Saturday, June 29, 2019

Debates: Why Do We Have Them?

Debates: What are debates anyway?
When we think of debates, sometimes we think of/remember our high school debates, which occurred in many/most high schools. But, we are also drawn to the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, which helped to define the concept for political purposes.  So, what were the Lincoln-Douglas debates?
The Lincoln–Douglas debates (also known as The Great Debates of 1858) were a series of seven debates between Abraham Lincoln, the Republican Party candidate for the U.S. Senate from Illinois, and incumbent Senator Stephen Douglas, the Democratic Party candidate. At the time, U.S. senators were elected by state legislatures; thus Lincoln and Douglas were trying for their respective parties to win control of the Illinois General Assembly. The debates previewed the issues that Lincoln would face in the aftermath of his victory in the 1860 presidential election. Although Illinois was a free state, the main issue discussed in all seven debates was slavery in the United States.
In agreeing to the official debates, Lincoln and Douglas decided to hold one debate in each of the nine congressional districts in Illinois. Because both had already spoken in two—Springfield and Chicago—within a day of each other, they decided that their "joint appearances" would be held in the remaining seven districts.
The format for each debate was that one candidate spoke for 60 minutes, then the other candidate spoke for 90 minutes, and then the first candidate was allowed a 30-minute rejoinder. The candidates alternated speaking first. As the incumbent, Douglas spoke first in four of the debates.
The debates in Freeport, Quincy, and Alton drew especially large numbers of people from neighboring states, as the issue of slavery was of monumental importance to citizens across the nation. Newspaper coverages of the debates were intense. Major papers from Chicago sent stenographers to create complete texts of each debate, which newspapers across the United States reprinted in full, with some partisan edits. Newspapers that supported Douglas edited his speeches to remove any errors made by the stenographers and to correct grammatical errors, while they left Lincoln's speeches in the rough form in which they had been transcribed. In the same way, pro-Lincoln papers edited Lincoln's speeches, but left the Douglas texts as reported. After winning a plurality of the voters but losing in the legislature, Lincoln edited the texts of all the debates and had them published in a book.  The widespread coverage of the original debates and the subsequent popularity of the book led eventually to Lincoln's nomination for President of the United States by the 1860 Republican National Convention in Chicago.
In one text, summarizing Lincoln’s position is the following, in which one is drawn to thinking about our current President, King Donald I:

That is the real issue. That is the issue that will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between these two principles—right and wrong—throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time; and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity and the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, "You work and toil and earn bread, and I'll eat it." No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.”

I submit that the current debates are of similar import to those debates in the 1850s. One problem in the current series of debates is that we have not two candidates debating one another, with each candidate being given 90 minutes on one topic, but instead 20 some candidates are given a few minutes (8-10 divided into tiny segments) to discuss numerous topics potentially as grave as slavery, with moderators barely in control of the candidates.

Each of the two debates featured ten candidates, all of whom had qualified for the debates by virtue of having received 65,000 contributors to their campaign (just how Marianne Williamson ever found 65,000 people to support her is a marvel of present-day TV-Theatrics).  We tried watching both debates, but could not watch for more than about 40 minutes. It was simply too depressing, with all the shouting theatrics.

The “debate” topics were monumentally important: Climate change, education, employment opportunities for the population, health care, immigration. These are topics that resonate throughout the land, although we seem to have widening gaps both in our technical understanding of the actual underlying issues, and the means by which we will be able to survive throughout the remainder of this century. But think of that. We had a total of two-hours each for the two debates, with each having ten candidates vying for at least equal time.  So, were we actually to grant equal time, that means that each candidate would have 12 minutes to discuss the topics.  And yeah, I would think that climate change deserves at least 2-3 minutes of our time, huh? And the equal time thing has to take into account those periods when virtually all ten of the candidates stood yelling into their respective microphones, vying for attention.

Now, suppose instead, that we had, say six candidates, divided into two debate sessions, such that each debate had only three debaters, and we still had two hours, well that might yield actual information to the viewers.  I would submit that the two debates, as weird as they were, revealed that we only really have maybe six potentially viable candidates, and that the rest should go back home and decide which of the six they might be willing to support.  So, who should go home? I would submit that the following candidates are done, and they should stop wasting our time and the peoples’ money (contributors’ money). Return to your day jobs and get off the stage. Who are they?
Michael Bennet
Bill DeBlasio
John Delaney
Tulsi Gabbard
Kirsten Gillibrand
John Hickenlooper
Jay Inslee
Amy Klobuchar
Beto O’Rourke
Tim Ryan
Eric Swalwell
Marianne Williamson
Andrew Yang

I was especially disappointed in Kirsten Gillibrand, who was one of my early potential favorites. But I think she has failed to distinguish herself so far in this campaign, and certainly failed to do so in the pseudo-debate.  I think perhaps, Senator Gillibrand ought to continue her career as a US Senator and be satisfied therein.

