Monday, December 31, 2018

What’s With the Wall?

As a liberal/progressive, I think the wall is a bad idea for a variety of reasons.  It’s also a terrible image that the United States should not be associated with.

But is funding for the wall something that Democrats should shut down the government over?

We all agree, I think, that immigration should happen in an orderly manner, in accordance with the procedures and numbers set forth by Congress.  No one, not even the most fervent progressive, is in favor of illegal immigration.  This is completely separate from the issue of what we should do with the illegal immigrants who are already here and have become part of the fabric of their communities.

As a result, Democrats are in favor of increased security, improving fencing, etc.  But Democrats and the leadership in Congress draw the line at money for the wall.

Why?  I don’t think it’s primarily because of the negative image or it’s being a bad idea.  But it has become a symbol of resistance to Trump’s stand on immigration policy.  He not only wants the wall, but he has vilified illegal immigrants throughout his campaign and time in office.  The wall has been made repulsive because it has been tainted with his offensive language.  

But even given all that, is this something you shut down the government over?  I think that if it wasn’t for the revulsion that most Democrats/liberals/progressives feel towards Trump on a daily basis, the answer would clearly be, no.  The issue of the wall itself does not rise to the level of importance that would lead to a shutdown.

Now of course once could ask, why should the Democrats blink?  Why doesn’t Trump back down?  And that’s a fair question.  But this is not a game of chicken, or at least it shouldn't be.  It’s not even a question of right or wrong.  We are talking about the welfare of our country and the livelihood of millions of Federal employees.

The Democratic leadership should hold their noses and give Trump the initial funding for the wall, making a very strong point as they do so about their commitment to the welfare of the country and a reformed immigration law.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

It’s the Trade War, Stupid!

It was no surprise that Donald Trump is clueless about what’s happening in the stock market, because the blame falls directly on him and he never accepts responsibility for anything.  But recent reports in The Times ("Stocks Extend Their Slide," December 24) indicate that Treasury Secretary Mnuchin is similarly clueless.

Investor unease has nothing to do with the liquidity of banks or the underlying strength of the U.S. economy.  They are both strong and investors know it.  (Although Mnuchin’s reassuring statement about liquidity could make them nervous about something that isn’t an issue.)  It’s true, investors don’t like the Fed’s increase in interest rates, but that’s not the big problem either.  

The big problem is Trump’s self-imposed trade war.  This has created huge uncertainty for investors as to the future strength of not just the U.S. economy but also China’s and the world's.  Secondarily, his erratic behavior on all subjects, including his recent actions in the Mideast, add to the dynamic of uncertainty.  And then, his ego-driven Twitter feeds that routinely undercut any reasonable action his administration takes compounds investor uncertainty.

Given that no one has the ability to sit Trump down and explain the facts of life to him, this does not bode well for the future. Investors will probably shrug off the latest jitters and the market will rebound, but volatility will remain. The market’s only real hope is that his mania for self-preservation will force the conclusion, hopefully soon, that he must end the trade war for the market to regain its strength.

(A shortened version of this post has been published by The New York Times as a Letter to the Editor.)

Friday, December 14, 2018

ATTN: Liberals and Conservatives - What Is the Role of Government?

In these days of enraged people on both sides of the political spectrum, it would be helpful to take a deep breath, step back from the battle, and ask the question, “What is the role of government?”  Specifically, our government.  In answering this question we look to our founding documents.

According to the Constitution the purpose of government is to "establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”  If we look at the Declaration of Independence the role is defined more broadly, which is “to secure” the unalienable rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  I say more broadly because everything stated in the Constitution is necessary if one is to be able to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.

Clearly the role of government is an active one.  Words such as “insure,”  “provide,” “promote,” and “secure” are all verbs denoting an ongoing active responsibility.

There are two aspects of the role as stated in both these documents that deserve focus.  First the Constitution refers to promoting the “general Welfare.”  This is clearly a statement that government must look to the welfare of all its citizens, not just some.  It is the general welfare that is important, not just the welfare of some segments of society.  Taken together with the Declaration’s statement that “all men are created equal” and have “unalienable rights,” our founding documents clearly stand for the value and the rights of each and every citizen, of all segments of society.

The second aspect I will focus on is that both documents state that the role of government is to “secure” what the Constitution broadly characterizes as “the blessings of liberty,” and which the Declaration more particularly describes as the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

To what extent has our government lived up to its responsibilities as set forth in our founding documents?  

First, let’s get one thing straight … regardless the political party in power or the era, the United States has harbored huge inequality, not just regarding wealth but well-being.  This is true despite all the social welfare programs that were enacted in the 20th century.  While one can talk about the poor being worse off or better off under a particular administration, and one can say that materially the poor are better off in modern times than ever, their state of well-being remains a negative one.  (Perhaps this is why so many of the poor don’t vote; why they say it doesn’t make a difference who is in power, which liberals find maddening.)  

