October 4, 2017 § Leave a comment
A couple of days ago in Las Vegas a man entered a hotel carrying an arsonal of weapons designed for malitary combat. He checked in to a room near the top floor, broke a window offering a view of his target and, when a crowd gathered to enjoy a few hours of music, he opened fire with an automatic weapon equipped with a powerful scope and, from his perch a mile away from his targets, began, with deadly accuracy, indiscriminately killing people. In a few minutes he killed 58 people and wounded hundreds more.
Until he pulled the trigger everything he did (othe than breaking the window) was not only legal but protected by the laws of the United States of America. His right to own unlimited numbers of military weapons designed specifically for that kind of killiing and inappropriate for hunting or any other harmless sport, was a gift from the National Rifle Association and its political supporters.
Given these facts it seems irrelevant to me for the resources of law enforcement to be wasted trying to discover why this murderer did what he did. The guilty perpetrators of this tragic crime are well known and politically powerful: They are those who raise money and organize political supoort for the laws that furnished him with the opportunity to acquire those weapons. They hide behind the 2d Amendment to the Constitution but this is a transparent sham. The “right to bear arms” is, indeed, a Constitutionally protected right but, like all legal rights, it is not immune from reasonable restriction. The Constitution also protects our right to travel from one state to another but that does not mean that traffic laws and safety laws cannot be imposed and enforced.
I do not believe my fellow citizens, if they consider this issue carefully, are generally so bereft of empathy and common sense, that they would allow their elected representatives to permit and protect this kind of horror. I am proud to be an American. Our country has a well earned reputation for justice and fearless willingness to protect the helpless and weak from harm at the hands of murderers and deranged people. I choose to believe we have failed to solve this problem because the NRA has cleverly misrepresented the issue.
I spent my working life arguing in court, in labor arbitrations, political campaigns and other arenas for verbal combat. I found pertinent analogies to be useful as a means of illustrating the nature and consequences of an argument. So, here is my effort to illustrate why our gun laws need to be revised.
For many decades the National Rifle Association was an honored organization, devoted to teaching gun safety to young people and supporting helpful laws related to hunting and target shooting. Some time in 1960’s, the leadership of the organization changed and it began to use fear to stoke fundraising efforts, claiming “they” are coming to take away your guns. They argued that every restriction on gun use or ownership was a “slippery slope” ending in the total disarming of everyone. That dishonest claim destroyed any reasonable regulation of gun ownership. The result killed and maimed inocent people in Las Vegas last week.
Here is an analogy for you to consider:
PETA Unlocks the Zoos
A useful and honorable organization is PETA: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. It supports facilities for homeless pets, laws prohibiting cruel forms of livestock slaughtering, educational projects teaching the proper of treatment of animals. In other words, PETA is like the NRA was before its transformation.
Now suppose a new group gained control of PETA. This group decided to oppose zoos because they lock animals in cages and use other devices to restrict their movement. After many emotional appeals and tales of sad animals helplessly and hopelessly confined, they managed to secure the enactment of laws severely restricting the extent to which animals can be prevented from roaming at will. PETA advocates found “experts” to claim that, if provided with adequate food and shealter, animals would voluntarily remain within reasonable distance from their cages even if the cages were left unlocked.
Because zoos are generally located in urban environments with few lures or enticements for zoo animals, allowing the animals to come and go freely from their cages proved acceptable because the familiarity and safety of the zoo environment and the availability of adequate food served to prevent the animals from straying far from the zoos.
There were, however, periodic problems, especially with lions, tigers and wolves. Occasionally one or more of these predators would venture away from the zoo and attack someone. When this happened, PETA would attribute the attack to some mistake by employees of the zoo where the offending animal was housed. An investigation was always conducted to identify the reason for the unfortunate attack on a child or some unprotected adult. Assurance that the reason for the tragedy had been identified and was being corrected was always presented at a press conference.
On some occasions one or more of these predator animals would attack some gathering, like a birthday party or the parking area surrounding a stadium where some sports event was scheduled. These attacks attracted public attention and there were urgent demands that the animals be put back in their locked cages. PETA would respond with a barrage of TV ads attacking the cruelty of those who called for those restrictions. Each side gradually attracted political support and vigorous fund raising efforts.
As this issue developed, both sides began to raise substantial aounts of money and to support candidates for public office with large financial contributions. Emotional appeals, based on exaggerated claoms of cruelty and abuse associated with locked-cage zoos proved to be very effective bases for fund raising.
Now, before I leave this essay: My short account of PETA v. Zoos is a FANTASY. There is no possibility of PETA becoming an advocate for free-ranging lions.
I do claim this fanciful description of PETA being responsible for unlocked zoo cages is analagous to the NRA being responsible for dangerous and even mentally deranged individuals having access to military style weapons. No wolf, tiger or lion would have been capable of the mahem in Las Vegas. It has often been said that the most potentially dangerous and vicious animal is homo sapiens. Centuries of history surely erase all doubt of that statement.
It is way past time for an awakening. We can no longer afford to be governed by people who lack the courage and conscience to say “No” to the NRA.
August 22, 2017 § Leave a comment
In an essay entitled Common Sense I have proposed the creation of a complex of public fora where issues significant to American values and constitutional governmnent can be presented. Here are some issues which have been ignored, misrepresented or replaced with unjust ideas. They need to be revived and given their rightful place in our publc square.
