It’s The Truth – Except When It’s A Lie

“If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”

― Adolf Hitler

A rephrasing of the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer’s (opposite) observation about the truth: “A lie passes through three stages. First, it is rejected. Second, it is considered. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” If he read Schopenhauer (as he may well have), this may well have been the basis of Hitler’s quote above seventy years after Schopenhauer’s death.

It is truly amazing what some people believe, especially due to what is being called the “Info Wars”, about everything today – it’s difficult (at best) to discern what is fact from fiction, what is truth or lie.

One could blame unscrupulous trolls or manipulative “foreign agents” on the Internet or on Social Media, or statements by self-aggrandizing politicians or preachers, or family/tribal lore. One could blame some people for merely being trusting but gullible fools, or the educated who simply lack the time or means to do the required diligent research on their own to find what is true or lie.

And one would be right. All that is to a lesser or greater share for the reason why so many people just don’t know what’s true anymore. Especially when it comes to politics.

An interesting study and experiment was done at Yale, to see if conservatives could be turned into liberals. Apparently, they can be. The results say a lot about our political divisions (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2017/11/22/at-yale-we-conducted-an-experiment-to-turn-conservatives-into-liberals-the-results-say-a-lot-about-our-political-divisions/?utm_term=.1f8af09c0744).

My citing this study is not meant to pick on conservatives (I’m sure that a study and experiment to see if liberals could be turned into conservatives would yield similar results) any more than it’s my intent in citing another piece that helps explain why conservatives react to certain “hot button” issues, like immigration (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jul/14/identity-politics-right-left-trump-racism?) Of course, again, the opposite findings would be equally apparent if applied to a study of liberals – there surely are some things that are their “hot buttons” that are equally misguided.

The point I’m attempting to make is that the truth is subjective – we believe what we want to believe – especially when our belief is reinforced by others who tell us we’re right to believe it.

The bottom line here – my message today – is, don’t believe and accept as factual and true whatever you see or hear, and to always challenge – with an open mind, putting aside any preconceived biases you may have picked up or been indoctrinated in – what the truth really is. Because what you think is the truth might just be a lie.

I’m just sorry I can’t offer an easy fool-proof way that could prove it.

But that doesn’t mean we individually and collectively should ever give up trying, and just accept what we are told, regardless of the source.

– Bill

Politics and Religion – Same-Same – And Why Americans Are Giving Up On Both

“The most important [thing] is philosophy…interpret[ing] the law and not mak[ing] the law.”

– Jamil Jaffer

Jaffer’s quote was about picking someone to replace Justice Kennedy, who announced his retirement from the US Supreme Court yesterday. His exit ensures this to be the chief news de jour for the next few months to come as the President mulls over who he wants to replace Kennedy and until the Senate approves his choice (barring something horrific, like a major terrorist attack or war, that grabs the headlines and our attention).

But let’s look at the quote above. Like all things – especially words – when parsed, one needs to decide what meaning they confer. That is philosophy – dictionary defined as “the rational investigation of truth”. With respect to politics and law, and our Constitution, it is for each Justice to “interpret”, to find and to explain the meaning – the intent behind the words written by the Founding Fathers – as she or he sees it. And when a majority agree on meaning, then the Constitution (and hence, all law) means what they say it means.

Put another way, any consideration of what the law means today is based on the individual political “philosophy” of each Justice’s belief of what the Founding Fathers believed (their philosophy). Since these Fathers have been dead for some two hundred years, we can only take what they wrote within the context of their times. And, as the world has changed radically in so many ways over the last two hundred plus years, who can say with any surety that they wouldn’t say something different today?

The philosophy of the conservative is that jurists should only apply the law as originally written and the philosophy of the liberal is that jurists must make law applicable to today’s circumstances in light of societal change from the distant past.

Nonetheless, the Court “interprets” and “makes” law based on their “philosophy” of what they think the law should be, even if conservatives or liberals sometimes would have it otherwise. Hence, conflict.

And the same can be said about religion. The parallel is absolute, and the quote above is equally applicable.

