Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Tag: America

Today

Picture1We are divided. We are angry. Regardless of what side of the political chasm you stand on, we each scream at ears that cannot hear. Each side can site their own origin for our condition, but increasingly, our cold civil war is getting hot.

And now we have lunatic sending bombs to critics of the president while the president continues to pour gasoline on the growing firestorm.

Words are my religion. They are far more important to me than physical persuasion. Books are portals. Carl Sagan wrote as part of his incredible Cosmos series,

“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”

And yet, in our hurry-up world of 280 character pontifications, arguments and debates are reduced to ad hominem attacks and ad reductio gotchas. We are a heavily armed society with hair-trigger sensitivities and no sense of personal responsibility. That’s a terrible combination.

Cicero wrote, “He only employs his passion who can make no use of his reason” and I understand the sentiment. As of right now, three bombs have been sent to New York City. My son lives in New York City. This individual has subjected everyone handling these packages (whether politically likeminded or not) and everyone around them to harm from within a potential blast radius. I look at Google Maps to identify where the newest bomb has been located and then see where my son should be at that moment. I am a civilized man, but also a father. I do not own a gun, and I treasure words. However, as a father, should I encounter the individual sending these bombs, I would not hesitate to punch them in the face.

Perhaps that makes me part of the problem, maybe I’m merely a parent, regardless, we all must do better. And it starts at the top. And it begins with the individual. The president leads, and we are responsible for ourselves. I’ll do my part. Mr. President? #Vote

Advertisements

Rules

Rules

 

Following the news that the Trump family cheated us out of over $497.80 million in estate taxes comes news that son-in-law and senior White House advisor Jared Kushner paid little or no federal income taxes between 2009 and 2016. Couple that with the “still being audited” bullshit being run by Trump as the reason why he “can’t” release his tax returns and we can only guess whether we, as taxpayers, are subsidizing the current kleptocracy at an over or under $1 billion price tag.

And yet, at this point, we have been conditioned by the daily shitstorm of Tweets, rants, insults, and societal oversteps that we simply yawn. Shame on us. Our gag reflex at the absurd and unacceptable has been blunted by repetition and callused by social media. But Viktor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” That is the freedom we should be seeking, that is the independence we should be searching for and celebrating, not whether our president weirdly hugs a flag or misrepresents a football player for kneeling before a game.

My life is extremely important to me and me alone. My story will appear in no history book, my children my only legacy. I get up, go to work, do my best and I pay my taxes. We are all the result of our circumstances and our decisions based on those circumstances. I have raised children the best I could while making mistakes for which I will forever be ashamed. That said, they are the best thing that has ever happened to me and the best thing I will ever leave this world. I have willingly sacrificed a career to be a caregiver. I have buried my wife and tried to find happiness in a world I hardly understand. In other words, there is absolutely nothing remarkable about me. And I pay my taxes. I am happy to do so. I enjoy driving on paved roads. I complain about potholes. I enjoy living in the United States. I complain about military spending. I enjoy pizza. I complain about being too heavy. I still think I can hit a fastball and I see wrinkles in my neck.

But I am tired of playing by the rules when the rulers do not. I doubt Donald Trump has paid any taxes in the past 20 years. None. And he claims to be worth $10 billion. Jared Kushner paid little or no taxes over an 8-year period. And he’s worth $324 million. How many potholes would that have filled? How many schools would that have built? How many teachers would not have to buy their own supplies with that influx of taxes? Not to mention the $497.80 million Donald’s Daddy bilked us out of over the years by funneling money to his children. How many veterans, that the president claims to adore, could he have been personally treated or outfitted?

Having been raised Roman Catholic, and hard-wired with intrinsic guilt, the old saying, “How can you sleep at night?” always played in my head. That was always the guilt trip for past transgressions. Too late for future improvements. I always liked to play it in advance with the opportunistic, “What would I do in that situation?” This has afforded me the chance to make decisions, not always the correct ones, that I could defend to my children at a future date. “What did you do about gun violence after the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School, dad?” I can answer that.