Racial and Ethnic Jusice
Establishing sane and just relationships between black, hispanic and white people sharing our country has a five century history. Black people, kidnapped and brought here from Africa, endured centuries of brutal slavery before a horrific war freed them. Then, after a brief period of legally protected freedom, effective protection was withdrawn as part of dispicable political deal which bartared their rights away, leaving those living in the South at the mercy of cowardly masked thugs and exploitive politicians. This injustice persisted for decades as a shameful marriage of racist Democratic Party politicians and liberal Democratic Party leaders in the North. Finally, following WWII and some useful Supreme Court decisions, (e.g. Brown v. Board of Education and others ending discriminatory primary election rules), the walls of hate began to crumble. The laws prohibiting employment discrimination were enacted in the 1960’s, but lacked the enforcement power accorded organized labor in the 1930’s. Despite this flaw, progress toward justice slowly continued. Recent generations have benefitted from interracial marriage and social interaction. Our racist criminal justice system persists as an open wound.
This history needs to be taught, exposed and maintained as part of our public discourse
Ethnic injustice toward Hispanic Americans persists, though not as brutally as racial injustice. The plantation of oppression of Mexican American workers in South Texas was moderated when that community’s veterans returned from service in WWII. The political system was changed, but was replaced by a caste system based on the power of new political machine politics. Cesar Chavez led brave battles against the exploitation of farm workers by corporate farm owners. Some moderation has been achieved but more needs to be done. The treatment of immigrants from Mexico and South and Central America is abomnible and President Trump viciously uses fear to encourage their ill treatment, regardless of whether they are children and, in many cases, regardless of how long they have been residing in our country.
This history and the issues it raises needs to be presented to the present generation of Americans in the kind of public meetings I have proposed.
I believe the most important social, economic and legal development of the past hundred and seventeen years was the Wagner Act which enabled, through collective bargaining, the attainment of economic justice in the workplace for millions of Amrican men and women. The creation of the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) during the New Deal, in the 30’s, established a new set of standards for working class men and women.
The AFL, consisting primarily of the building trades, had existed since the formation of the nation. It borrowed its ideas from Britain. Crafts, like brick laying, painting, metal and leather working, et al. were taught by fathers to sons. The techniques were closely held in the heads and hands of the workers, so they could contine to be necessary for building and maintenance tasks. It was contrary to these strategies to openly share these skills with everyone. Pay was based on the worker’s skill and experience.
The CIO was based on radically different principles. It was designed for workers in coal mines, factories and refineries. It also attracted industry-wide support work like telephone workers and needle trade workers. Workers were trained on the job by other workers. Pay was based on the degree of danger, the comfort level of the workplace, workplace conditions like heat or cold. CIO unions were in favor of equality for different races and for men and women. However, during the first few decades of its existence, CIO contracts did not comply with its leadership’s ideas about these issues. Contracts typically were discrimnatory against blacks and women. That did not change until forced by legislation enacted in the 60’s.
Sometime in the 60’s, the AFLand the CIO merged, a development that increeased thier bargaining power but adversely affected progress the goals of equality
August 6, 2017 § 2 Comments
Recently the media has noted a declining percentage of our neighbors who cling to their faith in the rectitude and promise of President Trump. The number is estimated to be 35%. I derive no comfort from these revelations for two reasons: First, an even lower percntage of our neighbors express faith in the government of our country, the only institution with the power to limit the authority of the President to continue his discredited policies. Second, in a population estimated to be 326,000,000, that means that 141,100,000 of our neighbors cling to their enthusiasm for President Trump.
These facts, to me, describe a country adrift, without effective guidance, in a perilous world. Multinational corporations and the United States military complex seem to be the only sources of effective power, a circumstance I regard with anxiety. It describes Germany in the 1930’s. It describes Egypt and Turkey, both of which are sinking into the hands of military-backed totalitarian governments.
Even our Supreme Court, the institution charged with the preservation of our Constitutional republic, appears to be in the hands of a majority who seek the ressurection of legal principles which opposed Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Justices like McReynolds and Field, in the 1920’s and ’30’s, sought to superimpose on the Constitution the limitations of what they referred to as “Natural Law” which, in practice always coincided with and favored the interests of business corporations and thwarted the collective efforts of the people, acting through their government
The Nature of Mass Delusions
Dangerous nonsense thrives when one or more of the following is true:
First, there is widespread disparity of access to accurate and pertinent information. For the first few centuries of life in our country, this disparity prevailed between the majority of our citizens who lived in generally isolated small villages and settlements and a minority who lived and did business in cities. Our literature and folk lore is replete with stories of the “rube” from the country who is the victim of manipulation by a “city sliker”. This phenomenon prevailed until the 1920’s when the automobile and the radio significantly erased this isolation.
Second, there is general access to many sources of information but no filter to insure its reliability. Britebart and numerous similar sources offer carefully crafted misleading and false information equally accessible with CNN, CBS, NBC and BBC. The Internet and the ubiquity of smart phones leave individuals no way to distinguish lies and baloney from truthful information.
Third, significant disparity of knowledge between the originator of information and its consumer and target. “Insider trading” and commercial advertising are examples of this kind of trolling for suckers.
Fourth, the educational background and store of knowledge of the consumer of information determines his or her ability to evaluate and choose sources of information.