Religious conservatives (regardless of what religion) believe that their holy writ must be interpreted and applied today as it was written (no matter however many thousands of years ago), whereas religious liberals maintain it must be interpreted within the context of the time it was written and either ignored or adapted to be applicable to today (because there is no way of knowing how the founding father(s) of the religion would think today, given all the changes that have occurred since then). Hence, conflict.

And Americans are getting fed up with the conflict between the conservative and liberal extremist divide in politics and religion, and are bailing out of participating:

• 39 percent of Americans identify as independents, more than they do as Democrats (32%) or as Republicans (23%). This is the highest percentage of independents in more than 75 years of public opinion polling (http://www.people-press.org/topics/political-party-affiliation/).

• Only 64 percent of eligible Americans registered to vote in 2016. Of that number, 40 percent of them didn’t vote. That means only 25.6 of all eligible and registered voters voted (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/05/21/u-s-voter-turnout-trails-most-developed-countries/).

• 40 percent of the unregistered say their aversion to politics is a major reason they don’t want to vote, and 35 percent say voting has little to do with the way real decisions are made, compared with 20 and 19 percent of registered but infrequent voters, respectively (http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/issue-briefs/2017/06/why-are-millions-of-citizens-not-registered-to-vote).

• A growing share of Americans are religiously unaffiliated…the religiously unaffiliated (also called the “nones”) now account for 23% of the adult population, up from 16% in 2007 (http://www.pewforum.org/2015/11/03/u-s-public-becoming-less-religious/).

• Of the religious, roughly three-in-ten U.S. adults (29%) now say they seldom or never attend worship services, up from 25% in 2003 (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/09/13/what-surveys-say-about-worship-attendance-and-why-some-stay-home/).

• Of that number, 22% are opposed to organized religion. They may hold certain religious beliefs, but they are not currently taking part in religious practices (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/08/24/why-americas-nones-left-religion-behind/).

• And among Millennials, it’s gonna get worse (https://religionnews.com/2018/06/26/why-millennials-are-really-leaving-religion-its-not-just-politics-folks/).

An increasing number of Americans are seeking “the rational investigation of truth” and don’t find it in the extremist philosophies of either pole. People don’t like either-or dogma, be it liberal or conservative, don’t like being told what to believe, what to do, or how to act by those who claim to be the anointed know-it-alls ready to condemn those who think otherwise.

The current state of politics and religion (different but the same) in America today is turning people off, and they are giving up on both.

– Bill

Our Dysfunctual Congress – Will the Adults Please Stand Up?

“There is an appropriate and necessary difference in the balance of power [in productive relationships, and]…there should be no power struggles…just [a] deep connection [of] trust, and respect between people who sincerely care about each other. In disruptive [relationships]…immature adults…seek to dominate others (one-up)… In [such] relationships…manipulation abounds. Especially when they start to feel out of control.”

― Tim Clinton

In any relationship – among two friends, husband and wife, employer and employee – there is always an element of differences between the wants or needs of the two and the subtle (sometimes more forceful) jockeying for position of which is to lead, which is to follow, when decisions have to be made. As pointed out in the quote above, to have a productive outcome in a relationship both must have respect for each other and the trust that each will sincerely care for and not abuse the other; otherwise the relationship will devolve into a power struggle for domination, with each trying to manipulate the other to gain control, if for nothing else than to win.

No where better to see an example of a disruptive relationship than that of the US Congress today. There are obvious differences in wants between the extremes of the two parties, who act as immature adults not trusting, not respecting, not caring for each other, manipulating whenever, whoever and whatever necessary in the attempt to dominate the other and take or keep total control. Such is the nature of the beast called politics.

And the mature adults, the centerists caught in the middle who have trust, respect and care for each other – and the American people they serve – are derided and demeaned by the extremes as traitors. I wrote in my post “The American Political Playground (or, Overcoming the Abyss) [July 18, 2017] that I wondered, rhetorically, “Are there any adults left?” (There are, of course, and Senator Lindsey Graham (Rep., SC) is currently the most obvious among them in his attempt to mediate between the extremes and engineer a realistic solution to the dysfunctional goings-on over the current budget dispute – and every other issue – in the Congress. I wish him and the others like him – in both parties – success.)