But kleptocrats answer to neither guilt nor history. To the question, “How can you sleep at night?” Trump answers, “Fine, either in the White House or in one of my gold palaces.” To the question, “What did you do about climate change?” Trump will answer, “Got us out of the Paris Climate Accord, watched the icebergs melt and the polar bears starve to death (before poor Don Jr. and Eric could shoot them to death), watched Florida sink into the Atlantic, and spent my gazillion, tax-free dollars golfing and eating KFC. I’ll be dead before the air is too toxic to breathe and burns you to ashes. Now go pay your taxes, suckers.”

 

Celebrate Knowledge

Professor Hawking

“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.”

 

Earth has lost one of its great thinkers. Stephen Hawking died at age 76.

Consider this: Professor Hawking was born 300 years to the day after Galileo died and died on Albert Einstein’s birthday. If he stood on the shoulders of other intellectual giants, perhaps his most significant achievement lies in the number of scientists who have followed him into science. He sought answers from the cosmos and conveyed it to the masses.

In an age where we celebrate celebrity, where fame is counted in magazine covers and computer clicks, Professor Hawking was famous for his mind! Today that seems as fundamentally difficult to grasp as Hawking radiation. And yet, in an America whose president conveys policy and fires cabinet secretaries in 280 characters or less, Professor Hawking, along with Jacob Bekenstein, was able to describe the thermodynamic entropy of a black hole in eleven characters.

Bekenstein-Hawking Entropy Formula

Celebrate Professor Hawking’s life today and contemplate what we value. Consider valuing health over drama, love over money, and intellect over fame. Idolatry is not the answer, knowledge is.

Happy Pi day.

Groundhog Day, Again

I’m pissed, and I’m tired, again. We’ve had another mass shooting in America. Surprise!

Our Founding Fathers (capitalized for respect!) were human, both flawed and determined. Their intellect and debate resulted in the living breathing document we call the Constitution. It, like them, is flawed and determined. It, like them, should not be considered sacrosanct. As a living, breathing document, created by humans, not gods, it is malleable to time. It is time we repeal the Second Amendment and confiscate the guns.

Sorry, Mr. President, sorry Congress, the United States is not burdened with higher levels of mental health issues than other countries. It is merely awash in guns. That is the problem. And until we face it, “active shooter” training in schools, emergency direction notices before movies, “thoughts and prayers” after every shooting from gutless politicians led by Republican intransigence at the direction of their NRA marionette masters will result in a continuing momentary sense or shock followed by a pandemic ennui throughout the public.

We now consider mass shootings and daily gun violence the new normal in America. The rest of the world also sees it as the new normal in America, and wonders why. We don’t even bother to wonder why anymore. This is not normal and should not ever be considered normal. Gun violence is a scourge injected into our society by flooding our lives with guns. Guns or drugs, it’s the business model. Flood the streets with them, deposit the cash, sit back and watch the inevitable, ensuing death metastasize. And the solution? More guns! Guns as the answer to fear caused by guns. Good marketing technique! A terrible shift in our collective consciousness.

We wring our hands and lament the “impossible,” multifaceted response required to address gun violence. No! The answer is simple. Remove the guns. No guns, no gun violence. That is my position. Call me a Democrat, call me a liberal, call me an asshole. I don’t care. No guns, no gun deaths. The Twenty-first Amendment repealed the Eighteenth, ending prohibition. Write a new Amendment abolishing the Second. And then have a big bonfire for the 300 million plus guns in an America with a new normal.

Now?

Enough

Is it too soon to talk about gun violence prevention after the murders in a Texas church?

Too soon? Insensitive? Politicizing?

Then can we talk about it related to Las Vegas?

No? Still too soon?

What about Orlando? Still too soon?

Yes?

Charleston? Roseburg? San Bernardino?

Really?

Washington Navy Yard?

Still? Hmmmm.

Surely Aurora?

No?

Okay, Sandy Hook?

No? Really? 5 years ago, almost?

Okay, you tell me. What time frame needs to pass before we can discuss an incident?

 

 

 

Still waiting.