So, who are the six potentially viable candidates, in my humble opinion? Here is my list, in order of importance:
Kamala Harris
Elizabeth Warren
Bernie Sanders
Pete Buttigieg
Cory Booker
Julian Castro
Joe Biden
“Six you say? Then why list seven?”

A fair question. My really big doubt is Joe Biden. I think, however much Joe leads in polls, he has thus far failed to capture me as the candidate of choice. I think he has been a wonderful member of our nation.  He certainly contributed to the Obama Administration, which was a glowing tribute to America, especially following on the heels of a near total disaster with Shrub as our Commander in Chief, and his merry band of global thugs plotting war by lying to the American people.  But my sense is that Biden is done, really was done by the end of the Obama Administration. That was his proper time to retire into the sunset, and join Barack Obama as a successful VP in a distinguished presidency.  Joe has now been riding on that reputation, but he has nothing left for our Nation, and it is time, perhaps past time for him to retire. Could he defeat Donald Trump? Well, maybe, and that is why he remains in the battle. But, , as he has noted in the past, it may well be time to “pass the torch” to a new generation. Joe, and certainly Bernie are of my generation—well even I am older than their generation, but, you get my point. It really is time for a post-WW II, post-Korea, post-Vietnam, and even post-Iraq generation. We need desperately leaders who understand what is at stake with:

·         Global Climate Change
·         Racial & Gender Equality
·         Income inequality
·         Health Care
·         Education
·         Crumbling Infrastructure
·         Global Warfare

These in my humble view are the dominant issues facing the nation, and our increasingly endangered world. We need leaders who can act boldly, but intelligently and with a moral and ethical dimension.  Our current leader is incapable of acting because he lacks the intellect and has no moral or ethical dimension. He reacts, much as a bad-tempered four-year old might react to challenges.  He is utterly, completely unprepared to lead our nation to successfully address/resolve any of the major issues facing us. 

And he is highly likely to embark on a catastrophic war, or other cataclysmic undertaking. I worry greatly that Americans still support him, and could well re-elect him. I fear that re-electing Trump could well spell the end of our great American experiment in self-governance.  His supporters continue to say, “He is a great president”, despite the fact that he lies every time he opens his mouth and words come tumbling out.  How/why his supporters continue to cheerlead for him is quite beyond my ken. It may be that we are already at the end of our great nation.  I hope not. We will know in 2020 whether we will be able to dig ourselves out of the many holes he has dug us into.
Again, I would implore our potential voters, especially of the younger set, to get their asses in gear and ready yourselves to vote against Donald Trump. Hopefully, you will be able to say, “I’m FOR someone”, rather than simply, “I’m AGAINST Trump”. But if the latter is all you can muster, then so be it and go for it.

In the meantime, all you folks who have been pining for this job, but are utterly unprepared for it, kindly go back to your day jobs. You are just confusing us poor folks back home. We need you to stop yelling at one another and begin chatting/yelling about Donald Trump’s many grotesque flaws.  He needs to leave and soon.

So, for the 6-7 of you who are left, debate on, but never forget who you are running against-Donald Trump. Your Democratic candidates are not the enemy, Donald Trump is the chief evil-doer and needs to be ousted. Act like you know that. And by the way, Kamala was right. Stop the food fights.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Mitch The Unforgiving