To summarize: Our technology, a potential asset for the dissemination of knowledge, has, instead become a treacherous vehicle for demagogues to peddle their messages of hate, division and chaos and to undermine the fail-safe protections of our Constitution.
The Intellectual Ancestors of Trump
The self-absorbed buffoon, supremely oblivious of his own stupidity and groossly unsuited for the task he has chosen, is a character famously protrayed by talented writers and playrights.
The first great novel, Don Quixote de La Mancha, Cervantes’ two volume masterpiece, featured a hero who, after reading tales of dashing knights, fair maidens and thrilling exploits, failing to understand they were fictional, embarked on his own quest for fame and fortune. His efforts were, like our similarly self deluded President, fraught with a series of pratfalls and misadventures.
A few decades earlier, Shakespeare enlivened four of his plays with the antics and absurd exagerations of John Falstaff, who, like Trump, shamelessly misrepresented his accomplishments, ignored his critics and never acknowledged his errors, regardless of how plainly they were perceived by others.
Our own Nobel Prize winning novelist, Sinclair Lewis, immortalized a religious huckster who, again like Trump, transfixed large crowds with emotional performances, promising salvation and happiness to his listeners while offering them protection from threatened harm from their enemies, the devil, in Gantry’s tents personified as Democrats in Trump’s.
For a few decades, beginning in the 1920’s, a couple of cartoonists, Gene Ahem and Bill Freyse, entertained readers of the funny papers with the puffery and exaggerated exploits of Major Hoople in a comic strip named Our Boarding House. The Major, who was a sargent in the Civil War, promoted himself with endless bragging about his bravery, just as Trump never tires of regaling listeners with accounts of his financial successes, artfully omitting mention of his bankruptcies and the legal settlements of suits brought by victims of his tortious misconduct and desperately refusing disclosure of his income tax returns.
Another example of an earlier model of the Trump was Huey Long, the rags to riches Louisiana politician who epitomized Edgar Lee Masters’ warning through one of his characters in Spoon River Anthology: “Beware of the man who rises to power on one suspender.” Long was a demogogue who, like Trump, built an empire with extravagant construction projects. Less fortunate than Trump, Huey’s governorship was cut short by assassination. Also, unlike Huey, Trump had a handsome inheritence, not one suspender, to assist his rise to power. A novel about a character like Huey Long, also the basis for a movie, is All The Kings Men by Robert Penn Warren. Despite the similarities, Warren has stoutly denied his novel was a roman à clef .
Extraordinary Popular Illisions and the Madness of Crowds
Just as the Trump character has several fictional and real identifiable ancetors, his ability to mesmerize large numbers of people with his outsized promises of prosperity has similar historical examples. Several of these have been described in a fascinating book by Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Illusions and the Madness of Crowds. The book can be read online as a PDF file at https://vantagepointtrading.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Charles_Mackay-Extraordinary_Popular_Delusions_and_the_Madness_of_Crowds.pdf
[Incidentally, according to Wikipedia, Bernard Baruch said that what he learned from reading this book,, prompted him to sell all his stock before the crash of 1929.]
The book invites skipping around among chapters listed in the table of contents. Unfortunately I was unable to find any way to skip directly to a particular chapter, so scrolling is required.
This book was published in 1841. I contains a well written account of about a dozen instances when greed motivated crowds of otherwise sane and sensible people to hand over their money to promoters of schemes so bizarre as to challenge the imagination. The events occurred in the 17th and 18th centuries when education levels varied significantly according to class and communication technology was primitive by our standards, thus leaving ordinary people without any means of checking the accuracy of tales of foreign lands or in places inaccessible to the public, like laboratories, mines and business offices.
The circumstances were, as a result, ripe for promoting promises of wealth based on incomplete and sometimes deliberately false information.
Here are a couple of examples: Tulipmania: descibes the obsession of British citizens with tulip bulbs from Holland and the amazing marketing of different colors of tulips, leading speculators buy and sell popular species at inflated prices until the market collapsed, leaving a wreakage of lost fortunes.
The South Sea Bubble is a more famous example. Tales of gold located in Peru and Mexico served as a basis for a partnership between the British government and some private investors in ventures promising great profits from access to those mines. Shares were marketed in the project and crowds of English men and women risked fortunes competing for those shares, whose value inflated significantly until the scheme collapsed, leaving prominent members of Parliament and countles private citizens victimized and impoverished. This occurred before limited liability laws protected investors to the extent they do now. The consequences were, therefore, more catstrophic than they would be today..
The South Sea Bubble, like public confidence in the financial prowess of Trump, is an amazing exemple of publc gullibility because: (a) At the time of the Bubble, Peru and Mexico were part of the empire of Spain and, hence, not available for exploitation by the British. and (b) Trump’s claims of financial prowess depend entirely on the claims by him and his family, all made while vigorously opposing efforts to enable public access to his income tax returns.
This morning I watched Fareed Zakaria’s program on CNN. He is, for me, close to Paul Krugman as a source of intelligent information about what is happening. During his opening remarks he spoke of a new book by Mark Lilla, The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics. I have ordered a copy.
Lilla’s message is, according to Zakaria: The Democratic Party needs to broaden its appeal beyond the issues of race, ethnicity and abortion. He does not argue that these issues should be abandoned, but those who disagree, for example, with abortion rights should not be excluded from the appeal of the Party. Lilla is a Catholic and is not a supporter of abortion rights but he regards himself as a liberal .
