantial income over and above wages, the true inequality is even worse, with average total income for the bottom 90% still being around $33,000 in 2014 while the average total income of the top 1% was $1,200,000.
What role did government have in this increase in inequality?  Globalization of the economy, which is a primary cause of the increased inequality, was fostered by government policies together with changes in technology.  

Second, and less discussed, was the loss of power of labor unions.  This resulted partly from the loss of manufacturing jobs due to companies’ moving jobs off-shore (a major detrimental impact of globalizations) and partly from the increase in anti-union “Right to Work” laws in much of the country (an additional 7 states including for the first time, “rust-belt” states).  

In both cases, government policy supported the interests of corporations in obtaining cheaper labor and thus increasing profits.  Other government policies, such as deregulation (pursued by both Republican and Democratic administrations post-Reagan) and significant tax cuts for the rich under Reagan and Bush II, furthered the accumulation of wealth at the top of the wage spectrum.

The impact of this increased income inequality has been anger towards government for what the formerly middle class views as a lack of concern by government regarding their plight.  They blame government, and to a large extent rightly so, for their financial distress.  Government in this case really is the problem, in that it has acted at the behest of big business.  But it is also the potential solution.  However, government has not done anything to date to really improve their lot.  Lots of talk but no action.

And so in this presidential election season, we have seen two phenomenon.  On the Republican side, Donald Trump, campaigning as an anti-establishment avatar, has stoked the fears and angers of this large group of mostly white voters and has reaped the benefit of their vote, and thus the Republican nomination, against a crowded field of far-right but tainted-by-government candidates.

On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders also campaigned as an anti-establishment avatar,  seeking to upend the influence of corporations and put “the people” back in the forefront of government policy.  His campaign was much more successful than anyone every dreamed, but he had the misfortune of having just one opponent who, although few felt strongly about, was strongly supported by the party establishment and was considered safe by most.  And so he lost.

Of all the candidates, only Bernie Sanders offered the possibility of a truly transformative Presidency.  Because only he had at least the potential of getting the large mass of people who usually don’t vote … because they feel the government has no concern for their problems … to vote and thus win back the House as well as the Senate.  

So regardless whether Trump or Clinton wins, the future does not look good for the American people.  If Trump wins we will have a bully blowhard as President who depends on his instincts, not his thought (or the thought of those around him).  He will try to dismantle most of what President Obama accomplished for the American people.  I could go on and on, but I won’t.  If Clinton wins, government will be mostly business as usual both because of her ties to the business establishment and the fact that at least the House will likely be in the hands of Republicans, which means she will not be able to move her policy agenda with much success.

In either case, the primary direction of government will not have changed.  Although clearly a Trump presidency would be far worse for the American people and the country than a Clinton presidency.

Bernie Sanders was calling for a soft revolution, and that is what this country needs at this point in time.  We need a major shakeup in the direction of government.

Thomas Jefferson famously said that a democracy needs a revolution periodically to keep it alive.  Certainly we have come to the point where that is what our country needs because our democracy has become one in form only, not in substance.  

We must return to a government which is “of the people, by the people, and for the people,”  Corporations should certainly have a place at the table, in recognition of their importance to the economy and the welfare of all, but they should not be in the driver’s seat.   We have long since learned the emptiness of the phrase, “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.”

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Jamming ISIS’ Message on the Internet

Over the course of the past year, we have witnessed a startling increase in terrorist violence undertaken either by organized groups of people or lone individuals under the influence of ISIS’ message of hatred and war against the “crusaders.”  

This violence has many negative impacts beyond those who are killed or injured by the attacks.  It unsettles the broader population, making it fearful of “strangers” in their midst and opening up their minds and hearts to very anti-democratic measures to counter this threat.  It thus tears at the fabric of our societies and threatens the very basis of modern democracy which is tolerance for all and the protection of minorities against the discriminatory whims of the majority.

In both the U.S. since 9/11 and across Europe for decades, far-right politicians have appealed to these fears, stoked them in order to further their own quest for power.  Once they were outliers.  But no longer.  Their words are finding a growing receptive audience as the population becomes increasingly spooked by the violence.  Whether these politicians are sincere in their misguided beliefs, as neo-Nazi’s and many others are, or whether they are deceitfully manipulating people’s fears, which I believe is the case with Donald Trump, makes no difference.  The harm done to our democratic societies is the same.

This violence thus presents one of the greatest threats to democracy in our time.  The question must therefore be asked … why is this happening now?  Have our societies broken down?  Is it because we have all these Muslim immigrants amongst us?  Are these immigrants people who want to harm the very countries that accepted them when they fled their own homes?

No, these are not the answer.  The answer is that we now have the internet.  And with the internet, groups such as ISIS can easily spread their hate and campaign of war into all corners of the world.  Vitriolic videos can be accessed from every computer.  Granted, there needs to be some fertile soil for their message, which comes in the form of people who are desperate, who feel discriminated against, who feel alienated from the larger society.  While the mass of Muslim immigrants clearly do not feel that way, it just takes a few, and without question those individuals exist 

But regardless, without the internet and these individuals’ resulting exposure to ISIS’ message, we would not be experiencing this epidemic of “home-grown” violence.  This is an indisputable fact.

Ergo, the U.S. government has every justification, for security purposes, of somehow jamming ISIS’ message on the internet.  I am not a technical person and so I do not know how or if that is possible.  But there is no question in my mind that we will not experience any peace or security until we find a way to stop the internet from being used to wage war against us.  

This is not a question of free speech or the exchange of ideas protected by our Constitution.  This is a matter of war; make no mistake about it.