Archive for August 2017

Blessing and A Curse

August 27, 2017

Who can imagine life these days without most everyone’s trusty companion, the smart phone. There is probably no other phenomena around the world which has become more part of people’s lives than the ubiquitous smart phone. From the age when someone’s hands are large enough to grasp a phone to about the current age of retirement, the smart phone is an essential part of most people’s lifelines. (There is nothing unique about retirement age other than people that age probably grew up with landline phones and used them sparingly.)

With the advent of digital phones, possibilities opened for mobile communications on a large scale.  IM (instant messaging) became possible. Young people took to IM quickly even though the service was originally conceived as a businessman’s tool. The younger generation saw IM as a way to chat at longer distances than their yells and screams could master.

Flip phones became the rage and many countries simply abandoned any plans to modernize their historic land lines (and pay phones), and simply converted to digital service. Today we see the “blessings” of these early digital entries in the genius behind “smart phones”.

The smart phone is a blending of computer (laptop) capability and digital phone technology with a camera thrown in for good measure. Smart phones are without a doubt marvelous examples of technological application and serve to meet many essential personal needs. In this regard, smart phones are also a blessing.

So where is the curse?

This morning, although I could use dozens of other examples, a young man and a young woman bicycled past my house. As I watched them pass, the young woman signaled that she needed to stop. Both of them had been riding “one handed” since their other hand was firmly attached to their smart phone. It seems the young woman could not read the message or reply fast enough to the unknown person someplace in digital space. (Last year an even younger man ran into the rear of my car trying to bicycle and do smart phone.)

Today is a picture perfect day on the New Jersey shore. Temperature is comfortable and the blue sky and bright sunshine make this beach town glisten. So, tell me why anyone needs to go for a relaxing bike ride and carry a smart phone anchor?

But there is something more dangerous about this type of smart phone use. The expectation of instant communication is fostering an inability to resist answering any and all contact from an outside source.

This weakens an individual’s ability to think, anticipate, and plan. Why think ahead when one can just respond to foreign stimuli? Cognitive skills, especially critical thinking, are rendered less valuable because one can just check what’s “trending” to learn what others think important.

“No response” may not be wise or useful, but immediate responses to each and every email, text, or social media alert ominously takes control of a person’s life… and I would posit, makes ones mind possibly “quick” but not very deep (or introspective).

In this new age that the election of Donald Trump has introduced, quick but shallow thinking is a less advantageous survival skill than one should hope for.  Do you wonder whether shallow thinking may have made it easy to swallow the line “Make America Great Again”?

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Buying Votes?

August 26, 2017

President Trump cast his net this week in hopes of garnering votes for the 2020 election. Given where, however, the President cast his net, it would appear his efforts were directed at keeping 2016 voters rather than earning new ones. Hmmm.

President Trump began by calling out by name Senate Leader Mitch McConnell for not leading the Senate Republican majority to a victory in the “repeal and replace” fiasco. Senator John McCain was next for his deciding “no” vote and Senator Jeff Flake gained recognition “just because”. House Speaker Paul Ryan got his “shout out” over the House failure to put forward a Federal Debt Increase bill. Rounding out the shame list was Tennessee Senator Bob Corker who questioned President Trump’s fitness as President. I wonder what the President is thinking? Does he think vinegar will bring the bees to his flowers?

Next the President showed what the conservative Christian majority is really about. Lest you wonder, Christian behavior is not the answer. The President continued his efforts (delighting this group) to reverse policies which allowed transgender persons to serve in the military. With the armed forces leadership not pressing for this reversal, one wonders why the President wished to make this unforced error (singling out and demeaning a minority group)?

To complete the trifecta, President Trump decided to teach the nation a lesson in his version of the importance of the rule of law. The Teacher in Chief pardon former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio who had been convicted on Federal contempt of court charges. When directed by court rulings to cease profiling Phoenix area residents, Arpaio simply continued. Isn’t no man above the law?

There is a consistent theme among these actions, President Trump’s 2016 winning coalition had subsegments which, on learning of these actions, sat up and said, “that’s our President”.

Calling out Congressional leaders (Congress with a low double digit opinion rating), picking a fight with the “T” of the “LGBT” community (where no problem exists), and pardoning a sheriff who gave the middle finger to Federal Courts, all clearly satisfied President Trump’s base.  Yet these actions could have unfavorable blow back for the President. So, why did the President do these things?