I am not making any judgment, obviously, because I haven’t read the book. I have, however, expressed before my frustration about the Democratic Party’s indifference to the rights of unions.
In that way, I feel like Lilla: I find no comfortable place in political efforts which, in my opinion, fail because they treat the working class as in need of education, deserving rebuke for their lack of enthusiasm for racial justice, and as a group having limited relevance in this age of technological sophistication. I attribute the loss of the recent election to these policies and to the fact that neither the Clinton nor the Obama administration paid any attention to the rights of working people.
Welfare programs and training school scholarship programs do not empower the beneficiaries. We are suffering because the only empowered force is corporate wealth. Hiring more experts in money raising and TV ad design is not going to solve our problem.Empowering the working class is the only weapon that will change the political dialogue. That will take years and it’s way past time for the Democratic Party to awaken and begin the process.
In the meantime, I have enjoyed a few hours of placing our present embarrassment in the White House in some kind of historical and sociological context.
July 15, 2017 § Leave a comment
It is apparent to me that private corporations are not content to exercise their ownership rights to our country through agents holding elective offices. They now have control of the Supreme Court, the Congress and the Presidency. Because of decades of gerrymandering voting districts in key states, their political control seems secure.
Regardless of these circumstances, however, their paranoia persists. They have been unable to abolish the Constitution and, short of a military takeover, they cannot control the constant movement of population. These population shifts threaten the permanence of their artful design of voting districts. Also they are aware of the historical record of political strength: At some point, the excesses of political winners becomes too brutal and the victims become too numerous to be ignored.
When that occurs, if the victims are organized, the reaction can be troublesome.
The Final Solution
Current events indicate to me the nature of the solution chosen by the multinational corporations whose owneership rights are threatned. They are seeking to become the owners of the vital resources and structure of America; a sort of corporate socialism. Just as Marx sought to establish communist control of the western industrial world, I think the business corporations have decided to do the same thing: Not the dictatorship of the proletariat. The dictatorship of the corportariat.
The Privatized Military
The privatizing of the military, starting with the Viet Nam War, has become a reality. They dying will still be done by patriotic young men and women but the profit making and the choice of battlefields will be left to corporate leaders, motivated by protection and enrichment of their stockholders.
The Privatized Infrastructure
The corporate commisar, Donald of the Orange Hair and forked toungue, has already proposed the privatizing of the airports. The next step in this takeover is already in the news. America’s infrastructure is in dire need of rebuilding. Highways, bridges, ports, goverment buildings and national parks all have been allowed to deteriorate and must be refurbished in order to meet the needs of corporate business. So, rather than solving the problem with public funds provided by reasonable revision of the tattered and hodgepodge tax system, the solution proposed is privatization. When this has been accomplished, the corporate takeover of America will be virtually complete as a result of one fairly common procedure for one corporation to acquire another corporation: Simply buy its assets.
The Health Care Dilemma
Corporations need functional human beings to perform profit making work. And, because human beings need health care, the corporate solution is to design a system that provides enough health care to maintain a necessary work force at an affordable cost including a reasonable profit margin for the component providers: hospitals, drug providers, doctors and nurses and equipment adequate to provide profit-efficient health care. The system must be delegated to state governments rather than the federal government because corporate control of state government is much cheaper than corporate control of the federal government.
The “block grant” solution is an obvious ploy crafted to disguise the brutality of offering young and healthy people cheap and minimal health plans, forcing older and sicker Americans out of the health care system by imposing premiums higher than they can afford. Everyone knows that any insurance system is based on fixing costs in a pool composed of a mix of high risk and law risk members. When this is not the case, “insurance” become a cruel joke for those most in need of its benefits.
Four centuries ago, Thomas Paine wrote a little pamphlet he named Common Sense. In it he called attention to the injustice of the colonial system which rewarded the patrician class at the expense of the working class. He goaded his readers to share his outrage. His ideas fanned the embers that culminated in American independence and, later, encouraged rebels in France to storm the Bastille and launch the French Revolution.
I think we need an updated version of Common Sense. Not a call for violence. That would only lead some naive and brave people toward certain death. We should borrow from the most famous and vile politicians of our generation: Adolph Hitler and Donald Trump.
Those two demonic demagogues rose to power with giant outdoor rallies. Trump proved false the “conventional wisdom” that TV and the internet had made obsolete outdoor political rallies. On the contrary we have seen countless thousands of people enthusiasticly attending outdoor meetings where they cheered performers, some of whom were wise and serious and others who were recklessly dishonest rabble rousers.
The Chautauqua Solution
I think we need to reach back in our history and recreate a modern version of Chautauqua meetings. That label will not do because few people alive now would know what the name refers to. A new name would have to be devised. My favorite is “Common Sense for Common People”.
These meetings would not be based on any candidate’s campaign for office. They would carefully maintain their credentials as nonpartisan educational and entertainnent meetings. When weather permits, some gatherings could be outdoors in atheletic stadiums. Otherwise they could be held in public venues; in small towns’ school auditoriums; in major cities, in college and university auditoriums. A small admission charge could be collected, like 2 dollars, enough to pay for the facility or the permits required.
What Would Be the Purpose and Message Presented at Common Sense Meetings?