When strong feelings between two friends, a married couple, or employer and employees, threaten to dissolve the relationship, intervention with the intent to bring the parties back together and reconcile their differences with a mutually satisfactory solution is the role of a mediator.

I have some experience as a mediator, having taught such skills as proper meeting management, interpersonal communication, problem solving and conflict resolution between management and union for a federal agency, and facilitated their negotiations. I’ve also been a mediator for a local Victim Offender Reconciliation Program (VORP), also known as Restorative Justice, where juvenile offenders are often referred, to avoid court proceedings, in an attempt to have the victim explain to the offender how their life was impacted by the offense, for the offender to understand the consequences of their action, and to make a mutually agreed upon restitution to make the victim whole again. That isn’t easy and sometimes it’s not possible and the offender winds up facing a judge.

Likewise, friends cease to be, married divorce, companies fail.

The key element in any resolutional agreement is that both sides must be willing participants, willing to try to work together to find common ground, to work out their differences, to find a happy compromise both can live with.

Sometimes all one can do is hope for the best, but expect the worst.

And with our political divide, can it get any worse? I hope not. But it will need more than one adult in each house of Congress to mediate the divide.

Call or write your representatves and tell them to get onboard or get out of the way. Failure to compromise is not an option. Too much is at stake. Now’s not the time for immature one-up-manship games.

– Bill

Sports and Our National Anthem

“Sports and politics don’t mix.”

– Eric Heiden

Maybe they shouldn’t. But they do. And how that came about might suprise you.

How did a little known, mostly ignored, song about an incident involving our flag from the War of 1812 come to be the American national anthem?

But more importantly – given the on-going ruckus over the perceived disrespect by some to it and the flag – how did it become an intergral part of our sporting events?

“The Star-Spangled Banner” (adapted from an 1814 poem, “Defence of Fort McHenry”, written by Francis Scott Key) wasn’t our first “anthem”, nor was it a publically popular one for the first 117 years since it was first written. “Yankee Doodle” (1776) was the first. It was quickly replaced by “Hail, Columbia” (1798), which became the de facto national anthem (until an act of Congress proclaimed “The Star-Spangled Banner” as our official national anthem), and “America” (1832), which became an instant hit. Another, “America the Beautiful” (1910), has rivaled “The Star-Spangled Banner” – for more than 100 years there have been efforts to have it proclaimed a national hymn or as a second – or replacement for the current – national anthem.

In fact, “The Star-Spangled Banner” wasn’t first non-militarily-only performed publically until an 1862 baseball game in Brooklyn, New York, and only became an on-and-off again baseball ritual after Game 1 of the 1918 World Series between the Red Sox and Cubs at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, when a military band played it during the 7th inning stretch, and it’s reported that the Red Sox third baseman, Fred Thomas (playing while on furlough from the US Navy) stood at attention toward the flag flying at the stadium.

“The yawn was checked and heads were bared as the ball players turned quickly about and faced the music,” read the New York Times’ account the following day. “First the song was taken up by a few, then others joined, and when the final notes came, a great volume of melody rolled across the field. It was at the very end that the onlookers exploded into thunderous applause and rent the air with a cheer that marked the highest point of the day’s enthusiasm.”

Notice of that was not lost on the owners of major league baseball. While united in their support for American involvement in WWI in 1917, they where not pleased about their ball players getting drafted into the armed services. They also noted that, in addition to farmers, employees of businesses essential to the war effort were not subject to conscription. And morale-building was very essential to the war effort.

“Professional sports needed to define themselves as patriotic in order to be seen as a part of the war on the home front and center for morale rather than as an expendable entertainment which is how they were initially,” according to Mark Clague, an associate professor of musicology at the University of Michigan, one of the nation’s foremost experts on “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

So, it would seem that it was in the team owners’ financial self-interests to insure the anthem was played, with players appropriately standing patriotically at attention before the fans at every game, that kept the players out of the draft and baseball not just viable but profitable.

Even though “The Star-Spangled Banner” was officially adopted as the national anthem by congressional resolution in 1931, it wasn’t until WWII came along that professional Football also sought to wrap itself in the flag and the anthem; it had figured out that patriotism was good for business and protected them against being defined as a non-essential buisness, thus insuring its players protection from the military draft, just like the official national past-time, baseball.