I was instructed by a close friend that I needed to write about Mitch. We all know that Mitch McConnell is one of the chief evil-doers in the Congress, and certainly in the Republican Party. But what can one say about Mitch?
Well, recently, his wife became at least as well-known as Mitch for evil doing.  Turns out his wife, Elaine Chow, currently Trump’s Secretary of Transportation, has been carrying on at least as scandalously as her hubby.
From Politico:
Seems Elaine Chao:
“designated a special liaison to help with grant applications and other priorities from her husband Mitch McConnell’s state of Kentucky, paving the way for grants to his state totaling at least $78 million for favored projects as McConnell prepared to campaign for reelection.
Chao’s aide Todd Inman, who stated in an email to McConnell’s Senate office that Chao had personally asked him to serve as an intermediary, helped advise the senator and local Kentucky officials on grants with special significance for McConnell — including a highway-improvement project in a McConnell political stronghold that had been twice rejected for previous grant applications.
 “Todd probably smoothed the way, I mean, you know, used his influence,” Mattingly said in a POLITICO interview. “Everybody says that projects stand on their own merit, right? So if I’ve got 10 projects, and they’re all equal, where do you go to break the tie?”
The circumstances surrounding the Owensboro grant and another, more lucrative grant to Boone County, highlight the ethical conflicts in having a powerful Cabinet secretary married to the Senate’s leader and in a position to help him politically. McConnell has long touted his ability to bring federal resources to his state, which his wife is now in a position to assist.
Chao’s designation of Inman as a special intermediary for Kentucky — a privilege other states did not enjoy — gave a special advantage to projects favored by her husband, which could in turn benefit his political interests. In such situations, ethicists say, each member of a couple benefits personally from the success of the other.
“Where a Cabinet secretary is doing things that are going to help her husband get reelected, that starts to rise to the level of feeling more like corruption to the average American. … I do think there are people who will see that as sort of ‘swamp behavior,’” said John Hudak, a Brookings Institution scholar who has studied political influence in federal grant-making.”
So, the behavior runs in the family.
Now, in terms of “smoothing the way”, we could look at Mitch’s behavior regarding Supreme Court nominees by a president. With Obama, Mitch simply refused to hold any hearings on Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland, despite having a year left before Obama concluded his term.
Garland was nominated to fill the 2016 vacancy on the Supreme Court created by the death that February of Justice Antonin Scalia, an icon of conservative jurisprudence. President Barack Obama quickly named Merrick Garland, then 63, to fill the seat. Garland had long been considered a prime prospect for the high court, serving as chief judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — a frequent source of justices that is sometimes called the "little Supreme Court."
Widely regarded as a moderate, Garland had been praised in the past by many Republicans, including influential senators such as Orrin Hatch of Utah. But even before Obama had named Garland, and in fact only hours after Scalia's death was announced, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared any appointment by the sitting president to be null and void. He said the next Supreme Court justice should be chosen by the next president — to be elected later that year.
So much for smoothing the way. And Mitch is now campaigning to shove through another Supreme under Trump, as soon as someone has the decency to die.
So, Mitch simply has no ethical dimension at all. He will simply refuse to hold hearings on anything the Democrats want to do, which is, of course, what Nancy Pelosi faces should she ever decide to impeach Trump.  Under McConnell, there would either be no Senate trial, or the trial would be a farce, giving Trump yet another opportunity to yell Fake News about his impeachment.
This situation produces dire consequences for our form of government, because it converts our system into nearly a monarchy.  And what is a monarchy anyway? A monarchy is a system of government in which an individual, the Monarch, or King/Queen, rules the land. In a constitutional monarchy, such as Britain, the monarch is constrained by the Constitution. In an absolute monarchy, the monarch is unconstrained.
Now, if we listen to the words uttered by our president, he declares that he might perhaps remain in office, even after his elected reign ends. That is, he may simply stay as president. Now, under our system, he cannot do that, but Trump doesn’t care about such things. He wants to do what he wants to do. He feels no constraints by the Law/Constitution. With a Mitch McConnell running the Senate, almost as an absolute leader (there is no such thing, but Mitch seems not to care about such niceties), and having him concede to anything the ruler (Trump) wants to do, we begin the process of destroying our Constitutional system of government.
Mitch, oddly, acts now as though he were the absolute monarch, except his reign is over the Senate, not the country.  Since we need the Senate to weigh in and vote on anything that is recommended by the House as a new Law, Mitch’s refusal effectively disables the House.
So, Mitch McConnell may in fact be beginning to cause more damage to our system of government than Donald Trump, who himself has been, and is the single most destructive individual ever to lead our government.
Our Nation desperately needs to throw out these tyrannical individuals who seem bent on destroying the country.  I know, they don’t see themselves that way. But they are, and I believe that any constitutional authority would agree.
So, once again, voting in 2020 goes beyond the normal “important”. Voting may now be the single most important thing our citizenry can do in our lifetimes.  And voting out Mitch McConnell is at least as important as voting out President Trump.  We need thoughtful people in government, people with both morality and an ethical dimension to their name. We don’t need “liberals, or “conservatives”. We need thinking humans with a conscience, and a grasp of history, people who understand that the United States must continue to exist as a constitutional republic, with a responsible government.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Life & The Donald

Living this long, I find myself thinking about why things happen, and what life is really all about.  On a daily basis, I am reminded that humankind is a vastly complex entity, as is everything on this earth of course.  With complexity, comes variation, and with variation comes different life styles of adaptation.

Alright, what do I mean? 

