Conundrum

I am having this conundrum today. I just read an op-ed piece by Author C. Brooks about how kindness is infectious. He cites studies that if people are exposed to acts of kindness, they tend to act more kindly. I have always kind of bought into that, but I have never been very successful at practicing it. Now Mr. Brooks makes this statement:

Most Americans rightly complain that our political culture attacks too much and edifies too little. But what do we really demand of the politicians we support? Humility, optimism and flexibility? Or do we excuse our own side for its ideological rigidity, preening self-regard and blame-shifting?

This is not a call for boring moderation or unprincipled centrism. Liberals should be liberals, and conservatives should be conservatives. But all should be expected to live up to a higher standard of civility than that displayed by TV loudmouths. The next two years are a challenge to our political leaders, yes — but also to us, to demand a climate of moral elevation as opposed to destruction of the other side.

Now, I have no doubt Mr. Brooks is correct, but I have no idea how to put it in action. How can one be civil to the Republicans on TV that are screaming for President Obama’s scalp. Has not Democratic civility been taken as weakness and abused by the Republicans and the voter? Has not the media yielded to the loudest shouter, and that is the message that gets out? Have you ever noticed how when you are being polite, some conservative inserts his/her conservatism into the conversation as though everyone must think that way, and we aren’t entitled to disagree?

I guess the answer is maybe to take a lesson from British dry wit. Maybe the answer is to destroy them politely with logic, reason, and humor. Socrates was famous for his Socratic method. He didn’t call his targets idiots. He let them demonstrate it by asking them polite questions. Of course, they made him drink hemlock, so maybe that won’t work either.

I think I can practice random acts of kindness and general civility in most of my activities and maybe that will help. But the Right has moved so far right as to be intolerant of any other point of view. I am not sure my tolerance of their intolerance will make the world a better place. I guess the best I can do is pick my moments. I will try to be more kind and civil in most dealings, but expect me to lose it from time to time.

I Guess It Could Be Worse – Something to be Thankful For

Thanksgiving** is on the fourth Thursday in November. It used to be on the last Thursday in November*. But back in 1939 FDR, faced with a Thanksgiving on November 30th, and a shortened retail season till Christmas, moved it back a week (Executive Order?). Let the GOP squealing begin. From Vox:

Republicans pounced, and used the move to portray Roosevelt as a power-mad tyrant. In an early example of Godwin’s Law, FDR’s recent presidential opponent Alf Landon said Roosevelt sprung his decision on “an unprepared country with the omnipotence of a Hitler.” Senator Styles Bridges of New Hampshire suggested that while Roosevelt was at it, he should abolish winter.

Sound familiar? President Obama should take heart. At least he has not been called Hitler yet, or at least I haven’t heard him called Hitler. Of course he hasn’t tried to move Thanksgiving and screw up the football schedule. That would be an impeachable offense.

In case you are wondering, according to Vox the date was finally set for the fourth Thursday in November by Congress in 1941.

*In 1863, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens”, to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November.

**We all remember the Pilgrims famous first Thanksgiving which was actually a 3-day feast. They then had another 2 years later to give thanks to the end of a drought.

“Days of fasting and thanksgiving on an annual or occasional basis became common practice in other New England settlements as well. During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress designated one or more days of thanksgiving a year, and in 1789 George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation by the national government of the United States; in it, he called upon Americans to express their gratitude for the happy conclusion to the country’s war of independence and the successful ratification of the U.S. Constitution. His successors John Adams and James Madison also designated days of thanks during their presidencies.”

Here is my favorite quote from the History Channel:

In 1817, New York became the first of several states to officially adopt an annual Thanksgiving holiday; each celebrated it on a different day, however, and the American South remained largely unfamiliar with the tradition.

It has become quite apparent in this day and age that the American South remains largely unfamiliar with many traditions. In many ways nothing ever changes.

The EPA, Those Pesky Regulations, The GOP, and Our Health

The EPA is going to toughen standards on ozone and the Republicans are all a twitter. In addition, as the NYT reported this morning:

Next year, the E.P.A. is expected to make final two more historic Clean Air Act rules aimed at cutting planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. Those rules, which are intended to curb pollutants that contribute to climate change, could lead to the shutdown of hundreds of power plants and freeze construction of future coal plants.

The Republican-majority Congress, to be led by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the incoming majority leader, has vowed to block or overturn the entire group of rules. In a separate development, the Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to take up a challenge led by industry groups against another E.P.A. rule intended to curb emissions of mercury from coal plants.