And so, back to the ruckus over anthem etiquette at sporting events. It is nothing new (in 1954, Arthur Ellers, the WWI veteran and Baltimore Orioles’ general manager, once complained that spectators talked and moved around while the anthem was played.) Kaepernick (et al) are just the more recent incarnations of “disrespect” in the eyes of some.

That the NFL is in the center of the debate about what respect is due the anthem and flag is curious, when you consider that players weren’t even asked to stand for the anthem (with the exception of the Super Bowl) until 2009. That the current ruckus is over an only eight-year-old “tradition” is amazing.

Maybe the best solution is to stop playing the anthem at sporting events.

Sports shouldn’t be political. We have enough political drama everywhere else.

Shouldn’t we be allowed to escape it for a few hours a week?

– Bill

The Religion of Politics

“We have…associated religion and politics…we cannot leave our religiously based moral convictions outside the polling station, but we do need to remember the difference between civil and religious law.”

― Fr Iggy O’Donovan

The U.S. might have been the very first nation to officially ban the church from state affairs, allowing no restrictions on the exercise of religious beliefs except as a civil requirement for political office. To this day, most countries still have an official religion, and the head of state is usually considered the head of its’ church, even if it is in name only. Only those that are communist countries have either outlawed all religion or severely limit its practice.

Dispite our founding father’s intentions to keep religion out of politics, having learned of the atrocities other church-led governments had put upon their people, it has never really come about successfully here; the Christian religious (historically the majority belief in America) have always believed that it is God who institutes governments and believers believe that the government and every citizen – indeed, the world – should thus conform to biblical standards. To that end, they try – often successfully – to leglislate and impose their moral convictions upon everyone.

And yet, it is they that seem the most vocal in denouncing the radical jihadist Muslims who want to do the same, according to their religious beliefs.

Go figure.

It would seem that mankind, before it’s a political creature, is a religious one first and foremost. And some in the U.S. have taken it a step further and have elevated politics to a religious level, a sort of secular religion – without calling it religion – with all the trappings of organized religion. Consider the state of politics in America compared to organized religion:

• our national anthem for the Gloria Patri.

• our pledge of allegiance for the Apostles Creed.

• our national flag for the cross.

• our Constitution for the Bible.

• our Founding Fathers for saints.

• (with apologies to the Catholic Church), Washington D.C. is our Holy See, Congress is our College of Cardinals, the Supreme Court is our Signatura, the President is our Pope.

And the name given to this secular religion is Patriotism.

Most ardent adherents hold the belief that to not salute the flag (our cross) in any manner, to publicly refuse to say the pledge of allegiance (our Apostles Creed), to fail to stand at attention for the national anthem (our Gloria Patri), to interpret the constitution (our Bible) in any manner other than literally, to question the correctness of congressional (College of Cardinals) acts or supreme court (Signatura) rulings, to not hold the president (Pope) in the highest esteem, is unpatriotic (sacrilegious and anathema.) [As an aside, in religion, to genuflect – to “take a knee” – is considered reverential and worshipful; politically, today, it is considered disrespectful.]

But, like all religions, politics is fraught with schism, competing sects (parties or blocs within each – liberal, middle of the road, conservative), each (especially either extreme) proclaiming to be the anointed one, more correct and righteous than the rest.

And, as with any religion, the most pius, righteous believers insist on proper behaviour and the non-conforming (especially unrepentant heretics – those who don’t buy-in to the platform or dictates of the dominate party – call it religion – at the moment) are ridiculed, ostracized, or otherwise publicly rebuked and shamed into conformity or silence.

Don’t for a second think America is unreligious. We may not have a formal, national religion, but we do have the pantomine of one.

God save us.

– Bill

Doing the Right Thing Politically

“Like most of my colleagues, I promise my constituents a lot of stuff I can never deliver. But what the hell? If it makes them happy hearing it, and they’re stupid enough to believe it, shame on them…Forget public service… [It’s] all about self-service and selfish survival…If raising money is critical to getting reelected, so is spending taxpayers’ money to reward those who help get us reelected.”