Here is the curriculum I think is missing from our public discourse:
- Corporate wealth did not result from individual or collective effort or ingenuity. It is based on public wealth, primarily public land, originally granted to finance railroads, public roads, cattle empires, water ways and publicly funded ocean ports. I have posted esays on this blog describing this process. Do a search for We Built It and Damn Yankees, Inequality and Corporations.
- The difference between government purposes and corporate purposes should be clearly explained: A corporation is legally required to exist and invest all its efforts in the interest of its stockholders. Our democratic republic is required by its Constitution to exist and invest its efforts in support of the “general welfare” of its citizens. Corporations exist to make money. The US Government exists to protect us – all of us – from all enemies, foreign and domestic.
- A proper duty of a country’s government is to provide a safe and healthy environment for its inhabitants. The right to live is a fundamental right and adequate health care is a necesary requiremnt for the protection of that right. Equitable taxation should provide for universal health care.
- A proper understanding of government policy is necessary for the successful operation of a democratic republic. Voting is a duty of every citizen and the performance of that duty requires access to unbiased honest access to information. Disagreement and intellectal conflict is proper, protected in fact by our Constitution, so information should be available in support of all sides of public discourse, povided the speakers acknowledge the truth and value of paragraphs 1,2 and 3. These meetings should not offer an opportunity for people who hate American government, the Constitution and Bill of Rights upon which it is based. The proper roles of government and private enterprise is a subject that will forever be debated, as it should be. But the debate should be about a proper balance, not an attack on either source of power. That is, that balance should not benefit either government or private enterprise in ways detrimental or indifferent to the lives and welfare of Americn citizens, regardless of the size of their wealth.
- Speakers for the meetings should be recruited primarily from Academia or from the legal or medical profession. Speakers should be chosen based on two criteria: Their knowledge and their ability to convey information in a way understandable to people not members of the speaker’s field of learning. This said, their presentation should not assume the audience lacks intelligence. I have learned, based on 50 years of arguing to juries, that the assumption ordinary working people lack intelligence is a canard without merit or evidence. In describing these criteria I have not mentioned the clergy. There are some subjects appropriate for commentary by members of the clergy but those speakers should be chosen carefully to exclude anyone who considers it to be his or her duty to aim evangelical messages to his or her listeners or to condemn or disparage those who do not share his or her beliefs.
- Professional musicians and other entertainment professionals should be recruited to participate in these meetings. They should be chosen on the basis of their appeal to the target audience: Multi racial and multi ethnic working class Americans of all sexual orientations.
- On some occasions, debates should be arranged and representatives of different political groups should be allowed to participate but only with advance notice that racist or other form of bigotry would be stopped, forcefully if necessary. Also, strict limits should be enforced on the time alloted to each speaker. No solicitation of contributions or participation in activities in support of a political candidacy should be permitted. A candidate could present his or her ideas but not as part of an appeal for support or money.
- Obviously these suggestions are merely notions swirling in my head. Much planning by people smarter than I am must design this program. I think it should be planned as a permanent part of our country’s public life. I envision these meetings as places where newcomers can learn about our country and present residents can be given honest information as an alternative to the advertiser-driven pablum available on television.
- One more thing: Any peddler who tries to hand out circulars or other forms of advertising to the attendees should be firmly and publicly discouraged. No Tshirts, ugly hats or campaign paraphenalia. If he or she persists, he or she and his or her product should be denounced at the meeting. These meetings should not become a hangout for hucksters, private or political.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
Well, if you have stayed with me this far, you have been sharing one of my fantasies. I have no reason to believe a new public source of information will be created, although I will continue to hope for one.
I fear racial and political divisions are threatening to destroy the kind of America I crave. Our leaders seem more interested in exercising political power than finding ways to repair and preserve the fabric of our constitutional democracy. I think they make the mistake of believing that if the country is divided into two equal halves, they can gain power by making a clever, secret if practical, appeal to a small sliver of the group of which they are not a part in some way not threatening to their credentials among their supporters.
I have been around enough political campaigns to understand this kind of reasoning. The problem with it, given the present state of our politics, as Donald Trump is discovering, is that after you are elected with that strategy, you find yourself powerless because half your constituents are angry because you won and the other half are urging you to keep promises impossible without a dependable majority.
I am not comfortable with political compromises. In the past I have often joked that if I ever found myself supporting the majority, I would know that i’d sold out. I have lived to push politicians toward the limits of their ability to be re-elected, sometimes with success, some times not.
Now, however, I believe we are facing a crisis. Our Constitutional democracy has already lasted longer than any other government on the planet. Trump may have done us a favor by showing us what can happen if corporate power is allowed to operate without any effective check. Whether we know it or not, I think we are looking into the abyss. If Commander and Chief Trump blunders into a war, our game may be over and we might take the rest of our fellow primates with us. When the sane people around him can’t even control his asinine tweeting, why should we have any confidence they can prevent him or some of his reckless spawn from starrting a a war?
These fears motivate me to wish for some way to attract the attention of working class Americans with some truthful information that can refocus their attention on the values of our precious form of government.
Trump’s answer to everything is more corporate power and less government power. Tax cuts and a giant military force dominated by private mercenaries and corporate direction are all he is about. He and his family are worse than opponents of orderly government. They are so ignorant they literally know nothing about orderly government. Their intuitive answer to every problem is to bully and lie their way toward whatever outcome they seek. The world is too dangerous to allow buffoons like these to control our country.