IT WILL COST TOO MUCH! YOU HAVE TO CONSIDER THE ECONOMIC IMPACTS!

Let’s translate. It will cost too much means it will cost me too much. You have to consider the economic impacts means my economic impacts, not yours. The usual argument goes like this: It will hurt the economy as those costs are passed on to the consumer and may kill the industry costing jobs.

I hate to break it to you, but those costs are already passed on to you in environmental degradation, global warming, and the health of your kids. The jobs thing is a total lie as other alternate energies become more economical and new industries are created, but only if we don’t impudently protect the old ones.

I find the whole argument about weighing the economic consequences as part of equation for whether regulations should be implemented totally fraudulent. They look at near term costs, and don’t figure in their impact on your bottom line as you die from emphysema or your kids are displaced or have to pay to build new infrastructure to deal with global warming. The societal costs are huge, but they only want us to focus on their near term costs.

And of course it is not really about a healthy environment, but protecting a cash cow and vested interests. They are doing everything they can to hide the real costs so that the market place cannot actually appropriately function and separate out old tired and inefficient ideas. Those big bad old regulations are just government getting in the way of the market place.

It is why I just love the GOP. They claim to love the market place and competition when they rig the game so only the special few are winners and defeat the real functioning of the market place when all the hidden costs are added in. It is what voting conservative has brought us.

Governor Nixon is Clueless

I just watched Governor Nixon of Missouri give a law and order press conference. The solution to the problem according to him is to deploy more police officers and National Guard. The fact that the cause of the unrest is not lawless crowds, but real frustration about the state of affairs in Missouri and the unchanging environment which he chose to ignore.

Think about this: In Iraq we saw the problem as terrorism and sent in more troops. The real problem was unresolved sectarian grievances and tamping down the violence did nothing to solve the root problem which simply festered Think Governor Nixon could apply that lesson to the unrest in Ferguson? Not on his watch.

Mr. Brooks’ Pablum

David Brooks wrote a column this morning about the unifying leader. As usual it was a passive aggressive attack on President Obama without ever accepting his own party’s responsibility for the dysfunction today. David likes to write puff pieces about the human condition refusing to connect the dots on the bankruptcy of ideas or the destructiveness of the Republicans today.

This piece gives us eight characteristics of a collaborative leader and is a veiled swipe at President Obama’s use of executive action Let’s see if I can summarize his efforts:

  1. In the first place, they would do what they could to create a culture of cooperation, not competition. They’d evoke our shared national consciousness more than our partisan consciousness.
  2. This leader would acknowledge that we live in a system in which a proliferating number of groups have veto power over legislation. He would gather influencers into informal policy-making teams as each initiative was executed.
  3. Third, a collaborative president would offer specific goals to each team, but he would not come up with clear visions.
  4. A collaborative president would see herself as an honest broker above policy-making process, not as a gladiator in it.
  5. a collaborative president would tolerate mess. She would acknowledge that if you don’t give midlevel people the freedom to roam, you won’t attract creative people to those jobs.
  6. Oppositional mind set – A collaborative president might jam a mostly Democratic idea, federally financed preschool, and a mostly Republican idea, charter schools, into one proposal.
  7. A collaborative president would create a culture in which relationships are more important than one person’s touchy pride. There are going to be people who take cheap shots. The collaborative leader would swallow indignation and be tolerant of error in order to preserve relationships.
  8. Finally, the collaborative leader would exile those who consistently refuse to play by the rules.

Now let’s think about this in terms of President Obama on either his first term Obamacare or his second term immigration reform. Keep in mind during all of this that the Republican leadership met on inauguration day 2009 to form a pact to make sure that nothing this president proposed succeeded.

If you think about it he met almost every one of these criteria. From a progressive point of view, I wanted to see a single payer system, but he let Congress, both sides, fight it out as he laid out broad guidelines. He even made deals with Pharma to help the process. Did he give clear goals? Yes. Was it a mess? Yes. If you go down the list you can say he met all these except maybe the relationship thing and the exile thing.

You can say the same for immigration or the Grand Bargain, none of which are on my list of favorites in the compromises reached. But the other side would not cooperate period, and he could not exile them. If he did then he would have been accused of not forming relationships. This one is highly dubious considering that the other side had already decided to make his presidency a failed one.