Why is life for the poor degrading?  Widespread discrimination, unequal access to quality education, substandard housing to name perhaps the most important factors.  This negative well-being has in turn spawned an environment of gangs, violence, and drugs which haw made a bad situation that much worse.  Note:  it is not poverty itself that makes life degrading, it is these attendant factors.

This is true regardless whether one is looking at people of color or whites, urban or rural.  And, to counter a widely held perception, while the majority of those living in poverty are people of color, 44% are white.  In 2018, the figures were white - 44%, black - 23%, Hispanic - 28%, and Asian - 5%.  Yes, blacks disproportionately commit more crimes and engage in drug trafficking, but they also suffer disproportionately more discrimination, bad education, and substandard housing.  Many whites blame blacks for inflicting the drugs and violence environment on themselves, but such accusations totally overlook the role of the white-imposed reality of life for blacks in America.

Bottom line.  Government has not promoted the general welfare.

From the foregoing, it is also clear that government has not secured the “blessings of liberty” for a large proportion of Americans (40 million people live poverty, 12.3% of the population).  The charge is not that government hasn’t provided these blessings, because that is not government’s role.  

It’s role is to secure the “right” to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.   What does that mean?  It means that government has the responsibility for insuring that all citizens have an equal opportunity to pursue their right to life, liberty, and happiness.  What an individual makes of that right is his or her responsibility.  

So for example, it is government’s role to insure that the education provided in all schools is of equivalent quality.  That is sadly far from the case.  It is government’s responsibility to insure that there is no discrimination by educating children and adults about equality, passing appropriate laws, and vigorously enforcing them.  It is government’s responsibility to insure that no one lives in substandard housing through building codes, etc. that are vigorously enforced.  Then there is the right to vote.  Before the Voting Rights Act of 1964, Blacks were routinely denied the vote in much of the South.  In recent years, Republican forces have been attacking this right in a deceitful way which primarily impacts poor people of color in order to reduce Democratic voter turnout.

While government has certainly made advances in addressing these issues, most have been half-hearted.  None have come even close to fundamentally changing the status quo.

The one area where government’s effort to secure a right has been to a large extent successful has been in the area of access to health care.  Through Medicaid, the vast majority of people living in poverty have health insurance.  There are still problems of health care access, especially in rural areas, but this nevertheless has largely been a successful effort.  And it has been made even more so with the passage of Obamacare and its expansion of Medicaid.

So what do we do with the basic fact that our government is not truly fulfilling its role.  It’s doing many things it should be doing, and probably very little of what it does is unnecessary, outside the area of defense.  But when it comes to promoting the general welfare and securing the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all its citizens, it has barely scratched the surface.

Why not?  It isn’t for lack of resources.  But it is a matter of priorities.  What I’m referring to is not really even on the list of priorities.  And that is for two very different reasons.  

For conservatives, they just don’t see the role of government as being more than providing for our defense, insuring domestic tranquility (i.e. order), and letting business and people be free to do pretty much what they want to do without government “interference” (that’s their definition of the blessings of liberty).  They are comfortable with government subsidizing business and farmers (a subset of business) in many ways; it’s individuals that they don’t think deserve government support.

For liberals, while they see the role of government very differently, as a source of help for those who need it, changing the fundamental status quo is not on their radar.  Whether that’s because they don’t see it as a viable option, or because it’s not something that has even entered their thought process, it’s just not there.  They are mentally and spiritually limited by the world as they know it.  They are not visionaries.  And what this country needs is visionaries.

How do we develop visionaries in the population and in our politicians?  It starts by not accepting the status quo, by understanding that there is something basically wrong with the way things are and have always been.  That what is going on is contrary to the basic tenets of our founding documents.  It means going back to the content of our education system as it pertains to civics.

But that is not going to happen.  And one reason why is that, as noted, you have such diametrically opposed intellectual approaches to our founding documents.  For example, on the one hand you have the thoughts expressed in my book, We Still Hold These Truths, published in 2004, which present our founding documents as primarily liberal in spirit.  On the other hand, you have Mathew Spaulding’s book of the same title, published in 2009, which argues for a conservative reading of those same documents.  And he castigates progressives for perverting those documents.

I don't think there is anything one can do to convince a Spaulding or any of his followers that the liberal interpretation of our founding documents is correct.  However, one can focus liberals/progressives on the fact that their position is supported by these documents.  And one can educate independents.  