The answer probably lies close to the thought, “President Trump couldn’t keep himself from doing them”.

Picking on others is what a bully does. Picking on others who will not or cannot strike back is even more what bullies do. And, degrading the institutions of Congress, the Military, and Federal Courts, seemed to the President asa means to elevate his own image in comparison.

I wonder who will tell the President that in this matter, the Commander in Chief has no clothes.

Secret Plan

August 22, 2017

When Richard Nixon was running for President, the Vietnam War (then our longest running war) was still underway even though the American public had largely grown disenchanted and yearned for a way to end it. “Tricky Dick” Nixon gave the people what they wanted by shamelessly saying, “I have a secret plan to end the War, but it is a secret plan so I cannot tell you the details now” Nixon emphasized that if he told the public about the plan details then it would not be a secret any more. Hmmm.

Almost fifty years later America has another President who believes in secret plans. President Trump, last evening announced his own version of a secret plan for ending the war in Afghanistan (now our longest running war). President Trump too could not reveal any details since then it would not be a secret. What more can be said?

As in Vietnam, where there was no military means to defeat the Viet Cong without invading North Vietnam and that strategy was likely to bring Communist China into the conflict, Afghanistan looks similar. With no military means available, Nixon chose to unilaterally declare victory and withdraw American forces, leaving Vietnam to be united under North Vietnamese leadership.

President Trump has inherited an Afghanistan civil war where forces loyal to Iran or Pakistani Taliban factions are content to make life miserable for the Afghan Government or any outside force which tries to intervene.

Commonsense would suggest that getting out of Afghanistan as soon as possible would be America’s best option were it not highly probable that Afghanistan would quickly be overrun and return to the failed nation category hosting all sorts of terrorist organizations. Afghanistan remains generations away from being a functioning democratic State.

This observation is not a new revelation. Candidate Trump would have been briefed on the situation during his campaign. But like Tricky Dick Nixon, ignoring reality just worked better with voters than admitting President Obama was doing as well as he could unless Americans were willing to send hundreds of thousands of troops and spend billions of tax payer money.

There are about 10,000 US military members in Afghanistan at present. There is no way that doubling this number will eradicate the Taliban, IS, or any other insurgent group which seeks to control Afghanistan.

The “secret” President Trump may be keeping is that the best America can do in Afghanistan is keeping the Taliban or IS from controlling the entire country. Do you think that goal is macho enough for our Commander in Chief?

What About Those Monuments?

August 20, 2017

Are you wondering where this current controversy surrounding monuments of Civil War figures is going? President Trump suggested that Thomas Jefferson and George Washington might be next. Both men were in fact slave owners during their lives.

Hmmm.

In Philadelphia, former mayor Frank Rizzo, who never owned slaves, is the target of a “remove his statue and mural” movement. Why? Groups supporting the removal say Rizzo, who was police chief and Mayor, was insensitive to African American needs and at times hostile in carrying out his duties as Police Chief. Hmmm.

There is documentation that General Robert E Lee was supportive of the view that slaves were indeed “property” and that their “owners” indeed held certain rights which restricted these slaves to that owner. There is also copious accounts confirming that Lee was a distinguished “officer and gentleman”, quite possibly the best General, on either side, at the start of the Civil War. Hmmm.

I wonder what role “context” plays in assessing whether a monument or mural is offensive or not? I wonder what degree of “offensiveness” is necessary for the present generation to undo what a previous generation thought appropriate?

I also wonder why anyone would think that removing a General Lee statue would suddenly make a “white supremacist” see the errors of their ways? I personally find it hard to believe that someone as misguided (deranged?) as Dylan Roof would have warmly embraced the African American church members instead of killing them in cold blood had there been no statues honoring Confederate heroes. Hmmm.

Context is most likely an important element to consider. Is a supposed “offensive” statue part of a community statement negatively aimed at a minority group? Are there counter balancing statues which present a different view? And, why was the statue erected in the first place and does the current generation of community leaders value the statue similarly?

IMO, we should disabuse ourselves of the notion that there will be 100% agreement on any monument. While we should also not accept 50% plus one majority as license to place offensive monuments in public spaces, it is less clear what percent is necessary for a minority to demand a monument’s removal.

A simple test on whether to keep an alleged offensive monument might be to ask the question, “if this statue did not exist, would this community think it appropriate to erect it now, in this spot, and why?