So what is he left with at the end of the day? He actually did the above (note FDR (I welcome their hatred) did not) and we got very marginal gains for it while the right continues to lie about him as abusing his executive authority (in comparison to what?), and being an imperial president, and that coming from the Party leaders. To have collaboration, both sides have to play and the one thing that has been consistently demonstrated is that Republicans are not going to play unless Democrats cave.

Sorry David, but you are full of shit. Spend some time in front of a mirror. An honest look could be edifying.

Ferguson

What we do know is that an unarmed black man died at the hands of the police. Just that alone is wrong. How that happened, whether tragic accident or homicide, is still in question. But what was evident last night was that the prosecutor and the system are totally clueless about the sense of injustice here. While the prosecutor explained to us how the system had worked fairly, without any facts to support that, he was oblivious to the fact that the very audience he was appealing to already knew that process was rigged.

I am not questioning whether there should be charges, because I simply don’t know enough facts. But I am questioning how anyone could think this process did anything but inflame further distrust and violence. Consider the following:

  • The prosecutor was distrusted by the community based upon his history and yet an independent prosecutor was not brought in
  • Instead of the prosecutor presenting to the grand jury evidence to indict, he presented a case like a defense attorney
  • In his statement before the press last night he quoted conflicting testimony. This is damning because there is always conflicting testimony and it was his job to sort it out the way he interprets it
  • Instead of going into the case wanting an indictment, he went in saying you decide letting everyone know he did not want to make the decision
  • He let the police office testify before the grand jury. When does the prosecutor ever let the accused present his own case?
  • The prosecutor boasted of the completeness of the case presented to the grand jury was in itself an indictment of the process. Usually the prosecutor presents minimal evidence to convince the grand jury to indict and the the complete case would be fought out in open court. But this process lacked an advocate for Mr. Brown

There are many other problems with this case including when did Officer Wilson finally give his version of events and was he able to see the forensics first so he could craft his story around the facts? But most damning is that all the evidence and testimony occurred in secret so we could not judge for ourselves whether this was a fair process.

But most damning at all is that it is clear they simply don’t get it. In their ignorance and blinded by the color of their skin, they may actually believe they presented a fair case, but there was no advocate for Mr. Brown in this case. Just a prosecutor playing the role of defense attorney for Mr. Wilson in the name of getting to the facts. They are oblivious to the mountains of distrust they have engendered over time and how the process had to be fair, impartial, and open. They have simply made an open wound worse. You wonder in this day and age how we can be so stupid.

Explaining Conservatives

I have tried at various times to explain why conservatives think the way they do and why we as a nation seem to be moving backward. But it all comes down to a fairly simple concept, fear. Conservatives are fearful people and their whole approach to everything centers around that fear.

Let’s look at their approach to immigration. They are afraid of it. They will steal our jobs. They bring in disease. They are criminals. They steal our tax dollars by using up our social services. They overwhelm our schools and hospitals. Now all of this is demonstrably false for the aggregate (there are of course anecdotal cases), but conservatives see only the fear and focus on the anedotal.

The fact that we are all immigrants and all studies show that immigration is what oils our economy is lost on them. So their approach to immigration is no approach. Stop it, be afraid. In other words they have no plan but defend our borders.

Look at their approach to healthcare. Repeal Obamacare. That is it. They are terrified of big government taking away their rights and are oblivious to the fact that big government is the only one who will insure them when they are 65 (Medicare). Let the market place work, except for profit medicine weighs heavily against sick people.

The business model of healthcare is fairly simple, insure healthy people and deny benefits to the sick. Obamacare put an end to that so the conservatives are terrified of big government and death panels, but what then replaces it? The old system that failed us? They have no plan, only fear of the existing one.

Look at their approach to Ebola. Quarantine Africa. Throw all medical workers exposed to the disease in the slammer for 21 days. Don’t touch a bowling ball or ride the subway. Reactions born out of fear that are counterproductive to treating and stopping Ebola.

Even Global Warming and their denial of it is based upon fear, in this case the fear of fear. It is God’s plan and we need not do anything is basically a giant denial that we are facing a real threat and we need to take proactive steps. It is the fear of fear that denies reality and drives their lack of action.

Where do you think our policy of lock up every evil doer and throw away the key came from? Three strikes has turned out to be a national disgrace and one we can no longer afford because we are afraid of bad people. The fear blinds us to the complexity of crime and who is really a threat and who isn’t.