 

No other country ranks their mass killings like the United States. No other country needs to rank them! No other country needs to rank the mass murders in their churches like the United States. Something is very wrong here. Sorry, Mr. President, Americans are not any more mentally deranged than any other country. The difference is access to guns. When is enough enough? When will Congress address this? Why do we tolerate inaction? Oh, sorry. Still too soon?

Women

“That we have the vote means nothing. That we use it in the right way means everything.”  Lou Henry Hoover, First Lady of the United States 1929-1933

As we wind down to the end of a presidential campaign that feels as if it’s been going on since the early Bronze Age, the overarching story of this election can be summarized in one word – women.

It began with the nomination of a woman by one of the two major parties. It devolved into stories about the treatment of women by the nominee of the other major party. And it will be settled by the largest demographic within the voting public – women.

According to one recent poll, Hillary Clinton is leading among women by 33%. Eric Trump famously made the mistake of posting a map showing his father ahead nationally but omitting the fact that the map showed what the results would look like if only men voted. Here is that map:

if-only-men-voted

The map shows Mr. Trump winning the White House with an Electoral College tally of 350 versus 188 for Secretary Clinton. Unfortunately for Eric Trump, people noticed, and the response was savage. Here is the obverse map showing what the election results would look like if only women voted:

if only women voted.png

As you can see, Secretary Clinton would win the Electoral College with a staggering tally of 458 votes versus Mr. Trump’s meager 80 votes. And therein lies the story of this election. Women will decide the outcome. Here is Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight site on the potential effect this disparity would have on the general election:

“To put those numbers in perspective, that’s saying Trump would defeat Clinton among men by a margin similar to Dwight D. Eisenhower’s landslide victory over Adlai Stevenson in 1952, while Clinton would defeat Trump among women by a margin similar to … actually, there’s no good comparison, since no candidate has won a presidential election by more than 26 percentage points since the popular vote became a widespread means of voting in 1824. To get to 33 points, you’d have to take the Eisenhower-Stevenson margin and add Lyndon B. Johnson’s 23-point win over Barry Goldwater in 1964 on top of it.”

And while you may not like everything (or anything) about Secretary Clinton, she has worked hard to earn women’s votes. One of her greatest surrogates has been another woman, First Lady Michelle Obama, who has been phenomenally effective on the campaign trail. On the other hand, Mr. Trump has stumbled his way toward the election by demeaning women (among many other groups) and been accused of sexual assault by eleven women. And one of his greatest surrogates has been Mayor Guiliani who has himself had a checkered past with women and who recently suggested that Mr. Trump would be better for the United States “than a woman.” Considering that women constitute the largest voting block in America, wouldn’t it be better for Republicans to embrace women than to shun them if they ever hope to win the White House again. Especially given the inevitable demographic changes altering the United States, all of which favor Democrats and which Republicans have ignored to this point at their peril. Sorry, but gerrymandering can only take you so far.

2016 will be known as the year that a woman shattered one of the greatest glass ceilings left in the world, the American presidency, but perhaps it should be better known as the year that women used their collective voices to change the course of an election and therefore history.

Enough Hatred

There are times in one’s life when we may feel that the world is coming apart at the seams. Life is difficult, and the reasons for our strife are complicated. Likewise, the remedies always seem burdensome and untimely. However, there is no excuse for us not trying to make the world a better place. Our children deserve it, and we should demand it for them.

For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time; hatred ceases by love – this is an old rule. –The Pali Canon, Twin Verses, no.5

This has been a week of such strife. The murder of black citizens at the hands of law enforcement, the assassination of law enforcement by a heavily armed citizen, and the vitriol expressed throughout social media has done nothing to heal society’s wounds. The naïve claim that love is the answer. And as simplistic as it may seem, they are correct. We should listen to them. Listen to the children who know no racism, no hatred. The comedian Denis Leary stated it best when he said, “Racism isn’t born, folks. It’s taught. I have a 2-year-old son. Know what he hates? Naps. End of list.”

Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins. –Proverbs

We look at the police and see their militarization. We look at American society and see a citizenry armed to the teeth. One begets the other, and this arms race sees no resolution other than a conflict between sides. Gun zealots seem to crave a chance to take up arms against a perceived tyranny of government. This is not unlike religious zealots hoping for an end of days within their lifetime. It is irrational and dangerous.

My life, my real life, was in danger, and not from anything other people might do but from the hatred I carried in my own heart. –James Baldwin

The result of all of this hatred is more hatred. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Politicians will make the most of this dissension and attempt to be the answer rather than listening and hearing the needs of their constituents. Where one is hurting, all are hurting. We must try to tamp down the anger and recognize what we all have in common. Under the skin, we are all the same. We are each composed of muscle, nerves, and bone. And a high powered firearm will tear through all of those components, never stopping to see the color of our skin. The carrying of firearms openly in public only caused greater confusion for law enforcement this week and did nothing to stop a deranged shooter. The “thoughts and prayers” of politicians didn’t do anything to bring back the dead or heal the wounded. Some of those politicians who spoke out in support of police officers ignored the reasons for the protests. Indeed, some blamed the protesters for inciting the violence, completely ignoring the reasons for the protests.

Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds. –Henry Adams

Police departments throughout the country need to understand the causes of the anger and do their part to rid themselves of less than exemplary officers. The chief of police in Dallas said this week that his officers need to be perfect 100% of the time. He’s correct and is right in expecting nothing less from his officers. Nothing, nothing warrants the execution of police officers. And nothing warrants the execution of people of color by police at the levels we see year after year. Again, the militarization of police forces is being done in response to the ever more lethal weaponry obtained by citizens. No citizen needs an AR-15. There are no reasonable, rational arguments to support the ownership of these weapons by the public. I’ve heard them all and none of them hold up. On the other hand, I know people who have lost loved ones to the carnage that these weapons can inflict on the human body, whether they be six-year-olds in their classroom or innocent movie goers in a theater.

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. –Saint Francis of Assisi

Hatred will solve no problem. Anger will only cause grief. Our country has seen enough grief this week and this year. Let us put aside our prejudices and see those around us as simply people with their own problems and their own issues. Everyone is struggling with something. You cannot see it on their face, but it is there. Give them the benefit of your kindness and we will create the society our children expect of us. Enough with the hatred. Call me naïve and I will thank you.

 

The Tide is Turning

Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind.     -George Orwell

 

Clba5NIUoAEtkSV

Two days ago, the United States Senate, led by Republicans, shot down two sensible amendments designed to prevent terrorists from getting firearms. In their place, they submitted two meaningless NRA sponsored amendments which were also defeated. The votes for all four amendments were primarily along party lines. However, the tide is turning, and there is hope that eventually there will be consensus on a meaningful bill in the Senate.

Elections matter. Voting matters. The parties are not the same. There are always swells and troughs in election cycles leading to whether the Democrats or the Republicans are on top. And in spite of the fact that there has been a Democrat in the White House for almost eight years, it is the Democrats who seem to be riding a wave right now while the Republicans are being washed away as if by a rip tide. Perhaps it is because the person at the top of the Republican ticket is so divisive. Perhaps it is because the Tea Party has run its course, or perhaps it is because the country sees that the Democrats have the most rational response to gun violence. If greater than ninety percent of Americans agree that there should be background checks on all gun sales, it begs the question, just who are the Republicans representing? If the overwhelming majority of Americans do not believe that a person on the terror watch list should be able to purchase a firearm, to whom are the Republicans answering? The answer could be as simple as the gun lobby. The gun lobby has spent over $36 million to get politicians elected, and they want something for their investment. If this is true, then Republican constituents are without representation as their elected officials do the bidding of the gun lobby instead.