I find it amazing not only that the Democratic Party has never taken my book to its heart and used it productively, they’ve never really taken notice of it, but that they haven’t come up with anything to counter Spaulding’s argument.  They have walked away from our liberal birthright and left this elemental source of strength to the conservatives.

This is what must change if there is to be any hope of bringing the force of our founding documents to bear on this central issue of social justice.  Only then will we have a chance to end discrimination, provide equal access to education, end the blight of substandard housing for the poor, insure voting rights for all, and correct many other wrongs.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Watching the Train Wreck, Helpless

These have been years that try men’s souls.  Dysfunction and inhumanity have always been abroad to a greater or lesser extent.  But these last two years under President Trump have been especially difficult.  Yes, come January the Democrats will be in control of the House.  But while that portends some policy changes that will be welcomed, real change is the underlying status quo in politics and our society is not in the offing.

In many of my posts, I have noted with sadness the destruction that man continues to wreak on himself and the environment.  Whether the issue is politics, social injustice, domestic strife, human interactions, the state of international relations, or at the core how man relates to himself, while there is a clear path forward out of the morass that man has created, the forward energy of this train of destruction cannot I fear be stopped.  Indeed, the train is speeding up.  

Most of the world’s leaders and many of its inhabitants, certainly those with a voice, are unwitting advocates of the forces that propel the train forward to its dark destiny.  They have from birth sucked from the nipple of our culture the seven deadly sins … lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, anger, envy, and pride.  These sins flow from the font of insecurity that is formed almost at birth and hides man’s divinity from himself.  It is a rare man, certainly in Western cultures, that truly loves himself.  

It is the ultimate punishment for man eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and being thrust out of the Garden of Eden, separated from his own divine state.  (See my post, “Our Culture is the Serpent in the Garden of Eden.”)  The way back, to return to the God/Buddha-essence he was born with, lies in renouncing man’s ego-mind, his mind’s judgment of all things, including good and evil.  And that is simply beyond the ken, the imagination, of most men.  (As I’ve written often, this does not mean that man would not discern the problems and dysfunction in the world; he would be very aware, but he would not label or react with emotion.)

In the Bible, when man was lost, God knew that the only way out of the morass was to wipe mankind out.  And so he sent the flood.  But God, or rather the creators of the myth, made the mistake of not wiping man out totally.  Through attachment to His creation, He allowed Noah and his family to survive.  And so all the failings of man were perpetuated into the future.

The evolution of man has turned out to be a most destructive force.  Man has added much that has benefitted and enriched the lives of man, but on balance he has done far more harm than good, both to himself as well as his co-inhabitants of Earth.  As I have written previously, this harm is not as most would say a product of man’s nature, but rather his nurture.  It is a monstrous self-inflicted wound.  

The force that has driven and is driving man to inflict this wound, to create the cancer that consumes him, to act in a way that is not in his self-interest, to separate him from his divine self, is the combined force of our culture (at least Western culture) and our religions (see my post, “The Shame of Religion”).  Even in the East, it is painful to witness the hatred towards the Muslim Rohingya that springs forth from the mouths of Buddhist monks and is condoned by leaders such as Aung San Suu Kyi.

There is no doubt in my mind that the only hope for planet Earth lies in the total destruction of man.  The Biblical Day of Judgment could not come soon enough.  If man were wiped out, nature would slowly restore itself.  It has that power.  After millennia, the world would once again be as verdant and alive as it was before the advent of man.  

The fact that I am a Buddhist makes this an especially painful statement to make.  I know and have absolute faith that every person is born with the God/Buddha-essence inside them, as the mystical traditions of the three Abrahamic faiths and Buddhism teach.  I know the process of life experience through which man loses contact with that essence and instead is subject to the emotions, judgments, cravings, and attachments of his ego-mind, and the suffering and frustration that flows from that.  And I know and have faith in the spiritual process that can free man from the control of his ego-mind and restore him to his true self, his heart, his God/Buddha-essence.

But the overwhelming majority of human beings are not aware of these teachings, and even if they were, probably would not subscribe to them.  Because they go against everything we are taught by our culture, everything we believe about ourselves; these teachings are radical.  Even those who do follow the path typically have difficulties because of the constant challenges thrown in their path by the ego-mind’s reactions to life experiences and by our culture.  As we’ve seen, even Buddhist monks can become lost in the grip of ethnic hatred

We just have not been raised to have the necessary fortitude for the spiritual path.  And irony of ironies, true spirituality often does not come with orthodox religious belief; the ultra-orthodox are often intolerant of others and abusive of themselves and their loved ones.  There is no aura of divinity in their actions; just the facade of ritual. 

The evolution of man is an experiment gone awry.  The sooner it ends, the better for man and for our planet.