Our Constitution makes avaiable to us an effective remedy for this problem: An informed and engaged electorate which shows up at polling places on election day. The proposal I offer is not to create a permanent majority committed to one political party. I believe our task is to establish a framework of political debate consistent with our basic form of government. I recognize that, in the past, this kind of appeal has been used to abuse the rights of dissenters. I am not suggesting a revival of the Red Scare days when accusations of communist influence led to gross abuse of government power.
My proposal does not suggest that anyone be sent to jail for whatever they believe. I am confident our constitutional republic will be appreciated and supported if it is explained plainly and intelligently. That is my intent and hope.
July 9, 2017 § 2 Comments
I recently read Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, by Neil deGrasse Tyson. It was not merely a pleasure, it was, for me, a rare and valued event: It changed my mind in some significant ways. At my age, most things I read simply entertain me or elaborate ideas I long ago incorporated as part of my belief and understanding. The exceptions I regard with surprise and appreciation. The last comparable event occurred when I read Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Picketty.
Professor Tyson has impressive credentials as an astrophysicist. In addition he is a deft writer capable of writing crisp prose packed with information in language easily understood by someone like me: a person with only a dabbler’s acquaintance with physics. His occasional interjection of humor made reading his book a pleasure.
In The Beginning
The book begins with a sentence I classify as an all-time winner as a “grabber”: “In the beginning , nearly fourteen billion years ago, all the space and all the matter and all the energy of the known universe was contained in a volume less than one-trillionth the size of the period that ends this sentence.” You have to be really jaded not to respond with “WOW!” when that sentence sinks in.
The Professor proceeds to describe, in near infinitessimal time segments, the process of the univers’s creation following the “Big Bang”, a gigantic explosion releasing all of the contents packed into the tiny dot described in his opening sentence. A nonosecond is a billionth of a second. A picosecond is a trillionth of a second. Some of time sequences pertinent to the development of the universe occurred in fractions of these terms.
For the first 380,000 years, the expanding universe was too hot and the vlocity of its component parts was too great to be visible to human eyes and instruments. Thereafter, the swirling sea of energy and precursors of atoms slowed to reach temperatures low enough for some components, affected by gravity according to Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (E=mc²), to form connections and begin the process of creating atoms and the process of creating matter that ultimately became our universe and its inhabitants, including us.
The Secret Life of the Cosmos
I was fascinated by two aspects of the material in this book: The description of the spatial environment in which we live. And the creative genius of the scientists who have probed its secrets and made possible our appreciation of its mysterious majestic reality.
The universe consists of matter and energy, but both of these components come in two flavors: ordinary and dark. There is six times as much dark matter in the universe as ordinary, everyday, the-kind-you-see matter. Dark matter is essential because, although we can’t see it and nobody knows much about it, gravity reacts to it and it provides a vital component which makes the system understandable as an orderly complex.
Dark energy emerged as the solution for another problem. No one knows what it cosists of but its effect has been discovered and calculated. There are two ways of measuring the distance from Earth to galaxies in far distant parts of the universe: One way measures the progressive changes in their luminosity as they recede. The second way calculates their velocity as they recede by measuring their movement relative to known points in their path.
A problem arose because the results of these two methods resulted in differing distances. The solution was finally achieved by discovering that what was hitherto regarded as empty space was, in fact, not empty. It was rife with particles of energy and matter which appeared and were destroyed too quickly to be measurable but which caused a kind of energy opposed to the gravitational force driving the expansion of the universe.
Einstein had earlier postulated the existence of this phenomenon but had become convinced that his calculations were in error. He described the episode as his greatest “blunder”. Years later, those who were wrestliing with the enigma of the two conflicting measurement techniques, returned to Einstein’s hypothesis he had named Lambda. They found that if they added Lamba to the comparison of the two measuring techniques, it neatly served as a perfect and predictable constant to resolve the conflict. You really must be a genius if your “blunders”, years after you die, become trusted useful tools.
So, to summarize, while we don’t yet know what dark energy and dark matter are, we can measure them, we know they exist and they enable us to predict the future of the expanding universe in which we live.
This book is full of references to very smart creative men and women who have begun to unravel and understand the nature of the universe. The most extraordinary member of this pantheon is, of course, Albert Einstein. The book describes him as a young man living in Germany when the Nazis rose to power.
The managers of the Third Reich drafted all scientists into service for their military and social aims. Based on their doctrinaire anti-semitism, they segregated the Gentiles from the Jews. They assigned the Gentiles to the tasks considered more prestigious: working in laboratories. They put the Jews in offices to engage in mental speculation and the production of written reports.
The outcome of this hateful decision turned out to be the kind of mistake illustrated by Uncle Remus in his tale of an enemy throwing Brer Rabbit into the briar patch, oblivious of the fact that the briar patch was BR’s natural habitat.
Rather than rephrase Professor Tyson’s homage to Professo Einstein, I offer it is his own words because I can’t improve on it:
“Albert Einstein hardly ever set foot in the laboratory; he didn’t test phenomena or use elaborate equipment. He was a theorist who perfected the ‘thought experiment,’ in which you engage nature through your imagination, by inventing a situation or model and then working out the consequences of some physical principle.
In Germany before World War II, laboratory-based physics far outranked theoretical physics in the minds of most Aryan scientists. Jewish physicists were all relegated to the lowly theorists’ sandbox and left to fend for themselves. And what a sandbox that would become.