Both Senator Cornyn’s (R-TX) amendment and Senator Grassley’s (R-IA) amendment were seemingly written by the NRA and submitted under the senators’ names. They were designed to give the appearance of addressing the problem of gun violence and terrorists’ continued access to firearms, but their actual purpose was disingenuous and deceitful. And finally, the public is beginning to see the difference. The win the NRA chalked up on Monday as all four amendments failed was likely a Pyrrhic victory because by defeating the reasonable amendments offered by Senator Murphy (D-CT) and Senator Feinstein (D-CA) Republicans emerged as the party defending the rights of terrorists and ISIS. Finally, the Republicans obstructionist activities were on full display (and this only months before the next election). Republican senators were forced to go on record to vote against limiting terrorists’ access to firearms and voting against forcing gun sales at gun shows and over the Internet be subject to a federal background check. Their votes were on the record. And the progress made in this movement to prevent gun injuries and deaths in America, a country awash in guns and the carnage they dispense, is measurable. The Overton Window is shifting.

Following the murder of six educators and twenty schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut in December of 2012, a horror so visceral that all Americans thought it would result in a flurry of new gun laws, it took Congress four months to bring a bill to the floor for a vote. It failed because of Republicans. Now, as a result of a much better organized gun violence prevention movement and the support of Senator Murphy’s filibuster (along with the support of Senators Blumenthal (D-CT) and Booker (D-NJ) and 37 other senators) it took four days for a new piece of legislation to come to the floor for a vote. Members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, founded after Newtown,  generated 8,000 calls into Congress in the months leading up to the vote following the school shooting. Following the shooting at the nightclub in Orlando, Florida, they generated over 60,000 calls. And that is just one of the gun violence prevention organizations working to curb this epidemic. What started out as a Facebook page from a frustrated, angry housewife in Indiana has become a juggernaut in its own right with 3.5 million members and chapters in all 50 states. This fight has been taken to statehouses across the country and victory after victory is being notched because of it. The tide is turning, and history will be the judge as lives are saved.

So, the NRA and their paid for politicians will continue to obstruct meaningful measures to stem the slaughter, but common sense, compassion, and logic are on the side of the gun violence prevention movement. The NRA’s victory on Monday will be viewed as a hollow victory because change is coming and the NRA’s political influence is about to be washed away. Elections matter and your vote matters and I only hope that reason, logic, and compassion win the day in Washington before the nation is subjected to another mass shooting. These are the silver linings in Monday’s defeat, and they have emboldened those in the gun violence prevention movement to work ever harder to elect a Congress willing to do what is necessary to stop the bloodshed caused by gun violence in America. The tide is turning.

Mirror, Mirror

31062454_s

The country is getting further and further away from any semblance of cooperation or debate. Neighbors and family members are pitted against one another like at no time since the Civil War. The generational differences experienced in the 1960’s seem cordial compared to the intransigence we see now. The era of the computer and the Internet, where information flows freely like at no other time in human evolution has left us in cognitive dissonance and mired in epistemic closure. We only listen to those radio programs that share our positions, we only watch the news from those carriers with the same political bend as us. We only discuss difficult topics with people we know we already agree with. We never engage in debate or discussion with those with whom we do not politically agree. The congress is in a perpetual state of obstructionism.

The “other side” is terminally wrong. We cannot engage them on any level other than to disparage them, dismiss them, and call them wrong on all manner of topics. In fact, we are disposed to dismiss a person who agrees with us on one topic if they disagree with us on another. Thus epistemic closure.

No topic exhibits this disconnect more than the fractious presidential campaign we have seen this year. Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Ted Cruz are the most polarizing candidates we have ever seen in modern politics. All three have negative ratings among likely voters higher than any candidate upon whom this measure has been taken in American political history. The “#StopTrump” movement, a branch of the established Republican Party, will do anything to deny this man from getting the nomination of their party, despite being the front-runner. Trump himself has the highest negatives of any candidate and has alienated enough demographic categories to guarantee him not winning in November should he be the nominee. Hillary Clinton has enough of a track record in the pubic’s eye to garner either very positive or very negative reactions in most of the population. There is very little middle ground left from which she can harvest votes. Ted Cruz finds himself in the unique position of being hated by all of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle and yet the man with the best shot of unseating Trump for the nomination causing those with whom he has little in common to back him in order to get to the second or third ballot of a contested convention in Cleveland later this summer.