In the meantime, I live in the present.  I will continue to raise my voice, to work with others to make life better in whatever small way I can.  After all, the present is our only reality; all conjecture as to what the future will bring is just that … conjecture, thought.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Trump’s Tariff Talk - Lies, Lies, Lies

As Trump has been selling his use of tariffs to punish those, especially China, who he feels, with some justification, do not play fair in the trading game, he makes two statements.  First, he says that he is punishing them so that they will come around and give the U.S. a better trade deal.  Second, he talks about the billions of dollars that China is paying into the U.S. Treasury’s coffers because of the tariffs.

As to the first argument, tariffs have been used traditionally to protect local industry from foreign competition.  Since the external goods weren’t needed, making them more expensive, by imposing tariffs, made them less competitive and reduced their sales.  

In the current situation as pertains to China, Trump is trying to improve the balance of trade by reducing U.S. purchases of Chinese goods.  The difference now is that Chinese product is needed; there isn’t a domestic replacement.  Whether it’s product that U.S. industry needs or that consumers purchase, there really isn’t an alternative.  The impact of globalization has destroyed that.  Therefore, industry pays more for the product making their end product correspondingly more expensive and less competitive.  Or the U.S. consumer pays more for the Chinese product or perhaps goes without if it can’t be afforded.  

In both cases, the parties who are made to suffer by the tariffs are Americans … industry and consumers … not the Chinese.

It must be said that this method was more effective in dealing with the E.U. because the European countries on the one hand need us more and on the other we need them less.  We both are in a similar globalization status; we produce similar goods. 

As to the second argument, China isn’t paying anything into the U.S. Treasury.  That’s because tariffs are imposed when a product comes into the U.S. and they are paid by the importer.  The importer is never China.  It is a U.S. or other company that is importing the product and is therefore paying the tariff.  Again, it is American business that is suffering, not China.

And then there’s the suffering China’s retaliatory tariffs and actions are causing American exporters, particularly farmers.  For example, China has stopped purchasing American soybeans.  And so the government is spending billions in subsidies to protect farmers from what would otherwise be catastrophic losses.

That Trump has been able to control the message on this, as with many other issues, is beyond frustrating.  Yes, there have been many articles in newspapers, and I assume on the news and internet, regarding how American companies, farmers, and consumers are paying the price of this trade war.  But there is no personage, no presence, to effectively counter Trump’s bluster and lies.

Some august group of personages from both the Republican and Democratic parties must come together to issue statements as needed that put the truth before the American public.  A bi-partisan Truth Commission must be formed to keep the public informed.  Nothing will change Trump’s method, but the public can be protected with an appropriate countervailing force.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Understanding Rage and Bringing Us Back from the Brink

Many people would look at the phrase “understanding rage” as an oxymoron.  To them rage is irrational.  It’s craziness.   And because it’s not a rational state, it cannot be understood, that is, there is no rational explanation.  

It’s true that there is no reasoning with rage.  The rational forces of democracy are not only helpless to hold it in check, the democratic process gives rage the opportunity to assume the ascendancy and control.

But while the emotion of rage is irrational and there is no reasoning with it, the experiences that trigger rage are very rational.   Those experiences can be countered with reasoning if combined with heartfelt mea culpas and action that counters the rational source of the rage.

What is behind rage?  Whether one looks at the white formerly middle-class now unemployed/underemployed worker or people of color, regardless of whether the country is the U.S., Great Britain or France, the cause of rage is exploitation.  People either feel that they have not been given a chance to get what they deserve or have been promised, or they feel that they have lost what they rightfully had.  In either case, an economic or political force is blamed as the exploiter.  

To some extent people in general feel used and abused, regardless of their color or status in life.  One could probably safely say that 90 - 95% of people in the U.S. feel exploited in some way.  Even those who are doing well often feel exploited by a boss or a colleague.  In a very important way, while circumstances among people vary greatly, most of us are all in the same boat … we just don’t know it.  We all want to be respected, but respect is a very scarce commodity.

Liberals often ask, “Why are people so devoted to Donald Trump; what has he done for them?  Don't they see what he is?”  They do not understand the economic plight of the white middle working class over the past 40 years.  They do not understand that while having heard political platitudes for years about helping the middle class the Democrats have not helped their plight at all.  These workers and their families felt they were shown no respect.  Liberals do not understand how neglected and exploited they feel and so when Trump came along and spoke to them, when he offered scapegoats for their problems, when he took up their cause with gusto, they responded to him with amazing fervor.

This is just one example. It’s only relatively recently that we have come to understand the submerged rage that many women feel.  And many still don’t understand why so many Blacks have simmering rage; if you don’t understand that, you need a reality check.  