Well, it is now very clear that humankind is one kind of animal, with amazing variations.  How do we all vary? Well . . .

·         Gender – some folks come, as we have named, female, and some as what we label as male. But actually, we also know that we have variations within and among those two seemingly unique types, folks who are uncertain of gender, or who are uncertain how they should act as one type or another.  Well, they’re not so much uncertain themselves, but their actions cause the rest of us to become uncertain how we are supposed to react to them.   And these variations have caused over the many centuries we have had humankind, many problems and many blessings, sometimes both at the same time.

·         Skin color – We have a fantastic color spectrum present in humankind. No one is quite “white”, but are certainly close to that end of the spectrum. And some are fairly close to black, but are really a shade or two one side of a perfect black.  As one moves from “black” to “white” other colors are introduced, a bit of red, some yellow, such that we have really a marvelous array of beautiful skin colorings.  For reasons quite mysterious, this skin color variation also causes difficulties in how humankind reacts to one another.

·         Physical size -- From nearly 7 feet, to perhaps 4 feet in height, and from perhaps 20 inches to what, four feet (??) in diameter, humankind presents itself as almost different species.  The size thing certainly creates some tension since relative aggressiveness towards one another seems at least related to the size variation, depending on how different folks perceive size.

·         Brainpower – Here too, amazing variation, not so much in actual physical size of the brain, as in the seeming utility of the brains we possess.  The brain and its apparent utility creates perhaps the most significant of the many variations experienced by humans.  The seeming capacity of the brain seems partly a result of random chance, with genetics being an important component. But also, the extent to which we “train” our brains to think and adapt determines the brain’s utility to us, as we waltz through life.  There seems an odd connection between the ability of the brain to conceive and adapt, and the relative tendency towards violence.   This latter point is unclear at best.

      Alright, so humankind is highly variable. So what?  Well, one of the common characteristics of all animals seems to be a desire to control the environment in which they live, control being seen as necessary in order to survive.  And each animal designs its own approach to assuring its own survival, through controlling its environment.  In the case of humans, we seem to have created three distinct mechanisms or systems to assure survival.  We employ these mechanisms, partly in response to our own personal characteristics. What are the three?

1.       Brute strength – especially early man employed physical strength, and then weapons in order to survive (obtain food) and prosper (obtain more food than you need to survive). But brute strength became enhanced dramatically through tribalism.  If strong folks can attract others, perhaps family, or simply others who live nearby, to identify with one, a tribe begins to emerge and then the tribe is relatively stronger than the individual.  And then the stronger/larger tribes are able to counter other tribes, perhaps to become even more powerful, and therefore more secure.

2.       Religion – we seem uncertain when, but relatively early man devised this devilishly clever scheme, we now call religion. Someone began claiming an authentic channel to God. “God has told me thus . . . therefore, you must listen to me. Otherwise, God will smite you dead.”  As different humans claimed a direct relationship to God, different forms emerged whereby ordinary folks could become enchanted with God. And the “wise ones” (those who claim a direct connection to you know who) began writing down assertions about what God wants, such that even more folks could begin to understand who are the “wise ones”. Thus, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and the many variations that now exist, came into being. The key to all of these systems, though, is that leaders claim they have direct knowledge of what God expects, and they have devised approaches that a: allow them to control the dialogues, and b: give them authority and therefore power over the other ordinary humans who possess no special insights.  Ponzi schemes spring to my mind whenever I think of organized religion.
3.       Money – Money seems to have originated through trading. I kill more deer than I can eat, and you kill more buffaloes than you can eat. We can trade and then we will each have a more diverse food stock.  As people traded more things, some folks devised a way to value food stuff, and then other commodities, and so money became necessary and was devised.  Over time, some people became proficient in the art of collecting and trading money (banks??). As some people gathered more money than they needed, they began using money as a way to better control their environments.

      But all of these approaches are about control at the most basic level. Now when you combine some of these approaches, you enhance your control, and therefore your power. Tribes, for example, claim religious authority and thus enlarge their power over ordinary humans.  Or religions become themselves a variant on tribes, and impose their authority over other religions (see Christianity). 
      While tribalism and religion are fairly obvious about their control aspirations, money seems a bit different, more neutral perhaps. After all, what exactly is money? Money is a way to value almost anything and everything, so it seems more technical than control oriented.

      But no. As people or institutions gain more money, they begin using that money to do what??? Exercise control.  I am willing to give you some money if you are willing to follow my lead in whatever job you hold. Seems especially important if the job you hold is a member of the government, or even, the head of government (see Trump).  So, the acquisition of money becomes now explicitly an instrument of control. And that is how it is now used, almost exclusively. So, banks of course become instruments intended to help you become more powerful, by increasing your assets--money.  Some banks seem not to mind turning to organized crime, as they help literal organized crime to “launder” its illegally obtained financial assets (see HSBC). 