The whole gun thing is about fear. I need my AK47 and my rocket launcher to protect me from the thundering hordes. Reasonable background checks to make us all safer will just allow government to take our weapons and we will be powerless. That fear blinds us to the real damage that gun violence does in our society.

Why do you think most conservatives are such hawks? They are terrified and their answer to that terror is a bigger and ever more powerful military. Their answer to everything is hit it with a bigger stick. See John McCain on ISIS, Ukraine, Syria, Iran, just about everywhere. Again the complexities of local politics and their social development is lost on shock and awe.

Probably the one fear that is hurting our nation the most is their fear of debt. Paul Krugman writes this morning about how in a liquidity crisis (zero interest and no demand) the rules of the economy invert. Debt and spending are good. It is basic Econ 101 and evidenced by tons of data from our own depression, Europe’s present predicament, and the last 20 years in Japan. Yet we can’t get away from the home budget analogy and cut all spending until things get better. But in this economy your spending is my earnings and vice versa.

So instead of creating demand by taking on debt at zero interest rates and investing in our infrastructure, providing good jobs, and getting our economy moving again, we are doing just the opposite because debt is scary and everyone knows in bad times you must be prudent. No amount of data is going to shake that belief because it is cemented in place by fear.

With conservatives now in charge of two out of the branches of government, fear politics reigns. Fear Obamacare, fear Hillary, fear President Obama, fear fear. But Progressive could learn from this. Think about some of the really big things this country has done. Many of our great infrastructure achievements were done in the Great Depression because of the fear of starvation and homelessness.

The interstate highway system was built in the 50’s because of our fear of the Red Menace in the Far East and the need to build logistics supply routes to the West Coast. The Man on the Moon was the result of our fear of the Soviet’s domination in space. Apparently the only time we can get a consensus to do the really big things, is when we can scare conservatives into it. China will bury us if we don’t upgrade our infrastructure. Without a vibrant young and upwardly mobile workforce capitalism will fail so liberalize immigration. Etc.

But in the meantime, the next time a Republican launches on some policy ask yourself, or better yet ask them, what are you really afraid of? Is that fear blinding you to data and facts?

Just Letting My Mind Ramble

In the NYT today there was a story about the final approval of history textbooks in Texas which is a big deal because their market drives what other states are offered. Apparently they went ahead and approved the books over complaints that some academics say exaggerate the influence of Moses in American democracy and negatively portray Muslims. Do you remember any mention of references to Moses in Philadelphia in 1776? Me either.

In North Dakota where the loss of jobs and the decline of agriculture has been replaced by the boom of fracking, there is trouble in paradise (relatively speaking). As the NYT article describes:

State regulators say they deliberately choose a collaborative rather than punitive approach because they view the large independent companies that dominate the Bakken as responsible and as their necessary allies in policing the oil fields. They prefer to work alongside industry to develop new guidelines or regulations when problems like overflowing waste, radioactive waste, leaking pipelines, and flaring gas become too glaring to ignore.

Sounds good but as we learn over and over again, it doesn’t work. Researchers who study government enforcement generally conclude that “the cooperative approach doesn’t seem to generate results” while “the evidence shows that increased monitoring and increased enforcement will reduce the incidence of oil spills,” said Mark A. Cohen, a Vanderbilt University professor who led a team advising the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. Oh well.

For the global warming deniers, Montana’s Glacier Park is another piece of data that they need to deny. The land of 150 glaciers is down to about 25. As the article noted:

Streams fed by snowmelt are reaching peak spring flows weeks earlier than in the past, and low summer flows weeks before they used to. Some farmers who depend on irrigation in the parched days of late summer are no longer sure that enough water will be there. Bull trout, once pan-fried over anglers’ campfires, are now caught and released to protect a population that is shrinking as water temperatures rise.

Many of the mom-and-pop ski areas that once peppered these mountains have closed. Increasingly, the season is not long enough, nor the snows heavy enough, to justify staying open.

Ah, don’t you just love the Republican Party and a cold snap so they can exclaim that global warming is a hoax?

Just another Sunday before I head for the beach and prove myself once again an old man, but still awake unlike my conservative opponents.

Going Crazy Driving I-5

I-5 is the highway that runs the width of the nation from Washington (state) to Mexico. Visiting my son at this time of year has me on the segment from Sacramento to San Diego which breaks into about a 9 hour drive with stops. It is that special time of year where I develop homicidal urges.