So given this understanding of rage, how do we move forward?  How does the U.S. and the world come back from the violent, chaotic brink that we seem to be standing on?  The past is past.  We can’t change it.  However, every society/group can and must clearly acknowledge the past and be heartfelt in their mea culpas.  For issues as deep as race, some truth and reconciliation process, such as was conducted in South Africa after apartheid, is necessary.

But it cannot stop there.  Words or laws will not suffice.  The injury lies far too deep.  There must be palpable action that reverses past decades or in the case of Blacks centuries of indifference, discrimination, and exploitation.  What form that action takes will vary for each group or situation.  But until the white middle class, Blacks, Muslims, and all people feel that they are respected and treated as equals, there will be no peace.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Why Trump Won in 2016 - Fake News!

In the irony of ironies, it appears that the most important reason why Trump won the election was fake news.  He not only manufactured it, but it was spread as real news by several broadcast organizations, most importantly Sinclair Broadcast Group, not Fox.  

Yes, Hilary did not run a good campaign.  Yes, she wasn’t a very appealing candidate for many.  Yes, the white middle class was disaffected.  But that wasn’t why she lost.  She lost because an unsuspecting American public, especially in swing states, was fed an unrelenting diet of fake news.  And it is that fake news that secured the wins in Michigan, Ohio, and other states that made the difference.

This became clear after reading a truly shocking article in the New Yorker (October 22) about the growth and impact of Sinclair Broadcast Group  (“Breaking the News” by Sheelah Kolhatkar).  Here are the salient facts from that article:

Sinclair is the largest owner of television stations in the US, with 192 stations in 89 markets.  It reaches 39% of American viewers.  It’s chairman is David Smith, a radical Republican conservative and Trump supporter.

According to the Pew Research Center, 50% of Americans get their news from television.  And despite the general lack of trust in the media, 76% of Americans say they still trust their local news stations.  Because 20 million US households do not have cable or streaming television, they not only trust but rely on their local broadcast stations.

But guess what?  What often appears to be your local independent NBC, CBS, ABC, or even Fox affiliate is in fact owned by SInclair who has pressured them to be a mouthpiece for its conservative viewpoint developed at the national corporate level.  Because Sinclair often owns two or more stations in the same broadcast market, this version of the news has an even greater impact on how people view things.

For example, the corporate news department produces scripts that anchors are forced to read.  This became so egregious that in April 2018 Dan Rather responded by writing “News anchors reading a script handed down by a corporate overlord, words meant to obscure the truth not elucidate it.  It’s propaganda.  It’s Orwellian.”

The corporate center also produces news segments that the stations are required to run, as well as mandatory commentary segments in which Mark Hyman spouts radical Republican fake news.  For example, in 1984, “Terrorist leaders would dearly love to see President Bush replaced by Senator Kerry.”

How did Sinclair manage to assemble this network when there are regulations that prevent a company from owning 2 stations in the same market?  It created companies that it said were independent, but in fact were staffed by Sinclair loyalists and were controlled by Sinclair.  Even when it told the FCC that it had divested control, in fact they hadn’t.  

To quote the article, “None of this would have been possible without the willful blindness of the FCC.”  When Sinclair went too far, arousing public-interest groups and media organizations to complain to the FCC, an FCC investigation in 2001 found that indeed Sinclair exercised control over these stations.  The penalty?  Not divestiture but a paltry $40,000 fine against Sinclair and the company it controlled.

By 2016 Sinclair was in a position to really make a difference in the election.  It’s stations were concentrated in swing states such as Florida, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Ohio, and Michigan.  These stations broadcast the Sinclair party line which was the Trump line.  According to the New Yorker article, the Sinclair CEO told Trump that “We are here to deliver your message.  Period.”  And Sinclair certainly delivered.

The Shakespeare line, “Me thinks the lady doth protest too much,” certainly applies here, as well as the old warning, “Beware a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”  Trump and his conservative minions routinely complain about fake news.  This effective technique is a good example of “the big lie” strategy used by the Nazis in their rise to power.  If you call the real news broadcast by real news organizations “fake,” that lie renders the news that you broadcast by implication real, truthful, even though it is in fact fake.  

Having control over the media and its message has been an essential weapon of authoritarian regimes, regardless whether Communist, Nazi, or other stripe.   That’s why in this country the 1st Amendment’s freedom of the press has been so jealously guarded by both the press and our government institutions.  That’s why there are regulations preventing any one voice from having too much control over the news in any given market.  