― Congressman X, The Confessions of Congressman X

“[A]ll members of Congress should be required wear NASCAR uniforms. You know, the kind with the patches? That way we’d know who is sponsoring each of them… [T]hey’d never…do it but it’s a great idea and would wake people up in this country.”

― Brad Thor

It’s refreshing to hear the truth, even if it comes from a liar. I say liar because X is; he tells his local constituants he will represent their interests all the while knowing he will only serve himself and the interests of his true masters, those who financially fund his campaigns and expect payback. We shouldn’t be agaspingly shocked to learn this, it’s quite within the American Dream to want to be rich and/or powerful. Most who are have found differing ways but some have found it easier through politics than honest work.

There are – have to be – some politicians who honestly try to represent the interests of the people. But what people is the question. Forgetting those they’re financially beholding to, are they only the people of the district or state that elected them or is it the nation as a whole (what is good for the many, not just the few)?

That historic great member of the British Parliament and political philosopher Edmund Burke said (substituting “Congress” for “Parliment” and “District/State” for their divisions), “Congress should not be a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests… [whose] interests must [be] maintain[ed], as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but Congress is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole, where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole…You choose a member, indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not a member of a Congressional District/State, but he is a member of Congress.” Members of Congress should not merely represent the interests of their local constituants or political party over the interests of the nation and its citizens, as a whole. 

Likewise, our first president, George Washington, in his Farewell Address at the end of his presidency, warned against allowing one “faction” or one party to dominate. And we now have a government of one dominant party in all three branches – the Congress, Presidency, and Supreme Court. And within that party, one faction – the ultra-conservatives (the Tea Party-ists and their fellow travelers) – dominates that party. But taken together, all as one “faction”, we have governance along party lines not in consideration of the majority and the common welfare. (To be fair, when the other party – which is dominated by the ultra-liberals – are in control, the same thing happens.)

So it was refreshing to see last Friday one representative, Senator John McCain, a Republican, going against the interests of his party and its leaders and their financial backer’s wishes, to be the deciding vote against the conservative attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act – that enables tens of thousands of Americans to have health care insurance they otherwise couldn’t get or afford – with something draconian less.

McCain joined Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins (both Republicans) to be one of those rare representatives that (in this instance) honestly represented the interest of the people, not just that of their constituency, or their party dictates, but of all people, the nation.

And if we could put patches on the clothes of our representives to show who they really are serving, McCain, Murkowski and Collins would have last Friday been conspicuously wearing – prominently above any other patches – the American Flag.

– Bill

The American Political Playground (or, Overcoming the Abyss)

“Political Center [:] A demographic segment defined by a population of exactly zero.”

– “B.C.” (by John Hart, 7.18.2017)

When speaking about politics, one hears descriptions of “left”, “right” or “center” (liberal, conservative or neither). I’m not sure what the middle (center, neither) really means – does it mean those described as such are completely and utterly devoid of any political leanings whatsoever, right or left, or does it mean they do have beliefs, some liberal and some conservative, but that, on the whole, when adding them together and dividing them by the number, are canceling  each other out for a zero sum and, thus, they have no meaning or impact politically?

I think many of middles can see value in both liberal and conservative positions, just not to any extreme, which – extremism, that is – seems to be the soup du jour these days.

If one were to liken politics to the Grand Canyon, liberals on one rim and conservatives on the opposite rim, then the “middles” would be somewhere in the center of the canyon attempting to stand in mid-air with nothing – no terra firma beneath their feet, just a gaping abyss – to give them any support, to keep them from falling to their deaths, resulting in “a population of exactly zero.” Were it not a canyon but just a large crack in the ground, it would enable those so inclined to jump back and forth from side to side as the urge dictated. But then they’d never really be in the middle, just flip-flopping.

And flip-flopping leads to another anology, a see-saw, when assessing politics, with liberals on one end and conservatives on the other. When there is excessive weight to one side or the other, it always wins and throws the other end into the air, where all they can do is hold on for dear life. And I suppose that’s were the middles in the center finally have value, by leaning just a tad one way or the other they can even out the balance in such a way that neither one end nor the other dominates, they both are suspended equally off the ground, and need to negotiate with each other and those in the middle if anything is going to happen.