As was the case for Einstein, if a physicist’s model intends to represent the entire universe, then manipulating the model should be tantamount to manipulating the universe itself. Observers and experimentalists can then go out and look for the phenomena predicted by that model. If the model is flawed, or if the theorists make a mistake in their calculations, the observers will uncover a mismatch between the model’s predictions and the way things happen in the real universe. That’s the first cue for a theorist to return to the proverbial drawing board, by either adjusting the old model or creating a new one.
One of the most powerful and far-reaching theoretical models ever devised, already introduced in these pages, is Einstein’s general theory of relativity—but you can call it GR after you get to know it better. Published in 1916, GR outlines the relevant mathematical details of how everything in the universe moves under the influence of gravity. Every few years, lab scientists devise ever more precise experiments to test the theory, only to further extend the envelope of the theory’s accuracy. A modern example of this stunning knowledge of nature that Einstein has gifted us, comes from 2016, when gravitational waves were discovered by a specially designed observatory tuned for just this purpose.
These waves, predicted by Einstein, are ripples moving at the speed of light across the fabric of space-time, and are generated by severe gravitational disturbances, such as the collision of two black holes. And that’s exactly what was observed. The gravitational waves of the first detection were generated by a collision of black holes in a galaxy 1.3 billion light-years away, and at a time when Earth was teeming with simple, single-celled organisms.
While the ripple moved through space in all directions, Earth would, after another 800 million years, evolve complex life, including flowers and dinosaurs and flying creatures, as well as a branch of vertebrates called mammals. Among the mammals, a sub-branch would evolve frontal lobes and complex thought to accompany them. We call them primates. A single branch of these primates would develop a genetic mutation that allowed speech, and that branch—Homo sapiens—would invent agriculture and civilization and philosophy and art and science. All in the last ten thousand years.
Ultimately, one of its twentieth-century scientists would invent relativity out of his head, and predict the existence of gravitational waves. A century later, technology capable of seeing these waves would finally catch up with the prediction, just days before that gravity wave, which had been traveling for 1.3 billion years, washed over Earth and was detected. Yes, Einstein was a badass.”
Reading this book and wrting about it has been a pleasant relief from angrily following Donald Trump’s antics at the G-20 meeting. He has surely removed all doubt about his reckless ignorance and his disgusting admiration and fawning attraction to brutal bullies like Vladimir Putin and the present president of Egypt. It will take generations to restore the reputation of America as an admired leader of the western world. We can only hope that process will begin before this idiot involves us in a nuclear war.
If you have any curiosity about the cosmos I heartily recommend Professor Thomas’ book. I have hardly scratched he surface of he information he has packed into about 200 pages of well written prose.
When I read this book and realized it had changed my way of thinking about the past and the future, I was reminded of one of my favorite movies. Inherit the Wind. It is based on the “Monkey Trial” in which Clarence Darrow defended a science teacher in Tennessee who was charged with a criminal offense for violating a state law prohibiting the teaching of evolution. William Jennings Bryan represented the prosecution. The movie features two of Hollywood’s finest actors, Spencer Tracy as Darrow and Frederic March as Bryan.
The movie and the real life event illustrated how science and information compel intellectual changes. Here is a clip portraying Tracy’s devastating cross examination of March:
It begins with an ad. You can skip it after 10 seconds. Enjoy.
May 10, 2017 § 1 Comment
The Current Uproar
Yesterday President Trump fired James Comey, the FBI Director. The news commentariat is obsessed with his motives for that decision. His critics contend he was fearful lest Comey and his investigators would uncover damning evidence of collusion between Vladimir Putin and Trump or his managers and advisors to discredit Hillary Clinton and favor Trump during the presidential election campaign. This would cast a shadow of doubt about the legitimacy of Trump’s election to the presidency; i.e. “Did he really win the election or was it handed to him by Putin?”
The President’s supporters dismiss this problem and staunchly support his claims: Comey’s termination was required because he failed to sufficiently ascribe blame for Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. This excuse is obviously false. Trump’s contemporaneous tweets praising Comey’s handling of the email matter as well as the long delay between the alleged cause and the alleged effect both serve to equate Trump’s claims with the legendary excuse of the errant schoolboy: “My dog ate my homework.”
A Modest Alternative Suggestion
I have no more evidence of President Trump’s motives for firing Comey than those who assume he did so to discredit in advance any conclusion by Comey incriminating the Trump campaign or Trump himself. I do, however, offer a different possibility. My modest suggestion is based on the following facts:
Negotiations Trump Style
Donald Trump made his fortune by a lifetime of negotiations with lenders, builders and land owners. This record reflects a negotiation style discernible as follows: Use borrowed money to finance projects. Repay debts based on a comparison of the probable consequences of repaying them versus the probable consequences of not repaying them or repaying only part of them. This simple formula is also applicable to paying for goods and services purchased to build improvements on acquired land. This method of handling money was accompanied by a style of person-to-person interaction based on flattery, intimidation and deception,, a style developed to a high degree of skill sufficient to divert attention from the policy of debt repayment mentioned above.
The result of these skills and methods was the accumulation of a fortune of many billions of dollars. [ In passing: In some ways Trump’s skill is similar to that of a successful poker player.]