That the FCC allowed Sinclair to assemble its network and when forced to investigate acknowledged the truth but only applied a fine of $40,000 is nothing short of scandalous; a total dereliction of the duty they have as regulators.  If the Democrats take control of the House after the midterm elections, one of their first orders of business should be an investigation into Sinclair Broadcast Group and the forced breakup of the network.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Trump Is Not Able to See Facts That Are Inconvenient

How hypocritical at worst, or clueless at best, for President Trump to say after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, “It’s a terrible, terrible thing what’s going on with hate in our country … something has to be done.”

He is the person who has as President elevated hate in this country to never-before-seen levels.  He has either directly promoted hate and fear, as towards immigrants and towards his opponents and those who criticize him, or condoned it, as in the case of the Charlottesville alt-right rally.  

The result is a documented increase in hate crimes since his nomination.  As the midterm elections approach, he has ratcheted up his tirade against both immigrants and foes in an effort to mobilize his base.  And people are responding at his rallies with an almost feverish fervor.  And unfortunately also action.  There's been the mailing of pipe bombs to people who Trump routinely lambasts for their criticisms of him, and now the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue by a rabid alt-right anti-semite.

For Trump not to see the connection between his constant tirades and the rise of hate in our country is an example of his refusal to take responsibility for his actions, unless of course they result in something he likes taking credit for.  He doesn’t want to see himself as a person who spreads hate, but that’s exactly what he does.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Bring Sanity and Social Purpose to the Lottery

Lotteries were begun to meet the funding needs of state governments, mainly in the area of education.  That narrow focus, meeting state funding needs, continues to be the objective.

It is past time to broaden the focus to one that includes improving the financial wherewithal of as many people as possible, thus providing a greater boost to the  economy.  As it stands now, one person wins a jackpot, which depending on the lottery can run from several million to the recent Mega jackpot of $1.5 billion.

First, that is more money than a reasonable person/family needs, even over time.  We have seen over and over again over the years how people’s lives have been ruined by the sudden flood of money.  People don’t know how to handle it.  And vultures defend to take advantage of the situation.

Second, the concentration of all that money in one person does nothing to help the economy.  It would be far more beneficial if many people received, say,  $300,000.  Spreading the money out would provide a greater boost to the economy.

Third, spreading out the wealth would make a beneficial difference in more people’s lives.  And since the amount would be manageable it would be beneficial.

The argument will probably be made that the current system draws the most money for the state because people salivate at the possibility of winning these huge sums.  But if the game was changed, allowing more people to win and thus increasing the chances of winning, even thought the prize would be more modest that would be a huge draw I believe.  But even if the amount received by the state were somewhat reduced, injecting some social purpose into the lottery would be worth it.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Collins' Tragic Error on the Kavanaugh Vote

Part of the tragic error of Senator Collin’s thought process is that the issue and the hearing was not part of a criminal process concerning the guilt or innocence of Judge Kavanaugh.  It was about whether he should become a Supreme Court Justice.  

Therefore the maxim “innocent until proven guilty” is not relevant.  The fact that Ms. Ford’s accusations were not corroborated (in this brief, woefully inadequate, investigation) is not relevant.  If she was a credible witness, which most agree she was, then that at a minimum raised a doubt about whether Kavanaugh in fact did assault her.  Her charge was only refuted by Kavanaugh himself and his friends.  

That measure of doubt should have been enough to keep him off the Supreme Court.  The image of the Supreme Court is of critical importance to its effectiveness in our system of government.  That she felt that the FBI investigation had been adequate is hard to understand. Then there is the matter of Kavanaugh's apparently lying under oath about the extent of his drinking and his decidedly unjudicial demeanor at the hearing.

All together this should have resulted in Senator Collins deciding that regardless his credentials and his other qualities, he should not be elevated to the Supreme Court.

Then there is the Senator’s confidence in Kavanaugh’s judicial thinking.  Senator Collins explained carefully that from her conversations with him she was confidant that he would not overturn Roe v Wade.  He felt that the case was settled precedent.  She also felt he would not throw out Obamacare.

How foolish of Senator Collins!  How many times have lawyers/judges used legal double speak in recent times to make Senators feel like they were mild-mannered men who would do no harm to the public good, who honored the Constitution and precedent.  And yet once on the bench, they showed their true colors and consistently voted their ideological bias; they did not judge a case based on its facts and they did not honor precedent.

It is true that it has at times been important in the past to overturn precedent, such as the case of Brown v Board of Education that declared segregated schooling unconstitutional; separate was not equal.  This was necessitated by progressive changes in society’s attitudes towards people of color and what defined the common good.

The court voted as it did not because of the justices own ideological preferences but because of the change they saw in the country and the need to lead the country to a more just future.  If Roe is overturned, it will instead be precisely because of the ideological preferences of the justices and a vocal minority of the populace.  Surveys show consistently that the vast majority of Americans support a woman’s right to choose.