And that’s the ideal situation, finding balance and negotiating a resolution to the problem. Unfortunately, in America, politically, we’re less see-saw -like and more canyon-like. Today the true middles – those who believe in balance – have zero influence, because the vast majority of those who call themselves “milddles” either really aren’t (they really do prefer one side over the other) or are really apolitical people who get their jollies by voting with no purpose other than to throw a monkey-wrench into the political process just to upset the apple cart and to keep everybody off balance.

I’d rather that we get off of the canyon divide we’re currently in, where all that is accomplished is where the liberals on one side and the conservatives on the other do nothing more than yell back and forth at each other, and there’s nowhere for the true middles to be, and back to the see-saw where the true middles have some influence over the two extremes and the extremes have to negotiate with the middles and each other to get movement one way or the other.

Unfortunately, see-saws are found on playgrounds (to continue the analogy) frequented by children. And in the playground of American politics, the children today don’t play well with each other. The little children don’t or can’t, or don’t know how, to play fairly, understand the concept of compromise to find a win-win solution where all involved can share equally. Instead, they yell at each other, arguing over who’s game is going to be played.

It’s time for the adult middles to step in and take charge, give direction and remove the playground bullies who insist on playing only by their rules.

Which begs the question, “Are there any adults left in America?”

– Bill

“Mindsets” and Poverty

“Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.”

― Herman Melville

Recently, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson said (during an interview on SiriusXM Radio with Armstrong Williams) that a “certain mindset” contributes to people living in poverty, that “the wrong mindset” is the product of negative parenting habits. He was speaking about what is known as “generational poverty”, where children of – one might assume him speaking of welfare recipients – see that it’s not necessary to work in order to have food, housing and cash (even a free mobile phone with free minutes) and then adopt that mindset as their own growing up and then take into their own adulthood and, in turn, pass it on to their own children.

That there is some truth in that became evident to me recently, when a certain especially important person in my life who works as a non-teaching middle school librarian related to me, that evening after she came home from work, a conversation she’d had that day with a student. 

It’s the policy of her school district that if a student loses a book, neglectfully damages equipment, or has overdue late fines, and they aren’t paid for by the end of high school, the student will not be allowed to graduate. She pointed this out to the young man, that if he planned on graduating, he (or his parents) needed to pay up a bill he’d accrued. He replied he wasn’t going to pay, neither were his parents, and that he didn’t need to graduate. When she asked him how he thought he’d ever get a job and take care of himself as an adult without a diploma, his response was that he’d just go on welfare, as it works for his parents it’ll work for him, also.

A surprising, but not shocking, attitude that vindicates Carson’s beliefs.

Carson went on to say, “I think poverty to a large extent is also a state of mind. You take somebody that has the right mindset, you can take everything from them and put them on the street, and I guarantee in a little while they’ll be right back up there…and you take somebody with the wrong mindset, you can give them everything in the world, they’ll work their way right back down to the bottom.”

Sounds familiar; sounds like something out of the movie, Trading Places, staring Eddie Murphy in 1983.

He has a point, but it’s too simplistic. It takes an exceptionally rare individual, someone with more than a “right mindset”, to end the cycle of poverty and welfare, to succeed, regardless of what or how the parents think or live. More to the point, to succeed in this world it also requires native talent and job opportunities. (That he, himself, had the “right mindset”, intelligence and opportunity to leave the poverty he grew up in and become a neurosurgeon, is atypical, and rather naive to believe that if he could do it, then everyone can.) 

It doesn’t matter how badly one wants to succeed, if they don’t have the physical and intellectual wherewithal and opportunity, it just ain’t gonna happen. And this leads to what the good secretary calls “a poverty of spirit”, a giving up attitude, the remedy for which he says is where the government can be “very helpful…it can provide the ladder of opportunity [by providing a ‘helping hand’]”.

Just what those “helping hand” programs are, he didn’t say, but if he means programs like grants to assist first-time home buyers get loans or help with a down-payment, and Community Development Block Grants (to revitaliize economically distressed communities) – all under his department – that are slated in the administration’s budget proposal to be cut by billions of dollars, that isn’t exactly helpful.