Why not fly you ask? Because air travel has become a worse nightmare than braving I-5 through the valley. Think about it. You can’t be late. It’s an hour to the airport, then the baggage drill, check in, security, sweating an on-time flight, getting an overhead compartment, reverse baggage drill, rental car, and then driving to your final destination. To go from Sacramento to San Diego that can entail 6-7 hours with all the stress, and you could have just loaded the car the day before with everything you wanted to take and left when you felt like it. Nobody cares what time you get to Santa Nella for Starbucks.

But back to those homicidal urges. I-5 in the valley from Sacramento to Bakersfield is flat, brown, monotonous, two lane highway each way. Now the speed limit is 70 mph, but the solid bet is to set your cruise control on 80 and just cruise, well maybe. We have developed a nation of drivers who now park in the left lane. So there you are cruising along moving with traffic and then you come upon the ding dong in the left lane who is pacing the nut job in the right lane at 65 mph and will not get over. I find myself asking she who must not be mentioned here if she can look on the internet for roof mounted rocket launchers

Oh, I did I mention trucks passing trucks. I-5 is the major transportation route north-south on the West Coast so there are lots of 18-wheelers. Now these guys get their kicks waiting until a stream of cars doing 80 is about to pass and then pull into the left lane to change positions with the wind breaking front truck. Then it is like watching paint dry waiting for one truck to pass the over with a speed calibrated at exactly 1/2 mph over the truck it is passing. This is probably why so many people hang in the left lane. They are establishing their passing position so they can’t get cut off by other drivers.

And this is the part I really love. You see trucks up ahead and you know you are in a truck passing truck situation so everyone queues in the left hand lane waiting for their turn to pass, except for the special people. Those are the ones that pass on the right to get to the front and then try to force their way back into the left lane at the front of the line. That’s when I turn to she who must not be mentioned here and ask, “Could you see if those roof mounted rocket launchers come with nuclear warheads?”

Ah, but the Pièce de résistance is the traffic in LA and the parking lot between LA and San Diego. The first rule of crossing the Grapevine is swim with the school. I was cruising at my usual 80 mph moving with traffic when a red sporty thing went whizzing by me just as we passed a cop. Guess who got the ticket and hint, it was not me. But the best part was the stop and go going through LA where you have to be extra vigilant because people are just going to come into your lane whether there is space or not. Signaling is optional. So you better pay attention during the white knuckle section of the drive.

So when things lightened up a bit as we got into OC (Orange County), she who must not be mentioned here said she was waiting to tell me this until we were in a less stressful situation and would not wreck the car laughing. Apparently she noticed that one of the trucks we passed in the stop and go, swerving like lunatics traffic was having his way with himself while driving through LA. According to her, the look on his face was priceless. To each his own on relieving stress in LA traffic. When we got to Encinitas, that first beer tasted really good.

Dismantling Democracy

No, I am not talking about President Obama’s use of Executive Orders. I am talking about how the Republican Congress has decided not to legislate and is trying to use the courts to fulfill their obligation. They could not repeal Obamacare so they are filling frivolous lawsuits to try to end it. They refuse to legislate on immigration so they turn to the courts to rule his executive action illegal.

The Republicans have been packing the courts with conservative judges for years and now, instead of legislating the fixes they desire, because they don’t desire fixes, but destruction, they seek partners in the courts. Now they will see if their packed courts will go along with their conservative agenda. Is this far fetched? Why did the Supreme Court pluck the wording lawsuit on Obamacare (who gets subsidies) out of the lower courts when there was no conflicting ruling. Purely political.

The latest skirmish around immigration actually lays bare the Republican’s lack of policies. If they don’t like the president’s executive orders, legislate a fix. If they don’t like Obamacare, fix it. But they don’t have alternatives. Alternatives would require taking policy positions that could be examined and instead they just want what they don’t like struck down. Be afraid America, President Obama is seizing power, and we will tell you what we will do later.

If the courts want to save America, they will refuse to hear these cases and throw them back in to the legislative branch where they belong. But if they don’t, they are taking part in dismantling democracy as we know it. When the people lose faith that there is a balance of power, and non political redress is possible in the courts, then faith in our government and respect for authority will be lost and with that, the whole basis for democracy goes away. If our votes don’t count, and the courts are fixed, revolution has usually followed.

Republicans don’t need redress in the courts, they need to do their job in the legislature. If the courts are smart, that is what they will tell them.