The future of our democracy will in many ways be impacted negatively by Senator Collins’ vote.  That she was so full of herself that she gave the speech she gave was not an indication of a woman of strength and intelligence, although it sounded like that, but rather an indication of her weakness and her inability to truly understand what her role was in this moment.  Senator Murkowski on the other hand understood the moment.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

A Call to the American People

My fellow Americans.  Our democracy is under attack from within.  The well-being of the American people, the environment, and our historic values are at risk.  

But we must do more than resist.  The American people must rally, touch their basic goodness, and be freed of feeling they have to fight for their lives alone.  This cancer impacts all Americans … rich and poor, white and people of color, young and old.  The stakes have never been higher.  We are all in this boat of life together and we either all rise or we all sink.  We are in truth all “fellow Americans.”

The role of Democrats in this upcoming election must be to guide the American people back to the safety of dry solid land, back to the clear light of the mountaintop.  This is not about winning an election; this is not about one interest winning over another.  This is about the survival of American democracy, the light that has guided the world for more than two centuries.

Democrats often are not good at telling their story, their vision.  The Democrats' vision is to be found in the words of the Declaration of Independence.  It is past time for Democrats to regain the rhetorical upper hand and reclaim their position as the party of the people, the party of America’s historic values. And it is past time for Democrats to expose the radical Republican Right for what they are … hypocrites masquerading as the party of the people. It is the Democrats who are the party "of the people, by the people, and for the people."  For the sake of our country, we must proclaim our vision for all Americans clearly and effectively.  We must regain their hearts and minds. 

Here is my proposed Democratic Party Mission:

“To build a country of greater opportunity where:
  • each and every American has a real chance to experience the promises made in the Declaration of Independence … ‘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.
For more go to, and

Friday, July 20, 2018

The Multi-Faceted Road to Freedom

With the current president in office and the dysfunctional political climate in the country, it would be easy to focus on nothing but our current problems and how to move the country back to a state of sanity and rationality.  While that is of utmost importance and so must consume much of our time and effort, we/I would be negligent if we did not also continue to reflect on the larger issues that impact our society.

Human history has been a story of the powerful and the oppressed, the haves and the have nots.  The drive for survival focuses man on gaining power, the more the better, since when you’re fighting for survival one can never be secure enough.  And since having power by definition means having power over others, that sets up the age-old dynamic of human society.

This power dynamic is evidenced at all levels of human interaction.  Even within the family, while usually not oppression, there’s often a power struggle between husband v wife, sibling v sibling, or parents v children.  In school it’s mean girls/bullies against those they consider “lesser” beings.  In the larger world, it is or has been men v women, Christians v Jews, WASPs v Catholics, whites v blacks.  Go to any country and you will find the same dynamic, even in Buddhist Myanmar.  The list is endless.

In our society we have tried to lessen the impact of this dynamic, to free people from oppression, through the establishment of rights.  The effort has not been to change the oppressor’s mindset in any direct way, but to change his or her way of interacting.  To end discrimination.  And to provide a legal recourse for those who are discriminated against.

This has been a worthy effort to make our democracy and human relations more just.  But the effort has two major shortcomings.  

First, we can pass all the legislation we want, but if we do not change people’s attitude towards the group in question, discrimination will still occur on a regular basis.  It’s true that giving people rights has had some impact on the oppressor’s mindset, but there has been little fundamental change, especially where the bias runs strong and deep or the oppressor feels threatened by the oppressed’s potential.  Yes, there will be less overt discrimination, but much will still exist and only that which is called out through a law suit will be stopped.  

The fact is that we have not even discussed the underlying mindset that creates these problems.  We as a nation have never really had a discussion about race or women.  We’ve had a bit more discussion about sexual orientation in recent years and are starting to have a discussion regarding gender identity.  Until there is a nation-wide, humanity-based, discussion about these issues, nothing fundamental will change.

Second, while the passage of rights laws has been a critical necessity, we have done little to assist the oppressed to improve their lives regardless.  It is a maxim of spiritual teaching that we each have the power to change how we experience life, regardless the circumstances.  Thus, for example, the serenity prayer, with my exposition (…), says, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change … which is the way my life is right now at this moment.  The courage to change the things I can … which is how I relate to myself and the world around me.   And the wisdom to know the difference.”

The first part of the prayer is usually met with substantial push-back from anyone who approaches it.  We don’t want to accept the way things are.  But the prayer does not mean or require that you don’t attempt to change the environment in which you live; it just means that you accept that right now at this moment it is the way it is.  It is an essential step if one wants to experience peace in the moment rather than mental stress.