The other two candidates, John Kasich and Bernie Sanders both suffer from a lack of recognition among the public to one degree or another. Kasich telling everyone that he is the only candidate to regularly beat Clinton in a straight up contest in November has less to do with his popularity and more to do with Clinton’s negatives. Kasich positions himself as a moderate candidate (and compared to the other two running he is), however, his record is that of anything but a moderate. Sanders does not claim to be a moderate and while his brand of Scandinavian socialism resonates with the youth of the country, there is no slice of the electorate less likely to actually vote than the young, condemning Sanders’ chances to fantasy.

There are real issues facing the country. Real issues that demand the focused attention of the wisest men and women this country has. And in another example of our cognitive dissonance, Congress continues to have an overall approval level of under 20% while most incumbents will win re-election. How can that be? It is, again, because we believe the person with whom we are most familiar and dismiss as out of touch the person with whom we are least familiar. The problem is always with the other guy. The left and the right stare at each other in distrust and disgust, not realizing that they are really looking in the mirror and the ugliness they see is their own.

We deserve better than this. The age of the Internet has given us an unending supply of data and little increase in usable information. We must do better. Listening helps. Mirrors help, too.

Fools and Politicians

“Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish.”     Euripides

Yesterday, the president put forth four executive actions in an attempt to curb the gun violence that plagues our nation. He did so because the congress, with its 11% approval rating, ignored the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the American public three years ago who believed universal background checks on all gun sales is prudent. That support has been maintained. In a December 2015 Quinnipiac University poll, 89% of respondents support legislation requiring background checks on all gun sales (including 84% of households with a gun present). As the president said yesterday, the United States is an outlier in gun violence compared to the rest of the advanced world. And yet we do not have more dangerous individuals than the rest of the world. We do not watch more violent movies or television than the rest of the world. We do not play violent video games more than the rest of the world. And we do not have more mental illness than the rest of the world. There is only one factor which differentiates the United States from the rest of the developed world and that is the number of guns.

It is estimated that there are over 300 million guns in America or 89 guns for every 100 people.  That is far and away more guns than the rest of the world. By comparison, Canada has 31 guns per 100 people. Australia has 15 guns per 100 people. The UK has 6 guns per 100 people and Japan has less than 1 gun per 100 people. That much firepower in the public’s hands translates to a much higher firearm homicide rate per 100,000 people. The United States sees 3.21 homicides per 100,000 people, compared to 0.51 for Canada, 0.14 for Australia, 0.07 for the UK, and 0.01 for Japan. More guns do not make us safer.

And despite these executive orders being modest and common sense, the Republicans have come out against them. House Speaker Paul Ryan tweeted, “No matter what President Obama says, his word does not trump the Second Amendment.” This ignores the fact that the president’s actions in no way challenge the Second Amendment, they only clarify existing law and further refine and enhance the current instant background check system, while providing more resources for mental health. Presidential aspirant Senator Ted Cruz reacted by claiming “Obama Wants Your Guns” while asking for a donation. This petulant neophyte is the antithesis of common sense and the darling of the tea party, making the Euripides quote above all the more poignant.

History will show that the president was on the right side of this fight. It will also show that the Republicans came out against anything and everything the president supported. If the president said he liked baseball, apple pie, and Chevrolet, the Republicans would be against all three. And that is the shame the Republicans must carry. Their intransigence and obstructionism have been to the detriment of the country.

I work with some amazing people trying to fight for common sense gun violence prevention legislation, both on the local level and the national. And yesterday, while those standing behind the president and seated throughout the room represented both the victims of gun violence and the family members of those killed, I could not help but to wonder what it will take for the rest of the public to demand their elected officials move to strike against the gun lobby and the horror they bring to our society. It should not just be the victims and their family members who shoulder the weight of bringing about change. It is the average citizen who is sick of the daily bloodshed, sick of the gun lobby and their purchasing of senators and congressmen that must rise up and say enough. Not one more mass shooting. Not one more suicide. Not one more accident. Not one more. Otherwise, we are the fool Euripides warns us against.