Buyer’s Remorse

August 19, 2017

What a week.

If someone voted for Donald Trump, holding their nose or not, that person most likely did so because they detested Hillary.  Well, this past week must have felt like a cold shower. It was Trump in the raw, all 250 or more pounds, pink faced and teeth gritted saying what “President 101” tells one not to say.

For those who did not vote for Trump, it was either another infuriating moment, or a “I told you so” one. For still others, the past week was a two out of three win, Trump unplugged twice, Trump sanitized (using a teleprompter and for these voters disappointing) once.

Here’s a news flash.  There should be no expectation that President Trump, regardless of changes in his cabinet, will emerge differently in the future. At his core, he is a selfish, narcissistic, unethical, and immoral person, a composite of each of us but with a high concentration of these four traits.

Donald Trump is, however, President for all of us, and all Americans need to accept responsibility.

It is not sufficient or acceptable for anyone to say, “I did not vote” for him, he is not my President”. Wrong! Donald Trump is, to be sure, a black sheep of the American family, but never the less, he is one of us and won the election.

It is also worthwhile remembering that his anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican, anti-free trade, and pro-white supremacy rhetoric are simply his flawed personality shining through. His domestic policy views such as anti-global warming, anti-women’s rights, anti-regulatory, anti-healthcare, and pro-tax cuts for the wealthy are paper thin positions which he could alter in a heart beat, a heart beat which was advantageous for him personally.

And let us not forget, these domestic policies are largely held by Congress’ Republican majority.  Remember “repeal and replace”?

On foreign policies, like the US relationship with Russia, China, and NATO countries flow from incompetence. Trump’s ADHD-like focus is well demonstrated with global hotspots like Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, India, and North Korea… where Trump posits no over arching policy or consistency of action.   Whack-a-mole time, anyone?

So crying or lashing out at what an embarrassment President Trump might be, those dissatisfied ought to focus on what can be done. How about

  • Sharing your dissatisfaction with your Congress members, especially if they are Republicans
  • Gear up for the midterm elections and get out the vote – goal to take away control of the House or the Senate, or both from Republicans
  • Come to grips with a “center, slightly left” agenda.  Defer a highly progressive platform until 2024
  • In 2020, get out the vote and pick anyone but Donald Trump.

Complaining about the person our system elected won’t fly. Everyone deserves a portion of the blame. And, the only way to find relief (and consolation) is through the ballot box.

The Wheel Goes ‘Round

August 16, 2017

A useful exercise for any person, 8 months into the Trump Presidency, might be to recall or read recounts of George W Bush’s 8 years. While there is little similarity between “W” and the Trumpster, as individuals, there are all sorts of signals that the Trump Administration is stumbling down a similar, risk infested path. Time will tell if the outcomes repeat those of “W”.

George W Bush was elected in a contested race with a minority of the popular vote and a generous assist from the Supreme Court to garner a small majority in the Electoral College. Despite this modest victory, the Bush team treated his win as a mandate.

The Bush White House asserted the country demanded change and “W” would bring it.
The Bush White House began its term with a positive Federal Budget, but that did not last long. Lock step with his Republican controlled Congress, “W” sought and received Congressional OK for tax reductions (actually 2). The tax reductions were intended to “pay for themselves” but as surely as supply side economics does not work, “W” cuts drove the Budget negative and the Federal Deficit began to grow.

Then world events entered the picture. Terrorists hijacked four airliners and crashed three of them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The fourth aircraft was intentionally crashed just east of Pittsburg when passengers attempted to take back control.

But 9/11 set off a series of inexplicable events fully unforced White House errors.
With most of the world’s countries acting as allies, the US undertook a police action in Afghanistan and in short order, decapitated the Taliban government which had allowed Osama ben Laden and al Qaeda to operate openly. Then without notice or debate, the police action morphed into regime change and nation building. Oh, and by the way, more spending without any budgetary method of paying, hence the deficit grew even faster.

Bush and his Congressional colleagues were also certain there was over regulation from previous administrations and simply too much government. “W’s” approach was department budget cuts and even better, to appoint department leaders who would look the other way on their Departments administrative duties. Hubris took on new meaning.

Unfortunately, nature sent its own message in the form of Hurricane Katrina.

With the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) headed by an inexperienced Michael Brown, the nation got to see a leader more concerned about his appearance than possessing the competence necessary for “managing” a response to a natural devastation.