Negotiations Putin Style
Vladimir Putin is a lifelong practitioner of the art and skill of a spymaster. He acquired those abilities during decades of service in the Soviet Union’s foreign intelligence service and, after the Soviet Union’s empire was decimated and Russia became a separate country, more decades spent using those same skills to rebuild that empire. Here is a brief summary of one of those skills:
Select a person with authority and access to information or authority over the policies of a foreign nation. Learn some potential vulnerability of the target person. Design some way to use that vulnerability to induce the target person to engage in some action or inaction which, if publicly disclosed, would harm or embarrass the person. Then blackmail the target person with a threat, either express or implied, of disclosure of the embarrassing information. Then control the actions or inaction of the target person in ways advantageous to Putin.
A Possible Explanation of Putin’s and Trump’s Motivations
When I imagine the interaction of Putin and Trump during the presidential campaign and Trump”s brief term as President of the United States, I see them as gladiators in an arena in ancient Rome, circling each other. Trump holds a trident. Putin holds a net. Each is confident of his ability to protect himself from the other and ultimately benefiting from the contest.
My speculation about this matter began with a question: “Who undoubtedly knows exactly what interactions occurred between Trump and his family and advisors and Putin?” The obvious answer was, “Putin”. I then asked myself, “What would be the consequences of disclosing the details of those interactions?” “Would that disclosure harm Putin?” “Would that disclosure harm Trump?” I suspect it would harm both but in different ways and to different degrees of seriousness.
How Would Disclosure Harm Putin?
If there were financial and policy agreements between Putin and Donald Trump, his family and advisors, they probably involved the enrichment of Putin. Making deals facilitating profits resulting from land, loans and construction of buildings is native to Trump’s tool house. That’s what he does. The carefully groomed and constructed public image of Putin as the leader of a communist country, however, hardly matches someone who makes deals with the world’s most famous capitalist from the world’s most prominent capitalist country for the purpose of garnering millions of dollars worth of personal gain.
Even if I’m wrong about Trump cutting Putin in on some of the Trump family business deals involving property and franchises in Russia as well as Russian property deals in the United States, Putin had a powerful motive to prevent Hillary Clinton from becoming President of the United States. They had a mutually hostile relationship with each other during Hillary’s service as Secretary of State.. Putin had good reason to know his problems would multiply during a Clinton presidency.
So, I think Vladimir Putin was understandably nervous about the FBI led by James Comey , digging deeply into the nature and details of transactions and cooperation between himself and Donald Trump or Trump’s family or advisors. Of course Putin does not have the problem of a free press or unbridled democracy. Still, his reputation as a strong and incorruptible communist leader is doubtless important to him.
How Would Disclosure Harm Trump?
The exposure of details of collaboration with Vladimir Putin would not only harm Donald Trump, it might trigger a call for his impeachment. First it would indelibly ink the word “liar” on his forehead. This could not be shrugged off as merely another example of his well known mendacity. Evidence that the President of the United States colluded with a Russian leader to affect a presidential election could not be ignored. This would be true whether it involved face-to-face negotiations between Trump and Putin, or negotiations between the Trump family and advisors with Putin. Such evidence would be a major political problem for Trump.
If there were such negotiations – and I strongly suspect there were – we can be sure Putin took care to keep records, notes and probably surreptitious recordings of them. If that kind of evidence were presented on the evening news shows, the results would make Nixon’s recorded plots with his advisors look like a weenie roast by comparison.
So, What Do I Think Might Have Happened?
I believe it is likely that sometime last week Vladimir Putin or some courier of his sent a message to Donald Trump: “You must shut down James Comey and this FBI investigation. I can’t afford to have our financial and political dealings exposed. If you don’t take the necessary action I will publicly acknowledge or disclose through third party sources the nature of our arrangements to discredit Hillary Clinton. I will justify my part of that effort as a means of preventing a known enemy of the Russian empire, to which I owe allegiance, from gaining control of the power of the United States of America. I leave it to you to decide how to justify your participation and benefit from our joint efforts.”
I think that threat of blackmail was received and perfectly understood by Donald Trump. I believe it explains why, without any meaningful consultation with his White House Staff, he fired James Comey.
If I am right, we now have a President who is subject to the control of a hostile world power. It is a chilling thought because Donald Trump does not take kindly to being controlled by anyone. The real danger is that he will resort to the only way to free himself from Putin’s control: wage WWIII.
May 1, 2017 § Leave a comment
Hoy es Uno de Mayo! Arriba la Bandera Roja!
Today is May Day. It is a day to celebrate the rights of working class.Americans: the millions of workers who came before us and fought and died for reasons as relevant today as they were then. The names have changed and the available weapons are different but the issues remain. Here is link to a brief account of some of those early conflicts. http://www.iww.org/history/library/misc/origins_of_mayday
Our Constitution protects our right to seek and accomplish revolutions without bloodshed. The Internet affords us a free weapon to wage war to restore the core values of America: Freedom of expression; Free and honest elections; and Decent regard for the health, welfare and opportunity for working class Americans.
The First Amendment protects our right to express our outraged resistence to the assault on these values by a corporate cabal led by a loud mouthed buffoon who opposes us with tweets. If we surrender to a tweeter,, we disgrace ourselves and dishonor those whose courage we commemorate this May Day. The Internet and the streets can be a battle ground for a peaceful revolution. They must not share the fate of Rip Van Winkle’s rifle, rusting as he slept through a revolution.