Add to that the administration’s proposals to slash educational funding, once again allow pay-day lenders (that paycheck-to-paycheck workers sometimes need to get by) to charge the working poor as much as 400% interest, to revamp healthcare (allowing tens of millions to be uninsured), and the only “helping hand” is the one helping to keep people impoverished.

Maybe that student’s parents have the “wrong mindset”; they’re just plain and simply bone-lazy. I don’t know. And I don’t know, nor apparently greater minds than mine, what the solution to the problem of poverty is. But those who are well-housed, well-warmed and well-fed need to stop criticizing the poor and find a way to insure that everyone not only has equal access to a high-quality education, but also to a meaningful (and livable) employment. And stop putting political/economic roadblocks in their path.

That’s how I see it.

But maybe I don’t have the “right mindset”.

– Bill

My Political Paradox

“The problem is politics is made a sport…Too often are we rooting for the pride of a team rather than the good of the nation.”

― Criss Jami

I was watching C-Span (the Congressional TV network) yesterday as the House’s Intelligence committee quizzed the FBI Director and the director of the National Intelligence Agency about the Russian’s multifaceted involvement in our last election (to aid in Trump’s election chances by discrediting his opponent, Clinton) as revealed by leaks in those agencies to the national press. Committee members, both Democratic and Republican, to a person, expressed their dismay that the Russians would do so. (Forget for the moment that we’ve done the same to others ourselves.) But the questioning quickly took a turn along partisan lines. 

The D’s wanted to know more about any possible connection to Russian oligarchs, government agents, and Putin, himself, with the exposed financial and other ties Trump and his cohort had (has) with Russia, Putin, etal (yes, the FBI is conducting an investigation into that). The R’s attempted to minimize that and were more concerned about what is being done to uncover who were the traitors who leaked to the press about the Russian involvement.

It was as if I was watching a sporting event, each “team” trying to score points while defending their team’s position. And I got to thinking about politics, and the two major political parties, in general. 

I play (or have played) sports, both of the individual kind, like golf where how well or badly I play and score has no effect on those on the course with me, and the team variety, like crew where each oar has to be in perfect synchronization with his teammates to enable the shell to move through the water as if it was being rowed by one person.

There is some comparison of these two sports to politics: conservatives believe, like golf, that everything is about the individual and it’s of no concern of theirs if another isn’t doing as well as they are, whereas like crew, liberals believe everybody has to work together and how well everyone is doing is critical to the success of all.

While a nation is comprised of individuals, it can’t succeeded if everyone just does their own thing without regard for anyone else, nor will it if everyone is expected to conform totally without regard to individual differences. The conservative mantra is the individual right to be free of governmental restrictions on their life and activities, and the liberal mantra is the right of the whole to restrict the individual for the good of the many.

We’ve made governance into a team sport where we’ve all chosen our respective team to root for and our aim is for our team to defeat the opposite team. Unfortunately, regardless of which team wins an election, it’s a loss to the wants and needs for half of the nation.

There needs to be balance between the two extremes where it can be something of a win-win for everyone, a compromise (which seems to be a dirty word these days; if you’re for compromise everyone sees you as an enemy to their team.)

And that’s my paradox, how can my vote effect compromise when I can only vote for one extreme or the other?

I understand politics, and I accept the need to appeal to certain demographics to get elected. But, why, once in office, why can’t our elected officials put aside partianship until the next election cycle and be statesmen who govern in the common and best interests of the nation, of the citizenry as a whole? Why treat everything as if it was a win-loss game?

Stupid game.

My favorite sports team is the Washington Redskins (hey, I was born there!) I root for them to win. But I’m the first to critize them when their owner or coaches do something stupid that causes them harm. Why shouldn’t I get angry? So why shouldn’t I get angry when my government officials do something that harms people?

Of course, I’d never know if it wasn’t for the whistle-blowers who leak what’s going on.

God bless them.

– Bill

Our Political Masquerade

“When a plutocracy is disguised as a democracy, the system is beyond corrupt.”

― Suzy Kassem

As I sit and read the daily news, learning who has just been awarded a cabinet post in the new administration, I sit amazed that the only common denominator and apparent criteria to an appointment is net worth. And the appointees are – or are almost – to a man (woman) without any schooling, training or experience in the agency or department to which they’ve been selected to manage. It’s as if the ability to make (or inherit or marry into) great wealth is equatable to good governance. To me it’s onions to apples.