On a different matter, to this day, there exists no credible explanation for why “W” allowed the US to invade and occupy Iraq. For sure there are attempts to attach the Iraq War to faulty intelligence but strategically there has never been a credible explanation.

The War cost the US the better part of a trillion dollars, resulted in thousands and thousands of severe casualties and deaths, and most glaring, unleashed the Islamic schism, Shiite versus Sunni, on the world. (Talk about opening Pandora’s box). Had President Bush not stacked the Defense and State Department key advisors with “yes men”, one would hope cooler minds could have steered the US clear of this foreign policy and humanitarian disaster.

But “W” saved its most ignominious transgression of commonsense for his unbridled encouragement of free enterprise, particularly in areas of banking and Wall Street. The notion that decisions made by chief executives and boards of directors had both the Country’s and their personal well being in mind turned out to be naive and without merit. Without clear sensible rules, corporations and Wall Street were ships without rudders.

The emerging culprit was a red hot housing mortgage market put on steroids by Wall Street securitization. Incredibly, everyone (administration and Wall Street) believed that said buying and selling “security packages” with contained a “piece” of hundreds of individual mortgages (combined into one security) was guaranteed to minimize, no dare I say, eliminate the risk mortgage failure. With no government set of rules, and no government authority watching the foxes in the hen house, the recession of 2007/8 soon grew to the near depression of 2008/9.

Now fast forward to 2017. The US has another Republican President elected with a minority of the popular vote and who thinks his policies flow from a national mandate. “The American People” spoke and President Trump is here to put those demands into action. Hmmm.

Similarly to 2000 when former President Bush took office, a set of domestic policies which favor the already wealthy and pander to the conservative minorities has emerged from both the White House and Congress.

The President and his Cabinet secretaries have reverse dozens of former President Obama’s domestic policies. From National Parks and Monuments to oil and gas exploration to Wall Street risk reduction regulations to FDA heath and safety controls.

But not satisfied with this list of high risk, low return policies changes, out are also the Trans Pacific Trade Pact, the Paris Global Warming Agreement, and NAFTA. Hmmm.

The inescapable teaching from the Bush years was that “no regulations” was extremely dangerous in the complex global world we live in. Society and corporations need clear rules with bright lines that cannot be crossed. The absence of rules and the reinforcement of the notion that government or the private sector can be trusted leads to the worst kind of outcomes… where the average person suffers while the wealthy thrive.

The answer to this quandary is not necessarily a Democrat Administration. Over regulation comes with its own set of problems. The country, instead, needs pragmatic, fact and science based policies. Polcies which blindly please one set of constituents such as labor unions, environmentalists, or anti-war groups could have as devastating consequences as those favoring Wall Street, Corporations, religious zealots, and xenophobes.

What is needed is a President and a Congress that values measured responses, recognizes social changes, and follows policies which allow American businesses to thrive in a global economy.

Bake Me A Cake

August 14, 2017

Jack Phillips is a baker from Colorado who denied serving a gay couple who asked him, in his capacity as a bake shop owner, to bake them a wedding cake (as he would for anyone else). Mr. Phillips claimed his deeply held religious views, which see homosexuality as a sin, prevented him from serving the gay couple. Colorado Courts have held against Mr Phillips but never the less, Mr Phillips has (clearly with outside support) appealed his case to the Supreme Court. Hmmm.

In the political world, pandering is a high art form. Some on the Supreme Court have been searching for a case to strengthen the First Amendment’s religious freedom clause and may see Mr Phillip’s case as a way to make a statement. IMO, the Supreme Court is entering very dangerous waters, especially if they should uphold an individuals right to discriminate.

Will the Court decide that in the cases of the LGBT community, discrimination (denial of service based upon sexual orientation) is acceptable?

What about deeply held religious views on race, gender, or white supremacy?

No one is saying Mr Phillips or any other holder of deeply held religious views cannot believe them or cannot lead their own life based upon these views. What should be at stake is that in a secular society, no one, regardless of how strongly held their personal religious views might be, has the right to impose their personal views on anyone else.

Regrettably, with the Hobby Lobby decision, the Court has already erred and may find this case too tempting and will reverse the Colorado Courts decision.

I wonder how the Court would rule if Mr Phillips had denied service to, say a Catholic or Baptist or Muslim for similar reasons?