The second step of the serenity prayer as it normally appears, “The courage to change the things I can,” is usually just greeted with a shrug.  Because it is interpreted as meaning changing the circumstances we live in and having the courage to do that.  That is a tall order in many if not most circumstances.  And so it leads many to feel that they are failures because they don’t have that courage or ability.

Yet this is not the real point of the second statement at all.  The universal spiritual teaching is that all we have the power to change is how we relate to ourselves and the world around us.  That is what gives us the power over whether a situation causes us stress and unhappiness or whether we are at peace regardless.

Before going further and discussing this powerful teaching, let me first talk about the word “peace” which I’ve used several times.  It’s not a word that we usually think of as possibly applying to ourselves in any practical way.

As an example, let me quote from my forthcoming book, How to Find Inner Peace:

Peace. What a completely foreign concept this was to me. How can anyone be at peace or serene unless they’re a saint? Since I was a young child my life had been filled with inner turmoil, despite an outwardly happy home and relationships. And in looking around at my peers and family, and at the images of the larger culture, I didn’t see anyone who was at peace. … Yet I knew in my gut that peace and happiness, a life free of suffering, was a rational, reasonable goal. The question was not whether but how? 
“First then, what exactly is peace?  Peace is the absence of fear, anxiety, hatred, guilt, shame, doubt and confusion … or better put, it’s not the absence of these emotions but not being controlled by them. It’s also being free of an intense desire for things you don’t have or to be someone other than you are.”

So how do we as individuals and as a collective group change the way we view ourselves and the world around us so as to experience peace and happiness, rather than fear, anxiety, frustration, anger, etc.?  Books have been written by many, including me, to answer this question.  But let me try to answer it briefly by looking at some specific examples.

Feminism:  The founders of feminism understood that if the lot of women was to improve, it was not just a matter of gaining certain rights vis a vis men; women had to change their attitude about themselves, what was possible, not be controlled by the confines that men had set for them.  So even without or before gaining rights, women could improve their life experience by changing their self-image.

Blacks:  At the turn of the 20th century, well before the real push for civil rights, Booker T. Washington led a movement to improve the lives of blacks through self-help, both in education and business.  But because he did not confront the oppressive regime, his was a one-pronged approach and he fell out of favor and influence.

Later, while the push for civil rights was going on, there were others in the community that were addressing how blacks could improve their life experience by changing their self-image and stop resorting to destructive behavior both towards themselves and other blacks.  They sought to build a supportive community.  One such movement was the Reverend Jesse Jackson’s Operation PUSH and PUSH-EXCEL.  The other movement was the Nation of Islam.  

While the central goal of Operation PUSH was to improve the economic position of Blacks through various means, in his weekly sermons Jackson preached the uplifting of his people.  Nina Simone’s song, “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black,” became an anthem of the movement.  And through PUSH-EXCEL he sought to improve Black and minority student performance in inner city schools and help them stay out of trouble.

A more divisive, although in many ways effective, approach was taken by the Nation of Islam.  It believed that Blacks could only improve their lives if they disassociated themselves from the surrounding White culture.  Instead, it sought to have Blacks adopt the strict morality of Islam to improve their lives and support one another.  While the Nation achieved many good things for its people, it was unfortunately built upon hatred of the white man.  And nothing good spiritually develops from hatred.

LGBTQ: For the LGBTQ movement, the spiritual emphasis, while pursuing legal rights, has been changing the self-image from one of shame to pride.  And as more and more LGBTQ people responded to that message and came out to family, friends, and colleagues, people found out that LGBGQ were a part of their everyday lives, that they were in essence no different from themselves, and so more people came to support the movement for equal rights.  Coming out created the environment for equal treatment, not changes in the law.

The point of these group examples is that regardless what the rest of the world is doing to you or how they are reacting to you … and this applies to individuals as well as groups … you have the power to change your life experience for the better.  By believing in yourself, by treating yourself well, and by having the courage to move forward with the things that makes life meaningful for you, that speak to your heart.  

In my post, “The Next Wave of Feminism,” I discuss the need for each woman to enter into an exploration of who she really is,  as opposed to who they’ve come to think they are based on their life experiences and our culture, so that she can truly decide what is best for her.  Every group must help their members free themselves from the confines that the rest of the world has placed on their narrative story.  

With women, for example, it’s not a simple matter of saying “no” to motherhood or being a housewife; that is more a statement of rebellion, not of deep inner exploration. One must be truly free of the past in order for each individual to decide what choice is best for them … for some it will be being a housewife and mother; for others it will be going into business or the professions.

There will always be lots of obstacles, with or without legal rights, but if you are true to yourself you will always be at peace.  For you will be one with your heart, and you will not allow anyone to take that feeling away from you.