The definition of a plutocracy is, “a government…in which the wealthy class rules.” A democracy is defined as a government by “common people…as distinguished from any privileged class…with respect to their political power.” Students of government know very well that America is not – never has been – a democracy; the United States is a republic, where the citizens democratically elect representatives, who are charged with governing in the best interests of all the people.

In the last election, we Americans elected representatives to a Congress (House and Senate) whose combined members have a minimum net worth of $2.1 billion — an average of $3.9 million per lawmaker – arguably the most wealthy congress ever. And each member, nonetheless, will receive a salary of $174,000 per year (plus benefits).

We elected a president who personally is worth $3.7 billion – the wealthiest president ever (who, nonetheless, will receive an annual salary of $400,000 plus benefits) – who has appointed, and the Senate has confirmed (strictly along party lines), 26 cabinet (and cabinet level) members whose combined worth exceedes $14 billion – an average of $538 million per member – the most wealthy cabinet ever – who, nonetheless, will each be paid $191,300 per year (plus benefits).

And all the justices of the Supreme Court are multi-milionairs who, nonetheless, are salaried at $213,900 a year (plus benefits).

That, my friends, is a plutocracy, a government by the privileged, the wealthy. We’ll have to wait and see if it will be a government just for the wealthy or if it will do anything of substance for the 43 million Americans who live in poverty, who make $20,000 a year or less, and the disappearing middle class whose mid-level earns an average around $45,000 a year.

Trump bragged that he wanted “people who made a fortune” in his cabinet. Said and done. And their combined wealth is more than the combined wealth of the bottom one-third of all Americans, many who voted for him. 

Why is beyond my ken, except that many people believe (wrongly) that the rich must be smarter than the rest of us. Do they believe that just because someone is successful in one area that they will be able to be successful in another? Why would a businessman (or a career politician) know anything about the science of climate change, or the intricacies of healthcare? They wouldn’t, so why put someone in charge of running an agency who has no knowledge or understanding of its work, except for the effect it has on corporate profits? Do those benighted citizens think – for even one minute, if they think at all – that these democratically elected and appointed million/billionaires will govern in their – the average working stiff’s – best interest and not in the wealthy’s best interests?

There. I’ve gone and done it for sure (but, really, it was just a matter of time), I’ve just offended the almost one-half of all my fellow citizens who voted them into office. 

I believe, hope and pray, that within a short time – certainly by the end of 4 years – they will realize they voted wrongly, that the government they put in office will renege on all the populist promises it made while campaigning – or, if kept, will disproportionately benefit the super-rich and not them – and wish they’d voted differently (not that the alternative was exceptionally better – the true champion of the average man never made it to the ballot).

Most people don’t understand that the rich are no different than the poor, both want more than they have, the difference being that the poor can only hope and dream where the rich can make it happen. Wealth breeds wealth. And it’s human nature to take care of yourself first, then those like you, and – if anything is left (oh, sure!) –  everybody else.

I pray I’m wrong and that this collection of uber-rich – Trump and his people – will do good things that benefit every class of citizen.

But the habit of profiteering is a hard one to break. Forgive me if I suspect a self-serving monetary, hidden agenda in favor of Corporate America.

I opened this post with the definitions of plutocracy and democracy. America has almost always been a plutocracy, masquerading as a democracy, beginning with the wealthly land owners of Washington and Jefferson, the successful businessmen like Adams and Harding, to the inherited family wealth of the Roosevelts and Kennedy. Only occasionally have there been more-like everyday people before they held political office, like Woodrow Wilson (historian, professor) or Truman (haberdasher), both of whom who governed with the average citizen in mind.

And history has shown that with the exception of Harry Truman (ranked as one of our better presidents), businessmen have ranked among our worst presidents. Time will tell if The Donald will fare better.

But I’d prefer we had aTeddy Roosevelt (despite his family wealth), Wilson or a Truman over what we have now, and a cabinet less politicized, members who had at least a rudimentary understanding of the department they head.

– Bill