      So, having observed this world for now over 8 decades, what I see is the almost complete deterioration of human values, as humanity turns to control mechanisms to control other parts of humanity.  It’s like a caveman system in which we seem to now live, except the cavemen have upgraded their tools of control to the Mark X Mod 9 version.  Slowly, we seem to be losing those aspects of our humanity that make life worth living—love, respect, compassion seem now almost quaint.  Let’s see, what have I been able to observe since I was born in 1934?

Well, the 1930s was a kind of dismal swamp atmosphere. The great crash had just occurred—oh, that was when bankers of the world so overreached their greed (the money thing) that the entire financial world simply collapsed. Now, doubtless, many of the bankers of the world suffered great losses during this period. But my tiny vantage point only revealed the effects on the little people—specifically folks like my grandparents and parents. My grandparents just literally ran out of money. They were now beyond working, and their savings simply disappeared.  My parents were rarely together as a couple, so my mom did the best she could to keep us alive. We had literally, no spare cash.  Money, or the lack thereof ruled our world. In an odd way, the bankers still ruled the world, because although they might have been hurt financially, they still had access to money, whereas the little people had none. Our world stumbled along, with misery being the kindest assessment anyone could make of this dismal swamp universe in which we resided.

And then, the world’s humans awakened to create a new world—a world at War. Yeah, the Hitler tribe in Germany had been forming for some time, becoming more powerful, and finally they simply lost all reason and began killing people, just because they could—all in the name of greater control of course.  And so, the rest of the world decided to forge its own larger tribe, so as to counter the Hitler tribe. And WW II began seriously. Millions died during this period, of course, but the bankers seemed to recover, and then money began flowing again.  And so, money, brute strength, and organized religion joined in a battle for survival of our species. For a while, the outcome was uncertain, but then the Hitler tribe and the Hirohito tribe began losing their way and finally gave up the battle for control.

Now, one would think that some rationality might have crept into that post-War world. But no, humans have this capacity for control and almost immediately the Cold War began. Oh, the shooting stopped for a tiny bit, but then the tribal forces began exerting themselves again, and we were right back at it.  There was Korea, and then that never ending Vietnam thing, both wars all about who would control what territories.

Finally, the wars in Asia stopped, but then the Middle East began erupting, with the overthrow of the Iran government, to be replaced by a terrorist religious faction, demonstrating that organized religion is equally as cruel, yet effective at the control thing.  And that Middle East mess continues to this day, a true never-ending war of control.  It is only partly about religion. Mainly, folks use religion as an excuse for killing people. Religion is so convenient that way. Always available when needed.

Despite this amazing killing field world of the Middle East, always threatening to engulf the whole world, we had some bright spots. Apparently tiring of the despots on the right wing of our nation, some forces for good emerged, and we elected a decent man, who was both bright and ethical, Barack Obama. The right wing never stopped exploding in rage about the election of a decent, humane, intelligent person as our president.  Apparently republicans really hate it when an ethical, bright person takes charge in America. But, we did have eight years of a good leader. He continued to try to do good things, but republicans never let him forget that they were always around him, and they would not stand for a leader trying to do the right thing.

And then Donald Trump.

Explaining Donald Trump is a bit like trying to explain the Big Bang. No one really understands this terminally weird phenomenon. A narcissistic, sociopath, who lies all the time, even when everyone around him knows he is lying, and who is demonstrably unsuccessful at everything he attempts, including both marriage and business, gets elected and continues to have the support of millions of Americans.  His faithful supporters even say they do not mind when he lies. They still love him.  My only conclusion is that he is a religion, all by himself. Only he doesn’t really promise anything after death, you know that thing that all religions promise. He doesn’t.  But it seems not to matter to folks who apparently hate everything for every minute of every day. They hate for a living apparently.

But now, what has he gone and done? Well, having been accused of colluding with the Russians to corrupt our election system, and then denying it, he now loudly announces that he is open for any and all foreign meddling in our next election. He not only doesn’t care, he actively encourages foreign interference.

So, he is announcing that everything people suspected about him is true. He really is corrupt, terminally stupid, and he believes that he is above any Laws of our Land. He doesn’t believe in the Law. He doesn’t care about The Law. He is the complete Narcissist, or maybe, he just imagines himself to be King Donald I, our first absolute monarch.

And with that thought, I am really out of words.